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Copernicus - "Alastair Captain Weber on the Occasion of the Last

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Alastair Captain Weber on the Occasion of the Last Vulcan

?W-we are straying from the path,? Solok gibbered, a cold sweat upon his brow, a beaten pillow beneath his head. The master had seen better days, as had his pupil, Sokor, who obediently attended him in his twilight hours. Here in his tiny cabin, far removed in the countryside of Midland, they were huddled against the darkness, a candle glowing in a far corner, failing utterly in its charge, as Sokor knew he, too, had, not just in the last few days or years, but over the course of his considerable lifetime. He had wasted how much of it with humans, in their Starfleet? His accomplished mind could have told him, but he didn?t care to know the answer, not in this moment.

?His teachings, are they no longer sacred, do we no longer believe?? Solok struggled for breath. If he hadn?t needed to, if most of his concentration wasn?t spent on the mere act of surviving, his pupil knew that his chatter would continue unceasingly. For all struggles there were sacrifices. Solok shuddered beneath his heavy blanket, woven, no doubt, by an ancestor, part of a continuing cycle of meditation echoed throughout all concerns of life. Sokor could see the care in every stitching, in the pattern faintly emblazoned across the blanket, so heavily embedded the weaver might have been in a trance, as his mentor might as well have been in now, seeing what Sokor could not see, hearing only what he needed to. Perhaps the words of Surak even now. ?In the suns I see you, in the grains of the barren wasteland, I taste you. Your ways are soothing, your knowledge truth. This we no longer believe, we no longer t-trust. We f-feel. We feel! Don?t you see? We have descended into anarchic heresy! Into l-lust! We have surrendered ourselves to our own demise! What we began, we are finishing!?

Solok collapsed from the momentary strength of his rantings, and Sokor attempted to catch him. Is that what transpired? Because in the next moment, all the pupil could see was a limp figure in his arms, a head pressed deeply into his bosom, matted, sweaty hair out of fashion and stuck to his robes. He let go as suddenly as the truth hit him. One moment he had been devoted to his master, and the next, the master had gone away, just as he had, but?with an utter finality. A part of Sokor had been lost, and he felt, in that moment, like the last Vulcan in the universe.

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It was once said that a blind Vulcan was near to a perfect Vulcan. Sokor considered this maxim as he wore his Starfleet uniform for the last time and took in the spectacle through the mirror above his wash basin. In all his years of service, the design had changed more often than he thought he could tolerate, but in its present form, the tunic in its shear bleakness best aligned with the aesthetics he had come to know on his home planet, the austere, calculated fashion outsiders had come to associate with the distinctive, uniform hairstyle, which even the Romulans had never abandoned, despite having lost virtually everything else. He considered for a very brief moment that resigning his commission might be a mistake after all, in this time when the Science Directorate on Vulcan could no longer service what remained of his mechanical curiosity, in what had suddenly seemed like a very long retirement. How much longer was he expected to live by all conventional, healthy standards? Another hundred years? Humans would find it?illogical.

He permitted himself a rare grin. It wasn?t often Sokor or any of his kind granted the primitive Earthlings even a modicum of resemblance to what his people had attained, not in the four hundred years they had come to know each other, but in their constant, unwavering thirst for the unknown, humans had long peeked the interest of Vulcans. It was indeed the only thing that seemed capable of managing that. Still, he didn?t like what he saw. The collar had lost its flare since the last revisions, had lost its charm, which even a Vulcan must take into account, being one of the basic tenets of intellect. He wouldn?t, at any rate, have much longer a need to concern himself over it. In a few short moments, some young stripling, their head full with impossible ideals, would escort him from his quarters to the bridge of this starship, named for some long-forgotten alien homeworld in a region still called the Expanse even though, technically, that region never existed, and he would have a last look at space from this perspective, an old tradition he had insisted on. He could count on one hand the number of devotees who had chosen to honor it in the last hundred years. It may have had to do with the fact that very few officers lasted into retirement without having been reduced to some desk. As a physician of the fleet, he had rarely seen anything beyond the bulkheads of his sickbay, refusing most away missions on principle, preferring casualties to be brought to him rather than the potential of becoming one himself. Such caution, Sokor now realized, must have been seen as counterintuitive to his profession, even though, in one form or another, it was typical for officers in his field. Physicians were always in need of their own medicine, a workable coping method. His made him all but invisible, looked past in most promotion cycles, so that his pips even now only counted to three, despite a career that would have been more than respectable for even two of his own people. He didn?t regret it.

The door chimed, and before he could answer, the stripling appeared, a Tholian of all races, whose era Sokor briefly attempted to pinpoint before remembering he was here to put that sort of nonsense behind him. They were out in the corridor before he realized he had left his book behind, a gift to the captain on this occasion that he had begrudgingly decided to present, despite the fact that the captain gave him a headache and he was more than willing to dispense with unnecessary formalities. After a moment?s hesitation, which the Tholian evidently interpreted as a sign of age, Sokor made up his mind to forego the gesture and perhaps leave the book behind for whomever may occupy the quarters after him. So few people had tangible things anymore, he would be happy to befuddle them with one. It had become custom to accept, even for humans, life to mean a series of uncertainties, so most ideas of personal possession had reverted to a futuristic idea of the nomadic way: travel lightly, pack your things as tightly as possible, into tiny bits of electronic data. The less real the better. Even the starships had started assuming this mantra. There had been a time when their elegance would have met his strict approval. Now, the corridor felt more bleak than he liked, as if he wasn?t going to a celebration but a pilgrimage. Like so many others, Starfleet had begun to equate function above form.

The Tholian beside him probably had a thought or two on the subject. He was as equipped as any species to adopt to the new strictures of service, which had adopted time as an aspect of duty, and for that, Sokor was grateful. He was aware that time was running out, which the fleet did not recognize, and so he was retiring as much as a favor to this obliviousness as for what it meant personally to him. He would have new opportunities to handle the crisis in the manner he found befitting. It would be liberating as a Vulcan to have such freedom.

?Ensign, I appreciate your sense of duty, but I do not find it necessary,? he suddenly told the Tholian. ?I can find my own way to the bridge.?

Sokor must have confused him, because the Tholian was noticeably at a loss for words, which was always unsettling for his people. When they weren?t certain about a situation was when a Tholian tended to reach for the least obvious conclusion. ?I could let you do that,? the ensign decided, ?but then I would have nothing to do, and would probably follow you to the bridge anyway. Your conclusion was flawed, I would say. Whatever your personal interests, they?re not necessary here. The arrangement as it stands is best.?

