A week passed, and Alex is kept busy teaching and learning. After the battle, after the dead received their ceremony and were cremated, More of the townspeople joined the fighting lessons, which meant that Alex had people who knew little about fighting. He even had a handful of children come for a few hours every day. A few of them didn’t last through the first fight, running off the moment they got hurt.
He continued going to the classes with the younger children, learning the Samalian language, getting better, but not fast enough for his liking. He still only understood a word or two in each phrase he heard. He didn’t want to have to rely on Rig’Irik for translations, especially not after the incident at the dance. Rig’Irik seemed to have moved on, He hadn’t brought it up, but he now kept some distance between the two of them.
The child said something. Alex repeated it and the surrounding children giggled. He couldn’t pronounce most of the words. He lacked a muzzle and his voice box couldn’t produce the rumbling that was part of many words.
The canting of her head meant a question. He’d recognized the word fur. He wasn’t sure of the rest, so he presented her his arm. She touched it. And placed her next to his. Her fur was pale blond with black splotches. She ran a hand through her fur then over his skin, chanting her head.
He smiled, understanding her question now. He looked for Sartas, who’d started hanging around and acted as interpreter when he had questions. She sat next to them. “I don’t have fur.” He gave Sartas time to translate. “I’m human, we only had fur on our head and chin.” She touched the rough bristles on his chin and made a face.
The gesture made the bracelet she wore move down her arm and the sphere dangling from it oscillated. “Does everyone wear representations of the Source?” He’d noticed that the little jewelry that was worn had the sphere on them.
He’d meant the question for Sartas, but she translated it.
The child looked at her bracelet and said something. The cadence gave the words a sense it was something she’d said often. There was something about being part of something, but he didn’t get the rest.
He looked at Sartas. “That’s too advanced for me.”
She indicated the half sphere stud in her ear. “We show our connection to the Source by them. They are a reminder we are part of a greater community than simply ourselves, our town, this planet. That everyone is connected to everyone else, through the Source.”
Alex nodded and filed the information away, going back to the lessons.
Two more weeks passed. His understanding of the language was getting good enough he understood simple communications. It helped that he spent most evenings with the people he trained at the town’s bar. They were seated around a large table in a corner, Alex positioned so he could see the door and a seat on each side vacant.
From the start, only Rig’Irik had been comfortable being close enough to him so they might touch in social situations. Alex figured he was too alien to them for the others to be comfortable with that. And now that Rig’Irik kept his distances, it meant no one sat next to him.
He didn’t mind it. Samalians were too gregarious for his liking. They leaned into one another, ran hands through their furs, nuzzled their neighbors. There was nothing sexual about the acts, not even sensual, from what he could tell, it was no more than two humans shaking hands, but watching them made him think of the few times Tristan touched him. Knowing each touch had been calculated, and not affectionate didn’t keep Alex from missing them.
“What?” Alex looked at Janden, and the table bursts out laughing.
“Alex far,” the Samalian said. “People here, not away.”
Alex sipped from his mug, a fruit juice that was the base for their alcohol. “Then the people here should say interesting things.” He didn’t try speaking Samalian, and he didn’t have to. Rig’Irik had been teaching them and they were faster learners than Alex was although their pronunciation was just as bad.
“Ask question. What Alex do?”
“I teach you how to fight.”
A negative tilt to the ears. And he pointed up. “There, space. What Alex do there?”
Alex looked in his mug. What could he tell them? As much as they seemed at ease with violence, he doubted they’d understand the level to which he immersed himself in it. “I’m a coercionist,” he finally said.
They exchanged looks and even Rig’Irik indicated he didn’t know what that was.
“I work with computers. I make them do what I want.”
They talked excitedly, too fast for Alex to make out much more than this was about computers. That was a lot of excitement over something they didn’t have.
“You fix computers?”
Alex shrugged. “Sometimes.”
