After Sarek had insulted Ms Grayson again, at a morning meeting for programming the Universal Translator, he sought her out. She'd used a turn of phrase, he'd called it illogical, she'd claimed Vulcans unable to see things metaphorically, he had lectured her on c'thia, truth and its value, she'd called him naïve, he'd questioned her species' degree of civilisation.
Roughly half their meetings ended thus. The other half were productive sessions in adding Vulcan and its myriad nuances to the translator software. It was the only reason he had not demanded someone else work with him. Other humans, four before Ms Grayson, seemed intimidated by him and had proved inefficient in at least 89.2% of the meetings.
It was important that he completed this task flawlessly. It would last the entirety of his probation as junior science attache to the Vulcan Ambassador, one of half a dozen such. If he completed it particularly well, he might become senior attache upon the completion of his probation. He would be able to overrule the too... complacent former philosopher Prachik, who had failed to purge his emotions at Gol and had received this position on Earth instead. His lack of ambition made him reactionary. A more proactive attitude was required, Sarek thought, in order to improve the relations between Earth and Vulcan. Several complicated issues threatened that relationship.
This assignment, a linguistic one, was not ideal for an astrophysicist. He would need to perform satisfactorily in an area in which he had little experience.
Previous experience showed that an apology, however illogical, would ensure Ms Grayson was focused and calm at their next meeting when they had had a disagreement. So Sarek was determined to secure her cooperation by means of seeking her out and offering that apology.
He had memorised Ms Grayson's file. The place he was most likely to find her before their next scheduled meeting was at her home address. He set off on foot.
A cab pulled away from the curb when he arrived, twenty minutes later. An unfamiliar woman occupied the doorway to Ms Grayson's residence. “Excuse me, may I pass?”
A half-open eye was rolled in his direction. The other one, a cheap prosthetic, continued its inspection of the neighbourhood.
“What would you be wanting, then?” The eye rolled down and up again. “What, or who?” A gap-toothed smirk appeared on her face. “I know about you, Mr. Vulcan. Heard you were quite the piece of yummy from the Grayson girl. She didn't mention ye'd be frozen stiffer than the Ice Queen.”
He did not understand the latter query, except that he'd somehow been insulted, and focused on the first one. “I seek Ms Grayson.”
She chortled. “Bad luck. She just drove off. She's spending the weekend at the Bay Area Explosion.” She waved her hand in the direction the taxi had taken off. “You'll have to find some other way to catch her.” The door was closed in his face before he could ask for further information.
After some time spent reading about local cultural events, specifically the Bay Area Explosion, Sarek submitted a research proposal and received permission to attend immediately, with a commendation for originality in seeking out venues for familiarising himself with Terran culture.
“The temporary camps humans erect for periodic cultural events remain an unexplored phenomenon,” the ambassador said. “We believe them to be a remnant of their nomadic past and seasonal rituals. We have speculated that because of their lack of telepathy, immature humans periodically require an overwhelming communal sensual experience to achieve a mental rebalancing similar to what we would achieve from mindmelding with an elder during our adolescence.”
Sarek nodded gravely. He packed a bag and a tent and set off on his walk towards the shuttle that would take him across the East Bay bridge. From the island in the middle, a temporary ferry brought him to a large floating platform made of interconnected platoons, that was moored in the middle of San Francisco Bay. He had to brace himself against the sway of the ground beneath his feet.
People stared at him, though he was far from the only non-human present, while he erected the tent on the replicated artificial grass that covered the entire platform. He was accustomed to being observed when going about more mundane tasks. Humans seemed to believe Vulcans went into stasis while not at work. It was one of the misunderstandings he hoped to rectify, because such irrational misconceptions resulted in a lower human tolerance of Vulcans when compared to their attitude towards other races.
At sundown, a drum sat beside the entrance to the central tent, a large white one, summoned the audience, several thousand strong, to the stage. Sarek posted himself in a corner and resolved to use his superior eyesight to find Ms Grayson. He would be able to gather sufficient data for his article in the interim.
