Greetings. As usual, a short introduction before we start this holonovel.
Back when the SimTrek forum was still alive, it had an RPG called the USS Kestrel going. I was only in this RPG for a short time before I had to leave it – but I had already started playing one of my characters and had her backstory all planned out, and it seemed a shame to let it go to waste. Hence, this story.
“K’diwa” is Vulcan and means “beloved”.
Program complete – enter when ready!
Captain Torak of the USS T’Plana was looking out of his bedroom window, his arms folded and his brow furrowed. A casual onlooker might have thought he was simply contemplating the streaking stars outside, that signalled that his ship was travelling at high warp, but the Captain’s gaze, as well as his thoughts, were farther away than that.
Usually, Torak would have been preparing for bed by now. He would have written a letter to his wife, as he did every evening when they were on different assignments and had done ever since they were cadets together. After that, he would have performed his evening meditation, and then he would have gone to bed. Usually – but not tonight. There was no point in any of it tonight.
Torak had always been a sound sleeper, for a Vulcan, but three nights ago he had woken up in the middle of the night, filled with an overwhelming sense of emptiness. He had known right away what it must mean. The link had been severed. She who had been part of his heart and part of his soul, was gone.
For three nights he hadn’t slept, but had waited for that final, official confirmation. This morning, it had finally come. As soon as he had seen that the message had been sent from the USS Kestrel he had known what it must be about, but even so, for a short, illogical second he had thought – hoped – that he had been wrong after all and that it would be from her… but then he had seen that the name of the sender was that of her commanding officer, Captain Larelii Raiche, and his hope had died. And part of him had died with it.
The frown between his slanted eyebrows deepened as Torak studied his reflection in the window. He thought his hair looked greyer than it had yesterday – but that was illogical, he mentally chided himself as he automatically adjusted his communicator. Hair grew at a rate of approximately a third of a millimetre a day; it did not turn grey overnight. No, he decided, it had to be merely an illusion caused by the polarisation axis of the windows. He wished the windows could also have been blamed for how tired and drawn he looked, but of that, at least, he knew they were innocent. Even though he was Vulcan, his sleepless nights had taken their toll.
He sighed. He wasn’t looking forward to what he had to do next, but even so it had to be done. It was probably considered impolite to call on somebody this late in the evening, but no good would come from postponing it until tomorrow – and besides, as the humans said, rank had its privileges.
He gave his reflection one last, disapproving look. Then, abruptly, he turned and left.
In her quarters, Commander Sarah McKenna was settling down for the night. Jimmy Buffett playing in the background, she had doffed her uniform jacket with its choking turtleneck in favour of a tank top, had let her dark hair down from its strict French roll and had exchanged her uniform boots for her favourite slippers. Now it was time for the part of her evening ritual that she liked the best: having a cup of hot cocoa and then reading a couple of chapters from her latest Bolian mystery before going to bed.
She had just curled up on the living-area settee with a steaming cup in one hand and a PADD in the other, when the doorbell rang.
“Oh, for the love of…” she muttered. “Go away!”
But the doorbell persisted, and in the end, Sarah knew she had no choice. She was the Executive Officer, and if something were amiss, especially this late, the crew would be coming to her before disturbing the Captain. With a sigh, she put her things down and got to her feet.
“Computer, pause music. I hope there’s a very good reason for this,” she grumbled to the air as she lumbered along to the door, “or I swear somebody will be cleaning plasma manifolds with a toothbrush. Open!”
She had expected to find the night shift Officer of the Deck outside, but when the door opened, her annoyed greeting turned into a startled yelp:
As she stared at her pointy-eared visitor, Sarah was acutely aware of two things: Captain Torak was a stickler for formality – and his Executive Officer was wearing a tank top and duck slippers.
