Talking Stick

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Organization: Penn State University
Date: Thu, 12 Sep 1996 23:36:54 EDT
From: Macedon
Message-ID: <96256.233654JRZ3@psuvm.psu.edu>
Newsgroups: alt.startrek.creative
Subject: REPOST: Talking Stick (Voy) (C)

SUMMARY “Talking Stick”: Chakotay and Tuvok develop a tentative
friendship, set against the backdrop of a storytelling group
which has grown up spontaneously on Voyager. Told in the first
person from Chakotay’s POV.

Star Trek is the property of Paramount Studios, the following a
non-profit work of fan fiction. Distribution is free, but
tampering with the story or removal of this disclaimer is
actionable by law. No resemblance to any individual, living or
dead, is intended.

TALKING STICK
Little Otter, c1996
(aka “Macedon”)

PREFACE:

“Like no other inhabitants of the United States, Indians have for
centuries nourished our imagination, weaving in us a complex skein
of guilt, envy, and contempt; yet, imagining that we see “the
Indian,” we often see little more than the distorted reflection of
our own fears, fancies, and wistful longings. Meanwhile, live
Indians are, in a sense, our national nightmare, figments of a
guilty imagination…reminders of a history that we would prefer
not to remember…the transformation of Indian Country is much
more than a passing phenomenon at the margins of American society.
Readers who expect a single uncomplicated portrait of the modern
Indian will not find one, for “the Indian,” as such, really exists
only in the leveling lens of federal policy and in the eyes of
those who continue to prefer natives of the imagination to real
human beings.”

from KILLING THE WHITE MAN’S INDIAN,
F.M. Bordewich, c1996

I.

He-d’ho!

I want to call here the ancestors. I want to call here the
ancestors of my people. They’re in my heart; I carry them with
me. Their hands are on my back when I talk. They keep me from
falling. I think of them often, here, where the only soil from
the land of my birth is that held in a bag which Starfleet
regulation does not permit me to carry.
My legal name is Joseph Chakotay. My father was a meda,
medicine man, among Potawatomi, first in Oklahoma and later on a
colony world which lies now in the de-militarized zone between
Federation space and the Cardassian Empire. My mother was Hopi
and Dine (Navajo) and Nee Me Poo (Nez Perce), born in Arizona.
She it was who gave me the name Chakotay. When I came of age, my
father named me Peshewa. Wildcat. Starfleet gave me the name
Joseph, and how I got that was something of a joke.
Potawatomi and Wea and Shawnee; Hopi and Navajo and Nez
Perce; even a bit of Crow and Aztec. Spanish and French and
Bengali, too. I have in me the blood of most of North America,
and a little of Europe and the Indian subcontinent. These are
my ancestors. Their hands are on my back; they keep me from
falling.
When I was a boy, I was not much concerned with my
ancestors. I spent my life with my nose in a book and my mind in
the stars; I lived unconnected to the Earth, or to the bones of
my people who lay in it. When I went away to the Academy, I put
on a cadet’s uniform and packed away my medicine bag so I could
go about as naked as the rest, just another cadet, not son of the
meda. You see, we Indians have our version of “PK”s, too. I was
as rebellious at sixteen as any preacher’s kid I’ve ever met. I
lived separated from myself, my bag in a bottom drawer of my
standard-issue dresser, an embarrassment in leather. But my
earth lay in it, my grounding, the root of my soul. It was many
years before I understood that, like a plant cut off from soil
and water, I was dying.
Now here I am, a little less than seventy lightyears from
the soil of my birth, and I don’t even know how to mark the
Directions. In space, it’s rather meaningless, I suppose: north,
south, east, and west. And yet it has the greatest of meanings
precisely where its literal meaning fades. But then, I might say
that of life in general. I find myself when I’m coming apart.
Experience holds the greatest meaning when it appears to hold the
least. This is why we tell stories: to understand who we are
when our lives are coming apart. Therefore, I will tell you a
story.

