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A Family Affair, by ShouldKnowBetter
A Family Affair
Disclaimer: Paramount owns the characters, the Star Trek franchise and the universe. I just use them for my own private, non-profit making amusement.
“Did our daughter allow you to rest today?” Under his hand he felt the foetus stir and experienced the now familiar sense of wonder - a strange reaction to a well-understood biological process.
“A little.” T’Pen’s hand covered his as she allowed herself to be re-seated. “She is most energetic.”
“May I assist you?”
“Later.” Neuro-pressure allowed the mother to sleep although it was not working for Soval - thoughts of his daughter’s future kept him awake. He was honoured that T’Pen was carrying his child but the responsibility was daunting and he regretted that she was finding the pregnancy so hard; for one thing, it meant that the doctors had commanded them to cease intercourse. Whilst he was perfectly in control of his own desires, he had grown accustomed to the intimacy. “Soval!” He looked over to see T’Pen regarding him with the amused affection he had come to know rather well over the past ten months. “I will not always be pregnant.” He looked away hastily and a hand caressed his cheek. “My grandmother called today.”
“Indeed?” That was a safe enough topic.
“She wishes to see you.”
Soval blinked; he had had the distinct impression that T’Pen’s venerable grandmother did not approve of him, however respectable his family. “I am honoured.”
Again he saw the amusement in his wife’s eyes. “You are scared of her, Soval.”
“I assure you I am not.”
T’Pen’s weight settled a little more heavily against his shoulder and he struggled only a moment with the decision before placing his arm around her. Not a thing to be done in public, of course, and not something that Soval had ever anticipated would be required of him within marriage, but T’Pen had been insistent that physical affection did not have to be limited to the bedroom. “You are scared of her. We dine with her tonight.”
“You are too ill!”
“I am well enough. I cannot allow my husband to be intimidated by my own grandmother.”
Soval considered protesting but settled instead for kissing T’Pen – something else that she insisted upon. He trusted that whatever husband she selected for their daughter would be capable of supplying the affection that the women of her family evidently required.
Since the death of her husband T’Pen’s grandmother had lived with her eldest daughter: tradition demanded no less. Soval had acknowledged during the prolonged meditation session on the eve of his wedding that he was grateful that T’Men was a less forceful character than her mother. Had T’Men been of the same stamp, he might have reconsidered his career choice: the exploratory service had certain things to recommend it – mainly the six year assignments away from Vulcan.
Despite the fact that she had summoned them, the old lady made no appearance at dinner, a lack of courtesy that T’Men excused on the grounds of infirmity. She did not delay long in hustling them away from the dinner table, however, pointing out that T’Pen should not keep her grandmother waiting, and Soval was aware of uncharacteristic irritation as he followed his wife from the room. The elderly deserved respect but they might consider returning respect with courtesy or at least consideration for a pregnant granddaughter.
His irritation was evidently visible. T’Pen’s polite greeting was ignored as her grandmother fixed Soval with a hard stare. “You must learn to hide your anger, Soval – even from annoying old women.”
Which put him entirely in the wrong. “Good evening, T’Mir. I trust you are well?”
The woman shook her head and turned to study T’Pen, allowing Soval a view of her profile that demonstrated how strongly she had imprinted her resemblance on her female descendants - probably, he reflected undutifully, through sheer force of will. “Is he always such a fool?”
T’Pen eased herself carefully down into the couch beside the old woman. “Do not insult Soval, grandmother. I have developed a great affection for him.”
T’Mir sniffed and returned to her scrutiny of the man. “To answer your question, no, I am not well. I am dying.”
“Grandmother!” The alarm in T’Pen’s voice in turn alarmed Soval – he had never heard such emotion from her in public before. “Mother has said nothing.”
“At my instruction. I wished to tell you myself.”
“Then perhaps you could have given some thought to my wife’s condition,” Soval had crossed to T’Pen’s side, “and to the well-being of your great-granddaughter.”
“I have no doubt that they will both be well.”
“Unfortunately I do not share your belief, madam.”
“Soval,” T’Pen said quietly, but in the tone he had learnt to obey, and fixed T’Mir with a steady gaze. “Why did you summon us, grandmother?”
For a moment Soval thought that the elderly woman was going to object to being questioned but then she leant back with a brief nod that might have contained approval. “I have a task for your husband.”
Soval felt an eyebrow twitch in annoyance as T’Pen continued to regard T’Mir. “Surely there are others whom you could employ.”
“There are none who can so easily leave Vulcan at this time.”
“What?” Soval was not proud of his undisciplined outburst but to ask a husband to leave his wife during their first year together was almost unprecedented. The women ignored him and from the silence that followed he deduced that T’Pen was neither as surprised nor as ignorant as himself.
“Earth,” his wife said eventually. “You wish Soval to travel to Earth.”
“I do.” The old woman’s head was lifted proudly, her features schooled by a lifetime of discipline to serenity, but Soval was aware of something beneath the surface calm.
“Your logic does you credit, granddaughter.”
“I think not. I always found him the most fascinating aspect of your tale.”
“Fascinating!” The scorn was clear in the old woman’s voice. “He was a fool – as I was to accede to his request.”
