PART IV DESTINY
Admiral's Log: Stardate 8601.2, Kirk reporting.
We will attain standard orbit around Vulcan with the hour. Once on planet, I will take part in the Ritual of Passage, during which the katra of the Ancient One will be released from my keeping. In honor of her Ancestress, the Imperial Matriarch of the Romulan Empire, Palaan's mother, will attend the ceremony. At her request, the entire Starfleet Executive Council will, thereafter, be her guests at a formal party aboard her star-yacht. My crew and I have been ordered to attend. Kirk, out.
Kirk had the conn, and sat in the command chair. McCoy, Commander Palaan, and Admiral T'Pava stood ranged around him. The viewscreen showed them to be approaching a large globular structure that floated lightly in orbit.
"Approaching standard orbit, Sir. Five minutes," Sulu said.
"Passing the Vulcan Starfleet Orbital Base now, Sir," Chekov added.
On the viewer, the Orbital Base filled three quarters of the screen. As the ship moved by it, it phased out of the picture, taking up less and less of the screen. Beyond the Base, and seeming to rise in the fashion of a moon, a ship of gigantic proportions appeared. Expressions of amazement crept on to the countenances of all the observers except for Palaan. She was smugly amused.
"What is that?" Uhura asked of the air.
"Good God, its three miles long if it's an inch!"
Spock checked his board. "Very astute, Mr. Scott. 4.827 kilometers. Exactly three miles."
Palaan laughed. "It is the Vexation. My mother's star-yacht."
"The Vexation, Commander?"
"Yes, Admiral Kirk. That is how its name translates. My mother has a sense of humor. By our traditions, whenever she travels, her entire household must go with her. I have often heard her complain that she can so rarely go anywhere anymore, because 'that damned vexation' must go with her."
The red-streaked, darkening sky backlit the plateaus surrounding the canyon, as the dying rays of Vulcan's setting sun struck on millions of tiny mica flecks which were an integral part of the left cliff face. There, tediously chipped from the living rock by archaic hands, and yet barely visible through the sparkling glare, an awesome staircase led up, and up, and ever upward to the towering, mesa-topped peak of Mt. Seleya. Atop it, perched like a tarnished tiara crowning an aged brow, stood the dateless, timeworn edifice that is the Hall of Ancient Thought.
Outside that antediluvian temple, the most revered on Vulcan since time out of mind, a vast multitude of Vulcans, Romulans, humans, and delegations from every alien embassy on the planet were assembling. Before the closed doors of the Hall stood two priest-guards, their charge the task of denying entry to any and all until the time should be right.
It was not yet time for the ceremony of the Ritual of Passage.
In the large open area in front of the ageless Hall, the assembled masses broke up into clumps, to pass the waiting time in conversation. At the head of the crowd, Sarek and Amanda awaited the arrival of Kirk, Spock, and the others. Sarek, outwardly calm, inwardly waged a doomed battle with a raging case of the fidgets. He looked sternly at Amanda. "Where are they? It is nearly time."
"They will be here soon enough. Have patience, My Husband."
"They are your sons, too, My Wife."
Amanda smiled. "Scotty would say that the party can't start until the MacGregor arrives. The High Priestess will know when they are ready."
At the far end of the plaza-like area, at the point where the giant stairway reached the mesa, Kirk, Spock and their friends began the last leg of the journey which would bring them, like a cosmic great-circle, to the place where their adventure had begun many weeks, indeed months before. They hesitated, eyes taking in the multitude in their path.
"Let's try to keep together," Kirk said, "though I doubt if we'll be able to."
His words proved prophetic, for immediately they started on their way, a swirling arm of the circulating crowd separated them, sweeping Kirk, Spock, and McCoy into an abrupt meeting with Admiral T'Pava. She greeted them politely, and in her own way pleasantly, expressing her hope that their next mission would be less strenuous. "Perhaps a 'milk run,' as you humans would call it, Admiral Kirk. Something easy, like fetching home the young Prince of Vulcan."
Nodding adieu, she disappeared in the crowd.
"The Prince of Vulcan?" Kirk queried.
"I thought Vulcan was a Matriarchy. Why and how could there be a Prince?" McCoy amended.
Spock seemed hesitant to answer. "Yes, there is a young Prince, but I am surprised that the Admiral mentioned it. It has been a subject of taboo for the last twenty years."
