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Stubborn Mouths: Humans In Translation

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Garak had been behind the counter, primarily absorbed in the task of tallying up his remaining stock and gauging potential new suppliers, when the Human walked in. It was hardly the first time a Human had come inside his shop, but the first time one did so with as little concern for Garak himself as this one seemed to hold. They didn’t come often enough to be unremarkable. While they were becoming less so, just as the station had become Deep Space Nine, it was still quite unusual. Their typical motives were either curiosity about the shop, curiosity about Garak himself, or a deliberate intent to purchase. Not this one. He clearly hadn’t wandered into the shop, but was deliberately attending, determined in his stride, yet without any concern for Garak himself.

He didn’t seem to be particularly invested in the merchandise, either. Glancing around, his gaze resting on Garak for a moment before sliding over the dresses and long-sleeved suits hanging on the display racks and the scarves arranged in a tasteful fractal on the small table, reaching out and rubbing the edge of a dress between his fingertips before letting it drop without having watched his hand.

Garak set down the padd and stylus and came forward, maintaining a respectful distance that erred on the side of caution for the standard galactic value of personal space. His pips declared him a lieutenant, junior grade, the uniform’s color blue for the sciences.

“Good evening. And how may I help you?”

“A little more time, please,” he answered, not even looking at Garak.

“If you like,” he replied, calmly drawing back behind the desk. If the Human had come in for Federation business, he would have declared so by now. “But do let me know if there’s anything I might provide.”

“All right.” His focus moved to a display of men’s trousers Garak was a few weeks away from removing from the floor, the tucked-and-flared style already fading out only months after its debut and the fabric cheap to begin with. He reached out a hand to touch one and pulled it back even before making contact, and walked across the shop to resume staring at the dresses. Then, he walked up to the desk, glancing at the small jars of extra pins and assorted novelty and spare buttons, and with his eyes not quite meeting Garak’s own, asked, “And how – so, what – how do you do commissions? You do take commissions, I hope?”

“Of course I do. As to how I do them, it’s determined by a number of factors, from the price of the material in question to the scope of the project. What might you have in mind?”

“Oh, nothing complicated, just something rather small. A tunic, I suppose I could say that. But not right now, or right away. Soon. I just wanted to get an idea of what it might cost.”

“I’d need to know –”

“Something from the fabric of the green dress, the one on the end there, with the cut-off sleeves. That sort of fabric. How much would that be?”

Garak stared a moment before composing himself, not for the rudeness of the interruption but the utter lack of taste. He would venture nearly anything would be preferable to a Starfleet uniform day in and day out, but while Human had remarkable sea-dark green eyes – which hadn’t yet meet Garak’s straight-on; it was astute of him to avoid any implication of immediate trust – which could pick up some of the highlights of the fabric rather admirably, the rest of his coloration meant the overall effect of such a garment would be nothing short of a disaster. Still, he nodded politely and quoted a figure.

The Human nodded back. “Thank you.”

“As for time, a single piece such as that could be done within a week.”

“That’s good to know. Thank you for telling me.”

“Of course, increased rates are possible, as are discounts – additional work done after the initial craftwork, or simply for staying put while taking measurements.”

“I can assure you there’d be no squirming whatsoever during the measuring,” he said, and smiled.

“In that case, assume what I said earlier as a rough estimate, nothing more. And I think you have me at a disadvantage, Lieutenant –?”

“Doctor, actually. Doctor Julian Bashir. And you’re the Mister Garak of the shop’s name?”

“No, I’m afraid it’s only Garak. Plain, simple Garak.”

“Garak.” He nodded, and the motion took his eyes to Garak’s for a moment, the first time they’d done so. Sea-dark green, indeed. “Well. Thank you, Garak.”

“There was no trouble, but you’re welcome. Shall I expect you back soon?”

“If possible, yes. Have a pleasant afternoon.”

“I do hope to. And yourself.”

