As a general rule.
But this gathering wasn’t typical. A collection of ambassadors had come together as a final reassurance to the people of Porcellus, the cavies. The next day would be the formal ceremony marking the fastest induction of a planet in the Galactic Federation’s history.
Until a few weeks ago, Porcellus was solidly neutral in the struggle between Spectra and the Federation. Both megapowers tried to coax this planet with some of the richest soil ever known to their side. But then Spectra grew impatient, abducted almost a thousand cavies, and executed them on a television broadcast beamed throughout the galaxy. Zoltar himself presided. “If Porcellus does not surrender to Spectra,” he declared, “the cavies will continue to die until there is nobody left on the planet!”
The leaders of Porcellus immediately asked to join the Federation and were accepted.
Mark’s eyes scanned the room. There was a nervousness in the air of this meet-and-greet. The cavies were known as a shy, skittish lot whenever they were in unfamiliar surroundings or situations. They tended to act like prey, continually on the lookout for a predator ready to strike.
Of course, the fact that they looked like guinea pigs almost five feet tall might have had something to do with that.
The other members of G-Force had done their usual fine job of blending in while doing their part to secure the place. That is, except for Keyop. The cavies kept gravitating toward him, trying to get him to talk. The smallest member of G-Force usually didn’t like talking much at these gatherings – he was a bit embarrassed by his vocal tics and the poorly hidden impatience shown by some people as he struggled to get through a simple sentence.
But Mark didn’t see the usual frustration from Keyop. In fact, the kid seemed to be enjoying himself. Mark decided to be more concerned that Keyop might try to scratch behind an ambassador’s ears.
The G-Force commander spotted Ambassador Cutleri near the center of the room talking to one of the Rigan delegates. Her silver hair had an especially healthy sheen to it. Mark couldn’t help admiring her for the strength she showed at this time; her bonded mate – her husband – was one of the executed cavies, and it happened a week before she gave birth.
Suddenly, Mark felt as though he was being watched. His eyes moved about the room, looking for whatever could be causing the feeling. Nothing.
But then Mark looked down.
In front of him, staring up at him, was a cavy the size of a human toddler. The cavy’s big, black eyes and its orange and white fur made it look more like a stuffed animal than a living being.
“Are you a boar?” the little cavy asked.
“Excuse me?” Mark didn’t expect that question.
“Are you a boar or a sow?”
“Sauya!” A second little cavy came up behind the first one. “What did Mama tell you?” This little cavy looked like a smaller version of Ambassador Cutleri.
“I can’t tell them apart!” Sauya whined to the mini-ambassador, “In the pictures, they aren’t wearing coverings, and Mama said we can’t ask them to take off their coverings!”
Mark couldn’t help grinning a bit at the small furballs’ argument. But he also felt a little awkward; they were talking as though he wasn’t there, after all.
“Clothes.” the little ambassador corrected Sauya before turning to Mark. “I’m sorry, Mister. My brother is just two weeks old.”
“So are you, Cabiay!” Sauya cried.
“Females always mature faster than males.” Cabiay replied matter-of-factly.
Sauya peered up at Mark. “Is she right?” he asked, “Are you a boar?”
“Cavies are boars.” the sister corrected, “Humans are men.”
“Is she right?” the young cavy asked without acknowledging his sister, “Are you a men?”
“Uh, yeah,” Mark replied, “I am.” He decided not to correct Sauya’s use of the word “men” – that poor little boar had probably spent most of his short life being corrected by his sister already.
Cabiay grabbed her brother’s shoulder and pulled him away, grumbling, “One MAN, many MEN!”
Mark allowed himself a wide grin as he settled back into the routine of watching the room.
A short time later, however, Ambassador Cutleri started moving from one group of diplomats to another, her whiskers nervously twitching as she asked, “Have you seen my pups lately?”
“Is there something wrong, Madame Ambassador?” the diplomat from Harcharot asked, pushing his oversized eyeglasses up on his beakish nose.
“You know what they say,” Cutleri replied, “when it’s quiet, the children must be up to something!”
“Oh yes,” Harcharot’s ambassador chuckled, “I have three of my own. I know exactly what you mean. I hope they turn up soon.”
With no sign of the young cavies in the gathering, Mark looked up. The room was very tall with balconies leading off the next three floors. Several large chandeliers hung from the ceiling. He didn’t know what young cavies thought of heights, but Mark knew some adventurous humans wouldn’t resist leaping from a balcony with the hopes of swinging from chandelier to chandelier.
