Into the Valley ~ Niorah Plak #Uhura

Previously ~ Guy Talk, Girl Talk

Funny.

One minute she was all smooth-groove, and utterly invincible, and the next, Nyota found herself back at square one.

As 1000 hours grew closer and closer, her body’s behavior became increasingly annoying. As she slipped on her uniform (since Spock found it logical to wear the same thing every day, so would she), the crisp white blouse felt too tight, and the purple and black plaid skirt seemed too high. She knew it wasn’t the uniform that had changed; it was the circumstances. He was going to be looking at her, talking to her, possibly even kissing her goodbye at the end of the date, thereby potentially triggering a violent mating cycle, and the mere thought of it all left her feeling naked and exposed.

Where was her resolve? Two days of self-confidence and willpower—gone. Already she was wondering how dark the auditorium would be, how close they’d be sitting, and if Niorah Plak was going to be even remotely interesting enough to distract her from his presence.

And her roommate so wasn’t helping right now.

“…now,” the Trill was saying, and she seemed just as nervous as her friend, “remember: no touching.”

Nyota stopped in the middle of clasping on a necklace of replicated bone set in Bolian silver. She swiftly turned to stare at Vira in bewilderment. “No touching? At all?”

“He’s a touch-telepath, remember?” Vira stomped her foot impatiently. “We don’t know how mature his abilities are, but what we do know is that we don’t want him knowing your thoughts while you’re sitting next him on the verge of a nervous breakdown.”

“Oh, yeah,” Nyota blinked. “Good point.” She turned back to her dresser, foraging for matching earrings.

“Also, remember to apologize any time you display emotion; it was a custom started by Surak himself.”

“Check.”

“Now, since the actual opera is only about an hour and a half long, he may want to discuss the story afterward—and other literary works in general—so for the love of God, do not bring up any works which contain sex. Not Vulcan sex, not human sex, not any sex—they don’t like talking about sex.”

Nyota nodded resolutely. “Check.”

“Bow your head and say ‘I’m honored’ instead of ‘Thank you’ and don’t talk during the opera. Don’t cry, don’t laugh, and for heaven’s sake, do not fall asleep. In fact, it is perfectly acceptable for you to be as still and as a silent as a statue on this particular date.”

“Check.”

“Deodorant?”

“Check.”

“Breath freshener?”

“Check.”

“Are you wearing any perfume?”

“No, but I—” Nyota reached for a bottle on her dresser, but Vira quickly stopped her.

“Don’t. Vulcans have a highly developed sense of smell; your perfume could overwhelm him.”

Nyota quickly retracted her hand, shaking her head nervously. “No perfume. Check.”

“All set then?”

Nyota mutely nodded.

Her roommate gave her a warm, encouraging smile. “Then madam, your chariot awaits.”

***

She thought he was meeting her at the holodeck, but instead, he was on the other side of her dorm room door. Even Vira was surprised, and for an awkward moment, everyone just stared at one another.

“Strange,” Spock finally murmured, as his dark eyes quickly scanned the room behind them. “The architects of this complex truly subscribed to the philosophy of all genders being equal. One would think that since females tend to possess more belongings than males, they would at least be given larger quarters.”

“Maybe the architects were Trill,” Vira shrugged, keeping the mood light. “My people have an ancient proverb: 'Gender is a human state of mind.'” She bowed her head politely before saying, “Excuse me,” and ducking out past the Vulcan.

Nyota laughed before she could stop herself. When he raised that eyebrow, she quickly composed herself, bowed her head slightly and said, “Please forgive my expression of emotion. My laughter was…unnecessary.”

Surprise flickered in those carefully neutral eyes, but he bowed his head in acceptance. “Shall we go?” he asked, stepping aside so she could pass.

The frantic whispers and shocked giggles followed them all the way to the holodeck door. Both ignored their schoolmates, focused on the task at hand. When they reached their destination, Spock entered his information on a side panel, saying, “I understand that humans customarily schedule their dates in the evening. However, I had reserved this time before I invited you. Please forgive.”

“Forgiven,” Nyota gasped, her hear and mind racing as every crazy, conflicted voice she’d ever heard in her mind joined together in harmonious song.

