15, 16


Chapter 15

From what I could see, no two Bajorans in the room were dressed alike, and I took that as a sign that they were probably civilians. After all that time with the Cardassians, looking at the faces of my two new coworkers felt like looking in a mirror. If it hadn't been for their wrinkled noses, I would have thought they were Human. The effect was at once both comforting and unsettling.

It didn't take long to establish communication using a combination of signs, facial expressions and a few simple words in their language. I learned that they both loved hasperat and found my own dislike for it amusing. I learned that Iba was a young mother of two and Waderi had two children and five grandchildren.

I asked Iba where her kids were by cradling an imaginary baby, holding up two fingers and glancing in various directions like I was looking for something.

She nodded that she understood as she carried half a crumpled chair to the cart. Most of our communication occurred as we left the cart after dumping a load, in those few seconds when our hands were free before we filled them with rubble again. None of us wanted Karadel to think we were slacking.

I crouched and began tugging on a twisted length of pipe to see if I could get it free from the mess yet, when a female voice behind me boomed, "Vaine!"

I turned and stood. It was Karadel, of course.

She pointed to a male Cardassian wearing a brown tunic and matching pants, about thirty feet away, then waved me toward him with a clipped sentence that ended in "o-shah."

I followed Brown Tunic to a place where two uniformed soldiers worked in a corridor. They had opened a tiny compartment that was flush with the floor, and seemed to be discussing something inside it. They stood up as we approached. "Terhan," one of them said to me, followed by a short sentence ending in "o-shah." He touched the first two fingers of each hand to his face, near his eyes, then pointed all four of them toward the little opening in the wall. He nodded to Brown Tunic, who squatted, pushed the compartment door closed and opened it again, three times. It was a vertical sliding door and I got the impression it was meant to open a lot wider, but it was stuck. The soldier who had spoken pushed me down, not roughly but steadily, until I lay on the warm metal floor.

I turned onto my back and wriggled my way into the compartment, breathing shallowly to fit under the door. One of them slid a work light in beside me, and right away I saw the problem. I worked my way out again, stood up and traced the approximate size and location of the obstruction with my hand. It was too high for me to reach from the floor, and I couldn't even sit up in there because my hips wouldn't fit through the opening.

Brown Tunic said something ending in "edek" and looked to the soldier who had pushed me down for approval. He got it in the form of a quick nod and went thudding off down the narrow hallway.

"Edek," I said.

Both soldiers jerked their heads toward me, apparently surprised.

I said it again, "Edek."

"Edek," said Pusher, gesturing toward himself.

"Edek," I said, pointing to him.

"Toe," he replied. He took my hand and touched it to my own chest. "Edek."

"Edek," I repeated, poking myself in the chest. So far I'd learned two words. "Two down," I mumbled, "29,998 to go."

Brown Tunic came back in a few minutes with the twisted piece of pipe from Iba and Waderi's rubble heap, and I crawled back into the compartment.

After five minutes of trying different angles, I got the door open and came out smiling. I ached all over and my hip was painful where Iba had kicked me, but I'd done the job the bigger Cardassian men couldn't do. Karadel wouldn't have fit, either. It was nice to know I'd scored a point or two with my hard-nosed captors.

But nobody said thank you, or even seemed to take any notice. Brown Tunic crawled into the compartment and Pusher jerked his head in the direction of Karadel's crew, saying something that ended in "o-shah."

I had thought they were taking me back to pick up debris with Iba and Waderi again, but we turned off before we got there and stopped at a spot where a collapsed bulkhead blocked the hallway.

I was surprised to see the second soldier - the one who hadn't yet spoken to me - draw his pistol and aim it at the obstruction. I was even more surprised to see it shoot a laser beam instead of bullets. After a minute of careful cutting, the post that had held the obstruction in place fell with a crash and a puff of dust, and we stepped over it and walked on.

The whole day dragged on like that. Most of the time, we walked the corridors, inspecting them for obstructions or high-priority damage, and two or three times we responded to specific requests for help. Sometimes either Brown Tunic or Laser Man stayed behind to finish up, but they always caught up with us soon after.

