I knocked on Tarq’s office door and with exaggerated politeness asked him, “Have you got a minute, sir?”
We entered his office, which was big enough to accommodate all of us: Liz, Kurt, Allen, Sergei and me.
Tarq, sitting behind a huge white desk, looked at us and asked, “What’s up?”
I pointed at Sergei. “Meet Sergei, a new recruit. He hasn’t been through MICI yet.”
Sergei approached Tarq, pulled a gun, aimed it at his head and said, “Here’s what’ll happen. We’ll go to this brain-washing device of yours, and you’ll undo whatever the hell you’ve done to my friends so they won’t be your puppets anymore.”
Tarq paled, but he stood his ground. “Over my dead body. I do not take orders from thugs.”
Sergei shot his chair, right between his legs.
Tarq folded like a cheap suit.
The first person who entered MICI was Allen, who pushed everyone else out of the way. While we were waiting, Tarq, biting his nails, asked, “How did you do it? MICI should have stopped you from telling anyone.”
“Should we tell him?” I asked Kurt.
Kurt shrugged. “It was your plan.”
“I showed MICI to Sergei, emphasizing it can make changes in people’s brains,” I told Tarq. “I also casually let it slip you were very bossy, and we had to follow your orders, then we showed him an old movie called The Demolition Man.”
Tarq looked confused.
I continued, “In this movie, some asshole tries to pull the same stunt you pulled, only for his target to bring some of his friends to shoot his ass. Sergei made the connection himself.”
“It is a bit farfetched; is it not?” Tarq asked.
I answered, “It is. We tried this with several people, including every single person on whom MICI didn’t work. Sergei’s the only one who made the connection. Everyone else just thought it was weird we were showing them old movies.”
“I am genius,” said Sergei humbly.
When Allen walked out of MICI, Liz asked, “Did it work?”
Allen said, “Only one way to find out.” He approached Tarq and punched him really hard in the belly.
His fist disappeared inside Tarq’s belly all the way to his wrist before it hit something.
The small man fell to the floor, coughing and retching.
I jumped out of my socks. “Wow! Did you guys see that?”
Astonished, Liz and Sergei answered together, saying “yeah” and “da” respectively.
I walked towards Tarq in order to touch him but froze in place as soon as I got close to him.
Elizabeth asked Kurt, “Why you don’t look surprised?”
“Well, you know, Allen and I knew about this,” answered Kurt.
“What? How?” I asked.
“You don’t get to survive in the Resistance without being slightly paranoid,” said Kurt. “You remember he asked us not to touch him the first time we met? We didn’t buy his explanation at all, so one day I invited Barook to have a beer with me and spiked his drink with a sleeping pill.”
I laughed. “You roofied Barook? How did you know it’d work, alien physiology and all?”
“I didn’t, but it did work,” answered Kurt. “I touched his skull with a stick after he fell asleep. Two inches of the stick disappeared into his skull before it touched something.”
“But we were ordered not to touch them,” said Liz.
Kurt patiently explained, “No, we were ordered not to violate their personal space, as in not to get close. I touched him with a six-foot stick, without getting close myself.”
Tarq was just beginning to pull himself together. “Care to explain?” I asked him.
He threw up his hand in despair. “Okay! Okay! I confess. I am not humanoid. What you see is a hologram that reads my emotions and translates them into human facial expressions. You have never seen my true form.”
“That explains Barook’s beard,” I said.
“That’s your takeaway from all this? He’s wearing a hologram!” Allen told me.
“Why do you hide?” Liz asked Tarq.
“You have to ask?” answered Tarq. “With your racist boyfriend standing right here? Some of you humans do not tolerate different appearances within your own species. God only knows how you would react to non-humanoid aliens.”
“I’m not a racist!” I shouted.
Kurt gave me a sideways look.
That hurt. I mean, that really, really hurt. “Et tu, Kurt?”
“You know, maybe just a little bit,” answered Kurt. “You remember Alejandra from college?”
“That had nothing to do with race. I just don’t like fat people.”
“And our chemistry teacher in high school, Mr. Padishah?”
