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Of Old Shipmates, by Linda
Of Old Shipmates
Two people sat in the back of a San Francisco restaurant near the waterfront. Marty sipped his wine and looked at his sister. “Did you see those Vulcan technicians at the sea shore today? They were so curious about the ocean but jumped back like cats in surprise and disgust when a wave came in and wet their shoes. They seem nothing like us, they seem so… alien.”
“It’s the clothes. It’s the way they move, sort of a glide like walk. I wonder if there is anything Dad has passed on to us that would be recognizable to them culturally?” mused Laura Jean. “I see nothing of Dad in them. Perhaps over a hundred years on Earth has erased all his Vulcan cultural traits.”
Marty gazed at his sister. “Oh I doubt that. But cultures change, politics change. Why they are so interested in Earth now is beyond me, even with Cochrane’s flight and all. It’s only been a year and they are crawling all over the planet.”
“Except for Carbon Creek. Dad is glad of that you know, Marty. Guess our mountains are a low priority: no strange new food plants, no interesting architecture, and not even much pollution from the war to clean up. ”
“Ok Laura, so we live in a backwater. But we have Vulcan blood. It IS our heritage, and we do have family on Vulcan. Dad’s parents may still be alive and he has mentioned a brother and a sister.”
“Marty, they don’t even know we exist. We are half-breeds. They might well be ashamed of us. Look at the way Vulcans avoid personal contact with humans. They might be kinder to full humans than to us. And as to heritage, we are as American as anyone in Carbon Creek. Vulcan is as foreign to us as Poland is to your friend Tom Kolacinski, more foreign actually. ”
“Ashamed of us? Is that what Dad thinks? He is so tight lipped about it all. But he watches the media closely and mutters in Vulcan about this thing or that. He said clothing styles had changed and he wondered if ideas on alien contact had also changed. He was looking for subtle clues. Laura, here he comes now. He sees us but he has spotted those technicians and is rerouting so his back is to them. Gosh! He is so paranoid about being recognized.”
Mestral edged over to the table at the back of the restaurant where his children waited. Why had he even thought this trip to San Francisco was a good idea? But he wanted to see first hand what his people were up to. It had been so long since he had heard the sound of his native language, since he had seen a group of Vulcans in native dress up close. But homesickness was an emotion he could not afford to give in to. As head of the family it was up to him to do what was best for them. Choosing a chair in the shadow near the wall, Mestral moved it slightly so he could see the Vulcans at the window table by looking over Marty’s shoulder. For a long moment he gazed expressionless at his two eldest children. “Have you ordered?”
Marty replied: “Didn’t know what you wanted, Dad. Why not a big juicy steak as part of your cover? You don’t have to eat it, you know.”
The vegetarian dishes here were quite interesting. Mestral had occasionally eaten chicken or fish when traveling, and like Marty, would accept non-killed animal products like milk and cheese. Laura would eat anything. All three strained their ears to hear what the Vulcan technicians were ordering.
Marty began drumming his long Vulcan fingers on the table and looking intently at his father. “I don’t see why after all this time that it really matters, Dad. Surely your crewmates won’t be sanctioned? Not with all the data you have gathered showing your years on earth were fruitful. It should be useful now that you have been proved right about this planet being worthy of contact.”
Mestral raised an eyebrow. “Fruitful includes you. They won’t like that. The interplanetary trade commission is paranoid enough about families of diplomats from both worlds sneaking their pets home. Their biggest nightmare would be a pack of hunting sehlats gone wild in the California desert or domestic earth felines breeding in the streets of some Vulcan city, let alone what’s breeding in the hills of Pennsylvania.”
Marty continued to argue. “What about infinite variety and all that philosophy you told us about? It is the very nature of the evolution of the universe to make new combinations, isn’t it?”
Mestral retorted, “IDIC may be the philosophy of the biologists at the Vulcan Science Academy, but the High Command takes a more protective view, and rightly so, considering all the forms of life that are out there. Some are very hostile you know, as many an unfortunate Vulcan has found out. That is one of the lessons the diplomats will be teaching Humans. Some day Humans will be thankful it was the Vulcans and not the Klingons who made first contact. Klingons don’t subscribe to our rule of pre-warp non-interference.”
“But you interfered,” countered Marty.
