Author: Vesper (Regina)
Category: Drama, Angst
Codes: R/S ust, unrequited Tu/S, and company
Series: 'The Imperfect Series', in order: Now Taking Requests (coming soon), Sono, Nocturnus, and Permanence.
Spoilers: Strange New World, The Crossing, possibly others.
Summary: Snow, moon, flowers. A fairy tale retold.
Disclaimer: Star Trek, as always, belongs to Paramount, but I own the story.
Archival: Permission to Linguistics Database and EntSTCommunity (Warp 5 Complex) only. All others, please link to my website.
Thanks to: Rodlox, who beta'ed for style, and everyone at MHE for being very, very, very patient while I finished this.
Dedication: To MachingMonkey, ShiShi, and Stexgirl2000
Notes: 'Sono' is the Japanese concept of a woman's private garden for meditation. Inspiration came from this webpage, Japanese Art and the Japanese View of Nature (http:/www.moa-inter.or.jp/english/setsugekka/setsu-kurita.html).
It was quiet on this hillside. A distant chirp of some animal, perhaps a bird, perhaps not, sounded with infrequent intervals. Other than that, Lieutenant Commander Malcolm Reed thought, there was no sound. The yellow sun was riding low in the sky, and the planet's first moon was a pale ghost opposite.
The Regent's garden was carefully tended, the beds of flowers trimmed with polished stones. Everything looked well-tended, in order, except for the tiny pale pink blossoms that the cool breeze pushed along the cobbled pathway, and blew off the trees that bore them. The Regent had called them--Malcolm couldn't remember. The UT had failed to translate it. Hoshi had smiled, a somewhat sad and private smile, at the word, but the chance to translate it had passed by, lost in flow of the conversation.
Malcolm followed behind Captain Archer and the Regent as they ambled through the garden. Hoshi paused to admire a large vibrant yellow flower, the single blossom topping a three-foot stem. Captain Archer and the Regent continued walking, the Regent pointing out plants, naming them. Occasionally a word would slip past the universal translator, but for the most part it translated with perfect ease.
Malcolm kept his eye on his Captain and the dignitary, but hung back a few paces. They were still in sight, no need to worry. The Regent had assured them they were safe here. He glanced back at Ensign Sato and his eyes narrowed.
She had ceased to examine the flower and was now looking around the garden. He saw her shoulders twitch as a shudder passed through her and she murmured, "There's something wrong here."
"Hoshi?" Malcolm questioned, hand on his phase pistol.
She had her hand in the air, poking it with an absent and gentle grace. Her attention seemed turned inward, her head tilted as she listened, her lips moving in a silent murmur. She didn't give any indication that she'd heard him.
"There's something," she said again, a whisper to herself, "something I'm missing."
"Hoshi." Malcolm prodded, his tone more insistent this time and Hoshi turned her eyes to him. "What is it?" She shook her head, shrugging off the feeling that had crept with insect lightness across her skin.
"Whatever it was, it's gone now." She was still staring into the distance, speaking more to herself than to him.
Her distant manner disturbed him. She wasn't looking at him, but through him. He asked, hoping his emphasis would pierce through whatever fog she was in, "What was it?"
She looked at him, her eyes blank, blinked, and then focused on his face. "What did you say?" she asked.
He fought against a sudden flash of anger. He said, forcing himself to keep his voice level, "Ensign Sato."
She stared at him, confusion creasing in between her eyebrows. "Why are you call-- What's wrong?"
He raised an eyebrow, a tight gesture she knew he'd picked up from T'Pol and she realized he was very displeased. She moved closer to him and he stiffened at her approach, his shoulders almost becoming a straight line.
He said, "You were just--" He stopped before he said the words that rose unbidden to his mind. Acting like someone else.
"You sensed something?" His voice rose on the last syllable, a not too subtle prodding.
She shrugged, what she had felt a distant memory now. "Maybe, maybe not. It was strange."
He looked as if he didn't believe her.
She continued, her voice light, "You already swept the area, Malcolm. You didn't find anything. It was just the wind..." Her voice drifted away, as well as her gaze, the same distant look in her eyes for just a moment, then she snapped her gaze back to him. She said, "We're going to be late to dinner."
She walked away, down the path. The last rays of the sun touched the top of her head, a coronation of golden light. Malcolm looked around, seeing shadows settling into the farthest parts of the garden. The warmth of the sun had made him forget it was autumn here and he shivered against the chill creeping up his spine, as the sun disappeared from sight.
He turned his back to the garden and caught up to Hoshi's side. She smiled at him and said, "This is such a beautiful place, isn't it? I miss being around flowers."
"There is the hydroponics bay on the ship."
"It isn't the same, Malcolm. You know that."
He'd never cared either way. Plants, with their accompanying pollen, were a torture he tried to avoid as much as possible. "What does it matter, Hoshi?"
She shot a sidelong glare at him. She said, irritation hot in her voice, "It's earth, Commander, not--" she cut herself off and then continued, more subdued. "On board it's not the same. Can't you feel it? There's no substitute for sunlight, for the feel of its warmth on your face, for the smell of..." She looked at him and trailed off.
He shook his head, at a loss. What did she want him to say? Before he could offer any reply, she sighed, exasperated. They walked down the path in silence.
Up ahead, the lights of the Regent's hogan could be seen, bright pin-points behind colored glass, sumptuous emerald green, deep wine red, vibrant sapphire. The lanterns swung from poles set in front of the entrance in a breeze that stirred the once still air and caught the ribbons also tied to the poles, fluttering the colored strands high.
The place had a certain charm, Malcolm thought. For some reason, his mind drifted to the memory of Hoshi's smile at learning the name of those pale flowers and he asked, "What did the Regent say those pink flowers were called?"
Her brow crinkled in confusion for just a moment, then smoothed itself away. The smile reappeared and she said, "Kuri'ay."
"What does it mean?"
"Why wouldn't the UT translate it?"
"It's probably just a glitch. If it thinks it's a proper name it will skip right over it. I'll take a look at it, later maybe, after dinner."
For a lapse like that, Malcolm thought, she usually would be at that program in an instant. Ever since they'd come to this place, she'd been more relaxed than he'd ever seen her, and the smile that hovered around her lips in various levels of brightness stirred something in him, something bright and painful.
He found it hard to remember when he last saw her smile this much. If she knew that he thought her as sad, she'd deny it in an instant, but there were moments, quiet ones, when she would be lost in thought, and her face would settle into a melancholy that tore at his heart. It was at those times that he would remember how young she was and he would wonder how many pieces had been torn from her by all they'd experienced.
She asked, "Are you all right, Malcolm?"
He stared at her, wondering if she had heard his thoughts. He wouldn’t put it past her. Not after the many times she'd answered something he'd thought. She had a way of doing that, that sometimes he found endearing, at other times, just spooky. She always chalked it up to how long they had been friends.
"I’m fine," he answered and then said, regretting it the instant he did, "Are you?"
"Am I all right?" There was just the slightest shade of incredulity in her tone and it shamed him. He looked away, but still answered, "Yes."
"I'm fine. Why wouldn't I be?"
No reasons. He couldn't think of any reasons and an unwelcome feeling of anxiety pressed in on him. The scent of a night-blooming flower flowed past and around him and he couldn't think. His thoughts were a jumble. The lights were too bright and he could hear laughter ringing through the night air and Hoshi was looking at him like he'd lost his mind.
He shut his eyes, the after-images of lantern lights burning against the darkness of his eyelids, and willed the whirling sensation to go away.
Just go away.
He felt a hand on his arm and heard Hoshi ask, "Malcolm? What's wrong?"
He opened his eyes and whatever had swept through him was gone. He felt cold and realized that the temperature had dropped. The breeze had changed to a stiff wind. He looked up as something icy and wet stung his face. Snowflakes were starting to fall, blowing sideways in the wind.
He said, "I just...nothing."
She shivered. He wondered why they were just standing out here in the cold. They should be inside.
Malcolm looked down at her hand. Hoshi dropped it from his arm.
A brief smile fluttered across his lips. "Let's go inside, Ensign."
"Sono" Part Two
Disclaimers in part one.
The entrance to the hogan was set low and hung with a leather covering. Malcolm pulled it aside and ducked inside. Hoshi dipped her head a few inches, while Malcolm had bent his head down completely. Malcolm gave her a wry smile and Hoshi let slip a wicked chuckle.
Inside, it was warm with the humid closeness of a hundred people gathered close together. The heady smell of alcohol and something else, meat roasted over a fire, Malcolm realized, strong and spicy, hit them the moment they entered.
They picked their way through the assembled party lounging in comfort on cushions. Two children ran past them, screeching with laughter.
Hoshi touched his arm and when he turned to look at her she nodded to the right and he followed it to see a little girl and her father sharing an intricate string figure. The father picked a string and the lattice collapsed into a mess of knots.
The little girl laughed and said a few words that Malcolm couldn't pick up. The father replied with composure, picking the knots loose. Hoshi said, "She just said she's better than he is and he said it's because her mother never lets him play."
They shared a smile.
They both turned their heads to see Archer seated beside the Regent.
Archer said, "Sit down, Malcolm, Hoshi."
Regent Tolias echoed the sentiment, motioning to a spot on the other side of him.
Hoshi and Malcolm both inclined their heads, careful not to meet the eyes of the Regent. They touched a hand to their right shoulder and extended it toward the Regent, who reached out to touch their fingertips, in turn.
Hoshi sat down and tucked her legs beside her, reclining back on the large plush cushion she pulled towards her. Malcolm sat down beside her, bringing one knee to his chest and extending one leg out, an arm draped across the upright knee.
Hoshi looked around, making no effort to disguise her delight. Her face was alight with joy, undisguised and beautiful to behold.
Malcolm leaned closer to her and whispered, his mouth close to her ear, "Amazing to think they have warp technology, isn't it?"
She turned her head toward him, unfazed by his closeness. "Yes," she admitted, "they live so simply."
T'Pol had called the Epa-in a peaceful people, with her characteristic flair for understatement. Her next statement made it clear that the Vulcans considered the Epa-in one of the more 'enlightened' they had contacted.
When they had contacted Enterprise, the small ship had expressed their delight at encountering a race that resembled them so closely in facial features, and even more delighted to find that humans, unlike Vulcans, were more inclined to express their emotions.
Regent Tolias, aboard the Ecowun, fascinated by the information concerning Earth, had invited the crew of Enterprise to visit his homeworld.
Captain Jonathan Archer had been more than pleased to take him up on the offer, considering that it gave his crew a chance to take some much needed shore leave, as well as a chance to build a relationship with the Epa-in. A win-win situation. An opportunity too good to pass up.
When Captain Archer had introduced his bridge crew to the Regent, explaining each of their functions aboard his ship, a smile of comprehension brightened the Regent's painted face.
He'd said, "So he" and he nodded past Archer at Reed, "is the u-ardan of your ship and she" his gaze moved across the bridge to settle on Hoshi, "is your sey-na."
Archer looked quizzically at Hoshi, hoping she had a translation for those words. She shrugged and Archer looked back to the viewscreen as Regent Tolias continued, "And you, Archer, are the Regent."
Archer had let loose a gust of amused laughter, and said, "I'm just a Captain, Regent, nothing more."
"Nonetheless." The crew watched as Regent Tolias touched his hand to his right shoulder and then extended the hand towards them. He said, "Come. Visit us, you, your u-ardan and your sey-na. Until we touch."
