Straker put down his pen and closed the journal with a sigh. A human response and one that he was beginning to appreciate. It fitted his feelings. He was weary of this enclosed space, but although he was free to leave whenever he chose, he had not ventured beyond the confines of his cabin. It was not that he was forbidden, although the First Officer suggested, in a caustic tone that was almost an order, that his presence in the more spacious passenger areas of the ship might cause concern. So he had remained here in this small cabin, well out of the way, reading and studying and recovering, his meals brought by a silent ensign and visited on occasions by the ship’s physician.
The intense program of accelerated learning given to him by the Council was completed, his English was fluent, even to the use of idioms and generalities, and the last time he had spoken more than a few words in Vulcan to anyone other than the physician, was six weeks ago when he had been brought on board half-dazed and drugged, well before the other passengers. No one else had visited him, perhaps few of the crew knew he was on board even. After all, Terra was a prohibited planet, considered too volatile to trust with the knowledge that other races existed in the galaxy. And yet the High Command were in league with some humans. A dangerous secret, and one that could have unpleasant consequences, for both sides if it ever got out.
The subtle changes in his skin colour had become more noticeable once the treatment had finished and after some thought he had talked with the physician. Practical matters; he would never be able to bond with a human female, but one day he might find a companion. What then? And pon farr? That might cause problems. There would be no Vulcan females on Earth and no way to get back to Vulcan if necessary. In the end he agreed to more tests, painless yet uncomfortable in their own way, and waited for the results.
When they came he read them with trepidation. It was little comfort to know that the uncontrollable urge might yet be a problem for him on Earth; He resolved to work more on learning the appropriate meditation techniques to diminish the hunger. He had not yet reached the age where it manifested itself and had no real desire to experience the feeling, so he worked on, immersing himself in his work, during the day learning about Earth and its politics, its legal systems and current, and to him archaic, technologies. Each night he would sleep fitfully as more mundane lessons filtered into his subconscious: how to drive a vehicle, etiquette, dress codes, even shopping and how to use money. The everyday facts that would enable him to live as a human.
It was a source of regret that he had not had the chance to see Vulcan for one last time, before the ship left the system, but on reflection it was for the best. He may never be back, he knew that by now, and severing the ties to his old life would be easier without the memory of his planet fading into the distance. His new world waited, and he was ready.
The loud knock on his door startled him; it was not yet time for the mid-day meal, his lessons had finished for the day, and he was not expecting any visitors. He never expected visitors. He slid his journal into the tiny drawer of the desk. ‘Come in.’ Once he would have said ‘enter’ but that was a lifetime ago and anyway the door was opening already.
‘Straehk.’ There was a hint of disapproval in the First Officer’s voice as he stepped inside, curious eyes looking around the room as if expecting it to be somehow alien. He continued speaking in precise and strict Vulcan, a master to a servant, not looking at the other man, ‘The ship has entered the Terran system and will arrive in orbit in five point two hours. Once communication with your contact in the United States has been affirmed, we will beam you down. Someone will come to escort you to the transport room when the time is ready. Ensure that you are ready, we must not remain in Earth orbit for longer than necessary.’ The officer left without another word, closing the door behind him as if eager to remove himself from the tainted presence of an altered Vulcan, and one willingly altered at that. Straehk breathed out, wondering if his contact on Earth would have the same aversion to a man who was neither a true Vulcan nor a born human. He would find out soon enough.
Once he had packed the few items in his cabin, he lay down on the narrow bunk. A final chance to meditate before arriving on Earth. He tried quelling the apprehension and also excitement now filling him but it was hopeless, and after a while he gave up, resigning himself to spending the next few hours sitting here alone, waiting. Another knock at the door. A soft tap this time, diffident and gentle as if the person outside was hesitant. Straehk did not move. The tap came again, and he stood and opened the door. ‘Captain?’ The last person he expected to see.
‘May I enter?’
Not Vulcan. English. Perfect, cultured English in an accent he had come to recognise as Scottish. Edinburgh, if he was not mistaken. He had not been informed that the Captain spoke the language. But he had not been told much about the crew, or this ship, or even his journey. He held the door open and stepped back. ‘You are most welcome.’
