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History is the intellectual form in which a culture decides for itself the meaning of its past.
-- JOHAN HUIZINGA
None of the Vulcan, Romulan, human, Cardassian, and Klingon diplomats assembled had notified their governments officially of this meeting in the center of the Romulan Neutral Zone. Easier by far, thought Ambassador Spock, to get forgiveness than permission. Humans might have invented that saying, but its applications were universal.
The only problem was that Spock was not totally certain that forgiveness, in this case, would be all that easy to attain. Not for this meeting.
He suspected that various presidents, praetors, legates, chancellors, and a host of other titles would disapprove even more strenuously of where he and his colleagues had chosen to meet. Scans indicated that the echoing, circular chamber located approximately 300.58 meters beneath the jagged surface of an airless asteroid had begun its existence as a bubble in molten rock approximately 3.2 billion Earth years ago. Those same scans had also proved that the desolate chunk of rock had once been part of a planet, shattered by some catastrophe and flung free.
The symbolism was explicit. Those who did not learn from history were destined to repeat it. That was a maxim Spock had found both in Surak's Analects and in human philosophy.
Would old enemies prove apt students of histories not their own?
Spock found it difficult to assess that probability. For now, at least, the assembled diplomats, aides, warriors, and covert operatives eyed one another with a sensible caution, but no rage. At least, not yet.
To some extent, wariness was only to be expected. For Vulcans, rage was illogical. For Romulans, it was counterproductive. For Klingons, Cardassians, and humans, however -- well, Spock not only assumed that the weapons scanners each side had insisted on bringing in were the best available and working effectively, he had checked their effectiveness himself.
But even the efficacy of the weapons scanners installed on this chunk of rock did not matter: What need had the participants in this conference of physical weapons when they had thoughts and words, the deadliest weapons of all?
Gathered around a black stone table that had been ancient before their ancestors had ever walked upright, let alone fought each other, the members of this shadow council all seemed willing to tolerate their enemies' presence. At least for now, they were willing to listen.
Spock's eyes met those of his own longtime personal antagonist. His father, Sarek, might have chosen never to meld minds with him, but Spock thought that, for once, they were in perfect understanding. It was logical to exploit the willingness of these participants in a most secret conference to talk and to listen, but that willingness was fragile. One wrong word, one false step, even a misunderstood glance could destroy it.
Sarek raised his eyebrow minutely at his son. Now it begins. Rising from his black stone chair, Vulcan's senior ambassador held up his hand with its fingers parted in formal Vulcan greeting. Instantly, he gained the attention of every diplomat -- and every guard -- in the room. Even more than his son, Sarek was legendary for the just, wily, and occasionally ruthless methods he had employed lifelong to win his diplomatic battles. Even the Romulans, knowing he was no friend of theirs, had conceded that Sarek, as eldest of the participants, was the logical representative to make the opening statement.
"We come to serve," Sarek began, pitching his voice to carry throughout the echoing stone bubble. Instantly, attentive, wary eyes targeted the august old Vulcan.
"Let the site of our meeting serve as a warning and an inspiration to us," Sarek told the men and women assembled around the stone table.
Reinforcing the symbolism, Spock thought. Well done, Father.
Spock had seen the geologic assays of this asteroid. They showed minute traces of types of radiation indicating that the cataclysm that had destroyed the planet had been deliberate. Thus far, however, no one had been able to learn whether it had been destroyed by its enemies or its own inhabitants. Even now, some radiation remained in the desolate rock. It would not prove harmful, Spock knew, if this clandestine meeting with Romulan negotiators was kept brief. That knowledge was shared by every one of the diplomats, officers, and scientists present. But even if concern about radiation levels had not been a considerable incentive for concluding these talks quickly, the destruction of bases on both sides of the Neutral Zone made speed a necessity.
"I am not here," Sarek continued, "to make resounding speeches about historic moments. We are not here for that. Instead, I urge the representatives assembled today to choose the logical path. We must reason together to prevent our own homeworlds from being shattered on the forge where this planet's culture perished."
