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The Tides of Space - Chapter 2, by Linda
The Tides of Space
Liz and Kov often took meals together on the Vahklas because they had become used to making meals together in Liz’s south Florida home. Kov would find Liz in whatever workshop she was attending and they would walk together to the mess deck.
Liz stepped closer to Kov. “Can we walk arm in arm? You don’t seem adverse to touch and your higher body temperature is interesting. And forgive my staring. I am still getting used to being among so many Vulcans.”
Kov looked bemused. “Do we look so strange?”
Liz blushed. “Actually no. I was just thinking how amazingly similar we are. Both of us are mammals with the same number of arms, legs, and fingers. We both have fingernails and not claws as some humanoids do. We are the same relative height, having similar eye and hair color for the most part. Your eyebrows are a bit different, but cute. And some humans almost have eyebrows like that. Your ears are very attractive.”
Kov’s face took on a thoughtful look. “Well thank you. I never thought much about my ears until I was surrounded by people with rounded ones, which by the way are not unattractive either. My parents always concentrated on correcting what they thought were my negative qualities, so I guess I never considered that I had positive ones. My weight for instance is considered un-Vulcan and a lack of self-discipline. I have noticed a higher percentage of Humans with my shape than there are among Vulcans. The medication I must take to control the condition that also affects my father and mother, tends to promote the retention of weight. Still, I could be more aggressive in my intake of nutrients and expenditure of energy. Do you realize that our hearts are in different positions though most of the other major internal organs are in the relatively same places? The biggest difference between our species seems to be the blood chemistry which affects the difference in our life spans. Here.” Kov took a small kit from his tunic pocket and pricked his finger, to show Liz a drop of his blood.
“Are you diabetic?” asked Liz.
“Diabetic?” Kov raised an eyebrow to punctuate his question.
Liz explained. “That is a disease Humans have which requires a person to take small blood samples to check the amount of sugar in their blood. They carry kits like yours.”
Kov looked at his kit then returned it to his pocket. “My condition does not involve blood sugar levels. It is more like the Human problem with cholesterol. And yes I must test my blood to monitor it so I can administer the correct dosage of the medication I need. Isn’t your diabetes more common though? My condition is rare among Vulcans and therefore not as studied for a cure as our more common conditions have been.“
“That is sad Kov. But I think we too concentrate on cures for the more common afflictions first.”
“That is only logical,” said Kov. “When I was studying to be a healer this was explained to me. But my class did like to study my condition because I was accessible. Kind of a rare treat for them.”
“Oh Kov. I hope I am not being too nosey. I have heard that Vulcans do not readily talk about personal things. But I find it easy to talk to you. And I think it is a good thing you let me see your blood because if you cut yourself severely, I would not startle at the strangeness of it and would react more quickly to stop the bleeding.”
“That is good to know.”
“Kov, if your people were less secretive, some of the incidents that have happened could have been prevented. Like the time a Vulcan was hit by a car in a town near mine. She was lying on the road unconscious and bleeding. She bled to death before proper medical aid could arrive. If bystanders had not stood off in shock at the green blood, one of them might have attempted to help sooner. And if the person who applied the AED machine had known the true location of her heart, she might have been saved. As it was, her husband blamed the Humans for not helping her. It just added more distrust to a tense situation.”
“My people are like that. They have to learn too. I will mention this to Ambassador Soval if he will allow me to contact him. He is a friend of my father’s, so he also disapproves of my lifestyle. I am sure he is aware of a lot of these problems. My father respects him but says the longer he stays on Earth, the more like a Human he becomes. I think it is hard to fully keep your own culture and also to adapt to another. There must be a balance somehow. It must be explored by both species like we are trying to do within our little group. There has to be a better balance between emotion and logic. I think the answer lies somewhere between Vulcan and Human culture.
Liz nodded agreement. She slipped her arm around Kov’s and they proceeded to the mess deck arm in arm.
By the end of the second week on the Vahklas, the Human students had settled into friendships with particular Vulcans. They were young and curious and more adaptable than the colonists who only wanted to get where they were going. Since most of the students and colonists were female and most of the Vulcans were male, there were gender issues as well as cultural ones. Four of the five Vulcan women were mates of male crewmen and like T’Mor, specialists needed onboard. T’Mor was a healer and also Tavin’s wife. She was as adamant a V’tosh as her mate and co-founder of the group. The unmarried Vulcan woman, T’Via, was a rebel having evaded a planned marriage to join the Vahklas as a nutritionist and cook. It was she who convinced Tavin and Taloris to try the food of other worlds.
