Archive: Please ask me first.
Disclaimer: Star Trek: Enterprise is the property of CBS/Paramount. All original material herein is the property of its author.
Summary: Spoilers for The Forge. Soval, the new ambassador to Earth, finds himself at a loss regarding the workings of the human mind...until a friendly officer from Starfleet Ops offers him a little insight.
A/N: One of the high points of Season 4 for me was the revelation that Soval, Ambassador Cranky himself, was actually one of the good guys. Of course it made me wish that we could have seen more of him in future episodes and seasons...but it also got me looking backward, to Soval's early days on Earth.
This piece was originally submitted to Strange New Worlds 10, where it made the Alternates List (a "backup" list of 29 stories).
Thanks to my betas boushh, TJ, Jenna, and Llewella.
San Francisco, Earth
Soval, recently installed Vulcan Ambassador to Earth, remained seated as the Starfleet personnel and High Command representatives filed out of the conference chamber—naturally, in opposite directions. How poetically illustrative of the ideological chasm that still yawned between them. Though they exited in silence, Soval could still hear the strained frustration of the humans' voices echoing in his ears, punctuated by the implacable monotone of the Vulcans. He did not know which was worse: the Starfleet officers' defiant, naïve bluster, or the High Command's insistently dogmatic intractability.
Soval was weary of this endless daily bickering. His attitude wasn't logical, but at this moment, he did not care.
He could understand the humans' impatience; though they had possessed warp capability for decades, they remained frustratingly limited to their own system, their fervent quest to explore deep space stalled at every turn by the Vulcans. Understandable, too, was the High Command's uneasiness regarding humanity's astonishingly rapid recovery from their last global conflagration. Soval wished the Councillors would consider the benefits of having such a resilient species as an ally, rather than focus so myopically on Earth's potential to displace Vulcan as the most technologically advanced world in the quadrant.
As for himself, Soval could not remember mediating between two more disparate parties. Though each side had much to offer the other, neither seemed concerned with compromise or reason—only in achieving some form of victory over the perceived opponent.
Complicating Soval's task was the unfortunate reality that, even after eight months on Earth, he had still not discovered the key to deciphering the humans. Their unpredictability and emotionalism utterly confounded him. Soval had long considered himself quite capable as a diplomat and communicator, but an ambassador who found his adopted home and its people incomprehensible was a poor representative indeed.
As he shut his eyes, endeavoring to clear his mind of the past hour's clutter of discord and discouragement, he heard a tired but personable voice. "Headache?"
One Starfleet officer had lingered; he was pouring a glass of water from a carafe at the far end of the long conference table. Soval recognized him as the young lieutenant commander from Starfleet Operations who had made an eloquent case during this morning's meeting in support of an accelerated testing schedule for the Warp Five Project. He had been cut off by his superiors, who had then put forth a petulant demand for total autonomy, effectively ending any chance of reasonable discussion on the matter. Soval had made a mental note to make sure the young officer was not interrupted in future.
"Vulcans do not suffer from such maladies," Soval replied.
The man smiled wryly. "Lucky Vulcans. My head is killing me." He produced a small container of pills—an analgesic, in all probability—and downed two with a deep drink from his water glass.
"You showed no sign of distress during the meeting," Soval remarked. "Commendable."
The officer shrugged modestly. "I try."
"There was certainly ample cause for frustration today," Soval added dryly.
"Par for the course, Ambassador," the human replied with a chuckle.
Soval sighed inwardly at the unfathomable colloquialism. There seemed to be no end of them here. Extrapolating from the context of the reference, however, as well as the commander's attitude, Soval felt it safe to infer that this man did not emulate his more ego-driven ranking officers.
The commander brought a second glass of water to the table, setting it down before Soval, who inclined his head in thanks. The human took a seat across from him, leaning back with a relaxed sigh. Soval studied him: approximately thirty years of age, with a friendly countenance and intelligent, observant blue eyes. He seemed quite comfortable in Soval's presence, which was uncommon among humans.
Perhaps Soval had not meditated to a sufficient degree during the past several weeks, and was too fatigued to think logically. Perhaps he had simply been among the humans for too long. Whatever the reason, he found himself acting...impulsively. "Commander," he said, "I have already witnessed your skills as a burgeoning diplomat and mediator. What is your level of expertise at clarifying the enigmatic workings of the human mind?"
"Try me," the human replied easily. He sat forward, folding his hands lightly on the conference table, focusing his attention wholly on the Vulcan ambassador.
Soval nodded and began. "As your warp program has progressed and your goal of deep-space travel has approached viability, we have attempted to impress upon you the challenges—and the dangers—inherent in such an endeavor. You yourselves have seen the difficulties in the development of an efficient warp engine, the design of a superior vessel, and the selection of worthy personnel. What lies ahead are unpredictable and often hostile regions, and species that, likely as not, will be focused on conquest or annihilation rather than the peaceful exchange of cultural ideas. Yet in the face of these risks, your determination to explore beyond your system has only strengthened." Soval paused. "Commander, there is much that I don't yet understand about your people, but your disregard of danger is especially disquieting. It is...illogical."
