Feeling nervous was bad enough already. It was even worse if one was hunkered down by three times the gravity of Earth and an atmosphere comparable to being half-way up the Everest. At least the cooling suit was doing its job just fine and except for a few drops of sweat on his forehead he didn't present too pitiful a picture, which was good news, because he was currently waiting for an audience with the First Minister.
A tall Vulcan interrupted his thoughts and informed him that Her Excellency was now ready to see him. Unsure how he was supposed to address the equivalent of this planet's president, who also happened to be his mother-in-law, he wandered into the large chamber. The decision was taken off his hand when T'Les immediately addressed him.
"Charles, it is agreeable to see you well, sit," she said and indicated towards a chair on the opposite side of the large table she and her husband, T'Pol's father V'Nur, were sitting.
"I understand the residence of Surak's katra caused severe problems," V'Nur added while Trip took a seat. "We are relieved to see that there was no lasting damage."
In a talk with humans he would most likely have started to dribble and make retarded noises, just for comic relief, but this was the first couple of Vulcan, so a more refined approach was needed, lest he would spend the next nights in the sehlat house, or whatever Vulcan's equivalent of the proverbial dog house was.
"Thank you, sir, I struggled for a time, but it was still a worthwhile experience. It opened my eyes about Vulcan in more ways than one."
Instead of answering, the two Vulcans observed him with their eyebrows in exactly the same configuration that T'Pol used to show when she was amused.
"During my time among humans it was not common to address the parents of ones mate by a formal title," T'Pol's father noted dryly.
"Actually in the neck of the woods where I come from, it is still customary for some to say ma'am and sir, but I was unsure, because usually your mother-in-law isn't the leader of a whole planet."
"My post is inconsequential," T'Les explained. "You are quite aware of our names and it is perfectly acceptable to use them."
Trip nodded his acceptance while T'Les continued.
"T'Pol tells me that you have done extensive repairs to the estate. I wish to express my gratitude for that. It was a fairly disagreeable thought to present your new home in such dilapidated condition."
"Well, with what I know about the old government and what T'Pol told me, you certainly had more pressing issues than having the aircon fixed, so you don't need to feel bad about it. In fact, it's actually a good thing. I would not be a very companionable fella if I was forced to do nothing."
Both Vulcans accepted his explanation with a small nod.
"In between them T'Pol and the little one have so many ideas, I'll be busy for the next six months and you won't recognize your estate anymore when we're done," Trip said with a smile, remembering that he had been told numerous times by now, not to suppress his emotions."
"It is no longer ours," T'Les corrected him. "It is now yours, as of this day you are a citizen of Vulcan in good standing."
Trip sat back, stunned by that seemingly simple statement that nonetheless carried so much weight. There were lots of people who were citizens of two states on Earth, but how many were there, who were citizens of two different planets? And he got a whole friggin' estate as a welcome present on top of it.
"Wow. What can I say other than, thank you."
"It is quite customary that parents pass their estate to their firstborn when he or she takes a mate," V'Nur explained. "There is however a matter to discuss in connection with your citizenship. Both you and T'Lara will have to undergo the kahs-wan, the Vulcan maturity test."
"Something tells me that's more than a ritual washing of hands?" Trip wondered suspiciously.
"Indeed it is," T'Les supplied. "He who undergoes the kahs-wan has to survive in the Forge for ten days without weapons, food or water."
"I had hoped I would never have to go back to this place," Trip groaned, shaking his head in disbelief. "Okay, if that's needed to become a proper citizen, I'll do it, but there's no way in hell I'll send my little girl into that hellhole. You can just forget it. I'm a grown man and I nearly kicked the bucket the first time. T'Lara is not going in there, not even over my dead body."
He saw a fleeting smile on V'Nur's face, no doubt a result of his long time among humans. Both Vulcans remained quiet for several moments and Trip was just about to apologize for his language when V'Nur spoke again.
"When T'Pol told us about your deep affection for the child, we thought she was exaggerating. Now we see that, if anything, she was actually understating the facts. Such a deep connection is rare, even more so when the child has been adopted. T'Lara is indeed fortunate. You do not need to concern yourself, however, as we are not mindlessly sending our children to die. You will undergo this test toward the end of your stay in approximately seven months. At that time there will be no sand fires and predators are less active. T'Pol has survived it twice."
"She did that twice?" he asked in disbelief.
"She had to," T'Les explained. "She failed her first test. Impatient as she has always been, she insisted on taking the test a year early. She passed her second attempt. This is another aspect to consider, Charles, it is not considered a disgrace to fail your first attempt."
"And T'Lara will not be alone," V'Nur added. "You and your daughter will take the test together. Is it not customary on Earth for father and child to spend time together because human children have normally a much stronger bond with their mother?"
Trip snorted. "'Scuse me, sir, err, V'Nur; that's right, but usually we go camping, not on a survival training."