The drum stopped and the blue haze of an audio-dampening field appeared over the entrance. It should cover the entire tent.
The crowd hushed until only a muted murmur remained.
The first computer-generated beat startled him.
By the tenth, his heart was zooming wildly and he'd assumed Suus Mahna's fifth defensive position: shifted to the balls of his feet, arms slightly raised, loose fists. He relaxed after the first minute. A cheer had gone up amongst the audience, and it was jumping up and down in waves.
His eyebrows rose when the beat was gently modulated, a second sound, at twice the speed, was added. A third sound, similar to a le-matya's mating yowl, gradually rose in volume, repeating every third beat.
He reflexively calculated the formula that belonged to the music, which changed each time the music did. Odd, that until now, all music the humans had exposed Vulcans to was melodic. This music appeared to be mainly rhythm and meant only for natives. It might be worth investigating the reason behind this.
His eyes slid closed without volition and he made his strangest discovery yet when his other senses received more attention. Without exception, the humans were synchronising their movements to the music, whether they danced, walked or rested. Even their autonomous functions, Sarek opened his eyes to check his neighbours' chest expansion, yes, even their breath adapted. Fascinating.
When he turned to regard the stage, unsuccesful in spotting Ms Grayson in the audience, he saw two humans behind an elaborate, if old-fashioned, contraption, between two towers of boxes that produced sound. “Doubleteam DJs”, the screen above them announced amidst abstract shapes in bright colours. Two females, brown and pink, and the pale one looked familiar.
Sarek blinked – an unforgivably strong show of emotion – when the music stopped and the formula in his head winked out.
A second of silence.
A voice counting down, almost overpowered by a screeching audience.
The beat restarted, this time almost a sizzle. He repositioned a foot. It seemed the rhythm was affecting his time sense and balance. It resonated through the floor. Curious that it could affect him.
He realised he had lost his line of observation on the DJs. A muscled man stood inbetween. He repositioned himself and saw her.
Ms Grayson stood on the stage, controlling the beat that attacked his eardrums and rang up through his body until it warped even his tightly managed senses.
Unconsciously, he moved into a position for standing meditation, but refrained from sinking into his mind. He was not so badly off that he needed to recover himself amongst strangers. He would control. He would observe.
Sarek let the music wash over him. His first shield, he noticed, was gone, destroyed now he was surrounded by minds that had only a single, invasive, identical thought. Their proximity ensured his mind was submerged in the flow of sound that had absorbed their minds.
He attempted to center his mind by focusing on an evershifting calculation describing the now-complex rhythm, shrinking and expanding as if it was alive.
Around the edges he felt himself fraying, scrambling to adapt, to assimilate a riptide of human sweat and arousal, stamping feet and yelling, a hundred brushes of careless fingers, feet, elbows, knees. Even a groin, once, ground against him by mistake. Enveloping it all, undermining it all, drowning out everything else until those annoyances were but a sprinkle in an ocean, the beat. It bounced into his ears, drummed through his head, strummed through his nerves, streamed through his veins until it thrilled through his muscles.
He held still, barely. He locked his knees against the boom shaking through the floor and up his legs.
When flashing started, he drank in the only point of stillness in his vision: mahogany curls that tumbled over a bowed face in a soft spotlight. Steady hands that played long fingers over a board of switches, as competently as a starship's pilot at their station.
The spotlight was doused, so that she changed into a flicker of blue and purple, a shilouette. His gaze never wavered, until he realised that somewhere between the skewing of his time sense and the hypnotic beat, he had lost the rest of the hour of her performance.
Lights came on while she took a bow with her companion, made the audience cheer with a wave. They exited left so the following performer, a Tellarite, could start.
Before he would be caught up in another dancing crowd and flood of noise, Sarek stumbled towards the audio-dampening field to get out of the white tent. He choked on a shudder of foreign lust when someone brushed across his neck with a hand.
