Lost in Translation
by Nick Lucas
Major Sarah Blake did not really see the joke. She had a job to do and she intended to do it however unpleasant it was, and she felt that her colleagues, her fellow officers, were being stupid, and immature. Illyria was a backward planet, almost medieval, but it was rich in minerals, and that was the point in being there. No Star Fleet officer could ever afford to forget the reasons for being out in deep space in the first place. Earth needed resources, and it was their job to secure them, regardless of the price. Sarah Blake found the Illyrian civilization offensive. She was an ardent feminist, demanding equality in her career, but to an Illyrian she was a freak of nature. Illyrian females rarely left their homes, and if they did they were all covered, from head to foot, to avoid tempting the males into depravity, and decadence. In order to do her job, to help negotiate the free mining of resources, Sarah Blake had to meet the Illyrian Emperor, and he would not meet with an uncovered woman, so she had to adopt local dress. She accepted the position as a professional, with some personal reluctance, but her colleagues seemed to find it hilarious.
Can’t you cover yourself all the time, Blake?” Mason asked, laughing openly at her as the shuttle prepared to land, and she did her best to put her first veil in place. “Some of us are as sick of your ugly mug as the Emperor is.”
Christ yes … I mean you’ve adapted your uniform … maybe we should apply to Fleet Command and suggest it as progressive change for the dress code. I certainly have no wish to be constantly tempted by your sour puss face.” Anderson suggested, clearly enjoying her embarrassment and discomfiture. Blake had indeed adapted her uniform to suit the situation, because although she was quite prepared to satisfy the whims of the Emperor, she was proud of her ship, her rank, and her status. She had managed to fashion what she thought of a poncho in the same dark green material as her uniform, which covered up her trousers and tunic well enough, reaching almost to the floor. More material had been used to fashion a headdress, and she was using scarves fixed with pins as veils, wrapped around her head and covering all of her face except her eyes.
Of course, if any of you twats could master another language, I wouldn’t be needed on this mission at all, but as you have the brains of a rock I have to demean myself, as always.” Sarah snapped back, but it did not stop the laughter. She felt foolish as they disembarked and met the locals. She was under orders to be discreet, and stand back, and she did so, being totally ignored by the Illyrians, and indeed her colleagues. It was almost as if she did not exist anymore. But the discussions went well, and as the most accomplished translator present her efforts were crucial to that success. Her boss, Admiral Stirk, was obviously pleased, but the Illyrian’s acted as if the translation was coming from an invisible source. No one even looked at her. None of the Illyrians present were female, of course. It was as if women did not exist inside the Emperor’s palace, which to be honest was more of a castle built of grey stone, with marble floors inside. It was quite grand in a way but she felt out of place. It was as if she did not belong there. It disturbed her, and offended her, because she was as good, if not better, than anyone else. She deserved to be treated as an equal but she had to content herself with a more minor role in the negotiations than she normally enjoyed, sacrificing her pride, and her beliefs, for the cause.
Are you sure that is what it says?” Stirk demanded, hours later, after Sarah had read the letter to him for a second time. It was a response from the Emperor, delivered to the small team remaining on the planet and sent electronically to the main ship in orbit around the planet.
Quite sure sir, the Emperor is inclined to accept the offered terms, but before signing any agreements he wishes to meet with the negotiating team himself … at what I can only describe as a banquet … but he requests … insists … that you leave your … well sir, that you leave me behind … unless I am properly dressed and … silent … yes silent … in his presence.”
Could Mason or Anderson translate?”
Only up to a point … it is a difficult language. I am still mastering it myself, and I would be concerned that they would miss all or some of the nuances. It is extremely easy to misinterpret certain words … because meaning is so radically altered by the use of other words in a certain order.”
So you have to be there,” Stirk decided, as always decisive. “But you won’t be able to speak.”
I suppose … I find it insulting to even consider, but I could use a keyboard, a handheld device. Mason and Anderson could do the main work, and I could type any corrections.”
Ok, that could work … anything else?”
He has suggested that we all arrive early for the banquet, to … bathe … and prepare, for the festivities. He has kindly offered to prepare me to avoid any further … embarrassment … and he wishes the affair to be a celebration of Illyrian culture … to honour the representatives of the stars … that’s us, Star Fleet … and seal a profitable arrangement for both parties.”
Sounds interesting … I know you find this difficult, Major Blake … but we cannot afford any mistakes. The amount of coal and oil available on this planet is massive, and very valuable to us. It is vital that we cause no offence. Just think of the commission we will earn if we secure this contract … I really don’t care what we have to do, but we have to get this contract signed and sealed Major … is that understood?”
Yes sir,” Sarah replied, well aware of her duty and the rewards a successful conclusion to their mission would bring. She had no choice. She could not trust the others to do her job for her, she had to do it herself, and whilst doing as the Emperor wanted or risk the whole deal collapsing. She saluted, and resigned herself to a difficult and frustrating evening.
