The Pon T'Keshtan
By Mary K. Hanson
Limited Copyright © 2010
This is the beta-ed version of this chapter. My thanks, as always, to my great beta Fartrider for all of the wonderful editting and continuity alerts!
There was a time when I would have refused to share a shuttle with Sybok, Sarek wrote in his personal journal over breakfast. After his banishment from Vulcan, for attempting to recruit others to the heretical path of the V'tosh ka'tur, there were no shared spaces or words exchanged between us; only stony silence and the distance of miles, temperaments, and ideals. My pride and devotion to the Vulcan Way would allow for nothing else. However, things are different now. I am different in small but profound ways, and that realization sometimes astonishes me.
Since the death of my beloved Amanda, and the destruction of my world, I have come to understand a previously hidden truth: all that I have in the Universe of any value are my children, and to be separated from them by philosophy or statute is both unfathomable and unacceptable. My sons, no doubt, will find this a remarkable revelation, since our personalities and ideologies still clash. I suppose that will always be a sticking point for us, but it is not insurmountable.
I admit, and this is not easy for me, that I was so overcome with emotion when Sybok first arrived aboard the Enterprise, I had to excuse myself from the Transporter Room lest I make a spectacle of myself. I wandered the corridors before finding myself, as I often had in the past, sitting beside Amanda - this time beside her vre'katra - allowing my thoughts, confusion, and pain to pour into her. Her katra was as much a soothing balm to my mind and spirit as she herself had been throughout our marriage. As much as I had complained that her Human emotions chafed against my Vulcan sensibilities, I know now they had also acted as a counterweight to my stoicism and control, making me a more balanced and reasonable individual. When Sybok was banished, Amanda had cried, as only a mother could cry over a child who had lost one parent to death and the other to a clash of wills. Over this new world, her katra cried again, begging me once more to welcome Sybok back openly, without an agenda, without conditions – and this time, I agreed.
To test my new convictions, when Sybok sought me out after the dinner party, I agreed to converse with him. We spoke throughout the night about our pasts, our accomplishments, and our future goals. I am pleased he has continued studying Vulcan history and philosophy, and that he even has his own copy of the Kir'Shara.(1) He told me that he meditates regularly, and keeps a journal of his dreams. For his part, he seemed pleased that I am heading the Fonn Vuhlkansu delegation, and he said he could tell my relationship with Spock has improved... which it has.
Between them, I worry less about Spock than I do about Sybok. In his own way, and in his own time, Spock seems to have found himself. He is no longer the wounded, sulky child of two worlds; he has forged a place and a future for himself among people who support, complement, and are good for him. I am most pleased by his choice of a mate, and by how he is settling affairs in the wake of the Ek'tevan Prerogative. I am less certain about Sybok, however.
I find that my eldest son is still too much in his head, too abstruse, too metaphysical in his thinking. While he exists in this world, within the confines of reality, I sense he wishes to escape to another plane. He continues to search for Sha Ka Ree, not with the same fanaticism as before, but still fervently. That fever consumed and eventually killed his mother, and I fear it may devour him as well. It is good, therefore, that he has found his way back to his people, and to Spock, who has always supported his older brother while stabilizing him at the same time.
It gives me comfort to know they have one another again.
Sarek had originally planned for the Fonn Vuhlkansu delegation to beam into the Cathedral just before the Council Meeting began, but Sa'aat's whole-building security measures made that nearly impossible. Sarek was also concerned about beaming the pregnant delegation members to the surface; they seemed to be growing increasingly fragile as the pon t'keshtan approached. He decided, therefore, to shuttle to the planet's shuttle-port, where Sa'aat would have a security squad waiting for them, and walk to the Cathedral from there. His vessel, the Rala, was too small to carry the entire delegation, and although Sa'aat's vessel could hold them all, the Haulat would not fly unless Sa'aat was aboard, and Sa'aat was busy with safety details on the planet. In the end, Sarek, his pilot, Gilgreni, Serran and Sybok left the Enterprise in the Rala, while the rest of the delegation followed in the Federation shuttlecraft Obama. Sybok had been openly surprised by Sarek's invitation to accompany him to the surface, and Sarek had explained, "It is logical that we travel together, since I have a vessel and our destination is the same." Sybok had grinned brightly at that, and as the Rala headed toward New Vulcan, he sat across the aisle from Sarek, still grinning.
"Will Spock join us on the surface, as well, Father?"
"He has made it clear that he will not set foot on New Vulcan again until the Ek'tevan Prerogative has been abolished. If we successfully address that issue during the Council Meeting, as I believe we will, he may make an appearance as part of the Federation's delegation."
"And... what of your other son? I've heard you'll soon have a son by the Lady T'Makh. Will they be joining us?"
"The Lady is unable to leave her hospital bed, so I will meet her prior to entering the Cathedral."
"You haven't met her yet?"
"We have not spoken in person, no, but there are... private matters which need to be discussed, face-to-face, before the child is born."
"She is the only one giving you a child?"
"Yes. Although, I was mated to two women under the edict, T'Makh was the only one impregnated. Given my age, that is not surprising."
"Please, you're as fertile as a young -"
"Do not elucidate."
Sybok acquiesced with a nod and a smirk. "As you wish, Father. When you visit her, may I accompany you? I would like the opportunity to see how she compares to my previous step-mother."
"There is no comparison. However, on this trip, I would prefer to go alone."