“Captain, I wasn’t expecting… I mean, I didn’t…”
But Torak made a dismissive gesture. “Commander, you are off duty and in your own quarters; you are entitled to wear whatever attire you desire.” Even so, the slippers got a curious glance. “But if this is a bad time…”
“No, of course not,” Sarah assured him. It wasn’t quite true, but this wasn’t the time to tell her CO that; she had only served with Torak for a year, but even so she knew the Captain wouldn’t be calling on her at this hour just for the hell of it. “Please, come in.”
“Can I get you anything?” Sarah asked anxiously. The way the Vulcan was scrutinising his surroundings was making her nervous, especially the way he arched his eyebrows at the slightly chaotic corner of the living area she liked to call her den. But the Captain just made another dismissive gesture.
“No, thank you. This will not take long.”
“Mind if I finish my cocoa before it gets cold?” Sarah asked hopefully. She chose to interpret the non-committal gesture as permission to go ahead.
As they were sitting down, he in one of the two armchairs, she returned to the settee, Sarah surreptitiously studied the Captain. There had been something… off about him the last couple of days, at least to his XO. She couldn’t quite put her finger on what it was; Captain Torak had been performing his duties just as thoroughly and precisely as usual and with the same coolly logical, Vulcan demeanour. But still, it was as if… as if the light in his eyes had gone out, she suddenly realised. Granted, being Vulcan, the Captain could come across as detached even on the best of days, but this was different. Something must have happened, but Sarah had no idea what it might be.
“As I said, this will not take long,” Torak began once they were both seated. “But as my second-in-command, you need to be aware of my… circumstances.”
Sarah sipped her cocoa and nodded. “Go on?” she urged after a moment when the Captain fell silent. She almost thought he looked pained where he was sitting stiffly perched on the edge of the armchair – but that couldn’t be, she told herself. Captain Torak was one of the most Vulcan Vulcans she had ever met.
Almost as if he could hear her thoughts, Torak said:
“I might experience difficulties suppressing my emotions for a time. It will pass,” he added, “but there is a possibility my logic might occasionally be clouded, and I am counting on you to be my voice of reason, as it were, should that happen.”
“Of course, sir.” Sarah frowned over her cup. She could think of only one reason why a Vulcan would have problems with his emotions and his logic. “Pon farr?”
To her relief, Torak shook his head.
“No. That is still some three years away.” He looked down at his hands resting on his lap. “No, the reason is quite different. I have just learned that my wife T’Lara has been killed in action.”
Sarah very nearly choked on her cocoa. “What?!”
“There was a hull breach,” Torak went on in a flat, matter-of-fact tone. “She failed to get away in time.”
Careful not to spill anything, Sarah put her cup down on the glass coffee table. Suddenly, it didn’t really seem to matter if her cocoa got cold.
“Captain, I… I am so sorry.” She looked at the Vulcan, searching for some kind of reaction on his impassive face. “Is there anything I can do for you? Anything you need?”
Torak raised an eyebrow as if he thought it a strange question.
“I need the crew to keep performing at peak efficiency.”
“Of course, sir,” Sarah said hurriedly, “but what I meant was, is there anything you need, personally? Will you go on leave, or…?”
Torak shook his head. “No. Normally, I would have gone to Vulcan, to perform a ritual on Mount Seleya, but this will not be the case here.”
“I guess they’d have held the funeral on the Kestrel…” Sarah said thoughtfully.
“They have, but that is not the reason. To Vulcans, the physical remains are of no importance,” Torak explained, still in that flat tone, when Sarah frowned. “What is important, is the katra. Given the circumstances of her demise, T’Lara would not have been able to transfer her katra to anybody before she expired. Thus, it has been lost.”
“The katra…” Sarah frowned. “This is the Vulcan soul, right?”
Torak’s eyebrows made a straight line. “It is much more than that. It is our very essence, our living spirit. It is everything that is not of the body: our memories, our experiences, our knowledge. If our katra is lost, then everything that we were, everything we knew, is lost with it. All… is lost.”
He quickly looked away, but not before Sarah could glimpse the raw, unmitigated grief that passed over his face. Her heart went out to him, but when Torak turned back to her, his facial expression was once again perfectly under control.
