Dawn has broken and first light is slanting across the ground. The air is filled with anticipation.
Before us the chasm reposes, its depths still dark, as they will remain for some time to come. As far as I can see in every direction, the people wait. This is the first hour of the new year, but will it be a new beginning after so many years of loss and fear? We do not know yet what will occur; the next few hours will set the course of our history, for good or for ill.
All my children and my grandchildren are with me. All who can be are here. There has been no moment like this in many years. We wait with hope and trepidation. All is well, we are assured. The old ways will become new again. And yet we fear. Their science is powerful; they sail great distances between the stars, they have been to the galaxy’s edge, but can they restore what was almost lost?
Our young ones believe, but they do not speak the ancient words. They speak the language of science, of technology; they understand the outward nature of things, but many are so removed from the old ways that this resurrection of millenium-old tradition is merely an interesting question to them.
Many of the older ones doubt. I see it on many aged faces; expressions grim and set, even as they scan the horizon or watch the canyon.
And yet if the miracle occurs and the sky dance takes place, it will be because of the young ones, because of science and technology.
Because of the aliens.
They are approaching now, the Federation people. A special place has been made for them, a viewing area close to where the Rulers of old presided over the ancient ceremonies. Many grumbled about allowing them that position of privilege, and yet, how can we deny it to them?
There. There he is, approaching in the forefront of the Federation people. As he walks to within several yards of where I sit, I see the changes in him.
I was younger when he came to my world, but not so much younger. My first great-grandchild had already been born. His name was Lieutenant Spock then; it is Commander Spock now. He was dressed in blue and black then; he is dressed in grey now, the Starfleet uniform molded to his thin body.
He glances in my direction, and I see recognition in his eyes. He hesitates, as does his escort, and then he moves away from those who accompany him and halts in front of me.
"Grandmother," he says, and makes a gesture of respect. "I am most honored that you are here on this day."
"Lieutenant Spock," I say, forgetting his new name; his old name coming by instinct to my tongue. "Your presence honors us."
He dips his head in acknowledgement. "It is our honor to be present with you on this day."
He is much changed. His face is lined and weathered, and yet the expression in his eyes is one I did not know he was capable of. It is as though he has endured great privations and come through them all to great joy.
Years ago, when he first came to us, despite being in the company of many others he was always apart. There were numerous other Federation people with him, scientists from a dozen worlds. Yet he walked among them as if no one had ever touched him, and no one ever would. He was alone, as no other person of my acquaintance has ever been alone.
He bows again and rejoins his escort. Something is different in his stride, in the way that he holds his body. Even as he walks further away from me, following his escort to the seating area ahead, I sense the difference in the energy flow around him.
My granddaughter, Seraj, home for this occasion, proud in her grey Starfleet uniform, sits next to me rather than with the Federation people. She had just been born when we gained the ability to travel between stars. She had just learned to speak when the Federation contacted us, and invited us to be members. Everything changed then, in ways I will never understand. So many losses. So many gains.
Seraj has told me much about the Federation, about the worlds she has seen, the places she has visited. She speaks of many things I will never understand, and yet it is a joy to listen to her as she walks a path I will never tread, on her journey to a future I will never know.
She turns to me now, taps my arm. She points out the Federation man in the grey and white Starfleet uniform now walking past us. That one is Admiral Kirk, she says.
I have heard stories about this man. So many of the young people are infatuated with Starfleet and all things Federation. They tell tales of its many heroes, and Admiral Kirk is often mentioned. He and Commander Spock have done many great deeds. The young people recently spoke of how the two of them together defeated a god-machine that threatened to destroy Admiral Kirk’s home planet. Such things I cannot understand.
With all that I have heard, I would have thought Admiral Kirk to be larger than life, like all the heroes of old are depicted. But he is smaller than many of our men, and yet, even standing still, there is a life and vitality to him missing in many others. He commands the eye.
With all that I have heard, I would have thought him to be one who demanded attention. But there he stands, attentively watching Commander Spock, who has been escorted to the best seat, as is fitting for the one who did the work whose fruits may, gods willing, be seen today. Seated around him are the other scientists, both of the Federation and of my own world, who took part in the great work. Admiral Kirk is given a seat toward the back, with others who were not present during that time 13 years ago, others who did not participate in the work.