"Ah, I see. You don't want to spring all of your odd family on her at once. That's probably wise." Sarek didn't respond, and Sybok pretended for a few moments to be interested in the view through the porthole on his side of the shuttle. "Will you be bonding with her?"
Sarek hardened a little inside at the question. "Are you always so preoccupied with others' personal relations?"
Sybok turned back to him. "It was a simple question, Father."
"- One which encroaches on a private matter. You did the same to Spock last night, pursuing a discussion of his relationship with Lieutenant Uhura when he repeatedly asked that the subject be dropped."
"He's my little brother, and I was teasing him; he understood that."
"I am your father. You will show me deference." Not as changed as you believed yourself to be, Sarek thought to himself. Your eldest child is back in your life, and you still spend your time arguing over trivialities. "I -" Sarek started, making an effort to mitigate the annoyance from his tone. "I am concerned your penchant for humor and mischief may result in the other delegates not taking your opinions and requests seriously, Sybok. As the leading representative for the V'tosh ka'tur at the Council Meeting, you must be able to comport yourself with some measure of decorum."
"You fear I will embarrass you."
"No. I fear you will embarrass yourself - and those who look upon you for leadership."
"Your concern lies in the belief that only stoicism and control, and a lack of emotional inference, will win the day."
"Logic dictates - "
"Logic, in its purest form, Father, has never dictated that one be emotionally deficient or detached from the subject matter. You must admit, it is often the most impassioned speech that brings an audience to its feet. I can follow logic; I can reason soundly and argue convincingly while enjoying myself in the process."
"You will be speaking to Vulcans. They may not appreciate your... enjoyment."
"Perhaps. But I will be speaking to Vulcans who are open enough, on this day, to allow me to speak; Vulcans who, only a month ago, would have refused any contact with me whatsoever. There is a profound shift in ideology taking place among our people, Father; can't you feel it?"
"I do," Sarek admitted; he even felt it within himself. It had brought him into a leadership position among the Fonn Vuhlkansu, and allowed him to speak to Sybok as a son again. "However, the traditionalist sects still outnumber the revisionists, Sybok. They hold the majority."
"For now, perhaps; but not forever."
"Diplomacy demands you learn to speak to them in their terms, in their style."
"They, in turn, will need to learn to capitulate to mine." Sybok leaned toward Sarek, his forearms on his thighs, his fingers loosely interlaced. "Clinging to the old ways, simply because they are old, is stagnating, Father. You know this; you are the one who taught it to me. You said societies must be vibrant, adaptive, and transmutational in order to survive."
"The Vulcan culture has survived for millennia by - "
"By accepting changes, first from our warrior heritage to our peaceful one, and now from our exclusionist traditions to more accepting ones. We are an adaptive species, but sometimes we require what Humans call a 'kick in the pants'; we have to leap forward into the void with the faith we won't plummet into an abyss. We are at the tipping point, Father. Change is as imminent as it is necessary. We must adapt as a people, or stagnate and die."
"Speak like that at the Council Meeting, my son, and your sect's agenda may yet prevail."
"Thank you, Father."
"Just... steer clear of musing about shared visions and utopian mythology."
Sybok chuckled. "You know me too well."
"Truly, Sybok, there are moments when I believe I do not know you at all. I understand a mother's influence on her child, but... did I have no influence on your personality at all?"
"Of course you did. Where do you think I got my stubborn streak from, my temper?" Sybok joked.
"Is that how you perceive me? As bad-tempered and intractable?"
"When I was a child, yes."
"You never gave an inch."
"Indecision and vacillation are the heralds of chaos. I was resolute. I attempted to teach you to be decisive and unflinching."
"I am. Be careful what you wish for, Father," Sybok smiled.
"I never wished for you to be so... recalcitrant; and I never wished that your headstrong nature would make us enemies. We have been too long on opposite sides of the table, Sybok. If we are going to endure as father and son, we must find some common ground and cling to it."
"We have common ground, Father," Sybok said. "It is you: Sarek of Vulcan."
"I do not understand."
"When I was a child, I'll admit I saw you as tyrannical, a taskmaster with an honesty that sometimes bordered on brutal. However, with time and distance, I recognized that what seems to be your outward inflexibility is a byproduct of your philosophical tenacity and your cultural pride. That is what you passed on to your sons, Father. Your tenacity, reflected in Spock, caused him to stand against the Ek'tevan Prerogative when he believed it to be unjust, and your tenacity within me caused me to pursue my own path with equal determination. Your example also made us - makes us - proud to be Vulcans, although we may not always be the kind of Vulcans you wish us to be. You've always held us to a standard of behavior, to which you yourself had been held, and at which you wholly succeeded. You always believed we could reach that standard. You demonstrated faith in our character and honor, on countless occasions, whatever our personal philosophies were; your faith sustained us throughout our childhoods, regardless of the turmoil we faced, and continues to sustain us to this day. You are our common ground, Father: your resolve, your inviolability, the model you set for us. I would not be the man I am now, if you were not always the man you have ever been; and I mean that as a compliment."
"That was... gracious," Sarek said quietly, turning to look out his porthole at the planet below in order to hide the up-swell of emotion threatening to fracture his Vulcan façade. "Thank you."
The largest of New Vulcan's three landmasses was visible: its narrow shorelines rimmed with plant life, giving way to long expanses of desert with rippling dunes, and extensive, gleaming, black obsidian-spined mountains dotted with the gaping mouths of silent but still active volcanoes. Beyond the shore, the turgid sea roiled with unceasing movement. It wasn't home, and yet it could be; an old way of life and a new beginning all rolled into one.
