Some Notes About This Story
This is intended to be a full-length, slow burn romance between an original Vulcan male character and an original human female character. Apart from the romance, I will explore the existence of people beyond the central Federation in a way that may seem non-canonical at first glance. There are many canonical discrepancies about when and how the Federation did away with money and poverty and it's no secret that the exact nature of the Federation economy is difficult to characterize.
It is widely accepted that poverty on Earth was eliminated at some point well before the 24th century, but this doesn't appear to be universally true throughout the Federation, particularly in remote colony worlds or outposts. Earth might have been a utopia, but there were still incidences of famine on places like Tarsus IV and Cygnia Minor and the Starfleet officers on Deep Space Nine seemed to use some form of currency to interact with the various species on the remote space station. A big thank you to catstop and RemusJ for their advice and encouragement.
Part I: Lost
"Everyone can master a grief but he that has it."
–William Shakespeare, Much Ado About Nothing
Dagny bounced the squirming toddler on her hip but her feeble effort did little to quell his agitation. Henrik continued to whine and reach for the odd assortment of medical supplies in the worn plastic container and she continued to keep them just out of his reach while struggling to keep the inventory straight in her head. Her little brother's frustrated grunts threatened to boil over into irrational wailing, but she was almost done.
Suddenly the cart lurched, sending the container's contents skittering across the floor. She gritted her teeth and wheeled around to face the culprit. Make that culprits.
"Sigurd! Sigrid! How many times have I told you to stop running in the clinic?" she snapped. "This is not a play area!"
Sigurd cowered but Sigrid, his twin sister, made a desperate dash for the door to avoid punishment. Henrik started shrieking and Dagny was certain she was going to lose her mind. "Ingrid!"
Her fifteen year-old sister's head popped around the clinic's dividing screen. She made eye contact with Dagny and sighed. Without uttering a word, Ingrid shooed their little brother out of the clinic's back room and chased down the dark corridor after Sigrid.
Dagny sunk to her knees and started collecting the scattered supplies from the dingy floor. Henrik's cries reached a fever pitch and she adjusted the little boy on her hip and tried to calm him. A piercing communications test crackled over the ship's intercom, sending shivers down her spine and rendering her little brother completely inconsolable.
"Give him here," said a steady voice behind her.
"Gladly," Dagny muttered, hoisting herself to a standing position to pass off the screaming toddler. Her eyes lingered on her mother's bulging stomach. "Why did you have to have so many kids?"
She meant it as a joke, but the words came out sour and scornful. Sofie Skjeggestad was working on baby number fourteen and Dagny was exhausted from playing surrogate mother to her growing litter of brothers and sisters.
"There's not much else to do on these long, deep space routes." Her mother smiled. Dagny did not.
She made a face and returned to her hands and knees to collect the hypospray canisters and tricorder assemblies. She wasn't even eighteen years old but felt like she was fast approaching fifty.
Being third of thirteen children—soon to be fourteen—on an intergenerational salvage ship was a full time job. Now that she was working seven days a week in the clinic, she was amazed she ever found time for sleep.
"Do you have the list of supplies for your father?" her mother asked. "We're due to enter standard orbit in eight hours and you know he doesn't like last minute surprises."
"I was trying to put it together but it's hard to stay focused." She tossed the plastic container back on the cart and picked up the PADD to make several notes. The corner of the glass screen was chipped, but she was used to broken things—a natural result of too many children and not enough money.
They were due to arrive in orbit of Vulcan in less than a day and the clinic was in desperate need of resupply. She already knew how the exchange would go. She would submit her supply list to the ship's captain, her father Emil, and he would reject it, telling her to be realistic. They would argue back and forth, eventually coming to a compromise that left neither of them happy.
It wasn't as though Dagny was wasteful or lacked improvisational skills. During an ion storm two months ago, she'd been forced to turn ladders into makeshift stretchers when several of the plasma conduits had overloaded and sent a quarter of the engineering crew on duty to her patchwork clinic. Unless her father wanted her to care for the 141 people aboard the Albret with witchcraft and watery chicken noodle soup, he would have to agree to at least some of her requisition request.
"Oh, and when you get a spare minute, could you give Hedda's hair a quick trim? It's falling over her eyes again."