Because of the nature of the gender balance, incipient romances were developing. The Vulcans thought of this as a logical continuation in their exploration of emotions. The Humans considered this an opportunity to make personal connections with some very attractive males.
It was some time in the third week when the sheep broke out of their force field pen. For the students, it was a hoot to chase sheep down companionways. Bleating and laughter echoed through the ship. Some of the Vulcan crewmen stood plastered against the walls with raised eyebrows and wrinkled noses as the sheep ran by. But others, especially those who hung out with the students, joined the chase. Watching the lanky and serious-faced Vulcans bumping into and tripping over woolly bodies made the students laugh even harder. The colonists released the dogs so that barking added to the confusion. But it was the dogs that were the most effective in returning the sheep to their ‘quarters’.
The sheep incident brought a humorous distraction to break the apprehension of the students. They knew they would not be getting back to Earth by the beginning of the next college term. The old ship was just limping along at warp two. But after all, few Humans would ever have the opportunity they were experiencing. The students could always figure out a way to write it up as an independent study and get credit for it. “Especially,” snickered Ellen, “those who could write it up as an alien anatomy study. What was this seven years of abstinence that there were rumors of? Must be strictly a monk thing.”
The colonist were used to being put off by delays of one sort or another. They just hunkered down and read or knitted. Liz was worried about missing the start date of construction on the corporate headquarters, but decided not to contact them. The capacity to send out messages was intermittent due to equipment problems, and she deferred to the students use of it. They were younger than her and their families would probably be more worried. Besides, Tavin had sent a revised schedule to the Vulcan embassy on Earth. It would be broadcast on the shipping news in the spaceports. Liz was sure her family and her architectural firm would be checking there because of the email she had sent them. Workshops continued and the additional time allowed for a deeper exploration of things cultural. So many people thought the delay was a blessing in disguise.
By the third week on the Vahklas, Liz had become a shadow in Kov’s wake on his evening rounds before their cup of tea in his office. She quietly watched him tighten a bolt here, reset a switch there. Wherever he stopped, she found a place to lean against or a flat surface to sit on, a few feet away. Though Liz did not know it, Kov was aware of her every move, memorizing her quiet presence. And as he memorized, the personality that was Liz began to envelope his heart. So this is how Trip knew her, following him, staying within the circle of protection that an older brother projected, he thought. This was how Kov’s older sister must have felt toward himself as he tagged along behind her as a small child. Emotion threatened to overwhelm Kov. He wanted to turn and embrace Liz, put protective arms around her and project Vulcan calming techniques. He wanted to say “it is ok, I will take care of you now as your brother used to. We will have a good voyage. The old Vaklas is not finished yet and I have a few engineering tricks left.” But Kov just continued his tour of inspection with Liz following.
As Liz followed on Kov’s rounds, she began keeping a notebook of ideas and sketches.
Diary entry May 14, 2153:
I also started sketching possible changes to the ship’s layout of living spaces. That exercise is something I could not help because of my nature and my training. In my free time I follow Kov on his engineering rounds. It is reminiscent of the times I used to do similar things with my brother. There were a few places where Kov had difficulty reaching valves and panels. And there were places I thought crew people might easily fall through machine spaces and seriously hurt themselves. I made sketches of access ways and catwalks and guardrails that might help them. Kov was impressed with these drawings as he scanned through them in his cramped engineer’s office while I sat across from him with a cup of very thick Vulcan spiced tea. “My own recipe” he told me raising those exquisitely expressive eyebrows. I could not stop myself from studying him with furtive glances. Vulcans have been on Earth since way before I was born, but I never had been so close to one, or so fascinated as I am with him.
My mother would have described him as a ‘strange bird’. Now how was it that Trip described him? Trip’s description was what had piqued my interest. So when I opened the door to find him on my front porch, I recognized him. We had a common topic of conversation in my brother but soon found many, many more. I had met a few Vulcans in my work, but never could I read the expressions (or lack of them) on their faces as I could on Kov’s face. He has such a look of eager innocence. But that is deceptive because he is quite intelligent and no fool. And there is a depth to him emotionally that he only gives me glimpses of.