Bashir jerked his head up, not quite a nod and not quite something else, looking away and then back to Garak’s face. Meeting his eyes the once seemed to be all he would do, and Garak watched him leave, and took note of the way he hesitated just so at the dresses at the edge of the shop he’d seemed so fond of.

Well. He knew where the infirmary was, if it had to come to that.

-

“Listen, just because you think –”

“No, I don’t think, I know, I made it abundantly clear beforehand and am in fact demonstrating so right now, the power requirements are precise and specific, and given that this is in fact the infirmary –”

“Hold it up, right now!” Kira stepped in between Timor and the medic; she’d watched more than enough of the shouting match. Looking back and forth at the two fuming men, she kept her hands up and her voice level, calm, and loud. “I don’t care which one of you is wrong and which one’s right, so someone go ahead and tell me what you’re trying to settle before I decide I don’t need to know that to figure out how I’m going to make you settle this.”

Timor grunted, and Bashir pressed his lips together and looked up at the ceiling. He was holding something in his hands, a small grenade-sized device that might well be one for all Kira recognized of Federation technology. Timor spoke first, “He says what he’s got is incompatible with what we’ve got now.”

“Which it is,” Bashir snapped.

“Shut it,” Kira said. “That thing he’s got there?” Timor nodded. “And the problem is?”

“The problem is –”

“The problem,” Bashir cut in, “is that we can’t just plug it in like you were saying, it needs both a specific and consistent power supply in addition to being able to log into the rest of the station’s computers, otherwise we haven’t got what we need but just a very fancy textbook.”

He had a tone Kira recognized, didn’t like, and knew how to deal with: people who’d run too hard too long and too far to be comfortable anywhere but running. Children grew up with battle weariness passed down from their mothers, and she didn’t want to think on what he’d been through or what his mother had dealt with while he’d been inside of her to make him sound like that.

It still wasn’t a good reason for him to be acting the way he was, no reason to take it out on Timor for the crime of not knowing something, and she’d be happy enough to see him strewn up on the promenade but an end to the argument would have to do. “So what is that, then?” She pointed at his grenade, looked between the two of them. “When it’s not supposed to be a textbook.”

“He says it’s a medical scanner.”

Bashir’s face was lit up, eyes clear, and all the anger in his voice had gone out in the moment. “Well, I like to think of it as a communication device, but yes, scanner, that’s the gist of it, of what it does.”

“Are you gonna show us what it does?”

“Gladly, by all means. Here.” He cleared a small area on a counter, set it down, pressed a number of buttons – actual buttons, not a flatscreen, and how antiquated that was – and then device chirped. Then it turned on. And the air above it might well have opened up and spilled out raw color for all that happened next, and Kira barely managed to keep her balance. Something – no, a body. That was definitely a body, it was a glowing, iridescent drawing of a person’s body floating not on a screen but in the air, perfect in all dimensions and small enough to see everything, and she couldn’t hold herself back from reaching out and touching it. It moved by her touch and she almost flinched away when it spun around at the tap of her fingers. The meat of the body, all the organs and blood, shifted away from the skeleton until Bashir pulled it back together. Then it came apart at his touch, a more determined dissection, skin and muscle and bones and guts spreading out through the air. He plucked the heart right out and everything else fell away, and he pulled it out until it was as big as it’d be in anyone’s chest. In his chest, since it was a Human’s heart.

“You call this a communication device.” Kira glanced at Timor, who had his arms crossed over his chest, trying not to give into the temptation. Bashir didn’t notice, or did notice and didn’t care, as he spun the heart around, tapped it to make it beat silently.

“In a sense it is, yes. Right now all it’s got is Human, the very anthropocentric default and in retrospect I ought to apologize for that, my apologies, and Bajoran, with only a dozen or so hours of internal battery power, less if I have to do anything beyond this sort of lecture.” He shut it off, and it powered down with a humming buzz. “When connected with the station’s power, and connected properly, so that it won’t fry anything, and the computer, where I can feed all sorts of data into it and let it run as it likes, then scanning’s the beginning. It does scan, and it’s primarily the interface that’s so useful, it’s easy to adapt it for surgery or running simulations for trials, anything that you really have to see to understand.”