It’s a daaaate! He said daaaate! It’s a daaaate! He said daaaate!

“I usually practice Suus Mahna at this time,” he explained further. “The advanced hand-to-hand combat courses taught here do not cover it, and so I must continue my studies alone.”

Before Nyota could even begin to imagine Spock studying a martial art (a thought which would have no doubt rendered her thoughtless), the holodeck doors opened, and he silently led her through.

They left the world of unruly wild-haired teenagers into one of solemn, polite sophistication. The auditorium was huge, dark, but a comfortable temperature. A large, semi-circular stage was set at the bottom, with large, majestic reddish purple curtains pulled together. To the left of it sat the orchestra, filled with musicians and instruments from dozens of planets. To the right, was a large platform with twenty-four empty wooden stools, no doubt set up for the chorus.

Richly dressed guests were filing in from all entrances, and they too were from many worlds. No one paid them any unnecessary attention, as they probably had not been programmed to. As Spock led her to their seats in a small balcony to the right of the stage, Nyota whispered, “Where is this?”

“The Emperor Hall on Deios Moon, near the Organian System,” Spock murmured back. “This opera was composed and performed in honor of Ambassador Silar of Vulcan by his Klingon friend Ch’Rak. The lyrics are Vulcan, but the music and overall…texture is Klingon.”

They came to their seats, two luxurious armchairs draped in lush velvet-like fabric, upon a plush maroon carpet. Nyota’s heart thudded as she took her seat to his left.

“Computer,” Spock said suddenly, “Ktarian champagne, chilled; two glasses.”

Nyota’s head snapped his way as small table materialized between them. Atop it, two Tabalian crystal flutes stood, filled with a pale green fluid.

“Synthehol,” he assured her, lifting his glass, taking a small, almost ceremonious sip. She followed suit, tasting it uncertainly, but then quickly deciding she liked it.

“I am honored,” she bowed her head slightly.

The chorus filed in suddenly, taking their place upon the designated platform. They were two dozen Vulcan males in dark brown robes. They took their seats in unison and gazed expectantly at the stage.

“The chorus in Niorah Plak represents the soldiers, both those belonging to Prince Saral, and those belonging to Mikonna’s father,” Spock explained. “The Handmaiden, whose name is never revealed, sings the most songs, as this tale is primarily told from her point of view.”

“Whatever happened to Mikonna and her handmaiden?” Nyota asked suddenly. The opera hadn’t started, so she technically hadn’t broken Vira’s rules. “I’ve never read the actual historical data; I felt it detracted from the power of the actual work.”

“Mikonna ran away from home the night before her wedding,” Spock replied. “She took her handmaiden and fled into the Forge.” He paused, as though unsure of how his next words would make her react. “They were never seen or heard from again.”

“And the handmaiden?” Nyota tried to ignore the desperation creeping into her voice. Something told her this opera wasn’t going to end well for her. “Did scholars ever uncover her name or find out if she even returned her mistress’s love?”

Spock shook his head. “That information remains unknown.”

The lights dimmed suddenly, and the orchestra began to the overture. The strings played a deep, rough staccato, while a drum pounded in the back. The Vulcan chorus rose, and despite their tranquil faces, their voices came out roaring and strong.

“Hail, mighty Saral!
First blood-child of the King
The Hero of the Fields of Ah’fail
Where the honored dead
Lay in eternal rest

“Their blood spilt by enemies many
Cowardly dogs who came in the night
And burned the royal encampment down
Many a brother laid and fallen
Many a soldier dying, betrayed
But not He Who Will Be King
—Saral shall prevail!”

Their song ended as suddenly as it had begun, and the music softened to exotic horn and strings. The chorus sat down in unison once more, and the high velvet curtains, parted revealing a strikingly beautiful Vulcan maiden. Her appearance provoked gasps of awe from the audience, Nyota included. She had long, wild black hair, with skin the color of the Vulcan desert, and a plain white dress which displayed her smooth shoulders. She sat alone in a humble-looking fabric shop, atop a simple wooden chair.

And when she sang, her voice was the sweetest, most mournful soprano Nyota had ever heard.

