DISCLAIMER: The Star Trek characters are the property of Paramount Studios, Inc. The story contents are the creation and property of M. L. "Steve" Barnes and is copyright (c) 1979 by M. L. "Steve" Barnes. This story is Rated PG-13.
Almost a Legend
M. L. "Steve" Barnes
He was standing before the Madonna when I first saw him. It was the first day of the exhibition and the gallery had only been open half an hour. Only a few of the most dedicated connoisseurs were there, wandering in the vast corridors viewing the unique pieces that had been gathered from all over the galaxy especially for this showing.
Something about him made me pause. I was used to the sculpture's effect on people by now, yet there was such an attitude of concentration, a look of understanding on his face, that it arrested my attention.
"Do you like her?" I asked him. He turned, his elegant brows flared over the aristocratic nose, the deep dark eyes searched mine.
"It is a most unusual work." The timbre of his voice was extreme, that kind of cello note that stirs your entire body.
I was pleased by what the statue achieved -- the play of light and shadow had been carefully programmed to make it graphically real. The breast seemed to stir with breath, the compassionate eyes were liquid with life. The Madonna was an unusual example of electronically stimulated holoplasm.
She was human, the old Earth Mother that ancient tales brought outward through the galaxy, yet her hand was outstretched to a child not quite so human. There was an appearance of the alien about the boy, it was revealed in the odd shape of his head and eyes. And there was an awareness of his destiny, as young as he was. The awareness subtly intensified the distance between mother and child, yet she loved him, even knowing the pain her love would bring her. It was a work that was moving without being too sentimental, gentle in its message, yet strong in its statement of it.
He looked at the figures once more. "One feels that to touch her hand would be to touch living flesh."
"I'm sure that's what the artist intended."
"Do you know the artist--" he bent his head to study his program, "--this Stefan Anders? I would like to meet him."
"Yes, I know the artist quite well."
He was quick, this one. Quick and sensitive to moods.
"You are the artist?" He lifted his head to look at me and it was almost a statement, not a question.
I smiled and nodded. "I'm Stefan -- Stefanie, to be exact -- Anders."
He turned back to gaze at the Madonna once more. "You are to be complimented on a great work," he said. "It has the restrained yet living beauty that the artisans of my people strive for."
I sensed something about the piece's appeal for him. "She reminds you of someone you've known," I guessed.
He nodded, ever so slowly.
I watched his face as he replied. Shadow, light, pain, tenderness, flowed across it. To the normal observer it would have been nothing. But I was an artist, skillful at catching the tints of the soul. He was not what he appeared to be on the surface; there was another, hidden side to him. I was suddenly intrigued by the glimpse I'd had of it.
"You're Vulcan, aren't you?" I asked.
He seemed to shrug away the statue's magic as he faced me. His head inclined in a slight, but gracious bow.
"I am Spock, son of Sarek -- Ambassador of all Vulcan."
"Oh, my heavens!" I lost my aplomb in a rush of confusion. "Then you represent the Vulcan delegation! You're their cultural advisor? But what happened to Sarek? I was informed that he would be arriving today."
"An unfortunate incident, a minor but pressing detail, has caused my father's delay on Vulcan. I am on detached duty from Star Fleet at the moment, on your planet attending the symposium on the new J-23 computer. Word reached me of my father's dilemma."
"And being a loyal son and Vulcan, you volunteered to stand in." I spoke lightly, but suddenly I was interested in him as an individual. "Star Fleet's loss is our gain." I sincerely meant the words and his acute ears caught my intensity.
He gave me a level look and his eyes sparkled just a trifle under the exquisite brows. "Are you to be my welcoming committee?" he asked, very sober.
"It is my intention to make you as welcome as you will permit." The words slipped out thoughtlessly and I held my breath; it was the response I might have made to a human male and I knew that Vulcan men were not known for appreciating liberated women.
For one unbelievable moment I actually saw his lips twitch as if in amusement. "Then perhaps you would conduct me on a personal tour of the exhibition?"
I covered my sense of relief by smiling at him.
"Of course, I'd be delighted. As the host planet, Arcania and her artists' guild are honored to welcome our guests. May I?" I reached to borrow the gallery program he carried. Our fingers brushed and I had a sense of electricity leaping between us, a warm awareness of the rightness of our being together.
"Where shall we begin?" he asked innocently.
