The planet Earth is not similar to Vulcan.
It is class M planet with a largely nitrogen and oxygen atmosphere, containing only trace amounts of other elements. The atmosphere is also thicker, which necessitates a slightly more conscious effort to breathe than is generally preferable to Vulcan natives. Additionally, the gravitational pull of the planet is not as strong, often causing periods of instability to those who are unaccustomed to it, though Vulcans are usually able to prepare beforehand and thus are not so affected.
The planet is tilted on an axis, resulting in a wide variance in the temperatures across the globe, reaching as low as negative one hundred twenty-eight degrees and as high as one hundred sixteen degrees. It it worth mentioning that both of the locations that reach those temperatures every year are inhabited.
Besides the physical features, the flora and fauna of Earth are much more plentiful than that of Vulcan. The biodiversity is objectively astonishing when compared to that of many other planets in the galaxy. Billions of animals roam the planet, countless species of plants cover every continent, life existing in even the most extreme of locations. The most prevalent of these species are the intelligent beings known as Terrans. Terrans have been warp capable for over three centuries, and they have managed to, at least on a general scale, overcome their violent history, though little can be said of their continued emotionalism.
These are things that Spock knows. He has done his research. Anything there is to know about the planetary and biological aspects of Earth, he knows it, quoted directly from a textbook, but he is quickly discovering that, like Vulcan and Earth, there is a great difference between knowing and experiencing.
For example, despite his knowledge of the Terran gravitational pull, when Spock stepped out of the ambassadorial issue Federation shuttlecraft with his mother and father, his muscle memory betrayed him, and he stumbled quite ungracefully and nearly fell. His father gave this slight a mere glance, but Spock knew that it was catalogued and impeccably filed away nonetheless. He had been embarrassed, but he did not show it on his face.
Spock’s father, Ambassador Sarek, left almost immediately after their landing. His diplomatic duties as the Vulcan ambassador to the tense Federation-Melkotian negotiations will require much time and dedication. Spock will not see his father for two months if the negotiations end on schedule. Both he and his mother have gone longer than this without seeing Ambassador Sarek, so it will not be a distressing time for either of them.
Or, rather, previous data suggests that Spock’s mother, Lady Amanda, will not experience distress during the two month period during which she will not see her husband. Spock’s mother is a variable, the x in an ever-changing equation, and her emotional, fully human reactions are never quite predictable. Spock has long given up attempting to do so, instead, learning to interpret and respond to emotionalism by gathering as much data on the subject as possible. But nothing is ever conclusive with human minds.
One bit of data that he recently collected is that his mother changes rather abruptly when she is on Earth. She has removed her scarves, for example. Almost immediately after her husband left, she uncovered her hair, seeming to relish it. It likely gives her a certain sense of freedom from the Vulcan traditions that she follows for the sake of her Vulcan family. But, more importantly, she has also begun to act differently. For his entire life on Vulcan, he has watched his mother display extraordinary logic for a human. She is highly intelligent and unwaveringly respectful of her husband's culture. After years of practice, she does not often reveal emotion anywhere but her eyes, which remain the one aspect of her expression she has never been able to control. She does not smile on Vulcan.
But Spock and Lady Amanda have now been on Earth for six point four hours, and she has smiled a total of eight times since Ambassador Sarek took his leave. Even now, as she speaks to a man with the hovercar rental agency, a regular, ordinary man who does not even know the significance of it, she is smiling. It is a small thing, barely a curve of the lips, but it is difficult for Spock to focus on anything else. Like his father, he is cataloguing everything about it: its cause, its implications, and anything that might make it disappear. It seems to be a standard gesture among humans, but his mother is not a normal human. She is a human infused with years of complying with Vulcan social rules, operating under completely different conditions for a significant portion of her life. She should act differently than other Terrans, and yet now she does not. Spock wishes to understand her and her complexities, but it seems as though whenever he finally begins to comprehend her, something else presents itself, and he must start over again.