Sarek's reflection in the gleaming black walls was only slightly distorted by the ancient inscriptions that no one had ever been able to decipher. His heavy white robes of office, gleaming with iridescent cabochon gems of white, the red of Vulcan's soil, and the green of its children's blood, seemed simultaneously to weigh him down and sustain him.
For an instant, the image in the shining stone seemed to waver. Spock tensed in case Sarek needed assistance. His father was barely two hundred. When had his shoulders become so thin?
That was one of many questions Spock asked himself.
Another question was whether it had been smugglers, war refugees, or Romulan archeologists turned tacticians who discovered the hollow beneath this asteroid's barren surface. How many cultures -- over how many years -- had spent their time polishing the jagged rock into some semblance of civilization?
At this moment, not even scientific inquiry matters, Spock cautioned himself. It is illogical to multitask now. More: It is unacceptably hazardous. Your duty is to focus on Sarek's words and how they are being received.
Frail or not, Sarek had lost none of his shrewdness. He had made his opening remarks brief and was now bringing them to a close.
"We regard the shared knowledge of this place and the shared willingness to meet within it as evidence of a motivation to wage peace that I find highly satisfactory. And, may I add, profoundly logical."
The old Vulcan bowed to the senators, warriors, and diplomats assembled, then to the keen-eyed observers before he seated himself once more.
The Klingon observer, Kaghvahr son of Kyrosh, pounded his gauntleted fist on the table.
"Wage peace, son of Vulcan? It would be more logical," he growled out the word, "if you showed us our enemy! To destroy the honorless creatures who have turned planets into fragments -- now, that would be truly glorious!"
Romulan Commander Toreth of the Khazara, a small woman of around Spock's age, eyed the Klingon as if he were on the same evolutionary level as the targ that crouched beside Kaghvahr's chair.
Again, Spock traded glances with his father. For the second time that day and the third time since Senator Pardek of Romulus had informed Spock that powers in the Romulan Star Empire favored a meeting (always provided that the Praetor did not have to take official note of it), father and son were in agreement.
Illogical of me to have been surprised that Sarek accepted the suggestion -- even if it does turn out to be pretext for a battle. My father is, after all, a true disciple of Surak: if a chance for peace exists, he acts upon it. Fascinating: He wages peace with the zeal of a Klingon warrior or the cunning of a Romulan senator.
Because Sarek was regarded as less partisan -- and certainly less inflammatory -- than Spock, whose advocacy for Vulcan-Romulan unification had earned him opposition from the less logical, Sarek had been the choice to carry the request for a meeting to select officials in the Federation.
Admiral Uhura herself had suggested this asteroid as a suitable meeting place for "you and your opposite numbers." Her opposite numbers had accepted the suggestion without a show of outrage or even much surprise, which led Spock to believe that the "powers" that Pardek mentioned included members of the Romulan Senate.
Spock surmised that Uhura's comment about his "opposite numbers" was as metaphorical as many other of the intelligence officer's observations over the years. For many years now, Spock had had associates in the Romulan Star Empire as well as in the Federation. However, the representatives now seated across from him had violently replaced most of the Romulans Spock had fought alongside and came very close to regarding as friends, even if their governments were hostile. Now other Romulan officers, politicians, and spies faced him, servants of the people who had replaced his...former associates in power. A human or Klingon could not have sat across from them without comment. A Romulan would have declared feud. As a Vulcan, Spock had no trouble treating them with the courtesy required by a diplomatic mission. Even though, as a sapient being who had lost...colleagues, he knew the costs of trusting them, the risks of not trusting them might prove to be even greater.
In pursuing this meeting, Spock had put his credibility "on the table," as Uhura probably had already said someplace where Spock had not heard her. Also on the actual or metaphorical table, however, was Sarek's reputation. Both had been sufficient -- just barely -- to bring Romulan and Klingon ships, cloaked not just to conceal their presence but to prevent them from firing immediately on each other, into orbit around this asteroid, while Starfleet gave it a wide berth.
