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Cultural Nuances

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Plomeek soup is a Shikhari dish. Vorik has never cared for it. It's under-spiced, and smells faintly of rotted h'ma.

In his first week at Starfleet Academy, the cafeteria serves it. His human table-mate praises him for his culinary adventurousness in being willing to take an Andorian dish instead. He doesn't point out that Plomeek was no more a part of his native cuisine than the pho that the human was consuming. Vulcan is not Shikhar anymore than Earth is San Francisco. Everyone knows this, and is quick to acknowledge it when it is pointed out. It is in general conversation that the nuance is lost.

Vulcans, he is told with certainty by a classmate, don't learn how to swim. Why bother? Their world is a desert.

After placing out of the fundamental swimming class, he informs them that Vulcan has more than one ecosystem. During his childhood, he spent months at a time with his extended family on the south coast of Xir 'tan, by the sea. They were more often wet than dry.

Vulcans eat no meat, he is told indignantly when, at a banquet, he piles his plate with roasted insects.

In the north of Han-shir, where he was born, insects make up the majority of dietary protein. No Vulcan cultures currently eat large land animals. Outsiders have construed this as universal vegetarianism. It is not. Some limit themselves to plant life, some to invertebrates, and some even eat small sea mammals.

In a comparative philosophy class, he is stared at for not being able to name all of Surak's minor writings. The only person who understands is another Vulcan, probably from Nal'shin judging from her features and the way her hair curls. She meets his eyes for a brief moment before looking away, managing to communicate both her commiseration and her relief at not having been the one called on. Surak is important, but it was the writings of Freil and T'Vak that were drilled into his head as a child. They were local to Han-shir, and played a far larger role in the spread of cthia--what is so clumsily translated as "logic" in Federation Standard--within his clan than Surak. That evening, he reads the first in a volume of the minor writings of Surak. He finds them, as he did when he was twelve, dull and unnecessary. They were written for Shikhari clan nobility. No one except scholars and Shikhari school children read them as a matter of course now.

When one is the only of their kind it is expected that they are to become the representative of their people. Expected, but not advantageous. It puts one on edge, makes one fear that if they fail, they are failing an entire planet.

"I didn't know Vulcans played pool."

"I didn't know Vulcans liked haja."

Being the second Vulcan that someone has encountered is less fraught, but more, frankly, unpleasant.

"I knew a Vulcan once. She used to smile at my jokes, sort of."

"I knew a Vulcan once. He had no problem drinking alcohol."

"I knew a Vulcan once. She was a staunch pacifist."

Staunch pacifism is only part of a spectrum that includes everything from small sects that will only eat fruit that has already fallen from the tree to those who pass down the most deadly martial arts skills to each succeeding generation. There are even illegal fights on Vulcan. Illicit events, held in the wilderness or after hours in warehouses and gymnasiums, they are run by organizations that thrive by feeding the thirst for violence that still exists in the hearts of some.

There are fourteen major philosophical traditions on Vulcan that are generally recognized by the sort of people who concern themselves with enumerating how many major philosophical traditions exist on a given planet. Several dozen minor philosophies exist alongside of them, and all of them interplay with hundreds of religions and traditions and clan politics and individual ideas and simple personal preference to create a culture as rich and varied as any in the galaxy.

On Voyager there are two Vulcans. Occasionally, one of his co-workers will wonder why they aren't friends. All we have in common is the ears, Vorik thinks. They share no interests to speak of. They have completely incompatible personalities. They share a home planet, but only the most general points of culture. Tuvok is from the other side of the planet. He speaks a different native tongue.

All Vulcans, excepting a few isolationist houses of minor clans, speak Shirkhari, because it is the language of planetary politics, commerce, and education, and those that leave their homeworld speak Federation Standard, because universal translators render words flat and lacking in nuance. But there is a native language too that is spoken from birth. In Shirkhari, they call lakh nel-dath, the heartbeat language. In the language of Han-shir, it's y`if ab-a, the language of the womb.

Y`if ab-a, Vorik thinks, when he is homesick and misses the comforting things of home. He hasn't used his native language in years. It's an obscure tongue, spoken by only ten million or so. Even the computer has no recordings of it. Sometimes, alone in his quarters, he will say a sentence out loud just to run his tongue over the words and assure himself they are still there.

P`o ra`y w`i'm Vorik-g`ar. My name is Vorik. Ra`y mab Han-shir-`ut. I am from Han-shir.

But even with such practice, he now thinks in other languages. Federation Standard on duty, Shirkhari when he is alone.

In the aftermath of the humiliation of his pon farr, his desire to go home is nearly crushing. He tries to take refuge in the teachings of cthia. Aelaehih'bili'rem, the peace of mind, eludes him. He thinks of the sharva flocks in summer and the smell of the old clay pots in his family kitchen and he wants to go home with a desperation that nearly rivals the kah, the intense draw of the pon farr itself.

It is then that Torres introduces him to Ensign Gar with a curt, "See if you can't do something with her."

Gar has dark skin and spiked white hair and eyes that are somewhere between gold and green. She is former Maquis, and she has been reassigned from security to engineering because of her utter failure to integrate into that department, but engineering does not appear to be an ideal fit either. She lacks both mathematical training and the technical skill. Vorik trains her on all of the tools used in engineering, then has her hand him to them. It is not a very efficient use of manpower, but it does save time, especially when he is working in tight spaces and in uncomfortable positions, hanging with his knees hooked a ladder rung and his upper body half inside of a Jeffrey's tube, for example.

They talk, often, because there is not much else to do when working on routine maintenance that he could do in his sleep. He learns that she was a founding, raised on a Federation colony, in a succession of foster families and institutions, with no knowledge of her history or parentage. Even her genetic analysis lists her as human and unknown.

She is fascinated by culture, perhaps, she says, because she can lay claim to none of her own.

"Ahm t'nash-veh Shelia Gar," she says one morning. My name is Shelia Gar. Vorik raises an eyebrow and her face falls. "Did I say it wrong?"

"It was...understandable," Vorik says, diplomatically. The tones are entirely wrong, as they always are with species who do not hear as well as Vulcans and miss the subtle nuances. "Hand me the isolinear spanner." After a moment, he says, "My native language, the language spoken in the Han-shir region, may be easier for a human to understand and speak."

"Teach me."

He takes her several times through the phrase.

"P`o ra`y w`i'm Sheila Gar-g`ar."

"Acceptable," Vorik says. Even her strongly accented, simple statement makes him feel oddly at peace in a way that medication has not been able to these last several months.

He meets her later, in the mess hall. "I tried my Vulcan on Tuvok. He just stared at me."

"Tuvok's native language is--" Vorik has no idea what his y`if ab-a is. "--different."

"Oh." Ensign Gar shakes her head. "How stupid of me. Of course. We spoke French on the colony where I was raised. I've lost a lot of it since I left. Everyone speaks Federation Standard out here. Most humans don't speak a word of French."

"Je m'appelle Vorik."

She smiles broadly. "Where did you learn that?"

"In Paris. It know only a few words"

"Enchantée! P`o ra`y w`i'm Sheila Gar-g`ar."

"R``ar th`ek." We are at peace. It is the traditional greeting for a stranger.

"R``ar th`ek," she repeats, and home feels, illogically, not quite so far away.