Nielsen and T'Vanibyredarchitect©
"Cadet Nielsen? "
Great, that was just what I needed. I stopped dead in my tracks, and answered.
"Yes, Cadet T'Vani? "
She'd been not only in my class, ever since we both started studying at Starfleet Academy not two months earlier, but in my thoughts, too. She was a cool and icy woman--as all Vulcan women are--and so I had no hopes of ever conquering her heart. But for a Vulcan, she was fabulous. She had an incredibly beautiful face, which was augmented wonderfully by that typical straight Vulcan haircut. And her body...oh boy, her body...it made me almost feel sorry for the Vulcan who was going to be her husband some day, since he, as a Vulcan, would just not appreciate what she was. Voluptuous in all the right places, slim where appropriate, and overall in perfect physical shape.
She was Vulcan; and although there had been known cases of Vulcans intermarrying with other species, those had been very rare exceptions. As such, I knew that whatever my fantasies, I'd have to put her out of my head--sooner rather than later.
I turned around, and tried to put a casual look on my face. Either I succeeded, or she had not had enough exposure to human emotions yet to understand the look on my face.
"I understand that you are an accomplished alpinist? "
Well, that was certainly not the question I was expecting.
"Eh, yeah, I am; I've been climbing since I was twelve, and still do some these days, even if I don't find nearly enough time now since joining Starfleet Academy. Why? "
"I have several years of experience myself, and would like to continue while in Starfleet. However, my usual partner is still on Vulcan, so I would need to find a new one."
"And you're asking...me? Why? Wouldn't it be better to find another Vulcan to join you? I mean, Vulcans have superior strength, right? I wouldn't be able to keep up."
"Ordinarily, you'd be right. However, I have checked; none of the other Vulcans currently in the academy have close to my experience in rockclimbing, and would not be able to keep up on the mountain that I plan to climb. Of the non-Vulcans in the academy, you are the only person with the necessary experience and history to be able to keep up with me, perhaps even surpass me. If I can't go with you, I'd either have to choose a less challenging peak, or would have to go solo. The first is not preferable if there is a better option, and the second is dangerous given the fact that I am completely unfamiliar with the mountain in question. You are the logical choice."
I pondered that for a few moments.
"Just out of curiosity, which mountain are we talking about, and when would you like to start the expedition? "
"I was thinking of going up Mt. McKinley next weekend."
I actually laughed out at that. She seemed less than impressed.
"This is a joke, right? "
"Vulcans do not joke"
That got me to shut up for a moment.
"Seriously, T'Vani, you can't expect me to be ready to climb McKinley in less than a week. It's the highest mountain on the north-american continent, and one of the most difficult mountains in the world to climb. I'd be happy to go up that mountain with you if you want me to, but it takes a little more time than a few days."
"How so? You do have the experience."
"Yes, but not the physical condition. I would need to check my gear too, I may be missing a few things. It's been a while."
"I see. How about next weekend, then? "
"You Vulcans have an odd sense of humour," I mumbled.
"As I told you before, Cadet, Vulcans..."
"...do not joke, I know," I interrupted. "Fine. I can't make this weekend, and I can't make next weekend, either. But I guess we can agree to climb McKinley at the end of the semester. If that doesn't suit you, you can always take on a less challenging peak with one of your Vulcan friends next week."
"Surely you should be able to be ready sooner than that, Cadet? I've seen your record, and..."
"No, I won't be. I'm sorry. As a mountaineer, you should know that it is suicide to climb a challenging mountain when you're not ready, or when you do not have enough time to do so. I'd be happy to climb McKinley with you; but if I'm not properly prepared, I'd be a danger rather than a help. The end of the semester, or not at all."
"Very well, Cadet Nielsen, the end of the semester then."
She wasn't entirely wrong, actually; physically, and with my gear, I could easily be ready by next week. But I didn't feel like going up such a challenging mountain in my current emotional state. Especially not when the cause of those emotions would need to work in such close proximity to me. But I'd been in love before, and I knew that all I needed would be some time away from her. The rest would likely go by itself.