***

Recycled air has a smell that is no smell: flat, like stale
beer or dull chrome. And artificial light strains the eyes and
stunts the senses, but one never seems to notice until one stands
under a sun again. At this point, I was wishing for a sun and
fresh air. Any sun would do, even the orange one of 40 Eridani.
But then, I’m partial to Vulcan; the wide sky reminds me of
Arizona where my mother was born, even if the color is all wrong.
I was walking down the corridor outside the mess hall, thinking
of yellow suns–or orange ones. The most incredible crash halted
my progress. It sounded as if good Neelix had opened a pantry
full of precarious pots which had immediately collapsed atop him.
Backtracking three steps, I walked through the door. The smell
of hot oil flowed out around me into the corridor.
It was not Neelix in the kitchen. It was Tuvok. Tuvok in
an apron to keep off the grease, spoon in one hand, measuring-cup
full of what looked like yogurt in the other.
I nearly turned and walked out again. Tuvok makes me
uncomfortable. Partly it’s because he’s a Vulcan and while I may
like their desert, I’ve never been quite comfortable around
Vulcans. Partly it’s because he and the captain have known one
another so long. Sometimes I wonder who’s the First Officer on
Voyager: him or me. Insecurity, I realize, but there it is. Yet
he also makes me uncomfortable because he made a fool of me and
I’m proud enough for that to be painful. He was doing his duty;
I know this. In his shoes, I might have done much the same. But
humiliation is humiliation and I’m not sure it’s something I can
ever quite forgive. So that day, I nearly walked out. I didn’t
perhaps because I felt the hands of my ancestors on my back and
they held me up.
At the whoosh of door, Tuvok had looked over. “Commander.”
“Lieutenant.” I glanced around. There were no piled pots
in evidence. “Uh, did I….” I stopped; his eyebrow was up in
that way he had: a mixture of patient impatience, and humor at
human foibles. “Nevermind.” He returned his attention to the
skillet. “What are you making?”
“Besan Kadhi.” He poured the yogurt into the skillet and
stirred. I glanced in. The stuff was yellow with tumeric; I
could smell its scent.
“I didn’t know tumeric was a Vulcan spice.”
“It is not,” he said, having completely missed the jest.
“Nor is the dish a Vulcan dish.”
“What is it? Indian?”
“Indeed.”
“Where did you learn to cook Indian?” What I wanted to ask
him was where he had learned to cook at all. Tuvok had never
struck me as the sort to tie on aprons and wave wood spoons in
the air.
“My wife,” he said.
There was a stool in the corner. I had seen Kes perch on it
in the past while she watched Neelix concoct his strange
concoctions. Pulling it over, I sat down. I really should have
been concluding my tour, but this was too interesting. Tuvok
continued to stir the skillet mixture. “So where did your wife
learn? I assume she’s Vulcan, not Terran.”
“My wife spent some time in New Delhi, with a Terran dance-
company. They were performing a modern ballet based on the
Bhagavad Gita.”
“Ah.” I leaned into the counter. The smell of food was
making my stomach growl. “That’s right, your wife’s a dancer.
Her name’s T’Pel, right?”
“That is correct.” He plopped a plateful of puffy-looking
dumplings into the yogurt mix.
“Why are you cooking your own dinner?”
Head lowered, only his eyes moved to look at me. “I wished
something…edible.”
I howled; I couldn’t help it. He had not meant to be funny.
Tuvok’s sense of humor was amputated at birth, I think–and not
just because of his culture. I’ve met funny Vulcans. They
always pretend they don’t mean to be, but it’s perfectly evident
that they do. The only way Tuvok is funny is when he doesn’t
mean to be. Like now. He stood staring at me for the briefest
moment, then returned to stirring the bubbling mass in the
skillet. I could almost hear him think, ‘Humans!’
After a moment he pulled the skillet free. Clearly he was
ready to eat. I stood, meaning to go. I had not, in fact, meant
to stay so long in the first place and could not have said why I
had. Now, as if drawn by the same inexplicable motivation, he
said, “There is enough of this for two.” His face remained
impassive but a muscle in one cheek twitched. I remembered all
the times I had seen him, shoveling in food absently while he
read a booktape.
He’s lonely, I thought. I don’t know why it had never
occurred to me before. Vulcans seem so damned self-sufficient,
islands unto themselves. But he was the only Vulcan on this ship,
the only one of his people for parsecs and parsecs. And if I
felt disconnected from my ancestors, at least I was on a ship
where ninety percent of the people had blood the same color as
mine. Nor had I left a wife and children behind me, either.
“It’s been years since I had Indian food that didn’t come
out of a replicator,” I told him. “I’d be honored.”
“It is, of course, without meat.”
“I don’t mind,” I said. He measured out brown rice into two
bowls, poured the Besan Kadhi over the top.

II.