It was highly unfortunate that the Treaty of Algeron, which had emerged from the Tomed debacle of 2311, barred the Federation from developing its own cloaking technology: the Federation was now in the uncomfortable position of being in debt to the Klingon Empire for transportation. Only the chancellor's respect for the Starfleet captain and crew who had died at Narendra III and the officer who had risked her life and sanity to warn the Federation of the covert Romulan assault had won their cooperation. But Spock had heard mutterings that yesterday's roast targ was today's thin soup: the Klingons' gratitude might well be outworn.
That the Federation was still embroiled in a protracted border conflict with the Cardassians did nothing to ease the mood of the gathering. The Cardassian delegation was led by a stocky male in late middle age named Tekeny Ghemor, a legate and member of the Central Command. Seated beside him was a warship commander, the sharp-eyed Gul Akellen Macet, who watched the room as if assessing the individual strengths and weaknesses of its occupants.
And then, of course, there were the Romulans. Their negotiators might regard Sarek with respect, but they watched Spock as if he were about to perpetrate some new deceit. As if, in fact, he were one of their own. At least this one time, their suspicion was unnecessary, but Spock accepted it as an indication of the mistrust, and therefore the respect, in which the Romulan Star Empire held him -- that part of it that did not want to kill him on sight.
Spock observed his Romulan observers, reflected in the chamber's curving basalt walls so that they seemed twice their number. Commander Tebok, an angular man in whose face arrogance and anger warred, sat beside Commander Toreth. If Spock could judge from the stiffness of her back, Commander Toreth was no friend of the too-cultivated senior officer seated on her other side: Admiral Mendak of the Devoras. Uhura had given him a report on Mendak: she suspected that he also held high rank in the intelligence agency one of Spock's most cherished enemies had founded.
Behind each senior Romulan officer stood guards, their faces obscured by helms whose resemblance to ritual gear from before the Time of Surak invariably reminded Spock just how much history Vulcans and Romulans shared.
He let his eyes travel away from the officers to the one Romulan civilian, a representative of the senate of the often-ignored Romulan people. With the exception of Spock's own consort, Pardek was the most formidable -- and unlikely -- survivor Spock had ever known. Where the others were lean and in warrior training, he was short and stout. His heavy brow ridges and sallow complexion made him appear stolid, but, since the time they met during the Khitomer Accords, Spock had found him a stimulating conversationalist and a thoughtful associate.
"When I found our outposts destroyed," said Commander Tebok, "I logically assumed" -- his emphasis on the adverb evinced faint hostility -- "an act of aggression on the part of the Federation. When I encountered Enterprise, however, your commander, Captain...Jean-Luc Picard assured me that the Federation, too, had suffered significant damages."
Tebok raised a cynical eyebrow. "But there is not even a legend that humans do not lie. So I told your captain that we were back. If anyone here" -- he turned his eyes on the Klingons -- "has forgotten that we are a force to be reckoned with, you will have a painful lesson to relearn."
Spock had no need to calculate the odds that Tebok's meeting with Enterprise, of all ships in the Fleet, was any sort of coincidence. Romulan doctrine left very little to chance.
What was that human adage? Once is happenstance; twice is coincidence; three times is enemy action. In dealing with Romulans, it was logical to assume that enemy action, if it had not already occurred, was imminent.
The assumption was logical, perhaps, but not reasonable. That was why Sarek and Spock were here -- as well as to keep the Klingons from seizing an opportunity to settle old scores.
Seated next to Spock were Ambassador T'Pel and her aide, radiating the frozen Vulcan propriety that had driven Spock from his home. Completing the Federation's negotiators was a human diplomat, Samuel Robert Fox, tall, foursquare, and as stubborn as his diplomat grandfather before him, the Ambassador Fox who had spent his career crafting peace on Eminiar VII. Not to mention the guards Uhura had sent, who were a fact of life.
On Spock's other side, in the center of the Federation delegation, was its leader, Sarek of Vulcan. It was a privilege to work with his father and see how his more than a century of diplomatic experience had given him presence and a devastating shrewdness in addition to the logic that was as keen -- Spock sought for an appropriate simile -- as a Romulan Honor Blade.
