When it rained in ShiKahr, it rained. Fat drops blatted against the roof and windows, almost drowning out the sudden sound of crying from Solomon’s room. Amanda checked
the time on the casserole in the oven and walked as briskly as she could across the toy strewn floor.
Spock’s cries were already subsiding by the time she reached his room. Solomon was curled up next to him on the floor. She’d have to have that talk with him again about overusing his telepathic talent to protect Spock from sensory overload. He did need to have some exposure to loud noises or he’d never calibrate…
She stopped. And smiled. Spock was tucked next to his brother’s side, staring raptly as Solomon blew on a shiny red pinwheel. Between breaths, Sol looked up at her and whispered, “I’m teaching him to meditate.” Another breath to keep the pinwheel moving. “I made this in math time at school.” Another blow. “To use instead of a candle.”
Amanda kept her voice low, not quite a whisper. “Good idea. A candle isn’t the best thing to have around a toddler.”
He nodded back, allowing himself the barest soft smile. She tiptoed back out of the room, glad to see them getting along after the morning’s discovery that Spock had destroyed Sol’s Lego shuttlecraft and eaten the running lights.
“Is Spock autistic?”
Amanda had been rolling the question around in her mind for months, afraid that to ask would be somehow shortchanging her son or projecting her human expectations on a child whose mental structures were more Vulcan than human. Spock sat on the floor of the pediatric exam room, fascinated by the patterns her paisley skirt made when he looked at them through his spread fingers.
Dr. Lewis Schoenbein smiled down at the toddler. “Do you want the long answer or the short one?”
“Do you have time for the long answer?” Amanda didn’t want to take advantage of the fact that they were becoming friends to monopolize his work time.
Lewis nodded reassurance at her. “I do, and it’s a good thing, because there really isn’t a short answer. If we use human criteria to assess him then yes, absolutely, he displays a neurotype on the autism spectrum. But then, so do most Vulcans, measured by human standards, for a lot of different reasons.”
“So his behavior is typical for a Vulcan?”
Lewis shook his head. “Vulcans don’t describe a specific neurotype for autism, but they do recognize sensory processing and mental synthesis disorders, which T’Zir has been guiding you in helping Spock learn to work around. Helping him to program his own brain to work for him. What does she tell you?”
Amanda considered. “His vision is his strength. He prefers to interact with visual patterns. His hearing is...his brain expects to hear at human levels, but receives information from Vulcan ears, so most sounds feel painfully loud to him. His tactile systems are Vulcan normal...which means I have to remember he responds to touch more like Sarek than like me. And he has a hard time focusing on one thing at a time. He wants to parallel process more than he can, and that frustrates him.”
“Seems like you have a good handle on your son. Both of them. Remember, Solomon’s talent can act like kind of sensory processing disorder too. So, on to your assignment for the next 100 days. Spock is at about the age at which we expect Vulcan children to begin communicating verbally. You said he hasn’t said any words at all?”
She shook her head. “He shows no interest. If he wants something he uses gestures or gets it himself--he’s even tried projecting images telepathically, which can’t be easy, rather than use his voice. I think he doesn’t like the sound of his own voice. Should I try to close off the family bond to make him talk?”
“Certainly not! Use it. Get Solomon or Sarek to help you when they’re home. You might not be able to project the way words feel and sound when they come out of your mouth, but that should be literal child’s play for Sol. That and...you might want to try signing with him. That will get him used to formal grammar, and visual languages have a grammatical structure closer to image telepathy.”
There was another uncomfortable subject she needed to broach. “About Sol…”
Lewis looked up from his data pad. “What’s up?”
“I think he overheard his father discussing the issue with finding him a bondmate a few months ago.”
“Is he worried?”
“Not exactly. I think he took matters into his own hands.”
He set the pad down to lace his fingers over one bent knee. “You think Solomon has bonded with someone.”
“He’s been friends with a little girl for about a year now, and at their last playdate she casually mentioned that they were married.”
“That’s typical for the age.”
“She then proceeded to explain the concept of Vulcan bonding to me in a lot more detail than I would expect a seven year old to know. More detail than I thought even Solomon understood. She didn’t seem to know any of the more explicit details, but she did tell me that Solomon would die if he didn’t get married and she didn’t want him to marry anybody else because, and I quote, he’s the best boy in the whole world. Obviously I can’t assess whether they’ve bonded already or only plan to.”
“Have you spoken to her parents?”
“Yes. They’re not exactly thrilled. But I can’t give them any answers about risks to their daughter. I told Solomon and Malkie that bonding was a formal occasion and he needed to wait until all the adults had gotten together to make plans.”
