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Managed Peace

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Managed Peace

Peace was not something that came easily to Okwu. It was used to anger and fighting and aggression. Peace was a foreign, uncomfortable concept. But for Binti's sake, it kept trying.

Oomza Uni's size and cosmopolitan nature helped Okwu considerably. The sheer crush of beings from all corners of the galaxy meant that it could, for the most part, avoid the beings that viewed it with suspicion, fear or outright hostility. For the most part. There were still days when it had run-ins with students who had either disdain for Meduse or who feared that Okwu would do to Oomza Uni what it and its compatriots had done to the passengers on Third Fish.

And then there was Professor Dema, who was supposed to teach it about weapons development and research, and who treated it like it was both the most dangerous being in the room and an utter simpleton at the same time.

Okwu supposed that was all it could expect from a Khoush – from a human.

And yet, Binti was not like that.

Okwu had once assumed that all humans were the same – as they assumed all Meduse were the same – but Binti had demonstrated that not to be the case. And that difference wasn't merely some sense of visual discrepancy – it had long since failed to grasp the finer points of human aesthetics, but even it could tell Binti stood apart from those of Khoush descent – but something more fundamental. She had been afraid, had found ways to hurt the Meduse, but she had also done more to preserve life on all sides than any being it had ever come across.

Something about that spoke to an honour it had previously assumed no human could possess.

That discovery had led to Okwu think – hope, perhaps – that Binti was not the unusual one. That more humans were like her than not. But the professor and all the other members of the Khoush amply demonstrated that it had been hoping in vain.

It would have liked to have discussed this with Binti – not just the esoteric aspects of the differences between Binti and the rest of the humans, but also the more specific problem of the professor's enmity and how best to approach such a problem – but Okwu was aware that things were not at all well with her. Not long after the start of their respective programs of study it had become aware that Binti was struggling with something. Through the link that had been forged between them, it could sense her turmoil; the nightmares that plagued her sleeping hours and her discomfort and frustration. It wasn't entirely certain it understood all the causes – human existence seemed to be fraught with all kinds of troubles and trials – but it recognised that at least some of her troubles related to their first meeting.

Doubtless, if it had been a human (or a number of other species across the galaxy) it would be paralysed by pointless guilt, but it wasn't. Guilt was not an emotion that Meduse gave into. And yet there was a nagging little knot of emotion that made Okwu feel awkward when Binti was around. The suspicion that, perhaps, events hadn't been as kind to Binti as they should have been.

So rather than burden Binti with its own problems, Okwu meditated on the matter for a few days, turning the matter over and around and viewing the problem from all sides.

It could report the matter to the head of the Weapons faculty, but that assumed that Professor Dema was actually breaching rules. Okwu suspected that to be the case (it could not imagine such open hostility from a professor to a student was either a welcome or recommended practice), but it could see that if it were wrong, such a move would backfire and make matters considerably worse.

It could give in to its annoyance and dispose of Professor Dema in an appropriate fashion. There was no question about which solution would be the most personally satisfying, but, that would just lead to more trouble. Oomza Uni's authorities would surely take a dim view of a student killing a professor. The Meduse Chief would also not be pleased – Okwu was, after all, supposed to be attending the university to improve Meduse relations with the rest of the galaxy. Likely, other students would also take offence. And then there was Binti who might be angry with it for taking such a course of action. Worst of all, taking this course of action would prove Professor Dema correct and the last thing that Okwu wanted was to do that.

Having ruled both of those options out, it was left with one potential solution.

It would have to learn to do as Binti had done.

It would have to learn to be calm in the face of provocation. To borrow a very human phrase, it would learn to turn the other cheek and not answer that provocation. Okwu thought Binti would approve of the decision. And there was the added bonus that such a move would probably irritate Professor Dema considerably. The amusement might just help the un-Meduse-like behaviour to stick better.

With that much settled, Okwu attempted to press forward with its studies. At every turn, Professor Dema threw up roadblocks. Give it harder assignments and shorter deadlines and handed out insults and provocations like they were sweet treats. At each discourtesy it felt anger flare, its okuoko itching to react, but somehow it found a way to squash that anger back and each time felt just a micron easier than the last.

And Professor Dema fumed and tried even harder.

The quarter dragged on and neared its conclusion. Projects for the exam were assigned (Okwu was unsurprised that its assignment was several factors more difficult than anyone else's, or that it would have to present against Jalal – easily the best student in Professor Dama's section) and Okwu began to think that it might actually succeed.