“Would someone,” Soval asked and even he could hear his irritation, “kindly explain this conversation to me?”
He received a twinned stare that almost forced him to retreat a step before T’Pen stretched out a hand to clasp one of his. “If you wish Soval to go, grandmother, he must hear the full tale.”
“I will not leave you at this time, wife.”
He was ignored – again – as T’Mir nodded her white head. “Perhaps.” Her eyes had retained their brightness unless that was a symptom of her last illness. They certainly pinned Soval securely in his place. “This is a family matter, Soval: my family, now yours by your marriage. What I tell you must not go beyond us. Do I have your word?”
He felt the pressure of T’Pen’s fingers on his, silently demanding agreement and nodded slowly. “Very well.”
“During my sixth decade,” there was a rhythm to the woman’s words that suggested she had told the story many times, “I was a member of a survey mission to Earth. Whilst in orbit, our ship suffered a catastrophic power failure. We were able to make a crash landing but our captain was killed …” Soval listened in increasing disbelief as the story unfolded, held from protest only by T’Mir’s unflinching gaze that never left his. “When we were finally rescued months later, Mestral chose to remain. I … colluded … in his defection.”
She fell silent at last and Soval shook his head slightly. “Preposterous! Madam, you must be mistaken. I cannot believe that one of our people would act in such a manner.”
“I assure you, young man, that my memory is entirely accurate. Mestral remained on Earth.”
“You will go to Earth, find him and ensure his silence.”
“I will not leave T’Pen in order to pursue a hopeless quest.”
“Madam,” Soval’s limited patience was at an end, “even if I believed you, there can be no possibility of success. In the timeframe you mentioned, Earth has passed through a war that makes those of our past seem trivial in comparison. If Mestral ever existed, he is dead.”
“Then find evidence of that.”
“Would you deny a dying woman the opportunity to correct the greatest mistake of her life?”
“Since it is I you are asking to undertake the correction, yes!”
“Soval,” T’Pen heaved herself to her feet, “you must do this.” She raised a hand to caress his cheek despite the presence of another. “I too would like to know what became of Mestral.”
“You would have me leave you?”
Soval argued a while longer but two women of T’Pen’s family were too much for him. Logic suggested that the illusive Mestral had chosen exile in order to escape T’Mir.
To one accustomed to the dry heat of Vulcan the climate of California struck Soval as unpleasantly cool and damp. The sunlight was also bright and the low gravity affected his digestion. He gave what little of the planet he could see from the Vulcan consulate a hard stare while he was waiting to be admitted to the presence of an official. It was a very unappealing place even it was Minshara class and the sooner he had done with this ridiculous errand the better.
Neither did the junior attaché who eventually condescended to meet with him promote a sense of serenity. “Utterly impossible.”
“I believe not.”
“Then you are ill-informed.”
“Others have done the same.”
“Anthropological study groups. This planet is not safe for one alone.”
“I am Vulcan. Humans are no threat to me.”
“Your request is denied.”
Soval almost allowed the note of finality in the other’s voice to be his excuse for an immediate return to home but the core of stubborn pride that was so hard to master won out as it often did. “I wish to travel on this planet. If you cannot grant this then kindly fetch your superior that I may explain my reasons again.” The other man hesitated but obeyed, leaving Soval to reflect that his action had been inappropriate. The caste system had been abolished centuries before but most still knew their descent and that young man had reacted to Soval’s superior birth, not to logic.
Soval spent four days being passed around officials of gradually escalating seniority until he was finally and grudgingly permitted a short interview with Solkar himself: Solkar who had been appointed ambassador to Earth over twenty years before and somehow never been replaced. Soval could not suppress the thought that Solkar must have disobliged the Vulcan High Council at some time to have been left so long in such an onerous posting. Personally Soval would have resigned long since.
Solkar regarded Soval over steepled fingers for a long moment while the younger man maintained a respectful silence then the ambassador finally said calmly, “I am told you wish to travel outside our compound.”
There was another long silence. “Why?”
Soval had spent a great deal of effort on the lie but it came no more readily to his tongue now than it had the first time. “I anticipate that one day my career will bring me into contact with humans. I thought to take the opportunity to learn something of them.”
“For which purpose you left your wife untimely?”
It was necessary to suppress annoyance; someone had been checking. “My wife’s family supported my decision.”
“I recall T’Mir.” Solkar noted the younger Vulcan’s surprise but let it pass. “She campaigned most vigorously for our withdrawal from Earth following first contact with the humans. Impossible, of course, but she was vociferous in her efforts. I find it strange that she should encourage her granddaughter’s husband to come here.”
Momentarily Soval wished that he could agree with the ambassador but he knew his duty. “Evidently her opinions have changed over the years.” That at least was true.
“Evidently.” Solkar’s gaze did not waver and it required a significant effort for Soval to hold his own steady. The energy required to lie was inordinate relative to the gain; another time he would simply withhold some part of the truth. “They are a strange people, Soval.”
“Hence my presence here.”
“I do not think you will profit from such a journey as you propose.”
Soval stiffened. “I assure you that I will.”
“You are too young, too rigid. It takes time, tolerance and considerable patience to even begin to understand the human species.”
