Somebody had screwed up. Mia thought it was the new guy in Protocol. I suspected Britt. She’d always rubbed me the wrong way.
“It doesn’t matter who screwed up. We’re going to fix it.” Even now, whenever Minister Jovanovich addressed the group I could see why all our parents voted for him in ‘63. “This is one of those moments, everyone. It’s a moment for the brave and the dedicated. Each of you is here for a reason, and this is your moment.” It wasn’t so much the words themselves as the way he said them, and that trick he had where, no matter where you were in the hive of hexagons, it felt like he was speaking right at you.
The minister left the stage. Each of us turned to our desks, waiting for our group assignments. I was thrilled when the top half of the divider between Mia’s space and mine receded into its base. Two other dividers – one in her space, one in mine – also descended, pairing us with the Herkimer twins. That was fine with me; Kylo was competent and Pinara very clever. Our screens flashed, telling us to prepare the first draft of the apology to the Ambassador Vellinaroonian-mik-Cassyrio’s fem-son.
“Right,” said Mia, taking charge. “Four-two-one. You know the drill. Yasmine with Pinara, Kylo with me.” We each nodded and started scribbling (Pinara, using a charming legal pad replica) or typing (everyone else). Mia pressed a button to raise the walls.
The first official apology is a tricky thing. It’s even more complicated when you’re addressing the first culture from another world in humanity’s history. The Illaru generation ship had turned up just beyond Pluto several months ago, pleading for sanctuary. They were still years away from arriving, but we’d tentatively blocked out some space on the other side of Mars for them. They were, serendipitously, pretty eco-compatible with us, and they claimed to have technology that would speed the terraforming process along dramatically. You could hear all of Olympus salivate when they got that news. My dads always talk about the problems on Earth, but we’re not living in ease and comfort ourselves.
It is with the utmost respect, and profound embarrassment, that we write to you today to apologize for the shameful display of bigotry and closed-mindedness recently sent to you by a representative of our species. (Several insulting words regarding the Illaru’s complicated sexes and gender constructions had been anonymously slipped into the Ministry’s latest official communication batch to the Illaru ship.) We hold you, your mother-executive, and your entire family in the highest esteem. We take full responsibility for this grievous error and offer whatever redress your government deems just. You may rest assured that we will do our utmost to identify the individual who wrote those words and handle their ignorance appropriately.
I sat back in my chair, staring at the words, then nodded and copied them into a shared editing panel for Pinara. Her version appeared shortly thereafter, and the wall between our spaces slid back down. She gathered a section of her long hair and ran a hand through it as she read.
“A little obsequious, isn’t it?” she asked. I thought her attempt was too brusque and uncompromising. We entered into a discussion and took several minutes to work out a synthesized version. When we were both satisfied, or at least not unsatisfied, we copied our joint draft into a new panel for the full group. Mia and Kylo had finished before us, so we launched into a whole team debate.
Finally, we settled on a version that closely resembled what Pinara and I had come up with, strengthened by some individual details about the family from Mia and Kylo’s draft. Once we all agreed, we sent it in for revision by another group. As soon as we did so, a draft of the apology to the ambassador herself (prepared by Britt’s group, of course – such a devious manipulator of management) showed up in our shared panel for review.
“Hmph,” I said after a bit.
“Yeah,” Mia agreed.
“…off about this one.”
Kylo and Pinara stared at us. I suppose they thought they were the ones who should be finishing each other’s sentences.
“I don’t get it,” Pinara said. “What’s wrong?”
“Well, I wasn’t going to say anything at first,” said Mia. “But…”
“This reads fine in English, but once it’s translated into Geffel it’s going to make things much worse. Too binary, too condescending, too human-centric.”
“Huh. Who all was in that group?” asked Pinara.
“Britt, Penta F., Tal, and Victor,” Mia said.
“I’m surprised Tal let that through. He’s so good with Geffel,” said Kylo.
“And wait a minute…Victor? We were supposed to get lunch today, but he canceled. Sick or something,” said Pinara.
Mia tapped several times on her own screen. “He’s not the only one. Petra and Tal are out, too.”
“So this was just Britt?” I knew it!
“Yeah. And actually…” Mia tapped for several more seconds, then nodded with a grimace. “Yep. Octo’s out today, too. That puts Britt next up for translation.”
“That’s a lot of people gone,” said Kylo. “You don’t suppose…?”
“That’s it, I’m flagging it.” I wrote up a brief description of everything and sent it to our division supervisor. “Now we wait to see what’s next.”
We didn’t have to wait long. Not ten minutes later, the boss sat down next to Britt. (I’m not ashamed to admit I’d found an excuse to walk the periphery so I could keep an eye on her.) The two exchanged tense words, then Britt shot to her feet.
“Fools, all of you! They’ll be the end of us! Mars First! Mars First! Mars First!” She kept shouting and pumping her hand until a couple guards dropped her with tranq darts.
Smiling smugly, I returned to my desk. Mia grinned while confusion reigned around us.
“You were right. I should have listened to you. Sorry!”