DNA isn't the only thing that defines a family.Eriecho and Saddik sat together in the transport. It was chilly and smelled vaguely of – what was that? It was something resembling cabbages.
The transport was crowded with people of various species. Tall Imvari sat near azure-colored Andorians, as Tellarites chatted and, in one corner, a game not unlike blackjack was being played by a passel of Tandarans.
There was a little Xyrillian boy sitting with his mother, across from them. He kept staring and staring at Saddik and Eriecho, and their human escort, MACO Private Theo Carter.
Saddik had thought there was no need for an escort, but Colonel Shaw had insisted. There were so few Vulcans left, and his and Eriecho's relationships to the other survivors was relatively genetically remote. There was a value there, try as they might to deny it. And so Shaw had told them that, while they were free to go wherever they pleased, he would fret until their return to the Martian sanctuary unless they were escorted by someone who was armed. The worry was not wholly without logic, and so Saddik had, albeit reluctantly, agreed. When Nero had destroyed Vulcan, he had, in some ways, taken trust with him. And the Vulcans – even ex-convicts like Saddik and Eriecho – were protected and watched over and the relationship they had with other species was, now, uncomfortably uneven.
The little boy kept staring, so finally Eriecho began to stare back. "Oh, I am sorry," the boy's mother finally said, as she tried to turn her son's attention somewhere else.
"What are they, Mummy?" the little boy asked.
"That is impolite, Vir'ajen. We do not ask about someone's species as if they were a specimen in a zoological park."
"But I have never seen such people before, Mummy!"
"I'm a human, little boy," said Carter, "I'm from Earth. Do you know where Earth is?"
"Far, far away?" Vir'ajen asked.
"That's right," said Carter, shifting his weight in his seat. He was armed, but the kid didn't need to see that.
"What are they?" inquired the boy, pointing.
"It is … all right," Saddik said, "I imagine we are rather rare and unfamiliar indeed. We are called Vulcans."
"Are you the same as human?" asked Vir'ajen, an inquiry that made Carter smile a little.
"No, we are not," Eriecho said, speaking for the first time, "We are from a planet called Vulcan." The line of inquiry was making her a bit uncomfortable. She and Saddik had lived at the Vulcan sanctuary on Mars for almost two months, at the good graces of humans like Carter and Shaw. Then again, any surviving Vulcans had homes and protection only because humans and Andorians and Tellarites and the like had given them a place after the destruction of their home world.
Vulcan. She had never been there, for she had been born during transport to the Enolian prison at Canamar. She had only been free for a few months. Until her release, the only other Vulcan she had ever known had been Saddik.
And now, anyone born since 2258 – whether it was the child of a human like Carter, or a Xyrillian like little Vir'ajen, or even a Vulcan born of a human surrogate mother – none of them could ever go to Vulcan, either. Even though she had never known the place, and even though she knew that emotions, allegedly, were supposed to be suppressed and ignored and rooted out like weeds, she was still bereft and damaged by the loss.
"Where is Vulcan?" asked Vir'ajen.
The mother blanched. "My apologies," she said, "he is a curious little boy, and he does not know."
Saddik took it upon himself to respond. "I had not been there for decades when we learned the truth. My, my daughter," he indicated Eriecho, even though they were not kin. They were close enough. She had, for all intents and purposes, been adopted by him, "she had never been there. It happened four years ago. Yet it is still …."
"There is a small sanctuary in our system," said Vir'ajen's mother, "I am, well, I am very proud that my people are doing this."
"I think that's why we have a Federation, ma'am," said Carter, "So we can do the right thing for each other, and have each other's backs." He then looked back at his PADD and jogged it out of sleep mode, where it was scrolling through the date – October eighteenth, 2262 – and the time – thirteen hundred hours.
=/\=A transport attendant came over, a few days later. "We have arrived at the Takret home world. You can get a shuttle from there," she said to Saddik.
"Our thanks to you," he replied.
The three of them disembarked and Carter opened his Communicator. "Carter to Rechaan."
"We're at the coordinates."
"A few minutes. Rechaan out."
A few Takret stared at them, but they were a lot more subtle than Vir'ajen had been, a sophistication that came with age. Their glances were a lot quicker. Eriecho could hear them whisper and she heard words like Vulcan and tragedy and bodyguard.
A small ship arrived; it was spherical in design and a brick red in color. The hatch opened. "Mister Carter?" came a male voice from inside.
"Yeah. Thanks for doing this, Rechaan."
"I am glad to do it." Rechaan came out. He was a Suliban and was probably about Saddik's age.
"Are you a relation to H'Shema?" Eriecho asked the minute she saw him, referring to the Suliban woman who had raised her in the prison.
"We aren't all relatives," he replied, smiling, "but come in, and I will take you to the helix."
=/\=After perhaps an hour of flying, Eriecho asked, "What is a helix?"
