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Phone a Friend

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It's the middle of the night when Spot starts ringing. 

Dairine's first thought is something along the lines of Oh god does he need help running his planet again, I told him last time that anything short of imminent sun-death could wait until after 9AM local time. Her second thought has more to do with how comfortable her comforter is (apt name, comforter -- and she's a wizard so she appreciates apt naming) and how she would rather not have to leave it. But her third thought is a reminder that however tempting it might be to do a small wizardry to summon Spot (presently disguised as the newest model of iPhone), her roommate might notice and besides if someone is calling she'll have to get up and leave the room for the duration of their conversation anyway.

So she groans, thrusts off the comforter (wincing at the cold air beyond the bedcovers), and snags Spot and a sweatshirt before leaving her bedroom for the common area that she and her suitemates share. Stupid prince, she thinks, sinking down onto one of the dorm-standard sofas and swiping a finger across the screen to take the call. Doesn't understand that going to college means perpetually substituting coffee for sleep, I'd like to see him do his job on five hours a night

But the voice that answers her mumbled "Hello" isn't the one she expected. "Hey there!" Carmela says, loud enough to make Dairine wince. 

"Nngh," Dairine responds, rubbing at her eyes with one hand and trying to figure out why Carmela is calling. After graduating from college in three years, with High Honors and a double major in Media Studies and Linguistics, Carmela convinced her parents that spending a year traveling through the galaxy would be educational, and also a well-deserved break from formal education. Mr. and Mrs. Rodriguez were a bit skeptical at first, but when Kit agreed to put a wizardry on her phone so she could keep in touch, and Carmela agreed to check in with her parents at the end of every week, most of their objections fell by the wayside, and eventually they genially accepted that their daughter's interest in alien cultures was not just a phase, and instead something they ought to support. Dairine hears from Carmela occasionally, but none of the MIT freshmen have much time for anything other than studying, and Dairine may be smart but even she finds it hard to balance college, errantry, and pleasure trips to other star systems. If Carmela is calling to invite her to another alien celebration she can't possibly attend, Dairine will quite possibly kill her.

"Yes, yes, I'm happy to hear your voice, too," Carmela says, and beneath her usual cheer Dairine hears something else...something a little less self-assured. "Sorry to wake you, but my little brother seems to be out on business and I may have found myself in something of a situation."

Dairine holds Spot away from her ear and squints at his display to see the time. A little after three in the morning. She doesn't have class tomorrow -- or rather today -- until eleven, but she really should be there to turn in the problem set for Advanced Economics that she was up until one finishing. But she can skip the class after that, if she needs to, so she ought to be able to deal with whatever Carmela's gotten herself into. "Okay," she says. "What can I do for you?"

"That depends," Carmela says. "How much do you know about intergalactic bail law?"

Dairine closes her eyes and lets out a sigh. "Give me your coordinates and I'll be there in half an hour to see what I can do."


Since coming into wizardry, Dairine has seen the holding cells at the Crossings and the penal colonies of Merta'ah V and the dungeons (there is no better word for them) beneath the Sun Palace on Wellakh, but this is the first time she's had to meet a friendly face gazing back at her from behind bars. Carmela is at least smiling, so the conditions in the Denebian prison can't be too bad, but Dairine would rather not leave her there to find out.

"So let's take this from the top," she said, shifting in the uncomfortably spindly chair that's been provided for her in front of Carmela's cell. "What did they arrest you for?"

Carmela shifts uncomfortably on the stone floor of her cell and looks the other way. "I may have been breaking the local speed limit."

Dairine raises an eyebrow. "They jailed you over a traffic violation?" she asks, and briefly wonders a) what happened to the vehicle and b) how far over the speed limit Carmela managed to push it before she got caught.

Carmela grimaces. "They only wanted to fine me for the traffic violation," she says. "But when I tried to get out of it with the help of my cocoa stash, one of the officers sort of broke out in these hive thingies, and the other whipped out a mask and gloves, confiscated the chocolate, and cuffed me before I had figured out what was going on."

Dairine shakes her head. "You didn't think to check if the locals were allergic?"

"I did check," Carmela says, "but the docs about this place didn't mention that allergy...just that it was a controlled substance. I figured, what was the harm in trying a bribe?" She scrunches up her face and lets out a sigh. "I cannot begin to explain how disappointed I am that chocolate got me into this situation, not out of it."

"So they're charging you with smuggling," Dairine says.

Carmela scratches the side of her head. "Er...I think the actual charges fall under the 'Biological Weaponry' statute."

Dairine groans. It is too early for this, she thinks. But if Kit comes back from errantry to find out that I let his sister get locked away for bioterrorism, sleep deprivation will be the last of my problems. "Have you tried to explain that you didn't know about the allergy?"

"No," Carmela says, sarcastic, "what a brilliant idea, why didn't I think of that?" She rolls her eyes. "Can't you just wave your Manual at them and tell them it was all a mistake, and I'll be a good girl and never try to trade chocolate on Deneb ever again?"

"It doesn't work that way, Mela," Dairine says, "and you know it."

Carmela pushes herself to her feet with a sound something like a growl. "The system's completely corrupt, anyway," she says. "Their legal practice is all confused. The old statutes are written in a formal version of the language that most of the judges and attorneys at the local levels don't really understand, so it keeps getting misinterpreted, and new laws contradict old ones. They've been trying to put together a standard legal code as a way of unifying the planetary government, but the different regional dialects make it hard to create anything that everyone will understand..."

Dairine hears, in all this, an echo of Roshaun complaining about the business of reacclimating Wellakh to intergalactic trade: "The regulations have to be translated into all the languages of the local cluster, but it's been so long since we've been in touch with any of our neighbors. We're going to have to train up Wellakhit in these other languages, or else try to convince our wizards to take the job." And then in an incongruous juxtaposition, she remembers her Economics professor saying, on the first day of class, "This gets a lot more complicated after today. But it all starts with two basic concepts: supply and demand. Economic leverage comes whenever you control the supply of something that's in high demand."

And Dairine eyes Carmela and says, "How do you like it here?"

"It's a nice planet, if you're not stuck in a detention facility," Carmela says.

"And how are you with the formal legal language?"

"My accent could use some work, but I read it pretty well," Carmela says -- in the mellifluous syllables of High Denebian, which Dairine understands through the Speech. "Why," Carmela adds, switching back to English, "what do you have in mind?"

Dairine grins. "I think we just found our leverage."


The deal isn't the best. Carmela complains at being tethered in one place for so long -- "I set out to see the galaxies, not to get tied down!" -- and the Denebian authorities insist upon all kinds of safeguards to ensure that she doesn't skip out on them -- but eventually both sides come to an agreement. In lieu of a traditional prison sentence, Carmela will use her steganographic gift to lead a small staff in documenting and preserving the local Denebian dialects, in addition to translating important government documents into the common tongue. The Denebian government will update their documentation to indicate that they are outrageously allergic to chocolate. Both sides, if not ecstatic, are at least content, and when Carmela says goodbye to Dairine, she says, "At least I can convince mama and papi that I'm putting my degree to use!" 

Dairine makes it back to her dorm room with enough time to grab her problem set and fill her thermos with tepid coffee from the communal coffeemaker before dashing across campus to her Econ class. She's one of the last ones in, and she stifles a yawn as she adds her homework to the top of the large stack on the front desk. It's too bad, she thinks, making her way to a seat at the back of the classroom, that I can't be graded on extracurricular work. But even if Professor Riesling would never know that one of his students had just applied course material in order to save a young woman from imprisonment a few galaxies over, at least the young woman in question would be grateful enough to make up for it.