Amanda heard the soft ding of her PADD and snatched it from the worn, canvas bag that slapped against her hip as she walked. Her fingers slid across the device to illuminate the screen: it was the message she'd been waiting for all morning. She flashed a toothy smile and opened it.
"Good news?" Millie asked.
Amanda's eyes skimmed the contents of the brief message, narrowing instinctively with each word she read. "Not really."
Dr. Koval's reply was both polite and expected. He was a research scientist; he had better things to do.
"Well, you tried," Millie said, holding the door for Amanda as they entered the small cafeteria for the bimonthly afternoon faculty meeting.
"What am I going to do?" Amanda groaned, sliding into one of the tiny chairs near the front.
"So we won't have a Vulcan guest. It won't matter to the students — they'll be excited just to have this fair and get out of the daily grind."
"It matters to me. Millie, I don't think most of my students have actually ever met an alien. Everyone talks about partnership and acceptance and diversity and the greater good, but it feels like lip service. We just stay in our conservative, gated communities in Piedmont and Glenview and never actually engage with any of these people. We spent millennia wondering if we were alone in the universe and now that we know we're not, we pretend like we are. It's ridiculous."
Millie sighed and Amanda knew it was time to back off. It was hardly her first time standing on a soapbox.
"Amanda, it's not as big of a deal as you think. You've got some visitors coming, and that's something."
But it felt like a big deal. Amanda had pitched this idea and now she wasn't going to be able to deliver exactly what she promised.
It had started the previous month during a faculty meeting to discuss a cultural exchange fair at the beginning of May to celebrate Federation Day. A lot of good ideas had been tossed around but Amanda's had taken center stage. While everyone was figuring out how to integrate Andorian, Tellarite, and Vulcan themes into a weeklong, school-wide unit study, Amanda wanted to incorporate actual Andorians, Tellarites, and Vulcans.
It was a tall order, but Amanda had a reputation for getting things done. Last year, she'd started an interplanetary partnership with a school on Andoria and had gotten her second-graders participating in monthly video transmissions with Andorians their own age. She could think of no better way to learn about a culture than firsthand and often reminded her class that it went both ways. She jokingly called her students "junior ambassadors." They were.
So because Amanda had a reputation for getting things done, she'd easily gotten approval from the principal, and then all she had to do was come up with visitors from each of the founding Federation planets. The Andorians had been easiest, as there was a large Andorian retiree community near Whitehorse. Finding a Tellarite had been a bit trickier because there wasn't a large population nearby, but eventually she located a specialty grocer in San Francisco willing to come, and better still, he was willing to bring fruits and vegetables from his home world.
But the Vulcans… the local Tellarite population was small, but the Vulcan population was almost non-existent, not just in the San Francisco area, but on Earth in general. It had taken long nights of research to track down two reasonable possibilities: Dr. Koval, a biological scientist who was participating in a yearlong exchange program at Berkeley, and a man named Sorat who owned a home in Mesa, Arizona. It turned out Sorat didn't maintain a permanent residence on Earth and as of five minutes ago, Dr. Koval wanted nothing to do with her or the school.
She massaged her temples and sighed, figuring she would just have to expand her search radius, but it had been difficult enough searching locally without access to the government databases. Maybe she was thinking too small. Maybe she could try asking someone in the local government for help, or even the Vulcan embassy. What a wild thought.
"I've got an idea." She shot Millie a grin and pulled her PADD from her bag.
"What's that?" her friend asked.
"I'll just ask the Vulcan embassy."
Millie scoffed, but her face turned serious. "Don't tell me you're going to ask a planetary ambassador to come to our little cultural exchange fair?"
"Not exactly," Amanda murmured, swiping her finger across the screen to search for contact information. "The Vulcan embassy is in Sausalito: that's right across the Bay."
"You're going to ask the Vulcan ambassador to Earth to come to a primary school in Oakland and hang out with a bunch of eight year-olds? I mean, I love these eight-year olds, but I'm kind of partial — I'm their teacher."
"Not the ambassador," Amanda sighed. "They have a compound: I'm pretty sure there are more Vulcans there than just the ambassador. Surely they have some kind of public relations person, or a cultural or educational attaché. There has to be some kind of staff."
"I guess," Millie shrugged.
Amanda started swiping out a quick message as the school's principal entered the cafeteria.
"Wait — you were serious?" Millie hissed, looking over Amanda's shoulder.
Amanda shot her an innocent look. "Yes."
Her friend laughed under her breath, shook her head, and muttered, "Only you, Amanda. Only you."
How to phrase such a message? She flipped back to the missive she'd sent Dr. Koval, wondering if it had been too informal. She started and deleted several drafts and was attempting to think of the most appropriate synonym for the word "ask" when she heard someone call, "Miss Grayson?"