Dagny smirked. She couldn't remember the last time she'd really had a spare minute or exactly how and when she'd been designated Skjeggestad family barber, but truth be told, she could give a pretty fair haircut. "If you can make her sit still, I can probably find time tonight."
"Thank you. Oh, and it seems to me you have a birthday coming up in about a week," her mother said casually.
Dagny was well aware. In exactly eight days she would be eighteen—the legal age of majority. The age she could legally take off from the Albret and no one could do anything about it. Legally.
"Anything special you want for your birthday dinner?"
"Whatever you make will be fine."
Her mother rested her hand on her forearm and smiled. "I don't know what we would do without you."
There was the usual slow trickle of guilt that came from someone reminding her of how essential she was, which had a unique way of throwing cold water on her goals. Dagny was constantly overwhelmed but so was everyone else. There was so much to do and so little with which to do it; never enough help but somehow also too many mouths to feed. She wasn't afraid of hard work, but she wanted a different life.
She was jealous of her older brothers, Aksel and Benjamin, because they spent their days working down on the engineering decks with Arvid and never had to deal with tantrums or runny noses or fighting with Johan and Olav to do their lessons. Why couldn't her younger brothers understand how important education was?
Dagny would have given anything to go to a proper school, but education aboard the Albret wasn't exactly a priority. Lessons revolved around life on a salvage ship, so the Skjeggestad children learned exactly everything they needed to know and nothing they didn't. By the time she was twelve, Dagny could recite various Federation docking and shipping regulations by heart or calculate the net profit on fifty tons of duranium scrap metal in her head, but she knew almost nothing about history, philosophy, government or any of the things "cultured" people seemed to know about.
Her life had changed two years ago when her Aunt Birgitte—who wasn't really her aunt but might as well have been because she'd helped deliver Dagny and all of her siblings—died in an asteroid impact during a rescue operation on a remote planetoid in the Bolarian sector. Birgitte had been the only person aboard the Albret with formal medical training and her death had left an opening in the ship's clinic. Since Dagny had spent countless hours in the clinic with her Aunt Birgitte, hiding from her vast and needy family, she became the ship's de facto medical provider.
Her father had even sent her to attend a year-long paramedic course at Deneva Station and it was there Dagny learned she loved medicine. Caring for others was in her nature, even if it sometimes felt like a tiresome chore. It was why her siblings, all the children on the ship, really, always came to her with their bruises and skinned knees and why her mother relied on her to help watch over the chaotic Skjeggestad brood.
Her sisters Ingrid and Frida weren't much younger than herself, but neither of them possessed the same quiet, caring instinct of their elder sister. Ingrid always had her mind lost in one of her fantasy stories and Frida was usually off with the Karlsen sisters on the upper decks. Dagny had no idea what they did all day and didn't care, but she fought with Frida more than any of her other siblings because she wished she would be more responsible. She had never even seen Frida change a diaper.
Dagny turned to the small computer station in the corner of the room to transfer the data from the PADD. The duotronic monitor flickered to life, displaying the image of the human heart she'd been studying right before Ingrid had stopped by to unburden herself of Henrik. Her eyes rested on the Terran medical school entrance exam study guide. She felt the corners of her mouth drift into a sad frown as she switched to the ship's logistical programs.
Dagny wanted an education, and not just any education. She wanted to go to medical school. She'd never told a soul because what good would it do? Her mother could barely handle her brothers and sisters and leaving would destroy her father.
"Nothing matters more than family," he would say. He was always saying that.
Even if she could convince him he had plenty of other children who could carry on the family salvage business, he'd spent all that money to send her to Deneva so she could come back to the Albret and work in the ship's clinic. She at least owed him for that. She owed everyone.
Aside from the transient crew members who came and went on different contracts, there were fifteen generational families aboard the ship and they'd all chipped in to send her to paramedic training. They were counting on her, and taking years off to go to an expensive medical school seemed like a selfish pipe dream. She hadn't given up on becoming a doctor, but she had resigned herself to taking a slower, more indirect approach. She was trying to get Ingrid, Frida, or Hedda interested in medicine. She wanted an apprentice in the hopes that someday one of them might take up the torch so she could finally leave the Albret and have a life of her own, but Ingrid only cared about books, Frida only cared about herself, and Hedda was only five.
