Chapter 1: Princess of Earth
The hot Vulcanian air hit Amanda’s face like a breaking wave as she stepped out of her environmentally-controlled shuttle and onto the red surface of the planet. She felt her pores open and her hair frizz up like she was leaning into an oven, but there was none of the cool release that came after – nowhere to set down the tray of cookies and feel the breeze through an open window. Instead, the heat swallowed her and held her in its stomach. She closed her eyes and breathed in deeply. The thin atmosphere demanded it, even with the Tri-Ox she’d administered before she disembarked. She shifted uncomfortably. Sweat was already gathering behind her knees and under her breasts, making her skin prickle where it rubbed against her dress. Even her purse felt heavier than before, the strap bearing down on her shoulder like a lead weight.
If this were Earth, she would have stripped and gone running for the swimming hole.
But this was Vulcan, and there was little water to spare, so she stood tall and suffered in her high-necked, full-length, long-sleeved garment until she found the face she was looking for.
At the end of the platform, she met eyes with T’Vok, a vulcan woman who looked as pale and serene in the flesh as she did in their video-comms. She wore a long, black dress, looking as cool and effortless as if she’d draped herself in a shadow. She was barely older than Amanda, and still in the early stages of her career as an educator. She was taller than Amanda had expected, but her round face and flat nose looked the same as her photographs. She carried herself with perfect dignity. The heat didn’t seem to touch her. Then again, she was made for it.
T’Vok raised her right hand: index and middle fingers held together, ring and pinky fingers held together, an open V in between, and the thumb held apart from the palm.
“I welcome thee to Vulcan, Amanda Grayson,” said T’Vok.
Amanda hastily adjusted her own fingers behind her back, forcing her uncooperative right hand into position with her left. At length, she presented the vulcan salute.
“I thank thee, T’Vok, of the House of Semna.” she replied. Even those brief words dried out her tongue. She swallowed and imagined eating strawberries, trying to coax some more saliva into her mouth.
“Water,” said T’Vok, nodding her head only slightly. She handed Amanda a narrow metallic cylinder. The exterior was warm to the touch, which disappointed her – but the vessel was insulated and the water inside was cool. She closed her eyes and tipped back her head, drinking deeply. She drained the bottle before she even realized it.
When she looked at T’Vok again, the vulcan’s eyes somehow communicated disapproval even though her face hadn’t moved a muscle.
“It is unwise to consume so much water in such a short time. Despite your feelings of thirst, most of the water will be expelled via your excretory system without having been properly utilized. It is most inefficient.”
“Well,” said Amanda, stowing the empty bottle in her purse, “efficient or not, it feels good. Thank you.”
“It is not efficient,” said T’Vok sharply.
Amanda smiled tightly. Somehow, T’Vok was less personable in the flesh than she had been over subspace comm. “Thank you, T’Vok,” she repeated. “How have you been? Well?”
T’Vok narrowed her eyes. “I have contracted no illnesses since last we spoke.”
“I mean, how are things going?” Amanda asked, trying again. “How is everything at the learning center?”
“How is everything,” T’Vok echoed. She shook her head. “Miss Grayson, you must learn to speak with precision. Otherwise, you will do nothing to improve the data retention of your pupils.”
“Is that what I’m here for?” Amanda joked. “Would you believe that I thought I was here to earn a teaching certification?”
T’Vok wasn’t charmed by the teasing note in Amanda’s voice. “The Federation Certificate of Competency in Education Type 3-A requires a demonstration of the ability to adopt and integrate the teaching and learning methods of a non-Earth culture into one’s own, thus proving the certified’s suitability for positions that will require them to work as a part of a larger interplanetary community.”
“You know,” said Amanda, “it doesn’t seem very ‘efficient’ to tell me what I’ve already read in the orientation materials.”
“You have read them, then,” said T’Vok. “In that case, you must know that the teaching and learning methods of Vulcan emphasize data retention, a quantifiable metric which, if you are to be considered successful in your adoption of Vulcan methods, must be demonstrably improved.”
T’Vok led her down a flight of stairs to street level and away from the shuttle platform, walking so briskly that Amanda struggled to keep up. She could already feel the muscles in her legs cramping up as they crossed the plaza that separated the landing and departure pads from the main campus of the learning center. Was T’Vok doing it on purpose, or was she just oblivious?
“Excuse me,” Amanda panted, “but that – was one question – I had. How are you – going – to measure – data retention?”
“Through the year-end assessment, of course.”
“The typed – exam?”
“And, um – the scores – determine if – I get the certificate?”
“But – so – even if I – do everything right – if the test doesn’t show improvement – then I’ll fail?”
T’Vok wheeled around and stopped, her dark figure framed by the orange sandstone columns that lined the path to the learning center. Amanda gasped and stopped in her tracks. “If you ‘do everything right’,” T’Vok said, “then the assessment will show an improvement.”
“Not necessarily,” Amanda argued. She breathed slowly in and out through her nose, fighting not to reveal her exertion. “A typed exam can’t measure learning for all students. There are all kinds of – well, children can have bad days just like anyone else, or they could be feeling anxious…”
“Feeling, Miss Grayson, is not a factor in the performance of vulcan children.”
Amanda opened her mouth, but T’Vok had turned away. She was already striding down the pillar-lined stone walkway towards the learning center’s entrance. Amanda stifled a sigh of frustration and kept walking before T’Vok could get too far ahead.
“Excuse me,” she said, but T’Vok didn’t seem to notice her. “Excuse me, T’Vok.”
T’Vok stopped. She turned her head to look back at Amanda. One of her gold-and-silver earrings brushed the top of her shoulder. “Yes, Miss Grayson?”
Amanda bit her lip and sucked in a breath. Then, she smiled. She let her shoulders drop. “Please, call me Amanda. Is that okay?”
“Yes, if you like. Amanda.”
“Thank you. Now, I think that you should apologize to me.”
“Explain,” said T’Vok. A little crease appeared between her dark brows – the first real expression Amanda had seen on her face since the first time they talked over subspace.
“I don’t think that you’re treating me fairly,” Amanda said. “You know that I’m from Earth, and I’ve told you before that this is my first time away from my homeworld. Now, I don’t expect you to treat me like one of your students, but I am here to learn. That means that I’m going to ask questions, and I’m going to make mistakes. I’m human – that’s how we learn. I know you didn’t ask to work with me, but I think this academic period will be more pleasant for both of us, and for our students, if you can learn to tolerate me.”
T’Vok frowned – just slightly. “You are mistaken,” she said.
“Am I?” Amanda asked. Her right hand clenched into a fist.
“I did ask to work with you,” T’Vok said.
“Really?” Amanda asked, incredulous.
“Yes,” T’Vok said earnestly. She paused, seeming to consider her words before she continued. “When I accepted the assignment, I asked Lady V’Mir for advice. She instructed me to treat you harshly and not under any circumstances to indulge in your displays of human emotionalism.”
Amanda felt herself deflate a little, anger ebbing away. Empathy, Amanda, she reminded herself. You’re not the only one in a new situation, wondering what to do. Very few humans were invited to vulcan-run facilities, and fewer still were invited to the planet itself. Amanda might be the first human T’Vok had seen in her life.
“Lady V’Mir is the head of the learning center, isn’t she?” Amanda asked. She’d never spoken to Lady V’Mir, but she knew the name from the signature on her letter of invitation.
“Correct,” confirmed T’Vok.
“Well,” said Amanda, leaning towards T’Vok conspiratorially, “if you don’t tell her about the indulgences, then neither will I.”
T’Vok looked utterly perplexed at first. She opened her mouth to speak and closed it again. Then, her brow smoothed. Her eyes glittered with understanding. “I would find that agreeable,” she admitted. “It is not in my nature to treat a colleague unkindly without good reason.”
Amanda laughed. The sound echoed back to her, magnified by the arched stone ceiling that covered the walkway. It wasn’t quite the apology that she had asked for, but it was a start.
T’Vok spent the rest of the afternoon with Amanda, leading her through the learning center and showing her the facilities: the instruction rooms, the computer terminals at which students completed the majority of their activities and assessments, and the common areas such as multipurpose rooms and outdoor spaces. They did not reach the cafeteria until well after the normal hour for the mid-day meal, but T’Vok thought it best that they avoid crowds. Amanda, novel as she was, would require T’Vok’s assistance to maintain her privacy during these first days of her residency. T’Vok had already noted the curiosity of her colleagues as they made their way to the cafeteria and then to the central courtyard to have their meals – how each pair of eyes lingered on her human companion as they passed by – and she found private amusement in the way each of them, in turn, turned away and quickened their pace when Amanda actually met their eyes and –
T’Vok could not recall the word. A human facial expression, which Amanda seemed to adopt compulsively and without prompting. It made her resemble a sehlat bearing its teeth, but apparently was considered polite among human company.
She was thinking of asking Amanda to remind her what the word for the expression was when Amanda touched her gently on the arm. She stiffened, focusing instinctively on her psychic shields. But humans were universally psi-null, weren’t they? No psychic impressions should be able to pass between them at such a light touch – and through her sleeve, no less.
Nevertheless, T’Vok experienced the sensation of relief when Amanda removed her hand.
“Excuse me, who is that?” asked Amanda softly – and she really was leaning too far across the table, putting her face too close to T’Vok’s. Despite sitting on opposing sides of the round stone table, they seemed to be sharing breath. Perhaps she had observed T’Vok’s discomfort – she leaned back and made a small gesture to indicate the person in question.
T’Vok surreptitiously followed Amanda’s pointing finger. At the opposite end of the courtyard, standing between the fat trunks of two bao’lik trees, was a tall man in white trousers and a loose black jacket. He was glancing around as though he did not know which building he was supposed to enter and was so unwilling to admit to his ignorance that he would remain in the courtyard until the answer presented itself to him spontaneously. T’Vok disliked him immediately. She would have to meditate on it and ensure that her position returned to neutrality, in case it ever became necessary that she should interact with him.
“I do not know him,” she said.
“So, he isn’t attached to the learning center?” asked Amanda.
“I do not believe so,” T’Vok answered.
“Then why is he –” Amanda hesitated. T’Vok noticed that her face looked very pink. Was this normal for humankind? Abnormal? Perhaps she required more water. “I feel like he’s watching me,” whispered Amanda, baring her teeth in that strange human way.
T’Vok looked at the man again. She attempted to meet his eyes. He looked away and, pausing briefly, turned down the stone path to the left and followed it behind a building, out of sight.
“It might have been your shoes,” T’Vok suggested.
“My shoes?” Amanda cried. Lady V’Mir, harsh though she may have been, had not overstated the extent of human emotionalism.
“They are very loud,” T’Vok explained, lowering her voice pointedly in the hopes that Amanda would lower her own. “It is not considered normal to wear hard-soled shoes indoors or while walking on maintained outdoor pathways.”
Amanda emitted a nonverbal sound. Was it called a whine?
“Okay,” Amanda sighed. “Where do you recommend I find some more appropriate footwear?”
“Present your feet,” said T’Vok.
Amanda’s face displayed confusion, but she obeyed, sticking her legs out to the side of the table and pulling up the fabric of her skirt. It was interesting, T’Vok thought, how Amanda’s emotions revealed themselves. Her expressions were not altogether unlike those of a vulcan, but they were broad and overdrawn, as though painted on a mask for a child’s interpretation.
T’Vok appraised Amanda’s feet. She had to admit that the shoes, though impractical, were lovely. Amanda wore sandals with hard wooden heels (the source of the problem) and fabric straps, made of blue-and-pink patterned silk, which wrapped around her feet and crossed each other on their way up to her ankles, where they were fastened in tidy bows above her heel.
More importantly, they were convenient for T’Vok’s current purpose, making it very easy to gauge the measurements of Amanda’s bare feet. Length, width, arch…
“I will lend you a pair of mine,” T’Vok said, “for the duration of your residency, should they prove to be comfortable for you.”
Amanda showed an unsettling number of teeth (what was that called?). “Thank you so much, T’Vok,” she said. “Sorry, I hope it’s okay for me to ask: do you live in one of the staff apartments?”
“I do,” T’Vok confirmed. “I had planned that our tour would end there.”
“Could we maybe skip ahead? I can grab the shoes, make sure my boxes got there okay…”
“Understood,” said T’Vok, already standing up. “It will be most efficient to walk through the reading library…”
She stopped herself when she saw the look on Amanda’s face. Of course, T’Vok thought, she must be embarrassed about the shoes. Embarrassment was a useful emotion – one of the few. It protected the individual against their own socially disruptive urges.
“However,” she said, “I would be amenable to showing you an outdoor path instead.”
“Thank you,” said Amanda, visibly relieved.
T’Vok led Amanda across the courtyard and guided her down the path to the left. All the outdoor walkways of the learning center were paved with mosaics of colored flagstones, and this path, with its neat vertical stripes in shades of orange and red, was T’Vok’s favorite. As she walked, she played a private game: placing each foot in its own column and, as the columns shifted, making sure her steps shifted with them, so that her right foot touched only the burgundy stones and her left foot only the saffron for as long as she walked on the path.
“I did have one question,” began Amanda. Why, T’Vok wondered, did Amanda begin her queries so apologetically? Was it a human social convention? T’Vok would have greatly preferred if she would simply ask what she wanted to know.
Burgundy. Saffron. Burgundy. Saffron.
T’Vok realized Amanda expected a reply.
“Yes?” T’Vok prompted.
“So, I’ve been sent the students’ schedule, and it looks very intense.” (Burgundy. Saffron. Burgundy. Saffron.) “I’m just wondering, because some of the students are so young, if maybe there was a mistake…” (Burgundy. Saffron. Burgundy. Saffron.) “What I’m asking, really, is…” (Burgundy. Saffron. Burgundy. Saffron.) “…when do they have time to play?”
T’Vok did not understand this query. “They do not play during instruction periods.”
“I understand that’s the vulcan method,” Amanda said, “but when do they take breaks during the day?” (Burgundy. Saffron.) “You know, go outside?” (Burgundy. Saffron.) “Have fun with each other?”
T’Vok was just bout to inform Amanda that such a misuse of instruction time would be inefficient and distracting and therefore undesirable when a door blew open to their right and Amanda gasped. T’Vok started, her right foot skipped over onto a light brown stone, and the game was over.
Amanda stumbled sideways, practically careening into T’Vok to get out of the way of a vulcan who had just stormed out of the building to their right. She shook her head slightly to re-center her vision. When she looked again, she saw that it was a child who had burst through the door. A tall young boy, clearly upset about something.
She turned to T’Vok and saw that she had no intention of investigating.
“Wait here,” she said, leaving T’Vok’s side to rush after the boy.
She walked quickly but carefully, conscious of the sound of her heels striking the flagstone path and worried that it might prompt him to run even faster.
The boy darted around a bend, behind a line of trees with fat, smooth trunks, and Amanda realized she wasn’t going to gain any ground unless she started running herself. She stopped for just long enough to undo the ties on her sandals and toss them to the side of the path where they wouldn’t be in anyone’s way, and then she tore after him, the rough stones scraping at her bare feet with every step.
She chased him past the tall, fat trees and up a staircase. The path widened into a flat stone plaza in front of a wide, imposing building that looked as though it had been carved out of a single, unbroken stone – like it had always been there; had emerged out of the planet’s crust alongside the mountains and deserts that formed millions of years ago.
In front of that building was a statue of a man on a pedestal – vulcan, of course – dressed in robes and presenting a scroll engraved with Vulcan script to those who passed by.
Amanda arrived just in time to see a mop of dark hair disappear behind the statue. She exhaled, breathing carefully to mask how affected she was by the exertion of the chase. Maybe it was for the best. She didn’t want to startle him.
She approached the statue, letting her steps make a little more noise than necessary.
The boy had flattened himself up against the back of the statue. She watched his wide, dark eyes waver for a moment in the shadow of his brow and his thick, black bangs. She noticed his wet cheeks; the way his fair skin was flushed with blotchy green. How old was he? Ten? Twelve?
“You’re a human,” he said.
She smiled. “Don’t tell anyone, okay? How did you know?”
“My father works with humans,” he said. She didn’t miss the unhappy way he said father.
“Does he?” she asked, settling down beside him, still smiling.
“Yes,” said the boy. “Also,” he added, “you are bleeding. It makes it very obvious that you are human.”
She looked down at her feet and saw the smears of blood she’d left on the pavement. Funny – she didn’t feel any pain.
“You’re right,” she said affably. “Good observation. I didn’t even notice myself.”
“You are not distressed,” he said.
“Not really,” she said, laughing a little, “but you are. Do you want to tell me about it?”
“No,” he said.
“That’s okay,” she assured him. “It’s just – well, I was told that vulcans didn’t cry. So, something very serious must have happened to provoke this kind of reaction.”
He shook his head. “Nothing of any significance has occurred.”
“Interesting,” she said. “Maybe it wasn’t one big thing, then. Is it possible that it was a lot of little things? Maybe over a few days? Or longer?”
He sniffed again. A shiny trail of tears and snot dripped down to his upper lip.
“Because, you know,” she continued, “I’ve noticed that emotions are sometimes a lot like rain clouds.”
“Explain,” he ordered.
“Do you know how a rain cloud is formed?”
“Do you know that it does not rain on Vulcan?”
She hadn’t known that. “Never?” she asked.
“On average, in a given location on the planet, one-hundred-eighty-two solar orbits will pass between individual incidents of precipitation.”
“Of course,” she said, “sometimes it takes a very long time for a rain cloud to form, but you do know how it happens, don’t you…?”
He wiped his lip with the back of his hand, then wiped his hand on his sand-colored tunic.
“So,” Amanda said, “there are all of these tiny water droplets in the atmosphere. Not so many here, but in some places on Earth you actually feel damp when you go outside. But those water droplets want to cling together, and they do that by gathering around particles of dust that are also floating in the atmosphere. Now, once there are a few drops of water attached to a few particles of dust, those drops of water want to stick to each other, too, so they gather together… and more and more water gathers around more and more dust, and the droplets keep sticking together, and then a cloud starts to form out of those droplets.
“Now, what do you think happens when that cloud gets so big and so dense that it’s actually too heavy to stay suspended in the air?”
“That would be the point at which precipitation occurs,” he said.