And still Professor Dema tried to make it fail and make it prove her right.

And then came the day of the final exam. Okwu was prepared. Had built its project with care and attention to detail to ensure that Professor Dema had no cause for obvious complaint. Jalal led the way into the grand marble exam room and Okwu followed.

Professor Dema was waiting for them at the front of the room, her arms folded across her chest and an expression Okwu had learned to interpret as sneering disgust etched onto her features. For a wonder, though, nothing was said. Instead, by gesture and glare, the professor indicated that both students should place their projects on the table before her.

Jalal set down her fire sticks first. The professor eyed them cursorily and nodded. Then Okwu placed its protective suit on the table.

"Barely adequate, I suppose," Dema sneered in Khoush.

Hateful language that it was, Okwu willed itself not to react, even as its okuoko twitched.

"But," the professor continued, "the true test of protective gear is to demonstrate it. Do you have the courage to test your work against live weapons fire?"

More anger bubbled up. Even Jalal looked taken aback by the professor's question. While gear was always tested and tried in a final exam, it was never normally done with live fire. And yet Meduse terms, testing using weakened or simulated weapons did seem like an offense against honour.

Khoush was not easy for Okwu but out of deference to Dema's position (if not person), it replied in that language, "I do."

"Then suit up and let us see if the unteachable has managed to learn anything."

Anger built and strained against Okwu's mental dam, even as it slowly fitted the protective suit so that it was encased in shining silver that, by all the design specifications and engineering, should be impervious to all fire. It had actually taken the design one stage further than the project had demanded. In memory of Binti's edan, it had designed the suit to also protect against those burning currents. While it had no doubt that Binti would never again employ the edan against the Meduse, it was far less confident about others. Plenty of beings would like such a weapon.

Jalal took up her fire sticks.

"Ready?" she asked, using Meduse and drawing another sneer from the professor.

"I am," said Okwu.

Jalal activated her weapons and discharged a fireball at Okwu. The casing acted as designed and safely absorbed the kinetic energy and smothered the flames.

Jalal offered up a smile at such a successful test, only to have that expression turn to an open-mouthed gape of surprise and horror as she realised Professor Dema had taken up a gun-like weapon and taken aim directly for Okwu.

Okwu felt another surge of anger at such treachery. It could tell that the professor intended to kill it and make the death seem like an exam gone wrong. Such a move was only what might be expected from a Khoush, though it was surprised Dema was so prepared to also sacrifice Jalal – for surely no witnesses to such an act could be permitted.

"You Meduse should be wiped from the galaxy," Dema snarled, "and I intend that you be the first to go. You should never have been permitted entry to this university. You soil it with your presence just as you soiled that young, primitive, girl. If you had left her be, she might now be dressing like a civilised member of the galaxy instead of still painting herself with shit like the member of a backwater tribe."

Okwu felt its mental dam give way at the insults to Binti. Binti who had done nothing to deserve them except be herself. Who had done nothing to deserve them except attempt to make peace where peace could not be had. It felt white-hot rage flood through it, felt its okuoko tremble and felt its stinger gracefully unfurl.

Dema would be the one to die. Here. Now.

And then somehow, there was Binti, prostrate before it. How she'd got there, Okwu did not know. All it did know was that she was the one in imminent danger, not the professor, and that was enough to pull it back from the brink.

For Binti, Okwu pulled back.

But only for Binti.

It loosed off a curse in the deepest and most profane Meduse it could conceive. A vow that no matter what Professor Dema swore here and now, it would not be the one who would die on their next meeting. And Okwu began to turn to start removing the casing.

Dema fired.

Okwu was too stunned for anger. Clearly the professor had lost whatever shreds of her professionalism that had remained. Then a new emotion flooded through it, even as the dust settled from where the shot had ricochet off the suit and into the marble wall to its left. Savage joy.

The professor's smug Khoush face had drained of all colour.

This time, Okwu took enjoyment out of the struggle for the common tongue between them: "You didn't miss."

It had finally bested the professor. She would have to give it the grade it truly deserved (thanks to the witnesses) and would have to find some way of explaining the fresh hole in the wall that she'd created (Okwu almost wished to be present at that meeting of the university authorities). Meanwhile, while true disaster had been close, Okwu had ultimately been able to restrain its nature.

It had managed peace. As Binti had. And it felt good.