“Fix one now?” the speaker was older, but one of the recent addition to his training group. He had maroon fur with pale gray, irregular, stripes.
“There isn’t a broken computer now.”
“No, your weather station’s fine.”
“What other computers? You don’t have other computers. I’d know.”
“We have six computers,” Rig’Irik said. “All broken.”
“How come I can’t hear them?” That confused the Samalian. “If there were working computers here I’d know.”
“Broken,” the striped Samalian said.
“Broken enough they’re powered down?”
Rig’Irik finished his drink and motioned for another one. “We can not use them, so we turn them off.”
“How are they broken?”
“Turn on,” Torbim said. “Word appear, then stop moving.”
“When did it start?”
“Long time. They only work slow at first. But they get slower, then stop.”
Alex tapped a finger on the table, shook his head when he was offered a new mug. “Did anyone collect the datapads from the last attack?” They hadn’t. Which meant he’d have to use his. “Did this start before, or after the corporation came?”
Shrugs. They hadn’t had a reason to suspect a connection so they wouldn’t have paid attention. He could see a corporation doing something like that, cutting them off, preventing them from calling the Law to stop the marauder.
Except that didn’t work. There was no Law here, only the corporate security forces. They were the Law, so they didn’t have to worry about that, and how were the townsfolk going to call their saviors when the day came they needed rescuing?
“Did anyone, someone human, come an offer to fix the computers?”
Negative tilt of the ears. Then this probably wasn’t a corporate attack.
“Do you mind if I take a look at one of those computers?”
Rig’Irik and the maroon furred Samalian led him to one of the homes. The computer was on a desk. An old Celaran. Old enough that if not for the brand name on the case he wouldn’t have known who had made it.
He activated his implant and partitioned his tablet. Locking the section with his information. He powered up the computer and within seconds its voice was stretching to the point it was nothing more than a low hum. It had happened too fast for him to get a sense of what had caused it.
He connected his datapad to the computer and immediately it filled with code. Even once he disconnected it, the code kept replicating until the processor started slowing down. He cut a section of the code, put it in a cage, then wiped the datapad.
When he looked at the code again, it had filled the cage. Its replication speed was impressive, no wonder the old Celaran had been overwhelmed.
“What is that?” Rig’Irik’s voice was close to Alex’s ear, and the breath made him shivered. He was looking at the lines of code displayed on the datapad.
Alex focused on the code. “That’s a malicious program. It’s what’s causing the computer to stop working.” He’d need a more powerful computer to work on this. “I’ll work on this, it might take me a few days, but I’ll get your computers fixed.” He stood and headed out of the building, feeling the Samalian’s gaze on him.
The other Samalian laughed and said something to Rig’Irik, to which he snapped an angry response. Unfortunately Alex understood enough Samalian now to know what the jab had been about. He so didn’t want this complication.
Jacoby was working on the hover, still, Most of the outside panels were off. The man looked at him as he approached. “What happened? Got bored with them already? It not even dark.”
“Fuck off, Jack.”
“Don’t—” Jacoby snapped his mouth shut and went back to his work.
Alex created an isolated space within the hover’s systems, then added more security programs around those walls. From the little he’d seed of this malicious program, if it escaped this cage, it would fill every available space within this system until it too wouldn’t work. What he really needed was an independent system. Something he could wipe in its entirety without worrying about the damage he caused.
That other hover would have been nice for that.
He released the program within this cage and tried to erase it. It reproduced faster than he could enter the commands. Faster than whatever antibodies he released to deal with it. He had to resort to wiping the entire cage and rebuilding it. He reintroduced the program and then slowed the processor until he was able to watch it work. He had to slow it so much that the hover was inoperable for the moment, but he finally saw the code bloom around itself. He could now see how it operated.
And he could tell this was going to be more than a few days’ work.
The primary thing that stretched this was that he couldn’t go on the network to access the malicious program database. Without knowing if this program had been sent by one of the corporations, he couldn’t risk approaching it. With only the hover system to back him up, he wasn’t risking taking on a corporate Coercionist.
