Jarol materialised on the surface and the first thing she did was look around. She detected no immediate danger, so she took a breath and stepped away from the gul. As his aide, she felt responsible for his safety and especially with her tactical training her senses searched instinctively for possible danger.
However, the only people outside the village were the three Cardassians, who had beamed down just a moment ago: herself, her gul and Glinn Brenok.
“Where are they?” the engineer asked and before his words faded in the wind, a sound could be heard. A bit like a transporter beam, but not exactly that. Or—not exactly like a Cardassian one. Jarol had to amend her first impression, since it turned out to actually be a transporter beam. It was oddly blue and brought three aliens, each of different species.
“I am Captain th’Arshar,” the blue man with feelers said, as if the Cardassians would have forgotten. “This is my first officer, Commander Kapoor and my science officer, Lieutenant Av’Roo.”
Kapoor had no feelers on her head and she was light brown. Her hair colour was the opposite of th’Arshar’s white and more typical for a Cardassian—shiny black. Jarol knew that could mean a number of species, so she didn’t try to guess which one the woman belonged to. The science officer was fascinating—a big bird, gender unknown.
Zamarran introduced his limited party. “My aides, Glinn Jarol and Glinn Brenok. Shall we proceed?”
Th’Arshar nodded, so the company moved down the road onto which they had beamed, toward a small village.
Since the Cardassians had been here before, they knew the way to the main marketplace, where they had the greatest chance of meeting someone, perhaps even the prefect of this settlement himself.
“We told you not to return,” a voice behind them said suddenly.
Everyone stopped and turned and Jarol heard Kapoor gasp. The small woman had covered her mouth with her hand and stared at the tall Vulcan with wide eyes.
“And I told you that we would return,” Zamarran answered calmly.
The Vulcan, Jarol knew his name was Safik, eyed the Federation officers. He raised his eyebrow, but didn’t say a word. After a long moment of awkward silence, the blue captain managed to compose himself enough to finally be able to speak.
“My name is Captain th’Arshar and I have been asked by Gul Zamarran to come and talk to you and perhaps to take you back to the Federation.”
“‘Perhaps’?” Jarol heard Brenok mutter.
“Why would we go to the Federation?” Safik asked. “It would be illogical to return after we decided that our place was not there.”
Jarol raised an eye ridge, thinking that th’Arshar wasn’t the best diplomat she had seen.
“That is what I said,” the Vulcan said flatly.
“Maybe...” Kapoor took a step forward. “Maybe it would be better if we discussed it not in the middle of the road, but in some more appropriate place?”
Safik nodded and motioned toward the marketplace. Zamarran and the other two Cardassians followed him and so did, after a short moment of hesitation, the Federation officers.
The marketplace was a small, round area with a fountain in the middle and children playing with a ball in one ‘corner.’ Jarol smiled at the sight of the kids, since it reminded her of her own son. It didn’t matter that he was almost an adult now, because she never had any problem recalling how adorable and cute he had been as a child. She forced her concentration to return to the present; this was not the time to daydream about her family, regardless of how much she loved and missed them.
Safik led them to a modest one-storey building. He asked them to wait in a small hall and entered one of rooms. There were no doors, merely open entrances, but Jarol still couldn’t hear any conversation that was certainly taking place inside.
Jarol used the opportunity to take a better look at the Federation people. Apart from being of different species, their uniforms were not exactly the same either. The Cardassian understood the need for a modified design for the very tall bird-like creature, but it didn’t explain why Av’Roo wore a different colour in addition to a different shape. Both bipeds wore uniforms with black shoulders and black trousers, but in the middle another colour dominated. In their case it was red, but the third member of their team wore blue. Jarol wondered why that was. Did it denote some kind of hierarchy? Red was for those in command, while blue was for those lower in the military structure? She didn’t know much about the Federation, but she knew the basics and that included their claim of equality, so she didn’t expect that blue denoted a lower species, or anything of that kind.
