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Cultural Exchange - Part 18

Standing there, I had this odd feeling that we were just stooges, like in vids. The smart pretty one, the cool hero one, and the wild cannon that everyone merely tolerates. I didn't ask to be the odd one. Even among friends, I feel alone because of it.

Odd man out and those closest to me still look over their shoulders at me. Sometimes with humor, sometimes with fear, sometimes with pity, but rarely with love. I seem to have missed out on that.

Great... now I'm in an even worse mood... shoulda took some more chemical happiness. Fake joy is better than none at all. Let the anxiety attacks begin...

Without waiting or even looking to see if the pressures been equalized, I key in a the cycle sequence.

"Let's get this kark done with already..."

Fred just glanced darkly at me. He made a point of resting his hand on the butt of his pop-gun. Like I said, looking over shoulders with fear and pity. He was more intent on keeping his eyes on me, than watching when the lock door opened.

A puff of air rustled the clothes as the door slid open. A Vargr spacehand in vacc suit looked up with annoyed surprise. Time to set the tone of this trip.

Ignoring his motions to wait, I walked right up to him and picked my teeth while looking in the mirrored faceplate of his suit. I even slicked back my thinning hair before walking past as if the spacehand didn't even exist. The guard at the other end of the link-tube was watching and tensed up a little.

Good! If I'm going to be in a bad mood, I want everyone in a bad mood... misery loves company, they say. And even then, I know that I'll end up feeling alone.

Somehow, that makes me black and anxious. Knowing that there's a gun aimed at my back doesn't help...

Rory was frowning and Fred kept at least 2 arm-lengths away from me. I could see them in the guard's mirrored visor. They kept them flipped down, just in case something bad happened. Same as humans... nothing's as different as the government ad-men would want you to believe.

I know why Fred is staying his distance from me. I'm a potential enemy now. But I don't understand why Rory is so upset. She's been eager to see her family again for days...no, weeks.

An anxiety attack starts up and I glance around looking for places to dive and free fire zones and ways to stay alive.

"Its a floogin' vacc-tube, retard... nowhere to hide..."

Rory looked at me... I must've mumbled out loud... dammit...

"Did you say something, sir?"

Looking away and stepping into the alien cruiser, I ignored her and moods got colder. I noticed that the guard stepped aside only when she came close. I tried to make the best of things by making the things of others, seem worse.

I kept an ear open for Fred as my eyes adjusted to the new light. He spoke briefly to the guard and the guard nodded once before talking fast into a comm. Too fast for me to pick out any words, but I did hear my name. Anxiety is launching a full frontal assault...

A smaller doggie met us and waved for us to follow.

"Please, this way come...The lord has expected you. He has been very eager to see you, miss...grugevch andruch angueth."

"Wrinecht esgarunnm puhsyngrr."

Rory's voice shocked me a moment. I guess I have gotten so use to her speaking galangic that I almost forgot that this harsh guttural speech is her own. I was also shocked at how this little guide had bowed and deferred to her. What was so important about her?

We continued in silence, the small envoy leading and chatting politely in alien tongue with Rory and Fred brought up the rear. I felt like a prisoner being marched to the scaffolding for that final jump. I caught a glimpse of a guard following further back still. Let Fred notice it on his own... kark it.

Just to try something, I made a wrong turn as we passed a series of passageways. A big pup in full combat armor and a big bore gun...splash rounds most likely, blocked my way.

From my memories along the border, to post such a guard on the inside was unthinkable... a show of weakness... unless a boarding action was expected. My attention was brought back to the proper way by the whiny li'l rat dog.

"Please. Go not any way except with me. It is for your own safety. Lord Azdzafodh is waiting on the command ...um..."

I completed his sentence for him.


" Yes...thank you...bridge...This way..."

He must be the lowest of the pack. Expendable? Heavy guards? Why do they fear us? I rested my hand under my jacket on the hilt of my blade; anything, just to feel as if I can do something, anything about the situation. A safety blanket type of thing.

Immediately, 2 guards appeared with weapons drawn... where the hell did they come from? The li'l guide stepped in front of Rory as if to shield her from me and tried to push her to safety.

Fred pulled his gun and was aiming at my head, and one of the guards was aiming at his. A stand-off where death loves to watch. Nobody wins these things... ever... only if death gets bored. Everyone froze like stone.

I was the odd man out... again... I had no weapon to point at anyone. I was alive only because I was the loose cannon that others merely tolerated. One of the guards started yelling. I ignored him.

"brughith! BRUGITH RORJ!"

Friedrich hissed between his teeth at me.

"Ish...you idiot! stop it! just stop it! Don't make me shoot you!"

The click-clack of cocking and safety releases going off drowned all other noises out. In such times, your ears only hear what they need to hear and the jabbering becomes unimportant.

I smiled lop-sidedly and made my decision. It was an easy one to make. I had long felt as if I had no purpose. It is time to end the aimless wandering... it was a decision that I had made a few months back... I slowly drew the blade out while dropping onto a single knee. The steel whispered quietly as it slide from its sheath. In a single motion I drew it forth and kept the point near me and without breaking the movement, I extended the hilt towards Rory.

I could hear droplets of sweat hitting the deck. Everything was moving in slow motion, yet this time, I felt that things were going with the precision of a fine set of gears. I just stared straight ahead and focused my attention on a smudge on the bulkhead; if I die, I die.

"Anguethir! Dreoffurgh Anguethir!"

"What?... What are you doing?!"


I could only see Rory...all else was like looking through frosted glass and heard as if sounded underwater. Through the tumult of shouting and jostling for a good firing position, her eyes and mine locked for a brief instant... I whispered to her... "I offer myself to protect you always." ...and she understood.

The herald tried to stop her, but was brushed aside and Rortuvu moved as if hypnotized. Reaching out her hand, she grasped the grip of the blade and drew it toward herself. All others were watching her with eyes wide and mouths gaping in surprise or shouting. I released my hold and the magic ended.

Rory dropped the blade as if it were red hot and cried soundlessly, the steel clattering on the deck. The clear ringing of it washed away the stand-off and left all wondering what had happened. Still nobody moved. But everyone was still breathing and not bleeding... so what ever happened wasn't too shabby.

I picked up my weapon and re-sheathed it again under the amazed glares of the guards. One moved to stop me until Rory stepped between him and me. He stopped and stuttered unsure of what to do, then backed away from the young girl in confusion.

Standing tall again, I saw that Fred was watching me closely and scowling. I just smiled and shrugged apologetically. Be glad you're still alive.

"Please...Lord Azdzafodh is waiting...he must be waiting not..." And the small herald acted as if herding us and the guards. Rory merely followed quietly. And the small doggie stammered into a communicator as he rushed. He treated Rory like fairy crystal now.

"This is unfortunate..."

"It changes nothing."

"It changes everything!"

"We are strong enough."

"So are they..."

"If the attack fails, I have another way."

"Then continue as planned."

"I concur."

We reached the bridge. It was relatively huge with a large open space before reached the control consoles and acceleration couches. Very impressive.

We were arrayed in a line with me in the middle. Several guards were there besides the two that flanked us and they had weapons trained and ready; nobody holds a gun like that unless the trigger was ready to be pulled. Someone was taking no chances.

He stood apart and relaxed. Azdzafodh was in his domain. The wily old corsair was all business now and hard, despite his good natured stance. All ceremony was set aside and so he was dressed in the practical clothes of his command...nothing flashy; his charisma proving his rank.

Like two opposing teams...us here and them over there... It feels like a grudge match...

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