"AIMEE, is SCURS back online yet?"
"Negative. The Self Contained Universal Radio System is non-functional at the moment. Repairs are under way. Replacement components may be required."
I let out a long sigh. "Let me know when it’s operational… IF it can be operational."
Sometimes I wonder if acquiring this cruiser was a blessing or a curse. On one hand, winning the Arx in a game of Brukat enabled me to get started in this Minecrafting gig. But on the other hand, I spend almost as much time repairing systems as I do using them. After all, it is an Osmillian cruiser… what do i expect? I am lucky to have it though.
As I think of that day months ago, I can't help but shake my head and laugh. I was lucky just to walk away with it…
As that word echoed throughout the room, a huge fist came down on the table breaking it in half and spilling the Brukat cards and tiles to the floor.
"You cheated!" bellowed the large alien creature, his nostril flaring and his eyes glaring at me.
"I did not," I said defensively, standing to my feet.
"You're a liar, too!" he growled. He reached down and picked up half of the table and raised it above his head with ease.
"Gnari, I wouldn't do that if I were you," a calm voice said from the other side of the broken table.
Gnari quickly turned his head to the voice, the third player in our game. "And why not?" Gnari asked, his glare fixated on the man still sitting in his chair.
As the man smiled, the sound of three nadion blaster rifles powering up filled the silence. Gnari looked to his left, then his right, then over his shoulder behind him. He saw three robed figures standing around him, each with a rifle aimed right at him.
"That's why," said the man calmly, still sitting in his chair.
Gnari lowered the broken half-table to the ground. "I thought no weapons were allowed on board, Q!"
"My outpost, my rules." Q finally stood up.
Gnari growled deeply in frustration, a trademark of the Brukatau species. "This isn't over." He turned to walk away.
"Did you forget something?" asked Q. Gnari stopped, looked at Q, then glared at me. "Ice won that game fair and square. Hand over the key card to the ship. It belongs to him now." Q pointed at me. Gnari pulled out a key card and flicked it towards my feet then turned and stomped away. "And you owe me for the table!" shouted Q. Gnari growled again.
I reached down and picked up the key card. "If I were you," Q began, "I'd change those key codes as soon as possible. The Brukatau are not to be trusted." I agreed with him. Q gave a single nod to the three armed men; they lowered their rifles and retreated into the shadows. As Q and I walked off together, the normal activities of the gaming room resumed behind us.
"Good game by the way," Q said, breaking the silence as we walked. "I was surprised you got the big guy to wager his ship." I smiled. "I was quite impressed," he added.
"Thank you, Q." I paused a moment. "I was surprised you threw that last hand."
Q gave a sly smile. "What makes you think I threw that hand?"
"C'mon Q, we played Brukat enough times… I know when you're bluffing."
He laughed. "Well, I knew you had him beat. And I have no use for a space cruiser, especially an Osmillian space cruiser," he said mockingly. "You needed it more than I did." We stopped in front of Q's office door. "Besides, I know better than to piss off a Bruke," he added amusingly.
"Hey, I'm not the one that aimed rifles at him."
Q brushed the notion aside. "Brukes don't get angry when you point a gun at them; that doesn't phase them at all. It's when you take something of theirs, that's when you get on their bad side."
"It's not like I stole it," I said. "I won it fairly."
"You know that. And I know that. But he will never think that." I nodded in agreement. "You've only been out here a short time; you still have a lot to learn." I nodded again.
"You think he'll go somewhere else to trade?" I asked.
"Gnari?" Q said curiously. "Doubtful. He knows the Qimmel Outpost is the trading mecca in all of the Aquitaini and Agria Systems, and it would be highly unpropitious of him to take his business elsewhere." Q spread his arms wide in proud showmanship. I raised an eyebrow, questioning his choice of words. "Okay, okay… he may not think it in those exact words, but he knows I'm the best and cheapest trade on this side of the galaxy." He lowered his arms. "And you know how cheap the Brukatau are?"
(The more time I spend on this ship, the more I see it.)
"You're the one that should be concerned," he went on, "you beat a Brukatau at his own game. That's a fast way to get on his bad side." Q turned towards his office then stopped. "Oh yeah, speaking of bad side," he added, turning back to me, "I heard Merc was looking for you. And I heard he wasn't too happy."
"Captain Merconis?" I asked. Q nodded. "Doesn't that guy ever let up."
"It's a complete misunderstanding."
"I don't know… I heard he understands it quite well," he said with a crooked smile.
"You hear a lot of things, don't you?"
Without missing a beat, Q said with his arms spread wide, “This is the mecca of trading posts in all of the Aquitaini and Agria Systems. I see all… I hear all… I know all…" He began to laugh haughtily.
I ignored his supercilious demonstration and asked, “Do you think he knows where I am?"
"As long as you stay in the Aquitaini System, you should be alright. The J4 Council won't let him in; that's under GAME's jurisdiction… no military space craft allowed."
"But Qimmel Outpost is in the Agria System," I offered.
"Which is why you should shorten your visit and get back home if you want to avoid Merc," Q continued. "Is there any place in the galaxy someone isn't looking for you?"