Kov mentioned without elaborating that he had lost a nephew to the condition which threatens his father’s life and his own. Because his mother has the condition too, he got a double dose of it. People with this condition have to marry each other because no healthy person will have them. So generation after generation, it concentrated the effect. Kov said it would shorten his life to barely more than the lifespan of a Human. No wonder we fascinate him, with our similar perspective on time. It is hard on him when his Vulcan friends speculate on what they will be doing a hundred years from now. And such an unhappy childhood, very different from my almost idyllic one. Though like me, he would never have left the home world he loved. He told me he left because he was fleeing from an impossible situation. I had left in anticipation of a wondrous adventure.
In the esthetics of neither of our home worlds, would Kov be described as good looking. My personal requirements have softened over the years, especially after my engagement to what I thought was the prefect male specimen who turned out to be a repressive controlling bastard that almost destroyed my sense of self worth. Trip thought Jack was prefect for me. He was from a wealthy architectural family with connections to the political power sources on the North American continent. A real find, Trip told me. It elevates our shanty Irish family way above lace curtain Irish into the ranks of what used to be called the planet’s jet set. Jack had taken Trip to a football game where they had a jolly old time. Pompous but perfect, Trip told me. I will never let my brother influence me in affairs of the heart again. But he did find Kov and befriend him so that Kov sought me out. So Trip is forgiven. Anyway, I can never be angry at Trip for long. He and I are two bodies with one spirit. Besides when Trip found out how Jack had treated me, he told Jack what a cretin he was and punched him out. Jack has hated Trip ever since.
Note: I must remember to get the recipes of several Vulcan dishes for Mom.
One evening the conversation between Liz and Kov brushed the topic of mating customs. The conversation continued sporadically as they glanced up from the books they were reading and it died away again as they returned to their reading, drifting off into their individual thoughts. Between silences, Liz admitted she had been engaged but broke it off. She regretted wasting so much time and emotion on a relationship that was going nowhere.
Kov tried to understand this sad time. These mating customs were so foreign to him but important to a person he cared for. Regrets. So Liz had some. Kov was surprised because being Trip’s sister, he expected that she would have been tutored by Trip about regrets as he had been. Liz admitted to Kov that although she and Trip were two different people, they were as close as Human siblings could get. Kov often had disagreements with his own sister, but he usually deferred to her as the elder child. Now it was as if he was in Trip’s place as the elder sibling. Except his feelings for Liz, though protective, were protective in a subtly different way. He wasn’t just protecting her from males in general; he was slipping into the posture of protecting her from male rivals. He did not readily admit this to himself until the feeling grew beyond repression. On Vulcan, it would be time to start negotiations with her parents. If he was unbonded.
But he was unbonded, wasn’t he? He had released T’Nar, even if his father had not. His father had given him a slightly pained look when Kov had told him about breaking it off with T’Nar. Then his father displayed that haughty Vulcan alpha male smirk and said “when the time comes upon you, you will be back here faster than a wild sehlat on the hunt. Believe me son, the priest I chose for your bonding was quite subtle, quite thorough.” Kov sighed and put aside the manual describing the Vahklas’s maintenance schedule. “Dungi gla-tor etek osa-mekh, dungi gla-tor etek.” (We will see my father, we will see).
“What?” asked Liz looking up from her padd containing Vulcan architectural design over the last three centuries. “Would that sound as bad in English as it does in Vulcan?”
“Just family memories. I will have to tell you more about that soon.”
They both went back to their reading, though Kov’s mind again drifted off to Vulcan. His attraction to Liz was way beyond anything he had ever tried to force himself to feel for T’Nar when his father said they were old enough for the marriage ceremony. And T’Nar loathed him. She also carried the condition and mates for either of them were otherwise impossible to find. He did not think any bond could overcome the feeling behind that nasty outburst “if there was anyone else, anyone at all, do you think I would marry a fat ugly troll who spends his days with greasy engines? You were supposed to be a healer. At least I could accept that but you failed in that profession.” Her words stung as much as his father’s had later when he told Kov he had dishonored fifteen generations of his family. So Kov had tried to put himself beyond his father’s reach. He rationalized that the Vahklas would never be in condition to return him to Vulcan in time, no matter how strong his desire to return home became.
The next day, Kov was mentally composing arguments to submit to Tavin to support a course change through uncharted space to reach the Human colony a few days sooner. It was risky but may be necessary. Then his thoughts as they usually did of late, drifted to Liz. And as if he had called her, she was there behind him on the catwalk, taking notes. She was frowning at a railing, running her hand along it and looking down over it to the open decks below. She stretched her slim, graceful arm over the railing, trying to reach each control on a panel. Shaking her head, she made another note. Then she looked over at him. “Kov, would you let me redesign this access platform for you? I think I can make it more accessible, safer.”