There was only the bed to sit on, or the small chair. ‘I wish to speak with you Straehk, before you leave for Earth.’ Captain T’Lia looked around the small room, taking in the tiny desk and chair, bedding folded at the end of the narrow bed, Straehk’s holdalls on the floor, before sitting on the bunk, a slight smile on her face. ‘A long time since I was last in one of these cabins. Perhaps we should have given you somewhere larger. I understand you have some problems with confined spaces? I left your accommodation in the hands of my First Officer. I apologise if you have been inconvenienced.’
‘There was no problem. I knew I could leave if necessary,‘ Straehk lied.
‘But you didn’t. You remained here, as requested. And I am grateful. You have been a considerate guest. But it must have been a difficult time for you. Am I right?’
There was no answer. Straehk looked round the tiny space, remembering nights lying on his narrow bunk and sweating, not from the lessons filtering into his brain, although accelerated learning made one uncomfortably hot, but from the fear of the walls closing in and the door being locked and trapping him. He was used to getting up several times in the night, simply to open the door. Not looking outside, just opening it for a moment. As long as it opened, he was safe. He sat on the chair facing T’Lia, his hands clasped together.
‘Anyway, that is not why I am here. I invite you to accompany me to the bridge, Straehk. Earth will be visible soon, and I think you might want to watch the approach. It may be your only opportunity to see your new home from space.’ T’Lia shrugged. ‘And perhaps I can tell you a little of what I know of Earth from my own visits there.’
‘I have been liaising with your contact, the man who will introduce you to Henderson. I think it will be a good partnership; he is keen to discuss how you can help Earth. Straehk?’ She paused.
‘This is going to be difficult for you. I know what happened, not only on Ochio, but also to you, yourself. A Vulcan who looks human? It will not be easy, but Earth is a good place and Henderson will benefit from your support in its fight against the invaders. We have promised your contact as much help as possible, but it will be Henderson who needs you most, beside him, guiding his steps. Now Straker.’ T’Lia stood and inclined her head in a rare gesture of deference. ‘Shall we go to the bridge? ’
The crew ignored him, not from impoliteness, for one of them handed him a bubble of chilled water, an unexpected privilege on the deck of any ship, but it was clear that they knew not to speak or even acknowledge his presence. He did not mind. The cameras picked up Earth in the distance and he stood beside the captain’s chair, watching the screens as the ship sailed past Saturn and Jupiter, rounding Mars and slowing, until they were close enough to see the small blue sphere through the main viewport. T’Lia talked to him in English about Earth, about the weather and the people, recommending places to visit once his work was done and Henderson’s organisation was running with efficiency. There was no mention of him going back to Vulcan afterwards.
And standing there, looking at the planet, his worries eased. He might fail in his task of helping Henderson, but he hoped not. Earth would be his home and looking down at the huge expanse of ocean he felt a thrill of excitement. Who knew what the future might bring?
‘Captain?’ The Communications officer interrupted the silence. ‘An answer to our hail.’
Straehk glanced at T’Lia. No one spoke. Then a voice sounded over the speakers. ‘Ready when you are Captain. Let’s get this transfer over and done with. We’ve got bad weather here.’
‘Time to go.’
Straker followed her through deserted corridors to the transporter room. His bags were there, waiting. Two holdalls; not much baggage for thirty years. He brought nothing that might cause any interest, apart from himself. The rest of his possessions were back on Vulcan: his books and research, his lyre, nothing from Ochio though. The only thing surviving was a narrow piece of blue fabric shot through with silver, torn from the length before he wrapped her in the rest of it, ready for burial. The strip bound his hair now. It was a long time since he had been through a transporter and the discs looked smaller and more fragile than he remembered. He hesitated at the base of the steps.
‘Straehk?’ He turned to face the captain. ‘Live long and prosper, Ed Straker. I hope to have the honour to meet you again one day.’
He looked around the room one last time, bleak and undecorated, yet it was Vulcan. It was his last view of his own world. ‘Ready?’ T’Lia asked. He swallowed once, unable to speak all of a sudden, nodded and the room disappeared in a swirl of sparkles.
Straker staggered, nearly tripping over his bags before regaining his balance on the green floor beside him. No, not floor. Grass. Thick soft growth. And he lifted his head to the breathtaking sensation of heavy rain falling on his face.