Mestral sighed. “Not by original intent. I was stranded here. But you are right, I broke the rule and my shipmates covered for me.” Mestral buried himself in the menu. He decided the asparagus salad was too expensive and ordered a rice dish. “You know, in five years maybe, asparagus prices will come down to where they were pre-contact. It grows in sandy soil and word is the cultivation of it on Vulcan is becoming successful.”
“Well I guess there is enough sand there for that.” Marty quipped.
Mestral had a thought as he saw the technicians at the window table raising eyebrows over a wild rice dish. “I will make a list of food items that please the Vulcan palate and have a long shelf life. I want you both to stock up on them before they become expensive.”
“Won’t they just start to grow them on Vulcan too?”
“I think not Laura, at least not wild rice as it requires too much water. There is only one sea of any size on Vulcan and the precious few wetlands suitable to rice cultivation are wildlife sanctuaries. Like white rice, wild rice would be cheaper to import. Trust me, if you don’t want it priced off your dinner table, buy it up now.”
“Dad you keep starring at them. It must have been exciting for you, that day they arrived.”
Mestral recalled the day an alien survey ship had landed in Idaho. His mind had been filled with hope and dread. The shape of the ship on the TV screen was only vaguely familiar. So was it? Could it be? Then he saw a tall humanoid form move forward out of the evening shadow near a makeshift tavern in an open shed. He knew by the way the person walked. My people! My people have come! I am vindicated! They have judged this world worthy of contact.
“Dad?” Laura prompted.
“Oh yes dear. Yes, that was quite an…. exciting day.”
“So what was it like Dad, really. I mean why did you stay in the first place? The only one of your species on the whole planet? I don’t think I could have done that.”
Mestral shifted in his chair to gather his thoughts. “Son, Humans looked more like Vulcans than any other species I had ever met, but enough different to be intriguing, especially in their open emotions. Emotions I could feel, too.”
The first emotion Mestral identified in Humans was one he wished he could allow more in himself. It was associated with the essence of a beloved mother: compassion. Not being one of the violent emotions, he always thought it deserved a place in his life. It was a touchstone, the first lure into the world of an alien people who were to become as his own. Of the three stranded Vulcan shipmates, Mestral was the most gregarious. His need of interaction with other sentient beings was greater and had made his first conversations with Humans easier.
Mestral spoke to his children again. “Immediately after T’Mir and Stron left I wandered over the earth. I listened with a universal translator to get the basics of languages, but knowing English got me through most situations. By the time the translator battery wore down I was fluent in several earth languages. Still, the dysfunction of the instrument was a disconnect from the home world psychologically. I had lost the last fluent voice in my native language other than the distorted echo of my own voice in an empty room.”
Mestral fell silently into reflection. Menial jobs funded his sojourn at first but he soon learned that other forms of gambling besides pool were good sources of income. He did very well in the stock market. Air travel often bothered him because the cabins were pressurized to human standard. Since Earth air was thicker than air on Vulcan, his sinuses and ears hurt with the quick changes in altitude. This problem balanced out his gain in strength and speed, which the lighter earth gravity allowed him. Each world had advantages and disadvantages for a non-native.
“Dad, wake up, we lost you again. Was it Mom that you stayed here for? One particular human rather than humans in general?” teased Laura.
“I was lonely. I needed to share the story of my origin with someone.” Mestral smiled and was off reminiscing again. Back then he knew he would have to deal with his male Vulcan nature and had planned some options. But being young, it was the first time the Pon farr had overwhelmed him and no one can ever be prepared for it despite cultural training. He had tracked straight back to the person he felt most comfortable with: Maggie. He thought she might be horrified and reject him. Her gentle acceptance and love were a welcome surprise when having to vaguely explain about some ‘family genetic anomalies’ as she playfully pulled off his watch cap (among other pieces of clothing). Then there was the “Oh, what have we done now?” panic when Maggie actually became pregnant. They immediately asked her son Jack for help. He had gone to college thanks to T’Mir and with his network of medical contacts was able to do what Mestral thought impossible with the level of earth medical technology at the time. Still, their first child died in the womb. But he was now sitting across the table, in a San Francisco restaurant, from the two children he and Maggie had been able to have.
“Dad, about Mom”.