"Bridge to clinic," rasped her father's voice through the communicator mounted to the doorway. Intership communications seemed to be working again. For now.
She took care to pinch the toggle just right—it was loose and wouldn't work otherwise—and replied, "Yes, dad?"
"I need your requisition within the hour. Bridge out."
As she dictated her list of supplies to the ship's computer, she tried shifting her mood. Like her father always said, "Negativity never accomplished anything."
She was excited to visit Vulcan. She heard it was a hot planet where the temperature was around forty degrees Celsius. Dagny wouldn't even describe the Albret as warm—environmental controls were normally kept to ten degrees to avoid putting excess strain on the ship's systems. Coats, hats, scarves, and gloves were cheap and readily abundant: energy was not.
She'd read about Vulcans and their strange religion and was fascinated by the fact that they had no emotions. They also supposedly looked a lot like humans but had pointed ears and hemocyanic blood. They had green blood.
She'd encountered more species in the last year than most humans met in their entire lives, but she'd never met a Vulcan. She'd never met many humans outside the ship she called home. The Albret rarely got deep into Federation space since most salvage operations took place on the frontier or in remote sectors.
Dagny and about two thirds of the crew were from Earth, originally from somewhere called Norway, but she'd never actually stepped foot on the planet of her ancestors. Her own parents hadn't been there since they were kids. The Skjeggestads had been salvagers since the earliest days of interstellar travel, going back six generations. People came and went over the decades, sometimes as individuals and sometimes as whole families, but the Skjeggestads were a constant fixture on the Albret.
She finished her requisition request, sent it to the captain, and then slumped down on the short stool at the end of the decrepit biobed. Daniel had found a way to seal the bed's cracked glass with liquid tape and so far, the repair seemed to be holding. She wheeled herself back to the computer and resumed her studies on the human heart, teasing apart the differences of the atrioventricular and semilunar valves and memorizing the layers of the heart wall. Even if she never made it to medical school, no one could ever fault her for expanding her knowledge base.
Twenty minutes later she received a strongly worded message from her father about the ship not being made of money and she cracked her knuckles, preparing to defend every single item on her requisition request. She wasn't asking for her own private moon, she just wanted some basic pain relievers and burn salve. And maybe a new chemical synthesizer. And would it kill the ship to invest in biobed that didn't have origins in the 21st century?
She finished composing her counter offer and sent it off for a second rejection when a blond head poked its way through the door and startled her. "Mother says dinner's almost ready," Johan announced. "We're having fläskpannkaka."
"My mouth is already watering," she grinned. "Let's go."
She followed her ten year-old brother down the cramped walkways of the lower decks to their family's quarters. Beta shift had just ended and the corridors were full of people on their way to work or just leaving it. She narrowly avoided bumping into one of the fire-haired Larsen brothers and averted her eyes so he wouldn't see her blush when he shot her a wink and a smile.
The Larsens were definitely a good-looking lot but the last thing she wanted was to end up like her mother—thirteen children and one on the way. Her mother had been her age when she'd had her oldest brother Aksel, which was a strange thought. Dagny loved children, but she never seriously thought about becoming a mother. She had too much to do and babies were experts at slowing people down.
Dagny turned the corner and nearly tripped over three-year-old Alf Karlsen, who was sobbing and lying prostrate on the walkway. Alf had been the first baby Dagny had ever delivered under her Aunt Birgitte's watchful eye; she'd delivered nine babies since. Her future brother or sister would make it ten. A strange wave of pride swept over her as she smirked and knelt down on one knee. "What's wrong, Alf?"
"Lars took my ball," he whimpered, sitting up to face her.
She shrugged. "Go take it back."
His face scrunched into deep thought as he considered her advice. "I can do that?"
"Why not?" she asked. "Let's get you up."
She stood and hauled him to his feet by his tiny wrists, and soon he was scampering after his thieving older brother. His innocence made her smile. Life on the Albret was as simple as it was complicated. It wasn't what she wanted, but it was what she knew.
"Husband." Voris could not deny the sound of his wife's voice pleased him.
"What is the purpose of your communication?"
"I will be returning to Vulcan much sooner than anticipated."