For all their questions to Spock, Kirk and McCoy could get no more out of him. The crowd swirled again, and they were rejoined by the others. At times all together, and sometimes separated by the Brownian motion of the sentient molecules of the waiting horde, they slowly made their way toward the Hall. Their course was punctuated by encounters with a wide variety of alien ambassadors and other interesting personalities, and they had, perforce, to interrupt their journey for spots of conversation with those intelligent entities.
At one point early on, Kirk, Spock, Chekov, and Scotty found themselves facing the Imperial Matriarch, herself. To their utter and complete amazement, they recognized her. She was the same Romulan Commander from whom they had stolen the cloaking device twenty-odd years before!
As Palaan had warned them, Her Imperial Majesty was possessed of a fine sense of humor. Seeing them in the crowd, she had engineered the meeting, to laugh wholeheartedly at the looks on their faces.
"Did you not wonder," she asked, "that I had taken such an interest in you?"
In the midst of the crowd, Spock became separated from his friends, but met the Praetor, young Tuvik, and Saavik. Even his Vulcan dignity was strained, and he was hard put to tear his eyes away from the loose garment that did nothing to disguise her obviously bulging belly. He stared, listening while she proclaimed that she and Tuvik had bonded, and would marry. Finally, he gazed inquiringly at her face. She lowered her eyes. "A man of Vulcan went into pon farr. He had no bondmate. To save his life, I did the only logical thing."
Tuvik stepped forward, placing an affectionate and protective arm about her shoulders. He faced Spock squarely. "You are the nearest one who could stand as Father-kin to She-who-is-to-be-my-Wife, Spock. The child is not of my blood. We Romulans do not suffer the affliction of the pon farr. But before you now, and before the Praetor, my father, I swear the Oath of Father-Duty. On my honor, this child and any other child of Saavik's womb shall be to me as the child of my own loins, or my life, and my honor, stand forfeit."
Spock accepted his word, and wished the young couple peace and long life. Then he left them to catch up with Kirk and the others. When he was out of earshot, the Praetor turned to Saavik. "Son's Wife, when will you tell him the whole of the truth?"
She faced him. "Tell Spock that while his katra was elsewhere, his mindless body begat a child? Never! It would destroy him."
Later, McCoy, Uhura, and Sulu were joined briefly by Palaan, who told them that her mother must have a surprise planned. She had invited all of the Ambassadors on the planet to attend her gala Passage Celebration on board the Vexation.
At last, reunited, Kirk and company reached the front of the crowd. As they emerged from the mass of bodies, Sarek and Amanda greeted their sons. Sarek pointed out the Imperial Matriarch. With her were five men in jet-black dress uniforms, the members of the Starfleet Executive Council. Amanda hugged Jim, and asked if he was ready.
"As ready as I'll ever be, I guess."
On the heels of his words, the archaic Hall's gong sounded, and a hush fell over the waiting crowd. The priest-guards opened the massive doors of the building, and Kirk led the van inside. He walked slowly to the foot of the stairs leading up to the altar. There he halted, the crowd coming to a stop behind him. At the top of the unrailed, stepped rise, the High Priestess and others of the temple personnel waited. The deep, resonant thrum of the gong sounded again, thrice. As the last died away, Kirk placed his right foot on the first of the steps and looked up at the High Priestess. "I have come."
In keeping with the Ritual, she looked down at him. "Thee have come. What is thy need?"
"I carry the katra of T'Pralin. I seek its release, that she may make Passage."
"A noble seeking. Come forward."
Kirk mounted the steps. As he reached the altar and lay down on it, the High Priestess, still accompanied and flanked by the priests, stepped forward, and laid a hand on his brow. She intoned the words of the Ritual. "Rejoice, all that art of the blood of the Ancient One, for the Passage of T'Pralin. Let our minds become one, that her katra may be freed."
She closed her eyes, as did the priests.
Throughout the now silent Hall, Spock, Sarek, Amanda, all the Vulcan citizens in attendance, and the visiting Romulans, yea all closed their eyes and concentrated to foster and strengthen the linking of minds. McCoy, Uhura, Scotty, Sulu, and Chekov all gazed about them in wonder. Suddenly, they, too, felt themselves caught up in the mass-meld. Their eyes closed.