“You think he’ll listen?”
She sighed. “If he thinks the adults are being reasonable, he does what he’s told. The moment he thinks you’re not acting in his best interest though, he does exactly what he wants to do. As far as he’s concerned, we’re dubiously trustworthy consultants, not superiors.”
“Then I’d work quickly. Get in touch with your clan matriarch and schedule a meeting. I mean, as a fellow human I might be prejudiced, but I think Sol could do a lot worse than a human mate.”
“Thanks, Lewis,” she said. “How are things going with T’Zir, by the way?”
Lewis ducked his head. “We’re taking it slow. Dayal’s death was hard on T’Zir. She’s...you know he was lost.”
Amanda shook her head. “What happened?”
“Aircar accident. Sudden downdraft slammed it into the side of a mountain. He died almost instantly.”
Dying alone was an entirely different kind of dying for a Vulcan, the katra lost to the winds, unable to provide solace and wisdom to the living. “That’s terrible,” she said. Spock curled himself up a little away from them both, disturbed by the change in the emotional temperature of the room.
“Like I said, we’re taking it slow.” He paused. “I don’t think it’s escaped her understanding that if we were to…” he trailed off. “Some day she’d lose me too.” He blinked himself free of his musings and added, “So, there’s a picnic up at the school on the weekend. Will you be bringing the boys?”
Amanda tapped Spock’s shoulder to get his attention and waited for him to raise his arms, then lifted him smoothly to her hip. “I imagine so. Depends on how crowded it ends up being.”
“See you then.”
She left the clinic and called an aircar to take them home. Spock did not like the aircar, but it was too far to walk, especially during ShiKahr’s brief rainy season, when thunderheads could spring up at a moment’s notice and drench both of them. She settled him into the car’s toddler seat and strapped him in while he fussed and tried to thwart her efforts to capture his arms, and the driver gave her side eye for having such a great big child who appeared to have no self control.
Amanda swallowed her embarrassment and sat quietly during the mercifully short ride. When they arrived, the driver turned not to her, but to Spock, standing at her side with the fabric of her skirt twisted into one anxious fist. “You are old enough to control your behavior. Do not cause me to endure such a display again.”
Spock understood nothing of his statement except that he had displeased the driver. His lip pushed out into a pout and buried his face in her side. Amanda pressed her lips into a line. “Spock is quite tall for his age and is not yet two. The sound of the aircar hurts his ears. If it is too difficult for you to encourage his progress as he makes it, please request to be placed on another route.” Her indignant march inside was necessarily slowed by the toddler attached to her leg, but she had gotten the point across. Arrogant young people without kids were the same on every planet, it seemed.
It took the rest of the afternoon for her to draft and redraft an email to T’Pau concerning the situation with Sol and Malkie. The two of them were at the Lorenzes house until dinner, which gave her Spock’s naptime to tidy up the house for Sarek’s return home tomorrow.
It was a credit to both of Sol and Malkie that after sprinting through the garden to the back door, they stopped, pulled it open quietly, and fairly tiptoed in. “May Malkie stay for dinner, Mother?” Sol asked.
Amanda readied herself to say no, but shrugged instead. “If it’s all right with her mother. But she needs to go home right after. You’re both so covered in dust that you’re practically blonde, and you, Sol, will be spending enough time in the sonic shower to get all of it out of your hair and still go to bed at a reasonable hour. Your father is coming home tomorrow and I won’t have him thinking I’m raising you feral.”
They pulled faces at each other, but tiptoed off to the fresher to wash their hands and faces and returned wearing two of his clean tunics over their undoubtedly still filthy bodies, but at least they were presentable enough to eat at the table.
“And where did you put the dirty clothes?” she reminded.
“In the clothes fresher, of course,” Sol said solemnly before walking fake-casually back toward his room to turn his lie into the truth.
She set Malkie to laying the table and put dinner on, the usual haphazard fusion of human and Vulcan cuisines, this time Vulcan style roasted root vegetables alongside falafel. Sol took a while in returning, but arrived with a still slightly groggy Spock gripping the hem of his tunic. Amanda lifted Spock into his booster seat and started breaking his falafel into pieces to cool it while the older children served themselves.
“I sent a letter to T’Pau today,” she said between bites.
“What did she say?” they said in excited, eerie unison.
“She has not yet responded.”
“What about father?” Sol said.
“Your father is in favor of your scheme, provided T’Pau finds the two of you to be compatible and provided your parents approve.”
