DISCLAIMER: The Star Trek characters are the property of Paramount Studios, Inc. The story contents are the creation and property of Cheryl Rice and is copyright (c) 1977 by Cheryl Rice. Rated G. Originally published in Tal-Shaya #5, 1977.
The Ancient Flame
"Men che dramma di sangue m'e rimaso che no tremi; conosco i sengi dell'antica fiamma." DANTE The Divine Comedy "PURGATORIO"
"Captain Kirk ... what are you doing under the table?"
The questioner's voice was flat, unemotional, as befitted its owner's status as one of the Federation's most renowned historians. Nevertheless, those who were listening to it knew that even a Vulcan's patience can be stretched only so far. On this occasion that patience was obviously approaching its limits ... and when it snapped...
There was an awkward pause in the proceedings while the conference attendees awaited an answer. All nine heads, which were attached to approximately the same number of bodies, swung to look at the empty chair from which the master of the Enterprise had so noisily made his exit.
"Uh, nothing, Doctor. I just dropped my apple and it rolled under..." Kirk's rather tentative grin faded as he scrambled back into sight and saw the disapproving looks that were being so liberally showered upon him. "I'm sorry to make such a racket, but I must have kicked my chair or something." He stood, not unlike a schoolboy expecting to be punished, with a half-eaten, bedraggled piece of fruit in his hand.
"Quite, Captain," the Vulcan at the head of the table said, fairly oozing disdain. "But now if you would be seated, we will hopefully be able to end this meeting shortly and we will all be able to have lunch."
Kirk hastily seated himself, tossed the remainder of his snack into a nearby trash receptacle, and prepared to be incredibly bored for at least two more hours.
He glanced idly at his companions in the small conference room. The only one he was familiar with was Mr. Spock, who with his usual efficiency was taking voluminous notes on the lecture with which Dr. Smohk ... noted Vulcan historian, owner of one of his planet's proudest lineages, and all around pompous ass, was bombarding them. The Captain still wasn't sure why it was necessary for him to be at the meeting anyway. Just because he had been the first to find the Guardian of Forever, he felt that he had no special expertise in its use/care/feeding/or whatever. Unfortunately Star Fleet had seen the matter in a different light ... so here he was at Starbase 12 closeted with the best informed beings available in the fields of history, psychology, computer technology, and other related fields. Other than being completely out of his depth, he was, though he had to admit it even to himself, uneasy at being reminded of the decision that had been forced on him by the use of the Guardian. It had been some time before and the pain was not so tearing, but the scars still could hurt. Right now all the human wanted to do was go back aboard the Enterprise and leave. But until the big question ... who was to have permanent authority over the use of the time traveling facilities ... was answered, he was stuck. The Guardian had been operating under a temporary council of scientists but that state of affairs had met with disapproval in some quarters. Privately, Kirk would not have been unhappy if the Guardian were totally put out of commission. Spock's trouble with his boyhood "testing" and his trip backward to save his own life had proved that it was all too easy for minor details to completely change the present. And Kirk liked things the way they were.
Trying to ignore the grumblings of a very empty stomach, he forced his wandering attention back to the speaker who was now in full flow concerning his favorite subject ... the glories of Vulcan pre-history.
"Yes, gentle beings, this will give us ... the Federation, of course ... its first chance to fully appreciate the achievements that were made by Vulcans more than 27,000 standard years ago. According to my thesis, the Aturak region of the planet once contained more than 1400 types of congee plants alone, not to mention--"
"I wish he wouldn't," muttered the Captain as he lost interest again. The good doctor who was supposed to be leading a panel discussion had been going on about his "thesis" for most of the meeting. The rest of those in attendance were a bit intimidated by his take-charge manner and academic credentials and seemed disinclined to urge him back to the basic reason for their presence. Even Spock appeared content to listen to the man's pedantic lecturing. The Captain, who had missed breakfast, had expected the meeting to be a short one. It was now an hour past lunchtime and it looked like Smohk could go on indefinitely.
Kirk shifted restlessly in his chair which only gained him an impatient glare from the man in charge. He was now describing the tests that he would use on his pre-historic ancestors when he visited them. Kirk decided it would be too much to hope that they would turn out to be cannibals and retreated back into his own thoughts.