“Right,” she confirmed. “So, imagine now that every insignificant thing that might not be so bad on its own is one particle of dust floating in the air, and every time a little thing happens, a droplet of water gathers around that particle. Even if it takes one-hundred-and-eighty-two solar orbits, because each one of those particles is so insignificant, still, eventually…”
“…It will rain,” he concluded.
“Exactly,” Amanda said. She leaned back against the cool stone pedestal and watched the boy for a moment. He certainly looked less hostile than he had a minute ago. If he were a human child, she would have put her hand on his shoulder – even given him a hug, if she were a little more familiar with him. How did vulcans comfort children, she wondered, when physical contact was such a taboo?
“So,” she continued, “do you want to tell me about this most recent particle of dust?”
“My father –”
A shadow loomed over them.
T’Vok had quietly approached and now stood just a few feet away with Amanda’s shoes in her hand, their ribbon laces dangling loosely in the warm breeze.
“Student,” intoned T’Vok, “identify yourself.”
They squared off silently, the child glaring up at T’Vok with defiance. T’Vok herself was expressionless – which seemed to mean that she had won.
The boy let out the breath he’d been holding and ended their staring contest. “Sybok,” he said, “of the House of Sarek.”
“Thank you, Sybok,” said T’Vok. “Come with me, please. You are to speak with Lady V’Mir.”
He stood up straight, squaring his shoulders. “It would be more accurate to state that Lady V’Mir will speak to me.”
“Your interest in accuracy is commended,” said T’Vok. “Nevertheless, you have been summoned. I will escort you to her.”
Sybok looked unhappy, but he seemed prepared to obey.
Amanda stood. She was beating some of the dust out of her dress when T’Vok addressed her.
“I apologize, Amanda,” T’Vok said. “If you don’t mind a short detour –” she broke off.
“What?” Amanda asked. Then, she followed T’Vok’s eyes. Her feet were still bleeding. “Oh.”
“Perhaps it would be best if you first went to the infirmary,” T’Vok said. “It is not far. If you wait for me there, I will collect you as soon as I can.”
Following T’Vok’s directions, it only took a minute or two for Amanda to reach the infirmary, even walking gingerly enough to avoid any more scrapes. When she stepped into the building with her shoes in her hand, a young man ushered her quickly into a physician’s office. It wasn’t so different from being in an exam room in a doctor’s office on Earth, all things considered. She was set up on a high bench and instructed to wait until the physician arrived.
“Thank you,” she said, smiling politely at the man who had brought her in.
He regarded her blankly. “Thanks are unnecessary,” he said. “Acknowledgment that the instructions have been understood will suffice.”
“Oh,” she said. “Well… consider that acknowledged.”
He ignored her, instead kneeling to open a cabinet at floor level. She saw him select a spray bottle and what looked like – oh, a cloth. For wiping up the blood that she had tracked in. What was making her so absent-minded? She gave her head a little shake to try and clear her thoughts. Watching the man activate the sliding door and exit with his cleaning supplies, she noticed with alarm that her vision was slightly blurred. Maybe, she thought, I should take a nap after this…
Before the automatic door swept closed behind him, she observed with dismay that the man was already on his knees in the hallway with the wet cloth and sanitizing spray. He shouldn’t have had to clean up after her. She would remember to apologize on her way out. Leaving a trail of blood on the floor was not the way to make a good first impression.
Something cold was being pressed to Amanda’s forehead.
She opened her eyes and saw a woman’s throat. Her gaze snapped to the point where pleats of fabric were drawn together at the top of the woman’s suit, then drifted up to take in the woman’s face. She realized the woman was holding a cold compress to her forehead.
“You are awake,” the woman said.
Amanda nodded weakly. Her right bicep felt sore to the touch.
“I am T’Peyra,” said the woman. “I am one of the physicians attached to the learning center. As I primarily serve the faculty, you and I will become well-acquainted.”
“Did I faint?”
“Yes,” said T’Peyra. Amanda watched as T’Peyra removed the cold compress and set it aside.
Then, T’Peyra offered her a cup of water, which she took and drank gratefully. Once she’d had a few swallows of water and a minute to come back to herself, she remembered why she was there. She looked down at her feet. Not only were the scrapes still oozing blood, but the skin around her heels and the balls of her feet had turned angry and pink.
“Your physiology, as you know, is not entirely compatible with Vulcan’s atmosphere,” said T’Peyra. “Your body is accustomed to a higher concentration of oxygen. That, combined with the head and perhaps exertion, caused you to lose consciousness. I administered an emergency dose of a Tri-Ox compound. It was fortunate that your medical records had already been uploaded to our database, as I am not an expert on human physiology. I understand that you arrived on Vulcan this morning.”
Amanda nodded. “But I’m taking Tri-Ox already, I gave myself a hypospray this morning. Over six hours ago,” she admitted. "Thank you,” she said. “I’ll be more careful about that in the future.”
“I would advise it,” said T’Peyra.
“Are my feet…?” Amanda started to ask, trailing off with a vague gesture.
“Shallow abrasions only,” said T’Peyra. “With your permission, I will treat the affected skin with a dermal regenerator.”
“Thank you,” Amanda said again. Her mouth felt dry and slow. She worked her jaw, swishing around her saliva as T’Peyra prepared the dermal regenerator. She thought about the little boy – Sybok. At that moment, he was probably being reprimanded by V’Mir or T’Vok or even another one of his instructors. Would they tell his father about the incident?
The dermal regenerator whirred faintly in T’Peyra’s hand. “Please extend your right foot,” she instructed, “and flex.”
Amanda did as instructed, wincing as the movement pulled at her abraded skin.
Without touching her, T’Peyra activated the dermal regenerator and moved it once over the sole of Amanda’s foot, bathing her skin in pale blue light. This kind of device was common on Earth and throughout the Federation, so Amanda was used to the treatment on anything from scraped knees to the holes left in her gums when she had her wisdom teeth removed. She knew from experience that her feet would be tender for a few days, even after the skin itself had healed – which would only take about an hour after exposure to the regenerator’s beam.
“Now the left,” T’Peyra said. She completed the procedure on Amanda’s other foot, then presented a roll of self-adhesive bandages for Amanda to take. “While you should change the bandages daily,” she said, “please ensure that the affected area is fully covered until all abrasions have healed.”
Amanda nodded and waited.
T’Peyra observed her in return.
Neither of them moved.
“Do you require assistance?” T’Peyra asked.
“Oh! Oh, you want me to – sorry, it’s just that on Earth the doctor would usually be the one to apply the bandages.”
T’Peyra regarded her with interest. “I do not know if this is the case on Earth,” she said, “but vulcan society places a great emphasis on the self-sufficiency of the individual.”
There was more to it than that, Amanda thought. It was only once she was seated outside the infirmary and waiting for T’Vok that she realized T’Peyra hadn’t touched her once during the entire visit – there was more to it than self-sufficiency.
She reached into her purse and dug out her PADD from under her roll of fresh bandages, UV-protection spray, empty water bottle (she should have seen if she could refill it before she left), and the pack of Tri-Ox hypos she’d forgotten to administer.
She opened her messages and tapped over to the screen where her official correspondence lived. A quick scroll brought her to the message she was looking for. Vulcan Cultural Competency Notes. There was something there about… she found it:
In general, vulcan individuals prefer to avoid physical contact. Terrans often find it difficult to adjust to this facet of vulcan culture. Nevertheless, you must exercise the utmost discretion when sharing space with vulcans in order to respect this cultural preference. Even when dealing with individuals with whom you have become familiar, physical touch must be avoided.
Amanda scanned the rest of the message all the way to the closing salutation (This missive has been prepared by the Vulcan Ministry of Interplanetary Affairs, Earth Division, under the supervision of Sarek, House of Sarek, Son of Skon…), but there were no other references to the warning against physical contact.
She sighed and tipped her head back, shutting off her PADD and holding it loosely in her lap. She let her eyes slip shut. “I guess it’s not any of my business, anyways,” she said to the sky.
Inside her eyelids, the world shifted from black-and-white static to a warm glowing red depending on how she angled her face in relation to the sun.
Sarek, House of Sarek, Son of Skon.
Her eyes snapped open. She opened the message again.
There it was: Sarek, House of Sarek.
House of Sarek. That was Sybok’s house. Could Sarek be his father? Or was it just a common name?
She didn’t have time to contemplate the strange coincidence before she spied T’Vok approaching, graceful as ever and now alone.
“Your feet?” T’Vok inquired after they had greeted each other.
“All regenerated,” Amanda said. “How did everything go with Sybok – with the student?”
“The situation has been resolved,” said T’Vok.
“Has the student’s family been contacted?”
“I do not know. It would be highly abnormal if so.”
“Really?” Amanda asked.
“Incidents are typically resolved within the learning center,” T’Vok said. “The child begins to develop self-sufficiency at an early age.”
That phrase again: self-sufficiency.
Amanda got the sense that T’Vok was attempting to reassure her, but in Amanda’s opinion T’Vok was missing the point.
She took a deep breath, consciously unwinding the tension in her jaw when she felt her teeth grinding together. She reminded herself that children often have big feelings about small problems. There might have been some kind of innocent misunderstanding. A conversation with Sybok’s father might really be unwarranted.
On the other hand, strong relationships between the instructors and the students’ families were a fundamental part of Earth’s education system. Whatever the actual incident had been, there was obviously underlying emotional trouble for Sybok – and her only lead was the way he had said the word father, so that was the lead she would have to follow.
Chapter 2: Evil Emperor
Amanda didn’t see Sybok again for the next several days – she almost wondered if he had been suspended, but it really would have been more unusual if she had encountered him again. According to the learning center’s student database, Sybok was in his sixth year. Amanda and T’Vok worked with second- and third-year students, spending nearly all of their time monitoring and facilitating the children’s activities.
The very first night she’d spent in her apartment, she’d written a comm to Lady V’Mir to ask about the possibility of arranging a meeting with a parent. This morning, she’d received a prompt and courteous dismissal of her request from Lady V’Mir’s assistant. Without suitable cause, such a meeting was highly irregular. As such, her query had not been brought to Lady V’Mir’s attention.
So, she’d hit a dead end.
Another kind of educator might have given up and let it go.
Even Amanda might have let it go, but there was one little thing that made it impossible for her to get the incident out of her mind.
She was bored.
“Bored?” asked T’Vok.
Their group of ten students were huddled obediently around a terminal, where they silently observed a computer simulation of volcanic activity on the surface of their sister planet, T’Khut. Amanda and T’Vok had been watching them for the past hour from a couple of chairs at the other end of the room. Nobody had so much as asked to go to the restroom.
“Aren’t you?” Amanda asked. “I’ve been here for six days now and we haven’t done any teaching,”
“I do a great deal of teaching,” said T’Vok.
“Today at the mid-day meal, you attempted to eat pey’rik with lilipa.”
“I mean teaching the children,” Amanda said, crossing her arms in front of her. “Anyways, it would’ve tasted fine.”
“Taste is immaterial,” said T’Vok. “The combination is absurd.”
The conversation lulled. Amanda leaned onto the table beside her chair, resting her chin on her hand. The projection in the center of the room showed a flow of lava, thick and slow, carrying boulders and rubble down a slope.
“Are you unsatisfied with the curriculum?” asked T’Vok.
Amanda turned her head and saw T’Vok watching her with a thoughtful expression. “No,” said Amanda, “not exactly. I mean, the information is good, but… well, you and I don’t get to do very much, do we?”
“Were our intervention required on a regular basis,” replied T’Vok, “it would indicate a deficiency in the students’ educational programming.”
Amanda frowned. “I don’t think so. I think… it’s normal for children to have difficulties. To ask questions.”
“Human children, perhaps.”
“I guess I just thought I’d be doing something more,” Amanda admitted.
“Like what?” T’Vok asked.
“I don’t know,” she said. She thought back to their first day of instruction. The second-year students had stared at her ears and asked her questions at first, but T’Vok had quickly reprimanded them. The third-year students had barely reacted to her at all. “Talking to them?” she suggested. “Playing with them? Not just activating some computer programs and waiting around for something to go wrong.”
“These are not ‘some’ computer programs,” said T’Vok. “They are designed, programmed, and tested by our senior educators for the optimal learning experience.”
“I know,” said Amanda. She held in a sigh.
“This is the curriculum. Our students are completing the tasks given and performing adequately in their daily assessments.”
“I recognize that you are emotionally distressed,” said T’Vok, “but I do not understand the logic behind your feelings. You act as though a lack of problems to solve is a problem in and of itself.”
“Maybe it is,” said Amanda. “I just feel like there’s something missing.”
Before T’Vok could reply, one of the students started calling for them. Amanda looked over and saw Shavet, a little girl with a very green nose and mouth who had stood up to approach them. She looked so serious, like she was coming to tell them someone had died.
“Miss Amanda,” said Shavet, speaking calmly but carefully, “we have completed the instructional portion of our assignment. We are ready for our assessments.”
“Thank you, Shavet,” said Amanda. Assessments were all completed on individual PADDs, which she and T’Vok passed out to the students at the beginning of each instructional period. All the PADDs in a given class were linked together so that Amanda or T’Vok could activate a program simultaneously on each student’s screen. On Earth, there might be a program in place to limit the students’ access to other computer activities and games during assessment times. On Vulcan, it would have been a waste of computer data. Likewise, there were no protections against cheating on academic assignments. It was so antithetical to the vulcan way of life that it wasn’t even worth monitoring.
They almost had her believing that no vulcan child ever broke a rule.
T’Vok was right: she needed a problem to solve. Luckily, she had one. If Sybok’s behavior was really so out of the ordinary, then it demanded some kind of intervention.
But how was she going to get in touch with Sarek? Lady V’Mir had already denied her request, and it would look suspicious if she used the learning center’s resources to get in touch with him. Worse, it might earn her an official reprimand, and that would be the end of her certificate.
Amanda smiled to herself. If Sybok’s father was the same Sarek who was employed by the Ministry of Interplanetary Affairs, then there was another way to get the information she needed.
Amanda leaned over to T’Vok as soon as they had gotten all the students set up with their assessment. “T’Vok, how would you get to the Ministry of Interplanetary Affairs from here?”
T’Vok’s puzzlement showed on her face. “There is no single office. The staff work in various buildings throughout Shi’Kahr. Do you have an appointment?”
“Yes,” Amanda lied, “but I lost the information. I must have accidentally deleted the message. But I know the name of the person I’m supposed to meet. Is there any way I could find out how to contact him?”
“Possibly,” said T’Vok. “You could search the staff database for the information.”
“I don’t have access to the staff database.”
“It is most likely public. I will locate it for you and send it to your PADD.”
Amanda smiled. “Thank you, T’Vok.”
“Unneeded,” said T’Vok. Even though her voice was stern, Amanda saw her eyes crinkle up at the corners. It wasn’t quite a smile, but it was the closest thing Amanda had seen since she arrived on Vulcan.
At the end of the instructional day, around early afternoon, Amanda said good-bye to T’Vok and left for her apartment while T’Vok stayed behind to program the students’ PADDs for the following day. It was a straightforward task, but a tedious one. The first time they had tried to do it together, they’d just gotten in each other’s way. T’Vok had proposed (for the sake of efficiency) that they just trade off, and Amanda was more than happy to accept a few extra hours of freedom every other day.
She breathed in and out, enjoying the feeling of the sun on her shoulders. She’d grown a little more accustomed to the heat by now, she was administering her Tri-Ox every six hours as prescribed, and she always carried water. T’Vok’s black slippers were comfortable and practically silent against the stone pavement as she walked across campus.
She crossed the courtyard where she and T’Vok had eaten on her first day. Here, every path was lined with the fat, water-hoarding trees that she had learned were called bao’lik. Walking along between the bao’lik trees, she passed by the statue where she’d cornered Sybok.
The statue was carved from stone as black as obsidian, smooth and cool to the touch as she ran her fingers over the inscription at its feet. The word SURAK was written in Standard beneath the Vulcan script. The rest of the writing was untranslated, and the U.T. tucked behind Amanda’s right ear didn’t help with written language.
Surak – a name, or at least she thought so. Who was he?
She looked up to his face, squinting against the hard afternoon sun. The harsh glare cast a shadow over his features: a mask of absolute blackness, wreathed in light. She felt herself leaning in, wanting to linger in the statue’s shadow.
Her PADD buzzed in her purse. She was surprised to see that it was a message from T’Vok. Then again, most of the programming process was just sitting and waiting for the files to transfer.
She opened the message and grinned.
T’Vok had not only sent the Ministry’s staff directory to her, but she’d made sure the names were transliterated into Standard. It only took a moment to find Sarek’s name in the database – Sarek, House of Sarek, Son of Skon, Ministry of Interplanetary Affairs, Earth Division. How old did you have to be before you got your own House, Amanda wondered.
There was some untranslated vulcan script, a contact code for sending text comms, another for requesting a meeting, and what looked like a physical address, which she immediately pulled up on the PADD’s map of Shi’Kahr.
She stepped back until her shoulders pressed against Surak’s knees, just barely able to get her screen out of the glare to make sure she wasn’t misreading the map.
She could walk there.
She could comm his office and request a meeting under false pretenses and maybe hear back in a few days and maybe get a cursory rejection.
Or… she could walk there.
She flexed her toes against the insides of her borrowed shoes. The soles of her feet were still a little tender. Her mouth was dry.
T’Vok’s slippers were better for walking than any of the shoes she’d brought herself.
She had water in her purse.
She could walk there.
Sweat beaded on Amanda’s brow. She wiped it away with her sleeve.
She was starting to think that no one was inside. She knew it was traditional for vulcans to take a mid-day rest and retire for the hottest hours of the day. Even so, it was still unusual for a public office to go completely unstaffed during that time.
She shifted on her feet and turned away from the door, looking out across the front of the property to the buildings on the other side of the street. Green lawns were an alien concept in Shi’Kahr, but there was no shortage of vegetation. Short desert shrubs were planted everywhere there would have been exposed ground, for practical rather than ornamental purposes. The more their root systems were allowed to spread, the better protected the loose, dry soil would be against wind erosion. Without them, the buildings of Shi’Kahr would have disappeared under the shifting sands a long time ago.
But vulcans also had a strong sense of aesthetics. Amanda had never seen another city so unified when it came to matters of style. Their taste was reflected in everything from the buildings themselves, all built from the same shades of dark volcanic rock and pale sandstone, to the red clay planters bursting with blue-green, paddle-shaped leaves.