Dressed in her modified uniform, Sarah arrived with her colleagues but was immediately shown through a side door into a part of the palace she had never seen before. She walked through, and the door closed firmly behind her, and she found herself in a long dark corridor. She walked down it, her eyes the only piece of her visible. She felt very alone. Even vulnerable, although it was ridiculous for an experienced Star Fleet officer to feel nervous. She was trained in all forms of combat, and she had her gun and communicator on her belt. She was also amongst friends, because the Emperor obviously wanted the deal as much as Stirk did, and for similar reasons, because he would be paid in piles of jewels and gold for his planets resources. She took a deep breath and walked on, until a black shrouded figure stepped through a side door and stood in front of her.
Welcome Mistress, I am Sunshine … I am honoured to serve you during your visit to the palace.” It was a girl’s voice speaking in the lilting Illyrian tongue. But none of the girl was visible, not even the eyes. Major Blake had seen veiled women before, all of them Muslim, at home in London, or on the television news, but the black shape standing before her was not like those. It was formless, because other than the head there was no sense of a human shape beneath endless folds of material.
Sunshine … that is a very unusual name?”
Call me something else, if you do not like it Mistress, but would you please follow me? I am concerned that we have little time to get you ready for the Emperor.”
Major Sarah Blake did as she was asked and soon found herself in a large, white tiled room, dominated by a large bath full of steaming scented water. Sunshine asked her to stand still as two other black shrouded figures stepped forwards, and the three servants gently removed all her clothes and helped her into the bath. Despite her misgivings, Sarah sighed with pleasure as she was washed. It was a deeply sensual experience. No nook or cranny was ignored, but it was not invasive. She imagined it as a Turkish bath, and when they helped her out of the water they wrapped her in towels and helped her onto a massage table. She lay face down and soft hands rubbed oils into her skin, making her purr with delight and feel more feminine than she had in years. Her hair was brushed out long and straight, and she felt so alive.
Now we must dress you Mistress … but first drink this … it will help you relax and sustain you … it is the milk of the Gods and it will lift you to the heavens.” Sunshine murmured, and Sarah drank as a goblet was held to her lips. It tasted divine. She licked her lips and felt herself float away with her dreams, as if nothing mattered anymore. Sunshine took her arms and pulled them behind her back, into an unnatural position, but she did not even care. She was asked to open her mouth and she did so, staring blankly as one of the black shrouds lifted a gorgeous ivory mask towards her. She noticed that it had a large knob on the smooth inside, and she wondered what it was as it was slipped between her lips. She felt its cool smoothness with her tongue, and was amazed how tight it was to her face. She found herself looking through three pinholes over each eye. She tried to laugh, finding it funny somehow, but her tongue was held in place. “Calm sweet Mistress, be calm and patient … it is such a great honour to be put before the Emperor … just wait and see how beautiful you will look for him, just wait and see.”
Fair enough, Sarah thought to herself, soothed by the words, her senses dimmed by the sedative. She felt Sunshine putting something over her hands, a glove she decided, a single glove, not a pair. How strange, she thought as she felt her elbows being drawn tightly together. She felt a surge of annoyance. How do they expect me to type like this, she asked herself, but it was too late for that thought, of course. Much too late.
Mason struggled with the translation, and conferred with Anderson before whispering to Stirk, too stunned to even be sure of the Emperor’s intention, let alone the precise meaning of his words. Stirk ordered him to seek clarification, and he did so, still too surprised to think straight, let alone express himself with any clarity or purpose. He stumbled over the words, and the smiling Emperor laughed, and clapped him on the shoulder, before repeating his statement much slower.
She is just a woman … a trinket for my collection … do you not see?” Emperor Constantine of Illyria explained, speaking as he would to a child, but keeping his patience. “Send more … an exotic bitch is a valuable asset … but not for the sound of her grating voice. How do you people stand to have such a treasure commanding you?”
Sir, the Emperor thinks Major Blake is our gift, to him … a trinket, for his collection … and, he is pleased … he thinks that is the proper place for a woman … he is laughing because she acted as if she was in charge.” Mason translated, looking concerned as he started to make sense of things. “He says we should send him more. He says he told us all this in his invitation … I think we must have misread it, sir.”
Ok, then it was her mistake. So tell him we will, if he signs the contract … I need that signature.”
Sir … ?”
Sarah Blake is a small price to pay for the contract … a very small price.” Admiral Stirk growled, and Mason swallowed before turning back to the Emperor. He thought his superior officer was being hasty but he could hardly say so.
Enveloped in layers of heavy white cloth, Sarah Blake could hardly move, let alone struggle. Her stride was restricted by some sort of rope around her ankles and her arms, still held behind her back, ached as she inched forwards, commanded by the harsh instructions of a palace guard. She could see, but not much, through her mask and several layers of cloth, and it was all indistinct and improbable. She thought she had seen the Admiral at one point, but if she tried to turn her head to the side she seemed to lose the eye holes of her mask, so she was looking straight ahead, at the Emperor himself.
She is yours to keep sire, as you requested, to seal our agreements.” Mason said, very badly. “Our leader, Admiral Stirk, is very pleased that you find her amusing and please have her with our compliments.” Blake could not breathe. She could not believe that she had heard right, but the Emperor was pleased, and her colleagues had betrayed her. She could not do anything about it. She was helpless. Even her sobs were lost in the gag and no one could see her despair. “If you will sign the contract, we can leave her forever in your care.”
This story has a sequel: Hostage to Fortune.