Outside, he crossed his legs and let himself fall into a seated position for meditation. He closed his eyes to absorb the silence of a cool, salt night. His thoughts were too jumbled for a light trance. He concentrated on resynchronising his time sense and resetting his balance. The sway of the water below the platoons felt calming now. The independent platform for the white tent ensured nothing but a slight vibration of the beat reached him through the patch of ground he was seated on.
After several minutes, two laughing female voices approached, one of them he recognised.
“Take them with you and b- Hey, is someone just sitting there?”
“Seems like it. Want to take him to first aid?”
“We'd better. He might get hypothermia otherwise.”
A hand landed on his shoulder, worry whispered through his compromised shields into his mind. He knew this whisper. He raised his head.
Ms Grayson's eyes bugged out at him. “S-Sarek?”
They retired to his tent. Ms Grayson was staying with eight other females elsewhere in the camp. He insisted she and her friend sat on his sleeping roll. He seated himself on the ground opposite them. After the initial shock, Ms Grayson displayed mostly confusion, her eyebrows huddling together over her eyes.
“You... wanted to apologise to me?” she asked him.
Before he could elaborate, her friend started to giggle. “You followed her all the way out here in order to tell her something, a big ole straight-laced Vulcan at a dance festival just to say sorry to a human? When they never, never...ever...” The rest of the sentence was lost in laughter.
“Negative. Her landlady informed me where I could find her. When I read of the event, it seemed a good opportunity to explore this type of events. It was not familiar to us.”
Ms Grayson, by the end of his explanation, had gone from confused to amused. “Never let it be said Vulcans lack for curiosity.”
He inclined his head. “It is an advantageous character trait that has brought us superiority in the scientific community and made us the foremost experts in space exploration.”
Ms Grayson's friend's laughter had increased. “Oh-ho-ho, Amanda, he's priceless.” Neither of them commented, and after a minute had passed, she quieted down. “Why don't you introduce me to your smug Vulcan hottie?”
Sarek looked in askance at Ms. Grayson at the unfamiliar word.
“Right.” She sighed. “Faye, this is Sarek with the unpronouncable last name, I've been assigned to assist him in ensuring the Vulcan language is correctly added to the latest UT's database. Sarek, this is Faye Treadhill, my friend and fellow DJ, who just called you both arrogant and aesthetically pleasing.”
“I see. Explain the logic in insulting and complimenting me simultaneously. I was informed that these modes of expression were mutually exclusive.”
“They are...it is-”
“We enjoy contradicting ourselves, Sarek,” Ms Treadhill interrupted. She leaned forward. “So, if you're here to do research...” she emphasised the word and wiggled two fingers of each hand up and down. “I'm curious what you've found out so far.”
“You have gathered here for an overwhelming auditory experience.” He paused a moment to ensure the following would not be insulting. “Your motivation in doing so remains opaque.”
Ms Grayson shrugged. “It's fun.”
“Ah,” Ms Treadhill breathed. “We come here to see, to hear to...to dance and chat and for many also to touch and kiss and do, er, more. Do something we wouldn't normally do and derive positive emotions from it. Ouch.” Ms Grayson had hit Ms Treadhill on the back of the head.
“Please turn off your internal textbook. We're hear to relax, not to analyse.”
“I am,” Sarek said. Ms Grayson rolled her eyes.
“I guess you are.”
“Would people mind if I enquired after their motivation for coming to this event?” he asked Ms Treadhill, who seemed more receptive.
“I don't think so...” She held up two hands in the air. “Nothing ventured, nothing gained.”
“That is true.” He rose to his knees to go out. “I will venture out immediately.”
“Wait!” Ms Treadhill said.
“Why don't you take Amanda?” The elbow Ms Grayson put in her side made her breath hitch. “I am sure that would, er, smooth the way.” He waited. Ms Treadhill sighed. “Ensure a better result.”
“I would appreciate it. Would you care to accompany me?” he asked Ms Grayson.
