Eboni Dunbar resides in the San Francisco Bay Area with her partner and specializes in queer and black speculative fiction. She is also a VONA Alum, an associate editor for PodCastle and a freelance reviewer.
Corporal Robbie Elms stood at the airlock, waiting for the
arrival of their guests. The rank was as new and as shiny as the toe of her boots, a gift from her mother to congratulate her. The airlock chimed as it depressurized and she stood straighter, trying to make herself look a little taller. This was her first official assignment since the promotion, she wanted to do it right.
Enjoy (full text is printed below)!
Drabblecast 403 – The Translator
by Eboni J. Dunbar
Corporal Robbie Elms stood at the airlock, waiting for the arrival of the guests. The rank was as new and as shiny as the toe of her boots, a gift from her mother to congratulate her. The airlock depressurized and she stood straighter, trying to make herself look taller. This was her first official assignment since the promotion; she wanted to do it right.
A tall woman with dark eyes and darker skin, dressed in T.G.A dress blacks, stepped through the airlock. Robbie hadn’t expected a commissioned officer.
“Corporal Robbie Elms?” the woman said.
Robbie saluted. “Yes ma’am. Apologies ma’am, I have not been briefed on the name or rank of the translator.”
The translator raised an eyebrow and turned slowly to the side. Robbie had been so distracted that she hadn’t even noticed the Tadashi representative, a floating cloud of purple and blue gas. The alien reminded Robbie of the deep space images taken more than a hundred years ago, flickering particles that could have been stars floating in a haze of color. Robbie’s mouth fell open; she’d never been near an alien before.
“Captain Sarai Dogo, translator to Chiroshai Omak,” the translator said.
Robbie closed her mouth and saluted the Captain again and then the Chiroshai. She knew she was going to sound foolish before the words left her mouth but she had to ask. “Sorry, um, how should I address the representative?”
Captain Dogo glanced at her companion. “The term Chiroshai is a title of respect, not dissimilar from General, though more like Mx or Ms, among the Tadashi. It would be best to address Omak as Chiroshai. Or representative. They will find that sufficiently respectful.”
Robbie nodded, a little too eagerly. They lapsed into silence. Captain Dogo looked at her expectantly. Right! She’d forgotten her address. “Chiroshai Omak, welcome to the Terran Global Association Vessel, The Valiant. General Dellum is looking forward to making your acquaintance in person.”
The Tadashi’s gas turned green. Captain Dogo chuckled and Robbie felt her face grow warm, grateful that her own dark brown skin hid her blush.
“Will the General see us now?” Captain Dogo asked.
“No, ma’am. The General has requested that I see you settled in your quarters and I’ll collect you later for the opening of the formal negotiations. If you’ll follow me?”
Robbie lead the Tadashi and their translator down the corridor. General Dellum had been painfully clear, he didn’t want some piece of shit alien and its lapdog translator having access to his vessel. He’d assigned them quarters on A-deck, isolated from the workings of the ship. The Valiant was an exploratory ship, but Dellum ran it like a warship at war. His word was law and if no one in the Association heard about it…
Robbie only knew she had to do what she was told.
She led them through the ship, watching the faces of the crew as they saw the Tadashi for the first time. Most were curious but she caught looks of confusion and even anger. Odd. She hazarded a glance at Captain Dogo but if the translator noticed the attention she gave no sign.
When they reached the assigned quarters, Robbie opened the door, stepped inside and to the left. The room was as luxurious as The Valiant got, a two bedroom suite with a large living space, everything done in the Association’s signature black and gold.
Captain Dogo looked around the room. Did she like it? The Tadashi’s colors were deep blue and purple, its stars swirling fas. She hoped that meant the alien approved.
Captain Dogo nodded. “This room will be fine, Corporal. Chiroshai Omak and I will rest and await your return.”
“Well, if you need anything just call for me. Ma’am,” Robbie said. She saluted both the Captain and the Chiroshai, earning herself another chuckle.
