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JAN/FEB Behind the Mask


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It is often said that Vulcans have no emotions; it is a common misconception. The emotionless state is the ideal, but with the exception of those talented and dedicated individuals who achieve Kohlinar, it could not be further from the truth. Vulcans have extremely powerful emotions, with which they do battle on a daily basis, lest they be consumed by them. Perhaps Vulcans themselves are wont to lay claim to this emotionless state as the ultimate in wishful thinking; if it is said sufficiently often, perhaps it will come to pass. Just as it is said that Vulcans do not lie, this is exactly the kind of lie that Vulcans tell. And most of all they lie to themselves.

((27th floor corridor, Temok-Sbah Residential Complex, ShirKahr, Vulcan))

“Do you derive some form of satisfaction from flaunting our peoples’ traditions?” The clipped, precise voice echoed slightly in the otherwise empty corridor. Saveron stopped, the charcoal folds of his robe swirling around his ankles as he turned to face the voice that had sounded behind him.

Serok. He had only seen the man twice before, and once had been earlier that day, when the man had passed briefly through the apartment that he with his bond-mate T’Rel. That was something they had in common, regrettably.

T’Rel had been hosting the family in recognition of their daughter S’Rel’s graduation from the Vulcan Academy of Science; she had achieved a PhD in Astrophysics. They had been joined by their son Teron, his bond-mate T’Rayel and their newborn daughter T’Nai. Saveron had held his first grand-child. To the external observer the scene - with young Saavok peering over his father’s shoulder with interest at his young niece and T’Rel talking quietly with their other children - would have seemed the perfect Vulcan family gathering. But to the casual observer, the rift in that image would not have been visible.

It had been felt however. T’Rel was serene and controlled as ever but to Saveron, who had been bonded to her for forty-nine years, she had been tense. That tension had increased, had spread to the rest of the family, when Serok had arrived. Forty-nine years, but no more, and he was the reason.

He had declined to join them and left shortly afterwards, and the previous peaceful air had returned, or nearly. No Vulcan would own up to there having been a mood of quiet contentment, but the mood that hadn’t been there had been broken. Saveron and T’Rel had discussed Saavok’s schooling, and agreed that given the undecided nature of Saveron’s future posting the child would remain with his mother for the interim. Then Saveron had touched his palm briefly to that of each of his children – conveying in silence what could not be said in words – and had departed. He would never touch T’Rel again.

And the reason had called out to him down that empty corridor. Grey eyes flicked over the other man’s frame. He was classically Golic; tanned skin, dark hair in the stereotypical cut, dark eyes. He wore temple robes as T’Rel did, they were of the same culture, the same convictions and both now Temple initiates; the perfect couple. He was the only hiccup in that picture.

“To derive satisfaction from such a pointless activity would be illogical.” Saveron replied, endeavouring to fathom Serok’s purpose in asking the question. “I do not ‘flaunt’ our traditions, I do what is logical and necessary.”

Serok approached on quiet feet. There was an intensity in his gaze and, oddly, a flush to his cheeks. There was a stiffness to his movements, almost a stalk. He had seemed restless in that brief period he had passed through the apartment as well, but Saveron didn’t know the man, had no desire to know the man, and could not judge whether that was his normal demeanour.

“On the contrary, you abandon your peoples for aliens and their customs. Do not deny it.” Serok returned.

“The pursuit of knowledge is the only defence against ignorance and chaos; that pursuit has taken me beyond Vulcan.” Saveron acknowledged. “But to embrace further learning does not imply a rejection of what has gone before.”

He endeavoured to determine the logic behind the other man’s sudden accusations, but could not. Was the flaw in his thinking, or in Serok’s? The man did not look well. Some sort of brain fever perhaps? Saveron debated alerting emergency medical staff.

Serok allowed for no such move however as he stepped forward, right into Saveron’s personal space and right up in his face. He might have tried to loom over the other man but Saveron was far taller if thinner, typical of the Nel-Gathic peoples. Serok’s behaviour was entirely different from what Saveron had expected; the man was an initiate of the strictest mental order on Vulcan, the Temple of Gol. Like T’Rel he should be preparing for the Kohlinar. This was not the serene, logical behaviour he had come to associate with such.

“It does not imply it but for you it involves it.” Serok snapped. “I know of your lack of conviction, of your rejection of the Temple.” That would be from T’Rel. “You are v’tosh ka’tur!”

If he’d been human it would have been an appropriate time to use the phrase ‘Them’s fightin’ words.’ To declare another a Vulcan Without Logic was a deliberate and grievous insult. But despite Serok’s claims he was Vulcan; just not the kind of Vulcan that Serok and T’Rel were.

“It is you who lack logic.” Saveron replied in a flat monotone. But the penny had dropped. Saavok was, after all, six years old and T’Rel had neglected to tell Saveron that she was pregnant when he left because she’d thought the child wasn’t his. “Go and see T’Rel, I cannot talk with you at this time. When you are more logical I will debate Temple discipline versus the IDIC principle if you so wish.”

