Chapter 1: I
And watching Helen climb the stairs
they spoke in undertones to one another:
'We cannot hate her, it is no surprise
if armored Trojans and Akhaians should
so long have suffered the agonies of war
for one such as this.'
'Divinity. The woman is a goddess to the eyes.'
Homer, ILIAD 3:183-90
The greatest irony of her life lay in the fact that she was born on a world where her beauty was irrelevant.
Or perhaps that was her salvation. She was almost nineteen years old before anyone thought to tell her she was beautiful. By then, her personality was fixed. She lacked either the arrogance or uncertainty of the extremely attractive and did not second-guess the motivations of the men around her, or of the women.
Which is not to say she lacked arrogance, but it sprang from different vanities.
At six, however, she was all brown legs and brown eyes, sitting in the sandpile from her father's latest excavation trench. She was sifting for artifacts with the other camp children, offspring of the ShiBaran archaeology team. It was cool in the shade cast by the tent above, the white sides rolled up to admit stray breezes. Glass rattled in the bottom of her sifter, revealing itself slowly as rocky sand poured through. She held it up—a bright bit of clear blue with gold painting—and spoke to the big boy sitting on her left. "Iskha-nah kathori se, Solon-kam." Some Kathori glass for you. Her Vulcan was as fluent as any of her companions'. It was her native language.
He took it from her fingers and studied it with a surprisingly practiced eye for his seven years. "Middle Dynastic period III-B." Then he set it amid the rest of his pile, which had grown to a considerable size.
Lacking abundant water, Vulcan also lacked extensive clay-beds. Ceramics had never developed on a widespread basis. Early containers had been made of stone or tightly-woven reed, not pottery, and were soon replaced by glass: first cast, then blown. Vulcans were already practicing the art of glass-making when humans were just starting to settle the Euphrates-Tigris river valley. Solon's pile consisted of pieces as old as Archaemenid Persian, but of a quality equal to late Roman. Had a passer-by stopped to ask, he could also have dated them all and explained the process of their creation. Human children memorized dinosaurs. Solon, child of Vulcan archaeologists, memorized ancient Kathori dynasties by their art.
His companion had more eclectic interests to match her eclectic heritage. She was fully the offspring of a United Earth, boasting the blood of at least five continents and a few islands. Her mother's family tree included Maori, Tai, Malaysian, Arab, Somalian, and a renegade Brazilian. Her father called himself Onondaga though in fact he had more French and British in him. Still, it was enough Onondaga for the tribal rolls in the twenty-fourth century, and with the great Mohawk Chief Theyendanegea, Joseph Brant, among his ancestors, no one was inclined to challenge his claim.
Like many children of mixed race, she had managed to inherit the best features of all her ancestors though, even at seven, this was not immediately evident. Perhaps it was prescience then which had led her father to give her the name Helen.
The face that had launched a thousand ships.
That Solon would become her husband simply completed the joke. Solon was a good Vulcan name. It was also a good Athenian name, and had belonged to the man called "the sage of Greece" by Plutarch. Solon the wise ranked up beside Solomon in all his glory. When it was announced later that same year that Solon would be bonded to Helen, one Terran wit was heard to quip: and so does wisdom marry beauty.
Both Vulcans and Greeks would have approved the sentiment. Yet, and despite their evident closeness, their bonding had not been a foregone conclusion even if in retrospect, it seemed so.
Beauty was not Helen Brant's only legacy, and certainly not the one on which she learned to rely. The child of third generation academics, intelligence was her birthright. Precocious, she walked early, talked early and had a fearsome fondness for questions: the sort of child a parent boasts of or dreads. On Vulcan, curiosity is a virtue. Unfortunately, Helen also had an uncanny talent for asking the wrong question at the wrong moment and a chancy grasp of 'private' at best. That was a cardinal sin. But because she was young, and bright—and her father much-respected—those subjected to her childish cross-examinations tended to tolerance and a dry Vulcan amusement. Proper questions were answered; improper were ignored.
For all her human volubility, however, Helen was Vulcan-bred. She grew shorter than she might have, on Earth, but stronger, her lungs and chest cavity larger: the result of higher gravity and thinner air. Unless engaging in particularly strenuous activity, she had no need for the regular Tri-ox injections to which non-native humans were subject. She also learned to control extreme expressions, laughing only rarely—though she smiled often. Her father had made no effort to fix Vulcan stoicism in her. David Brant was accepted so thoroughly because, while following most of the tenants of Surak and being among the few Terrans to possess full Vulcan citizenship, he never tried to be a Vulcan. He could usually be found on a dig by listening for his chuckle or spotting the cloud of sweet smoke from his pipe. Kinikinik herbs. Sacred or not, pure tobacco offended
Like his daughter, he considered Vulcan his home and had grown up in ShiKahr. Climbing over the ancient monuments at the modern city's heart, David Brant had developed a fascination with Vulcan history and became the first human to matriculate from the prestigious Science Academy with a specialty in Sakal-Kathori archaeology. His daughter's early toys were piles of bronze coins and reconstructions of marble figurines. She learned Sakal at the dinner table like the child of classicists might learn Latin or Greek.
She was six when it became evident that she had a gift for it.
Like everything else, she read early. Writing was slower; her child's hands had not yet developed the necessary muscle control. But she was reading children's books—in Vulcan of course—by four. By five, she had added Federation Standard. By six, she was reading simple Sakalin inscriptions on the monuments of her father's worksite. One afternoon as she read off magistracies from the grave stele of a man three-thousand years dead, her father's colleague Saval said, "She will be an epigrapher." Vulcan humor. The kind non-Vulcans usually missed. But later, it was remembered that he had predicted it. Akal'dhen. Vulcans gave no credence to fate but they did have the concept of a chance foretelling.
From the beginning, Solon was part of her personal orbit: milk-brother, childhood playmate and sometimes-protector. Neither had other siblings and they became known about the ShiBaran dig as "the twins" for the fact both had wavy black hair. More Vulcan humor as they were not even of the same race, much less the same womb. They did share the same mother—he by blood, she by informal adoption.
She never knew her real mother. Her father had met Jamilla al-Farris at a conference. Though raised on Vulcan, David Brant was no monk and al-Farris had a good measure of the beauty she bequeathed her daughter. Their fling resulted in an unexpected pregnancy; even in the twenty-fourth century, accidents could happen. Raised on Vulcan, Brant had Vulcan views on abortion not required by medical necessity and begged al-Farris to carry the child to term for his sake. She agreed, but left the ShiKahr hospital the day after her daughter was born, never having seen the child. "It'll be easier that way," she had said. Nineteen years later, she would change her mind, but for the moment, the infant was given into her father's care. And Brant—who may have wanted her but knew nothing about caring for her—turned in desperation to his colleagues who had a year-old son: the same Saval who would later predict Helen's career, and T'Syra, his wife. Vulcans were accustomed to extended families and Brant simply moved in with them. Helen was nursed at a Vulcan breast and, after he got over his initial envy, Solon came to regard the small round-eared creature who had invaded his house as his personal responsibility.
If precocious described Helen, Solon was slow. He spoke late and in laconic phrases, and moved with care—in part because he was a big boy and feared breaking things. He preferred to concentrate on one matter at a time and thought through his options before committing himself to any, in contrast to his quicksilver milk-sister. Because of this, it was easy to mistake him for dull, or mentally deficient. He was neither, as his test-scores repeatedly proved, yet the unwary were occasionally fooled.
Some of his tendency to verbal lassitude owed to the fact his world was visual. The forms of things interested him, and he began to draw almost as soon as he could hold a stylus in his hand. Yet his real talent proved to be in sculpture, particularly of the glass he so loved; he might have made an artist had he not been intent on pursuing archaeology. Instead, he became a leading expert in ancient glass-blowing techniques which he understood by practice as well as theory. But all that was in the future. At seven, he was still too young to venture into the dangerous apprenticeship of glass-blowing and had to content himself with collecting and indexing the sherds of ancient
"Is that the last of them?"
Solon looked up. Helen was perched on the edge of his camp bed, watching him where he sat on the floor before a partitioned box of glass sherds. She still wore the loose unisex shift of a child, baring her long legs. Her arms were wrapped around them. Though not yet bonded, he had recently passed his khas-wan and had to wear the trousers and tunic of a man. He envied her the shift's freedom. "Yes," he said now, in answer to her question.
"Tomorrow we leave for your cousin's bonding."
"Are you excited?"
"Excitement is an emotion." But he was parroting what his parents had said to him when he forgot himself and jumped or ran or whooped. He was an adult now; he supposed he should sound like one.
She huffed. "We never have gotten to see a bonding before. Last time, we had to stay home with the babies."
"True." He stood, picking up the box to return it to his little desk in the corner. She followed, momentarily wishing him the more communicative type. It was difficult even for her to tell what he thought sometimes. Standing on tip-toe, she peered over his shoulder as he bent above the box, then reached in to pick up a particularly pretty sherd of red glass. He snatched it away from her, returning it to its proper place. "Leave it. You will mix them up."
"I can remember which square I took it out of!"
"You did not, the last time."
"Only because you stood right over me, watching. It made me nervous."
He peered at her. "I have told you, when you become nervous—"
"'Count to ten and step past the feeling. Concentrate.' I know! But that does not always work."
"It would, if you would concentrate harder."
"No, it would not! I am human and hopelessly emotional."
Hearing the edge in her voice, he turned to face her. "Who said that to you? Not me."
She did not want to answer, but it never occurred to her to lie. "Parla," she said, then stared fixedly at the bare floor of the little camp shelter.
He set a hand on her arm. Not yet bonded, he was still permitted to touch but in a few months, that would change. He could not imagine it, somehow. "Being human is not a fault. It is who you are."
"I wish it was not!"
"That is not logical. Your father does not wish he were not human."
"I know." Abruptly, she plopped down cross-legged on the floor. He seated himself beside her, close enough that their knees brushed. "But I do wish I was Vulcan," she said.
"Vulcans are better."
This took him aback. It was not that he was unaware, even at seven, of the subtle bigotry some of his people displayed towards other races: a belief that contact with the Federation had somehow contaminated the purity of Vulcan culture and logic. He had overheard his own mother denounce it as ignorant and anti-Surakian. But he had not thought that Helen might have come to believe it in any small way.
"That is not true," he said now, more fervently than he usually allowed himself to be since donning a man's trousers. "Humans are not better and Vulcans are not better. They are simply different. My mother says this is so. And Surak himself said that difference is not necessarily better or worse, but simply different."
She listened to him with chin on drawn up knees. Now, she asked, "Would you want to be a human?"
He frowned. "No."
"See, you do not want to be a human, even if you could be, but I would like to be a Vulcan."
"That is not an argument," he said. "I do not want you to be a Vulcan. I like you as a human."
Having said that, he realized that both 'want' and 'like' were expressions of emotion, yet as they were also true statements, he let them stand. Early exposure to humans and the liberality of his own parents had generated in him a certain degree of tolerance for and recognition of his own feelings. At seven, he was now expected to control them, but that did not mean erasing them.
Helen was more disconcerted by his admission than he was—not because of his word choice. She had simply assumed that he tolerated her humanness, not that he might actually like it. "I did not know that," she said.
"I am fond of you, milk-sister. As you are also human, then it stands to reason that I cannot be fond of you without also being fond of your humanness." He turned his head to meet her eyes. "I do not wish you to be a Vulcan."
She smiled and hugged his neck; he hugged her back. For a moment, they were reunited by the same need for contact which had led her to crawl into his bed at night when they were younger. But he was too conscious of his newly-adult dignity, and too aware of the fact their touches would soon have to end altogether. He pushed her away.
But after she left, he sat down on his bed to consider proper revenge on Parla. If not by nature a vindictive boy, bigotry bothered him and, where his milk-sister was concerned, he tended to cast himself in the role of paladin.
They took flitters from the dig site into the little city nearby, where transporters beamed them back to ShiKahr. The bonding ceremony was to be held at the ancient holding of T'Syra's family. She did not belong to a particularly high house, but not a humble one, either; the holdings were extensive enough to include an old mine and a village. Solon's four-times-great-grandmother lived on the estate, together with two of her widowed daughters. The three old women used only four rooms of the ancient villa, but for a betrothal, the entire clan descended and the place bustled as it must have done before modernity had turned Vulcan society mobile and its families mostly nuclear.
Brant and his daughter had been here off and on several times in the past six years since moving in with T'Syra and Saval. At first, there had been some hesitation with regard to the humans in their midst, but with time, the two grew familiar. The swarm of young cousins liked the stories Brant told them in the courtyard. So did the adults, as it kept their offspring out from underfoot. T'Syra's clanmother was rather fond of Brant, in fact, and had come to regard him and his daughter as yet one more pair of chicks to be tucked under her ancient wing. No Vulcan could really quite conceive of life without a clan so it was natural to absorb the occasional stray human, and Brant was Indian enough in his outlook to seek a foster-tribe as part of his identity, even if they all had green blood and pointed ears.
Helen enjoyed the trips since it gave her a chance to escape her tutor in order to play. Vulcan children no less than human had their games, some traditional, some invented on the spot. And city children released into the hill country for a holiday were inclined to run a bit wild, even if well past the age of their khas-wan. It was not unheard of to catch a hastily-swallowed giggle; fights were thankfully far rarer.
But this clan gathering was not for a regular festival, and the children were kept tightly in check lest they destroy the extensive decorations in their maraudings. Brant found himself telling a lot of stories as he was not much use in other venues. He had been to betrothals before becoming part of the clan, but there was much he did not know about the preparations.
The day finally arrived, promising to be fair and mild, though mild by Vulcan standards would have been a hot afternoon in Oklahoma. People were out of bed and readying themselves before sunrise. Tradition demanded that the two betrothed meet as the sun came up over the land, symbolic of the start of their lives together. Helen had a new dress for the occasion and was almost too excited to stand herself or be stood by others. Even Solon crossly said, "Calm down," as they walked out through the dawn air towards the family koon-ut-kalifee, the place of marriage. Bells tinkled on ringers and ankles and the chains of censers carried by the boy-groom's escorts. He was allowed three kinsmen and a personal friend, if he wished. The girl-bride was allotted the same but would arrive from another direction in company of her own clan. As hers was the lesser house, she would become part of the vru'Tchai clan, just as Solon's own father had when he had married T'Syra. Though every clan was presided over by a clanmother, the rules governing marriage and clan-adoptions were much more complex, concerned with social hierarchy as much as gender. If equal, the male entered the wife's clan. Otherwise, the partner of lower status joined the clan of the partner of higher status.
Both processions arrived at the koon-ut-kalifee precisely at dawn, emerging to the other's sight gradually through red morning mist. The surreal effect was heightened by the silence, and by the ancientness of their costumes. Perched on a sedan chair, Solon's clanmother led their own procession while the bride and bride's mother headed theirs, the bride guided along by the hand as she was hidden completely from sight by sheer-spun metallic veils so thin they floated about her. "How pretty!" Helen whispered.
"Shhhh!" Solon replied.
The throne-chair of Solon's clanmother was set down inside the ring of koon-ut-kalifee. The groom's father led him forward to kneel before her, then the bride's mother led the bride. Each parent placed their child's hand in her ancient one and the bride's mother drew back the plethora of fluttering gold and silver veils to reveal a dark oval face beneath.
She is as brown as I am, Helen thought, pleased. Most of Solon's relatives were pale like him. The bride's clan was darker.
The clanmother placed the groom's fingers on the bride's face in the proper spread for a mindmeld, then did the same with the bride's fingers on the groom's face. Her own hands lay over each of theirs. "Sorl. Nara. These children are offered today by their houses to be joined after the fashion of our ancestors. Woman holds the life of man. He is born of her, she gives him suck, and grants him life again when his blood burns. He is fire, she is quenching sand. Thus it was from our beginnings, thus it will be for all our tomorrows."
