“… that wiped out 42% of the women in the northern regions, the practice of sa-kali'farr (roughly translated, male marriage) was successfully adopted to preserve Vulcan culture until the subsequent generation’s population maintained a gender balance that was sustainable and …”
“… current census data conclude that the 2:1 ratio of males to females on the colony of New Vulcan …”
“... estimate a genetic and cultural crisis within the next 5 generations.”
“... transport for all citizens of New Vulcan to the colony for Mnah (courting rituals) aboard Federation vessels …”
Jim Kirk’s eyes scanned over the PADD, and he felt a migraine coming on. He wondered how the ‘Fleet issued debriefing/history lesson was going to impact his next orders. Never mind that they were about to embark on a five-year exploratory mission. Emphasis on explore. The Enterprise was the bright and shining face that Starfleet preferred to show to the survivors on New Vulcan. If Jim bothered to look, he was sure the recent upswing and spikes in Vulcan enlistment into Starfleet could be correlated with the visits the Enterprise made to the colony. He didn’t have to be an admiral to figure out what the next message from command was going to be.
His next thought (although he was trying hard not to think it) was how this sa-kali'farr practice was going to affect his Vulcan commander. Spock was a private person, and Jim tried to respect that. He suspected Spock would do him the dubious favor of keeping this from him as long as possible.
Uhura, however, he should have counted on. Three minutes after reading the debriefing, his communications officer burst into the room, terrifying and stunning.
“Lieutenant, please enter,” Jim said ironically, watching the ominous storm was that was Uhura descend upon his desk.
“Did you read it?” she asked darkly. “Do you understand what this means?”
Kirk opened his mouth to reply, but she continued on her rant before he could voice an affirmative answer. “Every unbonded Vulcan male not on the colony, expected to pair up like Noah’s Ark, despite preference or past or career. The Federation is supporting every measure to accommodate this! Turning Starbases into singles bars for Vulcans! It goes against the Federation Charter, five different Vulcan tenets for self-actualization, and—“
Uhura’s eyes narrowed at Jim’s poorly disguised grin. Single bars for Vulcans? That sounded hilarious. “Permission to speak freely captain.”
“Retroactively granted, Lieutenant,” he said drolly, trying to ruffle Uhura, and failing.
“We can’t let Spock do this.”
“I am not in a position to interfere with Spock’s personal life, Lieutenant. And if memory serves me right, as of four months ago, neither are you.”
It was impossible to get under Uhura’s skin, even about this. The abrupt ending of Spock and Nyota’s personal relationship was a constant source of speculation among the crew. As it was, finding out a month ago that his Communication Officer and First Officer ended their romantic relationship and had decided to “keep private matters private” even from their captain, was either annoying or admirable. They were perfectly professional in every way, still socialized outside of work in a way that seemed no different when they were the Enterprise’s cutest couple. Jim, who couldn’t or wouldn’t hold a partner long enough to know their middle name, wasn’t sure how that feat was accomplished.
“Uhura, I can promise you, if Spock wants my help in this matter, he has it.”
Her face changed slightly, softening just a tiny bit. “Of course, captain.” And she turned around, leaving Jim to wonder if he somehow signed himself up for something.
As if by the will of Uhura, at 1900 hours, as Jim was about contemplating heading out for an evening workout with Sulu, Spock appeared at his door.
“Captain, if I may speak with you?”
It sounded like a question, but most certainly wasn’t. Jim took a moment to look over his commanding officer before gesturing him inside his quarters. Spock somehow looked more rigid, more formal, and tense, if the word could be applied to Vulcans.
“Come in Mr. Spock. To what do I owe this surprise?” Jim said in a lazy tone that disguised the confusion he felt.
Despite the fact that they shared an adjoining bathroom, dined together several times a week, and had most shifts on the bridge together, Jim could not think of a single time that Spock had entered his quarters. Spock took three long steps into the room, eyes darting from the desk, to a shelf, and settled on a wall hanging that Jim’s brother’s wife sent him when he became captain. Bones referred to the wall hanging as “three dead cats floating in an asteroid belt,” but Jim found the work interesting, if a little violent.
“You have a Denobulan fertility blessing in your quarters,” Spock said, apropos of nothing, and then pursed his lips together, as if trying to stop other surprising words from jumping out. The Vulcan was not in the habit of sticking his foot in his mouth. There probably wasn’t a Vulcan word for that social blunder.
Jim smirked, turning to the wall hanging. “Is that what it is? I always thought it looked like a field of cows having a war.”
