Lieutenant Junior Grade Sasha Kowal could not work like this.
“Here’s the schematics folder, Lieutenant Commander,” Ensign Qeyfsy said, running back into the engine room clutching a sky-blue folder bursting with papers and notes. This would have been normal and fine with any of the other chief engineers, but Lieutenant Commander Zyghkays was a jerk.Xer promotion last rotation had only made xem worse, and now working on any engine maintenance with xem was insufferable. At least xe often ignored Kowal, who was Human, and the members of the team who were Cygnians and Vernii; for some reason Zyghkays had it out especially for fellow Fyzq officers on the ship. This still might have managed to pass without incident, if Zyghkays hadn’t taken the folder, clicked xer mandibles in disapproval and impatience, and said, “I told you to get me the blue folder.”
Qeyfsy hesitated. “I didn’t see any folders on the desk that looked obviously blue, Lieutenant Commander. So I got the blue folder instead.”
“You intentionally brought me a blue folder even when I asked for the blue one?”
“I see. You thought, well, the Lieutenant Commander asked me for a blue folder, but there’s no blue folder, so I’ll get a totally different color folder instead. That’s probably what xe meant anyway, right? Blue, blue, what’s the difference? Old stupid Zyghkays probably meant blue anyway, because xe doesn’t know what colors [untranslatable expletive] are, I guess, so why bother to spend seventeen more seconds looking for a folder that’s actually blue, when a blue one is basically the same anyway?”
“It looked blue to me,” Qeyfsy said softly, hands behind xer back and antennae flat against xer head in discomfort. “It’s kind of a bluish blue.”
“If it were bluish blue, it would be blue, and I would have said blue. But I said blue. Go back and get me the right folder. I’ll give you a hint: It’s blue. If it looks blue to you it’s not blue and it’s not the one I want.”
“There wasn’t a blue folder on the desk,” Qeyfsy said desperately. “I looked.”
Qeyfsy took the folder back, hands trembling, chitin locking up over xer arms in tension and discomfort. Xe didn’t deserve this. Kowal put down her wrench and stood up. “It looks blue to me,” she said, trying to at least give a little support to the bewildered ensign.
Both Qeyfsy and Zyghkays stared at her.
“It’s… not,” Qeyfsy said. Xer shoulder plates vibrated slightly in relieved appreciation, but xer tone was still uncertain, and now a bit perplexed. “Thanks, Kowal…? But it’s definitely more blue or blue than it is blue—”
“It’s not blue any more than it’s blue,” Zyghkays said huffily. “It’s blue.”
“I’ll just go find the blue one,” Qeyfsy said, hurrying out of the room before Zyghkays could find anything else to snap at xem for, and as Kowal watched xem go she reflected that maybe her professors at the academy had been onto something, actually, when they told her to take the time to learn other languages rather than relying on the universal translator.
“Just get back to work, Kowal,” Zyghkays said.
(That one translated just fine.)
Kathleen Brigid is a writer and student from Massachusetts, who is currently pursuing a PhD in archaeology in Arizona. Sci-fi is a fun way to escape to and explore other worlds and societies, especially if she can bring her linguistics/anthropology background in. This is her first publication.