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The Commission, by Linda
Disclaimer: The characters belong to Paramount. But some of their thoughts are my own, or at least THEY make me THINK they are.
Author’s notes: This story is a combination of two stories that were on Soval’s Annex: “Koss” and “Koss Again”. I combined them for submission to the Strange New Worlds contest, but it is one of the four thousand that were not selected. Still, I think it is just about my best story so far.
It seemed after the “Home” episode, many people wanted to shove Koss into a dark corner and strangle him. Not me. I thought he was a redeemable character. Besides, he stood over me with his arms crossed until I finished his story. Ok Koss, you can go home now. Scram!
I have used some background from the novel The Expanse by J.M. Dillard and a story on Soval’s Annex called “The Unexpected” for the starting point of my story. It was about Trip’s mother who lived in north Florida and her feelings about losing her daughter. Her name was Caroline, so I kept Caroline as Trip’s mother’s name. My own sister lives in Tallahassee, so that is a familiar setting to put the Tucker family into.
Did any of you ever see the 1940’s film called “Laura’ with Gene Tierney and Dana Andrews where a detective falls in love with a murder victim after reading her diary? I tried to put a similar feeling into my story. It is a stream of consciousness piece from Koss’s point of view.
When he opened the door of T’Les’ home to me, I knew instantly who he was. I have not yet gone through my first Pon Farr, yet I can sense a male rival when I see one. I fought anger and despair and the urge to finish it right there, but that would have violated the ancient Vulcan rule of guest status.
I am in despair because I know part of the reason T’Pol wishes to bond with him. He is of delicate build, like her, and his form is esthetically pleasing, for an alien. I have never considered myself more than average in looks. Except for my size and fitness, I am an ordinary Vulcan male. But my family is powerful and they could have bonded me with any number of potential mates. Parents choose mates for their children carefully, that is our way. What has physical beauty to do with the mating process anyway? Everyone cares deeply for their parents and they do not get to choose them. And so it is with the mate that you don’t choose yourself: you form a deep lifelong bond. Who is this inferior alien usurper that wishes to steal my mate? Is this how the Humans repay us for all our mentoring and protection of their world?
We are married, tradition has been followed. This gave me some comfort and I felt so protective and wanted to hold her. But it will take some time for her to acquiesce to the rightness of it, for again I was insulted, even there at my own wedding. She kissed him. She did not kiss me. Then she did not want to stay with me, even for a private hour or two after the wedding. At least she did not have the impropriety to go off with him. She went off by herself to meditate, and so did I. I walked out into the desert and sat alone for many hours. Upon my return, the family said nothing, just set my place at the evening meal. Later in my room, I folded my ceremonial robe and carefully stored it away. It is ready for our next meeting, ready for the rite of Pon Farr.
I feel ill at ease about this destruction of Terran property on our soil, but even more so about their ship orbiting our world in silent accusation. I must visit this ship as T’Les was in quite a panic when she summoned me and gave me this artifact to take to T’Pol. T’Les was just settling into her old lifestyle and now she is an exile again. I feel obligated to my mother-in-law; I will try to protect her. She reminds me so of my dear T’Pol and I wish to look out for them both.
As the shuttle climbed above my world, I clutched T’Les’ IDIC tightly. With some trepidation, I take a deep meditative breath and step through the docking port. So this is the Human ship. It does not smell as bad as T’Pol described it when she first wrote to me from it. It appears almost as sophisticated as our own space vessels; but what do I know, I am no ship’s architect. I have no desire to leave the soil of my own world and I do not understand T’Pol’s enthusiasm for space travel.
With the sands of my world again under my feet I should be at ease, but today I was compelled to consult a priest about crisis meditation techniques. My emotional control is very thin. My wife did not welcome my presence in her quarters on the ship and I was deeply hurt. I have been repressing a revelation that I cannot face full on: the revelation that our bonding is not enough and that she will never truly be mine. I had an urge to walk out in the desert and keep walking until I was so weak that a wild sehlat would end my misery. That is why I spoke to the priest.