After a few moments, Sybok settled back, and grinning mischievously, asked, "So... are you going to bond with Lady T'Makh or not?"
"I wondered where you'd gotten off to," Nyota stood in the doorway of the Horticulture Department's main laboratory. Spock, leaning over the Vulcan plants he had cultivated, glanced at her over his shoulder.
"I will only be a moment," he said.
Nyota strode towards him, looking briefly at the Petri dishes, terrariums and plant samples scattered around the room as Spock carefully disengaged the plants from their gravity belts. An anti-grav pallet floated a few inches above the floor to his right. "You're sending them away?"
"It has always been my intention to donate them, perhaps to an arboretum or a farm on New Vulcan." Spock set one of the smaller plants onto the pallet and centered it, then set a larger plant next to it. "Now, they will serve another purpose. I have agreed to relinquish them to the Triumvirate to be presented as a Tan Na'Sular (2) at the start of the Council Meeting, a symbol of transplantation, and the ability of Vulcans to reestablish themselves on a new world and survive and thrive there."
"Ooo, I like that idea," Nyota said, certain it had been, at least in part, Spock's own. She helped him hoist the larger sash-savas plant onto the pallet. "They'll also act as living reminders to your children of their father's nurturing love and best wishes for his people."
Spock gave her a long gaze before saying somewhat teasingly, "Vulcan children would never ascribe such an emotional interpretation to scrub brush."
"Yours will," Nyota teased back, leaning against him, "I'll see to it."
Tasmeen sat on the floor in Spock's quarters in front of Pa'shu, holding G'by on her lap. The cub had gained nearly seven-and-a-half kilograms in his first week of life. (3) His eyes were still shut, and it would be another week before they opened; and his teeth hadn't started coming in yet. The molars and incisors would erupt in another seven to ten days, and the saber teeth would bud about ten days after that, eventually reaching their full length of over six inches. Right now, though, G'by and Ta'an were roly-poly mounds of toothless fur that spent most of their waking hours nursing and rolling around Pa'shu's mattress, and slept more than two-thirds of their days away.
Tasmeen picked G'by up, his snout to her nose and said, "Nam-tor siyah ha-kel, G'by. Dungi-nam-tor sarlahik ha-tor k'nash-veh heh uzh sa-mekh Sarek fi ek'tra tu. Nam-torik kraiskal svi'thif'we weht-fam. Dungi-prah gla-tor yeht yel tu eh olau keth sov dungi-nam-tor. Uf vaksurik ish-veh ha?" (We are almost home, G'by. You'll be coming to live with me and new-father Sarek on the planet. No more being confined in a cabin. You'll get to see the real sun, and feel the real air. How beautiful will that be?)
In response, G'by's mouth gaped open in a huge yawn.
T'Makh was in accouchement in New Vulcan's Medical Facility, which was adjacent to the Cathedral, making it simple for Sarek to check in with Sa'aat and the rest of the Fonn Vuhlkansu delegation, before he took the short walk across the quad to visit her. He went alone... or so he believed. For his protection, silent and unseen, one of Sa'aat's security guards was always a few meters away.
Sarek found T'Makh half-sitting, half-lying on her blankets, looking much as he had expected: matriarchal; her hair was just starting to turn silvery, her body thin and strong like a k'ai (4), punctuated by a pregnant belly. She was dressed in a layered, full-length terra cotta colored silk gown, and less formally, wore her hair down around her shoulders. Her feet were bare. It was unusual for a Vulcan woman to present herself so casually. Not only did her appearance make her look uncharacteristically vulnerable, it reminded Sarek of Amanda on their wedding night. She had looked thus, half-dressed half-undone, waiting, silently ripe, tender yet expectant, and quietly eager for him.
T'Makh's bed was cluttered with gewgaws and personal items: embroidered pillows, scrolls and books, a bowl with a small, extinguished candle - it's scent, akin to fresh peaches, still lingered over the bed - digital images of loved ones, a long carved kolchak, jewelry, and a bowl filled with sweets. (5) It wasn't unusual for women to exhibit nesting behavior prior to giving birth; he had simply not seen it played out in this form or to this degree before. He attributed the untidiness to the fact that T'Makh, unable to leave her bed, was making her nest right there, all around her.
"I believe I have you to thank for the private room," she said after they exchanged traditional greetings. Despite her age, her voice had a youthful ring to it, and her dark eyes glistened with her otherwise unexpressed emotion. Her gratitude was real, not just a spoken pleasantry.
Sarek drew a chair to her bedside and sat. "I had some little influence. How are you progressing?"
"Adequately. I am bored, and desire to be free of this place; yet, until the Council Meeting concludes, and more permanent arrangements can be made, I accept my present situation."
"Is your pregnancy uncomfortable?"
"Yes," she placed a hand on the side of her belly, "but not overwhelmingly so; I have been able to control most of the pain. Thank you for your willingness to meet with me. The circumstances which bring us together are somewhat awkward."
"Many on New Vulcan face similar difficulties."
"Yes. The edict was an equalizer of sorts in that regard. Your son, Spock, was most vocal in his disapproval of the Ek'tevan Prerogative, and was subjected to it against his will. His lot must be more difficult than most, I presume. How does he fair?"
