Actions

Work Header

On Alien Seas, and Shores

Work Text:

It was the last ship left in the port of Ostia; if its—no, the Terrans used the feminine to refer to ships, for no discernible reason—her captain did not prove amenable to allowing to join the crew a young Vulcan woman who had never been closer to an ocean than approximately seventy-eight meters, she would concede defeat and return to Paris on the evening mag-lev.

Ostia was an ancient town by human standards; for nearly three thousand years it had served as Rome’s sea gateway to the Mediterranean while empires rose and fell around the Eternal City and its port. The contrast between the age of Europe, and that of such newer Terran cities as San Francisco, was instructive: T’Mir knew that many Vulcans regarded humans as overgrown children, but they were by no means as young as they seemed. The ruins of the Fori in Rome, in Ostia, of the theater at Athens and the Palace at Knossos, attested eloquently to that.

Of course the docks at Ostia had been remodeled since the downfall of the Roman Empire, but she nevertheless surmised that the facilities here were less than top of the line. Nor was this, if her suspicions about the flow of contraband goods through the port were correct, an illogical oversight.

T’Mir would have put a finer point on it in conversation, but she was proposing to rely on the demonstrated human propensity for emotion and illogic in this plan. She had also calculated that she was more likely to find success with a captain of Irish descent, for Daniel had often said that the Irish were even more prone to emotional actions than other Earth tribes. “Tribes” of course was replete with infelicities as a term, but neither Vulcan nor Federation Standard seemed to have an adequate descriptor for the status of Terra’s remnant boundaries, which were neither nations nor states nor ethnic groups, but yet retained a cultural distinctiveness that was readily apparent, and yet not apparently based on blood, or at least not entirely. T’Mir knew enough of human phenotypical variation, and of humanity’s long history of endowing that variation with invidious and (particularly to a xenobiologist) entirely specious, divisive meaning; she could perceive the dissonance in those Italian people of what appeared to be black or West Asian extraction on the streets and in the trains, but she had learned enough to know that there was no dissonance in their minds. The Terrans too practiced IDIC, it seemed, though they might not consider it as such.

The factor by which an Irish captain might increase her odds of success nevertheless remained indeterminate. T’Mir calculated that her chances of success had to be no more than approximately one in ten at most—but even that percentage was vastly greater than zero.

In the interim she had approached close enough to the ship to read the writing on its bow, in Roman characters: the Helen Durochet, just as the (exceedingly bemused) harbormaster had said. T’Mir knew little about sailing ships; this one had two masts and seven sails of varying sizes, rigged to slightly exceed the length of the vessel at both the bow and the stern, if she recalled the terminology correctly. The harbormaster had called the ship a “schooner,” whatever that meant.

She could see several people moving purposefully about the ship’s deck, presumably human, and by the time she had approached the foot of the gangplank bridging the distance between vessel and shore amidships, they had seen her too.

T’Mir made sure that she was standing at such an angle so that the tips of her ears were clearly visible. “Greetings,” she called, raising the parted hand in the traditional—and intergalactically famed—salute. “I am T’Mir of Vulcan. I wish to speak with the captain, if I may.”

She waited for a brief interval, willing her body to endure the cold, damp weather with equanimity—people had assured her that it was warm for January, at six-point-nine degrees Celsius, but nowhere on Vulcan was reliably this cold, and she appreciated the ‘mackintosh’ she had purchased very much. She knew that a human female of her approximate physique would be assumed physically weak, but a Vulcan of any size was no such thing, particularly at the bottom of Earth’s shallower gravity well.

The human woman who stepped to the starboard railing was of T’Mir’s height, on the short side of the European norm at approximately one hundred seventy-five centimeters, and from her external appearance, the Vulcan judged her to be somewhere in early middle age, about fifty standard years old. Her hair, clipped short, was a rich brown-black streaked with copious silver, her eyes dark blue, and she exuded the sort of calm authority T’Mir had found in the few other captains of her acquaintance, whether of star or sailing ships, and in experienced physicians like Daniel and her father. “I’m the captain, Ms. T’Mir,” she said, her voice a calm soprano; “Aoife Johnson’s the name. If you’ll be wantin’ to come aboard, I’d be pleased to speak with you.”

“I thank you, Captain,” said T’Mir, noting the woman’s obviously Irish name and accent and revising her estimate of success accordingly. She crossed the gangplank without incident, compensating easily for the gentle pitch of the metal as the Helen Durochet rocked gently in the relatively still, protected waters of the inner harbor. She jumped down to the deck—it was actual wood, not a polycarbon substitute—and faced Johnson, who seemed…bemused, as the Terrans termed it, but courteous enough. “Permission to come aboard, sir?” she asked, and Johnson snorted.

“Permission granted, Ms. T’Mir,” she said, giving the Vulcan a frankly appraising look. T’Mir kept her gaze on the captain, though curiosity burned within her; Johnson was dressed similarly to the other figures on the deck, wearing a dark overcoat, those blue trousers known as “jeans,” and presumably waterproof ankle boots. Johnson also wore traditional Irish headgear: a single-brimmed, patchwork hat made of a fabric Daniel had called “tweed.” “To what are we owing this pleasure?”

For her part, T’Mir let herself sink deeper into the appreciation of ch’thia of which the outward manifestation was often taken for reserve or imperturbability. “It is my understanding that the Helen Durochet sails for Ireland this afternoon, Captain,” she said without preamble. “I wish to make passage aboard her.”

Johnson gaped at her in what T’Mir presumed to be acute surprise, but she did not lower her mental shielding to be sure. Her psi talents were modest by Vulcan standards, but were she to open her mind even her limited abilities were sufficient to perceive other species’ thought/emotion waveforms, at least species of similar neurological makeup, at close range. “Ms. T’Mir,” the captain began, “for surely we’re honored that you’d think of sailin’ with us. But Helen’s not a passenger vessel. If you turn around and walk back around the harbor, you’ll find—“

“Captain,” T’Mir interrupted, “it seems you are laboring under a misapprehension. I do not wish to sail as a passenger, but as a member of the crew.”

Johnson stared at T’Mir in total silence for nearly sixty seconds, her expression moving from stunned to something the Vulcan could not parse. T’Mir waited, though she began to entertain the possibility that this inquiry too would prove futile. In that case, she ought best to—

She was distracted from following that thought to its conclusion when Johnson—giggled, and then laughed outright. “And they say Vulcans can’t tell jokes!” she exclaimed, still grinning broadly. “Ms. T’Mir, you’re not serious.”

“Captain Johnson, I assure you, I am not joking, and I am serious; Vulcans do not tell jokes.” Of all human traits, T’Mir found this perverse insistence on seeing humor in the most sober circumstances the most inexplicable: it was the opposite of logic.

But perhaps Johnson found dealing with T’Mir stressful, and had sought to release some of her own tension by acting as if she, T’Mir, were “being funny”? T’Mir knew that emotional beings often found applied logic intimidating, though she did not pretend to understand the response. Logic had been her people’s salvation and glory, and she found the mastery of passion far more attractive than the unbridled indulgence of the passions themselves.

Johnson crossed her arms, regarding T’Mir narrowly. “I didn’t realize Vulcan had oceans.”

“Captain, it does not,” T’Mir confirmed, then an instant later realized a possible motive behind Johnson’s non sequitur, and elaborated. “I have no prior experience sailing.”

At this approximate point in every other conversation T’Mir had been questioned as to her own motives, and, when she had divulged no comprehensible reason, had been turned away. Johnson, however, held her peace, studying her.

