The Vulcan Queen
T'Laria crept quietly into the dark room, glancing furtively behind her to be sure she hadn't been followed. The wan light of T'Khut, that the outworlders called "Delta Vega", barely gave her enough light to see by. Even so, she walked across the marbled floor with confidence. She knew the armory well and she could navigate it in total darkness, just as easily as she could her own chambers.
Soon, she located what she wanted. She glanced around again, even though the household was certainly asleep. Even the night guards would have no business here for at least an hour more. She looked up at the sword and allowed herself to smile. No one would see her violating her father's orders, so they would not see her expressing emotions, either.
She found one of the ornate chairs and pulled it quietly to the case. It was not locked, for no one would steal from the descendants of Surak. Once the case was open, T'Laria reached out to touch the sheath, running her hands down the trail of silver stars etched and pressed deep into the dark, well-kept leather casing. She breathed in the scent of it, enjoying the smell even though she knew she shouldn't. Finally, she reached out, small hands gripping the edges of the sheath, and lifted the sword from the case.
The weight of it was greater than she'd anticipated. She fell backward, the tip of the sword striking the hard floor with a sharp crack. T'Laria gasped, and held perfectly still, listening for any sign that someone had heard the noise. Minutes passed, and no guards appeared. Heart pounding, she carefully laid the sword on the floor and pushed the chair back into place. Then, quickly, she hefted the sword onto her back, better able to handle it now that she knew what to expect. She shuffled as swiftly as she could out of the armory and back to her own chambers.
For several minutes, T'Laria just stared at the sword. It was so big - it seemed even bigger now that she could see it in comparison with her own belongings. It was slightly taller than T'Laria herself, but it fit comfortably on her bed, and she laid it there, almost reverently. For the hundredth time, she hoped that she would grow to be tall enough to wield it herself one day.
She traced the stars with her fingers, memorizing their shape. There were twenty-two of them, for the twenty-two provinces of T'Khasi that were now united under her father's rule. She'd never been so close to the sword before, but now she could see that each star was different in shape and size, just as the provinces were different from one another.
T'Laria studied the hilt next. She longed to read the script engraved on the cross-bar, but she wouldn't advance to Ancient Calligraphy until next year. With a hesitant glance toward her own chamber door, she carefully unsnapped the clasps that held the sword to the scabbard. She wouldn't dare pull out the dangerous blade. She just wanted to know how easily the clasps could be removed in battle.
She could easily imagine her father, so tall and strong, standing at the battlegrounds in his full armor with the sword at his side, looking out on their enemies without even the slightest hint of fear. Like the great Surak of the Ancient Days, Sarek son of Skon had taken on the awful burden of battle for the ultimate cause of unity and peace. She could almost feel the hot winds of the battle grounds - the sands whipping up under the feet of the jarels that had been trained to hold riders for battle. The enemies - those who opposed peace and order - were across the field, waiting to be defeated by the might of her heroic father.
Her mother would be on the battlements, waving to her husband - a beautiful, exotic vision, with her large round eyes and her pink-ish skin, wearing the traditional robes of T'Khasi royalty. Gracefully, and with a brave expression, she would turn back to the palace to wait for news, and carry on maintaining order in the province while the King was away.
T'Laria gasped sharply at the sound of the alarm bell. She sat up suddenly, astonished. The sun was already rising. When had she fallen asleep?
Quickly, she sprang from the bed, gripped the handle and pulled hard on the sword. Her eyes widened, and she stifled a cry, realizing too late that the sword was still unclasped. The deadly blade slipped free from the scabbard, ripping a deep gash in her blankets, and the mattress itself on its way to the floor.
In a panic, T'Laria edged around the blade as quickly as she dared, grasped the sheath and tried to figure out how to get it back onto the sword without slicing her fingers off. Suddenly, there was a sharp rap on her door. "T'Laria? Lari, are you awake?" It was her mother's voice.
T'Laria's grip tightened on the scabbard. She could already feel the sting of tears in her eyes, though she struggled to keep them in. The sword was supposed to have been back in its case an hour ago! No one would ever have known, but now, the very person she would most hate to discover her disobedience - perhaps even moreso than her father - was at her very door. She considered trying to hide the sword, but there was a gash in her bed that made the gesture useless. Further deceit would only make it worse.
"Yes, Mother," she replied, the worry in her mother's voice making the decision final. "I... I'm here."
"Oh, thank heaven!" The door opened, and her mother rushed inside, but stopped suddenly when she saw the sword and the mess. T'Laria saw the change in her mother's face, from worry to shock, then reprimand, and she lowered her head, squeezing her eyes down on the building tears. "Oh, Lari, what on Earth!"
T'Laria looked up, fixing her mother with a curious expression. "We are not on Earth, Mother," she said softly.
Her mother pursed her lips, but a smile she clearly didn't want to show still curved the corner of her mouth. She turned back to where one of the guards waited outside the door. "You can call off the search," she said. "I've found it."
"Yes, my Lady," the guard replied.
The Lady Amanda had completely wiped any trace of amusement from her face by the time she got to T'Laria. She extended her hand, and T'Laria gave her the scabbard. "Stand away from it, Lari," she said softly.
T'Laria backed away, and her mother lifted the sword with difficulty, and slid it back into its sheath. "I didn't mean to take it out of the sheath," T'Laria said softly. "I-"
"You weren't allowed to take it out of the armory at all," her mother said sharply. "You defied your father, and you could have hurt yourself very badly!"
T'Laria lowered her head. "Yes, mother," she said softly. "I'm sorry."
"I know you are, sweetheart," she said, her voice softening just a little. She knelt down so that she could look T'Laria in the eye, and beckoned to her. T'Laria edged forward, feeling the heat rise to her face, and knowing that her cheeks must be quite a dark green by now. "Listen, Lari," her mother said. "I know how much you want to be a hero like your father, and like your ancestors in the Awakening. But we are in an age of peace now, and it's something we should be very grateful for."
"I am, but..." T'Laria struggled for the right words.
"But you want adventure," Amanda said. T'Laria nodded. "T'Laria, your time to lead your people will come. But you are the sole heir to the throne, and that means that you may not be allowed to ride out to battle if the worst happens, and we have to suffer attack again." T'Laria clenched her fists tightly, hating to hear that particular truth, even though she knew it well. "I know it upsets you now, but you're only seven years old, my love. You'll come to feel better about this when you're older."
T'Laria shook her head, but didn't speak. "Come," Amanda said. T'Laria came forward and allowed her mother to embrace her. "You've certainly given yourself a challenge now," she said. T'Laria stifled a despondent sigh, and her mother squeezed her tight. "Lari, being the sole heir is not easy. But you must understand that even the heroes of the Awakening, and the Unification had to do things they didn't want to do. None of them wanted battle. They did what they had to do for the good of their people. Heroes can't just fly away and do anything and everything they want. Heroes are bound by duty and honor and honesty. Just like princesses are. Do you understand?" T'Laria nodded, brushing harshly at the tears threatening to escape. "Now, what do you think is the heroic thing to do right now?"
"Confess what I did to Father," she said, her voice sounding smaller than usual to her own ears.
Amanda pulled back and smiled warmly at her. "That's right, sweetheart. Now, go. Dress first, then speak to him."