"Well. Returning to New Vulcan has demanded several onerous journeys of him, but he has prevailed intact. Thank you for your inquiry."
"Your family is a resilient one."
"So it would seem."
"Did the edict bring him any offspring?"
"Several, and thus far all have found their place within his sphere. He is determined to accept them, despite the circumstances of their conception... as I accept this child of yours."
"Despite the circumstances of its conception."
"Our mating was not as I might have wished it to be."
"Implied force does change perception, does it not?"
"Indeed, but it is not a perception which cannot be overcome, Lady T'Makh." Sarek's gaze found her abdomen and he resisted the temptation to touch it, to feel for the child. "The child is a male, correct?"
"Yes. Another son to add to your sons..."
"And my daughter - Tasmeen, an adopted child. She lost her family in The Genocide," Sarek explained, before adding, "I fear I have also come into the possession of a rather large family of sehlats: a female and two cubs."
"Oh my. Your house is full."
"Very. But not so full as to prohibit the inclusion of a select few others."
"You speak of me and our son?"
"You would make a place for us with you, in your household, in your family..."
"Is this merely a kind gesture, or something more genuine?"
"My sons will confirm for you, madam, that I do not make empty gestures."
"I see." T'Makh absently found the end of a hank of her hair and began rolling it between her fingertips as she thought for a moment. "Am I not too old for your taste?"
"You are near my own age. If you are too old, then so am I."
"We barely know each other."
"Vulcans bonded as children under the old laws sometimes knew even less about one another than we do, and yet they persevered. We have the added advantage of being able to read one another's histories."
T'Makh returned her full attention to him. "You have researched me?" she asked, her fingers still wrapped around her hair as though it somehow anchored her, kept her from being carried away by the context of their conversation.
"Yes... as you have researched me and my family."
"I cannot deny that. We knew little of each other before the arena," T'Makh said. "I have studied you since then, and I admire your sense of duty and your innate practicality. I also find it agreeable that you are a man of intelligence and ability, and highly respected among our people. Your current political leanings are somewhat troublesome, however."
"You are a Traditionalist?"
"Are you entrenched, inflexible?"
"Not entirely, no. Logic prohibits one from becoming wholly obdurate. One must always remain open to convincing arguments and the inclusion of new data."
"Then there is hope for me."
The set of T'Makh's shoulders softened, as though she was relaxing, or perhaps even smiling inwardly. She rubbed the side of her belly and sighed, "What will your sons think of me?"
"They will accept whomever I choose."
"And Spock? He lost his mother to The Genocide. Will it not be difficult for him to- "
"His mother was not lost," Sarek admitted. When T'Makh tilted her head in question, he explained, "Her katra survives."
"Oh, how fortunate," she said, although her tone suggested she wasn't entirely pleased with the information. She looked at her body, her bare feet, the blankets and trinkets. "If you take up residence on New Vulcan, will her vre'katra reside with you?"
"A final decision has yet to be made. I had initially desired to keep the vre'katra, but... I believe Spock would prefer it remain with him. He and his mother were extraordinarily close. She was always a source of comfort for him, and may continue to be so in her present form."
"I see." T'Makh lifted her eyes to Sarek again. "Then you consider yourself free to marry."
"And you wish to marry me."
"I must admit, Ambassador, this is one of the oddest proposals I have ever received."
"Have you received many?"
"When I was younger, I was much sought after. Once, four suitors fought the kal'i'fee for me."(6) Sarek bowed his head slightly. That kind of information wasn't kept in the standard records; and it was impressive, demonstrating how desirable T'Makh was, and how formidable and powerful her former husband, who had fought three others to the death to win her hand, must have been. She must have seen some hint of that strength in Sarek, or she would not have considered him as a prospective mate.
"My proclamation of koon-ut so'lik may not be as dramatic or inspiring as you are used to, madam; however, in the end, the proposal is less important than the response. Dungau-zek tuffen hushani nash-veh ha?" (Shall I order the wedding cake?)
"Ha," T'Makh extended the ozh'esta to him. (Yes.)
Sarek pressed the tips of his fingers to hers, closing his eyes. After a few seconds he uttered, "Kashek t'etek - veh heh tereuhr - I'estuhlik heh kwon-sum estuhlik - Lu k'wuhli worla k'wuhli." (Our minds, one and together... Touching now, and always touching... When apart, never apart...)
T'Makh, her eyes closed as well, murmured, "Nam-tor veh etek." (We are one.)
"I need a decision from you," T'Yelas said as Sa'aat activated the monitors that would give him a full-circle view of everything inside and outside the Formal Hall of the Cathedral. T'Lale stood nearby, but didn't intrude on his personal space as her sister did.
Sa'aat, dressed in his full uniform, his belt now holstering a phaser pistol as well as his lipitah, a Vulcan communicator and a microcorder, gave the women a cursory, rather dismissive glance and said, "I was under the impression that I had made myself understood on the matter." He activated a screen and adjusted its clarity before continuing, "I will provide for the children of my blood, give them my name and an inheritance, and I will assist in their upbringing, schooling, and rituals. However, I have no intention of bonding with either of you." Sa'aat looked directly at T'Yelas, "Is that clear enough?"
"How can you be so indifferent? So cruel?" T'Yelas almost pouted.
"The truth is never cruel, madam. It simply is."
"You would cast us aside?"
"No. I have, and will continue, to make a distinct space for you within my life and sphere, allowing you the choice of whether or not you will occupy that space."