Her thoughts were interrupted when Safik returned with another elder Vulcan.
“I am T’Khvok,” she said. She looked at the captain. “I understand that you wish to discuss our relocation.” Her eyes went to Zamarran’s face. “We have already rejected that proposal.”
She did not seem like she wanted to discuss it further, or so it would appear from the fact that she did not ask any questions and did not invite them into the chambers.
The gul said nothing and looked at th’Arshar. The man understood the cue and after clearing his throat, addressed the Vulcan lady. “Madam T’Khvok, first of all I would like to express my great relief and happiness to see this settlement and all these people here. I would like to assure you that I would not do anything to risk your well-being.”
Jarol heard Zamarran grunt, so she stepped closer to him and whispered, “Diplomacy, sir, diplomacy.” He only grunted again, but a little bit softer.
Meanwhile, th’Arshar continued. “I have been contacted by Mr. Zamarran with his request; however I know very little of the current situation and I would appreciate discussing it in detail before we come to any conclusions and make any decisions.”
T’Khvok scrutinised th’Arshar for a moment. “Your happiness is irrelevant, Captain.” She looked at Zamarran. “Will you remove us by force if we keep refusing to relocate?”
The gul appeared taken aback by that question. “Excuse me?”
“Will you kill us if we don’t leave?”
Jarol was no diplomat, but the Vulcan was not one either. The question couldn’t be phrased more bluntly and more...insultingly.
“Of course not,” Zamarran replied finally. “We want you to leave and find another place to settle, but we do not wish you death.”
“And why can’t you
find another place?” The Vulcan aimed her finger at Zamarran’s chest. “There are three other planets in the relative vicinity. Why can’t you colonise them?”
The gul shook his head. “It’s not about colonisation, T’Khvok. We don’t need this planet to settle here. We need it for its rich resources. No settlers will come, but workers, miners and lumberjacks. And this planet is the richest in the relative vicinity. We need this one and no other...at least for now.”
She raised her eyebrow and Jarol could swear she saw irritation on the woman’s face. “So even if we move to another one in this sector, someday you would come and tell us to leave again?”
Zamarran sighed. “That’s why we contacted the Federation. You should return to their space and that shall prevent future conflicts of similar nature.”
“Request denied.” Her voice was emotionless, flat and in complete opposition to Zamarran’s growing frustration. Jarol knew the gul had orders that allowed him to use any means necessary, with the exception of genocide, but she also knew that there was a line her gul would never cross and harming people was clearly on the wrong side of that line.
“Madame T’Khvok, if I may...” Th’Arshar smiled at her, even though—Jarol was sure—he knew his grin would not be returned. “I would like to hear more about your settlement, how you came here and how come no one in the Federation seems to know of your existence.”
She looked at him and studied his face for a long moment. “We can discuss the history of this settlement, but if this is your way to find a hole in our logic and force us to return to the Federation, then your request would be denied.”
The man shook his head. “No, no, Madame T’Khvok, I am genuinely curious about you. I seek knowledge, not advantage.”
Jarol felt Brenok behind her. “This is getting nowhere,” he whispered. “What will we do?” His voice was full of worry and she knew why: Nadar would not accept failure and if he came to a decision that Zamarran had failed, he would take command of the ship and do whatever his sick, cruel mind told him to do; and Jarol didn’t want to know what that might be. It was possible that she wouldn’t have to witness his orders, as the probability of being arrested together with Zamarran was high. Oh, how she hated that Obsidian Swamp!
She had no answer to her friend’s question, so all she could do was to look at him and shrug slightly. He bit his lip and said nothing more.
Zamarran turned to them. Jarol figured he’d realised that there was nothing more he could say right now, so he’d stopped insisting like a spoiled brat. She appreciated that he knew his limits and when to stop. The Cardassians needed a new plan. The gul looked at the Federation captain. “We will talk later. Now, I’ll leave you to your mission of exploration.”