"I was informed yesterday that because I have failed to utilize eighty days of what humans call 'vacation time,' I am eligible to receive it at the end of my fellowship. I shall arrive on Vulcan in four days."
T'Sala's eyes seemed to shine through the holographic screen. "I await you. Have you spoken with your father?"
"He has not yet arrived, but is due to arrive in thirty minutes."
"I see. Will you-" The signal flickered and her expression changed.
"Is something the matter?"
"I do not know," she admitted. "There was a moment of mild seismic activity."
"Peculiar," Voris replied.
"I should investi-" Her words were cut short and half a second later, the entire signal was terminated.
There was no logic in worrying. Seismic activity was uncommon in Gol, but not entirely unheard of.
He would be reunited with her in four days' time and until then, he would occupy himself with packing his belongings and preparing to leave the planet. Rather than do either of those things, he elected to light a pair of meditation candles and mentally brace himself for his father's visit.
Voris' eyes trailed along the wall of his small apartment, noting the unusual texture concealed by the globs of uneven mauve paint. Humans had strange ornamental preferences, but humans were a strange species. He'd once expressed this sentiment to Dr. Kayala, his closest human mentor, who had agreed with him. Voris had lived among them for five years, fourteen days, measured in their years. He lowered himself to his knees and closed his eyes, but a short time later the door buzzed and his eyes flicked open. Silek was four minutes early.
Voris rose from the meditative kneeling position and extinguished the candles. He opened the door, nodded to his guest, formed his right hand into the ta'al and said, "Live long and prosper, father."
"Live long and prosper," Silek replied in the customary greeting.
"Hello, Vernon!" called a feeble voice from behind his guest. Silek turned, allowing Voris a glimpse of his landlady's mildly senile mother, who was waving at him from across the hall with a dust rag. "Is this a friend of yours from the service?"
Though he had told Mrs. DePaulo his name on numerous occasions, she remained convinced his name was Vernon and that he'd fought in the Xindi wars. She didn't even seem to recognize he was an alien, or perhaps didn't care.
"Good morning, Mrs. DePaulo," Voris responded. "This is my father, Silek. Father, this is-"
"Oh, that's very nice," Mrs. DePaulo interrupted, retreating into her apartment and slamming the door.
His father glanced at him, obviously seeking an explanation for her bizarre behavior. Voris had learned from her daughter Cynthia that she suffered from a slow, degenerative mental disease brought on by a botched attempt at cellular regeneration during the early days of human anti-aging therapies.
Many of his neighbors mocked her, but Voris could not understand why. He'd never heard her speak ill of anyone, aside from the Xindi or the Klingons. During the winter months, she offered him cakes stuffed with dried fruit for an antiquated Earth holiday called Christmas. Despite her eccentricities, the elderly woman was among the kindest humans Voris knew, though truthfully, he didn't know many humans particularly well outside the handful of doctors and nurses he interacted with at the hospital.
"She is my landlady's mother. She is ill," Voris explained, standing aside to allow his father to enter the tiny dwelling. The apartment was sufficient to meet his needs, but was quite different from the elegant estate of his upbringing. The subtle narrowing of his father's eyes indicated he disapproved of the sparsely furnished single room with the peculiar color scheme.
"Your own mother sends her greetings," Silek said, turning to face his son.
"I spoke with her yesterday," Voris replied.
He conversed with his mother every fourteen days to relay the status of his well-being and transmit any relevant news. He often sought his mother's guidance—T'Para was one of Vulcan's most honored healers and Voris had chosen to follow her path and pursue medicine. His father had never voiced his disappointment in Voris' chosen career, but it was an easy deduction to make.
His family had been active in diplomatic affairs for centuries and he knew Silek would have preferred his only son to continue the tradition, just as Skon, his father, had done before him. Unfortunately, Voris had never possessed any interest or aptitude for diplomacy and believed medicine was much more suited to his interests.
"I received your message about your early return to Vulcan," his father remarked. "Have you secured a posting?"
"I have been offered a number of positions," Voris confessed. "I have yet to accept an offer, but I am considering a position at the hospital on Vega Colony."
"An Earth colony."
It was logical to presume the statement was intended as a challenge more than a matter of fact. "I have spent five years on Earth pursuing a fellowship in interspecies medicine. It is logical to select a position that would enhance my professional experience."