When his mother turns to Spock with no other intention than just to look at him (an action that she often iterates for reasons Spock is unable to identify; she would not check to see if he was still beside her as she knows he would not wander, and any other reason is beyond him), she is still smiling, but it disappears after a moment, her mind likely reverting to her long-established Vulcan habits.
Spock makes note of that as well. Cataloguing, analyzing, remembering.
* * * * *
Hovercars are not, nor have they ever been, Spock’s preferred mode of transportation. He is prone to motion sickness, a weakness and inconvenience Spock would prefer to live without. This is another matter in which knowing something does not change the circumstance. Spock knows the cause of motion sickness; he knows that when his cilia do not detect movement within the semicircular canals of his inner ears, his brain does not recognize movement despite the fact that he can see it very clearly with his eyes, and he knows that this subconscious confliction is the cause for his ailment. He also knows that pain, specifically the mild headache he is experiencing, is a matter of the mind and that the mind can be controlled.
So, that is what Spock is attempting to do.
He is not being very successful.
He grips the faux-leather armrest tightly (and, so he hopes, discreetly) and concentrates with everything he can muster, yet the dull throb persists. Controlling physical sensations and certain autonomic functions are one of the first things young Vulcans learn, but they are also the things Spock has the most difficulty doing. Other Vulcans - the Elders, his schoolmates, even his grandmother once - say that it is his half-human ancestry, his mother’s human blood, that causes this.
It is something Spock does not contemplate often. It is illogical to blame one’s ancestry for one’s personal shortcomings. The human phrase “the apple does not fall far from the tree” holds little truth and is irrelevant to the situation. All intelligent beings have control over their destiny, and it is up to them, not their genetic material, as to whether or not they succeed.
With this in mind, Spock continues to attempt to control his headache. It lessens somewhat as time passes, but it does not disappear entirely. His single-minded concentration distracts him from the changing scenery: the tall, green trees replacing skyscrapers, the rows upon rows of Terran agriculture that even Vulcan eyes cannot see the end of. By the time Spock looks away from the asphalt straight ahead, Lady Amanda has directed them into a small, rural town surrounded for miles with nothing but wheat and corn.
They travel through the town in silence. Not a word has been spoken between them since they left the shuttle bay two point four hours ago. There has been no need for conversation as there is nothing of importance to talk about, but Spock briefly contemplates engaging in what is known as “small talk.” It is something Vulcans generally do not take part in, and, by extension, neither does Lady Amanda. It is a very human thing, and Spock would not, under normal circumstances, entertain the thought of it. However, as his mother has been displaying such human tendencies as smiling and even once laughing (it was a small laugh, but it surprised Spock as he had not heard her make such a sound in many years) since their arrival, she may wish to partake in something that appears to be so vital to human society.
Spock is just about to pose a query about his mother’s opinion on the weather when his mother pulls to a stop in front of a store/restaurant conglomerate with a rather garish red and yellow sign naming the building as “Hope’s.” In smaller but no less ostentatious text below the name, it declares, “The best burgers in Iowa!”
Spock looks to his mother, eyebrow raised to convey his hesitancy to trust an establishment that would so presumptuously claim to be the best of anything without proper citation, but she does not appear to mind.
The first dialogue in two point four hours is this:
“The cabin doesn’t have a replicator like home.”
“I will accompany you.”
So the two of them step out into the cool summer air together. It is mid-June, a part of the Terran summertime in this part of the planet and likely close to the warmest it will be within the next two months, but Spock finds the temperature still much cooler than he prefers. He wore a thick sweater in preparation for the weather, but he still is not able to achieve his optimal body temperature.
He follows his mother into the building, hoping the inside will be warmer.
He is met with disappointment and a significantly cooler environment. He wants to rub his arms to combat the chill, but he keeps his hands at his side and tries to look like he is not shivering inside.
The building appears to be very old, mid-twenty-first century design at the earliest, made apparent by the one-way-tinted glass windows covered in advertisements, old-style linoleum floors, and water-stained mineral fiber ceiling tiles. Spock gives a wary glance at the tiles, calculating the odds of one of them falling on him or his mother. It seems safe enough, but he avoids walking under the more precarious ones for the sake of caution.