This was a man who had trod a hundred exotic worlds, had been witness to the forbidden and unimaginable delights of a dozen planets. He had mingled with leaders and potentates and was himself an ambassador's son. A man who had stood among the stars and was free to pick a companion from each of them. I realized suddenly that his air of studied naivete was part of the protective coloring behind which the real man remained concealed. I doubted if many took the pains to separate it from their image of him. Underneath that facade of artlessness was a being who was very much attuned to those around him and I had the abrupt sensation that things were moving too fast for me. I opened the program to the first page.
"We shall begin at the beginning," I said firmly. "Isn't that logical?"
I thought he might laugh aloud then, for suddenly his brown eyes were positively alive under the hooded but he merely smiled slightly in agreement.
"Quite logical," he said.
* * *
We spent the next hour meandering among the various displays, observing the best from cultures throughout the galaxy. I had the idea that this was a rare occurrence for him, that he was not a man who indulged in pleasure lightly or that he seldom found the need to distract his keen mind with idle relaxation. Yet he seemed to throughly enjoy the exhibit and he had a good eye for line and color, an almost mathematical appreciation of what the artists were attempting to convey. He had told me he was a computer expert and so this did not surprise me; the seemingly unrelated fields of art and mathematics are not that different after all -- each must rely on a basic structure, attention to detail and form, and most of all, there must be discipline, to attain the desired goal.
He did pause over-long before the Vulcan display and I sensed an odd dissatisfaction in him.
"Is it not arranged correctly?" I hazarded the guess.
"There is a slight ... unbalance in the grouping. An unfortunate overemphasis on the savageness of our ancient history and not enough on our more recent philosophy of non-violence."
I had the grace to blush. "I'm sorry. That is my fault. Your race became much feared among my people in centuries past. I was put to bed as a child with wild stories of pointed-eared barbarians who slaughtered innocent children as they slept."
One of his eyebrows did a fascinating climb. He turned and looked at me, humor glinting from the deep-set eyes. "And have you since changed your opinion of us?" he asked, amusement trembling below the rich tone of his voice.
I grinned at him. "I think I've been sufficiently convinced."
I gestured at the display. "Could you find time in your schedule at the symposium to help me make some adjustments? I want each exhibit to represent its people at their best."
"I would be pleased to assist you. May I come back early tomorrow?"
"I would be eternally grateful if you did."
And from that moment on he seemed to gain in his trust of me. I found we had much in common; an appreciation of logically structured beauty, an acceptance of things as they should he in their proper order and time. Odd as it may seem for an artist to like those things, they were the foundation of my experimentation in the field of holoplasm.
And we had other, more tangible bonds. I was a rebel in my profession, going where no other artist dared travel, creating substance out of light and shadow, a world only I could know. He was an alien on a human ship, treading the fine line between two cultures. His entire life was created out of that same light and shadow -- a thing so fragile it could be destroyed by a single touch. I sensed he was as lonely as I at times.
It was not until he was about to leave the gallery that I discovered who and what he really was.
He had said he was on detached duty from Star Fleet. Nothing in that modest resume prepared me for the onslaught of newspeople that were waiting outside the gallery for him. They rushed at us, a virtual tidal wave of beings trailing recorders, hologram cameras, and video scanners as if they were extensions of their bodies.
He had said he was attending the symposium; now I found he was in charge of it. And other, more fascinating, details about him were brought to my attention.
"Commander Spock! Commander Spock! You were decorated for your part in the recent Guyuga encounter. Do you anticipate a command of your own as a result?"
"Commander Spock! Have you a moment to comment on the voyage you took to Talos Four yet?"
They clamored for a word from him. It seemed he was famous, in our part of the galaxy at least.
He drew back from them, almost visibly creating a wall of distance. They had to respect it, no one would have been able to violate that integrity he wore like a cloak.
"No comment," he told them, and they accepted it.
"I thought Talos Four was forbidden to the ships of the Federation," I murmured as we waited for them to part so he might pass through. He turned and looked at me.
"Do you understand obligation?" he asked.
I spread my hands, looked down at them. "Can you ask that, having seen my work?"
He nodded very slowly. "You are correct of course. It was an unnecessary question." He paused and said, very quietly, very privately, to me, "It was an obligation that took me to Talos."
I met his eyes and found myself smiling into brown velvet.
"I understand." I didn't need to know the details; he had said everything that was important.
He turned to leave. "I shall return in the morning to help organize the Vulcan exhibit," he promised, and then with no further leavetaking, he was gone, shouldering his way through the small, slender people of my race, polite, and yet untouched by all their fervor.
I returned to overseeing the gallery for the day, welcoming the various dignitaries, making myself useful. I thought very little about Spock that day. But that night, my dreams were filled with him.