According to Vulcan belief, the Ritual of Passage provides a means for the preserving of the memories of individuals as the life-essences, in a sense, literally "passed" through the linked minds before dissipating into the nether regions. The Ritual moment is expected to be, and normally is very brief, and then the link is dissolved.
Instead, in this instance, the linked minds perceived again the misty white swirling, which gathered and coalesced until even the members of the assemblage not so linked could see it. As the ghostly, translucent formlessness materialized, a muttered gasping exhaled about the Hall, to be as quickly silenced again.
Huge, hovering over the crowd, the spectral face of the Ancient One appeared. Her visage remained over them, abiding, as if to remain forever. T'Pralin spoke. "I have come."
The High Priestess, T'Phar, was the youngest person ever to pass the Kohlinar, that Vulcan sect that strove for the ultimate in stoicism. Not since the earliest days of her budding womanhood had she been known to show emotion. In Vulcan idiom, the phrase "to ruffle T'Phar" had come to be a measure for impossibility — until now. Shocked, staring in utmost disbelief, T'Phar stammered the words of the Ritual. "Thee have come, Ancient One. Wh... ...wha... what is thy need?"
The ageless face responded, "I carry katra. I seek its release."
T'Phar was stunned. "To release katra carried in a body is easily within my powers. But to release katra from katra? That, I cannot do. I beg forgiveness."
She bowed her head. In her heart, she was ashamed, not only of her inability, but for her loss of face as well.
T'Pralin, sagely, gently, replied, "Be at peace, child. Be not ashamed for failing that which thee art not strong enough to accomplish. One does not scorn a newborn sehlat that it cannot run with the pack. I will manage."
T'Phar, her shattered dignity restored to her, aided Kirk to rise and rejoin his friends.
High overhead, two disembodied hands appeared below T'Pralin's visage. The hands cupped themselves together, then flew apart in a strewing motion. Twenty tiny lights, like so many tiny stars, scattered and swooped away.
T'Pralin watched them, then announced, "The crew of the Kukulkahr."
Somewhere, lost in the crowd, Palaan gasped, her eyes glistening with tears. T'Pralin continued. "The katra which inhabits a body is, in turn, limited by the body. When it abides in a body, but is not one with that body, it is less restricted. These I could aid of myself, when Ornix destroyed their ship."
T'Phar looked out over the crowd. "O Romulan, we rejoice with thee that these could be saved."
T'Pralin spoke again. "Yet, there is another. And in this, I am still as a child. This one was placed in me by that Power which is behind and beyond all other powers. For it is written in the Book of Life thusly: the katra of one who sacrifices himself to save his friends is never lost, but abides ever. For such a one is love, and will stand at the right hand of the Maker."
The disembodied hands pressed together again, this time as if in prayer, then slowly spread apart. When they stopped, a glorious, blinding ball of light appeared to hover between them.
T'Pralin's voice went on, rising from a normal tone to one of august majesty. "By precept and example, he who is called Kirk in this life, helped this one to regain his power of choice. We each choose our own paths, no less so when our choice is simply a failure to choose. All paths lead to life, even those which go through perdition first. This one chose well. I release the katra of Talak!"
The hands disappeared and the glorious light that was Talak rose up, quickly, out of sight. The image of T'Pralin dissolved into mist, and the mist shrank swiftly into a tiny light, and swooped away.
As cheers erupted in the Hall, the Imperial Matriarch, Palaan, the Praetor, and Tuvik wept with joy. Saavik impulsively hugged her husband-to-be. Unnoticed, the tiny bead of light swooped down and entered her slightly swollen belly.
T'Phar, the High Priestess, raised her hands to restore order, and charted the course toward completion of the Ritual. "Who gives the Feast of the Passage Celebration?"
The Imperial Matriarch stepped forward and bowed, dabbing at her eyes to regain a calm countenance. "I do. High One, I beg favor. The Celebration is to be aboard my vessel. May transporter beams be used in this Hall?"
T'Phar, perhaps influenced by what she had learned from the Ancient One's Passage, allowed just the slightest trace of humor to tinge her face and voice. "It is the strength of belief which makes this place a sacred one, not the edifice itself. It is permitted."
The Imperial Matriarch bowed her thanks, then she, her party, and all of her invited guests, including Kirk and friends, the Starfleet Executive council, and the delegations from the planetary embassies, moved into position for beam-up. Palaan, at her mother's nod, spoke into her wrist communicator. "Energize."
