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Cultural Exchange - Part 16

That's the bad thing about getting your energy from a street chemist... you'll have to crash sooner or later. Everybody does eventually; there's no shame in it. You can only turn at redline for so long before the bearings burn out. Whites are for energy and blues are for lubrication...know what I mean? But, eventually, the bearings seize anyways...

I was not just crashing... I was going down in flames with a 50kt contact fuse set to blow when I hit bottom...

...c'mon, Chaz, let's go somewhere quiet. I got the money. No. I don't have the stuff... I'm tired of that junk... I brought cash instead... I don't want that anymore... I love you...

She never let anyone touch her without paying. Her body was her meal ticket. That's just how things were. We did skunk together sometimes and she was as close to a girlfriend as I could have. I did it to ease the pain and I guess she was hurting too. She always hid it well.... can't get a sugar-daddy if'n you're eyes're leaking alla time. Kinda funny, ya know? A girl specializes in making people feel good even though she's miserable...

I must've loved her after all, cuz it hurt me when she cried. She didn't know it, but I saw her each time she was dumped out of the limos that picked her up. Her eyes leaked a lot. I had this foolish notion that I could fix them for her. But I had to pay for the chance. That's cause her body was her meal ticket.

A real date... like on the vids... meat sandwiches and chips'n'gravy... I even brought a plastic flower for her; nothing grows around here, only weeds. I tried so hard... She just smiled a wan and pallid smile like one of those sad-type clowns or like someone standing on a ledge above the traffic zones just before they fly away to the concrete. Her eyes started to leak too.

She tucked the money under the dirty mattress we had in our little hidey-hole and leaned back beckoning to me. She purred and called me something, but it meant nothing to me, and I clumsily fell upon capacitor (?). She held me close and pulled my clothes off while lifting her own to show off her skin. Suddenly, I feel terminalblock45a (?). She closed her eyes and called me 'Rick' and wrapped her arms around jumpgrid (?). When she touched my back, she tensed up and turned to stone and left...

I never saw her again. I guess its true that "friends become lovers easier than lovers become friends..", only I never did consummate anything other than admitting that I loved her. When I returned after awhile in scouts, I learned that she had flown away to the sidewalk too. An angel trying to get back to heaven the hard way, I guess. I flew away too; I requested a transfer to the Extents and never looked back....

"I think he knows..."

"It doesn't matter...his paranoia will prevent anyone from listening..."

"What if he knows... he should be killed..."

"He'll die regardless, like the others... continue as directed..."


"Quit pounding on the floopin' door!... I'm up... I'M UP!"

My head hurt really bad and my stomach was walking hand in hand with the pain in my noggin. I feel like my brain is leaking out of my ears and my eyes are burning like coals and doing the melting. Who turned on the damn lights? How many times do I have to tell Fred that I'm a big boy now and I don't need anyone to check in on me.

I yell out "off" as I roll over and cover my head again. Blessed darkness again. Why isn't the pounding stopping? I roll over again... and fall out of the bed. Dammit! Now my butt hurts as much as my head does... Muffled voices crept in anyways.

"Open up ! We've got a contact... Open up and fall out already! They dropped out of j-space 30 minutes ago and will rendevous with us in 7 hours... "

Fred was yelling so I knew Rory was up and about. I wanna just lay here and nobody needs me. So what if they're coming... My head is sore and I wanna sleep.

Oh well... it's inevitable anyways and there's nothing but bad dreams in me anymore, besides. No more good dreams... My dream of flying away got ruined because I was a bird on a leash. I swung my legs out of bed and sat there cradling my face in my hands; gathering energy to stand I'd wager. Somehow I stumbled through the act of pulling on clothes and opening the door. Fred blanched when he saw me; I looked as ragged as I felt.

"Workin' late? You shouldn't push yourself like you've been, Ish. It'll be the death of you."

"No work... "

"Bullshit! Just look at your hands; grime under each fingernail. Wasn't there yesterday..."

I held my fingertips up and looked at them. So what? Didn't prove nothing. It looks like I'm not the only one paranoid around here. Anal retentive asshole... why bother when someone else clips their nails. I snuck a glance and saw that his were perfectly manicured. I don't care anymore...

"Look. That don't matter now. We've got bigger snappers to broil now. Lord Azzdzafodh popped out and we'll meet them in 7. They've already set vector for match-up. So get ready and cleaned up some. The sooner this gets over with..."

"...the sooner we can blast outta here... yeah yeah..."

If it would ever be as easy as it sounds.

Rory came up from the lower deck looking worried and refused to look at me for some reason. Fine. She refused to even acknowledge that I was there. I looked right through her and tried to appear bored. She didn't notice and talked to Fred. I was starting to get cross because I felt like an outsider. Why should that bother me? I 've been an outsider all my life...