She turned on her heel and walked out, waiting until the door closed before letting her shoulders slump. That had not gone well.
When Robbie was a little girl, she’d dreamed of meeting aliens. The Association had been building relationships with new beings for near a hundred years but there had to be more to explore. The T.G.A had tried to teach her to think of aliens less as people and more as future threats to humanity, but that always seemed counterproductive to exploring the stars.
Sometimes she wished she’d become a scientist instead of enlisting, but she’d known she didn’t have the mind for it. She was suited for grunt work and following orders, no matter how much her mother pushed for more. Her superiors liked her, even her interjected suggestions as long as they benefited the ship. They thought she could be helpful in exploratory missions, protecting scientists from themselves. At least they had liked her before The Valiant.
She’d loved her life in the T.G.A before The Valiant. It should have felt like the culmination of her dreams. Exploration. The new Frontier. Except, here she felt generally inadequate, a waste of the General’s space. General Dellum was a traditionalist, a bit of relic in his methods. He wanted fear, and through fear, respect.
Robbie let the General know she stood at his door and did her best to stand even straighter than she had for the Chiroshai. The door slid open and Robbie stepped in, her stomach roiling. She relaxed a little when she saw Second Lieutenant Donna Abrahms sitting in front of the General’s desk. Robbie didn’t like the woman much more than she liked the General, but she was at least fair.
General Dellum wasted no time. “Ah, Corporal. How badly did you fuck this up?”
Robbie dug her finger nails into her palm. “Sir, Chiroshai Omak and Captain Dogo are in their quarters–”
“Dogo?” Dellum said, looking at the Second Lieutenant. She raised a blond eyebrow. “Did you know it was Dogo?”
“No, sir. Translator on the briefing docs was listed classified,” Abrahms said.
“I wonder why they didn’t tell you they were sending her.”
“Never mind that,” Dellum said. He looked Robbie up and down. “So they’re in their quarters?”
“Yes sir,” Robbie said. She waited to be asked more questions but none came. The General stared straight ahead, his white hair gleaming in the light from above his desk.
“Dismissed, Corporal,” Abrahms said after a moment.”No. Stay right there,” Dellum said. “Tell me what was said.”
Robbie hesitated. “Sir?”
Dellum scowled. “What did she say? What did you say? God Elms, how did someone so stupid get placed here? Should have known you couldn’t handle even this simple task. Why were you assigned this privilege again?”
Robbie straightened, keeping her eyes on the wall ahead. “Sorry, sir. Captain Dogo asked me if I was Corporal Elms, I said I was and asked for her name and rank–”
“Why leave it classified?” Abrahms said.
Dellum slapped a hand on his desk. Both women jumped. “Shut up and let the girl talk.”
Robbie cleared her throat. “She introduced herself and the representative. I asked how to address them–”
“Enough, enough. Next you’re going to tell me you two talked about recipes for an hour.” Dellum covered his face with his hands, squeezing the skin and groaning. “Classified.”
“Perhaps it wasn’t up to them,” Abrahms suggested. “Maybe the Tadashi requested it.”
Robbie let the comment hang before she hesitantly cleared her throat. “Excuse me, Lieutenant, I know it’s not my place, but Captain Dogo seemed surprised I didn’t know her.”
Dellum lowered his hands. “Oh she did, did she? Maybe it’s to our advantage then. Keep us both in the dark and we’re on the same footing. We’ll have these scum by the balls in no time.”
Abrahms raised an eyebrow, but said nothing. “Aren’t the negotiations meant to be peaceful, sir?” Robbie chewed her cheek nervously.
General Dellum stood. He was an imposing man, six foot four and at least 250 pounds. “Did I say they wouldn’t be peaceful?”
Robbie kept her eyes forward. “No, sir.”
“Negotiations are a messy business. I don’t expect you to understand,” Dellum said. “Get out. Both of you. I need to prepare.”
Abrahms stood and both women saluted before turning on their heels and walking out. The door slid closed behind them and Robbie moved to the right to head down to E deck, the science wing. Abrahms fell into step beside her.