“Oh yes, you know she was my whole life. I miss her so much. Over time I told her the whole truth. At first I tried to make her think my people were from an undiscovered culture on earth, but the descriptions of everyday Vulcan life involved technology which stretched her credulity. I think she guessed before she finally confronted me about it. The final revelation that put all the pieces of my origin in place came on the night we watched The Day the Earth Stood Still on TV. Your mother thought the robot frightening. I told her I found the movie frightening too, but it was not the robot. She looked at me gently and said: ‘your culture, it must be something like Klaatu’s. But you are stranded here, aren’t you? Do you wish to go home?’ I told her ‘I made my choice. Aren’t you glad I am not the bug-eyed monster of so many of these xenophobic films?’ She reached for my hand, which always gave her a tingling sensation from the telepathic touch. ‘So you really are alien but so…. human.’ ”
Marty interrupted. “So why didn’t you teach us anything about your culture? Why didn’t you teach us to speak Vulcan?”
“I could have taught you children to speak Vulcan like natives. But I would have had to isolate you from other children, make you communicate only with me. That would have made you aliens in you own world. I remember calling to you in Vulcan and you would laugh and correct me with the English phrase just like the Kolacinski children did when their father spoke to them in Polish.”
Mestral thought about Paul Kolacinski, a friend now long gone. He was a refugee in England during World War II who had married an American Red Cross worker and immigrated to her Carbon Creek home. Paul and Mestral helped each other with gutter cleaning and roof repairs on their homes. Paul had said, “I know you were a miner before you made your fortune. It seems that coal dust effects people in different ways and you had the misfortune to develop that ear deformity and blood disorder which you seem to have passed on to your kids”. Mestral smiled at the memory of Paul saying to his children: “You don’t have to feel ashamed about those ears you kids inherited from your dad. Don’t listen to those nasty kids who tell tales about you being Irish fairies and elves. Everyone has something wrong with them even if it is not such a visible deformity.”
Paul and Mestral had discovered that a small isolated community would protect its own. Mestral knew he had become a local when some curious doctor who had treated him for a cold when he was away from home had tracked him to Carbon Creek. Mestral was sitting in the café having coffee with his watch cap on when the doctor entered and asked Sarah the waitress about the man with the pointed ears. Sarah told him “Yes, he used to live here but moved away”. She made the rounds with the coffee pot and passing by Mestral, gave him a conspiratorial pat on the shoulder.
Marty broke into Mestral’s reverie. “Why Dad, you never talked about language and your people and Mom with us like this before. I wish my marriage was as good as yours and Mom’s.”
“You know, life with your mother was the best time of my life. But there were spots of friction as in all marriages. Do you know why I like those old I Love Lucy reruns? They are a microcosm of intercultural marriage. It was your mother who came up with the insight that explained the human love of knickknacks. You remember the ornaments she had cluttering up side tables? They always irritated me when I searched for a spot to set a cup of tea down. No Vulcan home would ever be so encumbered. On house cleaning days, if I did not find an outside chore fast enough, I was assigned to dusting them. I said, ‘Maggie, you do not need all these things. A room looks better with only the necessary furniture for its purpose – a couple of chairs and one table would do in here’. She replied, ‘The room would be so stark like that. I want it warm and cozy.’
I answered back while dusting a miniature tea set with shamrocks painted all over it: ‘When we are expecting more guests, we can just take some folding chairs out of storage. It is more logic…’ ‘Don’t say it!’ she snapped. We both continued our tasks in huffy silence for a time. Then she spoke pensively, ‘I think Humans need ornaments where Vulcans don’t. You have eidetic memory but I need prompts for mine. Each of my knickknacks is a souvenir of some event that I would like to remember.’ ”
Laura spoke gently. “So that is why you made me box up all those things and take them to my house after Mom died”.
Mestral sat silently mulling over Laura’s words. He mentioned another episode which illustrated the truth of Maggie’s reflection. “It was her fortieth birthday and we were recalling her thirty-seventh birthday. I mentioned it as a notable one because her Aunt Martha, who had died before your mother’s thirty-eighth birthday, had baked and decorated an elaborate cake. There had been fifty-one perfect swirls around the edge of the cake. Your mother had not remembered the swirls. I commented ‘How could you forget such an important detail when your aunt had created such a culinary masterpiece despite her arthritis?’ I was puzzled by the emotional explosion which followed.”
“I loved my aunt! I loved that cake! It’s the feelings that count, not stupid inconsequential details! I can’t hold all those details in my mind like you can. You never forget anything, but sometimes I think it is petty to even want to remember every little thing.”