To their surprise, everyone in the assemblage from the Hall found that in a single transmission they had all sparkled into existence upon the huge transporter platform that opened into the gargantuan dining hall of the Vexation.
The crowd began to surge forward, the guests being helped to find their places at the tables, by the Romulan service personnel. The Imperial Matriarch watched them for a moment, then she and her family mounted a dais. A clap of her hands commanded an attention getting trumpeting to echo over the intercom system.
The crowd quieted and turned to look up at her. She spoke into a microphone. "My honored guests. Among your number, are representatives from Starfleet, and from most of the planets in the Federation. I have an announcement to make."
She gestured, and a company of her personal guards hurried forward to escort Kirk, Spock, McCoy and the others, along with the members of the Starfleet Executive Council. Shortly, they had joined her on the dais. She laid a hand on Kirk's shoulder.
"Because of this man and his friends, the honor of my son, myself, and of the entire Romulan Empire has been cleansed. For their sakes, the Empire would have waged war." She paused to let her words sink in, then added triumphantly, "I say now, before all of you as witnesses, that for their sakes, the Empire now sues for peace!"
Thunderous silence. The entire crowd was rooted. Several people suddenly plopped into seats, shocked.
Smiling benignly, she nodded to one and all, while several of her serving people hurried to assure the comfort of those who had sat down. "Be free of my ship. Anything that you want or need will be provided."
The deathly silence in the room was shattered and pandemonium reigned, as cheers and buzzing conversation exploded throughout the vast room. On the dais, the head of the Starfleet Executive Council, Commanding Admiral Nogura, turned to the Imperial Matriarch and said quietly, "I'm sure you realize it will take some time for them to assimilate this, Majesty. And when they do, questions will be raised."
She nodded. "Of course, Admiral. I expect that trade negotiations alone will take years. Let them enjoy themselves. There will be plenty of time later for discussion."
She gestured to Palaan, and to Kirk, Spock, and the others. "Now, all of you. Come, I want to show you my ship."
To have completely toured the ship might have taken days. A mere two hours later, the Imperial Matriarch, her daughter, and their chief guests stopped in a wide corridor, near a large window which was set into its wall. Beyond the window was a darkness so complete that nothing could be seen through it in the brightness of the corridor.
Palaan stood next to a control panel, while her mother maneuvered the guests so that they faced the window. She watched her mother, received a nod. "This window looks into the Vexation's Docking Bay. By tradition, the ship itself carries no weapons. However, our Bay is large enough to house a fleet."
Her Imperial Majesty picked up the tale, continuing, "As I have admitted to the gentlemen of the Council," her nod indicated the Council members, her eyes addressed Kirk and his crew "several months ago I sent a cloaked ship to spy on the Klingons, who were, in turn, spying on the Federation. The man commanding my Warship had very strict orders: above all else, do not be discovered, and do not interfere. He carried out his orders. But through luck, he and his crew were able to salvage the wreck of a Federation vessel, and to bring it back to the Empire for study. I took a fancy to the ship, and had it restored to full working capacity. Admiral Kirk, you and your friends gave me back my honor of my son. As a token of my gratitude, it pleases me to give you that ship."
Kirk's mouth dropped open, and he glanced at the Council members. "I… we… are honored, Majesty, but Starfleet regulations strictly forbid…"
Admiral Nogura cleared his throat, glanced at all the faces about him, and admitted ruefully, "The order has been suspended in this instance."
Kirk was dumbfounded. “Oh?"
His crew echoed his startled sentiments. Palaan laughed outright.
The Imperial Matriarch's face mirrored her daughter's amusement. "It was easy, Kirk. I just threatened them with war."
Nogura interrupted, "We compromised. The ship passed a full scale 'nuts and bolts' Security Inspection before we agreed. It's a damned good ship. Since you and the others are still in Starfleet, we commissioned it. I don't think you'll find that too unpalatable." His tone was suspiciously droll. He bowed. "Your Majesty?"
The Imperial Matriarch urged Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Scotty, Sulu, Uhura, and Chekov forward, until their noses were practically touching the transparent barrier. "My friends; behold your ship."
Palaan flipped a switch. Inside the Docking Bay, lights flickered, then flashed on with glaring brilliance. Focusing. Highlighting. Spotlighting. There, glistening new and shining in all her glory... The Enterprise!