"A position of half-wife; is that what you offer? A name without attachments?"
"It is all I can offer you."
"We are powerful women, Sa'aat. A full bonding with us would - "
"- Would be a sham, every vow a lie," Sa'aat interrupted. He stepped away from the monitors and his face took on a less stern aspect as he added softly, "I will not dishonor myself - or you - by pretending otherwise."
"But we...we love you," T'Lale said, her admission of emotion not easy for a Vulcan. "We chose you when we could have chosen anyone else."
Sa'aat nodded. "I know."
"You feel nothing for us?"
"Quite the contrary. I have a great deal of admiration for you as the mothers of my children, and a great deal of pride in you as progenitors of the Vulcan race. Whatever affection I have for you is limited to that, however. I know you feel more, but, madam, I do not. I have been honest with you throughout our interactions, have I not? I am sa-ka-ashausu. I cannot be otherwise, not even for those who love me, no matter how much they love me."
T'Lale looked away, defeated, but T'Yelas, her tone biting, countered by saying, "Spock will never be yours, you know."
Sa'aat's features went hard again. "That was an unnecessary blow."
"Did it cause you pain? Good. I meant it to sting. We may not get what we want, but neither will you. It seems fate has made fools of us all."
"You may deem me a fool, madam, but I do not see you thus." He looked at T'Lale. "I have nothing but respect for you, and I apologize if, in the course of these unfortunate affairs, you have been injured by anything I have said or done."
"I feel no injury," T'Lale admitted, calm, resolved. "You have, as you said, never been anything but honest with us. I do admit to some sense of loss, however. I believe it may have been desperation that caused us to blindly adhere to the first powerful male we saw after the loss of our family and former lives on Vulcan. We saw you as an anchoring strength, a solidity onto which we could fix ourselves in the tumultuous aftermath of The Genocide... and we clung too tightly, became more attached to you than prudence would have dictated. So, now, as the tide ebbs and the world settles again, I will accept whatever niche you may be able to make for me within your heart and spirit, but... the acceptance will always be painted with the regret our connection cannot be more than what it is."
"I understand such a disposition, madam. As your sister is obviously aware, I have lived with something similar for most of my adult life." Sa'aat looked from T'Lale to T'Yelas. "Now, do you have any other questions for me, or may I return to my work?"
T'Yelas turned abruptly and walked away. T'Lale lingered for a few moments more, her face a visible struggle between emotion and control before she said, "Our daughter..."
"With your permission, I would like to name her Tuula."
On Vulcan the tuula shrub had crimson leaves that turned mottled pink when the weather cooled. "It is an unusual name, but one reminiscent of our home-world," he said. "I have no objection to it."
"Thank you." T'Lale turned to leave, but looked back at him and lifted her hand in the traditional Vulcan salute. "Live long and prosper, Sa'aat."
He returned the gesture. "Peace and long life."
On each Starfleet vessel in orbit around New Vulcan, and on all the Federation's planets, space stations and colonies, through direct feeds and via jumper-nodes, images of the Cathedral on New Vulcan started airing at eleven-hundred hours. Stationary cameras provided still shots and streaming video of the structure's exterior, the gathering crowds, the arrival of the delegates, and the visible security forces paroling the city.
On the bridge of the Enterprise, a patchwork of pictures filled the main view screen. One swatch identified individuals on the ground; another displayed images of the cathedral, diagramming it, piece-by-piece, to show how it was engineered; another showed overhead shots of the building and its neighbors with an overlay of infrared and ultraviolet imaging. Other pictures showed the entire city from the atmosphere, revealed the entire planet from four different viewpoints, and displayed and identified all of the ships and satellites in orbit. Monitors on all four ships duplicated the views, and small clusters of crewmembers not otherwise engaged in their duties, gathered around them to watch the proceedings.
Spock, seated in the command chair, watched as everything on the screen moved, and voices layered over voices; his Vulcan brain took in the imagery quicker and with more immediate comprehension than his Human crewmates. Looking at the overview of Svitan'Kahr, he was struck by how small and isolated the city looked on the planet's surface; and the crowd in the Cathedral's courtyard, a blur of undulating movement representative of the last remaining Vulcans in existence, seemed rather thin and very exposed there. He found himself wishing, for a moment, the medical frigates that had accompanied the Enterprise to the planet had more than just a marginal array of defensive weaponry.
Pictures from inside the Cathedral flickered onto the screen, pushing the exterior images to the edges of the monitors. Delegates from the various Sects filtered in and started taking up their positions among the first six rows of white chairs around the center floor. The gallery chairs remained as they had been: charcoal grey.
Spock noticed, before anyone else, when Captain Kirk, looking somewhat uncomfortable in his dress uniform, entered the chamber behind Ambassador McCormick and the dozen officers and assistants from the Federation Alliance for Vulcan Affairs, who made up the Federation's delegation. The captain wasn't actually part of the delegation, he, along with Doctor McCoy, Mister Scott, and the captains of the medical frigates, was acting as a sort of visual support team backing the delegates. Kirk tugged at the high-collar of his dress coat making a face, but replaced it with a warm smile and an unsteady ta'al (7) - the split-fingered formation was sometimes difficult for him to achieve - when he was formally introduced to the Triumvirate, who sat on swiveling chairs on the central floor space inside the great room. As he made his way through the crowd, his open, gregarious nature seemed to draw even the most wizened Traditionalists to him like moths to light. At one point, there were no less than fourteen Vulcan women clustered around him, each one colorful and elegant-looking in their formalwear.