“Prudently I did not answer back. Sometimes I just did not get it. Sometimes she just did not get it. We had to leave it at that, for life with Maggie was the best a person could have, especially when I refrained from stating mathematical facts that a Vulcan wife would have thought me remiss not to mention. So finally I said, ‘I think this argument is not logical. It is based on a species difference which cannot be helped.’ Then I pulled her against me and buried my face in her hair and said ‘The lack of eidetic memory may be responsible for those human leaps of creative thought that makes invention come so much quicker to a Human than to a Vulcan who plods along analyzing every detail, every permutation, every possibility, before publishing a theory or starting to build a working model. Humans leap from one partial memory to another and somehow come up with a workable solution that would make a Vulcan envious. Humans seem to work best under pressure. I imagine Humans would make good starship captains and Vulcans great crew who moderate their captain’s enthusiasm by supplying logical alternatives.’ ”
“Don’t patronize me, Mestral.” she said.
“I’m not.” I said.
She laughed. “We really do sound like Lucy and Ricky Ricardo.”
Laura scratched her ear thoughtfully and said, “Dad, you and Mom gave us a good home with lots of love.”
Marty glanced at his sister’s rounded ear and observed “Here Dad and I sit with our ears covered. Lucky you don’t have to.”
This reminded Mestral of a painful incident. Maggie and Mestral had agreed that their daughter was a rare beauty. She was a blending of the best features of both species. At seventeen Laura’s elfin good looks would have turned heads and broken hearts on both home worlds. Mestral loved the exquisite tapering of her ears, which complemented the curve of her cheek and the gentle slope of the nose inherited from Maggie. But when Laura turned eighteen, she took her secret savings and went to a plastic surgeon in Philadelphia. She returned openly bareheaded because her ears were now bluntly rounded and her delicate slanting eyebrows shaved off and replaced by flat penciled-on human ones.
Mestral thought she had ruined her beauty and did not speak to her for weeks despite her desperate pleas: “But Daddy, I don’t want to hide in the mountains my entire life. I want to go to college in the city and get a job there when I graduate. Can’t you understand?” He did understand. That was another part of the hurt. They rebuilt their relationship though it was another year before Maggie stopped turning her back on her daughter. Mestral knew Maggie had also forgiven Laura when one day she traced the line of his ear with her finger and said in a whisper “Now don’t you go and do that too.”
Laura reached across the table to touch her father’s hand. “Dad, you look so sad. Eat you rice.”
More thoughts came unbidden to Mestral. Maggie was dying. She reclined in a semi-fetal position on the porch lounger, her head of wispy white hair resting on Mestral’s chest. Her hair was still long because he combed it, something she could no longer do. He gently pushed off the wall with his right hand to keep the lounger rocking, while his left arm braced her against him with his hand stroking and untangling her hair. Her hair always tangled in those days as she struggled to find a comfortable position.
More and more she would bring up the happy memories, which were a cue for him to flesh them out with the details she had forgotten or never noticed. This was the last gift, the only thing left that he could give her. And it was all that she wanted as she was beyond taking the walks in the woods they both loved, beyond caring for the taste of food. The rocking and his voice lulled her into a place of lesser but not quite absent arthritic pain. She wanted to leave. She agonized at leaving him behind. But it must be.
That day her breathing was slower and more labored than ever. He was retelling the story of their oldest child learning to walk. An odd arrhythmic tune was what alerted them to Laura’s first steps as she pulled herself along the piano, depressing keys as she moved up the octaves of the keyboard. This was Laura Jean’s first song, replayed now by Mestral’s voice complete with proper original phrasing. It made Maggie laugh quietly. As he continued the song, Maggie’s breathing continued to slow until it stopped. He knew. Yet he kept on humming Laura Jean’s first composition until Laura herself drove up to the house and carried her own not yet walking child up the steps for a visit. It was only then that he let go into sorrow and let his daughter take over what had to be done.
“Dad. I can tell you are thinking of Mom again and missing her.” whispered Laura. “It is a cruel trick of nature, this gap in life spans”.
Laura and Marty tried to hold back the tears welling in their eyes. Mestral did not see this because he was lost in the past again. Despite the losses, his family had grown. Both Marty and Laura had married. Having her children’s ears fixed at birth was as natural to Laura as getting her male babies circumcised. Some of Mestral’s great-grandchildren did have red blood and almost normal human ears, but the telepathic touch was persistent. The Vulcan heritage was kept from some of the third generation’s spouses without much trouble. Mestral saw less of the people of this generation, probably they were avoiding those strange mountain relations, especially that weird great-grandfather. “How old is he exactly?” they would ask.