"Hmmmm?" She smiled, tucking her PADD under the table to greet Andrea Hickman, the principal's secretary.
"Sorry, my voice is a little dry today," Ms. Hickman explained, massaging her throat. "Have you gotten all the special visitors lined up for exchange fair? I know it's still three weeks out but Principal Waters needs to start planning a timeline."
"I- uh- I'm working on it," she stammered, offering a pained smile and refusing to make eye contact with Millie. "I'm still coordinating with some people to get a Vulcan guest but everything should be good to go."
"Great! Can you send me the final list of people by Monday?"
"Yes, that would be lovely," Ms. Hickman replied, patting her on the shoulder and strutting away to join the principal at the front of the cafeteria. She realized the faculty meeting would start at any second so she signed the message, hit send, and stashed her PADD back in her bag.
She couldn't mess this up. It was a matter of personal pride.
Sarek had been on the planet for twenty-four days… twenty-four unfortunate days. He sat upright in the rear-facing seat of the consular vehicle, observing the flow of traffic. Fat raindrops splattered the windows, blurring his view of the city. He understood the science of precipitation well enough — he was science attaché to the Vulcan consulate after all — but the phenomenon was still a novel inconvenience.
Rain was purportedly rare in this region of the planet during this allegedly "warm" summer season, but climate scientists had already classified 2226 as the wettest summer in the San Francisco Bay Area in 192 years. It had rained eighteen out of the twenty-four days he'd resided on Earth and forecasts didn't suggest the inclement weather would cease any time soon.
He recalled a word in the Federation Standard dictionary that had puzzled him in his youth — homesickness. The idea that one could experience distress due to a separation from a place of familiarity was profoundly illogical, yet he would not object to returning to Shi'Kahr's more temperate climate.
The car pulled through the high gates of the compound and came to a stop underneath a carriage porch in front of the headquarters building. Ambassador Selden exited first and Sarek glanced at Kuvok, the cultural attaché, expecting him to follow the ambassador. Diplomatic protocols stipulated the most senior person should enter the vehicle last so as to be the first person to exit. As the most junior staffer of the afternoon's party, Sarek followed the inverse.
Sarek followed Kuvok out of the car and glanced over his shoulder, blinking the humidity from his inner eyelids. Sausalito was a strange place, cold and wet. His ears buzzed with the cries of birds he did not recognize and the screams of chaotic traffic from the urban atmosphere. The high walls of the consular compound obscured his view of the city, but that was the way it had been since Vulcan had established formal diplomatic relations with Earth more than a century ago — Vulcans on one side, humans on the other.
He turned on his heel to follow the senior diplomats and in a rare moment of inattention, his foot landed in a deep puddle. Unfortunately, Vulcan shoes were not designed with water resistance as a priority and he felt moisture creep into his sock. Regrettable.
He found his way to the tiny office in the middle of the long corridor, sat at the desk in the corner, and tapped the screen of his computer monitor. He read his messages and found nothing of importance, not that any important messages had been anticipated. He chose to occupy himself by reading recently published scientific papers and articles, as his only function at the consulate was scientific reporting.
After twenty-four days, he'd drawn the conclusion that the role of science attaché to the Vulcan consulate was almost an entirely honorary position. Like Sarek, Ambassador Selden held an advanced degree in astrophysics from the Vulcan Science Academy, but unlike Sarek, he also held advanced degrees in biochemistry and computer engineering. Given the ambassador was more qualified to serve as science attaché than his appointed science attaché, he did not need Sarek to serve in any advisory capacity.
Sarek had a number of other duties, such as assisting in the exchange of scientific information between Earth and Vulcan, aiding Vulcan scientists engaged in projects on Earth, and arranging collaborative research efforts between the two planets. Unfortunately, Earth wanted little to do with Vulcan scientists, and Vulcan generally shared a similar sentiment for the scientists of Earth.
Animosity was illogical but humans had it in great supply. It had been nearly 163 years since first contact with Earth and the relationship between the two planets fluctuated between almost hostile and barely cordial, depending on the political climate. Humans accused Vulcans of being arrogant and interfering with progress, and Vulcans accused humans of being irrationally eager to progress without an appreciation for the complexities of progression.
This was especially true in the scientific community, where profound cultural differences worked to slow mutually constructive progress. Vulcans viewed scientific advancement as a benefit for the whole of society, whereas humans viewed it as a competition of individual achievement. While prestige was merely the inevitable result of a lifetime of success, pride was illogical. Humans seemed to possess an inordinate amount of pride.