The only highlight was lunch. It was only stale crackers, water and a mushy fish that would have made sardines seem mild-tasting, but I was too hungry and sore to care. We sat on the hallway floor and ate, our backs to the wall. It felt so good to be off my feet.

I had just set our water jug down after refilling my cup when I noticed Pusher was looking at it. "O-shah?" I asked. I had figured out that meant 'you.'

He dove at me and lifted his hand, ready to backhand me across the face. "Toe o-shah!" he spat. "Shada!"


Chapter 16

March 23, 2362

Dolim Shal got me out of bed again, bearing a green tunic-and-pants set and a plate of foul-tasting eggs and vegetables. It hurt to move and I limped because my hip was swollen, but when I'd eaten and showered, he gestured to the door. Another day's work.

But instead, he brought me to see the Gul.

Gillek sat at his desk, but something just behind him grabbed my attention. Where before there had been only a large oval decoration like a picture frame with no picture, there was now a window. I realized my mistake in the first two seconds: the 'oval decoration' was a window frame, and what I had taken to be blank wall inside it was some sort of shade. Now that it was open, the view was incredible: stars streaked past in straight lines of light. Or maybe we were flying through the tail of a comet and I was looking at ice-dust lit up by a far-away sun.

I forced myself to remember my manners. "Good morning, Gul," I said. There was another soldier there, too, and I turned to him. "Good morning."

"Keeba avzyne," Gillek replied, and the other guy echoed, "Keeba avzyne."

"Keeba avzyne," I repeated dutifully. I had hoped my immersion wouldn't extend to this office, at least not while I was this tired and sore.

The Gul introduced us. "Glin Zorak, Vaine Shannon." His failure to get my name right didn't seem to fit with my overall impression of him as fastidious and rigidly self-disciplined. I'd need to see how this played out: anything could turn out to be useful in helping me get back to my kids, even odd personal quirks like this.

When the Glin and I had exchanged nods, Gillek began to speak again in Cardassian, but much too fast and much too long for me to get any of it. I was about to ask him to start over and go slowly and simply this time, when Zorak spoke instead.

"Me quizzish Glin Zorak traduce," he said. "Traducer braked in a skirmish. Technikers working onna problem, avail no estima jet for a fix."

"That wasn't Cardassian," I said. The funny thing was, in a lot of ways it mimicked English. The inflection sounded Germanic, and some of the words seemed familiar. "Try again?" I asked Zorak.

"Me quizzish Glin Zorak truduce," he repeated.

"Glin Zorak traduce," I said. Glin Zorak was the name of the person speaking, and traduce sounded like the Spanish word 'traducir,' to translate. So maybe he was speaking for Gul Gillek, and saying, 'Glin Zorak will translate.'

The Glin continued, "Traducer braked."

"The translator broke," I corrected, to help him out.

"Traducer braked in a skirmish."

So the translator had broken in the recent 'skirmish' with Starfleet, apparently. If that had been a skirmish, I hoped I would never see a battle. "The translator broke in a skirmish," I said. "Okay."

"Technikers working onna problem."

Apparently, they had German engineers working on something, maybe on the translator. "Okay."

"No estima jet for a fix."

It took me a second to realize that was, "No estimate yet for a fix."

Fifteen minutes later, I'd learned that no one was trying to immerse me in Cardassian, after all. Gillek, in fact, did not speak English, and neither did Dolim Shal. Their apparent near-perfect mastery of my native tongue was due to the miracle of something called a Universal Translator, or Universal Traducer, to hear it from Glin Zorak. Zorak was fluent in a language called Federation Standard, which I gathered was the 24th-Century version of English.

The meeting went slowly as Zorak and I struggled to bridge the language gap, or rather the linguistic time gap, between us. I asked about my hip, and was told the doctor was too busy to deal with it right now. I asked Zorak how he came to know Federation Standard, and then wished I'd kept my mouth shut. It turned out he was the Mekar's counterpart to Glin Tahmid: Chief Intelligence Officer. Still, maybe I was better off knowing.

"You payill," Zorak informed me, "for you's food na light na adyedge." You will pay for your food and light and adyedge. Whatever adyedge was.