His daughter’s fingers stroking his hand brought Mestral back to the present. “Hey Dad, all this is getting to you, isn’t it?” Laura was gesturing with her other hand at the mixed crowd in the restaurant. There was a red haired woman laughing at something her dining companion said. Other memories floated into Mestral’s mind.
Maggie had been born several years before Mestral but his life entirely encompassed that of his second wife Annie. In memory Annie was like some briefly blooming and very delicate flower that a long-lived creature like himself could only very carefully touch least he further shorten its tentative existence. Long before he became interested in her, a red-haired Annie had toddled around his house in the care of his daughter earning babysitting money. An older Annie had been among a group of kids who passed his house on Halloween and giggled about the people with strange ears. Perhaps they were witches as there were strange tales about them.
A couple of years after Maggie died loneliness drove Mestral out among people again. He was walking along enjoying the August heat when the red-haired woman with her nose in a book stepped into the street: the adult Annie. Even human ears should have heard that car approaching with excessive speed. Mestral ran a full block and yanked her off her feet and out of the path of that car. His body broke her fall but also some ribs as she slammed into him from the momentum of his pull. He had also broken her arm, but she was alive. People wondered about Annie’s injuries but said they were due to the strength of the adrenalin rush that people often get in emergencies.
It was the rescuer’s syndrome: “He saved me so he will take care of me always”. And he had. A year later, Annie was reading to him in the evening. She often read to him and he in turn told her some Vulcan myths. As she read Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men the tragic character of slow-witted Lenny unfolded. Lenny, who didn’t know his own strength, accidentally killed a puppy and broke a woman’s neck while just trying to hold and admire them. The story reminded Mestral of Annie’s rescue and he shared his thoughts of regret about the injuries he had caused her. By now she knew about Vulcan strength. She hugged him to let him know he was forgiven, but he would come to regret the revelation when his new nickname of ‘Lenny’ stuck.
Mestral did not want more children but Annie asked Maggie’s son Jack for help even though he had retired from practice. So Ricky was born, then Lucy and Joey. There was much love but much teasing within the family. It was a wonder the growing family stayed hidden. But mountain families were tight knit and reticent with outsiders. Yet over the years there had been near discoveries, like the broken door incident.
This incident occurred when Marty was still in high school. The lower glass pane in a school door had cracked and was replaced and polished to invisible clarity by the custodian within a half hour. This was unusual efficiency for the poor custodian, which he came to regret. Thinking the pane had only been removed; Marty kicked the door open with a sandaled foot, which broke the new glass spraying green blood all over the door. His cousin, walking just behind him, also cut himself trying to help clean blood off the door before they were discovered. Cousin Pete wiped up most of the green blood and smeared the rest of it into the red before a teacher passed by. After this incident, watchwords in Mestral’s family became “Cover your ears and clean up the green blood first”.
First and second-generation human in-laws often felt a bit disadvantaged. They wore out the phrase “I’m only human. What’s your excuse?” This was used in such contexts as the family picnic: “With your ears YOU should have heard him sneaking up on us with that pail of water!” or “YOU could have just reached out with your fast reflexes and grabbed it before it fell and broke!”. Then there were the jokes about what euphemistically was called ‘the seven year itch’. Those with Vulcan blood would get impatient: “Hey pick up the pace a bit, you CAN walk faster than that and carry your share of this stuff. Your muscles aren’t THAT weak!” Smells were an issue too. Lucy would wrinkle her nose and say: “Full human’s smell.” Which provoked a retort from cousin Hillary. “Hey, I like to eat meat! Its good for humans. Its probably good enough for half-breeds too! And speaking of smells, I practically had to gag when I bandaged your finger after you got it caught on the sewing machine needle. Your blood smells like the tarnished copper hoop on the rain barrel!”
Culturally Mestral’s children with Annie were American hooligan. He made sure they meditated for he did not want, as Annie put it, “to wake the Vulcan sleeping tiger”. She had seen it emerge a couple of times in their son Joey and it scared her. In his late teens, Joey hooked up with another wild local boy. Mestral kept checking for incipient Klingon forehead ridges on this friend of Joey’s who was so prone to aggressive behavior. Though improbable, where one ship had crashed……...