“In light of your inexperience, Ms. T’Mir, I won’t be able to offer you any share in the proceeds from the voyage,” Johnson said at last, “and I’d likewise ask you to refrain from takin’ any recordings belowdecks. But if these terms are acceptable, there’s a place for you in the ship’s company.” She smiled. “All six of us.”

T’Mir blinked. “Captain, you are serious?”

The human woman’s smile broadened into a grin, for no discernible reason. “As serious as you, Ms. T’Mir, I’d wager. Welcome aboard, then.” She held out a hand, but then almost instantly jerked it backwards. “Ah, I do beg your pardon.”

“Not at all, Captain,” T’Mir reassured her. “I am…grateful.” Slowly, having steeled herself for the contact, she reached out to offer her own hand; Johnson looked down at it, then back up at T’Mir, taken aback again. But then she grasped T’Mir’s hand in her own, and the two women shook solemnly.

* * * *

So T’Mir ch’Sorel, of the House of Surak, joined the crew of the schooner Helen Durochet on her voyage from Ostia, Italy, to Galway, Ireland, on Earth. They sailed out of Ostia on the afternoon tide, plotting a course through sealanes known to humans for at least five thousand years, though T’Mir was too busy hauling in ropes—no, aboard ship they were called lines—to give any such abstract idea much thought.

Indeed, the sheer amount of physical labor involved in the orderly operation of the Helen Durochet—or HD, as her crew usually called her—came as a surprise to T’Mir. Vulcan possessed precisely one shallow, hot sea, rather like Earth’s Dead Sea in West Asia, and it was a docile, lassitudinous body of water compared to the Mediterranean, which had its own ideas, particularly in January. Every watch saw a squall of some sort, usually accompanied by the near-freezing rain that T’Mir could not abide. The Vulcan perception of Earth was that, two-thirds water, it was just a little too liquid for dignity, and at least some of the old perception of humans as spoilt children, babied by their gentle waterworld, arose from this abundance: water fell from the sky on their world; how could they have come to maturity as a species without learning to endure such privations as those of Vulcan’s harsh desert climate?

But T’Mir began to understand that plenty brought its own privations; that a more temperate world was a world that froze; that the rain that watered ecosystems could lay waste to them as well. She welcomed these thoughts in her few moments of free time, for all but one of the crew were native Irish, and two were from the same county as Daniel (Clare), with uncannily similar accents.

It had been several months since she had received any letters from her family, but T’Zan had mentioned in the last communication that Daniel’s health was failing rapidly, and T’Mir expected that the next letter would bring the news of his death. She would almost certainly be unable to return to Vulcan for his funeral, for there was scant reason to go; he was a friend of her family only, and for humans, dead was dead. That she had known for years that he should have been her husband, and she his wife, availed not: time worked against them, as it had favored Ambassador Sarek and Lady Amanda, and did still.

Her logic was strong, and these realizations were in any case more than a decade old, but T’Mir was beginning to understand that, regardless of logic, pain anticipated was only pain anticipated, not pain averted. Had she lost Daniel after a long, successful marriage…that would have been one thing, both easier and harder to bear, but as it was there was only the unaccountable lack of potential maimed, of convictions never spoken, as amputees suffered phantom nerve stimuli from their lost limbs. Like every Vulcan, T’Mir was perfectly able to concede that there was meaning in the universe that surpassed her understanding, but the logic in her own particular corner of it seemed to be in abeyance.

All these things being so, T’Mir did not begrudge the constant physical labor entailed on being a member of HD’s crew, for, when coupled with the quantity of technical jargon of which mastery was incumbent upon the ship’s successful operation, her off watches were generally spent in deep meditation or sleep, both equally thoughtless, usually wrapped in several of the ship’s powered blankets. Gluttony was as profoundly abhorrent to the Vulcan temperament as allowing oneself to fall out of physical conditioning, but the exertion involved in trimming sail, hauling in lines, and climbing the masts was very different than that of solo combat forms.

The HD sailed through the Straits of Gibraltar several days into the voyage. It being a rare interval of unclouded sun, T’Mir was standing at the rail huddled into her mackintosh. “The Pillars of Hercules,” someone remarked beside her, in a satisfied way. T’Mir turned—the jacket’s hood restricted her peripheral vision—and saw a young human male, his skin the color of the milk tea the Irish consumed with such gusto, absurdly young by Vulcan standards but well past latency at twenty-four standard years old. He met T’Mir’s eyes—his were a dark blue quite like the Captain’s, for he was her nephew—and grinned. “Now we’ll see some real weather.”

T’Mir blinked. “Tony,” she said carefully, looking up at him, for he had a few centimeters on her, “I do not understand how the weather we have encountered heretofore could possibly be considered ‘unreal.’ My socks are still damp, among many other evidentiary phenomenon.”

Tony grinned still broader; his even white teeth contrasted vividly with his dark skin. The crew had accepted her with an ease T’Mir privately doubted a Vulcan group of similar composition could have matched, particularly after she had rejected, as politely as possible, the flirtations of Kirry. It had been to T’Mir’s benefit that Kirry had taken her rejection with philosophical good humor, though she had not quite known how to take the other woman’s compliments.

“Miss T’Mir,” he said, shaking his head, “the Med can mess you up, make no mistake, but out past these Pillars of Hercules, the Atlantic…ah, she can be a cold blue bitch, and no mistake. You’ll see.”

“All things being equal, Tony, I would prefer not to.”

He laughed outright, though she did not think the emotional outburst mocking. “Then what in Heaven’s name are you doing on this ship, Miss T’Mir?”

This human openness, at least among humans of Occidental cultural extraction, would never cease to seem burdensome to T’Mir—for indeed, among Vulcans this sort of inquisitiveness was a burden, as well as a violation of the canons of privacy. How did these people, or pre-Reformation Vulcans for that matter, live their lives at such a feverish emotional pitch?

But if Tony’s question violated privacy as a Vulcan understood it, the basic obligations of hospitality necessitated that she make some sort of answer to his question. “It seemed logical,” T’Mir said at length. “Sailing on a vessel of this type is an experience I have desired to have since my childhood.”

“I hadn’t realized Vulcans harbored such a fascination with our Age of Sail.” The captain had come down the stairway from the afterdeck to stand with them. She looked faintly amused, and T’Mir wondered whether a joke lurked somewhere in the circumstances.

In any case, her response would not change. “I believe I am unusual, perhaps unique, in this respect, Captain,” T’Mir replied. “Even now, few Vulcans travel offworld, let alone conceive such specific interests in the minutiae of other species’ cultural artifacts.”

Suddenly she had no wish to speak of Daniel, even indirectly. “But surely I am not unusual in the rarity of my interest, am I not?” she inquired, looking between them. “There cannot be many others on Earth who share your avocation, Tony, Captain."

He shrugged, a human gesture that, as far as T’Mir understood, both acknowledged the truth of a statement and denied its specific applicability. “All of us enjoy this too much to do something else,” he explained. “Most of us had some other occupation that was killing us slowly. We do well enough at this that we don’t have to go back.”

T’Mir did not disbelieve him; she had not explored the ship’s lower decks in any great detail, but she calculated that the Helen Durochet was most likely smuggling either Romulan ale or Klingon bloodwine (if not both), both of which beverages were highly illegal and consequently expensive. The Irish, she understood, were great social drinkers; doubtless the HD would have no trouble offloading its entire cargo in-country, and it could thence be distributed clandestinely throughout northern Europe. With the demise of the economic system known as “capitalism,” the profit motive was no longer the driving force in Terran—or, for that matter, in Federation—lives, but as the humans said, it didn’t hurt to make a few credits along Life’s way.