The Federation people take their seats. All is quiet now. I can almost hear the sound of the sun warming the rocks as the light descends into the canyon below, revealing layer upon layer of colored stone, each telling its own tale of its own age.
Below, gods willing, the young ones waken.
We sit in silence, in prayer, in thought, in hope. Many minutes pass, and nothing stirs. The sun is halfway up the sky now, in this, the longest day of the year.
Then, the first sound. It is expected. We all rise as one, scanning the horizon.
The M’t’k approach, tiny glittering points of light in the distance. Bare moments, and they acquire mass and majesty. They catch the air currents, dozens of them, a remnant of the glories of years past, when their bodies darkened the skies till little could be seen but their wheeling forms.
The people gasp, and murmur among themselves. We had gathered here last year as well, and watched the females, vast wings flapping, descend into the privacy of the canyon’s depths to lay their eggs. But would the eggs, borne of parents created by artificial means, hatch? Today we receive the answer, for good or for ill.
The males are with them now. Joy stirs among those who believed; hope dawns in those who doubted. It is time for the fruition of the sky dance.
They catch the currents, the sun glinting on their scales, black and brindled, golden and copper, scarlet and amethyst, flying the length of the canyon, the heat and stench of their breath scouring the unseen depths below. We breathe it in like the finest perfume.
The people are standing now, watching, as the the M’t’k wheel and circle, wheel and circle, the sound of their wings drowning out all other sound. And then they settle on the far canyon lip. The air is filled with the low vibration of their voices and the rustle and rasp of their bodies as they fold their wings. They become still and wait. And the people wait too in the renewed silence.
Now we hear it, the first sounds from below. Warmed by the solstice sun, warmed by the breath of their parents, we hear the sound of something cracking, far below the rim of the canyon. The sound repeats, repeats again.
The first one emerges, bits of eggshell still stuck moistly to its leathery cobalt wings. The people gasp and move closer as it struggles, beating its infant wings awkwardly, wobbling as it rises and falls in the air currents.
The parents watch, enormous faceted eyes tracking its movements. They are otherwise silent.
The canyon is now filled with the sounds of cracking eggshells. One more emerges, then two, then a dozen. The parents do nothing to aid them, merely watch as the infant M’t’k flap and struggle and finally find the flow of the air.
As the sun reaches zenith, the infants, already mastering the air, begin streaming away, heading east, knowing by instinct where their ancestral home in the mountains lies.
The people cheer. I am so filled with joy I can scarcely breathe. Seraj’s hand is tight around my wrist now; her face is transfixed with wonder. I look around me. Every eye is aglow with delight; every face alight with joy.
The adult M’t’k wait, watchful, their gaze still fixed on the canyon below. There will be a lull now, the sun will partially descend the sky before the last straggling infant emerges. It is not tradition, but it is only fitting that now those who brought about the miracle be honored for it.
Lketh the Elder steps forward, carrying the Vloraz. The sun catches the stylized sweep of the sculpture, each gem glittering with the colors of M’t’k scales. He speaks words of respect to Commander Spock, who listens attentively and accepts the sculpture gravely. He speaks words for all who participated in this achievement; he speaks words of the bonds of friendship between our peoples. Before, he never spoke in those terms. Then, he only spoke of technology.
I glance at Admiral Kirk. His eyes are glowing. Pride. Yes, he has much pride in Commander Spock’s achievement. But there is much more in that intense gaze, in that expressive face.
I understand now the change in Commander Spock.
For there is love in Admiral Kirk’s eyes. Much love.
Lketh the Elder now offers honors to the others as well, the Federation scientists and our own scientists. Many of them speak, but as always I do not understand much of what they say. So much has changed, so quickly. My grandchildren have been patient with me; they have explained the concepts. Cloning, bioengineering, genetic manipulation.
It might as well be magic. All I know is this: Many years ago, the M’t’k stopped mating. The sky dance ceased. Many seasons went by, the youngest M’t’k became adults, but the dance did not resume. They did not mate. Environmental factors, it was said. The consequences of actions we took, and did not take. The land suffered. Some animals, some plants became too abundant; others, too scarce.
We had thought we had full understanding of the ways of our world.
We did not.
Our people – our scientists – said that we must bring in the Federation. The Federation, for its part, was quite eager to have our permission to study what they called "the dragons of Berengaria Seven."