Then came that horrible night. Speed is no kinder to a Vulcan’s physique than a human’s when a car hits a tree at one hundred ten miles an hour. Both boys were killed instantly and so terribly mangled that great splatters of red and green blood painted the inside of the wreck. A passing motorist reported the accident without stopping, and the first person on the scene was the local medical examiner who happened to be Laura’s son Bill. Bill had been mentored by his Uncle Jack and had taken over Jack’s local medical practice and public coroner duties long before Jack died. Bill called Mestral immediately. The family motto of what blood to clean up first was carried out. It was the most difficult task Mestral ever had to perform. To make matters worse, it was months before Annie spoke to him kindly again. She blamed him for not controlling their son. Extended periods of meditation and long talks with Maggie’s katra were all that saved Mestral’s sanity.
Mestral’s mind snapped back to the restaurant. He said to his children “that red-haired women sitting at the next table reminds me of your stepmother Annie. I knew Annie as a child, as a young woman, as a dreamy but intelligent wife who aged gradually into a wise old woman. Toward the end she seemed to surpass me in the wisdom of life. Is it the closeness to death rather than the number of years it takes to get there that gives people that look of universal vision?” Mestral had thought so as he cared for a second dying wife. “I knew she would leave me when I was still in middle age. I didn’t care that she aged so fast. But people began to think she was my mother, then my grandmother. I had to be careful of showing a husband’s affection in public then. She laughed about that, saying ‘You keep me young’.”
And Mestral went into himself again, remembering Annie saying: “I would stay if I could, you know that, Mestral”. He would hold her close, filling their minds with happy thoughts, a mutual meditation. “You do not age, my darling” Annie said. “You look as young as the day you pulled me out of the path of that car. And your children do not age either.” That statement haunted him long after her death. “Oh Maggie, oh Annie, you have moved on without me. You both left me to deal with life alone – a life I have come to see through human eyes as never ending.”
Mestral sighed and reflected for his children, “There is infinite variety in the universe. So much that it makes the differences between the Human and Vulcan species seem very minor. But the differences on a personal level can be tragic. Vulcans will always be longer lived than Humans, even with advances in medical technology. In inter-species marriages there will always be the guilt of one partner for not being able to live longer and the feelings of abandonment on the part of the partner who survives. This is not a thing of logic; it is an emotional reaction that cannot be avoided no matter how much you are prepared for the inevitable. But those years together should be cherished, not avoided. Variety is the life and lesson of the universe. Your mother and Annie will always be with me. Always.”
Laura and Marty were very quiet. To himself Mestral thought “The house is so empty now even with three generations of family frequently dropping in for coffee and a chat. I must soon find another mate. My children must know that, they face the same thing.”
Mestral startled back to the present. Marty was trying to shift the conversation away from sadness. “The Vulcans sure have helped us clean up the mess from the last war”.
“That they have, Marty, considering there were times we dared not leave the mountains.” Mestral remembered wondering what would become of them while rocking a great-grandchild to sleep in his arms: “Grandpa, will the black smoke and burning smell from the cities get us?” Vulcans speak with logic but touch with love, so Mestral soothed this child with his touch. He kept the ancient porch glider in motion, trying to sooth his own despair, thinking T’Mir might have been right. Civilization on this planet was doomed and he had sentenced his children to death by creating a family here. All those interesting cities he had visited, now in smoking ruin. All those people dead, many of his friendships violently terminated. It made him think he had lived far too long. He had been here so long now that he thought in human time-spans and human values. He did try to keep Vulcan ethics, at least those adaptable to his life on this world. As time slipped by, these ethics had been merging with similar human values to the point that he found it difficult to sort them out into separate cultural ideas.
But they had survived the war. And now once again Marty was at it: “Isn’t one hundred years enough for a study?”
Mestral retorted: “A study? It is not a study! This is my life. It is not something to be packaged in a paper with thesis, evidence, and conclusion and handed over to people who are now strangers to me. Our life is not so bad. Revealing ourselves would certainly disturb it and bring censure on my old shipmates. T’Mir had leadership abilities. She must have risen in the Vulcan political system and have much more to lose now by exposing my existence here. Let things be. As head of the family I ask this of you. Please be reasonable, repress your emotions and illogical daydreams in this matter.”
Mestral continued more quietly, “The trade agreements negotiated over the past year are important to both Vulcan and Earth. Earth is getting badly needed technical aid which is miraculously improving quality of life in a very short time. Vulcan is getting a luxurious variety and volume of new foods hardly dreamed of on a desert planet. There is a plethora of new climates, languages, cultures, and non-sentient species here to keep Vulcan scientists happy for decades, if not centuries, as they spread out in study groups across the earth. Do you think the authorities of either world will risk this for the sake of a few people living in the Pennsylvania hills? The possibility of interbreeding would frighten both worlds. Humans might see it as a subtle form of invasion and Vulcans might see it as a threat to species integrity, despite the principle of infinite diversity.”