“If I were you, I would do my best not to become more of a target than I already am, Elms,” Abrahms said. “The General has extra concerns on his plate with the arrival of the Tadashi. I’d hate to see you get hurt for speaking up in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
Robbie nodded once. “I’ll do my best ma’am. But somethings aren’t right and it shouldn’t be strange to say that.”
Abrahms grabbed her arm pulling her to a stop. “Just remember whose side you’re on.”
She released Robbie’s arm and strode back up the corridor. Robbie waited a moment, letting the anxious claw wrapped around her lungs loosen its grip before she started walking again. She wouldn’t have expected a warning from Abrahms, and that made her even more nervous than her audience with the General.
Robbie spent a few hours enjoying the peace and relative quiet of E deck, acting as guard despite there being nothing particularly dangerous.
Sometimes it felt like the bacteria in the sample containers was as close as she was going to get to meeting new species. Aside from the Tadashi, of course.
When she was relieved from guard duty, Robbie made her way back to A deck. She wasn’t sure how she felt about her liason assignment, she wasn’t even sure Dellum had recommended her for it. She’d thought maybe the General had been being tough all this time but had finally seen her potential. Was she being set up?
Robbie notified the translator of her arrival and the door slid open immediately. Captain Dogo sat on the sofa, a book in her lap and a cup of something brown in front of her.
“Captain,” Robbie said, saluting.
Captain Dogo raised an eyebrow. “Can we agree, Corporal, that within these quarters there will be no saluting and no titles? You may call me Sarai and I will call you Robbie. Can you agree to that?”
“If…if that’s your preference,” Robbie said.
“It is.” Captain Dogo, Sarai, stood up. “May I get you something to drink?”
If Sarai wanted to be friends, Robbie could do friends. “Yes, thank you. What do you have?”
“Coffee, with cream. Do you want some?” Sarai asked, moving to the food production unit.
“Sure. I’ve never had it before,” Robbie said.
Sarai turned her head, a small mischievous smile crossing her lips.
“Cream and sugar for you then,” Sarai said, turning to the unit and indicating the request.
When the device was finished she motioned for Robbie to sit and then handed her the steaming cup. The filters were running high on board because of the Tadashi, but up close the aroma was fragrant. She took a tentative sip of the steaming liquid. A bitter flavor burst across her tongue and Robbie coughed.
Sarai laughed. “It’s an acquired taste. I grew up in Johannesburg and my mother loved her coffee, it was always three times as bitter as this.”
“How?” Robbie said.
Sarai shrugged and took a sip from her own cup. Her smile faded to something small and melancholy. “It was what she knew. I believe you and I got off on rocky footing this morning. I shouldn’t have expected the T.G.A to provide you everything you need to work with us. And as you have Dellum as your leadership, I should have expected even less.”
Robbie’s eyes widened. Sarai set her cup on the table.
“There are a few things you should know if you’re going to be involved in these negotiations–“
“Oh, but I won’t be, I’m just supposed to deliver you to the negotiations and keep you safe on board. A glorified babysitter.” Robbie’s face warmed with embarrassment. She hadn’t actually meant to say that out loud.
Sarai smiled. “I think you might be more than that.”
Robbie disagreed but kept that opinion to herself.
Sarai began again. “The first thing you need to know is that General Dellum and I have a history. He doesn’t like me and I don’t like him, though I’m sure by now you know that. The other thing you should know is about the Tadashi. How much do you know about them?”
“Only what’s in books. The Tadashi have mastered interstellar travel and can only converse with humans via their translators. There’s never much more than that. The T.G.A. thinks they can give us access to more of space than we’ve ever been able to see,” Robbie said with a self-conscious smile.
Sarai studied her. “Why did you join the military?”
“I wanted to meet interesting beings. Wanted to explore. And science was never my thing.”
“Mine either,” Sarai said. “Here’s some new info for you: one translator can only speak for one Tadashi.”