Th’Arshar acknowledged with a nod, so Zamarran motioned for the others to head back to the exit. When they were out of the building, he pressed his wristcomm. “Three to beam up. Energise.” A moment later an orange light enveloped them and they returned to their ship.
T’Khvok led th’Arshar and his team to a big room and with a gesture invited them to sit down. “What are your questions?” she asked without any preamble.
Th’Arshar shifted and Kapoor was sure he feared he would do or say something inappropriate. “First of all, how come you ended up here?” He swayed his hand around. “We’ve never heard of any Vulcan settlement anywhere, let alone outside Federation territory. In other words: what’s your story?”
The Vulcan leaned back in her chair. “We left New Vulcan shortly after our people settled there. We found their actions illogical and could not accept them.”
Av’Roo’s wings moved slightly in a gesture of indignation. “Illogical? What could be illogical in preserving your culture, history and lives?”
“Nothing. However, the means of reaching those goals were...misguided. The starships had managed to save many elders, whose knowledge and experience was vast. It was a wise move and there was some logic in it. However, in order to survive as a race, we needed more than knowledge and experience. We needed young
people to repopulate and recreate what had been almost destroyed. The problem was that no one cared about young people. In so many cases they were forgotten and left to themselves as less valuable, only because they hadn’t acquired as much knowledge as elders.” Kapoor made a quick calculation and came to the conclusion that at the time of the tragedy T’Khvok had to have been a young woman. “With time the elders started to fade away, while the birth rate was too low to assure survival of the species and that was when the Federation finally recalled that they needed strong, young Vulcans. They started to...” She paused and Kapoor could swear there was shame on the woman’s face. “They started to induce pon farr
just to...to use us...to use the young ones to procreate.” T’Khvok’s eyes opened wider. “Perhaps it was logical, but shall we abandon our dignity for logic? Shall we violate other people’s self-respect in the name of doubtful logic?” For a Vulcan, she was full of bitterness, Kapoor thought.
“So you left.” It was a statement, not a question.
“Those who were not satisfied with the direction our people went left. We settled here, on this planet. We live according to out customs and traditions. We do not need artificial means to thrive. The population of our village has doubled since we had arrived. It may be slower than the Federation scientists wish, but it is a natural and dignified way to live. The only logical choice.”
Th’Arshar nodded. “I understand. But what I do not understand is why you never revealed that you had settled here, especially after the tragedy of New Vulcan.”
“We did not see the logic in such a move. The elders kept fading away as nature called them. It was the Federation’s mistake to save mostly old people.”
“But the other young ones died on that planet due to the plague!” Kapoor knew that there had been something in New Vulcan’s atmosphere that initial scans had failed to detect as harmful. Scientists had only realised that it was a pathogen deadly for Vulcans when it was already too late to save anyone. A virus, which had no adverse influence on the indigenous flora and fauna, had been able to modify Vulcan DNA, introducing harmful changes and causing a slow decay of Vulcan genetic material. The changes were irreversible and by the time scientists and doctors realised what had happened, it had been too late to do anything about it. All they had been able to do had been to make their patients’ dying days less painful. Only a handful who had never settled on the planet, spent a short time there, or served in Starfleet survived, but even they had eventually died.
“And how would revealing our existence help them?”
“It would help us all, knowing that Vulcans still existed and that with time your race would be as strong as it used to be. You are a valued people and knowing that you are here, now...it means a lot to me and I’m sure it’ll mean a lot to everyone else.”
T’Khvok observed him for a long moment. “Sentimental,” she said finally.
The Andorian nodded fervently. “That I am. And many others.”
“So make sure that the Cardassians leave us alone.”
Kapoor wondered what was more important: survival of the Vulcan race or diplomatic relations with their neighbour. She would choose the survival of the Vulcans any time and she suspected that so would th’Arshar and Av’Roo and everyone else aboard the Karamazov
, but what would the Federation Council choose?
“I will do my best,” the captain said and Kapoor recognised from the tone of his voice that he was very serious about that promise.