There was silence for a span of ten breaths. Helen counted hers. Then the boy, barely above a whisper, said, "Parted from thee and never parted, ever and always touching and touched." In a somewhat stronger soprano, the girl repeated the same.
Solon's clanmother released their hands. "It is accomplished. Sorl and T'Nara are now made one, bound to return to this place when his need calls them together once more."
Reaching up, the little groom solemnly pulled the veil down over his bride's face, then she was whisked off to be secreted among her own. Once, she would not have been permitted to see him again until the day of their marriage but such strictures were long past and these two would find themselves back in the same schoolroom later that week. Yet for this day, the old ways held and she would be kept apart from him. The festival was not for them, in any case; it was meant to bind two clans. Both processions turned to head back to the vru'Tchai villa where the reception waited. If the walk out had been solemn, the walk back was not. The two clans were expected to intermingle, the host clan making the other welcome. Taking advantage of the low buzz, Helen whispered to Solon, "We walked all this way just for that?"
She swept back stray braids with an exaggerated gesture. "Well if I am to walk all that way to your betrothal, I had better get to carry one of the censors, at least."
"You cannot. You are a girl."
"So? I am your best friend, and you said this morning that the groom gets to have his best friend."
"It has to be a boy."
Her sigh was grand. "Even if your best friend is not a boy? That is illogical."
"It is tradition. Tradition is not always logical, but it is the way it has always been done."
"So who will you choose?"
"I do not know yet. I do not wish to talk about it."
Solon did not, in fact, wish to think about it at all. He knew his parents intended to use this trip home to discuss with clanmother his potential bondmates. The whole idea frightened him a little, though he did not want to admit that to himself, either. Every young boy and girl faced this same ordeal at seven; every one had to trust his or her parents to choose wisely. Though he had never been told, he knew his parents would endeavor to find the best match for him, not just for the clan. Their own marriage was more than satisfactory to them both. They were...happy, and he knew they wanted him to be, as well. They had even promised to listen to his own opinions of the girls who had expressed an interest in his suit—a concession not always granted. Yet his anxiety remained.
Helen decided, with the logic of six years, that it was up to her to make the little bride feel at home in House vru'Tchai. They were the same color. She completely forgot, for the moment, that they were not the same race.
The bride was in one chamber, the groom in the other. Members of both clans moved back and forth between, offering congratulations and visiting with one another. Most of the congratulations were being given to the bride's older womenkin. Helen found it easy enough to eel up to the little platform where the bride sat, still covered in her veils.
"My name is Helen," she said, plopping down on the platform and carefully settling her dress skirts.
Some of the veils fluttered, crept up a bit. "How did you get in here?" the girl asked.
Helen blinked. "I was invited."
"You are human."
Veils fluttered back from the girl's face. Wide dark eyes stared at Helen. "You belong to the clan of my husband-who-will-be?"
"Sort of. My milk-brother does."
"Ah." The human anomaly thus placed in the order of things in a way the bride could understand, she fluffed her skirts and veils about herself and then scooted down a step so she could sit face-to-face with her well-wisher. "I have to stay here; it is what is done. My mother-sister was to bring me some tlori juice, but she has not been able to leave long enough to visit the refreshments."
"Shall I bring you some?"
"It would be appreciated."
"Then I will be right back."
Getting through the crowd was not much problem. Getting one of the adults to recognize her and fill her order for two glasses of tlori juice was more of one, but finally she had the little glasses and headed back. "Here," she said, handing T'Nara a glass. They sat then, sipping juice neatly and discussing school lessons, ignorant of the amusement of the adults around them.
"T'Nara has a companion already, I see," said T'Nara's mother to a woman of House vru'Tchai. "An unusual one."
"Indeed. Helen is a stranger to none for long." The reply held equal parts dry wit and fond vexation. "She is human. Her vocabulary does not include 'restraint'."
When Helen ran out of things to ask T'Nara, she headed back to the groom's chamber to find Solon. He was playing Scatters on the white tile with a clump of cousins. Dropping down among them, she announced, "When it is my turn to be betrothed, I do not think I shall have quite so many veils. T'Nara said that her mother insisted, but she kept tripping over them on the path this morning."
At last one of the cousins, a girl three years older than Solon and already betrothed, said, "Your betrothal? You will not be betrothed."
"Why not?" Helen asked.
"You are a human."
"So? Humans have married Vulcans before—even Ambassador Sarek did."
"That was different. They were already adults. Vulcans are not betrothed to humans."
Helen glanced at Solon, who sat perfectly still, gaze turned inward. The conversation was dragging to light a half-formed wish which he had buried inside himself, a wish too unheard of for him to have named. Ignorant of his mental turmoil, Helen felt only a touch of annoyance at his silence. It made her snap. "But if a human grew up on Vulcan, why should she not be betrothed like anyone else?"
Silence stretched. Dark eyes darted, seeking support for what seemed to them a self-evident truth. "It just isn't done," the girl said finally. "Humans don't need to be bonded."
Another cousin spoke up then, a boy from a conservative branch of the family. Like human families, Vulcan clans did not necessarily enjoy blanket agreement on politics or social issues. This one's parents had expressed private doubts about the Brants. "Who would want to bond to a human anyway?"
"I would," Solon replied almost before he could think.
Had they been human children, they would have laughed to cover their discomfiture. Instead, they shared glances again and subtly withdrew from him, as if he carried some virulent contagion.
Recognizing ostracism, he rose and walked away. Helen leapt up after him. They passed through the gathering room outside, onto the broad peristyle porch where adults were visiting in small clumps, enjoying the breeze coming down off the mountain range. There was no real privacy in the busy villa today. He sat down on the porch steps. She sat beside him, silent, knowing that he would talk when he was ready. Or not. But badgering him would only make him order her to leave him alone.
The conversations of adults rose and fell in unsteady cadencies. She caught a snatch of one, then another: "...according to the latest research, that hypothesis..." "...word came down from administration last week..." "...T'Marta insists that Sarril will improve his...."
Beside her, Solon had picked up a lorl seed-case from the steps and was methodically splitting it down the middle with his thumbnail.
After a long time, he said, "I meant it."
She followed his reference. "I know. Would they let us, do you think?"
At first, he said nothing, then, in a low voice, "Because you are human."
He glanced over in time to catch her blink rapidly. She told herself she would not cry. She was too old now to cry. "I thought you said my being human was not a bad thing."
"It is not. But that does not mean there is no difference between us."
"But if adult humans can marry adult Vulcans, why can I not be betrothed to you now?"
He shrugged. "It has never been done."
"There is a first time for everything," she said and stood up, brushed sand off of her dress skirts and went back inside the villa, a purposeful look on her face. Curious and mildly alarmed both, Solon followed. She was making a bee-line for their parents who stood with several members of the other clan, describing finds from the latest trench at ShiBaran. Helen stopped at her father's side and waited. The adults would recognize her when they had finished.
Solon came up behind her. "What are you doing?" he whispered. She ignored him.
Finally, T'Syra turned to look down at her. "Yes, Helen?"
Helen drew herself up; she had used the few minutes while waiting to formulate the best way of putting her request. She wanted to do it properly, so she had decided to phrase it in the way she had overheard them discuss Solon's other potential mates. Normally, a boy's family offered for a girl, but a girl's family could invite a suit from a particular clan. That seemed the logical approach. "This one wishes to invite you, honored parents, to submit Solon's suit to this one's father, so that he might consider Solon as a possible bondmate for this one's betrothal."
It was a mouthful for a girl not-quite-seven.
It also brought every one of the listening adults to a full mental stop. T'Syra might have dropped her tea glass had Saval not steadied her hand; Helen's father stared at her with his mouth open for a full five seconds. This development was nothing any of them had foreseen, though perhaps they should have. The members of the other clan prudently and politely disappeared. Solon himself had blanched.
T'Syra exchanged a glance with David Brant, then knelt down so that she could speak face to face with Helen. Whatever amusement and shock she was feeling, Vulcan manners demanded that she treat Helen's request with all due politeness and consideration. It was not the Vulcan way, to dismiss children as non-persons.
"This one is honored by your invitation, Helen Anevay," she said. She glanced up at her husband, as if pleading for help; he just raised his eyebrows. This was hers to answer, as the mother. So she turned back to face her son and the utterly serious human child who was asking for him. Her mind raced, the demands of tradition arguing with logic. Were Helen Vulcan, they would have offered for her without bothering to make any other offers, and no doubt Brant would have accepted the suit. It was a perfect match. But Helen was not Vulcan.
Does it matter? The question came from Saval, who had followed her thoughts. Look at our son, my wife.
She did. Too young yet to control powerful feelings, his wants and terrors chased across his face while his eyes remained fixed on Helen. "My son," she said. "Do you wish this also?"
He flicked his glance to hers, to see if she really wanted his answer. She kept her face blank but open. Finally, he said simply, "Yes."
At that she glanced up at David Brant. She knew him well enough to guess his thoughts. He was of Vulcan no less that they; though betrothal had been denied him, it was still a part of the culture in which he had been raised. It seemed perfectly normal to him—to a point. That point was his daughter. For Helen, betrothal was not necessary. Why lock her into a pairing about which she might later change her mind? Yet simultaneously, why deny her the right, force her to be different in this as in so much else?
Finally, T'Syra turned back to Helen who had waited patiently, used to the Vulcan tendency to weigh decisions. "This is a matter with many facets. It will take time to consider, and much discussion. Betrothal is not a human custom—"
Helen did a daring thing then: she interrupted. "With respect, t'kari T'Syra, it is not an Earth custom. I may be human, but I am not Terran; I am Vulcan. And I wish to marry Solon. He wishes to marry me. I can state for you why it is logical—"
Holding up a hand, T'Syra tucked her chin down and let her silence rebuke the girl. After a full minute, she said only, "The logic of it will be considered—the logic of all aspects of it. I did not say 'no'. But I have not yet said 'yes', either."
For the moment, Helen would have to be satisfied with that.
Chapter 2: II
Nothing more was said about Helen's request during the rest of the visit, but each of the adults mulled it over privately. Almost from the moment Helen had spoken, Saval had decided that bonding Solon to Helen was the obvious choice. His wife was less sure. It was not that she doubted Helen or Solon's wishes, but she did doubt that her clanmother would agree to the match or that, if clanmother did agree, it would be fair to the human girl. Helen knew no more about pon farr than any other child her age, which was to say, not much. She could not make the decision to endure it. Since her biology did not require that she must, nor provide her with the strength to do so, T'Syra believed it unfair to inflict it upon her.
And yet, and yet....
Her son wanted Helen, and Helen wanted him. The two had been raised together, taught the same values, shared the same experiences, had complimentary personalities. T'Syra and Saval could look for years without finding such a perfect mate for their son. Was it right to deny the bonding merely because she was not sure Helen understood
the full implications? But if Helen did not understand, how could T'Syra lock her into suffering the pon farr...?
It made a hopelessly circular argument which T'Syra could not seem to escape.
"Tell her," Saval said one night after they had returned to the ShiBaran site. "Explain it to her. Let her choose."
"She cannot possibly understand—"
"Can any of us, until we endure it?"
"But we had no choice. She does."
He had sighed—a grand gesture for him—and left the room.
Knowing his wife would go round and round with the matter until she made herself ill, Saval had decided to approach Brant about it. Brant had stood with him when he had married T'Syra; more importantly, Brant had sat with him for three days before while they had awaited T'Syra's return from her then-current assignment. Brant had seen more of the madness than most humans; he had helped Saval keep his mind on other things.
He found Brant in the little garden behind the site shed, tending white sage, one of the few Terran plants which grew on Vulcan with minimal help. He looked up as Saval knelt in the sand beside him. "T'Syra is concerned—perhaps overly concerned—by the pon farr. She does not wish to subject Helen to that which she need not suffer."
Brant took his pipe out of his mouth, tapped ashes into the sand, then slid it into his breast pocket. "Human males have their own version of the madness, friend. It just hits us at sixteen, not twenty-six." He chuckled. "It might not kill us, but it can sure feel like we're gonna die if we don't get some."
Saval sat down. They had known one another twenty years but Brant could still embarrass him. Usually intentionally. Brant was grinning.
"So, it is not a matter of concern to you?"
Brant turned back to his sage. "I never heard T'Syra complain about you. Solon isn't going to hurt her, Saval."
Frowning, Saval drew in the sand. He could not look at Brant and say this. "There is a certain...roughness...which can accompany it. Solon would not intentionally injure her, but he might unintentionally do so. Humans are fragile."
Brant had paused again to consider this new information. "How badly?"
"It is difficult to say. Likely only bruises, and perhaps only the first time. One learns to...control it. The less she resists, the less he would hurt her."
Brant spoke with humor. "She's not likely to resist him, Saval."
"He would not be himself. He might frighten her."
At that, Brant snorted. "Helen's not afraid of much of anything—certainly not of Solon, whatever his mental state." Then he grinned at his friend. "I'd be more worried for Solon than about him. Indian women have minds of their own."
Saval answered with a raised eyebrow. "So," he said, "you are not adverse to the match?"
Brant shook his head. "Didn't say that. I'm not adverse to it because of the madness, no. I'm not sure what I think, otherwise. There aren't many boys I'd rather see Helen marry. Solon's good for her, and he's not threatened by her. I just...dislike the idea of making a choice about her future."
"It seems to me that Helen is the one making the choice. As you yourself said, Indian women have minds of their own. None of us suggested it to her. Neither, apparently, did Solon."
Brant chuckled. "She does have a way of standing us all on our ear, doesn't she?"
"A shultah." A dust-devil. Or Vulcan for a wild child.
"And you want to inflict her on your son?"
"I believe my son would have it no other way."
Thus it was decided over sacred sage, and sealed in humor, that Helen Brant would be betrothed to Solon ch'Saval vru'Tchai. They had only to get the clan mother's approval. That came easier than any of the three adults might have expected, though Helen herself seemed to take it as a matter of course. Apparently the clanmother had, as well.
Three months later, Helen—wearing considerably fewer veils than T'Nara—was led to koon-ut-kalifee by her father. There, her hand was placed in their clanmother's, and her mind linked to Solon's for life. The match caught media attention, not because those involved were especially important but because their pairing was the first of its kind. Short articles appeared on the second and third screens of various newsnets: a curiosity for a week. Then interest faded. Helen, Solon and their families went on with their lives.
Eleven years later, while running searches in old media tapes for something else entirely, Jamilla al-Farris stumbled over news of her daughter's betrothal. For a full fifteen minutes, she sat stunned. Then she rose to make a series of calls that would bring her back into David Brant's life, and that of the child she had given up almost nineteen years before.
"She wishes me to what?"
"She wants you to visit her."
"She says that since you intend to pursue archaeology, you ought to have some exposure to the Terran variety." Brant paused, puffed at his pipe. "She is one of the leading Terran specialists on nomads and pastoralists. Her work at sites in the mid and southern Negev has attracted Interstellar notice. It was after one of her lectures on
nomad-built standing stones that we first met, in fact."
He and his daughter were sitting on the ragged, pitted steps of an old Kathori burial cairn. Around them, the rocky brown desert pavement spread out: west towards the cliffs, east down into the wadi valley and the small town of ShiBaran. Red haze blurred the north and just behind them, to the south, was the main excavation site, the unearthed glory of ancient Aqqal-tel. Twenty years of David Brant's life had gone into that project; headed now into the twenty-first, it was nearing completion.
"But I do not wish to leave!" Helen protested. "I wish to see the site opened." It would be a major media event, promising both recognition for Brant and the all-important publicity to secure funding for future digs. "Besides," she went on, "Solon has just begun his thesis research. He will forget to eat if I do not put food in front of him—and he cannot come with me. All his evidence is here, on Vulcan."