Robbie frowned. “Why? If you speak the language shouldn’t you–“
Sarai shook her head. “It isn’t a language in the way you and I think about global T.G.A, or local T.G.A, or local local. The Tadashi communicate by intermixing their gases, their essence. One human can only handle understanding the essence of one Tadashi at a time. It’s a little telepathic and our brains aren’t sensitive enough to handle more than one.”
Robbie considered. “So the filters are high to keep the Tadashi from seeing too much.”
Sarai said nothing, letting the implications sit between them. Without the filters, the Tadashi could travel the ship with only a piece of themselves. They could see everything.
Robbie leaned in. “Why did you think I needed to know that?”
“Aren’t you interested in new species?” Sarai said, watching Robbie over the top of her coffee cup.
Robbie smiled, confused. “Well, yeah.”
“Now you’ve learned about one.”
Sarai looked toward the bedroom doors, and the Chiroshai slipped into the room through the infinitesimal crack between the door and the frame. Robbie stood. The Chiroshai turned green, their particles swirling.
Curiosity and training warred but Robbie had to know. “Are they laughing at me?”
Sarai chuckled. “They are. They find formality funny. To them, everyone is full of the same things, why wouldn’t we treat each other the same?”
Chiroshai Omak came to hover beside Sarai.
Understanding dawned for Robbie. “And because of the way they communicate, they must all know everything. No one is senior because of their knowledge or experience. They all share.”
Which meant everything the Tadashi saw would be tactical information for all the other Tadashi. Dellum was paranoid about what the Chiroshai might take home and use against them.
Sarai nodded. “That’s very good. There are no secrets among the Tadashi.”
Had Robbie passed a test?
The translator sipped her coffee. “You sure you’re not good at science?”
“Trust me, not in the least. Can I ask another question?”
“Why don’t more people know about the Tadashi? I mean what you’re telling me I’ve never heard before. The T.G.A must know something right? Why aren’t they sharing it?”
Sarai looked at the Chiroshai, her expression contemplative. “Because despite every advance we make, we’re still afraid of things we don’t understand. Still afraid of the gifts we’re offered.”
Robbie shook her head, about to say more, when her comm bracelet vibrated. She stood up, putting her curiosity and confusion aside. “I’m sorry, I’ve kept you way too long. We should get to the negotiation.”
“Don’t apologize. These sorts of things normally take days, as long as all goes well and besides, I enjoyed this chat,” Sarai said. “Lead the way.”
The war room served as the negotiation space. Robbie was fairly certain that was intentional. There were plenty of other spaces the conversation could have taken place but Dellum’s choice set a mood. He considered this negotiation war.
Robbie had only ever been to the war room once, and only because she had walked with the General as he gave her a tirade about her inadequacies. He had stopped her at the door and told her she’d never be ready to enter that room because she was too stupid. She’d kept her face blank and saved her tears for her bunk that night.
Now, she stood in the doorway unsure if she was expected to enter. Sarai put a hand on her shoulder and smiled.
“Why don’t you join us, Corporal Elms? Good professional development,” Sarai said.
Robbie shook her head. “I probably shouldn’t. The General–“
Sarai squeezed Robbie’s shoulder. “Leave him to me.”
They indicated their arrival and the door slid open. General Dellum, First Lieutenant Danny Hernandez and Lieutenant Abrahms stood as they entered the room. The General’s eyes narrowed at the sight of Sarai. The translator smiled.
Robbie stepped forward, saluting. “May I present, Captain Sarai Dogo and Chiroshai Omak, General Sir. Ma’am, Chiroshai, may I introduce General Dellum, and the first and second lieutenants.”
“Thank you Corporal Elms,” Sarai said. “It’s an honor to be meeting with you all. Omak and I are eager for the success of this discussion.”
“As are we, Captain,” General Dellum said. “Dismissed, Elms.”
“I’d like her to stay.” Sarai said.
The General blinked and Robbie heard Abrahms sigh. It was Hernandez, who spoke, his voice quiet but confident. “That’s not a problem. Elms, at ease.”