As the semester went on, I noticed T'Vani often chose to be near me, even when she had other choices that might have been better. For instance, when that Bolian Admiral Brang, who taught Warp Theory, gave us a group assignment, she turned down a suggestion to join up with one of the other Vulcans in our class who was known to excel in Warp Theory, so she could be in my group instead. During Lunch breaks, she would often walk right past groups of Vulcans eating in silence, so she could sit across from me and engage in smalltalk--clearly not common Vulcan behaviour. When I asked her about it, she told me that since we were going to go up a dangerous mountain where my or her life might very well depend on how the other would react, it is logical to get to know one another better. "Besides," she continued, "while my understanding of human expressions is somewhat limited, I have noticed on several occasions that whenever I chose to spend time in your company, your eyes seem to enlarge a bit and your mouth curls into a slight smile, which would suggest that you seem to enjoy my company"
Well, I couldn't argue with that.
Over the months, I learned that T'Vani, like all Vulcans, knew who her future spouse would be. She was as yet unmarried, but apparently Vulcans have some sort of a ceremony at 7 years of age, in which their future spouse--a person chosen by their respective parents--is presented to them, and they then go through some ritual which will make the man prefer this particular woman when he has his first Pon Farr. She found the human method of chosing a mate, where men and women need to go through a 'dating' process before finally deciding on a partner to be "cumbersome, illogical, and error-prone." That the failure rate was "disturbingly high." When I told her that it wasn't that bad, and that dating is actually considered to be a pleasurable experience, she was a bit confused at first, but eventually understood most of my reasoning. I couldn't convince her about the errors in her ways about failure rates being too high, however--she simply pointed out that there is a much higher number of bachelors on Earth than on Vulcan, and the fact that more than 25% of all marriages on Earth end in divorce--a concept almost unknown on Vulcan.
T'Vani did have siblings; but as the Pon Farr happens only once every seven years, she has none that are close to her own age. She told me she had one older brother, one younger brother, and three younger sisters. This would put her age at 35 at least, which I found surprising; I guess I'd silently assumed that, since she was in my class, she'd be about my age. To this she simply replied that since Vulcans live longer than do Humans, their schooling also takes much more time (which is why she only joined the Academy this year), and that they are considered to be adults at a much higher age than are humans. I guess I could see the logic in that.
I from my side revealed to her that I did not have any siblings, and that my father had died when I was very young. She seemed not to know very well how to respond to that, but as I told her then that it had been quite a while, and that I had long since learned to cope with that, it was not brought up again.
Since her parents had apparently not had a Pon Farr without conceiving a child, I mused that they must've been lucky. I found her reply was nothing less than surprising:
"Since the whole point of the Pon Farr is to procreate, would it be logical to go through it at all if you do not wish to have children? "
"Well, I suppose not, but that's not what I meant"
"Well, if humans have sex, that does not always lead to a child"
"Then why have sex? "
"Because it is fun"
She seemed to ponder that for a moment.
"Indeed. I suppose I can understand how a species that is so emotional as you humans would think of an act meant for procreation as 'fun'. But that is not the attitude that Vulcans have towards procreation."
I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised at that. A species that sees the elimination of all emotion as the highest achievement one can have in life would probably not have a very high opinion of something as uncontrollable as the instinct to procreate. But still, she'd missed my point.
"Well, I didn't say procreation, I said sex."
"Is there a difference? Sex leads to procreation, no? "
"Sometimes, yes. If a man happens to have sex with a woman during the few days of the month that she is fertile, and they do not use any form of anticonceptives, then the chance that it would lead to a child is pretty high. But usually, it's just about harmless fun."
At this, she seemed impressed. "The chance? You mean that even if humans have sex during the right time window, there's still no guarantee of conception? Interesting."