"We don't disregard it, Ambassador," the young officer said simply. "We just take it in stride."
Soval was fascinated, and more confused than ever. "Explain."
"We're risk-takers by our very nature," the human responded. "It's what built our civilization—hell, our entire species. If we were the type to let danger deter us, then the first of our forebears would never have crawled out of the sea and taken its first breath of air."
"But surely, at some point, such reckless behavior would inevitably result in failure," Soval said in disbelief. "What use is such fierce defiance of probability and consequence when the risk is insurmountable, the task impossible?"
The commander smiled. "That's where your people and mine differ, Ambassador. When Vulcans pronounce a thing impossible, they think that's the end of it and walk away. But to us, 'impossible' is just another obstacle to overcome." He leaned back again. "Sure, we've had our failures, lots of 'em. But we evolved by clambering up mountains of hopeless dreams and scrabbling out of hellfire pits of catastrophic disappointments. Eventually—with determination, resourcefulness, and plain old stubbornness—we made the impossible possible."
Soval considered the human's words in pensive silence. The concept still seemed supremely illogical...but for some reason that he could not yet explain, he felt as if he were beginning to understand it.
The commander eyed him speculatively. "Your Surak would see it our way, I think."
The name of the Father of Logic, spoken by a human, took Soval completely by surprise. He very nearly forgot himself and displayed emotion, but with an effort he regained control, limiting his reaction to an arched eyebrow. "Indeed?"
"He took an impossible risk, didn't he, when he talked of peace to a world at war?" the man continued. "As I understand it, he and his followers walked right into the enemies' camps, armed with nothing more than radical new ideas about the laying down of weapons and the cessation of hostilities. And he succeeded in keeping Vulcan from destroying itself."
It was true. Many of the pacifists had been killed in those early days, but Surak persisted, reasoning that the logic of peace necessitated the enormous price of persuading emotion-crazed warriors to adopt a revolutionary new way of thinking. From those early, costly failures to deliver the word of Surak, the Awakening eventually arose, and the wisdom of logic prevailed.
Perhaps humans were not so incomprehensible, or so different from Vulcans, after all.
"How did you come to know of Surak?" Soval asked.
The young officer shrugged. "A little bit here, a little bit there, after many questions, over many months. Believe me, it was like pulling teeth." He gave Soval a lopsided smile. "I still don't know much. You Vulcans are pretty tight-lipped with humans about your history—and your demi-gods."
Soval was well aware that the High Command wished it so. The mystique surrounding their planet's culture and history preserved the illusion of lofty Vulcan superiority, or so the Councillors thought. Soval considered it a ridiculous policy to maintain with an ally. "Surak was not a demi-god," he said flatly, with a touch of irritation. "Nor is he regarded as one by my people. If it were left to me, such misperceptions would be rectified."
He saw the human attempt—not very diligently—to hide another smile. Belatedly realizing his emotional lapse, Soval endeavored to amend himself. "In theory, at least, misinterpretations could be corrected. Between you and me, for example. Hypothetically speaking."
The human's blue eyes twinkled merrily. "Of course. I could use a little clarification myself. Hypothetically."
Soval knew he was setting out on a perilous path. The High Command had a standing order that no one at the Embassy establish friendships with any humans. Vulcans were to remain aloof and unapproachable, the better to keep the humans at a disadvantage. If Soval pursued this new acquaintance, he must do so in secret.
Then again, it would not be the first secret he was keeping from the High Command. The carefully orchestrated campaign of disinformation that had turned Vulcan mind-melders into pariahs had compelled Soval to conceal his melding ability long ago. One more secret would be of little consequence. Truth be told, the idea of the High Command unwittingly employing a melder with a human friend gave Soval a curious satisfaction.
He stood. "For now, I must attend to my other duties."
The human rose smoothly with him. "I'm usually in my office, under a pile of paddwork. If you have any other questions, feel free to drop by."
Yes...this would be an acquaintance worth pursuing. Soval bowed gravely in acknowledgment. "Thank you, Commander. I shall."
The light touch of a hand on Soval's shoulder drew him back to the present. Jonathan Archer stood by his side, an unobtrusive, supportive presence as he shared Soval's grief.
The morning fog had burned away, revealing a sweeping view of the Golden Gate Bridge spanning the glittering blue San Francisco Bay. Soval found the sight at once majestic and serene, from this small hilltop grove.
He knelt beside the grave marker, a polished square of steel-gray granite, elegant in its simplicity. Lightly, he ran his fingers over the cool stone, tracing the etched lettering of the name he would long remember. "Rom-halan, os t'hy'la," he said softly. Farewell, old friend.
Then he rose and nodded to Captain Archer. The two men set out together down the narrow path that led to the Starfleet compound below. Behind them, a breeze sighed softly through the windswept trees, stirring the offerings of flowers that still adorned Maxwell Forrest's grave.