“I-” She, in turn, received an elbow in her side from Ms Treadhill. “Yeah, of course.” She turned to glare at Ms Treadhill. Sarek's ears had been too affected by the music to understand what she whispered in her friend's ear. He would need to check for a hearing impairment with a healer once he was back at the embassy.
He offered up an arm. Humans of opposite sex walked together in this manner, he had been taught, in social contexts. It would not require their skins to touch, which meant he was able to accommodate her in this. After some seconds of hesitation, it was accepted. They walked amongst the tents. “Ms Grayson-”
“Amanda, please. We're not at work.”
“Very well. Amanda, could you please explain why it is mandatory to stay in a tent at this event. Would it not be more comfortable to erect temporary quarters elsewhere?”
She explained the concept of “atmosphere” to him. They spent some time circling amongst the tents so Sarek could pose his question to any humans not currently in the central tent. Inbetween, she answered his questions.
After an hour, in which he had regained much of equilibrium and all of his hearing, she stopped walking. “Why... why are you so nice to me all of the sudden?”
He did not understand her question. “Explain.”
“You're... you're so inconsiderate and intimidating at work. I mean, you chased off four people before I started working with you, and now, here, you're so, I don't know, different.”
“I see.” It seemed Ms Grayson, Amanda, had not been unaffected by the fear he seemed to incur in other humans. “It is not... intentional. Our cultures, our modes of communication are disparate and I seem unable to behave in an unthreatening manner.” He deliberated whether he should share his personal thoughts on what caused it, but decided to do so. She seemed to find him agreeable in this context. “Humans seem to interpret it more negatively when it involves Vulcans.”
“Huh. I don't think that's it.” Her lips curled. “Altough I'll admit there's some... history there.”
“What does that mean?”
Now she laughed. It was an agreeable sound, one he had not heard often during their acquintance. “You were our first, Sarek. First aliens we ever saw, first alliance off-world, the ones who opened our eyes to what worlds and races waited for us out there, in space. It sort of... makes you our mentor, I think. And when a mentor is rude, or unkind, or even simply uninterested and distant, it hurts more than if it's just anyone.”
“Our relationship as races is more intimate than others? It seemed to me the opposite is the case. You socialise more easily with more emotional races.”
“Socialise, yes, but that's only one way one community, one world, relates to another.” She tilted her head to the side. “And you're not really uninterested, are you? It just seems that way.”
“Affirmative. Exploring Terran culture will enable me to perform my job more efficiently, to have better access to any resources, should I need them, to relate to humans adequately and to translate scientific developments from institutes on Earth into an understandable format for the Vulcan Science Academy. At present, I am not able to do so and thus limited in my activities. There is no logic in wilful ignorance, nor in inaction when the relationship between our planets seems to be deteriorating.”
She shook her head. “It's not deteriorating. It's always been... tense, at least, from our point of view.”
“Improvement is possible and therefore imperative.”
She put two hands on his shoulders and showed him all of her teeth. It was a... grin? “You want to make the world a better place.” She smacked him on the shoulder several times, but it did not seem to be a negative gesture, for her grin continued. “Need any help?”
“Assistance would be appreciated. Perhaps you can make me understand the mechanisms of current Terran culture more easily.” However, such a association was not sustainable if it was not mutually beneficial. “Would it be of use to you?”
She tilted her head again. “Y'know, I like you like this. It might be fun to hang out... to interact with you socially.”
“I see. 'Fun' is also the reason you participate in this festival, is it not? May I ask why?” She started walking again. He followed her.
“It's... I guess it's good to have fun. Healthy.”
“How do you ensure you achieve the largest amount of fun during this event?”
She stopped again. “Hm. I guess by doing what I feel like doing.” She raised her head in challenge. “I feel like dancing. Want to join me?”
Participant observation. He had not considered it until now, but perhaps it would not be too complicated when he had her to advise him. “I believe I will.”
