The Soul of the Stars: Chapter 3 – Ladder to the Sky

       A day and a half after starting up the windy mountain pathway, and Spock and Liva reached the shack. It may have been small and badly damaged from past earthquakes, but it was a treasure trove of scientific equipment. Not only that, but almost every corner of it was filled with antiquities from almost every civilization in the universe.

     “Fascinating,” Spock marveled. “Truly fascinating.”

     “I thought you might find it so,” Liva admitted. “My grandfather was the science officer on the first ship that explored Nebuton, and he kept his travels close to his heart through his collections.”

    The Vulcan shot up his head in surprise. “Professor Agdar Baardsson?”

    She gestured to a hefty ledger lying open on the floor. He carefully picked it up and turned to the first page, examining the name scrawled it in front. He continued to flip through it. “Yes, yes…it is his hand. I have seen it before in the archives of the exploration.”

    “You sound rather shocked, Mr. Spock.”

    “I am simply curious as to how a man of his high level of learning would ever be brought to live in these circumstances.”

     She shrugged. “In the valley, they declared him mentally unfit.”

     “But his writing is executed with firmness and steadiness, revealing a man whose thought patterns were coherent.”

     “I said that they declared him unfit, not that he actually was,” she clarified. “He just…saw things differently than they did.”

     He looked up from the ledger. “And how exactly did they see things?”

     She turned her eyes down and responded quietly, “Sometimes I fear they did not see at all.”

     Then they both heard a sound, crossed between a squeak and a whine. Liva spun around. “Beyla!”

     Peeking out from an overturned cot was a small black cat – hardly over being a kitten, really – which Liva adoringly scooped and kissed on the head, murmuring terms of endearment in Scandinavian. “My angel, my dear angel, I thought you were dead…I thought…”

    Spock did his best to ignore the scene, especially since he surmised she was about to allow herself a very human cry. Then he noticed something from the corner of his eye.

     “What happened to that creature’s face?”

     Protectively, she shielded the kitten with her hand. “It was just some boys at the settlement,” she mumbled. “They were jabbing at her with sticks and matches. When I found them at it, I…I…”

    “You…what?”

    “I punched one of them.”

   Spock raised his eyebrow. “Did you, now?”

   “I’m very capable of it, Mr. Spock. I have a terrible temper sometimes.”

   “I shall make a mental note of that.” He cleared his throat. “And in this melee, how did you manage to achieve victory?”

     “I didn’t exactly say that I won; it was three against one, after all.”

     “But you did make off with the cat.”

     “Yes, well, they were busy enough with someone else to torment for a little while, so they didn’t bother chasing after her when she escaped.”

    He surveyed her like a doctor examining a patient. “Did they…do extensive damage?”

    “No, just roughed me up a bit. Bloody nose, bruised face, that kind of thing. Oh, and this…” She rolled up her sleeve with a sense of school girl pride to reveal a scar running up towards her elbow. “I got it from one of the sticks.”

     “Ah,” he acknowledged, letting his eyes wander to the brand mark that she had inadvertently exposed. She seemed to have momentarily forgotten about it, but seeing his eyes move to it, she quickly pulled down her sleeve again.

   “But afterwards,” she continued hurriedly, “when they finally left, Beyla came back for me. She was burned and scared, but she curled up under my arm and stayed with me when I felt too bruised to get up. When I finally did, I took her home with me, and got her better. But in all the confusion…I…I thought I lost her for good…but she’s back now.”

     “Not the safest location to return to, I’m afraid,” Spock stated grimly.     

     She did not answer, but only buried her face in the cat’s fur for a moment, seeming to draw whatever small comfort she could from the animal’s presence. “Still…at least she’s with us.” She smiled. “Would you like me to show you the view from the back porch?” 

    “If that is your preference, I do not object.” 