Impressed, Sokor continued walking, neither of them having skipped a beat as it was. ?You spare no concern for an old man?s misery??

?A Vulcan?s misery is difficult to interpret,? the Tholian ensign responded. ?While it is true that their emotions are often, at best, inscrutable, or at the very least easily viewed as some variation of fascination or irritation, it would be wrong of me to assume, based merely on the circumstances, that you would rather be alone, I would still feel a duty to accompany you, whether for the sake of orders or because of some measurement of sympathy. Incidentally, I apologize if I am insulting you with a perceived lack of respect. It is not often my people are invited into casual conversation.?

?I was not aware that I had,? Sokor said, raising an eyebrow. ?You have comported yourself well, however. I appreciate the effort and the intent. I still wish to be left alone.?

?As it is,? the ensign said, ?I am under strict orders, Doctor. You were not to be left alone once outside your quarters. The captain has his concerns, of which most of the crew is aware.?

?I?m honored.?

?Additionally,? the ensign concluded, ?it?s not every day you get a chance to escort a figure of such notoriety. Why would I pass up the chance??

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?I have a quandary.? The Tholian ensign had once again spoken to no apparent provocation. They had indeed been passing the time in relative calm for the past few minutes, Sokor being immensely relieved while it lasted, choosing to attempt meditation. But the Tholian had been disrupting his thought process, even in the absence of chatter. It meant little for him to actually start in again. ?Tholians, as I?m not sure anyone outside of my own people, have a dilemma when it comes to interacting with outsiders. It?s a matter of perspective perhaps more radical than Starfleet has encountered, even to this day, whether it be the Klingons, the Cardassians, the Dominion, the Borg, even Species 8472 in the Delta Quadrant, to speak only of those beings who conform to most of the traditional measures of life, let alone something so unquantifiable as the Q Continuum. Thankfully, the fleet has begun catching up with us, making my service a little more relatable to my fellow officers than it must be understood I first experienced in the Academy, with its usual assortment of na?ve, intolerant, inexperienced and downright rude classmates (though they did have a considerable amount of influence on my chosen pattern of speech since those days, if you had been wondering). You see, Tholians don?t exist in a single moment of time. I?m told the Prophets of the Bajorans could relate, but I?m not entirely convinced. We see the past and the future at the same time as the present. We don?t use this to guide us anymore than intuition or a keen intellect does any other species. But it does make things interesting.

?A few minutes ago I referred to you as ?a figure of such notoriety,? and you may be forgiven if you initially interpreted the remark as a simple acknowledgement of your experiences on the colony world of Kol?Prann, which even by the time of my attendance were required study in San Francisco. You would, of course, be mistaken, because as well as I know your past and have found myself a part of your present, I know your future as well. You have no idea how important you become.?

?I have always assumed to speak of the future, even for Tholians, is taboo,? Sokor said.

?Tholians break all kinds of rules,? the ensign said. ?Why do you think we were the only nonaligned party to participate in the Temporal Cold War? Anyway, I thought it would be interesting for you, challenging intellectually, if I were to speak of the future. Even if Vulcans accept Tholians as a matter of course, there are certain dogmatic contradictions we must still represent for you.?

?A great many things have changed within Vulcan society since we were last a significant member of the intergalactic community,? Sokor said. ?Truth is not so rigid, even for people who live for hundreds of years. Change happens. We were once skeptical about time travel. Such concerns are a part of our past.?

?The thing about Tholians is that we have a considerable amount of clarity available to us,? the ensign said. ?What occurs within another society as we observe, either from a single day or over the course of several years, very little escapes us. We are somewhat?free from the kind of biases that cloud the judgment of others. Vulcans have changed very little since accepting the precepts of Surak. In fact, you would be very surprised to learn about your more formative days as we know them. I would call the course of your evolution a matter of refinements myself, adoption of rules, like a game. Forgive me if I offend you.

?Would you like to know what you will be doing with the rest of your life? Even with a disciplined mind, you probably think you know already, and in a manner of speaking, you are, of course, correct. But even this simple day with its minor events, causes more to alter your course than you might expect. This conversation, even, is meaningless. That?s why I don?t mind bending a few taboos. Your future is about your past, is about your present. I?m not speaking in riddles, but ridding your thoughts of them. Sokor, you are notorious, not in a way you would think, but exactly in the way you are. Because of what you are.?

***

Standing outside the bridge, waiting for his ceremonial introduction, Sokor could not help but be troubled. Not because of what the Tholian ensign would or could not tell him about his future, but because a pall had suddenly been lifted from everything. He had not planned to hear the introduction, but had now changed his mind. Perhaps something important would be said after all.

***

?Nearly two centuries ago, a myth had already formed that the famous Mr. Spock was the first of the Vulcans to serve in Starfleet. Today, I have the dubious distinction of presenting his final successor, as it were.?

Sokor recognized the familiar rotund figure of the diminutive Fleet Admiral Nimbii standing in front of the bridge staff, not even blocking the viewscreen as he struggled to peer over even the navigation and ops stations. Despite his size, the admiral commanded the respect of those arrayed before him, who didn?t seem to realize that Sokor had already entered the bridge. He preferred to avoid attention, so the fact didn?t bother him, but he was pleased that Nimbii had been able to fulfill this last favor after all. Up until the moment the doors to the turbolift had slid open, he could not have been sure; too much preoccupied his mind to have contacted the admiral personally. And yet, Nimbii, in just these opening remarks, had already managed to stir within Sokor an uncomfortable reminder of the Tholian ensign?s words. Last of the Vulcans in Starfleet? He had simply not been aware, and as he began to ponder the thought, he found himself struggling to acclimate the concept with his previous perceptions of his role and this occasion. According to the Vulcan records, Starfleet had more or less developed as a project of the Science Directorate, making any such distinctions as humans and other species had come to know them meaningless in his experience. It had simply never occurred to Vulcans what their role, either in Starfleet or the Federation, may have been perceived to be, beyond a ritual irritation that they were never properly understood. Far too soon, it appeared, they had been left behind by what they had begun. And now, Sokor was the last of them?