“This is good, Tuvok. Hot. I like hot.”
His look said, Would I have served it to you, had I thought
it would not be? But aloud, he said only, “I believe the correct
response is ‘Thank-you.’ And it is hot because there are hot
peppers in it, or rather, the equivalent.”
“How’d you come by the chickpea flour?” I asked when my
mouth was empty. Something about Tuvok always put a man on his
best manners.
“It is not chickpea flour.” He did not ask me how I had
known it was supposed to be chickpea flour and I was rather
disappointed. I had wanted to show off a little knowledge before
this Vulcan who always seemed to know everything about
everything. But my curiosity reached further than my pride.
“So what is it, then?”
He paused a moment and twirled his fork thoughtfully. “I
believe Neelix named it ‘Shakh’ flour.”
“Sounds like a swear word, not a plant.”
“It serves; the taste is nearly identical, or so far as I
can tell. Your senses may detect some difference.”
“Why?”
His eyebrow hopped but he did not look at me. He speared
another of the dumplings. “The human sense of smell and taste is
sharper than the Vulcan.”
I sat back. “Well, I’ll be jigger-jaggered. Something
humans can do better than Vulcans.”
“You’ll be…what? No matter. But yes, humans do have a
superior olfactory sense. Then again, most predatory animal
species have superior olfactory senses.”
Surprise overwhelmed any insult I might have felt. “Tuvok!
You just made a joke!” I had, it seemed, misjudged my colleague.
Now he did look up at me. “There is no need to be
insulting, commander. Vulcans do not ‘joke.'”
I didn’t bother to reply, but would listen to him more
closely in the future. “So what else do humans do better than
Vulcans, Mr. Tuvok?”
“I am not certain that ‘better’ is the operative, but there
are a number of differences between vulcanoid and humanoid
senses. If you are interested in a comparative study, I am
certain the doctor could provide you with a list of citations for
relevant articles.”
“Tuvok”–I waved my fork, exasperated–“*summarize* them.”
I didn’t have time to chase down articles.
“As you wish.” He paused and stared off at a point over my
left shoulder. “As I indicated, the humanoid sense of smell is
sharper, better able to distinguish shades of difference. Yet
vulcanoid hearing is superior to humanoid, particularly in the
higher frequencies.”
“It’s the ears.”
“Indeed, the size of our ears has something to do with it,
but not wholly. The real differences are internal.” He took a
bite, chewed it thoroughly, then went on. “Vulcan sight is also
superior in some respects: clarity at distances, detection of
motion, as well as an ability to see energy patterns. But we
cannot distinguish differences in color so well, particularly
towards the ultraviolet end of the spectrum. I suspect you would
find seeing through my eyes both dizzying and rather dull.”
I had always assumed Vulcan senses were the same as human
because Vulcans looked similar. But externals were deceptive. I
should have known better. More, learning that they had less
ability to distinguish between colors explained something I had
noticed the two times I had visited Vulcan.
For the most part, Vulcans dressed in duns, or bright red or
yellow. But sometimes one would see a person wearing two shades
of blue that didn’t quite match. At the time, I’d chalked it up
to the Vulcan version of no fashion-sense. Now I realized the
Vulcans had no doubt thought their clothing color-coordinated; my
human eyes could see a difference theirs could not.
Conversation faltered while I pondered Vulcan eyesight and
Tuvok pondered his dinner. Finally, I shook myself and asked,
“Where were you born, Tuvok?”
He did not reply immediately. Had I overstepped myself? I
remembered my first visit to Vulcan when, cooped up in a bulletrain
cabin for seven hours with two Vulcan women beautiful enough to
make one weep, I had made the mistake of trying small-talk. I
had been young enough to think my looks an excuse. Finally, one
had met my eyes and said, “I shall cease to answer questions
which in all politeness ought not to have been asked.”
I almost expected Tuvok to say the same, but finally he
replied, “Tal-Mor’el. I doubt you have heard of it.”
He was right. “Where is it located?”
“At one time, it was a fishing village on the Ashal Sea.
Now its main industry is salt distillation for commercial use.”
“Is that what you father did?”
“No, that is what my mother did. My father was a detective
in the province police department.”
I nearly spit Besan Kadhi and brown rice. “Police? I
didn’t think Vulcans needed police.”
“A common misconception. The crime rate is, indeed, lower
than on any other Federation member world.” He said this with
that annoying air of Vulcan superiority. “But there is still a
need for police for many reasons, not all of which have to do
with crime control.”
“So you followed in your father’s footsteps.”
He considered this. “In a manner of speaking.”
“I bet he’s proud of you.”
“Commander, Vulcans do not indulge in that kind of pride.
Let us say that he was satisfied with my occupational choice.” I
chuckled and let him keep his dignity. “Commander,” he went on
then, “if I may ask–what occupation did your father engage in?”
Ah, Tuvok, I thought. You’re learning. “My father repaired
computers and grew the best tomatoes in Oklahoma. He was also
the muskekewininee, the medicine man, for our people, though that
was his vocation, not his occupation.” I paused and thought a
moment, “I can still remember sneaking out into the greenhouses as
a boy, picking tomatoes and eating them on the spot. He always
caught me because I invariably got juice on my clothes.”
I could see that he had no idea how to answer this so I
changed the subject. “Tell me a story about the Ashal sea,
Tuvok. I’ve never sailed a Vulcan sea.”
“Neither do I.”
“No?”
“I believe the common human term for my aversion to water is
‘sea-sickness.'”
I chuckled. “So, tell me a story about the sea anyway.”
Tuvok, who had finished eating, pushed back his bowl and
regarded me thoughtfully. “Commander, I must confess myself
confused. You are somewhat older than my children, and it has
been some time since any of them wished to hear a story, about
the sea or anything else. Vulcans do not tell stories.”
“Bullshit, Tuvok. I’ve seen collections of Vulcan myths and
legends. I admit, I’ve never read more than one or two, but I
know they exist. Your people do tell stories.”
“Such myths and legends date well before Surak,” he said,
cocking his head to the side. “They reflect a time before we had
an accurate understanding of the world. They are illogical.”
Mopping up the last of the Besan Kadhi with a piece of nan,
I popped it in my mouth and chewed, using the time to gather my
thoughts. Swallowing, I said, “The illogic you speak of is only
on the surface…you’re only looking at the surface, Tuvok. At
their roots, stories are fundamentally logical, even those which
seem the most fantastic. They have more purpose than just to
entertain children. Stories explain us to ourselves. They are
autobiographies of our culture. When you forget the stories of
your people, you forget yourself.”
He thought about that. I could almost seem him turning it
over and over behind those dark eyes. “I will consider what you
have said.” He rose. “And I will also try to remember a ‘story
of the sea.’ But now, it is time for me to return to duty–and
no doubt, for you as well.”
I grinned at him. “I’ll see you on the bridge in five,
Tuvok.”