"Yes, Mother." T'Laria quickly changed out of her nightgown, and into something presentable. She washed her face, trying to get rid of any trace of tears. Her hair had been readied for bed, and she pulled out the two long braids, and het her hair fall as it usually did, down her back to her waist.
When she could think of nothing else that should be prepared, she walked slowly to her father's favorite study, where he usually spent his mornings. She gritted her teeth, told herself that heroes were not afraid to admit when they had been wrong, and knocked on the door.
T'Laria watched herself in the mirror, while her handmaid carefully combed her hair. She tried to force the emotion from her face, but it was impossible. She could not hide her nervousness, nor contain her excitement. "What if I fall?" she asked suddenly.
T'Pan shook her head, intent on her task. "You will not fall, my Lady," she answered.
"But what if I do? I will shame our entire planet in front of Federation Heroes!"
T'Pan looked at her in the mirror, her face serious, but eyes amused. "Your Highness," she said. "You have known how to walk from one place to another for many years now." T'Laria stifled a laugh, while trying to look indignant at the same time. "His Majesty believes that you are capable of bestowing the honor, and that it is time you took part in matters of state."
"But what if they're offended by receiving an honor from a ten year old, instead of the king himself?"
"You are the ten year old heir to the throne of the United Provinces of T'Khasi - the most revered governmental body in the Federation. They would be fools to take offense." T'Pan set down the comb and moved to face T'Laria directly. "I believe you will be excellent, Your Highness. You will look radiant, you will honor our planet, and you will not fall."
A few short hours later, T'Laria sat in the small throne beside her mother and father, watching with wonder in her eyes as the Starfleet delegation entered the audience chamber. T'Laria tried to keep track of the many admirals and captains and others in their sharp uniforms, so different from the flowing robes worn by her own people. But her attention was drawn to one woman. Like the other women present, she wore a uniform of dark pants and a shirt adorned with various insignia. She had golden hair, wavy and full around her face, and her eyes were a bright, vibrant shade of blue. But, though the others in the party looked serious but pleased, there was deep sadness in this woman's eyes that she did not try to hide. T'Laria wanted to ask who she was, but she didn't dare interrupt the proceedings.
Compliments were exchanged between the two parties, and King Sarek spoke well of the heroism of the Starfleet Officers assembled. Many of them had apparently helped save the lives of crew members in some great disaster. Then, they spoke of George Kirk. Sarek spoke at length about the greatest sacrifice of all, and how Captain George Kirk had given his life courageously to save the lives of his entire crew. He declared that Vulcan (as outworlders called T'Khasi) was honored to be aligned with the United Federation of Planets, who had given rise to such a noble individual. "It is for this reason that we have invited you here, to accept on behalf of Captain George Kirk, our highest honor."
Sarek looked at T'Laria, and she stood slowly. One of the admirals announced that Lieutenant Winona Kirk would accept the honor for her late husband. The golden-haired woman she had been fascinated by earlier stepped forward. Her eyes were now reddish, and shining with tears. T'Laria suddenly felt more nervous than ever. This woman had lost her husband to a heroic deed. The idea of her own father dying in battle, and her mother with eyes red and shining like this woman, made T'Laria's own eyes begin to sting. She swallowed hard, trying to push down the emotions, but finding it difficult.
She stepped down from the dais, and moved to the podium where the Right of Valor stood. She pulled off the cover, revealing the disc with its intersecting triangle and second inner disc. Carefully, she picked up the award, which had been customized to be light enough for a Terran to easily carry.
She walked toward the female officer, bowed her head slightly, then looked up at her. "Lieutenant Kirk," she said, clearing her throat slightly when her voice wavered. "It is my honor to bestow the Right of Valor to you. For your husband's sacrifice... and for yours," she added, deviating from what she knew she should say. "The Twenty-Two Provinces of Vulcan are deeply grateful. May this token serve as a reminder that you and your family" - her voice cracked at the word 'family' - "will ever be welcomed as honored guests in our house." By the time she finished speaking, her own eyes were filled with tears.
Lieutenant Kirk seemed to be affected by this, because her own tears flowed faster, and she reached out as if she wanted to touch T'Laria, then stopped herself. She took the statue from T'Laria, and smiled at her, though the tears never stopped. "I'm honored, Your Highness," she said. "Thank you so much."
T'Laria gazed at the woman for a few seconds, before returning to her seat. Her mother smiled warmly at her as she stepped up, and her father did not look completely disapproving of her open display of emotion. She spent the final several minutes of the ceremony watching Lieutenant Kirk, wondering what it was to be a woman in Starfleet, and thinking how beautiful it was that she and her husband had shared the experience of serving together, even though he had lost his life in the end.
When the ceremony was over, T'Laria went to the palace library and looked up everything she could find about the Federation's Starfleet.
"I don't understand why you won't let me see her!"
"I did not allow you audience to that you could question my decisions!"
T'Laria paused, surprised to hear her father speaking so angrily. She didn't recognize the other man's voice, and she edged closer to the chamber, peeking through the open door. Her father stood near his work desk, looking sternly at the stranger. The other man was far younger than her father – perhaps in his mid fifties – with hair kept longer than was the custom among Shi'Kahr men. T'Laria wondered if he was from one of the Eastern Provinces.
"How can you expect me not to question you, when you keep important information from-"
"T'Laria's education is my affair," Sarek said tersely. T'Laria stifled a gasp, stunned to realize that they were talking about her. "You have no right to try to interfere."
"But sir, she has a right to know who I am! We are-"
"No!" her father shouted. Father never shouted. "You lost all rights to be a part of this household when you stood against me in Council! I will not allow you to corrupt my daughter with your heretical ideas! You will-" Sarek suddenly stopped speaking, and looked directly at T'Laria.
T'Laria froze – she hadn't realized that she'd moved further into the doorway. Caught, she came fully into the doorway and curtseyed deeply to her father. "I beg your pardon, Father. I… heard shouting."
"That is no excuse for listening to private conversations," Sarek said sternly.
"Your Majesty, she can hardly be blamed," the stranger said. "The door is-"
"Enough," the king snapped. He paused, eyes dark, and glanced at T'Laria. He turned back to the stranger, and when he spoke again, his voice had returned to its usual calm and unemotional timbre. "Allowing you to return here was obviously an error on my part. If you are not out of Shi'Kahr before sunrise, you will be imprisoned. Now. Leave my palace at once."
The long-haired man frowned deeply, but he bowed and backed away. T'Laria stepped away from the door so that he could pass, and he looked at her with open sadness in his eyes. Without a word, he bowed once more to Sarek, then turned and stormed away down the hall.
"T'Laria." She stepped back into the doorway, then entered when her father beckoned to her. "Did you wish to speak to me about something?"
"Yes, sir," she said, glancing back at the door before approaching her father's desk. He was seated, reading a data pad. It appeared that he did not intend to discuss the stranger at all. "What I wanted it is not urgent, if you would rather I wait."
"I am not occupied," he replied. "Sit down."
T'Laria sat at the desk, and her father gave her his attention. "I only wanted to find out if you had reviewed the information I found on the Junior Exchange program at Starfleet Academy."
Sarek's lips tightened slightly, but T'Laria pretended not to notice. "I did, but I am not certain that it is advisable for you to spend six months among outworlders, so close to thecompletion of your education."
She had expected this, and replied with her rehearsed answer. "I understand your concern, Father. But I believe that, since it will be one of my primary duties to interact with Outworlders when I begin devoting all of my time to assisting you, it will be beneficial for me to work and live among them for a time. Once my education is completed, I may not have time to take advantage of such an opportunity."
