“I have to practice my running skills!” Spock shouted, sprinting past Amanda on short legs on his third circuit of the meadow in which the playground was nestled among tall trees with flexible trunks that bowed before Doctari Alpha’s perpetual west winds like parentheses. He had grown into himself in the past year or so, growing out of his characteristic whisper and timidity before the always too much world around him. He was still small for his age, and still prone to unpredictable medical crises, but his intellect was sharp and curious, and more than once Amanda caught Sarek teetering between pride and exasperation as their young son, armed with nothing more than a thin metal edge, dissassembled yet another home appliance.
Both boys, or she might as well say all four children, as Malkie and Michael spent at least as much time in Sarek and Amanda’s home as in their own, grew fluent in both Federation Standard and the common Golish dialect of Vulcan, as had most of the colony children. There were several dozen of them crawling over the climbing frames and playing elaborate games out in the meadow. Malkie, Sol, and a couple of human girls sat under the shade of three of the trees, gesturing at a space in front of them. The oldest girl, Zenna, Amanda thought, seemed to be leading the group. Sol touched the back of her hand briefly, then after a beat, the remaining children startled, eyes fixed above and behind Zenna, who wore a smug grin. They all hunched over their datapads. One of their roleplaying games, she deduced.
“We have requested a ship to patrol the system, given recent sightings of Klingon ships,” Sarek said from his place beside her on the bench.
“Adun,” Amanda said, “Are Klingon vessels on route to the colony as we speak?”
“Not to my knowledge,” Sarek admitted.
“Then no work talk. End of summer picnic rules.”
He fell silent again for a time, watching Spock circle back toward them again. Their youngest stopped before his father, then collapsed into a bean shaped pile at his feet. Such behavior would be alarming if he weren’t four. Spock rolled onto his back in the grass. “I am tired,” he said.
“A natural consequence of running,” Sarek paused to calculate, “0.87 kilometers.”
“0.89,” Spock disagreed.
Amanda stifled a grin. After a moment’s rest, Spock sprinted off again in the direction of a group gathering on the ball field. In response to some mysterious child-signal, the group assembled under the tree stowed their datapads. The girls jogged off in the direction of the ball field, leaving Sol to carry the bag of datapads back to Amanda on the bench. He folded himself neatly onto the ground. “Mother. Father.”
“Son?” Amanda said.
“I wish to remain with the Lorenzes when you return to ShiKahr. I no longer belong on Vulcan.” The eleven year old held his impassive expression for his father’s benefit, Amanda supposed. He only feigned Vulcan emotional control when he wanted something very badly. “I will not be welcome at the Learning Center and I do not believe it is wise for Malkiah and me to be separated for long periods of time.”
“Most Vulcans bonded in childhood do not require such frequent contact.”
“I understand, father, but Malkiah and I are…” he trailed off. Amanda could see his desire to confine himself to Standard warring with his desire to explain himself clearly. “We need each other, father.”
“We will discuss the matter with Eli and Birdy while we are on Mars,” Amanda said, putting him off at least until she could speak privately with Sarek about his request. “Oh, that reminds me,” she added.. “The Burnhams will be three days behind us. Michael wants to watch the supernova when the light passes this way. It’s supposed to be spectacular.”
“Could we stay too, mother?”
“No,” Sarek said. “I have responsibilities at the embassy on Earth that I cannot delay.”
“Okay,” Sol said. Apparently that request was much more casual than the other. He stood fluidly and ran down to the field where the children were collecting. Amanda could just make out that some of them were holding staffs. Where had they gotten those?
She got up to check on the dinner proceedings, leaving Sarek to watch the children. Only Spock needed much watching, and that was mostly because of his habit of disappearing. Amy Burnham was fiddling with the controls for the portable cooler in which all the salads were lines up, including Amanda’s spinach, strawberry and almond go-to that she brought everywhere because she wanted her kids to eat something green instead of endless pasta. Amy pulled her into a half hug. “I’m looking forward to our Solar System Tour,” she said, capitalizing the words with her voice.
“Spock can’t stop talking about Utopia Planitia. He wants his own Sojourner. Sol is more interested in the historic landing sites.”
“You getting Spock a Sojourner?”
Amanda debated. “I don’t know. It would be another thing to bring back and forth all the time. And they’re not small. If we do, I was thinking of getting him the kit to build with Sarek.”
“That’s a great idea. Building things together is a great way to get to know somebody without having to talk too much.”
Amanda grinned. “That’s what I was thinking. What did you make?”
“Baba ganoush and pita triangles.”
“I love your baba ganoush. Would you like us to take any of your luggage on our ship?”
Amy shook her head. “You’re hitching a ride on a military ship. We’re taking a diplomatic courier. I think we’re getting a better deal. Sure you won’t stay?”
“Sarek’s on a tight timetable and I never get to see enough of him when we’re on Earth. Or Vulcan. I’m looking forward to the trip. You might check with Eli and Birdie though. If they stay back I’ll let Sol stay with them. He and Malkie might appreciate the supernova.” She squeaked as a torpedo smacked face first into her butt. “Careful!” she said, turning around to confirm that the torpedo was Spock and not another of the several butt-height children tearing about the park. “What are you doing?”
Spock looked up at her from under the visor of a bright yellow ball cap he had acquired since she last saw him. “I am hiding.”
“Because I am a snitch!” Amanda was about to explain that telling when someone else has done something dangerous or unkind did not make one a snitch when Spock squirmed between Amanda and Amy, ducking down on his haunches as Michael and Revan ran by, long sticks held between their legs like old fashioned hobby horses.
Amy smacked her head. “Not a snitch, Amanda. The Snitch.”
“The kids are playing Quidditch and my son is the Snitch,” Amanda said, incredulous. “I suppose there’s nothing wrong with that, as such.”