“Tony’s right, we wouldn’t be out here if we didn’t love it, however much we may complain,” said the captain, crossing her arms and watching as the tip of Gibraltar slid past to the starboard. T’Mir could already feel a change in the air currents forward; they would shortly be forced to adjust the trimming of the sails to keep their course. “Be careful the sea doesn’t get her hooks into you, Ms. T’Mir. She’s a cruel mistress, for certain.”

T’Mir thought that there was little danger of that eventuality coming to pas, but she endeavored to take Johnson’s warning in the spirit in which it was meant. “I will keep that in mind, Captain,” she assured the other woman, who snorted.

“See that you do,” said Johnson, but her eyes were on the sky forward, not on T’Mir. Her face was a mask of serene authority, but behind the fine lines and silvered hair T’Mir thought she saw a flicker of some emotion—concern? Well, in a captain such paranoia would avail, particularly on the open ocean.

“T’Mir, Tony, I want you aloft fore and aft,” she said after a minute. “We’ll try to skirt this storm.”

“Aye, sir,” they both said, and headed forward. Tony, whose legs were longer, quickly outpaced T’Mir and headed for the slightly shorter, comparatively more exposed forward mast, while T’Mir stopped at the main mast and began to ascend the ceramic rungs driven deep into the great wooden cylinder—all a single tree trunk, for a wonder; she had seen the massive plants with her own eyes—at regular intervals. She climbed until she reached the topspar from which the mainsail was suspended, while Tony ascended to the topsail, five meters higher.

T’Mir was perpetually slightly damp from the lashings of spray that seemed to be a near-constant feature of winter sailing, but the vista surrounding her—at this height, she could see for kilometers—drove such minor physical distractions from her uppermost consciousness. The ocean below showed more hues of dark grey-blue than she would have thought physically possible, touched with whitecaps stirred up by the same driving wind that whipped her hair back from her face. The continent of Africa was a dark distant smudge off the port side, half-hidden by pale grey clouds, and though the view forward was partially obscured by the rest of the sails and rigging, she could see more of the same piling up in front of the HD, each hue hinting at a different amount of evaporated water contained within, waiting to be released. Aft, the Mediterranean seemed a calm pond in comparison, complete to the wheeling seabirds—seagulls and terns, Kirry had called them—that squawked raucous farewells in the schooner’s wake, though to T’Mir’s keen hearing their cries might just as well have been expressions of derision.

It was altogether magnificent, and even the rain that opened up on them less than an hour later, as they reached the edge of the storm, could not do much to alter T’Mir’s profound satisfaction. The rigging, singing with tension, chafed her already cold hands, she had taken a nasty ropeburn the first afternoon, and the still-tender dermaplast Sylvia, who doubled as ship’s medic, had slapped on soon began to throb. The pinkish bandage (for of course the HD carried no Vulcaniform med packs, and T’Mir had not noticed the injury in time to retrieve the one she had brought with her) looked absurd against her greenish-gold skin. But she had chosen this experience, and did not regret any aspect of it; she split her attention between following Aoife Johnson’s shouted orders and calculating the decimal value of π in her head (a common technique among Vulcans for “taking one’s mind off things,” though the Vulcan idiom had far different nuances), and endured.

It was several hours before, the sun having long since set, the storm abated enough—though not totally—that Aoife shouted to them to descend. T’Mir, wary of slipping in the darkness, went slowly enough that Tony, more experienced, was waiting for her when she reached the deck. “What a bitch,” he remarked wearily, evidently to no one in particular; certainly she could think of no reasonable reply. “Come on, it’s warm below.”

T’Mir followed him, noting the distinct ache in each separate joint of her fingers, and her own unsteady gait—her legs were stiff—with detachment. When they did reach the lower, interior deck, making their way slowly down the stairway, Tony took his brimmed tweed cap off his head, wringing the water onto the planks, and gestured that she should precede him aft to the galley.

She led the way down the narrow, dim passageway, lit by a few modern LED lights, to the relatively capacious dining compartment, which was dominated by a stainless steel stove at its rear and a rectangular table and six chairs bolted down opposite on the port side, beneath a fairly capacious window. Everyone but Sylvia was already there, all looking as chilled and numb as T’Mir felt, though her expression did not betray their solidarity.

The lighting in here was closer to the spectrum of Earth’s pale yellow sun, which she supposed humans found more natural and thus comforting. She and Tony removed their sodden jackets and hung them on the hooks to the starboard of the door, whence they dripped seawater onto the decking; from the hooks’ location, T’Mir surmised that the heat from the stove was meant to dry out whatever might be hung from them. Bob Doyle, whose uniformly silver hair and black, relatively unlined complexion rendered her incapable of judging his age—she would have credited any number between thirty and seventy—was tending two large pots on the stove; he handed them each mugs of steaming brown liquid—Barry’s Tea, and no other, as Kirry Singh had told her sternly—when they each took seats at the table, Tony next to his aunt against the wall and T’Mir across from him on Kirry’s left. Latika O’Shea gave them a tired nod from her chair at the other end of the table, between Kirry and the captain.

The tea was too hot to drink as yet, but Bob took great care to prewarm each cup so that no heat from the drink was lost, and T’Mir curled her fingers around the ceramic vessel, letting it combat her chill. When she sipped the liquid, it tasted salty, for ocean spray had dried unnoticed on her lips. She expected that she wound find it crusted onto her bangs as well; at least the hood of her jacket protected most of her hair.

No one said much until they’d been served second and third cups of tea and Bob had handed round bowls of fish stew, still piping hot, and fresh brown bread to go with it. Like most Vulcans, T’Mir practiced vegetarianism, but under the circumstances it was both logical and expedient not to make an issue of her dietary habits.

All the cuisine had been, though different, quite delicious; in any case what mattered to T’Mir at the moment was that it was hot and contained calories. Like everyone else, she had two portions—“seconds,” as her human comrades termed it. Before this voyage, she had never tasted the tuber known as a “potato” about which Daniel had often rhapsodized, and given its versatility, T’Mir could see the logic in its frequent consumption, but after a few days of Bob’s cooking she thought that it was not the potato but the seasonings that made a particular dish notable.

It was her turn to wash the dishes; by the time she set the last mug in the drying cabinet the rest of the crew seemed revived, judging by the fact that they were in the midst of a spirited discussion. T’Mir slid into the empty seat at the near end of the table, Bob having taken her vacant chair, her curiosity demanding indulgence.

“Twenty-six plus six equals one,” Kirry was saying, slapping the table for emphasis. She was perhaps a decade younger than the captain; at the moment her hazel eyes were alight with some passion, transfiguring her otherwise plain, rather pale features into an aesthetically pleasing countenance. She was a bit stocker than the younger crew members, or for that matter the captain, but T’Mir had seen that she pulled her share all the same.

“That’s as may be, but the border still stands, Kirry,” said Johnson, her expression dark. “It’s too late for reunification. Most people find the old state divisions completely irrelevant as it is.”

“Well, they are irrelevant,” said Bob, whose full name was Deagan Murphy, from T’Mir’s right, leaning back in his chair and crossing his arms. “Which is why people are so attached to them.”

The others nodded as if this contradiction in terms made perfect sense, but T’Mir was positively bewildered. “Tony,” she asked in a low voice when the others leaned forward to listen to Latika, “what are they talking about?”

“Ancient history,” he answered, looking far grimmer than she would have thought he knew how. “It’s not important, Miss T’Mir.”