Sarek listened to her, and his lips tightened again at her answer. T'Laria began to feel nervous. "That is a valid point, T'Laria. I will consider it further, and you will know my answer at the end of the day."
T'Laria opened her mouth to protest, but thought better of it. The end of the day was hours away - an eternity! But at least he had agreed to think about it, and she didn't want to irritate him - especially when he'd already had an unpleasant visit only moments before. "Thank you, Father," she said. "May I help you with anything now?"
"Not today, T'Laria. You may go." She stood, bowed and left the room.
The remainder of the day moved very slowly for T'Laria. She was burning with curiosity about the stranger who seemed to have once been part of their household, but she had no idea how to find out more about him. She considered asking her mother, but lost her nerve before she could even broach the subject. If the man had been banished, then it was forbidden to speak of him and she didn't want to place her mother in an uncomfortable situation.
Naturally, the only thing she could think about besides the stranger was the Exchange Program. She desperately wanted to join the program. Students from various Federation planets had the opportunity to spend a school term living on the Academy grounds, taking advanced courses, and experiencing the physical aspects of Academy training. For the past seven years - ever since the ceremony where she'd met Winona Kirk - T'Laria had dreamed of nothing but going out into space on a Starfleet Vessel. All her fantasies of riding out into the fields to defend Shi'Kahr and rescuing helpless victims from the Monsters of a Thousand Eyes on T'Khut, had been replaced with visions of herself, leading exploratory expeditions into the far reaches of space, and meeting new species' that no member of the Federation had ever encountered before.
The prospect of participating in the exchange was like a dream come true. But she was afraid that her father would deny her the chance, and the fear plagued her while she tried to get through the day. She couldn't settle herself to complete her tutor's assignments, so she went to the gymnasium, changed to her athletic clothing, and ran on the track for a while.
Within a few minutes, she was joined by Stonn. He jogged next to her, giving her a cursory bow before running into step beside her. T'Laria let him see that she was pleased by his presence. "How are you, Stonn?" she asked, only mildly breathless after the four kilometers she'd run.
"I am well, my Lady," he replied. "But you are not, I see."
T'Laria glanced at him, and there was a hint of playfulness in his pale blue eyes. "Are you telling me my Human side is transparent today?" she asked.
Stonn shook his head, and raised a hand. "Never would I insult you so, Your Highness," he said. T'Laria stopped suddenly, shocked, but the corner's of Stonn's mouth edged up slightly, and she felt his amusement through their bond. "I distracted you from it, whatever it was, didn't I?"
T'Laria couldn't hide her smile. "You did," she said. "But I should challenge you to a set with the lirpa for your insolence, all the same."
"I respectfully decline," he said. "I won't forget the last time you challenged me to the lirpa. I fell too many times to count."
"At least you know that your future wife will be able to defend herself well," she said, starting to jog again.
Stonn fell into step beside her. "I hope you'll give me the chance to prove that I am worthy to be your husband, and leave me one of our enemies to defeat."
She glanced at him, but he did seem to be joking. "Don’t worry, Stonn," she replied. "I'll be far too busy tending to our children to defeat future enemies." He smiled, and T'Laria turned her head quickly, suddenly displeased by how readily the idea seemed to appeal to him. His pleasure was so great that he didn't notice her sudden change of attitude before she had time to shield herself.
"May I ask what was bothering you? You only visit the gymnasium during study hours when you're upset."
"I asked Father about the exchange program today," she said, deciding against bringing up the stranger. "He makes his decision tonight."
"Ahh," he said solemnly. "Well, I hope that he grants your request. I will miss your company, but I know how much it means to you."
T'Laria looked at her betrothed and smiled warmly at him. "Thank you, Stonn. I know you don't care for Starfleet very much, but I thank you for supporting me in spite of that."
"They serve their purpose," he said. "And your happiness is my happiness."
T'Laria longed to embrace Stonn, or at least to extend her hand to him, but it was out of the question in such a public place. She invited him for tea, then quickly showered, dressed and combed her hair. She tried to style it as nicely as T'Pan could, but in the end she gave up and just let it hang down as usual. It reached to her knees now, but she could not be convinced to cut it yet. Perhaps if she began tripping over it, she would consider a trim. But Stonn liked it long, and for now, it was the nicest thing about being the female heir to the throne. Mothering future leaders, and being stuck at the palace while adventures passed her by seemed less and less appealing as she grew older. She wondered how old she would have to be before she learned to accept it, as her mother insisted she would.
T'Laria enjoyed her tea with Stonn. They spoke of lessons and latest books they'd read, but T'Laria kept the conversation away from the future. After the tea she felt a little calmer, and was able to focus on her studies.
Sarek did not join T'Laria and Amanda for dinner, which worried T'Laria. She was hoping to find out his answer at dinner, but it seemed she would have to wait longer. Amanda noticed her altered mood, and tried to distract her as well, asking if she would be joining the archery tournament at Shi'Kahr academy again this year. The distraction was welcome, and she talked to her mother about archery for the duration of dinner.
Finally, about an hour after dinner, Sarek entered T'Laria's favorite study and beckoned to her. T'Laria set down the paper-book she had been reading and approached her father, trying not to show too much eagerness. "I have considered your words," he said without preamble. "You have made a logical argument for why you should be allowed to participate in this program." T'Laria felt her chest swell, but she was concerned by her father's serious countenance. "However," he said, and her shoulders sagged. "I have decided that I do not wish you to join the exchange." T'Laria exhaled sharply, feeling as if the wind had been physically knocked out of her.
"The program is designed for students who hope to some day join Starfleet as officers. Since, for obvious reasons, you cannot do so, I do not see the logic in allowing you to participate. "
T'Laria stood still for a moment, trying to corral her racing thoughts. "But... Father, the courses... the experience could be beneficial for me, even if I cannot join Starfleet," she said, trying to force her voice to remain calm. "I-"
"If you wish to live among outworlders for a few months, your mother and I can send you to a nearby system once your education is completed."
"Do not argue with me further, T'Laria," he said sharply, his brows furrowing. "I have given you my answer, and it is final."
T'Laria gritted her teeth to keep her chin from trembling. She bowed her head, and curtseyed deeply. "Yes, my Lord."
When she looked up again, the frown was gone from his face. He placed a hand gently on her head, which was as close to a full embrace as her father ever gave her. She closed her eyes tightly against tears - he knew how much he'd disappointed her, but his answer was still 'no'. "Good night, my child."
"Good night, Father."
He left the room, and T'Laria turned away from the door, fists clenching tightly. She struggled to keep the tears from falling, without success. She looked at her half-finished book in disgust. The thought of picking it up again, or of remaining in the library at all made her sick to her stomach. She left the room and walked quickly to her own chambers, but even there, she found no relief. Everything seemed to remind her that she was trapped – stuck in a gilded cage for the rest of her life.
In a fit of defiant rage, she grabbed her darkest cloak, put on a pair of comfortable, quiet boots, and made her way out of the palace. She left through a side entrance, moving carefully to avoid being noticed. Once outside, she lowered her head and mimicked a casual attitude, as if she had every bit of business outside the palace without having notified anyone, and with no guards to accompany her.