“Liz, we don’t have the materials to make many changes aboard this ship.” But he smiled at her, trying to give it a warm Human look.
She stepped closer to him. “That is ok. It is only a slight challenge for me to rework the parts that are already present in this walkway.”
Kov’s heartbeat picked up with her nearness. His face felt warmer with an olive blush that was forming, so he looked away toward the next checkpoint on his tour. “Will you join me for tea in my office as usual? We can discuss your ideas. They are…logical.”
“Of course Kov. Our chats are the highlight of my day on your ship, more enjoyable than T’Bin’s meditation class.”
He started walking away, unable to say anything because it might reveal his feelings. She followed, as he knew she would.
The bridge was one place the Humans did not frequent. But Liz wanted to see it and T’Via invited her roommate to sit with her on her next shift. The crew cross-trained and T’Via the cook became T’Via the COMS officer. Liz had been training in the ship’s planetary grid overlay system for mapping new worlds. It was mathematical and graphic, like the skills needed for an architect. Liz liked to tinker with new technology just like her brother did. She wanted to see the grid overlay system controls on the bridge as well as those she had been studying in the Vahklas’s only shuttle.
Visiting the bridge was also a way for Liz and T’Via to further their friendship, to spend more time with each other. They had been practicing guided meditations together. T’Via had led Liz on several Vulcan meditations and had allowed Liz to lead one that was a classic in one of the spiritual traditions on Earth. When Liz told Kov of her impending visit to the bridge, he decided this was a good time to tinker with a loose bridge cable connection, which was a minor repair job on his long list.
Today things were quiet and a bit boring on the bridge after T’Via had given Liz an overview of her tasks. So Liz tried again to explain the subject of humor. “Humor is illogical. Yes, I think that is it. That is why Vulcans don’t use humor. Accept that sometimes they do, I think. Sometimes I feel I have been right on the edge of seeing it, but don’t quite understand the joke. So let me try something that I feel is not subtle Human humor, but blatantly obvious. Let’s try the concept of the practical joke. It is a visual sort of thing, a tangible thing. Have you ever heard of short-sheeting a bed?”
“No.” said T’Via.
So Liz told her how it was done.
T’Via furrowed her brow. “Why is this done to a friend? It would simply be annoying.”
Liz had to think about that one. “It is funny to the perpetrators. And when the perpetrators start laughing, the person the joke was played on, usually starts laughing too.”
“I would think that some of these practical jokes are mean spirited, that people would be angry or hurt.” T’Via was not convinced that humor was a good thing.
Liz sighed and put her elbow on a console and her chin on her hand. “You are right. They sometimes have that effect. The line between joke and meanness is sometimes very thin. I know, why don’t you come up with some things a Vulcan would think are funny. We should start at the other end of this.” This would take several conversations to work through, thought Liz. She had spent more time on the bridge than she had expected and she had another appointment. “Now I have to take that purple silk ribbon to T’Mor, as she wanted me to show her some braiding techniques Humans use when working with macramé. T’Mor has a hanging planter she wants to decorate.”
“Where is the ribbon?” asked T’Via.
“It is in my bag behind you,” said Liz lifting an end of it.
T’Via examined it and dropped it back into Liz’s bag. “A pleasing color. T’Mor will find it adequate for her planter.”
Kov closed a panel and turned toward the women. “You know Liz, I have been wanting to try some braiding too. Would it be inappropriate to ask if I could braid your hair now? You seem to have snagged it on something and there is a loop of hair sticking out sideways of the braid.”
“Why Kov, of course you can braid it. First unbraid my hair and brush it. There is a brush in my bag.”
Kov removed the elastic band at the end of Liz’s shoulder length braid and started unbraiding it. “It feels so soft. I would like to braid it every day.”
T’Via was trying to keep a Vulcan straight face. “I thought you only liked the feel of engine oil Kov.”
“Is that a humorous thing you said to Kov?” Asked Liz turning her head so Kov could brush out a snarl in front of her ear. “Humans would consider it so.”
“Perhaps it is.” Mused T’Via. “I was….teasing Kov. We have sensuality, you know. I have noticed it is rather close to the Human in concept, I think.”