So this would be off-the-cuff programming, custom building a more powerful antibody to cancel out the malicious program.
He worked before the training, more than once having to be pulled out of it by Jacoby. Then in the afternoon, instead of going to the bar. He knew he was avoiding Rig’Irik, and he didn’t care. He didn’t like the way he was reacting to the Samalian. He wasn’t going to betray Tristan this way.
After a week he had something powerful enough to dismantle the program within the cage, and he tested it on one of the computers in town, and while it was slower than he’d like, after a few hours, the computer was functional again.
He turned to leave and found Rig’Irik in the doorway. He didn’t move when Alex stepped forward.
Rig’Irik smiled and said something, Alex didn’t understand, at all. The woman who lived in this home answered in the same language Alex didn’t understand.
“You have got to be kidding me.”
Rig’Irik canted his head, he reached for Alex, who stepped to the side to avoid the contact. The woman used that opportunity to slip outside, leaving the two of them alone.
“Who is using jokes?”
“You. Them. You’re not teaching me Samalian, are you?”
“Teaching you Plain Tongue. Grr’ler’nia.”
“And how is that going to be of any use to me away from here?”
Rig’Irik canted his head.
“I thought I was learning this planet’s language, not just what you people use here.”
“Yes,” Alex growled. “What do you guys call it? I figure Samalian is what Space Gov named it, not you.”
“How do planets have one language?”
“What do you mean how? How else? How else do you talk to anyone else on a planet?”
“You learn their language.”
Alex stared at him. “Learn their language? But you’re on the same planet.”
“How do you talk with people on other planet?”
“I just talk to them. They’re human, we all speak the same language. I mean you get accents, and a few of them can be weird, and some really backward places might get weird enough to be hard to understand, but overall we speak the same thing.”
It was Rig’Irik’s turn to look stunned. “How?”
“What do you mean ‘how?’ how else? Space Gov and the corporation set the language, I don’t know how many millennias ago and they make sure we all learn it.”
“Everyone speaks the same? Out there?” Rig’Irik leaned against the closed door a look of amazement on his face.
“So there isn’t a planetary language here? All the Aliens I’ve dealt with have them.”
Rig’Irik shook his head.
“How many languages are there?”
The Samalian shrugged. “I know three. Grr’ler’nia, Rrowgarr, and Klakterk. The plain, the forest, the swamp, but here. I don’t talk to anyone away.”
“But you have these.”
“Not anymore,” Alex said offhandedly. “And it wasn’t always broken. What do you use them for?”
“Call family who moved away, friend, mates.”
“But you can talk to the entire universe.”
That stumped Alex. He sat on the edge of a wooden table and chuckled. “I don’t know. To get stuff done, I guess. Out of curiosity, what version does Tristan speak?”
Alex frowned. He was sure he’d heard Tristan speak something that had sounded like Samalian. It had been in the city, the priestess there, she’d been the one Tristan had spoken with. Here, Alex had been the one to talk.
When he looked up Rig’Irik was standing close enough that if the table hadn’t been there Alex would have backed away. He placed a hand on Rig’Irik’s chest and felt the heat through the fur. Why hadn’t he even considered taking out a knife?
“Alex,” The Samalian’s voice was soft. “I am strong.”
“Don’t do this.” He pushed against Rig’Irik’s chest, but all that happened was that his hand sank into the thick fur.
“I am strong enough.” Unlike the last time Rig’Irik didn’t try to reach for him, but the desire was clear in his eyes.
“I’m not a Samalian.”
Alex growled, at Rig’Irik, at himself. He wasn’t sure. He pushed harder and this time the Samalian backed away a step. “I told you, I’m taken.”
“I can smell what you want.”
Alex opened his mouth to snap at him to keep his nose out of his business, but a yell came from outside. There was another hover inbound.
He and Rig’Irik were running outside to get everyone ready.