"Sorry?" I ask. "I didn't catch that."
Custodian i'Yani turns and gives me an incensed look. "Really, female? Pay attention! Your barn was on fire! How…!" He gestures at it and makes an outraged sound so loud that even I pick it up. "How the kef did you manage this?"
"The equipment is faulty—"
"The equipment is not faulty!" he bellows. "No one else's machine has broken down but yours! Clearly you did something wrong!" He turns and gives me the most exasperated stare. "Did Artha not come out and instruct you how to use it?"
Artha must be the ooli woman. I don't want to get her in trouble. Biting my thumbnail, I nod, perilously close to tears. "Just…can you fix it?"
He rakes his big hand between his horns, making his short-cropped hair stick straight up. "That's not the point!"
It doesn't matter. I just need a working machine. Apparently I'm supposed to put in a magic tube and cattle are going to pop out, but I won't be able to make any money if I can't get started. "Just say if you can fix it or not and quit yelling at me."
"I'm yelling? I'm yelling?" He looks downright shocked. "You've been yelling at me since I got here!" The custodian turns away and his tail flicks wildly. I'm pretty sure he runs a hand down his jaw. If he says something else, I don't hear it, and then he turns around again, wearing a look of thin patience on his alien face. "Well?"
"Well what?" I ask.
His nostrils flare, and I'm guessing he asked a question in there. But turned away from me, it got muffled enough that I didn't pick it up, or he'd pitched his voice in a tone I can't pick up. I do hear the frustrated noise he makes though, and he gestures at the machine again. "Show me what you did."
Oh. Right. Of course he'd ask that. It makes sense. I take a couple of steps forward and stand next to him on the creaking floor, swallowing hard. "So, uh, I flip this switch here, and tap this button."
He says something but I can't pick it up, and he's already mad enough that I don't want to ask him to repeat it.
I point helpfully at the uncapped depository. "And like I was shown, I poured the contents here."
"Poured?" He barks out a laugh and when I look over at him, he's got a hand over his eyes and he's laughing at my expense. "Are you keffing with me?"
"What was I supposed to do?"
"Use the dropper that was given to you! You only place a drop of the fluid in there!" he bellows. "Didn't anyone show this to you?"
"Well, they might have, yes," I hedge. "But I forgot."
"You forgot?! How the kef could you forget?"
I wince at his anger. "I'm not a very good listener?"
Custodian i'Yani looks like he wants to strangle me. I can tell he's barely holding on to his temper. He gestures at the barn and then at our surroundings. "Look, human. This is a different planet. If you want to figure out how things run, you're going to have to pay attention!"
"You say you know, but we both know that if I sent Artha back out here, you wouldn't listen, would you? How many times has she been out here already?"
I swallow hard. I mean, he's not wrong. Artha is soft-spoken and with a thick accent, and those are kryptonite to my hearing. I panic and fall into my old habits—pretending I understand just so she'll stop speaking and go away. I bury my face in my hands. "You're just making me feel worse. I already feel bad, okay? So quit lecturing me!"
Even with my face covered, Custodian i'Yani's sputter is so loud I pick it up just fine. "I'm not lecturing you! I'm trying to save your life, human! That's my keffing job! Making sure you humans don't kill yourselves under our watch! And you're doing your best to make sure that my job is as difficult as possible."
I clench my jaw. Is he just going to stand here and yell at me? I need him to leave, and so I scowl up at him and say the bitchiest things I can. "So it's about you, is it? Good to know. I'll keep that in mind next time I call the Port custodians for help."
His eyes widen as if he can't believe what I'm saying. Then, he throws his hands up and walks away, clearly defeated by my stubbornness. I can hear him speaking, but his tone is too low for me to make out his words, so I watch him climb back into his air-sled, shoot one last angry look in my direction, and then he speeds off through the air.
I remain on my step, defeated. I feel bad for picking a fight, but the longer he lingers around me, the less safe I become. If he picks up that I can't hear, what then? He's going to mark it in his records at the custodial office. He's going to flag me as a problem instead of just bitchy and dumb. I have to keep my secret, because bitchy and dumb sex slaves don't get killed. Flawed, useless ones do, though.