Brant grinned at a mental image of his daughter hand-feeding her bondmate; some days, that was probably what it took. Then he sobered. "Actually, Solon wasn't invited. Only you."
That both silenced and irritated Helen. In eighteen years, she and Solon had never spent more than a week or two apart, and that only when he had to travel to distant museums in order to consult their glass collections. She could not imagine traveling all the way to Earth without him.
"There's an interstellar archaeological conference in eight months; it's to be held in Rome. I've received invitations to it on a regular basis for the past five years." He stretched out his legs, brushed at dust on the right one. "This year, maybe I'll send you to present for ShiBaran in my place. It would be good for your vita, and your mother is right. You should at least see Earth."
"But I do not care about Earth! It is not my home."
Brant studied her. "It may not be your place of residence, but it's where our ancestors are buried. You should see it." He turned his face up to the red Vulcan sky. It was a proud face, Indian ancestry betrayed not in coloring but by a certain broad flatness, high cheekbones, and the faint fold of flesh above small dark eyes. "You should meet your mother, too."
Helen wrapped her arms around her knees, set her chin on them and considered this. "I shall talk to Solon," she said finally.
Brant just smiled.
Helen's relationship with Solon had matured into a peculiar symbiosis. Outsiders might have called him hen-pecked. In truth, Helen simply enjoyed organizing mundane daily details and, as Solon did not, he was content for her to organize his as well as her own. In matters of import, she always sought his advice—depended on it, in fact. "Of course you should go," he told her that evening. "She is your mother. It is your duty."
"She is not my mother."
Solon set down his PADD, then leaned back in his chair to regard her thoughtfully, hands laced together over his abdomen. "She carried you for nine months, with all that entails."
"And for that I owe her some duty?"
"You know that you do."
She flounced out without another word; he watched, knowing he had won the point. Yet whatever he had said to Helen about duty—and he did believe in what he had said—he was not completely sanguine about this sudden invitation. In his experience, humans rarely did things for no reason even when their behavior seemed irrational, and he wondered what reason Jamilla al-Farris had for contacting her daughter after eighteen, almost nineteen years. It troubled him particularly that he had not been invited to accompany her, though perhaps that owed more to ignorance than rudeness. He should not—as his mother would say—make assumptions in the absence of proper data. Rubbing his chin, he nevertheless wondered if there might be some way to rearrange his schedule so that he could follow Helen to Earth. Perhaps he could compress his research and take a few weeks of personal time. Flipping up the comm unit in his desk, he toggled the connect and placed a call to his academic advisor.
"You will arrive in Rome in two weeks?" Helen asked, for perhaps the twentieth time.
Helen nodded, glanced over her shoulder to the front door of the tiny university flat which she shared with Solon. Her father, who would take her to the shuttleport, waited in the hall beyond, giving the two of them privacy for their goodbyes, though the real goodbyes had been made the night before: a light touch of fingertips on faces, after which they had parted to spend the night chastely in separate beds. But neither Helen nor Solon had felt any lack of communion.
Now, he raised the fore and middle fingers of his right hand; she crossed them with her own. A shivery flutter raced through them both like flame under the skin: improvident surge of reckless feeling rather than any conscious thought. It left them both as flushed as a passionate kiss. She turned, departing without any further exchange. None was needed. When the door closed, he hugged himself, bereft—and she had not even left the building yet.
We have been too much together, he thought, and was forced to admit that his father's advice to spend more time apart had been wiser than he had credited. Such admissions came hard to Solon. He was as obdurate in a choice made as he was slow to reach one, though in truth, it had never been a conscious decision to cleave so to Helen. Anything else had simply never occurred to him. She was not the center of his life; she was something much more fundamental: the ground of his being.
And one day she would die and leave him completely alone. He had never before let himself consider that truth, but it hit him now with a physical force that drove the breath from his chest. He would watch her grow old and die, his own life less than half over.
Abruptly, he turned away, back to his terminal and his research. Some matters were better not considered. But that night, he slept restless on his single cot, missing the soft sigh of her breath in the dark and dreaming of shadows and shattered glass.
The metropolis of modern Rome sprawled over both banks of the Tiber like a mismatched scatter of red-topped legos, narrow old blacktop highways winding out from it in a drunken spiral. All roads led to Rome. Bella Roma, the eternal city. Helen pressed her nose to the port glass as the shuttle banked and came in from the south over the Tyrrhenian Sea. To the west, a dark line on the horizon marked the islands of Corsica and Sardinia. A single MagLev tunnel bridge ran out to them over the water. The dark specks of pleasure boats marred the sea's surface like black threads in Navajo turquoise. She had never seen so much water in her life. Solon would be astonished.
Her mother was waiting for her outside customs, though Helen had sent word that such was unnecessary; she was perfectly capable of locating her hotel herself. She recognized Jamilla al-Farris from a holo the woman had sent; she had sent none in return, preferring that much control over a situation into which she had been forced against her will. Nevertheless, her mother knew her immediately; there were no other young human women exiting customs, dressed in Vulcan robes. They approached one another carefully, like a pair of sehlat bitches edging along a garden fence.
"Helen Brant?" her mother said, making it more question than statement.
"Dr. al-Farris," she replied.
Despite the stunting effect of Vulcan gravity, she was still taller than her mother. Jamilla al-Farris' features were as difficult to categorize as her daughter's, with the proud hawk nose of her Arab ancestors and the almond eyes of her Tai-Malaysian-Maori mother. Her chocolate-brown skin was mildly mottled, a flaw sometimes found in mixed-race offspring. It made her appearance interesting rather than ugly. Helen almost envied her the piebald complexion, not realizing that Jamilla al-Farris very much envied Helen's own smooth cafe latte and the shocking beauty al-Farris herself had lost to the vicissitudes of time and desert sun. That envy insinuated itself like a spot of rust under bright paint; unseen, it would spread until it peeled the surface.
al-Farris plastered a smile on her face and brushed back a stray lock of hair. "I've reserved you a room at Caesar's Palace—"
Helen bit her tongue to avoid a remark on the hyperbole of the name.
"—and we have dinner with the conference organizer and several of my colleagues this evening. Tomorrow, we'll see the sights and the conference opens the day after that. You can submit a copy of your paper to the organizer tonight; you've been scheduled to speak on the fifth day, late in the afternoon. Not a choice time, but for a graduate student, it's an honor to present at all."
Her mother spoke quickly in accented Standard and a slightly shrill voice while ushering Helen through shuttleport crowds. Helen absorbed the waterfall of information and the unfamiliar surroundings without comment. She did not say that she had no desire to be here in the first place. She wondered if her father had told her mother that, or if he had mouthed all the usual, polite Terran platitudes that she was delighted to come and humbled by the opportunity to present at a professional conference instead of a mere graduate affair. To use a Terran colloquialism, she could care less.
In the face of Helen's silence, her mother continued to chatter, mostly about work, sometimes about colleagues, and only occasionally about the peculiarities of Terran culture. It was the latter that interested Helen the most. If it were true that instinct recognized home, then Helen decided she must be an alien changeling. Nothing about Earth felt right. Even the air was thick in her lungs. She took small breaths, to avoid hyperventilating. Only the Mediterranean quality of light, when they emerged from the building, fell on her eyes with any degree of familiarity: as bright and clear as morning over Vulcan's Forge. But the color was wrong, all white instead of orange. It evoked a shattering pang of homesickness. Water-logged Earth was an alien world to Helen Brant.
Though no one would call Helen intellectually slow, there were gaps in her socialization by human standards. That she should be so tardy in recognizing her mother's ulterior motive for inviting her to Earth could be blamed on her ignorance of Terran mating customs. She simply did not realize that the three young male graduate students invited to dinner that night along with her mother and her mother's colleagues were there for Paphian purposes. Nor did she recognize their tongue-tied attempts at conversation as awe at her beauty. When her mother asked later what she had thought of them, she said simply, "They seemed too stupid to be working towards advanced degrees. Solon knows more than all three of them." Frustrated, al-Farris had retreated to ponder a new tactic.
It was not that Helen knew nothing of romance. In her early teens, she had suffered a period of lovelorn pining fed by a steady diet of young-adult holonovels and her own puberty. She had dreamed of passionate kisses and ardent declarations but entertained no subject for her fantasies besides Solon. Given to neither of these by nature or race, but distressed by her inchoate unhappiness, Solon had replied in a medium and manner which had suited him.
He had sculpted her.
Vulcans rarely depicted the human form. No proscription forbid it but dictates of custom went far in Vulcan society. Nevertheless, Solon had sculpted Helen, in fine blue glass and exquisite detail that bared all the minute physical flaws which so troubled her adolescent ego. A perfect likeness. Upon seeing it, she had burst into tears. It had taken a week, Solon's hang-dog expression, and her father's sharp rebuke before she had understood. To Solon, her 'flaws' were merely marks of individual uniqueness: what made her more than a mannequin. The figurine became her talisman, occupying a corner of their shared dresser. She touched it when she needed to be reminded of what love saw.
Thus spoiled by Solon's artistry and honesty, the hollow flattery heaped on her by her human peers struck her as crass, or escaped her notice entirely, and the parade of young men which her mother directed across her path throughout the two-week conference found her by turns arrogant or obtuse. They continued to try because she was also, quite simply, stunning. Each one hoped to be the Paris who could steal her heart.
"Jan Braulik sent these." Jamilla al-Farris displayed the vase of roses which had been delivered to the hotel room while her daughter had been at a panel, arguing lettering bore-depth in second-century imperial Roman inscriptions. Now, Helen reached for the vase, turned it round once and set it down on the sideboard with a solid thump. She went into the bathroom to take down her hair.
Her mother followed. "Aren't you going to read the card?"
"Because I know what it will say: he wishes to have dinner with me. I do not wish to have dinner with him. It is an unresolvable situation, and therefore better not encouraged."
"Why won't you go to dinner with him?"
Helen dropped three gold combs on the sink counter, freeing a cascade of tiny beaded braids. "His motivations are not academic."
"He's a nice young man!"
"He is self-involved, conceited and quite wrong-headed about the dates on early Risan proto-geometric pottery. He barely received his doctorate. He also seems to think that I am...available. Or can be made so if he persists long enough."
She turned back to the mirror and began twisting her braids into the crown of a Vulcan-style tiara for that evening's banquet. It was the last night of the conference and al-Farris had nearly despaired of saving her daughter from the ill-advised engagement David Brant had made for her in childhood. al-Farris had thought the matter would be simple: bring the child to Earth and expose her to the attentions of human men in her field, others like herself who could feel desire. Helen would immediately recognize the folly of her father's arrangements and seek her mother's help in dissolving them.
Instead, it seemed that Helen Brant was in love with her Vulcan and content to adopt a match made for her at seven. But Jamilla al-Farris was not convinced. She had never been a woman to surrender a pet theory easily—a virtue or a vice in her vocation, depending on whether one agreed with the theory. In this case, she believed her daughter to have been brainwashed. Why Vulcans should so wish to bond one of their own to a human that they would go to the trouble of systematically brainwashing a seven year old was not a question her human ethnocentrism led her to ask.
Now, she entered the bathroom to lean against the counter so that she could see her daughter's face. "Jan Braulik knows far more about Risan pottery dating than you. He also comes from a long-time academic family and has a prestigious post-doc; you should be flattered by his interest in you, a graduate student."
Her daughter dropped both hands from the tiara, stared. "You would encourage this suit? I am otherwise bonded! And Solon will be here tomorrow."
It was this immanent arrival of Solon which caused al-Farris to press now. "Yes, you were bonded: a decision made for you—unwisely—at seven. You shouldn't be constrained by it."
Helen continued to stare. "It was not made for me. It was my own choice."
al-Farris threw up both fine hands. "How could you possibly be expected to know better? You were seven years old! You'd never dated a human man, never spent any time on Earth! It was irresponsible in the extreme for your father to permit such a...travesty."
"You were not present at the time to be privy to my thoughts. Nor have you ever met Solon. How then can you make pronouncements regarding my fitness to select him as a bondmate based solely on my age? You may name my father irresponsible, but your assumptions show you to be patronizing and foolish, both."
Neither prudence nor tact had ever been among Helen Brant's social repertoire, and the jealousy which al-Farris had suppressed upon their initial meeting resurfaced now. She slapped her daughter. "You prideful, ungracious bitch. It would suit you right if someone took you down a notch. I just hope I'm around to see it." And she stomped out, headed back to her own hotel room.
Her words would prove prophetic.
Golden Jan Braulik would have made Paris jealous; certainly he made many of his colleagues so and was the subject of occasional catty remarks about plastic surgery. In fact, he came by the blond curls and flawless features honestly, but all nature's blessings had been squandered on the external. Helen Brant was correct: he had passed his dissertation defense mostly because his committee had invested too much time in him to admit to having made a mistake in permitting him to pursue an advanced degree in the first place. It also helped that three of his four committee members were female. Braulik was not ignorant of his physical effect.
And because he was not ignorant, he could not fathom why it had no impact on Helen Brant. That had never happened to him before.
He knew about her Vulcan fiancé; all of them did. Word had spread among the young set pursuing her, followed by assurances from her mother that the match had been made when they were both children. Helen had been duped into it, al-Farris said. Braulik wondered, might even have decided that al-Farris was wrong, but his pride was involved now. Women didn't turn down Jan Braulik.
So he had engaged in a bit of covert research on Solon ch'Saval vru'Tchai. The result had surprised him.
"He looks like a wrestler."
"Yeah. Big dumb jock type: thick neck, lantern jaw, shoulders out to here"—Braulik gestured in demonstration—"a caricature." Then he downed his third martini of the evening, turned the empty glass in elegant, manicured hands. He and his three companions leaned up against the bar and watched the older generation of archaeologists
hobnob and drink and edge for precedence like chance-met dogs. He refused to participate. Conference banquets were always like this, and to Braulik, the only way to win at the game was not to play.
"He can't be too dumb," said one of the others with him. Tall and freckled and possessed of flaming red hair, he was a caricature in his own right. "Not if ARCH TODAY published one of his papers and he hasn't even got his degree yet. 'Sides, I never met a dumb Vulcan." He had drunk rather more than three martinis. "They must kill the defective ones in the womb."
"He doesn't deserve her," Braulik said.
"But who's gonna argue with him if he looks like Hercules?"
"He's ugly," Braulik added. He said this not because it was true but because he wished it were. In fact, Solon was unremarkable: thin lips; long, hollow-cheeked face; prominent, dimpled nose above his wrestler's neck. And if Vulcan ears were usually thought elegant, Solon's were no exemplar: oddly-shaped and lobe-less. Yet his nose, if prominent, was also straight, and the thin lips had a fine curve. It was a face of advantages and disadvantages—the kind a mirror shows most people each morning.
What tipped the balance were his eyes. Upon bringing up the small holo, Jan Braulik had hated Solon ch'Saval immediately for his eyes. Solon's body might be a wrestler's, but his eyes were a poet's: Byronic or Byzantine, depending on one's descriptive preference. Braulik's eyes were his worst feature: small and close-set and icy blue. He had decided that Helen Brant preferred her Vulcan because of his eyes. In fact, Helen had never considered either Byronic or Byzantine as adjectives for Solon even at the very height of her romantically-inclined adolescence. His eyes had nothing to do with why she loved him and, because this was beyond Jan Braulik's comprehension, he had no hope of ever wooing her away from her Menelaos.
But there were many versions of Paris' abduction of Helen, and she did not flee with him willingly in all of them.
"Maybe she just needs a little convincing," Braulik said now, "a little more forceful convincing," and he ordered another martini.
