Swingin' Saturday: The Swing of Things, Chapter 9

The men met Chakwas at the rear entrance to the hall where the first reception was held. The dim corridor bustled with people of every species, the work that went on behind the scenes that few people even considered. Jenkins kept dodging trays of one thing or another that the serving crew carried past at impressive speed.

“Turians can’t even eat real food,” Pressly observed as a passing tray of some mysterious meat left a lingering, pungent odor. “The cooks have to make two full meals.”

“Half the species in the galaxy have different metabolisms,” Kaidan said, irked a bit by the navigator’s superior attitude. “It’s not like they chose to evolve that way, any more than we did.” Pressly shrugged and they both dropped it.

Kaidan hadn’t thought about how awkward parties would be to throw on the Citadel. You’d have to make sure that the right species got the right food or all of your guests would be off to the infirmary instead of celebrating. As he pondered how much must have gone into pulling off Chakwas’s birthday party Udina strode down the hall, beak of a nose in the air, impatiently maneuvering around various aliens without ever deigning to speak to them.

The ambassador looked positively affronted at finding himself in a service corridor surrounded by working people. Kaidan entertained himself for a moment by imagining how quickly the man’s snooty expression would change if he snatched the wrong delicacy from a passing tray. He considered offering him something at random, just to see what happened. Udina really did leave a bad taste in his mouth and it seemed only fair that Kaidan do the same. Of course, he never would do such a thing but the little fantasy let him keep his cool with the prickly ambassador.

“Where is Mr. Moreau?” Udina snapped, further tempting him. “You begin in twenty-three minutes.”

“He’s already inside, Ambassador Udina,” Chakwas said in that mellow voice of hers. She never seemed ruffled by anything. A desirable quality in a military doctor, Kaidan mused. “I believe he’s playing a stirring Turian march as the attendees arrive.”

Udina’s mouth pinched into a moue of disgust but he chose not to pursue that line of discussion. He gave each of them a once-over then gestured dismissively. “Fine. The rest of you, get out of this filthy hall before someone spills on your uniforms.” He spun on his heel and stalked back the way he had come.

Anderson and Chakwas laughed while Kaidan rolled his eyes. “If the ambassador gets any more superior he’s going to have to assume control of the Council,” he said.

Jenkins was worrying at the collar of his dress coat where the little insignia shone dully. Udina never spent much time with the band but he made the corporal terribly nervous. Their youngest member seemed to think that, at any moment, he’d be ordered off to some disagreeable duty for an imagined infraction, if not court-martialed altogether for some unknown, uncontrollable failing.

“Let’s get on with it, then,” Pressly said, pushing his way into the stream of people entering the reception suite. We can hardly tune up out here.”

The wait staff passed through a security scanner as they entered and left the banquet hall but Udina had directed the combo to a small room that communicated directly with the stage for their warm-up. In no time they could hear Udina addressing the audience, speaking firmly and without a hint of his usual distaste for any other species.

He praised the Turian engineers and lauded the whole team for their work together. Then he introduced the group as a sort of gesture of good will between their species. Kaidan thought that must have been a bitter pill for the Human ambassador to swallow but it sounded sincere enough over the sound system.

Spotlights shone in the group’s eyes as they arranged themselves on the raised platform. In stark contrast to Chakwas’s party, the room was nearly silent. Only a few muttered conversations filtered up to Kaidan’s ears where he stood stiffly at attention, holding his trumpet at his side. Anderson’s rich voice introduced the men and then counted them into the first number.

As he grew accustomed to the brightness Kaidan began to make out the Turians and Humans at the front tables. They appeared to be divided along strict species lines, whether by choice or design. From the somewhat hostile looks they gave one another Kaidan thought it might be both. An impressive variety of rank insignias showed among them, on both sides.

The tables to his right contained all Turians. Their expressions, under the bony plates that made up their faces didn’t look particularly impressed. They muttered to one another inaudibly under the music, secure in the knowledge that they, their human counterparts, the serving staff, and the entire room had been screened and scanned by Citadel Security for listening devices and weapons.

The Humans looked to be paying attention to the music, at least. The group reached the end of the first song and, after a moment of awkward pause during which no one moved, launched into the next number. They’re not going to dance and applaud, Kaidan reminded himself. This is a military summit, not a party. It still stung a little.

By the end of the short set at least a few toes were tapping on the Human side of the room. None of the Turians had changed their stony expressions but faces here and there were turned to the stage. One of them, wearing what Kaidan recognized as a general’s emblem, offered a solemn nod in response to the bow the little group offered before they filed off the stage.

Kaidan mentioned it to the others backstage as they cleaned their instruments. “Maybe this isn’t such an off-the-wall idea after all,” Pressly mused. “A little swing would be better than most of that Asari crap they play at the bar.”

Anderson gave a non-committal hum and turned the conversation to what songs needed work. The group broke up amid promises to practice the following afternoon. None of them worried much about the reason for their assignment over the next few weeks.

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