“T’Mir will be fine,” she told him; “I hold no special position. But, Tony, if it is not an imposition, I would request you to explain further.”

Her words fell into one of those lulls that crop up cyclically in group conversation; everyone was looking at her and Tony, who spread his hands, palms up, in a gesture she could not interpret.

The humans traded glances, and then Aoife leaned back against the wall and sighed. “If we’re going to get into this, then, we’ll need more than tea to drink. Bob, is there any whiskey?”

“I’ll make us Irish coffee,” he said in reply, getting to his feet. T’Mir saw him glance at the wall-mounted chronometer next to the stove. “Latika, you know you’re on watch in five minutes.”

“Yeah, yeah,” she said, smiling. T’Mir had yet to see her sit straight in any chair; even now she perched with one knee up against her chest, the other leg tucked around her body. The Vulcan understood that Latika was very handsome by human standards; her face, the color of milk tea, was sharply carved, a harmonious setting for her dark brown eyes, black hair that save for its length might have been T’Mir’s own, and full lips. “I’ll have mine in a flask up above, Bob, if I’m to miss the craic.”

“Crack?” T’Mir repeated. “What crack?”

“It’s an Irish word,” said Kirry, smiling. “It means—conversation. Good company.” She gestured around the compartment. “This is craic in action, Ms. T’Mir.”

“Please, call me T’Mir. The language is called Irish rather than Gaelic?”

Latika grimaced. “It’s an English thing, to call them Gaelic and Scots Gaelic. We say Irish and Scots, or Scots Irish.”

T’Mir looked around the group: none of them looked in an entirely good humor. Daniel had explained some of his native island’s history to her, when she’d been a child too young to really understand the strictures of privacy or to rein in her curiosity, but his stories had left her with the impression that Ireland’s past was as dead as could be expected among people who had lacked advanced recording technology for most of their history, let alone memory transmittal techniques, and who died so quickly.

She realized now that she had been mistaken; history was as alive to these people as the Reformation of Surak was to Vulcans, who experienced memories of that era as part of their education. But by what mechanism was this apparent engagement fostered?

“I beg your pardon, then,” she said quietly. Behind her, she heard the hiss of a vacuum canister unsealing, and then the distinctive aroma of coffee filled the air.

Kirry shrugged. “You didn’t know. Hell, most Terrans these days don’t know—which might be why those of us who do argue about it so.”

“Well, it’s a long history and a short story,” Aoife said, “or at least, I’ll try to give you the abbreviated version. Close to eight hundred years ago, the English took it into their heads that they really deserved to be lords and masters of Ireland as well as Wales, and then Scotland. They weren’t the first with that notion—“ For some reason, Bob laughed, and the others smiled slightly—“but they were the most successful; it took us nearly four hundred years to drive them out, and the price of our independence was letting them keep the six northern counties, the kingdom of Ulster as was, Northern Ireland as it remains, in the United Kingdom.”

In the midst of this monologue, Latika unfolded herself from her chair, bending down to kiss Tony on the mouth on her way out. T’Mir was aware that they were “involved,” as the human idiom went, but their open physical affection gave her a queer feeling. After a moment, she realized that it was envy.

Completely illogical, as most passions were, at least on one level. T’Mir accepted the feeling, binding it with reason and consigning it whence it came. That others were able to partner as they desired was of no consequence to her, and nor should she begrudge them their happiness because her choice was not possible.

“I don’t know how much Earth history you know, Ms. T’Mir,” Bob was saying from behind them, and she turned slightly in her chair so that she could see him. “But independence precipitated nearly a century of civil violence in the North, over which side the six counties belonged to.”

“Religion was part of it too,” said Kirry, sounding reluctant. “The Irish were mostly Catholic, the English Protestant, though of course none of the categories were completely hard and fast…but people tend to forget that. By the millennium the will to violence was mostly exhausted, but progress was so incrementally slow that the war, and then First Contact and the E.U. joining United Earth, pushed the whole debate to the side.”

Sylvia, who had entered in the midst of Kirry’s words, made a disgusted sound from behind them. “Ach, it is always the politics with you lot. Does the Vulcan really wish to hear these ancient griefs? Bob, tell me there’s hot food.” She dropped into the chair Latika had vacated, plainly exhausted; she looked wan beneath her golden olive complexion—only a few shades lighter than Latika, to T’Mir’s eyes, but she knew the older woman was almost purely Italian, while Latika was, in her own words, “mixed like a good chai, Indian and Irish together.”

Bob pressed the first mug of Irish coffee into Sylvia’s hands, and she knocked half of it back like it was a shot of alcohol. “We are all global citizens, haven’t you heard? And we are Federation citizens before that, or after.” She looked around at all of them, then shook her head at whatever she saw in their faces. “You crazy Irish.”

“You only say that because you’re Sicilian, not Italian, Sylvia,” said Tony, but T’Mir saw that he was smiling, and decided that there was less potential for conflict here than she’d originally calculated.

Sylvia snorted. She was the only crewmember who hailed from Italy, and her physical mannerisms differed from the others’ in subtle and fascinating ways. “If there’s one thing Italians can agree on, Tony, it’s that Italy was a colossal mistake. We are much better off under Untied Earth than we ever were on our own, or with the E.U.” Bob put a plate of stew down in front of her, and she thanked him and took up her fork almost simultaneously. She looked at T’Mir, the fork poised above her plate. “Further proof that Vulcans are from another planet, I think.”

“Oh aye,” said Kirry, “since we Irish are from the moon!”

“Or Fairyland,” Sylvia said, but her attention had shifted to her food.

“If all this took place nearly four centuries previous,” T’Mir asked, looking back to Kirry and Aoife and Tony, “what is the question in dispute?”

Kirry glanced at the other two, neither of whom met her gaze, and then looked back at T’Mir. “There’s many on both sides of the border who feel the North should be given free choice in some sort of referendum: to join the Republic, or to stay in the U.K.”

“But there’s equally many who think such things will only stir up the old Troubles,” said Bob, setting mugs of a steaming beverage—coffee, with sugar, dairy, and at least one other ingredient, T’Mir perceived, topped by a frothed, creamy dairy product, down in front of everyone. Having served himself, he sat back down between Kirry and the Vulcan. “I’m from Country Antrim, in the North, and that’s my fear.”

T’Mir thought that it took a great deal of courage to admit this even to a friend, let alone to an alien and a near-total stranger. In his place, she did not think she would be as sanguine as Bob appeared, not only because the emotion could control her, but because others could employ it to manipulate her.

Was it possible, then, to attenuate the power of the passions by admitting them, even if they remained free? “Then there is a serious possibility of a renewal of armed conflict, in your estimation?” she asked Bob, but it was Aoife who replied.

“Not armed conflict, no; people appreciate peace too much, and anyway there’s precious few arms to wage a conflict with on Earth these days. But the arguments won’t go away, either.” She sipped her drink. “We Irish have long memories. Comes of our old oral culture, my dad always said.”

“May I inquire as to your opinions on the issue?” T’Mir asked. By Vulcan standards it was an extraordinarily personal question, but the entire discussion had long since exceeded Vulcan concepts of propriety.

Aoife shook her head. “Our family lived in Derry, in the North, until just after independence; we’ve lived on Inis, Inch Island as the English call it, since then. My heart says that the English ought never have bothered us, and that there is only one Ireland. But UE would never approve a plebiscite, and if the English had never come, I wouldn’t exist. So you see my dilemma.” She smiled, but T’Mir did not think the expression was meant to convey any cheerful emotion; it was rather too thin for that.