It was inconceivable. Nimbii continued speaking, Sokor continued being overlooked, and yet his only concern was an unsettling realization. The ensign had been right. With a few words, the admiral had changed everything, and yet, almost nothing at all. Sokor?s chosen retirement was not going to change, but his visit to Romulus was going to have a profound difference from its original intention. What Spock had begun, he was going to continue. In whatever manner he would be able to, Sokor was going to accomplish the reunification of his people.

Edited by Waterloo

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Several years in the past, it may loosely be called, Sokor in fact met the Tholian ensign for the first time, after he first accepted assignment to the U.S.S. Copernicus. Concerned about reports he had read about the career of the ship?s captain, Robin Matheson, and her involvement in clandestine visits to Romulus before contact had been reestablished between the Star Empire and the Federation, he had traveled to a starbase on Vega Colony so he could perform some research at his leisure. It may also be noted that to the Tholian ensign, this experience was much the same as the one he had just conducted, because to him, it happened at the same time. At the time, he of course was still a long way off from entering Starfleet himself, and so was conducting himself in the capacity of a visiting student from the Tholian Guild, a scholastic body that had recently been established by contemporary standards. Because of the unique circumstances (even Tholians don?t go around purposefully bumping into the same person just because in one of the time periods they happen to have some significance), he approached Sokor cautiously.

?I?ve read about that particular human as well,? he noted, under the pretext of glancing at the Vulcan?s screen after having noticed an acquaintance in that direction.

?I was not aware of Captain Matheson?s interstellar reputation,? Sokor replied, hardly looking past the data concerning her career.

?She doesn?t have one,? the Tholian continued, ?at least as far as I?m aware, outside of Tholian circles. I suppose you?re wondering how she managed to capture our attention.?

?I am not,? Sokor said.

?Tholians have remarkable perception. Like Vulcans, however, it?s easy to misinterpret our intentions because of our demeanor.?

?Appearance would be a more appropriate observation,? Sokor said, irritated.

?It says in that file why,? the Tholian said. ?I admire your ability to deny any knowledge of pertinent details. It no doubt serves you well in dealing with outsiders, makes you easier to trust, if they believe that you are less of a threat, ?just a typical Vulcan.? I suspect you are anything but.?

?I?m sure I am flattered,? Sokor said.

?You?re more aware than people assume,? the Tholian said. ?That?s true of any Vulcan, of course, but especially true of you. I wonder if anyone you have ever met truly appreciates how remarkable you are. No doubt, you have done an excellent job obscuring that fact. How happy are you with that decision??

?Perfectly so,? Sokor said. ?You are an impertinent man.?

?Just so,? the Tholian said. ?I think it?s helpful for someone such as yourself to be reminded that there are sometimes others who are aware of just what kind of person you are. I guess that?s all I wanted to say.?

?The simple consequence of having seen what I was reading, not even with the knowledge of why? I find that suspect,? Sokor said.

?It doesn?t matter. I?m a Tholian. I?m blessed with the same curse as yourself, remember,? the Tholian said. ?I must use my gifts the way they are best served. You will do the same with yours. Maybe not on that new ship of yours, but certainly elsewhere. Sorry to have bothered you.?

***

No conscious part of him remembered such an encounter, but Sokor still found himself troubled about the Tholian for more reasons than he could account for, long after he?d left Fleet Admiral Nimbii and the Xindi behind, back on Vulcan, back in his ancestral home. The landscape outside his window was more foreboding than usual, painted a more oppressive scorched hue than ever, but he hardly would have noticed.

Vulcan was more than scorched; it was increasingly barren of its children. In the old days, Vulcans had spread themselves across the galaxy willingly and at their leisure, space almost completely giving itself to them alone, so advanced and so ancient were they compared to other known races. Who else had begun to populate worlds with their offshoots? Only those of the fabled ancestors, which Vulcan wisdom alone, devoid of a religion beyond worship of a mind that in its infant brutality awakened them to its possibilities, seemed capable of discerning. Much of their cosmic travel and science had been devoted to the discovery of an origin point old texts had told them how to find. And yet, the Vulcans themselves now felt old. It was not that the adolescent races around them had finally won, beat back their teachers and guardians, but that everything they had once sought had begun to feel?empty. There was a void, and now their starships took them away from home not to find knowledge, but to hide it away, once more with base things they had tried so long to hide away. They were ashamed of the reunification project. But that was all they had left.

And on Vulcan, in almost complete solitude, Sokor felt it calling him, too. He feared where it would take him.

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Deep within the basement of his abode, which had been in the family for generations, Sokor discovered mathematical proofs his father had labored on for his entire life, and never amounted to anything Sokor could understand or even appreciate. Satrap had never bothered to explain his motives to his son, having gradually lost hope that Sokor would join him in his labors, so that they were eventually lost to time, much as Satrap himself, a recluse of the most ancient Vulcan tradition, had been. As he looked at the scores of parchments now, Sokor could feel his father?s presence, his divining intellect, but could no sooner understand it now than he had then. A smaller slip fluttered from the pile to the dusty floor, and Sokor watched its decent, he wondered if fate were about to provide some answer for him, the hand of chance humans had always been talking about in his Starfleet years, on missions, during the slow casual hours on duty aboard ship, even their off hours, another of their curious and illogical obsessions that had slowly poisoned him.

He stooped downward to snatch it up, and immediately could distinguish that this note was different from the rest, scribbled in haste, not a series of numbers but words, perhaps a final testament of his father?s work. He studied it so intently he forgot about the clutter of parchments he still held, and they fell to the ground with less fanfare, some cracking apart from age. Here was a message of intent, Sokor immediately noticed, something he would never have imagined his father leaving behind, having never heard Satrap writing about it much being interested in sharing his elusive insight with others, beyond the futile attempt to capture Sokor?s own attention. There was little his father had ever spared for others. And yet, here was this note.

It was more an enigma than anything, something as suited to some lost ancestral civilization as his own kin. It was more gibberish Sokor could not decipher. He rested against a wall in frustration. There was so very little light down here. The remains of candles littered everywhere, in the air a feeling of some monastic demagogue Sokor still felt necessary to escape, a religious fervor with no followers.

And yet, he knew. He knew exactly what had driven his father to near lunacy. It was the same impulse that was spreading even now, a mindless search for?space. Space had given Vulcans power, and space had taken it away. Now it was intent on taking the Vulcan people with it. Satrap had not been calculating a destination, because there was none in this quest. From the distance he now had to the documents on the floor, Sokor could now make out?