“He is fast,” Amy noted.
“And good at getting lost,” Amanda noted ruefully as the slight child burst out from between them and into a stand of bushes, heedless of sharp branches or prickers.
A moment later Michael returned, skipped past the buffet table to collect a handful of grapes and asked, casually. “Have you seen Spock?”
“I’m not helping you find him, Seeker,” Amanda chided. “And don’t nick off the table with your unwashed hands.”
The Lorenzes collected the children from where they lay, spent on the grass after a round and a half of Quidditch, at the end of which Sol had indeed had to be called in to locate his little brother. Spock had wandered a half klick away, shinnied up a tree, and fallen asleep. According to Sol, it was a good thing he had loud dreams. They never found the hat, which according to Doctari Alpha Quidditch rules, meant the game had not ended, as the hat, not the child wearing it, was technically the Snitch.
With Spock awakened, retrieved, and changed into his spare clothes, Amanda was finally able to settle him at the end of the kids’ table with a selection of the six foods he was willing to eat this week. Sol, Malkie and Michael were heads together over a datapad, conspiring as usual. Between Vulcan physical development being slower than human, Malkie taking after her short, zaftig father in build, and Michael having stretched out long and skinny over the past year, they looked almost the same age, though Michael at eight was almost three years younger than the other two.
Amanda managed the double miracle of settling Sarek into a companionable selection of their Vulcan and human friends at the adults’ table and getting him into a lively discussion that didn’t have to do with the business of running the colony or intergalactic politics. She’d combined his two weaknesses, food and books, and they were all now embroiled in plans to create a colony cookbook featuring hybridized Vulcan and Earth cuisine influenced by the particular crops that grew well in the area.
“Jori, your split pea soup with caramelized onions must be included,” Sarek told the geologist seated across from him. Jori beamed, not least because Sarek’s deadpan expression and the fact that he had a reputation for avoiding flattery meant that the compliment was perceived as genuine. And well deserved, Amanda thought. Her addition of miso to the recipe kept it from tasting too bland for the omnivores among them without adding any actual meat.
Birdie suggested Amanda’s home made hummus and Israeli salad. “It’s really Upstate New York salad with vulcan vegetables added in,” she protested.
“Then we’ll call it T’Amanda’s Schenectady Salad,” Eli said. Amanda only used the prefix during very formal occasions on Vulcan, but she supposed it would be a good way to honor the borrowed ingredients. “Oh, Amanda, Spock’s spilled on himself.”
Amanda hopped up. A little dirt didn’t bother Spock as much as it used to, but he’d spilled a bowl of half finished sherbet down his front and the combination of cold, wet, and sticky already had his eyes going huge and round while he held his suddenly tacky hands out, fingers spread so they wouldn’t touch each other. She scooped him off the picnic bench from behind, holding him out in front of her, and hurried to the bathroom to hose him off. He did not have a second set of spare clothes. She could feel him struggling for control even through his clothes; stickiness was his worst remaining sensory trigger.
“Get it off, Mother!” he squealed, flapping his spread fingers as though he could shake the tackiness off. She stood him in the camp shower. He didn’t like the shower either because the ceramacrete floor was cold on his bare feet and it smelled faintly of algae. She stripped off his tunic and shorts in the camp shower and turned it on, checking the temperature against her outstretched arm while he was still out of range of the spray. He hesitated, clearly weighing the sound and feel of the shower, which he hated against the sticky wetness covering him, which he hated more. He stuck his arms out first to clean his hands, then babystepped his way under the water, face scrunched up miserably.
A slight sound behind her made her turn. Sarek stood a the door holding a very large T-shirt and a smaller, brightly colored bundle. “These are Jori’s son Aylan’s. The shirt may be used as a towel.”
“You are a lifesaver, Sarek,” she told him. He nodded curtly. She knew he found it difficult to understand his younger son’s sensitivities, but he also knew that confronting him about them while he was already upset was counterproductive. Spock dried and dressed himself, stopping to shake his hands and rub his nose a couple of times, then surprised her by saying, “I think I should meditate now.”
“I think that is an excellent idea.” She could feel Sarek’s pride wash over her. Spock was learning what he needed to do to cope.
Sarek approached his small son. “I will assist, if you wish.”
Amanda could see the gears turning, Spock wanting to demonstrate his independence, but also wanting attention from his busy father. “Yes, Father,” he said at last.
“I’ll leave you to it, then,” she said. She turned back to the picnic tables, while Spock led Sarek to his favorite hide-and-meditate spot in the sand behind the climbing wall. Once she was far enough that they wouldn’t see her, she threw a triumphant fist into the air.
Pleasantly stuffed and less pleasantly plagued by the local equivalent to gnats, Sarek and Amanda lay on a camp blanket side by side, hands twined in the hollow behind Sarek’s back. Spock lay next to Amanda, raking the sky with his fingers as though he could bring the stars down. A knot of older children conferred quietly on the nearest blanket to theirs, Sol among them. Michael was pointing up to the sky with authority in the general direction of the soon to be visible supernova that would, when it arrived, light up the sky almost as bright as day.
“It will also briefly render long range scanners in that direction ineffective,” Sarek noted, having caught Amanda’s thought.
“Are you worried?”
“Vulcans do not worry,” he said. He squeezed her hand a little more tightly. What did he know that she didn’t? She felt his apology along with a redirection of their thoughts elsewhere, like placing a berm in a stream to change its course. Classified, she surmised.
“Should I find a way to convince the Burnhams to come with us, supernova or no supernova?”
He didn’t answer for well over a minute. His fingers traced the back of her hand, pensive rather than sensual. “That might be wise.”
The stars weren’t so pretty anymore.