Chapter 3: III
"God, it's not fair. It's just not fuckin' fair! The woman is a goddess and she shows up here dressed in that."
The offending garment was gold and turquoise and slinky. Lamé. It glittered. So did the one wearing it.
The dress had been her mother's idea, selected for precisely the effect it was producing. Every head in the banquet hall had turned, watching Helen descend the stairs into their midst like some dark-skinned Aphrodite. In that moment, Jan Braulik wasn't the only man present who would have considered violence to possess her. And her mother wasn't the only woman who would have loved to see her taken down a notch.
Helen was ignorant of both reactions. Despite the quarrel with Jamilla al-Farris, she had worn the dress out of obligation. Her mother had bought it for her, for this occasion, and duty required that she honor gift and giver by fulfilling the intended purpose. Had she, in fact, understood the intended purpose, wild horses could not have driven her into it. She handed her black wrap to a waiting attendant, exposing enough bare flesh to cause Jan Braulik's red-headed companion to groan in a cliched agony.
"Stay put," Braulik said to the small circle of young post-docs who surrounded him like an academic halo. Setting down a fourth empty martini glass, he made his way through the crowd into the circle which had opened around Helen. Pretty women drew attention. Exquisite ones put it off. Shunned out of awe, or envy, Helen Brant gripped a black sequined purse and observed the other banqueters, rescued by Vulcan reserve from appearing somewhat pathetic. Jan Braulik was not subject to the same apprehensions as other men.
"May I get you something?" he asked, leaning over her shoulder. Viking genes gave him height enough to speak directly into her ear.
She jumped, swung around. "I beg your pardon?"
"May I get you something—to drink?"
In Helen's opinion, he stood entirely too close. In Braulik's opinion, he wasn't standing close enough. It took a concentrated effort to keep his eyes above the promising swell of cleavage. Like everything else about her, it was perfect. Braulik had never liked his women either overendowed or bony. "They have wine," he went on now, "red or white. Or something a little stronger, if you prefer."
"I prefer not to ingest alcohol, thank you."
Braulik could be gracious. "Something else then?"
She met his eyes. "Yes. Solitude."
It took him a moment, and her deliberate step backwards, for him to understand. He had been snubbed. In front of friends and academic superiors both. Golden Jan Braulik had been publicly snubbed.
One disadvantage of a peaches and cream complexion was that it flushed well. At least he managed to keep his smile in place while he said—too softly to be overheard—"You'll regret this, ice bitch."
"I think not."
He left her, had a fifth martini.
Paradoxically, Braulik's failure encouraged others: knights bound on rescuing the princess from the dragon—though had either of the gentlemen in question attempted to don actual armor, he would have fallen over helpless. At seventy-nine and eighty-two, a suit of iron was beyond even their collective strength. Ian Buchannan and Shusaku Aoyama had been a team—on the field and off—for fifty years, and had known Helen Brant's grandparents. Age, familiarity, old-fashioned charm, and a differing orientation granted them license. They sat her between them at dinner and entertained her with tales of her father at five.
After one such tale, and at a nod from his partner, Buchannan leaned back, sipped Earl Grey, and said casually. "That's a lovely dress, duckie. Wherever did you find it?"
"My mother bought it for me," Helen replied. "It was a gift, for the banquet tonight."
Buchannan and Aoyama exchanged another glance. Both had known Helen's grandparents, and both knew Jamilla al-Farris, too. Aoyama poured more green tea for Helen, handing it to her with Japanese graciousness. "A word of advice, my dear. Not all gifts are given for the right reasons."
Helen's glance was sharp. "Explain."
But Aoyama merely smiled and nodded faintly to Buchannan. "It's a lovely dress," Buchannan said again. "It's also, shall we say, a suggestive dress. It encourages admiration of your charms—and not the intellectual ones, either, I fear." He tipped his tea cup in her direction, winked.
Helen was slow about such matters. She was not stupid. One hand involuntarily few to a bared shoulder.
Aoyama was nodding. "Bees seek flowers. Sometimes they sting."
Abruptly irritated with herself, her mother, and the male of the species generally, Helen snapped, "What I'm wearing shouldn't matter."
"No," Buchannan agreed pleasantly, "it shouldn't. But if the universe ran on 'should,' we'd have discovered Atlantis, who built Stonehenge, and the Alexandrian Library by now. Alas, I fear human men are slaves to the eyes, duckie—Vulcan men, too, even if they refuse to admit it. Still, most of us did learn our manners. We may like the flowers but we try to buzz about politely. Yet as my dear Shusaku pointed out, some sting."
Offended and infuriated at once, Helen asked, "So I must adjust my attire for male weakness?"
Buchannan set down his teacup. "We all adjust our attire for one reason or another. Clothes serve several functions, among them, to send social messages. You're a flower, m'dear—an orchid among flowers. As long as you don't mind being admired, then by all means, find a pretty vase. And that dress is a pretty vase." He winked again. "We just wanted to be sure that you realized as much."
After that she understood too well the glances—bold or covert—cast her way, and was too self-conscious to enjoy the banquet. She retired within an hour, her ostensible excuse that Solon arrived early on the morrow. In truth, she wanted to get back to her hotel and remove the damned dress. It would be returned to her mother tomorrow, along with the hotel room key and a curt farewell. Unfortunate, that Solon would arrive on Earth only to travel back with her to Vulcan. That evening, all she wanted was to go home. She was tired of Earth, tired of wet rich air, of a foreign tongue and foreign script, of too much green, and of too alien a set of customs. Red Vulcan sang to her across sixteen lightyears.
It would never have occurred to her to worry about walking back alone after dark. This was Earth, not some colonial backwater. She might have taken public transportation but even with her black wrap around her shoulders, she preferred the soft dark anonymity of the narrow Roman streets to the bright glare of the train station. The orchid had been admired enough for one evening, thank you very much.
Now, she had stopped to admire something herself: one of the many old fountains in the city, a small one half-hidden in a cul-de-sac off the main thoroughfare. The fountains of Rome most reminded her of Vulcan, especially on a warm night like this one. Craving solitude and the familiar sound of falling water, she sat down on the basin edge, turned her face up to the heavens and closed her eyes.
A shadow blocked the light of a far streetlamp, caused her to open them. Jan Braulik stood above her. He was still dressed in his formal tuxedo but the ascot was askew and his face had the puffy quality of the very drunk, his eyes sunken like clams. He smelled of gin and vermouth. "Prefer the company of the fish in the pond?"
"If yours is the other option, then yes." She started to rise. "I shall absent myself from the vicinity."
His foot slammed down on the edge of the fountain basin. It caught a fold of the black shawl, stopping her. Irritated, she tried to pull the shawl free. "Move!"
He didn't reply. Nor did he move. Two of his friends drifted out of the shadows to join him—one the red-head. They cut off her escape in any direction except backwards through the water—not that it occurred to her to run.
"We decided you needed an escort," Braulik said. "It's dangerous on the streets."
"It is not, and I have need of no such thing."
Reaching down, he hauled her to her feet—without removing his foot. The shawl ripped. "It's for your own good, woman."
Indignation replaced irritation. "Release me!" She jerked at the arm in his grasp, pulled close her ruined shawl and black purse with the other. "I said release me!" Her voice was rising.
"Jan—" warned one of the others, glancing about nervously. No one was visible nearby but some of the windows over balconies above might be open to catch the Mediterranean air, and the main street was only fifty meters away. A dull white-noise roar of human occupation drifted back to them.
Braulik considered his companion, then spoke to Helen. "Say you'll let us walk you back and I'll let you go."
She was still holding herself as far away from him as possible. "I have no reason to bargain with you and no wish to be accompanied anywhere by you, either."
"You just can't make anything easy, can you?" He let go of her arm long enough to get a hold of her hair, pulling her in against him until she could feel the bite of steel in his other hand.
"Shit, Jan!" the red-head said. "Are you crazy? Put the fucking knife away." He started to back off.
"You're not going anywhere," Jan told him. The third young man had stepped in behind to block any retreat. "You were eager enough to come with us, back at the banquet. What'd you think? That she'd fall on her ass and spread her pretty legs as soon as you asked?"
Helen was too surprised by the knife in her side and Braulik's words to react immediately. It was only beginning to occur to her that she might be in physical danger. Almost two centuries of Federation peace had lulled her like a deer in virgin woods.
"Now," Braulik said in her ear, an obscene repeat of his approach earlier that evening, "we're going to take a little walk and you won't scream or try to run away, or I'll drill a hole in your rib. March, bitch."
Numb and dumb with terror, she let them steer her into an alley barely more than a crawlway: steep, faceless stucco walls above. No windows. Over and over, her mind howled protest but the sound never reached her lips. This couldn't be happening; women weren't assaulted in the streets of Rome, or any other Earth city, in the second half of the twenty-fourth century. Violent crime had been eliminated—or so Federation propaganda would have liked visitors and citizens alike to believe. In fact, women were still raped by acquaintances or career superiors in Rome and elsewhere on Earth with depressing regularity. Rape wasn't a crime born of want or greed—things the Federation claimed to have eliminated. Nor was it a crime of passion. It was a crime of frustrated pride, and rage, and the callous objectification of another human being.
Despite being flimsy, Helen's dress didn't come off as easily as Braulik and his companions had assumed. It was designed to give the impression that certain parts of her anatomy were about to pop out, not to permit those parts to actually do so. They used the shawl to gag her and twisted her tiara into cuffs to hold her hands, then had to hack a slit in her dress with Braulik's knife. At some point, strength returned to her limbs and she fought them. Braulik used the knife hilt to knock her half-senseless, then two of them held her while a third took his turn. Braulik went first, of course. Seeing a thin streak of red on his limp cock when he finished, he crowed softly, "Cherry juice!"
The scent of blood excited them, like sharks. Four and a half million years of evolution had not bred out the predator instinct. Having sated themselves, they found a bottle—broken at the neck and discarded—and used that. "Can't permit littering!" the one who had discovered it said.
When Braulik had first shoved his way inside her, Helen had tried to twist her body, close her thighs, contract the pelvic floor muscle, anything to stop the invasion and push him out. Futility was not a lesson she had learned as a child. She learned it that night. After a while, she lost track of pain as a consequence of specific acts. It expanded to fill her consciousness: she was a body of agony in a sky of ache. It went on and on. As long as she lived, she would never forget it. There was not even the relief of screaming. The reflexive opening of her jaw only gagged her with her own shawl. Since dying wasn't a mercy granted to her, she endured, tried to step outside the body which suffered, let her mind wander to odd thoughts. She had never sailed; she would like to sail once on that brilliant blue sea she had seen through her incoming shuttle window. She focused on
this, shut out the rest.
At the end of twenty minutes, the blood-intoxication wore off her tormentors. She had ceased to struggle and the red pulsing from her ruined vagina was merely messy, not exciting. Their hands were slick with it, isolated splatters marring dress clothing. "Jan," said the red-head, "She's, like, really fucked up, man." His voice rose in a panic. "You really fucked her up. I mean, you really fucked her up!"
Reality crashed in on them: boys who have killed their first squirrel and now face the task of skinning it. The predators became young men again, scared by their own violence. Braulik looked down at his hands, at the bloody glass bottle. "Shit," he muttered. "Shit, shit, shit." Then he slashed at Helen with the broken glass, tore one bruised cheek. "You bitch! See what you made us do?" When she didn't respond, he struck her again.
"Is she dead?" the third asked.
Braulik jerked her chin up, knocking her head against concrete. She blinked reflexively but without much awareness. It was just one more bruise. "No," he said. "But she's going to be soon."
"We've got to get her to a hospital," said the red-head.
Broken bottle in one hand, knife in the other, Braulik swung on him. "Are you nuts? Do you want to end your career in New Zealand? No? Then you'll do what I tell you and keep your goddamn mouth shut." He glanced at the half-comatose figure on the pavement at their feet. "You're as guilty of killing her as we are. We can't leave her. Call this the coup de grace." He buried his knife in her chest, off-center but still nicking an artery. Blood spurted.
Braulik hadn't expected so much blood. It burst out all over his white shirt-front. A few spots might have been concealable. Not a great red stain. Enraged, he stabbed her five more times till the others pulled him off.
"Enough!" the third said. "Look at her—she's dead. Let's get the hell out of here and get you cleaned up. And toss that knife and bottle to the bottom of the Tiber."
Helen Brant was not dead. Braulik's initial aim had missed her heart. The ones that followed, guided by rage rather than anatomical knowledge, had pierced her abdominal cavity: stomach, intestines, pancreas, uterus. She was still alive when Braulik and the others fled. Adrenaline, and some spark of that survival instinct which mother nature grants to all her creatures, rolled her onto her side and gave her strength to free her hands from the makeshift cuffs, crawl to the mouth of the alley and halfway out into the cul-de-sac, if no further before blood loss rendered her unconscious. It was far enough. One of Rome's ever-present dogs, flopped in the fountain lee, heaved itself up and came to investigate. Luckily for Helen, the dog was well-fed and tame and more inclined to be disturbed by the blood-smell than to take a bite out of the wounded thing bearing it. The dog began to howl, which brought people to investigate.
Helen was in a hospital trauma ward under a medical tunnel seven minutes later. Had it taken eight minutes, she would have died.
Solon knew something was wrong. His spaceliner had dropped out of warp just beyond Pluto's eccentric orbit and was making its stately way at one-quarter impulse power in towards the third planet. This close, and with a bond as old and deep as theirs, he could feel eddies of disturbance. But as Helen was not a telepath, he had no idea what was wrong. His ship was not due to dock for another three hours, then customs would take an hour more, after which he had a seventy minute wait on a shuttle connection and another two hours in flight.
He was not inclined to wait, pressed the bell for a cabin attendant.
"Raped? What do you mean she was raped?" Jamilla al-Farris faced the ER attending and tried to decipher the stream of words pouring at her. They caught in mental molasses and stuck there, refusing to arrange themselves into sense. "This is Earth."
The attending scratched her nose. "I know. I'm sorry." After an awkward pause, the woman hurried to explain, more comfortable with data than emotions. "Ms. Brant was gang-raped by three men, then assaulted vaginally with a sharp object and stabbed six times in the chest and abdomen. Not to mention miscellaneous bruising and cuts from being beaten. The assault clearly wasn't pre-planned, or not pre-planned to any significant degree. The perpetrators left behind sufficient body fluids for a DNA ID. She's out of immediate danger, but her condition is still critical."
"Can the police find the ones who did it?" An academic, al-Farris was more comfortable with data, too. And while Helen was her daughter, Helen was also a virtual stranger. al-Farris' horror was generic rather than personal.
"It depends," the attending said, tapping thoughtfully on her PADD with a stylus. "If their DNA is on record anywhere, sure. If not, the investigation may take longer. When she wakes, the police will want to talk to her." The woman looked up. "I understand she
was raised on Vulcan?"
"Yes," al-Farris said. "Yes, she was."
"Then she might have better observation skills than most humans. We'll have to see what she can tell us."
al-Farris nodded distractedly. The attending's question had reminded her: she had a call to place, to David Brant. And the girl's fiancé was supposed to arrive this morning, too, but al-Farris didn't know the time. Well, if the boy was a grad student, presumably he had brains enough to figure out what to do if no one was there to meet him. al-Farris ran a hand over her face and left the family room where physicians delivered bad news, headed back to the main waiting room.
As she passed the lift, its doors opened, expelling a young Vulcan male, his face frozen in a mask of panic barely mastered.
