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Cultural Exchange - Part 19

I've never been on a ship like this before. Well, maybe a long time ago. I'd nearly forgotten about those days... almost. There is always something to trigger memories back again. They say that scent can trigger such things and feelings. I guess that must be true, because I am certainly feeling very nervous since coming aboard. Of course, having a number of guns pointed at me might be a reasonable cause of nervousness, too.

Breathing deep to attempt relaxation merely made me notice the smells more. It smelled... uh... different... than I am used to. Not awful, but not that great, either. Nothing like the odor of about a zillion wet dogs to remind me of where I am. I imagine that I'm stinking up the joint with my sweat and fear.

Why in hell am I so jumpy?

I've been in worse spots. I mean, we're among friends, right?

Feh! Guns with safeties off have no friends.

I should be used to it by now. There've been days where I relished wearing a bull's-eye like a badge of notoriety and a mask to hide my own insecurities. Its easy to hide insecurities behind your mask when you're an object of fear but dangerous, too; nobody shoots at something unless they're scared of it in some way. It also helps to insulate me and let's me avoid talking to people so often. I hate talking to people... I might let my insecurities show.

I'll show my nervousness by looking around like a rube at everything. Nice ship... typical Vargr craft. The impie propaganda machine likes to make it seem as if doggy ships are slipshod vessels held together with spit and bailing wire... not true. Yeah, we've got more advanced gear manufactured in factories all alike, but Vargr ships are more one-off products. Their techs often have to make do with whatever that can find to fix things which is what gives their craft a jury-rigged feel. Besides, the constant 'one-upmanship' atmosphere makes for some damn clever gadgets and fixes.

Fred hissed at me all quiet like, "Quit fidgeting, Ish. You're making me nervous."

Glancing over at him, still 2 arm lengths away from me, I could see that he remained cool as ever. Unflappable bastard. And forcing me back to the here and now and the reasons I was jittery just caused my lips to curl in a black grimace as if I were chewing on a shard of glass.

"Eff you!"

"This isn't the time or place ... cut it out already."

Oooh. He sounds angry. Maybe he's not so unflappable after all... Good!

Turning away from him like a jilted lover, I just exhaled in exasperation, the simple huff of a petulant child. I can almost feel him roll his eyes upward and clench his fists.

Rory caught my eye and lowered her own head, smiling shyly. At least someone still tolerated me. There was something else now, too, that wasn't there before the episode in the passageway. I had let her peek behind the mask for a moment and she didn't run away. I swore to keep her safe ... I guess that means even from me. I relaxed a little for her sake. I hope I don't screw up...

Like normal, I start to tune things out. The less I have to pay attention to, the less I have to worry about , right? If only things were that easy. I was getting nervous again..or I should say, more nervous.

I didn't want to seem like a rube, so I stared at my feet ... yeah like that'll look good with these doggies. Hard to look dominating when your eyes are looking at the floor. They'll wipe their paws on you if they think they can ... piss on you too. Good thing that us monkey-boys are clever ... and we cheat. You'll never see it coming, pooch.

Fred cleared his throat quietly to get my attention back where it should be. Inwardly I just shrugged; it won't make much difference anyways.

Lord Azzaghough was being briefed already by the small one and nodding with an odd smile. The expendable aide glanced at us every so often; bad body language when he did. My hackles started to raise up a little.

I just know I'm going to screw up anyways, so let's get this over with already. The top dog was starting nearer to us anyways. The aide stayed behind him, visibly shaken. I have a sudden urge to kick him.

"Mister Stracker... good to see you! You are not ill? Good good..."

Lord Azzgovugh walked towards Fred with outstretched arms like a long lost buddy. Total confidence that everything was going to go his way. I kinda wished everyone else felt the same way; I have this feeling of doom about now. The little aide looking at me sideways with his ears laid back and trying to hide; that didn't help. I really really want to kick his snivelly little butt now.

"It is always good to meet a friend, Lord Azzaghough. Especially during these trying days."

Nice... why don't you kiss him, eh? Clasping hands together like Stanton greeting Enerii-shau in the jungles after 10 years of wandering... how absolutely effing touching.

"<chuff> Yes, Mister Stracker, these are difficult days... more difficult than you can know. I trust things have gone smoothly these past few months?..."

The old dog is hiding something. Most communications, even with humans are done with body language. Vargrs can almost 'talk' without saying a word. Big kahuna-dog's body is saying he's a liar. The other doggies with the guns say that the friendship is a lie too.

Glancing over at Rory just confuses me and makes me even more uneasy; she seems oblivious to everything right now. She's why we're even here...right?

"We have had our troubles, but they amounted to nothing. We are here as agreed. You are wishing to see our student, of course. She has been a gift and we could not have gotten as far without her."

"She is one of our best... angueth-gurn. I expected nothing less from her. But perhaps things have not gone as smoothly as you say? We know of Mister James' hospital stay. "

"As I spoke, Lord Azzaghough, our troubles amounted to nothing and we are here."