I cannot talk to my parents about this personal crisis as I am also repressing jealous thoughts about their loving marriage. Is it their fault that they did not choose wisely for me? Actually the fault lies elsewhere. Why did some of us ever venture out into space? It may be our seeking out other species that is the root cause of my misery. Will I ever feel whole again?
When Archer and T’Pol contacted me, I was so relieved that she was alive and unharmed. I grieve with her for the loss of her mother; I should never have let T’Les go off into the desert with the Syrrannites. But my family would not have tolerated my hiding her in their home. I feel a good deal of anger with my family, and also with myself, for not having the strength to resist their demands. Yet I have found that strength now. May the katras of my ancestors forgive me, for I have given Archer the codes which will allow him and T’Pol and that misfit T’Pau to transport into the heart of the High Command.
My world is safe now, ironically with the help of the Humans. But my heart is heavy; I will never again be the person I was. How could I? I have released her from our marriage; to do anything else would have been futile. We both would have been miserable, so now it is only I who am in misery. Perhaps it is justice for not protecting T’Les.
I have moved the possessions that I still kept at my parent’s house into the apartment I took in the city. Since I have cast aside the marriage my parents set up for me, and in their words: “committed an illogical and possibly disloyal act” over the matter of the transport codes, it seemed best to distance myself from them. I live alone in the city now. I have increased my meditation time, as this is my only solace. What sort of person will I be when these emotions recede? Hopefully I will be able to find peace. As for my home world, may it also find peace and its place in the universe.
Five months later:
This ship has more amenities than I thought: they will bring you meals in the privacy of your cabin. That suits me well. I have been going over the materials sent to me by the corporation president, including their mission and vision statements, and their specifications for the new headquarters building. I will make short work of this commission, as my reason for taking it is not noble: it is revenge. I wish to finish it and get on with the commission for that art gallery on Betazed.
These off-world commissions, I have resisted them for years. But they are a convenient excuse to avoid the overtures of my family to discuss a new bonding. My family has found someone, but I do not wish to consider that yet, or to make amends with them that quickly. On rethinking my actions over the transport codes, I find no fault within myself. The new government is much better than the old, so my part in bringing down the High Command was fortuitous. And I will make a quick job of this commission whose original architect was killed. It was HIS sister, this Elizabeth Tucker.
I will begin by convincing the board of directors that her preliminary drawings are not what they need. How dare they choose me because my work is so like hers! I will tell them they need no soft rounded façade, but a strong angular one. And no duck pond. I will fill in with sand the swampy area they wish to convert to a pond to keep the area’s wild life. Instead, they will have a desert garden. They need to have an interplanetary focus and feel to their headquarters if they plan to do business beyond their home world.
The moss covered trees had an alien beauty that intrigued me when I paid a visit to Elizabeth Tucker’s parents in north Florida, the city of Tallahassee. Mrs. Tucker, who insisted on my calling her Caroline, was a gracious hostess and said she would comply with my wish not to have my name revealed to her son before the day of the building’s dedication. I have notified the board of directors of my wishes in this matter also. I can be deceptively charming when I have a strong purpose. I feel no guilt in this, but I did warm to Caroline Tucker’s graciousness. Charles Tucker said that his wife was much like their daughter in personality and looks, as we paged through a scrapbook of Elizabeth’s work. I must admit I was impressed, so much so, that I had to repress the sympathetic feelings that were rising within me.
They gave me the key to a family retreat where they said Elizabeth had been working on the commission. She had gone there because the solitude and cool mountain air helped her think. This cabin in North Carolina in the Appalachian Mountains will be suitable as a work place for me as it is isolated from large numbers of Humans. I accepted the basket of food that Mrs. Tucker, Caroline, had assembled for me based on her research of Vulcan nutritional needs. How thoughtful. And they have contacted a grocer who lives near the cabin to see to my needs. How Vulcan their manners are. It is a shame they are HIS parents because I like them. It makes sticking to my purpose that much harder.
The cabin is adequate in a primitive Human style. It is cold in these mountains, but the Tuckers have provided blankets and wood for fires. The fires in this open stone chimney remind me of the Vulcan myths from our ancient violent days. Appropriate, for I am here to do violence to the memory of a woman who I am growing to respect. But HE destroyed my well-planned life and I will make him hurt as he has hurt me.
