A few days later, the usual suspects, Kurt, Allen, Liz, Keiko, Tarq, Barook and I, were sitting in the Command Center having a meeting, when the door opened and more than a dozen men dressed in the Commandos uniforms and armed with weapons ranging from shotguns to assault rifles rushed in. They pointed their guns at us, shouting, “Nobody move! Hands in the air!”
I thought this was another one of Tarq’s pranks. Being attacked inside Winterfell by our own people was the last thing I could imagine happening. I was about to roll my eyes and say something sarcastic when Kurt and Allen drew their sidearms at the same time and started shouting back, “Put your weapons down!”
The sight of the two of them trying to stare down some fifteen heavily armed men in a Mexican stand-off was sort of funny. I wasn’t sure what was going on, but I ran to stand by Kurt. I was unarmed, and so were Liz and Keiko, who joined us anyway. Why would we pack inside Winterfell? Tarq and Barook didn’t even bother to move their skinny asses from their seats; they just sat back and watched us intently.
A few of the attackers looked familiar. One of them shouted, “We’re taking over Winterfell!”
“Good luck with that,” Allen growled.
“Michael, put your weapon down,” Kurt said firmly. “It’s an order.”
“No! No more orders!” yelled the man. “We’d have followed you to hell when you were our leader in the Resistance. But now all you do is blindly follow this fucking alien, who got several hundred million of us killed!”
That explained it.
“And you were giving me a hard time because of the fighter pilots’ lack of discipline?” I asked Kurt.
“Not now, Jim,” he said through clenched teeth.
With dilated pupils and sweating profusely, the man shouted, “My only son died during the Xortaags’ attack. We should’ve saved him. We could’ve if we’d defended Earth along with the rest of humanity. But no, you had to listen to aliens, betraying your own kind.”
Tarq called out, “I bet now you regret removing my puppet master program.”
The men were getting more agitated by the second. They started fidgeting and shifting from one foot to the other, and they kept their guns aimed at us, with their fingers on the triggers. They looked at “the aliens,” and by extension at us, with murder in their eyes.
Kurt and Allen were infamously bad-ass, but even they couldn’t take on so many opponents without getting at least some of us killed. A shootout in such close quarters would be fatal for both sides, and Liz was standing right next to me in the line of fire. That thought sent a shiver running down my spine, and it made my heartbeat quicken. I flinched unconsciously and tried to move and stand between Liz and the gunmen without attracting anyone’s attention. She noticed and shoved me out of the way with a gentle push, mouthing the words, “Don’t be a hero.”
Another man, aiming a huge shotgun at Kurt, said, “Our quarrel isn’t with you. We just want the aliens. You and Allen still can join us in kicking those other aliens off the planet.”
Tarq leaned back, an arm hooked over the back of his chair, and as if none of our lives were in imminent danger asked Barook, “Did he just tar us with the same brush as the Xortaags?”
Barook grinned. “Yes, he did, and if I may say so, masterful use of an idiomatic expression. You are certainly getting the hang of this.”
Liz addressed the men, “And we’re supposed to just step aside and let you murder Tarq and Barook in cold blood? Over my dead body!”
She was getting wound up. I wished she were more careful in her choice of words.
The first man, Michael, said, “I don’t see you have a choice. I’m gonna count to three, then we start shooting. One!”
This is bad.
“Dah, genius,” said Venom.
Nobody (else!) said anything. I rubbed my forehead and glanced at Kurt to see if he had any ideas.
I was trying to choose between pushing Liz onto the floor and trying to shield her from the bullets with my body, or charging Michael, hoping to catch him by surprise, when Tarq yawned theatrically and told Barook, “This is so boring. Would you please do the honors?”
“Can you guys please put the barrel of your guns inside your mouths?” said Barook. “Do not pull the trigger—at least not yet.”
Everyone, including Kurt and Allen, turned their guns toward themselves and shoved the barrels inside their mouths, their eyes round with a comical expression. The men carrying shotguns had a hard time doing it, but they somehow managed, even though they looked like they were about to choke. Even I started to look around, overcome by the uncontrollable desire to find a gun to suck on.
I hadn’t seen this coming.
Allen, his lips around his gun’s barrel, started mumbling. I couldn’t make out his words. It sounded like, “Uck oo Erook! I’yy eel oo.”
Tarq asked me, “Do you understand this language?”
I somehow managed to keep a straight face. “It’s a local Canadian dialect. Only people of Regina can understand it.”
“People of what?” asked Tarq, looking like an innocent child.
“UCK OO AAA. Eem, Erook, Arq, UCK OOO!” Allen continued, his face turning scarlet. I couldn’t decide if it was due to rage or lack of oxygen, with his Smith & Wesson .44 Magnum filling up his mouth.
Tarq looked like he was about to bust a gut laughing. I couldn’t help joining him, which drew a seething stare from Allen.
Barook waited a few seconds, taking it all in and savoring it, then told Kurt and Allen, “Not you two,” and added to Tarq. “By the time this is over, the two of us are either dead or legendary pranksters, immortalized in our people’s lore.”
Kurt and Allen holstered their sidearms. Kurt took what had just happened with no objection, like a man accepting what he couldn’t change, but Allen looked like he was going to have a heart attack. I thought the only reason he didn’t attack Barook was he knew by bitter experience Barook would just make him do something worse, like shoving his handgun where the sun didn’t shine.
“The rest of you, keep the guns where they are,” said Barook, “and walk to the brig, leave them out and lock yourselves in.”
Later that day, everyone in Winterfell watched the video of fifteen battle-hardened Resistance fighters walking to the brig like sheep while struggling to keep loaded guns in their cakeholes. The video ended with a message from Tarq, looking straight at the camera. “Someday, you people have to learn to stop messing with us.”
While Liz and I were watching the video, Cordelia said, “Here is a piece of advice: next time you find yourself in a position where you have to remove an alien’s puppet-master program from his mind-control machine, make sure you do the same for his assistant.”
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