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Cultural Exchange - Part 17

Six hours to link up. And here I sit, locked up like a caged tigris with nothing to do but pace and growl. The trick is to keep busy. A slack mind is the mind that breaks.

Just how much slack is there in mine? I don't think its broken yet... but its sure enough cracked. I mean, its always been twisted or skewed or something, but never cracked... not like this.

Goddam buzzheads!!!

Slipping in through the crack and wedging it wider open!

Punching the bulkhead hurt and left a blood-smudge. Probably cracked the bone again. A stress fracture its called... cracked knuck due to stress. Now my hand hurts too... I'll just kick the door instead. Somehow that'll make my hand feel better.

Let the pacing begin...

A steady track is worn between the door, to head of bed, to the desk, and back to the door. Every so often, I pause and kick the door causing the mechanism to rattle some; no wonder it makes an odd grinding noise when it opens and closes. Kark on it.

"He's fighting it. He's lost to us now."

"No. His doubts should allow one last chance."

"We're watching him closely. He can do nothing worthwhile."

"You're wrong. There is one last thing he can do."

"I am ready to relay your thoughts....."

"Not now.... when he is aboard and ready."

"Tuvi... before you get ready for link-up, please double-check engineering for anything odd. There might be other surprises."

"Yessir, Mister Stracker. I have already found two problems, but I can't tell if they were deliberate or not. They are repaired. Everything is operating normally, as far as I can tell."

"Thank you, Tuvi. Also, can you please check the computer systems and run a new install in case things have been changed since lift off?"

"I' m not sure if I can, sir. Thats not something I learned deeply at the university. And, as Mr. James is so fond of pointing out, the computer system is an odd one. I know very little of it."

"Maybe it might be safest to take it off-line when we are near Lord Azzdzafodh's ship, and run off backup-failsafes then, until we're clear again. We don't want any accidents, do we......."

"Frerfsdfg!!!....I hope not.... sir."

Three more hours to go.

Fred left me access to normal 'guest' functions from my terminal. I can watch whats going on that way, but I can't fool with anything. I know how to bypass it, but it'd take too long to break the encryption with what tools he left me access to. Did I mention that he's paranoid?

I can't blame the bastard though. After all, I did do something awful while sleepwalking under remote control. Why me?

I had to take a break from pacing now. My legs were sore and I must've covered 20 kilometers. Boring scenery. Never changes. Makes the mind slack. Have to keep my mind taut. Besides, my side hurts. Why me?

Nothing to do now but start to get ready for the meeting. I can only imagine what they'll think, and me without any 'teeth'....Fred took all my bullets. I'll still have my sidearm for show. Thats because the Vargr expect a show if strength even in tiny ways like that; we won't be able to afford any show of weakness without losing a measure of respect. They just won't know that my clip is empty unless they have x-ray vision.

So it'll be an empty pistol and a blade to go with whatever I throw on as my uniform. At least I can make sure they're clean and shiny and dangerous looking. Cleaning them will keep me busy for a while at least. Out from my desk drawer comes the gun kit and oilstone.

Halfway through, I can't sit still and decide to take a shower instead. Even if it doesn't relax me, at least I'll smell clean. That's important when dealing with Vargr.

Friedrich sat in the pilot's couch and watched the Vargr spacers begin to rig the intership lock. Easing the Totoro Ace nearer to the large cruiser had been simple enough. A simple fixed-common vector match; both ships glided easily through space. Fred imagined a lamprey next to a shark.

He needed a quick shower; they can smell fear. Nothing inspires such feelings as coming under the guns of a potential enemy and seeing the ecm board light up with weapon-lock pings.

The engineering board had no tell-tales lit...not that the fact made him relax any easier. No tell-tales were lit when the other forms of sabotage were found either. The Totoro Ace could blast up for any reason or for no reason at all.

Gun locks were just a precaution that this corsair had always done in the times past when he and Ishmael flew with the 'Black Teeth'. That was a long time ago, but some people obviously remembered.

An ominous feeling crawled over the lanky scout's thoughts. What was it that someone said?... that he and Ishmael had been hand-picked for this job?....specially requested by this Lord Azzohigdh? He had recognized the Emissary's obsidian fang immediately.

He hoped that they didn't remember too much.....naww...it was a long time ago....

A long cold shudder passed though his spine.....maybe Engineer James had been correct all along. Maybe their mission was to fail....