When I first opened the door to the cabin, it had a musty smell. The Tuckers have not returned to the cabin since Elizabeth last used it. They said it was too difficult for them as yet; it would bring back painful memories. I can see why it would, her presence is strong with that lace shawl thrown carelessly over the couch as if she had just discarded it to make a cup of tea. And this instrument, her fiddle, was in a box leaning against the couch. I have seen such instruments on my world. They are called violins though, and are used by musicians who experiment with off-world musical forms. Caroline told me to retrieve this fiddle for her if I found it, as she plays in an Irish band at a local pub. She wishes not to let a good instrument get badly out of tune and she wishes to feel closer to her daughter by playing it.
I found Elizabeth’s diary of the last five years of her life and spent many nights reading it while sitting on the over stuffed couch in front of the fire. Such a happy childhood she had! Memories of it were interspersed with her comments on architectural styles in places she had visited all over the planet. Like me, she had never wished to leave her home world. Her determination to design buildings that complemented the natural beauty of her world is commendable, and certainly I have done the same in working with the natural colors of rock and sand on my world. But now there is this scar marring her planet, from the alien weapon that killed her. I guess no one was able to retrieve Elizabeth’s katra, or any of those seven million. Having the katras of one’s family members to talk to is a great comfort to my people. I have been sensitive to these spirits since I was a child. If one of them were trying to reach the family, I always knew it. I wish that I could talk to Elizabeth’s katra; it would make my work easier.
There are some books on Frank Lloyd Wright on a shelf in the main room which I have been glancing through between reading chapters of Liz’s diary. He is her favorite architect and his work is what inspired her to choose her profession. How like T’Les’ house is the concept of Wright’s Usonian house! Liz likes Mies van der Rohe too. His concept of ‘less is more’ is so Vulcan in spirit. I can see why the board of directors chose me; Liz’s esthetics and mine are actually very close. I am developing a fondness for this woman and it is not helping me stick to my purpose. Why did she have to be HIS sister!
It was interesting to read that Lizzie often had arguments with Trip, though he is her favorite brother. He perceived his role to be her mentor and protector. He taught her how to tie her shoes when she was very young, and how to swim and scuba dive when she was older. But she rebelled against his efforts to intimidate prospective suitors. Why were her parents so negligent in this matter? Did they not see that such an attractive girl would need bonding very early? Oh yes, I recall that Humans do not practice the bonding of their children. How unfortunate. It might have saved Lizzie the terrible experience with this Jack person. It makes me wish to track him down and punish him for hurting her. How could Trip have thought Jack a suitable mate for her after scaring off all the others? Well, maybe I can see why, as Jack’s family was well placed politically and had great wealth. The Tucker family, while good citizens and not without talents, is of modest origin.
Today I sat at Lizzie’s drawing table and played with finishing a drawing of her annex for viewing the duck pond. It was just an idle exercise, but I am pleased with the results. We might have worked well together, unlike this Jack who tried to repress her talent. It seems he only wanted someone who would understand the terms he was using when he described his day’s work to a submissive wife who dutifully put his dinner on the table. Although I brought my computer with me so I could work with my CAD program, I find hand drawing as relaxing as she said it was for her. Her computer must have gone back to the house in south Florida with her.
This evening, I tried a recipe that was in Lizzie’s handwriting in a drawer in the kitchen. I am now proficient in lighting the pilot on this gas stove, though I almost asphyxiated myself the first time I tried to light it, which caused a slight explosion. Wouldn’t it be fascinating for the corporation to have to hire a third architect because the second one blew himself up in the home of the first? Maybe her drawings, which I have made additions too, would be used by the third architect while he completed the job.
Perhaps finding those recordings of family events was the final thing that bound Lizzie to me so that I can never be free of her. Seeing her being carried home two days after her birth, the fiddle recitals, the birthday parties, the graduations, and the media interview about her work, are now my own memories. I hear her voice, as she calls out “side sevens” while holding hands with a line of dancers who move to the right in a cross over step. I see her lithe body move in tune to the reel she is playing on her fiddle, encouraging the dancers to a faster pace. Then I dreamed one night of the ceilidh: that dance. It was so real that I felt her link arms with me as we twirled briefly together before moving on to the next partner in our dance set.
