AN: I started writing this story in 2001 but took a long hiatus. You might have seen some of the earlier chapters back then. Recently I've come back to the story to finish it. Readers and friends have stoked my muse. Thank you so much.


Chapter 1: Meeting Dr. Birdsong


Moira blew on her half-frozen hands and prepared to commit academic suicide: an 8 a.m. grad-level linguistics course with an as-yet-unpublished required reading list and an unnamed visiting professor. Yeah, okay. Looked like the gods of late-registration were determined to sacrifice her on the alter of unholy earliness this semester.

A Starbucks venti steamed under her chin, and her fingers wrapped around it for warmth. So far only she and one really nervous dark-haired guy had arrived for class. She'd been studiously ignoring the dude so far, but if he didn't quit staring at her soon, she was gonna pop.

Then a blond chick waltzed in, all decked out in an army surplus jacket and tall leather hiking boots. Her hair was a wild tangle, but Moira knew a half dozen guys who'd fall over themselves to get inside those gray-camo pants. Amazing how some girls could look luminous in absolutely no make-up and dirty fingernails.

"Good morning," the blonde chick singsonged. She glanced around the near-empty classroom and raised one eyebrow. "Is this the entire class?"

Moira resisted glancing over at the dark-haired dude, but at least she didn't feel his gaze boring into her anymore. Whew. She took a sip of her tar-like coffee.

"I guess. So far, anyway," she muttered.

The blonde shrugged and unzipped her backpack. "Very well. My name is Dierdre," she said. "I'll be your TA this semester. We will get started in a bit: Dr. Birdsong is usually a little late for these early-morning classes."

"Wish I'd been," mumbled Moira. "Could've used the extra sleep. Guess the prof ain't a morning person either. That's cool."

"Morning pers ... ah. Well, as to that, Dr. Birdsong has a few morning rituals to perform before he begins his day," Dierdre said, shifting her gaze like it was a big mystery what the prof did in the morning. Probably something utterly stodgy and professorish, like doing the New York Times crossword or waxing his mustache. "In the mean time, here's the syllabus and required reading." Dierdre fished deep in her backpack and produced some Xeroxes.

As she was passing out the papers, two more students filtered in: a petite Asian-looking girl and a guy wearing a heinous floppy fisherman's cap and a nappy orange sweater. The guy slid into the seat beside the nervous dark-haired kid in the corner, and they nodded to each other in that dorky chin-dip way some guys affected. They looked like thwo peas in a socially atrophied pod; Moira wasn't surprised that they knew each other, though. Geeks were like that.

"Guess Dr B isn't here yet," said nappy-orange sweater.

"Nah. Morning rituals 'n' shit," replied nervous dude, chewing on his nubby fingernail. Looked like he did that a lot.

Moira pretended to ignore them but wondered … it sounded like they knew something in advance about the visiting prof. Or they wanted to seem in the know. She absently waited for one of them to explain further. They didn't of course. Geeks were like that, too: Always bringing shit up and then not explaining about it.

Bopping between bored and irritated, Moira scanned the reading list, yawned, and then read it again. On the third try, some of the meaning slipped in past her dewy half-hangover.

"We're reading the Klingon dictionary? Whatthefuh?" Had she said that out loud? She expected the TA to be shocked or offended or something. About the last thing she expected was Dierdre's low chuckle.

"Yes. I suppose the course description was kind of vague, mm? Dr. Birdsong is an expert on artificial language sociology. That is, the created worlds and peoples linked to made-up languages."

Uh huh.

The Asian girl exhaled loudly, kind of like a teen-chick at a boy-band concert. Moira caught herself before she rolled her eyes. She still wasn't ruling out dropping this class, but it wouldn't be a good move to make enemies, just in case she needed study partners later. For projects 'n' shit. A lifetime of anonymous public schools had taught Moira how to game this system, and she was something of an expert in that arena. Mentally she reviewed course offerings in this degree-plan slot and wondered if there was still space in upper-division physical anthropology...

"You know, my major is Spanish, not made-up languages. This is definitely gonna count for my credits, right?" Moira asked the TA. Because, dude, what good was it to wake up for an 8 a.m. class when it didn't count for your degree?

"Um, I think so. The linguistics department is very open to this line of study," Dierdre explained. "Some people in the field think it gives you some ways to structure the study of other languages, like…"

She might have gone on for-freakin-ever, but that's when Dr. Birdsong decided to show up, and Dierdre, like everyone else in the room, fell silent and stared as he walked over to the big desk in the corner and started unzipping his backpack.

He was hot.

Like-whoa, deep-fried, finger-lickin' hot. Platinum blond hair was braided down to his ass, and he wore soft, loose clothes and comfy-looking hiking boots. He was tall, probably about 6' 4'', and porcelain-doll beautiful.

Awake for the first time this semester, Moira decided that, damn-skippy she could wake up for an 8 a.m. class. And maybe even learn Klingon.