“I apologise. I did not-”
“It’s all right,” Sarah quickly assured him. She wanted to reach out to him, maybe place a comforting hand on his shoulder, but she knew it would only make the Vulcan uncomfortable. Instead, she smiled a little. “You loved her very much, didn’t you?”
“No, I did not. At least not the way you mean it,” Torak added at Sarah’s shocked look. “The bond between Vulcan spouses is quite different from human romantic love. We are linked telepathically to our prospective spouse at age seven; then it is not uncommon for the couple not to see each other again until they have come of age and are to be joined in marriage.”
Definitely not like human romantic love. “Were you and T’Lara linked this way?”
Torak nodded. “We were. But unlike many others, we had the advantage of already knowing each other. We grew up together, you see; when we were children, our families were neighbours, as well as good friends.” Something that almost looked like the hint of a smile twitched at the corners of his mouth. “T’Lara and I used to play kadis-kot together when we were children. She always won. She is… she was always better at ‘thinking outside the box’ than I am.”
Again, Torak quickly looked away with a sharp, ragged intake of breath. He didn’t seem to notice it when Sarah after a few seconds quietly got up and went to the replicator.
It wasn’t until she lightly touched his shoulder that he seemed to remember her presence; then he gave a start, and accepted the steaming cup from her with a dazed look on his face.
Sarah gave him an encouraging smile. “Cocoa. Careful, it’s hot.”
Torak eyed the brown liquid suspiciously, but even so he politely took a careful sip from the cup. He raised an eyebrow.
“Curious,” he observed as Sarah returned to the settee. “I have never tasted this before.”
This made Sarah raise her eyebrows as well. “You don’t have cocoa on Vulcan?”
Torak shook his head. “We do not. It has a peculiar taste,” he mused, “but it is not disagreeable. Thank you.”
Sarah just smiled in reply. She knew he wasn’t just thanking her for the beverage.
For a while, they just sipped their cocoa in silence, Sarah slouching with her legs curled up, Torak still perched at the edge of the armchair but now seeming a little more relaxed. Occasionally, Sarah would glance at him out of the corner of her eye, but for a long time the Vulcan seemed lost in thought. Then, suddenly, he spoke up.
“You are not married.”
It was a statement, not a question, but Sarah answered it anyway:
“No, I’m not. Never have been, either.” She shrugged. “I guess I’m married to the service.”
Torak didn’t say anything, but a look that almost resembled disappointment crossed his face.
Sarah hesitated. What the hell, she thought. I owe him that much. “Actually… there was somebody, a few years back, who meant a great deal to me. But it didn’t work out in the end. She was a civilian,” she felt compelled to explain when Torak just kept looking at her. “She didn’t want to live in space and I wasn’t ready to give it up. So I gave up us instead.”
“It would seem that this is not an uncommon occurrence amongst humans,” Torak observed. “That a relationship between a military officer and a civilian does not last?”
“Yeah.” Sarah sighed. “With Nat, she just couldn’t understand the life; why somebody would want to live in what’s basically a tin can floating in the dark nothingness of space. And because of that, she also couldn’t understand why I would be every bit as passionate about my job as she was about hers. She thought I’d welcome the chance to get away from it all – and that I was being selfish when I said no.” She grimaced. “And she was probably right.”
But the Captain shook his head. “It is not logical to demand of your partner to make a sacrifice that you are not willing to make yourself.”
Sarah wasn’t so sure, but she only made a non-committal shrug in reply. “It can’t be all that easy when both of you are in Starfleet, either,” she mused, “especially if you have children. I mean, being on different assignments, not seeing each other for maybe months at a time…”
“Yes. It can be difficult for some.” Torak’s tone indicated that “some” weren’t Vulcans. “T’Lara and I were fortunate in that respect; we were able to serve together for the first twelve years of our marriage. When I graduated from the Academy, a year after T’Lara, I requested to be assigned to her vessel.”
“And Starfleet granted it?” Sarah asked with some surprise.