A low, warm breeze rustled her dress around her ankles.
The door opened.
Standing solemnly to greet her was Sybok.
Well, that settled the question about whether she was tracking the right Sarek.
She presented the vulcan salute.
“Hello,” she said.
“Why have you come to my house?” he asked.
“I thought this was your father’s office,” she explained, already taking a step back.
“Can’t you read?” he asked. He indicated the nameplate beside the door, which Amanda had assumed was positive identification of a ministry building.
“I can’t, actually,” she admitted. “I’m using a universal translator.”
“I know that,” he said, “because the movements of your mouth would not produce the words that I hear when you speak. You should learn to read.”
She smiled despite herself. “I know,” she said. “You’re very observant, Sybok.”
“I am aware,” he said. He was still wearing the uniform for students at the learning center, a slate-gray tunic that made him look like a miniature dignitary. “You have interrupted my afternoon meditation.”
“I’m sorry,” she said.
“Why?” he asked. He went on without waiting for a reply. “Would you like to come in for tea? Also, what is your name?”
“Yes,” she said, “and it’s Amanda.”
Sybok prepared tea for himself and Amanda using stoneware that his father’s family had carried with them since the days of Surak. He did this foremostly because he suspected that his father would dislike it. However, it did not displease him that Amanda complimented the tea set and inquired after its history.
He was impressed that she did not need to be told how to sit on the woven mat that he unrolled on the floor for her.
She was not the first human he had met, but she was the first to sit across from him and quietly take tea. Their conversation was pleasant. They discussed first the tea itself, which Amanda compared to a variety cultivated on Earth, and then she asked him about the Earth cactus which his father had placed near a window. He learned that its colloquial name was ‘prickly pear’. She asked if there were similar plants native to Vulcan and he told her about the ya-ya cactus, the fruit and juice of which were frequently consumed at the morning meal.
They talked about food until they had finished all of their tea, at which point Sybok decided to offer Amanda some of his father’s strawberry ice cream. It was the only dairy product Sybok had ever consumed, and he found it to be strange, if not unpleasant. However, it was a non-replicated import from Earth, made from the milk of real terran cattle and real fresh strawberries. It would, he hoped, be a comforting and familiar item of food for Amanda to consume.
As expected, Amanda accepted his offer with a singularly terran enthusiasm. She complimented him on what she called thoughtfulness and kindness. What she did not know was that strawberry ice cream was his father’s favorite food and that he would sink into a palpable disappointment when he came home and saw that it was gone – and he would not be able to receive any more until he was able to arrange it with a Vulcan-bound ship traveling from Earth with room for additional freight, the opportunity for which may not arise for several weeks.
It was after he had retrieved the strawberry ice cream from the frozen storage unit and portioned it into two of his father’s most opulent ancestral bowls that Amanda asked about his mother.
“She is no longer with us,” Sybok said, setting each bowl in front of a sitting mat and doubling back to the kitchen area for spoons. This was true: his mother, a devotee of the teachings of Surak, had relocated to Gol shortly after his birth in order to pursue the rite of kolinahr, which made necessary the dissolution of her marriage to his father, and had then taken up residence as a healer at the temple in Vulcana Regar.
When he returned, Amanda was watching him with a curious expression, her blue eyes very wide. “Sybok,” she said, “I’m so sorry.”
“Why?” he asked.
She put on the human expression called a frown. “I don’t know,” she said. “It’s just what a human would say in this situation.”
He found the shift in Amanda’s demeanor strange. Perhaps she had misunderstood him. They ate for a while in silence. The sweet, milky ice cream coated his tongue even after he swallowed.
“What is your purpose for coming here?” he asked quietly.
“I’d hoped to meet with your father,” she said.
“I know, but why?”
She scraped another spoonful of the ice cream into her mouth and swallowed before she answered. “Actually,” she said, “I wanted to talk to him about you, Sybok. Do you know where he is?”
Sybok knew, of course, that his father had forgone his own afternoon meditation in order to obtain necessary food products from the market. He found, however, that he did not want to admit to this.
“He is on Earth,” Sybok lied. “I do not know when he will return.”
He watched Amanda’s face. Although it was not logical, he felt satisfied knowing that her estimation of his father’s character had fallen.
“I do not mind,” continued Sybok, “because I am independent. Any message you have for him can be given to me.”
Amanda set down her bowl of ice cream. “Okay,” she said. “Could you tell him that I’m concerned about his son?”
Sybok was unsure how to catalogue his present feeling. “Yes,” he said. “Should I give him a reason?”
She shook her head, adopting the human expression called a smile. “There was just an incident at the learning center. Nothing serious. I just want him to know that he should keep an eye on how you’re – on how his son is feeling. To see if there’s something that he can do to help.”
Sybok felt anger. This he recognized. “There is nothing my father could do,” he said, “that would have any effect on his son’s well-being, academic or otherwise. In fact –”
It was at that moment that Sybok’s father opened the door.
Sarek breathed in.
He breathed out.
He was distantly aware of his son leaping up and standing at attention upon his entry. He granted the greater part of his attention to the human woman, seated on the floor, whose katra sparked the air with a crackling heat and light.
He breathed in.
He breathed out.
He crossed to the kitchen area and set three cloth bags of groceries down on the counter.
His son exclaimed something like “Father! You’ve returned at last!” and Sarek breathed in and he breathed out. He took the container of iced ya-ya fruit out of a grocery bag and put it away in the frozen storage compartment. He acknowledged that his strawberry ice cream had been eaten. This was not surprising. Until this moment, Sarek had thought himself to have outgrown the ability to be surprised by any new circumstance relating to his son.
Now, seeing that Sybok had become acquainted with this woman – this woman, whose face he had held in the front of his mind since he’d glimpsed her from across a courtyard at the learning center – whose katra had called to him at once with the power of the almighty desert wind – though she, as a human, must be psi-null – whose dark hair, like the deep red-brown center of the fiz’ik flower, seemed in the golden light of the sun to become itself the source of that light – seeing this woman in his own home, Sarek was forced to admit privately to a certain degree of wonder.
Sarek breathed in.
He breathed out.
“Finally, Father, you are home,” said Sybok theatrically. “Your absence has been noticed keenly.”
Sarek was aware that the human was aware of him. Did she recognize him? Had she, too, felt the magnetism of their katra on that day?
Likely not. They had not spoken.
He watched the human stand and present the vulcan salute. She bowed her head slightly, a gesture of deference he had often observed among Earth people.
“I apologize for intruding,” she said.
“It is not necessary,” he told her. He surprised himself with his own capacity for speech. “While I am absent, my son is in command of the house.”
Her shoulders relaxed. “How long were you on Earth?” she asked.
“Ah,” he said. He understood. This game of Sybok’s was no surprise to him. “My son has deceived you,” he said. “I have just been at the produce market.”
“And I thank you, Father,” interjected Sybok, “for journeying to the produce market even after your long journey home from Earth.”
The human’s entire countenance softened as she watched Sybok’s performance. Sarek could not bring himself to interrupt, although Sybok’s easy use of dishonesty concerned him.
“Sybok,” said the human, “can I ask you one question?”
Sybok nodded seriously.
The human smiled at Sybok.
Sarek felt vaguely weak.
“What would you say the odds are that there’s another man in Shi’Kahr right now who looks exactly like your father, at least to the point that a human like me wouldn’t be able to tell the two of them apart?”
“The answer to that question is not calculable,” Sybok said, furrowing his brow.
“But you’d say it’s very unlikely,” the human prompted.
“If forced to conjecture,” said Sybok.
The human’s smile widened, spreading out to live in every part of her face at once. “Then I know you’ve lied to me,” she said kindly, “because I saw him eight days ago at the learning center and it takes at least twelve days to travel between Vulcan and Earth.”
The bridge of Sybok’s nose wrinkled up. Sarek felt disappointment as he recognized the sign of his own failure to suppress outward emotional responses recreated on the face of his son. Again and again.
(Beneath that disappointment was a quiet joy, for she knew him. She remembered him.)
Sybok drew himself up to full height. “Even so,” he said, “it has been longer than twelve days since he has adequately performed his role as father.”
Sarek breathed in.
He breathed out.
“If you will allow me to be excused,” said Sybok, “I will meditate in nature.”
Sybok looked to him for permission. He nodded, and Sybok retreated out of the room and through the house to the back garden without another glance.
This left Sarek alone with the human.
She smiled at him. “He seems like a handful,” she said.
“A human expression,” he said. “I am familiar with it.”
She gestured with her hand, indicating that he should sit. She acted with the same grace as if it had been her own home. He lowered himself to rest his knees on one of the sitting mats. She did the same. They faced each other.
“I have to tell you,” she said, “that I saw your son crying the other day at the learning center. I don’t know what happened exactly, but I came here because I’m concerned about him.”
“I know what happened,” Sarek told her. He clasped his hands together in front of him, focusing on the pressure of his fingers on the backs of his hands. “In fact, I am to blame. One of Sybok’s instructors asked me to visit the learning center to speak to the students about career options within the Ministry of Interplanetary Affairs. Out of respect for Sybok’s privacy, I chose not to acknowledge him as my son at this time. Apparently, this choice was distressing to him.”
“Did he ask you not to acknowledge him?” the human asked. Her eyes, blue as the lakes that filled the volcanic craters of the Forge, held him under their scrutiny.
“We did not discuss it,” he said. An old shame welled up from a tired place in his stomach – but then she smiled at him. He saw not reproach nor disappointment in her eyes.
Strange, he thought. How strange.
He felt his own disappointment, however, when she shifted and stood as though to leave.
“Thank goodness,” she said. “I was worried it was something serious, but you really have an easy problem to solve.”
He stared at her, bewildered, as she adjusted the folds of her dress where they’d been pulled out of place by the way she sat.
“Just talk to him,” she said, “and you won’t make the same mistake again.”
She thanked him for his time and exited the house with all appropriate politeness, and it was not until she was gone that he realized he had neglected to ask for her name.
Later, after Sybok had come in, after cleaning up the ice cream bowls and tucking away the sitting mats, he consulted the staff database of the learning center. Whatever special arrangement had led to the human’s employment was not noted in the database, and nor was the home planet of staff members a searchable factor – in all other cases, it would be Vulcan. He didn’t know by which division of the learning center she was employed, nor, if she were a teacher, to which years or subjects she might be assigned.
Thus, he had no recourse but to manually sift through each section of the database, scanning for a name that did not appear vulcan in origin.
He found her at last, erroneously listed as Amanda, of the House of Grayson although humans did not follow that naming convention.
Amanda Grayson, it should have been.
As he was not familiar with the name Amanda, he consulted a database of terran names. He found that it was Latin in origin, meaning that it was derived from one of Earth’s ancient languages; one which had long since fallen out of use.
The definitions listed were variations on the same meaning:
Deserving to be loved.
Worthy of love.
Loved by everyone.
“T’Vok,” said Amanda urgently, “I have the solution.”
“To what?” asked T’Vok, not glancing up from her PADD. She had become accustomed to Amanda’s behavior by now. The human enjoyed filling the brief windows between their instruction periods with conversation, and T’Vok had found that it was beneficial for their working relationship to engage with it rather than ignore.
“To what I’m doing here,” said Amanda.
For T’Vok, this reply served to clarify nothing. She simply waited, knowing more information would come.
“I’ve been so focused on learning what’s customary on Vulcan, it didn’t occur to me,” said Amanda, “but I do have something to teach here!”
“You have been teaching,” said T’Vok. “I know it is not the same as an Earth classroom, but it is our way.”
“Exactly,” said Amanda. “It is your way, and I intend to respect that during our instructional periods, but I have a free period during the day, too, and I was thinking that I could use that period to teach something about our way. The ways of Earth people, I mean.”
T’Vok considered this.
She did not find it to be an unreasonable idea, but…
“It would have to be approved by Lady V’Mir,” she said.
“Of course,” agreed Amanda.
“You will need to draft a strong proposal,” said T’Vok.
“I know,” said Amanda.
“Do you require assistance?” asked T’Vok.
Amanda made the human face that T’Vok could still not recall the name of – the exposing of teeth to signify happiness, agreement, or a lack of antagonism. Although it would have been most logical to simply ask Amanda what the expression was called, T’Vok recognized that to ask plainly when weeks had passed since Amanda’s arrival would cause her to feel embarrassment. She therefore avoided it.
“Well,” Amanda said, “you remember my connection at the Ministry of Interplanetary Affairs.”
“You will obtain assistance from that individual?”
Amanda nodded. “I hope so, anyways. I sent him a comm this morning. If I hear back in time, I want to pay him a visit later today.”
Him. T’Vok picked up on the choice of pronoun – the only piece of information she had received so far about this person. It was not enough to assist T’Vok in ascertaining his identity.
“I am sure he will be amenable,” said T’Vok. “Your request would appear to be within the bounds of his interests, if he is employed by the Ministry’s Earth Division.”
Following this brief conversation, they returned to their preparations for the next instruction period in relative quiet. T’Vok anticipated that Amanda would soon introduce another topic about which to speak, but she never did.
Once their students arrived from their mid-day meal, T’Vok observed that Amanda behaved with uncharacteristic distractedness for the remainder of the instructional day. She chose not to acknowledge it verbally. She had suspicions about the nature of Amanda’s interest in this ministry official, whoever he was, but she did not wish for Amanda to experience embarrassment any more than she wished to experience it herself.
That evening, it was Sarek himself who greeted Amanda at the door. Of course, who else would it be? She knew he must live alone with Sybok after what Sybok told her about his mother. No longer with us, he’d said. She knew from the student database that Sybok had no school-aged siblings. She didn’t think she could have missed the presence of a baby or another relative when she’d visited the first time. Sarek had told her that Sybok would be working on a project at the library. It couldn’t have been anyone else.
They kept a house of two.
Still, her breath caught in her throat when she saw him.
“Amanda,” he said.
“Sarek,” she replied. Vulcans didn’t often make use of words like good evening, hello, or how do you do. She knew it in her head, but she wasn’t yet used to their way of greeting each other.
She met his dark eyes for the duration of a single breath.
Her fingers closed tightly around the PADD that held her working proposal. Why did she feel so breathless? She wasn’t due for another Tri-Ox hypospray until night-time. Had she missed a dose?
Sarek stepped aside and allowed her to enter.
Instead of setting up shop in the front room that housed the kitchen, Sarek led her through it.
The layout of the house was open, with high arched ceilings and large windows. Even late in the afternoon, sunlight passed through every room as they walked towards the back of the house.
Amanda raked her eyes over everything she passed. There was little furniture in the first room they walked through, only a low table and cushions for sitting. With nothing to distract her, her eyes were drawn to the shelves carved into the red sandstone walls on either side of them. They ran the entire length of the walls, filled from end to end with different kinds of objects: ornaments bearing Vulcan script, small desert plants that grew towards the window, arrangements of crystals that captured the light like fire, untidy stacks of data PADDs labelled in Vulcan, and even a small number of real paper books.
She glanced ahead at Sarek. He wasn’t looking back at her – but she couldn’t linger. Knowing the value of privacy among vulcans, she didn’t want him to turn around and see her examining his things.
She stepped through to the next room and smiled despite herself.
This, she would’ve called a sun room. The entire back wall was a window, probably transparent aluminum, revealing a garden bursting with cactus blossoms. Insects darted here and there between the orange flowers, the sunlight catching their wings like little jewels.
She turned to Sarek and caught him watching her. She felt her cheeks warm, but she found she couldn’t turn away.
Or, rather, she didn’t want to.
The yellow sun softened the sharpness of Sarek’s cheeks and lit a spark in his dark eyes. He looked younger all of a sudden. She noticed the fine lines on either side of his mouth. Her eyes drifted down along his jaw to the place where a gold clasp secured the front of his tunic, just a centimeter below the hollow of his throat.
“We may work here,” said Sarek abruptly, “where there is the most natural light.” Amanda’s eyes snapped back up to his face. “If we are disciplined enough to complete the proposal before nightfall, then we will not find it necessary to activate the artificial lights.”
She smiled and let out a breath. Of course he hadn’t brought her here to show her the flowers. Vulcan homes ran on solar energy, and it wasn’t like turning on the lights would drain the average house’s power reserves, but conservation was habitual for them. They often made use of environmental and lighting controls in buildings that would be visited by off-worlders but rarely activated them for their own comfort.
“Of course,” she said. “Should I…?” she reached out towards the stack of sitting cushions that nearly every vulcan room had on a shelf or in a corner.
“By all means,” he said.
She placed the cushions on the ground with a respectful distance between them and handed Sarek her PADD, open to the working proposal.
They worked together, bent over the same screen, until long after the sky had gone dim.
It was later that night, as Amanda lay in bed with her PADD debating whether to send the proposal to Lady V’Mir right then or wait until morning, that she realized Sarek had placed his hand just above her elbow to lead her to the door when they’d agreed it was time to say good-night.
She’d felt so comfortable speaking with him that she hadn’t even noticed the gesture, but… everything she’d observed so far would have her believe that vulcans simply didn’t engage in casual physical contact. She had been working hard herself to reign in her impulses to touch those around her. She still occasionally reached out across the table to lay her hand on T’Vok’s wrist when they were talking, but she nearly always drew back in time. Not a single vulcan had voluntarily touched her since she had arrived – not even the physician T’Peyra.
And yet, Sarek had touched her arm.
Was he lonely, she wondered, without Sybok’s mother?
She switched off her PADD. She would send the proposal in the morning.
She touched her own skin where he’d touched her through her sleeve.
She touched her own lips.
She laughed out loud at herself and buried her face in her hands. What was she thinking all of a sudden? T’Vok, she imagined asking, is it really true what people say? Do vulcans only mate for life?
She took a deep breath; brushed her hair back from her face.
All she was doing was blowing things out of proportion because she was lonely herself, being in a place where she didn’t know anyone. She was used to hugging a friend just about every day, not to mention all the time she spent playing with her students on Earth. She was used to physical touch, that was all – and she missed it.
She stood and crossed to the little washroom attached to her bedroom, taking her bottle of water with her. All the bathing fixtures on vulcan used sonic energy instead of water, but she was willing to sacrifice some of her drinking water just to splash her face over the sink basin before she went to bed.