Prophets’ bones,” she muttered. If this was what the Federation had to share?

Bashir turned to Timor, the device back between his clutched hands. “Did you read the report I sent to the engineering department?”

“Read it. Read yours, and everyone else’s, everything that came through. If yours was in there it got read, and probably by me, but I’ve got more than just the infirmary to take care of, I just happened to be here when you were, don’t take it out on me.”

His head was down, gaze averted, and Kira knew it was unusual for a Human to know how to properly apologize, even if his voice stayed flat. “We’re both having a trying day. I apologize for how I acted.” Timor nodded. Bashir went on, “Do you know whom I might speak to about proper calibration, or should I call a Federation engineer?”

“Probably Federation,” Timor said with a little more than a hint of a hiss.

“All right, I’ll get someone in as soon as I can.” Kira watched him get back to something at another workstation, unconcerned with what had just passed. She couldn’t stop herself from remembering how Lelyn would dash between moods without warning, even on calm days, even after the official end of the Occupation, and spared a moment to remember to send a prayer out to Bashir’s mother.

-

Jadzia had spent the better part of three lives around Humans, and she knew she’d developed a pretty good eye for reading them. There was a fair amount that didn’t translate neatly between Humans and Trills, but she’d found more in common with them than she’d thought she would. Four lifetimes, and the look on Bashir’s face was something almost perfectly universal: total absorption in his work. It reminded Dax of her ages-old sons and daughters when they’d been his age and even younger, and she let herself smile at the rush of hosted memories. The rest of Jadzia let herself mix between surprise and disappointment: the trip from Earth to Deep Space Nine took a total of four and a half days, with one day left to go, and this was the first time she’d seen Bashir present and accounted for in the flesh outside of the infirmary or walking to or from his quarters. She took her steaming raktajino from the replicator, and watched him eat a spoonful of what she guessed was oatmeal while he read.

“Hello.”

He glanced up from the padd – and just a glance, he didn’t even lift his head to flick his eyes to her face before going right back to his reading. “Hello.”

It wasn’t ideal, but it wasn’t a blatant dismissal, so it was something she could work from. “Let me introduce myself. I’m Jadzia.” She held out her free hand. “Lieutenant Jadzia Dax. Science officer.”

That got him to look up at her. “The joined Trill.” He offered his hand in return, nearly as an afterthought. “Doctor Julian Bashir.”

“It’s good to meet you, Julian. Is Julian all right?” Julian nodded. “You can call me Jadzia. Mind if I sit?”

“No, not at all.” He watched her sit, but not the way people had been watching her for the last couple of years since her joining – not quite the same sort of interest and curiosity. She took a sip of her raktajino now that it was finally cool enough, and held it in her mouth to take the taste for herself, then swallowed with a little groan, letting the heat flow down her throat the way she and Audrid both liked, and was about to say something when he asked, “Is there something I can help you with?”

The blatant honestly of his tone and face with the oddness of the question made her blink. “No, it’s quite all right, I don’t need anything. I just wanted to come over and say hello. We’re going to be working together on DS9, so I thought it’d be good for us to talk beforehand, get to know each other.”

Julian nodded. “All right. Here we are, and we’ve said hello.” Jadzia nodded back. He kept looking at her, and she almost felt put off by the way he was watching her so openly, even if it wasn’t skin-hungry. “I’m sorry, but there is something you wanted, correct?”

“No! I’m sorry if I’m bothering you, but –”

“You aren’t. I’m just not quite sure what it is you want right now, and I do have a fair bit of reading to get done. But if there is something, I’d be happy to help.”

“Just to get to know you.”