Dozens of shelves lined with both perishable and nonperishable products take up the majority of the floor, giving the place a maze-like atmosphere. There is a strange, unidentifiable smell about the place that Spock has never encountered before. A man sits reading behind a counter, surrounded by outdated lottery ticket machines.
“Afternoon!” the man greets, setting his PADD down. “Welcome to Hope’s.”
Lady Amanda smiles for the ninth time that day. “Good afternoon.”
“What brings you two here?” the man asks, his grin hiding behind a voluminous mustache. “You’re not from town, or I’d recognize you.”
“My son and I are visiting from Vulcan.” Her hand touches Spock’s shoulder very briefly. “Our cabin is close to town, so we thought we would stop here and get some things before settling in.”
“Well, my name’s Jim, and just let me know if there’s anything I can help you with, ma’am,” the man, Jim, says, leaning back, the smile still gleaming on his face. He winks at Spock. What Spock is supposed to do in response to that, he does not know.
Spock carries the basket, awkwardly following his mother through the store while trying to figure out which way he can hold it so it will stop bumping into his legs.
They pass a wall of refrigerators at the back of the store that radiates a damp cold which permeates Spock’s sweater and chills his skin. He does not react to it, but he is grateful his mother spends only three point seven seconds in this area.
Lady Amanda is an efficient woman. She does not take long to gather what they came for. The man, Jim, smiles affably again when they approach the counter where he is stationed. Human shopping procedure is not one of the topics Spock researched before they came. In a moment of hesitancy, he looks to his mother for assistance, and she takes the basket from him, setting it in front of Jim, who begins to scan their items.
“Did you find everything you were looking for, little man?” Jim asks Spock, winking in a fashion that implies conspiracy, but what he is conspiring, Spock cannot know.
“Terran food is not one of the areas in which I have a developed knowledge, so I did not look for anything,” Spock replies. “I carried the basket.”
Jim pauses, appearing to require time to process what he had just heard, but he recovers quickly. “Did you now?”
Jim chuckles. “Right.” He winks at Spock again. “You sound like a smart kid.”
Spock blinks and tilts his head, a physical indicator of thought. (It is not in conveyance of emotion, so he allows it, but perhaps it is not something he should continue.) “I believe that was a compliment?” His glances to his mother for confirmation, and she nods. Her eyes show amusement. She would not show amusement at Spock’s mistakes, so he must be, as the humans say, catching on. “The correct response should be, ‘thank you,’ in that case.”
Spock had not said anything intentionally humorous, nor anything that he thinks could be deemed as such, but Jim laughs anyway. Spock, now more unsure than ever how to navigate the situation, clasps his hands behind his back, clenching them into fists outside of either of the adults’ view. But Lady Amanda, as perceptive as ever, seems to notice his discomfort and puts her hand on Spock’s head for a brief second. Her mind touches his, a brief second of contact. It is not unpleasant.
“So, where was it you said you were staying, ma’am?” Jim continues, bagging their items slowly. Spock does not comment on his lack of efficiency. His mother seems to be enjoying the conversation even though the man is taking much longer than necessary. Spock is pleased to be able to take advantage of another chance to observe human behavior in a natural environment, as well, so there is no pressing need to hasten their encounter. In addition, he does not seem to be part of the conversation anymore, which lessens his apprehension significantly.
“There’s a little cabin a few miles north of this town,” Lady Amanda answers, folding her hands in front of her. “It’s been in my family for quite a long time, but I haven’t visited it in many years.”
“That little old place?” Jim exclaims. “Why, there’s nothing around it for miles! What’re you planning on doing all day?”
“Oh, I’m not sure yet,” Lady Amanda says thoughtfully. “Normally, Spock, here, would spend the whole time on school work, but he’s so far ahead of his classmates that I had to take him out here for a break so he wouldn’t enter the Vulcan Science Academy too early.”
This is an exaggeration. Spock is only roughly two years ahead of most of his peers, and the Vulcan Science Academy would not accept him unless he was sixteen years of age anyway. His academic excellence is not the only reason they came, either, but he is not going to inform Jim of any of this. He is not sure why, but perhaps it is the proud look his mother is giving him.
