T’Shin unpacked the small table she brought with them on excursions where food preparation was required. She extended the four legs and removed the caps fixed to the ends, to reveal pronged feet. They would sink into the sand and give her a stable work surface.
“¿Dónde está Emmanuel?” she asked Nyota.
Her foster daughter had spread their mat over the ground and pegged the corners. Then Nyota chose the best place to set down the hamper. T’Shin watched her open the lid and carefully remove the muslin wrapped spinach leaves first. To keep the wind from blowing the parcel away, Nyota weighted the edge of the cloth with the condiment pots.
The whereabouts of Emmanuel remained a mystery. T’Shin noted that Nyota paused her work three times to scan the forest thirty-four meters from their picnic spot.
From this scant information, T’Shin made an educated guess. “¿Necesitaba orinar?”
Nyota shook her head. She also pulled her lower lip between her teeth, a sign of agitation, but she was not allowing her Vulcan guardian to use their psi bond to understand the cause.
T’Shin did not push for an explanation. There was time. Nyota had placed the container of kreila where her mother might reach it. The biscuits needed to be sliced and the pieces brushed on one side with sesame paste.
And their surroundings warranted some dedicated attention. Nyota’s school held Family Day on Bongoyo Island every year. T’Shin admired how the landscape presented itself in discreet and monochrome divisions: white sand, green forest, azure sea. Water temperature today was twenty-eight degrees centigrade, comfortable for bathing. One of Nyota’s teachers, Consolata Cheboi, already stood waist high in the waves, supervising those children who wanted to swim before they ate.
Then T'Shin felt Nyota open the bond like she had opened the hamper, and presented what she had previously been hiding. The emotional picture appeared healthy; Nyota was calm. She had been angry and hurt, but these reactions had been confronted and correctly processed. Only traces remained.
“¿Madre, podemos reprogramar el día de español?” Nyota asked.
T'Shin replied in Standard. “We will postpone it for another six hours and fifteen minutes.”
Her daughter laid out their three covered place settings. T'Shin felt Nyota's consciousness forming a question but was surprised, since nobody else was nearby, to receive the enquiry by telepathy.
“Shauri, may I please have a Vulcan bondmate?”
Then it became T'Shin's turn to conceal some of her own thoughts. Seven days ago she had explained to Nyota the Vulcan practice of koon-ut-la, the bonding of children. Naturally, it did not escape her daughter's notice that this ritual took place, in most cases, when both participants were seven years old.
At the time Nyota made only the passing remark, “Five years younger than me.” But she did not express more interest.
This was what T’Shin reported back to Sarek. But before making the subspace video link to the Ambassador's residence, she took extra precautions. Nyota was sent with an overnight bag to stay at her grandmother’s house, so there was no possibility she would overhear.
“Perhaps,” T'Shin suggested to Sarek, “they could meet first, without any context. Spock is permitted some leave from his instructors.”
Sarek remained silent for eleven seconds. In the background, T’Shin could see Amanda watering the potted palm in his office, which had striking pink leaves.
“Spock has visited Earth on a few occasions to meet his human relations in Seattle,” he replied at last. “I would expect him to ask for an explanation if we travelled to any other location.”
“Could you invent a diplomatic reason to visit?”
T’Shin could not sigh in frustration, but sat forward in her chair. “It would be easier if I could visit Shi’Kahr.”
Amanda looked up from her watering. Her eyes seemed to express sympathy.
“That would not be wise,” Sarek warned.
He did not need to elaborate. Five months ago a diplomatic errand did bring the Vulcan Ambassador to Dar-es-Salaam, to express the High Council’s ‘strong recommendation’ that T’Shin place Nyota in the care of her blood relations, abandon further efforts to develop the girl’s advanced telepathic ability.
“They believe,” Sarek told her then, “that Nyota Uhura should content herself with being human.”
“What the Councillors believe is not reality. Nyota’s ability is exceptional. She may not be Vulcan, but she is different from her fellow humans and often expresses her awareness of this.”
The sound of a strong voice, calling her Swahili name, brought T’Shin out of her thoughts. Joseph Lowassa, the school’s vice principal, was striding across the beach in the direction of their picnic spot.
“Binti Shauri,” Mr. Lowassa called again, “where is Emmanuel?”
T’Shin glanced at Nyota, who had just removed the lid from the pot of pickled mango. Shame in a wave came across the bond from daughter to mother.
“Tell him the truth,” T’Shin urged telepathically. She had sensed, quite suddenly, that Nyota would rather not.
“We had an argument,” Nyota told her teacher when he drew to a halt at the edge of their mat. “We were behind the lavatory block, and Manny ran off. But he stayed on the forest trail – he didn’t run into the undergrowth. I thought he would come back by now.”
She did not look at the principal as she spoke, but concentrated on spooning some of the pickle on top of each sliced kreila. Mr. Lowassa folded his heavy arms.
“Argument,” the big man repeated. “Kitu gani! You two sound like an old married couple already.”
Because T’Shin had taught her well, Nyota did not react to this remark, one of Mr. Lowassa’s many insinuations about her close friendship with Emmanuel Kasembe.
“I will go find him,” the vice-principal said. “We cannot have the son behaving like his father. He will end up starving and miss the boat home.”
He turned away, and T’Shin watched his broad back retreat as he headed towards the trees. Before she could ask Nyota for further explanation, more was volunteered.
“Manny still has nightmares about Angel, the way she died. I just want him …,”
In her mind, Nyota’s thoughts did not hold back. I just want him to be happy. But she finished her sentence as if there were no wanting, no desire involved.
“I believed he would benefit from the techniques you have taught me, to deal with his grief.”
“And he disagrees with you.”
Nyota did not reply. She closed off their bond, and resumed preparations for lunch.
That left T’Shin in two minds. The conclusion reached during her subspace discussion with Sarek was that the risks of bringing Spock and Nyota together outweighed the possibility they might be compatible bondmates. She did not know whether or not to reopen that conversation.