The village was impressive in its own way though. Reminiscent of the Inca ruins you find on Earth, only much older, they were built of weathered grey stone and heavily decorated with carvings that told the stories of their past. Mosses and lichen hid some of the designs, but the stories were still clear.
One great building dominated the village. Temple-like, it was square and terraced with each level a good deal smaller than the previous. It was 'The House of the King' and it rose from the ground to a mere four stories high. In fact, none of the manmade structures rose particularly high on Hell. I asked Troy about it.
"To build anything higher than the trees would be an insult to nature. We do not own these lands; we merely live here. We have to respect that."
It reminded me of the North American Indians and an article I had read once. A journalist was asking the Indian how he felt about the way their lands had been taken from them in the 19th century. The Indian gave him a cold look and replied, "You cannot own the land. Does the flea own the dog upon which it lives?"
And the Helvetians certainly did respect the land. This ancient city had not invaded the forest; it nestled within it. Between the stone buildings and the new wooden structures, green areas were abundant. Some were wild and filled with trees and bushes, others were tamed by caring hands that tended specially chosen plants and blooms. It seemed odd for a world that had been at war for so long to be tending gardens and once more emphasised the Helvetians love and respect for their world.
Troy led us to the House of the King. Our landing party was five: myself, T'Roc, Rutter, Al, Midas and Luke, as requested by King Garda.
We climbed the few shallow steps up to the building and entered. Inside, it was dim and cool but pleasantly so. Troy led us down a short corridor which turned sharply at the end. There, bright, white light spilled into the corridor and we soon found ourselves in a beautiful garden in the middle of the building. It was glorious and Boothby would have loved it, I thought.
"Greetings!" cried a voice and from among the foliage, the King emerged.
I was expecting something similar to Troy: tall and black as night, but no. The voice came from a small Helvetian, about the same height as Luke and with skin mottled brown and shiny with health. I knew he was the king though. Everything about him was regal: the way he spoke, the manner in which he carried himself and the way his swept his arm to one side showing us to a circle of cushioned seats.
"Please do sit with me," and he beamed a smile.
Troy bowed to him also smiling, but his smile was with the love he held for his king, and then he left us.
We sat down and immediately the king was waiting on us. He produced, from nowhere it seemed, a tray of refreshments and came to me first. I took a glass of the rosy pink liquid and thanked him. Little bubbles rose in the glass and as I sipped it, it reminded me of sweet, pink champagne but with the distinct flavour of blueberries.
"It is I that must thank you, Jenny Terran. I am delighted that you could come ... and these are your accomplices?"
"Yes, this is Midas, Rutter, Al and Luke, and this is my captain—"
"Who had no part to play in this!" he snapped.
I had already heard that he had refused to entertain Captain Brass and now sensed that he was a man unimpressed by the masters of heroes, only the heroes. The Helvetians would not be the first race to think similarly. Nonetheless, he had insulted my captain and although silent, I knew she was offended and that made me nervous. I still didn't know just how far her Klingon temper would stretch before breaking, and the clashing of two cultures at such an early stage in their relationship was not desirable.
"Well, that's not quite true," I said, wrinkling my nose sweetly.
"How's that?" he enquired, leaning into my face. He may have been grateful but he wasn't going to fawn over me. "Did she lead the mission to divert the kaleg? Did she play any part in that mission at all?" he demanded.
I could feel T'Roc tensing beside me. I thought about the question for a moment.
"Yes, she did."
"While I admire your loyalty to your captain, that is not what has been reported to me."
"But if it wasn't for T'Roc, I would never have been there."
He straightened up, debated and then took his seat. He leaned back leisurely into it, cupping his glass in his hands and tipped his head to one side urging me to continue.
"In fact, none of us would have been there. When it came to picking crewmembers, many captains wouldn't have given us a second thought. We are young and inexperienced, and we have a few little black marks against us—"
"Yes, we weren't the best of friends and we used to ... squabble."
"You mean fight?"
"There was the odd scrap involved, yes," I admitted.
King Garda giggled.
"Anyway, she saw something in all of us, potential and she picked us for her crew, for this mission in fact. If it wasn't for T'Roc, we wouldn't have been here at all."
"So your returning to us was ... accidental?"
"A happy accident, but yes. There was no design in it."
"I see," and he lifted his head and eyed T'Roc who seemed to have calmed at my words.
King Garda drew a deep, sharp breath.
"Then I welcome you too, Captain T'Roc and thank you for your wisdom. The young are often stupid. Seeing past that stupidity takes vision."
Al pulled a face at the insult but it was good humoured enough, and T'Roc tipped her head and smiled. I felt the tension fall from me. Good save, I thought.
"But I only have a gift for you, Jenny Terran."
"Me!" I squealed so childishly I squirmed. (I really must work on not doing that.)
"Yes, you. As I understand it, you have no family and no home to speak of."
"These," I swept my hand around the circle to indicate my crewmates, "are my family and the Earhart is my home."
"Indeed, but one day, when you are old and brown, you will need to rest your weary bones somewhere, and we want that place to be here. You were born in our domain, and now you have brought us into your domain and share it with us. We, thus, want to share Hell with you. We have set aside a small area of land dedicated to you. We are going to build you a house there, and then you have somewhere you can call home. You do not need to live there. You don't even need to come here, but it will always be there for you. We have given it to you and you cannot refuse it. You could ignore it, but you cannot refuse it."
Tears welled in my eyes. Without parents or family, I had received few gifts to speak of, but even if I had been showered with gifts my entire life, nothing could compare to this one. I remembered the joy I had felt when I got my crew quarters, but this was much more overwhelming. It was huge! A tear rolled uncontrollably down my cheek.
"It is very kind of you but I don't think that Starfleet would approve of me accepting such a large and valuable gift—"
"Balderbeak! Your other captain has already tried to tell me the same, but it's none of his business!"
"And I agree with the king," piped up T'Roc.
The king and I looked at T'Roc. Neither of us was expecting that.
"The gift has no monetary value. It's not a gift of land. You cannot give land because, as King Garda has explained, you cannot own land. It's an intangible gift ... like a gift of title."
The King positively beamed a smile at her.
"I'm glad you said that because the gift has a second purpose."
Oh yes, I thought feeling rather dubious.
"Yes, you have always been a part of our world, no matter what, but now that your home is here, you are truly one of Hell's children."
He stood up and took my hand, pulling me lightly to my feet. Then he took my other hand, looked me in the eye and kissed me on both cheeks.
"We welcome you home, 'Daughter of Hell'."