At present, there were only a handful of human scientists teaching or conducting research on Vulcan, and many of the Vulcan scientists working on Earth did so reluctantly, either due to issues with funding or because Earth's physical characteristics provided a more suitable environment for their particular fields of research.
Prior to the founding of the Federation, Vulcan's technology had been far superior to Earth's, but the ratification of the Federation Charter had changed the scientific landscape. It contained a number of clauses about the free exchange of unclassified information and technology between Federation members.
Once humans had access to Vulcan technology, they had incorporated it into their own designs and in many cases, even improved upon it. As the decades passed, excuses were generated to ignore those clauses in the Federation charter and humans and Vulcans — as well as most Federation members — had become far more protective of their planet's advancements and now collaboration and exchange was once again rare. Yet in sixty-five short years, humans had not only caught up to their Vulcan neighbors, but were now surpassing them in a number of fields.
Dr. Henry Daystrom had already made remarkable strides in the field of duotronics, but the Vulcan scientific community still maintained circuitry would never transcend resistors and transistors. Sarek had read several of Daystrom's papers and disagreed with the Vulcan establishment — the doctor's initial results were promising. Sarek had contacted Dr. Daystrom to ask to meet with him and tour his laboratory, but had received a rather short and derisive response, insinuating that the Vulcans were trying to discredit him.
Then there was Dr. Helene Tarkington, who two years earlier had developed the HT-1, the first small-scale matter-antimatter reactor, despite the Vulcans' insistence that such a prototype was at least twenty years away. He'd asked to meet with her to discuss her work and share the preliminary results of a new containment field design his colleagues at the Vulcan Science Academy had developed. Her response had been less emotional than Daystrom's, but that was likely due to its brevity — it had simply said, "No."
Humans had come a long way in an unusually brief period of time with Vulcan technology, but rather than work with Vulcan scientists, they worked for themselves, often needlessly duplicating existing research that had already been conducted by Vulcans. Vulcans also engaged in redundant work – Sarek had already found six instances in the past year of Vulcan scientists publishing papers confirming what humans scientists already had.
He discussed the possibility of developing a joint database for civilian scientists with Ambassador Selden, but the ambassador dismissed his proposal outright, claiming the Starfleet databases were adequate. Yet only an estimated sixty-eight percent of available civilian research was included in the Starfleet databases, and getting access to the databases required an illogical and inefficient maze of bureaucracy.
Starfleet's ambiguous protocols were another problem. Sarek's predecessor had never established much in the way of a formal relationship with the Federation's main exploration agency, and the Vulcan Science Directorate had several pending requests for Starfleet's assistance with deep space research missions. Getting in contact with anyone had proven to be a challenge and the one person he had spoken with had quickly terminated the transmission, citing Sarek's rudeness.
He had not intended to be rude and when he later reflected upon the conversation, could not understand how it had been perceived as rude, though he admitted he was a very poor judge. Offense was illogical and as he lacked a human frame of reference, it was difficult to determine what humans found offensive. The month of cultural instruction at the diplomatic headquarters in Shi'Kahr had taught him some things — humans disliked being reminded of their persistent illogic, for example — but he'd already found his limited training to be woefully inadequate to prepare him for his position.
He closed his eyes for a moment of brief meditation, only to be disturbed seconds later when his computer buzzed, alerting him to a new message. Kuvok had forwarded a misdirected request from a professor at a nearby university. Sarek had never heard of Piedmont Academy, but he was unfamiliar with most of Earth's educational institutions.
I am an educator at Piedmont Academy in Oakland and I was looking for a Vulcan speaker for an upcoming cultural exchange fair in honor of the 65th anniversary of the Federation's founding. The commitment would be very minimal.
Any assistance you can provide would be greatly appreciated.
Strange that the consulate's cultural attaché would send this to him, given the nature of the request. There were only two logical conclusions — either Kuvok had not read the request or he was simply delegating the task of corresponding with this individual to a subordinate. Given the likelihood of Kuvok sending him the message in error was low and the fact that Sarek had few other tangible duties, it would be logical to conclude the latter was true.
Mr. Grayson —
He paused, recalling arbitrary human naming conventions stipulated that while not universally true, names ending in the letter "a" tended to belong to females. He toggled to the Terran database and quickly researched the name.
Amanda — a feminine given name derived from the Latin amanda, meaning "lovable or worthy of love." He corrected his greeting to the proper form of address.
Ms. Grayson —
Your request honors Vulcan. I am available to meet with you today or at your earliest convenience.
Science attaché, Vulcan Consulate — Sausalito
He sent the message and returned to reading newly published scientific articles. He shifted in his chair, feeling the squish of water in his left shoe and thinking it would be logical to purchase more weather-resistant footwear.
He would find a way to adjust to his new life in Sausalito. It was only a matter of logical discipline.