"It is a conglomeration of our ships," Rechaan replied, "And it is not just ships like this one, but others, both large and small. It is a military installation, but it is where some of H'Shema's closest relations live. There are civilian settlements as well."
"Perhaps we will see one of those next time," Saddik said, "Do you know this man who is to meet us?"
"Enkir? I do not," Rechaan said, "but he is a mid-level officer and apparently good at his job. I am sorry, I know nothing else."
"It is still more than we knew before," Saddik said, and the remainder of the flight was passed quietly.
The little ship docked with the main helix, which was huge and shaped vaguely like a deep space station, a bit larger on top than on the bottom. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of ships, were attached at all sides. Rechaan found a place to dock – to Carter; it was not unlike trying to find a parking space in a crowded shopping mall.
Rechaan opened a channel. "Enkir? We have arrived."
"Very well," was the response. Eriecho could barely contain her excitement. She still had not learned to control her emotions. It was something she had not had to do on Canamar, but she was learning that the Vulcans at the sanctuary expected it, and her shows of feeling often made them – in their words – unsettled.
The hatch was opened, and a Suliban man stood on the other side of it. "Are you Enkir?" Saddik asked.
Eriecho couldn't help herself, and just rushed at him and hugged him. This knocked the wind out of him a bit as he was taken aback.
"Eriecho!" Saddik called out, "That is not appropriate."
"It is all right," Enkir said, smiling a little, "I guess my sister did all right for you."
"She did," Eriecho said, and she cried a little. "H'Shema was, oh, anyone would say she was my mother. So you must be my uncle."
"Then you should meet your grandmother as well, for she heard I was to meet with you, and insisted on visiting. Come along, I will take you to my quarters. My mother is old, and she could not walk as far as this docking port without straining herself. An embrace might be ill-advised if she is not ready for it."
"This is a good surprise," Eriecho said to Saddik as they walked along. Carter followed, ever on the alert, with Rechaan.
"Thanks again for doing this," Carter said to Rechaan.
"It is nothing. All I did was pilot."
"Our people haven't always been pals," Carter said, "We owe you for this."
"We all know what happened to Vulcan," Rechaan said, "I would like to believe that your people would not try to decimate our populace down to nothing if we were in similar straits. In a way, we have been in a similar situation. Our home world is gone as well. But it was enough years ago and there are enough of us that it is not an identical experience. Still, we understand, perhaps better than other species do."
"I like to think we wouldn't kick you when you were down," Carter said.
=/\="Ah, here we are," Enkir said, "It is not much; I am not high-ranking."
"Our prison sleeping quarters were far smaller, I am sure," Saddik said as Enkir hit the door chime.
"A moment!" came an elderly woman's voice from inside. Several minutes passed before she opened up. She was wearing a dramatic cape and leaning heavily on a cane.
"May we enter, foremother?" Eriecho asked.
The old woman smiled a little, "I don't suppose I was expecting you to be quite so tall. Please, come in. We will sit down, and you will tell me of the last thirty or so years of the life of my daughter, H'Shema."
"This is my mother," Enkir said, "Her name is L'Cultura." Saddik bowed a little; L'Cultura was older than even he, and she seemed very frail. Eriecho gently touched the old woman's hand in greeting, also afraid that L'Cultura would shatter upon impact.
They sat down. "Eriecho," Saddik began, "was born on the prison transport to Canamar."
"At least you had your father to care for you," L'Cultura said.
"I am not her father, not biologically speaking," Saddik said, "I was a coworker of her parents, T'Kef and Sterrik. We were at Keto-Enol and trading with the Enolians as a prelude to a survey run. That is what we did; surveying and stellar cartography. The Enolian authorities picked us up, on trumped up charges. T'Kef was very heavy with child, and went into labor while on the transport."
"Go on," Enkir said, "if it is not too difficult to say."
"My, my father, the one who helped to make me," Eriecho said, "He was killed when he tried to help my mother. The, the one who made me, that is." She looked down.
"I see," L'Cultura said, "so you were an orphan from the beginning. I know that your kind holds back on emotions but perhaps it was difficult to learn such disciplines in such a setting. Saddik, you must have been overwhelmed."
"I was," he admitted, "but H'Shema, she was, she did everything, often going without food and other things so that Eriecho could be fed or shod or warmed. Without her, I know that Eriecho would not have survived. I imagine I would not have survived, either. I don't know how we shall ever repay her kindness."
L'Cultura smiled and then sighed a little. "It is, you see, when you have children, you wish for many things for them, wonderful things. But it does not always happen as you wish, you know. H'Shema was a difficult child, disobedient a lot of the time. She, well, there are no good ways to say this, but she became addicted to a substance, a kind of synthetic alcohol. It caused her to, after a while, she took to thievery in order to support her habit. She managed to eventually get past the addiction, but thievery was all she knew. It is most difficult to not be able to trust one's own child. And so, when she went to Keto-Enol for a holiday, she could not help herself."