"There's your father, Mister Spock," Ensign Chekhov announced unnecessarily; Spock was already aware of Sarek's arrival in the hall.
Nyota, the transmission bud still in her right ear, left her station and stopped beside the command chair in order to get a better look at the view screen. As she watched, Sarek and his group took up a central position among the cordoned sections.
Spock explained, "Notice the position is nearest to one of the wider aisles in the middle of the room with the security station to their extreme rear; strategically, it is one of the safest spots within the Chamber. In an emergency, it provides the delegation the shortest, quickest escape route from the room. It also allows my father an unobstructed view of the other lead delegates."
"You make it sound like he's gearing up for battle rather than a Council Meeting."
"Every meeting among diplomats is a battle, Lieutenant. Strategy is everything: where one places oneself, how one presents oneself, the verbiage used. Everything is planned to give oneself an advantage. You will note, for example, that Sarek seated himself and his people before the other delegations took their chairs. This was deliberate. It establishes his claim over that part of the hall. Now the other delegates will position themselves in direct relationship to him. The Traditionalist groups will move to the opposite side of the Chamber, to distance themselves from him, and the Revisionists groups will vie for seats closest to him. Those Sects without any clear leanings will fill in the sections between these two groups." Nyota and the others watched as the leaders of each group looked to where Sarek was seated before seeking chairs for themselves, just as Spock had predicted. Even the Federation's delegation followed Sarek's unspoken design, positioning themselves directly at the halfway point between the Traditionalists and the Revisionists on the floor.
"Amazing," Nyota muttered.
When Sybok and the V'tosh ka'tur contingency arrived in the room, they took the section directly to Sarek's right. Although the other Vulcans were quiet, sharing formal greetings and murmuring to one another, Sybok's group was louder, more demonstrative. Bear hugs went all around, and at one point, they all broke out into boisterous laughter. The rest of the room went silent as the other Vulcans stopped to locate the source of the commotion. When the murmuring resumed, Sybok looked around the room and located one of the five Federation journalists filming the proceedings through head-mounted recording gear. He walked up to her, waving and grinning broadly at the camera, and said into the lens, "Vesht fun-tor ha'kel nam-tor etwel'uh! Tonk'peh Uzh T'Kashi'uh! Dif-tor heh smusma'uh!" (We are returned home! Hello, New Vulcan! Live long and prosper!)
Even though most of the bridge crew had no idea what Sybok had just said, they couldn't help but chuckle at the display. Sybok's enthusiasm and joy were contagious.
As Sybok returned to where his people were applauding him noisily, the journalist remarked into her headset, "And that was the very animated and ever-charming Delegate Sybok of the V'tosh ka'tur Vulcans. Banned from their former planet, his group seeks to be included in the New Vulcan government. Before any discussion on other issues can proceed, the banishment of the V'tosh ka'tur has to be vacated by a majority vote, and their citizenship reinstated. If they're denied their petition, they'll be removed from the hall and the Council Meeting will proceed without them. That the V'tosh ka'tur have even been allowed to submit a petition to the Triumvirate, however, seems to bode well for them. A more exclusionist governmental body would never have allowed that... There is staunch opposition to the Sect, but the fact Sybok is being included in these proceedings, is a big step forward toward Vulcan reunification."
"Indeed," said Spock. "The term ever-charming seems somewhat inappropriate, however."
Nyota smiled. "What Sect is filing in beside Sybok's?"
"The Zahelsu t'Vai Giddas."
"Followers of the Holy Guardian Spirits," Nyota translated.
"Yes. The Sect is comprised primarily of mystics and their apprentices."
Nyota noticed a pregnant member of the delegation being helped down the steps and into her seat. "She's not wearing a MAGGIe; did we overlook some of the women down there?"
"No, Lieutenant. Doctor McCoy and the others were quite thorough. Members of the Vai Giddas will not seek or accept outside medical aid. They believe pain and illness are battles to be overcome by the spirit, or lost to agony and death."
"Wow, that's severe."
"Yes. Surviving into old age is considered a grand feat for their members; the Elders in the Sect are, therefore, highly revered." Spock frowned slightly. "I find it odd, however, for them to align themselves so closely with the V'tosh ka'tur. One would think a more centrist stance would better benefit their inclusion in the Council."
"Maybe they shared a vision or something," Lieutenant Sulu said from his station.
"That is very possible."
Sulu turned to him in his chair, and admitted, "I was sort of joking, Mister Spock."
"I was not. It is quite possible the V'tosh ka'tur and the Vai Giddas have had a shared experience through the k'war'ma'khon."
"Now see, that just creeps me out." Spock looked at him, puzzled, and the younger man explained, "I don't know, sir, the whole Vulcan mysticism thing makes me uncomfortable. I've never really understood it: katras and vre'katras, shared dreams, mind melds, and the, how do you say it? The 'caramel corn'?"
"K'war'ma'khon..." Spock corrected him. "You were raised in the Christian tradition, were you not, Lieutenant?"
"Yes, sir. So?"
"Immortal souls, guardian angels and an overseeing Holy Spirit are part of that belief system; therefore, you are not entirely unfamiliar with the concept of external, unseen forces having an influence on one's life."