Pausing for effect, Mestral’s eyes bored into those of each of his children in turn. “We could be quietly rounded up and placed in ‘protective isolation’ for study or permanent disappearance. I do not think we would be killed, but surely not allowed to breed further. That is the worst case scenario but there are other unpleasant alternatives I can ponder. On the other hand, they might just leave us alone with the promise to remain in hiding. Perhaps we might even be treated as long lost relations with you children being offered Vulcan citizenship. Perhaps, but not likely. I just do not want to risk the relatively contented life of our family.”
“I still feel like I should go right over to that table and claim my heritage!” insisted Marty.
Laura shot back: “ Get real, Marty! Are you going to disobey Dad? All that will do is get T’Mir in trouble. And it won’t get you a trip to Vulcan. Even if it did, do you really think you could integrate into the culture? Have you ever tired to speak a different language right here on Earth? I lived in Japan for a year, and spent six months bumming around Europe. I fly all over the planet with my airfreight line. Even among some earth cultures I seem alien because I am from a small isolated community in the mountains. You have not even tried to live in any other culture on Earth. I think you should. It certainly would collapse this false dream of yours! You are a musician and a potter. You make your living off tourists and hikers on the Appalachian Trail. Why are you so interested in claiming a right to Vulcan technology? Do you think it is a magic thing, which will solve any problems you have? You have a fine life. Dad is right! You could ruin it by contact with the Vulcans. Stay in the mountains where you will be happy and safe. Both Humans and Vulcans of sterner stuff would cut you to pieces. Trust me.”
Marty was hurt by his sister’s words but thought about them. He enjoyed strangers walking through town and stopping at his shop to watch him work. They picked up his bowls, especially the singing ones, and ran the wooden paddles around their rims producing delightful tones. They stood around his potter’s wheel watching a lump of clay morph into a rising cylinder, then subside into a rounded thing with an emerging indentation and then a lip. They asked if he was a biker because he always wore a bandana tied around his head. They asked if his dad who helped out in the shop was a former mariner because he wore a watch cap. Marty would reply, “You wouldn’t believe the seafaring my father has done.” But when they appeared to be settling in for a story about that, Marty would say: ”But that’s my dad’s tale. I’m a potter, not a story teller.” Did they need potters or fiddle players on Vulcan? Marty thought not.
Marty took a different tack: “So Dad, do you think that Vulcans will change because of their contact with Earth like Humans are changing because of contact with Vulcans?”
Mestral leaned forward. “Oh yes. With each new species we interact with we change. I hope when either species realizes how great a change this contact is, there won’t be a xenophobic reaction on either world. If I did not think contact would be a good thing, I would walk over to that table and tell them to pack up and leave in a hurry, and please take me with them.”
Laura spoke pensively. “Dad, I hear some people hanging on every word those technicians say like they were pronouncements of some deity. Then I hear someone else mumble a threat to corner and beat up one of those arrogant pointy-eared bastards. But most people I know are just watching and waiting to see what comes next. I agree that it is not a good time for us to reveal ourselves.”
Mestral said: “These technicians and diplomats may give the impression of standoffishness because they avoid physical contact with humans. But you know from your own telepathic inheritance that Vulcans do not like physical contact in public, even with their own kind. But no amount of explanation will change the impression that some people hold of Vulcans having a superior attitude. In a very few cases it may be true.”
“Even educated people from both worlds have misunderstandings.” Laura offered “My daughter Heather, the anthropologist and engineer who spent a couple of years in the old peace corps, now knows what it feels like to be on the other end of the stick. People from what she calls the ‘interplanetary peace corps’ appeared to be talking down to her about some gadget they were letting her use to clean up radioactive materials. They asked her to keep a count on something and she said ‘one.., two.., many!’ Heather said they didn’t seem to catch on that it was a joke, a not too subtle way of criticizing their behavior. It set them to whispering quite seriously among themselves and Heather could barely contain her laughter. It made her wonder about the quiet laughter behind her back years ago when she was helping install plumbing systems in rural communities. Had she appeared condescending? She hadn’t meant to, so maybe these Vulcans didn’t either.”
