The Soul of the Stars: Chapter 4 – Science Assistant

     pinecone1

      The next morning brought new adventures. Namely, trying to fix the kitchen stove which Professor Baardsson had invented. As a result of the earth quakes, it seemed likely that something had been jarred within the apparatus, and Spock took it upon himself to remedy the situation.

    “Do you need help with that?” Liva inquired as he crouched beside the fuse box in the back, yanking out seemingly random wires, and then putting them back in different places.

    “Miss Christenson, I graduated with honors in the highest courses of computer science available at the Federation Institute,” he informed. “I do believe I am capable of fixing this antiquated cooking appliance…”

     Just then, the fuse box lid fell down with a clamor, pinning his hand beneath it. She was soon down beside him coming to the rescue. “It always does that,” she muttered, trying very hard not to smile. “Here, let me try something.” She went around to the front and rather rapidly began turning different knobs. Then without batting an eye, she seized a cooking pan and smashed it into the side of the stove. It seemed to respond to her less-than-delicate proddings favorably, and heat began to emanate from it again.    

      He turned his eyes down. “Right, so…it seems that you’re more accustomed to dealing with the crude methods of keeping outmoded devices functioning than I.”

     “And I can cook on outmoded devices too,” she added cheerfully.

     “That’s an additional benefit, I suppose. Even though I have no need to take food at this time. In fact, even if we were planning on long-term survival, Vulcans need not take nutrition half as often as humans.”

    “I can imagine what Dr. McCoy would say to that.”

    “So can I, which is why I am particularly gratified he is not stranded here as well.” He looked at her quizzically. “What made you bring him into this conversation at any rate?”

    She shrugged at his touchiness. “He’s your friend, is he not?”

    “You clearly did not observe our interaction with an analytical eye. I believe that at best we are…we were both proverbial thorns in each other’s sides.”

    “Sometimes it’s the best of friends who fight the most,” she insisted. “It can be a way of showing affection.”

     “Affection is something altogether foreign to my race, so my difficulties with the doctor certainly cannot be revealing that.”

     Now it was her eyebrow that rose. He felt quite irked by her disbelief of his claim.

    “Well, now that the stove has been returned to good working order, there is certainly no reason why you should refrain from using it.” With that, he stalked and off towards the desk he had claimed for his own use and immersed himself in the contents of her late grandfather’s ledger.

    The first section was a highly professional account of scientific councils held by the colonizing crew members. But rather abruptly, the references to the Federation work ended, and it eased into a very personal account of his life alone on the mountain with Liva. He had obviously been very attached to her, and he seemed more focused on noting the small things that happened to her than anything else. He also referred of terrible happenings in “the valley”, but never gave any specifics.

     Spock was so absorbed in trying to figure out the meaning that he barely kept track of the time, and Liva had finished preparing an impromptu breakfast with some of the potatoes kept in storage. “It’s all ready, Mr. Spock,” she announced proudly. “I used what was left of the butter and herbs, so it should be decent enough.”

     “That’s all well and good, but as I indicated, I shan’t be staying to indulge, thank you,” he responded.

     A worried look swept over her face. “You’re…leaving?”

 “I would like to explore my present surroundings for an hour or so,” he explained. “It is what science officers do.”

    “May I come with you? I’ve explored this area for ages, and I could…”

    “You would only be in way,” he snapped.

     “I…I wouldn’t be a bother, Mr. Spock, honestly,” she protested. “And I would so much rather be with you than staying here…all by myself…please?”

     He stared at her for several seconds. “Do you…have something appropriately insular to wear? The temperature this early in the morning is decidedly frigid…for a human, I mean.”

     “For a Vulcan too, I think,” she added, smiling. “I’ll get us both something.”

     With that, she started rummaging around in the storage closet that contained some clothing on hangers. When she reemerged, she was holding two rather bulky coats trimmed with fur at the hoods. She extended the larger one to Spock. “It used to be my grandfather’s,” she explained. “He used it when he went out on expeditions. I’m sure…he’d want you to have it…”

    “Really, I don’t feel the need…”

    “…because you’re a Federation science officer, just like he was. It would honor him for you to have it.” She continued to stand there patiently with the coat extended towards him, with an air of determination about her.

    His forehead wrinkled thoughtfully. “So would this be considered a custom among your people, to honor the memory of one who once was highly honored?”