And with that they had cut communications. Archer had looked at the view-screen with eyebrows raised, making no effort to hide his astonishment, and then turned his gaze on T'Pol.
T'Pol offered, "He has acknowledged you as an equal, Captain. It would be rude to decline his offer."
Archer smiled and looked around at his people. "Looks like we have a visit to make."
So they were here, Archer, Reed, and Sato, invited to spend their time with the Regent. This feast was a welcome for the Regent and for Captain Archer. A means of establishing a peaceful ground for future talks and of more importance to both crews, a rest from the grind of space travel.
Malcolm wasn't immune to the effects of what Hoshi had described. There was peace in this compound of the Regent's. He could feel it, the contentment of people who had come to terms with who they were, where they were going, what their purpose was. They did live like a primitive culture, but he'd seen the evidence of technology that was equal to Earth's. Somehow though, the Epa-in hadn't let it overrun their lives.
Hoshi said, "I stayed once, at a settlement in New Mexico. This reminds me of it."
Malcolm nodded. The Epa-in were very like the Native Americans, some of whom had never adapted new technologies. The similarities were striking--the ceremonial paint, this residence they were now in, the tribal closeness. It was an inviting, almost seducing atmosphere. To live like this would be a refreshing change of pace.
But not for long. Not when there were other cultures, other planets, others like the Epa-in out among the stars.
Hoshi had lapsed into silence again, and was watching the others around her. Her face was at rest now, contemplative, motionless. In that moment Malcolm could see that same sadness he always saw, as if she were weighed down by something, but it was gone seconds later.
He blinked at the bright smile that now graced her face and wondered if he had even seen that momentary melancholy. She said, "Food's here."
He looked away from her to see that several Epa-in had come in, bearing wooden trays heaped with meat, fruit, and bread, followed by others that carried wineskins. They all knelt in front of the Regent; those that had gathered around him moving aside to clear space on the ground.
Both Malcolm and Hoshi watched as the servers made the gesture of respect, avoiding the eyes of their leader, then settled back among the rest of the gathered court. A hush had fallen across the crowd and the Regent nodded to the young man beside him, the man whom he had introduced as his u-ardan, and this time the UT translated it as 'bearer'.
He was clothed in grey, black marks like tears from his eyes to his jaw-line and a line of black dots across his forehead. He stood and gathered food upon an empty wooden plate, bringing it to the Regent and kneeling in front of him.
All eyes locked on him. The quiet was the all-pervading hush of held breath. The u-ardan ate a little of each dish and then sat still. No one moved.
Malcolm felt Hoshi jump beside him when the u-ardan clapped his hands, the sound echoing. He then stood, leaving the plate in front of the Regent, who took it and began to eat.
The crowd erupted into chatter again. Malcolm heard Captain Archer ask Tolias, "Why not just scan your food? I know you have the technology to do so."
Tolias answered, "We do and we use it, but this is the way that it is done. Take food, Archer."
Hoshi murmured, "Much more impressive than saying grace."
Her dry tone startled a shout of laughter from Malcolm.
"Sono" Part Three
Disclaimers in part one.
The trays had long since been cleared away, but the effervescent feeling of festival still hovered in the air, aided by the alcohol that had flowed as free as the goodwill.
Hoshi stifled another yawn behind a flat palm and closed her eyes, determined to open them again in a few seconds.
Her eyes flew open and she blinked, like an owl, thought Malcolm.
He said, "I don't think you should fall asleep just yet."
She glanced around. Another hush had fallen on the crowd. She whispered, "What?"
Malcolm opened his mouth, but the Regent's voice kept him from saying anything. They turned their attention to him.
"The snow falls," he said.
The crowd answered as one, "It hides the life beneath."
"Our sey-na is gone."
"Yet her voice remains."
Came the response, "We will wait."
Tolias began to sing, fluid notes in a husky baritone.
Kuri an-men shuar,
Kuri mun-men hari
The notes were sung in a simple plainsong, but the melody was haunting, soft and searching. When Tolias finished, everyone was quiet. There were tears on Tolias' face.
Malcolm looked over at Hoshi and was startled to find her cheeks wet as well. She wiped at them and gave him a shaky smile.
Tolias said, "Time to rest."
The crowd murmured. Children were rounded up, families finding each other, and settling down to sleep under blankets woven in vibrant colors. One of the Epa-in who had brought out food now brought blankets to the Enterprise guests, laying them at their feet.
Malcolm nodded at her and noted that she avoided his gaze in the typical manner accorded to those in authority.
When she laid the blanket down at Archer's feet, he said, "Thank you."
She answered, "I am honored."
Malcolm glanced over at Hoshi, seeing that she had already pulled the blanket around her shoulders, and was now adjusting the cushion under her head. Archer and Tolias were conversing in low tones, having pulled their coverings around their shoulders and he could hear that others in the hogan were also whispering.
He heard Hoshi murmur, "Go to sleep, Malcolm."
"I'm not tired."
"Okay." She yawned, "Goo'nigh'."
She closed her eyes. Malcolm looked at her for a moment, a bemused expression on his face. He looked at the blanket at his feet and reached down, unfolding it.
It wasn't that cold. The alcohol he'd consumed was still warming his blood, even though it wasn't enough to dim his senses, and the fire pit in the middle of the hogan was giving off enough heat to keep him comfortable. Even so, he pulled the blanket around his shoulders and sat. His gaze caught that of the Regent's u-ardan and for a moment they just looked at each other--both in similar poses, the blankets around their shoulders, sitting with relaxed tenseness, ready to leap up at a moment's notice.
It was an instant of eye contact that reassured Malcolm-it was as though the man knew what Malcolm was thinking. Malcolm nodded to him. The u-ardan nodded back, his face impassive. This was the u-ardan's turf, his guardianship. Satisfied, Malcolm stretched out his legs and closed his eyes.
He didn't know when he fell asleep, only when he woke up again. Someone was snoring, a fact that he first found downright annoying, attributing his return to consciousness to that, and then somewhat amusing. Stood to reason someone in this large crowd would snore. Too bad Hoshi wasn't awake to share his amusement.
He looked over to where she had been lying. She wasn't there. The panic that shot through him ratcheted his heart into overdrive and he had to force himself to breathe. She had to be here, somewhere. He glanced around, seeing nothing but sleeping bundles until he ran across the wakeful eye of the u-ardan, who still sat in the same place he had been before.
Malcolm whispered, his voice rasping with the effort to keep his volume low, "Where is she?"
The man matched Malcolm's quiet intonation, "Outside." He stood up, keeping his covering close around his shoulders and started to move through the sleepers. Malcolm followed him, also keeping his blanket. The fire had died down and there was a distinct chill.
The u-ardan had reached the entrance and pushed aside the covering, stepping outside. As he did so, Malcolm caught a glimpse. It was white outside, the ground covered in snow.
Malcolm stepped out into the frigid air, the snow crunching underneath his boots. The u-ardan stood just outside the entrance and pointed into the garden. Malcolm followed the gesture and saw Hoshi sitting on one of the wooden benches that had been placed throughout the garden, underneath a tree that still hung with a few stubborn flowers.
The moonlight had turned her face pearlescent. Her hair hung loose and straight. Her eyes were closed, her face tipped up toward the moonlight. Under the clear sky her face had an eerie beauty, but this wasn't what caused that same unnamable ache to pierce through him again.
She had been crying. He could still see the glimmer of tears on her cheeks.
Next to him, the Regent's bearer moved, going back inside the hogan, but Malcolm didn't look away from Hoshi. He stood there for a long time, caught between leaving her alone or joining her. She hadn't noticed him yet. He should just go back inside....
She opened her eyes and looked straight at him. Her eyes were not the usual warm brown, not in this dim light, but a bottomless black. He felt as though he were standing at the edge of a cliff, vertigo creeping through him, pushing against him, inexorable and formidable.
She said, "I knew you'd come looking for me."
"Sono" Part Four
Disclaimers in part one.
Her breath misted and dissipated in the still air. Now that the silence had been broken, he found the thought of leaving her out here unbearable. It had been peaceful inside, calm and lulling and out here--why had he forgotten to be wary?
When he sat down beside her, she moved over to accommodate him.
Malcolm, uneasy, said, "Hoshi, why--"
She turned her head to look at him and he fell silent, something in her gaze making him feel pinned. She dropped her head down and sighed, "I don't why. I just--I think I had a dream. I woke up and I didn't want to be in there. I wanted to be out here."
"It's freezing out here, Hoshi," he pointed out.
She looked down and for the first time he noticed that she was holding one of those pink blossoms. She was twirling its stem between her thumb and forefinger, so fast it was a blur of pink.
Her cheeks were still wet and he wondered why she hadn't wiped away the tears yet, and if she even knew that she'd been crying.
He started to raise a hand and she looked up. He stopped.
She asked, "What?"
"You..." He swallowed, the words drying up in his mouth. He continued, switching the statement to a question, "Were you crying?"
She shook her head. "No."
"What's this, then?" He reached out and wiped what remained of her tears away.
Her eyes grew wide and she touched her cheeks, feeling the wetness.
"I didn't know...maybe I was remembering. They didn't tell us."
"Tell us what?"
"The Regent. The song was a remembrance for his wife. She was his sey-na. His voice."
Malcolm stared at her. He said, "You mean, his comm--interpreter."
"What was the song?"
She started to sing,
Angel weeping quiet
Angel keeping safe
The last note wavered a little. She coughed, then said "Rough translation."
He pulled his blanket closer around his shoulders.
"Come back inside, Hoshi," he said. "It's too cold out here."
He stood up and held out his hand to her. She looked up at him, but didn't move.
He waggled his hand at her, trying to coax her and she twisted her lips in annoyed amusement.
She stood up, saying, "You're such a party pooper, Malcolm."
He shot back, "What party?"
This earned him a smile and he felt better. There was too much free-floating angst in the air, and he was happy enough to have her smile at him.
He started back with brisk steps, the snow crunching under his feet. Hoshi followed behind him.
A soft whisper came to his ears and he stopped moving. He said, "What?"
Hoshi said, "I didn't say anything."
"Of course I'm sure," she huffed, a little worry lacing through her voice.
"I know I heard something. It sounded like your voice."
"What did it say?"
He opened his mouth, prepared to say the words, but he said nothing. They were gone.
"I...I don't remember."
She raised her eyebrows.
He dragged a hand through his hair. Frustration trembled through his raised voice, "I'm going insane."
She grabbed his hand and walked away from him, towing him along. Her sudden movement made him totter. He almost dropped his blanket and he clutched at it, catching it before it fell to the ground.
Hoshi said, "I've had enough of this garden."
He couldn't help but agree. She pulled him along until they reached the entrance of the hogan. She let go of his hand and turned to face him.
"Do you think there's something here, Malcolm?"
"I didn't find anything."
"Just because we didn't find anything, doesn't mean there wasn't anything to find."
"You've been spending too much time with T'Pol, Hoshi."
He smiled down at her.
"I may be many things, Hoshi, among them sleepy and cold, but jealous?"
She raised a deliberate eyebrow and he chuckled.
"Let's go to sleep, Hoshi. We'll be leaving in the morning, don't you want your sleep?"