Tony shrugged when she glanced at him, raising one eyebrow inquisitively. “There’s only one Ireland regardless, to my mind,” he said, “but as Aunt Aoife says, we’d not be here if our esteemed English Protestant ancestor hadn’t fallen in love with one of the Irish Catholic servant girls and been disinherited by his father seven hundred years ago. The country’s never not been one—and that’s what makes the divisions so painful.” He glanced at T’Mir’s drink; she had consumed nearly two-thirds of it in perhaps five minutes, having found that she liked the taste. “Go easy there, T’Mir.”

“Why would United Earth not accede to the wishes of its citizens, if a majority of them wished to have such a referendum?” T’Mir asked, following her first thought; she took another sip of her drink. It did taste good.

“Because Ireland’s not the only place with this sort of problem,” Kirry explained. “Tibet, East Turkmenistan, Cyprus…I could go on.” She shrugged. “It’s only been two hundred years since First Contact, and that’s not really a very long time in the scheme of things. Draco dormiens numquam titillandus, as they say.”

“I beg your pardon?”

Sylvia chuckled. “It’s Latin, from an old story. ‘Never tickle a sleeping dragon.’”

T’Mir finished her drink and regarded the lees in the bottom of the mug for a few minutes, thinking again that these people were braver than many would credit, to so consciously grapple with their worse instincts, and yet choose their better natures. “Perhaps that is wise,” she said at length, setting the cup down and looking around the table. “On Vulcan, for example, though it has been three thousand years since the Reformation of Surak, traditional family and social structures still dominate, though in some ways they might be considered…” She swallowed. “Illogical.”

She could not quite look up from the table. It was one thing to have this debate among others of her own species, but to admit such things to outsiders who would not understand…Should one of her elders (especially T’Pau, her Head of House) learn of it, she could not fault them for thinking her logic in abeyance.

The humans, though, seemed to take her admission in stride. They were good at this, she had discovered, though she would never venture to predict what a human would or would not accept. To her right, Kirry said something her translator did not quite catch; when T’Mir did not react like the others, she repeated, “Nobody’s perfect.”

T’Mir inclined her head in acknowledgment, and when she did so, she noticed a slight…infelicity in her sense of balance. Suddenly her curiosity as to the precise nature of a ‘dragon,’ or of ‘tickling,’ was replaced by a different question. “What was in that coffee?” she asked slowly, for she could not quite seem to speak evenly at a normal rate.

“You mean, besides the coffee and cream?” Bob asked. “Good Irish firewater—Jameson’s, to be exact.” She must have looked blank, or rather, uncomprehending, for he elaborated, “Whiskey.”

Daniel had many times spoken of the beverage, praising its strong taste and high alcohol content. Until she had learned of his current condition, T’Mir had been planning to send him a bottle.

Suddenly it seemed imperative that none of these events get back to anyone on Vulcan. T’Mir did not say, Vulcans do not consume alcoholic beverages, because she just had, and she had no wish to insult these people (logically, the fact that she had enjoyed the beverage in question was irrelevant). “I see,” she said. “Then am I correct in attributing my renewed sense of fatigue to alcohol’s depressant properties?”

“Probably,” Aoife said, regarding her with a sense of intent T’Mir recognized from observing Daniel interact with his patients—concern. “We have had a long day of it, too, and there’ll be more of the same tomorrow.”

Her words plainly contained a signal T’Mir did not receive, for within a few minutes the crew had stood up to make their goodnights and departed to their cabins. The Vulcan handed her cup to Bob and followed their example, thinking that for a supposedly simple race, humans certainly were mysterious.

* * * *

They spent the next two days tacking northwest against the currents and the prevailing winds, all of which beat in strongly toward the coast of the Iberian Peninsula, relative to which they charted a roughly parallel course, arcing toward Ireland. On the third day they found themselves straight in the path of “a real Atlantic zinger” as Latika said, and Aoife ordered them to haul in all sail and set the sea anchor, then told everyone to get below and took the helm herself. Even T’Mir, whose reflexes and coordination were superior to most humans’, found it difficult to keep her balance as the HD pitched and yawed, more or less at the ocean’s mercy, or its whim.

No one seemed comfortable in solitude, so they gathered in the other communal cabin, forward, which contained the ship’s combined web/tain tank, at which the crew seemed to do nothing but watch installments of a serial holodrama called Battleship Vengeance. Though no one remarked it, T’Mir felt certain that everyone was attempting to suppress the symptoms of motion sickness, and the tank remained powered off.

She had never before had much reason to consider it, but upon reflection it was highly questionable to have undertaken this voyage without knowing how to swim. It had seemed highly illogical when Daniel had told her that most sailors could not, and while following an ancient tradition was commendable, the tradition itself seemed…unwise.

Captain Johnson’s words about letting the ocean get its hooks into her were fresh in her mind—as all the events in her life were, for Vulcans were trained to eidetic memories—but of course she was here not because of the ocean, but because of Daniel, as the only way she had of honoring him. Able to swim or no, she had undertaken the voyage, and to shrink from its reality now was dishonorable as well as illogical; even should she perish, she would do it as a Vulcan, and not flinch. Death was part of life in any event, the next stage of the journey; though there was a time to struggle against it for Life’s sake, there was a time to put Life aside and embrace it. But not now, she thought, not for me… She stopped the thought before it could alight on Daniel, but she knew what she had been about to think.

Her logic was in abeyance, or at least, she could not reconcile the logic of Life with the logic of her life. Was it always thus? How did her father overcome the dissonance, in his practice? How did anyone, on the journey?

The humans must have misinterpreted her silence; when she looked up from the wooden planks of the decking—she understood that the grains and whorls in the wood indicated the events of the tree’s existence—Tony caught her eye and flashed her one of his quick smiles. “Not that we’ll need it, but we can always signal for an emergency beam-out,” he told her. “Nothing to fear.”

“A logical precaution,” T’Mir remarked. “But Tony, I am not afraid.”

“Isn’t it exhausting?” Latika asked from Tony’s other side. T’Mir had not missed their grip on each other’s hands, though their darker skin tone made it difficult to judge the strength of it. “Such constant self-control?”

T’Mir wondered, not for the first time, whether humans were incapable of asking questions that did not pry, and why they took a right to know the answer as given. But she had heard enough synonyms for “refrigeration unit” tossed around behind her back elsewhere, if never yet on the Helen Durochet, to think that this particular misconception merited an attempt to obviate it.

“It is ironic, considering the import of the concept in question, that the standard translation of the Vulcan phrase should be so prone to misinterpretation,” she said, glancing around the compartment. Latika and Tony occupied the couch next to her chair, while Bob, Kirry and Sylvia sat on an identical article of furniture, likewise bolted to the deck, on the opposite side of the cabin. The web/tain tank sat in the center of the compartment’s third side, opposite from the door, towards the bow. She could tell, despite the deck pitching beneath them, that she had their interest.

“From what I have gleaned, the image of the Vulcan way of life is either mechanistic, or of logic as a crude overlay on top of our emotions,” she continued. “We are not machines; we do have emotions, but—I do not know what metaphor to use.”

By chance, T’Mir’s eyes fell on Sylvia, and then she thought of an image she had seen, in marble relief, repeatedly in the ruins of the Fori she had toured. “The emotions, unruled, are like the rods of a—lictor, I believe the word is—unbound,” she said; “trying to do even the simplest task is vastly more difficult, on account of the effort one must expend on oneself, and oft the ends go awry, for the beginning is almost necessarily a muddle. But logic—the mastery of one’s passions—allows one to harness that energy, to bind the rods into one, and to put that union to a greater purpose.” She looked back at Latika. “I am the master of my fear and of my other emotions besides; having them, I am not possessed by them. I am not afraid. Nor, on the whole, do I experience that mastery as an effort. Effort is for children, before the discipline is fully integrated into the psyche.”