A calendar. And just as the humans had once thought their ancestors had calculated the end of the world with one, Sokor thought he could see in his father?s work, just around the edges of it, an image of the apocalypse, the unknown terror that drove all men?s hearts, and it was among his people now.

He imagined what the Federation would say to him if he presented this theory to them, how many of its member races would care, so many of them having experiences similar to the humans, Vulcans recruiting them to the brotherhood of space like bullies, offering friendship with the back of a hand. He tried to picture what his former colleagues in Starfleet might say, who had only ever known Sokor as a trusted if remote friend. Had he lived so long, experienced so much, acquired such knowledge and insight, only to become his father?

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If he could be said to have neighbors at all, several miles south of Sokor?s ancestral home lived another recluse his father had once tried to mentor. Sentak was a mute, proven through years of therapy to be forever stunted at the intellectual age of a child. Despite its devotion to the powers of the mind, Vulcan society had abandoned Sentak at an early age to the recesses of his own crippled wits. Perhaps it was the discovery he had just made that drove Sokor to think of the recluse now. He already had a destination in mind, but was willing to take a side trip. He owed it both to his father and Sentak.

Sokor was a product of his people. Where they had judged, so did he, and thus had never bothered to foster any meaningful relationship with Sentak, no matter the example Satrap had set. He had ignored his father before. What could possibly have been the point? Some sort of illogical, pitying attempt at charity, which Sentak could never fully appreciate? There was no connection worth exploring to be found between them. One day, Sentak would die. It was not the same as killing him at birth. Such a compulsion was not unheard of. It was virtually sanctioned. As a scientist, Sokor was aware of experiments conducted in the past of freeing such minds from their biological confinement. Mind-melds had been routine in these attempts. Damage had sometimes been done to the researchers, who went undeterred with further tests, until inevitably, they discovered there was nothing left to do, nothing left to discovery except what they had known from the start. Some minds were broken from the start. A few conducted surveys of minds damaged later in age, from a variety of causes, from accidents to psychotropic drugs to the ravages of age and disease, even telepathic violations which had long been the subject of fear and ignorance. No other society or alien race knew more about the mind than did Vulcans.

And yet, there were those left out, simply because they were born that way. Sokor could not help but wonder if there was a significance to the phenomenon that had been overlooked, some unique benefit, or if it was truly a tragic accident of nature. He knew as well as anyone that even the Vulcan mind had never been proven to operate on every possible level, at least to no definable degree. His science only went so far. He could still be wrong, along with the rest of established society. He had been wrong before. What else was he seeing around him now than an inexplicable urge to abandon all conventional logic?

The miles were long, and the suns more harsh than he remembered. The planet, he would not be surprised to discovered, was dying all around him, had for millennia. The truly wise had left long ago. Their mother had already taught them everything it could. It wasn?t anything Vulcans had done, simply the natural course of things, an inevitability, perfectly quantifiable with what could be learned. Sentak?s home was threadbare, ravaged by weather and time. He, too, resided in the lowest depths possible, like Sokor?s father, hidden away not because of what he was, but because he chose to. Instinct was not a product of the mind. It did not need to be taught.

Sokor could see the footprints in the dust of the monks who regularly came to deliver Sentak food, a duty more than compassion, as evidenced by the singular files adhered to over the years, not practiced by efficiency, but by rote performance. He felt ashamed. Even knowing his limitations, they could have done more. They should have felt compelled to. There were no religions on Vulcan, only devotion to logic, but even logic dictated a basic need for more than sustenance in any form of life. Sentak might have seemed content to sit in his hole, but he wasn?t, not because he was emotionally a child, but because it was basic instinct, too, and a basic step toward curiosity, toward more.

Sokor almost turned away. Sentak wouldn?t know. Nothing would harmed except Sokor?s sense of himself. He would have given up, not out of disgust for others, but because he still couldn?t bring himself to imagine what more could be done. A curious mind will always be able to discover the sense of the new, no matter how many people had insisted what could be done had already been done, that history was merely a repeating cycle. He pushed on, to the top of the stairs leading to the cellar.

Memory told him there had once been an extensive collection of ale down there, long before Sentak was born, when his father and Satrap had worked together, on things Sokor had once again never learned. It seemed he was only now realizing how ignorant he himself had been, concerning his own father, the nearest source of knowledge, which was the basic foundation of any Vulcan?s education. Sentak?s father had once been an administrator but resigned over disagreements with the High Command, only to be proven correct when still more Vulcan offshoot races had been identified in the very places he had calculated from his studies of the historical texts. Sokor could imagine, now that he had started making his own connections, what his father had studied here.

Whether the ale had been consumed, perhaps even by Sentak himself, or confiscated when Sentak?s nature and fate had been concluded, Sokor would probably never know. Regardless, Sentak was the only occupant of that cellar now. In a way, he was a more devoted monk than the men who routinely came to deliver him his food.

The moment Sokor entered the room, he knew that his presence was not going to affect Sentak, who by now had grown to embrace the solitude of his existence. Barring a general connection, Sokor considered a more direct approach, the one so many had tried before and given up on. He would attempt a mind-meld.

Vulcans had perfected the physical connection required of tactile contact so that they could apply their hands in whatever position was necessary. Sentak was crawled into a fetal position, sitting up in only the loose sense, propped against a wall. Convinced that he had found himself with a properly prepared mental state, Sokor reached out, grasping more the top of the recluse?s head than the more traditional positioning on the face along one or both of the eyes. For long moments, he felt nothing.

Then he felt a pair of eyes on him, and a soundless voice calling out to him. He identified both immediately as belonging to Sentak, and understood that whatever else may be expected to be troubling him, he was at peace. Sokor found himself content to settle on this for a while. Eventually, he could feel Sentak guiding him, gently, further, but he could not understand where they were going. The images became increasingly random and meaningless, yet strangely, Sokor felt himself remaining in the same contented state Sentak had shown him. He became aware that it was an experience akin to deciphering his father?s calculations. He let himself go still more, allowing Sentak to guide him further and further along. He had not expected a trance.

Every once and a while, Sentak?s body would jerk, and Sokor could feel the urge to become agitated, but he had reached somewhere far beyond the shallow pools of his guide?s seemingly infantile impulses, his mindlessness, lack of control. Sentak had control after all. Sokor?s patience grew.

They reached a point where Sokor suddenly realized they could go no further. Nothing more had developed, just the simple sense of ecstasy. At first, he didn?t know what to think, if he should sever the connection or wait it out, to see if he might be wrong. Then he let go, without even thinking about it, got up, climbed the stairs without another look toward Sentak, and began his journey home.