Spock merely stared at the Denobulan fertility blessing/bovine war as if it might have been the reason why he was in his captain’s quarters to begin with. Jim waited a few moments before he prodded, “Is there something you wanted to talk to me about, Mr. Spock?”
Spock turned, hands folded neatly at the small of his back, his posture even more rigid (if that was possible) than usual and fixed Jim with a steady look. "You are aware of the reinstatement of the ancient Vulcan practice of sa-kali'farr, and that I am expected to take part."
Again with the non-questions. "Yes, I read the debriefing. I want you to know that I will help you in whatever way I can, Spock."
That seemed to be the right thing to say. Spock's shoulders seemed to loosen just a little.
“James Tiberius Kirk, I search for a bondmate. I ask you to represent the Great House of Sarek as my pe'le'ut'la, my chaperone and mediator. Your acceptance would honor my house.”
As far as formal speeches go, Vulcans were blessedly brief. Before Spock could launch into a history lesson or list the logical merits of being a pe’le-whatsit, Jim gestured to a chair. “Would you have a seat, and explain exactly what it is you are asking for, in more detail?”
Spock took a seat at the efficient glass table for two that served as Jim’s dining table when he took the rare dinner in his quarters. Jim walked to the replicator and came back with two cups of the tea he noticed Spock preferred.
Spock raised an eyebrow as Jim took a long sip from his cup. “It’s too late for coffee, too weird for alcohol,” he said defensively.
“Captain,” Spock started, and then quickly amended, “Jim, with the reinstatement of sa-kali'farr, I find myself in a most unanticipated position. I find it logical to find someone aboard the Enterprise to stand as a mediator, to assist in the rituals of finding an appropriate bondmate.”
“I am honored you thought of me,” Jim said.
“You are my friend,” Spock said simply. Jim beamed, gratified to hear it from him when there was no imminent danger, for once. “As bonding between two adult males is unusual in Vulcan culture, and necessitates a level of familiarity usually unnecessary during a traditional bond. The pe'le'ut'la attends the initial rituals, and stands to testify that those rituals were upheld. Utmost care and adherence to the rituals protect all that are involved.“
“You mean there are no gay Vulcans?” For that matter, did Spock like men? In Jim’s experience, every race had a diverse expression of sexuality. He was known to sample that diversity from time to time.
“A bondmate of the same gender would be illogical in most circumstances. Vulcans choose bondmates for their children when they are eight Standard years old, in order to provide emotional stability and create a family unit when they are sexually mature.”
Of course Vulcans would see sexual orientation as illogical. “Did you have an arranged marriage?”
Spock shifted his gaze away from Jim, the only outward sign of his discomfort. “The daughter of a well-connected family was selected as my bondmate. T’Pring and I were found incompatible shortly after the bonding. My parents declined to set up another match after the incident. I have been fam’telsu, unbonded, since then.”
“Oh.” That sounded awful. Jim was struck by the odd thought that Spock and Bones may have more in common than they ever thought. He pictured them commiserating over drinks about their ex wives, and then shook off that thought before it got more ridiculous. “So I need to watch these rituals, make sure no suitor gets inappropriate with your person and that all participants stay within the well maintained and documented circle of Vulcan etiquette, thus ensuring the honor of your house is intact?”
It was a credit to Spock’s ongoing exposure to Terran culture that he simply nodded. “I do not anticipate that this will take up much of your time. My father, as my house patriarch, will be taking care of any requests. There are many cultural reasons why I would be considered a poor choice for a bondmate under sa-kali'farr.”
“What? Why?” That rankled. Never mind that Jim found this whole Vulcan practice ridiculous from his Human perspective, certainly after all that had happened with the Narada and Spock’s impressive service record, Spock would be considered quite a catch by Vulcan standards.
“My Human ancestry has been a source of contention among most Vulcans,” Spock admitted. Jim could infer what happened with T’Pring. “My career with Starfleet may be another obstacle. Most of my potential bondmates had established careers off Vulcan and have no plans to resettle on the colony. It will be difficult to initiate contact with them while they visit the colony."
"Lucky for you, we are not headed to deep space for another year," Jim said, trying to lighten the mood. "And the flagship of Starfleet has been rechristened the Vulcan Love Boat." "Captain?"
Explanation of Twentieth century pop culture references, a gap in Spock’s ongoing Terran cultural exposure would have to wait for later. "We have our orders do dock at Epsilon 3 and pick up supplies for our new mission to the Vulcan colony. Convenient, isn't it?"
"Quite convenient," Spock agreed.