She strode purposefully away from the palace, staying away from the most crowded thoroughfares. Even so, she was recognized by a few of the nobles that had frequent business at the palace. They did not question her – merely bowed and bid her good evening – but she was nervous about the extra attention.
T'Laria made her way to a small clothing store, introduced herself and requested a suit of men's clothes to fit a person of about her own size. "Something simple," she said. "Perhaps suitable for a merchant's son." The storekeepers were glad to assist her, and she paid with credit using her bio-ID. Once the outfit had been purchased, T'Laria left and found another, larger market. She went to one of the public restrooms, and changed into the merchant's outfit. She quickly braided her hair and hid it beneath her new tan cloak. The night was growing cooler, and it would not seem strange to stay hooded. She put her own clothes into the shopping bag and went out to look at herself. She was shocked by how well the disguise worked. Her sharp jaw, high cheek bones, and sweeping brow apparently suited a young man as well as a young woman.
Highly pleased, T'Laria left the marketplace, and strode confidently through the streets, nodding pleasantly at the passers-by. She enjoyed the freedom of the night for some time. After about three hours, she came upon a small group of men standing outside one of the many inns in ShiKhar. They seemed to be preparing for a journey, and T'Laria slowed as she walked past. Who could be preparing for a journey so late at night?
Before she'd gathered the courage to ask, another man came out from the inn and asked his companions how the packing was progressing. T'Laria gasped at the sound of the voice. It was the stranger from the palace! T'Laria hesitated, torn between wanting to speak to him, and wanting to hurry back to the palace before she was noticed.
Before she could even move, the stranger turned toward her and gave her a slight smile. The next second, though, his eyes narrowed, and he approached her slowly. T'Laria tensed, glancing behind her as if to look for help, but the area was primarily deserted. The man stood before her – broad-shouldered, several inches taller than she. His bushy eyebrows, and long, thick hair had not seemed intimidating inside the palace, but here outside the inn, in the middle of the night, away from her family and her guards, things felt quite different. She wanted to run, but her curiosity got the best of her, and she stood her ground. "Good evening," the stranger said.
"Good evening, sir," she replied softly.
"What's your name, lad?" T'Laria's mouth opened, but she had no idea what to say. She hadn't even thought to make up a name, and even if she did, who's son could she claim to be? Shi'Kahr was a huge city, but her people were fastidious about family lineage. The stranger laughed, the amusement coming so easily and readily to him as to make her uncomfortable. "You're a long way from home, Your Highness," he said, speaking softly, though the laugh had been boisterous and resonant.
She didn't bother to contradict him. "I… wanted some privacy," she said, trying to hide her embarrassment.
"Yet your path has brought you to me, less than an hour from the time I planned to depart. It seems we were destined to speak to one another today. Would you care to join me for some tea?"
T'Laria hesitated. If this man had been banished, surely there was a good reason. What if he was dangerous? "I… I'm not certain if…"
"I will not harm you, Your Highness," he said, seeming to have read her thoughts. "I must be away by sunrise, but I have a few hours to spare. Come."
T'Laria thought again of her father's refusal to allow her to enter the student exchange, and she felt the defiance welling up again. "I would be honored to join you, sir," she said.
He smiled again, and beckoned for her to follow. He called to his companions to keep working, and that he intended to speak for a moment to "this young fellow", then led her inside the inn. His movements were loose and casual, and he swung his arms about with no clear purpose as he walked, the way humans who were not part of Starfleet, or had not been living on Vulcan for decades, tended to walk.
T'Laria followed the man to his chambers at the inn. To her relief, he set the door to remain open before gesturing for her to take a seat. He offered to take her coat, and she allowed him to hang it for her. Finally, when they had made themselves comfortable, and taken the first sips of tea, the stranger introduced himself.
"My name is Sybok," he said. The name was not familiar to her, and she merely nodded. "I was banished from Shi'Kahr many years ago, before the Unification."
"Why? If I may ask," she added.
"The king and I have... different philosophies from one another. I stood before open council and opposed his ideals, and he reacted as I expected he would."
T'Laria looked down, gazing at her still-steaming cup of tea. Even a noble close to the king who disagreed with him would not necessarily be banished for his opinion. Not unless... "Were you... how could he banish you for disagreeing with him? Is it true, then, that you were once part of our household?"
Sybok smiled, the expression again coming easily and naturally to him. "I was," he said. He sighed, and gazed down at his own cup. Finally, he looked back at her and said, "I am Sybok, son of Sarek, son of Skon," he said.
T'Laria gasped sharply, and sprang to her feet, heedless of the tea cup shattering on the hard floor. "What?" Sybok looked seriously at her, but didn't stand. T'Laria looked at him in complete disbelief. Her heart pounded in her side and she found herself edging toward the door as every story she'd ever read about displaced heirs taking vengeance on younger siblings came rushing to her mind.
"You have nothing to fear from me, T'Laria," Sybok said. He was still seated calmly in his chair, and his face seemed open and sincere. "I have no desire to rule T'Khasi. And even if I did wish to rule, killing you tonight would in no way benefit me. I would somehow have to find a way to kill our father as well, and I would need enough men to overtake the Shi'Kahr army and all the provinces who are loyal to Sarek." He smiled and shook his head. "I have no illusions about my own influence, and believe me, that is well beyond my abilities. Please. Sit down."
T'Laria hesitated, but forced herself to consider the logic of his words. Slowly, she regained control of herself. Her heart slowed, and her breathing normalized. "I... I apologize for my outburst," she said, kneeling to pick up the broken tea cup.
"Allow me," he said, motioning for her to leave the cup alone. "And there's no need to apologize for expressing your feelings, sister."
She looked sharply at him, and not only because he'd called her "sister". The concept of not apologizing for emotional displays was counter to all of T'Khasi cultural norms. She was half Human, and was excused to a certain extent because of the biological "handicap", but she was still expected to try her best to maintain control, and sublimate her human urges to emote. And yet, this man who so easily and freely showed his emotions seemed to be full T'Khasi.
T'Laria remained on her knees, assisting Sybok with the task of cleaning the mess she'd made. "I am surprised you sully your hands with this menial work," he said.
T'Laria raised an eyebrow at him. "I was the one who caused the mess," she said. "And there are no attendants here to shoo me away."
Sybok laughed heartily, head thrown back, and hand pressed against his middle, though T'Laria could hardly understand what had so amused him. Eventually, he calmed himself, and smiled broadly at her. "I have learned something new about you, Princess," he said brightly. "Or rather, I have been corrected in an erroneous assumption." He laughed again, then finished helping her clear the mess from the floor.
When they returned to their seats, T'Laria felt calmer, though she was even more curious than before. "You are from my... our father's first wife?" she asked.
"Yes. But it seems that Sarek has removed mention of me from the histories that you can access."
"But why? Why would he keep such information from me?"
Sybok sighed. "It is as you may have heard this afternoon. He does not want you to be swayed by the ideas that I present."
Sybok's bushy brows angled downward, and he regarded her thoughtfully. Finally, he sighed heavily. "Strange. Decades have passed since I freed myself and became enlightened, yet the old customs still have more of a hold on me than I realized. Even now, disowned and banished as I am, it is difficult for me to willfully disobey my patriarch." He shook his head slightly, and his shining eyes seeming to see deep into her. "I am sorry, T'Laria. Though I believe you have the right to know what I, and some others believe, I cannot be the source of that knowledge for you."