“What blasphemy is this?
Goddess of hearth, hear me!
I, who was to be an honorable mate
Taken from my father’s loom
My fingers from the very strands
My body to pay many a shameful debt
In tireless servitude
Indeed…my father’s life is saved
The dreaded gambler’s blade
But mine? I am over, I am ended
My worth is less than nothing

“What hideous life is this?
One day, a valley maiden
Free as the flowers, green and wild
Next day, shackled in cast-off gems
Bound to some simpering Lady’s side
Our destinies intertwined
For a slave has no katra
Her mistress owns her through and through
She is me and I am she
Her pedestal’s humble shadow

“What horrid fate is this?
O, who will aid the weaver’s daughter?
Who will save the innocent child?
Does no wandering hero
Pass my simple village by?
Am I not worth a green-tainted sword?
Does no free man want me now?
Does no goddess watch me now?

“Is there no honor for me now?”

The rest of the opera followed Mikonna’s work closely, even taking lyrics directly from each of her works. The actress who played Mikonna herself was a stunning Vulcan beauty, dressed in elegant robes and crowned with sparkling diadems. But what stood out the most about her was the anguish she impressively portrayed through her rich, deep voice—and only through her voice. Even on stage, in view of many worlds, she retained her Vulcan composure.

Every so often, the chorus sang. Their testosterone-heavy voices added an air of militial minacity to the atmosphere, reminding the audience that Mikonna’s hesitance to marry, should she be found out, could end in someone’s violent death.

The Vulcan who portrayed Prince Saral was an intensely handsome man in splendid black and silver armor, armed with three swords. His pointed ears peeked through his long black hair, which was beautifully braided down his back, making him look more like an elfin warrior from human mythology than a stoic Vulcan. He sang in a deep rich voice about his thirst to avenge his fallen comrades, betrayed by a rival clan. He mostly sang with Mikonna’s father, a wizened, graying lord dressed in white and leaning on a cane. The two plotted and schemed the downfall of their enemies, with the chorus answering their calls to war.

The only time Mikonna was on the same stage as Saral was when her father sang, “Take my blood-child, firstborn and pure/Join our fertile lands/Your bonding will flood our valley/With our enemies’ flowing blood….”

Nyota could see what Spock meant about the “Klingon texture.”

The tale ended with Mikonna fleeing her father’s estate, and asking her handmaiden to escape with her into the Forge

And why shall I not?” the handmaiden sang. “What life is there for me here?/ Which man has done me justice, which one has loved me well?/ They none of them have a heart, these empty slaves of vice/No soul the like the beating Forge/So through sand and fiery valley, my kindly mistress/We go, we go!” And the two women—breaking the Vulcan taboo—clasped each other’s hands and fled together into the moonless night.

Nyota was immediately reduced to tears.

Even she hadn’t seen them coming. Her grief was sudden, violent, racking her body mercilessly with uncontrollable sobs which, fortunately, weren’t loud enough to turn any holographic heads.

Vira is going to smack me.

But she could help it. The Vulcan sopranist’s voice was heart-wrenchingly sweet, thrumming with such deep and intense emotion, despite well-maintained calm. Her loyalty to her mistress was unwavering, and Nyota understood why now. No one had ever shown the weaver’s daughter kindness or compassion; these things were not common in the dark days of Ancient Vulcan. But Mikonna…Mikonna had understood the poor girl’s plight, and had loved her for it.

Nyota didn’t dare lift her head as the curtains fell and the audience stood in thundering applause.

Spock considerately shut the curtains of their private balcony before stating simply, “Computer, Kleenex.”

Oh…Vira is going to smack me.

When the tissue materialized on the table and Nyota was still too ashamed to look up and take one, the Vulcan surprised her by plucking a tissue and leaning over to lightly dry her tears for her.

Overkill. Nyota felt her heart splitting as she miserably tried to salvage her very last tattered shreds of dignity.

“P-Please f-forgive m-m-my e-e-e-express-sh-sh-ion—”

“There is nothing to forgive, Nyota,” he assured her politely, maintaining his usual Vulcan composure. “Simply being human is not a transgression, therefore it is illogical to apologize for it. Ever,” he added after a short pause.

He let her mop her face and compose herself, then helped her up from her seat before calmly stating,

“Computer, end program.”

Next ~ Aftermath

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