Not that he had any desire to do so. Serok was everything he was not – no doubt the reason he appealed to T’Rel – and Saveron could only see them disagreeing. Saveron found no appeal in the numbness to the world’s wonder that lay with Kohlinar, and Serok would never agree that when they had embraced logic they had lost something. Saveron held an appreciation for certain aspects of life prior to Surak’s Awakening, even as the violence they had indulged in was abhorrent. He felt a particular resonance with his distant ancestor, a man known as Valoren Silver Eyes; musician, poet, lover, Warlord of the Ayein Clan; more so now than ever. He would never have stood for Serok’s insults.

Saveron favoured Serok with a flat look, sometimes referred to by his colleagues as the ‘Vulcan Stink Eye’, then spun on his heel, intending to put an end to this encounter before it went any further.

But Serok had other ideas. As he turned, Saveron felt a hand close on his elbow, the grip hard enough to make the bones grind, and something in him snapped. His wife, his children, his comfortable life on Vulcan had all been lost in an instant, because of this man. This arrogant Golic caricature of strength without substance and logic without meaning, he was everything that Saveron found disagreeable in the dominant Vulcan culture. He dared to talk to him about tradition?

Millennia ago his ancestor had stood and faced enemies far greater and more terrible, and had suffered no insult, taking from them all they held dear, including their lives. There were paintings in the Cultural Museum in Kal-an depicting such scenes, and people looked at Saveron oddly when he stood too close; he bore an uncanny resemblance to his ancestor. Perhaps that was why he felt such a connection.

In that instant it felt as though Valoren Silver Eyes was with him, guiding his hand as his deep fury, nursed over seven years, broke loose. As Serok’s hand closed on his arm Saveron spun with an animal snarl and caught the other man by the throat, lifting him bodily and slamming him into the wall with a thud like a piece of meat, pinning him there and leaning all his weight on Serok’s throat, denying him the thin Vulcan air.

It was his fault T’Rel had left him, his fault that he had lost all that he held dear, his fault that the Temple was staffed by the blind and unbending, by priests and priestesses who spent so much time looking inwards that all they heard in their minds was their own hollow denials of their own natures, rather than look out and see the wonder of the universe. It was Serok’s fault that Saveron had to follow his beloved half-way around the planet to live amongst a people who didn’t understand him, who rejected his children’s mixed racial heritage, who ultimately had to be left behind for the even more unfamiliar beyond their world. It was Serok’s fault that Saveron was always drifting, that he never found a home. Saveron’s fury was all-consuming.

Pinned against the wall, Serok struggled. He couldn’t grab Saveron to hurt him in turn, the Nel-Gathic man was both taller and longer-limbed and with his elbow locked was beyond the shorter man’s reach, though he tried. Then he tried to prise Saveron’s fingers from his throat, tanned fingers on pale, his nails digging gouges in Saveron’s skin until green started to smear on it, but he could gain no release. A fury drove Saveron that had been tempered by seven years of suppression; it had only grown stronger.

“You wish to observe our peoples’ traditions?” Saveron growled, and it was a unique feature of Vulcan physiology – the same which allowed them to pronounce consonants no other species could – that he could talk and growl at the same time. “Then let us do so. Long before logic and Surak and your closed-minded Temple, there were ways of dealing with an argument over a woman.” The rite of kun-ut-kal-if-fee was one of the ancient ways that had survived the Awakening; logic had no place when the blood fever ran riot. Through his grip on Serok’s throat Saveron could feel the other man’s senseless, helpless rage, driven by hormonal changes he could not control. It only fuelled Saveron’s on fury.

As green blood trickled over his hand from where Serok’s nails dug into him, Saveron knew that he could end it all right now. Kun-ut-kal-if-fee was enshrined in their peoples’ culture. Yes, it should happen on the formal grounds before a priestess, but it didn’t always. Sometimes it happened like this, in some random location, because two males met and the time was right. There would be no repercussions if he killed Serok now; he had been challenged, he had that right. And as he deprived Serok of precious oxygen he knew that he could do so. Right here, right now.

Once, the Nel-Gathic peoples had been chided by Surak’s followers for maintaining their marshal skills in the face of growing logic. Their response was famous. “We do not seek war,” Saveron hissed, quoting a long-dead kinsman, “but he that would bring war to us, let him beware.” Serok had underestimated the doctor, to his detriment.

With Serok dead he could claim T’Rel, by the very traditions that she held so dear. The woman whom he had never stopped loving, whom he had let go. His love, his life, his family, his home. Grey eyes narrowed as he watched Serok’s face, the man’s lips already turning a deoxygenated brown.