She gave him a contemplative look that caused the blood to heat under his skin. "Of course," she answered and ducked back into the hogan. Malcolm shook his head and followed after, grateful that the moonlight would not show the blush on his cheeks.
"Sono" Part Five
Disclaimers in part one.
Malcolm awoke to find Captain Archer looking down on him with a raised eyebrow and a smirk threatening to break through its tight containment.
He said, "Cold last night?"
Malcolm blinked in surprise, then realized that, sometime during the night, Hoshi had cuddled up to him and her head now rested on his shoulder. He moved his head down, chin digging into his collarbone, to get a better look at her.
She still had her eyes closed.
Malcolm looked up. Archer now had a full-blown grin.
Hoshi's sleepy voice said, "Yes, it was cold, Jon. Malcolm was warm." She sat up, opening her eyes. She glanced at Malcolm, but couldn't catch his eye.
Archer shook his head, chuckling, while Hoshi yawned like a seal. He said, "Well, get your gear together. It's almost time to leave."
Hoshi, still yawning, said, "Yes, sir."
Archer walked away, and Malcolm could swear he was muttering, "If she wasn't...."
He looked over at Hoshi, who was rubbing her eyes. Her hair was falling over her forehead in loose strands and he wanted, more than anything, to just lean over and kiss her.
She stopped rubbing her eyes and blinked at him. She asked, "Sleep well, Malcolm?"
"At least I didn't drool on you."
Her smile put him in mind of an imp. Malcolm tried to catch up to what she had said and by the time he had, she had looked away from him to the entrance of the hogan. Archer was standing on one side of it, talking with the Regent. Off to the side, at a respectful distance, was the Regent's u-ardan.
Hoshi stretched and stood. "Well, I guess we'd better get ready. I can't wait until we're aboard again to take a shower. I hate sleeping in my uniform."
There wasn't much for them to gather--the Regent had assured them that they would be provided for. So they checked that they had their scanners and communicators and phase pistols and folded the blankets they had slept under and made their way to the Captain and the Regent.
Hoshi combed through her hair with her fingers as they walked, pulled a clip from a pocket of her uniform and clipped her hair back to keep it out of her face. The hogan was almost empty of all its night-time residents and it took very little time to reach Archer and Tolias.
Archer smiled at them both and said, "Ready to go?"
Hoshi and Malcolm nodded and they all stepped out into the light that could be seen around the edges of the door's covering. The sun sparkled off the snow and shimmered through the light mist that hung in the air, even at this early hour.
Tolias said, "Captain, we would not let you leave without a token of our respect."
Archer said, "That's not necessary, Regent."
Tolias smiled and said, "I thought you might say that. You may not find it necessary, Captain, but we have enjoyed your stay. This is just an expression of that."
Tolias crooked a finger at one of the Epa-in outside and he came up to his regent, bowing low. Tolias said, "Bring the gifts."
The Epa-in bowed again and went into the hogan. He returned in a few minutes, bearing two small boxes. They were made of what looked like a dark wood, the grain unstained, embossed and reliefed in an intricate design.
Tolias took them from the Epa-in, presenting them to Hoshi and Malcolm. Hoshi took hers, her fingers caressing the carving. She opened it to find a leather-bound book. Malcolm wasted no time in opening his. He drew out a cloth drawstring bag.
Tolias said, "For the sey-na, a volume of stories of our people."
Hoshi opened the book while the Regent spoke. The paper inside was rough, hand-made. Illustrations in a golden-rust color covered each page, with a runic-like text running down the pages in black ink. She closed it and said, "It's beautiful. Thank you."
Malcolm was peering into the little bag. He said, "These are seeds."
Tolias nodded. "Yes."
Malcolm closed the bag and asked, "Why, if I may ask, sir?""They are symbols of life. You guard life. Remember that, when these have grown."
Tolias smiled at the puzzled look on Malcolm's face. "When Ensign Sato has read the book, ask her to explain to you."
Malcolm placed the bag back into the box and said, "Thank you."
Tolias turned to Archer.
"I have no tangible gift for you, Archer. What I do have is something you would want more--our assurance that if you and your ship ever have need of assistance we will with great gladness provide it."
"Thank you, Regent. That's all we were asking."
"You may be young in space, but we once were, as well. We do what we can."
Tolias made his culture’s gesture of respect and then walked back into the hogan, his u-ardan following.
Archer said, "I think we've been dismissed."
"Seems so, sir."
Archer clapped Malcolm on the back. "Come on, Commander. Let's go home."
"Sono" Part Six
Disclaimers in part one.
"Interesting reading, Hoshi?"
Hoshi looked up from the book. "Very, Captain."
"Must be, you haven't looked up once since we left the planet."
She smiled and shrugged. "I just got caught up, I guess."
Malcolm looked away from the pilot's console to ask, "Have you found the significance of those seeds yet?"
"I don't think I've gotten that far. It is a storybook, just like the Regent said. They have a very rich mythological base, but I'm finding it unusual in that a lot of it is..." she paused, looking lost for a word, "A lot seems to be backed by scientific principles--it's more like a book of instruction. I would love to ask the Regent why he gave me this, what he meant by it." She held up the book for a moment, then let her hand drop back into her lap, exasperated.
Archer said, "Maybe you can contact him once we're aboard Enterprise again. We'll be in range for a while yet...besides, I need you to send him a formal note of gratitude for his hospitality."
"Of course, Captain."
Malcolm had turned back to the console in preparation for final landing inside the launch bay. Hoshi put the book away inside its box and as the shuttlepod touched down on the deck, she murmured, "Home again, home again..."
Archer finished, "Jiggity jog," and Hoshi giggled.
It was on that note of levity that they all made their way into decon. A few minutes later Phlox proclaimed them clean and they filed out into the hallway, finding Ensign Mayweather waiting for them.
He said, "Hello, sirs, Hoshi. Welcome home."
"What are you doing down here, Travis?" Archer asked.
"Just coming off shift, sir. Thought I'd welcome you home. How did things go?"
Hoshi interjected, "They gave us gifts." She held up the small box.
Archer smiled. "It seems the Regent was quite taken with Hoshi and Malcolm. I think we've made a new friend."
Travis said, "We could certainly use one. What did he give you?"
Hoshi opened her box and showed the book to him, explaining what she thought it was. Mayweather handed it back to her, saying, "You'll have to let me know what it says, later."
Malcolm said, "You know what they say about curiosity, Ensign."
Travis answered, dead-pan, "But I thought that was our mission, sir."
Hoshi smiled and said, "Speaking of curiosity, I think I'll take these down to hydroponics."
The three men looked at her and saw that she'd taken the bag of seeds from Reed's coffer.
"What is that?" Travis asked.
"Commander Reed's gift," Archer stated.
Malcolm said, "Are you sure that's wise?"
Archer said, "They're just seeds, Commander. I confess I'm a little curious to see what they'll sprout."
"Captain, maybe we should just wait to see what they are first." Malcolm protested.
Archer nodded. "Fine. Let Hoshi do her research. Meanwhile, I see no harm in taking them to hydroponics. They can sit on it for awhile."
Travis yawned. He said, "Well, I'd offer an opinion, but I'm dead on my feet. If I may be excused, Captain?"
"Go, Travis." Archer shooed him away with a waving hand.
"Thank you, sir." He headed out, but paused when Hoshi said, "Wait a minute, Travis. I'll just walk with you for a little bit."
They walked away and both Archer and Reed heard Mayweather ask, "So what did the Captain get?"
Malcolm said to Archer, obliterating Hoshi's response, "If you'll excuse me, sir, I need to see to the Armory."
"Thank you, sir."
He turned to go, but Archer called him back, "Commander."
"Yes, sir?" He stood at attention, hands clasped behind his back, feet apart.
Archer noted the stiffness, but dismissed it. "I understand your concerns, but I don't believe there's any need to worry. Regent Tolias showed us nothing but trust and hospitality...we owe him the same."
"I'll be looking forward to your report on this away mission."
"I'll have it ready for you within the hour."
"Take your time. Go ahead and bring it to the bridge when you're finished."
"Yes, sir. Will that be all, sir?"
Archer nodded. Malcolm inclined his head and marched away.
"Sono" Part Seven
Disclaimers in part one.
Hoshi Sato walked down the corridors of the Enterprise, tapping a PADD against her leg as she moved. Anyone passing would have said that she was lost in thought and then wondered about the soft smile on her lips, the mysterious nature of it.
She reached the doors of the armory, having passed no one on her way there, which wasn't unusual, buried deep as it was. She went through, the doors swishing closed behind her and she paused just on the inside, taking a moment to locate Commander Reed.
Malcolm and a crewman were standing in front of the main display. Malcolm pointed at an area and said, "There's our problem."
Hoshi stopped behind them and said, "Busy?"
Malcolm said, "Is there something you need, Ensign?"
The crewman excused himself.
"Lunch," Hoshi answered.
He blinked at the non sequitur and repeated, "Lunch?"
Hoshi nodded. "Yes, lunch. Don't tell me you've forgotten?"
The puzzled look on his face cleared away. He said, "Hoshi. I didn't make a lunch date with you."
She heaved an exasperated sigh. "Yes, well, I had to try. Are you too busy to come eat with me?"
She put on a hopeful face. Reed shook his head.
"I'm sorry, Hoshi. The targeting array has gone out of alignment and it's going to take a while before we get it back in place."
"Are you sure?" He opened his mouth to answer again, but she raised the PADD she'd been holding and waved it. She said, "I have something here you're interested in."
"The story of the Bearer."
Again, he blinked.
She reminded him, "The Epa-in, Malcolm. The significance of those seeds."
He raised his eyebrows in comprehension and reached to take the PADD from her, but she pulled it back. "Uh-uh. Your company at lunch in exchange for the information."
"You're bribing me."
She gave him an 'oh, please' look. "I'm coaxing you. There's a difference."
He made a grab again for the PADD, so she placed it in a pocket of her uniform. He looked at the screen, then back to her. He asked, "You scanned that entire book into the database?"
"Why not? It's valuable information."
"I could just access it from here."
"And waste the opportunity of spending time with me? Come on, Malcolm, I know you want to." She smiled and Malcolm sighed in defeat.
He said, "I'll have you know, I'm doing this under duress."
She grinned. "Just come along, Commander."
They walked out into the corridor and onto a turbo-lift. She said, "You haven't told me what Captain Archer said about your report."
He didn't look at her as he answered. "I expressed my concerns; he asked if I'd noted anything concrete on which to base what I had experienced. When I was unable to give him anything, he dismissed it. To tell you the truth, I'm beginning to think that it was all just an over-developed sense of paranoia."
Hoshi's eyebrows creased at the deprecating, uncertain tone. She said, "Except...?"
"Except you experienced it, too."
"Malcolm, I'm not sure that there was anything there. I did put it in my report, but I down-played it. It just--it was too unreal, too much like deja vu, here and gone, that I can't really be sure about it."
"What did Captain Archer say about your report?"
"He asked if the feeling had come back since then."
"Has it?" His tone was concerned.
She didn't answer right away, but before Malcolm could ask again, she said, "No, not that I'm aware of."
Although her pronouncement seemed certain, Malcolm still wasn't appeased. He held her gaze, but found nothing there that wavered.
The turbo-lift doors opened onto E-deck and Hoshi looked away first. They left the turbo-lift, Malcolm saying, "Well, I suppose that's something."
"So it felt strange. Who knows what it was? I'm not going to worry about it, if you won't."