It had been fortunate for Solon that the spaceliner on which he had booked passage was operated by Vulcans or he might have had some difficulty convincing the attendants of his emergency. As it was, a single look at his face had been sufficient. They had beamed him by relay-transporter all the way in to Earth from Neptune station. That kind of repeated dissolution in quick succession was unsettling to even veteran space-farers; it had made poor Solon sick to his stomach for a full fifteen minutes. Or maybe it was just increasing anxiety about Helen. In any case, he had swallowed bile and explained to the final station operator who he was looking for. Locating Helen had required the fifteen minutes it took to settle Solon's nausea and then some, so by the time he arrived on the emergency transporter pad of Rome's Central Hospital, he had control of his stomach again...if not his anxiety. But by the time al-Farris had finished her explanation—back in the family room from which she had just come—he was sick to his stomach once more. "I want to see her," he whispered.
"I doubt they'll let you in. They wouldn't let me in and I'm her mother."
Solon—who understood tact rather better than Helen—refrained from pointing out that al-Farris might be her biological mother, but she had no other connection to her. As her bondmate, Solon did, including such legal niceties as power of attorney. As far as the Federation was concerned, he was her husband. Now, rather than bother to reply to al-Farris, he simply left her standing in the family room and went in search of Helen's physician.
Nevertheless, it was an hour before he was permitted into her room. Medical personnel had repaired her body: no bruise remained to mar her perfect skin, no physical evidence to explain the blasted blankness of her expression as she sat in a chair, looking out the hospital window. Solon found the contrast obscene.
She turned her head a little. Her braids swayed, gold beads catching florescent light. She did not otherwise acknowledge him. He wasn't sure what he had expected, but not that. Unfamiliar emotions fought a war in his chest and belly. There was moisture obscuring his vision; it took a moment, for him to recognize it for tears. So, this
was grief, he thought.
He moved into the room and came to stand behind her chair, wanted to touch her, to pick her up and cradle her, protect her now as he had failed to protect her last night. Guilt burned. Carefully, he laid his hand, fingers spread, on the crown of her head, rubbed his thumb back and forth over her braids.
Helen did not respond to that, either. She couldn't. It wasn't in her to respond. Her middle felt hollow. One part of her mind, the part trained in Vulcan discipline, recognized her reaction for shock. That did not change it any. So they stood that way a long time, he with his hand resting on her hair, she with her eyes turned out to the city morning and the flash of shuttle traffic passing the hospital window.
Finally, he said, "Do you know the identities of...the ones who did this?"
Through their bond, she could feel an unfamiliar, uncontrolled surge of emotion: Vulcan rage, Vulcan thirst for revenge. None of it reached his face or tensed the hand resting on her crown. "Who?"
Without turning, she raised her hand. He moved his own to grip it, then came around to kneel in front of her chair, raise his other hand to her face. She closed her eyes in assent. He touched her mind, saw for himself—saw it all. Felt it all.
Some say that joy shared is joy doubled, while grief shared is halved. Not always. Overwhelmed, Solon jerked his hand away and fell back from her, his fair skin hot with shame and fury. She lowered her eyes, fearing—for the first time—that he might blame her, that she might in some way be to blame, in fact. No longer touching and too full of his own turmoil, Solon remained unaware of her uncertainty. He rolled to his feet with a grace that belied his size and his fury. "Have you told the authorities?"
"Not yet. They have not come yet to ask me."
Solon did not reply; instead, he turned for the door and left her sitting there. She crossed her arms over her breasts and shivered once, hard, all over. He had abandoned her.
Vulcans had evolved as hunters, with the social hierarchy of prehistoric tribes and family bands dictated by the physical prowess of their males. Strength and courage determined the order in which—and the amount—one ate; it determined the right to speak in council; it even determined the right to mate. Mothers and daughters were protected fiercely: the jewels of a clan, or the prizes of conquest. Even a thousand years after Surak, rape still reverberated darkly in the Vulcan soul, overwhelming emotional mastery in the one to whom the raped woman belonged—and who belonged to her. It was more than mere damaged property. The mating bond assured that the humiliation and fear visited on the woman was visited also on her man. More, it stood as an accusation that he had failed in his fundamental duty to protect and provide, a duty hotwired into him by biology. Logic had nothing to do with it.
Thus, a combination of guilt, rage and pure horror—a mix of emotions as primal as the pon farr—drove Solon into his species' past. He became a hunter, a hunter with a prey insultingly easy to track.
Jan Braulik and his two partners in crime had not separated since their assault on Helen Brant late the night before. Fear held them together, and fear caused them to nip verbally at one another: three hairless, bipedal pack dogs.
"What are we gonna do? What are we gonna do? What are we gonna do?" This from the red-head as he paced the floor of Jan's hotel room. He'd been pacing and whining all night.
"Shut the fuck up," said the third, but in a dull voice. He'd been saying that, too, all night.
Braulik said nothing, just stood in the room's center, drinking double martinis. It hadn't taken him long to realize that killing Helen Brant hadn't solved their problem. They had to dispose of the body or the semen they had left in her would convict them. But when he and his friends had made their way back—cautiously—to the cul-de-sac, the body was long gone and they could see bright police tape from a two block distance. Too late. They might have run at that point, tried to get off-planet before anyone could put out an APB on them, but fatalism drove them back to Jan's hotel to await the inevitable. After all, where could they run? Outside Federation space, how would three archaeology post-docs earn a living? So Jan had showered while the other two ate, then they had passed the time blaming one another.
When the knock came on the hotel room door, all three exchanged a resigned look, but none moved to answer. They waited for the voice calling, "Police, open up!"
No voice did. The visitor knocked again. Braulik blinked, set down his martini and slowly made his way to the door, weaving a little from inebriation. As soon as he opened it, the one waiting outside exploded into the room, shoving him backwards but keeping him from falling by a strong grip in his shirt front. He was swung around and smashed into a wall. His head struck hard enough to crack the plaster in a tiny spiderweb of breaks. For a moment, his companions stood dumb, watching. Then the larger moved to grab the intruder by the shoulder. He was flung off like chaff from the winnowing, landed on the floor against the bed. The redhead didn't even try. He fled out the still-open door. After a moment, the other dragged himself up, shook his head to clear it, and followed.
Perhaps ten seconds had passed since the door had been opened.
Solon recovered enough of himself then to look at what he held pinned to the wall. He knew this was Braulik. He had seen the face—self-assured and aristocratic—burned into Helen's mind. But now he was able to see what he actually held, not what Helen remembered: puffy skin, flattened curls, red-rimmed eyes wide open with fear. Their gazes locked and a spark of recognition displaced Braulik's drunk for a moment; he knew Solon just as clearly as Solon knew him. Triumph twisted his mouth. Even now, held in a Vulcan's crushing grip, he was the victor. Nothing Solon did could retrieve what Braulik had taken from Helen—and from him.
In that moment, Solon finally understood Surak: understood at a level below the liver and deeper than thought. To kill was to lose. If Solon, in his anger, throttled Braulik, then Braulik's victory was unassailable because Braulik would have succeeded in driving Solon to that act. Braulik would be in control, not Solon.
Solon released him. Surprised, Braulik slid down the wall to collapse at Solon's feet, his legs literally unable to hold him up. "You are pathetic," Solon said. It was a statement, not an insult.
Braulik glanced around the room, saw that he was alone and looked up again at Solon, smiled like a man with nothing left to lose. "I may be pathetic, but I got to her first—so what does that make you?"
Not following, Solon blinked. "First?"
"I got her cherry."
That baffled Solon further. "Her what?"
Braulik crawled up the wall behind him until he was standing
again, nose-to-nose with the Vulcan. He wobbled still. "She was a virgin, you idiot. And I took her virginity—not you." The sound he made then was more bark than laugh. "You've been bonded to her how long? But you couldn't even get it up enough to fuck her once in all those years. What's the problem, Prim? Impotent?"
The path of Braulik's thought was so far from anything familiar to Solon that for several heartbeats, he did not understand Braulik's point at all. When he did, the alien insult simply slid by him, finding no purchase in his own cultural conditioning. "If you took her virginity, what did you do with it?"
"Huh?" Braulik's turn now to be baffled.
"If you took her virginity, what did you do with it?" Braulik could not answer. "There, you see? The phrase is meaningless. What matters is that you violated her body against her will." You violated us both. Solon's jaw clenched, green rage returning for a moment. He swallowed it. "For that, you will pay." Again, a statement, not a threat. Gripping Braulik by the collar, Solon hauled him out the door.
"You can't prove anything!" Braulik said, more for form's sake than because he thought it true.
"I do not have to," Solon replied, shoving Braulik roughly between the shoulderblades to propel him down the hallway. "Helen survived."
Swinging around, Braulik gaped; only then did it dawn on him how Solon had been able to locate him so quickly.
"You will be tried for the rape and attempted murder of a Vulcan citizen," Solon told him.
Chapter 4: IV
Helen sat perfectly still, perfectly rigid, for a long time after Solon left. Only her eyes moved, and they only to blink. She might have been the glass figurine which Solon had cast. All her energy was focused on thinking new thoughts.
Was she somehow responsible for what had happened to her? Logic said "no." Logic said the attack on her had been rooted in irrational envy and Helen could not—should not—be blamed for others' madness. But guilt is not a logical thing, and the question dogged her. She remembered the warning Ian Buchannan and Shusaku Aoyama had given her. Provocative. She had dressed in a provocative manner. Was it any wonder if she had been attacked as a result? Dress like a slut, be treated like one.
"No!" She stood abruptly, sending the chair over with a crash on the bare floor tiles.
One of the nurses hurried in. "Ms. Brant?"
"I am well," she said without turning, without picking up the chair.
The nurse hesitated, eying the chair. He wasn't so sure but also wasn't inclined to argue with her. He closed the door behind him as he went out and Helen listened to the soft shuffle of his step moving off down the hall; when it was out of range, she turned and righted the chair, sat down again in shadows. A thin florescent light behind the medbed gave the room's only illumination: white and unforgiving. She did not wish to be caught and exposed, so she pulled the chair as far away into a corner as she could, huddled there. And it was there the police found her a short time later. Two policewomen. They asked gentle questions about her attackers. She gave them full names and a vivid, precise description of what had been done to her: blunt, stoic, rebuffing their delicacy, sparing nothing. Bemused, they recorded her statement and left. "Poor thing," one said to the other, "she must be in shock."
The second shrugged, replied, "Vulcans are Vulcans, even when they're human, it seems."
Back at the station, they discovered that one of the three named suspects had already been brought in—by the Vulcan fiance, no less. The remaining two were rounded up shortly after. Claims by one that he had been struck by the Vulcan were duly written on a PADD, which was subsequently "accidentally" erased. The suspect hadn't suffered any lasting damage and if he'd been roughed up a little, it was less than he deserved as far as the police were concerned. With the physical evidence against them and a clear identification from the victim herself, there was no mystery here. Matters were concluded swiftly: rights read, suspects booked and transported to New Zealand where they would be held until their arraignment. Case closed. The name "Brant" was deleted from the case board.
But the case was not closed for Helen, or for Solon. It was a journey just beginning.
He returned to her hospital room six hours after he had left it. She was still sitting in the far corner, away from the florescent light. When he entered, she said, "You came back." A statement hemmed by surprise.
He blinked. "Of course." Then he turned away from her to shut the door, moving slowly as was his wont. "Jan Braulik is in custody."
"The police came."
"I took him to the police station myself."
"I gave them names."
Solon turned back then and they just looked at one another, as unconnected in spirit as in their dialogue. Solon did not know how to express his guilt, or his anger, or his fundamental bruising. He had been trained to suppress his feelings too well; now they balled up in his throat and choked him. Nor did he know how to tell her what he had done to Jan Braulik, or rather, what he had wanted to do. Would she hate him for almost giving into violence? Or would she hate him for not doing so?
For her own part, Helen did not know how to ask what she needed to know: Do you blame me?
So they said nothing at all. He walked over to the bed, checked the plastic water pitcher to see if it was full and, seeing it wasn't, carried it into the bathroom to fill for her. Then he tucked in the sheets where they had come loose, smoothed the wrinkles out of the blanket. She watched. Finally, he cleared his throat. "You should lay back down."
"Turn off the light first."
Glancing back at her, he did so. Only daylight greyed the room now, slipping in under stiff lined hospital curtains. She rose at last, padding over to the bed—the opposite side from where he stood—to crawl under the white covers he had just neatened. Then she lay
with her back to him.
He wanted to touch her, even as he feared doing so, feared the explosion of her human feelings inside his head. He could barely control his own. He needed distance until he could master himself. But he also needed...something. Some physical contact to reestablish their connection, carry them past the unsaid and unsayable. Peculiar, how the person he knew best in the universe was also the one to whom he suddenly found it impossible to voice the deep-down things. He feared losing her, a fear beyond pat melodrama. He honestly would not know how to live without Helen Brant. If she had died....
Abruptly, he sank down on his knees on cold tile, felled by the full impact of what it would have meant to him. He needed her, and pon farr had nothing to do with it. She drew him, centered and focused him, gave direction to his life. She was stronger than he.
By both race and nature, Solon required a partner.
The bed rustled and he looked up to find Helen peering over the edge, her previous apathy banished by confused concern. "Solon?"
"I—" But the words stopped in his throat once more. He frowned at the floor, mute with the need to express himself.
A brown hand extended itself into his field of vision. "Get up off the floor, Solon."
He took the hand.
They returned to Vulcan, picked up the pieces of their lives as best they could. The trial came and went, the conviction surprising no one. Logically, that should have been the end of it. To a Vulcan, it would have been and nothing was ever said to Helen after about what had happened in Rome: Vulcan manners, Vulcan sensitivity, but also Vulcan inability to deal with her psychic wounding. Even Solon was silent. Her father alone spoke of the matter to her but what he said was vague, hampered by guilt and inexpressible anger. His child had been violated and there was nothing he could do to fix it. What good would talking do, except to make her go through the terror all over again?
Yet Helen, with the illogic peculiar to humans, felt the silence as a weight of accusation. Doubts plagued her, and self-blame. Solon sensed that something was wrong but did not know how to coax it out of her. Nothing in his upbringing had schooled him to the gentle art of eliciting confidences. Instead, he tried to encourage her to resume her studies and research, work being the Vulcan antidote to all ills.
Helen left Vulcan—and Solon—exactly one year from the day she lost her innocence (along with her virginity) in a dark Roman alley.
"But where will you go?" he asked her, trailing her from one room to the next as she packed her things, unable to quite comprehend this collapse of his life.
"I do not know," she replied, without violence, without heat. She was not leaving him because she hated him. She was leaving because she did not know how to love him any more. She did not know how to love anyone, including herself. The knowledge had been drained out of her slowly, like a hidden hemorrhage in the belly that bleeds away one's life in increments.
"You cannot leave if you have no destination," Solon tried, hoping that reason would convince her.
She was well past that. "I must go, Solon."
"When will you be back?"
"I do not know."
"Will you be back?"
"I do not know." She snapped closed her second suitcase. She was not taking much. There did not seem to be much to take. She turned away to head for the door.
"Helen!" Pushed by desperation, Solon grabbed her arm, swung her around.
Their eyes met. "Let me go," she said quietly.
He held on a moment more then, slowly, released her. She walked out. Dumb, he turned back to the empty room and, seeing the blue glass figurine he had made for her still sitting on their dresser, he snatched it up and ran out the door. "Helen!"
She was at the end of their housing unit hallway, waiting on the lift. She turned, an instinctive reaction to her name. He took three steps towards her, then gave up on dignity and jogged the rest of the way. When he reached her, he handed her the figurine. "Your forgot this."
She took it, looked at it blankly. The lift had arrived. He held the door open to hold it there, and her with it. Finally she looked back up at him, handed back the figurine. "This is not me any more. You should have cast it in black."
He did not move to take the glass. "No. It is yours."
She shrugged and let it go. It fell to the marble floor between them, shattered. He winced; she did not. Then she stepped into the lift. "Goodbye, Solon."
