"How does this gew gaw work?" George cheerfully presented me with an complicated looking tool while I collected some dirty gears from the monstrous Jova ship that came in yesterday.
"Oh no, not you too?" I wailed in exasperation. I tired of everyone grilling me for my mechanic's exam. George put the conversion scale down on the work table with a sad slump of his shoulders.
"Sorry," he said with heartfelt embarrassment. I couldn't be mad at the sweet Charon.
"It's nothing big guy," I said, giving him a smile and a playful swat on the arm. He brightened and helped me load the all purpose service cart.
" How did your date go with-what's her name?" I asked about the fem Chiron he met at the bar a few weeks ago.
"Doro? Oh she's a cutie, loves old TV shows too, even X-Files." He rolled his eyes at that. The show was still notorious fodder for loony conspirators and Chirons are known to have little patience with such nonsense.
"Say, how accurate is Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman?" He asked, referring to the eighties western melodrama. About as accurate as the X-Files, I was attempted to say, but didn't want to ruin his romance of the old west.
"I don't know, it was a century before my time," I answered. Most aliens forget that, compared to them, Terrans have an absurdly short life span.
George and I put the gears into a high tech version of a dishwasher and waited through the wash and rinse cycles with a game of rock, paper, scissors .
"You can't use two hands," I complained.
"You can use both of yours," he countered, but after some playful debate, he agreed to use one. We were getting pretty silly when I happened to glance up at the big window that overlooks the shop and noticed two Jovas watching us intently.
" I think we better behave," I suggested to him with an significant nod toward the window.
"Oh prisk them, one more round please?" George dismissed with uncharacteristic brusqueness.
I won the next game and when I glanced up again they were gone. They were a melodramatic race and I wondered what they and their ship was doing here.
I forgot about the incident until after lunch when I was summoned to the bosses office. Uh-oh was my first reaction even though I got along pretty well with him and couldn't think of anything I had done wrong lately.
Stan sat at his cluttered desk and greeted me affably, tossing his reading glasses on a pile of paper. He asked my opinion about some design work on the Jova ship that came in.
" Why are they here? Don't they usually go to Scotty's?" I asked.
"Yeah, but this is being refitted with McKinleys," he said distractedly.
Most ships coming to Mark's are interstellar but don't always use McKinley's. I wondered at the odd request but filed it away for future study.
"By the way, I have to attend the Report tomorrow and wondered if you would like to come along," he said in a causal tone that threw me off guard.
The 'Annual Report' was a meeting of local leaders, as the Pohl's required, to discuss policy and business. The Governor, mayors of each city and the Guardianship of the Alliance would be there. It was not the company picnic and I'm just a glorified grunt like George so why was he be asking me out? Was this a date or strictly business? I stared at him in disbelief.
"You know I'm not good with people," I carefully replied. That was an understatement, my social skills are a cross between a 12 year old and a cokehead.
"You relate well with the etees," he said as encouragement.
" Have you asked Temple?" he gave me an incredulous look. She detested small talk and had even less patience with social rank than me.
"Ok bad choice, how about Gaga?"
" She's the one person they try to avoid. Look it's just for an hour or so, the Jovas like you and you speak AIL better than me." he fairly pleaded. He was referring to Alliance Interstellar Language.
Now he was making sense. There are times when we are asked to help the boss and this appeared to be one of them. I agreed, to his relief.
The event was held at Central in a round hall where Governor Pegoda gave a speech under a large photo of the founder and the Alliance emblem. The administrators of each city and an Alliance official, who I had never seen before, listened politely to the official drivel . All very boring, the real business happened when everyone retired to a banquet room where they promptly headed for the open bar after surveying the paltry canapes buffet.
I stood near a wall with a gin and tonic trying my best not to attract attention but Stan kept introducing me to various delegates and I had to translate for him. I was out of my depth but it was a great opportunity to see the real powers that be, up close. Everyone was standing because, according to protocol, sitting was offensive to some of the races for some stupid reason. I suspect it was to keep such meetings short.
"Who's that guy?" I asked, pointing out an alien the color of eggplant who towered over the diminutive governor. Stan's gaze was a sharp reproach but I warned him I was blunt spoken and his expression melted into amusement at my ignorance.
"That's Ambassador Shem I told you about," he said. I remembered him from Stan's narrative about "The Awakening".
Shem was tall and slim with striking features. He had smooth, hairless skin the color of eggplant under a silk robe of shimmering yellow and green.
"How come he doesn't look like Imbler or Fet?" I puzzled.
"Because I insisted they look human to work in the shop. Shem has been negotiating with the Nikon for years so he allegedly looks like one of them," Stan explained as he took a sip of his bourbon.
The Nikon were an elusive race everyone wanted to get to know if the claims of their immortality were true. A Pohl convincing them to join the Alliance as their sponsor would be a major coup.
"How did he get to be ambassador anyway?" I wondered.
"Connections and a good reputation. Shem was the forensic investigator on the Polaris scandal," Stan said.
"Remind me again what that was about, " I suggested, a little irked at his tendency to relate stories with the assumption that I know what he's talking about.
"Ten years ago an associate in the Alliance was convicted of murder using a disruptor weapon found at the scene," He began. " The guy swore he was innocent but the case was airtight based on the signature trail of the weapon," he said and I put a hand to his arm as I remembered that dramatic case. Those weapons are very illegal as vaporizing a person makes for the perfect crime.
" Oh right, then the victim showed up at Alliance headquarters after the conviction, I bet that was embarrassing."
"Big time. Anyway, Shem discovered the signature trail of the weapon was similar to the shitty Belock designed microwave oven that leaked radiation."
" You're kidding me?" I never heard that part before. Stan nodded.
"Shem recommended the appliance be redesigned and widened the range of what is now the best disruptor detectors," Stan explained.
Very impressive, I really wanted to meet this guy.