She poured some of the cool water over her hands and patted her face with it, slicking the excess back into her hair as she faced herself in the mirror.
“You,” she told herself sternly, “are being very silly. And you need to go to bed.”
She nodded brusquely, presented the vulcan salute to herself, then turned off the lights and tucked herself into bed. That was that.
But he must have done it on purpose, hadn’t he?
Chapter 3: Forbidden Planet
The stated mission of Amanda’s extracurricular club was as follows: to introduce vulcan children to a broad sample of Earth’s culture, without assessments or other forms of academic review, with a concerted effort to encourage participating students to seek out further information about and pursue engagement with their own particular areas of interest.
When Amanda had announced to T’Vok that her proposal had been approved by Lady V’Mir, she had offered no details beyond what T’Vok could have read for herself on the first page.
T’Vok did not believe, therefore, that her questions upon observation were unwarranted or in any way out of line. These questions included:
“What are they eating?”
to which the answer was: “Popcorn!”
“What are they watching?”
to which the answer was: “Forbidden Planet,”
“Why have you covered the windows?”
to which the answer was: “It’s traditional to watch movies in the dark – now shh!”.
Though startled by the harsh syllable, T’Vok understood its meaning and held back any further questions.
Bright technicolor pictures flashed across her eyes. The imagery of the movie was certainly engaging, but she understood nothing of the characters’ speech. She leaned closer to Amanda and spoke quietly in an effort to respect the customs of this movie-watching event.
“Amanda,” T’Vok whispered, “the children do not use universal translators. They do not understand this language.”
Hearing this, Amanda showed her teeth. “If you had been here earlier,” she whispered back, “you’d know that they read a synopsis. They know what’s going on.”
T’Vok blanched. She that knew her tardiness had been inappropriate, but she had hoped irrationally that Amanda would not comment on it. Prior to her observation of Amanda’s club, T’Vok had been required to hand-deliver a report to Lady V’Mir’s office due to a network error which prevented her from sending it remotely. Of course, she had not spoken to Lady V’Mir directly and had interacted only with Lady V’Mir’s assistant.
Lady V’Mir’s assistant was named Tasav, and she was exemplary. In addition to her tremendous competence in all administrative tasks, she held the most fascinating and well-substantiated opinions on pre-reform lyric poetry, and it was on this subject that she had enticed T’Vok into a lengthy conversation from which T’Vok had been unwilling to extricate herself until long past the time that she knew she must leave in order to maintain her schedule.
T’Vok remained respectfully silent for the remainder of the movie. One who touched her mind, however, would notice at once that her thoughts had strayed far from the human woman and man on-screen. Though her eyes were fixed on the flickering images of this Forbidden Planet, she gazed in her mind at the delicate arch of Tasav’s brows, and down to her silver-lidded eyes, where the shimmering pigment shone brightly against her deep brown skin, and down along the curve of her shoulder to the blue stone bracelets that rattled around her elegant wrist, at last to her hands where they had idly rested on the counter, where T’Vok had unreasonably imagined they were only waiting to be touched.
Light streamed in all at once through the windows and ushered T’Vok back to the present moment.
After Amanda dismissed the students to their next activities, T’Vok stood, ready to help Amanda with preparations for their upcoming instructional period. Together they rearranged the room, reconfiguring the holovid projector for 3D images, putting the sitting cushions back in order, and ensuring that all of what Amanda called popcorn was efficiently gathered up from the floor and poured into the matter recycling chute. As they did this, they conversed.
T’Vok wondered if it were in fact because of Amanda’s influence on her that she had been able to converse so much with Tasav as of late. If that were the case, would it be appropriate at this time to express her gratitude?
“Do you think I could get the students who come to the club meetings to be listed as my pupils?” Amanda asked. “Not exclusively, of course, but I’d like their assessment scores to be factored into my certification.”
T’Vok eyes her cautiously. This suggestion confused her deeply. “Some of the students were in as late as their sixth year. You are not their instructor and you do not teach the curriculum covered in their assessments.”
“No,” ceded Amanda, “but I have a theory. I think that anyone who attends regularly is going to do better on their assessment than a comparable student who never attends.”
“Why?” asked T’Vok.
“Because,” said Amanda, “the human brain needs to have time to process new information, and we do it best while we’re exercising other parts of the brain. I always think that we work like trees: sometimes we need to focus on growing roots, but that work is going to make it easier for us to grow leaves or branches later. I’m willing to bet the same is true of vulcan children.”
T’Vok considered Amanda’s words. “I believe that vulcans complete the cognitive processing to which you refer during meditation.”
Amanda made a face which T’Vok could not interpret. “It’s different,” she said. “How about this: if you can help me figure out a way to have the learning center factor those scores into my certificate, then we can make a bet. If I’m right, and the students who participate in the voluntary Earth culture seminar score better than comparable students who don’t, then I win. If there’s no statistically significant difference, then you win.”
T’Vok felt her face begin to crease, betraying her confusion. She deliberately relaxed her facial muscles before the expression could settle into place. “What do I win?”
Amanda quickly raised and lowered her shoulders – a gesture T’Vok had learned was called a shrug. “I could walk around with a ‘kick me’ sign for a week?” she suggested.
This left T’Vok more bewildered than the rest of the conversation. “I would not want you to be kicked,” she said earnestly. It was not until Amanda flashed her teeth that she understood this had been a human joke.
“Please, T’Vok,” Amanda said, meeting her eyes. “You know the system better than I do. You know Vulcan better than I do. I really think this could make a difference for the certificate, and if there’s anyone who can figure out how to get this approved, it’s you.”
T’Vok considered this. Amanda’s statement was of course not accurate.
But T’Vok did know someone who could determine whether or not the idea was tenable. She also knew that working towards a common end often resulted in the deepening of relationships between cooperators. It would not hurt to ask Tasav if anything could be done.
“I will help inasmuch as I am able,” said T’Vok.
Amanda exposed her teeth.
The expression was beautiful.
I wanted to thank you again for your help with my proposal
I have good news! My proposal has been accepted and the voluntary Earth culture seminar is officially under way.
I am writing to express my gratitude for your assistance in drafting a successful proposal for a program to introduce vulcan students to
Delete delete delete. He already knew what the program was and she didn’t need to pretend to be vulcan.
Thank you so much for your help with the proposal. If you haven’t heard yet, it’s been accepted! I would love to
I’d like to tell you how it’s going, but there’s too much to say in a comm. Let’s meet in person to discuss it. Let me know a time you’re available this week?
She stared at her PADD. She did want to see him again, but… she deleted the line and started over.
Thank you so much for your help with the proposal. If you haven’t heard yet, it’s been accepted! So far, the seminar has been successful.
I’ve noticed that your son Sybok hasn’t signed up. Would you extend a personal invitation to him from me?
This week, we are watching early Earth science-fiction films. Ask him if he might be interested in the ways Earth people conceptualized the extraterrestrial before we actually met them (i.e., you).
Sarek found his son in the garden, lying on his back, apparently deep in contemplation of the sky.
“Sybok,” he said.
He received no response.
“Sybok,” he said, with increased volume.
He noticed the listening devices tucked into Sybok’s ears and scanned the garden for Sybok’s PADD. He saw it on the ground a meter or so away from Sybok, picked it up and tapped MUTE.
“Sybok –” he began.
Sybok stood at once, grabbed his PADD out of Sarek’s hand, and marched into the house without a word.
You must understand that my son will do as he will. I was under the impression that he had been in attendance these past weeks.
Your programming sounds fascinating. You may interested to know that it was Solkar, father of Skon who is my father, who greeted Zephram Cochrane of Earth at the event which came to be known as First Contact.
In any case, Sybok hears no words of mine – perhaps he will hear yours.
If you are willing to give this matter your personal attention, you might join us for an evening meal at our home. If you would find this agreeable, please forward your schedule to me and I will select a date. You might also bring one of these science-fiction films in an effort to further convince him of the merits of your seminar.
Three days later, Amanda pulled up the full-length holo-mirror in her apartment and tried on the dress she’d planned to wear that evening. It hadn’t taken long to decide. She’d only packed about five dresses, all chosen according to the guidelines provided to her by the learning center: full sleeves, high necklines, skirts to the ground.
At the learning center, that kind of clothing suited her fine. She had easy freedom of movement and protection from the vulcan sun and she didn’t need to make a decision about how she was going to look every morning. Every day, she wore a black or brown or gray dress with T’Vok’s slippers and her hair pulled back from her face in a twist that she secured with a pin.
Today, she wished she had more of a choice.
She thought that maybe she should just change – put on one of those neutral, unassuming, robe-like garments. It wasn’t like Sarek would be expecting anything else. But… this was the only dress that she didn’t wear to work.
She glared at her holographic double.
She’d tried – really tried – to find a dress on Earth that fit her vulcan clothing guidelines and still appealed to her own aesthetic sense.
She did still like the lilac color of the fabric draped around her. When she'd tried it on back on Earth, she’d imagined herself swept up in a desert wind, with her hair and her skirt blowing around her, all those pleats of fabric tucked into the high waistband rippling like a lake at sunset. Now, trying to mold the voluminous skirt into an attractive shape with her fists, she felt more like an inflated paper bag.
She wished she had a matter replicator.
When she was sixteen, she’d set foot on a starship for the first time. She and nine of her classmates had been invited to take a shuttle up to the space dock. An eager lieutenant had given them a tour and introduced them to some of the crew on board. After seeing the bridge, the captain’s quarters, the mess, and even the engine room, where they’d opened the service panel of the warp core engine and showed her a glimpse of the glittering dilithium within, the thing that had fascinated Amanda the most had been the matter recycling system.
Breaking down and recycling matter through the replicator systems took a significant amount of energy, but storage space for nonessentials was limited on a starship. So, for certain rarely-needed items – like large numbers of dress uniforms or specialty equipment – the energy cost of replicating the items as needed was outweighed by the amount of space those items would take up in permanent storage. Instead, matter from discarded objects would be broken down and held in reserves in a neutral, highly-compressed form, where a technician using a replicator could reconstitute that matter into… well, anything, as long as they had accurate blueprints.
Amanda had taken the replicator technician by surprise when she asked, but they had been more than willing to show her the modelling software they used to design or make adjustments to replicator plans. They generally worked with pre-existing blueprints, but they were the one who, for example, would make alterations to the Starfleet uniform to accommodate an Edosian’s third arm or a Caitian’s tail.
The thing was that she could see the dress that she wanted this dress to be. She had more than enough raw matter to work with. She would zap away the bottom two thirds of the skirt, placing the hem mid-thigh. From that discarded material, she would produce two thin bands to reign in the wide, billowing sleeves and cinch them around her wrists. With the leftovers, she could cut a scarf for her hair – or a matching purse – or probably a whole matching coat from all the skirt’s pleated layers, not that she’d ever need to wear a coat on Vulcan.
Unfortunately, the learning center’s staff apartments didn’t come with any sophisticated matter recycling interfaces.
She stared right through her shimmering holo-reflection to the wall behind it.
It was true that she didn’t have access to a replicator, but she didn’t need a replicator. All she needed was a cutting tool and a bonding tool, and she could find both of those things in any – but she didn’t have a laser multitool, or even a regular sewing kit.
She watched herself in the holo-mirror for a long moment. No, she was not going to walk out of the building wearing this. Not now that she’d envisioned the perfect alternative.
She switched off the mirror.
When Amanda arrived at her apartment wearing an atrocious pinkish-purple garment and asking about laser cutting tools, T’Vok had experienced only mild surprise. She would privately admit to some pride at the facility with which she had adjusted to Amanda’s human idiosyncrasies. It was gratifying, in a way, simply to be used to her.
Even when Amanda had taken off the atrocious garment and, wearing only her undergarments, set to work at her desired alterations on T’Vok’s bedroom floor, T’Vok had been only manageably panicked and had quickly, as they apparently said on Earth, gotten over it.
T’Vok now sat cross-legged on her bed, half reviewing lesson plans on her PADD and half watching Amanda work.
“I do not understand why you are doing this,” admitted T’Vok after a few minutes had passed.
“What do you mean?” asked Amanda. The U.T. took an instant longer than usual to process her speech because of the measuring tool she had decided to hold between her teeth while her hands were busy.
“This is a professional engagement, is it not?”
“Um – sort of, but I’m going to be at their house.”
“I do not see the relevance of this detail. If you are acting in the capacity of your role as an educator, then I do not see the logic of dressing in an unusual way, nor of expending this time and energy. You could have borrowed a formal dress of mine.”
Amanda showed her teeth. “No, I couldn’t. It wouldn’t fit me. Anyways, I want to feel like myself. Your clothes are beautiful, but they’re not mine.”
“You find my clothes to be beautiful?”
“Of course. I mean, you could wear anything and make it look good, but I like the things you do wear. Black is your color.”
T’Vok felt the corners of her mouth lift involuntarily and promptly forced them back down.
“I spoke with Lady V’Mir’s assistant about your request,” she said. “She informed me that there is no precedent for such an arrangement, but that it may not be impossible.”
“Oh,” said Amanda brightly, “well, that’s better than nothing, right?”
“I suppose so,” said T’Vok.
Amanda stood up, holding the altered garment by its shoulders. “What do you think?” she asked, turning to T’Vok with the dress in front of her.
T’Vok set down her PADD. “Put it on,” she said.
Amanda lifted her arms over her head and pulled the dress on over her shoulders. T’Vok stood without being asked and helped Amanda to close the fastenings at the back of the collar, securing it snugly around the base of her neck.
“Well?” prompted Amanda, turning around to face her.
T’Vok stepped backwards so that she could appraise the entire garment at once.
The silhouette was flattering, fitting closely around Amanda’s shoulders and ribcage and flaring out beneath that, terminating in a hemline that, due to the pleats in the skirt, floated away from her thighs instead of restricting them. The sleeves, although the same pale purple as the rest of the dress, were made of a lighter fabric and appeared more or less translucent depending on the angle of the light relative to Amanda’s position.
“It is better,” said T’Vok. She crossed the room and activated her holo-mirror so that Amanda could see herself.
More pleasing than the dress itself was the expression on Amanda’s face when she met her own reflection.
Amanda knelt and picked up the cutting tool again, spreading out some of the excess fabric from the skirt and extracting a long rectangle from it. This, she wrapped around her hair and tied into a bow underneath, the ends of which she pulled forward over her shoulder, where they mixed with the length of her loose, wavy hair.
T’Vok watched Amanda leaning forward and staring intently at her own reflection, pulling certain strands of hair out from underneath the front of the scarf and tucking others back in.
“What shoes will you wear?” asked T’Vok. She was caught off guard by her own genuine interest, never having considered herself to be particularly interested in the aesthetics of clothing.
Amanda bared her teeth and produced from her bag the pair of sandals that she had been wearing when T’Vok first met her at the shuttle bay.
“I was thinking that I could attach some fabric to the bottom as padding to muffle the sound,” she said.
“That is very practical,” said T’Vok approvingly. “I will help you,” she said.
Working together, they accomplished the task quickly.
Before long, Amanda was wrapping the ribbon-straps around her ankles and tying them into neat bows, folding up the leftover fabric with a promise to retrieve it soon, and just moments later walking out of the apartment with another flash of her teeth.
She wondered at the fact that Amanda, who had arrived on Vulcan only at the beginning of this instructional term, was on her way to the home of a student’s father, also a ministry official, to watch an Earth film while wearing a beautiful dress which terminated above her knees, while T’Vok had been stationed at the learning center for two years, had lived on Vulcan all her life, and had yet to have any such adventures.
T’Vok did not even own a dress which terminated above her knees.
She did, however, own a cutting tool.
Amanda felt flushed with excitement from the moment she stepped into the clear evening air all the way to the moment the holo-screen flickered off, leaving behind a blank wall in a dark room in her student’s father’s house.
Sybok was her student.
Even if he wasn’t in her class, she knew from the moment she met him crying under the shadow of that statue that she had a responsibility to teach him something. Something that would help him understand his own feelings. What exactly that would be, she didn’t know.
Seeing the intensity of Sybok’s focus on the holo-screen, watching the light flash white and green across his serious face, she hoped that he was a little closer to learning whatever it was he needed to know about himself. That was why she was there, after all: she was hoping that an old movie from Earth could show him something he hadn’t been able to find yet on Vulcan.
And then, of course, there was the other reason.
Sarek stood in the kitchen with her as she tipped the unpopped kernels out of their popcorn bowls and into the waste compartment.
“It is not necessary for you to participate in this process,” he said abruptly.
Amanda started, jolting a few kernels out of the bowl in her hands and sending them skittering across the stone floor. She followed them with her eyes to where they spun to a stop by Sarek’s feet.
When he knelt to gather them up, she felt the breath fall out of her. She got it back slowly through her nose as she watched his hands at work, sweeping the kernels deliberately with one hand into the palm of the other.
Slowly and smoothly, he rose to his feet and crossed to the waste compartment. Amanda shifted to accommodate him, but not quickly enough. He did not touch her, but he came so close that she felt the heat of his skin on her own.
He let the kernels fall from his left hand into the waste compartment and he stepped away.
“Amanda,” he said. He spoke her name softly, in a low voice that made her want to learn in towards him without thinking. Her eyes were locked with his. She held her breath. “May I ask if you enjoyed the film?”
She laughed, but it came out more like a sigh of relief. “Of course,” she said. “It’s one of my favorites.”
“The reason I ask,” he said, “is that you appeared to exhibit a particular physiological response to the film.”
She felt her brow crease. “What particular physiological response?” she asked.
“Unless I have been mistaken,” he said, “your response was consistent with the involuntary physical manifestation in humans of what you call fear.”
Amanda swallowed and forced a smile. “If that’s true,” she said, “it’s only because it’s that kind of movie. It’s supposed to elicit that kind of reaction – I mean, we’re supposed to think the alien is frightening.”
Sarek nodded slowly. Amanda wasn’t sure he believed her.
“Of course,” he said. “I have encountered this tendency in humans before. It is in your nature to seek out certain kinds of stimulation which to other species would not be desirable.”
Amanda leaned back against the counter, crossing her arms in front of her chest. “What about you?” she asked. “Didn’t you like it?”
He looked at her thoughtfully, so that she could almost see the words being carefully chosen behind his eyes.
“I found viewing the film to be an edifying experience,” he said at last.
She smiled. “That means no,” she said.
