16, 17, 18

Chapter 16

Federation Standard


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.

Gih-lek 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," Gih-lek 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, Gih-lek began to speak again in Cardassian, but much too fast and much too long for me to even 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 Gih-lek, 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, okay," I said.

"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. Gih-lek, 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 Gih-lek.

"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 Gih-lek 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!"

Gih-lek 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 Gih-lek, "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 Gih-lek and handing him three or four small, flat rectangles. "Everything is done," he said. "I depart in two hours."

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

When Dal was gone, Gih-lek 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.

Gih-lek shook his head. "Your fears are unfounded. I cannot kill you by accidentally bumping a button." He tapped his chest. "Gih-lek to Engineering."

"This is Taro, Gul."

"What is the status of the com?"

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

"Acknowledged. Gih-lek 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," Gih-lek 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.





Chapter 17

Paradox


"Pracett to Gih-lek," said a voice.

The Gul tapped his chest. "Go ahead."

"The replicators are back online. Diagnostics show some problems still with the com system. We're continuing to work on that."

"Acknowledged. Gih-lek out." He looked at me. "Would you care for a cup of coffee?"

"Yes, please." I forced a smile. "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 Gih-lek 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.'"

Gih-lek allowed himself an amused smile. "You are 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."

"Naturally."

"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 Gih-lek.

"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 twenty-first 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 Gih-lek, "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. "... fifty-two--degrees by your twenty-first-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.

My hip is fine now, and so is Gih-lek'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 Gih-lek 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 aliens. 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 magazine articles back home. 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 ‘hashet,’ 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; 'shad' 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'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 language notes. But instead, they brought me to the infirmary and assigned me to go behind a demolition team and start rebuilding a wall that hadn’t even been 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.

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 a hold 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,

Mom






Chapter 18

Mystery Language


I came out of the shower to find a soldier in my room. “Gul Gih-lek will see you,” he announced.

When I got to the Gul’s office I bowed. “Keeba avzyne.”

“Keeba avzyne,” he answered, returning my bow and dismissing my escort with a wave of his hand. “Have a seat. What can I get you?”

“Coffee, please. Cream and sugar.”

“How are you adjusting to life in the future?” he asked, when he returned from the replicator.

I sighed. “Alright, I guess.”

“You must have questions.”

I nodded. It was hard to know where to start. “How is the investigation coming into how I got here?”

Gih-lek shrugged. “We have very little to go on. Dukat considers it a low priority, so when there are tests need to be performed on Terok Nor we are forced to wait until his staff have a slow day.”

“Is that what we’re doing now, waiting?”

“Yes, but I doubt the test will reveal anything. As I said, we have very little to go on.”

“I see. Well, I’ll try to be patient. I guess a lot must have happened in three hundred forty-seven years. I don’t really know what questions to ask.”

“I’m not an expert in Earth history, either. I could tell you what has happened to my people since the time you left Earth, but not to yours. I know only certain highlights, such as the invention of warp drive and your first official contact with aliens.”

“Okay,” I said, trying to regroup. “Why are we not weightless? Where’s the gravity coming from?”

“From an artificial gravity generator. All starships have them, including Starfleet ships. Since humanoids evolved in the presence of gravity, we can’t function long without it.”

“That’s a problem in my time,” I replied. “People coming back from living on the space station have to be taken out on stretchers sometimes because they can’t walk. Their muscles have atrophied from being weightless all that time.”

“I understand we had similar problems before we invented artificial gravity.”

“Oh, Cardassians invented it?”

“A Cardassian invented it for Cardassians. I would imagine a Human invented it for Earth ships. It’s one of those things, like warp drive, that tends to be invented on every planet as part of its evolution. Every people comes to the place where they need it, so it’s invented.”

I nodded. “Necessity is the mother of invention.”

Gih-lek returned my nod. “We have a similar proverb.”

“What is warp drive?”

“It’s the technology that allows a ship to move fast enough to travel between star systems.”

“Oh, faster-than-light travel. That was going to be my next question. In my time they said faster-than-light travel was theoretically impossible.”