Spock ate exactly three fragments of falafel and all of the purple roots, but none of the others, then began experimenting with gravity by dropping the remainder, one at a time, to the floor. The other two punctuated their meal with bouts unexplained giggling. She hoped they were getting it out of their system before Sarek returned home.
Malkie hugged Sol before she left for home. Amanda sighed. She’d need to coach the two of them on proper behavior before they met with T’Pau. The evening was consumed with cleaning Spock in the sink while Sol took a sonic shower. Once the boys were well scrubbed, she read to them from The Phantom Tollbooth for half an hour, Sol hanging on her every word, Spock carefully twirling Sol’s pinwheel with one pudgy finger. Sol settled onto his meditation mat, sans candle, and closed his eyes. Spock squirmed out of Amanda’s arms to kneel across from him, still clutching the pinwheel. She would check on the two of them in a few minutes. Sol claimed Spock could follow him into a passable meditative state, but she had no way of verifying.
She returned twenty minutes later to find Spock asleep, as expected, unfortunately on top of the pinwheel, which was crushed out of shape. She scooped him up, took him to his room, and laid him on his mat on the floor, the crib having been abandoned about ninety days ago when he learned to scale the sides and promptly fell and broke a wrist. She lay the crunched pinwheel on Sol’s dresser, figuring they’d be able to construct a new one tomorrow.
Spock’s shrieks in the morning were uncharacteristically piercing, and she stopped only to pull on a robe before dashing into his room to find him not there. Her heart leapt into her throat. It had been several months since the last major medical crisis, but that one had been fulminant leukemia and a four day hospital stay, which Spock had only tolerated because Sol moved into his hospital room for the duration.
She hurried to Sol’s room to find him curled on the floor, shrieking despondently while holding the remains of Sol’s pinwheel. Sol had made it to a sitting position, but he was not quick to rise in the morning. “Mother?” he said, worry evident in his voice.
She dropped to the floor and rolled Spock’s rigid body into her arms, his distress flowing into her mind, sharp and desperate, but without the echo of physical pain, thankfully. A corner of her mind noticed she was getting awfully good at reading the kids’ projections for a psi-latent human. Sol joined her in a moment, adding groggy agitation quickly schooled into intentional calm. He plucked the pinwheel out of Spock’s grip and pictured it whole and spinning, not bothering with verbal platitudes until the toddler’s eyes opened and he reached for the imaginary toy, which was plainly visible in their bedroom, clear as a hologram.
“That’s impressive, son,” she said.
Sol shrugged. “I made a dragon at school. It was much more impressive.”
“Why do you think so?”
“It was Jin’s dragon.” And with that episode of second graders being cryptic, Amanda extricated herself from the tangle of child-limbs and returned to her room to get ready for the day.
T’Pau’s response to her letter arrived just after lunch, while Sol was off at school, and just after she received notice that Sarek was at the spaceport and would be home before the end of the school day with a surprise for the children. “I-Chaya has been in the family for many years, and my great uncle is no longer well enough to care for him,” he had said. “I have arranged for his accommodations to be delivered and assembled before I arrive.”
It was then she noticed that there were workmen in the back garden assembling a large, cavelike shelter. Talak and Sem had a shelter like that in their yard in which their sehlat lounged when it wasn’t draped across their bed. They had complained that they had bought a much larger bed to fit the spoilt old girl, who would not let them sleep without her, but that the grit she brought to bed with her meant they had begun sleeping fully dressed.
Sarek was bringing home a sehlat.
It wasn’t that family sehlats were likely to be a hazard to the children, despite weighing a good hundred kilos and looking like a cross between a brown bear and a saber toothed cat. They were about as intelligent as an Earth gorilla, empathic, and fiercely protective. But when they chose to associate with Vulcan families, they required nearly as much care and attention as a child, and their protectiveness could prove hazardous to any threatening...oh, of course.
The acts of vandalism committed by the local brand of extremists had been infrequent, but still frightening, and there had been a particularly unpleasant one just before Sarek had left on his diplomatic mission, a blizzard of slips of paper blown into the playground of the Montessori school, extolling the virtue of Vulcan purity and warning against contaminating philosophies. The papers had been coated with a poisonous compound that, while not lethal, had caused vomiting and diarrhea in the children who had touched them and then touched their mouths or eaten without washing their hands.
She turned her attention to T’Pau’s letter.
I believe that subjecting the human child and her parents to a trip to Gol at this time would be excessively trying. I will be visiting ShiKahr in four days, and can arrange my schedule to meet with the children and assess their compatibility. Expect me at noon.
She always was an efficient communicator.