He could not quite figure out what Smohk was up to. This devotion to his work was overwhelming, practically emotional, which was very unusual for a Vulcan. But the human had already noticed that the doctor was different from most of his species ... at least physically. While the majority of Vulcan men were tall and slender, this one was on the short side and if not really fat, then chubby. His dark hair was flecked with silver, which should have been attractive but wasn't, and his ears somehow managed to look moth-eaten. He was dressed in a tunic that bore the insignia of the prestigious Vulcan Science Academy, but had seen better days.
The historian was darker skinned than most of his species ... with a pronounced greenish tinge of which he was inordinately, if secretly, proud. He could trace his family lineage far back past the time of Surak and would do so with absolutely no provocation whatsoever. He was determined to prove that even if his home planet had remained violent and not ruled by logic, his family would have been as pre-eminent, if not more so, than it was in the present reality. Although he paid lip service to the philosophy of NOME, he thought it foolish and he especially despised humans, whether out of fear or jealousy even he didn't know. Even with his unorthodox beliefs and goals, most of which he did manage to keep hidden, the man was famous in his field thanks to a combination of family fortune, some important, if lucky, archeological finds, and his own forceful personality.
"And, so, I am sure, fellow scholars ... " This was said with a dubious glance in Kirk's direction. "I am sure that you will unanimously agree that the permanent control of the Guardian should be given to the Chronological Foundation of the Vulcan Science Academy."
Kirk broke out of his reverie with a start. He realized he hadn't been paying much attention but how had that conclusion been drawn? The Captain noted with some satisfaction that several others looked as surprised as he felt. An embarrassed pause ensued that was finally broken by the sound of Spock's familiar cool voice.
"Am I correct, sir, in my belief that you are the head of that foundation?"
Now it was Smohk's turn to look discomfited. "Yes ... Mr. Spock, is it? I have been the head of that worthy organization since its inception."
Kirk didn't like the historian's tone of voice. Contempt fairly dripped, and the Captain was sure that he knew damn well who Spock was. But before he could think of anything cutting to say, Spock continued his questioning.
"And, Doctor, was not that organization conceived shortly after the discovery of the Guardian ... the device that for the first time made time travel practical?"
"Yes," the historian admitted grudgingly, "but I fail to see what this had to do ... "
"Excuse me, sir, I am merely trying to ascertain the salient facts. Now as I understand your thesis, you believe that Vulcans are uniquely equipped to control such a vitally important scientific discovery because of their racial history -- one that has passed from barbaric emotionalism to the reign of logic that is in force today. In other words ... that they are more to be trusted with the responsibility than any other race."
Kirk was hanging onto his Science Officer's every word ... even though he didn't see where the discussion was heading. It was unsettling to hear Spock speak of Vulcans as almost strangers when he had spent so much of his life striving to become a perfect example of one.
Smohk seemed to sense that he had found a possible ally. "You are correct, Mr. Spock. We will be ... are ... able to detect the follies of other races that are caused by their uncontrolled emotions. Just think what would happen if an unstable personality or group of beings went back in time with the intent of changing the current reality? We would all cease to exist." In this best of all possible galaxies, his tone implied.
Kirk, who knew first hand how easily such changes could occur, shivered mentally. On the surface the idea seemed sound enough. Somebody would have to police the use of the Guardian, but was Smohk the right man? Kirk had heard of some of his antics before meeting him in person but had always considered the stories exaggerations. Would a reasonable man, and a Vulcan at that, try to convince the Federation that half the fourth planet of Alpha Centauri be destroyed so that a study could be made on the reaction of the native avian life? Would a reasonable man, upon discovering that the dominant language of the Federation contained a relatively uncommon noun that was pronounced the same as his proudly held family name, try to have that language banned on his home planet? The Captain was beginning to see what the answer to those questions might be ... and it was making him increasingly uneasy.
The historian was looking at Spock with a bit more approval now, but his next statement caused it to melt away.
"Doctor, you must realize that your theory is not logical. It is based on a fallacious premise. Vulcans' emotional control is far from complete ... as I am sure you would be the first to agree if you were not in the condition which you now find yourself."
The assortment of heads in the room swung down to cover the other end of the table and Kirk was irresistibly reminded of tennis matches he had watched. It was Smohk's turn now. The human was beginning to enjoy himself. This might be worth missing a meal or two.
The historian was controlling himself only with difficulty. "I would have believed that any Vulcan would have had more pride than to mention such a personal subject. However, I understand that with your background and associates," this accompanied by a venomous look at Kirk who favored him with his sunniest smile, "you have lost much of your reverence for our traditions."
Other than the fact that Spock had just been insulted, the Captain still had no idea what was going on.