Because father and son had traveled together from Vulcan, they had agreed to share an aide. Young Shinat, a dark-skinned Vulcan from near the planet's blazing equatorial region, had been called away from the council chamber on an errand.
Bare is back without brother.
Another human metaphor that his brother-by-choice had taught him -- and as meaningful as it was inaccurate. His back was not bare. He had old and trusted associates. His consort Saavik, back on Vulcan, was supervising damage control with the Klingons and acting as a liaison with Uhura. Deemed "too high-profile" to attend this meeting, Uhura, like Spock's sparring partner Dr. McCoy, had reluctantly admitted she was "not as young as I used to be."
No: logically, Spock's own nature had brought him to this place. Regrets were as illogical as the claustrophobia that lurked at the frontiers of his thought when he recalled that this conference room was hidden beneath hundreds of meters of rock. He had been in deeper, more secure sanctuaries, like Sargon's crypt. But none of them had been cause for more than a moment's concern during his nightly meditations.
Pardek, less rigidly disciplined than his military colleagues, touched the high collar of his cloak. His face turned a deeper olive, and he drew deep breaths as if, momentarily, he expected life-support to fail. Toreth glanced at him in brief scorn for his loss of control. A claustrophobic Romulan: fascinating.
"What do you suggest?" Ambassador T'Pel's crisp question cut across Commander Tebok's speech like a phaser bolt. Her question was logical, despite the bluntness that made Tebok bristle with offense and the Klingons mutter reluctant approval.
As Spock prepared to intervene, Shinat returned. At the door, he paused and bowed carefully at all of the ambassadors, before he walked over to Spock and Sarek. "A message from Vulcan for you, Ambassador," he said in an undertone.
T'Pel raised an eyebrow. "Inspecific," she commented, then turned away. But T'Pel had insisted on bringing her own aide; any message for her would certainly come through what humans called "proper channels."
Sarek extended his hand for the padd Shinat had brought him in lieu of a properly calligraphed communiqué. Taking it with a nod of thanks, he tilted it so that Spock, too, could scan it.
It was a recall order.
"You are requested to contact Vulcan immediately upon receipt of this message," Shinat added.
"Both of us cannot be spared," Sarek said softly. Their departure would shatter the conference past any hope of reviving it at a later date. T'Pel lacked the ability to reach out across the gulf of thousands of years, while Fox, although a satisfactory negotiator, was neither Vulcan nor had the deep understanding of Vulcan tradition that had allowed some outsiders to win an acceptance that, even now, some Vulcans still begrudged Spock. Starting with the one seated beside him.
Protocol and courtesy required Spock to allow Sarek to decide which of them should answer this summons. He lowered his eyes, lest his father see how much Spock wanted to be the one to return.
When he raised his head, Sarek caught his eye and raised an eyebrow. Was that indulgence Spock read in his glance? Sarek had always read him far too well for his comfort. It was illogical for Sarek to weaken Vulcan credibility by reprimanding Spock in public, however.
Sarek bent toward him. "You earned this," he told Spock. "You therefore should be the one to go."
Spock rose with not-quite-unseemly haste. If he thanked his father, he knew Sarek would rebuke him: there was no sense in thanking logic.
He bowed to the people seated around the great table. "I am recalled," he said. "I ask forgiveness."
Fox concealed surprise beneath what humans called a "poker face." T'Pel's eyebrows rose before she looked away, skeptical and somewhat offended that she had not been consulted. Offense seemed her natural manner. She would be a disagreeable colleague for his father.
"Coincidence?" Admiral Mendak suggested with the silken irony characteristic of him. Perhaps his intelligence sources -- or the human captives Spock suspected he controlled -- had acquainted him with the human adage about coincidence and enemy action that Spock had recalled 3.56 minutes ago.
Pardek, by contrast, seemed amused. He whispered to Commander Toreth, who shrugged, sly humor in her face.