"Yeah, but thinking about souls in the abstract, sir, and actually sitting face-to-face with one in a jar are two different things. I mean, I like the notion of having a guardian angel looking over my shoulder, but if I actually saw one, I'd probably freak out."
Ambassador McCormick took the front seat in her section at the small table, and the rest of her team filed into the white chairs behind her, each with PADDs and Universal Translators ready. Captain Kirk, Scotty, and Doctor McCoy slid into the grey gallery chairs on the aisle immediately behind the delegation, and watched the room settle down around them as the Triumvirate readied themselves for the opening benediction.
The plants Spock had so carefully nurtured aboard the Enterprise were brought forth, and Kirk felt a slight swell of pride looking at them. Members of the Vai Giddas blessed the plants, and then they were offered as a gift to the Vulcan people. Although most Vulcans, who were by nature undemonstrative, withheld their emotional response to the gift, members of the V'tosh ka'tur and Fonn Vuhlkansu, immediately started clapping. The Federation's delegation followed suit, and eventually the applause circled the entire chamber.
"That's one for Spock," Kirk whispered in McCoy's ear, as the clapping continued for several more seconds.
The doctor grinned and nodded. "Now, if they'd just get rid of that stupid Ek'tevan Prerogative, he'll be set."
Seated once more at her Communications console, Nyota frowned. "Commander."
When she didn't elaborate, Spock turned in the command chair to face her. "Yes, Lieutenant?"
"I'm - I'm picking up an odd signal, sir, among the ship-to-shore sub-space transmissions; a peculiar pattern. I don't understand it, but... it's obviously not part of the natural background noise. It sounds almost automated. It might be nothing, but -"
Nyota was unsurpassed among her graduating class in her ability to locate and translate anomalous transmissions. If an errant signal had caught her attention and worried her, Spock could be assured her concern wasn't frivolous or misdirected. "Let me hear it," he said. She tapped a command into the panel at the top of her station, and broadcast the signal over the bridge's main audio system: a faint, intermittent, but repeating squeak. Spock listened to it for a few seconds. "It sounds like a homing beacon or a targeting signal."
"That was my first impression, too, sir."
"It's coming from beneath the Cathedral, but I'm having trouble triangulating its exact location. I'm not sure if it's because of the security grid around the planet or if there's something jamming the signal, but..."
"Keep trying, Lieutenant." Spock pressed a key on the arm of the command chair and said, "Enterprise to Fik-Zhel-Lan Sa'aat, Vulcan security."
Sa'aat's image emerged in a corner of the main view screen. He was standing at a control podium near the main entrance to the Formal Chamber with Sionak at his left shoulder, and delegates and guests streaming past him. He held a Vulcan communicator near his mouth with one hand, while he continued to tap commands into the console. He said quietly, "Sa'aat la. Stariben." (Sa'aat here. Speak.)
"Spock here. We are picking up a recurring signal emanating from below the Cathedral. Is it a component of your security network?"
"Unknown. Forward the signal to my station."
"Transferring now," Spock gestured to Nyota, and she forwarded the signal to Sa'aat.
Sa'aat listened to it, and then said, "Curious. It is not one of ours. It is not of Federation origin?"
"No. Nor does it carry the trademark features of Ionian or Denobulan transmission signals."
"Do you have a fix on it?"
"We are having difficulty pinpointing its location, but it does appear to be coming from beneath the structure."
"I will investigate," Sa'aat said, and his image left the main view screen.
"Keep monitoring the signal, Lieutenant," Spock said to Nyota.
Spock keyed a series of commands into the arm of the command chair, clearing the layers of images from the main viewer, except the live-video feeds from inside the Cathedral itself. He used the system's facial recognition programming to locate Sa'aat among the crowd of Vulcans, and fingered the control on the chair, commanding the feed to follow Sa'aat's image as he moved through the building. Leaving Sionak at the station by the door, Sa'aat moved down the main corridor, toward the rear of the Cathedral, glancing at his small microcorder periodically to trace the errant signal beneath him. He stopped at what looked like a solid wall, and then stepped into it.
"Commander Spock!" Ensign Chekhov exclaimed. "He... he vanished!"
"Hardly, Ensign. There are camouflaged passages throughout the structure."
"Like secret doors and tunnels?" Sulu asked.
"Precisely. Some are available to everyone, while only the architects and a select few know of others. Most Vulcan buildings have them, especially ones maintained by the government."
"Ensign, tie into Sa'aat's bio-signature and maintain a link in case we lose visual contact completely."
"Aye, Commander." In a small pop-up panel in the upper corner of the view screen, Sa'aat's bio-signature appeared alongside a readout giving his exact coordinates. The coordinates changed to reflect his position. "Got him."
Through the video feeds, Sa'aat became visible again, stepping out from a shadow in one corridor and vanishing into another. In another frame, he walked down the center of a short hall before he disappeared again around a corner and into a large ornate column. Inside the column was a spiral stairwell leading into the bowels of the Cathedral.
A large octagonal shaped fixture slowly descended from the Chamber's ceiling, and on each face was displayed a bulleted list of topics in Golic Vulcan.