“Along with time travel, I suppose?”

I laughed. “Yes, along with time travel. That’s supposed to be impossible, too. How does warp drive work?”

“The ship is powered by a warp engine.”

“And how does it work?”

“I give the command to go to warp. The helmsman has already entered our trajectory into his station, and we begin traveling at warp speed.”

“I mean warp technology. How does that work?”

Gih-lek shook his head. “That I cannot explain to you.”

“I’m a good study,” I objected. “Would you at least be willing to try?”

“Oh I have no doubt you would understand at least some of it,” Gih-lek replied. “There are two reasons why I can’t explain it to you. First, you are a citizen of an enemy empire. I will not show you schematics or give you details about anything that would cause us potential problems if your were to tell them to your own people.”

“But you're keeping me away from Starfleet, so why does it matter?”

“At some point a reason could arise for us to decide to return you.”

I wasn’t sure how I felt about being “returned” to the Federation. From the little I had heard, I had my doubts about whether it was a government I wanted to be under.

“Second,” Gih-lek continued, you will probably go back to your own time at some point. It’s already bad enough that you know we exist and have this technology: you don't need to have the knowledge that could possibly enable you to invent it before its time.”

“I see,” I replied, staring into my coffee. It was going to be a boring life here, then. At least I was allowed to learn Cardassian—or the common tongue, as they called it.

“I’d like to learn about life on Earth in 2015.”

I looked up from my coffee. Gih-lek was sitting back in his chair now, his intense eyes on my face. It was a look that didn’t make me feel like telling him anything.

“Tell me about your job,” he insisted.

I didn’t know if it was a good idea to just come out and say, “I don’t feel like talking right now,” but maybe I could still get that message across if I used the respectful Cardassian word “shada” and addressed him by his title. I hadn’t learned enough of their language to converse in it yet, but I could put together some sentences. “What do you want to know, Gul?” I asked.

The sneer on his face told me that he understood my meaning perfectly—and was overruling it. “You could start with your title,” he shrugged.

I sighed. “They just called me a linguist.”

Gih-lek’s eyes were narrow. “Who did you work for? What were your duties? What technology did you have to assist you? Did you have any Human assistants?”

By the time I was done answering his questions, I felt both exhausted and energized. I’d envisioned about twenty different ways to force him to shut up, including the ridiculous fantasy of crushing his neck ridges with my bare hands and strangling him until he lost consciousness. The smirk that kept twitching at the corners of his mouth didn’t help, and neither did the way he kept his eyes drilled into mine without once glancing away for even an instant.

“I’m temporarily reassigning you,” he said, his face a little more relaxed. “You’ll have a break from your maintenance chores.”

I just looked at him and waited, wondering if my new assignment was going to be worse than what I was doing now but glad that for the moment, at least, he wasn’t asking me questions.

He tapped his communicator. “Gih-lek to Dal.”

“Dal here, Gul.”

“We’re ready.”

“On my way.”

“You remember Joret Dal,” Gih-lek said when the soldier had entered his office he had returned his bow.

“Of course,” I said, bowing to Dal. I didn’t remember every soldier I met well enough to pick him out in a crowd, but the open look on Dal’s face had made an impression on me.

Dal bowed back, then turned to Gih-lek.

Gih-lek didn’t speak, just nodded to Dal and then narrowed his eyes again and glared at me.

After exchanging bows with Gih-lek, Dal glanced at me and said, “Let’s go,” then headed for the door.

I rose and bowed to Gih-lek, who gave me only a slight bow and a sneer that said he couldn’t wait to get rid of me. I followed Dal into the hallway.

He took me to a large office where about twenty Cardassian soldiers sat in front of desks crowded with symbols. Most of the desks had oval display screens on top, and there were a few larger display screens on the walls. He led me to a desk, and I realized the layout of the symbols was very similar to the desk in my quarters, which I was already learning to use.

“This will be your station,” Dal said.

I sat in the chair and looked up at him.

“We’ve intercepted an encrypted written message on a Starfleet channel,” he explained. “We have decrypted it, but we’re having trouble with the translation.”