Through his skin contact Saveron could feel the other man’s hormone-driven fury fading as his body registered that he was in life-threatening danger. It was an acknowledged fact that loss of such a fight would resolve Pon Farr, it made evolutionary sense. Survival over reproduction; live first, mate later. But Serok was unlikely to survive, through their contact he would perceive that Saveron was in a killing mood.

As the drive to fight drained away along with his chances of survival, Serok’s expression turned from anger to fear, both strange on a normally impassive face, and with a sudden shock Saveron realised how young he must be, that in that fearful look he still had the bloom youth about him. Younger than Saveron, younger than T’Rel; perhaps only half their age. This might only be his second time. It would be seven years before it would happen again; would T'Rel thank him?

What had drawn T’Rel to him? Or had he been drawn to T’Rel, the gifted priestess, destined for greatness? Had Serok merely been convenient to a woman whose stubbornly moderate bond-mate limited her ability to progress through the Temple’s teachings and hierarchy? Had the man simply been in the right place at the right time? After all, it was almost unfathomable that T’Rel would have chosen him for illogical reasons, like love. In that moment Saveron looked into the other man’s dark, frightened eyes, and could almost feel sorry for him.

It wasn’t his fault, none of it was. Some of it was the fault of his and T’Rel’s parents, though they had acted in what they believed was their children’s’ best interests. Some of it was Saveron’s fault, if blame can be placed for simply being true to one’s nature. He was a wanderer, a seeker. So were his children. S’Rel had said as much at her brother’s bonding ceremony; T’Rel did not wish to be left alone, when all of her children went to space. Teron was already in Starfleet, S’Rel could not follow her profession easily from Vulcan and Saavok was as restless and questioning as his father. T’Rel in her logic had predicted the future, and had found it disagreeable. So she had chosen another.

And that other now hung from Saveron’s grip, the strength in Serok’s own hands fading as his consciousness soon would. Yes, Valoren Silver Eyes would have finished the other man in an instant, but Saveron was not his ancestor. He appreciated the beauty of their music and the vision of their stories, but not the savagery of their pride. He was not a killer. He was not a killer. With an effort Saveron reined in his anger, his fury. Surak had shown them how to tame the beast, and it had saved their peoples.

Seven years ago Saveron had learned of his wife’s preference for Serok. Tradition held that when one of them entered Pon Farr there would be a declaration of kun-ut-kal-if-fee, a challenge, and one of them would die. Saveron had seen no logic in killing or being killed for the sake of a woman who did not want him; he still didn’t. He had elected to be Unbound, to release T’Rel from her commitment to him, rather than face Serok in combat. He still held true to the logic of that decision.

“Be grateful that I am not the traditionalist you would have me be.” He said, the same words he had said to T’Rel seven years ago, and let Serok go. The younger Vulcan slid to the floor, relief in his eyes, taking great gasps of air into his lungs. Saveron turned away, striding briskly along the corridor and out, away from Serok, from T’Rel, from any temptation to finish what had been started. As he walked his face was once more a mask, but inside he struggled to restrain the beast he had unleashed, a loss of control that was not certain he could forgive in himself. It was frightening.

It had been far too easy.

((Shore Leave Accomodations, Star Fleet Complex, ShirKahr.))

Once he returned to his temporary quarters in the Starfleet shore-leave accommodations Saveron locked the door and immediately began setting up his meditation candles. He would not eat tonight, or sleep. He would meditate and regain the control that was his bastion against the consuming dark. It was a night of struggle and strength, of remorse and resolve, but at last it brought resolution.

Morning came, and with it a renewed sense of peace. Saveron was satisfied that he had regained his control, his logic, his emotional suppression. He would not permit the previous day’s events to affect him. He would not.

He had told his friend Counsellor Yael that he had resolved himself over the separation from his wife, told his family that he had moved on; he had lied. Most of all he had lied to himself. But despite the disturbing nature of his encounter with Serok, it had brought with it a new measure of peace. He knew now that he could have won the challenge, could have claimed what he had lost, and he had chosen not to. It reaffirmed his old decision whilst at the same time it changed it; changed it from running from a problem to walking away from an act that he could not conscience, leaving Serok and T’Rel to each other and may they find contentment.

It was the closing of a door, but with each that closes a new one opens. He did not doubt that T’Rel was right, his children would join him amongst the stars. That was an agreeable prospect. And who knew what fascinations the future might bring?

As he replicated his breakfast his PADD beeped, displaying his newly-arrived assignment orders from Starfleet. He would be joining the recently commissioned USS Mercury, under the command of his old XO, Captain Tallis. It was an arrangement that he found… agreeable.

As he acknowledged the order and set the PADD aside, he did not smile.

But he could have.

-----------------

Lieutenant Saveron

Medical Officer

USS Mercury

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For those who like to get the full story, this links in with other competition entries I've written, The Price We Pay and She Comes Back to Tell Me She's Gone written for Flashback Week.

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