For four years, Solon did not hear of or from Helen. Despite the broken figurine, he still nurtured hope that she would return since she had not asked for a dissolvement of their bond. He clung to this faith with his habitual stubbornness, refusing to listen to advice that he should dissolve the bond himself, find a new mate.
His parents—who knew him too well—had refrained from offering such advice themselves. But they grew concerned as time went on and Helen did not return—time which brought Solon closer to his mid-to-late twenties and the inevitable descent of first pon farr. They tried not to be resentful of Helen, knowing what she had suffered, and if they ultimately failed in this, they then tried not to transfer that resentment to her father, old friend and colleague. Yet instinct drives parents to side with their children. A certain chill descended between David Brant, and Saval and T'Syra, even while David Brant tried to deal with his own feelings of confusion and abandonment—and worry. If Helen did not contact Solon in those four years, she did not contact her father, either.
Driven by paternal anxiety, he did what Solon would not: tried to contact her instead. She had concealed her whereabouts well but twice he did manage to locate her. The first time, while she lingered on Betazed, he sent her a message. It came back untriggered, no second message with it, no explanation, no demand to be left alone. Nothing. He could not even be sure it had reached the proper recipient.
The second time, while she was on Earth, he went himself. He did not find her. There were still places where people could retreat if they did not want to be found and Brant could hardly call in the Civil Investigation Bureau. She wasn't a missing person precisely, and she was now a legal adult. She didn't have to reveal her whereabouts to
her father if she didn't want to. So Brant returned to Vulcan, none the wiser about Helen than when he had left. Like Solon, he would have to trust that she would come back to them.
Meanwhile, Solon finished his research and received his degree, then sought a grant to compile a catalogue of all Sakal glass pieces in museum collections which had previously been published, as well as those pieces held in private collections where the collector would admit to having them. It was a catalogue he had several times wished existed already while he had been doing his own research. It was also a project which demanded little from him, a blessed tedium in which he could bury his concerns, bury himself. He might maintain his faith in Helen, but even Vulcans could suffer from a broken heart.
Had Helen been a child of the late twentieth century, she might have explained her four-year odyssey as an attempt to find herself. She left Vulcan on her twentieth birthday, abandoning the degree on which she had previously worked so hard. It seemed an ecclesiastian endeavor now. Vanity, vanity, all is vanity. There were other things she needed to learn, things not academic.
At some point during her year on Vulcan post-Rome (her life being divided now into events pre- and post-Rome), she had come to realize, finally, that she was not a Vulcan. It might seem a strangely obvious observation to have waited twenty years, but her childhood desire to be Vulcan had never fully disappeared. Instead, as age had shown it to be increasingly silly, and increasingly unobtainable, verbalized desire had slunk down into her unconscious mind and covered itself by nonverbal conduct. She might not be a Vulcan, but she could act like one.
Yet, in the wake of her rape, she found that she could not do even that convincingly. A Vulcan would have been able to master her emotions, get past the experience, get on with life. Helen could not. More, she did not want to. It no longer seemed a worthy goal. Not all experiences could be subjected to rational interpretation. To say that Jan Braulik had acted out of his own feelings of inadequacy was correct. To say that hatred of him would change nothing was also quite correct. Yet neither of these truths could erase her fundamental feelings of confusion and bruising and the deep-seated rage that burned inside her. She was frustrated by the Vulcan rationale that since her anger was not productive, she should deny its existence: kaiidth.
But how could she be expected to return to the stream of life and function as before? How could she say, "It happened," and dismiss it? Yet this was precisely what Vulcan philosophy demanded, demands which trivialized her experience, mocked the elusive something which made her more than a machine. Deep down things had been wounded; they needed time to heal. Rape was more than physical. Her soul had been violated as much as her body and she needed a way to understand the emotional trauma other than by intellectualizing it, rationalizing it away. She needed to name her ordeal in terms which took into account embodiment and historicity, process and passion: her very humanness—in the broader sense of the word. Logic was not enough to make her whole; it did not provide meaning. Life happened as much at the level of the gut as in the mind and she could not live amputated at the neck.
She understood all of this instinctively. Had someone asked her to explain her reasons for leaving, and her quest, she would have been tongue-tied. It took her four years to learn to articulate what had driven her off her alien homeworld and, eventually, back to the blue-green planet of her ancestors.
Cattaraugus Indian Reservation. L-shaped and located southwest of Buffalo, New York, it occupied 21,618 acres of Cattaraugus, Erie and Chautaugua counties, straddled Airway 90 and the old blacktop 438. One leg of it touched Erie's shore. Cattaraugus was one of those places in North America which had escaped the severe destruction and deprivations of WW III: an advantage of living in Indian Country in the twenty-first century. No one had cared enough to bomb it. After the war—a war which had lasted less than 7 minutes—refugees from what had been New York City had fled west towards the Great Lakes, and the lands which Indians had been driven onto two centuries before became a reserve for the white man as well as the red. By the twenty-fourth century reservations were no longer pink squares on a map, yet Indian Country continued to exist. Indians had never much understood lines on maps anyway. Cattaraugus and Allegheny were the last shreds of Indian Country in New York state. Once Seneca, Cattaraugus now boasted members of all six nations who made up the Iroquois, the Hodenosaunee, or People of the Longhouses.
"Are you Marian Daugherty?"
The woman on the other side of the old-style hinge door simply nodded, said nothing. She did not look like Helen had expected. Her greying hair was curled and cut short; she wore jeans and a somewhat frayed maroon cardigan over a flannel shirt in shades of blue and wine. Not a feather or bead anywhere. She also wore glasses: wide-framed with thick lenses that magnified her small, dark eyes. Owl Woman. That was her other name, the one which didn't appear in the official records, the one people in town called her. Indian humor.
When Helen Brant had first arrived at the William Seneca Building in Irving, New York, she had not really known what she was looking for. Life on Vulcan had taught her to respect family and she had grown up thinking of Solon's clan as family, but when she had given up on being Vulcan, she had sloughed off that identification like a false skin. She had no interest in learning more about her mother's people, her mother whom she still partly blamed for the turn of events in Rome. That left her father's people. If she had not heretofore thought of herself as an Indian, perhaps it was time and past time to
find out what it meant.
So when she had walked into the office and asked the secretary at the desk if there was anyone in town who remembered her grandparents, Leslie and Marguerite Brant, the secretary had exchanged a glance with a second woman bent over a filing cabinet. They'd said nothing in words. Then the secretary had abandoned her terminal to come out from behind the desk. A big woman, she had swept like a battleship towards the front door, crooked a finger to Helen to follow, and pointed up the road. "Follow it till you get to a tree downed by lightning. The road forks. Take the left fork up the hill. You'll get to a terraced area 'bout halfway up. There're a couple farms there. The second driveway has a real old hay bailer rusting out by the road. Go up the drive; it'll take you to Owl Woman's place. It's her you want to talk to." Then without a goodbye, she had gone back inside. Brusque and no-nonsense. The woman might almost have been Vulcan.
Her directions had been accurate in their way, though Helen would have preferred a map. After only one false turn, she arrived at the farm house of the one the secretary had called Owl Woman. The name on the gate read "Marian Daugherty." The lawn was overrun by dandelions and needed to be trimmed, and a hound dog lolled on the porch, muzzle resting on paws. It had cracked an eye and sighed when Helen had stepped past, but otherwise had ignored her.
Now, facing the mysterious Owl Woman, she said, "I'm Helen Brant, Leslie and Marguerite Brant's granddaughter. The woman at the tribal office said you knew them. You could tell me about them." Reaching into her pocket, she extracted a packet which she had bought on the way here. It held tobacco, a substance almost impossible to find until on tribal ground. Now, she held it out.
The grey-haired woman raised an eyebrow, like a Vulcan, but then grinned and took the packet, stepped aside in unspoken invitation. "I see David ain't forgot everything his parents taught him." Tobacco had been offered and accepted. Helen entered. The dog on the porch heaved itself up and followed.
The living room beyond was quaint and comfortable: two old recliners with ivory tatted covers on arms and back, a walnut lowboy along one wall, lace curtains held back by bits of tassel. There was also a wall-comm unit, three PADDs discarded on a stained coffee table, a honeycomb shelf full of clear-tube books and archives, and in the background, the distinctive click of skulkers eating dustbunnies in corners. A mixture of the old and the modern, like most things Indian.
Her host took off her glasses and rubbed the bridge of her nose, asked, "Coffee?"
Turning, Helen replied, "Do you have tea?" The dog approached her, pushed a nose into her hand. Startled, she jumped.
Owl Woman put back on the glasses, grinned. "She won't bite ya—just wants attention. And I think I can find some tea hereabouts." She headed off for the kitchen. One leg was slightly shorter than the other, giving her an odd, shuffling gait. In this day of physically perfect bodies, or bodies corrected to be so, such an obvious handicap startled. Why hadn't she seen a doctor about the leg? But for once, Helen remembered her manners and did not ask. Instead, she stood in the middle of Owl Woman's living room, patting the hound while she waited. After a few minutes, the old woman returned and regarded her with some surprise. "Why you still standing up?"
"I— I was taught that it is not a guest's place to take a seat until a seat is offered."
The woman snorted, a sharp sound of derision that made the dog jump. "Sit down, girl. Here's your tea." She handed over a brown ceramic cup, glaze chipped slightly at the bottom, then plopped into one of the two recliners. Helen set the cup on a coaster and herself in the opposite recliner. "What do you want to know?" Owl Woman asked.
But Helen did not begin her questions immediately. Instead, haltingly, she tried to explain her presence there, which in turn required an explanation of what she had been doing for four years, running around Federation space alone, which in turn required a recounting of what had happened in Rome, then of her life before that, her study, her father, and Solon. After the first question, Owl Woman had asked no more and her silence had drawn Helen on. At last, Helen fell silent and Owl Woman waited until it was clear she had finished, then rose, stretched. "Come back tomorrow," she said.
Hands clasped before her like a supplicant, Helen rose as well. "Then you'll tell me about my grandparents?"
Owl Woman smiled. "It's not your grandparents you came here to learn about, enit? It's yourself."
Thus, Helen Brant began the most important research of her life: the study of her own soul. None of the intellectual skills which she had acquired as a child could help her. This research was conducted from someplace below the solar plexus, with tools that stretched the capacity of the heart.
"Why do you keep that old hay bailer?" she asked one day as she and Owl Woman made their way up the gravel driveway that led to the farmhouse. Despite the woman's lame leg, she got about quite well and preferred to walk if she could.
Now, she cast a sideways glance at Helen. "You think it's an eyesore, eh? Trash."
Helen's brows hopped once and she half-shrugged, mouth pressed together until the full lips thinned to white. "Well, it does not work," she pointed out.
Smiling, Owl Woman turned to the wire fence beside the drive, gestured Helen over. She held up a bit of wire to make a space big enough for Helen to slip through, then followed and they waded through the thistle-choked remains of an alfalfa field until they reached the archaic bailer's side. At their approach, a pair of wrens exploded skyward. "Look here," Owl Woman said, pointing into a nitch beside the steps up to the operator's seat. A nest had been built in the shadows there, the backs of three baby wrens visible as they huddled down in an instinctive attempt to escape notice. Owl Woman walked around to the bailer's rear and pointed to a pair of gopher holes. Obviously a point was being made, but Helen was not sure she grasped it. "You mean you have left the bailer here because wrens use it to nest?"
"And gophers." Owl Woman straightened, hands on hips hiking up a side of the rust cardigan, her one constant article of clothing. "A thing is trash only when it stops being used. This might not bail hay, or alfalfa, but the wrens like it, and it's a good road mark,
enit? Helped you find the house."
Owl Woman cocked her head, making her look for a moment like her namesake. "You've spent too much time in a white man's world, girl: disposable, replicated culture. When a thing stops being good for what it was made for, you toss it in an incinerator. Makes your mind dull, makes you blind to possibilities. Not everything has a single purpose, and not everything that's old is trash."
Nostrils flairing, Helen reared her head back. "I would never say it was—I was taught to respect my elders. And," she added rebelliously, "you have a replicator."
Owl Woman grinned. "'Course I do. No sense in not making use of what's useful, neither." She turned away and headed back to the road beyond the fence. "What's new ain't necessarily bad. It's how you use things." She stopped then and glanced back at Helen. "Learn to see. You walk around with your eyes shut, Helen Brant."
Owl Woman's words struck Helen. Did she walk around with her eyes shut? She had not thought so. Raised on Vulcan, she had thought her powers of observation better than most humans, but that wasn't what Owl Woman had meant, obviously. So Helen tried to look at things differently. What was she supposed to be seeing, though? Frustrated, she asked Owl Woman about it again. "You say I do not see—but I am unsure how I am supposed to be seeing that is different."
They were walking again; they walked most places around the small town of Irving. Now, Owl Woman shaded her eyes and waved to two men seated on a bench in front of the post office. One wore a postal uniform. They waved back. If most mail travelled electronically these days, some things—like packages—needed old fashioned delivery.
Finally Owl Woman spoke. "You see what you expect to see, not what's there. Most people have in their head already what makes up the world around them, so they don't ever quite see it. That's what I meant. You saw a road mark and a wren's nest as a hay bailer and, since it weren't up to bailing no longer, you figured it was junk. You didn't see what it was." She twisted her mouth and chewed at her bottom lip. "I think you do that a lot: see what you expect to see. That's why they caught you like they did. You wasn't seeing 'em, seeing what they was up to."
Helen blinked. "Seeing who?"
Owl Woman turned for the steps which led up to the local grocers. "Jan Braulik and his friends."
Struck momentarily dumb, Helen remained rooted on the sidewalk, then with five strides she caught up to Owl Woman. "You're saying it was my fault?" This came out angry because it was what she secretly feared to be true.
Owl Woman stopped just before the grocery door. "Your fault? Which part you claiming? Don't take on what's not yours. Your fault for not seeing, yes. Not seeing gets you in trouble. But let the rest of the fault stay with Jan Braulik, where it belongs." And she went into the store.
Helen's second lesson was learned over a dog. The bitch hound who lived at the farmhouse (Owl Woman never said she owned her) had managed to slice her back on a loose nail beneath the porch. It had festered.
"You should take her to a veterinarian," Helen said while she watched Owl Woman examine the infected wound. Owl Woman ignored her, got up and went inside the house to fetch a knife and put it in a pan of water on the old-fashioned gas stove. The dog followed, and Helen followed the dog. "What are you doing?"
"Getting ready for what?"
Owl Woman didn't reply, poured herself a cup of coffee instead from the pot which she kept constantly ready by the sink. Then she found a bottle of hydrogen peroxide and several towels. When the water was boiling, she fished out the knife with a pair of tongs and gripped it in a hotpad while she collected the bottle of hydrogen peroxide and threw the towels over a shoulder. Finally she led the dog over to a stepping stool which she used to reach items in higher cabinets, sat down and caught the bitch between her knees, backside facing her. The dog waited trustingly. "Hold her collar," Owl Woman said.
Seeing what her teacher intended, Helen took a full step back. "You plan to clean it yourself?"
"Sure do. Get her collar."
"She might bite me."
"Doubt it. She trusts me."
"But this will hurt her."
"'Course it will."
Reluctantly, Helen came forward and did as she was told. Owl Woman worked swiftly, making the cut in swollen infected skin and swabbing the puss and blood almost before the dog realized what had happened. A single yelp and brief struggle was all she had time for, then she let out a low keening while the lanced area was cleaned. She did not bite. When Owl Woman was done, she bound up the wound to keep the hound from licking it, then put away her improvised medical implements. She spoke with her back to Helen.
