The Joining – A Vulcan Holiday Story

By HeronS

Word Count: 5313

Rating:

Summary: It is January 3, 2267, and Spock ch’Sarek is more than ready for the human holiday season to be over. Overall, it has been confusing, loud, and has involved far too much tactile contact with various people. But his friends have decided that there is one more holiday, a Vulcan Joining that needs to be celebrated before the Enterprise returns to regular duty…

This fic is for all expats out there, who have had to celebrate important occasions far from home. And for all of us who need a break from the hustle and bustle of late December, and who remember that the underlying theme for all celebrations, religious and secular, are affection, fellowship, and reflection.

Star Trek
Image Credit: Paramount Pictures

It is Stardate 33872.9, or, which is more relevant at the moment, January 3, 2267, and Spock ch’Sarek is more than ready for the human holiday season to be over.

A part of the chaos of the last few weeks is due to the misfortune of coincidence. Terran Christmas, Hannukah, and Kwanzaa are, unfortunately, expected to occur close together during any Terran solar cycle. This time, Eid al-Fitr had fallen on December 16th, and as if that wasn’t enough, the Martian and Terran Standard New Year had coincided, and been followed immediately by the Buddhist Mahayana New Year celebrations.

The number of crew members who had suddenly and simultaneously discovered newfound religious dedications was suspicious. When Spock remarked upon it, however, the doctor had become even more ill-tempered than usual, and the Vulcan had been brusquely reminded that of the last two holiday seasons, the first had been spent limping home with half the systems fried from an engagement in Romulan space, and during the second they had been battling a plague on Yaris II.

“We’re owed,” the doctor had growled, and Spock has not been able to figure out exactly what is owed, or from whom.

As a result, forty-three days of pure star mapping have been all but wasted.  Normally, star mapping leaves the crew free to engage in less time-pressing issues, while the Enterprise’s powerful computers perform detailed scans of surrounding systems. What could have been a month of scientific progress, training, and careful instrument calibration has been fractured into a maelstrom of key personnel on half shifts or off duty; labs being contaminated by everything from spinning tops, to fir trees, to incense; and an unending progression of official dinners. If Spock had not been exceedingly well versed in not one, but two systems of etiquette, he might have been be tempted to suggest that the true object of veneration in all human religions is an excess of food.

There have been any number of ceremonies, from the most vulgar and secular to the holy (and it is not always easy to see where the first ends and the second begins). Spock has attempted to navigate them with as much grace as possible, his thoughts often going to his parents’ effortless ease at diplomatic functions. It is not easy. He finds gift-giving confusing, but has reached the conclusion that a carefully selected poem from the large corpus of Vulcan pre-reform poetry (which appeal to other species much more than modern Vulcan poetry, unfortunately), is a suitable substitution for objects in most cases. (Though not all – on at least one occasion an overenthusiastic and inebriated Martian crewmember insisted on embracing him as thanks for the mandatory host gift.)

Overall, it has been confusing, loud, and has involved far too much tactile contact with various people.

Once December 24th comes around, Spock yields to the realities of the situation and shuts down half the Science Labs until January 3rd. He also stops sleeping in order to free more beta and gamma shift personnel to their carnival of celebrations. The half-empty auxiliary bridge has, unfortunately, not been a very quiet place since he has had to run most of the bridge system recalibrations himself.

It has been a taxing, but fulfilling, exercise in optimization of both himself and the systems, and the ship is now ready for the return of the full (sober and satisfied) crew complement. The first proper, fully staffed alpha shift of the new year has ended, and beta shift has taken over the bridge, and the Vulcan is quite ready for his scheduled nine shift vacation.

While not absolutely necessary, biologically speaking, Spock knows that it would be logical to sleep. He has been pushing his body for weeks, and he has depleted several hormones and started noting the slight efficiency decrease associated with prolonged lack of REM sleep.