Tomorrow, he would depart Vulcan one last time. There was one last person to consult.

***

The Tholian ensign, in what must be described as the future, even though it was as much present to him as either of his encounters with Sokor, stood in the transporter room on another Starfleet vessel, awaiting another visiting dignitary. He was no longer an ensign, but his rank was no more important to him than the year. The beam slowly settled on a human pattern, which materialized within a few moments, once transportation was complete, and the figure quickly stepped off the pad. Alastair Captain Weber was ready to begin the festivities, and wanted to waste very little time. He nodded politely to the Tholian, and slipped through the door.

***

Nobody likes Romulans. It?s a strange thing to say aloud, but it?s indisputably true. Humans haven?t liked them since original hostile conflict that led to a completely avertable war, one that still has most Starfleet personnel considering even the Dominion War pale in comparison. The Klingons were able to become friendly allies. The Borg were conquered. Even Cardassians were able to overcome a particularly cumbersome stumbling block in its Occupation of Bajor, and its siding with the Dominion for a time, allowing the foothold that led to war. The Breen, more trouble, the Ferengi, a nuisance, the Czenkathi, mere trouble. There were dozens of hostile aliens the Federation has encountered over the years, but few leave the kind of lasting impression the Romulans did, right from the start. When they weren?t being belligerent, they were busy isolating themselves. When they weren?t ?lending technology,? they were holding back intergalactic progress for their own selfish aims, setting up one-sided treaties like monarchs of the stars. They developed the only empire satisfied with claiming only its original patch of space. They were arrogant, cruel, and worst of all?Romulans were descendents of Vulcans.

So consequently, it?s become easy to dislike them. Sometimes they can receive a certain amount of popularity just from their mystique, sometimes can almost seem friendly, but they will never change. If Vulcans developed the original bad reputation, then the Romulans cultivated and relished it. They?re famous for being proud of their smug self-satisfaction. But it?s said, if you get to know them, you?ll like them anyway.

Still, nobody likes them. They?re rotten to the core. Irredeemable, pugnacious, untrustworthy. They will corrupt anything they touch. Everyone knows it. Very few species actually pursue slavery, especially among those who have achieved warp capability, who have traveled the galaxy. The Romulans do. They conquered the natives of Remus, the sister planet of Romulus, and even while they were helping the good guys in the Dominion War, exploited the Remans as expendable foot soldiers. Nobody likes them.

Still, it was difficult for anyone to like their ancestors, too. One step behind Romulans, you?ll find Vulcans, who didn?t even tell humans that they were fighting an off-shoot of their race, claiming when the lie was exposed that they didn?t know. Who could possibly believe such a preposterous statement? How could the Vulcans possibly have overlooked such an important development from their own society? They were certainly aloof, detached in their own right, but they knew everything there was to know, even what they didn?t believe scientifically possible. They knew all right. It was just such a denial that must have settled any doubts about the relationship between them. And a certain satisfaction knowing that a chink in the vaunted Vulcan defenses against the outside world they prodded relentlessly had been discovered. If they had already lost so many of their people, what possible loyalty could be left?

For Sokor, the result was inevitable, and the conclusion undeniable. The Romulans weren?t an offshoot of Vulcans, but their successors. Their survivors.

***

It wasn?t simply applying to Starfleet, forever a taboo among his people, despite their part in its creation, that had first convinced Sokor that he had strayed from the traditional path of Vulcans and their philosophical beliefs, but that he recognized from an early age how hypocritical, how anachronistic those beliefs were, stagnant, a historic blunder that had never been put into context. Even when his people had completely embraced the precepts of Surak and his faith in the powers of the mind, Sokor could detect the unbroken chain in their slavish devotion that had endured during the period the legacy of Surak had yet to be completely embraced. Sokor admired the discipline that had become the hallmark of his people, but he had long lamented that they had become the joke of the galaxy, too stern and restricted to be taken seriously among the countless worlds they had attempted to enlighten. That was what he most admired about humans, that they had, at last, seen through the mirage of Vulcan society to embrace them as common allies and travelers along the experience of life, as no Vulcan would have.

He saw Vulcans as living in the past, in ideas first thought long before Surak?s time, a forgotten period which should have eclipsed the savage anarchy that had once gripped Vulcan. It was their learned skepticism and long life that had allowed them to be corrupted. They had grown to believe anything. That was what the Romulans had wanted to escape. He couldn?t say if they had succeeded. No one could, not even Spock, the only great Vulcan Sokor recognized. The present was always resistant to the reforms of the past, only embracing their facades. The exodus of his people was a second generation of Romulans, less organized, because they had no unifying cause. They had forgotten.

That was why he had to go there now, to Romulus.

***

Final preparations were made. Once more, he would travel alone, in search of his mentor, Solok, who had once attempted to dissuade Sokor from all he was quietly rebelling against, on the surface another perfect Vulcan, but beneath, a rage of simmering torment, an inheritance, he now realized. Solok had been among the first to leave, an act that had mystified Sokor, convinced him still further of his people?s basic duplicity, which grew more dangerous, a greater threat than any foe the Federation had met. Vulcans were serving as a symbol for its eventual disintegration. If that happened, what then? That?s how the anarchy had truly begun. It was all a cycle, he realized. He needed to find a way to end it, or confirm that a solution had already been found, one no other Vulcan would ever have admitted. One found on Romulus.

He had researched Solok?s wanderings for years, even while on duty in Starfleet, especially during the period he served under Captain Matheson. Like the rest of the galaxy during that time, Solok had seemed more agitated than ever before, never staying in one place for more than a few years, usually seven, but for his last known residence only four, and then Sokor had lost track of him for a time. Lately, he had received steady confirmation of Solok?s final destination over the course of several years, a resting place where he would find lasting comfort, a new beginning. All the indications pointed to Romulus, which was the very last place Sokor expected.

He was pleased to discover a surprise.

***

In the Tholian?s future, Captain Weber was creating quite a stir. He had certain requirements the Pirsig had apparently not taken into account. One was a holo-communicator, in place should he be called away before the ceremony. Holo-communicators had only briefly been used in the fleet, which made it a challenge to get one installed and functional, but Weber insisted on it above every other persnickety need he seemed capable of having. The Tholian worked on this project personally, and grew to appreciate Weber?s eccentric demands, at least in this instance, because he found the system to be among the better innovations of technology discarded by humans over the years, and secretly held a desire to try and reinstate it earlier, but knew he couldn?t. It wasn?t the Tholian way. Anyway, he could dream. Just another way to pass the time.