“Nevertheless I would make the attempt.”
“Perhaps you have the stubbornness to succeed.” Solkar reached for a data recorder on his desk as a sign that the interview was over. “I will authorise your travel permit.” Soval inclined his head and turned to leave and the ambassador added flatly, “Go cautiously, Soval, and go armed. They fear us still.”
Despite Solkar’s warning and T’Mir’s firm instruction that he should not allow the humans to know that he was an alien, Soval left the consulate in his own robes, head bare to the yellow sunlight. That he might have misjudged was made clear to him within a very short space of time after several children had been pulled urgently out of his path, and various unflattering and inaccurate descriptions hurled after him. He reacted in the only way possible, by ignoring all such incidents and composing a revision to the Vulcan database. Its section on human society was entirely inaccurate. It was clear that individual humans had made no real progress in overcoming their prejudices no matter what laws their governments passed or what rhetoric was uttered by the social commentators.
The matter reached a head as he approached his destination. The library he had selected faced onto a square crowded with humans doing nothing constructive that Soval could see. He strode across, looking straight ahead, and was mounting the first steps when his outer robe was tugged sharply. Affronted at the invasion of privacy, he swung round and found himself face to face with a young male human. The stench of grain-based alcohol drove him back a pace and the creature bared its teeth; Soval had little experience with the species but he had served his time with the High Command and an Andorian had once smiled at him like that just before trying to kill him.
“That’s right, Vulcan, run away. Run right away and let us run our own planet.”
“We do not participate in the government of Earth.” Soval had been warned that facts and logic had little effect on the humans but Surak had advocated speech over violence and for two thousand years his people had lived by his precepts – when others had allowed them to do so.
“Sure, sure, we know the spiel! But we all know you’re holding us back.”
“Indeed? Have we prevented you from launching colony ships?”
“Yeah, right! Ones that can barely exceed light speed. They’ll take generations to get anywhere.”
“Then perhaps you should have waited until faster ships had been developed.”
“You’d like to see us stuck on Earth as long as possible.”
“I have no opinion on the matter.” Soval turned to continue up the steps having concluded that further discussion was pointless, and was pulled around again, this time so roughly that he staggered and heard a ripple of laughter from the crowd that had formed around them.
“Don’t condescend at me, you pointy-eared devil!”
There was an air of potential violence to the situation that Soval could almost taste and whilst logic suggested that no human would truly dare violence against a Vulcan, there was also the undoubted truth that this was a species who had routinely slaughtered each other with great enthusiasm for 99% of their recorded history. “I am under the protection of the Vulcan government.”
“I also possess approximately twice your strength and I am proficient in unarmed combat.”
“Are you threatening me?”
“Merely pointing out certain facts.”
“That’s enough!” The forceful voice was female and for a fraction of a second Soval half-expected to see T’Mir before logic prevailed. The woman who stepped in front of him was just as small as the women of his wife’s family but far less shapely unless that was simply the effect of the ill-fitting uniform. “You’ve had your fun. Now leave.” Her voice was husky, undoubtedly used to command, and had the desired effect as the crowd that had gathered melted away. Once she was satisfied that they were on the retreat, the woman turned to face Soval, fixing him with a hard stare. He sighed mentally – perhaps he just had a problem with the females of any species. “I suppose you’re going to demand an official apology for this?”
“For the innate hostility of your species? I think not.”
The woman’s expression hardened still further. “You’ve only yourself to blame. Vulcans aren’t welcome in this sector of the city.”
“Yet you profess yourselves a tolerant society.”
“We’re getting there.” Accusing brown eyes were still watching Soval from beneath thick auburn hair. “Weren’t you warned to stay out of some areas?”
“No.” He had been warned to avoid the entire planet.
“Then ask again!” She turned away, throwing a parting comment over her shoulder. “And if you’re thinking of pulling a stunt like this again, lose the ears!”
Soval glared after her, mentally composing another note, this one to Earth’s security service pointing out the weaknesses in their selection process. Unless they revised their policy, they were clearly in danger of recruiting individuals who could one day endanger the stability of the entire quadrant and possibly others as well. And why were they so obsessed with ears? Soval had no answer to that one.
Soval took the seat in the booth to which he had reluctantly been directed and accessed the connection, frowning at the delay. It would have been far more efficient to have accessed Earth’s information net from the Vulcan consulate but he had not wished anyone to note his activities. Here, it seemed, patience would be necessary in dealing with the primitive technology.
Patience ran out for Soval a little under six hours later when he concluded that the human species was entirely neurotic. Researching reports of alien encounters during the past 130 years had seemed the logical starting point given that he had already determined – discreetly, of course – that Vulcan had no official record of Mestral’s presence on Earth. What Soval had not anticipated was that humans would interpret every aircraft prototype, every weather balloon and every dream as an alien encounter. The only drop in sightings occurred when societies were busy persecuting other segments of their own species – then they reported spies.