In spite of myself, I was becoming interested. “What kind of trouble?”

Dal began to tap symbols on my desk, and one of the large screens on the wall responded, coming alive with shapes and symbols that went by too quickly for me to get a good look at them. “Normally in a case like this, we translate the message ourselves and compare it to the results we get from the Universal Translator. This allows us to identify places where there may be more than one way to render the text and the UT has simply chosen the translation that it determines to be the most likely.”

“Okay,” I said. The screen on the wall was still now, displaying a road map of Cardassian characters. I began identifying characters that matched the symbols on the desks.

“Only this time we can’t do that because we haven’t been able to identify the language. That will be your first task.”

“You want me to identify what language the transmission is written in?” I asked.

Joret Dal nodded. “You heard correctly.”

I sighed and shook my head, feeling everyone’s eyes on me. “I wish I could help you. I really do, because this looks a whole lot more interesting than my job in maintenance. But I think there’s been a misunderstanding. I may be a linguist, but I come from three hundred fifty years ago on a planet where officially there had been no contact with aliens yet. I don’t know any non-Terran languages.”

Dal nodded. “We think this may be an ancient Terran language.”

I shrugged, trying to hide my doubts. “Well, in that case ...”

He touched the desk again, and what appeared on the screen next made me jump. “You recognize it,” he observed.

“I’m not sure yet. It certainly looks familiar, but it may just be similar to a language I know of and not actually be the same one.” I touched a symbol I guessed would magnify the display, and it worked. “The characters are definitely made by reeds. I mean originally. The way they’re shaped, the people who created this language wrote by pressing a reed into a tablet of wet clay. We call that type of writing cuneiform.”

Dal took an empty seat to my left. “When there is anything you need in order to identify the language as quickly as possible ...” He made a sweeping gesture around the room. “The team is at your disposal.”

Nearly four hours later when Joret Dal called a lunch break, I still wasn’t 100 percent sure which language the intercepted message had been written in. We went as a group to the replimat.

“You might like this,” said the soldier ahead of me in line for one of the replicators, handing me the tray that had just materialized. She was the only woman on the team besides myself, and she was a decryptionist.

“Thanks, Nevara,” I said in English. The Cardassian way to say thank you was an eight-syllable mouthful in its respectful form, and that was assuming that the phrase I heard hadn’t been shortened by the prevalent Cardassian habit of slurring some syllables together.

I took it as a good sign that no nauseating smells came from my tray while Nevara ordered her food and we walked to a table. But I couldn’t say as much for some of the other dishes in the room.

“It’s not every day we get to work with a Human,” Nevara remarked when we had both sat down, “much less a Human from the past. How do you like it aboard the Mekar? Is it a lot different from the the life you’re used to?”

“It’s very different,” I replied. “We didn’t have replicators or communicators or Universal Translators. We didn’t have warp drive, and there were only rumors of visits by aliens, no official contact yet.”

“No wonder you’re picking up the common tongue so fast, then. I would imagine that without a Universal Translator, everyone must have had a lot of practice in learning each other’s languages.”

I shook my head. “I’m just good at it because I’m a linguist,” I explained. “Or maybe I became a linguist because I’m good at it, I don’t know. But most people in my time didn’t even try to learn any other languages. They just talked to people who spoke their own language and generally got mad if they ran into anyone who didn’t speak the same language they did.”

Nevara frowned. “Got mad? Why is that?”

“I’ve never been able to figure it out. But in my culture at least, I used to see it all the time. People who spoke English—that’s my native language—would yell at people who didn’t speak English and tell them to learn it.”

“But these same English speakers didn’t take their own advice and learn the languages other Humans spoke?”

“That’s right, they usually didn’t. And actually, the English speakers who did learn other languages were normally the ones who never yelled at anyone to learn English. Only the ones who knew only English would do that.”

“You are a very strange people,” Nevara concluded. “Was it hard to adjust to Cardassian life?”

“Not too hard,” I said. “I just miss my kids.”