“Of course. I graduated first in my class, and was thus allowed choose my assignment.” Torak both looked and sounded as if this should have been obvious. “We then served together until T’Lara was offered the position as First Officer of the USS Asunción. I stayed on as Chief of Operations of the Excelsior; it would not have been appropriate for me to follow T’Lara to the Asunción, since we would then have been serving in the same chain of command. Up until then, we had been with different divisions, she with Science, I with Operations. But by then our children were all old enough to understand the requirements of the service into which their parents had chosen to enter.”
Sarah hid her smile behind her cocoa cup. Once more she was reminded of how different Vulcans were to humans. If Torak and T’Lara had been married for twelve years when she got her new assignment, then their youngest child could only have been eight or nine at the most. When Sarah herself was eight, her family had had to move to a new city because of her father’s work. Even though her parents had thoroughly explained to her why they were moving and why it was good for the family, eight-year-old Sarah had thrown what her mother had labelled “the most epic tantrum of all times” and had gone on to sulk for six months straight. Vulcan, I clearly am not.
Torak looked down at his cocoa with a thoughtful look on his face.
“I did not intend to join Starfleet, you know,” he said suddenly.
Sarah blinked. “Really?”
“Yes. When I was younger, I always thought I would follow in my father’s footsteps and become a diplomat. T’Lara was the one who wanted to be a Starfleet officer; the thought of exploring the unknown reaches of space fascinated her. She always had a more adventurous spirit than I.”
Again, Sarah ducked behind her cup to hide her smile. Somehow, she didn’t think Vulcans defined “adventurous” the same way humans did. She had met the Captain’s wife on a few occasions, and she remembered Commander T’Lara as a tall woman with regal bearing and a touch of grey in her hair, who had been every bit as cool, collected and quintessentially Vulcan as her husband. “Adventurous” had not been the first word to come to mind to describe her.
“Starfleet did not appeal to me at first,” the Captain went on, “but the more I heard T’Lara talk about it, the more agreeable it seemed – even though it was her enthusiasm about it that intrigued me at first, more than Starfleet per se. When she was admitted to the Academy, I applied and was admitted as well. I did eventually find it to be quite agreeable an endeavour – but as I said, it was not what I had planned originally.”
Sarah grinned. “Well, for someone who didn’t intend to join Starfleet, I’d say you’ve done quite well. Sir.”
But Torak shook his head. “T’Lara was always the better officer. Starfleet is my profession, but it was her passion. She…” He took a deep, ragged breath. “She was offered command of the USS Fermi, but declined and instead chose to sign on as the Kestrel’s Executive Officer. She said that it would be illogical for a scientist to pass up an opportunity to serve on a new Nova-class starship on a mission to explore the Gamma Quadrant, where she would truly get to explore new worlds and seek out new life.” He sighed. “She was always an explorer at heart, whereas I was the cautious one; the tactician and the diplomat. We complemented each other well in that respect.”
He looked down at his hands holding his cocoa cup. His nails had been meticulously buffed and trimmed into perfect ovals, Sarah noted. They were very Vulcan nails.
“She was the best of me,” he said in a low voice, almost seeming to be speaking to himself. “She was half of my heart and half of my soul… and now she is gone. All of her… is gone.”
When he looked up at Sarah, for a second his face was a mask of grief that tore her heart. She thought of her last meeting with T’Lara. The two Vulcans had been quite strict and formal towards each other and hadn’t once addressed the other as anything but “Captain” or “Commander.” They hadn’t touched each other, nor had they shared any long, adoring looks or had indeed done anything else to show the world that they were a couple. But in everything they did they had been perfectly in sync, instinctively knowing what the other wanted, and there had been a sense of implicit trust and understanding about them that had made it so very obvious to the onlooker that they belonged together. But even so, Sarah hadn’t realised how very deeply her Vulcan Captain had loved his wife. Not until now.
“Captain…” she hesitated. “Even if there are no rituals for you to perform, don’t you think it would be a good idea for you to go to Vulcan anyway? Take some time off, maybe spend some time with your children?”