    “You can call it that, in this case,” she agreed, sadness creeping into her tone.

   “Alright then,” he conceded. “To honor an officer of the Federation, well regarded by all trained with him.”

    She grinned as he slipped on the coat. It was too big for him, and hung rather awkwardly on his lanky form. “I am…unaccustomed to wearing such gear.”

    She giggled. “I think it makes you look rather handsome.”

    “I believe, Miss Christenson, most humans from your ancestral lands in old earth would consider the Vulcanian appearance to be most akin to the mythological race known as trolls.”

    She burst out laughing at this. “No, certainly not, Mr. Spock! You’re far too tall to be a troll, and I really can’t see that you’re given to playing mischievous pranks.”

    “Truly said,” he admitted. “A thoroughly unproductive pastime. Speaking of which…it is time to embark on our mission.” He handed her a satchel from his desk. “For collecting botanic samples.”

     “A nature hunt!” she filled in excitedly.

     His eyes glazed over. “Scientific scouring, if you please.”

***

        The mountain landscape was strikingly different than the dry desert climate below. Here, instead of blistering sands stirred by untamed wind, the mornings were ruled by a quiet frost, glistening off the remaining grass in the high meadowlands where, according to Liva, a herd of goats and wild deer had once grazed. This means of survival had been taught to the explorers by a tribe of indigenous aliens who had populated the planet in scattered villages. They had also helped the newcomers learn about the different properties of the native plants and berries and how to collect the eggs of the enigmatic tryverns, half bird, half dragon like creatures had once nested on the cliffs. They also knew how to track the great watk’a wituk, an animal similar to a bear, only much larger and with long fangs and amber fur.

    Although she had never seen any members of this alien race herself, she said that her grandfather had spent much time with them, and that they taught him many things about the mountain which they considered to be sacred. They had been tall, and strong, with horns like the wild goats they headed, and skin the color of the white bark. They worshipped beside the great chasm the force that held all life together, and sang strange songs that animals could understand.

     “But there are none left now,” she finished. “My grandfather and I were the only ones who remembered their ways in this place.”

    Spock plucked up a piece of clover and observed it with an almost excessive degree of intensity. “What became of this indigenous race?”

     “They…died.”

     He looked at her scoldingly. “You are not giving me many specifics with regards to cause and effect, just as you are evading my queries as to the fate of your grandfather.”

     She looked pale. “I…I can’t tell you, Mr. Spock.”

     “And why not?”

   “I simply…can’t.” She turned her eyes down. “You wouldn’t…I couldn’t….” She sighed deeply. “It just doesn’t matter now.”

     He decided to let it go for the moment, but determined that before the end, his curiosity would be satisfied one way or another. There were too many unanswered questions for his inquiring mind to ever rest in peace without having them properly uncovered.

     Spock walked a little distance ahead of her, and came to a tall, spindly tree. It almost completely bare accept for a few strangely colored cones, a cross between green and blue. But his eyes fixed on the single one that appeared violet. He had a long reach and a strong grasp, so it was not very difficult for him to snatch it down.

     He turned to Liva, watching him from a few paces away. “Is it rare to find a cone of this hue?”

      She nodded. “So rare it is called a good fortune. It must be the tree’s way of saying goodbye…” She cleared her throat, assuming he would fast grow frustrated with her romantic musing. “So will you dissect it and study it with the microscope?”

       He looked at it for a moment and then turned it over in his hands. “I…think not.” Then with a certain scientific precision, he walked over to her and slid it into her satchel. “Unique it may be, but not of the highest value from a scientific perspective. So…you may…keep it.”

     She smiled softly. “I love purple.”

     “I rather thought you might.”

     “What made you think so?”

      He raised one eyebrow and looked at her quizzically. “Because it is a suitably illogical color, and as such it seemed likely that it would coincide with your tastes.”

    She raised her own eyebrow in mock imitation. “And how is it so very ‘illogical’?”

    “It’s a mix of primary colors,” he responded. “Not properly blue, nor properly red, unable to be purely anything and therefore…” He paused for a moment. “Blends like that cannot be fully logical, can they?”

     She shrugged. “They can beautiful; that’s what’s makes them special.”

     “Perhaps,” he granted, “for you.”

    “For me?” she repeated, shaking her head. “Do you not think that some beauty simply is, not for me or anyone in particular, but just is?”