Latika sat back slightly, looking thoughtful, which expression T’Mir saw mirrored on every face. “It sounds,” Bob said slowly, “a bit like learning another language. The vocabulary and grammar start out as utterly foreign, but with enough time and practice they become familiar, and then completely natural—you’re thinking and dreaming in your second tongue, it’s changed your headspace without you realizing it.”

T’Mir nodded. “I am not a xenoneurologist, but from what I do know, the conceptual comparison with secondary—or even primary—language acquisition seems apt. Logic in Vulcans does physically alter the cortex, much as language acquisition stimulates neural connections.”

“I like that analogy better,” said Sylvia.

“I do not understand.”

The human woman made a peculiar face, as if she were in physical discomfort, but the expression was clearly too facile for actual pain: a grimace? “Have you ever heard of fascism, T’Mir?”

“It is a historical sociopolitical phenomenon of the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, old style dating, on Earth,” T’Mir said promptly; “a paranoid rejection of modernity that was nevertheless resolutely modern. …Ah. The name comes from the Roman symbol?”

Sylvia nodded. “That fathead Mussolini was obsessed with ‘our glorious Roman past,’” she explained. “The fasces was one of the many Roman concepts he appropriated for his own ends.” She sighed. “Bastard. At least he got what was coming to him.” The fact that the dictator had been dead for more than three centuries did not seem to have any bearing on the flat contempt with which Sylvia spoke of him.

T’Mir was beginning to think that she had not understood humans at all—and for someone who had known humans, or at least a human, all her life, the thought was unsettling. But she was not unaware that Sylvia’s evident personal dislike of a historical figure long dead was at odds with her professed exhaustion at the others’ questioning Irish reunification: perhaps what she saw here was yet another example of the human capacity for cognitive dissonance, the ability to hold multiple unreconciled beliefs or opinions simultaneously. It was profoundly antithetical to the tenets of Surak, who had insisted on unity and integration first of oneself and then of the self and the Other, but T’Mir was beginning to suspect it played a role in that other noted human trait, their capacity for tolerance.

“It would be better, then, to refrain from using that metaphor in future, I take it,” she said to Sylvia, who shrugged.

“My mother is a historian, and comparative fascism is her specialty, so I am—sensitized? Most people have no idea; so as long as you know what it is—“

“I understand,” said T’Mir. “Thank you.”

Sylvia shrugged again, and smiled a little; T’Mir realized that the Italian woman was, inexplicably, embarrassed. Fascinating. “No thanks necessary—fascism’s not really a Vulcan thing, from what my mother tells me.”

T’Mir nodded. “In many respects our species’ historical development is quite different. Never in Vulcan’s history was there a standing army, for instance: there was never enough water to spare.” Indeed, the very concept seemed to offend Surak’s tenets of individualism, which was one reason so few Vulcans even today joined Starfleet; for all its embrace of science and exploration, it also fulfilled military functions. T’Mir herself shared those reservations, which was why she had followed her parents into the Vulcan Science Academy.

Moreover, those Vulcans who did join Starfleet had traditionally served apart, in Vulcan-crewed and –registered vessels. Like anyone not living in seclusion, T’Mir had heard the slurs on Commander Spock, the calumnies that he had elected to serve on an integrated starship as “the only Vulcan in Starfleet” because he was not really Vulcan. But she had not heard those bigots’—of course the polite term was “conservatives”—opinions on the Vulcans of homogeneous heritage who had followed his lead and declined posting to segregated ships.

Kirry sighed. “Well, you don’t need an army to have a war, unfortunately.”

“Indeed.”

Though the violent motion of the ship had not abated, during their conversation it had nevertheless ameliorated noticeably, so that, while far worse than they normally experienced, it was not debilitating. When she had first come aboard T’Mir had found even the nearly imperceptible motion of the ship in the harbor disorienting—only her superior reflexes had kept her from many painful falls until she had gotten her “sea legs”—but she had adapted quickly.

Bob stretched in his chair with an audible popping of joints and then looked around the compartment. “I don’t know about you lot, but I could use some music.”

“Sounds brilliant,” said Sylvia, glancing at the others: they were nodding.

T’Mir, who had only a limited concept of Terran music—like most Vulcans, she was familiar with jazz, and with a particular “rock and roll” song called the “Oobie Doobie”—remained where she was while everyone got up and left the compartment: Bob’s popping joints reminded her of Daniel.

The humans returned shortly, each bearing instruments of various types.

“Well, for politeness’ sake—“ Kirry, having reclaimed one end of the couch, gestured toward the Vulcan in her chair. “Shall we make these known to T’Mir?”

“I would be grateful,” T’Mir said politely.

“This is a bodhran,” Kirry explained, giving the small, rather flat hand rum she bore a demonstrative tap with the slim mallet in her other hand; it had a low, mellow tone. T’Mir saw an ornamental design etched on the skin of the drum, which she realized Kirry held by thin cross spars across its open bottom.

Tony was leaning against the wall of the compartment, alternately plucking with his left hand and rubbing with the bow he held in his right hand the four strings of the curved wooden instrument he held clasped between his chin and his shoulder. The compartment’s dim lighting played beautifully on its polished surfaces, revealing the “grain” of the wood. “This is a fiddle,” he said, looking over at T’Mir through his shock of dark hair, which had flopped in front of his eyes. “Also called a violin, when you play without improvising and formal.”

Latika had folded herself back into the corner chair, this time with a stringed instrument, the resonance chamber shaped like a triangular prism, more than a meter in length—easily twice the span of Tony’s fiddle. “Sitar,” she named it, grinning, “not exactly a traditional Irish instrument, but it makes for some good jams all the same.” As she spoke, she quickly and precisely fitted small plastic triangles onto the tips of her fingers: for plucking the strings? Evidently.

T’Mir recognized the instrument Bob bore as a lap-harp; the similarity between it and the ryill she had brought aboard with her was remarkable. Sylvia had a strange instrument, clasped between both hand with keys on one side under her right hand, with many folds of cloth piled up in the middle—a “melodeon,” she called it, “a better-toned accordion,” whatever an accordion was.

She sat back and watched as the group tuned their instruments separately and then as an ensemble; then, with a minimum of apparent communication, launched into a piece in a minor key of what she judged a pentatonic scale—Kirry simply tapped a few speculative notes on the bodhran, and then Tony picked up the rhythm and laid a fast-paced melody over it, and then Bob and Latika and Sylvia were weaving their instruments in and out, in harmony and in unison.

T’Mir listened for approximately eight minutes as the music changed subtly, dropping and adding motifs and slowly transforming into another piece—Tony led them through the chord modulations with deliberate speed. Even with Sylvia’s vocals, the music remained inchoate, its associations never fully expressed. She understood that minor keys were meant to invoke sadness and related emotions such as “nostalgia,” and inasmuch as she wondered if Daniel missed this music, and other such cultural artifacts, it succeeded.

She left the compartment too quickly to gauge any reaction to her departure, but when she returned with her ryill, and sat down to tune it to the appropriate scale, and then added her own improvised harmony to the ongoing strains, the humans smiled so broadly one would have thought their faces in danger of cracking.