She watched the slight lift of his brows, and she knew she was right. Somehow, it didn’t offend her, even though she had been the one to choose the film.
“Why not?” she asked.
Again, Sarek took a thoughtful pause.
“Our object of inquiry for the evening was to be the conceptualization of the extraterrestrial in pre-warp Earth society. You must remember in this discussion that I am the extraterrestrial.”
“But you’re very different from that extraterrestrial,” Amanda said, feeling herself relax into their rapport. “Aren’t you?”
“If you say it is so,” replied Sarek, “then it must be so. All I can tell you is that I hope it is so.”
“What exactly is it that you hope?” she asked.
“I hope,” he said, “that I am not the sort of extraterrestrial that would frighten you.”
The voluntary Earth culture seminar moved on to different subjects in the weeks to follow, but Amanda’s old Earth science fiction film series continued with Sarek and Sybok. Before long, she had exhausted her shortlist of favorites and she found herself searching movie databases late at night for the next selection. The only criteria were that each movie must contain some reference to the extraterrestrial and it must have been completed before Earth’s First Contact. Within those categories, Amanda found more to choose from than she had even expected. There were masterpieces and there was junk, and she wanted to show them plenty of both.
Sarek was fascinated, he said, by what Earth people called human nature. He’d pointed out that whenever the aliens on film weren’t monsters, they were really no different from humans.
Amanda wondered at that. Was it a shortcoming of Earth people to think of everybody they met as somehow human, no matter what planet they came from? Or was it an insight? And were humans really the only ones who thought of it that way?
She wondered if Sarek saw a human when he looked at her, or if he didn’t really think of her as a strange and silly vulcan with round ears and pink cheeks.
She wondered if she’d ever get the courage to ask him a question like that.
She smiled to herself and logged out of the computer terminal – but not before she withdrew the data rod she’d just loaded with a mid-20th century trilogy of films in a subgenre called space opera.
Chapter 4: First Contact
Tasav looked up from her desk when she heard the door sweep open. She took in the face of the tall, pale young boy who walked in.
“Mister Sybok,” she acknowledged him.
“Miss Tasav,” he answered curtly.
The number of times that Tasav had seen this boy called into Lady V’Mir’s office in this academic year alone had now reached seventeen. In her opinion, such a figure could not be reasonably accounted for within a functioning disciplinary system.
“I see that you have been found out of your area of instruction – tampering with the environmental controls.”
“I was not tampering,” he corrected indignantly.
She held in a sigh. “Lady V’Mir awaits you.”
“Thank you,” he said.
He went in.
Tasav steepled her hands in front of her face.
Time passed very slowly.
The crown of leaves at the top of a bao’lik tree rustled in the warm wind outside the office window.
At length, Sybok emerged.
Tasav watched him, expecting him to exit in silence as was his custom.
Instead he, addressed her. “Miss Tasav, I have a request to make,” he said.
“Make it, then,” she replied.
“I request that you add my name to the list of students registered for Miss Amanda’s voluntary Earth culture seminar.”
Tasav raised an eyebrow. “No registration is required,” she said. “Simply arrive at the appointed time in the appointed place.”
“Thank you for your assistance,” he said.
She met his eyes, attempting without contact to communicate to him a thread of understanding.
Then he left, without another word.
Though there was no official registration list, Tasav made a note of Sybok’s name in a new document. She would do what she could to process T’Vok’s request, and would begin by gathering the necessary data. Sybok’s name would be the first, and the rest she would collect from Amanda.
She thought that it was admirable of T’Vok to make a specific effort on her colleague’s behalf when she certainly knew that Amanda’s success or failure to acquire her certification would have no bearing on T’Vok’s own career.
If Lady V’Mir did not approve the request, Tasav would at least keep the information in her own records for use in the case that an appeal of Amanda’s certification decision became necessary. There was little she could do of her own accord, but this little she would do on T’Vok’s behalf.
It had only taken a few movie nights for the three of them to settle into a routine. Amanda would arrive at the house a few hours after the end of the instructional day with a data rod and a little bit of background information on the evening’s selection. Once she was there, Sarek (whose family was apparently so important on Vulcan that he had a food replicator in his home) would replicate the kernels – unpopped, at Amanda’s insistence. She had tried replicated popped popcorn once and only once. Of course it was best when it was made from real corn that had been grown in the ground, but replicated kernels, programmed correctly, could be popped over heat for a decent substitute. The first few times she had done it herself, and then she’d asked Sybok to help, and soon he’d taken over popcorn duty entirely.
While Sybok stood watch over the heating element in the kitchen, Amanda led Sarek through to the next room where she hoped they’d be out of earshot.
“Sybok came to the seminar today,” she told Sarek quietly.
Both his eyebrows shot up. “Successful?” he asked warily.
She pursed her lips and shook her head. “To be honest, he seemed bored,” she said. “I think it’s a little below his level.”
“You speak of your own curriculum,” said Sarek reproachfully.
The concern in Sarek’s eyes made her smile despite herself. “I designed it to help the children find their own areas of interest – something they want to explore outside of the seminar. I think Sybok has already found his. So, eating replicated croissants and listening to Edith Piaf… he doesn’t need it.”
“I sense there is something else you’re waiting to tell me.”
This time, she smiled without restraint. “He told me,” she said, whispering so she wouldn’t be heard in the kitchen, “that he wants to make his own science-fiction film.”
“Is that so,” said Sarek.
“I think it’s a great idea,” said Amanda quickly. She needed to address even the first sign of reticence. “It would give him the chance to be in charge of something where the stakes are low. It would give the other children an outlet for their creativity. They’d be engaging tangibly with the culture they’ve been learning about – actually participating in it, which is the real goal of cultural exchange in my opinion.”
Sarek regarded her thoughtfully. She could tell he was troubled by something.
“You would convert your seminar into a production vehicle for Sybok’s film,” he said. “Is such a thing really appropriate? I have heard the human phrase ‘special treatment.’”
Amanda drew away from him. She knew the expression on her face must look childish, but she couldn’t hide her disappointment. She wanted a little bit to grab him and shake him and scream.
“Everyone has to get special treatment from someone, don’t they? He can get it from me for a while,” she said coldly. “I don’t mind.”
She rubbed the bridge of her nose with both hands. Empathy, Amanda, she reminded herself. Sarek had been Sybok’s father since the day Sybok was born. She didn’t know much of anything about their relationship before the day she’d arrived on Vulcan. She didn’t know how long ago they had lost his mother, or what had changed for them when it happened.
She heard the spluttering sound of popcorn popping in the other room, tiny rapid-fire explosions reaching their crescendo and gradually slowing to a stop. Pop, she heard, poppopopopop popopop pop –
“Look,” she said. “I’m not asking your opinion on whether or not to make his movie. I think it’s a wonderful idea and the other children like it, too. But I am asking you this: if he asks you to be involved – in any way – I’m asking you to say yes, and without reservation.”
Sarek opened his mouth to speak, but Amanda interrupted him. “Without reservation,” she repeated. “Do you understand?”
“…Yes,” he said.
“Okay,” she said. “That’s all.”
She led Sarek back into the kitchen, where Sybok was already pouring the finished popcorn into three separate bowls. They didn’t have real butter to pour on top, but the replicated kernels had their own butter flavor programmed right in. All Sybok had to do was sprinkle each bowl with a little rock salt and they would be ready to eat.
Instead, he set down the still-hot pan and looked straight at the two of them. Amanda knew instantly that she had been caught.
“You heard us,” she said.
“It may be that you have underestimated the capacity of vulcan ears,” said Sybok.
“Are you angry?” she asked.
“Vulcans,” interjected Sarek, “do not succumb to feelings of anger.”
Sybok’s nostrils flared.
“I do have a part for you, Father,” he said. “I require an adult male to play the Evil Emperor – he whose wicked tyranny brings despair to the disparate tribes of Vulcan.”
Sarek’s eyes narrowed. “There is no absolute evil, just as there is no absolute heroism. Surak teaches us that balance is found in each of our minds,” he said.
Amanda felt her hands make fists. She wanted to kick him. She screamed in her mind. Don’t lecture him. Just play the Evil Emperor!
Hadn’t anyone on this planet ever played a game with a child before?
Sarek glanced at her. There was tension around his eyes and a troubled crease above his nose when he turned back to his son.
“Very well,” he said, “if that is what you wish.”
“Cut!” ordered Sybok. He addressed Orett and T’Lyra, two girls a year younger than him. “You must exhibit less restraint,” he explained seriously. “Your characters are living in a time before Surak’s reform. Their passions remain untempered. They do not know meditation. They must scream.”
Orett and T’Lyra exchanged glances, then nodded in understanding.
Sybok readied the holo-recorder. “Action,” he said.
“You are my enemy,” said Orett to T’Lyra with somewhat more volume than before, “and therefore it is of no concern to me whether or not you shall perish in the drought.”
“Ah,” said T’Lyra haltingly, “such cruelty. I would expect to be treated so roughly by the Evil Emperor, but you who I have once called friend?”
“There are no friends in times of drought,” said Orett solemnly. “You must go now and find your own wellspring.”
“Very well,” said T’Lyra. She turned away.
“Cut,” said Sybok. They looked to him for approval. “That was acceptable,” he said. “We may move on to the next scene.”
“No friends in times of drought,” murmured T’Vok. She looked up from the script on her PADD. “Amanda, do you still believe that this activity will improve the students’ scores on their assessments?”
“Absolutely,” said Amanda. “I believe it’s helping them process their private thoughts in a collaborative way. The better they can process what they’re thinking and feeling, the less distracted they’ll be when they’re taking tests.”
“I never did such things as a child,” said T’Vok, making space on her bed for Amanda to sit.
“Do you wish you had?” asked Amanda, settling in beside T’Vok.
T’Vok met Amanda’s blue eyes. She noticed an errant strand of hair and felt the impulse to reach out and tuck it behind Amanda’s rounded ear. She acknowledged this impulse and dismissed it. Amanda had called them friends, yes, but such gestures were reserved for mothers and their daughters.
“No,” said T’Vok. “I have always found meditation in solitude to be the surest path to calm.”
“Even as a child?” Amanda asked.
“Yes,” said T’Vok.
Amanda narrowed her eyes. “Are you sure?”
“Yes,” repeated T’Vok.
“Because I was just going to say,” said Amanda, “that if you wanted to step in and take over my role…”
“That would be impossible,” said T’Vok. “I would be entirely unconvincing as a Princess of Earth.”
Amanda’s costume rustled as she crossed the burning sands on her way to confront the Evil Emperor. The flashing silver threads of her metallic dress splashed the sunlight up from her chest and shoulders onto her face, but she did her best not to squint while the holo-recorder was on.
“It was you all along who caused the drought, wasn’t it, Emperor?”
“Perhaps,” rumbled Sarek, glaring at her from the shadow of a red rock formation.
“You stole the groundwater from the people of Vulcan,” declared Amanda, “so that they would be divided from each other.”
Sarek stepped out of the shadow. The white-hot sun only painted his robes a darker black. “You cannot prove it,” he said.
“With what power? A Princess of Earth has no command over the Vulcan Emperor.”
“Hear my voice,” she said, “and see my face. You will confess to me.”
“I will not,” said Sarek.
By now, they stood not more than a meter way. Amanda stepped towards him – slowly, rhythmically, with her eyes open wide. She kept her eyes fixed on Sarek’s face, dimly aware of Sybok moving alongside her, aiming the holo-recorder.
“Continue,” Sybok instructed, “but say the line again. ‘Hear my voice…’”
“Hear my voice,” said Amanda, “and see my face. You will confess to me.”
“I will not.”
They were close enough to touch. Amanda waited for the cut, but it didn’t come.
“Again,” said Sybok, “from here.”
Sarek glanced away. Afraid that he would turn his glower on Sybok, Amanda reached out and pressed her hand to his cheek, holding him there in the scene.
“Hear my voice,” she said, “and see my face.” She watched his dark eyes tremble as her fingernails pressed into his skin. “You will confess to me.”
She saw his nostrils widen as he drew in a sharp breath.
“Cut,” said Sybok, sounding pleased.
They exhaled together.
As Amanda let her hand slide down Sarek’s cheek, her vision left her.
For an instant: black.
A flash of sun filled the space behind her eyes.
She returned to her senses. The sun left her mind and swung back into the cloudless sky. Her silver skirt sent white spots scattering across the sand around her feet. Her heart felt like a hand that had touched a hot stove; the pad of a finger passed through the flame of a candle. The source of the spark was gone, but a subtle electricity lingered, fizzing just under her skin.
She swayed on her feet.
The flat horizon pitched up and down against the sky like a red ship on a white sea.
A strong pair of arms caught her like a fish in a net.
She woke up to a rust-colored ceiling and dim violet light pouring in with the evening breeze through an open window in a room she’d never seen before.
Her body felt heavy.
She was lying in a bed, on top of the covers. She turned her head and half-buried her face in a pillow with a linen cover. The cool fabric welcomed her warm cheek. She closed her eyes and breathed in through her nose, taking in a scent that reminded her of black pepper and dried lavender. She smiled into the pillow, then felt that smile fall.
She must have fainted again. Where was she?
She was still wearing her costume; the short skirt stuck and unstuck from her damp skin as she shifted her legs, rolling over onto her side and hauling herself into an upright position. She rolled her shoulders and heard them grind.
She sat up on the edge of the bed and surveyed the room. White curtains fluttered against the window. The bedding was also white. On the wall across from the bed was a white canvas, wider than it was tall, painted in golden ink with the tumbling, calligraphic lines of vulcan script.
Against the soft rustling of the sheets and the whisper of the wind outside, she heard quiet footsteps approaching the room’s open door.
She relaxed when she heard Sybok’s voice uncertainly call her name.
“I’m awake,” she said. The roughness of her own voice surprised her. She was grateful to see Sybok holding a cup of water when he entered.
She took the cup in both hands and drank deeply.
“Are we at home?” she asked.
Sybok nodded. He sat on the bed next to her. “This is my father’s bedroom.”
Amanda took a deep breath and looked around again with that knowledge. The room suited him. It wasn’t completely spare – not empty to the point of asceticism – but the hand that arranged it had shown clear restraint. A table and a set of drawers stood bare, everything personal having been neatly tucked away and out of sight. Had they been stripped for her benefit, or was he always so guarded, even alone?
“Where is he?” Amanda asked.
Amanda felt her brow furrow. “Where is that?”
“Not far,” Sybok answered. “He will probably be home before nightfall.”
Amanda looked to the purple sky outside the window. “It looks to me like night is already falling.”
“Soon, then. Are you hungry?”
She shook her head. “Not just yet. Did your father carry me here, or did you?” she asked, teasing.
“I would have been capable of it,” he said, “had we been alone.”
Amanda half-stifled a laugh that ending up coming out as air through her nose. “I know you would have,” she said. “You know, I fainted the first day that I got here. If anything, I’m lucky it took this long for it to happen again.”
Sybok nodded contemplatively. “The atmospheric conditions of Vulcan are not ideal for a human respiratory system.”
“No,” Amanda agreed, “but in other ways it’s a very nice planet, isn’t it?”
Feeling the need to stretch her legs, she stood up and walked over to the window. She had a view of the back garden, and beyond that the wrong side of a few buildings – perhaps other houses, all with their curtains drawn. The warm air and the smell of plants reminded her of summers spent chasing fireflies through the grass and catching them between her cupped hands.
What did vulcan children run after and keep in jars with holes poked in the lids, she wondered. There was so much about Vulcan she still didn’t know.
She watched light shifting behind the curtains in the house across from them; the blurred silhouette of a figure who entered and exited the frame.
Sybok eventually broke the silence. “Amanda,” he said softly, “I believe that I am experiencing feelings of guilt.”
Amanda turned around and saw Sybok, still sitting on the bed, with his head bent down and his dark, messy hair casting his face in shadow. “Why do you say that?” she asked kindly.
He looked up at her and blinked his dark eyes. “For some time now, I have conducted many actions every day with the specific purpose of causing my father to experience displeasure.”
Amanda pushed off of the windowsill and crossed the room to him. She bent her knees and lowered herself to his eye level.
“Do you think that was the wrong thing to do?” she asked.
“The teachings of Surak remind us that each of us makes only the best choice they can with the information they have at the time,” he said. He avoided looking her in the face.
“That name – Surak,” she said. “I’ve heard it from you and your father before. Who was he?”
“He is the father of all that we became,” said Sybok. “He taught us to temper our passions, and to follow the guidance of logic instead of succumbing to the tyranny of emotion.”
“The tyranny of emotion?” asked Amanda. She rocked backwards to sit on her heels. “Those are Surak’s teachings?”
“Not precisely,” admitted Sybok. “That is my mother’s phrase.”
Amanda felt tears prickling at the corners of her eyes. “Oh, Sybok,” she breathed. Every part of her longed to reach out to him, to comfort him like a human child would need to be comforted. Well, why not?
“Sybok,” she said carefully, “would you like me to hug you?”
“What is ‘hug’?” he asked. “The word does not translate.”
“I would… put my arms around you,” she said, “and I would hold you for a while.”
Sybok sniffed. “How long?”
“As long as you wanted. Until the guilty feelings go away, maybe.”
Sybok avoided her eyes, fixing his gaze on a point just above her head. She worried she’d overstepped; that she’d insinuated something about his emotions that he didn’t like. Then, he jerked his chin just slightly up and down.
“Is that a yes?” she asked gently.
He nodded again.
Amanda climbed up into the bed. She sat just barely apart from him, watching his pale face for any sign of discomfort. She took a deep breath, in and out, and she folded her arms around him. She kept her touch careful, only encircling him with the softest touch. She held still at first, resolved to let him take the lead until slowly, haltingly, he raised his own hands and let them rest on her shoulders.
Then, she hugged him properly. She tucked her chin over his shoulder and held the back of his head in her hand. She felt the warmth of his skin – so warm she would think he had a fever, but he was vulcan so it must be all right. She hoped so. She felt his small hands pull at the fabric of her dress, and as she cradled him she found that she very deeply, desperately wanted him to be all right.
She stroked his hair.
“I think you’re making a very good film,” she said.
“I agree with your assessment.”
“I was thinking we could arrange a screening at the learning center, so everyone can see it once it’s finished. Would you like that?”
