If nothing else, the planet Zeon definitely fit the definition of a ‘strange new world.’
From his vantage point at the open window of the temporary living quarters he and T’Pol had been provided, Trip had a fantastic view of the amazing underground building they were housed in. The apartment itself was fairly close to the surface of Zeon, which meant there was at least a hundred more floors that descended deeper toward the planet’s core. This particular … earthscraper, for lack of a better word, served principally as the Governing Council’s headquarters – it was like the United Earth legislature, the Supreme Court, the central bank, and living quarters for the people in government, all rolled into one building – and was connected to dozens of other such constructions by way of tunnels, some designed solely for pedestrians, but others wide enough to fly Enterprise through.
The earthscraper itself was organized in a circular design – four distinct, half-moon-shaped sections surrounded the open center, which was a yawning chasm that stretched down as far as the eye could see. Elevator tubes and opaque tunnels crisscrossed the open space, passing by and around an immense central platform upon which sat the T’Muna-Doth. The starship itself was surrounded by a half-dozen smaller, boxy shapes, some of which were ground-rovers for surface expeditions while others were crazy-looking aerocrafts. The platform was a marvel to behold, even to someone from a more advanced culture like Trip. Set upon a monstrously-large pneumatic column that climbed up out of the dark hole, it was a mobile airfield completely with refueling facilities and a flight control tower, all of which could be raised to the surface of the planet if necessary. A retractable roof hung over the platform and reminded Trip of the sorts of ceilings he’d seen at numerous human stadiums back on Earth.
As he leaned forward onto the cool metal railing, Trip inhaled the curious scents that surrounded him. It was a sharp, metallic, earthy smell like nothing he’d ever encountered before, and he let the surprisingly pleasant aromas sooth the worry that had been hounding him for weeks. Today marked the eighth day – give or take; he hadn’t quite figured out how long the Zeon day-night cycle was, what with them being underground all the time – since they’d arrived planetside with Aron and Dena’s family, and was the third day in a row that T’Pol had returned from a private session with the Elders of the Governing Council in a foul mood. Males were evidently forbidden from attending Elders without direction invitation and T’Pol had insisted she was more than capable of dealing with these women without his assistance or protection. In fact, she’d added, knowing his track record with non-human females, it was probably for the best that he was not present.
Trip was still trying to figure out if she’d insulted him or if this was another example of her trying to tell a joke.
“Do not lean too far out, my friend,” Urri called out in the Tandosian dialect as he entered the apartment through the open doorway. Trip gave him a nod before shooting a quick sidelong glance toward the bedroom to make sure that T’Pol’s privacy remained intact. The utter absence of internal doors throughout the earthscraper was the hardest thing to get accustomed to so far – a cultural thing rooted in the Zeon communal thinking mindset, they all took it for granted and didn’t seem to comprehend the need for privacy, but it was slowly driving Trip insane. He could only imagine how difficult it was for T’Pol.
“Good morning, Urri,” Trip said in greeting. He easily suppressed a smirk at the curious look the younger man shot the blanket hanging over the doorway leading to the bedroom. A subtle itch tickled the back of his brain – T’Pol was stirring from her meditative trance – and Tucker quickly gestured for Urri to join him at the window. The two men stood in silence for a long moment.
“How are you liking your homeworld?” Trip finally asked. Urri snorted.
“Truthfully,” he said with a shake of his head, “I like it not.” He blew out a heavy sigh and leaned forward onto the rail himself. “Ekos was my home, not this … this … this cave.” Trip nodded in understanding before glancing at the younger man.
“Why is that anyway?” he asked. “Why live underground?”
“Because we ruined the surface.” At Trip’s look, he sighed. “Our culture was once as aggressive and as self-destructive as the Ekosians. In my mother’s foremother’s time, we waged a war – the Century War, though it only lasted ninety-eight solar revolutions – that scorched the sky and burned the rock.” Urri shook his head. “I have seen the images – we had great cities that were wiped away in seconds. Millions died and all for causes I can barely comprehend.”
“Sounds familiar,” Trip offered softly.
“The survivors sought refuge below the surface, away from the storms that the war caused, and they turned to these caverns.” Urri gestured toward the chasm before them. “This place was once an extraction site,” he said, “where minerals and ores were pulled from the ground, but the Second Wave transformed it into what you see before you.” Trip frowned.
“Second wave?” he repeated. The younger man chuckled.
“Of course,” Urri said, shaking his head in admonishment. “You would not know that phrase – the Second Wave is what we call the survivors of the Century War.” He began tapping his fingers on the metal railing in what appeared to be an unconscious nervous tick. “Father told you about Those That Follow, yes? The survivors from Ot’Lan’Tith?” Trip grimaced – he still wasn’t comfortable knowing that a non-human species had their own Atlantis legend and had to wonder if there were others out there with similar stories. More importantly, did they all have some sort of basis an actual event lost to the ages?
“Yes,” he said in response to Urri’s question. Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed T’Pol discreetly exit the bedroom, but she made no effort to join them and instead simply stood quietly in front of the blanket door, an openly curious expression on her face and her head tilted slightly in a way that Trip recognized all too well.