I was on the verge of losing it. “He was mean. What’s wrong with you?”
Allan, enjoying himself way too much, said, “If it walks like a duck and talks like a duck, it’s a freaking racist.”
Sergei loudly cleared his throat. “I hate to stop this fascinating and educational discussion, but aren’t we forgetting something?”
We all stared at Tarq, who looked like he was trying to sneak away. He sighed. “We felt it would be easier for you to trust us if we looked human.”
Allen, touching his sidearm, said, “So on top of brainwashing us to follow your orders, you’ve been lying to us all this time. I want to see what you really look like.”
“Absolutely not,” said Tarq.
Allen drew his gun and cocked it dramatically. “My friend here says otherwise. For all we know, you might look like a freaking insect, like those bugs in that old movie, Star Wars Troopers.”
“Starship Troopers,” I corrected him.
“Same difference,” said Allen.
Strangely enough, Tarq stood his ground. “Over my dead body.”
I noticed I wasn’t curious about how he really looked at all. God damn it!
I whispered in Liz’s ear, “Do you think he doesn’t want us to see him because he’s so ugly it might gross us out?”
She shrugged. “Who cares as long as he looks human?”
I rubbed my temple. We had to find a way to reboot our brains or something.
We all stood there, looking at each other for a minute, not sure what to say next. Then Tarq asked with a terrified expression, “What will happen now?”
Kurt placed his hands in his pants’ pocket. “I don’t know. Do you have any orders, Commander?”
The look on Tarq’s face was priceless. I think he’d thought we—or at least Allen—were going to straight-up murder him.
“Listen carefully because I am going to say this only once,” Kurt told him. “We like you. In fact, we like you a lot, even if you really do look like a bug. Not to mention we all owe you our lives.”
“Not that he saved us out of the goodness of his heart,” Allen interjected.
Kurt ignored him. “But we aren’t your slaves. We’ll follow your orders as commander of Winterfell, but if we disagree with you, we’ll voice our concern and talk about it. And if we feel strongly about an issue, the five of us will vote.”
“I am honored,” said Sergei.
Kurt answered, “Not you, genius. The five of us, including Tarq.”
Tarq let out a huge breath. Allen asked, “Can I punch him one more time, just on principle?”
“It goes without saying we want you to remove your, eh…” said Kurt.
I suggested, “Puppet-master program?”
“Remove your puppet-master program from everyone’s mind.”
Tarq protested, “We have more than forty thousand people here now.”
“Then we’d better start as soon as possible.”
Tarq pressed his lips together and nodded.
“One more thing: Why did you choose this particular look?” I asked.
Tarq shrugged. “I just wanted to look different from you people.”
“You people? And I am the racist around here?” I said.
We were about to leave when Allen facepalmed and told Tarq, “Shit! I totally forgot. I want you to remove whatever you put in my head that stops me from smoking.”
Kurt intervened. “Allen, we talked about this. Tarq’s Winterfell’s commander. If he wants you to stop smoking, that’s that.”
“It’s okay. I guess he has earned it,” said Tarq with a cracking voice, looking down at his feet.
He sounded so defeated I felt bad for him.
Allan smiled with a gleam in his eyes and with wide steps walked back into MICI, holding his head up like a conquering hero. Tarq played with the controls for a few seconds. When Allen came out a few minutes later, his expression had completely changed. He looked sort of listless, and he just stood there, staring at us without saying anything
“Allen, are you okay?” asked Kurt with concern in his voice.
Allen looked at him with sleepy eyes and said, “Mooooo.”
Tarq cracked up.
Kurt approached his old mentor, grabbed his shoulders and shook him, “Allen! What’s wrong?”
“Mooooo,” Allen repeated eloquently. Tarq was laughing so hard he was bending over and grabbing his sides. He looked like he was about to start rolling on the floor, roaring with laughter like a maniac. I couldn’t help chuckling either.
Allen thought he was a freaking cow for a whole week. He spent all his time in Winterfell’s parks, chewing on vegetables and hanging out with other imaginary cows. Tarq and Barook took several selfies with Allen when they were feeding him grass or riding him. The images went viral in Winterfell.
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