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What was not typical for Tholians was hearing voices. Yet that was all he fought against concentrating on. The voices had been what drew him to the Vulcan in the first place, whichever of the three encounters might be considered so. They were like psychic echoes, paradoxes in the Tholian experience, confusing him. It was typical for a Tholian to have a natural clarity of time. The voices, the Vulcan, it was as if he was being directed. Tholians were known for being independent for a reason. Their discipline was known the galaxy over, maybe not recognized for what it was, but respected. They had capitalized on it, with their Webs, commanding an almost godlike position in encounters. No other alien race had constructed such technology. Knowing what his people were capable of allowed the Tholian to appreciate what other cultures could sometimes accomplish, if they were willing to embrace it. During the Temporal Cold War, his people had assumed the need to protect participants against their worse impulses, destroying things they couldn?t comprehend.

But the voices made it difficult to concentrate. The Tholian thought it might make him a better student of his culture?s practices. He welcomed them.

***

Although he had allowed his life to be consumed with practical concerns, Sokor?s first love had been the arts, and the only thing that had dissuaded his passion for them had been his growing agreement with other Vulcans that they were not as worthy an object of his fascination as medicine, simple biological mechanics. As a Vulcan, he had dutifully begun his career path at an early age and never wavered from it, and those he found around him had directed and helped dictate his interests, to degrees he never found himself questioning. He had already disregarded those who could have helped him avoid such a narrow path.

Yet in his earliest years, things had been different, and he had found reminders before departing his home one last time, all his childish books, some even meant for young eyes, merely the only things available even then. Vulcans as a whole disregarded the importance of the arts, and as he browsed through these works now, he found himself appalled. In Starfleet, among humans, he could not help but become bombarded with their obsessions. He knew of other Vulcans who tried to steer this impulse toward games of logic other cultures had constructed, chess or Kal-toh, which might have been mistaken for Vulcan in origin, because his people had long appropriated it from its creators, Andorians of all races. He grew to appreciate Cardassian literature, its surprisingly dispassionate approach, which alone seemed capable of expressing what that culture had come to discover about the nature of the universe. Vulcan fiction, in contrast, had become full of unbelievable artifice, to the point that he felt ashamed in his starship, alone, with no one to share his conclusion, no one who would have cared. The greatest example he had focused on the savage period, the dark age, of Vulcan history, and all it seemed capable of doing was exaggerating the most basic simplifications of what had long been assumed to have occurred in that ignoble time, centering its attentions of a selection of characters of improbable power and importance. Yet he could not stop himself from reading it, even now, a gross form of fascination gripping him, like he was watching the chaos itself and not what had been constructed around it.

He recognized now what had truly rescued his people from those times, and it was not Surak, but the decisions of the first Romulans to disturb the sense of complacency that had settled on Vulcan, which was the true source of all its misery, in the past, the present, which Surak only exacerbated, though Sokor suspected now had probably intended to keep in check. Like all brilliant movements, it was corrupted in its current state, a shallow law to follow, to find comfort in. The Romulans, however, represented something richer, something deeper. In their own way, they had motivated the rest of Vulcan society to look beyond themselves, as the Romulans themselves pretended to abhor, initiating a period of galactic relations that had resulted in the United Federation of Planets, Starfleet, even the Reunification project.

Most emigrants looked for distant lands to settle in, for some new parameters to settle a new vision of life. The Romulans hadn?t, and it wasn?t like they had not had the means, the chance. They had chosen to stay relatively close to home, perhaps as a calculated effort to further destabilize a region already infested with Klingons and other belligerent races, which they knew would undermine efforts their Vulcan brothers were even then beginning to undertake, at the time seeming like recompense. Early on, the Romulans had been, or acted, considerably warlike, which they would, periodically, trot out as a typical behavior, when it seemed to suit them, or circumstances. Sokor now saw it as a game, an act, perhaps one a select few among the Star Empire even believed once and a while, but one that directly contradicted their true aims, as mysterious as they seemed to outsiders, even to Vulcans, whose sense of the obvious was easily baffled by their own convictions.

Sokor saw the Romulans as attempting to set an example they no longer believed Vulcans capable of, a competing vision for civilization. His people had begun to suppress that idea; that must have been their original intent, when they themselves shot into the stars. But their motivation could not be mistaken. They had patterned their starship designs on those envisioned by Romulans, the last vision of the arts to be found amidst Vulcan culture.

***

Because Vulcans have such long lives, they have been forced to modify a basic instinct of biological nature. When companionship behooves them, they must be careful to keep an eye out for those who are compatible with them, no matter the stage of life they are at, or whichever one the candidate may have reached. It is natural for a Vulcan to attempt to cultivate relationships that fit into comfortable arcs within their lifespan, so that early on, they may find someone young who ages to an appropriate point, and if they?re lucky, to repeat the pattern until they reach the same end as their final friends. They loathe casual associations, because, although they fit into the basic framework of logic, emotionally they are relentlessly lacking. To be caught into that sort of pattern is among the most dreaded fates in Vulcan culture, because once ensnared, it is difficult to escape from. Some Vulcans are able to convince themselves it is thus logical to avoid them entirely, and they are thought to be among the must cultivated minds in society (for only among Vulcans are ascetics part of society).

Sokor thought he might become one of the isolated breed, and for roughly the first cycle of his existence, he lived such a life. At the start of his Starfleet years, he made his first Klingon acquaintance, an enlisted man named Gird, with whom he would eventually be posted aboard the Copernicus. It was during this assignment that their relationship was cut short by the Klingon?s presumed death. Only recently had he become aware of Gird?s survival, but he had never been able to reestablish their bond. To pass the time, he contacted Gird?s sister, living on a space station called K-7, who had been a friend of his wife?s before her passing, to find out if she had heard any recent news concerning him.

?Romarr,? he greeted, with as much affection as he could muster.

?The physician Sokor,? she replied. ?It has been too long. I had feared that you finally became a part of some Starfleet bulkhead.?

?I have retired from that life,? Sokor said.

?Kahless exulted! You do yet possess some wits,? Romarr said. ?Starfleet dulls one?s senses. Their missions, if they don?t stupefy their crews, they blunt them. Give me the glory of the combat field. You always know what to expect.?