"It sounds worse than it is, Charles. T'Lara won't need food for ten days, Vulcans are quite easily able to endure that and I believe I have seen provision on the human ship that rescued me, which were small in size but could sustain a human for an entire day. There is nothing that prevents you from taking provisions for the entire time with you. Of course you could always hunt some of the wildlife."
"No thanks, I think I'll take my chances with emergency ratios," Trip said. "And what was I supposed to hunt with anyway if we can't take weapons."
"There is also nothing in the rules that prevents you from fashioning a primitive weapon within the Forge if, by any chance, you were to find a crashed surveillance ship."
Seeing the prominent 'amusement brow' on V'Nur's face, Trip had to grin as well. T'Pol's father was of course talking about the crashed ship they had scavenged to build the sail-car.
"Well, looks like we go on father-daughter extreme-camping trip then," he sighed in a mixture of fear for his little one and bemusement over yet another inane aspect of Vulcan traditions. Not even Surak's katra had mentioned that one.
"Do you have any question of your own, Charles?" T'Les asked.
Trip thought for a while and decided to put on the table what had bugged him the most.
"In fact I have two, and I think I should start with the one that worries me the most. I tend to think I try my best to be a good father, but there's no escaping the fact that I'm human and I'm afraid that T'Lara is becoming too humanized. She likes to wear human clothing, that is, if she wears clothing in the first place, she expresses her emotions and she likes physical contact a lot more than I think is normal for a Vulcan, even at her age."
To his surprise both Vulcans were amused. He had expected to be chewed out for being a bad influence on the little one.
"You are unduly concerned," T'Les replied and he was surprised about how soft her voice suddenly sounded. "We have met T'Lara two days ago when your sister Hoshi brought her here."
"That explains why they didn't come back with half the embassy's clothing stock," he muttered with a chuckle.
"I doubt you would have recognized the child as the daughter you know. She wore quite garishly colored human clothing, yet her conduct was that of a proper Vulcan, in fact she showed significantly more control over her emotions than can be expected from a child that young."
"You are right, except for the pink clothes that's definitely not the daughter I know," Trip agreed, wide-eyed with surprise.
"You do know that T'Lara is expected to become the High Priestess on Mount Seleya one day?" he was asked and Trip nodded.
"That's why I'm so worried. Can you imagine her meeting other Vulcans in a sactuary, wearing a pink robe?"
The Vulcans ignored his quip.
"We did of course ask her about that apparent conflict, and her answer was quite logical," T'Les answered. "She said that the day will come when she is expected to, as she said, 'out-Vulcan the lot'. I take it she learned that phrase from you?"
"Oops, sorry," Trip said, but could suppress a chuckle.
"However, she reasons, that day has not come yet and will not come for at least another decade, and T'Lara is determined to make the most of the time while she is still allowed what will then be unseemly. You may see her as a child, and she still is, but she is quite aware that one day many of the small gestures she cherishes so much will no longer be allowed."
Trip felt a lump in his throat, trying not to show how much the little one's consideration moved him, as he realized she could be the perfect Vulcan if she wanted to, but chose not to be for her own, but undoubtedly also his sake.
"Do not concern yourself, Charles," V'Nur added. "T'Pol might be unusual for a Vulcan, but she would clearly see if human influence would become a problem for T'Lara's development. She will alert you in time. Until that happens, continue allowing your daughter to be what she cannot be for most of her life-time and if it puts your mind at ease, I submit, also in the name of my wife, that you are a most agreeable father."
"Thanks, thank you both," Trip said, still struggling with his emotions.
"Was there another question you would like to ask?" T'Les inquired.
"Yeah, there is one, it's more of a technical nature," Trip said, thankful for the change of topic. "Well the little one asked me to build a swimming pool. That's basically a large artificial body of water. Granted, that would certainly be a big help for Hoshi and I, and T'Lara absolutely loves swimming, but I'm afraid that other Vulcans would see that as decadent behavior on a desert planet."
"Are oceans decadent, Charles?" V'Nur asked. "We have few and they are not vast, but we have them. Also, you would not have had to explain what a swimming pool is. Our clan has one. For centuries the clan's mountain retreat has featured a large communal bath, which unfortunately, like many of our clan's possessions has suffered deterioration due to the persecution we faced at the hands of the former government."
"If you need an engineer…," Trip offered with a smile and the immediate deployment of the 'giggle brow' on T'Les's face gave him all the answers he needed.
"Ouch, that's what, the third time since he's come aboard?" Malcolm asked when they heard the reverberation from something impacting one of the overhead spars in the corridor.
"I'm starting to wonder what will break first, our ship or Stevok's forehead," Travis said, twisting his face in commiseration with the pain the Vulcan must be feeling at that moment.
