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A Wizard of Nairobi

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Even in the 23rd century, wizards from Earth have an uncommon affinity for paper-bound books. Though such books are ever-increasingly hard to find, they more often than not have the tendency to fall into the hands of those who needed them most.

Namely, wizards.

Nyota knows that she will never forget the day she found her Manual: her mother had been away on business for the better part of the week, and they were celebrating her return with a trip into Nairobi. They had spent the morning in a farmer’s market and moved onto a flea market in the later part of the day, splitting up to look at the wares that interested them the most. Nyota was finally old enough to be let out on her own, even if it was just for two hours.

She ends up in the back of honest-to-god bookstore, a little hole-in-the-wall place that probably held half the printed books in the country, if not the continent. Nyota had read anything and everything she could get her hands on from the moment she learned how the string those symbols into words and those words into phrases and although her tablet holds everything she needs and more she still has a small collection of (six) books that she’s amassed over her short life, and she’s always looking to add more.

She heads to a section that’s been marked Languages & Linguistics by a steady hand and an index card, looking for something that might help her studies go better. She’s been bilingual since birth in Standard and Swahili, although they’ve been learning Arabic in school for the past several years and she’s begun to plateau.

It’s in between Chomsky, Noam and Dani, Ahmad Hasan that her finger snags on a book and she withdraws her hand with a hiss. She sucks on the papercut and reaches for the offending book with left hand, surprised to find what appears to be a history book. The Universal Language, it was called. The book title was in Standard but the cover held the same title in a dozen other languages, some of which Uhura couldn’t quite identify.

She doesn’t take the book seriously until she opened it up and examined the table of contents. Thinking it was perhaps an ill-placed book on love or body language, she’s pleasantly surprised to see chapter heads that ranged from the familiar Phonetics & Phonology and Sociolinguistic Syntax to Audiological Claudications and Elucidation Physiology. She’s never heard of this Hearnssen fellow but she can’t quite talk herself into putting the book down as the time drew near for her to reunite with her parents.

She pays for the book and another on pre-Islamic Arabic poetry and left, meeting her parents at the eastern entrance of the market with just minutes to spare. She shows them a book and fawns over the poetry, but for some reason she hasn’t quite identified she keeps the other in her bag.

 

###

 

Almost ten years later Nyota’s sitting in her Advisory’s kitchen, hashing out her future plans.

“Cairo has a very attractive offer on the table right now, and it would give me a chance to work with Dr. Samir who wrote that lovely paper on 9th century Arab romantic poetry and pre-reformation Vulcan literature.” she says over tea.

“And of course there’s the team in Johannesburg that’s been working on the update to the Universal Translator, and the project in São Paulo that’s on the brink of rewriting xenolinguistic language acquisition as we know it.” She barely takes a breath, then goes on to list off a half-dozen other universities that are on their way fame, any of which would be more than glad to add her to their folds.

“I really don’t know why you need me to be here at all,” Fahim says over his cup of steaming tea. “You might as well be saying this all to a wall for as much help I’ve been so far.”

“But Fahim, I haven’t even gotten to the best part yet.” she stresses. “Yesterday I got an offer from Starfleet.”

“And?”

“And? The Department Head of Xenolinguistics in San Francisco sent me a personal invitation to consider their Masters in Xenolinguistics because I would, and I quote, ‘be a valued addition and a key player in the future endeavors and publications of the department.’ Do you know what it feels like to be head-hunted by the top authority in my field?”

Fahim, who was recruited by the top technology firm in the region and recently relocated from Cairo six months before, nods.

“Oh, right.” Nyota blushes at her lapse of memory, and used her momentary silence to take a deep gulp of her tea.

“So when do you leave?” Farim says after a time.

“I don’t know if I can accept,” Nyota says softly.

What!? You made it sound like the opportunity of a lifetime and now you’re telling me you don’t even know if you’ll take it? Who are you and what have you done with the ambitious Nyota Uhura who has not stopped talking about Starfleet since the moment I met her?”

Nyota didn’t initially reply, instead choosing to focus all her energy on staring into her teacup.

“I know your speciality is technology, but even with that…” she says finally. Fahim waits silently, and after a while gently motioned his hand to continue.

“Doesn’t using wizardry and the Speech feel like cheating sometimes?”

“Oh, Nyota,” Fahim says softly. He reaches across the table and takes her hand into his.

“While it’s all fun and games to go to the moon or work outside your speciality when your power rating is through the roof, you of all people should know that your wizardry becomes tailored to your interests and skills as you yourself find your center and your passion.

“When a person finds their wizardry, that means that the Powers That Be have looked at their life, everything they are and can be, and determines not only that they are the unique answer to a problem in the universe, but that their preexisting inclinations indicate that they’ll be a good host for wizardry.”

“But without the Speech…”

“Without the Speech you would be a brilliant, attentive, innovative linguist just as you are today. While the comprehension and universal understanding that comes with the Speech certainly makes things easier, don’t forget that you had to teach yourself the Speech as well. And while many wizards learn the jargon for their specialities and not much else, you have such a breadth and depth to your vocabulary that the Planetary consulted with you not two weeks ago for a spelling!”

Nyota smiles at the memory; it had been the shock of her life when she received a request for a consult from the Earth’s highest ranking wizard, and even more so when she appeared in her living room with a pop ten minutes later. The small Tibetan woman had stayed for more than an hour while Nyota worked her way through the spell. She caught the few phrases that weren’t quite right that by themselves wouldn’t have posed a problem, but in a spelling and wizardry of this size only compounded the troubles in the first place (“really, it wasn’t a problem at all; most Terran languages don’t even have that kind of subjunctive so that part of the Speech tends to trip people up, and it’s only really necessary when speaking formally to ancient entities like the Indo-Australian Plate anyways”).

“Nyota,” Fahim says, pulling her back to reality. “I can’t tell you what to do: it’s your decision and your life. But I can tell you that you’re going to need to think long and hard before making your choice, and make sure that twenty years from now you’ll still be happy with it.”

Nyota thanks him and leaves soon after, half of her cup of tea left cold on his table.

Fahim doesn’t hear from her again for almost two weeks, when his Manual dings with an incoming message. At almost the same time he receives a message ping the way official notices do, and he elects to read the official missive first.

 

Official Notification of Jurisdiction Relocation

UHURA, Nyota

FROM: University of Nairobi, Central Nairobi; Nairobi (Local Advisory: Barakat, Fahim)

TO: Starfleet Campus, Main; San Francisco (Local Advisory: Pike, Christopher)

 

Fahim smiles as he opens the private message, knowing who it’s from without having to read the byline.

 

Fahim,

It’s taken two weeks for me to get everything taken care of but I’m finally off. I have a layover in Atlanta then an overnight Riverside, and I will be in San Francisco by the day after tomorrow. I’ll call you once I’m settled in, but I wanted to thank you for the tea and the advice. I know you will say you were only doing your job, but your kind words meant the world to me. If there is ever a time when I may be of service to you, you need only but ask.

Sincerely yours,

Cadet Nyota Uhura