Spock took one deep breath. Perhaps Pardek had the right to mention Spock's consort. Had hostilities not existed between the Federation and Romulus, he and Pardek would have been guest-friends. But his speculation about why Spock was being recalled was as inaccurate as it was inappropriate.
Spock bowed and turned to go. When Shinat made as if to accompany him, Spock signaled for him and Uhura's security forces to remain, so emphatically that the room was shocked to silence.
"You're the one irreplaceable piece of this puzzle," Uhura had told him when the conference had started to take shape. But no one was ever irreplaceable, and some things took precedence over his old friend's schemes. This call had a 97.63 percent probability of being what Spock expected. That being the case, Sarek, T'Pel, and Ambassador Fox would have to manage damage control as well as the negotiations themselves without him.
He knew Sarek liked to dismiss hope as a human construct, but if that is indeed the case, why did you agree to these talks, my father? Spock thought, however, that if Sarek knew what he hoped to hear, he would have to concede that it was logical for his pulse rate to rise to a breathless 350 beats per minute. Nevertheless, because the physiological reaction stemmed from emotion, it was unacceptable.
Spock steepled his fingers briefly and subvocalized a mantra of control. Then he sealed himself into the secure privacy zone Uhura's staff had set up in a rock alcove.
He tapped the screen and found himself facing his consort's image. Spock's heart and respiration accelerated once more. Logic demanded, he told himself, that he feel...satisfaction at seeing his wife.
"My husband," Saavik greeted him, meeting his eyes, then lowering her own. For 3.02 seconds, they kept silent. His consort's eyes brightened, and Spock felt his own eyes warm in response.
After a moment, Saavik looked decorously away and downward.
"I calculated that Sarek would cede the recall order to you. I am pleased to know that I was correct."
Spock tried to suppress the tiny smile he reserved for her.
"They have completed the preliminary translation," Saavik added. "Your presence is vital."
"I will requisition a shuttle from Admiral Kaghvahr," Spock said.
"Transport has already been arranged," Saavik informed him serenely. "I have already spoken with the admiral's staff. His ship has a lock on you and will beam you out once we end this conversation. The shuttle will plot a course toward the next starbase, where convoy to Vulcan has been arranged."
"Superfluous," Spock said.
Saavik raised her brows. "Attacks have now occurred on both sides of the Neutral Zone. We still do not know their cause, and I assign a 75.669 percent probability to Captain Picard's hypothesis that the Romulans do not know either. Therefore, I consider the risk level unacceptable."
Disputing security with Saavik, especially his security, was usually futile.
"I shall depart immediately," said Spock.
"I shall await you at the appointed place," Saavik told him. Her eyes went smoky.
Spock touched the screen as if it had been her face. They would finish that conversation in private.
Then the Federation seal replaced the familiar, beloved features, and Spock scrambled all records of the encrypted message.
As he stepped out of the privacy zone, the crimson of Klingon transporters engulfed him, to re-form him slowly on board Kaghvahr's private shuttle. Cloaked, it left the asteroid at warp seven. Approximately 8.67 hours later, the shuttle was surrounded by the convoy Saavik's vigilance had provided.
Even before Spock materialized outside the most secure installation of the Vulcan Science Academy, the heat of his homeworld rose to welcome him.
Saavik stood before him, a cool shadow in the oppressive light. Too quickly, she strode from the deeper shade of an overhanging roof onto the ruddy sand to meet him. Too briefly, she touched his fingers and gazed into his eyes.
"They are waiting for you," she said, and led him within.
The translation team he expected to see was assembled: philologists, archeologists, computer scientists, a Seleyan adept, and Ruanek, their resident expert on the Romulan language. Characteristically, he had appointed himself guardian of the artifact. Spock agreed with the Romulan's decision: Ruanek definitely had the curiosity; and, as an exile from the Two Worlds, he had the right.