T'Laria frowned deeply, suddenly struck by a strong sense of injustice. "How can you... entice me with the fact that there are ideas being purposefully hidden from me, then refuse to tell me what they are?" she asked sharply.
"It isn't fair," he admitted. "But it is dangerous for me to tell you of them. You are the heir to the throne, and it is true, the control of your education is the right of your king."
"Then you are a hypocrite!" she shouted, surging to her feet again. "You condemn my father for keeping knowledge from me, yet you are doing the exact same thing!"
"I'm sorry," he said again, his attitude now far more controlled than hers. "But to defy him in this would be to risk my life for philosophies that you cannot practice. When the time comes for you to take the throne, you will do what is required of you to keep peace in T'Khasi. My philosophies may jeopardize that - if you believe them to be better than they ways Sarek practices, then your ascension may come with a new strife. Despite what I believe, I cannot take the risk."
T'Laria glared balefully at Sybok, fists clenched tightly. She forced herself to keep he voice low, though she wanted to scream at him. "It is a constant source of frustration and confusion to me that I must be constantly reminded that I am sole heir when no one but my handmaid seems to believe that I am capable of leadership. How can I lead a people that I do not know? Clearly, you are not the only T'Khasian who holds this... philosophy, yet I am expected to ascend the throne with an incomplete knowledge of what my people believe! How can I be trusted to lead if I can't be trusted to make decisions based on complete facts? This is basic, Sixth Class scientific theory! But what our four year-olds are taught is apparently not applied by grown men!" She forced herself to stop. She heard her voice rising, and shouting at Sybok would not help. He regarded her with growing sadness on his face, and possibly remorse, but he would not give her what she wanted - knowledge. Frustrated to the point of fury, she turned away from him, yanked her cloak down from the hook and stormed toward the door.
"Your Highness." She stopped. "Allow me to escort you home."
She turned to him, and shook her head. "I am at least capable of getting home without assistance," she said sharply.
He frowned, but did not insist. "As you wish."
She turned away again, but his obvious remorse stung her, and deflated some of her fury. She might never see this man - her brother - again, and she did not want to part from him badly. Angry as she was, what he had said was true. For a banished man to directly defy the king - especially where his offspring was concerned - was to put his life in peril. She turned back to him, forced her features into a neutral mask, and bowed her head slightly. "Thank you for your hospitality, brother," she said. She raised her hand, fingers separated in the customary parting. "Live long and prosper."
He gave her a half-hearted smile, and raised his own hand. "Live long and prosper, sister." She turned, but he called her again. "And, Princess?" she looked at him again, and saw that his playful smile had returned. "The next time you slip away from Sarek's house in men's clothing, perhaps you should consider creating a name for yourself first."
T'Laria fitted the arrow to her bow and pulled her arm back, relishing the tension of the string against her fingertips. She took aim and let the shot fly. Her arrow hit the direct center of the target, and there was approving applause from the teachers, students and other audience members. T'Laria gestured toward the young challengers and said, "Let the tournament begin." The competitors bowed (or curtseyed) to her, and she took her seat in the honored position granted the reigning champion, passing her bow to an attendant.
She enjoyed the tournament - many of the new students were excellent marksmen - but she was distracted from the action by her own clouded thoughts. She was to begin her promised trip to live among outworlders in less than a month, and her father had still not given his approval for her to begin making plans. Arrangements would need to be made within two to three days if she were to be housed comfortably for a full six months on another planet.
When the tournament was over, she left the academy and returned to the palace to seek her father out. She found him in his usual place for the time of day - at his work desk, reading from a data pad. "May I speak with you, Father?"
Sarek looked up from his reading, raising an eyebrow at her. "I did not expect you back so soon from the tournament," he said. "I am working, but I am not adverse to the interruption. It seems you were anxious to see me." T'Laria followed her father's gaze, realizing that she was still in the sturdy tunic, and the heavy pants and boots of tournament-wear.
"My apologies, Father," she said, entering the room. "But you are correct, I was eager to speak with you." He gestured for her to sit, and she did so. Even though she was now twenty-six, and only two years away from her official entry into adulthood, sitting in the chair opposite that of her father in this room always made her feel like a small child. "I know that you have many concerns, Father," she began. "But I would like to begin making plans for my trip soon, and I hoped to find out if you approve of my choice."
Sarek looked grimly at her. "I planned to discuss this with you today," he replied. "No, I do not approve of your choice," he said.
T'Laria could not contain her shock. "But... I... why not?"
"I have decided that you should remain here, or visit one of our own colonies in-"
"But Father, you agreed that I should be allowed to-"
"Stop shouting, T'Laria," he said, voice quiet, but stern.
"I apologize, sir," she said, hearing the strain in her own voice. "But you agreed that I should be allowed to live among outworlders for six months once my studies were completed."
"I have since reconsidered that decision," he said calmly. "You will soon solidify your bond with Stonn, and it is better for the stability of the link that you remain closer to home for-"
"The ceremony isn't for another two years!" she cried.
"T'Laria!" He frowned at her. "Control yourself."
She struggled to do so, but she could feel her hands beginning to tremble. "Father, I apologize for my display of emotion, but I am... confused by this sudden change. I have worked under the impression that I would be able to travel and experience what life is like among our Federation allies. I-"
"You have seen many delegations, and you have read volumes of information about outworlders. You know all that you need to know."
"But I do not," she said sharply. "There is so much more to know than what our libraries contain. I-"
"You will do as I have instructed you, and choose a colony planet, if you must leave Shi'Kahr," he said, his voice hardening.
"Earth is our closest ally, and Mother's homeworld. It is the home of the Federation Council, and-"
"And it is the home of Starfleet Headquarters," Sarek said sternly. T'Laria gaped at him in shock. "I may be often occupied, T'Laria, but I am not blind to your activities," he said. "You have spent the last several years searching for as much information as you can about Starfleet and its policies and activities."
"It... We are indebted to Starfleet for our protection," she said breathlessly. "I merely-"
"Do not attempt to lie to me, daughter," he said. T'Laria gasped, stung. Researching their allies was her reasoning - at least the ones she rationalized to herself. "You have been fascinated by Starfleet since the ceremony years ago! We are a people of peace, and I will not allow you to be influenced by-"
"There," she shouted. "There is the injustice! You will not allow me to be influenced by anything that is not exactly what you wish me to see or to learn!"
Sarek glared. "That is as it should be. You are my daughter, and my heir. You will-"
"I will be the most ignorant Vulcan to ever sit on the throne if you can help it," she snapped, feeling her chest tighten, and her fury rising. "You will not allow me any freedom! You-"
"SILENCE!" her father shouted, rising to his feet. "That is enough! You will leave my chambers until you are better able to control yourself."
"I will not keep silent!" she shouted, standing as well. "I care deeply about our people, and I refuse to be a puppet, pulled along by the whims of the Council! I want to be a true leader as you are, but you won't allow it, and it is not right!"
"T'Laria, I warn you, gain control of yourself immediately!"
"WHY?" she shouted. "Why should I, when you know I'm in the right, yet you deny me still?! We are a society founded on a belief in the value of knowledge and truth, yet you have lied to me about my own relatives! You have denied me even knowledge of my own brother simply to keep me from learning about his beliefs!" Sarek looked stunned. "You claim to be a follower of Surak, but you are not! You-"
"SILENCE!!" T'Laria gasped, and her father moved from behind the desk and stood before her. "That is enough. I am your father, and your sovereign, and you will obey my commands. You will not leave T'Khasi to live off planet, and you are banned from visiting Earth for the next two years for your insolence today."