“Those That Follow became known as the First Wave,” Urri continued, his fingers still moving, “and it was they who colonized Zeon despite its thick atmosphere.” A flicker of light – it was one of the elevator tubes in use – drew his attention as he spoke. “By the time my mother was born,” he said, “those that led the colonization of the underworld became known as the Second Wave. They were like our ancestors, another group of Those That Follow fleeing a terrible catastrophe.”
“Let me guess,” Trip interjected with a smirk. He was certain that he’d heard this story before. “This … Second Wave just happened to appoint themselves the new leaders of your culture.” Urri smiled.
“Yes,” he admitted, “but they have been benevolent rulers.” His smile faltered. “You must understand, Trip,” he said, pronouncing Tucker’s nickname as if it had two syllables or a apostrophe like T’Pol’s, “our culture had nearly destroyed itself. When the Second Wave urged us to adhere more strictly to the Book of Lost Virtues, there were few who disapproved.” He gestured once more toward the cavern and the twinkling lights that were the other three half-moon sections of the earthscraper. “I would say that their efforts have yielded some success.”
“Book of Lost Virtues?” Trip repeated, his tongue stumbling over a few of the unfamiliar words.
“It is a code of conduct that we are encouraged to obey,” Urri said. He shrugged. “I have never seen the point in writing such things down – they seem self-evident and obvious to me. Do no harm to others, speak the truth always, steal not and always be generous. These things are easily done.”
“Not always,” T’Pol said as she glided across the apartment to join them. At her remarks, Urri jolted in surprise and spun around, his eyes widening. He quickly offered her the curious knuckle salute that Trip had seen quite frequently and she responded with a slight incline of her head that was almost a nod but not quite. “I did not mean to startle you,” she told the young Zeon.
“It is of no concern, Lady Tupol,” he replied quickly. Trip smirked at his continued mispronunciation of her name, but silently let her take the lead.
“You are aware that I have been meeting with your Governing Council?” she asked and Urri nodded quickly. “I have made very little progress and I suspect this is due to my ignorance of your culture.” Trip frowned slightly – that wasn’t entirely true; according to what T’Pol had told him, there were several Elders who were more than happy to talk about the Zeon society at length, sometimes for hours on end without pause – but he held his tongue, knowing that nothing she did was without a reason. “If you have a few moments,” she said, “your assistance in these matters would be most helpful.”
A few moments soon turned into several hours as T’Pol quizzed Urri on a dozen different matters, sometimes bringing up elements about his society that he clearly knew next to nothing about, and by the time she let him depart (after getting him to agree to a second visit), Trip’s head was spinning. He watched silently as she sat on the floor – the furniture in the temporary quarters was not exactly comfortable for either of them and their few visitors seemed to prefer standing as well – her legs crossed as if she were about to meditate. After several minutes, she glanced up at him, her left eyebrow inching up.
“A most curious society,” she said simply.
“Did you get what you wanted out of him?” Trip asked with a slight smile. He pushed himself off the wall where he had been reclining and walked to the ugly couch where he grabbed the carefully folded blanket resting atop it.
“He did not tell me anything I had not already learned,” T’Pol admitted. She did not bother hiding the fact she was watching him as he secured the blanket over the main entranceway to the apartment. “Elder Sarai has been quite … diligent in her instruction regarding Zeon traditions and culture.” The hint of annoyance in T’Pol’s voice barely gave away her frustration, but the sharp stab of emotion that coursed across the their mental connection caused him to inhale sharply. “I apologize,” T’Pol said instantly, her tone contrite and embarrassed.
“You’re still having trouble meditating,” Trip guessed. Finished with the rudimentary ‘door,’ he turned back to face her. She had not moved but was now staring at the floor with a blank expression.
“I am.” T’Pol’s lips tightened. “Even your presence is not assisting as much as I would hope.” Trip blew out a breath and walked back where she sat. He offered her his hand.
“Tell me how to help,” he said, a note of pleading creeping into his voice. He hated seeing her like this, so vulnerable and scared and fragile. She was the strongest woman he’d ever met, stronger even than his mother or Grandma Tucker who still scared the hell out of him, even though she had to be a hundred, and he knew that he’d be lost without T’Pol.
“Meditate with me?” she asked as she took his hand and allowed him to pull her to her feet.
“Whatever you need,” Trip replied instantly. On the spur of the moment, he wrapped his arms around her. T’Pol instinctively tensed at the unexpected action but almost immediately relaxed against him. She exhaled raggedly and another rush of emotion flooded into him. Though she tried to hide it from him, Trip could almost taste the deep-rooted fear buried within her. Even though they seemed to be poised to leave this miserable star system for good, it just seemed like too much was piling up: the Pa’nar was coming back; her memories were a jumbled mess; they were dozens of light years away from anyone that they could truly trust; and so on. Time seemed to be running out and she was afraid. “It’ll be okay,” Trip whispered into her hair. “It’ll be okay.”
He just wished he could believe it himself.