“Then I’ll speak with the administrative office and see when we can make it happen.”
She felt Sybok’s nod and the resultant rustle of his hair against her dress.
“There is something else I want to tell you,” he said, “but you must not repeat it to my father.”
“Okay,” she said gently. “I won’t.”
“You are aware that I was reprimanded for tampering with the environmental controls of the learning center,” he said.
“…No,” she told him honestly, “I was not aware. That’s very impressive of you to be able to do that.”
“Yes, it is,” agreed Sybok. “My father was informed, but I did not reveal the reasoning behind my actions. He does not know that I was adjusting the temperature in your classroom.”
Amanda frowned, but kept her arms around him. “Why would you do that?” she asked.
“I have researched human physiology,” he said, “and concluded that humans experience comfort at a temperature typically lower than is comfortable for vulcans. I thought it would be helpful.”
“Sybok,” she said, unable to keep from smiling, “that’s very sweet of you. But I promise that I don’t mind the heat.”
He nodded, then pressed his cheek into the cushion of her arm. As he fell still, sounds drifted back to them from the front of the house.
“That will be my father,” murmured Sybok.
“Do you want me to let go?” Amanda asked softly.
“Yes,” he said.
She ran her hand one last time from the top of his head down to his forearm, then leaned back and pulled away from him. She watched him for a long moment. He had creases pressed into his face – faint green lines from where he’d held his cheek against her shoulder.
“Thank you,” he said. He scrubbed his face with his hands. He stopped and listened, holding one pointed ear at an angle towards the doorway. “Father is approaching.”
Amanda managed a closed-mouth smile. “Then get ready to say hello,” she said. She reached for the cup that Sybok had brought her, but found it empty. By then, she could hear Sarek’s footsteps in the hall just as well as Sybok could. A strange feeling bubbled up in her stomach.
He appeared in the doorway.
“Sybok,” he said. “Amanda,” he said. She wondered if she imagined the warmth in his dark voice when he spoke her name. “I…” he paused. She wondered what kinds of thoughts were racing behind his eyes in the breath that passed before he spoke again. “I’m sure Sybok has told you that I traveled to Vulcana Regar.”
“Yes,” she said.
Another pause, so thick with meaning that it turned opaque. “Would you like some ice cream?” he asked, and then, with a tinge of apology: “It is replicated.”
With the knot in her stomach, she really didn’t think she could eat, but she nodded anyways.
“Sybok,” he commanded, “it is in the refrigerated storage compartment. Go now.”
Sybok looked to Amanda before he got up. She nodded uncertainly, and he went. Sarek quietly pushed the door closed behind him.
Amanda pressed her knees together and straightened her spine, fighting the stickiness of her dress with every movement.
“Sarek –” she began. She stopped as she realized he’d started speaking at the same time. He fell silent, so she soldiered on. “I just wanted to say thank you,” she said. “I’m very sorry about what happened. I actually fainted the first day I got here because I missed a dose of the Tri-Ox compound I’m taking, so – I was on schedule today, but I was also outside in the heat.”
“Yes,” said Sarek, “that may have been a contributing factor to your reaction.”
She frowned. “My reaction to what?”
Sarek’s brow creased. His mouth thinned. She watched his face move through a series of subtle expressions – each one betraying uncertainty. “Amanda,” he said, approaching her. She slid over, thinking to make room for him on the edge of the bed. Instead of sitting beside her, he sank to his knees on the floor and gazed up at her with his eyes dark and wide. “Vulcans are a private people. We have… certain customs. Certain things which are not to be shared with outworlders – not according to the conventional wisdom. There are things about our species which are not recorded in any Federation documents. I am telling you this in the hopes that you will understand that I have not acted with the intention of deceit. What humans would call lies of omission are, for vulcans, the only way of dealing with outworlders. To share what has been hidden is not a thing to be taken lightly.”
As a child, Amanda had once held a hummingbird in her hands. It had been caught to be tagged and released by a conservationist group visiting her school. Amanda had been chosen to help them release it.
She’d cradled the little bird in her palms, using only the barest pressure of her thumbs to hold it in place. She remembered the soft red feathers that covered its breast, and how under those feathers she could feel the tremendous pounding of a tiny heart. She’d waited anxiously as her classmates counted down from ten.
The look in Sarek’s eyes as he gazed up at her sent her back to those frightening seconds before the release, when she’d been so sure that the force of that little bird’s heartbeat would grow and grow and grow until it burst right out through her fingers.
She hadn’t imagined the electric feeling that had passed through her in the moments before she lost consciousness.
“Before I fainted, I felt...” she began.
“It was shared,” Sarek finished. “I wanted a moment to… confirm that it was shared.” He reached out as if to take her hand – but only touched the bottom of her sleeve. She watched the shining fabric twist between his fingertips. She pressed her teeth down on her bottom lip.
She heard the doorknob jostle. Sybok.
“My son should not know that I have spoken of this to you,” said Sarek, drawing his hand away and rising to his feet, “but you and I will speak of it again.”
Amanda swallowed, her eyes still fixed on Sarek’s hand as he pulled open the bedroom door. It was as if she’d lifted her thumbs away and the hummingbird refused to take flight.
She still had the taste of ice cream in her mouth; the insides of her cheeks were still cold. They’d sat together, had their dessert, and talked about their movie. Before she knew it, she was on her way home, setting out through the empty streets without changing out of her costume.
She took a breath of the night air and caught the scent of something sweet – like honeysuckle.
She was still having trouble with Vulcan during the day. The heat and the sun took a toll on her. Sometimes, it was difficult even to think. Even with the Tri-Ox, she would get short of breath when she walked outside for too long.
Vulcan at night, on the other hand, felt like home. Vulcan had no moon, but her sister planet T’Khut hung round and luminous against the near-black backdrop of the sky, larger than any full moon on Earth. Strange constellations and faraway planets blinked in the distance. She knew that Earth was not among them, but she imagined she saw it there, sparkling in the night.
What had Sarek been trying to tell her? What had happened between them? She’d assumed that she’d fainted from exertion in the heat. She hadn’t made a habit of fainting in her life, but she remembered losing consciousness in the physician’s office. Then, she’d simply been awake one moment and then she’d opened her eyes to find that time had passed.
Out in the desert, it had been different.
Watching T’Khut’s slow orbit, she replayed the events in her head.
She’d been completely focused on performing the scene, and then suddenly there had been a strange sensation like an electric shock. She remembered a flash of light that seemed to come from nowhere, and then wobbling on her feet, and that was when she’d fainted.
Sarek had told her the feeling was shared, but how could that be?
Vulcans are a private people… There are things about our species which are not recorded in any Federation documents…
Were vulcans really so secretive? She’d never gotten the sense that the people here were hiding anything from her. Even when she’d visited T’Vok’s apartment and Sarek’s house, she hadn’t noticed anything strange.
What secrets did they have that didn’t even show in private spaces?
Not wanting to go back to her apartment just yet, she found herself wandering the grounds of the learning center. It looked different than it did during the school day. Stones that burned brick red by daylight were almost purple by night.
After a while, she came to the statue of Surak. The father of all we became, Sybok had said.
Gazing up at the statue’s face, she traced its features with her eyes. Neatly angled brows arched above a pair of deep-set eyes. A straight nose and high cheekbones reinforced the geometry of the face. Its lips were parted, as though it were right in the middle of speaking.
Amanda drew towards the statue until her hands were resting on the top of the pedestal, right between Surak’s firmly planted feet. Something urged her to get closer. Using her hands for support, she lifted one knee up onto the pedestal and then the other. There was barely enough room for her to share the platform with Surak; her feet stuck out over the edge.
She felt herself starting to lose balance and reached out, finding the first thing she could grab to stabilize herself: Surak’s hand. His palm was cold against hers, chilled in the night air.
Keeping a firm hold, she pulled herself up until she was up on the pedestal, face to face with the statue, standing so close that their noses were almost pressed together. This close, the artisan’s skill was even more impressive. Lines at the corners of Surak’s eyes showed his age. A crease in the center of his brow indicated troubled contemplation. The curve of his mouth and the flare of his nostrils showed the passion he had for his sermon. All of it was tempered, however. It was so subtly formed that when viewed from the ground, the face suggested no particular feeling – only the action of speech.
Pressing one hand flat to Surak’s palm, she raised the other to his face. It was only with her own hand held to his cheek that she saw how closely he resembled Sarek.
She heard a sound and froze, listening all around to see if it would come again. She leaned silently into the statue, moving only her eyes to watch the paths on either side of her.
From behind the other side of the statue, a voice spoke her name aloud. Startled, Amanda lost her footing on the pedestal and fell backwards. She held onto Surak’s hand and pushed her other arm out in front of her to try and catch hold of something else – the scroll in his outstretched hand, the folds of his sleeve, and the length of his robe all slipped away from her grasp.
A pair of hands caught her by the waist and supported her until she was standing firmly on the ground. She knew at once that it was Sarek. It was more of a wonder that she hadn’t recognized his voice.
His hands remained at her waist, allowing only enough space for her to turn around in his arms.
She faced him. His hands settled on either side, resting just above her hips.
“Sarek,” she breathed. “What are you doing?”
“I told you that we must speak again,” he said.
“I thought you meant – I didn’t think you meant now.”
“I could not wait.”
Amanda felt her lips part as she inhaled. She glanced downwards, raking her gaze along one of the arms that encircled her. “Sybok –”
“Is not aware that I have left,” said Sarek. “Or perhaps he is. It is immaterial. I will speak not of him, but of you and I.”
There are things about our species which are not recorded in any Federation documents…
“I thought it was a secret,” said Amanda, still afraid to meet Sarek’s eyes. “Should we talk about it here?”
She felt Sarek shift his weight away from her, though his feet didn’t move. He lifted one hand from her waist. She thought for a moment that he would touch her face. Instead, he brought his fingertips to the side of her head, stroking her hair with the barest touch, lingering over a spot just behind her ear.
“I am familiar with Federation Standard English,” he said. “There are few others on Vulcan who would understand our speech, even with its similarities to Universal Standard. If you would…”
There’s not really anyone around to hear, thought Amanda, but she was already raising her right hand to switch off her universal translator. Sarek pulled away and took a step back before their hands could touch, breaking all points of contact in a single movement. The night felt cold where his hands had been. She shivered. She flipped the switch.
“It’s done,” she said.
When Sarek didn’t answer, she tentatively raised her eyes to meet his gaze. Her breath caught in her throat when she realized that his dark eyes were fixed on her mouth.
Self-consciously, she touched her own lips. His eyes flickered up to hers.
“It is good to hear your voice,” he said. He spoke slowly, in carefully unaccented English. After weeks of using the universal translator, it was almost strange to watch him form the sounds of a language exactly as she heard them.
Oh. She couldn’t take her eyes off of his mouth, either.
“It’s very interesting,” she agreed, breathless.
“Amanda,” he said. Her eyes snapped up to his eyes. He was beautiful. “I must explain what has happened. It is difficult with your language, so I will use some of mine. I am aware of the human concept of a soul. On Vulcan, we speak of an individual’s katra. For us, it is not a philosophical construct. It is a tangible reality.”
“What does that mean?” she asked.
“Have you wondered why it is that vulcans do not initiate physical contact?”
She thought of his hands just skimming her waist, over her dress. Just brushing across her hair. His hand drawing away, averting contact. Her hand on his cheek in the desert.
“Yes. Of course. There’s no information on the subject.”
“For us,” he said, “touch is not often limited to the physical.”
“What else is there? Beyond the physical…”
“There is the psychic.”
“Do you mean telepathy?”
“Of a kind.”
“And this is a secret?”
“It is not known to outworlders.”
Amanda took a breath. “Then why tell me?” she asked.
Sarek stepped away from her. She followed his gaze to the statue of Surak.
“When the people of Vulcan first made contact with the people of Andoria, it was agreed that we would not share this part of ourselves with those from outside. When my ancestor Solkar initiated contact with the people of Earth, this decision was sustained. I do not agree with this decision.”
“Why is that?”
“For as long as this psychic touch is prohibited to outworlders,” he said, “there can be no understanding between us. Our contact will always be subject to limitation.”
“And you and I… have already shared this psychic touch,” ventured Amanda. Was that what she had experienced? A psychic connection triggered by skin-to-skin contact?
Sarek nodded, confirming her suspicions. “Therefore, it would be irrational to conceal it from you any longer.”
The pieces fell together in Amanda’s head. When she’d touched Sarek’s face with her bare hand, it was the first time they’d touched without a barrier between them. That touch had caused what she’d experienced – what she’d thought she’d imagined. A flash of sun.
“Hold on,” said Amanda. “First contact between Earth and Vulcan was commemorated with a handshake. Are you telling me that Zephram Cochrane experienced psychic contact with your ancestor and then kept it a secret from the rest of Earth?”
Sarek paused. He placed his hand at the base of the statue, letting it rest beside Surak’s bare feet. “It is possible,” he said. “However, it is more likely that the nature of his contact with Solkar was other than the nature of our touch.”
“Different in what way?”
Again, Sarek hesitated. Amanda watched the tension working through jaw as he chose his words.
“When I first saw you,” he began carefully, “before we spoke, your katra sang to mine.”
“What does that mean?” Amanda asked softly.
“I do not know,” Sarek confessed. “It is not something I have felt before. I believe it means that we are to be connected.”
“In all things.”
Amanda felt her heart fluttering in her chest – the little hummingbird beating its wings in vain. “Sarek,” she said. “I don’t know if I’m understanding you correctly…”
“Let me speak more plainly,” said Sarek. His hand came to rest at her elbow, over her sleeve. She wondered if she imagined the sparks that traveled through her from the point of almost-contact. “I believe that we are to be bonded, Amanda. On Earth, you would say husband and wife. I was uncertain at first, but now that I have touched your mind I am sure of it.”
His fingers tightened around her arm. Her own pulse hammered in her ears. She broke away, circling halfway around the statue before she turned to face him again. “You said you hadn’t felt this before,” she said, startled by her own accusatory tone.
“I have not,” he told her.
“But – Sybok’s mother…” she began helplessly. She winced when she saw the pained expression that passed over his face.
“She was betrothed to me in childhood,” he said, “as is the custom of the old families. It came to pass that we were not so compatible as our matchmakers had anticipated.”
“I’m sorry,” she whispered.
“Sorrow is illogical,” he replied tersely, “when all things must come to their end.”
Amanda wondered if that, too, was a teaching of Surak.
“Sarek,” she began. “I do like you. I like spending time with you very much, but I don’t know about… I understand that from your point of view, it might seem very natural to say what you’re saying to me, but it isn’t how things are done on Earth. You’re saying that we should be married when I hardly know you. I don’t know anything about your – your childhood, or your work, or your…” she trailed off uncertainly.
Sarek met her eyes with an expression of startling openness. “I invite you to know me,” he said. He held his hand out to her, palm open as if she should place her hand in his, with his fingers forming the shape of the vulcan salute.
Uncertainly, she extended her own hand towards him.
He held still. He waited for her, despite her hesitation, until she pressed one tentative finger to his.
This time, there was no flash of lightning. Instead, a gentle warmth bloomed beneath their touch, the sensation spreading out from her fingertips and lingering across her skin like a soft caress until it seemed to touch every part of her at once.
She took a step towards him. Then another.
He offered his other hand to her.
She pressed both palms against his, all at once. She heard his sharp intake of breath and stifled a smile. “What happens next?” she asked.
Slowly, Sarek turned her hands over in his. His thumbs stroked their way reverently across her palms. He stepped forward, closing the distance between them until he could place her hands on either side of his own face. Her first pair of fingertips on each side pressed into his temples while the other two rested along the curve at the top of his cheeks.
T’Khut burned silver in the sky as Sarek spoke, first reciting in the Vulcan language and then in English: “My mind to your mind, my thoughts to your thoughts.”
Amanda’s eyes fluttered closed.
She saw a flash of light. A flash of silver. Of gold. Then, white.
She seemed to be floating in water.
She opened her eyes and found herself standing on a tree-lined garden path that she had never seen before. She turned slowly in place, looking around. These were Earth trees: live oak. Above her, the blue sky was unmistakable. Earth. Everywhere, Earth.
She took a deep breath of oxygen-rich atmosphere. A breeze ruffled her hair and carried with it an unexpected sound: the tinny song of an approaching ice cream van. She followed it to its source and found the van hovering above the curb at the edge of the park, stirring the grass with its jets. There wasn’t any line, so she went up to the window.
The face that leaned out to greet her was Tellarite.
When Amanda didn’t speak at once, the Tellarite snorted and wordlessly moved to drive off.
“Wait –” she hurried. “Vanilla, please.”
The Tellarite glared belligerently at something just over Amanda’s shoulder.
“Strawberry,” said Sarek, behind her. Amanda jumped. Had he been right there…?
A fleshy, orange-toned hand passed out their ice cream bars from the window. The Tellarite turned back to the control panel, the engine whirred, and the ice cream van gained altitude before it sped along down the street.
“What is this?” asked Amanda.
Sarek’s eyes crinkled. It was as much of a smile as she’d seen on him. “This is the first time that I visited Earth,” he said.
“This is your memory?”
“Not precisely,” Sarek answered. “Certain details are absent. For example, any individuals with whom I did not specifically interact appear not to have manifested themselves. And you see me as you know me now, rather than as I was.”
“Can you share any memory with me?”
Amanda flinched against a stinging pain as soon as she spoke. She looked to Sarek in confusion. The pain faded at once.
“I apologize,” he said quickly. “I will exercise greater control over my emotional responses.”
“Wait,” Amanda protested, “Sarek. I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings –”
“No offense should be taken where none is meant,” he said. “It is theoretically possible to share any experience, whether real or imagined. I have found that it is useful to focus on a single memory. However, if there is something else…”
“Could I meet your wife?” asked Amanda.
There was no time for her to apologize before the oak trees fell away around her, leaving the sky behind. The sky fell next, leaving only white clouds wherever she looked. A dull ache rippled through her body from the inside out.
Sarek was gone.
Amanda’s vision went black.
She opened her eyes and found herself once again standing in the nighttime shadow of the statue of Surak. She pulled back, removing her hands from his face.
Sarek observed her intently, a deep crease set between his brows.
“I’m sorry,” Amanda said.
