Location: The Forge, Vulcan
The lone hooded figure looked out across the harsh unforgiving desert. A flat featureless expanse as far as the eye could see. The only relief, a single Mesa. She had reached the furthest edge of the Sas-A-Shar, known to humans as The Forge. She had been traversing The Forge, seeking answers for forty days now and was finally losing hope that she would ever find anything.
She looked up. The sky was a harsh, unforgiving red and the Vulcan sun a throbbing, mesmerising presence. She then looked at the Mesa, some ten kilometres away and wondered whether to make the crossing. The stakes were too high not to continue. She began to walk. Because of the damage inflicted on the region in the ancient nuclear wars of Vulcan, it was only possible to pass through the region on foot after entering through the Gateway. Her mother had provided the co-ordinates of the Gateway to her two years ago, in order to lead her daughter to her refuge in The Forge. She reflected that while you could take a Starship to Earth, the only way to cross the next ten kilometres was on foot. It felt like a penance; a pilgrimage, a rite of passage.
She fortified herself; ate some rations and, despite being Vulcan, took a swig of water before beginning. She held a staff in her left hand, more as a companion than anything else and set off across the flat featureless expanse. The staff had another value. If she was approached by any roving Sehlat she could use it to quiet the animal. As a child, she had had one as a pet so despite being alone, as a Vulcan, they held no fear for her.
Why was this lone journey across this hostile environment necessary? She was seeking proof of what she had already deduced but as always, and particularly with Vulcans, evidence was necessary – not poetic allusions.
She reached the half way point in an hour and stopped to take in her surroundings. To her left and right featureless flat horizons; to her rear, eerie copper-coloured rock formations towered into the sky. Ahead, the single Mesa: a totem in this vast, flat, unkind region. As she began again, something compelled her to look into the far distance to her right. She took out her viewer and activated it. Eighty kilometres away, the horizon was changing; a sand storm was developing. In itself, it did not concern her; she had breathing apparatus and oxygen. But she could be buried alive. She began to run. As a healthy Vulcan woman it would take her fifteen minutes to run the five kilometres and shelter from the storm. The trouble was it would be upon her in less; maybe ten minutes. She picked up the pace but activated her locator beacon and set a ten minute countdown.
As a logical self-disciplined athlete she wasted no time in checking on its progress. Every millisecond counted. The Mesa was the only feature in the desert and she began to look for a section to hide from the maelstrom. The countdown reached 3 minutes and she could see the huge wave as it descended on the rock formation. The sun disappeared and she switched on her night-sight, desperately looking for refuge. Two minutes and it had reached the Northern Edge of the rock formation as she approached from the East. She was going to be too late but she was wired to her sensor array, which would feed her directions and topography.
The storm enveloped her and swallowed her up as it passed south. She was inside a swirling maelstrom. She had loaded the co-ordinates of her target and was now fed verbal instructions into her earpiece. Several times she veered off course but the monitor corrected her. She reasoned, whether or not it took twenty minutes to cover the final distance, she would make it. She waded on, instructed by the sensor.
Suddenly, she smashed into the wall and fell back. It had not taken twenty minutes. Within the confines of her cloak, she checked the topography of the Mesa’s face… nothing. She began edging toward the South Face where she would be protected from the main force of the storm. The rock face rose sheer out of the flat, featureless desert so there was no danger to her of falling into a crevice or hidden creek. In order to maintain a sense of physical perspective, she felt her way along the rock face and inched south.
Location: Mount Seleya, Vulcan.
Twelve Months Before
T’Pol climbed the 1001 steps to the raised platform far above the Vulcan Plain, passed through the Hall of Ancient Thought and looked briefly at the High Priest’s station. This was the most sacred site on Vulcan where the most important rituals in their culture took place. She paused briefly to consider those rituals before passing inside.
As she re-entered the Hall she took in her unsentimental surroundings. She took the steps and glided up to the next level. Torches burned in the dimly lit interior and an acolyte bowed toward her as she passed in. He sounded a gong announcing her arrival. The central chamber was a perfect circle. The walls were decorated with stone reliefs and the only furniture ten curved benches, which formed an inner circle. Each bench had two lecterns with a glass monitoring screen inlaid. In the centre, a circular stone console on which a single artefact stood. It was illuminated in a shaft of light. This was no vanity; it was a protective shield for the most precious of Vulcan relics. She moved toward the second set of stairs, stood motionless and announced her presence. “I am the daughter of T’Les and I come seeking counsel.” She waited patiently for many minutes for a response before, finally, the acolyte sounded the gong a second time. She took the next flight and stepped in the chamber of the Head of The Order of Surak. She considered the figure in front of her, dressed in Black. He was tall, slim and possessed an ancient, narrow aquiline face that communicated wisdom and peace; the kind of peace she sought.