"So she was there for cause?" Eriecho asked, "I did not know this. It seemed as if the only ones at Canamar were innocents."
"That is what they wanted you to believe," Saddik said, "Many criminals will claim innocence, of course. H'Shema did tell me that she was guilty, but never what she was actually guilty of. I never thought it was anything of a violent nature. She did not seem to be that type of a person."
"No, she was not violent," Enkir said, "that much is to her credit."
"We learned of her incarceration about six years after it had begun," L'Cultura said, "a small bit of news from a supply vessel. I suspect that was before Eriecho here was born. But then, nothing, we heard nothing until you contacted us a few months ago."
"At the prison, it was difficult to get Communications in both directions," Saddik said, "I regret that you could not be informed of her death earlier."
"It is all right," L'Cultura said, "for with the bitterness, there is now some sweetness. Tell me, child, of your life these days," she said to Eriecho.
"Well, foremother, I am to become a mother."
"Oh! May I?" L'Cultura asked, shaky hand hovering over Eriecho's abdomen.
"No, I am not pregnant," Eriecho said, "But I will have five or maybe it's six next year."
"Human surrogate mothers," Saddik explained, "it is in an effort to rebuild our species."
L'Cultura laughed a little, "There are more pleasant ways to become a mother," she whispered to Eriecho conspiratorially. Eriecho smiled at that, so L'Cultura continued, "Have you a paramour?"
"No one as of, as of yet, foremother. Our own people, many of them do not accept me. I spend much of my time with his kind, playing sports and talking," she indicated Carter, who was absently playing with his PADD.
"Our people are not always so accepting," Saddik admitted, "Even though they know that we are both innocents. I suppose they are skeptical. If I had not been through the prison experience, I imagine I would have been skeptical as well. Still, it is difficult when your own people look upon you with, well, they would never so much as admit it, but it is certainly a form of disdain. I do want Eriecho to have someone. Her life is ahead of her; she should not be lonely and without a mate."
"You are a fine female, despite all the hair," L'Cultura said, touching her own bald scalp, "and you will not stay alone forever. I am sure your biological mother was admired by many."
"I don't know anything about her. I know more about H'Shema. H'Shema was, well, she was my mother."
There was a pause, and the old woman took out a small handkerchief and dabbed at her eyes. "H'Shema had, she had many flaws. But we all do, I suppose. I never imagined she would ever become a kemijira."
"What is a kemijira?" Eriecho asked.
"She did not tell you?" Enkir asked, "In our language, it means mother. You do know that, in our tongue, the word eriecho means daughter, yes?" Saddik and Eriecho nodded.
"But you are not just an eriecho, you are also a ta-eriecho," L'Cultura said. Eriecho looked at her, uncomprehending, so L'Cultura explained, "It literally means double daughter, for you are the daughter of a daughter, to, to me."
"Is the word ta-kemijira?" Eriecho asked, "Is that a mother to a mother? Should I call you that?"
"Or foremother, as you have been saying," L'Cultura said, "for your culture is just as important, you know. I never thought that I would have a ta-eriecho. It did not seem possible."
"I think you have one now," Eriecho said, carefully taking the old woman's hand in hers.
"Oh! I have something," L'Cultura said, and took a necklace off and gave it to Eriecho, her hand shaking as she extended it.
Eriecho stared at it, "I cannot accept such a thing."
"It is not much. These are common stones. There is a bit of green, I see you are wearing green. H'Shema liked green for a color," said L'Cultura.
"Yes, I remember, we have a bit of cloth that was hers," Eriecho said, "There is nothing else." She sniffed a little.
L'Cultura said, "I can see, a bit, why your kind would like to suppress emotions. The hard ones can be very hard indeed. I, I mourned my own eriecho many years ago, a girl lost to addiction and then to imprisonment. But as I said, the bitter comes with the sweet. And we can celebrate today, my ta-eriecho." She put her hand on Eriecho's shoulder and the two women hugged, and Eriecho was as gentle as she could be, as if L'Cultura were made of glass.
=/\=They walked back to the docking port a few hours later. Enkir said to Saddik, "I am glad you have come."
"Me?" Saddik asked, "As I said before, I fear we owe you very much, for H'Shema's many kindnesses and sacrifices. No one wants to suddenly have poor relations."
Enkir smiled, "It is the other way around. For you must understand my mother is ill and in pain most of the time. I have seen her hoarding her medications, possibly getting together enough in order to, to commit suicide. I have not seen her smile in months. Yet today she smiled many times. This was a very good day for her."
They walked on, in some silence.
"You call your ship a helix," Saddik said, nodding and looking around a bit as he broke the silence, "and it looks a lot like one."
"Reminds me a bit of the double helix, of DNA," Carter said.
"That is the intention," said Enkir.
"And we are not the same DNA," Eriecho said, "yet we are still a family, yes, Uncle?" She touched her new necklace proudly and smiled. Emotional suppression be damned. Saddik smiled, too.