Soval glared at the screen before him. Now what was he supposed to do? Systematically search every settlement on Earth? By the time he completed such a search, Mestral would be long dead if he was not already … if he had ever existed. Methodically, Soval reviewed the options. He could go home – much his preferred choice but not one of which he believed T’Pen would approve. He could report the matter to the Vulcan authorities and request a planet-wide sensor sweep for Vulcan life signs – he had little doubt that the request would be granted but if Mestral were found he would end his life in a psychiatric facility. Again unlikely to be acceptable to T’Pen because it would mean that T’Mir would also be called to account for her complicity in allowing Mestral to remain on Earth. And the third option – Soval still had to find Mestral himself.
Soval left the consulate before dawn the next morning, mainly so that none of the other Vulcans would notice the bag he carried but also to minimise the risk that a human would see him removing his outer robe and pulling a close-fitting hat down over the offending ears. Personally he thought that such a crude disguise concealed nothing but presumably the humans never looked beyond the obvious. It certainly seemed to be effective. During the journey to Carbon Creek Soval received no more than cursory glances and he presumed that was because he neither chattered incessantly nor laughed inanely. The time certainly passed slowly and by the time the destination was reached, Soval had drawn a conclusion: humans gave him a headache. He anticipated that they always would.
It did not take him long to establish that his journey had been entirely wasted. Nothing remained from the time of T’Mir’s sojourn there and certainly no records nor any evidence that Mestral had ever returned. Soval did manage to locate the crash site of T’Mir’s ship through the traces of deuterium left in the soil, which at least confirmed a part of her story; there had always been the lingering doubt in his mind that she might simply be suffering from the early stages of Bendii syndrome.
Soval spent the night close to the crash site, preferring isolation to the dubious shelter he might have found within the town. The small fire provided a focus for his meditation but he came no nearer a solution. He had not truly expected to find Mestral in Carbon Creek but it had been the one place definitely associated with the other Vulcan. Soval stared into the flames and again posed the question: if he were a Vulcan intent on exploring human culture, where would he go? But he knew by now that he was not going to find an answer. The only place he would have wished to go was the ship taking him back to Vulcan and to civilisation; and if such a ship were to appear now, he would be on it with great dispatch.
With something closer to irritation than he cared to admit, Soval threw more wood onto his fire and admitted that for once logic was not going to provide an answer. This situation was grossly illogical and he should never have allowed himself to be persuaded to undertake the task. Reluctantly he abandoned logic. He would never be able to trace Mestral’s movements in a systematic manner. The best he could hope for was that random chance allowed his path to cross that of the other Vulcan.
For the first time, Soval seriously considered the answer to the first question that had occurred to him: was Mestral likely to have survived years of war, disease and bigotry? The answer, he admitted reluctantly, was ‘yes’. However dubious his motives, Mestral was Vulcan, intellectually superior to any human, stronger, immune to every disease native to the planet, even the bio-engineered viruses that blind stupidity had unleashed. He would have had the objectivity to have seen the approach of war and taken measures to maximise his probability of survival. Politically the southern hemisphere had fragmented just as thoroughly as the northern in the nuclear winter that followed the bombing but if anywhere on Earth had been safe … Soval reviewed his knowledge of recent Earth history acquired on the transport ship that had brought him, looking for the safe haven that Mestral might have sought. There was really only one option. Australia had avoided direct involvement in the global war and while its economy had collapsed along with that of the rest of the world, it claimed to have kept the light of learning alive during Earth’s second dark age. Cochrane admitted to having benefited from Australian research … Cochrane who had not only extrapolated warp theory from the hesitant theorising of earlier generations but who had constructed a ship capable of sustaining a stable warp field from the broken remnants of technology available to him. A warp field that had alerted a Vulcan vessel to the emergence of a new space-capable species.
Soval frowned at his dying fire. The theory that he had just formulated was ludicrous, mere idle speculation, but Australia was a logical starting point – if he could gain access to that most independent of nations.
A further few days at the Vulcan consulate in San Francisco were enough to prove to Soval that he was not going to be able to pursue his quest legally. His request to the Australian government for permission to enter the country had been denied – unless he cared to enter into a year’s teaching contract. Briefly he considered accepting and then finding an excuse to leave again within a few days but he could not quite bring himself to undertake that level of deception. Irritated at the necessity – and at himself for allowing the emotion to surface – he contacted the sole Vulcan representative in Australasia and tried to procure an invitation to the Australian Science Academy.
He would have preferred to remain in the tranquillity of the Vulcan compound whilst awaiting the invitation but by now every Vulcan on Earth knew the ostensible reason for his presence so he was forced to make a pretence of acquainting himself with human culture. This consisted mainly of long hours in secluded library cubicles pursuing a theory that was threatening to disturb his peace of mind, but of necessity he met a few humans, mostly quiet, studious types who seemed no more inclined than himself to talk. He never again encountered the open hostility of his first expedition – he had learnt to be wary – but everywhere there was distrust, suspicion and usually resentment. Soval had come to Earth with the same opinion as most of his species: that, warp-capable or not, humans were too immature to be exposed to the dangers of deep space. His time amongst them was pushing him towards the belief that it was the rest of the galaxy that needed to be protected from humanity. If they resented a people who had their best interests in view then what attitude would they adopt towards those who would resent human arrogance and wilfulness? It would be a race to see if Earth began a crusade against their enemies before those enemies destroyed them.