* * *
The next morning, an hour before the gallery was to open, Spock presented himself at the side door, ready to help reorganize the Vulcan display. We worked for perhaps forty minutes, re-arranging the central tapestry with its odd progression of intensifying colors and shifting the hexagonal gong he called a "clu-dee" to a less prominent place in the grouping. He moved nearly every piece in some manner and I could see the effect he was achieving. It was right, somehow.
I studied the works when he had almost completed his adjustments and something unusual caught my eye; behind the impressive, restrained control of these pieces I saw a passionate, almost furious need for the artisans to imprint their existence on life.
Once before I had seen something similar -- in the artifacts of an ancient culture that had been doomed to perish by a peculiar reproductive cycle. Had the Vulcans something in common with that long-gone race, I wondered, that gave them a sense of approaching oblivion and found its was into their art? I made a mental note to ask Spock about it when I knew him better.
I had finished my portion of the work. He was arranging the final item, an exquisite creamy shawl. The material was almost gossamer and was woven with threads of some iridescent metal, soft and fine as silk.
"What a lovely thing," I remarked. "What is it called?"
"It is called a shasheen and it is given as a token of esteem."
"Shasheen." I tried the word on my tongue. "Even the name is lovely."
He smoothed the panel of fabric between beautifully articulated fingers. I was caught by the lean dark grace of his hands against the delicate white material. The hands of a poet, I thought. What is he doing aboard a ship of war?
I stood back, admiring the arrangement he had chosen. It was striking and I did not want to let the scene escape me. I picked up my sketch book and began to make rapid lines.
He completed the draping of the shawl and came to stand at my shoulder.
He pointed at the shadowy image of a warrior I had blocked in behind the clu-dee and at the vague silvery weapon I had placed in the man's hands.
"Why have you placed a fighting Vulcan beside the clu-dee, and why has he a lirpa in his hands?" There was tension in his question.
I tipped my head sideways to look up at him as I began to ink in the warrior's figure -- the elegant ears, the bat-wing brows, lean body, the haunted eyes. He resembled Spock. "Shouldn't I have?" I asked as I worked. "It seemed right, somehow."
He looked at me, studying me long and hard. "How could you know of these things? They belong to the kali fee."
I finished the sketch, flipped the pad shut and stretched, rubbed my neck. "Sometimes I'm able to do things like that. It comes without my being aware of it."
He was watching me and I saw an odd look cross his face, a look of respect, of understanding, of kinship.
"You will be a very famous artist soon, Stefan," he said gently. "Only the very great ones have your sensitivity. But I do not think your awareness will bring you happiness."
I looked at him as he spoke. There it was again, that hidden part of him, that vulnerable responsive core that he kept so carefully concealed. Then, like a door closing to my scrutiny, it was gone.
"You and I know, Spock," I said quietly, "that happiness has nothing to do with it -- it's that obligation we spoke about."
He nodded and said nothing more. "Well," I commented to break the silence. "I think we've finished here and my sensitivity tells me it's time I took a break from the exhibition. I've been working steadily for over three weeks."
He looked up alertly, seemed about to speak and then did not. Of course I could not ignore this half-veiled overture. "What is it?" I asked.
"Miss Anders -- Stefan -- have you more of your work at your studio?"
"Yes, some. The best is here, of course. Why ... would you like to see them?" And at his silent nod, "Well, some of them aren't finished, but you're welcome to come with me now. I think I'll stay away from the gallery for the rest of the day at least."
"My first lecture at the symposium is not until afternoon," he said. "I would be pleased to see what you are working on."
We turned to leave and at that moment, Mikos came striding down the corridor.
Mikos was director of the gallery, titular head of the artists' guild; in actuality he left most of the work to me and others like me while he spread his pomposity and discord among the members. Many of us in the guild hoped to replace him in the next elections.
"Stefan." He greeted me with as little courtesy as ever. He was one of those who thought my works should be banned from the galleries -- a true, old-fashioned craftsman who resissted change and whose only claim to fame was a political appointment to do portraits for the ruling family of Arcania.
His eyes stole sideways to Spock and I could see the curiosity that piqued him in the brightness of his eyes. There was a faint hint of disapproval in his continued disregard of the Vulcan. "Have you finished for the morning?" he wanted to know.
"Mikos," I said sternly. "I've been at this gallery, each day, all day, for weeks. I'm taking a well deserved day off. You may assume the duties of host in my absence." And I started to turn away. Something wicked prickled inside me, insisted on being let out. I turned back to face him. "May I present Commander Spock, late of Star Fleet who represents the Vulcan delegation as cultural advisor?"