    “If there were no beings sentimental enough to derive pleasure from such things, the concept of beauty would not exist,” he responded. “That cone would simply exist as it was without thought or intent. Without neurons firing in human minds, and eyesight capable of perceiving shape and color, beauty, as you see it, would cease to exist.”

     “Unless it’s the other way around,” she proposed. “Beauty is, always has been, and it was just waiting for to stumble upon it and say ‘you are beautiful’. But it was always meant to be that way, see?”

    “No, I do not.”

    “It’s like the scent flowers, or pine, or rain, or freshly baked bread…it must have been intended…”

     “On the subject of food,” he diverted the conversation. “Are you in need of taking nourishment?”

    She smiled slightly. “You’re asking if I’m hungry?”

    “As a Vulcan, I cannot be expected to predict human appetites,” he protested. “You must…tell me these things.”

   “Would you share lunch with me?”

     “I believe we have covered this ground before. My meal schedules need not coincide with human ones.”

     “I didn’t say they needed to,” she retorted. “But I would wager that an extra meal wouldn’t hurt you in the least. Besides there’s little enjoyment in eating alone.”

    “Whatever gave you the notion eating was meant to generate enjoyment?”

    She shook her head like an exasperated mother with a petulant child. “Must you always try to rationalize everything?”

 Before he could answer, she impulsively grabbed his hand and pulled him down beneath the shade of the tree. Then she neatly started laying out the blanket she had brought along and unpacking their lunch. “Say what you like about picnics,” she exhaled, “but this is a good spot for one.”

     He shrugged. “You seem to be the expert in that department. I shall have to take your word for it.”

     “Yes, you shall,” she replied, grinning as she handed him the bag of potato strips. He looked at it strangely before finally taking it. “I promise they don’t bite,” she teased.

     “That is not what I was concerned about. I was rather pondering whether or not you had brought along the proper accompanying linen for food such as this.”

   “As in…napkins?” She quickly produced them from her satchel and waved them triumphantly.

    “Precisely.” He took them from her with a nod of acknowledgement.

    “So tell me, how do Vulcans eat?”

    He squinted. “How do we eat?”

    “I mean, what your decorum behind meals? Every culture has one.”

   Ah. She was actually expressing interest in cultural differences…

    “Reclined,” he answered. “Much like this, actually. We do not use elevated tables and chairs. It is scientifically proven to be better for digestion. And besides, it is…dignified, in its way.”

     “Dignity means very much to your people as a whole, doesn’t it?”

     “Dignity is the offspring of our logical philosophy.”

    “Yes, you…you show it, Mr. Spock.”

    “Like a cat, if I recall correctly?”

    “I suppose,” she giggled. “But truly…you do show it. You live it.”

     He nodded slightly, not quite sure how to take the compliment.

    “So moving on to your language,” she switched topic, “how do Vulcans say…hello?”

    “There is not an equivalent word, although we do have our own form of greeting,” he explained. “It is more…a salute, or an extension of…honorable desire.”

     “Oh, do teach me how to say it!” she pleaded excitedly.

     “First you must…maintain a calm exterior,” he stated gravely. “Emotional displays will destroy the entire purpose of the greeting.”

    She forced the smile off her face, and sat very still like a little dog who had been instructed to “stay”.

     Spock swallowed back the slightest wisp of a smile himself. After all, humans could be so very…fascinating in their reactions. Then he held up his hand in the form of the Vulcan Salute, and clearly enunciated, “Dif-tor heh smusma.”

     She studied him for a moment, then made an effort to imitate the hand gesture. It looked more like she was playing a game involving finger puppets.

     He raised one eyebrow. “Extend your hand in my direction for a moment, please.”

     She looked puzzled, then a bit wary, as if she expected him to strike it.

    “Your fingers need to properly positioned if you ever to achieve excellence in this.”

    Slowly, she did as she was told, and very professionally, he spread her fingers out in the designated position and held up her hand.

    “There,” he said, seemingly content with the result. “Now you are prepared to attempt the greeting.”

    “I…forget how to say it.”

    “Dif-tor heh smusma.”

     She took a deep breath, and repeated, “Dif-tor heh smusma.”

    “Well done, for a first effort,” he admitted.

    “What does it mean?” she queried.