“Spock, I have to ask, do you really want to go through with this? You don’t owe them anything.” And they owe you everything. Jim left that unsaid, as he suspected Spock’s heroic actions didn’t go far with the logical-yet-xenophobic race.
“I admit that I have no interest in securing a bondmate at this time,” Spock said reluctantly. “However, to ignore the opportunity to find a bondmate through sa-kali'farr would be illogical. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, as the Terran saying goes. I can assure you that my duties aboard the ship take priority, and I will endeavor to limit the interruptions of your time."
"Relax, Spock, it's not every day I get front row seats to ancient Vulcan rituals and customs,” Jim said, and then drained his tea cup. “Now, go make your formal declaration of eligible bachelor status, and I will see if I can replicate a robe in the appropriate shade of burgundy for the occasion."
Spock's only outward sign of surprise of Jim's knowledge was that all-expressive eyebrow.
"Really, you didn't think I'd read up on this? Fascinating stuff, Vulcan rituals.” Perhaps a certain Communications Officer had sent a historical document to his PADD, probably anticipating Spock’s request.
"You honor me by your acceptance," Spock said, rising from his seat and raising his hand in a Vulcan salute. "Live long and prosper."
"The honor is mine, Spock, son of Sarek.” Not the precise Vulcan phraseology for accepting a formal request, but it conveyed a sense of gravity. Jim attempted to return the gesture, and with a little effort, it was passable. "Peace and long life."
Two days later, the Enterprise was docked at Epsilon 3 for repairs and to pick up cargo for the colony on New Vulcan. Two thirds of the crew took advantage of shore leave, but Jim elected to catch up on paperwork, taking advantage of the deserted rec room with the cushy sofas.
It was with a little surprise that he found a message from Ambassador Sarek, Spock’s father.
Captain James T. Kirk,
The arrival of the Enterprise is anticipated to arrive in four Standard days. Your presence as pe'le'ut'la and the fam’telsu Spock are requested for three Mnah rituals. Spocks says your acceptance is a great honor to our house. I trust you will find the attached resource a useful to the ancient Vulcan rituals. Live Long and Prosper. Ambassador Sarek
Although it was phrased in that same efficient manner as Spock’s request, Jim heard loud and clear that Sarek was less than pleased that Jim was going to be stumbling beside Spock in a Vulcan marriage ritual. Vulcans, but Sarek was an ambassador. He knew how to get his point across effectively and politely. Jim didn’t want to admit it, but that bothered him. He didn’t agree with the edict, but he was Spock’s friend, and he would do anything to make his friend happy, or the Vulcan equivalent of happiness. While Jim was pondering that particular mystery, Spock entered deserted rec room, ready to go over the repair report.
“Spock,” Jim said, waving his PADD in the air. “You’ve got suitors banging on your door already.”
“If any fam'telsu was aggressive in his—”
“It’s an expression, Spock. It sounds like he has a full day planned for us when we arrive at New Vulcan, three potential bondmates lined up. Your father was kind enough to send me homework before we arrive. I think he’s worried sick that I will disgrace your great house and topple the pillars of Vulcan tradition,” Jim said with an ironic smirk.
“I doubt my father’s health has changed much since his own message to me today. I, too, received the sa-kali'farr protocols.” Jim felt a little better about that. How many Vulcans received education about this long-dead ritual? Spock moved his attention to his own PADD, and continued in a careful voice, “I have a history of ignoring traditional Vulcan social mores. Perhaps it was an attempt to aid you in keeping me in line?”
Jim stared slack-jawed at Spock, who glanced up, his eyes crinkling a little in the corners, and back down to his PADD.
“Commander, did you just use a Human idiom?” Jim said, slightly awed.
Spock raised an eyebrow, eyes not moving from his PADD. “My apologies, Captain. It will not happen again.”
Jim closed his mouth, amused and surprised at the hidden depths of his half-Vulcan friend. Spock, the rebel. Jim knew a thing or two about that.
He had a sudden flashback to his first and only prom the year he managed to stay in high school until spring. Jim didn’t want to go and didn’t like or know his classmates, but his Mom insisted it was a rite of passage that he couldn’t miss. Jim couldn’t remember his date’s name; he thought it was a blonde girl in his math class. What he did remember was that on the outside, he was cool, full of teenage swagger and confidence. Deep down, he ached, watching the classmates he never got to know, partnered up, dancing, and laughing. He didn’t know what he was doing with these happy strangers. So he dragged his date out of the dance thirty minutes later for a roll in the hay, left her there to get drunk alone, and found a way to get suspended (for the fifth time) a week later.
Jim would be damned before he’d let Spock experience that.