Chapter IV

"Joy Carries the Hand of Evil"

"Some people are born mediocre, some people achieve mediocrity, and some
have mediocrity thrust upon them."
-Joseph Heller

That cough I'd passed off as a sigh haunted me like a wicked curse of vengeance. For the next morning I awoke in a state of illness so like that of inebriation that I'd as soon mistake the King Himself for a heaping pile of putrid slime than make it through the corridors without accusing someone of trying to seduce me, much less pilot a spacecraft to the surface of the earth.
Just as the inebriation had worn off, and the stars outside my port window stopped trying to bite each others heads off, I was once again visited by the 'O so pleasant guard I'd had the honor of meeting the morning before. At least that time I had an honorable excuse. .At least I'd felt I vomited the entire last month's of food that I'd consumed all over his face. On a better note, however, I was able to have the wonderful epiphany just then to never eat greens from the mess hall again, and it also utterly obliterated any possibility of them being able to accuse me of feigning my sickness; that guard certainly hadn't a doubt in his mind.
From what I'd heard, there was a number of armira who'd been so kind as to take on my duties on the surface for me. Whilst I didn't at all like the idea of not being able to interact with my humans on my level and my intellect, and instead having to worry about what awful things my colleagues were possibly doing in my absence, I hadn't any choice.
Verbadnn visited me quite often, the nice bloke that he was. One would assume his visits would've gone well, however, they simply didn't, especially the first one; I just assumed it was the mere fact that I was more cynical and sarcastic than I usually was when I was sick. For it was during his first visit that he'd proposed a question that left me disturbed and unable to answer: what in the blazes was I sick from! 'Course, instantaneously after I'd asked myself that, in walked the medical chief, his case of evil, crude torture toys in hand.
I'd been lying on my couch in the living area, Verbadnn sitting in a chair to the left of the couch. There was some diennan crying in the background, just low enough for two people to have a conversation without being interrupted by the whaling of giant sea creatures. As the Doctor laid his case down upon the metal table before the couch and began to open his "treasure trove", he'd spoke up with his usual, relentlessly joyful tone.
"Well, Anar, I heard you were sick," he said, "so I thought I'd come by and take a look at you."
"Oh, well, that's great, 'Doc," I said sarcastically, "I only left you a message six or seven hours ago."
"Now, now," he said, handling each subject from his dark box, "no need to be sarcastic, Commander, especially in your state."
"Would you mind actually telling me what my state is?" I asked. "I see you brought your torture chamber," I said, eyeing his case.
"No, I don't mind telling you what your state is, Anar," he replied, "and this 'torture chamber', as you call it, is that which is to combat what currently ails you. You call it a torture chamber; I call it a salve."
As far as I was concerned, he could call it a bloody cornucopia of bliss, but I didn't want the blasted thing anywhere near me. "Aw, come on, 'Doc! Isn't there some other way to figure out what's wrong with me? Hey! I hear the humans have this thing called a 'CAT scan'."
"Commander," he said suddenly, his happy tone gone, "do you want me to sedate you?" he threatened.
I shut up and let him go about his business. After about five minutes of scanning and prodding with his "instruments of pleasure", he finally locked them back up in their cage and relaxed again.
"Well," he began, "were it not for your vomiting on Sentry Desarus earlier this morning, I'd say you're suffering from a sever case of depression. I read your mind, Anar, and all of this stress has broken down your immune system; you've caught a harmless, common case of the eflureesh."
"Eflureesh!" I reiterated skeptically; the eflureesh was nothing more than the armira equivalent of the human cold, only much more rare, for our immune systems were far more advanced than that of humans'. "And what do you mean 'stress'? I'm not stressed!"
"You are, Anar, and you know why," he persisted.
"No, I don't, actually," I said, shaking my head despite the terrible aching it caused.
"Read my mind, Anar," he said.
I drew back slowly, frowning. "I'd rather not," I said simply.
