Cynthia had dragged herself out of bed to answer the urgent transmission and was in nothing resembling a good mood.
“You know it’s about 3AM on this side of the planet, right?”
“Commander!” Mike ignored her protests outright, his voice trembling with excitement, “I figured it out!”
“I’m too tired to make jokes about that,” she grumbled, “What did you figure out?”
“You were right,” he admitted, “it wasn’t just meaningless gibberish.”
“Well, I’m just tickled pink.”
“It’s a code, and a helluva one, too,” Mike was nearly breathless with excitement, “It must have taken months, years to put it together, and there must have been close to dozens of people working on it!”
“What makes you say that?” Cynthia found herself asking despite her tired self.
“There’s only one person in this part of the galaxy that would have knowledge of all those languages and dialects.”
“…I suppose that’s you then?”
“Yes,” Mike replied, dead serious.
“How very humble. So, then, a bunch of people got together to make a needlessly complicated coded message… why?”
“Why did they do it, Turtle? What was the point? Have you gotten a chance to actually figure out what all these people wanted to say?”
“Oh… uh…not yet.”
“…Why?” Cynthia gritted her teeth.
“Well, some of the dialects that they are using are very tricky. The same word in a different context could mean something completely different, and I don’t even know what kind of context that they are working in. It could be that the context isn’t a typical one at all, but a context specific to this coded message. It could take me hours even to get a rough idea of what they’re trying to say… and that’s if they’re using anything that resembles standard coding or syntax.”
Cynthia heaved a sigh. She wanted nothing more than to return to bed, but she didn’t want to walk blind into an absolute maelstrom later that morning.
“Do we even know who… ‘they’ are?”
“Well, if the language is any kind of giveaway…and it is… it looks like we’re reaching across the board: Klingon, Vulcan, Terran, Romulan… it’s like a cross section of language for several different systems.”
“But you don’t know what it says?”
“I think I got a greeting message in the first bit… I think.”
Cynthia gave a grunt.
“Turtle, do me a favor and call me back when you actually know what the Hell is going on, okay? I don’t need a call every time you get a new syllable, got it? If it turns out to be a commercial for some off-world pool hall, you can save it for when I beam on board. If it’s something that’s going to endanger lives, you can go ahead and call me… but try to keep the perky down to a minimum, okay?”
“Yes, Commander. I’ll get right on it.”
Cynthia crawled back into bed with her husband, an eternally jovial man who seemed the perfect foil to her gruffness.
“If you’re going to be calling young men at 3AM, you could at least be a little more discreet.”
“Oh, shut up, you old fart, and let me sleep.”
At 4AM, she got another call. Rolling over to answer it, she glared at her husband, who was shaking with barely concealed mirth.
“What is it now, Turtle?!”
“Do you know anything about Camp Khitomer?”
“No…” she groaned, rubbing a throbbing temple, “no I don’t. The Khitomer system is a little bunch of dirtballs on the border of the Romulan neutral zone. I can’t imagine what anyone would want out there, unless they’re trying to get killed by Romulans.”
“But I thought we’re allied with the Romulans…”
“…and you can always count on Romulans to be treacherous. Just imagine Humak without a moral compass.”
“Sorry I asked. Well, I’ll take a look and see if I mistranslated. See you at work.”
“Don’t even mention work to me, Turtle. That’s the last place I want to think about right now.”
“Oh. Okay. Guess I’ll talk to you later then.”
She crawled back into bed, praying for a chance to regain unconsciousness.
“I swear,” she sighed, “I have more trouble with those two boys than I ever did with ours.”
“I don’t think you can take either one of those over your knee, Cindie,” her husband smiled.
“I dunno,” she replied, yawning heavily, “They’re a couple of skinny little bastards…”
In far too little time, she was beaming aboard the church, where she was met the moment she stepped off the pad by Mike Smith. He didn’t look as cheerful as he had sounded earlier. By comparison, now he seemed almost grave.
“It took me a while, but I found out about Khitomer. Turns out that’s the secret meeting place for the Terran-Klingon peace accords.”
“Oh shit,” Cynthia swore in a sibilant hiss, “and after everything that happened with that ambassador… this can’t be good. Did you find out anything more about the message?”
“It’s a damned mess,” Mike cried with frustration. The bags under his eyes were showing from very little sleep.
“Go somewhere, get comfortable. Here,” she handed him the usual thermos, “Ge that thing decoded as best you can. I’ll see if I can get anything through to Starfleet, but they’ve probably cut all communication given the sensitive nature of all these proceedings. Just let me know as soon as you know something, you know it. All right?”
Mike took the thermos and nodded smartly.
“I won’t let you down, Commander.”
They both headed opposite ways, and when Cynthia made it to the control room, she saw Humak at his station, as usual. That actually gave her chance for a small smile. As she sat down, she pulled up a hard-line into the communications mainframe and began trying to force a channel any way she knew how. Still Humak plodded on, oblivious, and despite it all, Cynthia enjoyed a little laugh.
“Are you finding something humorous, Commander?” Humak asked, halfway through a superfluous report.
“Just life, Humak,” she responded as she was locked out of an attempt. She leaned back in her chair for a moment, cracked her knuckles expertly, and tried again.