“Welcome.” He sat in the backless throne chair, before the single candle on the block in the centre of the room and beckoned her to join him and sit opposite.
“You have made a long journey from Earth. How can I assist you?” T’Pol had met the Head of the Order in the Vulcan High Council Chambers six months ago. It was at the end of a tumultuous few days in which she had seen the Kir’shara, the great repository of Vulcan enlightenment, rediscovered and culminated with her witnessing the ritual of Fal-tar-pan where the Khatra, the soul, of Surak, author of the Kir’shara, had been transferred from her erstwhile Captain, Jonathan Archer, to V’Lor, the Priest who was now sat before her.
With the finding of the artifact, a great awakening had occurred across Vulcan, transforming all elements of Vulcan life. The people of the planet looked to rediscover the ethos of Surak and its more liberal and open-handed beliefs. V’Lor was at the forefront of this movement and had formed the Order of Surak. She had come to be at the heart of the reformation of Vulcan.
“It is good of you to see me,” she continued. “I have now concluded my commission with the Earth Vessel and wish to return to Vulcan to assist you in the study of the Kir’Shara and search out its mysteries. I have come to seek your permission to take a position as a novice scholar in your Order.”
The High Priest studied T’Pol carefully, “I believe this is a worthy and honourable choice. You are welcome.” T’Pol let out a gentle sigh. “But,” and the High Priest looked at her intently, raising his left hand, “before you set out on this journey of discovery there is another one you need to consider.” T’Pol raised an eyebrow, moved her head to one side and waited. “You need to rediscover yourself: find your centre, your life balance, T’Pol. You cannot come here to seek refuge from the matters that assail you: you must confront them.” T’Pol looked into the far distance, accepting that despite the length of the physical journey to Vulcan, she had brought her demons with her. She turned and looked at V’Lor. Could she make the journey he described, confront the past and set it aside? She looked down for several moments made her decision and once more looked at V’Lor.”I accept your guidance.”
He looked up at her and began to rise from the sitting position. T’Pol followed suit. “I know something of your history and the travails you have passed through. I will share the journey of recovery with you. But beware, T’Pol, once you are restored, you will not go back to where you came from. You will be in a new, a different place.” T’Pol found herself almost overcome with gratitude but that only served to remind her of the truth of his words. There were some matters that could never be undone.
Location: Hall of Ancient Thought. Mount Seleya.
Six Months Before.
V’Lor, the High Priest, stood in the midst of the Hall, looking around at his Order who were sat in a perfect circle around him. His hands were folded into each other as he gave thought to what he was about to say. “Today, I have asked Scholar T’Pol to share with us her research of the Kir’Shara.” He bowed his head and withdrew to his own place in the circle.
T’Pol stood and glided toward the centre. “It is, indeed, an honour to stand before you. I would ask you to prepare your viewing devices but for now let us focus on… the Kir’shara itself.” She moved to the small obelisk and pressed the artefact in a particular sequence to activate it. Suddenly, the Hall was filled with a kaleidoscope of imagery and Vulcan symbols. All took in the beauty and symmetry as it swirled around above their heads. Even to Vulcans, this was mesmerising. “My particular interest is the historical section, the first three hundred years after the time of Surak.” Much of the data now evaporated as she brought up the historical data from the 4th Century onwards. “When I served on board the Earth ship they had an encounter with an as then unknown Alien race, known as the Romulans. Whilst they still remain elusive, we gathered material from the encounter which suggested a commonality with our world.” V’Lor interrupted: “This material is classified, so forgive T’Pol’s reticence. I, too, have been acquainted with it and I share T’Pol’s assessment.” T’Pol nodded and continued. “I studied the teachings of Surak and came across the following section… ” T’Pol shared the particular text with her brethren. “Surak offers guidance on the question of disagreement: There will be those amongst us who will turn from these teachings and pass into the desert. Remember, when they return and rejoin us, you must treat them as if they had never been away. When I first considered this text, it suggested allegory. But as my studies continued, I pondered whether Surak was offering guidance to a reality. I therefore pursued a different kind of research: a more practical approach.”