He is not embarrassed by this look. At all.
“So, I was right!” Jim exclaims. “You are a smart kid.” He winks again, and Spock begins to wonder if there is something wrong with his eye.
Lady Amanda smiles, appearing gratified that someone should think that of her son. It is the tenth time today that Spock has seen her do this within the day alone. He has been keeping count.
Thirty-six point eight seconds pass before Lady Amanda speaks again, her tone changed significantly. She sounds nostalgic, almost contemplative when she says, “Tell me, Jim, is that little grove of trees still in the field behind the cabin?”
Jim gathers his eyebrows together, thinking. He hums thoughtfully. Then, “Oh! Yes, they’re still there, ma’am. They’ve become somewhat of a permanent fixture ‘round here.” He finishes bagging their items. It took him seven minutes and four seconds exactly to do this. Spock, once again, does not comment on his lack of efficiency. It would likely be considered rude, he thinks, and that is not the impression Spock wishes to leave as the only Vulcan this man will likely ever meet in this part of the world.
“I can’t believe they’re still there,” she says, some secret emotion clouding over her eyes. “I thought they would have been removed by now.”
“There’ve been a couple plans to uproot them in the past decade or so,” Jim explains, tying the handles of the biodegradable bags into bows. Spock watches him do this curiously. “None of ‘em ever went through. Something always goes wrong, or somebody backs out.”
“Indeed.” Lady Amanda pauses, seeming as though she might laugh. “I’m glad.”
Jim nods. “Those trees have been said to be haunted, you know, ma’am,” he says, taking a tone that Spock hesitantly categorizes as jocular.
Lady Amanda shakes her head, her loose hair swishing slightly. “No,” she replies seriously, “those trees are too peaceful for ghosts.”
“Maybe you’ll find out while you’re there.”
“Perhaps.” Lady Amanda smiles.
Eleven, Spock thinks, tallying the smile in his head. For one illogical moment, he wonders if she can read his thoughts because she looks down at him just then, the corners of her mouth quirked, her soft expression growing.
“I do believe you have endured quite enough of this illogical human conversation, haven’t you, Spock?” she asks, though she does not leave time for Spock to answer. Turning back to Jim, she says, “We will likely be back in a couple of weeks. Thank you very much.”
“I look forward to it, ma’am.”
Before Spock and Lady Amanda can reach for their newly acquired items, Jim grabs them, saying, “No, I’ll get it for you.”
Lady Amanda allows this, despite being fully capable of it herself.
This must be the concept of human chivalry in play, Spock observes. Chivalry seems a strange concept to the Vulcan mind. That one half of the population must show such one-sided courtesy to the other in such seemingly arbitrarily chosen ways such as opening doors and pulling out chairs is illogical.
But, Spock concedes, there are many aspects of Vulcan culture that many Terrans would - and do - think strange. It is not the place of someone of another world to question aspects of a culture they are not entirely familiar with.
So, in the interest of respecting his mother’s (and, at least partially, his) native culture, Spock opens the hovercar door for her as they ready to make their leave. If Lady Amanda thinks his actions odd, she does not show it. Spock accepts that as meaning that his actions have been correct and is pleased that his research has not been faulty.
And, so, Spock and Lady Amanda leave Jim and the store/restaurant called Hope’s behind. Spock does not let the following stretch of time pass in silence as he had before.
“Mother, what is the significance of the trees you spoke of?”
Lady Amanda does not reply immediately. This prompts Spock to turn to face her, but her expression is inscrutable. Inexplicably, he feels that he may have asked an immensely personal question, and he almost regrets doing it. Almost. Regret is illogical.
So he sits silently, stiffly, waiting for a reply.
“Well, Spock,” she begins, trailing off. Taking a deep breath, she starts again. “Well, it’s sentimentality, mostly. I know sentiment is distasteful to you-” it is not, strangely, but he does not say that “-but that grove was where I spent so much of my childhood. It was there before I was born.” She pauses, something near a laugh escaping her. “I used to think I saw fairies in the trees, and I would race over to try and catch them, but they were always gone when I got there.”