Once again in control of both his face and his emotions, Torak pulled himself up in his chair.
“I have already contacted the children over subspace to inform them of their mother’s passing,” he said with a dismissive shake of his head. “Taurik, of course, had already been notified by Starfleet.”
“That’s right,” Sarah remembered, “one of your sons is serving as a Science Officer, isn’t he?”
“Junior Science Officer,” Torak corrected. “But yes; Taurik, our youngest. Soren, our other son, is a professor at the Vulcan Science Academy. Our daughter T’Leia is a physician, specialised in neuropathology.”
“You must be very proud of them.” Sarah smiled.
Torak raised an eyebrow. “I find it agreeable that they are contributing members of society. And as I said, I have already been in contact with them; my going to Vulcan would be redundant.”
Sarah frowned a little. “Wouldn’t it be comforting for you, and for your children, to be together at a time like this?”
“Vulcans do not need to be comforted,” Torak said flatly, a touch of what almost sounded like scorn in his voice. “Sharing our grief with others is not our way. Had it not been something you needed to be aware about as my Executive Officer, you and I would not be discussing this at all. But I do appreciate the sentiment,” he added, somewhat kinder.
Sarah changed positions on the settee, moving her feet a little to keep the incipient pins and needles at bay. Again, she hesitated for a moment before she said:
“I’ve been thinking about what you said earlier. That everything about T’Lara has been lost because she couldn’t transfer her katra before she died?” When Torak nodded slowly, she went on: “What will happen to your katra when you die? Will you transfer it to somebody?”
“Provided that I expire in such a manner that it is at all possible, yes.”
“And then all your knowledge and all your memories will be preserved?” Again, Torak nodded. “Including those of T’Lara?”
“Yes,” Torak said impatiently. Then a thoughtful look slowly spread across his face. “Yes…”
“Then can’t you say part of her will be preserved, through those memories? I realise it wouldn’t be the same as if you’d still had her katra,” she quickly added when the Vulcan frowned, “but everything the two of you shared… that will still be there. Won’t it?”
Still with a frown on his face, Torak looked down at his cocoa cup as he slowly turned it in his hands. As the seconds passed in silence, Sarah grew more and more concerned that she had offended him. She was just about to apologise for overstepping when he suddenly looked up.
“You are quite correct. It is not the same as if T’Lara’s katra had been retained.”
Sarah grimaced. “Captain, I’m sorry, I wasn’t-”
“But,” Torak went on, raising a hand to stop her, “you are also correct that the parts of her that I remember will be preserved through mine. I should have seen it myself.” He sighed. “It would seem that my logic is indeed clouded at the moment.”
“Well, you did ask me to be your voice of reason, sir,” Sarah reminded him with a faint smile.
“Indeed. It would seem I have been in error,” he mused. “I have always thought – assumed – that, since humans do not have katras, when you die you are just… gone. But that is not correct, is it? You do live on, through each other’s memories.”
Sarah nodded slowly. “Yes. Yes, I guess you can say that.”
“It is quite a comforting thought, is it not?” Torak observed. He seemed oblivious to the fact that he moments ago had claimed that Vulcans didn’t need to be comforted, and Sarah did not remind him.
“Yes,” she simply said instead. “It is.”
The Vulcan seemed to ponder this for a moment. Then, before Sarah could say anything more, he emptied his cocoa cup in one decisive sweep and got to his feet.
“Well. I have taken up enough of your time; I should let you go to bed. No, please sit,” he quickly added when his XO automatically began unfolding herself. “I will see myself out.”
Obediently, Sarah settled back down. “Would you like me to do the senior staff briefing tomorrow, sir?”
“No. But thank you.” He hesitated. “For everything.”
“Any time, sir,” Sarah assured him. “And I do mean that.”
The Captain inclined his head slightly in response. “Good night then, Commander. I will see you tomorrow.”
“Sleep well, sir.”
Halfway to the door, Torak turned to look at Sarah.
“…I think I will.”