I don’t use her bedroom in the cabin. I use what must be her parent’s room. Yet I was feeling lonely, and since I had finished reading her diary, I wandered into her room. On her dresser was a hairbrush containing some long blond hair. It smelled of a flower called lilac. That must have been from the liquid she used to wash her hair. I have used that liquid myself as there was a half empty bottle of it in the washroom. I thought it was bath soap, but it bubbled up and over the tub when I made myself a hot bath to counter the chill of the mountain night. My skin smelled of lilac for days.
This hairbrush may contain all that is left of her physically. I extracted some hairs, wound them around my fingers, and braided them so I could keep them. Then I put her hairbrush back carefully in its place on the dresser. But I picked it up again and threw it into my travel bag. I wanted it. Then I went over to the bed. Her bed. This is where she must have had those dreams about finding a mate who would treat her better than Jack did. I lay down on her bed and the thought of her loss overwhelmed me, the loss of a woman I never met but who has become so real to me. Vulcan tears are rare as diamonds and just as hard. I had not cried since I lost my pet sehlat as a child, but I turned my face into her pillow and wept like the world had come to an end. For me, perhaps it has.
One year later:
Human rituals can be as tedious as some of the Vulcan ones. My formal tunic chaffed my neck and I wished to be away from there. Then a duck walked across my foot as we led guests around the pond and it set us all in good humor. But when I saw them standing there, Trip and T’Pol, I tried to turn away. Caroline, who was with them, waved and beckoned me over, so I came. I was surprised that seeing T’Pol in a smart outfit that suited her form, did not move me. Perhaps that is for the best. I think Trip almost fell over when he was formally introduced to the architect that completed his sister’s final project. He remained speechless while I greeted Caroline and Charles like the friends they have become. I ignored T’Pol and Trip, not because I wanted to snub them, but because I did not know what to say.
The new corporate headquarters shone in Earth’s mellow sunlight while the speeches and the ribbon cutting moved along quite well, despite their length. Trip made a short and heartrending speech about how his sister would never be forgotten because of this beautiful building that captured her spirit. He glanced briefly in my direction and said this was another example of how well Vulcans and Humans could work together. I made no speech myself. I let my work speak for me.
During the reception, Trip was eyeing me several times and I saw T’Pol push him in my direction. I sighed and braced myself for the inevitable. It wasn’t that bad, all he said was “Thank you, Koss. You have been nicer to me in your actions and probably in your thoughts than I ever was to you.”
“You can hardly know my thoughts in this matter, but you are welcome,” was all I could manage. And I turned away then because I did not want to say something like “You think you know your sister, but I know her much better than you do.” That would have opened old wounds and was not really true. We each knew aspects of Elizabeth that the other did not. So I walked away, because the shuttle that would take me to the ship that would take me to the ground breaking for that art gallery on Betazed, was waiting. Trip could not hear me, but I whispered “Peace brother, peace and long life, between us and both our worlds.
Nine of you have made comments
I like this story, but I can see why the anthology didn't buy it. It's a great idea, but the writing is only so-so. It's not bad, but it's not good enough to stand out from the crowd. Here's my advice on how to improve it; ymmv. Feel free to ignore it if you don't like it.
Have you ever heard the saying "show, don't tell"? That means that instead of summarizing what's going on, describe it to us in enough detail that we can see/hear/feel it ourselves. It's much more involving to the reader than being told what to think. In this story, about 9/10 of what you have is telling instead of showing. Koss tells us what he's feeling, tells us what's going on around him, etc., but we can't see it for ourselves.