He seemed to sigh very lightly then, and, though his gaze remained on me, his head fell. "Yeah, I know, Anar." He turned to Verbadnn. "Commander Verbadnn, I suggest you keep our friend, Anar here, as much company as you can." Verbadnn replied with a smile. "Anar," he said, turning back to me, "don't be afraid to say what you can't hide in your head."
He then left me there, my jaw dropped, breathless, and had I been able to feel my feet, I would've tried running out after him to ask him exactly what he'd meant by that last statement.
"He's right, you know," Verbadnn said suddenly, and I suddenly remembered he was there. "I read his mind and saw what he read from you. It's the stress, Anar, you need to get over the stress."
I sighed. "Verbadnn, I am trying my hardest to overlook all of the things going on with our people," I said defiantly. "I'm still doing my duties; I have committed no form of insubordination."
"It doesn't matter!" he said suddenly. "Seeing you now, I find myself quite the guilty one for ever informing you of these things. Stop dwelling on all of it. It's what you always do. Your whole life you've been upset for not having had a mate and killing yourself over it. Now you're doing it with this." His eyes grew more sympathetic as he tilted his head a bit. "I know you, Anar. You've lived a tough life. You're a fifty-year-old 'mir who has never mated once in his life or ever had a relationship with anyone." He paused a moment, shaking his head. "How many times have I said these words to you now?" he wondered. "I use to hate it when you would berate yourself and force stress upon you over love, and now you're doing it over this."
My eyes fell crestfallen to the floor. "Yeah, so," I said emptily. "What's your point?"
"My point, Anar, is that you need to stop hiding in your wings!" he said harshly. "Stop walking around acting like you're the only person in the universe with problems. Where's your bloody self-confidence?"
My eyes unmoving, I said quietly, "It shot itself a long time ago."
"No, Anar," he said, without any sympathy at all, "you shot it! You're a very smart person, Anar, and an excellent company to have. That is exactly why it has never made sense to me that you do these things to yourself. You should be happy. You have so much, why worry yourself to death over things that you do not have?"
"What makes sense," I said slowly, "is that I be honest with myself."

"Stop being so negative! You're not being honest, Anar; you're slaughtering the truth of the matter!"
Anar fixed Verbadnn with a steely look. "The only reality here," he said, "is that I am no more than a cruel experiment by the universe to see how absolutely horrible it can make one of its countless lives feel."
"I'm not going to talk to you when you're like this," he said flatly, and got up. "I'll come back, Anar, but I'll leave right after if you're just going to act like some poor, mistreated baby!" He left then.
Part of me believed he was right. How could it not? I was smart enough; Majesties, I was honest enough. The other part of me felt just as I'd said, like I was some pathetic looser, too sad a person to have the most wonderful gift of .
Why had every female in my life rejected me? I used to scream my bloody tail off at the stars, asking that same question. I knew the answer, of course. I'd been born slightly different from other armira. Most armira cranial horns bent back toward the back of their heads, a lot of females' horns were slender and sometimes straight up; mine, on the other hand, bent forward, going up straight and then bending forward and curving down. I stood out like a human on earth with two heads. Armira viewed such a deformity as revolting. Sure they tolerated it, as they would anyone else's deformity, but no one would be able to tolerate it enough to be physically intimate with someone with horns like mine. It was a virtual curse, and I hated who ever my birth parents were for giving me such defective genes.
I'd tried to make up for my appearance my whole life by making my personality as best it could be. Despite the conditions I grew up in, I had noble qualities that most armira could only wish they had. It had to be quite obvious then; my being the only one that seemed to be able to see how absolutely awful we were treating the humans. I had compassion, respect, honor; other armira sought their whole lives for such attributes with no such luck. Of course Verbadnn was right; we all had our problems. I had the personality everyone wanted; they had the love I wanted. I'd been proud of myself for as long as I could remember for having anything.