"No! No more! Such a tirade would be cause enough for me to disown you, if circumstances were not as they are. But you are my only child, and my responsibility as king denies me that right. But if you were not my sole heir, I would command you to leave this palace. As it is, you will leave my presence immediately."
T'Laria stared at him for a few seconds, completely stunned. She backed away from him slowly, feeling as if she had been struck, or as if she were in the presence of a stranger. Acting from instinct alone, she bowed to him without another word, then backed out of the room. When she had crossed the threshold, she turned and ran down the hall, and out of the palace proper. Her chest felt tight, and she was nearly dizzy with shock at what had just occurred. Had he disowned her in name? For speaking the truth, no matter how loudly she might have done so?
T'Laria hardly knew where she was going – she roamed the palace grounds swiftly, but aimlessly, only wanting to get away. Visiting nobles looked at her with shock and averted their eyes from her obvious emotional turmoil. She ignored them, and strode on, vacillating between rage and grief. At last she found herself in one of the large greenhouses her mother had requested to be built. She entered, leaving the dry desert heat for the wetness of the temperature controlled garden.
Most of the visitors did not come into these gardens – they didn't like the extra humidity of the Terran temperatures. But T'Laria often came here, wanting to practice acclimating to the Terran weather, and enjoying the exotic beauty of the various plants her mother had brought here. Today, however, there were voices coming from beneath one of the vibrant green trees in the garden. T'Laria was not in the mood for company, but she wanted to reach the far side of the area, and she was forced to pass by.
She stopped short when she saw the owners of the voices she'd heard. Beneath the great tree, facing one another with hands intertwined and tender expressions on their faces, were Stonn and T'Pring, the daughter of a minor noble from the Southern Provinces. T'Laria stared at them, breath caught in her throat. Though she was sure she had made no sound, she suddenly felt a strong sense of alarm from her connection with Stonn, and he broke apart from T'Pring and turned suddenly to face her.
Stonn gaped at her, and T'Pring gasped openly and backed further away. "My Lady," Stonn said nervously. "I…"
He trailed off, breathing hard. Vibrating with fury, T'Laria advanced on them, her own breaths coming in audible heaves. She glanced at T'Pring, who shuddered and bowed her head, backing even further away. T'Laria scowled, but turned her furious gaze onto Stonn. With an enraged cry, she reached back and slapped his face with all her might. He let out a startled yelp, and backed up. "How dare you?" she yelled. "How dare you dishonor me in my father's house?! And in the broad light of day?"
"No one comes here," Stonn said, a green-tinted handprint showing on his face. "I-"
"Obviously you are WRONG, because I come here, as does my mother."
"But you were supposed to be at the tournament. I-"
"And that makes it acceptable? You thought you wouldn't be caught, so I am supposed to ignore the fact that you have no regard for me or my family name??"
"Don't you dare speak my name again!" she screamed. "You are nothing to me! This bond will be severed immediately!"
Stonn looked more alarmed than before. "T- Your Highness, consider our families!"
"YOU should have considered them before you chose to betray me!"
"But what about the… the Time of-"
"Enough!" She felt her hands reaching to strike him again, and she forced her arms to her sides. "I would rather die in the agony and madness of the internal fires ten times over than to even consider the shame of spending the rest of my life with you! What was your plan?" she snapped. "Did you intend to bond with me? Sleep in my bed, father my children? All while keeping this… harlot on the side for your pleasure?" Stonn shook his head helplessly – clearly he hadn't thought that far ahead, or he had, and he didn't dare to answer her truthfully. "Why her?" she asked.
Stonn looked at T'Pring, then back at T'Laria. "I…"
"Well? Answer me, what do you see in her that is lacking in me?!"
"S-she… you are s-so… forceful." He cringed slightly at her darkening glare. "You are a woman of such strong will, and strong… emotions. T'Pring is… like a… traditional-"
"Vulcan," T'Laria said. "I'm too Human for you, is that it?"
"No, no, I d-don't mean to insult Lady Amanda, I… It isn't-"
"Enough," she said again. She could feel tears of hurt and rage beginning to fill her eyes, and she wished desperately that she could make them disappear. "Enough, I don't want to hear any more!" She turned to T'Pring, and her eyes narrowed. "You." The girl looked up at her, her dark, oval-shaped eyes and sharply angular features truly the epitome of Vulcan beauty. "It is within my rights to kill you for what you have done!" The girl shuddered again, but kept silent. "But I would not put myself to the trouble for this… filth," she hissed, gesturing toward Stonn. "I give you your life, and I give him to you as well."
She sighed with relief. "I am grateful, Your-"
"Don't speak to me!" she snapped. "You will show your gratitude by sparing my House further shame. It will be known that Stonn and I severed our bond by mutual agreement. You will keep your…" She swallowed against a feeling of nausea. "Your… relationship private until a decent interval has passed, and you will not visit the palace again while I am alive. Now get out."
Stonn and T'Pring both bowed deeply to her, then turned and moved quickly out of the garden. T'Laria sped in the other direction, unable to stand still in the spot where she'd seen them for another second. She ran swiftly back to the palace, suddenly longing for the comfort of her own chambers. Even still, once she got to her own rooms, and saw the many reminders of her misery – model Starfleet vessels she had made as a teen, the physical, paper-book copy of the History of the UFP Stonn had gifted her for her nineteenth birthday – she felt her outrage swiftly dissolving, leaving only abject sadness in its place. Ridiculous as she felt behaving like an unruly child who had yet to learn any control, T'Laria collapsed onto her bed and gave vent to her frustrated tears.
She wasn't sure how long she stayed in bed. Hours passed, but there seemed to be no end to the tears, nor to the jumbled, anguished thoughts that flooded her mind.
At some point, someone knocked on her door, but she didn't respond. T'Pan, her handmaid, called to her, but she did not wish to be seen. "Stay out!" She was left alone again, but soon after, there came another knock on her door. She glared toward the door, and refused to speak. To her shock, the door was opened without her permission. She sat up quickly, scowling fiercely at the door while trying to wipe away the traces of grief from her face. Her anger deflated immediately when her mother appeared in the doorway. Amanda gasped at the sight of her, and T'Laria turned her face away, shielding herself from sight.
She heard the door close, and the beeping of the lock code being entered. Finally, she heard her mother's delicate step, and the rustling of her robes as she approached. Amanda sat on the bed, and placed a hand on T'Laria's back. "I'm so sorry, Lari," she said softly. "Your father told me about the argument. He told me the things he said to you, and... I'm so sorry, sweetheart. I argued with him, and I've tried to get him to reconsider lifting the ban, but-"
T'Laria shook her head, and felt herself beginning to sob again. "He won't," she whispered. "I'm a prisoner here, with a father who regrets he cannot banish me!" The sobs grew more violent.
Her mother pulled her gently, and she turned and allowed herself to be cradled. "I'm sorry, darling. But maybe you can take a small trip to another province. Get some space for a while. You could go back to the Southern-"
"No!" she cried, shuddering. "I can't show my face there again, ever."
The sobbing redoubled, and Amanda held her tighter. "Darling, why not? When you went with Stonn last year, you enjoyed it. What's-"
T'Laria cringed at the mention of Stonn's name. She looked up at her mother, body trembling violently. "Mother, I must see a Healer. I must see a Healer tonight."