And yet…

On this day, this particular day, the solitude of his quarters does not appeal. Instead of their usual air of welcome calm, they seem… feel… desolate and cold. It is emotionalism of the worst sort, for the temperature is set to Vulcan normal, and there is absolutely no reason to remember and prefer the dry heat of ShiKahr city… Or the way it gradually gives way to the humid heat of their ancestral oasis… The heat rising from heran cakes, spiced fent cups and plomeek soup. The heat of the sehlats, the sudden change from a sedate city life to this sojourn to the desert. They always take particular care to surround him and his mother… The local star setting and T’Kuth rising behind the Llangons, bathing the white tents in her red glow…

The worst kind of emotionalism.

Sleep is logical. But before that, he prepares himself for a strict set of high level meditation and control exercises, and is just about to kneel before the fire idol when his terminal chirps.

Spock, will you join us in rec room four?

The message is from the captain – from Jim, he should say, since it is sent over the informal communication net rather than official channels.  It is uncharacteristically vague, and the phrasing threatens to bring up just those memories that Spock is currently keeping at bay. It’s been seventeen years since he last could attend a Joining of his clan by the oasis, and now, when he has reconciled with Sarek and would be welcome to come, Vulcan is so far away so as to not even register on the ship’s sensors.

He needs quiet and harmony. But he has obligations outside his professional role on the Enterprise as well, and it will take much more than fatigue before he denies a request from this man.

Spock fires off a quick affirmative and then steps out of his quarters, still clad in dark, embroidered Vulcan meditation robes. They warm more than the uniform, after all, and he is off duty, and he has observed any number of outlandish costumes during the last few weeks. He will allow himself this, today.

The first inkling he gets that something is not quite normal with rec room four, is the fact that he has to manually open the door. The reason for this is immediately revealed when a wave of heat rolls out of the room, enfolding him in warmth and Vulcan incense. He steps inside and the doors immediately swish shut behind him. The hustle and bustle sounds of the Enterprise corridors are abruptly cut off.

The chairs have been removed, and all the tables lowered and covered with white fabrics. The black Starfleet standard sofas have been left along the walls, and pillows litter the carpet-covered floor – not in the symmetrical patterns the decorations call for, but it is close enough. Three shreva fire cauldrons hang from tripods among the pillows, and while the smell that comes from the nearest one is clearly coffee and not fent, it is the most Vulcan image he has seen in a long while.

Soft lyre chords emanate from a corner. Nyota is playing, her legs drawn up under her, eyes intent on the strings. Christine Chapel is curled up beside her, asleep, hugging a book with a colorful front page. Spock knows that she has just come off a triple shift in sickbay, caring for a clumsy lieutenant who had overindulged at the Mahayana New Year celebrations.

Other than the music, the crackling of the fire cauldrons (presumably artificial—Spock suspects Scotty’s hand in this), and some small sounds as the others turn pages or shift slightly from their various positions on pillows and carpets, the room is silent. No one looks up or greets him.

He takes another step inside. The doctor is lounging on a large pile of pillows, one hand leisurely swiping on a pad, the other stirring…coffee (?) in an overlarge decorated oara’en bowl. Scotty sits on one of the sofas, pads spread out all around him. While Spock suspects that the others’ indifference to his entrance in the room is feigned, the Scotsman seems legitimately engrossed in his reading.

Hikaru isn’t reading, but is instead writing calligraphy. Spock recalls that it is one (of many) interests that the man has often complained about never finding proper time for. Next to him, Pavel is leaning back against a wall, earbuds in both ears, conducting an invisible orchestra with his index fingers.

Jim is close to the entrance, lying on his side with a pillow supporting his left shoulder. His head is in his hand, and he has one of his prized paper books open on the floor beside him. There is a slight creak as he turns a page. A cup of not-fent sits on the low table by his side, and another one sits waiting on the other side of the table, the air above it distorted by its heat.

If it hadn’t been for the cup, the pile of books and pads on the table would have been signal enough. He takes a few steps to the table, lets his hand trail over the objects before he clenches it tight.

He really should have meditated before venturing out of his quarters.

It takes fourteen-point-three seconds before he can trust his voice, but when he does begin to speak, to try to convey a vetted and proper and thoroughly insufficient message of… something, he is shushed by the doctor.

“Hush, you. Really, Spock, speaking at a Joining. What would people say?”

“Doctor, considering the fact that you are drinking coffee out of a soup bowl…”

“I’d be drinking that vile fent concoction if it weren’t toxic to all sensible beings. Now shut up, sit down, and read.”