"You sound surprised. Is it so different for Vulcans? "
"Quite. If two Vulcans go through Pon Farr together, the chances of conception are in the vicinity of 97%"
Now it was my time to be impressed. Well, surprised was more like it.
"Approximately. 97.185329% to be exact, but I have found that you humans tend to be somewhat disapproving of such exactness."
"Wow. That's a high success rate. But then, I guess that if you only have sex once every 7 years, chances of conceiving are going to have to be pretty high if you want to survive as a species."
As the semester went on, I learned a lot about her culture and personal life, but also about her techniques and preferences in rock climbing. I learned that she preferred old-style manual pitons (which are driven into the rock with the use of a hammer) rather than the starfleet issue automatical ones which you just put against the rock and that secure themselves. She argued that since her goal of climbing a mountain was to have some physical excercise, it was logical to use every means available to increase the required physical excercise. At my response that the starfleet issue pitons were safer and less prone to failure, she simply replied that even those have been known to fail; that she therefore always climbs with a portable transporter on her revers, set to transport her to a safe place within the base camp at a single push of a button, so she could immediately transport to safety in case something went wrong. She seemed to consider this a better safety precaution than using starfleet-issue pitons anyway, and I couldn't argue with the logic of that opinion, even though I did think that climbing with such a blaring safety net took some of the adventure away.
When the semester drew to a close, I realized that I had utterly failed at my mission of trying to get her out of my head. Worse; since we had grown so close, I was now even more infatuated with her than I had been originally. But this time, I had been training, so I was in perfect shape physically. My gear was all set and ready to go. I'd even gotten me one of those portable transporters, just like hers, so I would feel safe in using manual pitons. In other words, I had no excuse to refuse to climb that mountain with her.
And since our planned expedition had been the subject of quite some discussions and gossip across the Academy, I couldn't very well bail out now without losing face to most of my fellow Cadets.
So when our agreed-on departure day had arrived, I packed my gear and took a shuttle to the base camp near the slopes of Mt. McKinley.
On the slopes
We had agreed that she would be leading the climb up the mountain. This was for all the good and logical reasons, of course--she had more experience with manual pitons than did I--but as we progressed up Wickersham Wall, I realized that doing so had a significant disadvantage: every time I looked upwards, I had a magnificent view of her perfect behind, which wasn't helping my concentration any. After several hours of climbing, she seemed to notice that something was amiss
"Cadet Nielsen, you seem distraught. Are you alright? "
"Yes, fine. Please continue."
"Are you sure? If you are not well, we should return to the base camp and postpone our attempt."
And go through all this again? No chance
"I am in perfect condition. I just need to focus. Concentrate. Please proceed further."
She didn't seem convinced, but probably realized that arguing about it would not help.
"As you wish."
"Oh, and one more thing."
"Please stop calling me "Cadet Nielsen." I think we know eachother well enough now to be on a first-name basis. My name is John."
"As you wish... John."
But I was not in perfect condition, and I knew it. Because my thoughts weren't on the job at hand, I often misjudged the suitability of features in the rock's wall as support points, and that caused me to slow down during most of our climb, as well as to slip once. She seemed distraught, insofar a Vulcan can be, but did not bring the subject up anymore until we had reached a small ridge, just large enough so we could sit down and have a small lunch.
"Apologies for my need to insist, John, but you seemed less than sure of yourself earlier. Perhaps we shouldn't have chosen the Wickersham Wall route to reach the summit, but a less challenging one, like the West Rib? "
"We'll make it. I'm fine."
"You do not seem to be. You seem to have problems concentrating, and almost fell off the rock once when you misjudged a small boulder for a stable piece of rock. That is not the kind of errors I would expect an alpinist with your record and experience to make."
There are times where I just hate her Vulcan perception.
"John, if you can't explain what's wrong, I think we should go back to the base camp. It is illogical to attempt one of the most dangerous routes to the top of this mountain with a partner who is making the most basic of errors. Don't tell me this is how you always climb a mountain."