"Logical, yes, if one intends to practice medicine."
Voris knew his father had assumed, or perhaps hoped, that Voris would follow the example of his Uncle Sarek, who had a number of degrees in scientific fields but still ultimately assumed the family mantle of diplomacy. Yet Voris had spent twenty-eight years in his quest to become a healer and did not intend to squander his education. He possessed advanced degrees in applied chemistry and genetics from the Institute of Gol, a medical degree with a specialty in emergency medicine from the Vulcan Science Academy, and now a second specialty in interspecies medicine.
"I do intend to practice medicine," he explained. "Vulcan requires healers as much as it requires diplomats."
"Vulcan has many talented healers."
"And many talented diplomats," Voris replied. "I do not count myself among them."
Silek's eyes narrowed as he considered his son. His father was a skilled advocate and had spent the past three decades in service to their home world, filling a number of positions from legal attaché to the Vulcan consulate on Andoria to serving as arbiter of countless interplanetary negotiations. He was currently on Earth to help settle a dispute between the Federation and Coridan trade partners.
Voris believed his father's disapproval of his son's chosen profession was illogical. Voris's sisters, T'Liri and L'Nai, had bowed to Silek's wishes to study law and had taken positions in diplomacy and public service respectively, and thus the family tradition had been maintained. Furthermore, most of his mother's relations were healers, and therefore Voris was continuing a family tradition.
"I urge you to reconsider," Silek said at long last.
"As I said, I have yet to confirm any commitments and must discuss it with my mate."
His father nodded. "As you have no children to consider, I fail to understand what there is to discuss."
Voris felt a momentary sensation of mild irritation and immediately suppressed it. T'Sala was unable to bear children but she was still his mate, the very mate his father had chosen for him at age seven. They had been bonded according to the Vulcan custom but unlike so many others, their bond had persevered.
Though they'd only seen each other on four separate occasions in the past five years, they remained quite devoted to one another, and this caused his father further disappointment. Silek had antiquated ideas on a female's duty to provide her mate with progeny and when it became evident they would never have children even with medical intervention, he'd pressed Voris to have the marriage annulled, and Voris' refusal had deepened the divide between them.
"I have not accepted a position, yet I would be remiss if I did not make it explicit that I do not intend to follow a diplomatic path," Voris replied.
Silek's lips pursed slightly as he gazed at his son. "My brother Sarek has need of a private healer who would be able to accompany him on interplanetary diplomatic missions. He is willing to extend an offer to you."
Voris tucked his hands behind his back and deliberated his father's thinly veiled attempt to sway his judgment. Silek's mention of his estranged brother was a curious turn in his argument. Sarek and Silek had not spoken for many years, but it was logical to conclude that was no longer the case if Silek knew his elder brother was seeking a private healer.
"My Uncle Sarek is a highly respected diplomat who could easily obtain the services of a more experienced healer than myself."
"I do not imagine there are many with your particular qualifications."
"To which qualifications do you refer?"
"Your expertise in interspecies medicine."
His father was certainly referring to his peculiar Aunt Amanda, whom Voris had never met. He could not understand why a distinguished Vulcan ambassador would elect to take a human mate, but his uncle's personal life was none of his concern.
"I have no inclination to travel frequently," Voris replied. "Kindly inform your brother I am unable to accept his offer."
"I can see that we have nothing further to discuss."
Voris bowed his head slightly and began to walk his father to the door when his PADD chirped five times, indicating an emergency message. The PADD tucked into Silek's coat echoed a similar tune moments later. They exchanged glances and reached for their respective devices.
Voris read the message from the Vulcan consulate on Earth and immediately began to consider the grave implications. The Federation was on high alert. Vulcan was under attack and a planet-wide evacuation of their home world had just been put into effect.
"I must go to the consulate," Silek announced. "Excuse me."
"I shall come with you," Voris replied, grabbing his cloak from the entry closet.
Rather than protest, Silek nodded. The two men strode from the small apartment and down the stairs to the ground floor without another word. Voris initiated a broadcast link to his mate at their home in Gol, but communications to Vulcan did not appear to be getting through. Voris tucked his PADD into his wide breast pocket and lengthened his stride.
Speculation was illogical, but he had a sense that life as he knew it was in the process of being irrevocably altered.