“It is I who must apologize,” insisted Sarek. “I wish, Amanda, to share all with you. My katra asks me to reach out to your katra, and yet I could not…”
“It’s all right,” she said. “We don’t know each other well. It only makes sense.”
“I wish to know you,” he said. His dark eyes appeared almost liquid, catching the light of the stars like a lake at midnight.
“Then… you will know me,” she said. “We can get to know each other. We can take our time.”
“On Vulcan,” said Sarek, “the bond is often made first and the acquaintance second.”
Amanda smiled, not surprised to taste her own wet tears on her lips when she did. “For Earth people, it’s usually the other way around. I think that you and I may have to compromise.”
“That is… a logical conclusion.”
“Thank you,” she replied. “Good night, Sarek.”
“If I may offer another vulcan gesture…” he began. He raised his right hand, extending his index and middle finger held together.
Amanda mirrored the gesture, watching his expression carefully.
Sarek reached towards her. He pressed their fingertips together, softly, only for a moment.
“Good night, Amanda,” he said.
An electric warmth fizzed gently across her skin.
“Good night,” she said again, now smiling in earnest.
Sarek took his hand away.
The warmth remained.
Chapter 5: Nova
“Vengeance Against the Evil Emperor,” read Tasav dubiously.
T’Vok peered anxiously over her shoulder, bracing herself against the potentiality that her request would be denied. “The title alludes perhaps to undue emotionalism,” she admitted. “However, given that it is the work of a child, Amanda tells me that it would be detrimental to censor such a creative impulse.”
“You seem to hold Amanda’s opinion in high esteem.”
T’Vok felt herself flush. “She is a competent educator,” she replied.
Tasav regarded her for a moment, blinking her gold-lidded eyes. “As are you,” she said. “I will assist you in the distribution of these posters.”
“Your help warrants my gratitude,” said T’Vok.
“Thanks are not required,” said Tasav. Her golden earrings glinted against her dark, braided hair.
Sybok sternly regarded Orett and T’Lyra. “The scene must be redone,” he insisted. “That is the express purpose for which I have sought you out.”
Orett and T’Lyra exchanged skeptical looks.
“I cannot agree, Sybok,” said T’Lyra. “The scene has been recorded once already. That must suffice.”
“Why?” Sybok asked.
“Our assessments approach,” said Orett. “We must therefore review our academic material.”
With difficulty, Sybok avoided voicing his disapproval as Orett and T’Lyra attempted to take their leave of him. He followed them, quickening his pace to overtake them and head them off.
“I request clarification,” he said. “Please indulge in a hypothetical. If it were not for the assessments, would you each be willing to redo the scene?”
He looked first to T’Lyra, then to Orett.
T’Lyra nodded. After a moment, Orett followed suit.
“In that case,” Sybok said, “we may begin work immediately.”
“I do not understand,” said T’Lyra. “Your hypothetical situation has no bearing on reality.”
“False,” said Sybok. “You are forgiven for believing so, because you do not hold all of the facts. Listen closely and I will tell you more.”
Orett glanced at T’Lyra.
T’Lyra glanced at Orett.
They seemed to reach a silent agreement and approached Sybok cautiously. As soon as they were huddled close enough, he started to whisper his plan.
When Amanda passed through the sitting room, she was surprised to see the holo-projector still running, scenes from Vengeance Against the Evil Emperor hovering a few inches away from the wall. Sybok sat on his knees in front of the image, the scene casting multicolored shadows across his pale face.
Amanda approached him from behind, so she let her footsteps announce her presence before she spoke.
“Sybok,” she began. She tried not to be too admonishing. “I thought you were ready for tomorrow.”
Sybok kept his eyes fixed on his holo-screen, watching the same few seconds of footage replaying over and over again. He stopped playback and dragged his fingers through the holographic image, enlarging the picture for editing. “I will retire soon,” he said absently. “I must ensure that the timing is precisely calibrated.”
“Okay,” said Amanda, “but don’t blame me if you fall asleep during your own screening.”
“Vulcans do not require as much sleep as humans,” said Sybok, unblinking.
Amanda shook her head, biting her lip to keep from laughing – if only to avoid breaking his concentration.
She glanced up to see Sarek standing in the portal on the opposite side of the room, framed in orange light from the kitchen. “Leave him, Amanda,” he said. “His diligence is commendable.”
“Thank you, Father,” said Sybok quietly. Sarek nodded to him in acknowledgement.
Amanda couldn’t suppress her smile any longer. She took the stone teacup that Sarek offered her and let him accompany her out of the room, only pausing to remind Sybok that he should turn out the lights in the kitchen whenever he was ready for bed.
Once they had safely reached the darkened hall, Sarek surreptitiously extended two fingers at his side. Amanda met them with two of her own, sealing the gesture that she’d started to think of as a vulcan kiss. She reveled in the familiar buzz of warmth that spread under her skin whenever they touched. The feeling lingered even after they parted, carrying her all the way to the sunroom at the back of the house.
Leaving the lights at ten percent, they settled down with their teacups in front of the picture window. Even at night, the back garden was beautiful, softly lit and shadowed by the dim fires of neighboring houses. Sitting cross-legged on her cushion, Amanda leaned into Sarek’s shoulder, letting herself relax against his solid form. Meeting his eyes to make sure he saw her do it, she reached behind her ear and switched off the universal translator, then slipped it off entirely and set it on the ground beside them.
She gazed out at the huddling shrubs and cactuses, all purple and white where they met the black sky. T’Khut was behind them, casting her silver glow over the flowers that bloomed beyond the orange light and shadow of the house. “I’m very proud of him,” she said.
“As am I,” said Sarek. His voice was rough from the lateness of the hour. Amanda wondered, if she asked, if he would speak to her in Vulcan now, knowing that she wouldn’t understand it, or if he would dismiss the idea. After all, it would be irrational to attempt to communicate in a language she could not understand.
Maybe she would learn, someday.
She drew away, only enough so that she could turn her head and see his face. “You’re going to be there tomorrow, aren’t you?” she asked. They’d already discussed it, of course, but she knew that his work was sometimes unpredictable.
“I have ensured it,” he said.
“And you’ll acknowledge him as your son, won’t you?” she asked, nudging him gently.
He hesitated. “Should the opportunity arise, I would not specifically avoid it,” he said.
You’re going to make an opportunity, she wanted to say until she caught the teasing look in his eyes. She took a deep breath and tried without success to bite back her smile. “Don’t you scare me like that,” she said instead.
He only regarded her fondly, saying nothing.
In the comfortable quiet that followed, Amanda sipped her warm tea.
After a while, she quietly spoke. “I’m proud of us, too,” she said.
“Explain,” said Sarek, matching her tone.
“I just feel like we’ve been behaving very well,” she said, not quite able to meet his eyes. “I think we’ve been having a respectable courtship.”
“Indeed?” he asked. He lifted a hand as if to touch her face. She wanted him to touch her face. Instead, he softly turned a lock of her hair between his fingertips.
“Possibly too respectable,” she said.
Holding his gaze, she raised her hand to trace his fingers with her own.
“Is that so,” he replied. He slid his hand along her palm and down to her wrist, where he slowly stroked his thumb across her pulse.
“I’d like to try it again,” she said. She licked her lips and felt them dry out with the next breath. “The psychic touch.”
Sarek’s eyes widened incrementally. “You have reason to believe that we will find success.”
Amanda nodded. “I think we should try it differently,” she said. She reached out and gently teased the fingers of his other hand away from their position locked around his teacup. “Instead of focusing on a memory, or a place, I think we should try focusing on a feeling.”
“A feeling,” he echoed.
“Sarek,” she said, “I’d like it very much if we could go to your bedroom.”
Sarek stood immediately, pulling her up with him by her hands and knocking over the teacup in the process. Rather than pausing to clean up the spill, he attempted to guide them around the rapidly spreading pool, but Amanda still felt warm tea soaking through her slippers by the time they made it behind the bedroom door.
She kicked both shoes off from the edge of the bed, then took both of Sarek’s hands. She caught him firmly in her arms when he tumbled down to her and rolled him over until they fell apart, each lying on their sides, face to face.
He gazed at her with wide-eyed amazement. The outsides of his cheeks were beginning to flush green. So, Amanda noticed, were the tips of his pointed ears. He didn’t move; only waited for her signal, one hand resting on the blanket between them and the other at his side.
Amanda raised her hand to his cheek. She brushed her fingertips across his skin and watched him tremble at her touch. She grazed the corner of his mouth. When she dared to swipe her thumb across his lips, they parted obediently and without hesitation. She took a deep breath. Holding one hand on his cheek and bringing the other up to tangle in his hair, she kissed him for the first time in the human way.
He gave her no time to wonder if he enjoyed it. At once, his arms encircled her and his hands caressed her hair. He kissed her enthusiastically, matching her movements as best he could.
Still, there was some restraint. Their chests were pressed together when they breathed in, but held apart when they exhaled. Warmth and desire hummed across her skin, and little sparks of pleasure, indeterminate in origin. She kissed him over and over, enjoying the way he yielded to her lips; how pliant he was in her hands. Eventually, she placed her hands as he had placed them when they’d first initiated the psychic touch.
“My mind to your mind,” she said against his mouth as he murmured something in Vulcan, “my thoughts to your thoughts.”
Light-years away, in the Sonoran Desert on the North American continent of Earth, a hummingbird took flight and flitted from place to place, sipping nectar from the deep center of a cactus flower at every opportunity, slipping its tongue in and out of each pink-petaled crown.
Sarek awoke, as ever, to the first light of the sun.
He took a breath in.
He took a breath out.
He opened his eyes.
Amanda was there. Her rich brown hair spilled across the white pillow tucked under her cheek. Her lips, her nose, and her bare shoulders were all faintly pink. Her eyelids fluttered, but she slept still. Running his hand along her arm, he reached out instinctively for the touch of her mind.
Strangely, he could not locate an entrance, even when the tips of their fingers connected.
He sat up.
He considered meditation. It was possible that his senses required some measure of recalibration before he attempted to initiate another touch.
Sarek did not, however, have adequate time to spare for meditation this morning. In the latest hours of the night, after Amanda had fallen asleep, he had decided that he would prepare tok’mek for her breakfast. A sweet plant-based pudding, tok’mek was best eaten with the poached fruit of the l-lita bush, which he would have to obtain at the market before he could begin to cook.
He washed and dressed quickly, leaving the house long before either Amanda or Sybok were likely to stir.
Upon his return, he met Sybok in the kitchen, already dressed for his day at the learning center. To Sarek’s disappointment, Sybok had already begun breakfasting on a handful of ikar leaves.
“I am making tok’mek,” he said.
Rather than putting away the ikar leaves, Sybok stuffed the remainder into his mouth, chewed, and swallowed. “I will consume my portion upon my return. I must go now and prepare for the screening.”
“Very well,” said Sarek, albeit reluctantly. He wondered what kind of preparation would require so much additional time prior to the start of the educational day, but dismissed it. He endeavored to trust his son, after all.
“Farewell, Father,” said Sybok, changing out of his house shoes and leaving without a second glance.
It was not until the tok’mek was fully assembled and steadily bubbling in its pot that Sarek returned to the bedroom. He saw that Amanda had indeed not awoken.
As he approached, he wondered if she had not moved at all.
T’Peyra, as a physician attached to the Shi’Kahr Learning Center, could often be found visiting the homes of her patients. They typically resided themselves on the campus of the learning center, and therefore it was appropriate for her to visit them at home in the case that their own travel to her office would be difficult, might worsen their condition, or had the potential to expose other individuals to a contagious pathogen.
It was not usual, however, that she would visit a patient at the home of an unrelated official of the Ministry of Interplanetary Affairs - much less a descendant of Surak’s line like Sarek, House Sarek, Son of Skon.
She urged herself to remain disinterested, as this was not her home, but could not help stealing glances at the ancestral stoneware, the ancient scrolls, and the artifacts of Surak’s time displayed in each room with prominence.
When she reached the bedroom, however, she knelt at Amanda’s side with immediate focus. As always, she first conducted several standardized scans which she had recalibrated to fit Amanda’s human physiology. When these scans revealed no abnormalities, T’Peyra began a physical examination. Although the exam was conducted with minimal contact, it alarmed her that Amanda failed to respond in any way to her touch. This, despite the fact that no physical ailments had presented themselves.
Her experience with non-vulcan patients was admittedly limited, but she had believed humans to be universally psi-null. Still, a lack of psychic ability did not mean that an individual could be immune to psychic damage. Typically, examinations of the mind were performed by trained psychic healers. There were certain medical instruments designed to substitute in cases where psychic contact might be detrimental, but they were only available to the most specialized practices.
T’Peyra exited the bedroom, meeting Sarek where he waited in the hall. Even without touch, she could feel his anxiety. She noticed his eyes darting several times to his timepiece. “There is no physical damage,” she told him. “Her condition may be psychic, but I am not a psychic healer. Especially in the case of a human patient, I do not have the skill to diagnose or intervene in this condition.”
“What do you recommend?” asked Sarek. As he spoke, his anxiety mounted to fear. T’Peyra had been aware that the line of Surak had especially potent psionic energy, but she had not expected that Sarek’s emotions would be so directly telegraphed to her. Perhaps he was experiencing a particular lapse of control, given the circumstances.
“You must find a skilled healer,” she said. She lowered her voice before she continued. “I do not presume to know you, Sarek, but I must also recommend that, in the case that you have had any psychic contact with this human, that the healer must be one who knows your mind as well.”
Sarek’s face remained still, but T’Peyra read easily the shift in his mind from fear, through uncertainty, to grim determination.
“Thank you for your recommendation,” he said. “I believe that I know one who will serve.”
She approached the House of Sarek, as she approached all, with perfect and unwavering serenity. The white sun had reached its highest summit of the day, but even the heat of noon slid away from her awareness, distantly informing her decision to shield her eyes from the glare with her sleeve but failing utterly to affect her focus.
The door of the House of Sarek opened to her as it always had. She knew its halls. She needed not be greeted, nor guided to the place of meeting, and this Sarek knew as well.
That the human woman lay in his bed, she did not need be informed. That he kneeled devoutly at her side, she did not need observe.
“Sarek,” she greeted him, as always she did.
He had not observed when she had entered the room and therefore reacted with surprise, which did not become him. His eyes, green-rimmed with feeling, regarded her pleadingly.
“My wife,” he said, as always he did.
“Indeed. T’Rea, then.”
T’Rea sank to her knees on the opposite side of the bed. She watched the human woman breathe; the quiet rise and fall of her chest. “She is not dressed,” observed T’Rea.
“That is factual,” replied Sarek.
“You have had psychic contact with her,” T’Rea said.
“It is not logical to question information which I have already given to you.”
“Nor to speak many words when few will suffice.”
“T’Rea, will you help her?”
“I will do what I can.” She sat up on the bed, positioning herself beside the human woman. Human woman. “What is her name?” she asked.
“Amanda,” Sarek told her.
She settled beside Amanda, smoothing the human’s wavy hair away from her face to prepare for their first psychic contact. Then, with two fingers only, she touched each of Amanda’s psi points in slow succession. She closed her eyes, breathing deeply.
In this, the shallowest form of contact, she sought only to acquaint herself with the external patterns of Amanda’s mind. It was then the healer’s responsibility to manipulate the chaotic impulses of a disordered mind into a form that allowed the healer to comprehend them. T’Rea most often began to interpret the signals of the brain by allowing them to be transposed into sound.
Centering herself around a deep internal silence, leaving behind all sounds outside herself, she allowed herself to hear Amanda.
With each stroke of a psi point, a clear bell rang in the distance. T’Rea heard this bell until she had attuned herself to its vibrations, molding her own external thoughts until they shared resonance. She took care with this process, knowing that an unconscious mind must be approached with caution because it would not know to accept her touch.
At last, she opened her eyes and prepared for a full melding of their minds. She observed Amanda’s breathing and pulse to ensure that they had not been drastically altered by T’Rea’s first gentle touches. Satisfied that Amanda’s condition was stable, T’Rea formed the shape of the ta’al with both hands and placed her fingertips on Amanda’s four psi points.
She spoke the ceremonial words.
Time, as it often did, became uncertain in the meld. She listened for a long while to the song of Amanda’s psyche. She listened long and heard much, asking no questions and offering no replies.
At last, she emerged. She clasped her hands in front of her and addressed the man who once had been her husband.
“Following your last psychic touch with Amanda, did you attempt to initiate another?”
“Yes,” Sarek replied.
“While she was in this state? Unconscious?”
Sarek hesitated, but again answered her. “Yes.”
“I found it impossible.”
“Do you know why?”
“It was no mere psychic touch, Sarek,” she told him, “but a complete melding of your minds, from which you failed to disengage. She is not only here,” she indicated Amanda’s sleeping form, “but here as well,” and indicated the psi points on Sarek’s face. At his alarmed expression, she continued. “As she is human, I doubt that she has been able to interpret anything she has experienced within your mind as information. Your privacy remains intact. She is simply… enjoying herself.”
“She is unharmed?”
“Completely, although she will require my intervention to be returned fully to herself.”
“Understood,” said Sarek.
T’Rea observed him, choosing her next words carefully. “Exercise caution in this,” she said eventually.
“You know my intentions,” Sarek told her. “I informed you of this when I last visited you in Vulcana Regar.”
“You did not inform me that she was not vulcan,” said T’Rea. “I do not recommend that you risk another psychic touch.”
“You told me that she is unharmed.”
“She is,” said T’Rea, “for now. However, her katra… it clings to yours. It desires you in ways that she herself may not yet know. If you continue to share your mind with her, she may after a while not have the strength to return to herself without the formation of a permanent bond.”
“That is my desire,” said Sarek. That he spoke so openly of this surprised her. Perhaps she was no longer so familiar with his thinking as she had believed. Their own bond, of course, had long been severed. T’Rea knew that a human might not recover so easily from such a severance as she herself had.
“It must be hers also,” said T’Rea, “and she must be aware of all that it means to become bonded with a man of Vulcan. She will no longer be an outworlder, Sarek. That must be her desire.”
“Thank you, T’Rea,” said Sarek. Watching the emotions that pulled at his face, T’Rea recalled the emotions that had once so fully controlled her own actions. T’Rea had conquered her own tyrant long ago. She wondered how Sarek would ever conquer his, being drawn to such an emotional creature as a human.