Spock sits down by the cup and the reading material. He does not know if the doctor is aware of the status and power his (slightly) more advanced age gives him in this setting, and he has no intention of informing him. He has thirty-two…thirty-three….thirty-four…several questions about the how and who and why of this gathering, though he suspects the answer to the last is “family” and a great many emotional words that would make him uncomfortable.

It is customary to give scrolls and digital texts at a Joining. There are no explanations given; the texts themselves should be answers enough about who and why they were gifted. Ideally the texts should expand the receiver’s mind – introduce thoughts one would not seek out on one’s own. As the first sand storms of the storm season hit ShiKahr from the Forge, the hectic life of pre-industrialization Vulcan would suddenly calm down. People gathered in their clans, by their oasis, for a period of calm and rest, reaffirmation of clan bonds, and time for quiet contemplation. Vulcan in general, and Spock’s clan in particular, has always striven for a way to combine the ancient wisdoms and ways with modern thinking, and the Joining is one of many ritual that Spock remembers fondly from his childhood.

It is the antithesis of the many celebrations he has witnessed during the last few weeks, Spock thinks – not boisterous, but silent; not demanding anything except serious contemplation; not presuming anything but joint existence with your clan.

There are two books and eight pads on the table. A last glance around the room confirms that no one is looking at him and that nothing more seems to be expected of him other than to shut up, sit down, and read.

He reins in his curiosity and dampens his gratitude. He is, even after forty-three seconds of evidence, quite… thrown by the existence of this place in the heart of the starship, so far from the warm sands.

That will not do. This is hardly the most startling thing that has occurred in his service aboard this ship. And it would be unworthy of him to be surprised at the lengths these humans will go in displays of loyalty and… affection.

He lifts the first pad, and as it flashes to life, he lies down by the table. The text is in Cyrillic script, and he identifies the language as Russian, approximately a century old, judging by the spelling conventions. The first few words are strange in this context – it is Surak’s famous speech in the marketplace, but the text is annotated by a flurry of footnotes. He realizes that it is the text from the first Russian edition, compiled by his grandfather Skon together with human enthusiasts, and that the annotations are not from one, but several Terrans who had gone through their very first First Contact just a few years before. Like all Vulcan school children, he knows the original text by heart, but the alien footnotes make his eyes widen. The Russian scholars seem overwhelmed, overjoyed, sometimes terrified, always utterly fascinated by their strange (space elves!) green (like the movies!) pacifist (xorosho, as must all advanced races be, da?) visitors. It is a new perspective on the most transformative period in Federation history, and he looks forward to discuss it with the ensign.

Before he can become too engrossed in the Russian text, he puts it aside to do an inventory of the gifts before him. There is a short work of koans that Spock thinks originate from Hikaru. Zen Buddhism comes close to several Vulcan spiritual traditions (in particular Kolinahr), but he has never had time, before this, to study it in more in detail.

Spock judges the odds to be 7,539 to 1 that the text on protomatter is from Montgomery Scott – they currently disagree on several of the hypothesized properties of the mysterious banned substance, and Spock will now clearly have to give the pro-quatrion bond position a second chance. He resolves to do his best to keep an open mind.

Someone – presumably Nyota – has given him several plastisheets with Vulcan lyre music scores. The quality of the print is bad; it seems to have been photographed from a great distance and then reprinted. His eyebrows rise as he realizes why – it is not Vulcan, but Romulan. Contemporary Romulan music is as unimpressive as its Terran equivalent, but this is old and as he lets the chords resonate in his imagination, he comes to the conclusion that it cannot be long parted from its Vulcan parent tradition. Since all Vulcan records of the Romulan exodus are destroyed, and the Romulan senate guard their archives carefully, any scrap of information about this time period is revolutionizing. How did it come into her possession? It has clearly been smuggled across the Neutral Zone.

His appreciation for the thoughtfulness of the gifts ends abruptly when he picks up the next pad. It is a work of fiction, about a hundred years old. The setting is Earth, 4th century BCE, and the novel dramatizes the life of the Greek warlord Alexander and his closest general and friend, Hephaiston. Even a short perusal reveals that it has altogether far too many adjectives and it seems to be given to emotional reflections on the relationship between the two men, in a way that does not advance the narrative. Spock does not understand the relevance of the novel, and decides to read it first so that he may spend the rest of his free shifts on more stimulating intellectual fare.