"I'd feel much less worried if you let me know what those seeds are." "Why are you so concerned about them? They're just seeds."
"From an alien planet. Remember Trip's allergic reaction?"
"They've already been examined, Malcolm. There's nothing wrong with them. Captain Archer's already given the go-ahead to let them grow."
"I suppose you know what they are, then?"
"They're kuri'ay seeds."
"They've been altered so when they mature they'll be little more the size of a well-kept bonsai."
They reached the mess-hall and Malcolm stepped aside to let Hoshi enter before him. He followed her as she made her way to the line.
"Well, that's comforting. What about what the Regent said?"
"I'll tell you once we get our food."
She said, after they had seated themselves in the mess-hall, "This was the way of it."
He said, his glass halfway to his lips, "This is a story?"
She said, in a no-nonsense tone, "Yes, this is a story. Now let me tell it."
He finished his sip and listened as he ate.
"’This was the way of it. In the winter of the world, the earth was covered with snow and her children fell into a deep sleep. There was no life that moved, that drew breath, or that hummed its song. The earth's spirit pined for her beloved, so it sent the wind, her voice, to find him. The wind sought high and low, and called with whispers and with bellows, but he did not answer, and he could not be found. Soon even she began to despair, as she reached the end of her search. As she swept down through the final valley, she saw the earth's beloved sleeping. Beneath his form the earth was green and a river ran at his feet. The kuri'ay grew at his head. The wind cursed him for his slumber and blew the blossoms from the tree and as they fell on the sleeping man, he awoke. The wind buffeted him, angry that he had dared to sleep for so long, to be away from his beloved for so long, until he shouted, 'peace, peace' and she quieted. He asked her why she came so, raining curses, and she told him that the children slept because he had not awakened. She told him that he must walk again. He bowed his head in shame, knowing that she told the truth. So he took the seed of the kuri'ay and began to walk. Where he walked the earth grew lush and verdant and where he found the sleeping children he planted the seeds of the kuri'ay. When it bloomed, the children awoke. Then the world was new again and moved and breathed and sang again, with song both old and new. He walks still, bearing his shame and duty and when the snow falls he rests, and when the kuri'ay blooms again, then all the children know that the u-ardan has left the arms of his beloved and that the sey-na'rei, the voice of the wind, has called him to walk again.’"
Hoshi stopped speaking and chased the last pea around on her tray. She precariously balanced it on her fork and looked up to see Malcolm staring at her.
"That's it?" he asked.
"That's it," she said and popped the pea in her mouth.
"He compared me to a glorified gardener."
"I would say that you would be Demeter," she said, punctuating the statement with a jab of her fork. "It bears a remarkable similarity to the story of Persephone and Hades, don't you think?"
He didn't say anything and she reached over to swipe a little of his mashed potatoes. She ate the forkful then said, "You should read the other stories, Malcolm. They say a lot about the culture. I think that's why the Regent gave it to me, so we could understand them better. The u-ardan is a very honored position. I think that's what the Regent was trying to say to you."
Hoshi watched Malcolm mull that concept.
Eventually he said, "Thank you for the story, Hoshi."
"Thank you for your company, Malcolm."
He nodded and stood up, picking up his tray. He paused for moment. He said, "Let me know when the kuri'ay blooms."
He smiled and she returned it. He walked away, leaving Hoshi with the same smile she'd had as she walked down the corridor.
"Sono" Part Eight
Disclaimers in part one.
Commander Trip Tucker walked into the messhall to find it bustling with activity. It was Saturday night, which meant that a long practiced tradition was about to take place. A number of crewmen were gathering chairs and placing them in an organized cluster at the opposite end of the room from where the re-sequencers were located. They had left a few lone tables with their accompanying chairs at that end. Trip waved at one of the ones occupied.
Travis waved back and said, "Hi, Commander. Did you bring your harmonica?"
Trip shook his head. "Nah, not this time. I thought I'd just come and listen." He nodded at the other person seated at the table. "What's with Hoshi?" he asked.
She had her cheek resting on the smooth surface of the table, a pose Trip thought looked uncomfortable, considering she had her hands underneath the table. She had her eyes closed.
Travis opened his mouth to answer, but was beat to it by Hoshi, who mumbled, "Trying to take a nap."
Trip grinned. "I think you picked the wrong spot for it."
Her eyes stayed closed, but a flash of irritation wrinkled her face. "I'm on shift in a few minutes," she said, her voice sounding muffled against the table.
"You're pulling a double shift?"
She sighed and raised her head, opening her eyes. She blinked bleary eyes at him for a few seconds, then said, "Have to. The duty roster got screwed up and Crewman Kanakis is sick and though I tried to get someone else in my place, it just didn't work out."
Trip grimaced in sympathy. "You know," he said, "It's about to get really loud in here in a few minutes."
She nodded. "I know. I'll be gone before then. I wouldn’t mind the shift, I just haven't been sleeping much lately. I thought I'd stay here until I have to go and hope the noise keeps me awake until then."
She closed her eyes and laid her head back down on the table, this time away from him and toward Travis.
Travis said, "Novakovich is singing 'Loving You Has Made Me Bananas' tonight."
"That man sure loves his novelty songs."
"Yeah. Crewman Cutler pestered him into it."
"Yeah, but he has a condition. She has to sing 'Fever'."
Hoshi's sleepy voice warned, "Guys."
Both men said, "Sorry, Hoshi."
A loud clang of someone dropping a chair across the room startled Trip and Travis, but when Hoshi didn't even raise her head to see what had happened, Travis and Trip shared an amused look. The loud, embarrassed, "Sorry!" from the crewman who'd dropped the chair caused them to chuckle.
Travis said, "Why don't you sit down, Commander?"
Trip shook his head. "I'm waiting for T'Pol."
Travis said, "She just came in."
Trip swung around to look at the mess-hall doors. T'Pol nodded at him and he nodded back. He pointed at a nearby table and she nodded again, but instead of heading toward it, she moved to the re-sequencer.
Travis said, "Later, Commander," not expecting a reply.
Trip waved an absent hand back at Travis, already heading to join the Sub-Commander. He stopped beside her and she spared him a brief glance. She ordered chamomile tea, and once it poured into her mug, she took it out from the small alcove and turned to him, saying, "Commander. How was your day?"
"Great, nothing out of the ordinary. You didn't bring your instrument?"
"No. I didn't wish to take time from the others."
"It's a free-for-all, T'Pol. I'm sure there are plenty of people who'd love to hear you play."
"I notice you do not have your harmonica."
He tipped his head to the side and grinned sheepishly. "Yeah, I thought I'd just listen tonight."
"You look as if you have heard something amusing."
Trip's grin grew a bit wider at the subtle emphasis she placed on the word 'heard'. And people said Vulcans had no sense of humor. Or maybe it was just this one. He shook his head, reminding himself that T'Pol was T'Pol.
He pulled out the chair from the table and she sat down. He pulled out his own chair and scooted it closer to hers.
"Crewman Cutler is going to sing 'Fever'."
"I see," was all she said. She took a sip from her tea, then added, "I came to listen to Ensign Sharper play the drums."
"And here I thought it was because I asked you to join me." He waited for it, silently counting--one, two, three--and she raised an eyebrow. As ever, he found the predictability of her reaction amusing.
The eyebrow lowered and she said, "If that is how you choose to interpret it, I am not at fault for any misconceptions that might arise."
He shook his head, letting out the smile he'd been holding back. "Just pulling your leg, T'Pol. Funny how I can still do that."
She took another sip. "Indeed," she said, looking over the rim of the cup at him.
Trip sat back and considered the fact that she now graced him with tiny facial expressions. He smiled at the little tip-up of her lips.
"I didn't know you liked big band," he said.
"It's the rhythms that fascinate me."
"Well, nobody can play the drums like Davy, so I'd say you'll enjoy it."
They got caught up in watching the activity across the room, as crew began settling down in the chairs.
T'Pol glanced over at Travis and Hoshi's table. An infinitesimal crease appeared between T'Pol's eyebrows that lasted a split second. She asked, "Is something wrong with Ensign Sato?"
"I think she's catching a few z's."
"This is not a conducive place for rest."
"That's what I told her."
"Perhaps Ensign Mayweather should assist her to bed. It is not wise for her to go without sleep for as long as she has."
Trip raised his eyebrows and pursed his lips. "Travis, 'assist her to bed'? I think Malcolm might object to that."
T'Pol shot him an intolerant look that Trip could remember his sister wearing every time he said something she usually called 'stupid'. Feeling a little put upon, he responded, "Oh, come on. Don't tell me you haven't seen it."
Her voice was blander than usual, which told him she was deliberately avoiding answering him. "Seen what, Commander?"
Somewhere inside, a voice was telling him, 'Don't fall for it, don't you dare fall for it'.
"You're gonna make me tell you, aren't you?"
"I didn't bring up the subject."
"Yeah, well, I'm dropping it."
There was a pause while he looked down.
T'Pol's voice was gentle. "Starfleet policy forbids fraternization between senior and junior officers in the same line of command. I take it you believe Commander Reed and Ensign Sato have broken that commandment."
"That wasn't what I was implying. You're twisting this into something I didn't mean."
"Am I, Trip?"
He glared at her for a moment, but her calm gaze made it difficult for him to keep it. He sighed and let the anger slip away.
In some ways, the friendship they had was...dangerous was a good word, he supposed. Her placid manner often prompted him to say things he shouldn't and when she asked him questions they were always so pointed as to be intrusive. It was difficult to keep secrets from her--and this one was no secret. He glanced over at the table where Hoshi and Travis were sitting. He said, "He does love her very much."
"I thought you were dropping the subject."
"I am...I was." He sighed. "I guess this is why speculation is such a double-edged sword."
Hoshi had lifted her head from the table and was rubbing her eyes. She said something to Travis and then placed her palms flat against the table, pushing herself up and out of her seat. She started walking to the door, and Trip's eyes followed her. She moved like someone walking through water, he noted. She saw him looking at her as she passed and she smiled.
He returned a tight smile of his own, feeling it stretch across his face and he looked away before it could become false, back to T'Pol and then wished he hadn't. Her steady gaze was full of understanding and he looked down at the table just to escape it.
Travis' sharp cry of, "Hoshi!" caused Trip to jerk his head up again, across to where he'd seen her last, only to see her crumpled on the floor.
"Sono" Part Nine
Disclaimers in part one.
Above, the two moons, the twin daughters of the sun, have risen. The fullness of one nears, the other still a faint sliver against the sky. The wind is still, now, fallen as if in reverence. She waits beneath a tree, its flowers in her hair. She looks down to her hands seeing the paint through blurred eyes, the lines of her indenture blending together like the red clouds of sunset. She keeps her head down, her hair disguising the despair in her eyes. She waits for the one who has paid for her heart.
The one she loves stands in front of her, his eyes burning brighter than the fire of the torch at her side, burning with a yearning that kindles and flames in her own heart. When the time comes, she thinks, they will never know that her heart is unfaithful. She will not allow this man who has bought her now to take her away.
He comes, painted red as the moon, as red as the cords that will bind her to him and she thinks that those cords will prove weaker than those of unspoken glances and careful, hidden touches.
She promises herself this, as they are drawn across her hand and his.