And then there was Soval’s theory. He knew the dangers in searching for evidence to support a theory rather than using the facts to construct a valid premise. He knew that Cochrane claimed sole credit for his incredible achievement – if one dismissed the alcohol-induced delusions of help from people from the future. He knew that the work of Cochrane and his followers had been closely supervised ever since first contact. But … how had Cochrane achieved that first set of warp field equations? The conventional answer was that he was a genius who had made a leap of understanding beyond the comprehension of his fellow scientists. Such moments of exponential progress were unknown in Vulcan’s scientific history and it was one of the reasons for the interest in humanity’s warp programme, but Soval was starting to doubt that they would witness another such moment of revelation.
Why was there a gap in the record of Cochrane’s miserable life? The man himself put it down to a period of self-abuse but within two months of his re-emergence he had started to construct his first warp coils. The humans, even most Vulcans, would call it coincidence but Soval did not believe in coincidence. He did believe that there had been one person on Earth at that time who had a thorough grounding in warp theory and who had already proved himself misguided and without moral fortitude.
When the news came that an invitation to visit the Australian Science Academy would not be forthcoming, Soval found that he had already decided on his next move. Within an hour he was on his way to Bozeman, Montana, where, twenty three years earlier, a member of his species had set foot on a half desolate planet in the firm belief that he was about to make first contact.
The shantytown that had confronted the Vulcans who first came seeking Cochrane had been swept away and replaced with modern buildings and Earth’s official warp 2 development facility. In his research, Soval had come across Cochrane’s frequent requests for additional funds and his increasingly vitriolic attacks on a planet that preferred to concentrate its efforts on improving the lot of its population rather than on his vision of space exploration. Such an attitude seemed entirely illogical to Soval. Earth was still suffering from hunger, disease and the effects of war and any reasonable individual must see that as the immediate need. Ventures into deep space could be delayed and yet a few ships had been sent out to seek a better home amongst the stars – in Soval’s opinion a rash endeavour whose eventual failure should have been foreseen from the beginning.
Soval avoided the Vulcan observers who’s thankless – and, if Soval was correct, pointless - task it was to follow Cochrane’s progress. There was no justification he could give for his presence in Bozeman; Vulcans did not undertake sightseeing trips. He had to lurk in the vicinity of the research facility for several hours, disguising hat firmly in place, before Cochrane’s tall, gangly figure emerged and headed towards the centre of the settlement. Soval acted at once, not wanting a public confrontation. He was a head shorter than the human but that did not make it any more difficult to step out behind the man and find the correct pressure point to send him into unconsciousness and then there were plenty of secluded corners in which to await his awakening.
In the fifteen minutes it took Cochrane to regain consciousness, Soval had perfected his story. Lying was becoming easier with practise; he was even considering applying to the Ministry of Security for consideration for covert operations. As the human stirred, Soval levelled his weapon, ensuring that the light of a waxing moon fell upon it while he remained in shadow. “Please remain still, Mr Cochrane.”
The man shook his head, squinting upwards as a hand reached to massage an aching shoulder. “What?” Then he saw the gun. “I’ve nothing worth stealing.”
“I wish to ask you some questions.”
“At gun point? Who the hell are you?”
“With a gun?”
The disbelief made Soval wonder if he had miscalculated but it was a little late to retract. Perhaps he was not as skilled at lying as he had hoped. “Of course.”
“Go to hell!” Cochrane started to stand and Soval was forced to use a foot to force him back down. Unfortunately he overestimated the human’s strength and Cochrane was sent flying backwards, ending in a heap on the ground again. “OK, OK,” he panted, a hand rising in surrender as Soval approached, devoutly hoping he had not inflicted critical damage, “what d’you want?”
“Did you have help in devising your first set of warp field equations?”
“Haven’t you read the history books, man?” At a disadvantage or not, the human’s arrogance was outstanding. “I’m Zephram Cochrane! The first man to break the light barrier! The unit of warp field strength will carry my name for as long as mankind roams space!”
“Who helped you, Mr Cochrane?”
“What prompted you to revisit Stephen Hawking’s last work?”
“Who told you how to construct a warp coil?”
“I do not believe you.”
“Who are you?” Cochrane was peering into the shadows. “Are the Australians trying to claim credit again? They were years away.”
“I agree – but they were closer than you, Mr Cochrane, before your brief disappearance in 2060.”
For the first time there was a slight pause. “The drink inspired me. I made the break-through with pink elephants dancing on my head.”
Soval did not understand the imagery – he assumed that the description was not literal – but did not allow himself to be distracted when he sensed his own break-through was close. “It is entirely untrue that alcohol enhances the human cognitive process. Who did you meet, Mr Cochrane?”
“I was drunk! I don’t remember.”
“Then there was someone.”
“Hell, I was seeing a lot of things that weren’t there. I always thought the guy was right up there alongside the two headed goat and the dancing girls.”
“He instructed you in warp theory.”
“We talked. He was my delusion, why shouldn’t we? The goat didn’t say much.”
“Have you seen him since?”
“The goat drops by Sundays.”
“I haven’t been that drunk since.”