    “Live long and prosper,” he translated.

    She looked down again, seemingly disappointed.

    “You are…distressed at that?”

    “I suppose I was hoping it was something more…lasting.”

    “In what way?”

    “In the way that…well, I won’t be living long and prospering.”

    Spock was unsure how to respond. “I suppose you are correct that such a greeting is rather superfluous in our current position if taken literally. You have accurately accessed the lack of logic in light of our personal circumstances, but fortunately it was only for the purpose of expanding interplanetary cultural knowledge as opposed to a genuine greeting.”

     “Still, the language seems…ageless to me.”

     “It is very ancient. Various modifications were introduced when we embraced a full commitment to logic under Surak, but even as it stands, it is much older than any of your earth languages.”

     “Then I am sure there are many layers of meaning in it, just like there are many layers of rock on this mountain. All things of worth are layered.”

     “Perhaps,” he conceded. “Do you intend to take a chisel to it, small one?”

     “Yes,” she confirmed with a sad smile. “I would like to uncover as many layers as I can in all things, with whatever time is left. Yes…I would like to do that very much.”

 ***

      Back at the shack, Spock proceeded to dissect, analyze, and take notes on his own findings, using the back of the professor’s own ledger. Meanwhile, Liva set about organizing her own collection, seeming to change her mind how to go about it every few minutes. First, it was according to color, then size, then just picking out her favorites.

    She muttered to herself about it all, sometimes asking the opinion of her thoroughly intrigued cat, pawing at the items laid out. Then she would start humming an old Norse tune, seemingly quite happy and contended, and forgetful of their surroundings all together. Part of Spock felt rather irritated by all this, but the other part could not help but be relieved that at least she was not still suffering outward symptoms of trauma as she had been when they first met, even if they were currently living under a death sentence.

    After he focused his mind back on his work for a spell, a paper with scribbling on it flashed in front of his face, and then flashed away again. He looked over his shoulder at her curiously. “If your intent was to show me what was inscribed on the parchment, you failed to make an impression just now.”

     “I just wanted to get your attention,” she explained.

    “Would it not be a superior method to simply request my attention?”

    She sighed. “I…made you something. For your files. It’s…a present.”

     “Present?” he repeated blankly.

     “Yes, for letting me…show you around.” She placed the paper on the desk and took a step back. Examining it closer, Spock saw that it was a sketch of the purple cone he had placed in her satchel.

    He looked at intently and then back to her face, innocent with wide-eyed anticipation for his response to her present. He had always been frustrated by the way humans wore no shield to guard their emotions, but she was by far the most vulnerable of the lot. Just looking at her he knew how easy it might be to inflict her a wound. And he knew just how, too.

    He knew he should tell her that the giving of presents in this matter was totally contrary to the practices of his culture. That infringing upon the customs of another people was strictly forbidden by the rules of the Federation, and as a Federation officer’s granddaughter she should know better. That, in fact, he had made of point of refusing most presents his ship mates had tried to force upon him. That it was a juvenile gesture which he wanted no part with.

    But for some reason, looking at her, he could not bring himself to say any of those things. Instead he found himself inquiring gingerly, “Would you…care to be my science assistant? As a science officer unavoidably separated from my crew, Federation procedure allows for me to appoint on my own authority should I locate a person fitting. Perhaps you might prove to be of some assistance sketching my findings and…such…”

     Her eyes lit up and she nodded enthusiastically. “You think it is good then?”

     “It is fairly good,” he admitted. “And with practice I see no reason why you should not continue to improve. Yes, I think…I am pleased that you…made this.” He felt so strange saying it, but…he also found that it was true.

       Her eyes were dancing now. “I will be a good science assistant, Mr. Spock,” she assured.  “I will, you’ll see…” She whirled around too fast, and her sweater caught onto his specimen tray, pulling it to the ground.

     Spock looked at the splattered tray and back to her, somewhat haughtily. “A phenomenal introduction to the position, that.”

    “But it provides me with a good first assignment,” she decided. “Cleaning up after you.”

     “After…me?” he repeated, flabbergasted. “Miss Christensen, I am not the one who…”

     She smiled at him broadly.

    He raised an eyebrow. “I assume that was…a human attempt at humor?”

    She cliqued her tongue. “I have a feeling we have a lot to teach each other!”

  —

By Rosaria Marie 

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