"Nothing heals till the puss is cleaned out. Better it not get infected at all but that can't always be helped. If it does go bad, you gotta cut. It hurts." Finally she turned, faced Helen. "But it's better than dying, enit?"
Chapter 5: V
Please come to the Cattaraugus Indian Reservation, New York Province, Earth. Helen Brant needs your help building a dam.
A dam? Solon stared at the mail on his screen. A dam. What did the stranger mean, that Helen needed his help to build a dam? Did the word have some symbolism that he was missing? For that matter, who was Marian Daugherty and how had she gotten his address? From Helen? Did Helen want him to come, too? The letter left him full of questions but two things he knew for certain: where he could find his bondmate, and that he would go to help her build her dam.
It did not take him long to pack. He probably should have called his parents to inform them where he was going, but did not pause long enough to think of it, nor did he give any thought to his cataloging project. It would still be there when he returned. Four years of waiting had rearranged his priorities.
Owl Woman took Helen to a creek running through a field along the back of the property; seven cows were pastured there. The creek was a tributary of the Cattaraugus river and the banks were steep. "It wants a dam to raise the water level so the cows can get in there to drink. I can't build one—the leg, y'know. I was hoping you might do it."
"Of course." Helen judged it only fair to assist her teacher in concrete ways in exchange for the teaching. She had been cleaning Owl Woman's house, too. So now she climbed down the bank to examine where the creek exited the pasture area. A dam here would certainly raise the water level in the pasture area, perhaps even make a small lake for the cows, but the creek ran wide and deep—not the ideal place for a dam. She set about discovering how to get around that and spent the rest of the afternoon canvasing online libraries on the topic of civil engineering. The following morning, however, Owl Woman said, "You don't need no book to build a dam. You need rocks and brush."
"Actually, I believe I shall need concrete blocks and quick-dry cement."
Owl Woman grinned. "Ain't ever seen no beaver with a bag of cement."
"I am not a beaver."
But Owl Woman just waved her to follow. When they reached the creek, Helen found the banks near the fence hip deep in boulders and underbrush. "Did you do this?" she asked, surprised, thinking of the woman's lame leg.
"Naw. Had Aaron Masterson's three grandkids bring 'em up yesterday while you had your nose in a computer screen. Can't build a dam with reference clear-cells."
Helen pursed her lips but refrained from pointing out that one could, indeed, learn how to build a dam with reference clear-cells. Did her teacher really expect her to use boulders and twigs?
Apparently so. "You go on back up to the house and get your work clothes on. I'll make us some lunch."
It took Helen three days to realize that she was not going to get anywhere on the dam with the materials she had, at least, not alone. She would work most of the day but every time she got three quarters of the dam up, the pressure of the current would dislodge rocks and brush and destroy her progress. Water was inexorable. She spent half her time resupplying for materials lost, and she should have said something to Owl Woman about the impossibility of the project on the third day, but it had become a battle between her and the creek. She had never surrendered easily. If Owl Woman wanted a dam made out of boulders, she would get it.
Solon arrived late in Gowanda, New York, seven days after he had received Owl Woman's letter. The ongoing war with the Dominion had slowed normal ship traffic; it was a dangerous time to travel in space but he had given no thought to that just as he had given no thought to informing his parents at to where he was going.
Cattaraugus Reservation sat northwest of Gowanda, up Indian Hill Road along Cattaraugus Creek. Public transport to and from the town of Irving ran only twice daily, and there was no transporter station there. Put out by the inconvenience and impatient after four years of uncertainty, Solon was disinclined to wait for morning. The woman at the Gowanda transporter station suggested he walk across the street to the Crystal Diner. "Some of the guys from the rez like to eat there. Maybe you can catch a ride back with one of them." Solon thanked her and left.
The Crystal Diner defined "greasy spoon." If there was, indeed, anything crystal in the establishment, it was hazed over by a thin film of tallow. Mostly, though, the place sported decor in formica and chrome and split red vinyl seats repaired with ductape. The two-dozen customers turned to look as he entered. Conversation broke off and, given the way he was being stared at, he doubted if half the patrons had ever seen a Vulcan before. After a moment, conversation resumed quietly and a young waitress with hair teased six inches straight up and a nametag which read "Carley" came over to ask "Can I help you?" rather than "A seat for one?" She must assume him lost. Her curiosity was evident in her face.
He spoke quietly. "I am looking for transportation out to the reservation tonight. I was told I might find someone here who would be willing to take me into Irving."
She looked him up and down. "What you want in Irving?"
"I was invited to come by a Marian Daugherty."
"Owl Woman asked for you? Don't that beat all." But she shrugged and stuffed a menu PADD in her pocket. "Follow me." And she led him around past the corner of the diner counter to a table occupied by three middle-aged men, all with the same characteristic stamp of feature which David Brant bore. Indians. They were drinking coffee black while two played chess on an old fashioned 2D board.
"Redeye. This guy says Owl Woman asked him to come out to the reservation. You'uns got room to take him back when you go?" Her dialect betrayed a Western Pennsylvania upbringing.
The one called Redeye studied Solon a moment, giving away nothing in his expression, as if observation were a form of poker. Then he nodded. "Think we can manage that. Have a seat, son." Solon did so. Redeye stuck out a hand which, after a brief hesitation, Solon took. "Jim Redeye. That's Nathan Locke and Carl Bennett—he's president."
"The Seneca nation."
"I thought Indians had chiefs? Helen's ancestor was a chief." He realized after a moment that they would have no idea who Helen was. "Helen Brant," he clarified.
Bennett spoke to the other two. "That's the pretty little dark girl staying up at Owl Woman's place."
"I wouldn't call her little," Locke replied with a grin. "She's taller than you are, Carl."
Bennett ignored this, spoke to Solon. "How d'you know her?"
Living with Helen had taught him the value of occasional imprecision, and he had no wish to explain the Vulcan practice of bonding to strangers. "She is my wife."
All three men sat forward and looked at him. "Well," was all Redeye said. They returned their attention then to the chess board and their coffee, offered him some of the latter which he took for politeness sake but did not drink. It smelled old and burnt and bitter. They had never answered his question about chiefs. Locke and Bennett finished their chess game, Bennett beating the other man soundly. He turned then to eye Solon.
"You never said what we can call you."
"Vulcans like chess, I hear."
It wasn't a question, and Solon did not bother to correct "like." "Some do," he replied.
Bennett twisted the board sidewise so that half of it faced Solon. "You want the white or the black?"
Solon had tried to keep from fidgeting while the two men had finished their game, but now he stared at the board, aghast. How long did they plan to stay here? But he swallowed his irritation—it was unbecoming—and selected the black queen, began to set up his side of the board. It should not take long to defeat Bennett; then perhaps they could go.
It took him almost two hours. The sun had long set outside, the coffee in the cup at his elbow stone cold, before Bennett tipped over his king in an admission of defeat. "May we leave now?" Solon asked, the first impatience he had permitted himself to display.
The three men glanced at each other, back at him. Jim Redeye was grinning. "I guess we kept him long enough, cousins." And he made a little shooing motion with his hand at Solon, who stood. He followed the three out of the diner around towards an old low-altitude hover-hauler. Apparently, it belonged to Bennett. "You can ride in the cab," Locke told him, and vaulted over the side of the bed, sat down on a bench and belted himself down. Redeye followed. Solon climbed into the hauler-cab as Bennett went around to the operator's side.
Mostly, they drove in silence but once they had reached the little town of Irving, Bennett ventured, "What does Owl Woman want with you, son?"
Remembering that the waitress with the gravity-defying hair had called her by that name too, he said, "I assume Marian Daugherty and Owl Woman are the same person?"
"Yup. Nobody knows her calls her Marian—'cept her old man before he kicked off."
Solon nodded. "She invited me to help build a dam."
Dark eyes crinkled with humor, Bennett glanced over at him. "A dam?"
Bennett just laughed.
"Do you understand the significance of her request?"
"Nope. But then, Owl Woman likes to be mysterious sometimes. It's a female thing."
"Who is she? It would seem that she is well-known."
"She's the Owl Woman," Bennett replied enigmatically, then would say no more. Used to Vulcan secrets, Solon could respect Indian ones.
Bennett deposited him and his luggage at the foot of the gravel driveway up to Owl Woman's farmhouse. Then he toggled the window down and leaned out. "I'll see you 'round, and a word of advice. If Owl Woman says jump, don't argue with her, ask how high. Comprende?"
Solon blinked. "I suppose."
"Good." Bennett leaned back in and closed the window, drove off. Solon turned to the house.
"It's not time."
"I beg your pardon?"
"It's not time," the woman with the large glasses told Solon. "She ain't ready for you. You got here slower than I expected, but then, it's taking her longer than I expected, too—so she ain't ready for you yet."
Irritated once again, Solon pinched the bridge of his nose. "When will she be 'ready'—and what am I to do in the meantime? Where am I to stay?"
"She'll be ready when she's ready," Owl Woman replied. "Right now, she's sleeping. You wait here. I'm gonna call a friend, send you up to her place for a day or two."
She shut the door, leaving him to wait alone on the dark porch in the cool of an autumn night. To describe his reception as bizarre would not begin to cover it, but her letter of invitation had been equally odd and he recalled Bennett's advice: don't argue with her, ask how high to jump. All right, then. For the moment, he would comply.
She returned in three minutes, "Come on," and led him up the gravel roadway. She had a limp. How peculiar. When they reached the same place where Bennett had let him out, she pointed further up the hill. "About a mile thataway, first driveway on your right. Bob and Katie Schleisser. They's white folk but solid good; ancestors have lived hereabouts for seven generations. They'll keep you till I call for you."
"Why can I not see Helen now?"
"Because like I said, she ain't ready." Then she tilted her head. "Trust me, Vulcan boy."
Solon had been raised to honor his elders. He bowed his head to her and started up the road.
"Has Solon contacted you?" It was T'Syra's voice over the comm. line. There was no visual. Vulcans used visuals only about half the time.
David Brant took his pipe out of his mouth and leaned his chair back on two legs. It was a habit his Vulcan colleagues found amusing. "No. Why?"
"He is not at his flat, nor has he been to the university or to any museums in eight days. No one has seen him at all."
Brant dropped the chair down. "Did you check the hospitals?"
"Oh, yes. He is not there, either. I am not certain he is still on the planet at all."
Brant thought about that. "Where would he go?"
"I do not know." What neither said but both assumed was that wherever Solon had gone, it probably had to do with Helen. "David," T'Syra said after a moment, "Solon is twenty-five, by your Standard calendar."
"Solon is twenty-five, almost twenty-six," T'Syra said again, doggedly. Brant didn't answer and, after a longer pause, she added, "How old was Saval when we married?"
Brant had to think about it, then replied, "Twenty-six."
"Indeed." And she hung up.
"Shit," Brant said to the dead comm line.
"I've had it!" Helen yelled, clambering up from the creek bed to confront Owl Woman where she sat in an old lawn chair high on one bank, sewing something in ribbon. Helen's braids had come half down and hung in her face; one brown cheek was streaked with darker dirt, along with her hands and clothing. "I've had it."
"You used a contraction."
"You used a contraction. Ain't never heard you use a contraction before."
Frustrated and baffled both, Helen glanced off downriver and blew out in a huff, wiped at the sweat on her forehead. Her fingers left black streaks there to match the one on her cheek.
"I cannot build the dam by myself," Helen said after a moment. "Not with boulders and brush!"
Owl Woman glanced up, face sly. "Oh?"
Something in the tone alerted Helen. "You knew it all along, didn't you?"
But Owl Woman simply stood up. "Let's go home. I need to start supper."
"What about the dam?"
"What about it?" Her teacher folded her chair and tucked her ribbonwork under an arm.
"You wanted me to build you a dam!"
Owl Woman nodded, then turned and headed up the path back to the farmhouse. "We'll come back tomorrow."
"We have been coming back every morning for six days and I am no further along than at the end of the first one!"
"Tomorrow, you will be," Owl Woman called back.
They arrived at the creek a little after dawn. Helen started when she realized someone was already there. Squatting on the bank, balanced on his heels, was Solon. She didn't know what to think, spun first to Owl Woman, who merely blinked, then back towards Solon. He had raised his head to look at her from tired, intense eyes, like some faded icon in an ancient basilica. "How did you get here?" she demanded.
"By spaceliner," he replied.
His Vulcan literalism annoyed her. "There's a war going on!"
"Indeed. It was not the most rapid passage, from Vulcan to Earth."
"I didn't invite you!"
Solon nodded past her towards Owl Woman. "She did."
Helen turned on her teacher. "What gave you the right?"
"You said yesterday that one person couldn't build the dam. There's your help."
Helen put her back to them both.
"You're angry," Owl woman said. "Angry at the world. Why don't you go breathe with the cows a while?"
"Go breathe with the cows. Lay down on the earth and listen. If you're quiet, maybe she'll tell you something."
Helen turned towards Solon for support. "You see how much sense she makes? First she wants me to build a dam from boulders. Now she tells me to go breathe with the cows!"
"I believe she refers to a form of meditation."
Making an exasperated sound, Helen stalked off—towards the cows. She wasn't sure how one was supposed to "breathe" with them, but she knew that, at the moment, she certainly had no desire to remain in the company of either Owl Woman or Solon. So she plopped down amid the seven bovines and laid back in the long grass. Owl Woman had said to listen to the earth, but Helen felt more like hitting it. In a pique, she did so. It felt good. She hit it again, then again. She lay there and fought the earth until she was exhausted. The cows ignored her. When she was quiet again, the tears came. Five years of tears ran out into the land of her ancestors, turned the dirt into mud under her left cheek. Around her, resting cows breathed in and out, grass- sweet. She began to breathe with them. The earth was warm from the sun of Indian summer. She could hear the heartbeat of her mother beneath her and like an infant at the breast, sated with milk, she slept at last.
When she woke, she found Solon sitting quiet, watching her a half dozen feet away, his arms about his drawn-up knees. "How long have you been there?" She sat up. The sun was past noon.
"Four hours, seventeen minutes."
"How long have I been asleep?"
"I do not know precisely." He shifted position. "I do not think we shall build the dam today."
"She doesn't give a damn about the dam." Then she laughed at her own pun even though it wasn't particularly funny.
He shook his head a little. "You sound different."
"Do you wish I sounded like I used to?"
"It is pointless to pursue the past. What is, is."
She shoved herself to her feet so abruptly, several of the cows started. "It is not pointless!" she screamed. "What do you think makes the present, Solon? I can't just erase what happened to me! I can't just forget it, no matter how much you wish I would!"
He rose more calmly, held out a hand. "I did not say that I wished you would."
"Maybe not, but you act like it."
"Forgive me. That was never my intention."
"Do you blame me?"
"Do you blame me, for what happened? Do you blame me for getting raped?"
Solon could not have been more shocked if she had slapped him. His first reaction was an aggravated "Of course not!" but he bit it back. Instead, he said simply, "No."
And Helen believed him. Fervent denial would have struck her as tantamount to agreement. Solon's 'no' convinced in its simplicity.
She sat down again crosslegged amid the cows. He came over to sit directly opposite her, but did not touch her. "You never talked to me about it," she said. "We never talked about it."
"Is that why you left me?"
"Not really. I just...needed to get away. Why didn't you ever want to talk about it, though?"
"I did not know what to say to you. I have no eloquence of speech."
"I didn't need eloquence, Solon. I just...needed to talk."
"I will listen."
She laughed a little and turned her head aside. "It's a little late for that."
"Is it?" Something edged the words, some hint of desperation. Even Solon's phlegmatism had its limits.
After a while, head still turned away, she began. "I suppose I should have taken more precautions the night it happened. Owl Woman says I don't always see what is right in front of me."
"You cannot blame yourself."