“Oh really? Does the telepathy make it more sensitive?” asked Liz as she turned her head so her back was to her bag and her companions so Kov could work on her braid. He leaned his back against a console and gathered Liz’s long hair to separate it into three hanks.
T’Via frowned. “I am not sure. I don’t know what it is like not to be telepathic. I wish I could see and feel and understand things from another species perspective. But you and I will just have to try to explain things with language. Sometimes that is so inadequate. If I touched you, I might be able to sense what you sense. Still, that is an imperfect understanding at best.”
Kov finished Liz’s braid so she went off to her appointment with T’Mor. T’Via took out a book padd as her COMS watch was usually a long and boring one outside of the traffic lanes. Kov moved around the bridge taking readings of various kinds. After a half hour, the ship’s intercom beeped. T’Via sighed and put her book down. “Bridge.”
“Hi. This is Liz. Would Kov still be there?”
Kov looked over at T’Via with raised eyebrows.
“Why yes. Would you like to speak to him?”
There was a moment’s silence. Then “Oh, not really. Just tell him I will get back at him for this. It took us twenty minutes to find that ribbon. Oh, and, tell him he seems to have mastered the concept of the practical joke. Liz out.”
“What was that all about?” T’Via enquired.
Kov looked down. “Is Liz angry with me? Did I cross the boundary of practical joke into meanness?”
“I don’t think so. Not by her voice tone. What did you do?” asked T’Via.
Kov shuffled his feet. “I braided that purple ribbon into her hair.”
“You stinker.” T’Via actually laughed and gave Kov a Human thumbs up sign.
Liz knew there were serious problems with the ship. Everyone did. But she knew the ship’s layout fairly well now that she had been onboard for a few weeks. She was not afraid to walk into the machine spaces alone to fill in the notes for the remodeling drawings that she was finishing up. This was her gift to Kov and the engineering staff. Now as she sat on a metal catwalk in the depths of the Vahklas, she again touched Kov’s emerald like a talisman. Such a sweet man. So when should she give him the ruby tie clip which was to be her parting gift? She was saving it, this gift to match his symbol of green blood with her red. She was saving it for the parting she knew was inevitable in another few weeks. But parting with him was becoming increasingly difficult to accept.
There were heavy purposeful footfalls behind her. His steps. They stopped and she knew somehow that he had reached down a hand to help her up. She placed her hand in his without turning to see it. This was becoming common, her knowing exactly where he was without looking or asking. It was like she felt his presence in her mind. It was not invasive though; it was light, calming, welcome. She let her thoughts flow to him and somehow she knew he received them.
Liz said to T’Via as she walked between her and Kov: “Kov likes most Human expressions. He probably would have made a great literature student, unlike my brother who probably would not have shown the film Beau Jeste on Enterprise as I did here tonight on the Vahklas. Trip does not have the temperament for the endless detailed analysis that Kov gives these things. Trip would say ‘don’t pick it apart, just enjoy it.’ Bless his fun-loving hide.”
This movie had elements of the medieval concept of courtly love which Kov and T’Via found fascinating. “So Humans really don’t always just hop into bed when they love someone,” T’Via remarked.
“I thought I explained that already,” Liz said with a grin.
“Yes, and your stories, both written and visual, reinforce that view,” said Kov who thought it was best not to take Liz’s hand at the moment and show his own leanings.
Liz thought about her brother again. There was not a day that went by where she did not think of him. “I took a look at the list of films he collected for ‘movie night’ on the Enterprise. He wanted my opinion. I gave it rather harshly when he rejected my suggestion that he include the film ‘Titanic’. ‘That would be a bad omen for my ship as the Titanic sank on its maiden voyage,’ he laughed. I answered back paraphrasing the character Rose from that film: ‘the difference in my taste in movies and your taste in movies is that I have some’.”
It was Liz who then took Kov’s hand. “But Kov goes all mopey if I criticize my brother in any way. And the last laugh about that movie is on me, for the Vahklas is closer to becoming the Titanic than Trip’s ship which is probably still in mint condition.” Liz felt Kov’s embarrassment through his hand. “But then Kov has done miracles with a ship which should have been scrapped long ago while my brother has a state of the art ship backed up by the resources of a whole planet.” Liz felt Kov relax as she projected appreciation, and yes, love, to him. And Kov projected love back, deftly hiding the knowledge that indeed the Vahklas was in deep trouble.