The next pad also holds a work of fiction. Spock knows his mother will be pleased – as a teacher, she approves wholeheartedly of the Vulcan notion that parents have a lifelong responsibility for the education of their children, and she is always sending Spock historical and contemporary novels. Spock reads them dutifully, though with little enthusiasm. He has taken to discussing the more bewildering ones with Christine Chapel, who has shown a startling understanding for not only Terran, but also Andorian and Klingon flights of fancy. Spock suspects that it is the head nurse who wishes him to read Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes books, and he must admit that the prospect of dissecting them with her afterwards makes the task more welcome.

Finally, he picks up the thick, bound volume on the table. He darts a look at the captain at the other side of the low table, but to all outward appearances the human is completely lost in his own book. This is Vulcan courtesy, the granting of personal space even in close quarters.

The book is a classic, and Spock has, of course, read it in his youth. It is The Journey is the Goal by Hernandez Ye of Orion Beta IV. It has won both the Nobel and Zee-Magnee prizes, and has the honor (together with the works of Shakespeare of Earth and Ulya of Tellar) of being claimed as a stolen Klingon classic by the Klingon Bureau of Culture and Propaganda.

Over the course of that day and the next, Spock reads. Occasionally he makes a note or two on his pad, but he strives to keep his focus on the texts themselves.

The others come and go, in silence. They go to their shifts, and then always return an hour or two after shift change, taking up their pads and books, magazines, and the occasional instrument or paint brush. The Vulcan is somewhat concerned that the calm and subdued Joining will prove a challenge to his restless friends, but the intense last few weeks – indeed, the intense and taxing last year – has taught even the youngest humans to treasure rest whenever it is offered. When their night shift begins, pillows and blankets are brought forth from the storage compartments in the rec room walls. All in silence.

Humans retain more of their pack instinct than Vulcans, and several times he sees them seek each other out in gazes or surreptitious touches. They show each other a part of text, they share a small smile. It is part of their nature, though they try to repress it for him, for this time and place. Spock finds great contentment in the unexpected gift of being able to rest in the quiet company of these extraordinary aliens, and yet… For once Spock wishes he could tell them to not try quite so hard. If this had been a Vulcan Joining, this would have been one of the few times each Vulcan year where such interpersonal affirmation would have been encouraged.

But, biologically, that aspect of the Joining is one of the few that they cannot give him.

Spock is grateful for the texts he’s been given. They are all gifts of new perspectives, and he treasures them. Some works that he thought would be complex are not – he finds an elegant similarity between the Buddhist koans and the precepts of the Vulcan discipline of Kolinahr. Each gives him a glimpse of the cool serenity that he has sought since childhood. It is a balm to his sometimes overactive mind.

Other works give him pause.

He wonders if Christine sees a Sherlock Holmes in him, if that is why she gave him the book. He dislikes the character: for all his brilliance, he is arrogant and self-centered, and shows a marked disdain for any knowledge that is outside his own sphere of interest. Surely he is not like that? He knows it is a common and insidious path to intellectual and moral ruin, and the very fact that the gift brings these thoughts to him is a warning sign he should not ignore.

It is not so easy to dismiss the doctor’s gift of the fiction book of the Greek warriors, either. He understands that it is a comment on his friendship with Jim. It makes him think of the ancient Vulcan legends of t’hy’la, soulmates. It is a revered bond, almost sacred, a favorite topic in classical Vulcan poems and songs, but he has never heard of anyone suggesting that it could also exist in other races. Or between aliens and Vulcans. Loyalty and trust is the foundation of Vulcan bonds, while the strange multifaceted ‘love’ is hailed as the cornerstone of all deep human relationships. He is quite certain that he does not understand this ‘love’, but then again, no two humans seem to agree on a definition for it either… He puts the book aside, but the thoughts keep returning.