III.

I can’t really remember how it got started, but it certainly
caught on fast enough. As I had said to Tuvok, stories remind us
of who we are. Out here, we needed reminded frequently so once a
week, some of the crew gathered in the messhall to tell stories.
It was breakfast for one shift and dinner for the other. Second
and fourth shift have, I understand, formed another group.
It started more or less spontaneously, and had nothing to do
with me. I might have left it so, afraid the presence of one of
the commanding officers would be a wet blanket. But one evening
around dinner time, Jinn Cherel and Chaim Anielewicz showed up at
my door. They had been a couple among the marquis since before
we had come to be on Voyager: a Bajoran and a Conservative Jew.
And–as couples sometimes will–they had made a center off which
the rest of my crew had spun like spokes around a hub. Now, one
took my right arm and the other my left and escorted me down to
the messhall without explanation. When we arrived, I found the
circle patiently waiting. It opened to admit Cherel, Chaim and
myself. They sat me down in a chair. “Is there something you
wanted, crewpeople?” I grinned to take the edge off it.
“We want,” said Kes, “to hear a story.” Standing behind
her, Neelix nodded.
“A story,” I said. Nineteen heads had nodded back. Taking
a deep breath and wetting my lips, I had said: “Well, all right.
This one is about Nanahboozhoo, the Son of the West Wind. It
belongs to the mediwiwin festival, and where I was born, it’s
spring now, so I can tell it. But first, Chaim–go back to my
quarters and get my Talking Stick.” Grinning Chaim had hopped up
to do as I had asked.
So it began. Slowly it grew and I, though I did not start
it, somehow found myself its step-father. Most of the stories
were not from folklore; I and Chaim probably told the most of
that variety. The other stories were about Voyager, or people’s
lives before being assigned to Voyager, and a few fell into the
category of urban legend. Sometimes someone brought a bit of
fiction to read. Sometimes they made up stories on the spot,
passing around the Talking Stick for each who wished to add a
piece to the tale. The people in the circle changed, but the
circle itself retained a certain continuity–and an informality.
The latter, I encouraged. For one thing, after the first day, I
never came again in uniform. Others began to follow suit until
casual dress was an unspoken rule. Even newcomers showed up the
first time out of uniform.
But there were few newcomers these days. Most of the crew
had been to a circle at least once, to listen or to speak, with
two significant exceptions: the captain, and Tuvok. Janeway had
said it would be better for her to stay out of it, fearing the
same thing I had feared at first–that her presence would put a
damper on things. I had told her I didn’t think it would, but
she had disagreed. “You may be the First Officer, Chakotay, but
there are still things you can get away with that I can’t.
Besides, you were invited. You already had a reputation as a
storyteller. For me to show up–even out of uniform–would be
something else again.”
That Tuvok had never come was no surprise to anybody. Thus,
when he did finally visit, it shocked us all. Me not least. He
came quietly: a dark, silent presence who moved up to the circle
edge in the semi-dark of the room.
I had begun the practice of lowering the lights so the shier
among us might be encouraged to speak. Soft lighting also made
it easier for people to come and go without distracting attention
from the one speaking. And–if the truth be told–I just liked
to have the lights low so we could see the stars out the window
behind us. It reminded me of clear summer nights, but without
the mosquitoes. Trouble was, none of these constellations was
familiar.
I was sitting across the circle from the door when Tuvok
came so I saw him first, framed by hallway lights, long robes
swishing silently across the floor. Even had I thought he might
come–out of curiosity, if nothing else–I would never have
expected him to come in the dress of his people. Tuvok was one