The door to the conference room opened and carefully bowing forward Stevok entered. He put a brave Vulcan face to it, but the fresh mark on his forehead left little doubt that he had headbutted the ship again. Enterprise definitely wasn't the best place to be in for someone who was 2.25 meters tall.
"I apologize for my delay, I..."
"We've heard it, Commander," Jon interrupted him with a look of commiseration. "I hope it's not too bad?"
"I'm accustomed to it, Captain. The average Vulcan is only one meter and seventy-five point 3 centimeters tall. I'm known for striking my head on obstacles."
Jon shook his head while Stevok took a seat. Even when sitting he towered over all of them by a head's height.
"Okay, we're two days from Andoria," Jon opened. "I would like a word from our new officers how your first days have been. Stevok, you first, please?"
"I faced very little difficulties: Obviously my predecessor, Commander T'Pol, has laid a most agreeable groundwork. I expected more difficulties for humans to take orders from a Vulcan. I seek to learn from several members of my department, what measures have been taken, as obviously I will have to gain the same trust from the crew of Columbia."
Jon accepted the explanation with a nod. "We have a way to surprise. T'Pol has kept extensive logs, I'll have them made available to you. I'm sure you can work out how to prepare for your crew."
The Vulcan accepted the offer with a grateful nod.
"Kelby?" Jon nodded towards Trip's temporary replacement.
"Unfortunately I'm having a little more problems," the Commander admitted. "Most of the time, when I give orders, people look to Lieutenant Hess as if asking for confirmation. The Lieutenant tries to stop people from doing that, but it still happens way too often."
"If I may, captain?" Malcolm chipped in and Jon nodded is permission.
"Kelby, the thing is, I think you're giving too many orders to begin with. Engineering is not a department you can run by the book. The secret why Engineering is running so well is that Trip and Anna just let the people do their jobs. The real boss, so to speak, is Master Chief Varley. That guy was on Henry Archer's engineering team, as was the guy you'll have for senior non-com on Columbia.
"Trip never meddles in the day-to-day running, let Varley do that. You meanwhile can concentrate on improving the engine."
"I can basically forget all they told us in training," Kelby noted with a slight look of frustration and Malcolm and Travis nodded.
"You have to keep in mind, those training documents and programs were made by people who have never been outside the solar system," the helmsman explained. "We are learning as we go."
"When we're back at Vulcan, I'll try to get Trip to come up for a few hours, maybe that can help," Jon said, and Kelby answered that with a nod.
"Well since our new coms officer didn't materialize due to illness, I guess we don't need to ask you, ensign Rao, or are there any problems?"
"None that I know of, except that I have a hard time understanding some of the latest modifications Hoshi has done to the UT. This stuff is way over my head."
"I'll see to it that you get an extra allotment of subspace time," Jon said with a fatherly smile. "I bet Hoshi would like to catch up, too."
Hoshi's second in command, now head of coms, smiled back at him.
"Alright, that's all for the morning," Jon said. "Get back to your posts, and Stevok, mind the door frame.
"What the hell has gotten into him?" Hoshi asked, laughing. She and T'Pol were standing in the door watching Trip cajole all over the backyard with a madly giggling T'Lara riding on his shoulders.
"I believe he has finally understood that he his not such a bad father after all," T'Pol noted drily, but Hoshi could also see the relief on the Vulcan's face. Trip's perpetual insecurities had strained the atmosphere in the house quite substantially during the last days.
"But he has forgotten that the wall is only two and a half meters high, T'Lara isn't wearing anything, and she's sitting on his shoulders," Hoshi noted with a giggle.
That got T'Pol's attention in a hurry and she put a quick end to the father-daughter shenanigans.
"Sorry," Trip apologized, completely out of breath. "We got a bit carried away there."
"Indeed you did," T'Pol agreed. "Thankfully we only have a solitary neighbor and he is at work at this time."
"That was fun," T'Lara declared and everybody in the room knew that this was an implicit request for a repeat performance.
"And you need a shower," Hoshi decreed, taking the young one by the hand. "You are dirty all over."
Once the two of them had left, T'Pol stepped closer and ran her palm over his bare torso. "You seem much more at ease now, adun. I'm pleased with that."
"Your parents helped a lot," he said. "I think I'm going to take a nap before we meet with the clan folk. Wouldn't want to appear completely knackered in front of them."
"You will need to clean up though," T'Pol reminded him. "Do you think you could spend some time helping your wife until T'Lara has finished her shower?"
"What, now?" he asked. "She could walk in on us."
"No she can't," T'Pol answered in a husky voice. "Why do you think your sister ushered her away?"
"Then why are you still wearing that robe, wife?"
Once T'Pol had demonstrated just how quickly a Vulcan could strip down to nothing, beating T'Lara's standing record in the process, he ditched his Bermudas and followed her into their bedroom.