When he opens Jim’s gift, the book falls open to a bookmark inserted near the end. It is one of the protagonist’s most famous speeches to the struggling multispecies settlement of Orion Beta IV:

“The true greatness of sentience begins with three little words. It is not unity brings strength, it is not knowledge is power. It is not even I love you, though love is what binds us together. It starts with an outreached hand and a simple let me help.”

He rereads the book twice during the next to last of his free shifts. It is written in post-contact style, a mixture of fiction, essays, and poems. It is a tale of fellowship, loyalty and affection – humans would call it love – and the way this brings together a divided group of souls, making them greater than the sum of their parts. When he finally puts it down, he notes that the sense of belonging he identified in the book does not leave him. Instead it envelops him with calm confidence.

It is alpha shift night, and the humans are spread out around him. Nyota is sleeping on one of the sofas, and he rises and carefully removes the lyre from under her arm. Spock sits down at the foot of the sofa and tunes the instrument more by sense than after any established music tradition – there is no established tradition that truly covers any of this, after all. He begins to play softly, using the rhythmic deep strumming of the Romulan music as a base, and letting a lighter, human melody soar above it. Nyota stretches above him and sleepily opens her eyes. He meets her gaze deliberately, purposefully letting the music speak for him. Loyalty. Trust.

The others wake, and he lets the melody speak to each of them – he interweaves Scottish ballads with Shinto-Buddhist prayer chants, Russian folk music, and even a few bars of “Georgia on my Mind that makes a bleary-eyed Bones snort and then laugh out loud.

After a while he lets the music fade out, but immediately gives the instrument to Nyota. He does not intend for this to be a solo performance; while he will seek ways to repay his friends for their generosity in all of this, that is not his purpose at the moment. Instead he retreats to his place next to Jim by the table and lets first Nyota’s lyre, and then Scotty’s flute, continue what he started.

Community. It is not what it would be like on the sands beneath the Llangons. But it is good.

Spock drifts off to sleep to the sound of the lyre, thirty-eight minutes later. It is exceedingly rare for him to fall asleep involuntarily, especially among others, but his body is exhausted and his mind needs rest to process a wealth of new impressions.

When he wakes up, four hours, three minutes, and two REM cycles have passed, and the rec room is all but empty. A single shreva is left lit – it has been moved to their table, and Jim seems to have been reading in its light. He is the only one of the humans left. The two have not shared spoken communication for almost two days, but now his captain is looking directly at him.

Jim is sitting, leaning back towards the wall, abandoned book held casually in his right hand. He smiles slightly.

“How close did we get?”

“There are as many versions of Joinings as there are families that practice them. This one was profoundly…satisfying. And unexpected.”

He has many questions, but for now he is content with staying in the moment. His mind, usually processing ideas and information on multiple parallel tracks, is as focused as after deep meditations, and he feels refreshed. He hopes that the deep sense of belonging will stay with him even out in the brightly lit corridors of the ship, but for now he makes no attempt to rise.

“Mm,” Jim responds, “most Terran traditions are the same. But some things, some very fundamental things about a Joining remain the same for most families, or are at least very similar?”

Spock looks at him for a long moment and then nods.

“But we’re not telepaths, any more than we can actually drink fente.”

“It is not necessary, Jim. I am honored by all efforts that have gone into creating this.”

Jim shakes his head. “This ship is honored by your service. Even if you hadn’t gone over and beyond the call of duty the last few weeks to keep this ship functioning while we had the much-needed shore leave that the Admiralty won’t give us…we would still have wanted to do this. It comes only every third Vulcan year—who knows where we will all be the next time. Celebrate when you can, my Gran always said… Anyway, we’re not telepaths. I’m not a telepath. And Bones doesn’t think it would be particularly relaxing for you to hold up more than one meld at a time. That being said…” He smiled and shrugged. “You need some more sleep, and I need a few hours, too, before alpha shift starts. I thought I’d spend it here. It doesn’t have to be more than that, but if you would like to…”

“Very much, Jim. But melds can be profoundly disturbing experiences for humans, and a joint dream would be potentially even more abnormal for you.”

“You keep warning me about melds, and I’ll say the same thing that I’ve always said. It’s never felt disturbing or abnormal to me. In fact, it feels like the most natural thing in the world.” He shrugs and smiles and lies down along the other side of the table, perpendicular to Spock, his head close by. “It’s all up to you.”