Suddenly, there was a loud, long shriek. Sauya rushed back into the room, still shrieking as loudly as he could. The other cavies surrounded him, speaking to him in their native tongue, which sounded like whistles and twitters to everyone else.
“QUIET!” a deep voice boomed from above. A solidly-built man stood at a balcony three floors up. He held Cabiay out past the balcony, gripping her left ankle as she dangled in the open air. Even from where he stood on the floor below, Mark could see the little cavy shake with fear.
“Cutleri,” the man in the balcony shouted for everyone to hear, “Spectra has been very patient with the people of Porcellus!”
The cavies nervously hopped from foot to foot and let out tiny “meep” and “wheek” sounds. That is, except for the ambassador – she gave the man a hard look while she clicked her teeth and let out a low growl.
“If you don’t surrender immediately,” the man continued, “I’ll drop this little one, and then we’ll wipe out all life on your planet!”
A tense silence filled the room. Cabiay’s shivers grew even larger.
The Spectran had a vicious grin as he glared at the gathering beneath him. “Time’s up.” he said as he let go of the little cavy’s ankle.
Mark instantly sprang into action. His wings snapped open and he darted up to meet Cabiay mid-air. He wrapped his arms around her and gently glided down to the floor.
Mark glanced up at the balcony in time to see Jason pin the Spectra agent against the balcony rail. “I don’t like bullies,” Jason said, the anger in his voice barely under control, “I don’t like Spectra, and I really don’t like you!” Jason yanked the enemy agent off the rail and marched him out of sight.
Cabiay continued to shiver in Mark’s arms. “He said he ate my daddy,” she said, keeping her face buried in the commander’s chest, “and he said he was going to eat me!”
“That’s not gonna happen.” Mark said in his most gentle tone. She looked up at him. Her eyes started filling with a milky fluid. “There’s no need to cry.” He added, guessing that was what she was about to do. She started rubbing her face against him as if she was a house cat. Guessing again, Mark stroked her head while saying things like, “You’re okay now” and “He won’t hurt you”.
Once Ambassador Cutleri arrived, Mark let go of the little cavy. He stood up once mother and daughter were in each other’s arms.
“I can’t thank you enough, Commander.” The ambassador’s words didn’t begin to show the gratitude she felt.
“I’m just glad she’s all right, Madame Ambassador.”
* * * * *
The next morning, G-Force and Security Chief Anderson stood before the desk of Harcharot’s ambassador in the Federation Embassy on Porcellus.
“If we’d known the kind of effect G-Force would have on the cavies,” the ambassador cried, “we would’ve had them at the initial contact!”
The chief and the team replied with polite chuckles.
“Down to business, time is short.” Harcharot said, fixing his eyes on Keyop, “Young man, would you be interested in saying a few words at the induction ceremony?”
“Me?” Keyop said between a few startled blurps, “Why?”
“Apparently your unique speech pattern sounds quite melodious to the cavy ear. In fact,” the ambassador glanced down at a screen, “their words were: ‘his voice demonstrates that the Federation offers more than physical strength, the Federation also offers treasures to nourish the spirit.’ I’ve already had a writer prepare a statement for you, if you say yes.”
Keyop’s eyes shot back and forth between Chief Anderson and Mark.
“I have no objections if you don’t, Commander.” the chief said with a slight grin.
“Well, Keyop,” Mark said with a little laugh, “it looks like you’ve just been promoted to ambassador!”
Even Jason let out an amused chuckle as he rapped Keyop’s helmet.
“And there’s one more thing.” Harcharot’s ambassador chimed in, “Last night’s events solidified support on Porcellus for joining the Federation. However, one image in particular turned the most hardened hearts to our favor.” He pressed a button, and a holographic image of Mark holding Cabiay appeared in the center of the desk. “When everyone on Porcellus saw the alpha boar of G-Force performing a social grooming ritual with Ambassador Cutleri’s pup, they were convinced we had their best interests at heart.”
“Social grooming ritual?” Anderson’s face and voice were full of concern as he turned toward Mark.
“I was just trying to calm her down!” Mark tried not to sound panicked – what did he do?
The Ambassador of Harcharot looked confused for a moment before a thought hit him. “There’s no need to worry – it just means the commander has a friend for life in Cutleri’s daughter.”
The team let out a sigh of relief.
“For a second there,” Tiny cried, “I thought you were telling us Mark accidentally got engaged!”