    They walked outside to the small porch, from where the dramatic peak of the mountain and sharp drop into the ravine were visible. It was much colder at this altitude then it had been traveling the desert-like terrain below. For Spock, who had been raised beneath Vulcan’s blazing sun, it was particularly uncomfortable. But he would never reveal that, especially since he knew his species was strong enough to survive what humans would call the worst of conditions. Nevertheless, he did lean himself against the porch beam with his arms crossed, as if bracing himself for an arctic blast.

    Liva, on the other hand, well-accustomed to the mountain cold both from her life-long environment and Scandinavian blood, seemed more focused on enjoying her visual surroundings than taking note of the temperature. She seated herself down on the edge of the porch and lean back on her hands to gaze up at the broad night sky. It was almost completely dark, except for a few dim swirls of light that were the last remnants of the fallen stars.

     “I remember when the sky was full of stars,” she reflected. “They were beautiful, like jewels scattered on black velvet. I used to talk to them before I went to sleep, and tell them my secrets. I cried my heart out when the last one died. ”  

    Spock gazed at her, mystified, wondering why she was divulging all this to him, a perfect stranger. She must have had a very lonely life indeed. “Stars of composites of hydrogen and helium that burn for a given space of years and then expire,” he defined in detail. “I see very little to mourn over, even by human standards.”

     “But that’s just what they’re made out of, not what they really are.”

    Spock raised an eyebrow. “And you believe that they are…?”

     “Reflections of something greater, far greater. Something magical, like the dew of the first morning, or the first bird’s song. Something made of spirit that lives on beyond all the galaxies and will still be there even when everything melts away.”

     “I am surprised you seem to have invested yourself so heavily in old earth superstations,” Spock remarked. “Your grandfather was renown at Star Fleet Academy for debunking such myths in public debate with what few adherents remain.”

   “My grandfather…changed quite a bit up here,” she explained. “He memorized old stories and told them to me. He gave me old books to read. He wanted me to know all the things the men in the valley would never teach because they had forgotten the worth of them.”

     “You mean antiquarian worth?”

     “I mean seeing things as they are, instead of as they appear to be.” She smiled slightly. “I trust I make myself obscure?”

      “I am used to obscurity from humans. You forget that I have worked with them more than is perhaps good for my overall sense of well-being.”

     She giggled. “I do believe you are wary of us,” she teased.

     “I am admittedly concerned that anyone with human blood may have a dangerous strain in them. Something wild, beyond order…”

     “Like a spark winging its way from the fire?”

    “Now you are sinking back into old form romanticism,” he chided her.

    This seemed only to amuse her more. “Oh, come, is there nothing we have written about life that strikes your fancy?”

     “I have no fancy to strike, only sensibility to know what is useful, and what is not. I have read much your Earth literature using the reading techniques of Vulcan. We process the words rapidly, more so than a human could comprehend, and then filter that which is useful, and that which is not according to our state in life.”

    “But that’s not really reading at all,” she protested. “One must interact with a book as one would with life…feel it, understand it, imagine it. What you’ve been doing is just accumulating information, and feeding it back…like a machine.”

    “Yes, that sounds logical to me,” he responded. “I am a machine, a very efficient one that has gained, and continues to gain, the data needed to perform my duties. Any other questions?”

    She tilted her head thoughtfully. “I think my grandfather was very much like you, Mr. Spock. He thought logic was like a ladder to the sky. He climbed up, but ultimately he had to jump off, for it would take him no further. He had to find something more to be his wings.”

     “That, young lady, sounds like a perfect recipe for a fractured rib-cage.”

    “If that’s the only way to reach the heart, maybe it’s worth it.”

     He shook his head. “You will likely live a short life with much suffering if you abide by that principle…” He stopped, realizing too late that his words rang too true to be spoken.

    Liva shrugged. “Maybe I just see things differently than other people. Grandfather used to say that I did. I do try my best to make out that which is, that which is not, and all betwixt and between. But it cannot just be me…” She sighed heavily. “Have you never felt something, Mr. Spock? Something on the wind which should be mindless, something in the chasm where there should be nothing, something more than can be measured?”