"I didn't bring any money to speak of," I replied. I had brought a purse full of antiques, though, come to think of it. Maybe that was what they were after.

When Zorak and I had gone back and forth enough that he was satisfied he understood, he passed the message on to Gillek.

"Me no quizzishing gold," Zorak translated next. "You workill." I'm not asking for gold. You will work.

I didn't like the sound of that. Unless.... "Me workill investigation," I said.

"You workill...?"

When I'd gotten the point across, Zorak turned to Gillek and said, "I volunteer to help conduct the investigation into how I came to be here."

"It's on!" I burst out. "The translator's working!"

Gillek didn't even show a hint of surprise. "I'm afraid you lack the expertise to assist with the investigation. Excuse me."

Behind Zorak and me, the door swished open and shut again, and another male soldier entered.

"Joret Dal," said Gillek, "this is Vaine Shannon."

I suppressed the urge to correct the Gul, and nodded at the newcomer. He was young, and his face had an open look that struck me as unusual for a Cardassian. I reminded myself it was probably deceptive.

He smiled and said, "Hello, Vaine," before turning to Gillek and handing him three or four small, flat rectangles. "Everything is done," he said. "I depart in two hours."

Gillek stowed the rectangles in the desk. "Good. Perhaps you will find the opportunity to bring me back a present."

When Dal was gone, Gillek said to me, "Drug-induced amnesia can wear off, so if you remember anything more from your journey here, be sure that you tell us."

"Of course," I replied. "But who should I tell? How should I report that?"

"Hail Glin Zorak, or his current duty officer."

"I'm sorry," I said. "I don't know how to do that."

"Say, 'Shannon to Intelligence.'"

"I just say that?" I asked. "I don't tap my shoulder or anything?"

"That's correct. Your communicator works differently from ours."

"My communicator is the implants, isn't it?"

"Just one of them, the upper one."

"Is there any chance, when the doctor's not busy, I could maybe get these things removed?" I asked. "I'm always afraid someone's going to accidentally bump a button one day, and then, zap! no more Faine Channing." There, I had said it. Now at least Zorak knew my real name.

Gillek shook his head. "Your fears are unfounded. I cannot kill you by accidentally bumping a button." He tapped his chest. "Gillek to engineering."

"This is Taro, Gul."

"What is the status of the com?"

"We're still running diagnostics. It may not be reliable."

"Acknowledged. Gillek out." He looked at Glin Zorak. "I don't see the need to take up any more of your time here. If the com fails again, I'll send for you."

"Thank you, Gul," Zorak replied, rising and bowing.

"Can this thing hail anybody on the ship I want to talk to?" I asked as soon as Zorak was gone.

"No," Gillek answered, "only certain people."

"Like who?"

"The intelligence and security desks, and me at certain times. It allows you to hail whomever I authorize."

"You were saying I have to work to earn my keep." I didn't want to even think about it, much less get into an argument with the Gul over it, but it had to be done.

"That's correct. You've been assigned to a maintenance detail."

"I'm worried, Gul," I said. "I really have to ask for your help on this one. The problem is, I could get in big trouble with the Federation for working for the other side. If the cost to keep me is an issue, maybe it would be best just to let me go. I'd be happy to brainstorm with you to see if we can figure out some way to get me back without embarrassing Gul Dukat."

He sighed. "You don't realize what you're saying. If you knew the Federation, you would not be so eager."

"All I know is, in my country, if you worked for the enemy, you got prosecuted for treason."

"That's not an issue in your case. We'll force you to work. There's no treason without choice."

"You can do that?" I asked. "I mean, legally?"

"Yes."

"What if they interrogate me and find out we had this meeting, and we agreed to get around the letter of the law by saying you forced me to work?"

He leaned in. "Understand this," he said, fixing me with that stare of his. "We are not agreeing to say that I forced you to work. I am informing you that I will force you to work."

I was impressed, but I still wasn't sure that would keep me out of jail.

He sat back and stretched. I'd never seen him stretch before. "If you require convincing," he offered, "you can spend tonight suspended by your wrists in Zorak's office. And here's something you may not be aware of: not all the rooms on this ship are warm."

"I'll work." My voice sounded odd.

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