of those officers who seemed sewed into a uniform.
Despite his silence, his presence was palpable. Awareness
of him grew among the listeners. Thank goodness the one speaking
was too engrossed to notice till her story was done. It had been
a funny tale, and laughter followed, but a laughter which watched
out of the corner of its eye the one who did not laugh. I didn’t
know what to say, whether to note his presence or not. Yet I had
made it my business to welcome new faces and if I did not do so
now, it might be taken as a slight–not by Tuvok, but by others:
disgruntled Marquis who found Tuvok and his rules tedious, or
suspicious Federation who still did not entirely trust me and
probably wished Tuvok had my rank.
“Tuvok,” I said, “welcome to our storytelling circle.” He
inclined his head slightly. “I don’t suppose,” I continued,
“that you came to tell us a story about the Vulcan seas?” I
couldn’t imagine what else he was doing there. A few of the
listeners gave me a double-take at the mention of Vulcan *seas*.
“I have not,” Tuvok said. “I came to listen.” And he said
nothing more, sat down cross-legged on the floor where Kes had
made room for him. He listened, and after, he slipped out again
before I had time to speak to him.
After that, he came regularly. When Vulcans decide to do a
thing, they’re nothing if not consistent–predictable, one could
say. He sat on the floor beside Kes, who had been blessed with
that natural sympathy which accepted even wet skunks and taciturn
Vulcans. The first few times, his presence put people off, but
after a while, they took it in stride. Tuvok just was, like the
stars outside and the ever-present hum of warp engines.
He’s lonely, I thought once again. Even in a crowd, he’s
lonely. Vulcans might pretend to have no feelings, but that had
never fooled anyone who knew them. Tuvok was there, hanging on
the fringe of a group not quite sure if it wanted him, because he
had a need to be with other warm bodies–even if it was a need he
barely recognized, much less knew how to articulate. To hang on
the fringe was better than to spend one’s evening alone, which
was what he usually did.
So he sat on the edge and listened to stories–humorous or
serious or tragic–and kept his own counsel. One evening after
B’Elanna had told a story about her childhood which she had meant
to be funny but which had shown the pain beneath, Tuvok followed
me out of the room. This was the first time he had approached me
off-duty since we had shared dinner four months ago. “You said,”
he began, “that stories remind us of who we are. It seems to me
that, for emotional races, such remembering is not always a…
good thing.”
“Pain is part of life, Tuvok. If we lose our pain, we lose
ourselves as much as if we lose our joy or our senses of humor.”
I did not bother to add any qualifiers about ’emotional races’
and used the ‘we’ deliberately. If he recognized this, he did
not comment on it.
“But I do not understand. If an event is…painful…then
what is the point of retelling it, much less attempting to clothe
it in *humor*.” He said the last word as if it had tasted bad.
“Humor sustains us. People who have been oppressed, or who
have suffered greatly, need humor to survive. It’s an old truism
that the best comedians led tragic lives. And people in ER crack
jokes to get through. We need our senses of humor, or we break
like old china. Love and hate, pain and joy, laughter and tears
–they’re each two sides of the same coin. If we let ourselves
laugh, then we can let ourselves cry when we need to.”
I was very tempted to lecture him on the dangers of bottling
up feelings but bit my tongue. It would just go in one pointed
ear and out the other, dismissed as human justification for
rampant emotionalism. Let him draw his own conclusions.
He halted and bowed to me slightly, seeming very Vulcan. “I
bid you good night, Commander.” His flat voice told me he was
working hard to suppress something volatile.
“Good night, Tuvok.” He turned and walked off. “Tuvok!” I
called. He paused, turned back. “You still owe me that story
about Vulcan seas.”
“Indeed,” was all he said.