"Why, Lari?" she asked worriedly. "What's happening, are you ill?"
"I need to break the Bond with Stonn."
Amanda's eyes widened, and she pulled back from T'Laria. "That... that's impossible. You must be bound to someone before... What happened, why do you want this?"
T'Laria shook her head, words sticking in her throat. Her chest heaved with sobs, and she clutched her mother's robes - afraid to hurt her by grasping her arms. "Please, Mother, I... I must see a Healer!"
She seemed saddened, and more worried than before. "We'll have to get your father's permission, before-"
"No, he will not consent! I... I can't live like this, Mother, please please help me! You can give your consent, and the Healer will do it!"
"T'Laria, I want to help you," she said, trying to remain calm. "But you are asking me to defy my husband, and I believe I have a right to know why." T'Laria lowered her head, breathing deeply and trying to force herself to calm down. She tried to speak, but her feelings of shame were too intense, and she couldn't make the words come. Her mother stroked her arm gently, then took hold of her wrist. T'Laria looked up suddenly, to see her mother's tear-streaked face. "If you can't tell me," Amanda said softly, raising T'Laria's arm, and pulling her hand toward her face. "Show me."
T'Laria wanted to resist, but she also desperately wanted her mother to know - to understand why the bond must be dissolved. She touched her mother's face lightly, struggling to control her violent emotions so that the mind-touch would not be too shocking. When she felt she could enter without hurting, T'Laria initiated the contact. She felt her mother's fear and worry, but soon, her own emotions rushed in and clouded all else. She re-lived her argument with Sarek, then her frantic run through the grounds, and finally, the loving touch between Stonn and T'Pring. Her mother's fury became strong enough to be felt over T'Laria's own strong emotions. Carefully, T'Laria disengaged the link, and took one glance at her mother's stunned expression before bursting into fresh tears.
Amanda held her tightly, and rocked her gently in her arms. "I'm so sorry," she said again. After a few moments, she pulled T'Laria away from her, and looked into her eyes. "I'll arrange to see a Healer tonight, and I will summon Stonn as well." T'Laria nodded, relieved that she wouldn't have to be the one to summon Stonn to the separation. She dreaded seeing him again, but it was necessary for the bond to be severed. "I love you, Lari," she said softly. "You're a strong young woman, and you will pull through this. Now. Get changed, and wash those tears away."
T'Laria nodded. "I love you, Mother." Amanda smiled, kissed T'Laria's head then left the room. With difficulty, T'Laria forced herself to get up, change, and try to make herself presentable. Her eyes were still green with the evidence of recent tears, but all other traces were gone. The sun had gone down before her mother entered the room, and by the time they left the palace, darkness had fully descended.
T'Laria and her mother both wore dark robes, and they made their way to the local healer on foot. Stonn was already at the Healer's home, standing near the door. He bowed when he saw them, looking nervously from T'Laria to Amanda. T'Laria averted her eyes, and Amanda gave him a scathing look, but didn't speak to him. Instead, she requested entry, and the Healer opened her doors. They left their cloaks in the hall, and the Healer beckoned them further into the house.
T'Laria expected to be questioned by the Healer for her choice, but it seemed that her mother had explained the situation to T'Pel in full. The elderly woman led them to a large meditation room, where ceremonial incense had already been lit. "T'Laria, Daughter of Sarek, come forward." T'Laria obeyed, kneeling before the Healer. She submitted to the Elder's brief mind-touch, fighting the urge to cringe at her sharp intake of breath when the Healer felt the turmoil within her. When she pulled back, she made no comment, but looked at Stonn. "Son of Soven, come forward." T'Laria stared straight ahead while the Healer touched Stonn's face. When she stepped back from them again, her face was impassive as it had been before.
"The dissolution of a bond after so many years can be shocking to your mental balance. Also, at this late stage, there is the danger of entering the pon farr without a mental link. However, I will perform the ceremony under these circumstances if you both agree to the risks. T'Laria, do you agree to the separation?"
"Yes, my lady, I do," she said softly.
T'Pel nodded. "Stonn. Do you agree to the separation?"
Head lowered, Stonn nodded. "I do."
T'Pel nodded again. She approached them, and placed a hand on each of them. T'Laria closed her eyes, feeling the deeper connection from the Healer. For a moment, hers and Stonn's thoughts were together - vibrant and clear like the day they'd been bound. For that moment, she knew his remorse, his guilt, his shame and his relief, just as he knew her anger, sadness, shame and relief. Then, suddenly, his presence was gone. The Healer left her slowly, but the sudden loss of Stonn's presence left her breathless. She bent forward, letting her head touch the floor. She heard her mother's voice, tinged with concern, but couldn't understand the words.
T'Laria concentrated on taking one breath after another, until finally she felt she was able to move again. She sat up slowly and glanced at Stonn. He was doubled over, as she had been, with both hands pressed hard to the floor, his breathing labored. She waited, still feeling a twist of pain at the sight of him. She had loved him, and the fact that his pain still upset her made her feel even worse.
She stood slowly and bowed to the Healer. "My thanks, T'Pel."
The Healer bowed to her. "I must wait for him to recover," she said.
"We'll show ourselves out," Amanda said. "Thank you again for your discretion."
Amanda wrapped her arm around T'Laria's waist and supported her as they walked back to the palace. T'Laria was glad of the support. She felt weak and light-headed, and the trip back to the palace seemed to take hours.
With the help of T'Pan, Amanda put T'Laria to bed, kissing her again before leaving the chambers. The open pity in her mother's eyes brought the tears welling up again. She lay awake, unable to close her eyes. She felt a strong sense of restlessness and grief. The mental and emotional space Stonn had occupied felt strange - like a dull ache, and an emptiness that longed to be filled.
T'Laria had hoped that the sense of hurt and betrayal would lessen once the sense of Stonn's presence had been removed, but instead, her feelings seemed to intensify. She replayed the scene again and again in her head. When she managed to force her thoughts away from him, she thought immediately of her father denouncing her, wishing he could send her away. The memory compounded her misery, and she lay still, mired in sadness for what seemed like hours.
Eventually, her feelings of sadness abated, and she felt her own indignation and anger rising up again. Her father's unjust treatment of her, and Stonn's betrayal filled her with renewed rage. She was shamed by Stonn's choosing a girl from a lesser House. Her father's decision to ban her from visiting Earth, or from going anywhere off planet would soon become known, and she would be doubly disgraced. The thought of facing life in the palace under those conditions made her sick to her stomach.
She thought about her frustrated desire to go to the exchange program so many years ago, and how even the so-called compromise she had been offered by her father had been denied. She'd been denied knowledge, denied freedom, and denied even the basic respect and courtesy of simple honesty.
The anger grew and grew until she felt that it might consume her completely. Unable to calm herself, she tried to still her thoughts through meditation. However, the process seemed only to magnify the pain. She relived all the times she had been denied something because it was unfit for the heir to the throne. She thought of Sybok, who had suffered the stigma of being disowned, but at the same time had been freed from the burden of the throne.