Spock had never taken his mother to be one for superstition, but human children are well known for their imaginative thoughts, and to think his mother would be an exception simply because she married a Vulcan later in life is not logical.
The cabin comes into view for Spock before it does his mother. It seems to pop up out of nowhere, surrounded on all sides by dense wheat fields so long and wide that even Spock cannot see the end of them. He knows that they must cease at some point, but some part of him remains in awe of the deceptively endless field made golden by the setting Terran sun, rippling like water in the wind.
Spock stares in wide-eyed captivation for nearly a full minute before Lady Amanda, catching sight of the cabin as well, says, quietly, “There it is.”
Her eyes are not trained on the cabin itself, but the field beyond it. A cluster of trees stands tall above its surroundings, vibrantly green and spotted with shadowy white. Spock does not know how to categorize her expression.
“They’re called catalpa trees, you know,” she says breathlessly, so soft that Spock almost wonders if she had not meant to be heard.
But he heard it.
The sun sinks low on the horizon, turning the sky impossible shades of yellow, pink, orange, and such a wide range of blue, from the darkest hue to the lightest, that Spock, once again, finds himself captivated by the natural wonders of Earth that differ so greatly from his home.
Neither Spock nor his mother moves once the hovercar comes to a stop. Spock manages to recompose himself, but Lady Amanda remains still. So, he stays as well, watching her out of the corner of his eye. He longs to know what she is thinking, and his hands squeeze into fists in his lap, tempted to reach for her meld points. That is the only way he could ever truly know what is going through her head.
Nearly a minute passes before Lady Amanda seems to realize that her son is still sitting next to her. She does not say anything, nor does she smile again, but her eyes are so full of emotion, expressing more than either of those things would, that Spock could not begin to analyze them.
He tries anyway.
But the human mind is not something that always wishes to be analyzed, he has learned.
* * * * *
For three days, Spock and his mother settle into their little cabin, adjusting to the dusty smell of the sheets, the lack of a replicator, and the cool weather. Spock begins wearing multiple shirts at a time to combat the chill, but he is still cold a majority of the time.
Lady Amanda slips into a comfortable peace that one can only find upon returning home. Her actions and habits remain much the same, but Spock sees another side of his mother nonetheless.
She still smiles.
In the cabin, there is a small library comprised of about two hundred old-fashioned paper books, ranging from thick, fourteen-hundred page-long novels to sturdy but worn board books for small children. Spock takes to them instantly and almost always has one in hand.
Spock is very pleased with his surroundings, to say the least.
Then, in the middle of a quiet morning, Lady Amanda suggests that he go outside and “explore.”
Spock reminds her that there are no unexplored areas anywhere in this solar system.
Lady Amanda looks at him from across the room.
Spock is not an expert at reading human facial expressions, but he sets his book down anyway.
“I will put on a sweater,” he says.
Lady Amanda nods, her lips quirking as she turns back to her own book.
Spock goes to his room and dons a thick sweater over his cowl-necked thermal shirt. It is one of the warmer days, 97 degrees Fahrenheit, but he will not attempt an excursion without layers.
The screen door leading to the backyard creaks when he opens it. He is hit by cool air and the smell of damp foliage. It had rained the night before, but it was gentle and steady, unlike the torrential rains of post-summer Vulcan.
He steps down from the slightly raised base of the house into the slippery yellow-green grass, his boots squeaking upon contact. The sound it oddly satisfying. He twists his foot to make it again.
This is unnecessary, he thinks just as he looks back through the small window to see if his mother can see him from where she is sitting. He sees only the back of her head.
Thus, the first five minutes of Spock’s outdoor “exploration” are spent twisting about in one spot, making squeaky sounds with his boots and the grass, simultaneously reprimanding himself for it and reveling in it.
When he finishes, he experiences a feeling he can only categorize as excitement, an emotion he has not felt in a long time. It leaves him disoriented and lightheaded, and he almost loses his balance. That such an insignificant action can invoke such strong emotions in him that he has not felt since he was much younger is a strange concept to his logical mind.