“All right. And…”

Dax didn’t know what to make of that. She took another drink to give herself a moment to get her thoughts together. His eyes kept wandering over her face and along her spots, up and down her body before going back to meet her own, like he wasn’t comfortable meeting her gaze for more than a moment at a time. She quickly asked, “Why DS9?”

“What do you mean, why DS9?”

“I saw on the manifesto you graduated top of your class. Valedictorian, right?”

“Yes,” he said, taking a bite of oatmeal.

“It’s that I know – well, I’m pretty sure there are a lot more prestigious opportunities available for someone in your position. And DS9 isn’t that high up there.”

“And you’d like to know why I want to send myself out to the edge of the frontier and settle on a former Cardassian station above a former occupied war zone, when I could be in the flagship of Starfleet and charting the galaxy?”

“Something like that. I wouldn’t have guessed people would want to go there.”

“I do.”

“Yes, I know – I mean, like I said, most people –”

“If you want a reason, don’t worry, it’s not ‘because it’s there.’ I know I’ll be useful here.”

“Right.” She smirked over the rim of her mug.

“I’m sorry?”

“You know you’ll be useful. Classic medical motivation. Where you can do the most good is where you’re going to be most lauded.”

“No.” Jadzia drew back at his tone, harsh and sharp. “No, that’s not it, why would that be it?”

She ran over the words she’d said, tried to find where he might have taken such offense. “It’s that with most doctors, they try to magnify personal prestige. And there are some who are genuinely selfless. But a lot of them – the standard characteristic of self-congratulating behavior has a lot of basis in reality.”

“I know. I went through medical school. ‘The difference between God and a surgeon is that God doesn’t think he’s a surgeon’, I’ve heard most of them.”

Julian’s gaze had locked onto her own with an animal’s intensity. She took in his shoulders, now tensed, his hands with their shifting fingers, his posture and face, stolid but intensely so, like he was holding himself still.

“Then I won’t bore you with more old jokes,” she said, and he relaxed somewhat, his eyes darting to her right cheek’s spots and back.

“I appreciate that.”

“So if it isn’t adulation, then can I ask why?”

This time he looked away, and kept looking down at the table and nothing in particular for a few moments until he lifted his head up to answer, almost meeting her gaze from the corners of his eyes. “They need doctors. I’m a very good doctor, and I won’t say they need the best and that ought to be me because that reeks of the sort of jokes we agreed not to tell. But I know plenty of my classmates who said they would rather go to Romulus than, as they put it, that craphole of a station, and if they’re not willing to go and I am, then I think I’d ought to.”

“When you put it that way, it’s quite reasonable.”

“Thank you.”

What she’d said wasn’t quite something to be thanked for, but it didn’t seem worth it to investigate why.

-

Not long after Odo had figured out the basics of bipedal locomotion, Doctor Mora had invited a number of a particular type of professional to the Center and the parties, to give him a better and broader sense of that kind of motion and movement, to help him blend in as best he could. They had been Bajorans, and Cardassians, and additional species if they could be arranged for. Dancers, gymnasts, martial artists, even a traveling acrobat company who had a contortionist in their troupe. The contortionist had laughed at Odo in a way he’d tried not to take offense to at the time, in what he now knew to be a sort of delighted, joyful awe, and still couldn’t find it in himself to take as flattering. Out of all of them, Odo had liked the dancers most of all.

Doctor Bashir didn’t walk like a single person Mora had ever seen fit to invite.

In fact, Odo thought he barely moved like the rest of the Humans on the station. His bipedal movement was quite well practiced, the controlled fall that allowed for walking and running at various speeds. It was a deliberate practice; that much Odo could tell. Not the sort of effortless effort all those professionals had worked so hard to cultivate, but closer to that than the sort of unthinking movements most humanoids developed.

Still, he was quiet. He was a professional who cared as much about his work as Odo cared about his, and respected that conviction. And he always put a good deal of thought into what he would say when he opened his mouth.

