Chapter 10 - A date?
The following week both of them had to work together in the holo lab again. Irina kept their talk mostly work-related as she still felt like she had to process what had transpired between them.
Soltek seemed to realize that and only talked to her when it was absolutely necessary. He seemed more Vulcan to her than ever, a stoic robot, but then she occasionally caught him stealing a glance at her when he thought she wasn't looking.
Although Vulcans were easily identified as male or female because they resembled humans so much in appearance for the most part, she had always kinda registered them to be sort of neutral, their gender being irrelevant. Catching Soltek looking at her in that particular male way was very strange. And she caught herself glancing back at him when he wasn't looking. She realized how naturally elegant his appearance was, his well-shaped oval face with the thin slanted eyebrows and the cute pointed ears, his dark brown hair and the graceful way he carried himself. He wasn't overly muscular and just half a head bigger than Irina, but the way he handled tools and crawled into Jeffrey's tubes betrayed a lot of body control and strength. How could she have been so blind about how attractive he was?
It really pained her that they seemed unable to tease each other and make jokes like they had before. She missed him very much as a friend. Their previous ease around each other seemed completely gone. How could a Vulcan have that kind of feelings for her? She still felt caught off-guard by this situation and there was no point in denying what she knew, because now she saw the way those deep brown eyes were looking at her and she couldn't pretend to herself he was just a friendly colleague anymore.
If she would at least know how Vulcans deal with a situation like this, but she had the dark suspicion that not even Soltek knew... She had transferred to the station because she needed to get among people again. Her break-up with Jason and the deep space mission have left her completely empty. But she hadn't planned to fall in love again right away - and not with a Vulcan on top of it. What if he was as cold and distanced? What if he scrutinized everything she did? She knew well enough how Vulcans normally were...and her relationship with Jason had been bad enough she didn't need a Vulcan to break the record. But then Soltek's voice sounded so warm and caring when he was talking to her. Maybe she was wrong about Vulcans or at least about him?
Matters went worse for her when others of the team started to notice something was wrong between them. Cmdr. Glenn even asked her directly if there had been a disagreement and had frowned at Irina's assurance that they were getting along fine, but he had not prodded further into the matter at that point. Barclay seemed to sense the tension between them and was even more nervous than usual. He didn't address the matter, but there were just too many awkward moments of silence between the three of them and when she was working with Soltek alone she felt even more tense and awkward.
On Thursday one of the holo emitters blew out because a power relay was malfunctioning. After she had assisted Soltek with replacing the emitter, they had actually crawled into a Jeffery's tube together to repair the power relay. She had felt torn between keeping a safe distance and catching herself at wishing for him to make some move. She realized that they both carefully avoided skin contact while they handed each other the tools, but she caught herself in wanting to touch him, feel his wonderful warmth again and know what was going on inside him. The sound of his voice and the look on his face mirrored her own feelings of awkwardness though.
But then there had also been a short moment where they were so caught up in an urgent technical problem that they had simply forgot their issues and worked as smoothly as before until the problem was solved and Irina stopped herself halfway from touching his arm and the embarrassing silence returned.
On Friday evening Irina sat frustrated on her couch eating chocolate ice cream. Then her eyes traveled to the padd Lamira had given her. She reached for it and started to read the introduction:
Hi, I'm Dr. Abby Lark, I'm human and lived for 10 years on Vulcan. This book is meant as a survival guide for everyone who wants to better understand Vulcan culture and learn how to properly interact with this most logical species. If you plan to visit Vulcan or even work and live there I hope this will help you to settle in.
Since as a non-Vulcan interacting with Vulcans often produces some absurd misunderstandings, this book will come with a dash of humor.
If you're Vulcan and have come across this book, I suggest that you research the concept of humor first before you continue reading.
Rules on how to behave Vulcan:
1. Don't state the obvious.
2. Regardless of what transpires, keep your face as stoic as possible.
3. Theories are necessary for scientific development, but speculation is an indulgence for undisciplined minds.
4. State details non-Vulcans would deem irrelevant, because they need to learn that exactness is an indication of an organized mind.
5. Inform others on the exact meanings of a word and ask for clarification whenever someone uses a word with a wider range of possible meanings.
6. Don't take any substances which could impair your judgment.
7. Keep your mind sharp with regular games of Kaltoh.
8. Logic is the art of distinction. Make it clear that a Vulcan way of life is much different than the behavior of members of the emotional species.
9. As long as your methods remain strictly logical science can't fail to produce results.
10. Meditate daily to remain in a logical state of mind.
11. If you should succumb to any emotional reaction even for a short moment meditate more and break down the emotional complex. Know that it is only a stereotypical reaction.
12. Strictly follow protocol because spontaneity promotes emotional reactions.
13. Logic is the prime aspect of Vulcan culture, it is not given to you by nature, but achieved through hard work and discipline.
14. Never underestimate that which is hidden below the surface.
15. Truth is the path to logic, never close your eyes in the face of what is real.
16. Your neighbor is not the enemy, but your own hidden desires are.
17. The good of the many outweighs the good of the few.
18. Don't overestimate your own enlightenment, but know that it is a life-long process of discipline.
19. Face your own nature.
20. Disciplined imagination is a meditation technique and not a means of fantasy and day dreaming.
21. Nobody and nothing else can grant or deny you logic, it is your own achievement and responsibility.
22. In certain times loss of control is imminent, if you can't get around, get through as effectively as possible.
23. If you can't solve a problem with logic, solve it with a different method, but use discretion.
24. Relationships between Vulcans and non-Vulcans are difficult, but not impossible.
25. Unlikely isn't the same as impossible.
Some of those 'rules' made Irina chuckle slightly, but she wasn't sure this was helpful for her issues with Soltek. She browsed through the book. For every rule was a small chapter explaining what Dr. Lark meant by it. It might be interesting to read the chapter on the 24th rule. Somehow Irina had the feeling this author knew a lot about Vulcans. She had just skipped to chapter 24 when a beep informed her about an incoming message.
When she called it up from her console, it was from Soltek...!
Two weeks ago you asked me to try out the holo program I gave you for your birthday. I have been neglectful regarding your invitation. If you are still interested in going for a walk there with me I offer to accompany you.
Gosh, was he asking her out on a date now? She stared at the message for what must have been several minutes and remembered how disappointed she was when he didn't take her up on it two weeks ago. Then she typed:
Okay, how about in half an hour – at 1900?
She quickly pressed the send-button before she could change her mind. There was an immediate response as if he had still been sitting at his console awaiting her response.
Yes, I will fetch you from your quarters and look forward to it.
Irina nervously rushed into her bed room looking for what to wear. There was her light olive green skirt which fitted well with her blond hair and her compact physique. She put it on and decided the star-shaped sapphire-blue studs would go well with it, then she went over to the bath room to do something with her hair. Maybe make a bun, but keep some strands free and arrange them with small hair clips. She was still sorting the last strands when the door bell rang at exactly 1900.
'Come in!' she called.
'Good evening, Irina,' Soltek said still as awkward as he had been all week, but he also had an air of nervous boldness about him.
She sticked her head out of the bathroom trying to appear as nothing bothered her. 'I'm done in a minute, just need to fix my hair.'
'I will wait,' he said politely while he curiously stole a quick glance at her half-arranged hair.
She went back into the bathroom and continued her work. While she was fumbling with several strands she asked nonchalantly, 'Soltek, is this...a date?'
'Are you referring to a form of courtship consisting of social activities between two people to asses potential compatibility as...a couple,' he asked keeping a neutral expression.
'Yes, that kind of date, not the fruit,' Irina replied glad she didn't have to look at him while having this conversation.
There was a pause in which she suspected that he raised an eyebrow, 'fruit?'
'There's an earth fruit called date, it tastes very sweet,' Irina answered patiently, 'but we're drifting from the topic.'
'Yes,' he said.
'Yes...what?' Irina asked hesitantly.
'Yes, it is a date,' he said in a tone sounding like she had him cornered.
Irina fixed the last strand, took a deep breath and stepped out of the bathroom trying not to betray her nervousness. He looked at her and she saw his insecurity behind his stoic mask. She replied conversationally: 'Then you're dressed inaccurately.'
'I am?' he asked slightly startled at her response, 'is it inappropriate to wear an uniform?'
'You should wear something more casual,' she replied now unable to refrain from smiling at him.
'I can redress and return in 5 minutes,' he said.
'I'll wait,' she answered repressing a grin at his cute eagerness to do it according to protocol.
He left her quarters by stepping backwards while keeping eye contact.
She stared at the door after it had shut for a few seconds whispering 'oh gosh, what have I gotten myself into?' Then she turned back to the mirror to check her appearance again. She looked into her own gray-blue eyes wondering how much she was in love with him and if it would show.
He was back after exactly 5 minutes wearing some kind of Vulcan civilian clothing, it was also olive green, but a shade darker than her skirt and Irina liked it despite the fact that the style made it look like a Vulcan meditation robe – which it probably was, Irina wasn't able to tell because the Vulcans on the Asteria had always worn their uniforms when she saw them.
'That's much better!' she said in a tone as if they were just discussing a holo program again.
'May I say that your clothing suits you quite well,' he replied.
'Thank you, you're a quick study,' Irina answered.
'I'm really not an expert on human fashion,' he said.
'I mean, you're a quick study on...dates - did you look up the part about the compliment?' she asked trying to sound joking.
'Yes, there is a lot of information about human courtship rituals in the library. Unfortunately the information varies a lot, I'm not sure I have grasped the full range of its divergence yet. It is very confusing,' he said factually.
'Don't worry,' she said feeling more at ease now they had got past the first couple of sentences, 'you're doing fine.'
There was a pause while they both looked at each other. Then she slowly walked over to him and linked her right arm with his left one, but avoided skin contact. He curiously looked at what she was doing, but then seemed to relax and took a deep breath not taking his eyes off her. She steered him outside and they walked along the corridor.
He tensed slightly when an Ensign walked by nodding a short greeting. Irina looked at him to see if he was embarrassed by their linked appearance. He had a slightly green hue around his cheeks and ears, but looked at her with something she read as feigned innocence when he realized she was studying him.
'Is this embarrassing for you, Soltek?' she asked in a soft voice.
'Embarrassment is a human emotion, but I can say that I have never done this before, it is not customary among Vulcans, but I've seen you do this with your friend Lamira...so I conclude it is a common expression of friendship for humans?' he asked.
'Yes, it is,' she answered, 'but we can stop if this is uncomfortable for you.'
'No, it is not uncomfortable,' he answered, 'it is...an interesting...sensation.'
She smiled and they walked on still linked.
After a few steps he said, 'there is an unusual flowery smell about you.'
'I'm wearing a perfume,' she replied.
'What is it?' he asked.
'Magnolia,' she said, 'it's a beautiful earth tree with large rose-white blossoms.'
'Interesting,' he replied.