She does not raise her eyes. She keeps them lowered to the fallen flower petals. Only then, with the certitude that this must be a dream, just a dream, it has not come to this, surely, does she look up into the eyes of her husband's u-ardan and sees her sin reflected in his eyes.
Hoshi opened her eyes to the dim lights in the ceiling of Sickbay. She blinked, feeling disoriented for a few moments, a faint memory of fire and moonlight fading away as she focused on the ceiling above her. She sat up, noticing that the curtain had been pulled part-way shut. She sat still, wondering why she was in Sickbay. She couldn't remember....
"Ah, Ensign, you're awake."
She looked up, to see that Doctor Phlox was standing next to the curtain, holding a medical scanner.
Hoshi said, "Doctor--" She stopped to clear her throat. "Why am I in Sickbay?"
He stepped closer and started passing the scanner over her.
"You were brought here by Commander Tucker and Ensign Mayweather."
"You fell asleep."
She looked confused. "What? I don't understand."
"The commander said that you collapsed, do you remember?"
"Collapsed? I mean, yes, I remember being there and I was leaving to go on shift, but no, I don't remember what happened after that."
He placed a hand on hers. He smiled, face radiating reassurance and said, "That's not unusual." She gave him a look of disbelief and he said, "You've been sleeping for twelve hours, Ensign."
"Twelve hours?" she exclaimed and tried to shove her way past him, to get out of the biobed.
Phlox stopped her with two firm, but gentle hands on her shoulders. "Relax, Ensign. There will be time enough to get back to work."
His expression turned serious. He said, "Why did you not come to me when you had trouble sleeping?"
She had the grace to look chagrined. "It wasn't that bad. I was sleeping. It was just a little insomnia."
"A little insomnia, Ensign, built up enough that your body decided it needed its rest. You had only been sleeping for approximately four hours a night, is that right?"
"That's not enough. You were almost in a severe state of sleep deprivation. You frightened everyone that was in that messhall. Commander Tucker was so worried about you, you should have seen him, pacing back and forth. It was all I could do to get him out of sickbay."
Hoshi closed her eyes, her shoulders slumping, picturing the concerned face of Trip. She could just imagine what it would have been like if Malcolm had...Malcolm! Her eyes snapped open.
"And Malcolm? Does he know...?"
Phlox smiled at her. "The Commander was here earlier. I reassured him that you were fine, just as I did all your visitors. He and Tucker and Mayweather have all checked on you when they could. Commander Reed had just left a few minutes before you woke."
She let out a held breath.
"So I just needed to sleep?"
"Can I leave?"
"If you wish. I would like you to come back tomorrow, just so I can be assured that you have completely recuperated."
She nodded and slid off the biobed and headed to the exit. She stopped when Phlox said, "Next time, Ensign, don't wait. For our peace of mind."
"I won't. Thank you, Doctor."
The moment the doors shut behind her, Phlox walked over to the comm.
"Phlox to Captain Archer."
"She's awake and feeling fine, Captain."
"Thank you, Phlox. Archer out."
"Sono" Part Ten
Disclaimers in part one.
She was all right. She was fine. She didn't need another person asking her if she was. All good rationalizations. They didn't soothe Malcolm, not when he'd seen the way she looked when she entered the bridge.
The crew had heard Phlox's call to the bridge. T'Pol showed no discernable reaction, from what Malcolm could tell, but Travis had let a relieved smile show and Archer's shoulders had lost a little of their tension. Malcolm didn't even want to think of what his own expression showed.
He kept his gaze sticking fast to his console's readouts, and so missed the quick glance Archer took at him. Malcolm did look up when the turbolift doors hissed open, and Hoshi stepped off.
"Hoshi," he said, "We didn't expect you to come up here."
She looked up, an uncertain look on her face. "Captain, I--"
Archer waved his hand, in a sharp, low, cutting motion, silencing her.
"We understand what happened, Ensign. It's all right, though you caused us all some worry."
"I know. I'm sorry."
"No need to apologize. While I appreciate you coming up here, I would rather see you get some rest. I'm sure Phlox would say to not push yourself and I would agree. Come back next shift."
Her lips tightened in a small stubborn gesture. Malcolm, watching with careful attention, felt a warning twinge. Hoshi said, "But, Captain--"
Archer shook his head and Hoshi shut her mouth. She looked down, defeated. She said, her voice subdued, "Yes, sir. Thank you."
Archer nodded and sat back down. Hoshi turned to leave, and her gaze slid across Malcolm's. There was a muted rebellion in her eyes that disappeared as their gaze connected. She looked away and headed onto the turbolift, leaving Malcolm with a stronger sense that he had missed something--something beyond her obvious guilt.
She had seemed fine, but Hoshi, he had learned, had the capability to dissimulate about her personal well-being. He wasn't about to let this go, not when he had such a strong sense that there was still something wrong with her.
He had a break coming up. He'd find her and get behind that facade of hers.
He didn't find her in her quarters. There weren't many places she could be and he found her in the third place he looked--the hydroponics bay.
She was the only one in there. She stood in front of the small section reserved for decorative plants, fingering the blossoms of the kuri'ay.
She didn't turn around, even though she had no doubt heard his footsteps on the deck plating.
She said, "I think I dreamed of these while I was asleep, and of the garden on the Epa-in planet."
She turned around to face him and crossed her arms in front of her.
She said, "Yes, and of you, except..." She stopped, an unsure smile on her face. "It was just dreams."
He said, "Hoshi, are you--"
Her mouth twisted into a brief cheerless smile.
"Don't, please," she said, stopping him. Abashed, he closed his mouth, his forehead drawing down into a frown. Hoshi continued, her voice filled with a bitter amusement, "I've heard that question from too many people, today."
She turned her back to him again, her hands coming up to clench the side of the plant container.
"I'm sorry, Malcolm. I'm sorry I caused so many people so much worry, but the last thing I need is to be cooped up, getting rest."
She bent her head down, and her voice dropped so low he made a step closer to her to hear her say, "I don't need this. I need to get back to work, forget that I even fainted and leave it at that."
She looked up at him, seeing his face had grown dark at her words.
"But you didn't just faint, Hoshi. You didn't. And that's what had us concerned."
Her expression grew still, shamed. "I know."
"How did we not notice, Hoshi?"
She shook her head. She said, "This is no one's fault but my own, Malcolm. I know that. I made the mistake of thinking I could continue, on my own. That's what I told T'Pol when she asked me. She didn't press me. It's my fault, but I'm okay, Malcolm. I am."
She walked closer to him, stopping in front of him. She looked up at him and he returned her gaze. She opened her mouth, as if to say something. He waited.
She said, slowly, "Why haven't you ever..."
"Ever what, Hoshi?"
She continued to look at him, her eyes searching his face, in an almost scrutiny of him. She said, "I've seen you. Watching. You watch me with eyes full of words you never say. How long before you do what you've always wanted?"
He felt an urge to back away, her examination of him too close for him to feel comfortable as her words sunk in, confusing him.
He said, "What are you--"
She leaned forward, tipped her head up and kissed him, her mouth soft against his. He stood still, stunned at first, but when she parted her lips and he felt the warm breath of her mouth, he bent down his head, succumbing to the feel of her. His hands came up to grasp her by the arms, to draw her closer, but as soon as his fingers tightened around her arms, she jerked away from him.
She looked up at him, her eyes wide, her expression fearful, and he reached out, but she stared first at his hand, then at his face. He watched, perplexed, as her expression changed, her eyes growing narrowed and her nostrils flared.
She spat out, with vitriol that stopped him dead in his tracks, "Okan nua sen, u-ardan?"
He stood there, his mouth open, until her eyes closed and she started to slump forward. He snapped back to action, catching her before she fell.
He held her close, preventing her from slipping to the floor. Her weight dragged on his arm, but that was negligible next to the fact that she was unconscious.
"Hoshi?" he whispered.
She didn't respond. He leaned in closer, bringing up a hand to shake her head, hoping he could bring her out of it. His hand danced across her hair down to her cheek, and he bent down more, closer to her face, enough to where he could feel her warm breath.
She had kissed him. She had been fine. She had been...he felt a clench of panic close around his chest.
God. This was wrong. This was all wrong.
He lowered her to the floor, making sure her head didn't hit the deck.
He found the nearest comm, keeping his eyes on her. He slapped the panel.
"Reed to Phlox."
"Sono" Part Eleven
Disclaimers in part one.
She walks beneath a tree, reaches up and lets its fronds flow through her hands. The air is heavy with the fragrance of flowers, with the lingering heat of the day. She wishes the cool breezes that will come later in the evening were here now.
Far away, the sound of merry voices weigh like honey on the wind and she feels a stab of melancholia. They have not lit the fires yet that will burn throughout the night in celebration of the child she will bear, born out of a sanctioned union.
She watched him, this evening, saw how his eyes lingered, knew that tonight they would slip away, that they would no longer give excuses for not staying away. Her heart has been unfaithful, but her body has not. She could not cause that pain to the one who has not been but loving and gentle to her, an unexpected grace.
She sighs and leans against the tree. She sees an orange glow flare and spread, and the smell of burning wood drifts to her. When will he come? What will she say?
"She passed out, Doctor. I mean, look at her!" Malcolm pointed, his finger shaking, back at Hoshi, lying on the biobed. Her eyes were still closed. The vitals monitor above her beeped in soft chimes with the rhythm of her heart.
Phlox held his hands up in a pacifying gesture.
"I understand your concern, Commander," Phlox tried to soothe, "but I need some time--"
The doors to Sickbay hissed open. Captain Archer charged in, followed by T'Pol, in stark contrast, walking at her usual sedate pace. She moved to stand beside Malcolm.
Archer took one look at Hoshi and demanded, "What happened to her?"
Phlox answered, "That's what I'm trying to determine."
"Is this a relapse? I thought she'd recovered."
"I've only had a few minutes to check her vitals. If you can allow me some time to analyze the data, I'll have an answer."
Phlox's answer didn't sit well with Archer. "How long?" he asked, his jaw tight with impatience.
"I need to take some scans. It shouldn't take long."
Archer exhaled through his nose and nodded, leaving Phlox to his duty. He turned to see T'Pol and Malcolm standing side by side. Though T'Pol stood with her usual graceful at-ease, it was Malcolm's quick stiffening of his spine that caught Archer's attention. He looked into Malcolm's eyes, noting the distress there, the same question lurking there that was repeating in Archer's mind--why was Hoshi back in sickbay?
He walked to his Armory Officer's side. Malcolm turned to him, putting his hands behind his back.
Archer said gently, "Tell me what happened, Malcolm."
For a moment, Malcolm just looked at Archer, as if he hadn't understood what had been said. Then he said, "We were talking. She seemed all right, until..." he paused, his forehead creasing. "She said something, something right before she passed out. I think--"
Phlox's voice turned their attention to him. "Commander, Captain, I've found something."
Archer asked, "What is it?"
"From what I can tell, she's in a state of paradoxical sleep."
The unfamiliarity of the term jolted Archer into asking, his tone sharp, "I'm sorry, in what?"
Phlox gave him a dismayed look, until he realized what he'd said. He explained, "Excuse me-- REM sleep."
"So she's sleeping again."
"Not in the way she was before."
T'Pol asked, "Will she awaken?"
"I don't know. At this moment, I would say not," Phlox answered.
Archer snapped, "So it's a coma?"
