– VII –
“I was born two months after we were marooned on this world,” Tela said as she led Xylion up a mountain close to her settlement. “I have never known any place but this one. I have read much about the home world and I have seen pictures and sometimes I have imagined what it would be like to see it with my own eyes.”
“Vulcan is not too dissimilar in climate and terrain as this world,” he said, following her up a steep ravine with little effort. A human may have struggled climbing the mountain but Xylion was used to the heat and the thin air. He had taken many similar expeditions, crossing the Vulcan’s Forge in his younger days. And the young Tela was clearly not unaccustomed to climbing this mountain, the way in which she enthusiastically led the way.
“Perhaps than I am not missing much,” she said and turned around, considering the Starfleet officer for a moment as he caught up to her.
“Vulcan may be similar to this world, but they are not comparable.”
“How about you? Do you miss it?”
He raised an eyebrow at the seemingly odd question. “It is my home. I tend to be most comfortable there.”
She nodded and then set out again.
“I have never before heard of the name of the vessel that crashed on this world, nor was I aware of any Vulcan colonial projects in this sector of space,” he said, following her once more.
“I do not believe our mission was sanctioned by High Command. There may not have been official records of our colonization efforts.”
“That would explain why no rescue mission was ever attempted.”
“It would have been difficult to reach us within this nebula in any case,” she said. “How were you able to penetrate it so deeply?”
“We utilized advanced transphasic shield technology which protect our vessel from the harmful thermionic radiation prevalent in the nebula.”
It was already the late afternoon by the time they finally reached the plateau at the top of the mountain and Xylion realized why she had brought them to this place. From their vantage point they had an unobstructed view of the full extent of the settlement below, including its many outlying fields, the vast steppe to the north and he could even spot the canyon in which the Nebuchadrezzar
had crash landed.
“I enjoy coming here from time to time,” she said and stepped fairly close to the edge of the plateau which terminated suddenly and into an almost vertical cliff which plunged downwards a good five-hundred meters or so.
“I can understand why,” he said as he took in the view.
She turned to him. “Is Vulcan as magnificent as this?”
“Beauty is a subjective standard.”
Her lips curled up slightly, coming dangerously close to a smile. “Do our people not appreciate beauty then?”
“On the contrary,” he said. “Vulcans are more than able to appreciate esthetically pleasing qualities.”
She took another step towards him. “Do you think I am ecstatically pleasing, Xylion?”
He couldn’t stop his eyebrow from shooting up again.
Tela quickly turned away as if embarrassed. “I ask your forgiveness for the inappropriate nature of my question.”
“None are necessary. I understand that living so far removed from our people has been a great challenge for yourself as well as the other colonists here. It requires great mental discipline to survive in such an environment.”
“I suppose we are not quite like the Vulcans you are used to,” she said but keeping her eyes on the vista below.
“I have met many different kinds of Vulcans, including those who did not live their life according to the same principles that most of us follow. I was once betrothed to a woman who followed the teachings of v’tosh ka’tur
. I am not disturbed by this. In fact I find myself fascinated by alternative Vulcan lifestyles.”
She turned to face him once more, her eyes wide open in curiosity. “What happened to your betrothed?”
“She was killed.”
Tela couldn’t quite hide the frown crossing her face. “I am very sorry to hear that.”
“While her death was without purpose I continue to treasure the memories I shared with her.”
“And there is no other woman in your life now?”
“No,” he said simply.
She nodded slowly before she turned her back on him again.
Xylion stepped up next to her, being mindful of the dangerously steep precipice just a few feet away, and joined her in overlooking the settlement and the lands beyond.
For a moment neither of them spoke as they stood side by side, quietly taking in the seemingly endless view.
“When was the last time you visited Vulcan?” she finally asked.
“Four years, two months and twenty-three days.”
She shot him a sidelong look. “That is a long time.”
“My duties on Eagle
have not allowed me to return to Vulcan. Since the war with the Dominion has broken out I have found myself with even fewer opportunities to return home.”
,” she said. “Your starship.”
“That is correct.”
“It has become your new home. Perhaps like this place has become mine.”
He considered her for a moment. “A crude analogy but not entirely incorrect.”