The General said nothing and Robbie felt a knot forming in her stomach. She took a spot on the wall and stood at rest. Sarai sat at the lone empty seat at the table and Omak came to hover beside her, its gas the same purple as when they’d arrived in the suite.
Sarai opened the table, her voice lower and the words more stilted as she gave voice to Omak’s thoughts. “It is the understanding of the Tadashi that the Terran Global Association would like access to our technologies, which would allow T.G.A ships to travel at new speeds. Do we understand your request sufficiently?”
“The T.G.A would be eager for any technologies the Tadashi might provide but yes, we do want access to hyperspeed,” Dellum said. “In addition we want access to species data that might provide tactical advantage.”
Sarai tilted her head to one side. “Interesting. We are agreeable to that. But what is it the T.G.A will provide to us?”
“Souls,” Dellum said, his voice low and his disgust clear. “Isn’t that what the Tadashi want?”
Hernandez turned his head slightly, looking at the older man. Abrahms closed her eyes.
Sarai did not quite sigh. “What we want is to help those who wish to see the universe and all its wonders. That is why we have come.”
“And you’ll take human souls as your payment. Willingly or unwillingly.” Dellum leaned back satisfied with himself.
Omak’s gas cloud turned blue in the center and red around the edges.
Sarah’s voice cooled considerably. “You would insult us in the first few minutes?”
“That is not our intention,” Hernandez said. “The General simply means–“
Omak’s cloud seemed to expand as they turned a brilliant red, and Sarai’s words were filled with disappointment. “It is clear what he means. Our gifts disturb him. We are aware of the T.G.A’s opinions about Tadashi custom. But still, we came, hoping you had changed. And you insult us. We are eager to go if this is all you have to offer.”
Robbie tensed. She waited, hoping someone would say something useful. It felt like the success of this negotiation meant the success of her entire future. Seeing the universe. Meeting new people. Without Tadashi technology they just couldn’t move forward. Not without hundreds more years of innovation. The words were out of her mouth before her brain could catch up. “I think, ma’am, what the General means is, we’re amenable to whatever the Tadashi would like.”
All eyes turned to her and Robbie gritted her teeth. She gripped her hands behind her back to keep them from shaking. She should have kept her mouth shut.
“Explain, Elms,” Sarai said.
General Dellum stood, knocking his chair to the floor. “She does not speak for the–“
“Quiet, Arthur,” Sarai said, dismissing him with a wave of her hand. The General slammed his fist on the table but Sarai ignored him. “Continue.”
“Um, well. I just mean. We’re interested in the Tadashi technology and aside from mass torture, I think we’re open to whatever the Tadashi want.” Dellum was fuming at the edge of her vision. She wanted to crawl under the table and hide. “Though, I don’t speak for the T.G.A. The General does.”
“Does he?” Sarai raised an eyebrow.
Robbie winced, this wasn’t helping. “Yes, ma’am.”
Sarai stood, her expression oddly calm. “We are ready to return to our quarters. Corporal Elms will return with us.”
“Like hell,” Dellum said. The vein in his forehead throbbed and Robbie wished she’d listened to Abrahms. She’d really stepped in it.
Sarai sighed. “Are we going to continue to play this game, Arthur? I think we’re done here.”
“Oh you’re done here, you bitch. If you think we’d let these heathen shit clouds–“
Hernandez stood, placing a hand on the General’s shoulder. Dellum tensed beneath the other man’s hand.
“Take her,” Hernandez said.
Robbie’s eyes widened, but Hernandez simply nodded. Dellum had gone bright red and Abrahms looked at Robbie with hate in her eyes. Robbie followed the Chiroshai and Sarai from the room. They were half way down the corridor when the shouting started.
Sarai let the door to the Chiroshai’s quarters close behind them before she pulled off her dress jacket. She threw it on the couch and sat down her head in her hands. “Shit.”
Chiroshai Omak was still brilliant red but its particles had begun to slow. Robbie’s anxiety tightened around her chest, stealing every breath. Her career was over; if Dellum had his way, she was over. Would he flay her alive or kill her first?