Cool.... a suitless meet. Them doggies were rigging a hard-lock so a plain jane uniform is all I need. I sat in my underwear as I watched the outside view. Very competent, them dogs....

Don't know why I'm bothering to clean the old heater; Fred took all the bullets..."just in case"...feh! What does he think I'll be able to do? Kill everybody on both ships? I wish I was that good.

All I have is an old style piece with a bunch of new parts to replace the old. Much stronger and smoother now..I should know. I machined each and every piece to match the original steel. Old popperjacks laugh at my piece, but hey!...a bullet is a bullet and each one hurts pretty badly when caught the wrong way. Its more for show anyways; I can only sometimes hit what I aim at. Besides, often the flash and thunder is enough to keep bad guys down and me alive; noone can hit anything when diving for cover.

After rodding out the barrel, I start putting it back together again.

Dammit!!! I knocked the bottle of Hopp's No38 over and made a huge mess. Notebook's soaked....again, and it drips off the edge of my desk, all over my legs. Another shower. The top of my desk gets more oil rubbed in...<chuckle>..some folk pay big money for a hand rubbed finish....lucky me. I hope this ain't any kind of omen about how this meet will go.

An awful banging on my door startles me and makes me drop parts.

"Be ready to go in an hour...air-lock'll be cracked then."

Cursing, I banged my head on the underside of my desk while picking up the return spring. I'll have to rush now. Dammit!

"All set?"

Fred seemed more nervous than I was; what an odd sensation that is. He's actually having a panic attack before I am.

I just shrugged calmly as if I had time and lives to burn. He just stood away from me, just in case I was zombified again , no doubt, and looked me over in an impromptu inspection.

Nothing special to see... I just wore my usual clean pair of pants and shirt. I had my blade strapped under my old flight jacket, the leather one I had won in a poker game long ago and far away.

Low slung across my left hip was my gun in its holster. I had the butt forward for easy grabbing. I know I'm not that good with it, but it looks more dangerous that way...at least I think it does.

He smirked uncomfortably and held out his hand to me, palm up. I know this hurts Fred, but I don't like it either....alot. I play dumb.

"C'mon, Ish. Let me see it. I can't take any chances."

"Why? You took all my ammo already. What do you think I'm going to do with it? Beat doggies over the head?"

I guess my tone of voice annoyed him. He seemed to be getting even more antsy.

"Cut the crap! I know you hold out stuff....cough it up or I'm going to scrub the mission."

I just smile like an idiot and reach into my pocket to pull out a single bullet I had stashed and hidden....I always hold out a single round just in case I don't wanna play the game of life anymore.

Fred glared at me, but I ignored him and watched sideways as Rory came up the ladder from the lower deck to join us. I tossed the single round to Fred just as he turned to see her approach. He fumbled it and it fell to the floor; I laughed evilly and quietly. He let it roll across the deck. He turned back and glared at me some more with smoke coming out of his ears.

"If you got one, you got more....let me see it."

He held out his hand again and I knew he wanted to check my gun. Awwwww...don't trust me or anyone else now? I kept smiling and locked my gaze onto Rory's blues while I slowly lifted the holster flap and drew the pistol out. I didn't stop lifting it out until the barrel was against my temple.

Fred steeped back and began to pull out his own piece. Rory's eyes got big as dinner plates. She has pretty eyes. I reached up and cocked the action. Her eyes got huge before she squinted in anticiaption.

"Cut it out, Ish!"

I chuckled and pulled the trigger...


The look on their faces was priceless. Rory jerked then slumped visibly from the release of tension. Fred did too, but not much and not where he'd admit it. He rolled his eyes as if studying the overhead ductwork.

"See...nothing in either the chamber or the mag."

My smile faded and turned to granite.

"So back off!"

His face became just as hard as mine. He deliberately pulled his gat out and cycled the chamber until a unfired round jumped out. He caught it without breaking eye contact.

"I got plenty in my mag, so you back off. Pull one bonehead move or start anything stupid and you'll find out I have some in the chamber too. I mean it Ish."

Nothing I could do but nod and smile like I cared.

Poor Rory. She looked deflated by my antics and looked at me like one would look at a squirrel with a broken leg; someone to be pitied.

I was happy about something else already. I was still me. The way I figured it, you control something if you can destroy something. I was able to pull the trigger, so I must be in control.... not under remote control...myself.

The airlock began to cycle and as Fred and Rory turned toward the door, I reholstered my pistol. But after I loaded another single round I had hidden into the chamber in case I didn't want to play anymore.

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