“I don’t see why you feel the need to do this at all,” complained Stuart Reed as his wife stood in front of him. He had his arms folded and was looking rather cross and intractable indeed.
“I just want to do my part for the war effort,” replied Mary.
“War effort? You’re not some bloody latter-day Rosie the Riveter, you know.”
“It won’t be anything physically taxing.”
“It won’t be much of anything,” he harrumphed. “You haven’t worked a day in your life!” A scowl from her and he added, “I mean, not outside the home, that is.”
“I know what I am doing. I am not a child, you know.”
“Seventy-four at your last birthday! Really, Mary, I don’t, I don’t wish for you to be disappointed, love.” His demeanor softened just a touch. But only a little.
“Then it’s my disappointment to bear.” She departed, bound for the next transport to Rabat.
Rabat was an intriguing city, but Mary Reed had but one destination in mind – the Employment Office. She sat and waited her turn with everyone. They were mostly all humans, although there were a few Vulcans mixed in there. The wall chronometer slid past the date – April the sixth of 2158 – to the time – oh nine hundred hours and then beyond as she waited. “Mary Reed?” called out a counselor.
“Oh! Yes, that’s me.” She was ushered inside.
“It says here,” said the counselor, a man who was young enough to be her son, “that you have child care experience and your preference is for a job where there is a great deal of reading.”
“Yes, that’s right. I was hoping, perhaps, for a role where I could read to children or the like.”
“Actually,” he peered at his desktop computer’s screen, “there’s very little of that right now. But I’ll do a regular search and we’ll see what comes up.” He tapped on the keys a bit as she looked around the room and realized her foulard-print dress might not have been formal enough for a job interview. But she didn’t own an actual suit. She had never had the need for one before. “Oh, this is most intriguing,” he said, “this one involves reading but it might not be quite what you expected. Can you interview today?”
“Of, of course.”
“Very well. Take the next transport to Berlin and go to see a Mister Ejiogu. Here, I’ll give you the information on your PADD if I might see it for a moment.” Mary had a hopelessly old-fashioned PADD from early in the century but she presented it anyway. The counselor clicked it to his desktop and the information was effortlessly transferred. “There now,” he said, “they’ll be expecting you.”
“Thank you,” she said and hurried out, wondering what she could be getting herself into.
She arrived in Berlin with a little time to spare. Ehigha Ejiogu’s office was plush and huge, with a view of the monument to the people who’d died when the city had been walled and had attempted to escape from the eastern side to the west. “Come in! Come in!” he enthused. He was a pleasant man of Nigerian extraction, with an enormous smile and a manner that effortlessly put her at ease. She walked in and he pulled out a chair for her. “Oh, do sit down. How was your trip?”
“Oh, it was all right.”
“You’re coming in from Kota Bharu? How interesting! I have never been to Malaysia before.”
“It’s lovely. But a little hot for tea in the summertime.”
“Then it’s a good thing there’s ice in the world, eh? Now,” he said, “let’s get down to business. You know Kurt, of course.”
“Excuse me, but I’m uncertain as to who that is,” Mary replied honestly.
He looked at her, a little wide-eyed. “I thought everyone knew. But it appears I was in error. Kurt is, well, he’s a major singing talent. Surely you have heard some of his work.”
“We mainly listen to classical or to Gilbert and Sullivan at home. Do, uh, would knowledge of Mister Fong’s work be necessary for this position?”
“Oh, no. But you may find yourself hearing a bit of it anyway. I can transfer a bit of it to your PADD if you’d like to listen on your way back to Malaysia.”
“Uh, certainly,” Mary said, wondering whether it would be horrible and screechy. Caterwauling, her husband called that kind of modern music.
“Now, the position is to read and help answer Kurt’s fan mail. As you can imagine, he gets tons of it.”
“I, I thought I was applying for a position to assist with the war effort.”
“Actually, you are, although it may feel a bit more roundabout than that. See, Kurt does an enormous amount of work – when he’s not recording, of course – for the World Service Organization. You know; the people who entertain the troops. And his fan mail can get away from him at times. Plus there are, naturally, members of Starfleet or even medical organizations who may be writing to him and there can sometimes be performance invitations in there. We do try to keep it all organized but sometimes we need a bit of help keeping it all straight. We naturally want to answer letters from injured soldiers in a timely fashion.”
