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JAN/FEB *WINNER* Affectations


Velana

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“He who wears a mask cannot see within himself.” - Unknown

2384

“This is what we get for putting off our elective courses until the last semester.” Cade Whitman gestured to the floor of the auditorium where Commander Talen was holding up a 500 year old piece of Bajoran pottery. “Archeology for Dummies.”

Velana looked down at her lap to hide her smile. Not that Talen could have possibly seen the expression on her face considering that she and Cade were sitting only two rows from the back, but when in the presence of other Vulcans, especially ones who had power over her grade point average, she had learned that it was best to stifle any outward signs of her emotions.

Unfortunately Cade had never quite grasped that concept. In fact, he almost seemed to revel in openly defying it. There was no other way to explain why he felt the need to grab her hand or touch her face or tell a joke he knew would make her laugh whenever a Vulcan cadet or instructor happened to be watching them.

And someone was always watching them. The Vulcan and her Human lover. It was, her roommate Alaxa had often said, a better story than could be found in a Klingon opera.

So when he casually slung his arm over her shoulders and pulled her up against his side in order to steal a quick kiss, Velana wasn't at all surprised that the movement caught Talen's attention. She could have easily extracted herself from Cade's embrace, but it was too late. The damage had been done and she would have to deal with the consequences, whatever they might be.

“Cadet Velana.” Talen was a small woman, especially for a Vulcan, but her voice echoed off the walls of the lecture hall.

Giving her a look that vaguely resembled an amused apology, Cade lifted his arm in order to let Velana rise to her feet. All eyes had turned to her; she folded her arms behind her back and met them with a raised chin.

“Commander.”

In spite of the distance between them, Velana could feel the woman's stare boring two holes straight through her. After a few seconds, Talen set down the pottery piece, reached underneath the draped display table and withdrew an object wrapped in white linen.

“Join me at the podium, Cadet.”

Velana had no choice but to do as she was commanded, but as she descended the wide steps, she might as well have been making her way to the guillotine.

Standing at attention, she watched Talen unwrap the object with all the reverence of a Ferengi handling a bar of gold-pressed latinum, only to reveal an aged clay mask with a jagged chunk missing just below the right eye hole. It had probably been pure white once, but now it was a dull gray, unadorned and rather unremarkable.

“Do you know what this is?” Talen asked.

“A mask, Commander.”

Talen's wrinkled mouth pursed even further. “The obvious answer is not what I seek.”

“It is the only answer I have.”

Velana thought she heard a snort of approval, which could have only originated from Cade, but fortunately Talen didn't seem to notice. She stepped closer to Velana, still cradling the mask in her hands.

“The mask was discovered a hundred years ago in the lava caverns of Osana.” The woman paused. “Have you ever been to Osana, Cadet?”

The corner of Velana's mouth twitched. “I have never been to Vulcan.”

“So I have heard,” Talen murmured. Another second passed. “Analysis of the artifact revealed it to be approximately three thousand years old, from before the Time of Awakening, when our planet was a very different place.”

Velana arched her eyebrow. Vulcan might have been Talen's planet, but it wasn't hers.

“Logic had not yet replaced superstition and idolatry. We were violent. Passionate.” Talen's tone was dangerously cool. “Emotional.” Yet another pause followed. “Put it on.”

“Excuse me, Commander?”

“You did not misunderstand me. Put the mask on.”

Velana sought out Cade's face in the crowd only to see him shake his head and shrug his shoulders.

It was Talen's turn to raise an eyebrow. “Are you seeking permission, Cadet?”

A ripple of amusement spread out across the room, prompting Velana to reach out and lift the mask from its bed of linen. It was lighter than she'd expected and the clay felt warm to the touch. Slowly, she raised it to her face.

When the mask touched her skin, it was as if she had come into contact with a live wire. She was certain her whole body must have jolted at the sensation. When she opened her eyes, she didn't see Talen or the lecture hall through the mask's eye holes. They had been replaced by jagged red rock formations that thrust towards the orange sky. Everything was foreign. Impossible.

She smelled sulfur in the hot, dry wind that swept over her. Another hand reached for hers, threaded its fingers through her slender digits. She swung her head to the right and saw a man with closely cropped dark hair and ears that matched her own. He was staring straight ahead. When he spoke, his words were in a dialect of Vulcan that she barely understood.

“Do you have any regrets?” When Velana said nothing, he glanced at her. His eyes were dark. Intense. “A'Sariah?”

It took all of her strength, but Velana tore the mask away from her face. As soon as she did, the dusty desert landscape disappeared and she was, once again, standing in the archeology lecture hall.