The last five days had gone by fast. I was still sick, and I was sleeping most of the time away. Worried about my humans, I'd sent in multiple requests to Master Ovarus to try and get a hold of the armira taking care of my duties, none of which had been answered until the fourth one.
A tall, young armira, a little skinnier than most, visited me in my quarters one day, informing me that he'd been assigned the duty of all out- of-class interaction with my humans. He'd said he wasn't there because of my requests to Master Ovarus, however, but at the request of one specific human of my group.
He mentioned her name and my surprise was evident in the widening of my eyes. He said that a Rebecca Hauge had continuously asked him about me, and had somehow managed to be granted permission to come aboard and pay me a visit. I lied there for a moment, wondering wildly why that Rebecca wanted to see me so bad. I asked him when she was coming and he told me she'd be there later that evening.
So I had a few hours to get ready.. I was done in a nanosecond. I was sick! What was I supposed to do? Dress up nice, take a long shower, and meet her at the door to my quarters, coughing up liquids and organs everywhere? Of course, I did want to look my best, so I covered up most of myself with a blanket and decided to stay that way the whole time. Honestly, the whole time I waited, I'd sat there flying about my mind in an attempt to understand why Rebecca wanted to see me. I didn't know too much about her other than what she had wrote in her essay. I presumed it would be an interesting night. It would give me an opportunity to really make a connection with one of those humans.
About ten minutes before she arrived, a question had finally clawed its way through all of the muddled joy and happiness within me; how in the Majesty's name did she ever get permission to board? An alien coming aboard a personnel ship? She had to have been insanely well behaved down there in order to be granted such a reward. Then again, His Majesty knows, a pair of armed guards would probably escort her up. I could just imagine her walking down the corridor then, right in between two guards, each of them at least double her size and holding guns the size of her body as if she were on bloody death row or something. All that would be missing would be her hands being bound together and Death sitting in the front row of the audience with a bowl of popcorn in his lap.
"Popcorn!" I thought out loud suddenly. "Majesties, I'm starting to talk like those bloody humans now!" I wasn't really outraged at the fact that I was talking like a technologically immature species, but because each day I felt like I was growing more and more human myself. I had delved quite excessively into their culture and society during our research before the take over, more than I usually did with alien races. I suppose it wasn't that bad, in fact, it wasn't a bad thing at all. It was just a bit surprising. When I really thought about it, I did know a lot about humans then. I might even have sworn I was one had I not known any better.

At that point, I knew she would be there soon. I knew I wouldn't want to get up once she got there, knowing my luck, I'd end up vomiting my bloody brains out right in front of her. Unfortunately, I'd had a sudden nagging thirst, so I decided to get up real quick and grab a glass of nutritionally infused water before she got there. Now, had my mind been working right at that point, I might've remembered the fact that I had a splitting headache, was lying there with nothing but my under garments on, and couldn't actually feel my feet. The sum of all of this resulted in my dropping to the ground like an anvil and a pain so sharp and stabbing in my head that I'd swear I'd gone clinically brain dead for about ten seconds.
About five seconds after I'd gotten up, practically in tears due to the throbbing pain in my head, my door chimed. I think I very nearly went blind at that point, for my eyes about popped out of my head. I'd like to say I had a better control over myself, but I , I downright freaked out! I was standing there half-naked, crying! Finally, I grabbed the blanket I'd had over me, did a quick wipe at my face, and fell back to the couch, wrapping the blanket around me so that the only part of me one could see was my head.
"Enter!" I yelled, though hesitant.
I heard the doors open, unable to see them as they were just through a doorway through another room. She stepped in rather slowly, likely because she had been unsure where exactly to go after stepping in. She spotted me and smiled. She waved at me, raising her hand up to her neck and wiggling her fingers at me like they were the flagella of some bacterial life form.
"Hi," I said with a dry, scratchy voice and smiling. "Please, you may sit down." She sat down at one of the chairs across from the couch.