“Here, now, I will read you three generic letters. And I’d like for you to answer them, all right?”
“Uh, all right.” She bit her lip, terrified that she’d mess up.
“Very well. The first one reads, Dear Kurt, I am in love with you and wish to marry you.” He looked at her. “How would you answer that?”
“Oh, my. Well, hmm, Dear, er, dear letter-writer, whatever her name may be, Thank you for writing. I am flattered by your proposal. And I appreciate your, uh, appreciation of my work. But I’m afraid that,” Mary got a little confidence as the solution suddenly presented itself to her, “music is my only mistress. I do hope that you will attend my next concert in your area. Sincerely, Kurt Fong.”
“That was brilliant! Here’s another,” he said, bringing it up on his PADD, “Dear Kurt, My mother says that you play the devil’s music.”
“Oh, well, uh, Dear letter-writer, I thank you for contacting me. I am sorry that there is a, a disagreement as to the nature of my work. However, I assure you that my motives are naught but positive ones. Sincerely, Kurt Fong.”
“Perhaps the word naught is a bit too high hat for the response. Are you ready for the last one?” She nodded. “Dear Kurt, I am a member of the crew of the Columbia. I am currently in the Lunar Medical Facility due to permanent injuries sustained in combat with the Romulans. I don’t ask for much, but I think morale would pick up if you could send us an autographed picture. Thank you.”
She put a hand to her mouth for a second. “My son is the Armory Officer on the Enterprise. I do hope he never writes a letter such as that.”
“Understood,” said Ejiogu, “but how would you answer the note?”
“Dear letter-writer,” she swallowed a small lump in her throat, “enclosed is the item you requested. I am; I am checking the schedule to see if it would be possible to make an appearance at the Lunar Medical Facility and visit with you and the rest of the injured troops. It is my fervent wish that you recover as completely as you can, and I thank you for your service. My, my thanks are not enough. I only hope that, in some small way, I can repay you.”
“I get the feeling that letter was from you and not from Kurt.”
“Perhaps it’s from both of us.”
“Fair enough. When can you start?”
“I, uh, I’m, I’m in?”
“Absolutely. Is today too soon?”
“No, uh, that’s, that’s fine,” Mary said, flabbergasted, “Might I take a moment and call home?”
“Sure. Here, I’ll take you to a conference room. And then I’ll take you to a desk.”
The conference room was small and functional. As soon as the door was closed, Mary fumbled with the controls on her communicator. “Uh, Stuart Reed, in Kota Bharu.”
“Connecting you now,” replied the operator.
“Yes, love?” he asked.
“I’m, I’m starting work today. So, uh, I suspect I shall be a bit late with, with supper.”
“Oh,” he said, “uh, is there anything physical involved?”
“No, I’m answering mail.”
“Very well. I’ll just, uh; I suppose I shall see you later.”
She then wrote out a note on her PADD, to their children. Dear Madeline and Malcolm, I am working now. I hope I can give you my impressions soon. Right now, it’s all very exciting and different. My best, Mum.
“I’m, I’m ready now,” she said, opening the door, “Mister Ejiogu.”
“Call me by my first name, please. Now,” he said, shepherding her to a desk, “this,” he indicated a Tellarite on one side, “is Cympia Triff. Cympia is our computer programmer.”
“How do you do,” Mary said. Then she immediately wondered – was Cympia male or female? There was a beard. But there were also long drop earrings. “Those are, uh, lovely earrings.”
“Oh, they’re nothing special,” replied Cympia.
“You may not have dealt with a Tellarite before,” Ehigha said, “but they enjoy insults. Cympia here, she’s probably dying to hear one from you.”
“Oh, uh,” Mary peered over at a family photograph on Cympia’s desk, “you have a hideous family.”
“Why, thank you. I’m sure your family is hideous as well.”
Mary was about to say something when she stopped and just laughed a little. “I think I might like it here.” She fired up the computer at her desk and immediately started to read a letter to Kurt.