"It's not that either. Ensign Sato has lowered orexin levels. This is indicative of narcolepsy, a rare sleep disorder. All the readings, and Commander Reed's description of her losing consciousness seems to substantiate that diagnosis," Phlox paused, before continuing, a puzzled tone seeping into his voice, "however--"
"Yes?" Archer prodded.
Phlox shook his head, flustered, "Ensign Sato has never suffered from any sleep disorders, which indicates to me there was something else affecting her. Something which at first affected her homeostasis, preventing normal transitioning into pa--REM sleep and causing her sleep deprivation, and is now causing this."
Archer said, "I don't understand--you said she is in REM sleep. If--"
Phlox said, "If she was suffering from narcolepsy, this wouldn't be unusual. Narcoleptics can enter REM sleep with great rapidity, and sometimes even suffer from waking hallucinations."
"She hasn't been acting like herself...." Malcolm trailed off, a series of memories coming to the surface--Hoshi's confusion when he'd asked her what she had felt in the garden on the Epa-in planet, staring at him in the moonlight, as if he were someone else, what she said after she had kissed him, the vertigo he'd felt in each instance...
"What do you mean?" Archer asked.
...Hoshi holding a pink flower, twirling it.
Malcolm murmured to himself, "The flowers."
"What are you talking about, Malcolm?" Archer pressed.
Malcolm looked up. "I think I know what's caused this, Captain."
Phlox said, "I'd like to hear as well."
"I can't be certain, but the flowers, the plant that Tolias gave us--I didn't make the connection until now. When we were on the planet, her strange behavior, and my paranoia, and the flowers--they were always there. We were in hydroponics when she passed out."
The implications were unmistakable. There was a pause while Archer contemplated this, a grim look settling on his face. He said, "If that's so...I should have listened to you, Malcolm."
"My suspicions are still unconfirmed, Captain." Malcolm pointed out.
Archer said, "We'll find out soon enough. T'Pol, go with Malcolm and gather some samples of those flowers from hydroponics. Turn them over to Phlox, and when he's finished running tests, get the results to me."
Archer started to leave, but turned back at the sound of T'Pol's voice.
"Captain, a moment? I have reason to believe that the trip to hydroponics might be unnecessary."
"What makes you think that?"
"My theory may not be correct, but I believe it is...if you'll give us leave?"
"Whatever you're thinking, T'Pol, just get some samples to Doctor Phlox. I'll be on the bridge, Doctor, once you have the results."
"Sono" Part Twelve
Disclaimers in part one.
She thinks she knows this place, yet it seems strange to her, as strange as the certainty that there is another her. She walks on paths of stone familiar to her feet. She steps over a branch, not even noting, but feeling it there.
There is sound, drips of water off branches, the air heavy with water. Fog drifts across the stones, but she doesn't stop. She knows where she must go.
She walks and then the fog is gone, along with the chill and she sees fire and someone there sitting next to it, a blanket draped over the hunched form.
She stops. She knows this person, can hear her thoughts and feel the desolation that pervades her. She is the mirror of herself, yet other, the concept of self blurred. The other is singing, words she knows, the tune melancholy, drifting. She mourns for what is gone, for what never was, for the loss of herself.
He caused this and she does not forgive him. It was not her choice to be what she is, to have this inside her, to be the womb for what has always been and always will be.
She reaches out to the fire. She has known immolation of her soul, and still there is no end.
She does not touch the fire. It is not the way that she is to go, not her time. It will come and she will have no choice but to leave.
She does not understand.
She feels the other's surprise, the jolt of awareness that arcs through her. She sees her turn her head, her eyes seeking.
She sees there recognition.
The other says, "You."
The moment Archer left Sickbay, Malcolm demanded, "Explain, T'Pol."
"Think, Commander. There is only one logical conclusion to Hoshi's behavior. You know it as well as I. Hydroponics is not the place we should go."
Realization took a few seconds to dawn, but when it did, Malcolm muttered, "My God, why didn't I think of that?"
Malcolm whirled on his feet and took off out of Sickbay. T'Pol followed after him, barely making it into the turbolift with him. Once inside, he pressed the control for D deck.
Although the lift was too small to pace in, Malcolm made few aborted attempts before stopping and asking T'Pol, "How did you come to that conclusion?"
"Hoshi herself. I fear I have been amiss. I had noted a marked distraction in her performance at her post and before her collapse in the mess, I was in the ship's gymnasium when Ensign Sato entered. I remarked that she seemed tired. I was concerned, but she assured me she was fine. I did not press the issue. I should have."
"I'd forgotten. She said that right before..."
Malcolm slumped back against the turbolift wall, bringing up a hand to pinch the bridge of his nose. A mutter came from behind his hand, "This is such a mess."
"Needless guilt is illogical. We must continue past any personal blame to assist Doctor Phlox in finding a cure."
Malcolm's hand dropped and he stared at her.
She narrowed her eyes, challenging him to argue with her observation. After a few seconds, he broke the gaze, looking at the turbolift doors. A second later, they opened and Malcolm strode out. T'Pol caught up with him, keeping an easy pace beside him. In a few short minutes they reached their destination and T'Pol waited while Malcolm keyed in the override codes to Hoshi's quarters.
Inside, a faint light glimmered from the window, the only light in the darkened room. For a moment as Malcolm stood on the threshold he felt a strange apprehension, the unfamiliar sense of intruding. The impression was broken by T'Pol's voice behind him.
"Commander, there is something else you said in sickbay..."
"What?" He asked as he groped for the panel inside the door to find the control for more light and stepped into the room. As he did so, he smelled something--sweet and strong and musty--the smell of a sealed room and felt a moment of vertigo. He almost fell against the wall, his outstretched hand bracing him up. He must have hit the control as he made contact, for light snapped on and he shut his eyes at the sudden brightness. He heard a faint sound from T'Pol, a controlled inhalation of breath.
Malcolm opened his eyes, on the verge of asking T'Pol why she'd gasped, but the words stuttered and died on seeing what the light had uncovered.
They stood, silent, taking in the sight of more than a dozen pots of kuri'ay in full bloom. They sat on every flat space there was, a riot of pale pink blossoms.
Malcolm muttered a curse under his breath that caused T'Pol to raise an eyebrow, then said, "Take one, T'Pol."
He pivoted, heading back to the entrance. T'Pol called after him, "Malcolm!" He didn't stop. T'Pol grabbed one of the plants and scurried after him.
"Sono" Part Thirteen
Disclaimers in part one.
"Do I know you?"
The other answers, "No."
She says, "But I should."
"You have been in my dreams. I have seen you. I thought you were my salvation."
"I don't know who you are. How do you know me?"
The other stands, her blanket falling to her feet. Flower petals float away, blown by the covering.
She watches this, wondering why they are red, instead of the flushed color of a maiden's blush that they should be.
The other approaches, her feet bare and cold. She reaches out, touching skin, warm. She murmurs, "I am Taiu. You are like me. A voice among voices. They will take you away from me."
"I never wanted to be here. Why am I here?"
"I have done what I will be punished for."
Against all that says she should not, she asks, already knowing the answer, "What have you done?"
"You know. Just as you know there is no end to me."
Malcolm blinked, realizing he'd been staring at the results of a scan he'd finished ten minutes ago. He took a deep breath, trying to settle the tension that had twisted his gut for the past two hours. Trying to focus on his tasks had been difficult and he'd found himself alternating between drifting in thought and examining the others on the bridge.
He looked up, now, across to Captain Archer, catching him in the act of examining the turbolift doors and tapping a tarantella on his chair arm. So he wasn't the only one on tenterhooks. He would have found some humor in that, but for the circumstances.
Phlox should have had some answers by now. And, as soon as Malcolm thought that, the turbolift doors opened. Archer stood at the sound of the swish and turned to face both Phlox and Trip, who stepped off the turbolift. Malcolm was hard put not to stand as well.
A crease appeared between Archer's brows at the sight of Trip and he asked, "I thought you were off duty, Trip?"
"I was visiting Hoshi when Phlox finished his tests."
Archer nodded at this explanation and turned his attention to the Doctor, "So you have news?"
"I do." Phlox answered.
Malcolm watched as Archer took a look around at his top officers, noting the expressions on their faces were much like what he considered his to be--curious, expectant, afraid. Archer's gaze settled on his own, a much longer one than the others, before Archer turned his back on Phlox and Trip, and started walking to the back section of the bridge, toward the console Travis had once laughingly dubbed the 'powwow circle'. Heeding the non-verbal cue, the crew followed Archer.
They gathered around the console, Archer striding to the head, Malcolm settling to one side of him, Phlox taking up the other side, with T'Pol beside him and Travis following her. At first, it appeared to Malcolm as if Trip would take up a spot next to Travis, but his friend's hesitation only lasted a second. He came to stand beside Malcolm.
Despite this, Malcolm tensed and stepped ever so slightly away from Trip, a motion not lost on Trip. A brief expression of injury drifted across his face before it hardened into a mask of muted resentment. Malcolm, stealing a look at Trip, only caught the latter and turned away, schooling his features to a stoic mask. So Trip still didn't want to have anything to do with him. Malcolm grit his teeth, embracing the flare of anger, its burn more acceptable than the equal flare of hurt at the thought that he'd misinterpreted Trip's presence at his side as a gesture of peace. Phlox's voice filtered into his thoughts and Malcolm jerked his attention back to hear the doctor say, "I have discovered that the flowers contain a toxin that acts upon the orexin levels in the human brain, lowering them to a lesser and greater degree on certain people; I believe this is what has caused Hoshi to fall into a coma."
"What does that mean, Doctor?" Archer asked.
"It means that, at this time, I have not yet discovered what would counteract this toxin's effect."
"You're telling us that there's no hope that Hoshi will pull out of it," Trip said, beating everyone else to expressing the bleak realization all had achieved.
Phlox said, "Don't despair. Although I know of nothing that will bring her out of the coma it is possible that Regent Tolias may know of something. Since it was naturally caused it is possible a natural cure exists."
"Possible," Malcolm murmured, but said nothing else. Trip lifted his hand, but withdrew it before Malcolm could notice the gesture. On the other side of the console, Travis shared a glance with T'Pol, also lost to Malcolm.
Phlox turned to Archer.
"Captain, have you spoken with the Regent?"
"Not yet. There was no point in making what would be an accusation without something to back it up. Can you tell me, Doctor, why didn't this effect the rest of the crew?"
"It did, but to a lesser degree. Those who worked with the plant experienced some of the same symptoms Hoshi is displaying, but very little of the biotoxin it released remains in their systems. The more exposure, the greater the symptoms, thus Hoshi suffered more because of her exposure to the flowers in her room."
Travis said, "Why would she have surrounded herself with them?"
"I can't answer that. Perhaps when she awakens, she'll be able to tell us herself."
"You established they have a hallucinogenic property, isn't that right, Doctor?" Malcolm queried.
Phlox acknowledged with a raised eyebrow.
Travis picked up the thought, "Maybe she didn't realize what she was doing."
T'Pol said, "Much as we would all desire to know the reason for her action, it's useless to speculate."
Archer, who had seemed lost in thought, said, "Another thing, Doctor. Malcolm and I both had plenty of exposure to those flowers on the planet, but I don't recall having felt anything."
"You may not have recognized your symptoms, Captain. They may have been so minor you took no note. Everyone, I assure you, reacted in some way to these plants. However, I will be running tests on all those that came in contact with the plants. It's possible I can find something to obstruct the toxin, but it would take time. Time I don't think you would want to wait. I urge you to contact the Regent."