*** End Part I ***

TALKING STICK
Little Otter, c1996
(aka “Macedon”)

IV.

“I don’t know about the rest of you,” I said, “but today has
been a *Coyote* day.” A few people chuckled, those who had heard
Coyote stories before and knew what I meant. Smiling, I set the
Talking Stick across my lap. “It’s been the kind of day that
reminds me it’s Coyote, not his brother, who has all the power.
That’s why things sometimes go–” I wiggled my hand back and
forth, smiled again. More people laughed this time. It had been
a Coyote day for more people than just me. Voyager had suffered
one of those times when nine things go wrong at once and as soon
as you fix one, it sets off something else. “A Coyote day,” I
went on. “Coyote was having fun with us today because Coyote has
all the power. So I thought I’d tell you a story about how
Coyote got all the power. This is a Winterdance festival story I
heard from an old Crow storyteller, and it’s winter now in the
place I grew up, so I can tell it.”
I shifted again and settled more comfortably. “Before the
world was as it is, Coyote and his brother came down. They each
had two bags of power, given them by the winds of the Four
Directions. Now, Coyote’s brother, he was like us, he was a real
straight arrow and he just went straight along; he had a path and
he just went straight along. But Coyote, being Coyote and the
sort he is, he sniffed about, scratched a bit, did this and that,
looked about and pretty much made things the way they are today.
He made it all–which is why things are bit, well, *strange* at
times. Coyote made them. They’ve got Coyote’s mark on them.”
More laughter.
“Now, as Coyote’s brother was coming around, he saw Coyote
and waved to him and said, ‘Hello, Coyote! How ya doing?’ And
Coyote said, ‘I’m not Coyote. *You’re* Coyote.’ Now, as you
might imagine, his brother was a bit taken aback. He said, ‘No,
Coyote. I’m…Another One.’
“So Coyote’s brother–who was a little annoyed with Coyote–
takes his two bags of power and sits them up on a rock. Coyote
takes his bags and does the same. Now a wager has been called
and since it was Coyote’s brother who called it, Coyote got to
pick the terms. ‘You see that group of people standing over
there by that camp? We’re gonna run by those people and we’ll
settle this,’ Coyote said to his brother. ‘You run by and then
I’ll run by and we’ll see.’
“And so Coyote’s brother goes running by the camp and the
people say, ‘Hey! There goes coyote!’ Then Coyote runs by and
they say, ‘Hey! There goes another one!'” Chuckles all around.
I smiled. “And that, my friends, is how Coyote got all the
power. We have to be careful with Coyote, when he’s feeling
playful.”
Kes raised her hand for the Talking Stick and I rose to hand
it to her. “The Ocampa don’t have Coyote,” she said, smiling,
“or, he doesn’t call himself Coyote….” And she began a tale
about the Ocampa version of the immortal Trickster.
After the circle broke up for the evening (evening to me),
Tuvok approached. Since we had spoken following B’Elanna’s story
a few months ago, he had begun to wait for me after and we would
share the walk back to our deck and our respective cabins.
“Commander,” he said now a little tentatively–or what passed for
tentatively with Tuvok–“might you permit me to examine the staff
which you carry? I do not wish to breach a custom but I have
seen you allow others to hold it….”
I handed it to him. “You’re not breaching a custom, Tuvok.
The custom is to give the stick to whomever is speaking. It
doesn’t ‘belong’ to me; it’s a symbol. It confers the honor of
speaking before a people.” He held the oak stick in his hands
and turned it, frowning slightly as he looked at the carving
along it. “This”–I pointed to the figure at the top–“is an
Announcer. It’s a privilege to call the people together, to
speak before them.” He nodded absently. That was something
which, as a Vulcan, I knew he would understand.
“How did you come by it? Was it made for you?”
“It was given to my father, actually. About thirty years
ago now, when he visited Earth, my father went to a meeting of
Elders on the East Coast. The Sulish coastal peoples have this
tradition of Talking Sticks. One of them said to my father,
‘Winnemac, you always go about, speaking for your people. You
need a Talking Stick,’ and give him this one. My father took it
with him to the colony, where he continued to speak for our tribe
as the medicine man. When the Cardassians came, and killed him,
and when I left Starfleet to join the maquis, my father’s
apprentice gave the stick to me. I became the voice of my people
against oppression.”
I had said all this matter-of-factly. Tuvok stopped looking
at the stick to study my face. “I had wondered,” he said, “why
someone with your record would leave Starfleet to join the
maquis.” It was evident from his tone what he thought of the
maquis resistance. I felt a point needed made here.
“I consider myself a peaceful man, Tuvok–but to choose
peace is not to chose capitulation. And peace without justice is
no peace at all. My people have spent five hundred years trying
to pick up life from the fragments. We do not need to walk
another trail of tears.”
“I would…agree,” he said, then looked down again at the
stick still in his hands. He frowned, clearly troubled. “But I
made an oath to Starfleet. I cannot break that oath or I break
my honor.”
“We each do what we feel we have to do, what we feel is
right. I said before that it’s not my place to judge you, Tuvok.
You were working for Starfleet. As you said, you have an oath,
and you were following orders.” He seemed about to say
something, but did not. I almost said what I thought he had
meant to, but did not, either. We stood in the nearly empty
messhall, not quite looking at one another and feeling awkward.
After a moment, and with a last run of his dark hand over
the dark wood, he handed the Talking Stick back. “You may try
not to judge, but you do, in fact, still hold it against me.
Though I believe you do not wish to do so.” He tilted his head.
“I also believe that your people chose rightly, when they gave
your father’s staff to you. You are a…fitting…representative
of your people in the Delta Quadrant, Commander.”
“Thank-you, Tuvok. That…means a lot to me, coming from
you.”
He nodded once, turned on his heel, and went out, brown
robes swishing against the doorway. I stood there a long time
and thought about what he had said. And the beginnings of an
idea began to grow in the back of my mind.

V.