Because this is one place I have always... ALWAYS... been on the 'inside'... that's why. Even Fred was ignoring me now. Rory's accent seemed extra heavy and alien to me now as well.

"I checked the jump capacitors as you suggested, Mister Stracker. You were correct. The polarity of one bank connected to terminals 45a through 45d were reversed. I don't see how thats possible, sir, because if it hadn't have been correct when we lifted, the potential field drives would not have worked at all; they would have exploded when the high output reactors were brought into the circuit."

"Yes. Thank you, Tuvi. The capacitors would have failed explosively and the jump reactors would have been ruined."

Fred nodded calmly as he spoke. He always kept a poker face. The potential drives are what lifted us aloft to where the mains could be lit off safely. They took a lot of power so they were driven off the j-drives hi-performance power plant with extra 'oomph' coming from the relatively low levels allowed into the capacitors. If you lose power when lifting, you fall. The junior birdmen called it 'litho-braking' when chickies were listening to 'em at the bar, because it sounded a lot sexier than crashing and dying. But the end result was the same, whatever it was called.

I got a crazed look just thinking about it.

"I told you!... I TOLD YOU! but you wouldn't listen! There's someone sabotaging this ship.. one of you two!"

"Ish, settle down... no one accused you..."

"It's one of you two! Not me..."

Geez but my head hurt. I knew that getting out of bed was a bad idea. Rory finally seemed to notice me. She glared and growled. But when Fred shot her a harsh glance, she shook her head and moved away sadly. They must be working together. A pair of zombo's for sure.

Was I always this shaky and .....uh....broken? Am I really as paranoid as everyone thinks. Are the psyche jockeys right?

Bullshit... They're trying to get to me is all. Dirty Joeys and their brain games. I looked at the two of them staring at me and smiled. I know something you two don't. See... he's getting nervous... Fred's sweating on his forehead... I open up with a pre-emptive attack.

"Rory's the one! Who else has the knowledge to pull this kind of breakage off. You don't know the ass-end of a torque meter much less how a j-cap really works... So it HAS to be Rory!"

Kark's hitting the fan and everyone's catching it now. I saw the alien pooch shift slightly like in one of those cheap martial arts vids and this time she didn't growl, but her ears went back and her tail went down and her eyes drilled into mine and it burned. Fred had no choice to step back.

"C'mon, chickie... I don't care what tricks you got...."

I got ready too. Let's waltz, Matilda...


She and I both gave Fred the evil eye and he gave us a glance of his. And a glance of a drawn and aimed body pistol. Hey... Wait a minute!! He's aiming it at... ME! What the hell? They're working together like I thought... this proves it!

Fred edged close to my door and , still covering me, locked the doorway closed. No running behind my castle walls. I stayed ready to fight... Rory relaxed and moved away down the passage out of harms way. Thing are looking awful bad... maybe I'll get to go to sleep after all, but before getting any slaves, dammit!

"Tuvi... go check the rest of the drive systems for 'mistakes' while I talk to Mister James, okay?"

"Yes, sir. Is there anything I should be looking for?"

Fred never lowered his aim from me. Even a rinky-dink body pistol's barrel looks big when its pointed at you. He's faster than me, so he'd get the shot off first if I tried anything and if he wanted me dead, he'd pulled the trigger already. I'll wait... he might make a mistake. Fred wouldn't, but the psi-scum that was controlling him might... the only thing I could do now was stare at him and bide my time.

"Now what... buddy?"

The sarcastic and hateful tone of my voice made him wince. Good. The guilty bastard.

"I wanted to wait until Tuvi was gone. I don't think she needs to know this... yet. She'll know it soon enough, if she hasn't figured it out already, that is. You're an idiot, Ish."

He keyed my room's door open again and used to gun to wave me in.

"Gonna kill me? I mean its obvious that someone wants me dead. So what happened? The joeys tapped your gourd and now you're gonna run off with a pet doggy to replace me?"

Fred still looked hurt and just shook his head. The gun never wavered. I knew he wouldn't make a mistake... too well trained and as paranoid as I was, except he hid it better.

"Pull up the computer's security routines and open the camera files for the jump room at 0347. I didn't want Tuvi to know... she thinks the world of you so far... says you're a good teacher..."

I sat and typed the commands from my console. I could see the reflection of the pistol in the view-screen. ... still aimed at me. If I could only distract him somehow... He kept talking.

"You were right all along about the sabotage and how it was an inside job. Nobody else had any opportunity... or the know-how, except you or Tuvi... so I watched you both..."

The security vids proved that it was an inside job... I banged my head on the keyboard and cursed at my stupidity...

The files showed that the person who 'fixed' the jump caps to explode was... me.

... foil hats don't work...

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