“Where did this encounter take place?”
“Gee, d’you want to go see it? Put up a statue? ‘Here Zephram Cochrane sold his soul to the devil in exchange for the greatest discovery mankind will ever make’.”
“Where was it, Mr Cochrane?” Soval’s patience had been sorely tried but even he was surprised to hear the anger in his voice and evidently the human heard it too. The expression of amused indifference faded and the Vulcan found himself meeting the level stare of someone he could perhaps believe stood head and shoulders above any other scientist of his day.
“Up in the mountains to the south east of here. Small place, I never knew its name. I met him in a bar playing pool – if he was real.”
“Thank you, Mr Cochrane.” Soval turned away and Cochrane scrambled rapidly to his feet.
“Hey, wait up! Where are you going? What are you going to do?” Soval ignored him, not anticipating that the human would dare follow, but Cochrane lunged forward careless of the threat of the now concealed weapon and pulled Soval around so that for a moment the two men faced each other in the lighted street. Soval ducked his head sharply and turned away again but not before he had seen Cochrane’s eyes widen in recognition. After all, he of all humans should be able to spot a Vulcan when he saw one. He made no further move, however, and neither did he speak as Soval strode away, although the Vulcan knew that he was watched. It was not a comfortable sensation.
A very small amount of research was sufficient to prove to Soval that he had been far too sophisticated in his search for the renegade. There it was in plain type, George Mestral, Jardine, Montana. He had no doubt that he could have traced George Mestral back through the years and a dozen different locations to Carbon Creek. If you wanted to hide, where better than in plain sight amongst the teeming multitude of Earth’s population?
The transport landed him in the centre of the small town and as he stopped to consult his map he became aware that he was being scrutinised. A cautious look revealed only a young boy, however, and Soval relaxed a fraction although he tensed again at the child’s first frank question. “You’re not from around here, are you?”
“Have you come to visit Mr Mestral?”
A hard stare had no effect; as usual human curiosity was immune to hints. “Why do you ask?”
“You sort of look like him. Maybe it’s the hat.” The child showed no sign of leaving. “Want me to show you the way?”
Soval gave in. “Very well.”
The house was some distance outside the town, little more than a shack set in a well-tended plot. Its owner was busy weeding the vegetable patch but straightened as his visitors approached, meeting Soval’s eyes calmly before turning to the boy who had pushed open the gate and appeared not to have noted the sudden tension. “Hi, Mr Mestral. I brought you a visitor.”
“So I see.” A hand reached out to ruffle the brown hair. “Thank you, James.”
“I guess I’d better go now.” There was regret in the young voice.
“That may be as well. I suspect that my … compatriot … has much to say to me.”
“Can I come round tomorrow? You said you’d explain some more quantum physics if I helped out with the digging.”
Mestral didn’t move his eyes from Soval. “Tomorrow might be a problem.”
“The next day?”
“We will see. Go now, James, and thank you for bringing my … visitor.” The boy left slowly, head hanging back over his shoulder as the two Vulcans studied each other. “A good boy,” Mestral said eventually and headed for his house. “Perhaps you would care to come inside?”
Soval followed the upright, vigorous figure, aware of the irony of Mestral’s obvious good health. T’Mir had had access to excellent medical care all her life and yet she was dying. Mestral was much of an age and had lived three quarters of his life in a state of moral ambivalence on a primitive planet without such facilities and was very much alive. Once inside he had removed his hat to reveal white hair falling to his shoulders, further obscuring the ears, and was busy in a small kitchen area, returning after a few minutes to offer one of a pair of mugs to Soval. “Camomile tea – a pleasant beverage.” He noted Soval’s doubtful look and sighed, proffering the other mug before seating himself. The silence drew out while Soval realised that he had no idea what to say and eventually Mestral raised an eyebrow. “I believe ‘you are under arrest’ would be the correct opening.” Still Soval did not speak. “You are from the Ministry of Security?”
“Indeed? Then may I know who you are and why you are here?”
“T’Mir instructed me to find you.”
“T’Mir? A woman of somewhat reluctant compassion. She left it a long time before reporting her … error.” He was studying Soval closely and the younger man found it an uncomfortable experience. This man was a renegade, very possibly a criminal, who had lived amongst violent and emotion individuals for decades; he should not be able to read anything from Soval’s disciplined expression but it seemed that perhaps he could. “So … this is not an official visit. Who are you that T’Mir would send you on such a commission?”
“I am married to T’Mir’s granddaughter.” Soval found himself reluctant to give his name but there was little justification for not doing so. “My name is Soval.”
“And why did T’Mir send her granddaughter’s husband to find me?”
“She is dying and you are … unfinished business.”
“Yes,” Mestral moved to regard the view from a window, “I can see how she might consider it so. Poor T’Mir. She must have lived in dread these last years, fearing that I would be discovered and her own lapse of logic made public.”
“You have been contaminated by your time here. T’Mir would allow no such emotion to touch her.”
“No?” The tone was amused and Soval stiffened, offended. “What now? Do you require my promise that I will spend my declining years in decent obscurity? That has always been my main concern, you know.”
“You fool yourself! You are still alive, Mestral. How could you survive without some knowing what you were? Or did you kill to protect your obscurity?”