She said "Hi" back in a low, practically inaudible tone. "I just thought I'd try to come up and see how you were doing," she said. "I figured you probably got awfully lonely up here."
"That' nice of you, thank you." I said, taking curious notice of her accent. She'd had an accent I hadn't heard from any of the humans as of yet. I was also actually quite touched. I had never thought any of those humans would care to see how any of us were doing. There was a short period of awkward silence that I felt the very quick urge to slaughter as soon as possible. "So, Rebecca Hauge, I remember seeing your name on my list. You have a beautiful name, very exotic. You're the second oldest of the lot?" I asked.
"Yes," she nodded, smiling, "and thank you."
I gave her another smile of my own. "So," I spoke softly, "where are you from, Becky?"
"Well," she began slowly, "we're originally from Norway, Stavanger, but we moved here from Romsey in Hampshire almost a year ago," she said.
"Ah, Norway," I said, passionately. "I never did get the chance to see it. Oh, of course, I studied all about it." I chuckled. "'Course that only made me want to see it. Romsey sounds like a nice place as well. Do you like it better over here?"
She looked down in thought for a moment. Her eyes slowly climbed up toward me with a shy look, and she said, ".Not anymore."
I recoiled slowly. I'd actually forgotten about it. When I laid eyes on her and started talking to her then, I'd not even thought about my people or the humans in general.
"Yes, of course," I said, my tone much weaker now. "You don't like me, very much, do you?" I asked, sadly. I had a feeling I knew exactly what the answer was, so I went on. "I don't blame you," I said sympathetically. "If I were you, I don't think I'd like us too much either." I sighed and my gaze fell depressingly to the ground.
She seemed to eye me with a curiosity then, her brows slightly furrowed. Her head was slightly turned from me as she spoke. "Why are you doing it?" she asked quietly.
I sighed, my eyes wandering the room a bit before befalling my hands that toiled adamantly upon my belly outside of the blanket that laid drenched over me. The first I opened my mouth to speak, I could get nothing but air out. It was hard even then to face it. It had never been hard before. I remember being asked the question on many occasions on other worlds. The answer had been simple then. "To help you," I would say. I snorted at that thought then, chuckling at my ignorance. I had been so blind, and still, the question remained as to why my eyes were opened only on earth. As I had glanced to my left at her, I realized suddenly that she had wanted an answer and I'd yet to come up with anything. Finally, I shook my head, not looking at her. ".It." I tried so desperately to speak, but my throat seemed to choke as the words came to me, ".it.." I tilted my head toward her, tightening my jaw, and forced the words out. ".It's for your own good," I said quietly. "In the end," I nodded my head, still unable to look at her, "it will make you better."
Silence, and I was finally able to glance at her. Her brows were furrowed more now, her face more serious. Her head was still turned as it was, her arms folded over her chest. "I beg to differ," she said, more quietly than last she spoke.
I snickered near delirious, the smile upon my face only temporary. I had shook my head. ".Could not talk about it?" I said, my words almost as low and inaudible as her own.
"Mm, sure," she mumbled in a seemingly cautious manner. I felt then as though she had been examining me, as though in an attempt to gather information. There I was, placed suddenly under a microscope, and I'd been amazed at myself for not cracking under the pressure. I wanted to tell her; I wanted to tell all the humans. I knew, however, it would only cause more turmoil. I would expect the humans, had they known of my own thoughts, to constantly try to bring them out, force them into the ears of my peers, naively thinking it would make a difference.
I sighed. I had to put it out of my mind. .Just as Verbadnn had said. I could not dwell on it. I thought hard to break the newfound silence. All I could find however, was your casual dialogue. " are you?" I asked.
She seemed suddenly to relax, her eyes finding their way around the room aimlessly. "I'm alright," she answered casually. "I spoke to that friend of yours that you sit with on the construction grounds."