* * * *

They sailed into Galway Bay four days later, having tacked in close to the coast to give T’Mir “a bit of the scenery” as they passed the Cliffs of Moher on the starboard side. Looking through the captain’s electronic binoculars, T’Mir saw clearly the waves of the Atlantic, a brilliant cobalt blue in the unseasonably bright noon sun, rolling in to beat on the Cliffs. They plunged a not inconsiderable two hundred meters vertically to the ocean, having been eroded over time; through the binoculars she could discern tourists in the castle at the top waving at the Helen Durochet. No, T’Mir thought as the HD put the Cliffs to her rudder, she would never again think water even metaphorically weak.

Aside from the occasional aircar flitting about as they sailed into the bay, Galway to T’Mir’s admittedly ignorant eyes looked much the same as it must have during the Troubles, when the opposite corner of the island had been enflamed with violence. The Helen Durochet dwarfed the few other ships in the “old” section of the harbor, an assortment of modern pleasure craft and long, low black wooden boats, lateen-rigged, that Kirry said were called gleotogs, or “hookers,” from the shape of those sails.

They dropped anchor just inside the breakwater in the Old Dock just as the clouds, which had retaken the blue sky with unusual swiftness, opened up and began to drop a cold, steady rain onto them. As they reefed the sails and generally made sure the ship was in good order, Aoife insisting loudly that tonight they should take a well-deserved “breather” and leave the cargo ‘til the morrow, the Vulcan thought to herself that it was more likely that the hold would be emptied tonight, and that Aoife would maintain it had been the work of—what was the name of those small Irish folk?—leprechauns.

T’Mir had no ethical quarrel with the HD crew’s livelihood, and in any case it was none of her business. When they all stood on the dock, swaying as though they were intoxicated on the unmoving ground, and Aoife had insisted she accompany the humans for “a bite and a pint,” she found within herself no reluctance at the thought of accepting the invitation. Indeed, the thought of getting in out of the drizzle, and of consuming hot food and drink, held a distinct appeal.

Ship’s time had been set to Ireland’s time zone, so with only minimal effort T’Mir was able to calculate that it was approximately 1617 local time, though in this northerly latitude so little light remained at this time of day that it seemed much later. Wet from the rain beyond her macintosh’s ability to dispel, she actually felt herself shiver slightly as they turned roughly northeast up the quay, keeping the harbor on the left as they walked past narrow, stone-roofed little houses on their right: every so often signs approximately five meters above the street named it The Long Walk.

A few of the houses had smoking chimneys, which T’Mir surmised was the source of the faint tang of scorched earth on the air, mingling with the salt of the sea so that she noticed the ocean’s odor consciously for the first time since leaving Ostia. Many looked to have doors that operated on hinges rather than on any more modern technology. Hinges! No one on Vulcan had used hinges as anything but an antiquarian touch for millennia.

They turned right, into Galway proper, soon after passing a fine building with wide glass windows whose bright green sign read “Kenny’s Art Gallery & Rare Books” in Roman letters; behind them, the river frothed and burbled audibly as it met the ocean, accompanied by the screeches and calls of birds whose names T’Mir had learned: seagulls, pelicans, crows, ravens, swans. Earth’s sheer diversity of flora and fauna on was wondrous—and T’Mir knew that it had once been far greater.

Like other older European cities, Galway’s streets were quite narrow, though all but the main thoroughfares, which rumbled with frequent buses, were the sole domain of pedestrians and people walking bicycles and hoverboards. Some streets’ paving looked to be several centuries old.

Despite the chill damp in the air, most people they passed seemed quite cheerful; some were dressed in the coats or sweaters and tweed caps of quasi-traditional style, while a roughly equal percentage wore clothing and hairstyles entirely up to Terran fashion. She did not see anyone else who was obviously alien, but then Dublin, Daniel’s native city, was the island’s most cosmopolitan urban center. One third of the Republic’s population lived in greater Dublin; in comparison its other cities were small towns.

The ground was visibly wet; the light from shops and restaurants and streetlights reflected dimly from the pavement and sharply from the copious puddles, and the clouds only increased the ambient light. T’Mir had never seen clouds until she had gone offworld; privately, their solid and yet intangible appearance, to say nothing of their myriad colors and forms, still amazed her.

In perhaps fifteen minutes they passed from Shop to High to Williams Street, according to the signs, during which T’Mir gave serious consideration to Latika’s somewhat humorous suggestion that she purchase a tweed cap of her own to warm the tips of her ears. At the top of a gentle rise their little group came out into what was clearly the town center, a rough square with a patch of greensward in the center, its few trees’ bare limbs rife with shadow in the streetlights. Even under their dim illumination, the grass’ intense green was beyond T’Mir’s limited powers of description: she was a xenobiologist, not a poet.

Aoife led them around a side and a half of the square to an obviously ancient building whose guilt lettering read The Skeffington Arms, according to Bob; T’Mir found it difficult to decipher the letters, the style of which Sylvia said was called “blackletter.” The entire “pub,” from the exterior trim to the interior floors, walls, and furnishings, seemed to be made of the same massive wood, positively black with age, that Latika said was oak.

The food, as T’Mir had come to expect, was good; she followed her companions’ lead and ordered the seafood stew, the apple pie and a pint of something called Guinness, which proved to be beer of the “stout” variety and which could probably have made a meal in itself.

Sylvia laughed when T’Mir voiced this observation. “In the old days it did,” she said, dipping one of her chips into the tomato suspension called “ketchup” on her plate. “Peasants and laborers across Europe got most of their calories from fermented beverages for at least a millennium. It’s only relatively recently that we discovered the concept of a balanced diet.”

T’Mir knew her history; in the earliest days of Vulcan, after the great solar flare, it had been a necessity for people not only to hunt other creatures for prey but to drain and drink the blood of their kills. She did not volunteer this information, however, as it would not do for humans to associate Vulcans with “vampirism,” which for obscure reasons were something of a cross-cultural human legend.

“Not that such faff as a ‘balanced diet’ will keep us from our Guinness,” said Bob, who was leaning back in his chair with an unmistakably contented expression.

Seated on the bench next to Tony, his left arm slung around her shoulders, Latika shook her head with the sort of amused disbelief T’Mir knew well, having been subject to it often since she’d left Vulcan. “I don’t know how you fools can drink that stuff,” she said, but her tone of voice was teasing. “Like sludge, it is.” She took a sip of her own drink, a pale golden brew called Smithwick’s, but apparently pronounced something like “Smiddicks.” Privately, T’Mir found the illogic with which the Roman alphabet’s orthographical inadequacy was cheerfully accepted boggling. Her incomprehension had only increased when Latika had undertaken to teach her a bit of Irish a few nights previous.

Sylvia had leant her a few books, however, and as she read more about Irish history T’Mir had begun to suspect that the difficulties of the language were part of its appeal to its native children, an effective way to maintain barriers against poseurs and parvenus, particularly in light of the Irish diaspora and the large number of humans who claimed Irish heritage without any idea of what the culture actually valued or of what Ireland was actually like. Vulcans did something similar, if perhaps more consciously, in light of the adulation with which a certain small segment of the Federation regarded them, however illogically and unreasonably.

Aoife shook her head, but she was smiling. “Oh the folly of youth.”

Kirry, whose “black and tan” drink was apparently a combination of the two beers in question, evidently felt a change of subject was in order. “T’Mir,” she said, leaning forward a little, “I understand that Vulcan concepts of privacy are more stringent than our own, and that I may be giving offence. Still…” She hesitated, and a small part of T’Mir noted that it was possible for an Irish person, normally so skilled with words, to be at a loss for them.

