The Beast, Pt. 7 (Chapter 5c)

Erb blinks once, twice. The fuzzy caterpillars that have taken up residency on his forehead arch in confusion, comprehension, calculation. They leap up in outrage, then knit themselves together in anger. My sick burn has made the man protean, and all of humanity is captured there in his ever-changing expression.

“Dude, whatever,” he says with a disgusted huff. He picks up his bags with a grunt, turns away from me, and steps over to where Papa Chub and Monk are still talking about whatever it is they’re talking about. He taps Papa Chub on his shoulder, gestures with his head towards the bag bot. The two men go to queue up behind the travelers it’s currently helping and Erb lingers behind. He stands with his back to me and Googe, his posture horrifically stiff, his hands clenching his bags so tight that his fingers are alternately pink and white from the restricted blood flow. We haven’t even left the spaceport yet, haven’t even gotten to our hotel, and already he’s irritated beyond belief and waiting for the moment when we leave.

Now that’s how you win at friendship.

Googe follows as I walk up to stand alongside Erb and wait for our two stragglers. There will be no words exchanged for a while yet, but physical proximity is an important first step in the healing process. It says, “Hey, we’re still in this together.” The silence says, “Hey, I know things are tense right now. I’m not going to try and pretend they aren’t and I’m not going to try and force a reconciliation.” And finally, the whole thing says, “Look, we’re going to be stuck together for the next three days, so let’s at least try and not kill each other, yeah?”

It’s an unorthodox method of reconciliation you won’t find in self-help books or psychology textbooks, but I’ve found at works. At least, in terms of not killing my friends or being killed by them, I’ve got a great track record with it.

We wait in silence for a few minutes, standing there listening to each other’s breathing, to the shuffling of our feet, to the roar of the crowd. Erb breaks our silence first, glancing over at me and sniffing at my bags. “Is that really all you brought?”

“We’re only here three days.”

“Still.”

“I’m going to improvise.”

“What if that doesn’t work out?”

“Then I guess I’ll be uncomfortable-and-or-smelly for a day or two before we get on the shuttle and head back.”

“So you’ll be uncomfortable-and-or-smelly on the shuttle, too?”

“Yeah, but they got nice cushiony seats and air purifiers and stuff.”

“What if they don’t let you on the shuttle because you’re a smelly disheveled mess?”

“I’ve been pretty damn smelly and disheveled and still let onto shuttles before. Hell, this is the Meadows. So long as you’ve got the funds, they’d probably just pick you up, dust you off, and send you right back into a casino.”

“So if you’re a complete mess and not broke, they’ll keep you forever.”

“And if I am broke, they’ll probably just fire me out an airlock.”

Erb stares at me for a moment, smiles, chuckles. “I like those odds.”

Friendship repaired.

Word Count: 5,145 (2,038 words a day to go!)

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