Now breathing heavily, Spock scans his surroundings for anything of interest. At first, he finds little of import. The area, while not lacking in aesthetic appeal, actually contains very little besides an overabundance of wheat. Only a rectangle of empty space and a rusty chain link fence lies between the cabin and the field.
A second inspection, however, brings his attention to the group of trees that his mother seems to care very much about.
Spock is only just tall enough to see them over the wall of wheat, but he can see thick clusters of flowers and enormous heart-shaped leaves. Catalpa trees, Lady Amanda had called them.
As a general rule, Vulcans very rarely do anything without thinking. It is illogical to act without first considering the consequences of one’s actions and other alternatives to said actions, so Vulcans just do not tend to do it.
That being said, not a single thought crosses Spock’s mind as he climbs over the fence. His foot catches in one of the links, pitching him over into the mud. He tries to catch himself and scrapes his hands on the ground. Ignoring the sting, he rights himself and keeps going. He becomes engulfed, seeing nothing but wheat all around him, relying on his sense of direction not to lead him astray.
He pushes his way through the dense field for nearly five minutes, slipping on saturated leaves and tripping over dead stalks, breathing heavily despite the rate of exertion being low, until he breaks through the foliage.
He stops dead in his tracks, confronted with an arresting sight.
Thirteen trees elegantly stretch to touch the sky, their trunks forming a great unbroken circle, nearly thirty feet in diameter. Overflowing bunches of intensely fragrant flowers weigh down flexible limbs and lazily drip blossoms to the ground, forming a carpet of white, thick as the snow that Spock has only seen in images of Terran wintertime. Not a single drifting flower lands outside the unbroken circle made by the trees, almost as if the grove is self-contained, existing only within itself.
It is quite possibly the most beautiful place Spock has ever seen.
Spock ducks into the grove under the low-hanging branches, the giant leaves brushing the top of his head, and he is met with another strange yet wonderful sight and a rising feeling similar to the one of excitement he experienced just before.
The trees have been grafted into a most peculiar form, one that Spock has never known trees, even ones of the Terran variety, to take. The branches form a huge, hollow dome twenty feet above Spock’s head. The canopy casts the whole area in greenish shadow, letting in only cracks of golden light to dapple the flowered ground, giving the entire area a surreal image.
Spock can breathe more easily here than he can anywhere he has been before, Vulcan included. It is not because the air is thinner within the confines of the trees because the air is not thinner. The air is exactly the same as it is outside, and there is no reason for him to breathe easier, but he does anyway. It feels as though a great weight that he had not known he had been carrying has been taken off of his chest and, for the first time in his life, he can truly breathe.
There is no word in Vulcan or Standard that could do this place justice. In fact, there is no word that he knows in any language that could begin to encompass the hazy calm, the otherworldliness, the unnameable something that the trees and their strange canopy hold.
Spock dazedly stumbles through the blanket of fallen flowers to the center of the grove, his footsteps leaving tracks behind him. For a moment, all he can do is stand there, his face upturned to stare at the peak of the dome as the wind rustles through the upper branches. A few more flowers loosen and drift down to join the rest. Spock reaches out and catches with both hands one that falls close to him.
He looks down at it, holding it like a treasure in his cupped hands. It is a flower unlike any that he has ever seen, a trend he is beginning to notice. Nothing on Earth is like anything he has seen; the two broad yellow stripes and irregular purple splatters are no exception. He runs his thumb over the soft ruffles, and the delicate material tears slightly.
Spock lets the torn blossom slip through his fingers, settling into the whiteness at his feet.
Compelled to follow it, he kneels down and sits, the damp soil squishing slightly beneath him. Closer to the ground, the smell of the near-decomposing buds is intoxicating.
Closing his eyes, Spock breathes deeply, the scent making his head fuzzy. There is a peace that he has only ever felt in meditation. The only difference between this and meditation is that thinking has become so much harder within the last thirty two seconds, a clear thought almost impossible to muster. The even, steady filling and emptying of his lungs lulls him into a daze, and, before he realizes it, Spock is fast asleep among the flowers.