Bolau tu shom

It was almost eight hours later when Cynthia decided she should finally check up on her Turtle. She found him in the canteen: a large, sad-looking empty room with paint that had begun to peel. Mike was sitting at a table in the back that would usually have held six or eight people, but now held nothing but piles of books, stacks of hand-scribbled papers, and the odd, occasional scroll tied with an officious-looking ribbon. In the middle of it all was Mike Smith, his brown hair a mangled mess hanging limply in front of eyes that sported dark circles, all sitting above a mouth full of gritted teeth and cracked, dry lips. Nearby, a thermos lay empty, forgotten, and hated.
“I should have gotten you more coffee,” Cynthia remarked as she shifted a stack of books to sit down.
Mike didn’t answer.
“Humak’s closing up upstairs, is there anything you’ll need from him?”
No answer. Cynthia waved a hand in front of Mike’s weary face to see if he was actually still conscious. To her surprise, he let out a ghastly, high-pitched moan.
“I can’t do it,” he moaned, “It just… I don’t know where they’re going. I can tell you what each of the languages mean, each of the dialects… it took me all day, but I found the dialects…”
He gestured to some of the ancient-looking scrolls. Cynthia noted, with alarm, a few regal looking seals on them.
“Where the hell did you get those, anyway?”
“There’s always someone willing to sell,” Mike muttered, lost in though, “it’s nothing important: daily correspondence, official memos, whose wife is pregnant, whose dog died, et cetera, et cetera… the perfect way to figure out how people actually talked back then. Useless to a historian, priceless to me… but it doesn’t matter.”
He threw his arms out from him, throwing hands over the entire proceedings with outstretched fingers.
“All of it. Years of collecting, studying, understanding… I never knew anything. Someone knows what’s going on at Khitomer… and they shouldn’t, I know that much… but I don’t know who, or where, or when. Worthless. My entire life, thinking I had some talent, thinking I had some skill, and when it comes down to it… I’m lost. I lose. I can’t do it.”
“Hey,” Cynthia scooped up her thermos, worrying Mike might try to throw it, “you’ll be fine. It’ll be fine…”
“No, it won’t!” he shouted back, “Something’s going to happen, someone’s going to die! Maybe a whole planet, maybe a whole bunch of Starfleet officers! Maybe just one person! But it all comes down to that I can-not do this. For years, I’ve been so proud of myself, talking to aliens without a translator, not once using it. Everyone oohs and ahs, but when it comes right down to it I’m a failure. All I’ve got is my parlor tricks. I did all this studying, and where has it gotten me? I get to be number one on a rusting space station I haven’t left in years, and I only came here because I wanted to DO something, and now that I get the chance…!”
He balled up his fists and shook with impotent rage, gritting his teeth until he began to bleed from his gums.
“Hey, hey!” Cynthia cried out, in a panic, “Watch it! Be careful, with your condition…”
“I don’t care,” Mike’s voice was coming in sobs now, “I just don’t care. Go throw me in the turbolift, go scramble my atoms in the transporter, go kick me out of the airlock, I just don’t give a damn.”
Cynthia’s eyes hardened. In a trice, she shifted to a role she had known well for a good, long time. Her voice became flat, low, and commanding: a voice that demanded respect and was never disappointed. Even her eyes seemed to harden to a steel gray, matching the color of her close-cropped hair.
“Now you listen to me, kid,” she began, “You better shut that mouth of yours and get back to work. You’ve got a job to do, and you said you wouldn’t let me down. Now, I can tolerate a lot of things about you, Turtle. You’re a pretty messed up guy, all told. But there’s one thing I never tolerated in my family and, dammit, I won’t tolerate it with the family I’ve made up here: don’t you lie to me, not ever. If you say you’re going to do something, you do it. You do not lie to me.”
Mike tried to look away, but Cynthia hauled his chair round until they were eye to eye, gray ones to red ones.
“Look at that,” she scoffed, “look at your eyes, all red. Capillaries must be shot. You did that to yourself, kid, and you know it. You’re the only one who can beat you: not this code, not your disease, not the entire Klingon Empire. If you let yourself fail, you’ll fail… but you won’t, because I know you won’t let me down.”
He looked up at her, then, tears flowing clear out of red eyes.
“Besides,” Cynthia gave a little smile, “If you screw this up, I’ll tell your Dad.”
Dad, Mike thought. He’d been up here so long, he tended to forget he had a mother and father somewhere out in Alberta. He had his family up here, the family he created… but there was a whole other family down there, two more people… he couldn’t let them down, too. He came here to make his father proud, to show him that the weak little kid really could accomplish something… and he was going to give up.
No. He couldn’t. Not now.
“Thank you, Commander,” he said quietly, “Thank you… Cynthia.”
“Eh,” she grumbled, “Call me Cindie.”
“Cindie…” he turned the word around in his head a little… “How’s that spelled?”
“C-I-N-D-I-E, why?”
“Names,” Mike chuckled, “old things, leftovers from old languages and dialects. They never make any sense. You have a C that sounds like an S, an I where you could put a Y, and the I-E on the end…”
His voice trailed off as he gazed at the featureless face of a nearby wall, seemingly transfixed. Fearing he’d started an embolism, Cynthia sought to bring him back to reality.
“You okay, Turtle?”
Mike’s face suddenly lit into a smile, a smile as big as the sky in the Calgary plains.
“If you take the linguistic and grammatical rules, and throw them out the window… if you ignore the rules and just…  do it wrong… if you think Old English instead of modern Terran, throw it all out…”
He began rifling through his notes, his smile growing wider and wider all the time.
“You got something, Turtle?” Cynthia said proudly, a smile growing on her middle-aged features.
“I got everything!” Mike proclaimed exhuberantly, “It’s an alliance, if you can believe that, between, uh…”
He scanned a document quickly.
“Vulcans and Klingons, if you can believe that! They’re trying to upset the conference, arguing that there never can be a peace: the Klingons are arguing pride, the Vulcans logic. There’s a ship heading out to Khitomer… now. Left yesterday, looks like, and is traveling on impulse power, making frequent stops, playing the part of a merchant liner. They don’t want to arouse suspicion, but it looks like they’re some kind of fail-safe: if the main plan fails, they… My God…”
“What?”
Mike looked up from a scrap of paper, his face ashen white. In his excitement, he began to taste blood in the back of his throat.
“They torch the whole proceedings.”

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