Sarai rubbed her face with both hands muttering under her breath.
Robbie took a hesitant step forward. “Are you ok?”
“He should never have made General,” Sarai said.
“No,” Robbie agreed. She looked at Chiroshai Omak. Their gas clouds had shifted, the center going purple again and the edges tinted red.
Sarai sat back, letting her head loll against the back of the couch. “I’m older than him.”
“You were right to ask me that question earlier. About what people know. We’ve been in communication with the Tadashi a lot longer than most people think. I used to outrank him. It pissed him off, too.” The Translator chuckled without joy. “I should’ve had him scrubbed. Did you see him?”
Sarai was speaking to the Chiroshai now. The alien’s colors had shifted to a dull yellow and the particles in their gas barely moved. Sarai went silent.
Robbie frowned, feeling helpless. “You did what you thought was right at the time. And you can’t change that.”
Sarai’s didn’t look at her. “Can’t I?”
The Chiroshai surged forward until its gases hid Sarai from view. Robbie waited, unsure what was happening. After a moment the Chiroshai moved away, its colors settling into a bright yellow hue and its particles frozen. There were tears on Sarai’s face but a determination in her gaze that made Robbie uneasy.
Robbie had to know, even if for her own piece of mind. “If we’ve been in contact with the Tadashi for so long, how come we’re just now having negotiations?”
Sarai wiped her cheeks. “We attempted it before and it didn’t work out. After the T.G.A found out how Tadashi reproduce they felt they couldn’t make an alliance with them.”
“How do they reproduce?” Robbie said.
Sarai sighed and Chiroshai Omak moved to float beside her. “With the Tadashi’s tech they’ve gone across the universe. Met all sorts of species. They took translators and they offered them immortality.”
Robbie couldn’t have heard her correctly. “Immortality?”
“Yes,” Sarai looked up at the Chiroshai. “Omak will never die. They’re particles and gas. Even if they dissipate, they aren’t dead. They see so much, on a level we will never understand. That is what they offer their translators, how they grow their ranks.”
That made even less sense. “I don’t get it.”
Sarai held out her hand and Omak’s gas enveloped it. “They make you like them. Take your soul and give it form, until you’re particles and gas, communicating the way they do. Knowing everything all the time.”
The Tadashi wanted souls, Dellum had said. Robbie knew what her mother would say, it went against good Christian values not to give your soul to God. Robbie herself had given up on the idea of God when she’d decided to join the military. She didn’t think she could kill and reconcile with her Mother’s God. She could understand the T.G.A’s hesitance to some degree, but with the kind of money they could make with the key to immortality or even just a longer life? There had to be more.
Robbie sat beside Sarai, her thoughts racing. “But you said you’ve lived a long time. If the Tadashi wanted to make you like them, why haven’t they? And why aren’t people clamoring for this? There have to be people who would do anything for eternity.”
“The Tadashi don’t take just anyone. The offer to be a translator is sacred. You have to meet the criteria. Most of the people who would pay the T.G.A for the opportunity wouldn’t make the cut.”
Robbie huffed. “And that’s the point. The higher ups can’t benefit on all sides so they spread a rumor. The Tadashi are forcing people.”
The translator nodded, for a moment very old, very tired. “And it spread like wildfire. The Tadashi don’t force anyone, they can use some of their essence to prolong life without changing people. The choice is the translator’s, do they wish to be changed? If so, then they will. If not, their service with the Tadashi can end when they choose. People like Dellum never questioned it, they preferred the lie. The Tadashi hoped they’d changed their minds, it’s why they set up this meeting. When the T.G.A was so eager, they thought…well, clearly they were wrong.”
The door beeped an alert. Sarai sighed in resignation and stood, Robbie following Suit. The translator pulled on her jacket, straightening her seams carefully. “Come in.”