Tela diverted her eyes back to the settlement below and for a moment didn’t speak almost as if she was considering her next words very carefully. Or perhaps she was trying to find the courage to speak them. “Xylion,” she began. “Could you ever imagine a place like this becoming a home to you?”
* * *
The temperature had plummeted after dark and Deen marveled how well this orphaned planet simulated the dark/night cycle which clearly warranted further research. At this point she was convinced that the cycle, supposedly created by the way in which the atmosphere reflected the light of the nebula was somehow connected to the geothermal gasses which were released at a much slower rate during the night cycle, causing the noticeable drop in temperature.
The cooler climate was manageable mostly thanks to the huge bonfire the Vulcans had set up close to the center of their settlement and the many smaller fires all around it. True to his world, Volik and his people had prepared a lavish feast to welcome the Starfleet away team and the settlement was like transformed from the way it had looked after their arrival in the morning.
Tables had been set up all around the central bonfire which now held all manner of foods and drink which the settlers had worked all day to prepare. There were wooden tables and chairs set up by the smaller fires as well which were now occupied with those Vulcans who were not busy with last minute preparation.
Deen and her colleagues sat at one of those tables.
“You wanted a welcome party?” said Deen and aimed a smirk at the half-Romulan tactical officer sitting by her side.
“I have to say, I’m impressed,” he said as he considered the many foods on the tables, much of it he had observed being hunted down and skinned himself earlier. “I didn’t think Vulcans knew how to put together a party. I was also under the impression that they were vegetarians.”
“Indeed,” said Xylion but didn’t add anything further.
“Well, I know I am,” said Deen. “Fortunately they have plenty of fruits and vegetables they managed to cultivate so I doubt I’ll starve. But don’t you think there is something else odd here?” She continued when Leva and Srena aimed puzzled looks at her. “Who is missing from this picture?”
The Andorian seemed to realize it first. “Children?”
Deen nodded. “I think the youngest person I’ve seen in this settlement is Tela and she must be in her early twenties.”
“She was born shortly after they arrived on this world,” Xylion said.
“And Vulcans mate at least every seven years, right?” said Deen. “Even if there were no children on the transport you would think they had produced some offspring by now.”
“Maybe they just haven’t been in the mood,” said Leva with a smirk.
“That’s one hell of a dry spell, even for Vulcans,” the Andorian said.
“Considering my people’s longevity, it is possible that they decided not to create offspring due to the difficulty of raising children in this environment.”
“I’m not sure how serious they are about getting out of here,” said Srena. “They were not particularly fond of the idea of letting me scavenge for parts to repair the runabout. In fact that’s putting it mildly, I was pretty much thrown out of their engine room.”
Deen considered the Andorina curiously but didn’t get much of a chance to pursue this further when a whole throng of Vulcans brought them plates filled with food. “You don’t have to serve us,” she told them. “We’d be glad to come and get our own.”
“You are our guest and more,” said Tela who led the procession. “And I hope you enjoy the foods we have prepared for you.”
She nodded thankfully and didn’t miss the tiniest hint of a smile she reserved for Xylion before she quickly departed again to take her seat at a nearby table and next to her father.
Shortly thereafter every Vulcan was seated and an eerie quiet befell the settlement with only the cracking of the fires to be heard.
Then the elder Vulcan rose from his chair to address the newcomers and his people alike. “We have gathered here tonight to welcome these intrepid men and women who have travelled from afar to find us here in the most remote place in the galaxy. And for us this visit is a most joyful occasion,” he said but kept the tone of his voice so neutral, one would have been hard-pressed to detect any such sentiments within it. “It has been a long time since we have seen faces which were not our own. It has been a long time since we were able to grow our community.”
Srena gave the others a befuddled look. “What does that mean?” she whispered.
“We have waited a long time for this opportunity,” Volik continued, “and our patience is finally rewarded as I always knew it would be. Today not only are we welcoming these strangers as friends in our midst, we are welcoming four new and healthy members to join our settlement. And what better way to commemorate such a significant event then by celebrating the forthcoming betrothal of my daughter Tela to Xylion son of Xenek.”
Silence followed once more but this time mostly due to the stunned reactions of the away team.
“Say what now?” said Leva after a few moments.
Xylion’s face however betrayed no emotion other than a single eyebrow climbing his brow.