“I looked at the records of our people and the registration of dwellings, nineteen centuries ago and whilst somewhat incomplete, found some interesting data. Please refer to your screens.”
All twenty of the Scholars considered the extracts of registrations and census of the people. Most striking was that by the fifth century, the population had fallen by 250,000 over two centuries and many houses in the city were empty. “As you can see, as many as one in four of our people disappeared. When I studied the contemporaneous records I could find no reason for this depopulation. I ask the Order if any can shed light on this?” She bowed her head and waited.
One of the Order spoke.”I congratulate you on your work, T’Pol. The teachings of Surak encourage us to question and then understand. I believe what you have placed before us is a profound question and one that requires an answer. As yet you have no proof but, given this species has a voice and it is an aggressive one, I believe we should pursue the answer.” T’Pol nodded. She was not the only novice Scholar. The other, a male, now spoke: “I, too, congratulate you on your study. The Kir’shara is a dense and complex work. To unpick the elements so clearly shows a logical and thorough mind at work.” If T’Pol did not know better she would have concluded this young Vulcan was drawing attention to his regard for her. He continued, “This is a forum engaged in peaceful study but we should always be prepared and be aware of the facts about those who may challenge us. There is, I believe, another compelling reason for learning the truth of this matter. It has long been rumoured that the former High Council had connections with these Romulans. This may appear mere rumour, but before joining this Order I was involved in planetary surveillance. It is a matter of record that unidentified craft came and went during this crisis.” Once again, T’Pol nodded, “I thank you for your contributions and I ask the Order’s leader for permission to travel to The Forge to seek evidence as to whether Surak’s remarks were mere, indeed, allegory or point to something more… ” T’Pol withdrew and V’Lor returned to the centre.
“The Kir’shara tells us that those who turn aside should be welcomed back into the fold. If there is truth in this matter we should find it. I give you leave to enter The Forge seven days from now to seek evidence as to the disappeared brethren.”
T’Pol had reached the Southern Face and once again was able to distinguish her environment, though she could not see more than three metres. She moved along the Rock Face looking for anything which might suggest an entrance. She continued to take readings and finally after forty days made a discovery, if only a small one. The rock strata on the southern side indicated that great heat had been discharged against the rock. That could only mean one thing: craft had taken off from this place. As she moved along the face she began to notice the blackened rock face: evidence of blast damage. And then she saw it. A perfect rectangle which was undamaged. It could not be coincidence.
For several minutes, she used her personal firearm to clean any debris that would prevent what she believed was a door in the rock face from opening. She leaned on it and it gave way. Without the blast differentiation, she would not have have found it. The door must have been constructed from materials which would protect those inside. A fortuitous decision. She activated her torch and went in. As she moved down the tunnel she could not help but wonder what she would find. Throughout her journey she had been surrounded by nature; now that she was entering a potentially habitable area she felt alone and vulnerable. The tunnel was about twenty metres in length. She prepared herself to take readings, but remained vigilant. She was no longer the novice scholar but Sub Commander T’Pol, ready for anything. The only sound as she passed down the tunnel were her footsteps on the hewn rock which echoed up and down the tunnel. She reached the end and took in the scene, she didn’t need the torch nor her recorder; she had her answer.
What lay before was a little like an underground warehouse; a huge space, dimly lit from portals in the roof. Below, the remnants of a refugee city, rotting ragged tent-like structures and the flotsam and jetsam of large numbers of people living together. So, she mused, the disappeared had lived on. This place must have acted as a holding station, a waiting place before they made their journey to their new homes. She stepped out on the ledge and headed for the hewn-out stairs to the floor level. Suddenly, her Vulcan ears heard another sound: a footfall was coming down the tunnel. She had nowhere to hide. She took out her weapon and waited ready to fire, the phase pistol set to stun.
What seemed like forever was only seconds before the figure arrived, took in the scene and turned to T’Pol. “It is… agreeable to see you.” It was V’Lor; all T’Pol could manage was “I agree.” Not a very Vulcan response, more the sort of understated, dry response her Bond mate would have offered.
V’Lor explained. “When you stepped out of the Canyons you left The Forge. We received your distress signal and contacted T’Pau for help.” He gestured at the remnants of the refugee camp. “Your deduction was correct. I am impressed with your determination to find your answers you have done well.” T’Pol merely raised an eyebrow.