"Well, so far, right here," I said with a wide, half-hearted grin.
Q placed his hands on my shoulders, glanced behind me, then looked at me and said, “Good luck with that." He laughed, turned on his heels quickly, then disappeared into his office.
As I turned around, I caught a glimpse of a fist flying at my face. I turned my head, but the punch managed to land into the side of my jaw. I stumbled back but kept myself upright.
"Why haven't you called me?" a female voice said in a hollow tone. Then again, maybe she said it in a regular tone and it sounded hollow because my ear was ringing from the impact of her fist with my face. "I said, why… haven't… you… called… me?" This time it did not sound hollow. It was clear and quite audible.
I looked at this vicious beast that attacked me—no, sucker punched me. She was tall and slender with a fit physique. Tribal-like tattoos covered the left side of her neck and crossed over and down the inside of her right forearm.
“Talia…” her name escaped my lips without a thought.
“Well, I’m glad that you remembered my name.” Both her fists were balled up tightly. She was ready and waiting to swing again.
“Of course, of course, I remember you, Talia,” I pleaded, trying to calm her down. “There’s no way I would forget you.”
“Then why haven’t you called? It’s been two months since…” her words trailed off.
“Yeah, yeah, I know. I’ve been busy. You know, doing this whole Minecraft gig.” I ushered her down the hallway to someplace more private. “Believe me, I was going to call.” I offered up a debonaire smile. Her demeanor began to soften.
Talia is a Tenbaurian, and Tenbaurian women are very possessive. We met a few months earlier and hit it off right away. There was definitely some chemistry there. We had one very interesting night and she has not let me go since.
As we walked, she kept a firm grip on my arm. “You know you can’t just disappear on me like that,” she started. “Didn’t that night mean anything to you?”
“Of course it did, Talia.” I led her aside into an empty room. “It was pretty incredible. I think about it often.” I couldn’t contain the smile that was growing on my face as I remembered that night.
“You know my people… you know there are certain things that are absolutely FORBIDDEN!” Her body was tense and rigid. She lowered her voice before continuing, “There are certain acts that are… unmentionable and unthinkable to do—EVER!—with a human.” Her eyes gleamed with excitement as she said this. She was remembering that night too.
“Admit it, you know you enjoyed it.” I toyed.
“That’s not the point. If my elders ever found out, I would be… be banned from my world. Or worse… maybe even executed.”
The Tenbaurian people are very dedicated and very serious about their heritage and culture. Punishment is dealt out at the highest degree.
“I know, I know. They won’t find out. It’ll be our little secret.” She began to soften again. “But admit it, you did enjoy it, didn’t you?”
The huge smile that emerged on her face was confirmation enough. “Absolutely,” she said in an almost breathy whisper. “It was so… so hot…”
“…and so, so sticky.” Her body writhed, and she giggled at her last statement.
(Okay, okay… for all you dirty-minded people out there, it’s not what you think. Just keep reading…)
“It was!” I agreed. The smile on my face was undeniable at this point. “I’m glad I was the first person you experienced that with,” I added.
“I can’t believe you talked me into it! It was so good. So very good!” She glanced around to make sure no one was in earshot. “What did you say it was called again?”
“Pizza,” repeated Talia. “Pizza is delicious.” She licked her lips very slowly.
Tenbaurian people are forbidden from consuming ANY human food whatsoever. If they happened to be stranded on Earth with no means of escape or rations of their own, they would rather die. Their culture is hardcore against human food and would be disgraced if one of their own partook of it. Perhaps their newer generations weren't as dedicated to this belief which is why Talia gave in. Regardless, it is a secret that will have to remain just between the two of us.
“Well, if you ever want to…”
“Don’t worry,” she jumped in, “I’ll let you know.” I nod. “That reminds me, Ice,” she said, her tone turning serious, “Merc is looking for you.”
“You didn’t tell him what I’m up to, did you?” I stammered. “You didn’t tell him I was part of GAME…”
“Calm down… of course I didn’t tell him.” She paused a moment. “I guess we both have secrets we need to keep for each other.”
“Thanks, Talia. Is he close by?”
“He’s in the next sector, but he’s heading this way. I got the lead, so I made it here first.”
Talia would know this because she more or less is employed by Captain Merconis. This is also the reason why she can’t look me up in the Aquitaini System. The J4 Council doesn’t allow military craft in an exploration-only system, and Talia operates a military class ship. The J4 Council works closely with GAME to ensure the rules and statutes are followed to better fulfill the exploration directives set out by GAME. In other words, GAME makes the rules, J4 enforces the rules, and we follow the rules.
“You’re not going to tell him I was here?” I asked.
“No, Ice,” Talia said with a smirk. “I’m not.”
“You’re an angel, Talia!” I raised up and gave her a quick peck on the cheek.
“That’s NOT the image I want to portray,” she replied, her hands cocked on her hips.
“You know what I mean.” I started down the hallway.
“Don’t forget about me!”
I slowly rub my chin remembering Talia’s right cross. It’s been four months since I last talked to her… damn, that next meeting is going to hurt like hell.