The door slid open. Abrahms stood outside, four armed soldiers behind her. She stepped inside the room, looking between Robbie and Sarai. “Captain Sarai Dogo, you and the Tadashi representative, Chiroshai Omak, are ordered to leave the ship immediately. Negotiations with the T.G.A will be postponed until such time as the Tadashi cease their atrocities against other species.”
Abrahms appeared indifferent as she delivered the order but Robbie could hear the slight tremble in her voice.
Sarai squared her shoulders and nodded. Abrahms moved to one side and the translator stepped into the corridor, Omak floating behind. Robbie moved to fall in line with the other soldiers.
Abrahms blocked her path before she could step into the corridor. “Corporal Elms, the General would like a word.”
Fear pooled like ice water in Robbie’s stomach. “Now ma’am?”
Robbie looked at Sarai, equally afraid of the anger she saw burning in the translator’s eyes.
“Let’s go,” Abrahms said and the door slid shut, leaving Robbie alone in the room.
Robbie took a deep breath, clenching her fingers to stop them from shaking. It didn’t work. She wasn’t ready to face the General, not with what she had just learned.
She looked at her feet, at the polished toes of her new boots. She was a Corporeal. She wiped at threatening tears. She could take her licks. She knew what was right and it was time she said something about it.
She counted to sixty, then stepped out into the hallway and froze.
The guards lay on the ground, their eyes open and staring at nothing. Robbie knelt, checking the nearest guard’s pulse. They were still alive, just frozen. Robbie stepped over them carefully, only stopping when she reached Abrahms. Her blue eyes open, unblinking. Robbie felt for a pulse just to be sure. The rhythm was strong. Robbie could feel the difference in the corridor; the filtering system was down.
She took off running.
The door to the General’s quarters opened smoothly. General Dellum sat on the sofa, his hands held up and his nose bleeding, the area around his right eye turning purple. Sarai stood beside him, a fission pistol pointed at his head. She looked up when Robbie entered then returned his gaze to the General.
“Close the door, please. And lock it,” Sarai said. Robbie looked at the General but he didn’t look away from the translator.
Robbie did as she was told, stepping forward. “Where’s Chiroshai Omak?”
“They are making arrangements for our departure. Unlike you and me, they don’t need to run the halls,” Sarai said.
“You disabled the ventilation system so the Chiroshai could travel that way,” Robbie said.
“I did. Tadashi tech is good for more than just hyperspace travel.”
Robbie kept her voice as steady as she could. “Look, I know, Dellum’s… a regret of yours but this isn’t the answer.”
Sarai tightened her hold on her weapon. “Do you know what I love about the Tadashi? The trust. They would never hurt one another because it would be like hurting themselves. They hoped the T.G.A could change.”
“They sound amazing. Maybe the Tadashi could teach us–“
“How can they teach people who don’t want to learn?” Sarai shouted.
Robbie took another step forward and Sarai took a step to the left. She wasn’t letting her guard down, just giving herself room to speak. “You hate him as much as I do. He hurts you. I can feel that because Omak can feel it. It’s in your breath and your cells. It’s everywhere. He brings pain. I can end that.”
“Bitch,” Dellum said under his breath.
“Don’t,” Robbie snapped. Dellum looked at her, his eyes narrowing.
Sarai sighed, shook her head. “Even now, when his life depends on it, he cannot find an ounce of self-preservation if it comes from kindness.”
Robbie took another step, hands raised, palms up, non-threatening. “I don’t care about him. I don’t know you well, and you don’t know me, but I know you don’t want this. And Chiroshai Omak doesn’t want it either. They wanted to calm you down earlier, right? Because a species that continues to try to save people who refuse to save themselves wouldn’t do this.”
Sarai smiled. “They were right. You’re perfect.”
Sarai’s gaze lingered on Robbie a second too long. Dellum surged up and slammed his fist into the side of Sarai’s head. He hit her again and she fell. He grabbed her pistol and pulled the trigger without hesitation. Silence, a terrible silence, then the General started to laugh, a sickening cackle.