The next time Voyager investigated a class-M planet, I asked
Janeway for a few hours time while the away team conducted their
investigations. “As long as nothing goes wrong, I suppose we
could spare you for an hour or so. But I’d rather you not go
alone.”
“I’ll take Kim.”
Janeway turned her head to the ensign behind ops. “Mr.
Kim, you’re with Commander Chakotay.” She glanced back at me.
“Stay out of trouble, Commander.”
“I’ll do my best,” I said, grinning at her.
I’d chosen Kim on purpose; he was young and seemed in search
of a father figure. But I’d also chosen him because ever since
his experience being ‘dead’ for a brief time, he had shown a
nascent interest in the spiritual. I was inclined to foster it.
I located a strand of trees by ships’ sensors and had us beamed
down nearby. Then I headed for them, Kim in my wake. “Where are
we going, Commander?”
I glanced over my shoulder. “In here. Not far.”
I was looking for a stick of wood, 2-3 feet in length, dry
if I could find it, but I’d take green. Hardwood. Suitable for
carving.
Most of the trees had woods too soft, but I found one which
resembled maple in terms of the density. The color was closer to
cherry. It would do perfectly, but there were no branches
already broken. “Mr. Kim,” I said, “hand me the lasersaw.”
Regarding me oddly, he did so. I bowed to the tree and
circled it three times to ask its permission. Then I climbed the
trunk to a fork about 6 feet up, stood, and looked about for a
suitable branch. It was not difficult to find. I sawed the
branch free, circled the tree three times more, thanked it, and
handed the saw back to Kim.
He had been watching the entire thing with interest. “Are
you getting something for one of your rites?” he asked.
I grinned at him. “You might say that.”
“Why were you walking around the tree?”
“To ask it’s permission to take a branch. One doesn’t just
take things from other living things, ensign. When I was done, I
thanked it.”
“How would you know if the tree didn’t want you to take a
branch?”
I might have laughed but poor Kim would have taken it ill.
He asked such plain, straightforward questions. I was tempted to
ruffle his hair but that would not do at all. “My guide led me
this way. I didn’t come upon the tree by chance. Things happen
for a reason, ensign, at least important things.” I held up the
branch with its leaves and smaller branches still attached.
“This will be a special thing, a holy thing–manitto–and it
requires the blessing of the spirits in choosing it.” I tossed
the stick up and caught it, grinned at him and tapped my badge.
“Chakotay to Voyager. Two to beam up.”
“That’s all you wanted?” Kim asked, as the beam caught us.
“That’s all,” I said as we materialized.
Kim seemed slightly put-out. “Why didn’t you just replicate
a branch?”
“It wouldn’t be right, ensign. That wouldn’t do at all. It
can’t be replicated; it has to be real.”
I dismissed him then with my thanks. As he walked out, I
overheard him mutter, “I’m not sure I see the difference.”
Almost, I called him back to try to explain, but decided I was
not up to philosophy on the nature of reality, at the moment. I
wasn’t even sure I *could* explain. But it did matter. I took
the stick back to my quarters.
This was not something to be rushed. I had to cure the
wood, which took a while. Then I had to purify it with cedar and
sweetgrass, and pray over it. When it was ready, I stripped the
bark, sanded it, and began.
It was an old hobby of mine, from boyhood, to carve wood. I
enjoyed it because it gave my hands something to do and freed my
mind to think, or meditate. But it had been some time since I
had carved anything, and my hands weren’t so sure. I went slowly
as I had no desire to ruin it and be forced to start over.
Besides, such things should not be rushed. In our replicator-
world, we’ve become far too used to having things NOW. We’ve
forgotten the virtue of patience. To carve wood is to learn
patience. The symbols are released slowly, coming to life bit by
bit under my fingers. And the carving itself is an experience:
the smell of the wood–a little resiny–the feel of it. This
cannot be “replicated.” Gradually, the stick took shape under my
hands. When I was done with the carving, I sanded the roughness
smooth and stained some of it, then covered it in satin finish.
The carving took me not quite five months, done in my off time.
I was proud of it when I had finished, and debated just how I
should present it to the one for whom it was meant.
Near the end of the next day’s shift, while I was circling
the bridge stations as I sometimes did, I stopped beside Tuvok.
“Care to share supper, Mr. Tuvok?”
He twisted to look at me. Up went the eyebrow. “Is there a
point behind the invitation, Commander?”
“Do I need one? But since you ask–yes, there is.”
He nodded, thoughtful. “Then I accept.”
“16:00? Come to my cabin.”
“Agreed.”
I had arranged for good southwestern chili, sans meat. He
was, of course, exactly on time. But with Tuvok, what did one
expect? The chili was consumed in short order over a discussion
of the past week’s events. He did not ask what my purpose was in
asking him here. Vulcans were an unfathomable mix of the
tactlessly blunt and the indirectly courteous. He would ask if I
had a reason for inviting him, but would then wait for me to tell
him what that reason was. Vulcans, I thought, understood the
virtue of patience.
When we were done and I had put the plates in the recycler,
I walked over to the corner where I had put the new Talking
Stick. Carrying it back, I set it in his hands.
He studied it with great interest and a slowly dawning
realization that it was for him. I suppose the Announcer on top
rather gave it away; I had carved it with Vulcan-pointed ears.
“This is a k’chanka interlock pattern,” he said. “And this–this
is Ntara.” He twisted to look at me, his expression as close to
wonder as I had ever seen it. “Ntara is the sigal of my home
province.” I just nodded. He returned to his study, naming
each of the patterns I had carved into the wood. Finally, he
looked at me and said, “I do not understand.”
“Did I get something wrong?” I had spent hours researching,
but I still did not know much about Vulcan symbolism. I had
feared I might get something wrong.
“There is nothing incorrect.” He ran a hand down the stick,
feeling the slide of wood against skin. “But this is a work of
many hours, and it was clearly made with me in mind. Yet I do
not understand why you would…go to such trouble.”
I nodded at the stick in his hands. “I was given my
father’s Talking Stick so that I might speak for my people. I’ve
ended up doing that in a way I never expected. But while I may
be the only Indian in the area, I’m hardly the only human. You
are the only Vulcan. You speak for your people, so it seemed
fitting that you have a Talking Stick.”
He continued to look at me for a long time. Finally, he
said, “But I am not the only person on Voyager who is the sole
representative of his or her race. Neelix, Kes….”
I waved my hand to cut him off. I couldn’t explain to him
why I knew he needed the stick and they did not. It was an
instinctive knowledge, a gut-reaction; it didn’t bear analyzing.
“Perhaps I’ll make sticks for them some time. I enjoy carving.
But it just seemed fitting to me that you have a Talking Stick.”
He appeared to accept that he would get nothing more from me
on the matter and rose, the stick in the crook of his arm. “I
bid you good-night, Commander. I thank you for dinner, and for
this”–he held up the stick. Then he left. When the door shut,
it occurred to me that his thanks had been straightforward–no
coming at it sideways to emphasize Vulcan logic and belittle
human emotions.
“Tuvok,” I said to the air, “I do believe you *are*
learning.”

