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Cultural Exchange - Part 12

There are more than 6,487 little holes in that acoustic tile above my head. I can't tell what time it is or even if its day or night. They've got drugs that make the gooch of my punk-hood debaucheries look like cotton candy. It still hurts to cough. I'm not dead. And all that is on the vid is kiddie shows about fat furry spirit things and 10-legged cat busses.

The doctors must think I'm getting better, because there are no pretty nurses. Before, I was too sick to care about them, even if they had all danced naked at the foot of my bed and promised to do naughty bits. The only fluids commin' outta me then woulda been puke and pus. But now that I feel up to some not-so-innocent sponge baths, all the nurses got downright ugly.

The tubes are gone and I can breathe again. Wish my nose didn't work. The cleaning stuff had a nice citrus scent. Smells like vomit covered lemons in my room. Something was really rank in here. I guess it was me. No wonder hot lookin' nightingales are avoiding this room.

IV's are still in me. I can't eat anything but watered down tin can soup. They tell me its chicken broth. I think they're liars. Most of my nutrition still comes from a needle and I can still feel drugs entering my system.

In other words, same as the days since I woke up. Except that I have a new scar. It's a doozy. A bright pink slab of new skin covering my side like a patch on an old tire. It itches and sometimes a drop of... uh... something gross oozes from under it. But not as much as yesterday.

"Good morning!"

A nurse came in and opened the curtains. It looked like it was in the late afternoon. See? I told you they were liars. At least she had a nice face and a near-perfect rack. I must be getting visitors for the trophy nurse to be trotted out for me. How in the hell can she sound so cheerful? She's surrounded by death and disease here... oh yeah... she gets to go home. They always sound happier just before the shift change.

"It's not morning. You lied. Now go away."

She didn't even pause as she checked her monitors and tucked in sheets and did all those other little nursey things. I might as well have been talking to a pasteboard cutout. I'll even bet I could've made an extremely lewd and perverse remark to her and she wouldn't've have changed her routine or even noticed.

"My, aren't you a sourpuss today."

"Are you kidding? That's actually pretty cheerful for him..."

Fred had followed the nurse into the room. I knew I was going to have visitors. I couldn't help it; I smiled. Really... A genuine grin. The nurse just looked annoyed because she had been startled. My grin started to hurt, but I didn't care. Some things hurt in a good way. I've only had the other kind lately.

"Sir. Visiting hours are not for another 30 minutes."

Fred made it a point to ignore her; made a show out of it actually.

"So aren't you going to say hello or something?"

"Fred! This is great! What happened? How's the ship? How much trouble are we in?"

I coughed and moaned in pain. An alarm went off because of it. The nurse went back to the monitor, read it, frowned and turn down the alarm. I heard a heavily accented girlish voice in the hallway.

"Mister...uh ... I mean 'Doctor' Stracker. I am very sorry, but I only found one robe and clipboard, sir. Will it be enough to fool the nurses? Wuff. There is a terrible odor here, sir."

The three of us looked at her in amused silence. Rory had entered the doorway wearing an ill-fitting labcoat and carried a clipboard in a poorly conceived doctor disguise. The lab coat couldn't cover the brightly colored clothes underneath. She failed at looking like a doctor miserably. The white coat made her look more like a mental patient. She stared at Fred, then the nurse. Poor Rory then made a show of looking at the empty clipboard as if checking medical records. She was determined to make the disguise work. Walking close to Fred while pretending to check the monitor readings, she leaned and whispered to him.

"Mister Stracker, what has died in here?"

I answered for him.


I didn't think that such a simple answer would get such a painful result. She looked down onto the bed and did a double take.


I couldn't make a polite response because in that same moment, she launched herself at me and wrapped her arms around me in a big happy hug. More happy for her than me. I ended up screaming in pain deep inside. I was just barely able to contain it and only a muffled whimper escaped my mouth. All I could do was grip something and squeeze. Really hard. I didn't want to hurt her feelings by crying out in agony just because she was happy to see me alive. Mercifully, the autodoc pumped more painkiller into my IV.

Fred gently pulled the happy girl off me.

"Heheh, take it easy Tuvi. He's not quite healed yet."

Rory observed my clenched jaw, teared eyes, and the sweat that had formed on my forehead. I saw the realisation flood across her face. It had finally dawned on her that I was suffering. She whirled angrily toward the nurse.

"Why are you not helping him! Can you not see that he is in pain? Ruthghighz saegfos mongdzue!! Heal him! or I will ghut maebkhue hagh ighzu!"

Ok. That was funny, even if what my little doggie said wasn't possible really. Human legs don't bend that way.