?It is a wonder to me that doctors are not more prominent in your culture,? Sokor said.

?If you intend to lead a life of dishonor?? Romarr chuckled, for both of them. ?But I have always honored yours skills, Sokor. You know that. You were able to inspire passion in my brother, which was always difficult to do.?

?You speak of Gird,? Sokor said. ?It is of him that I am calling after.?

?Vulcans are more transparent than they like to believe,? Romarr said. ?I suspect you know that. I haven?t spoken with my brother in years. That hasn?t changed. He doesn?t approve of an administrator who serves beer in the halls of a station with such?notoriety. I should tell him some of its ghost stories. Blood wine does not curdle your nerves quite so effectively.?

?Would you know where to find him??

?Where else? On Romulus.?

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The questions were burning now. What could possibly have made Gird go there? During the Praxis Crisis, before the decision had been made by the Klingon Empire to pursue assistance from their former enemies in the Federation, they had explored an even more unlikely possibility. Sokor?s father had once served as an ambassador to Kronos, a long time ago. He knew better than most the ancient relationship between Klingons and Vulcans, before the humans brought themselves into the picture. No greater rivalry had ever been seen in the stars, one that had made it easy for the High Command to support the brash Starfleet in its infancy, to finally find an end to it. But during the Crisis, when the roles had reversed once and for all, for all considered, the Empire had considered burying a far older grudge. A people which prided itself on honor would never have admitted mere logic could have won the day. They might have had second thoughts if they?d known how deeply they?d affected Vulcan society.

Before the Klingons, the Dark Age before Surak, the consuming, apocalyptic violence of it, wasn?t so clear in the mind of Vulcan society. It was viewed very differently. Only after the Klingons did such a notion, such a vision of those times, become a romantic inclination to believe. It wasn?t the nature of the Klingons, their contrary impulses, but their interest in and adoration of their honor, another inherited ideal, that helped focus the attitudes of Vulcans both on the direction of their future and the perception of their past. They had once been like Klingons, it became easy to assume, filled with some other purpose, less than ideal on their own world, and so they had assumed something different. Better? It wasn?t until the Klingons that they began assimilating battle techniques into their concept of logic. They became surgical in warfare, a sort of ruthless efficiency in their tactics that perfectly countered their Klingon rivals. And yet what the humans and their Starfleet would do, actually engage the Klingons themselves in battle, the Vulcans never would. How could they?

All this must have preoccupied the mind of Satrap, but Sokor, yet again, had never considered it, until now. Gird must have been obsessed with the same thoughts. He had been pushed beyond any scope of Klingon society, just as Sokor had gradually realized his position with Vulcan?s. Both cultures, by far the oldest of known races, had begun a degeneration which would soon make them all but irrelevant. And the Romulans, who reflected as much an ideological destination for Klingons as Vulcans, had called to Gird as well.

How could he have been surprised?

***

In some other mind, there was an equally accurate yet entirely different perception of events, but for Sokor, there could be no mistake. He took a Ferengi transport across space, his final journey, paying the moderate expense that had become typical of that species, little surprised about his fellow travelers, composed of the various fringe personalities still holding out on the Federation. He had once been a part of it himself, and as much as any Vulcan still was, he remained so, but for all intents he was on his own at last, joining his father in uncharted territory when all around them had already been explored, except themselves. There happened to be a Tholian aboard. He vaguely remembered having seen them before, on two occasions, once in the recent past he knew well enough about, but another instance?Tholians famously kept to themselves, which should make any acquaintance, let alone several, memorable enough, but they possessed an aura which seemed to cloud the minds of those around them, perhaps a defense mechanism. To look directly at one was still only to see a vague idea of them. Starfleet still did not have an adequate physical representation of them in its vast database, which now eclipsed the one it had built from, the Science Directorate?s, even though it had centuries of recorded contact to draw from. The Tholian Sokor had last encountered had even been an officer of the fleet. The one he saw now?did he look familiar? It was so hard to tell.

He tried not to stare, but knew instantly that the Tholian had noticed. He tried to get up, to avoid any further contact, but the cabin was crowded, making it difficult to do anything but remained where he had ended up seated.

?It?s okay,? the Tholian said. ?I know who you are, and who I am isn?t important. You knew that already.?

?Forgive me, then,? Sokor said. ?My impertinence is an inherited trait.?

?Mine is acquired,? the Tholian said, ?part of my job. Oh, well, part of my hobbies, anyway. Tholians sometimes engage in some rather?elaborate games. Most people wouldn?t understand them. We?re sort of built to become historians, or writers. Irritating habits, really, not very useful for outsiders, especially because of our unusual perspective.?

?Qualities to be admired, rather,? Sokor said.

?You would think,? the Tholian said.

?On the contrary,? Sokor said, ?I would expect you to be surprised to find just how desirable your supposedly worthless habits are, how lucrative even the Ferengi flying this ship would find them.?

?We see many things, but we don?t get to see the culmination of our work,? the Tholian said. ?I?ve always found that strange.?

?A natural lament,? Sokor said.

?I think you?re more wise than the typical Vulcan,? the Tholian said. ?Logic isn?t always the ends to itself, but more often the beginning. And I think you?ve traveled far.?

?Tell me who you think I am,? Sokor said.

?That would be telling,? the Tholian said. ?Would you really want me to spoil it??

?I suppose not,? Sokor said.

***

Solok was surprisingly easy to locate on Romulus, in one of its own monasteries, in catacombs Spock had used, in darkness the Remans would have recognized. Sokor?s old teacher was nearly catatonic in meditation, and everyone he asked told him Solok had been like that for months. He was shrunken from lack of nourishment but disciplined enough to overcome it. There were no Romulans around, only Vulcans. He shouldn?t have been, but Sokor was surprised to find this, too. Some of them were monks, others simple immigrants, visiting the holy centers below the surface of the planet. None of them looked healthy. Sokor had not looked at himself since the last time he wore his Starfleet uniform. But he had no doubt he reflected what he saw, a dying people?

For several hours, he sat patiently by Solok?s side, occasionally hearing his old teacher mutter something but never changing position. Finally, he whispered into Solok?s ear, ?I?m here, master.? For the next several minutes, nothing changed, and Sokor continued to wait patiently, but Solok?s muttering changed, into an acknowledgment, with a nodding of his head making it clear what he meant. Sokor gradually began to hear his mentor more clearly, but it was all nonsense, ravings more than meditation. He held his mentor?s head to his chest, and didn?t let go until Solok went limp.