"It pains me to discuss the subject, but as we are all scientists in this room," another killing look at the human, "perhaps it is as well that you brought it up since it is one of the prime tenets of my entire theory." Smohk paused as if finding it difficult to continue on such a distasteful mission. His hands were shaking slightly and his skin was now a pasty yellowish-green. Kirk suddenly realized what the two aliens were discussing.
"As I am sure you will agree, gentle-beings, sexuality is one of the most important interests in most intelligent peoples we know. But Vulcans are unique in that we are not swayed by it, as are humans for example, except at certain, definite intervals. Our seven-year cycle gives us ample opportunity to carry on our responsibilities without the interference of sexual drives."
"You must be aware that the cycle is easily upset by absence from the planet and other causes."
Kirk was aware that Spock was back to being a Vulcan.
"To a certain extent that is true, Mr. Spock. Nevertheless, this system allows us to understand other races in a way they could never understand us. Our drives are totally different, no non-Vulcan could begin to comprehend. In this as in so many other ways we are unique."
There was a silence while that ringing declaration soaked in then Spock rapidly spoke a few phrases in what sounded like Italian ... an old Earth tongue that Kirk could recognize but not decipher.
As there was no universal translator in the room he was at a loss, but the other beings in attendance seemed to take the words' meaning.
Smohk looked slightly puzzled. "That is a reasonable description of a certain stage in pon farr but I fail to see its relevance in the current discussion."
"Please bear with me a bit longer, sir. You insist that the Vulcans have control of the Guardian because we are the best equipped for the job. That we have unique insight into the emotions of others but not vice versa."
"Yes, man, that is what we have been talking about for the last hour!" That statement was not completely accurate. Smohk had almost totally held the floor alone but Spock let it pass.
"Then, Doctor, I am forced to disagree with you. The phrase of poetry, that you agreed described pon farr was written by a human several Terran centuries ago and it is the description of human passion, not Vulcan at all."
By this time, the heads were swinging in unison. Kirk was pleased that his friend had led the eccentric historian down the garden path a bit but he did not see that the matter was all that important.
The embarrassed Vulcan saw it differently. His complexion changed from pale to dark green and he appeared to be so furious that he was unable to speak. Only guttural sounds issued from his half-open mouth. Kirk was growing uneasy. He certainly didn't like the man but he looked as if he were having some sort of attack. The others looked on with alarm but none of them made any move to help. The Captain, finding himself in a situation which required action, took over.
Within 15 minutes Spock and he were alone in the meeting room. The medical team had left with Smohk in tow. They had given him an injection which had allowed him to control himself a bit but he was still far from normal. The other attendees had left convinced, Kirk was sure, that whoever was to be in charge of the time travel device, Smohk was not the one.
"Ready to go, Spock?" The Captain was eager to leave.
"Just a moment longer, Captain. I want to be assured that my notes are in order." There was a lengthy pause as the lean Vulcan shuffled tape cartridges and pieces of paper. Kirk spent the time restlessly pacing around the oval table, pushing empty chairs neatly into place and gathering up scraps of paper.
"Spock, what was it you said to Smohk that really did him in?"
The First Officer of the Enterprise gave a final pat to the stack of information before him and glanced at his superior with what was almost a twinkle in his dark eyes. "Actually, sir, I believe that it was your behavior that was basically responsible for his mental state. Where did you find that apple?"
"Never mind ... what did you say to him?"
"Translated it would be, 'Less than a drop of blood remains in me that does not tremble; I recognize the signals of the ancient flame.' It was written by an Italian, it is generally accepted, while he was in love with a young girl by the name of Beatrice." Spock gave the name the Italian pronunciation.
"I have heard of Dante, Spock. How did you happen to know it in the original?"
"It was a favorite of my mother's. She thought it was only fair that I learn some Terran literature since I was being taught so much about my Vulcan heritage."
"She was right. Did you mean what I think you meant when you said you hoped the Doctor made it in time?"
"Yes, his mate is on Vulcan and as he is coming under the influence of the pon farr very rapidly, it is of the paramount importance that he be re-united with her as soon as possible."
"How did you know what was happening?"
"The signs are quite obvious to another Vulcan, Captain. In fact, I thought you perhaps might have noticed ... ?"
"Well, I did, now that you mention it. But the man's so strange it was hard to tell." Kirk sat down on the edge of the table.
"Dr. Smohk is obviously unbalanced. His past actions would show that if his plans for the future did not. His insistence on the pre-eminence of Vulcans while true was definitely excessive and indicative of a serious character disorder." Finding that his last statement might have lacked a little diplomacy, Spock added quickly, "That last comment, sir. I meant no disrespect, no offense."