VI.

Some days later, when the storytelling circle met for the
week, Tuvok arrived with his Talking Stick. It elicited much
comment; I could only hope it did not elicit equal envy. When
near the end, Tuvok rose, stick in hand, I can’t say that I was
surprised. I had been expecting it since he had shown up.
For almost a year, Tuvok had sat on the circle fringe,
listening only. Now, realizing that he was finally going to
tell a story himself, the circle’s between-story chatter faded
with astonishing alacrity. Looking at me, he said, “On several
occasions, Commander, you have asked me for a story about the
Vulcan seas. Originally, I meant to tell a story which dated
from the time before the Reformation of Surak. There are many
tales–historical and fictional–of pirates, or battles, or…I
believe you would call them ‘sirens’. But I choose to tell about
none of these things. Something you said, some months ago now,
decided me against them.”
He switched the Talking Stick to the crook of his other arm.
“This story takes place exactly one hundred standard years ago,
and involves two brothers. Because the Vulcan life-span is longer,
differences between siblings is often generational. We rarely
‘grow up together’, as do humans. So one of these two brothers
was twenty-seven years old. The other was six. The elder was
caring for the younger while their parents were…elsewhere.
“Their family lived in a harbor town on a sea. The younger
brother had…desired…to be taken sailing for some time. He
had been ‘nagging’. To please him, the older brother finally
agreed and they took out the family boat some way on the water.
Yet the younger brother discovered he suffered from sea-sickness,
so his older brother had him sit above-deck and look at the
horizon while the older brother shifted the sail to go back in.
It was a windy day and the sail boom snapped out of the older
brother’s hand. He grabbed for it, afraid it might strike his
younger brother. Instead, it struck him on the side of the head,
and unconscious, he fell overboard.
“The younger brother was still ill from sea-sickness, and
had only begun to learn to swim. And his older brother was much
heavier. He could not lift him onto the boat, nor did he know to
turn him onto his back to keep his head above water. The boy
panicked. His brother slipped away from him, and drowned.”
I glanced around the circle. It was utterly silent. I knew
where this story was going and suspected they did, too. My
throat felt dry and I wanted to weep for the six-year-old who had
lost his brother, and for the man who stood here now, a century
later, forbidden by his culture to shed any tears. I wondered if
he had ever cried.
Tuvok went on. “The boy did manage to get back into the
boat and secure the boom, contact the coast guard. A shuttle
came to retrieve him. The body of his brother was found later
that day.
“No one blamed the child. He was young, and his brother
should not have taken him out alone. Yet the child knew that,
had he not panicked, had he thought logically about the
situation, his brother might not have died. Some years later,
when it came time for that boy to chose his occupation, he
decided to pursue one in which he could learn how to deal more
efficiently with crises. He became a police officer. Vulcan
does, indeed, have police.” Tuvok paused and tilted his head.
“He also learned better how to swim–but he has not set foot on a
boat since that day, and has no wish ever to do so. This is not
logical, but it is true, nonetheless.”
He shifted the Talking Stick again, held it out slightly and
focused his eyes on the announcer on top. He did not look at the
circle. “I was that child.” Then he sat down.

****

Stories are sacred. Stories remind us of who we are. So
long as we remember our stories, we will not forget our ancestors
or where we come from. We will not forget ourselves.

He-d’ho!

** FINIS **

The above story was conceived in something of a pique after
watching “Initiations.” I get tired of the Hollywood Plastic
Medicine Man. I thought it time a native voice was heard,
speaking for a native character. I gave him a background and
nation, since no one else seemed inclined to do so, and I have
endeavored to present something authentic as a counterbalance to
the amorphous bit-of-this-bit-of-that-throw-it-in-the-stew
“Native American spirituality” we’ve seen.

Although the original was written as a stand-alone piece, it
generated a “sequel” of sorts, or perhaps an answer, written by
Peg Robinson, telling Janeway’s side of the story. That sequel
is entitled “Circle” and should be available in the archive.
I then wrote an answer to that (“A Cherished Alienation”), which
generated a braided novel, with Peg and I passing the talking
stick back and forth.

Joseph Little Otter
Macedon
jrz3@psu.edu

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