"No, I suppose it isn't. It's just... I can't explain it."
She seemed to think I was trying to find the right words, and remained silent for a short while. Eventually, she understood that I wasn't going to say anything more unless prodded.
"Of course, if you have troubles finding the right words, there's always another solution."
"What do you mean? "
"I could perform a mind meld. That way, you could let me understand your problem, without having to explain it."
"No. Please, no mind melds."
"I can't say I consider it the best option, either, but I'm willing to do so if it helps you explain yourself. John, I must insist: either you let me understand, in whatever way is comfortable to you, what the problem is, or we return to base camp. I will not climb a mountain with a partner whom I do not trust to back me up when I need it."
Since it was said in that monotonic emotionless intonation that is so typical of all Vulcans, I understood what she said to just being practical. Any remote sign of emotion, and I would have considered it an insult.
As we finished our short meal in silence, I let my thoughts go over my possible options. She was right, of course; I was performing poorly, and was becoming a danger to our little expedition. If I didn't find a way to deal with my feelings soon and get my act together, we would have to abort our attempt.
I'd never been a quitter. There had been times where everything about a climb seemed to go against me; and while I had considered aborting the attempt on several of those occasions, I'd often found a way to persist and make it to the summit. There is no greater feeling of accomplishment than to reach a summit after overcoming a number of setbacks, and I wanted to hold on.
At the same time, I wasn't sure that I could make it in my current state of mind. My closeness to her was just too much, and she had a right to know what was bothering me; if not because I was endangering the expedition, then because she was the subject of my affections. But how was I going to explain that to her? If anything, our cross-cultural exchange over the semester had taught me that the concept of love, as we humans experience it, is something entirely alien to the emotionless Vulcan. They have sex, or they "attempt to procreate" as she would call it, because not doing so when in a state of Pon Farr would kill them. They marry and live together as a couple, because it is more convenient to raise children as a couple. They have love and affection for their children, but they are unfamiliar with infatuation and romantic love.
With a mind meld, she could perhaps understand. I'd never been through one before; but as I understand it, when in a mind meld, Vulcans will share all their thoughts with you, and will completely understand your current state of mind. While I wasn't looking forward to dumping my feelings for her out there in plain view, I gradually warmed to the idea. It would certainly clarify what was going on, even if the idea of love and physical attraction was alien to her. And if she chose to share some of her Vulcan emotion-controlling techniques with me during the meld, perhaps I could reach the summit without having to worry too much about my concentration.
So as I finished my lunch, I made up my mind.
"Fine, let's do that meld then, if it makes you happy."
"Are you sure, John? I don't want you to feel forced. Not only is that unethical, it would also be dangerous, especially in our current location."
"Yes, please. Let's get this over with, so we can get to the mountain."
"Very well. Let me put some extra pistons in the rock first, just to be on the safe side. I'll move a little closer then, and we'll do the meld."
"My mind to your mind. My thoughts to your thoughts..."
As she put her fingers on my face, and spoke those words familiar to everyone who's ever heard of the mind meld, my heart skipped a beat at her touch. Soon enough, however, as I felt her mind entering mine, my heart returned to normal, and she started probing around. At first I instinctively tried to hold back, but then realized that if this was going to work, she needed to have all the information.
So I let it all come to the surface, and with a shock she realized what was going on, and to which extent I had tried to hide it from her. The realization seemed to overwhelm her, and for a short moment I felt emotions that I had never felt before. After that, she abruptly disengaged from the meld, and the unknown emotions disappeared.
As we sat there, with her hands hovering above my face, I took in all her features. Her eyes, normally always neutral, now seemed to be somewhat in distress, and a sweat pearl was forming on her forehead. I had thought that Vulcans could not flush, but her cheek did seem somewhat redder than I remembered. Her breath, usually calm and relaxed, seemed to speed up now. And was that her hand shaking?
The silence between us was getting awkward, and after a few seconds I felt the need to say something. I turned away, and said: