"Pracett to Gillek," said a voice.
The Gul tapped his chest. "Go ahead."
"The replicators are back on-line. Diagnostics show some problems still with the com system. We're continuing to work on that."
"Acknowledged. Gillek out." He looked at me. "Would you care for a cup of coffee?"
"Yes, please," I smiled. "Cream and sugar."
He put one hand on his chair and the other on the desk and pushed himself up on his arms. Slowly, he transferred his weight to his legs and turned stiffly to the replicator. "Coffee, cream and sugar," he ordered, and "coffee, black."
"You're hurt," I said.
He put the cups on his desk and lowered himself slowly back into his chair. "A present from Starfleet," he quipped, "a small token of friendship."
"What's it all about, anyway, this war?" I stood, picked up my cup in its holder and sat down again.
"There was a time when I would have answered, 'Expansionist aggression,' but now I'm afraid it's become little more than a political game."
"Dangerous game," I observed. "I wonder if there's anything I can do."
"I doubt there's anything you could do without revealing your presence here."
"Wouldn't it be worth it to let the secret out, though? I mean, if it stops the war..."
"If it could stop the war, perhaps revealing your presence would be worth the consequences, yes. But it's much more likely to prolong the war, instead."
"I see. You haven't touched your coffee."
He picked up his coffee, took a small sip and put it back down.
"Is your leg going to be okay?" I asked.
"Yes, thank you, it's just a temporary inconvenience. But I understand your injury is not from the battle."
I stared into my coffee. "No, not exactly."
"And I hear your Bajoran assailants managed to teach you quite a bit of their language in just a few minutes."
"Only simple words," I replied. "And really, Iba only kicked me to keep me from hitting my head."
"I believe your head would never have been in danger if you had not disobeyed my Riyak."
I gripped my cup-frame tightly with both hands in an effort to prevent them from flying up to my face. My cheeks were burning. They must have been bright red, and there was no way Gillek could have failed to notice. But covering my face would have been practically cowering. I didn't need him losing even more respect for me. "True," I admitted.
"I'm more interested in your accelerated lesson in Bajoran," he said.
I sat back, tried to relax against the back of the chair and looked him in the eyes. "What do you want to know?"
"I want to know how you learned so fast. This was your first encounter with the language, I presume?"
"Yes, it was. I'm a linguist. I guess that's why," I shrugged. "I don't know."
"Then you spent the rest of the day learning Cardassian. How did that go?"
"It went pretty well. We cleared the hallways. I tried to learn some Cardassian, but I'm afraid I must have said something offensive. I didn't mean to. I was just trying to say what I thought I heard them saying."
"And that was...?"
"I thought it was 'o-shah.'"
Gillek allowed himself an amused smile. "You were correct; they were saying 'o-shah.'" He paused for a moment, staring at the ceiling, then looked back to me. "The common tongue, what you call the Cardassian language, is in many ways an accurate reflection and expression of Cardassian social structure."
"I'll simplify it for you: you should always address Cardassians as 'shada,' never as 'o-shah.'"
"Okay," I replied. "I'll try to remember that. Will I be working with them again today?"
"No. You'll begin your new assignment in a few days."
"I'd like to learn more about the Universal Translator, if I could."
"I'll consider it."
"Thank you." It had only been a comment; I hadn't thought I'd need his permission to study a translation program. "I'm kind of disappointed, actually," I confessed.
"Most of the time, it works," said Gillek.
"That's not what I meant," I replied. "I'm disappointed that somebody got to it before me. I always thought someday I'd invent something like this."
"Maybe you did invent it," he suggested.
"What do you mean?"
"You spend every waking moment scheming to find a way back to the 21st Century. If I let you study our Universal Translator technology, and you take that knowledge home and subsequently invent it in your own time, you'll be creating what we call a paradox."
I sighed. "I also hoped it would help prevent war."
"And perhaps it has," he replied. "Perhaps without it, much greater misunderstandings would have occurred."
"Oh, I hadn't thought of that. Earlier, you said something about turning the heat down in my room. That would be fine with me, actually. To be honest, it's a little too warm for my taste, and I know you're worried about expenses."
"I don't remember mentioning that," said Gillek, "but you're welcome to adjust the environmental controls in your quarters to suit your comfort."
"I am? Thanks. But how do I do that? I didn't see a thermostat."
"The same way you control the lights: by voice command. Might you be referring to my remark that not all the rooms in this ship are warm?"
"Yes," I said, "that was it."
"The rooms in question are specialized storage bays, but I've found they also function effectively as quarters for uncooperative prisoners. I'm afraid they are in fact cold, rather than comfortably cool as you imagine. There is one standing empty at the moment that is..." He grabbed a tablet from his desk and typed. "...52 degrees by your 21st century North American scale. Oxygen saturation is limited, to slow oxidization of stored materials; it's breathable but very thin. There are no shower or toilet facilities."
"And you would actually put me in there if I refused to work?"
"Of course. I enjoy our little meetings, Vaine, but there's no more time for this one. I'll send for you again another day."
"Yes, Gul." In spite of my efforts, it came out in a growl. I stood up and hobbled to the door, and found Dolim Shal waiting.
"Rokassa juice," I heard the Gul say as the door swished shut behind me.
I've decided to write a book - a linguistic analysis of the Cardassian language.
As much as i don't want to admit it, it looks like i'm going to be stuck here for the time being, and I'll go crazy without something to put my mind to.
And looking on the bright side, if there is a bright side, I'm the first linguist ever to encounter an alien language. At least I think I am - maybe there are alien-language books locked up in Area 51 or something. But this book would be the first of it's kind: the linguistic breakthrough of the century, at the very least.
When I get back and it gets published, I could probably get a teaching position at a prestigious university. Then I'd never have to worry about paying for skiing lessons or braces or college or anything.
Poor Grady. Poor Wendy. I wonder how they're coping.
Dear Wendy and Grady,
They have some pretty amazing things here, I wish I could show you. I even have a machine in my room that makes anything I want. It made the pen and paper I'm using to write to you, it makes my clothes every morning, and it even makes food. There aren't a lot of different dishes it can make, but it's really good at bacon and eggs and toast.
They've given me a very nice room, except that the bed is really hard. Maybe I'll see if that machine can make a pillow top to put on it.
I got to met the boss of this whole secret project, and he filled me in on what's going on, and why this job is so important that I had to leave you and come here to help.
The problem is that the government has found out about some aliens who want to make all the people of Earth sick. Yes, there really is life on other planets, and just as many people have thought for some time, the government knows about them and has been keeping them a secret. But there's a very good reason for that.
This particular species of aliens are really dumb, but they're also really grumpy, and that's why they want to make us all sick. Somehow they got it into their heads that Humans are their enemies, and that's bad luck for us - except, of course, that the government has a plan.
What the government found out is that these grumpy aliens have gotten ahold of a virus and sent it to Earth. Now, the grumpy aliens aren't smart enough to come up with this virus on their own, but they stole it from some smarter aliens. The smart aliens had it in a medical lab because they were trying to make a vaccine for it.
The good news is that the aliens who needed to have a vaccine were able to make one, but the bad news is that the vaccine doesn't work on humans. The grumpy aliens are going to release this virus on Earth, and there is no defense for it: humans will just get very sick and it will be worse than the black plague that you learned about in history class.
But there is good news for us, too. Remember I told you that Derek works for a branch of the government that protects the United States and the whole world from secret threats? Well, this branch of the government found out about the grumpy aliens and their virus because a very smart and brave employee of the alien medical lab warned them, and they got a head start on trying to figure out what to do about it.
What they figured out is that if they create a new line of genetically modified humans, then the virus will like the new humans better, and go into them and leave the older kind of humans like us alone. It will even leave our bodies and go into theirs if we just shake hands with them. The new humans are immune to the virus, which means they can't get sick from it. After a while, the virus will just die out and be gone.
The time for 'deployment' of the new humans is very close now. Deployment is when the new humans will be released to go shake hands with us old humans. But there's a problem that needs to be fixed first.
If the new humans just start walking into old-human towns all over the world, there will be a terrible panic. The old humans will be afraid of the new ones because, honestly, they're ugly. I know this because I've met some of them. They're nice people, and very smart, but they're ugly. For example, they have no eyebrows. They just have ridges made out of thick skin or something where their eyebrows should be, but they seem to work just as well.
Also, they don't know how to get along in the regular world up on land. So the government has been working for some time now to help children get used to people who look different.. And they brought me here to help these new humans find out what life is like on the surface. This is very important, so they can act normal and not scare people and cause panic all over the world.
Well, I'd better get back to work.
Hugs and kisses. See you soon.
All my love,
Gillek is mad at me again, and I have no idea why. All I know is last night he got very offended, apparently by something I said, and abruptly ordered me out of his office. Some days he's just impossible to please. I'd say I don't care, but it's probably not good to be on his bad side.
My hip is fine now, and so is Gillek's leg. Those doctors may have a horrible bedside manner, but they sure know their stuff. And the ship is repaired, too. You wouldn't even know there had been a battle.
Once I got over the fact that Gillek was forcing me to work, my new job started to grow on me. It was nice to be able to get out of this room every day and spend some time out in the ship with other people, even if they were Cardassians. And learning how to use a couple of high-tech tools was definitely a plus. But it got old fast. It's tedious work, and every night I come back here with my hands and shoulders aching.
On the bright side, I'm gathering some good material for the book. It's amazing what you can learn about a culture just by picking up tidbits of the language. For example, Cardassians are such neat freaks that their favorite mild curse word is 'chaos.'
Their society seems to be built on some kind of elaborate hierarchy, possibly a caste system. Everyone seems to be more or less preoccupied with their place in society - and everyone else's. I've come across three different words for you (singular) that I'm sure of, but I suspect there are more: 'o-shah' is what you call someone who is your inferior; 'shah' is for your equal, and 'shada' is a term of respect for someone who ranks higher than you. Of course, I have to call everyone 'shada.' I get the impression they don't think much of humans.
I wish they'd let me have a day off so I could write down everything that's in my head about the Common Tongue, as they call it - not only write it down, but organize it and analyze it and confirm some of the patterns I think I'm finding, and probably find some more as well.
I've stopped replicating 21st-Century Earth clothes for myself. I guess I got tired of sticking out in my period costumes like some eccentric Shakespearean actress who wears her Lady MacBeth stuff to the supermarket. I'm trying to get used to the tunic and pants outfits they consider regular clothes here. Maybe wearing what they wear will help them see me as a person instead of an alien. I don't know.
When we finished repairing the Mekar, I thought my job as a maintenance tech was finally over and I was going to get a chance to put some serious time into my book. But instead, they brought me to the infirmary and assigned me to go behind a demolition team and start rebuilding a wall that wasn't even damaged in the battle. Apparently, it's just old and showing microscopic signs of wear. It looks like there's no way out: I'm just a regular maintenance drone now.