They were standing side-by-side in the turbolift, heading down from Ops and halfway to the Promenade, when Bashir said, “Constable?”

“Yes?”

“May I ask you something about your ears?”

Odo turned to look at him, clasping his hands behind his back and tightening his hair. “I beg your pardon?”

“Your ears. There’s something I’ve been wondering about them, but if you’d rather not talk about them, then that’s quite all right and I apologize for the intrusion.”

Bashir held that sort of open fascination so many humanoids wore when they decided they’d had enough of wondering and worked up the gall to ask what was on their minds. And, in an equal portion, there was also the honesty in the offer of declining the question, something rarely even considered. Odo grunted. “You may.”

“Do you use them for hearing?”

“I’m afraid you’ll have to elaborate on that.”

“Oh! Certainly. It’s that in most humanoid species, the outer ear plays a relatively minor role in the hearing process, at least compared to the middle and inner ears. Damage to the ossicles or cochlea carries far more of a negative impact on auditory processing than the majority of injuries to any of the visible, external parts, even including the eardrum itself. But I’ve read the majority of Doctor Mora’s papers, and you did allow me to scan you, and the majority of your internal mass is of a uniform density and volume, which doesn’t allow for such structures as the scalae. Without them, there’s no hearing with the ears.”

“Doctor, I think you’ve provided the answer to your own question.” They stepped off onto the Promenade and Bashir matched Odo’s pace stride for stride.

“I had my – I was wondering about it, that’s true, but if I can ask something else?” Odo grunted again, which Bashir correctly took as assent. “And no, I don’t want to put you in a dark room and bombard you with vibrations of various intensities and frequencies, that’s not what I’d like to do. But since you don’t hear with your ears –”

“Most humanoids are comforted by the sight of them.”

“I admit you’d look strange without any, but what I’m more curious about is knowing how it is you do hear, since your ears are ornamental at best.”

“And how do you think I hear? You seem to have this figured out.”

“I think you hear with your entire body. Which is a working hypothesis.”

“A working hypothesis.”

“Given how you’re not wearing any clothing right now, it seems quite reasonable.”

Odo snapped his head up and felt his inner torso roil a moment before he clenched back it into place, before it could reach his surface, and didn’t let himself smile. “I’ve noticed most humanoids would rather not comment on that aspect of my being, Doctor.”

“You put on the appearance of wearing clothes, but that’s not what’s really happening.”

“That’s true. And yes, I do. Hear with my entire body, that is.”

“How fascinating.” They entered Odo’s office, Bashir standing in front of Odo’s desk while he took his seat. “So it’s more accurate to say you feel sounds rather than hear them.”

“Yes.”

“So you felt the turbolift coming up before it arrived?”

“As did you.” Bashir blinked at him. “I noticed you tensed up and moved closer in anticipation when it was still on its way.”

“Well, yes. I – that’s another thing humanoids don’t like to comment on, how there’s a lot more sound than they usually say there is. Most of them – I should be going.”

“No, it’s quite all right. We have another four minutes before either of us needs to worry about no longer having enough time to be early, we can spare two of them.”

He nodded, and then said like he’d never stopped, “Most of them tend to tune out the ambient sounds in their environment, but still find it genuinely uncomfortable when it’s totally silent. It’s the utter absence of sound that they find disturbing. Things like turbolifts and dermal regenerators can be built to be soundless, and some have, but the majority of people that use them want to hear something even if they don’t pay attention to it, which is a very neat trick of psychology, like how certain sterilizing agents have to produce a sensation on the skin because otherwise patients won’t be convinced anything is happening. And even when there are sounds to hear, and there’s that filtering most – well.”

“We still have a minute and fifteen seconds, doctor, if you’d like.”

“No, it’s fine. I’d best get on before I can’t be early.”

Odo jerked his head towards the door, and Bashir nodded back before departing off to the infirmary.