Obaston had been on this police ship for over a year, and another ship for two years before that. It was good duty. He shared a cabin with another civilian-warrant who served as an accountant and auditor. Both were Dunkars and they enjoyed chatting about home when off duty.
       Home for Obaston was Karintok, a small agricultural colony a couple of thousand parsecs away. Obaston was no farmer; his family had been shopkeepers for generations. His father ran a department store in the main city. Grandfather still worked in the back office doing the accounts. His brothers, uncle, and cousins all worked for the store.
       Karintok was not that far from the Federation border, and during peacetime (which the last decade or two had been) there were no end of Federation traders (and even a few tourists) visiting the planet. Many of them ended up in his father's store, and by the time Obaston graduated from school, he could speak Federation Standard at a conversational level. He could speak Mantorese, Cygnan, and even Orion, at various levels, although not nearly so well.
       But the life of a planet-bound merchant bored him, and Obaston always dreamed of travelling to far-away places. His father suggested that he take elective school courses to that end, and Obaston had even completed (by correspondence) what amounted to the first year of a university education in cultural anthropology. He found himself fascinated by how different societies operated and this actually made him better at the boring job of waiting on customers in his father's store. While being a store clerk was hardly fascinating, talking with foreigners was at least interesting and he found himself a better than average salesman because he could build a rapport with the customers.
       The local policeman was, of course, a frequent visitor in the store to check on compliance with the law, handle the occasional rowdy customer, and for his own personal needs. Obaston became friends with the policeman. One day, the policeman entered the store and went to Obaston's father, who summoned the teenager to his office.

       "Policeman Krattick has asked for your help," his father said. "There is some sort of dispute with a foreigner, who is being held at the police station. The machine translators are unable to fully understand his dialect, and the police have asked if you would listen to the man and see if you can clarify certain terms and phrases he uses. He may be insane."
       "It would be an honor, Father," Obaston said with genuine enthusiasm. "What sort of foreigner is he?"
       "We've identified him as a Prellarian," the policeman said. "None of us have ever met one. He seems to speak Federation Standard, but some of the terms he uses won't translate at all or translate as things that cannot be right. Our on-staff professional translator cannot make left or right of it, and the supervisor asked all of the officers on duty if they knew any local merchants who might have a more ... familiar grasp of the language. I know that your uncle is good with languages, but he said you might be better in this case."
       "My son will not be in any danger?" his father asked.
       "None at all," the policeman assured him. "The foreigner has shown no signs of violence, but his actions are odd and he has upset a local landowner by them."
       Obaston was surprised by the man, who stood a full head shorter but was massively built. His Federation Standard was not very good, and it was clearly a lack of vocabulary that was the issue. It took an hour, as Obaston had to try various combinations of foreign words. The Prellarian knew some Orion, and some Cygnan, and even a little Vulcan (which the machines could translate). Finally, Obaston had the sense of it.
       "He's an amateur geologist," Obaston told the police. "He is looking for rocks, stones of a certain quality, with a certain ... vibration is the best I can do for that. On his planet, many people collect unusual rocks. He just wants to take a few hundred kilos of stones back with him, which he will carve into various objects for sale to locals. House-trinkets, he calls them."
       "None of the stones he wants are of any value?" the police supervisor asked. "No crystals, no gold, nothing like that?"
       "On the contrary," Obaston said. "The stones he wants are granite, limestone, basalt, the most common of things. He's more concerned about ... the sounds the stones make."
       "He's harmless then," the police supervisor said. "It does explain why he was climbing that cliffside, bashing on it with a hammer. I can understand an artist who wants to find just the right material for his work. I have some carved wood items in my own home. House-trinkets would be a term. My wife will get a laugh out of that. Let me call someone I know, a local rock-hunter who can walk him around and keep him out of trouble."
       Obaston was happy when the police paid him a small amount for his work, and happier still when the Prellarian hired him as a local translator. The incident grew into a small business, as Obaston served as a police consultant and local tour guide. Of course, he always brought his customers to the family store for whatever they needed. A year later, the police supervisor introduced him to a recruiter for the Internal Security Forces, who offered him his dream job. He would be a professional translator working on a police cutter, travelling in space, visiting many planets and talking with hundreds of foreigners. Even better, he was made a (very) low-ranking military warrant officer and paid at a higher wage than his father could have afforded. He also found that the police ship's officers carried on their own private trading operation, buying items on one planet to sell on another, even trading with the Federation policemen (who were doing the same thing!) patrolling the neutral zone.
        Then, one day, the ISF captain of the police cutter called him to his office along with the other officers.
       "I have just been told," the captain said, "that war will begin with the Federation within a day's time. We have been given an important assignment. We are to attend to the Federation remote warning stations, as well as some other small facilities, along the border. Our mission is to order the Federation crews to surrender, take them prisoner, interrogate them to determine if anyone is particularly valuable, and take them to a Federation colony planet and leave them there."
       The officers in the room reacted with enthusiasm. Not only was it to be war, but they had been given a real military mission, one of importance to the war effort.
       "You will be the key to this, Warrant Obaston," the captain said. "You can talk to these people, not just in their own language, but in their own cultural terms. You must convince them not to do anything stupid. Can you do that?"
       "Certainly," Obaston said, beaming with pride.