He wasn't in the infirmary long.

"Just topical wounds," the doctor said, slapping a thick patch of fake skin over the wound. "We've given you a replacement circulatory substance to make up for the blood you lost. That will clear up in about an hour. That patch there will keep the hole clean and eventually fuse to your cells," she said. "You'll have a bald patch there for a few months until your hide hair and undercoat grow in. It won't ever be as thick as it was before, but the skin itself should be strong again soon."

"Thank you," X'melborp said. "And the rest--?"

The doctor smiled weakly. "A team of Fantasian psychologists will be here shortly. Everyone involved will need a debriefing."

X'melborp sighed and nodded.

"I understand this will be difficult," the doctor said, her voice low. "There will be Tremaldian telepathic therapists to provide additional healing, should you wish. They will be here when the rest of the Fantasia aides arrive.

X'melborp said nothing, but nodded. He left, went to his room, and stayed there for a long time.

* * * * *

That evening found X'melborp was at the spirit dispensary, and he wasn't the only one. It appeared at least half the ship wanted to drink away the day's events.

Several drinks in, there was movement at his side. He looked over blearily and saw Human Greg waddling over on his crutches.

"Hey," he said to the person sitting next to X'melborp. "Could I...?"

The Andarian got up wordlessly and went to sit at another spot. X'melborp watched as Human Greg struggled to get into the bar stool, but made no move to help him.

"Hey," said Greg.

"Hey," said X'melborp.

"Are you good?" Human Greg said.

X'melborp chuckled darkly. "Good. You mean am I wounded? Yes, but not severely." He chuckled again. "Unlike some species I could mention, rather than waste time on healing, we resist massive injury. My thick hide protected all the important bits, and the physicians supplied me with medical aid. I will be fine. Absolutely fine."

Greg was silent for a moment. Then said, "In all the ruckus that happened, I never got a chance to thank you."

"For what?" X'melborp raised his hand for another drink. Two were brought over, one for him and one for Human Greg.

"Dude. You saved my life."

"I did not," X'melborp said bitterly. "I was controlled like the others. I would have watched them drag you away, and would have been powerless to stop it."

"But you didn't! Dude, they had you mind controlled and you still stood up for me! Your brain was being controlled, and you still tried to stop them! That's amazing!"

"You ripped off his eye! You ripped both of his eyes! Then you just-- you just casually killed two more!" X'melborp gestured so hard while he was talking, his drink spilled over. "Damn," he said.

"Have mine," Human Greg said, sliding the drink over.

"I could never do that," X'melborp said. "I could never kill like that."

"You shot one," said Greg.

"In accident! And I felt terrible afterwards. As though I were falling in a hole. After, I had to go into my room and-- I felt so ill. And you-- look at you! You were excited! You were happy!"

"Of course I was," Greg said quietly. "I was worried we were going to die. I've never-- I mean, I went hunting with my dad like, twice. But I've never shot a person before. I thought I was going to throw up. But they were going to hurt us. I don't feel bad about it." He ran his hands through his hair. X'melborp vaguely recalled this being a sign of stress. "I mean, I feel bad that it all happened, but if it was between saving you or them, I'd save you."

They sat in silence for a long moment. The bar around them was growing quieter as well.

"Thank you," Greg said again.

"We are not a warlike race," X'melborp said.

"That's good." Human Greg said.


X'melborp poured half of the drink Greg gave him into the empty cup, then passed it over to Greg. They drained it and then flagged down more.

"Jesus," said Greg, coughing. "Is this stuff even safe for humans to drink?"

X'melborp smiled. "Since when do you care about what is safe for humans?"


They sat in silence for a few more moments.

"That guy really hated Andarians," Human Greg said. "Why? I mean, I guess I'm naive, but I kinda got the impression Uplifted species were beyond racist shit."

"Ours is a long and. . . Not entirely pleasant history," X'melborp said.

Greg waited. X'melborp said nothing.

"That's it? Is that all I'm gonna get?"

X'melborp sighed. "It brings up unpleasant thoughts, Human Greg. The Ga'arish are the first species who made contact with us. It was not a pleasant matter."

"They're the ones who Uplifted you?" Human Greg said, surprise in his voice. "Is thought the Tremaldians--"

"No!" X'melborp said vehemently. "The Ga'arish conquered us! Before we were Uplifted. We had no protection, no Galactic Alliance to look out for us, we were just a civilization that had only barely begun to understand faster than light travel. We searched the stars looking for other life, and we found monsters. They destroyed our homes, took us as slaves, reduced our cities to rubble and our technology to stones. They halved the population to keep us under control, and they would've kept on with it if the Tremaldians hadn't stopped them."

X'melborp's ears flicked back, irritated like a cat's. "They were the first ones to notice that we were sapient, and that had we not been so brutally oppressed, we might've already made contact with the Galactic Federation on our own. They brought us to the table, chased the Ga'arish out with legalese and weaponry, and Uplifted us."

Human Greg was silent. Good. For once, X'melborp didn't want to hear him. Old anger burned in his chest. The things that could've been accomplished had they not been held back. . .

He felt something press against his shoulder. It was Human Greg's hand. X'melborp breathed slowly and felt the anger seep away. Not gone, but quiet.

"That is why we are working so hard to Uplift you," he said eventually. "Unlifted species, even sapient, technologically advanced ones have few protections. These days, since the Andarians became Uplifted, there are more laws in place, but as you could see from our friends earlier, they are not always enforced or respected."

"So if someone wanted to, they could just take over Earth right now?"

"No," said X'melborp. "Because we have several hundred warships surrounding your solar system. Not just Andarian, but Tremaldian, Tangalorian, Velorvian-- the different allies of the Andarians, which means they are your allies too." X'melborp smiled a little. "Besides, I have the feeling that you all would not be so easily conquered, even without our help."

"Heh. Yeah, we've kinda got war down to an art."

They sat together in silence for a while.

Greg was the first to move.

"Well," he said. "No use feeling shitty about it on an empty stomach. Come on."

X'melborp got to his feet. "You are hungry?"

"I could eat. You?"


"Then let's go. This place doesn't have any real food. After you."

The two headed for the cafeteria.

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