“One does not give thanks to truth,” she reminded him. “Now,” she said, beckoning for him to join her beside Amanda, “let us return her to herself.”
Amanda scrunched up her face against the sun glaring through the window, reaching up to try and cover her eyes with her pillow. She breathed in that warm, lavender scent and knew that she was in Sarek’s bed.
She bolted upright and came face to face with a vulcan woman she had never seen before in her life, sitting right there at the foot of the bed. Dressed entirely in black, her robes were adorned only with a single silver line of vulcan script that crossed her chest at a diagonal. Her hands were hidden in her sleeves. Her jet-black hair was combed away from her face and elegantly piled on top of her head in an arrangement of twists and braids. Her keen brown eyes were turned on Amanda with a fierce and penetrating gaze.
Belatedly, Amanda pulled up the blankets to cover her chest. Holding the covers in place with one arm, she reached up with her other hand to feel for her universal translator. It was missing. She remembered that she’d taken it off before coming to bed.
“We do not require a translator,” said the woman in Universal Standard. Amanda’s Standard wasn’t quite as fluent as her English, but she knew enough to make do, especially with all the commonalities between the languages.
“Who are you?” Amanda asked bluntly.
“I am called T’Rea,” said the woman. “If you speak Standard English, I will understand you just as well. It was difficult to avoid gaining some knowledge of the language when Sarek’s position required us to travel to Earth.”
“Sarek’s position?” asked Amanda. “You work with him at the ministry? Are you his assistant?”
“No,” said T’Rea. “I am she who was his wife.”
“You’re Sybok’s mother.”
“I’m sorry, I thought you were dead.”
“I am not.”
“Yes, I can see that now. Um. Why are you here?”
“I believe that it is he who was my husband’s place to explain,” she said. “I only desired to meet you before I took my leave.”
“Well,” said Amanda, “it’s… nice to meet you.”
“A human expression,” T’Rea noted. “It is nice to meet you as well.”
Just as T’Rea stood, Sarek entered the room with a PADD in his hand. “You are awake,” he said, immediately meeting Amanda’s eyes.
“What time is it?” Amanda asked. “We didn’t miss the screening, did we?”
The shadow that fell over Sarek’s face told her that they had. “I do not believe that you would have enjoyed it,” he said. “I have been summoned by Lady V’Mir. I must leave immediately. I expect that you will be summoned, as well.”
“Why? What happened?”
Sarek didn’t answer her. He had already turned to address T’Rea. “Will you remain, or go?”
“I will go,” she said. “I will see our son another time.”
“Very well,” Sarek said. Even as his face projected calm, Amanda could practically feel the anger radiating from him. He raised his right hand in the vulcan salute, then said something to T’Rea in the vulcan language.
T’Rea mirrored his gesture and replied in kind.
Before Amanda could ask him to wait, Sarek had already gone.
On her own walk to the learning center, Amanda was fuming. She was furious with Sarek for letting them miss the screening, for never mentioning that she who had been his wife would be visiting, and most of all for leaving before he explained himself.
Just as Sarek had predicted, Amanda had received an urgent comm from Lady V’Mir’s assistant, which she saw as soon as she looked at her PADD. There were no details – the brief message only ordered her to report to Lady V’Mir’s office as soon as possible, so she dressed as quickly as she could, gathered her things, and left T’Rea alone in the house. If Sarek had wanted to make sure that she left, Amanda figured, then he would have done it himself. Instead of worrying about it, Amanda just told her she could help herself to a cup of tea and walked out the door without another word.
She was crossing the courtyard towards the main administrative building when she was intercepted by T’Vok, who was for some reason soaking wet. Amanda stared at her, bewildered. Water dripped from the hem of her skirt all the way down her legs to the ground, where the sandstone pavement greedily soaked it up.
It occurred to Amanda that the fact that she was watching this happen meant that she could see T’Vok’s bare legs. T’Vok, possibly for the first time in her life, certainly for the first time that Amanda had seen, was wearing a short dress. Amanda gave her head a little shake to refocus herself, tearing her eyes away from T’Vok’s knees and up to her face.
“T’Vok,” she said, “please tell me what’s going on.”
“It’s Sybok,” T’Vok said. “He has conducted himself inappropriately. Lady V’Mir is very displeased with him, Amanda, and it seems that he is blaming you for his actions.”
“I’m not sure,” said T’Vok. She met Amanda’s eyes with clear concern. “Where were you this morning? Why didn’t you come?”
As they walked to the building that housed Lady V’Mir’s office, they each told the other what they’d missed in as much detail as they could without slowing down. T’Vok hesitated outside the administrative building, reluctant to enter while she was still dripping water. This building, apparently, was one of the few that had not been flooded, and she didn’t want to risk compounding the situation.
Amanda thanked her for the information and went in alone. The assistant greeted her quickly and sent her directly ahead to Lady V’Mir.
She took a deep breath, steeling herself before she stepped through into the office. As she entered, she felt her heart pounding.
The office was enormous. The walls were dark stone, nearly black, and the high-vaulted ceiling gave her the feeling of stepping into a cathedral – or a dungeon. Lady V’Mir’s desk and the straight-backed chair behind it were also carved out of stone. The walls were lined with shelves full of real paper books, heavy scrolls, and beautiful artifacts that Amanda couldn’t identify.
Lady V’Mir herself stood with her back to Amanda, framed by the stark light pouring in through the open window behind her desk.
Amanda was surprised at first by how small Lady V’Mir was. The moment she turned around, however, her presence dominated the room. The power of her gaze alone held Amanda helplessly in place, even with her face concealed in shadow.
With preternatural grace, the diminutive woman stepped forward, took a set behind her desk, and regarded Amanda impassively. There were no other chairs in the room and nor were there any cushions for sitting. Amanda understood that she was expected to approach and remain standing before the headmistress.
Dust motes floated through the pale yellow shafts of sun that stretched from the window to the floor.
When Lady V’Mir spoke at last, it was in the warm, languid contralto of a woman who had long since decided she would no longer waste the effort required to raise her voice. When she spoke, however softly, she knew she would be heard. “Amanda,” she said, “you’re aware that our student, Sybok, House of Sarek, has organized a screening of a special project of his, which took place this morning.”
“Yes,” said Amanda.
“And you did, in fact, take this project under your own supervision.”
“You are also aware that Sybok has been found tampering with the learning center’s environmental controls.”
Amanda frowned, confused. “Yes, I did know that, but I don’t see how it’s relevant.”
Lady V’Mir’s eyes widened fractionally. Her face was otherwise immobile.
“Sybok has confessed quite proudly that he deliberately programmed the environmental controls so that several learning center buildings would be flooded with water from the humidity regulator at a key point in the plot of his… film.”
“When the rebels puncture the Evil Emperor’s water reservoir,” Amanda blurted.
Lady V’Mir raised a stoic eyebrow. “Indeed,” she said. “Several buildings were targeted, but I believe that the purpose of his sabotage was to flood the chamber in which our testing computers are stored. Do you believe that to be true, Amanda?”
“I don’t know,” she said. She shifted on her feet, squirming under Lady V’Mir’s observation. “I guess it’s possible.”
“Sybok has informed me that you encouraged him in this action.”
Amanda felt her brow crease. She squeezed her hands together in front of her to keep herself from making any gestures that could be interpreted as overemotional. “Lady V’Mir, that isn’t true. I supervised him in the production of his film, yes, but I never encouraged him to tamper with the environmental controls.”
“Vulcans do not lie, Amanda.”
She remembered the night after they filmed her scenes as the Princess of Earth. That was the only time Sybok had mentioned anything about the environmental controls to her, and what had she told him? She’d told him it was impressive that he was able to manipulate the controls. Had he really interpreted that as encouragement to sabotage the year-end assessment?
“I did not encourage Sybok to flood the learning center buildings, Lady V’Mir. If what he’s told you is in direct contradiction to that statement, then he has lied to you. I don’t know why.”
Leaning forward, Lady V’Mir steepled her fingers on the desk in front of her. “Nevertheless, Amanda, I do not think that your teaching practices are quite in line with the established goals of the learning center. It would be best if you were to return to Earth while our staff investigates the incident. You will be made aware of the status of your certification as soon as a decision is made.”
“Return to Earth?” she repeated, dumbfounded.
“Your shuttle will depart tonight. The details have already been sent to your PADD.”
“I – ”
“That is not negotiable, Amanda.”
“… I understand,” she said softly. Her instincts told her to duck her head and run out of the room, but she held Lady V’Mir’s gaze for as long as she could.
Eventually, Lady V’Mir announced that she was dismissed. She left the office with her back straight and her chin held high, swallowing the sting of rejection all the way down the hall.
T’Vok had gone by the time Amanda exited the administrative building. Amanda assumed she’d tried to find a place where she could go to dry off, so she didn’t blame her. She went directly to her apartment. Not wanting to think about facing Sarek after the way he’d made her feel that morning, she threw herself into the process of packing her things. She emptied her drawers and her closet, folded and vacuum-packed her clothes, and stuffed them into her suitcase.
It wasn’t difficult to fit everything inside. She hadn’t really collected any souvenirs, now that she thought about it. When she got home, it would be like she’d never even been to Vulcan.
Well – she did still have T’Vok’s slippers on her feet. She decided that she would go and drop them off outside T’Vok’s apartment before she left.
What else did she have to take home with her?
Her silver movie costume was hanging somewhere in Sarek’s house.
She’d leave it there, along with all the fondness she had for him. Her fingers dug into the plastic film that encase her work dresses. What had happened to him? First he was telling her that they were fated to be together, and then he was inviting she who had been his wife to watch her sleeping in his bed.
Maybe the customs of vulcan courtship were beyond her, after all. A psychic touch was exciting, but it wasn’t worth the way she couldn’t know exactly where she stood, or the way he seemed to have all the answers, offering her information only when he felt it was appropriate.
Had she really believed that they were meant to be bonded to each other? Had she really believed that he could know such a thing? She’d started to put so much faith in his intuition, and then he had let her down completely.
More to the point, he’d let Sybok down, and that was even worse.
She closed her suitcase and sealed it shut.
Behind her, a chime rang out from the front door of her apartment. For a moment, she was certain it would be Sarek, coming to explain everything to her. To apologize.
When she opened the door, T’Vok stepped in.
She wasn’t disappointed, but…
“Amanda,” said T’Vok. “Tasav informed me of Lady V’Mir’s decision.”
“Tasav,” repeated Amanda. “That’s her assistant, isn’t it?”
“Yes,” T’Vok confirmed. “She is my friend.”
Amanda smiled. “You know, I haven’t heard you say that about anyone.”
T’Vok looked alarmed. “You are also my friend, Amanda.”
“Thank you,” she said. She meant it, but somehow the words sounded hollow to her own ears. She felt very tired. “If you just wanted to say goodbye…”
“I wanted to thank you,” said T’Vok, “for what you have taught me.”
“What I’ve taught you?”
“Before I became acquainted with you, I could not speak to anyone,” T’Vok told her. “And now… you are my friend. Tasav is my friend, too, and I believe that she and I may even one day enter into a partnership. If she would be amenable to such a thing.”
Amanda let out a laugh of disbelief that came out more like a sigh. “A partnership? You mean a romantic relationship, don’t you?”
“Well – yes.”
“How is that possible? Weren’t you betrothed to somebody as a child?”
T’Vok’s eyes widened until they were round as saucers. “No,” she said. “That is only the custom of the high nobility of Vulcan. How did you learn about this practice?”
“I guess I must have read it somewhere,” said Amanda dismissively. Even when she thought she knew something, it was only half-true. “It doesn’t really matter. I’m happy for you, T’Vok.”
“Your expression does not indicate happiness.”
“Sure it does,” said Amanda, knowing it didn’t.
T’Vok shook her head. “You are not displaying the expression of happiness which reveals many of your teeth,” she insisted.
Amanda blinked. Then, she realized what T’Vok was saying. She felt her mouth stretching into a grin. “You mean a smile?”
“A smile,” repeated T’Vok. “Thank you. I did not know that word.”
“Thank you, T’Vok,” said Amanda. “For everything.”
She smiled at T’Vok in earnest, and T’Vok surprised her with a small, timid smile of her own.
Compared to Vulcan, the air in San Francisco was a soup. Before she even stepped out of the shuttle, Amanda felt her hair sticking down to the back of her neck. She followed the line of other passengers through the doors and down the ramp to street level, quietly thanking her pilot on the way out.
She should’ve felt lighter after weeks of being subjected to Vulcan gravity, but rolling her suitcase felt more like lugging all the mass of a neutron star.
Above her, the sky was thoroughly overcast. The breath of rain was in the air, and the whole station buzzed with anticipation. A few people opened their umbrellas. She frowned, realizing she didn’t have one with her. She hadn’t needed it on Vulcan, after all, where it only rained once every one-hundred-and-eighty-two solar orbits.
She scanned the open plaza for an umbrella stand and resolutely hauled her suitcase towards it. It seemed like everyone else had the same idea, and soon she was being jostled by the innumerable elbows and knees of a growing crowd. She had to keep her eyes glued to the ground to avoid stepping on anybody’s trailing tentacles.
Eventually, she reached the front of the huddle and claimed for herself an umbrella in bright canary yellow. It didn’t exactly suit her mood, but it was the only color left by the time she’d pushed through the crowd. By then, she was beginning to feel suffocated by all the people packed in around her. It was a complete contrast to Vulcan, where nobody stood within a meter of anybody else if they could help it.
She broke out of the crowd as soon as she could, fighting to control her breathing. She held her hand over her heart, feeling it pound.
Just the feeling of her own heartrate rising made her think of Sarek. She hadn’t wanted to face him before she left, but she regretted that she hadn’t said goodbye.
For a moment, she ignored the sights and sounds of the bustle around her. She remembered the feeling of his hands on her waist, catching her as she lost her balance and fell from Surak’s pedestal. She pictured him in costume as the Evil Emperor, looming over her, glowering, putting his all into the part that his son had written for him. She thought of him extending his hand, pressing his fingertips to hers in a vulcan kiss.
Strangely, she felt certain that he was there in the station plaza with her.
She turned around.
There he was.
Her mouth fell open. She watched him, bewildered, waiting for him to speak and prove to her that he wasn’t some kind of hallucination. In the distance, thunder rumbled.
“I found a spot on an express transport the moment I found out that you had been dismissed,” he said, anticipating her first question as he approached her. “I could not leave things as they were.”
“How did you know I was landing in San Francisco?” she asked, taking a step back.
“I did not,” he said, “although it was the most likely circumstance by a great margin.”
She laughed incredulously. “What would you have done if I hadn’t been here?”
He regarded her thoughtfully, seeming to take the question under real consideration. “Perhaps a well-composed letter,” he said. “However, you are here.”
“Yes,” she said, “I am. So, what are you going to do?”
“With your permission,” said Sarek, “I would like to begin again.”
She flashed him a rueful smile. “You’re going to have to tell me what you mean by that, you know.”
“I would like to get to know you,” he said. “I’d like to spend time with you – here, on Earth. I’d like to tell you everything that I should have told you already. I’d like to have no secrets from you, and no hesitations. I’d like to marry you, Amanda, but I understand that is something that must wait.”
Her breath caught in her throat as she gazed at him. “Sarek,” she said. “I don’t know. I have so many questions that I don’t know what I should ask you.”
“I will ask the first question, then, if I may,” he said.
She laughed when she realized that he was really going to wait for her to give him permission. “Sure,” she said, biting her lip.
“This is a human custom in which I will participating for the first time, so you must tell me if I am doing anything wrong,” he said. She nodded, signaling that he should continue. He met her eyes with a very serious expression. “Amanda,” he said, “would you like to join me for a cup of coffee?”
She stared at him. She watched a raindrop fall onto his nose and felt another fall into her hair. She heard a slow roll of thunder from somewhere behind her.
They both looked down at the umbrella hooked around her wrist, and then they met each other’s eyes. “Yes," she said, smiling, "I will join you for a cup of coffee. Now, for my first question..." she trailed off, waiting for him to invite her to finish as she had done for him. Once satisfied with his expression, she continued. "Where is Sybok?" she asked.
Sarek looked taken aback, but not displeased. “He is visiting with his mother.”
Amanda couldn’t help it. She started to laugh. All the tension of her long weeks on Vulcan fell out of her shoulders. She'd been completely convinced that Sybok's mother was dead, and then she'd met her, and now Sybok was safely with her while his father traveled impulsively to Earth to court her. As the sky opened up above her, she wrapped her arms around Sarek and laughed into his chest.
By the time she steadied herself, the rain was coming down in earnest. Her cheeks were sore from smiling.
Sarek glanced again at her umbrella, this time pointedly.
“Sarek,” she said, giggling between every word, “it’s too late! We’re already wet!”
She felt rather than heard the breath of laughter rumbling in Sarek’s chest.
Gradually, as the rain continued to pour, their laughter ran its course. With a contended sigh, Amanda drew away from Sarek – just far enough that she could see his face. She reached out and stroked his cheek, then let her hand slide down his arm until their fingertips were touching. Then, she pressed their hands together fully, palm to palm.
On Vulcan, gray clouds gathered and grew over a red stretch of desert just north of Shi’Kahr. A hush fell over the plants and animals. The spines of a ya-ya cactus shivered against the anticipating wind. The sand waited in fragile silence as the clouds trembled and darkened, growing heavier and heavier until, at last, there fell a single drop of rain.
And then another.
WE DID IT BABES!!!! REVERSE BIG BANG 2019!!!!!!!! NOVELLA-LENGTH FIC ABOUT SPOCK'S PARENTS!!!!!
Thank you to summerofspock for beta reading the first two thirds of this and being perfectly willing to beta the rest if I had actually written it sooner
Thank you to GRUMPYBONES for harassing me whenever I said I was writing but wasn't
Thank you to butterfly-apocalypse for being in deadline panic mode with me
Thank you IKOLIT (ikolit on tumblr, callistis on ao3) for inspiring this story and providing the most gorgeous illustrations I could wish for. I couldn't have asked for a better partner for this challenge and I'm so excited to share our work!!!!!!!
If you've made it this far and you somehow still want more, listen to my writing playlist, which was initially inspired by Ikolit's art and my first ideas for the story and then morphed into a science-fiction themed love song playlist as I started really just leaning into that plot point. Spotify link below!