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Captain Weber?s mother was a Vulcan, his father a human. He had grown up on Earth, in the countryside of Denmark, but had traveled extensively throughout Europe before taking up classes at the Academy, half the world away in San Francisco. The transition had been difficult; his mother, who preferred his mind to be filled with practical matters, helped form within him the appropriate discipline, while his father?s wanderlust, which had already reaped his wife?s departure from her family?s ancestral home on the moon Koron, inspired young Alastair to thrive in his new environment, with other students who couldn?t appreciate his appetites. Through the formative steps of his career, Alastair rooted his future in a respect of his past, so that his first assignment was to an outpost on Koron, where he studied astrometric phenomena that would help increase the accuracy of starship navigation. There, he established a relationship with his mother?s family, which until that point he had never had a chance to meet. Despite his heritage, Alastair was far more human in temperament than Vulcan, even though his affection for his mother ran deep, and his admiration for her critical inclinations was just as strong.

But he was always at odds with the world around him. At times, he found it very much to his advantage; although he didn?t seek it, promotions began taking shape in his career after several decades, building momentum. Few captains attained that rank at his age, but he would hardly have been the one to argue. He had won the respect of the fleet, of his superiors, and that was enough. He remained his own man.

Still, it was never much consolation when it came to those below him, around him, his crews, his fellow captains. He clashed with all of them. On countless worlds he could identify those he could count on as supporters, whose voices must surely have been heard by Starfleet, but within the fleet, the officers and enlisted personnel, he could not have been less popular. His convictions were too deep. He was seen as arrogant, aloof, even an imbecile by those who either refused to or could never understand his methods. He consoled himself with his knowledge of other figures, if not his contemporaries, who would have been able to identify with him. He did not say he wasn?t lonely, but it was a foregone conclusion.

Still, he was brilliant, an awe-inspiring member of the service, and a perfect designation for official matters. Captain Weber finally found himself chosen for the one duty he had always dreaded: pronouncing the death of an entire people. The end of his mother?s people, the Vulcans.

Despite his precautions and concerns, there wasn?t going to be a distraction. He would have to proceed exactly as planned and predicted, a foregone conclusion, a death sentence of his own. A Tholian officer seemed unusually cooperative in the events he had become entangled in, and for the last several days Captain Weber could hardly find himself in a room the Tholian was not also occupying in some respect, even off-duty, in the mess hall or during a holographic performance of the latest Tandaran spy drama, wherever he was whatever he was doing, there also happened to be the Tholian. He knew chance when he saw it. He knew calculation.

He couldn?t explain it, and he couldn?t exactly tell the Tholian to stop doing it. Besides, he should almost be grateful, if not because there seemed to be someone not put-off by him, then for the simple reason that this wasn?t his ship. He hadn?t had a ship in months, which itself wasn?t all that remarkable in the new era of temporal directives, but he was still sensitive about it. What was a captain without a ship?

The so-called last Vulcan had been living on Kronos for the final months of his life, following an extended stay on Romulus in which he had been purported to be working on one more attempt at Reunification, but such a notion could not possibly have been taken seriously, because Vulcans and Romulans had changed positions so radically since such efforts began that it was no longer relevant. Vulcan had been abandoned, its people scattered throughout the universe, permanently withdrawn from public life. Captain Weber knew they were still out there, but he also knew that this Vulcan would be the last one the galaxy would ever hear from. The first one, Surak, had spoken to Vulcans, the last to Romulans. It was all very fitting, but he still had no idea what he would be saying at the ceremony.

He reviewed the transcripts of the Vulcan?s speeches on Romulus, which had already become required material at the Academy. He researched the Vulcan?s Starfleet career, and discovered an incident he had not previously known of, a mission Robin Matheson had sent him on with a Klingon named Gird, to Remus, where they were meant to offer reparations to resistance leaders left from the failed coup of Shinzon, but had instead ended up delivering them to Romulan authorities, against Matheson?s wishes and Starfleet?s interests. That decision would once again upset the balance of power within the Star Empire, allowing the family of Tavol, a disgraced but powerful long-term agent of the government?s, to take power at last, completing at least one circle within the saga. Years later, that decision would work in the Vulcan?s favor, become the agent of his final labor.

He tried to focus on what it had accomplished. Since no true Reunification was possible anymore, the Vulcan could only have hoped to reposition his people back into a favorable light, such that despite the centuries of ill will it had generated could finally be seen as having amounted to something positive after all. The task had been to position the Romulans not as rebellious offspring but as ideological successors, a perfection on a mentality which had always been meant to improve, not alienate, the concept of intergalactic cooperation. The Vulcan had actually tried to make Romulans look like good guys.

And what of it? Was there even now a single one within Starfleet? Klingons, Ferengi, countless species no one would have ever dreamed of joining the family had over the years, even Tholians, who could never have been expected to accommodate their perspective with a comparatively narrow one that saw time going in only one direction, but somehow had. Captain Weber could not rid himself of the proof. And yet, where were the Romulans? Allies of the Federation, yes, but not comrades at work. Even with temporal directives making Tholians at home, not even the Vulcan and the example he had helped set, had in fact closed the chapter on, seemed capable of extending the invitation to where it would be accepted.

Maybe that was beside the point. Starfleet should never have become the only means of organizations in space. It had begun as a human institution, and had been adopted along with the founding of the Federation to be shared among the stars. Captain Weber noted that no one had ever pressured the Dominion to join, even as it had become an ally, too, after so much conflict on its own part. Even the Borg Collective was still carrying out its own objectives, which were much the same as Starfleet?s, and the extent of the cooperation between them had becoming simply astonishing.

So why must a Romulan join Starfleet? Perhaps that had been the whole point. Perhaps that was what the Vulcan had been attempting to point out. Perhaps that was what he would have to say himself, in case the point had not already been made, all those students had not already been forced to absorb enough of its content.

He felt a distinct aura of contentment from the Tholian from the moment the thought occurred to him, as if he was finally fulfilling something the strange officer had been expecting for some time, or had probably known already, and was simply happy to have finally arrived at the same point with him, a confluence of minds. Captain Weber, even if he couldn?t prove whatever the Tholian was up to, discovered he was satisfied just thinking it, as if that was all the affirmation he had ever needed.

He had finally gone where someone had gone before.

THE END

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