“Cadet?”

Velana didn't notice her hands were trembling until she looked down at the mask. Glancing back up, she met Talen's unblinking stare, but she was unable to say anything.

“This piece is one of the few relatively intact items ever discovered from this particular period of Vulcan history,” Talen said, still watching Velana's face. “Its value is...immeasurable.” She held out her hand for the mask, which Velana passed to her without hesitation.

“That will be all for today,” Talen announced. “You have your reading assignments. Do not be surprised if there is a short test during our next class. Dismissed.” As the other cadets began to stand and talk, Talen addressed Velana directly. “I will be in my office in five minutes.”

It wasn't exactly an invitation or an order, but Velana got the message.

Ignoring all of the strange looks directed at her, as well as the snickers she was certain were about her, she climbed the steps back up to Cade. He had gathered up her PADD along with his; when she reached him, she took it, folding the flat device against her chest like a shield.

“Vee?” Cade frowned. “Are you okay?”

Blinking, she turned her face up to see him. “I'm fine.” She cleared her throat. “Talen wants to see me in her office.”

“They just won't leave you alone, will they?” he scowled.

“It's a small price to pay.”

Her admission made him grin, like she'd known it would. Ducking his head, Cade kissed her. His lips were warm and it felt as thrilling as it always did, but after only a moment, Velana broke the kiss.

“I should go.” After handing him her PADD, she backed up a step. “I'll see you tonight?”

Cade winked. “Wouldn't miss it for the world.”

Velana waited until he was out of sight before she followed his path, but instead of heading out of the building, she took a left down the corridor that led to the offices of the Archeology department. Talen's door was ajar, but she still knocked.

“Enter.”

The room was neat, but not what she would call spartan. The walls were lined with bookshelves which not only held books, but display cases containing everything from woven bowls to carved statues. Talen stood at her desk, staring down at the mask which lay in front of her. She didn't look up when Velana entered.

“What did you see when you put it on?” the older woman asked. “And I would rather not ask this question twice, so do not bother with the Human affectation of pretending you did not understand me.”

Velana shook her bangs out of her eyes. “I believe it was Vulcan,” she eventually replied.

“Did you only see the planet?”

“No. There was a man, as well.” Talen nodded at this. “But...that isn't logical. Is it?”

“Logic does not apply here.” Finally, she glanced up at Velana. “The mask carries a memory, Cadet. A telepathic imprint from the days when our people indulged their emotions.”

“As I indulge mine?”

Talen lowered herself into the seat behind her desk and gestured at the chair next to Velana. When Velana remained standing, she tilted her head to one side, studying her. “It has not been easy for you here, has it?”

“Only in certain circles, Commander.”

She knew better than to expect a reaction from Talen. Only a second later, the woman continued where she'd left off. “The broken piece of the mask is still in stasis, but it contains an engraving. A name.”

“A'Sariah,” Velana guessed.

Talen nodded. “After years of research, I managed to unearth the name in the few records of that era that still exist. She was a follower of Latsan, the goddess of pleasure; the mask would have been used in ceremonies to honor her. The man, we can only assume, was A'Sariah's illicit lover. Had you kept the mask on, you would have heard him speak of their plan to run away together, in defiance of her family's wishes.”

Velana's throat closed up for a second. “He asked if I...if she had any regrets.” Her words hung in the air between them. “Why did you show me this, Commander?”

“Why do you think?”

“Because...” She barely held back a bitter chuckle. “By taking a Human mate, I am just as much a slave to my passions as A'Sariah? Is this the part where you remind me that it's never too late to suppress my emotions? Forgive me, Commander, but I've heard this lecture before. More times than I can count.”

Talen folded her hands. “Not every Vulcan who dons the mask sees what you did. It takes a certain kind of mind to make the telepathic connection.”

“An undisciplined mind?” Velana guessed.

“An open mind,” Talen countered. She gestured at the object in question. “Would you like to see what happens next?”

Velana's hair swung around her shoulders as she shook her head. “I really don't know what all of this is about, but it feels like you're trying to say something without actually saying it. Even I find that illogical.”

The woman stood, and even though Velana had more than a few inches on her, she suddenly felt quite small in comparison. “The Vulcan heart is far deeper than any Human's.” She held up her hand to stave off any protest Velana might have had. “This is merely a fact of their nature. Their emotions may be palpable, but they are transient. Subject to change at any time without fear of consequence. To fall in love with a Human is to accept the inevitability of loss.”

“Are you speaking from experience, Commander?”