Nothing???!?!?! Bastard...you try taking a poison shiv in your kidneys! Damn it, I wish I had taken some pills before coming here. Our troubles amounted to nothing, my ass! MY troubles don't matter, eh?

The little pooch is staring at me, so I growl at him.

Why am I so angry? I have a headache...

"Troubles are everywhere, Mister Stracker. I have reason to believe that they are closer than you admit. Maybe closer than you are aware. We should discuss this. This exchange was to try and confuse it and hide things from it."

"...and you feel it didn't work?"

"I feel that it has worked up until now. Rortuvu is still alive. I am afraid that the technicians lent in exchange to me were murdered. There are those who do not wish us to become allies, Mister Stracker."

"Those are causing troubles for you as well as us..."

"I would be greatly surprised to find out that Mister James' attacker was not a part of something bigger."

"I wonder why my superiors haven't told me of this. "

The old Vargr just looked over at me and turned away to walk back up to the command station and curtly waved for Fred to join him. I'm just a violent stooge that's tolerated. Guess I'm not tolerated enough to be talked to, eh, pooch? ... you'll never see it coming.

Fred looked at me, shrugged and scowled in a silent demand to behave myself, then followed Lord Azzaghough. I figured, what the hell, and started to follow. I'm a part of the team after all. I should know what's going on after all.

A guard stepped to intercept me and make sure I stayed away. I ignored him and took another step...

...down the left side. I was streaking down the field ... Teppo following on my right, ready for an outlet pass. The defenseman stepped in front of me, his stick raised. Go ahead bastard ... I dare ya! ... I 've been checked across the face before...and by bigger men than you ... He tried taking my head off with a vicious high-stick to the nose ... ducking under the blow, I shovelled the ball to Magner and spun to the inside line, spinning around, letting my stick trail behind me ... dirty trick but it worked yet again ... I took his knee out from under him and made it look accidental ... I knew it was good by the high pitched yell of pain. Nearly at the top of the slot ... goalie was paying attention to Magner now. I looked at the sidelines ... the assistant coach was screaming at the top of her lungs at me ... "GO ... KILL HIM!!!!"

... I could hear her clearly over the roar of the crowd ... final 13 seconds of the finals ... tied ... glory time. Danger time ... the other team was starting to react and coming from all sides now. ...goalie looked at me and growled ... then at the sidelines ... and growled. Too late sucker ... driving a shoulder into a gut at the top of the slot to keep him off my back, I dodged back around his falling body and yelled for a give'n'go pass ... I was nearly clear with a clear shot ... clock's ticking down.

"DON'T KILL HIM!" The assistant coach keep screaming. Rory has a lovely yelling voice <?>

... Coach Kuginagash threw his clipboard down and ran to the yelling girl ... angry beyond belief. ... time's almost up ... watching the sidelines almost made me miss the return pass ... hit hard across the back, I went down ... glory time ... time to get up and show my voodoo ... on my knees, I sent a sharp one to the outside as my winger streaked behind the net ... my stick caught the blue-liner at the thigh ... blood gushed and he howled ... somewhere the crowd was banging a drum ... BOOM BOOM ... a pass from behind ... Coach Kugi punched Rory and she dropped like a sack ... I'll get you, you son of a bitch! ... again I had the ball ... standing alone in front of the goal ... the goalie waited and stared into my eyes ... they glowed ... I have a headache ... I raised my stick for a crushing shot ... no time for subtlety ... power versus power ... just try and stop it, asshole ... <pop> ... <pop> ... Why am I so angry? Why did 2 hornets sting my neck ... how did they get onto the field ... why can't I move anymore ... the shot failed ... I failed ... can't move ... tranq darts in neck ... falling to the grass ... hard as a deck ... Rory is down too ... what the hell is happe...

...ning to me? Why am I laying down at Lord Azzaghough's feet...why can't I move? Can't even shake my head to clear it. Can only stare upwards at the ceiling. dammit.

Off to the side, out of my feild of vision, I hear the grunting groan of a casualty being treated for whatever ails him; sounds bad from the noise he's making. That and I smell blood.

What happened? All I can do is listen...

"...don't know what came over him...."

"...it was expected..."

"...two down, master... no other casualties..."

"...Miss Rortuvu is still unconscious...."

"...drop your pistol, Mister Stracker, its not needed anymore...."

People moved into My field of vision finally. Fred stands to one side looking down at me and holsters his body pistol. Guess that explains the darts in my neck...

Then Lord Azzaghough came closer and leaned down scowling darkly. Fred looked at him with concern.

"Do not worry, Mister Stracker, Rortuvu will be okay... but will not remember what happened."

"What happened?..."

He looked grim and answered sharply... "She is angueth... the attack was made through her..."

Psi!... Angueth are Psi's!!! It all make sense now...

Looking down into my unblinking eyes, I heard and 'knew' his words even before he said them... "Mister James... you make a poor puppet..."

Time to start collecting slaves for when I get to hell... And I know I"ll need a good master hull tech!

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