It came to her suddenly, as her thoughts finally began to clear, that she need not be trapped here forever. She was a student of the heroes of her own past, and of Starfleet, and one lesson that seemed universal in all their stories was that heroes did not crumble under the weight of adversity. Neither did they allow traditions to deter them from following the paths of justice and truth. Though she admitted to herself that shame was a partial motivation, T'Laria knew that she could not be an effective leader if she was not allowed even a small amount of freedom, nor the benefits of new ideas. A plan to escape the ignominy of the cage she'd been forced into was swiftly forming.
T'Laria sprang from her bed, her legs feeling stronger, and the nausea all but gone from her body. She still felt the horrible sense of loss from the absence of the bond, but what concerned her more was the hurt her mother would soon endure. It was the only part of her plan that gave her pause, but even then, her mother had spoken truthfully so many years ago. Even heroes had to do things that they did not want to do. This aspect would be painful, but she could not languish here for the rest of her life, while her pain and bitterness festered within her.
T'Laria moved quickly. For the plan to work, she had to be well away from the palace by dawn. Her first step was to convert some of her T'Khasi funds to anonymous Federation credits. She could only exchange a limited amount at one time, but she did as much as she could. She was concerned about what to take. She could leave the palace without notice at any time of day or night, but if she was seen carrying travel gear, she might attract attention. In the end, she packed a small bag – just large enough for a day-trip. She included her most basic travel necessities, a single data pad, unconnected to any networks and already loaded with some of her favorite books, and a few other items that she would need for her disguise.
She'd kept the suit of clothes that she bought during her late night excursion six years before. Though they were somewhat ill-fitted now that she'd grown several inches since (and was quite overly-tall for a T'Khasi woman at six feet), she was still able to wear them if she draped the cloak around herself. She put on her small electron-dagger, and the pendant her mother had given her for her graduation present. It was designed in the shape of the Right of Valor. Her name had been engraved on the back of the triangle, in the calligraphic script, but though it could give her away if anyone were able to read the script, she couldn't bear to part with it. She tried not to concern herself with the potential danger. Only some of the most high-powered and well-educated T'Khasians were able to read calligraphy, and she doubted any outworlders had been taught the script.
Before leaving, T'Laria left a brief note for T'Pan, who had become one of her closest friends, and she left a video message for her mother. She told her how much she loved her, and apologized for causing her pain. "For reasons that I hope you will understand, I am leaving T'Khasi. I know this may destroy what little affection Father may still have for me after this afternoon's conflict, but I can see no other way. I cannot bear the shame of today's events, and I cannot live in Father's prison any longer. I love you, Mother. I love you both. I hope that one day you can forgive me."
She blinked past the tears as she stopped the recording. She set the message to be sent to her mother the next morning, took a last, long look at her room, then donned her cloak and left. There was more to the disguise, but the remainder of her plan could not be carried out until she was away from the palace. If she completed her disguise here, it would be caught on the security cameras her father had installed some years ago, and the crux of her plan to remain free would be rendered moot.
She walked swiftly and silently through the halls, though she was careful not to move as if she were sneaking away. She didn't want to alert the guards by behaving suspiciously. She was prone to walking through the palace at night, especially when she felt the restlessness take her, drawing her out to gaze at the stars.
Once she'd left the palace grounds, she quickened her pace to a run. Most of Shi'Kahr was asleep, and her passing was not noticed. She made her way first to the Central Hall of Records. As princess, she had access to all public buildings in Shi'Kahr. She accessed one of the terminals and used her prodigious computer skills to create a new identity for herself. She well remembered her brother's final admonition. He'd spoken the words playfully, but the truth of them was plainly apparent to her now. The next time you slip away from Sarek's house in men's clothing, perhaps consider creating a name for yourself first.
T'Laria already had a name in mind. She had created the fantasy character in her mind shortly after her meeting with Sybok. She entered his information, including his imagined parentage, birthplace, and school records (which were identical to her own, but claimed to be from different schools). Finally, she matched the information to her own retinal pattern, and handprints. The system gave her trouble over the fact that her patterns (obviously) belonged to someone else, but she force-archived her true records, and "tricked" the computer into accepting her new information. After creating a physical ID for herself as well, and transferring most of her anonymous credits to the new records, she wiped all trace of what she had done from the systems, so that even the most skilled technicians would have difficulty decrypting her work.
Next, she went to the space docks, where there was still an air of bustling activity even in the deepest part of the night. She ducked quickly onto a men's restroom and closed herself into one of the stalls. She was glad that men's stalls were as private as the women's, with the walls completely enclosed. She would need complete privacy for what she must do next.
T'Laria pulled off her cloak, then took a few moments to plait her hair into a single long braid. She tied it off at the end, and tied another string at the base of her skull. When the braid was fully secure, she pulled out the shears she brought with her. She gritted her teeth, closed her eyes and cut off the braid. T'Laria held it in her hand for a few moments. Her head felt oddly light, now that nearly five feet of her own tresses had been cut away. She was hesitant to put the braid into the recycler – most machines catalogued the contents prior to recycling them. But she was also reluctant to part with it. She shoved it deep into her bag, then did her best to clip what remained of her hair into something presentable without being able to see it. When she finished, she brushed away the rest of the clippings and discarded them, then left the stall. She pulled the cloak back on and made her way to the main part of the docks.
T'Laria used anonymous credits to charter passage to one of T'Khasi's nearby colonies. She did not stay long at the colony. They landed during the Third Colony's daytime hours, and she spent a short amount of time locating a stylist and requesting a haircut in the style of men from T'Paal. The style was almost identical to Shi'Kahr's, but the bangs were styled slightly longer, and more rounded in T'Paal. She also purchased appropriate travel gear, and a wardrobe with enough cool-weather items that she should be able to live comfortably in cooler climates.
T'Laria purchased a flight to the Rigel system. She longed to go immediately to Earth, but she didn't want to take the risk. She felt certain that her parents would look for her there first, and if an unknown T'Khasian had purchased a ticket to Earth (or even to an Earth colony) the same night she disappeared, she was sure they would find the two incidents too coincidental to ignore. She chose Rigel because most of the planets in the system were wide-spread tourist attractions, where many different people came for enjoyment and relaxation. If a random Vulcan bought a ticket to Earth from a Rigel space station, no one would notice, and she would be free to do as she pleased.
The flight to the Rigel system was fairly long, and T'Laria was given her own quarters on the craft, as well as free access to reading materials for the duration of the flight. She was glad of the privacy, even though most of the passengers on the ship were Rigelians returning home from educational trips, or Terran colonists going to Rigel for "vacations". T'Khasi's third colony attracted many people who wanted to experience Vulcan culture and education, without also experiencing the intense, arid heat of the home planet. She was not in danger of being recognized, but she was exhausted from the day's events. She hadn't slept since the night before, and she'd risen very early to prepare for the Archery Tournament. That morning seemed to have taken place ages ago, and the young woman presiding over the tournament, with her naive hopes and optimistic plans seemed so different from person sitting alone in a commercial spacecraft, hoping that she wasn't caught the moment she landed at the Rigelian space docks.
T'Laria was exhausted, but before she undressed and lay down in the small cot that served as a bed aboard the craft, she located a mirror so that she could see the new person she had become. She drew in a sharp breath at the sight of the stranger before her. She had already seen herself posing as a boy once before, but now, with her hair truly cut and styled, rather than just hidden away beneath a cloak, the effect was far more striking. She studied herself closely for a few moments, before standing back from the mirror and raising her hand in the customary T'Khasi salute. "Greetings," she said softly. "I am Spock."