Velana never would have believed it if she hadn't seen it herself, but after a few awkward moments of silence, the corners of Talen's mouth turned up in a rusty smirk. It told her more about the woman than if she had outlined all 150 years of her life. “I can see why A'Sariah chose you.”

“For the same reason she chose you?” Velana asked. “I am not the first Vulcan to love a Human, nor do I believe I will be the last.”

“But you may very well be the first who will be unable...or unwilling...to recover from the affair when it ends.” Velana's eyes narrowed as Talen continued, “Yes, I have read your file, as have all of your instructors, I imagine. I know how you were raised and...”

Velana cut her off. “With all due respect, it's not under your purview as my archeology instructor to pass judgment on my personal life, especially considering that neither my academic performance, nor my attendance in your class is in question.”

“If your intention with this exercise was to make me reconsider my choices, I'm afraid you have failed, Commander.” Her back straightened. “All I take away from this encounter is a renewed faith in my own emotions, as a reminder that our people were once passionate about something other than being dispassionate.” Clasping her hands behind her back, Velana tartly asked, “Is there anything else, sir?”

“No.” Talen paused for so long that it seemed as if that was going to be the last word. Slowly, Velana backed up towards the door. But just when she had reached it, she heard Talen speak again. In Vulcan. “Peace and long life, Velana.”

She glanced back over her shoulder, only to see Talen carefully wrapping the linen around the mask with even more care than she had unwrapped it. There was no denying that she was angry at the woman for her audacity and presumptuousness, but Velana also couldn't ignore the twinge of sympathy she felt for her.

Clearly, Talen was attached to the mask as more than just an archeologist to an artifact. Whatever loss Talen had suffered in her past had compelled her to share something very personal with Velana. It was entirely out of line with what Velana understood about so-called regular Vulcans and, therefore, encouraging.

Perhaps she wasn't as abnormal as they wanted her to believe.

Perhaps they all had masks of their own making.

The anger that had been bubbling up within her drained away. With a sad smile, Velana walked out of Talen's office, leaving the woman alone with her secrets.

When she emerged from the building, Velana blinked, not from the glare of the San Francisco sunshine, but at the fact that Cade was waiting for her. When he noticed her, he gave her the same, irresistible smile that had made her choose him two years earlier when she felt the first stirrings of pon farr.

“I thought we were seeing each other tonight,” she said, approaching him.

Cade shrugged one shoulder. “'Later' seemed like way too long to wait.”

Without giving a thought or a care to who might have been watching them, or what they might have been thinking, Velana threw herself at him, wrapping her arms around his neck and pulling him down for a much longer, much deeper kiss than before.

When their lips parted, Cade was already chuckling. “That was either a really good meeting in there, or a really bad one.” He brushed back a lock of her hair and let his fingers caress the tip of her ear. “Everything okay, Vee?”

She nodded until she found her voice again. “Cade...this is...” Velana stopped to drag her lower lip between her teeth. “I mean to say...you and I are...” She tried again, frustration evident in the moisture gathering on her eyelashes. “We're not going to...are we?”

“Hey, hey!” Cade's eyes looked back and forth between hers, his gray eyes dark with concern. “What did she say to you?”

“Nothing.” Velana smiled and brushed away the remnants of her tears. “It's nothing.” To reassure him, she kissed him again. “So. Where are you taking me to dinner?”

“I don't know.” If Cade had any doubts that she was telling the truth, he had apparently decided to let the subject drop. Velana wasn't quite sure how she felt about that, but when he reached for her hand and laced their fingers together, it didn't seem to matter anymore. “We could try that new Andorian restaurant." He laughed when her nose crinkled. "What are you in the mood for?”

Velana looked down at their hands, then back up at his profile. “Italian,” she decided. “I'm feeling very...Human right now.

Hand in hand, they headed for Velana's quad.

Lieutenant JG Velana

Assistant Chief Medical Officer

USS Tiger-A

Edited by Velana
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  • 3 weeks later...

An excellent story. I love the way it uses the concept of the mast both literally (as an object / artifact) but also as a metaphor for the way species can 'masks' their true intentions and/or emotions. It seems I might be referring to the Vulcans, but I also gleen a hint that Cade is also masking his true intentions.

The imagery in this story conveys very well, and I also like the reactions of the characters to each other. It feels very natural, and I can easily picture the scene - as if it was live action on screen in front.

A great entry!!!! cool.png

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I really enjoyed reading this piece, and I love the way it feels like a snapshot onto so many larger stories. It leaves me wanting to know the rest of it!

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