"Of course." Archer gave a decisive nod, signaling the meeting was over and motioned over Malcolm. "Come with me, Malcolm. We'll talk to the Regent."
Before they could move, Trip stopped them. "Captain," he said, "If there is any need to go back to the planet, I would like to be in the landing party."
Archer nodded. "I have no objection to that."
Trip seemed content with that, but, turning to Malcolm, he added, "And what about you, Malcolm? Any objection?"
Malcolm met his gaze and coolly responded, "Not at all."
Trip, without another word, turned and left.
Archer laid a hand on Malcolm's shoulder, turning his Armory Officer's attention back to himself. Once assured he had it, Archer asked, "Is everything all right, Malcolm?"
"Yes, sir. Why do you ask?"
Archer glanced back at T'Pol, who had stopped Trip before he entered the turbolift and was saying something to him Archer couldn't hear. He looked back to Malcolm.
"No reason." He paused and then said, "I'm sorry about all this, Malcolm. If I'd listened to your suspicions we wouldn't be in this situation. For that, I sincerely apologize."
Short, simple and to the point. Malcolm nodded, accepting it for what it was, and said, "I just wish my suspicions hadn't been confirmed."
"As do I. We'll figure it out. Tolias will know of something."
"It won't be an easy conversation, sir."
"I know. It can't be helped."
Archer turned to the officer sitting at communications, saying, "Get me Regent Tolias, patch it through to my ready room."
The ensign's affirmative faded behind them as Archer and Malcolm entered the ready room.
Archer sat at his screen and pulled up the image of Tolias, who smiled in greeting.
"Captain Archer." He nodded to acknowledge Malcolm. "I'm surprised to hear from you so soon. Is there something I can do for you?"
"I wish it were for something other than this. Regent, we believe that the plant you gave us has had an adverse effect on several of my crew members."
"As near as our doctor can determine, it seems to affect certain regions of the brain, causing drowsiness and hallucinations."
"That's puzzling. Kuri'ay is nothing but a harmless herb. It has a medicinal purpose for our people, but not in the way you are describing. Has this posed a problem for your crew?"
"Most have remained relatively unaffected. One of our crew, however, is in a coma because of it."
Tolias shook his head. "That's impossible. Kuri'ay wakes the senses."
"Impossible? I disagree. Your systems and ours may be different--this is acting as a sedative on my crew. We need to know if there is anything you can think of to reverse the effects."
"The effects last as long as the exposure."
"We have discovered that. We have contained the plant so that it won't affect anyone else, but we're still at a loss to understand why Ensign Sato is still the only one who has not recovered."
For the first time, the Regent looked disturbed.
"I do not know what to say. There is no reason for this to have happened. In our experience this has never occurred."
Malcolm interrupted. "Captain, may I?"
Malcolm bent to get in view of the monitor. "Regent, you mentioned you have a use for kuri'ay. What exactly is that use?"
"It has many uses, its primary medicinal is as a stimulant. It is also used in a few of our rituals, to open the mind to other realms, to the voices of our ancestors; it is part of our ritual to choose the new sey-na."
As he said the last, Tolias' voice dropped off, as he became clearly focused on some inner realization.
"Regent?" Malcolm asked, at the same time Archer said, "What is it?"
He looked back up to Malcolm and Captain Archer, his expression no longer stunned, but determined. "It means something that should not have occurred, has. I must request that you bring her back."
"We may have a solution for your problem, but we cannot know until we have examined her. Please trust us. We only want the best for all of you, but I cannot make promises. I hope you understand. Bring your voice to us and we will attempt to restore her to you." On the last word, Tolias' gaze shifted from Captain Archer's to Malcolm's. Tolias nodded to him, a small gesture but one Malcolm understood.
Captain Archer said, "That's all we ask. Thank you."
Tolias said, "Until we touch."
"Sono" Part Fourteen
Disclaimers in part one.
Doctor Phlox had disappeared to wherever he went when occupants of his sickbay needed some time alone. Malcolm was grateful for the quiet, despite the terrible empty feeling of loneliness that coiled deep within him. If he just pretended Hoshi was sleeping, he could almost forget she wasn't just sleeping. He wasn't alone. He kept telling himself that.
He looked down at her, sighed and closed his eyes. He let his head fall down, resting it in the palm of his hand. Alone.
The doors to Sickbay hissed open and Malcolm looked up, past the partially drawn privacy curtain. Travis had come in but had stopped just inside the door. He looked across, meeting Malcolm's eyes.
"Hey, Malcolm," he said.
Malcolm answered, "Travis," then looked back down to Hoshi, only looking up when Travis stopped on the other side of Hoshi's bed.
"How is she doing?"
"I thought you might be here, so I came down to tell you, we'll be arriving soon."
Malcolm gave a stiff nod. "Good."
Travis' gaze drifted to Hoshi, and he watched her for a few moments before he said, "Do you think that she dreams?"
"I don't think I would want to know."
There was a bitter note in Malcolm's voice, acrid enough to cause Travis to look at him with concern.
"We'll get her back, Malcolm," he said, trying to offer as much comfort as possible.
"I hope so." The bitterness was still there.
"You know," Travis started, his voice thoughtful. Malcolm looked up at him, to see an expression of hesitance. Travis caught the look, and continued, with the same thoughtful tone, "Both you and Commander Tucker look as if you haven't slept in days. You should get some sleep."
Malcolm looked back down at Hoshi, as he said, "Don't tell me you said the same thing to him." This time, under the bitter tone, was a faint sound of wry amusement.
"No, but I'm sure T'Pol has that well in hand."
Malcolm looked up, a spark of interest in his eyes.
"And how would you know that?"
"The smaller the ship, the larger the rumor mill."
"I should have known. Find most of that gossip to be true?"
Travis didn't bridle at the tone of sarcasm, just stated, "There's always a grain of truth. Besides, when it comes to my friends, it's good to know all I can. For instance, that you and Trip have both visited Hoshi, but only when the other's not around."
Malcolm did bridle. "That's not true."
"If you say so, sir."
"I would think if you had something to say, Travis, you wouldn't dance around it so with such circumspection. Just spit it out, would you?"
"Well, I would, but I do have a concern. Depends on whether or not I'm talking to my commanding officer or my friend."
"For the sake of argument, the latter."
"Well, then. When are you going to stop treating each other like strangers?"
"When he gets his head out of the sand."
"Says one ostrich. In case you didn't notice he's been trying to."
"There's no rivalry there, Travis, no ill feelings."
"And no communication. Hoshi's noticed that. She mentioned it to me and I couldn't tell her the real reason behind your avoidance of each other. That wouldn't stop her. If it hadn't been for this, you would have heard something from her by now."
"Nothing much does gets by her...or you, apparently. So you took it upon yourself--"
"All I'm saying is you have a good friendship that you're letting go to waste."
"Get back up to the bridge, Ensign."
Travis looked as if he had something else to say, but instead, he said, "Yes, sir."
"Rest assured--I heard."
"Sono" Part Fifteen
Disclaimers in part one.
The time away had changed the garden, Malcolm thought as he stepped out of the shuttlepod. There was more snow on the ground now, the branches of the trees bowed down by the weight of sharp icicles. The sky was grey and dim, and when Malcolm let out a breath, it drifted in the air, the warmth of it stolen by the freezing air.
A few Epa-in children were playing in the snow, their faces clean of the paint the adults wore, eyes full of joy. Their laughter rang in the still air. A young boy stopped playing and watched the rest of the shuttlepod passengers disembark--Archer next, Trip after him. Phlox's face appeared at the opening, then ducked back in.
Malcolm looked away from the boy, as Archer moved past Malcolm to the front of the group. He looked past the back of Archer's head, to the Regent's hogan, where smoke rose in a steady thin stream of darker grey against the sky.
Malcolm fought hard against the feeling of doom pressing against his chest, the doubt that spoke in a needling whisper, the cycling thoughts that hadn't stopped--she will never wake up, she will never wake up, they can do nothing, nothing at all, you'll be left alone, all alone, no hope, no hope, you'll never look her in the eyes again--and below that, the one thought that he refused to hear.
You never told her.
He heard the snow give way beside him and let his gaze drift away from the dark sky to Trip, who stopped beside him.
"Seems peaceful," Trip said.
Malcolm said nothing, just returned his gaze to the smoke streaming from the hogan.
"It was," he said, after a long moment.
Trip looked back at the open door of the shuttlepod. Doctor Phlox stood in the gap. His face was unusually somber. He said, "I'll keep an eye on her, Commanders. Until you return." He closed the hatch. Trip turned back to Malcolm, catching the eye of Archer as he did so.
Archer said, "Come on. Let's go see if Tolias can help."
He started across the clearing, Trip and Malcolm following. They passed the boy, still staring. When he saw Malcolm, he dropped his head, becoming as still as any frightened wild animal.
The gesture bit at Malcolm. The recognition was unexpected and as chilling as the air.
They continued on, the hogan becoming clearer with each step. Within twelve meters Malcolm saw the skins in front of the entrance stir, and Tolias' u-ardan exit, with Tolias and another man on his heels.
Tolias came toward them, his two men moving to the back.
Within earshot, Tolias said, "Captain Archer. Commander Reed. And?"
"Commander Tucker." Archer said.
Tolias nodded and turned to indicate the other man he'd brought. "This is our medic. You have brought your sey-na?"
"Yes," Archer said, "she's in our shuttlecraft with our doctor."
"May I see her?"
Archer curtly nodded and turned back to the way they had come.
Phlox came out to meet them, nodded at the Regent when Archer introduced them and took the Regent's medic back with him inside the shuttlecraft. The others crowded around the entrance, listening to the murmured back and forth between Phlox and the Regent's doctor, and watched while the man placed his hand on Hoshi's forehead and then draw out a scanner. Done with his scan, the medic turned back to Tolias and said, "This woman does carry the voice of Taiu."
Tolias turned to Archer, his face grave, saying, "We can help her, if you will trust us."
Archer gave his assent.
They took her back to Tolias' hogan, where the Epa-in doctor, Phlox and Tolias vanished behind a partition, carrying Hoshi there with them. The u-ardan stopped Archer, Trip and Malcolm from following, saying, "You will wait here."
"Will the Regent be joining us?" Malcolm asked.
The u-ardan shook his head, bent his head down, and extended his hand. Archer reached out, touching his hand to the Bearer. Still keeping his eyes down, the u-ardan turned and left.
Trip said, "I don't like that."
"What do you mean?" Archer asked.
"Their deference--it's disturbing. Smacks of slavery."
"I always felt there was something off." Malcolm muttered.
Archer sat down, cross-legged, after giving them both a quieting look. They sat down next to him, but both gave the impression they would rather stand. Malcolm's foot jittered back and forth.
"I wonder why the Regent isn't joining us," Trip said.
"I suspect it's because he is assisting their healer," Archer pointed out.
"Something about this just rubs me the wrong way," Trip muttered.
Archer said, "Phlox is with him. I doubt he would agree to anything that would harm Hoshi."
The rustling of the curtain where Tolias and Phlox had disappeared cut Trip's intended response off and all three men stood, turning to the sound. The sound of soft singing reached them from the secluded area. Archer, Malcolm, and Trip watched as the curtains parted and Tolias stepped through, followed by a group of women. Malcolm spotted the u-ardan and Phlox at the back of the group.
One woman, younger than the others, held a goblet in front of her, both hands around the stem. Tolias led the women in slow, solemn steps.
Archer said, "That song sounds familiar."
"It's the one he sang when we were here last," Malcolm answered, still looking at the group.
The u-ardan's gaze locked onto Malcolm's and held. The procession advanced, parting to reveal Hoshi on a pallet, clothed like the group of women, in a thin linen cloth shift. None of the women wore paint, unlike the others in the hogan.
The procession continued through the hogan, past the people gathered within, who had all ceased their work and stood with their heads bent down. A hum of the same melody came from them, reverberating through the dwelling.
The group passed Archer and the others. As the u-ardan passed Malcolm he said, "Follow."
Phlox, while still grim-faced, spared a brief smile for Malcolm and fell in step with them.
Trip, his voice hushed, said, "They're going outside."
Archer said, "Yes."
"It's freezing out there. You saw how they were dressed! Why would--"
"Hush," Archer said.
Trip shot a disbelieving look at him, his mouth open.
Archer raised his eyebrows.
Trip looked to Malcolm and received nothing but a stolid stare.
"Fine," he grumbled.
They passed through the curtains guarding the entrance and Trip fell back behind Archer, next to Malcolm.
"Malcolm," he whispered, "this isn't right."
"He asked us to trust him."
"And you do trust him?"
"No, but I do trust his u-ardan."
Trip seemed to have no answer to that.
They walked down the path, past all the snow-covered trees and bushes, down past the bench Hoshi had sat on in the moonlight, past the merest hint of a stone-bordered plot. The Epa-in never stopped singing and the sound was bright, yet doleful in the winter stillness. They walked until Malcolm spied a statue set far in a niche in the wall that enclosed the compound.
The wall held the bare, twisted curves of a vine that circled around the base of the statue. As they drew closer, the details of the sculpture became more distinct to Malcolm.
It was a tree and below it were two figures locked tight in an embrace, a female and male, he supposed, from the relative heights of the couple. Where the smaller one's feet should have been, instead seemed to continue into the carven ground and Malcolm realized that the sculpture was a physical representation of the story Hoshi had told him.
It was here they stopped. The bearers of Hoshi's pallet lowered it to the ground, mindful of its weight. Tolias stepped to one side, joined by his u-ardan, while the women gathered around Hoshi. They knelt, in the cold snow, still holding their goblets. When they stopped singing, Malcolm became conscious of how silent it was and realized he'd been holding his breath.
Trip muttered something under his breath that Malcolm did not catch.
The girl raised her goblet to their mouth and drank, emptying the vessel. Once empty, she dug it into the snow and poured the snow out over Hoshi. Once done, she passed it to the woman beside her, who did the same.
Malcolm felt Trip jerk beside when the snow hit Hoshi. Malcolm shot a look at Phlox, whose calm face reassured him. Malcolm raised an arm out in front of Trip, stopping him.
"Don't," Malcolm murmured.
"You can't be serious," Trip hissed.
Malcolm turned to Archer, who had not moved. Archer nodded in support, not looking any happier than Trip. "We have to let this play out, Trip," he said.
Trip set his mouth stubbornly and turned his head away. Only Malcolm noticed Trip blinking as if he had dust in his eyes. Malcolm tightened his lips, unconsciously imitating Trip's expression and returned his attention to the ceremony.
The women had covered Hoshi with snow, leaving only her face visible. Now, finished, they closed their eyes, as if waiting. The one girl who had drunk, lifted her voice in song again and the others hummed in harmony with her.
At first, it seemed as though nothing was happening, so when Trip said, "Look," in a voice filled with wonder, Malcolm couldn't see what Trip was pointing out. Archer asked, "What?"
"Look at the snow."
They looked closer and what seemed at first the sparkle of sun on the snow grew stronger until a bright white glow emanated from Hoshi's body. The snow began to melt, but instead of running off Hoshi's skin, it was absorbed into it.
Malcolm heard himself murmuring, "Unbelievable." He glanced over at the others, noting the stunned look on Archer’s face and that Trip was nodding his head in silent agreement.
The three men stood there, stunned, until the girl who had started the song stopped singing and stood. The other women also stood and Tolias stepped forward and tucked the girl to his side, shielding her. As if snapped by a rubber band, Trip started forward.
"Come on," he said, and both Malcolm and Archer hesitated before following after him. Malcolm thought that he would head straight to Hoshi, but instead, Trip accosted Tolias.
"Is that it? Is she all right now?" He demanded.
"Judge for yourself."
Malcolm swung his head around to look at Hoshi on the ground.
Phlox had already kneeled beside her. He looked up from his scanner and said, "She should awaken soon." As he did, Malcolm thought he saw Hoshi’s eyelids flutter.
He bent down and stretched out his hand to touch her. Her eyes opened. He pulled back. Her eyes closed again and she brought a hand to her head.
He said, "Hoshi?"
She mumbled something that sounded like, "I’m sorry."
Trip reached past Malcolm, his jacket in hand. "Put this around her." He also bent down and took Hoshi by the hand, saying, "Wake up."
Her eyes opened and remained open. She said, "Malcolm?"
Malcolm hastened to say, "I'm here."
She held her free hand out to him and Malcolm and Trip pulled her up. Trip settled the jacket around her shoulders. Hoshi gathered it close to her with one hand. They walked the few steps to where Archer and Tolias stood. Tolias was saying, "We are very sorry, Captain, that this ever happened."
"We accept your apology, Regent. What will happen with her?" Archer asked, looking down at the girl, who had her face turned into Tolias' side.
"This ceremony was performed out of season. She will be placed in proper care, apart from the others. The voice she carries will be restored in due time."
"If," Tolias hesitated, "you wish, you may visit us, later, after your Hoshi has recuperated."
"Thank you. We'll consider it."
Tolias nodded and left Archer, following the rest in the direction of his hogan. Archer shook his head, a sad look on his face.
Hoshi, still allowing Malcolm and Trip to support her, looked up at Archer. She said, "I'd like to go home, sir."
None of them looked back.
"Sono" Part Sixteen (Epilogue)
Disclaimers in part one.
Malcolm leaned forward in his chair, focusing on the image of Phlox on his private viewscreen.
He said, "You mean that the remedy was in the snow itself?"
Phlox nodded his head.
"The captain was as surprised as you when I told him the results of the tests. It was some sort of counteragent."
"What about what we witnessed--the strange glow and what followed after?"
"Ah, that. That still has me puzzled. Perhaps something to do with the reaction--"
Malcolm’s door chimed.
"Excuse me, Doctor. There’s someone at the door."
"Understood. I’ll see if I can come up with an answer."
"Thank you. Reed out."
Malcolm toggled the switch that shut the viewer down and rubbing the back of his neck with one hand, he went to answer his door. It swished open and he dropped his hand in surprise at who stood on the other side.
"Can I talk to you?"
Malcolm stepped aside to allow her into his quarters. She sat down on the couch, and after a moment's hesitation he joined her.
She nestled back into the couch, and closer to him. She pulled his arm into place around her shoulders, and he couldn't say no to that, even though it was more than he should allow for his peace of mind.
For a long time, she said nothing. Just sat, not looking at him, or making any motion, lost in thought. He didn't speak, and the silence wasn't overbearing. "It was so strange, Malcolm," Hoshi said.
He looked down at her, after she spoke. She still wasn't looking at him, but at some point on the floor.
"What was?" he asked.
"To be two people. I can't believe I didn't notice what happened to me, or put the signs together. I felt her when she left and if I think back I remember when she attached herself to me in the garden, but after that, I felt nothing, except that I would dream, and they were so vivid, but not part of me, but as if I was someone else. I think, she wanted to teach me something."
Malcolm's grip around Hoshi's shoulders tightened. "By hitching a ride in your sub-conscious? I'm sorry, Hoshi, but possession generally never turns out well for us."
She looked at him, her gaze intent.
"It was a mistake, on her part. She sensed a kinship, but she didn't know how different we were, or that by becoming a part of me, that she would be trapped."
"That doesn't change what she did."
"Malcolm, she was trying to find absolution. Trying to fix something she'd had no control over. Trying to give me a message. She thought she would be able to leave once she was done."
"What are you talking about?"
"She talked to me, let me see her life. She was caught between two men. Women then were treated as equal to slaves, to be bought and sold to whatever man would have them. She fell in love, but with the wrong man, and when she was sold in marriage to another, she kept seeing that man. He was jealous of her husband, his own master, so jealous that she feared for her husband's life."
"She feared for him."
Hoshi bit her lip. "She did. You see, he'd treated her well, like an equal and they were going to have a child. She made up her mind she would be faithful to him, but her lover would have none of it. The more she pleaded, the more violent he became. She defended herself. She killed him." Hoshi paused.
Malcolm whispered beside her, almost as if he was unaware of what he was saying, "And they executed her for it."
"How do you know that?"
"What?" he snapped, looking startled.
She turned out of his embrace. "How much stayed with you?"
"I don't know what you mean."
"I've been so wrapped up in myself and what I experienced that I forgot--Phlox said everyone was affected in some way. You, you were the other half."
She felt him stiffen, more than she saw it.
She asked, pressing, "What was it for you?"
She swore, cutting off his warning. "Stop it, Malcolm! You will not do that to me. We're friends and you've earned the right to treat me that way, so use my name, and tell me: what happened to you?"
He should have been expecting that he chastised himself and forced himself to keep looking her in the eyes.
He'd spent the past few weeks, in the wake of all the revelations, trying to put together the pieces of the puzzle, coming up with an image that was still unclear. Something had happened to him, but how it matched up with everything learned, and now Hoshi's new information...he still had no solid answer.
"Nothing like what you went through."
"But it was something. You were part of what she was trying to communicate to me."
"I don't remember anything, Hoshi. Whatever she'd spoken to you--I received none of it. All I experienced was a presence; sometimes it pushed me away, sometimes it welcomed me. If I was chosen by her, too, why us? Why pick us? We--" He stopped and looked away, withdrawing his arm from around her shoulders.
Confused, Hoshi said, "Malcolm?" He looked at her, but his gaze skittered away from hers in the space of a flickered eye.
It was enough for Hoshi to understand.
"That's not why, Malcolm. We aren't them."
In one anxious movement, he sprang from her side and placed a few feet between them.
"Of course not," he protested.
"I'm afraid, too."
"Afraid of what?"
"Of what we want. Of breaking the rules that say we can't have it."
"There have been no rules broken."
"Yet. But you want to, don't you? If you could, Malcolm, would you break the rules for me?"
She saw him take a breath and his eyes go wide. She held her breath in kind, waiting, but when his face broke down into a barely held expression of grief, she had her answer before he spoke.
She crossed quickly to him, stopping him from saying anything else with a hand across his lips.
"It's enough to know."
There was a charged pause as they stared at each other. Hoshi said, "Keep denying yourself, Malcolm, if you want, but I intend to stay here," she dropped her hand from his lips and landed it on his uniform, above his heart, pressing it there, "and time can change a lot of things."
She reached up, giving him a kiss. The sensation of her warm lips tingled across his scalp and he couldn't help but compare the last time she kissed him, with this. This was right, but before he could say anything or even reach for her, she smiled and walked out his door.