"None taken." Kirk was quiet for a moment, pensive ... his empty stomach momentarily forgotten. "You know it's true. Vulcans are physically stronger than humans. They live longer, they have the telepathic talents we almost completely lack. Their emotions are under control, in general they are more intelligent, their culture is much older than ours and much more stable. Why do they need us at all?"
"I am not sure Vulcans need humans at all. But perhaps part of the reason you have gained such importance may have something to do with the fact that when you came upon Vulcan there was humankind upon over 400 planets and we had not yet left our system. You seem to have a sense of adventure that we lack. And there are so many of you ... "
"With our talent for killing each other off over little things at times, we need that ability to make sure there are enough of us to go around." Kirk was mildly amused by Spock's introspection but he had the feeling they were drifting from the subject at hand ... Smohk. "So then you don't think the Doctor's odd behavior can be blamed only on his ... er ... condition?"
"No, and I believe that is why Star Fleet wanted us to be at this meeting. We are not swayed by his reputation as the other, more academically oriented members of the committee would tend to be. If they had agreed to his control of the Guardian, it would have been a potentially tragic mistake. It is almost certain that his preference for the barbarism of pre-Surak Vulcan would have led him to a foolish act that would have changed history and that has to be avoided. The more he talked about how others must not be allowed to tamper with the past, the more I was sure that was precisely what he had in mind himself."
"Sounds both logical and likely. I've noticed that with humans, too. Usually when someone worries about someone else too much it's because they have a problem themselves. I remember once there was this woman in my home town and she was sort of a self-appointed censor. Always wanting to make sure that no one was offended by anything she considered obscene. People were sort of scared of her because she could make such a fuss and went along with her until one day when she tried to ban Hamlet because of all the murders in it and Oedipus because ... well never mind. One thing I don't understand is why Star Fleet was so insistent that I be at this meeting too. You could have checked out Smohk and made a report without me."
Spock was definitely twinkling now. "I would assume it is because of your well known attitude where bureaucrats and red tape are concerned in general. As the saying goes, you do not suffer fools gladly. In fact, you do not 'suffer' them at all. Someone must have known that you would not find the Doctor to your liking and would upset him by your actions. And with a slight push to send him over the edge ... "
Kirk was less than elated. No one wants proof that he is that easily manipulated. "Well, Spock, whatever 'someone' had planned it seems to have worked. Once this little fracas becomes common knowledge, he'll.be a very unpopular man. Or even worse, people will pity him. I don't think he could stand that." The human paused and shook his head. "What a character. He really amazed me, you know? I thought all Vulcans were more or less like you, but he was rude and a snob and overbearing and crude ... "
Spock gathered up his tapes and headed for the door. Kirk slid off the table, gave an unoffending chair another final push and joined his friend in the corridor. Smohk had totally lacked something that the human could only think of as "class." Spock, on the other hand, would behave as a perfect gentleman on the way to his own execution.
The Vulcan had been thinking over the human's last statement. "I believe, Jim, that you will find that all Vulcans resemble me no more than all humans resemble yourself."
Kirk wisely decided to take that as a compliment and made no answer to it. The two officers turned in the direction of the base transporter room and walked down the hall in companionable silence. Finally Kirk, reminded again of the meals he had missed, broke it. "I can't wait to get back to the ship. I'm going to have one of those real roast beef sandwiches we picked up."
The two passed several deserted rooms on their way to the elevator. If Spock noticed that one of the rec rooms had a large display of fruit on one of its tables, he made no mention of it. If the Captain wished to keep the source of his snack a secret ...
"Of course, it is late, sir. They might be out of them. You might prefer to eat something down here ... and you really whould make a report to the base Commander before we leave."
"Never mind, I just want to get out of here." They were now at the elevator. As the door swished open, Kirk, trying to tie up all the loose ends, asked a final question. "I still don't know why Smohk went into pon farr so unexpectedly. Isn't it usually on a definite schedule?"
The two men stepped inside and Kirk gave their destination to the machinery. As the doors closed behind them, his best friend answered, "That is correct, usually. But as I said, stress, absence from the mate or Vulcan can cause a great change in the timing. Since the Doctor was so concerned with convincing the rest of us that his group be in charge of the Guardian, he had no time to pay to his own condition as he normally would. Besides, Jim, isn't there a human saying something about 'where there's Smohk, there a flame'?"