"What we're seeing here," one of the male journalists on the floor explained to the viewers, "is a compilation of the charters of the various sects seated at this Council Meeting. Each charter has been broken out by titles and subtopics, and rearranged in a point-list that will act as an agenda for this meeting. As you can see, references to the controversial Ek'tevan Prerogative and the V'tosh ka'tur are among the top priorities on the list. "Number One on the agenda, though, is the affirming vote for the Vulcan's first Fik-Zhel-Lan, the equivalent of a Commander in Chief. That appointment has gone to Sa'aat, son of Khar-Lan Sha'ar of Vulcan. Sa'aat, a former Khar-Lan himself and an expert in k'a'sum'I, was appointed to the position by the sitting Triumvirate, a body that will step aside once the New Vulcan Council is established. The votes are silently coming in now, and... as you can see from the displays, there are no opposing votes. The appointment is unanimously affirmed. Congratulations to Fik-Zhel-Lan Sa'aat! Let's hope the rest of the agenda is resolved this easily..."
Sa'aat padded silently down the winding staircase, letting his microcorder scan the areas around him. He paused before opening the door at the landing that would lead him into an adjacent corridor. He clipped the recorder to his belt, and then activated his communicator. "Enterprise," he said quietly.
"My microcorder is unable to pinpoint the source of the errant signal."
"Our scans have been equally unproductive. We assume there is an overlying jamming frequency or other interference, but are unable to identify the cause."
Sa'aat thought for a moment, before saying, "Scan the area for kelbonite."
Spock left the command chair and went to his Science Station. Leaning over the console, he said, "Scanning." After a few seconds, he straightened, and faced Sa'aat's image. "There is a small, unnatural concentration of that mineral three-point-six-seven meters below and eleven-point-five-eight meters to the left of your present location.(8) How did you know?"
"I suspected," Sa'aat replied. "She used kelbonite to disguise her lava tube bunker, and we believe it was also used on the Marom'es to trick us into thinking she was aboard that vessel when it left New Vulcan."
"I was not aware any Vulcan ship had left the planet," Spock said, as he returned to the command chair.
"You were not looking for one; my people were," Sa'aat explained.
"And how can you be certain she was not aboard?"
"The Marom'es was pursued by one of our private shuttles, the Wan-Wein. Data transmissions received from the Wan-Wein prior to its destruction indicated there was no one aboard the Marom'es; the vessel was on auto-pilot."
Spock sat down. "And how was the Wan-Wein destroyed?"
"It was spotted chasing the Marom'es along the inner edge of the Romulan Neutral Zone. Neither vessel survived their encounter with a warbird there."
Spock's eyebrows arched in surprise. "Vulcan ships trespassing into Romulan territory could be viewed as an act of war, Sa'aat."
"The trespass was explained as a small, private matter that had no impact whatsoever on Vulcan-Romulan relations, and was in no way sanctioned by Vulcan leadership."
"But you authorized the trespass, did you not?"
"I did, but my office operates completely separate from the Triumvirate and the rest of the governing body of New Vulcan, so..."
"I would say 'well done', but I do not wish to encourage you in any further such clandestine activities."
"You were always the more plainspoken and straightforward between us, Spock."
"Then allow me to speak plainly when I say, if she lured you with a false reading before, she may be doing so again; and by following the kelbonite, you may be walking directly into a trap. On the other hand, if it is she in the catacombs below the Cathedral, then her presence is a threat to you and everyone else within the structure. She would not be there unless she meant to disrupt the proceedings and felt she had the full ability to do so. I will beam down to your location and - "
"You cannot face her alone, Sa'aat."
"Daq Homlogh qIp loD tlhej taj tlhej ta' latlh QIH naQ mangghom."
Spock glanced at Nyota for a translation. "It's a Klingon aphorism: In close quarters, a single man with a knife can do more damage than an entire army."
"The Humans also have a saying," Spock informed Sa'aat. "Two heads are better than one. Between us, she can be confined and apprehended. I am beaming to the surface."
Sa'aat turned directly toward the video node broadcasting his image, and said, "Haulat, vitorau sha'es patoraya dah-leh shehkuh t'Sa'aat." (Haulat, activate the Sa'aat security protocol twenty-six.)
The video feed filled with static and winked out. The image of New Vulcan and the ships in orbit around it replaced all the images of the city and the Cathedral on the view screen.
"Damn it," Nyota tossed her ear bud down onto the console in front of her, "I've lost him, Commander."
"Me too," Ensign Chekhov confirmed.
"Mister Sulu?" Spock asked.
"Some kind of forcefield has just been activated, Mister Spock. It's blocking all communications and transportability. He's shut us out, sir."
(1) Kir'Shara: a small obelisk which contained all of the original writings of Surak.
(2) Tan Na'Sular: from the Vulcan this translates as "Gift for the People"
(3) 7.5 kilograms is equal to about 15-16 pounds.
(4) K'ai: a Vulcan "willow tree".
(5) Kolchak: the Vulcan word for "flute"... and yes, I know, it's the same as in "Kolchak: The Night Stalker". Hah!
(6) Kal'i'fee: the word in Vulcan means "challenge"; a part of the Vulcan mating ritual. If the female rejects the mate arranged for her by her parents, during the marriage ceremony she can invoke the kal'i'fee, choose her own champion, and set him against her intended in a fight to the death. Whomever wins the battle, wins the hand of the woman in marriage. In T'Makh's case, four men wanted her, and so she had them all fight one another until there was only one left.
(7) Ta'al: the split-fingered Vulcan hand salute; also spelled "ta'a" (And thank you to my beta Farstrider for this.)
(8) 3.67 meters is about 12 feet, and 11.58 meters is about 38 feet. The kelbonite deposit is 12 feet below Sa'aat and about 38 feet to the left of his current position in the column.