     He paused for a long moment before answering. “If I had, it would be between myself and that which is in question… that which is not known. No answer can be given beyond that, nor should it be sought after. Existence is too much like non-existence to be examined through the lens of logic, and as such I see no cause to plumb the depths of it.” He cleared his throat. “Now we really should try and get some sleep, so we can get a fresh start in the morning for scientific analysis.”

    She closed her eyes for a few more seconds and took a last deep breath of the cool night air before turning back to him with a knowing glance. “Oh, Mr. Spock, can you not feel it? Right here, right now…this is science itself.” 

 ***

    Back inside the shack, Spock began to erect a rather elaborate clothesline apparatus with some rope, a spare sheet, and several clothes pins he had located in the closet.

     “What’s that for?” Liva inquired.

     “To maintain a decent amount of privacy for all involved,” he explained, stretching it out the length of the room.

     “You mean to make sure our cots are in separate quarters?”

     “Precisely.”

   “Since I was used to sharing the same space with my grandfather, so you really needn’t go through such lengths…”

     “I insist,” he muttered, with a clothespin in his mouth as he struggled to stretch the sheet across the rope without making it give way and collapse. When he finally was content with his dividing devise, he retreated to his bunk behind the sheet, and lay down unceremoniously with his arms folded behind his head for a pillow.       

    “Goodnight, Mr. Spock,” Liva called across to him good-naturedly.

     He didn’t respond.

    “I suppose…Vulcans don’t say goodnight?”

    “How would my saying it affect the quality of the night, for good or ill?”

    She sighed. “You really do over-think things.”

    “From a human in general and you in particular, I can be assured of the complementary nature of that statement.”

    “Oh, you’re incorrigible…eh, Beyla!”

    In a flash, there was a kitten trying to climb into Spock’s cot. “Miss Christenson,” he addressed her through gritted teeth, yanking back his curtain.

     “It’s not my fault,” she protested. “She’s never gone over to a stranger before.”

    He raised one eye-brow, watching the little black ball of fur attempt to a clamber up the edge of his sheet before sliding back down. He noticed one of its paws was twitching. “This creature is not particularly adept at climbing it seems.”

     “Her paw was burnt up by the matches. It doesn’t have the strength for clinging.”

      Spock observed the kitten’s failed efforts a few more seconds, and then, rather unexpectedly, snatched it up by the scruff of its neck. She squirmed and meowed in complaint for a moment, but then he began to stroke her dark fur and mutter soothing words in a language Liva did not understand. Soon she secured herself clinging against his officer’s uniform, and began to purr contentedly.

     “She trusts you,” Liva realized in amazement. “She hasn’t trusted any man since she was attacked.”

     “Well, I am not technically a man, am I?” he countered quietly. “Besides, if I were obliged to choose an earth species, felines tend to be easiest to understand.”

      “I’ve felt the same way sometimes,” she admitted, taking the air out of what could been taken as an insult. “And you…rather remind me of a cat, Mr. Spock.”

       He eyed her quizzically. “The pointed ears?”

       She giggled. “No, I mean…just the way you are. The way you see things and wish to be seen. The way you act…always dignified and observing and aloof. You’re full of mysteries. ”

“And you are akin to a hyper-active, altogether too playful kitten,” he grumbled, setting Beyla down on the floor to go back to Liva. “Now sleep is a vital necessity and we really must all try to get some.” He closed the curtain again.

     “Mr. Spock?”

     “Mmm?”

     “Tomorrow would you teach me how to say things in your language?”

     “Vulcanian is not easily grasped by the human tongue.”

     “But it’s so pretty…”

     “It is not at all…that. It is a very pragmatic language.”

     “Still…”

     “Alright, we shall make an agreement,” he decided. “If you desist from further communication for the night so that we can both rest in peace, I’ll do my best to give you a introductory lesson in the morning.”

     Her heart was warmed by this, and she repeated cheerfully, “Goodnight, Mr. Spock.”

     “Right,” he exhaled. “Now, please…get some sleep.” 

By Rosaria Marie

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