There were those who counseled against this course; who advised waiting for nature to restore itself. There were those, few in number, who believed that the Federation people could restore the M’t’k, and the balance of our nature without our assistance. They advised going to the Federation to seek a boon, as a child goes to its parents to request a favor.
We chose a wiser course – our scientists, and theirs, working together. And yet it was one of them, Lieutenant Spock, who devised the answer.
They departed after their first success, when the cloned eggs hatched. And yet we did not know if these newly-created M’t’k, devised in laboratories not nature, would carry in their flesh and bones the memories of their ancestors; if they would return for the Sky Dance, and then the Hatching. Some among them – but not Spock – returned two years ago, when the cloned M’t’k came to the canyon and performed the sky dance and then, some months later, laid their eggs.
Now the Hatching is fulfilled. The young M’t’k, conceived naturally, flew free and true.
The sun is halfway to the horizon. A warm breeze has arisen. The people await, breathless, watching the adult M’t’k as they rouse themselves from their stillness.
One by one they take to the air and fly in vast looping circles above the canyon until the circle is complete. I can hear their wings beat the air; the calls the males are now making.
They split apart now; the males to the south, the females to the north. The males fly in a tight pack. Sunlight glitters from countless scales as the females circle and overfly the males, back and forth, back and forth, several times, until each female makes her choice, swooping down to hover in front of her chosen mate.
Each couple splits off until they are all paired. A lone single female M’t’k lands and stands watch on the canyon’s rim.
It is an awesome thing, and again the people cheer. And yet it seems a small pitiful thing, because there are so few. I turn to Seraj; I tell her that I remember many Dances from years past, when it was difficult to see the sky
She presses my hand between her two hands and tells me that, if all is well, we will see a day again when more M’t’k than can be counted take to the sky.
I smile and pat her hand. I do not tell her it is likely I will not be there for the next Sky Dance. My years are almost over. But she has many years before her and, gods willing, many opportunities to participate in the dance. But perhaps... I smile at her and she smiles back. Perhaps today, she will conceive, and I will see a great-great-grandchild before my days are over.
The people murmur again as the males and females fly around each other in intricate, intersecting patterns, until each male finally finds his place, fits himself against and within the female, and two bodies soar as one.
The people are stirring now, moving apart, men to one side, women on the other. Seraj, eyes bright, face flushed, pats my hand one last time and walks away from me and the other elders to join the women. She has already made her choice; she walks directly to Jonan’s oldest son and links her hand in his.
All along the cliffside now the young people drop to the ground, shedding their clothing, embracing one another, mirroring on the ground what is transpiring in the sky. The older ones, such as myself, those past the years of mating, watch both the beings in the sky and those on the ground and give thinks and prayer and praise on this, the first day of an auspicious new year.
The Federation people stand apart. They are not required to participate. They know this, and begin melting away, following the pathway to their temporary residence.
Only Admiral Kirk and Commander Spock linger. I see them now, their backs to me, watching the sky as the M’t’k whirl in ecstacy in the air.
They turn slowly away from the spectacle. Their gazes meet.
Then Commander Spock raises one hand, two fingers extended. Admiral Kirk mirrors his gesture. Their fingers touch, a long slow slide together.
Admiral Kirk smiles, a smile of joy and love and desire. Commander Spock gives a tiny smile back. I draw in my breath at the intimacy of their gaze.
They turn away from the canyon and head toward the path. They pause where I am seated.
"Thank you," I said, for I can think of nothing else. Thank you for my world. Thank you for our future. Thank you for my family’s future.
There is warmth in Spock’s gaze, a sight I have never seen before. "Thank you, Grandmother." He glances at Admiral Kirk. "I wish to present to you my Chosen, James Kirk."
I reach out to him, forgetting he does not touch. But he surprises me by clasping my hand momentarily in his own.
"It is well with you, then," I say.
His eyes are filled with joy. "It is well, Grandmother."
"I am happy for you, Lieutenant Spock," I say, forgetting again his new name. "And you, James Kirk."
They both offer me the gesture of respect. Admiral Kirk performs it equally as well as Commander Spock.
They take their leave and walk along the pathway toward their temporary residence. As I watch their figures recede in the distance, their hands link together.