She nodded. "Yeah, that's him. He was nice. He said he heard from." she paused in thought for a moment, ".I think he said his name .he heard that you were depressed?"
"Oh, yeah," I said, chuckling, " .yeah, that's what the Doctor says."
"What over?" she asked curiously.
My mind raced. I had to come up with something, I couldn't tell her the truth. I felt almost as though that she'd somehow sneaked me back under that microscope, her game much better played now. "Oh, well, you know. It's nothing really; just that whole chemical imbalance thing is all. Nothing in particular." I feigned a sincere smile.
She nodded slowly, though I couldn't help but sense a bit of skepticism in her face. Admittedly, I probably wasn't very convincing. I'd never been much of a liar. That awkward silence set in again, and I searched my mind desperately for something to break it.
Then, as if called by me telepathically, Verbadnn happened to walk in. Rebecca and I both heard the doors open and shut. Verbadnn stepped into the living area where we were shortly after. "Hey!" I started, happily, "Verbadnn, it's good to see you." I looked to Rebecca and introduced them. "Rebecca, this is Verbadnn. is Rebecca."
His surprise was noticeable, but he hid it just well enough so as not to seem rude. He had paused suddenly when stepping in, no doubt after spying Rebecca. He stared down at her nonplussed. I could imagine the questions racing through his head then, wondering what a human was doing up there with me. He soon masked his confusion with a smile, and bowed at her. "Lady Rebecca," he said generously. He took a seat at the other chair. "Just came to see how you're doing," he said, focusing on me. "Feeling any better?"
" ," I said simply, at a bit of a loss of words. He smiled back at me. "So," I said, "Rebecca tells me you spoke with Bjevorikk?"
"Yes," he answered, "I called him a couple of days ago to let him know how you were doing." He looked over to Rebecca, the previous subject quickly dissipated. In as best a tone as he could have had, he said, "I'm curious to know how you got permission to come up here."
I looked to Rebecca, myself with curiosity.
"I just asked Felavhium," she said. "He said he'd see what he could do, and now here I am."
"Felavhium?" Verbadnn asked, looking to me.
"The 'mir who's been put in charge of them during my absence," I answered.
Verbadnn nodded. He looked back to Rebecca. "You must have been quite worried about our friend Anar here to have gone through the trouble."
She seemed to think on his statement a moment, her eyes peering coldly toward a table at the foot of the couch I lied on. "No, it wasn't any trouble. I had just been wondering where you were and decided to come see you."
How eerie she had seemed! She spoke as though talking to me, however her eyes had not once looked toward me; they had forever remained glued to that table at the foot of my bed, her arms still crossed over her chest. She had not a smile upon her face, which made it all the more disturbing. I presumed Verbadnn had taken good notice of it as well, for he had been gazing at Rebecca, brows furrowed, before slowly looking toward me as though to ask me if something were wrong with her.
"Well," Verbadnn said after taking in a deep breath and standing up, "I'm going to leave you two alone."
I shot him a worried look then, my eyes wide at him, hoping with every muscle in my wings that he'd read my mind and know I didn't want him to leave us alone. Desperately, I gawked at him. "Oh, Verbadnn," I stuttered in an almost pleading tone, "surely you can stay longer."
"My supervisor told me this morning he wanted me to drop by his office to talk about something," Verbadnn said, "so I really haven't a choice."
I chuckled, trying to make light of his reasoning. "Can he not wait, Verbadnn? Really.."
"You know, Anar," he interrupted suddenly, "if you're feeling any better, perhaps you two could see about having dinner together. I heard that Royal One aboard Star Dust is going to be serving some human delicacies for a while. Give everyone a try at seeing how much they like human food. They'll still be serving the usual food as well, so if you'd like to try any of our food, Lady Rebecca, it'd be a perfect opportunity."

Rebecca looked to me. "Oh, well, yeah," she said, "sure. I mean, if you want to."