I know several of the early scenes we've already seen in an episode, from T'Pol or Trip's pov. Now we either need to see them from Koss's pov or see other scenes that were more important to him. Instead of telling us it was hard to have her not want him in her quarters, show us what actions/words on her part clued him in to this and his internal efforts to keep himself under control. Instead of Koss telling us that T'Les was worried, show us the conversation in which she convinces him to go to Enterprise to see T'Pol. Don't just take for granted that he's going to steal the transport codes to pass to Enterprise, show us his thoughts as he decides to do it, and let us know through his actions and thoughts why he's doing this to help the people who stole his wife away from him (figuratively speaking). Instead of telling us his relationship with his parents is now strained, show us a conversation or two with his parents that illustrates it. Also, trust that the reader is smart enough to pick up on the tension between them. If the conversation between Koss and his parents is a verbal fencing match, then telling us that they aren't getting along so well atm isn't necessary. Because you have _shown_ us, in a way that is much more compelling to the reader than a couple of offhand comments that they aren't getting along.
The later stuff, where he's wandering around her house and interacting with her stuff is much better. I'm not saying the first part is bad, I'm saying it's not good enough to stand out from the crowd. Yes, adding in actual scenes as I suggest would make it a longer story, but it would also make it a far better one.
Thank you ever so much for the constructive criticism! Beatrice, this is what I really have been needing! Now I can really get on with improving my writing.
I agree with Beatrice's comments. I felt the first part of the story was incredibly rushed, like I was reading it at 60 mph. Yes, the scene where he was exploring Liz's room was great. I finally got inside Koss' head and it was very interesting. I was fully engaged in the story at that point.
I know you had a certain amount of words to submit to the contest, but maybe you can re-write the story now, incorporating Beatrice's comments. Slow it down. Show us what made Koss think/feel the way he did.
I know the prospect of rewriting the story is daunting, but it could be a great story once it's "filled out".
Thanks Selek! I will get to work on improvements. I really felt for Koss, the actor did will with the character in the limited scenes he had. I get so inspired by the actor's work and wish to 'play out' in my own way, what they have started. I guess that is the nature of art (if you can call what I try to do, art) - a mutually reenforcing, and hopefully neverending, human activity.
I have finally had a chance to catch up with this story and I hope you'll write about Koss again, he's a very likeable character.
I'm taking a few tips from Beatrice's comments too!
Wow! That Beatrice is mighty blunt, isn't she? LOL! It's a good bluntness, though... one you can learn a lot from.
There's enough story here for a novel, but it reads almost like a story outline rather than an actual story. You could really do a lot with this. If you'd chose vital moments to focus on, and try to write the story as a series of snapshots rather than as a film on fast forward, you could really make a wonderful story even better. For example, I'd love to know what Trip actually said to eulogize his sister in that final scene. Instead, all I got was that he "made a short but heart-rending speech." See what I mean?
You'd never fit it within the 7500 word limit for SNW, though, not and cover all of the story line. That's okay, though. This would make a wonderful novel. You could add a hopeful ending maybe... I hate novels with depressing endings. All that time reading should yield a happy feeling, not a sad one, IMO... but that's just me. I like Koss as a nice guy. I'd want him to have a happy life. : )
Thanks Distracted, from the comments I got so far, I have a direction for revising the story! It is encouraging me to keep improving this one instead of just going on to the next one. I think that having been doing specs for computer programs for so many years, I just think in computer language which is conscise and logical. Opps, I am more Vulcan-like than I realize! Now it is making me wonder about their literary forms...LOL! But I know I can do it, I know I can make my writing more...Human!
I like this a lot. I agree with some of the comments. The basic idea and flow of the story is very good. It lets the reader see into Koss's Mind. The first part is very moving. We often seem to think of Koss as a bad guy. I do not believe he was. I think rather he wanted T'Pol and did what he had to to try to win her over. She agreed to the marriage so she should have lived up to the terms. While it may not be the best thing to do what he did I can understand it. They were engaged/ bonded. He used what he had to to ensure his own survival. Vulcans have a good reason for their customs. T'Pol made her choices and she should have accepted them. I do however respect that he helped her and let her go. In the end he showed honor that T'Pol and Tucker did not. If T'Pol wanted to be free she should have been honest and she should not have agreed to marry him.
I like how you mixed the two together. I have always liked Koss, now someone has finaly done him justice