The nurse ignored her and double checked the gizmos that I was hooked into. After punching a button or two, she checked my scar. To make sure it hadn't fallen off or started oozing again when Rory squeezed me, I guess. The hostile looking Vargr peered over the nurse's shoulder at every move she made until the nurse had had enough and moved to leave.

As she left the room, the annoyed nurse paused at the doorway and scowled back at Rory.

"Maybe you can do a better job... 'doctor'..."

Rory growled. She had been defending me. She can be so sweet sometimes.

"We would have visited sooner, but we're really swamped right now. With you out, and us already behind, there just wasn't time. Scolpino wants the ship spaceworthy in 3 weeks. He's allowing us to miss the scheduled completion date by a week at most. Lord Azzdzafodh is coming back to check on his project's progress."

"Yes, my uncle is coming for a visit."

Rory was obviously happy to see her family again, even though it would be a stiff formal affair, more'n likely. I wasn't so eager. When he was here last, I almost got in a fight with him. I'd probably get in a fight with him this time, too.

"He is your uncle?"

"Yes. Isn't it wonderful that he is coming to visit us? Thefue uetsits! I hope he won't be angry about your stay in the hospital... You are supposed to be teaching me. I think he will understand though. Considering the circumstances... Oh, isn't this wonderful!"

Great. It's not bad enough that I'm stuck in the IISS forever, and people are trying to kill us and break my boat, and supervisors hate me. Oh who am I kidding... everybody hates me. I am old with no family and can't even get laid without paying for it... Now, I am teaching a Vargr noble's baby niece. And if she gets hurt, he's gonna make haggis outta me... My past sucked, my present doesn't seem to good, and now I have 'that' to worry about for my future?!?... God, I'm sorry about the incident back in '02. Please stop punishing me already...

"So what's left to do?"

"Come on, Ish. It's not so bad. All that's left is the control section/cockpit. That and small detail stuff."

"Everything else is done? The drives tested? Enviro certified? Computer done? I know the computer's not done. It's a piece of kark and non-standard. Chickie here wouldn't even know how to set it up. I don't know how to set it up! Not yet anyways..."

"Can't really test the drives until her shakedown cruise, but they're tuned and ready to light. Inspector's coming in two days to sign off on life support. Contra-grav is OK. Tuvi's really great. She rigged up a CG test program on her percomp and we lifted the ship a whole 2 meters yesterday. They're working right on spec. She also has everything wired up and linked to the front avionics and even run to the cockpit. All you gotta do is the computer and controls for me, and then we're done. Well, except for packing to leave that is..."

Every time Fred said something nice about her work, Rory did a little curtsey.

That kiddie show was on ...again. Rory's cutesy-ness next to the cutesy-ness of those weird furry forest spirits was a little unnerving. I couldn't get the show's sappy stupid song out of my head. I hummed it to myself while Fred kept on yapping about the ship and how good Rortuvu was at fixing things and how we can finally get away from here in another month. I just looked at him and nodded and said "uh-huh" once in a while. Gee, god, thanks... I was being demoted from ship's engineer to be a lowly computer field support tech. Whee...

"... so, anyways, here. I brought this for you and it's linked to the shipnet on a secured line. We need you to get back to work."

He dropped my plain vanilla lap terminal on the foot of the bed.

"So its back to work...from my almost-death bed huh? Won't it bother you that I'll be writing stuff for running the ship while hopped up on painkillers?"

"Nope. It'll be just like old times... Now quit milking that scratch you got for more time off."

And Fred added in a quieter voice.

"C'mon, brother, we need you..."

"That's it ?!? At least a pretty girl hugged me, and all you can do is make me work?"

Rory chuffed in the background, and I couldn't quite tell if she was happy that I thought she was pretty, or was acting insulted that a dirty monkey-boy expressed some form of affection for her by stating a truthful compliment. The spark in her eyes told me that I got it right the first time.

"Yep. No rest for the wicked and all that. In fact, we have to get back to work too. Except that we are innocent of course. Well... Tuvi anyways... Oh, start thinking of a name for our ship. We'll need one for the paperwork. I don't want to have to call her by her legal name; IISS-23545-45743-exp."

"Mister Stracker, I will vote for whatever name Mister James wishes, so the name will come from him. I owe him my life."

"If that's how you feel Tuvi, then that's how it'll be. We all agreed that you should have a say and we'll honor that."

"Thank you, sir."

Rory looked to me and winked. That took me by surprise. I couldn't get that stupid song out of my head.

"So what will the name be, Mr. James? Think about it and tell us next time we visit."

Come on let's go,
Come on let's go.
As happy as can be...
Let's go walking you and me...
Ready, set, come on let's go...

Maybe if I hum it long enough, it'll come true.

"I already know what the ship should be named..... The Totoro Ace."

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