Nevara winced. “Yes, I can imagine that must be very difficult. How old—well, I guess they must be about three hundred fifty years old by now. But how old were they when you left them?”

“Eight and ten.”

“I’m sorry. It must be terrible for you.”

“Maybe you can answer something for me,” I said to change the subject, “something I’ve been very curious about ever since I got to this century.”

“I’d be happy to if I can.”

“Who are the Bajorans, and why did they always walk away whenever I started to go in their direction when I was on Terok Nor?”

Nevara blinked and her eyebrows went up. “Well, the Bajorans come from the planet Bajor. And I don’t know why they always walked away, unless you had a Cardassian escort with you and they were getting out of the way of the Cardassians.”

“Okay, but why did they want to get out of the way of the Cardassians?”

“I don’t think I can answer that question,” Nevara replied. “How do you like your food?”

“It’s very good. Good choice.”

“I have friend who’s had the opportunity to try some Earth dishes,” Nevara explained. “He said some of them reminded him of this one.”

I was about to ask her if what I was eating was a Cardassian dish when she rose, picking up her tray of half-eaten food. “Excuse me,” she said. “There’s something I have to do.” And she recycled the rest of her food and left the replimat.

About ten minutes later I was in the middle of trying to explain fast food restaurants to another soldier when Dolim Shal came in and walked up to me. “Come with me,” he ordered.

I bowed to my coworker and followed Shal out the door.

“Where are we going?” I asked him.

“To the intelligence office.”

I walked beside him without saying another word.

When we arrived, Glin Zorak welcomed me with typical Cardassian courtesy and dismissed Dolim Shal.

I bowed and sat in the chair he indicated, which was across his desk from his own. I couldn’t help but notice the rod that extended down from the ceiling. This was much too reminiscent of my interview with Glin Tahmid back on Terok Nor.

Zorak infused something into my neck, just like Tahmid had, walked around his desk and sat down. I still hadn’t said a word.

“Why all the interest in Bajorans?” he asked.

I took a deep breath and let it out. “They’re the first people I saw when I came here—when I got to Terok Nor I mean—and I've never had a chance to really spend time with them much, and they look so much like me except for the nose ridges, and I'm just curious.” When I was done I realized I had said all that in one breath.

As it turned out, I had no reason to be so nervous. I stayed in Zorak’s office for about three hours answering his questions, but nothing out of the ordinary happened. The rod in the ceiling never came down; I was allowed to keep my clothes on, and I was free to get up and pace whenever I wanted.

Finally he spoke the words I had been waiting for: “Those are all the questions I have for you.” Then he leaned forward and drilled his eyes into mine. “I trust the subject of Bajorans will not come up in your conversations again.”

“I won’t mention them, Glin,” I promised.

“Good,” he said, sitting back and tapping his communicator. “Zorak to Shal.”

“Shal here.”

“Our guest is ready to go back to her quarters.”


Dear Wendy and Grady,

One of the leaders of this project is called The Cat, and one day I asked him where he got that nickname. He said it’s because of something he did before he came here.

He was assigned to a place called Jour on a beautiful bay right near the ocean. It was an old French colony that had gotten its independence long ago. But recently the government had fallen apart and there was nobody to stop the pirates who kept stealing from the people and even kidnapping them. And besides, lots of people were getting sick and dying and nobody knew why.

So The Cat went into the bay with his helpers and snuck up behind the pirates and arrested them. He was very quiet and still so the pirates didn’t know he was there. Then all of a sudden, seemingly out of nowhere, he would jump out with his helpers and stop their ships. Some of the pirates said that only a cat could do what he did, and always after that he was called The Cat.

When the pirates were all in jail, The Cat started figuring out why the people of Jour were getting sick and dying. He found out the problem was that they didn’t understand about germs and keeping clean. So he ordered that clean water be given to everyone and everyone must wash their hands. Then the sick people got better, and some of them posed for a picture with their new leader who had saved their lives. I saw the picture, and everybody looked so happy.

Hugs and kisses. See you soon.

All my love,

Mom

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