All of this had come by so fast I was lying there quite surprised. I had a strange feeling that Verbadnn was simply trying to get his tail out of there as fast as he could, the fiendish, sly one that he was. Unfortunately, with both his and Rebecca's eyes burning through me, I found myself at a loss for intelligence. "Yeah, sure. That would be great." I had said, the words slipping absently from my mouth. I would only realize the horror of what I'd done two seconds later when it was too late.
Verbadnn nodded, smiling, and gave us a slight bow. "I will see you both later. Lady Rebecca, it was a great pleasure to meet you."
"You, too," Rebecca replied, watching him.
Verbadnn left. I glanced toward Rebecca, who'd looked toward me after watching Verbadnn exit into the corridor through the doorway to her left. I lied there, of course, haplessly and nervous as one could imagine. I forced a smile as I gazed at her though and chuckled in a poor attempt to lighten the mood. "You hungry?" I said, finally, anxious to get the night over with.

Most of the night had gone by fast. We'd gone to the Royal One nourishment center aboard Star Dust. Rebecca had recommended the pork chops to me. She obviously had good tastes, for it was quite good. I had her try the avergon eshtell meats, one of my favorites. I wasn't surprised that she liked it. She didn't really eat much, though. We both had a couple of glasses of chocolate milk. I had to admit human nourishment wasn't at all bad. 'Course, I had a tendency to like most alien foods; Majesties, I liked every food.
We'd had a fairly good time to my utmost surprise. Most of the time we talked about how things had been going with the other humans while I was gone, and all of the things they were being taught in their classes. She was learning imochin, the standard armira language, quite fast really. We even tried to have a short conversation in imochin. She didn't quite get it all, but I think she picked up on a little more than she already knew.
I'd had to ignore the fact that it was as if I were having dinner with a baby, what with her having to have something put into her chair to sit on so that she'd be able to actually reach the table. I think she may have been a little embarrassed, but I tried to make her feel better as best I could. It's not like she could help the fact that most armira were double any human's height.
It was all right really, despite the constant feeling of nails being driven into my brain. The trip to and from there wasn't easy, what with my headache, but I did my best not to move while we were there.
When we reached my quarters again afterward, we sat around the living area talking for quite a while. I even showed her some computer files on the planets I'd been and our motherworld, Xrice. I could tell she was quite interested in our technology. I let her play around with the holographic emitter integrated into the table in front of my couch for a little while. She seemed to like that. She asked me about how we travel through space, and I explained to her what I knew about the displacement drive our ships used. I was no scientist, of course, so all I knew is that it had something to do with manipulating space-time on a quantum level and travelling through some interdimensional tunnel. I told her that they'd probably learn about it from Teacher Darv sooner or later.
Before the night's end, she ended up asking me a question I hadn't quite expected. "Why are your horns different from the others?"
I sat there, across the table from her on the couch, herself upon the floor, the table before her. Silence came and went slowly. It had never been an easy subject for me to address. Reluctantly, I explained it to her. "Well, basically, mine are deformed," I said. "They developed differently. The doctors told me it was likely from complications when I was conceived and my development over time."
The only thing she'd had to say about that was "Mm."
Not that it bothered me. I was quite eager to move on, and that we did. We spent another half-hour or so talking. Eventually we decided it was getting late, and I took her back down to the surface and escorted her to their chambers. As far as the human curfew, no one had said anything about it on the way, so I guess we just got off on that. Even if we hadn't, I would've just explained it to them, and we probably would have been fine then, too. When we got there, I hung around for about another ten minutes; we were just sort of walking around, talking. One thing I could say about her, she made good conversation when she wasn't analyzing your every word and move. She was one of the few people who knew how to hold my interest. Anyone who knew me could easily vouch for the fact that my mind wandered quite a bit, and it wasn't easy to keep my attention focused. She was obviously quite the intelligent one, much more intelligent than most other humans. I think I respected her for that.