But cruelty was illogical. “You wish to know why I wished to join the crew of a sailing ship,” T’Mir said; it was a statement of fact, and Kirry nodded in confirmation.

“If you would…” She trailed off. “That is, yes.”

T’Mir was sitting at the rough foot of the massive oblong table; Tony and Latika sat to her left, Bob and Kirry to her right, and Aoife and Sylvia more or less directly across from her, being openly physically affectionate in a way the Vulcan had never observed at sea. She saw the same curiosity—and empathy—in every face, and she took a sip of Guinness to moisten her mouth. Vulcans did have stringent ideas about privacy, but they also had stringent ideas about hospitality, and for herself T’Mir had decided that this was the best way to make some token form of repayment on the debt she owed these people, who had done her such a great…kindness.

“My father is a physician in private neurology practice in Shi’Kahr, the capital city of Vulcan,” she began. “For almost all my life his partner in the practice has been a human from Ireland named Daniel Corrigan. Daniel is…a close friend of our family, and in his living quarters he has a painting of a ship in full sail.”

She could see that painting in her mind’s eye, as if it were not forty light-years away in space and time, but right before her. “Vulcan has no oceans, no rain, no clouds,” she continued. “As a child, I was fascinated by all of those concepts, particularly when I learned that one of Daniel’s ancestors had been a sailor on the Italy-Ireland routes. I determined that, should I ever have the chance, I would do the same.”

She took another drink of her beer. “So, when we were given two months’ leave from our xenobiology program here on Earth, I knew immediately what I wanted to do. I am in your debt,” she said, meeting Aoife’s eyes, “and all of you have my gratitude.”

“So what did Dr. Corrigan say when you told him you were going sailing?” Sylvia asked, smiling.

T’Mir took a breath, but her countenance remained impassive. “My parents have informed me that Daniel is dying.” She did not explain further that her desire to sail, though logical, was idiosyncratic at best, and that Vulcan society as a whole did not tolerate eccentrics easily: she had not told her family of her intention.

Her words had cast an unmistakable pall on the company. “Of any particular cause, may I ask?” Aoife inquired after a slight pause.

“He is merely…old, Captain,” said T’Mir. “Even today, a human’s life expectancy is less than a third that of a Vulcan.”

Aoife regarded her for a moment. “Well,” she said, “somehow I feel confident, T’Mir, that Daniel Corrigan will go to his rest at the end of a life well lived.” She gripped her glass in her hand and then rose in one smooth motion; with a rumbling scrape of oak on oak, everyone else did the same. T’Mir, blinking, belatedly imitated them, holding her glass out over the center of the table.

“To T’Mir, the best Vulcan sailor I’ve ever had the pleasure of stalking the ratlines with, and a fine companion on the journey,” Aoife said, looking straight at the Vulcan and grinning. Her countenance dimmed a bit, and she continued, “And to Daniel Corrigan, a good man, a better friend, and an inspiration. Go maire tú i bhfad agus rath.”

“To T’Mir and Daniel,” everyone said in unison; “Go maire tú i bhfad agus rath.” They knocked their glasses one against each other and then drank ceremoniously; T’Mir clinked her own glass, swallowed more beer, and sat back down.

“Thank you,” she said simply. “Was that Irish?”

Tony nodded. “Oh aye,” he said, grinning, “it’s an ancient Irish blessing. ‘Live long and prosper.’”

Daniel, or any human, would have laughed; T’Mir counted it a victory that she at least perceived the humor. She lifted her glass to Tony, and to her companions, knowing that they would understand her meaning, and drained the last of its contents. She realized, as she set the glass back on the table, that she was content.

* * * *

There was no logical reason to resist the group’s insistence that she accompany them to another establishment called The Crane to hear “real Irish music;” on the walk across town she bought one of the hats as well, for the temperature had dropped while they ate, though prior to her sea voyage T’Mir would not have thought she could feel colder than she already had. At least her clothing and shoes had dried in the Skeffington, though they now smelled faintly of peat—for that was the name of the organic substance traditionally burned to produce light and heat in Ireland, Kirry had said. It was logical, in such a cold climate, to heat dwellings and the like lest people freeze to death, T’Mir supposed, but it was yet another concept that she had never encountered directly, and which she would once have found…strange. That it was possible to die of cold in a terrestrial environment was likewise odd.

Much later that night, after another pint of Guinness, some truly beautiful music, and at least one incident of being mistaken for one of “the Fair Folk” by an inebriated reveler, T’Mir plugged her datapad into the communications terminal in the modest single hotel room she’d taken near the city center, having declined Kirry’s invitation to stay in her house on Galway’s outskirts.

When she left the bathroom after her modest toilette—most of her few belongings were still in her cabin on the HD, but she’d not felt capable of continuing the pub crawl with everyone else, and had promised to make her farewells aboard ship on the morrow—the terminal was blinking in the pattern that indicated messages in queue.

T’Mir sat down in front of the terminal, wrapping one of the spare blankets around her upper body; she had turned the room’s temperature controls up to high upon entering, but it was not yet completely warm, at least not by her standards. The message was date/time stamped a standard day previous, the location code that of her father’s offices at the hospital in Shi’Kahr.

Though the probability that she could predict the message’s contents was exceedingly high, T’Mir opened it dutifully: delay was illogical, and would not alter the inevitable.

As she expected, her father Sorel’s familiar countenance appeared on the screen; she recognized his private office in the background.

“Peace and long life, daughter,” Sorel greeted her, making the traditional salute into the pickup. It was of course a recording, but T’Mir raised an eyebrow at the image nonetheless: Sorel looked…haggard, though she could not recall him ever having been so visibly exhausted, and despite his perfect control, the slow speed at which he spoke betrayed fatigue.

“You will have noticed that this message comes to you far earlier than usual,” her father continued, “and I can assure you that it will be correspondingly brief. I could not in good conscience, however, delay apprising you of this news.”

Sorel paused, and T’Mir forced herself to let out the breath she had taken unconsciously, and to continue breathing normally. “I of course informed you approximately five months ago that Daniel was dying of a degenerative disorder of the nerves,” Sorel told her. “I did not at the time, however, inform you that he and I were even then working on a highly experimental treatment that, if successful, would not only reverse the nerve damage but restore his biological age to some point approximating his early thirties.”

Her father inclined his head. “I confess that I would understand if, in your opinion, your mother and I have given you offense by keeping this from you, T’Mir,” he told her. “It was our judgment that it was preferable not to create expectations on your part that might not be fulfilled. In any event, these considerations are beside the point. I have just come from Daniel’s bedside: he is recovering well, and can reasonably expect to live another sixty or seventy standard years.”

A human would have thought that Sorel remained impassive, but T’Mir perceived the depths of her father’s emotions, even through the maelstrom of her own: Daniel was like a brother to him. “Daniel will live,” Sorel repeated, and he paused to take a breath. “The details of the treatment are highly technical, and with your understanding I will forbear giving you the explanation until a later time.”

T’Mir reached out and paused the playback: the message still showed a minute remaining, but she could no more have given it due consideration then she could flap her arms and fly. Daniel would live.

Daniel would live. Her program would conclude in a little less than two standard years, at which time she could return to Vulcan and declare her intentions. And after that—sixty or seventy years was more than twice her own age, more than enough time to make her desires feasible. More than enough time, were it well spent.

Daniel would live. T’Mir could not determine whether, in current circumstances, it was logical to laugh or to cry. So, alone in the privacy of her hotel room in Galway, in Ireland, on Earth, she did both.