“I did not.” The other man’s voice was firm. “Humans can be unstintingly loyal. Yes, I took human women into my confidence. I never harmed them nor they me.”
“And Cochrane?” For the second time in two days Soval heard the anger in his voice reflecting the bubbling fury within him that he had had no time to suppress. “Do you deny that you helped him?”
Slowly the old man returned to his seat as Soval left his to pace restlessly. “A strange thought.”
“Do not deny it! I have spoken with Cochrane. He told me of the ‘inspiration’ he found in the mountains.”
“Yet I do deny it.” Mestral’s eyes were far calmer than Soval’s and that only infuriated the young Vulcan further. “Yes, I met Zephram Cochrane, purely by chance, at the time when he had despaired both of his own work and of humanity. He was brilliant, Soval! A scientific genius such as Vulcan has never produced. I could not stand by and let that be wasted, not on top of all else that had been lost.”
“You gave warp technology to a people not ready for it!”
“I did not. I encouraged him, perhaps I offered a few pointers, but the knowledge was Cochrane’s. He would have succeeded without my … inspiration.”
“Not within three years.”
For the first time an emotion crossed Mestral’s face, one of pain. “Perhaps not, but the humans needed us. The planet had fragmented. Without some unifying movement I did not believe that they could recover.”
“So you told Cochrane how to construct a warp drive, knowing that it would attract our attention.”
“I encouraged him.”
“You fool!” Never had Soval been so angry; afterwards he would look back upon it as the most shameful incident of his life. “You have ensured that the humans will venture out into space before they are ready. Before they have the ability to defend themselves, to comprehend the scope of the dangers they will face.”
“You underestimate them. They will prosper.”
“You have ensured their ultimate destruction!”
“They are survivors, infinitely adaptable, infinitely inventive.”
“They are children!”
“Then guide them, nurture them – but do not seek to hold them back or they will resent you beyond measure.”
“All that can be done is to limit the damage that you have caused. It was poorly done, Mestral, poorly done.”
“We will see.” The other man seemed unmoved by the danger that was so self-evident to Soval. “What do you propose to do with me now that you have found me?”
“You will return with me to Vulcan.” That had not been Soval’s intention but he could not think clearly around the pulse of anger in his head; all he knew was that he wanted to go home.
There was a moment in which Mestral appeared to consider the matter before he shook his head. “I think not. The prospect of spending my final years in seclusion and disgrace has little appeal.”
The gun came to Soval’s hand with very little conscious thought on his part. “You will. There is no other option.”
The old Vulcan studied the angry one carefully, fully aware of his danger. No Vulcan, however estranged, ever forgot the double-edged sword of which most other species saw only the calm and the logic. “I think you will find that tal-shaya is the traditional method of execution.” The gun shook very slightly. “Then you may cremate me as we did our captain to remove the evidence. Will you do it? As you believe a human would kill?”
For a moment longer lifelong training fought Vulcan instinct then Soval snarled and flung the weapon against a wall and fled. Mestral drew a deep breath and went to make himself more tea.
The elderly Vulcan was watching the sunrise when Soval returned the next day after a night spent in meditation and a few hours before that of which he had no very clear recollection. Mestral said nothing, simply filling a spare mug from the teapot by his side and handing it over. Soval drank in silence for a few moments, eyes also fixed on the sky that, for a brief interval, was almost as red as Vulcan’s. “You were wrong. Grossly so.”
“Only time will determine that. What do you propose, Soval?”
“Nothing. I will tell T’Mir that you did not survive the war.”
“Do not thank me.” Soval placed the mug delicately on the ground beside the other Vulcan and stared down at him with distaste, “Should you need assistance with your … ultimate disposal … contact me.”
“I will try to die discreetly.” Mestal was amused and Soval glared, tempted to remonstrate further but it was pointless. He turned his back and strode out of the yard and towards the town on the first step of his journey home.
When Soval stepped onto Vulcan soil he was conscious of relief despite the long hours spent meditating over the past days. He wanted to be with T’Pen again and to tell her the truth. He was weary of lying and the bond between husband and wife was one of absolute trust; he could speak freely to her as to no one else.
Their apartment was empty, the only welcome a curt message telling him to come to his mother-in-law’s house. Soval sighed in frustration but it was not unexpected. If T’Pen had continued to be unwell then it was best that she stayed with her mother in his absence. A faint sense of unease only presented itself when T’Men paused a moment when he presented himself at her door then invited him to a seat. “Madam?”
“Soval,” his mother-in-law seated herself opposite, “there is no easy way to say this: T’Pen is dead.” His breath caught even as his head shook very slightly. “Her body rejected the child – a rare condition and one for which we have no cure. I share your grief,” and she left him alone with the only gift a Vulcan could give another at such a time: privacy.
It was hours later before Soval left the room but T’Men had clearly been waiting for him. She rose to her feet as he stepped out, a bundle cradled in her arms that she held out to him. “This is your daughter.”
He stared uncomprehendingly at the child. “I thought …”
“The condition kills the mother but not always the child. We named her T’Pol.”