Laura explained, “They wouldn’t unless she cut a finger or something. They are not going to notice what they are not looking for. There are lots of olive skinned people on earth. She is not particularly green looking execpt when Eamonn and I take the family sailing. I like sailing. I imagine a few of our interplanetary guests might even take to it despite the ‘cat-like behavior’ at the seashore.”
Mestral thought over his children’s differing lifestyles and needs. Was he being fair to both of them? To the extended family? Had he changed, was he more Human or Vulcan? He said aloud: “Children, don’t ask me to justify my life. I am neither a scientist nor an artist, just a shipwrecked explorer who decided not to go home. I was a technician – a midlevel person socially and in career standing and in intellectual capacity among my people. I was lucky to even get out into space. I am sure they would think it was a mistake to have sent me seeing what choices I have made. But I know that what our two species find exasperating in each other are actually our strengths.”
Reaching into the memories of his travels Mestral continued. “Vulcan is a tough dry world that has sculpted a tough efficient species. We fought among ourselves just as viciously as humans have and we were more homogeneous, having no great ocean barriers separating and nurturing divergent cultures. Earth is a lush, varied world that required a sense of adventure and courage to face its huge seas. The variety of cultures developed because of the isolation of earth continents by the oceans has given humans great differences to contend with on a scale that is almost interplanetary, a living example of IDIC. Humans have dealt with intercontinental first-contact situations, not always well, but look at Vulcan history. The sense of adventure that drew humans across the seas will draw them into the vast reaches of space.“
And Mestral had more to say: ”Vulcan logic is a powerful tool in science, but so is human flexibility – the brilliant leaps of insight. Humans are also capable of logic, though maybe not the quick precise mathematical calculation which comes so easily to my people. The sheer breadth of Human creativity staggers the Vulcan mind. Humans compliment us. I have worked on problems with Humans and the back-and-forth arguments, though exasperating, produce a Vulcan/Human solution that is more elegant than either could arrive at alone. We are natural allies. But our relationship is at a critical stage where a small thing like the knowledge of the existence of our family could destroy it. You are both my children and the most important thing in my life is my family. I want you all to be happy and safe. And that, for now, and perhaps forever, means hiding part of your heritage.”
Mestral glanced once more across the restaurant at the technicians who were now finishing their meal by ordering desert. “Oh no, not that. They will be rushing off to the restroom five minutes after taking the first spoonful. Best to avoid a collision with one of them between the tables while we leave. It is time to go, my children. Laura, we need a ride in one of your freighter planes.”
“Then Dad, I will give you and Marty some of the medication I use to deal with the air pressure changes”.
Mestral left money for the bill and rose from the table. The three moved between the close-set tables in single file, Mestral leading. They had to pass close to the technicians’ table. The hunger to hear the sounds and phrasing of his native language nearly overwhelmed Mestral. But one glance, one word, even the hint of a Vulcan inflection in English, and he would not be able to stop the flood of revelation. He reached into himself for an emergency meditative state and took the last heavy steps out into the street.
The sun had begun its slant toward setting into the Pacific Ocean. Mestral wanted to be out of this city, where so many Vulcans were walking, before the sun hit the ocean. He took a slow deep breath and turned to his daughter. “Take us back to our mountains, Laura. Take me home.”
A hand of people have made comments
Different but great story. I like it.Thanks
Great story, a bit sad, too. I was wondering about Mestral now and then myself and like to think he ended up with a wide spread family of longlived descendents :-)
I always liked Mestral but I find it hard to believe that he fathered a bunch of halfbreed-kids just like that.
Thanks for the comments so far. You all are encouraging me to finish up other stories and submit them. I don't have any more Mestral stories in process, but I do have a Kov story and a Soval story which I am trying to finish. Thanks again for reading the story and commenting.
I just had a thought on the fathering of those kids by Mestral being too easy. Dorothy Fontana in her novel "Vulcan's Glory" had cross breeding of Vulcans and Humans done by Human science too. She said Human science was ahead of Vulcan science in this aspect at the time of her story, which was roughly just before the TOS time, and didn't explain how it was done. So I thought it was ok for me to do that too.
I suppose it just ends up being whether you tap into the reader's suspension of disbelief with the way you write the story. Well this was my first ever Star Trek story and there are lots things to improve! On rereading this a year later, I can see a lot of things I did not see during the excitment of actually FINISHING a story. That was a real breakthrough for me - actually writing something! I hope readers bear with me and actual like parts of this story which I now see as uneven though expressing many things I was dying to say.