Falling asleep at will is a necessity for a starship captain, and after a second of pillow adjusting and blanket pulling, Spock hears Jim start the deep, deliberate breaths that will slow down his higher mental functions and increase the body’s melatonin production. It takes four minutes, twenty-seven seconds before the human falls asleep, face serene, head twenty-one centimeters from Spock.

Spock has been taught to be wary of when that thing which he wants also seems to be the most logical choice, so he spends a few minutes contemplating wants, needs, and moral duty. In the end though, he trusts Jim – trusts that he knows his own mind, and Spock’s.

Lying down would put him at an awkward angle, so he scoots closer to the wall and places his left hand on Jim’s face, resting on a pillow beside him. He starts slowing his breathing down, and increases the melatonin levels in his body. He opens up the mind touch. It blossoms readily – as the captain says, it is a natural thing.

He frees his mind of most of the usual mental controls, does nothing when memories and speculations rush in and intermingle. He remembers his first Joining, a few months after his Kahs-wan at age seven. After having experienced a few Joinings with Amanda’s alien, mind-blind presence in the joint dreams, the twenty-seven members of the extended family that are invited to Sarek’s Joining are intensely curious as to how the young Vulcan-alien hybrid will fit in. They are too polite to ever say so, of course, but all is revealed in the first seeking, weaving, unfolding mental tendrils of the dream. Sarek has chosen carefully – there is no animosity, only welcoming acceptance and anticipation from the others.

The shared dream is based on a network of mind touches, slightly enhanced by the properties of the fente. The strongest telepaths – his brother Sybok, the ancient and venerated L’henna, and surprisingly, himself – naturally congregate to form the basic matrix. As usual, Sybok’s mind is an explosion of colors in all directions, and Spock realizes that he himself will not be the most extravagant presence here. He reaches for his father to bring his almost-sleeping mind into the matrix, and marvels at how similar their minds are. Sarek lacks the raw telepathic power of his two sons, but his intelligence and mental discipline give his thought structures an inspiring elegance and influence. Spock seeks to emulate it, and soon the two of them have caught the others up in a joint structure, even Sybok. L’henna surveys everything, finds it good, and then sends out a powerful suggestion through the networked minds. Sleep.

This time is like that, and not like that.

Vulcan dreams are more abstract than human dreams, less given to recreations of sensory perceptions. Human dreams are heavily vision oriented. Spock’s hybrid dreams are different, yet again. He does not dream often, but when he does, he dreams in music and color, smell and taste, and the mathematical constructs that underlie reality, just as much as he does in the visual modality, the movie reel, as he’s heard humans call it. He has dreamt that he is the vectors through subspace that the Enterprise takes, he has dreamt that he is the taste of an alien ocean on Cygnus III.

Jim’s mind, though mind-blind, is, as always, a source of endless fascination. They are much alike in that they both revel in new experiences. They share an almost insatiable curiosity for the unknown. A childish sense of wonder? The captain teased him once, to which he had replied, There is nothing childish in a sense of wonder before the universe, Captain. Nothing could be more logical. And Jim had smiled at him and nodded in agreement.

Now Jim’s mind, his dream, is reaching for Spock. It is mainly a visual experience, but Spock can feel the caress of the warm Iowa winter sun through the imagined thermoreceptors on his face, in sharp contrast with the cold wind of the snowy landscape. He takes a step and hears the crackling of the snow crust, smells the slight wood smoke in the air.

Jim is running through the snow towards him, and then, with a characteristic lack of logic and narrative structure, he is suddenly beside him.

You’re here! Welcome.

The snow under their feet suddenly has the texture of sand, and they know that the way to get up the steep hill to their left is to find the most elegant mathematical formula for its curve. Jim’s eyes sparkle.

It’s like a waking dream, Spock. Like a holo tank. I’ve never had this much control before. This is truly… fantastic.

I believe I can teach you even more control. Would you like me to?

Yes. Later. First – let’s find out what’s on the other side of that hill.

Presumably another hill, Jim.

Jim laughs, warmth and excitement enveloping them both.

Excellent.

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