"I don't—not precisely. But she was right. I don't always see what I should. I should have recognized what my mother was up to, and I should have taken more precautions with Jan Braulik. Perhaps in the end, it would have made no difference, but I have to see how I may have contributed to the situation. I don't blame myself for what he did, though." She turned, searching his face. "Do you understand? There is a difference between guilt and responsibility. I couldn't separate them, so I took it all as guilt. I couldn't get rid of the guilt until I recognized what I had done to contribute, so I could see things as they really were. That's what Owl Woman was trying to teach me: to see what really happened, not what I thought happened. Still, I needed to know that you didn't blame me, either."
"I do not. Nor am I convinced that you are responsible in any way, either."
"You're still confusing guilt with what I may have overlooked, Solon. Like I said, they're not the same. Seeing how I contributed doesn't excuse what they did to me. But maybe it will keep it from happening to me again." She paused, then said, "The police told me you hit one of them."
Solon shifted, uncomfortable, his expression that of a man who has swallowed a bite unchewed. "I did."
"Tell me what happened. I know you went to Jan's hotel. I know you were the one who brought him in to the police. But you never told me what happened."
He had never told her because he had been afraid: afraid she would resent him for not finishing what he had begun, or for beginning it at all. But she was owed the truth. He offered his hand to show her his memory of that morning, but she pushed the hand away. It was their first touch in over four years. "No. Talk to me, Solon. Don't use the meld."
He folded the rejected hand back into his lap with the other, stared down at them as he spoke. "I...left the hospital to find him—to find them. I wished to kill them for what they did to you."
When he did not immediately continue, Helen prompted, "Why didn't you?"
"Because then he would have won." Frowning, Solon flexed his fingers. "He would have won because he would have been in control: he would have driven me to violence. Revenge is not victory but defeat." He looked up again. "To walk away is victory."
"You sound like Surak."
"Surak was right."
She leaned back on her hands and stared at the sky overhead. No bird crossed it, no cloud. He waited. Finally, she said, "You're wiser than I, Solon."
"And you are braver. I do not think I would have survived."
She smiled a little, self-depreciatingly, and looked down at him. There was desperation in her eyes. "Am I beautiful?"
The question took him aback. "Do you mean physically?"
His eyebrows hopped once. "In truth, I had never considered it. I suppose that you are. It is not important."
Suddenly, he found his arms full of Helen. She had leapt at him, knocking him over backwards into the grass and now was hugging him tight, her face buried in his shoulder. "Helen?"
"Take me home," she said into the fabric of his tunic. "Take me home where what I look like doesn't matter."
Slowly, he stroked her braids. "We have a dam to build first, I believe."
With two people, it took only two days to complete the dam, two days and several bags of cement even if Owl Woman still insisted that they use boulders. "They look better."
Simple physical labor and the distraction of engineering allowed them to remember what it was like to work together without pressure to resolve more esoteric matters. Helen chattered about her four years of travel; he listened. Owl Woman watched them from the bank. When they had completed their work late the second afternoon, Helen climbed out to do a little war dance on the bank. Or that's what she called it. Owl Woman snorted and Solon scratched his head. When she was done, the three of them walked back towards the farmhouse.
Just before they reached the back porch, Helen screwed up her courage to ask Owl Woman the question she had wanted to ask since she had arrived. "Why didn't you ever see a doctor about your leg?"
Light from the back door flashed off her teacher's glasses as she glanced over and the moon illumined her salt and pepper hair like the feathers of a great grey owl. For just a moment, the rise and lurch of her walk reminded Helen of an bird trying to fly with a clipped wing: earth-bound and domesticated by handicap.
"Our people, they come to me when they're wounded," she said. "They know I know how it is. They trust me."
"Like the dog."
"Yeah. Like the dog. It's 'cause of this"—she gestured to her leg—"that I have the right, and the power, to heal."
"The wounded healer?"
"You might say that. We're all healers now and then, especially in the places we've been hurt ourselves. But some of us, the Great Spirit calls to do the job on a regular basis."
Helen stopped at the foot of the back stairs. "You mean you're a medicine woman?"
Owl Woman grinned at her. "What? You only now figured that out, girl?" And she opened the door. Kitchen light spilled down the steps like butter, yellow and warm. "I told you, you don't see what's right in front of you."
Chapter 6: VI
Owl Woman's house had three bedrooms, but the first night Solon spent there, he found his bags—brought up from the neighbors'—set neatly next to Helen's in the same guestroom. Owl Woman knew they had shared a flat on Vulcan and must have made certain assumptions. Yet when Helen started to explain that they had kept separate beds, he shook his head minutely at her and she subsided. He could not have said why he had done that; it was more than politeness. Still, it took three days before he gathered courage enough to face his reasons.
Each night after supper, they went out onto the porch to sit in the swing and talk, like courting teenagers, like strangers. In a way, they were strangers. They had spent four important years apart. Helen had changed, as had Solon. Now they tackled the task of rediscovery. He knew he could not afford to be uncommunicative, so he found his voice, and found her to be a surprisingly patient listener, not hurrying him, waiting for him to choose the right words. He could never seem to find the right words fast enough; that was why he spoke little. The moment to speak was usually past before he knew what it was he wanted to say. Once, Helen would have finished his sentences for him. Now, she sat sideways on the swing, braced against the arm, feet in his lap, and waited for him to think things through. Then he would talk and she would listen. Or she would talk and he would listen while he rubbed her feet.
The topic of sex was avoided. Never an easy thing for Vulcans to discuss in any case, Helen's rape had made it harder. If rape was not a crime about sex, it was a sexual crime and could hardly fail to have an impact on her sexuality—or on his. It already had.
He was desperately afraid.
When the pon farr came on him, what would he do to Helen? Would he hurt her in his need? Would he frighten her? Would he force himself on her like Jan Braulik had? The thought of it tormented him, gave him nightmares. Logic—and good common sense—dictated that he approach her before his body forced him to. Nevermind propriety. It was for this reason that Solon had silenced Helen when she had started to protest their sharing a room and bed. He hoped he might find the courage to touch her, but as he had told her three days ago, it was she who had courage. He had lived his life by passive consent. Thus, in the end, it was Helen who initiated things. Solon merely followed her lead.
The night the dam was finished, Helen seemed more jubilant than usual, more like the Helen of their childhood. She had won something at the creek that evening. They both had. After supper, Owl Woman announced that she was going to a friend's house to play cards. "Don't wait up," she told them as she closed the door behind her.
Suddenly nervous at being left alone in the house with Helen—a transparent ploy to permit them to do precisely what he wanted to do—Solon busied himself cleaning dishes instead. Owl Woman used real ones. He fed the scraps of their supper to the hound bitch and washed what was dirty while Helen drifted away into the living room, turned on music. When he finished and walked down the short hall to join her, she was dancing, swaying on the braided rug in the room's center as if in a trance. She had changed out of the shorts and top which she had worn to work in, donned a loose skirt of Indian ribbonwork, probably the one Owl Woman had been sewing. It brushed her bare ankles as her braids swung about her shoulders. A reading light behind haloed her form. She was beautiful. He wondered why he had never noticed that before she had asked. Perhaps because he knew her too well, her face was too familiar. Like Helen, he was guilty sometimes of not seeing what was right in front of him.
Yet she had sounded so desperately glad when he had said her beauty did not matter to him that he felt guilty now for noticing. Was it wrong, though, to admire the aesthetically pleasing? If so, why did he waste time making beautiful things in glass? Beauty had its place. And in the end, a large part of what made Helen lovely was not the flawless arrangement of features, but the spirit behind which animated them, the life in her which made her dance.
Sensing his presence, she had turned, held out a hand to him. She spoke in Vulcan for the first time since his arrival. "Come dance with me."
Like art, Solon found dance to be an outlet for expression, another manner of speaking without words. He took her hand and let her lead him in a simple folk cotillion they had learned as children. It permitted them to touch in controlled, stylized fashion. When the song finished, she released his hands but stepped closer rather than away, looked up into his face. He was one of the few people Helen Brant had to look up to significantly. With two fingers, she traced the line from his cheekbone to his temple. Faces so close, she could not focus on both his eyes at the same time but had to flick hers back and forth between. "I feel you. I know what you want to ask but can't make yourself." He raised an eyebrow, though perhaps she did know; they had been bonded so long, it would not surprise him if Helen had gained some small ability to read him. Or maybe she just read his anxieties in his face. "Ask me, Solon."
Still, he hesitated. "Would you not rather talk on the porch?"
"It's too cold out there for you tonight. Ask." She touched his cheek again. "Or are you afraid of me?"
"I am...afraid...of myself."
Her eyes narrowed. "Are you— Is it your time?"
"No, I do not think so."
"Then why are you afraid?"
It was not a reason, but she knew what his reasons were. "I'm not afraid of you," she said, taking his other hand and tugging him after her, towards the room they shared. "Come with me."
So he did.
They shut the door behind them though no one else was in the house, then he undressed her, sat on the bed edge and just looked at her. It was not that he had never seen her naked before, but this was different. "You are beautiful," he said.
There was not much light in the room, only what came through the window from the moon and the porch light. It caught her torso but not her face; she spoke out of shadow. "I thought you said that didn't matter to you."
"It does not. But I can still admire."
She came closer and he laid his open palm on her belly above her uterus. Someday, she would carry their child there, a child they would make by the same act which tonight would renew their bond. He had no illusions that sex would be easy, or that it would magically heal everything, but they could not—should not—avoid it any further. Fear was not the best motivator, perhaps, but fear would never be exorcised until they had done this thing.
He ran hands over her chest and back, cupped her breasts, soft and round like two turtledoves, then picked her up and laid her on the bed so that he could reach her whole body. He was still dressed and she tugged at his clothing. He shed it quickly. He had been afraid that without the help of pon farr, he might be unable to consummate their bonding but that did not appear to be a problem. She touched him there, stroked him, and he jerked up his chin, breathing in once sharply and moving her hand away. "Wait," he whispered.
Like Solon, Helen had her own fears about sex, if not the ones he would have expected or held himself. She had been honest when she had said she had no fear of him. It was her own reactions that worried her. Would she find his arousal repulsive? If she did, she could not hide it from him, telepath that he was. Yet when he had stripped at last, she had felt only curiosity. There was no desire in her, but there was no aversion, either. She had touched his erection, felt along the shaft—a warm, velvet-sheathed stiffness—till he had begged her to wait.
Not sure what else to do, and with no more to guide her than dry academic descriptions, young-adult romance holonovels, and the brutal experience of Jan Braulik, she rolled onto her back and opened her legs to him. Confronted by such a blunt invitation, Solon's erection deflated. "What happened?" she whispered, sitting up a little.
Mute and embarrassed, he shook his head, ran his hand up and down in the curve between her hip and breast. "Shhh," he said finally, covered them both with a blanket. He was cold.
They lay in the dark a while, listening to the small sounds of the house around them: a creak of settling timber, the hum of the space-heater in the corner. She had slipped one of her thighs between his. With no immediate demands but the feel of her body next to his, his erection soon returned. She felt it and pressed herself against him while he ran hands down her back to her buttocks, pulled her closer. Hesitant and clumsy, she kissed him. After a moment, he kissed her back. Still, there was something missing. She was jockeying position again to take him inside her, one leg thrown up over his hip, hands fumbling to direct him.
"Stop," he said, catching her impatient hands.
"But you're ready."
"No, I am not." Just because he had an erection did not mean he was ready. He was not an animal, to cover her immediately and be finished in an instant. "Kiss me again."
She did so. He found it pleasant but it wasn't what he wanted most; he pulled back enough to speak against her mouth. "I need to touch your mind. I know you have asked that I talk to you but, for this, I need to touch your mind."
She smiled; he could sense it more than see it in the dark. "I think we've said what we needed to say." Her breath puffed against his cheek. "It's just too easy to use the mindmeld like a crutch, Solon. Some things don't communicate that way. They need a voice."
Nodding, he raised a hand to her delicate-boned face, found the pressure-points. Shock of contact, all familiar-unfamiliar. Then they were falling into one another.
After that, it was all right. Awkward, and it seemed one of them had too many arms until he rolled her atop him, but all right. Having her on top was easier: she could not bear his weight holding her down—it brought back bad memories—and having her on top left his hands free. She liked the way he touched her and leaned into him, let her head hang, completely relaxed, until he was ready to go inside. Then he crowded her, filled her too full and she bit her lip in pain. He was not rough, but she still clenched involuntarily until he drew her into his own experience, the pleasure of his physical sensations, through the meld. Finally she opened around him and he moved against her, into her, seeking his source, all his cherished ability to reason fled until the pressure gave way in an explosion that made him arch his back, curl his toes and shout out loud. She watched his face in wonder, awed that she could give him this. One day, perhaps she would be able to share it, but that no longer worried her. The mystery had been taken out of it, and the larger-than-life expectations. With it had gone their respective fears.
They cleaned themselves up then and slept.
They left Owl Woman's house and Cattaraugus Reservation on a Tuesday morning in October. The trees were beginning to turn and during the walk into Irving, Solon picked up several yellow and pink maple leaves, put them in the pocket of a jacket he had borrowed from Carl Bennett. When Helen asked him what he planned to do with them, he shook his head. "Perhaps nothing. But they are beautiful. Beauty exists in its own right."
A week later, they were back in ShiKahr to the great relief of their parents, all three of whom met them at the shuttleport. T'Syra exchanged a fond press of hands with her son while scrutinizing his face—"You are well?"—but she found nothing hiding there besides joy. Menelaos had returned with his Helen.
"I am well," he replied.
"There was...nothing amiss...which made you depart without leaving us word?" his father asked.
"No." Ashamed, Solon dropped his chin. "I regret that I caused you concern."
Saval waved it off. By now, David Brant had joined them, one arm around Helen. Less coy than his colleagues, he asked straight out, "Then you're not in pon farr?"
Solon blinked, shared a glance with Helen. "Oh. Uh—no." Helen gave him a secret smile. The rest was between the two of them. "No," he said again. "I was simply invited to help Helen build a dam."
"A dam?" Brant said.
"Yes. A Marian Daugherty sent me a letter—"
"Owl Woman?" Brant interrupted, voice raised. "How the hell did the Owl Woman get involved in this?"
"I'll explain when we get home," Helen told him, tugging him along by the arm still curled around her. "I want to go home."
So Brant led them out of the shuttleport to where they could catch ground transport back to ShiBaran. On the way, he said to Helen, "Three months ago, we unearthed a bilingual inscription which should interest you...."
Chapter 7: Epilogue
A glass sculpture dominated the art show, displayed on a central platform, floodlights pointed up to bring out the sparkle. The glass from which it had been cast was perfectly clear, the figure that of a woman though the gender was implied in the curve of line more than anatomically. Four colored maple leaves had been caught inside the sweep of hair as if frozen in ice. It was a portrait, not a likeness, and like Lysippos, the artist had endeavored to show her not as she was, but as she seemed: to catch the clarity of spirit from which sprang her beauty.
Certainly those who had come to the show, Vulcan and non-Vulcan alike, thought the sculpture beautiful. One businessman from Risa asked how much it cost. The artist merely pointed to a small sign at the base: "Not for sale."
"Some things are 'not for sale' until the right price is offered," the businessman said.
"It is not mine to sell," the artist replied.
"Whose is it then?"
"My wife's." The artist gestured to a tall dark woman standing off to one side, speaking to other patrons. "It was made for her."
The businessman whistled. "Lucky you to have a wife who looks like that. Is she the model, too?"
The businessman turned back to the artist, handed over a personal card made of real paper. "If you ever decide to make a duplicate, keep me in mind."
"There is only one," the artist replied. Bowing politely and backing away, he went to join his wife. The card he tossed surreptitiously in a trashbin.