Seeing Spock, Ruanek hastened forward, his eyes blazing with all his old impulsiveness. Twenty years on Vulcan sufficed -- barely -- to allow Ruanek to keep his face impassive; within the privacy of his thoughts, the Romulan exile was probably dancing with eagerness and the curiosity that Vulcans and Romulans, even this long after the Sundering, still shared. His wife, Healer T'Selis, who served as the representative of the adepts, philosophers, and priests on Mount Seleya to this project, touched Ruanek's sleeve with two fingers. Presumably, she was suggesting more control. Presumably, she would have little effect.
"Your father's suggestions helped us break the encryption algorithms," Ruanek told Spock, making a laudable effort to speak more slowly. "Once we completed the translation, we knew the time was right to contact you."
Spock nodded. Combined with the artifact's own arcane and ancient technology, the encryption algorithms that concealed the artifact's message had been so complex, so elegant that they had earned even Ambassador Sarek's admiration before he set off for the...Even in the heart of the Vulcan Science Academy, Ruanek would not permit himself to mention the secret conference from which he had extracted Spock. Even after twenty years of exile, he retained a respect for secrets.
Nevertheless, Spock felt his eyebrow rise before he could suppress it. It was too much to have expected that either Ruanek or, for that matter, Saavik herself could have withheld any information from Sarek that he wished to have. Both owed him too much and both cared for him too much. Besides, withholding information from Sarek would not just have been illogical, it would have been unkind. Sarek had found this new type of data storage fascinating.
Spock made a mental note to meditate on the subject so that he could regard any input from his father as beneficial: no doubt, Sarek would give him a private critique when he returned to Vulcan.
Ruanek gestured toward the worktable on which the artifact rested. Resembling a priestly crown from the days before Surak, it gleamed with green gems, wound with wires of copper, gold, and hyponeutronium. It was no ornament, though, but one of the most sophisticated recording devices he had ever encountered: it recorded thoughts, memories, sensations, and emotions without harming its wearer.
Ruanek handed Spock a padd, and Spock scanned the long-awaited translation. The original language, he saw immediately, was indeed Old High Vulcan. Fascinating.
Some of the awkwardness of this initial translation had to be attributable to the difficulty in penetrating the artifact's encryption. As for the rest of it -- whoever had created this message used language in extremely private ways, as if the words themselves were codes for the emotions Spock sensed roiling beneath.
This preliminary translation was not satisfactory! Spock wanted to say. He wanted to know so much more, and he wanted to know instantly.
Before Saavik or Ruanek could stop him, he reached out for the coronet and set it on his head. As filaments darted out from its bloodmetal flanges and pricked his temples, he stiffened in shock, but restrained himself from crying out.
Spock had shared his mind before. He had carried Kollos's mind for a time, and melded with everything from humans to a Horta with only minimal discomfort.
Now, however, a rush of sensation and emotions assaulted him. He steeled himself to endure the barrage. Because this record dated from before the great success of Surak's teaching, it was only logical that its author was not just emotional, but passionately so.
This must be what McCoy had endured in carrying his katra, Spock deduced in a second of revelation. Then, the message in the ancient coronet overpowered all other thoughts.
Dimly, as if his eyes were already in someone else's control, he saw Ruanek and Saavik race forward. T'Selis stepped in between them and Spock.
"Kroykah!" she commanded softly.
She brought up a medical tricorder and scanned Spock before meeting Ruanek's anxious eyes and Saavik's face, which had frozen into a mask of control. The Healer shrugged. It was all the reassurance she could in conscience provide.
Disappointed that you didn't volunteer first? Spock thought at his wife and his friend. He knew them so well. Why hadn't they volunteered? Because they hadn't dared? Not likely.
Because he would never have forgiven them? Also unlikely. He wanted to find an answer, but he was finding it harder and harder to pursue his train of thought, harder to...
Where was he? This didn't look like the Vulcan Science Institute he remembered.
Who were these people? Why was one of them shouting? How strange they sounded. Surely, they could not be native to ShiKahr. They had no legitimate cause for alarm, not on his account. He tried to tell them so, but so many thoughts were warring in his head that he could not speak.
He managed to raise an ironic eyebrow before his consciousness was engulfed.
And Spock remembered...
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