A shudder went through him when she kissed him by the hand and maintained that contact when they made their way back into the tent, until the beat caught them again. Her palm twisted and her fingers mingled with his in a way that would not happen outside a bedroom on Vulcan. He was still open to surface thought, so at this contact, their thoughts snapped together in a shallow meld. He braced himself for the jangling of an untrained mind retreating unevenly on instinct, but found only a friendly welcome. A wisp of affection that made her smile curled around him once before retreating so the pleasure of dancing could be shared with him.
Her eyebrows went up when she realised what had happened, but she did not retrieve her hand immediately or comment. Amusement chased after pleasure before settling into a slow hum that oscillated in time with the beat of the music. She put her hands on his shoulders after guiding his hands to her hips.
His eyes took in how her hips moved to every third beat, her hands made movements on every first and second and her feet went back and forth almost randomly. He formulated a similar seesawing for several of his own limbs, and set them in motion.
The light he had seen in her eyes after the performance returned, and stayed for the entire hour they danced together. Afterwards, they retired so she could rise the next morning in time for the workshop she was teaching to some fellow amateurs. The day was spent in various activities and performances for smaller audiences, making way for another round of bigger performances in the evening and night.
She ensured him he would be able to observe various states of intoxication and association amongst humans before the weekend ended. He was determined to limit his participation in these activities. She laughed again when he informed her of this and told him that she would “protect him.”
She joined him several times during long walks amongst the tent. After the second day, people seemed more used to him and did not stare at him. Neither did they approach him, however, if he did not initiate a conversation. He was content to watch.
Sarek entered the ambassador's office after a perfunctory knock.
“Sarek, I see you are well. What have you discovered in your weekend away?”
He settled himself in the visitor's chair not taken by Prachik, who had not acknowledged him. “Whether there is a link between humans' lack of telepathy and the existence of cultural events such as the one I visited is inconclusive. Some information I gathered indicated that might be too Vulcan-centric a proposition.”
The ambassador's eyes settled on Prachik for a moment before returning to him. “Were you able to draw any other conclusion as to their motivations?”
“I held an informal survey. The most prevalent reason is the stimulation of their senses and the positive emotions they derive from this. It seems to promote health.”
“I see. I look forward to your report.” The ambassador's eyes went to Prachik again.
After another moment's silence, Prachik finally turned towards Sarek. “You will thrive on Earth. It seems you can understand these humans with relative ease.”
Sarek waited for Prachik to articulate what he wished to say.
Prachik looked at the ambassador again. “Sir, in my place as senior science attache, I wish to recommend Sarek, son of Stonn. He is suitable for the position.”
The ambassador nodded. “I will honour your recommendation.”
Sarek refrained from enquiring after Prachik's motivation. He looked more serene than he ever had. It was sufficient explanation. He bowed his head in respect. “Live long and prosper.”
Prachik returned his nod. “I think I will. Peace and long life, Sarek.”
At the start of the following weekend, Sarek found Amanda waiting for him outside the entrance to his residence when he exited with an overnight bag. Her clothing, big shoes, shorts and a T-shirt, looked inappropriate to the Vulcans that passed them, and she was inspected thoroughly by everyone entering the apartment building after a working day. “Greetings.”
“Hi!” She waved at a battered aircar, which seemed to be packed. “You ready to go?”
“Indeed. You wish to go somewhere far away? You have many supplies with you.”
She laughed. He had heard the sound more often in the past week, an increase of 589% compared to the weeks before that. “If you want know why humans are the way they are, I figured we'd start properly, with nomadic hunter-gatherers and their activities. We're going camping!”
He descended. “Interesting. Vulcans were largely nomadic in pre-Surakian times.”
“Really? Tell me about it.”
He did, while they settled themselves in the car and drove off.
After a while, he kissed her palm with his, to see how it would be received. She entwined their fingers. He settled back, satisfied. It seemed their acquintance would evolve into a romantic relationship. It was only logical. They were compatible.