“Thought you’d put me down? You were wrong, weren’t you?” He spat on Sarai and then looked at Robbie. “She left me no choice, Elms. She would have killed me.”
Robbie stared at him, fear waring with disgust. She looked at Sarai on the floor, burn marks in the center of her chest, and disgust won out. Sick to her stomach, Robbie knelt and lifted the dead woman into her arms. She swallowed down the vomit threatening to rise. She knew her grip wasn’t comfortable, but she supposed Sarai didn’t care about comfort anymore.
Dellum stared at her, eyes wide and mad. “What do you think you’re doing?”
Robbie stood and made her way to the door.
“Stop or I’ll kill you too.” Dellum sounded crazed, little hiccups of laughter spilling out. “I’ll blame the Tadashi for that too. I won’t have any loose ends, Elms!”
“Go ahead,” Robbie said, not looking at him. “Better to die than bow and scrape to you anymore. Just remember, you’ll have to explain why you shot me in the back.”
She unlocked the door and stepped out into the hall. An alarm screamed in the distance and footsteps raced toward it. Robbie began the long walk to the airlock, grateful that her crewmates would be too distracted to notice.
Omak waited for her at the airlock. The Chiroshai’s colors surged and swirled, the dust moving so fast it was practically its own gray line of color.
Robbie chocked on the words. “I’m sorry. I tried to help but–“
Omak floated closer, covering Sarai’s face. Its colors shifted again, until its essence was gray. Omak moved away and a wisp of air the color of the Chiroshai’s gas seeped from between Sarai’s lips, then floated in front of Robbie’s face.
Robbie stared at the wisp. Sarai had said the offer to be translator was a gift. That she would have to trust completely because the Tadashi would know everything. She’d said the T.G.A could be taught, but could she?
Her mother would be furious, even if she decided not to be changed. But Robbie would gain the universe, meet species of aliens she’d never dreamed of. Would it be worth her mother’s wrath?
Omak would not force her to become their translator but she couldn’t stay with Dellum. Robbie gulped. The last time she’d prayed had been just before she’d signed her enlistment papers. She closed her eyes and said a small prayer.
Then she opened her mouth.
The wisp flew inside her and for a moment she felt it against her tongue. Electricity surged to her brain, Omak’s essence flooding her system. She understood everything, knew everything, felt the knowledge settle into her bones. She fell to her knees, still cradling Sarai.
You’re all right.
Robbie looked up at Chiroshai Omak. “Is that you?”
In her mind she felt the equivalent of a nod.
You have accepted our essence. We are grateful.
“I’m grateful. Honored, I mean,” she said.
Omak smiled in her mind. Come, there is much for you to learn.
Robbie stood, her knees shaky. She readjusted her hold on Sarai and followed the Tadashi onto their ship. Another translator waited, a humanoid cat species that Robbie had never seen before. Its limbs were long, thin and lean, its fur deep blue, and its ears stood straight and long. Their golden eyes glittered as they took Robbie in. The translator smiled, odd in a cat’s face, and reached out, trying to take Sarai from Robbie’s arms. Robbie hesitated.
This is Dia, xe will be your guide. From Dia you will learn the things I would forget to teach. You may trust our beloved Sarai to xem.
Dia reached again and Robbie carefully handed Sarai over. Robbie smiled to keep from crying. “Nice to meet you. I’m–“
“Robbie, Chiroshai Omak’s translator,” Dia said, xir voice low and accent rolling the syllables around. “There are no secrets among the Tadashi. From the minute you accepted, all of them knew you as Omak knows you. That information is conferred to translators. It is my pleasure to meet you.”
“Pleasure’s mine,” Robbie said.
“We must embark, your former commander is screaming obscenities. Come with me and we will find you quarters and care for what remains of Sarai,” Dia said.
Robbie looked at Omak, odd to see the color shift in their essence as well as hear the laughter in her mind.
Go. When you have settled I will find you. I was where you are once. Overwhelmed. For now, rest. As I said, you have much to learn.
Again, Dia smiled. “Come.”