“I … see.” He allowed T’Men to place the child in his arms, surprised at her slight weight. “She is healthy?”
“You will raise her?”
“Of course.” It had been a foolish question. With T’Pen’s death, his connection with her family ended and all under-age children fell to the guardianship of their maternal family. He would be allowed access to his daughter, but they would never be close.
“I have business with T’Mir.”
“I will tell her that you are here.” Gently T’Pen’s hand guided him towards a chair, a rare intimacy. “Stay with your daughter a while, Soval. There is time.”
He sunk down, still staring at the child who had not woken. “T’Pol.” He ran a gentle finger through hair that looked to be a shade darker than her mother’s. “My daughter, what other choice did I have? The truth would destroy us all.”
The message reached Soval when he was serving as an attaché to the ambassador to Qo’noS, not a comfortable posting but one that at least meant a great deal of time spent on Vulcan since the Klingon Empire rarely allowed outsiders on their home world. Soval had once considered asking why the High Command continued with the pretence that they maintained diplomatic relations with the Klingons but had held his tongue. Since his transfer to the diplomatic service ten years previously, he had been a model of discretion and orthodoxy apart from a stubborn refusal to remarry.
There was nothing to indicate where the message had originated and that was unusual. Soval regarded the file gravely for a moment then opened it to scan the scant words: ‘You are needed’.
Despite the ambiguity of the message there was no doubt in Soval’s mind as to the meaning. Sixteen years had not been sufficient to erode his memory of Mestral’s shameless behaviour and if this was the request to tidy up after the renegade Vulcan then he would do what was required. It was easy enough this time to manufacture an excuse to visit Earth – Qo’noS was dangerously close to that planet and keeping Klingons away took a good deal of robust diplomacy – and no more difficult to disappear from the consulate for a few hours. Focussed on his ultimate destination, Soval did not notice how Earth had changed even in the brief span of years since his first visit – he never would – but arrived in Montana in a state of righteousness that lasted until he pushed open the door of Mestral’s house and found himself face-to-face not with the old Vulcan but with a human his own chronological age. “Cochrane.”
“That’s me.” The man heaved himself up. “You’ve not changed much.”
Belatedly Soval recognised his mistake. “I do not believe we have met.”
“I never forget the face of a man who points a gun at me – or a Vulcan either.”
“Where is Mestral?”
“Out back.” A grimace passed over the man’s face. “He died yesterday.”
“What are you doing here?”
“Waiting for you.” The mouth curled into a thin smile. “Mestral was sure you’d come.”
“You lied when you said you did not know who assisted you.” Soval abandoned discretion. Cochrane appeared to have that effect on him.
“I told you the truth. I really thought I dreamt the whole thing – until a Vulcan who didn’t want to be seen started asking questions. Made me curious enough to take a hike up here.”
Soval felt his muscles contract. “You made contact with Mestral again.”
“Four years later you constructed a warp 2 engine.”
Cochrane smiled and headed for the door. “I’ll be getting along, I never have cared for funerals. Maybe I’ll see you in space sometime – if you can keep up with me.”
The human had already constructed Mestral’s pyre. All that remained for Soval to do was light it, then he stood watching the flames consume the frail body. The fact that Cochrane had misled him in a fit of half vengeful mischief never occurred to the Vulcan. His only certainty was that he had compounded T’Mir’s original error and Mestral’s wilful interference. He had to make amends for the folly of his own kind that had exposed humanity to dangers it was not ready to face and the rest of the galaxy to the destabilising influence of an immature species. He would hold them back as long as he could – and they could resent him for it if they chose. His was a very personal responsibility.
A whole mess of folks have made comments
This is really good over all. There's just one thing though. Children staying with the mother's family doesn't make much sense with what we've seen. Sarek raised Sybok after his first wife died.
Still, I rather enjoyed this one. I especially like Soval's determination to correct the mistakes of his people.
I really enjoyed this! It fits perfectly with everything we know about Soval, and redeems his nobility as a man and a Vulcan... excellent!
I was reminded of the backstory for Cancer Man on X-files as I read this: he knows a lot more than he can reveal, was intimately involved in altering history... and he carries the burden alone EVERY DAY!
Please, please, can I archive this on my Soval site?
Excellent story! Though I couldn't quite "hear" Soval's voice when I read this, the overall characterization was excellent! Terrific Job!
Wow. That was an awesome story. Poor Soval. I'd love to read a sequel.. ;-)
great story....like how you explained Soval's reasons for holding back the deep space programme.
This is a geat story that you have wrote!!!
This is a great story;yeahright Tiffany is a brat!!!
More About T/pol Great Story Sequl Please!!
Watched a rerun of "Carbon Creek" tonight and decided to reread this story as well. It's been a while since it was written. Any change of a sequel to see whether Soval's reasons for holding back Earth's space program are still valid in his own eyes?
I rarely read Enterprise fic, but this one was a treat. Though, as a native of Montana, it really bothers me that Brannon Braga thinks Bozeman is the center of the universe. It's a nice town with a good university in it, but I just never saw someone like Cochrane setling down in such a touristy/mainstream (for MT) place. It's well known that the nukes are kept in other parts of the state.
I'll shut up now. I liked your story.