There was no way out of it for him then. His eyes flicked to Spock's face and away hastily. I saw his color rise slightly. The old prejudices die hard, I thought. But he was enough of a politician to swallow them when necessary.
"I have heard of Spock, of course," he said. "Who has not?"
He smiled and nodded politely, offering the cupped palm turned upward in our accustomed greeting. Spock, who had not missed a single nuance, nodded, very proper, very grave. I wished I could see his eyes to find out if there was a mocking light in them or merely one of patient tolerance. Mikos would not have known the difference.
"Do not be gone over-long, Stefan," the director told me. "I've many details to take care of."
"I'm sure they will wait, Mikos," I said sweetly. "And I have suggested that Commander Spock accompany me to my studio for the morning. He wishes to see more of my work."
This time Mikos really looked at Spock. I could see the undisguised dislike flicker in his eyes, a burning hatred for all Vulcans and for this one, who stood as my guest, in particular.
"If you desire to be my replacement as head of the guild, and I feel you do, Stefan," he said bluntly, "I suggest you pick your acquaintances with more care."
Spock had borne this with admirable reserve. Now he could not resist the urge to speak up.
"Sir," he began courteously, "may I ask why you persist in your attitude toward Vulcans? There has been peace between our planets for more than three hundred years. Your continued animosity toward my people does you no honor, and the past should be dismissed. We have become a peaceful culture, if indeed, your 'pointed-eared barbarians' were even Vulcans."
"What else could they have been?" Mikos snapped. "My family still tells of the sack of Surcogas. The description is unmistakable. I find no trust in the word of a Vulcan."
Spock paused. I could sense something in him beneath the quiet surface -- frustration, dislike, anger? -- and he took time to master it.
"They might have been Romulans," he suggested at last. "Their fleets were laying siege to many planets in this part of the galaxy at that time."
Mikos shrugged, a crude dismissal. He would not listen, did not care to discard his old ideas for new ones. They were comfortable to him, he enjoyed them. There were far too many of my people like him.
"Come, Spock, we must leave," I said abruptly, and without thinking I took his arm. It was more of a peace offering than anything else and I think that is why he accepted the gesture. Linked by understanding, we left the gallery.
My studio was located on a quiet cul-de-sac near the river that flowed through the city. The ground floor, where I lived, had once been a business firm but I had allowed the persistent undergrowth to take over and now it was nicely screened by tall yellow hata grass and the clinging vines that sought a foothold everywhere on our planet. The upper floor was shaded on one side by the fronds of a towering tewee pepper tree, but the rest of it was open to the sun and light and it was here that my work area was situated.
We entered the lower level and I saw Spock look around with interest. It was a typical artist's dwelling with tools of my trade scattered about and half-finished sketches strewn on tables. In one corner of the main room was the kiln where I fired smaller, clay pieces. I had hung vivid tapestries in one corner, the colorful braided mats of the hill people of Arcania in another. The wall above my eating place was filled with charcoal head studies I had done. On the hearth, my breakfast fire still glowed warmly.
He wandered about the two rooms as I hung up my cloak. I could not tell what he thought of any of it.
"It's pretty jumbled, I guess," I apologized. "But I know exactly where everything is."
"How did you achieve the red glow in here?" he asked, looking about for the source of the soft, ruby light.
I pulled back the translucent hangings that curtained the windows. Revealed were the intricate panes of garnet glass that I had colored, fired, and leaded myself. "I liked the warm aspect they gave the room," I told him.
"It is somewhat reminiscent of the light on my home planet," he explained, then a transformation took place on his face as he relaxed and almost seemed to smile.
I was pleased. I felt he did not often relax enough to notice such things. "Come." I held out my hand, but this time he avoided taking it. We climbed the stairs to the loft and the free, light drenched space where I did nest of my sculpting.
It was a bare room, sparsely occupied by a tall stool, my equipment, and a few objects on which I was working. Here, opposed to the downstairs, everything had a place and a purpose. This was my true self and he seemed pleased with the image.
He stood before a bust on which I was working, that of an ancient Arcanian warrior, a handsome, fair man with laughter lingering close beneath the stern military visage. Spock seemed particularly caught by the effect of the piece.
"Why is it," he asked at last, still poised before the work, "that I recognize someone in everything you have done?"
I shrugged. "I don't know. Unless we perhaps see the same things in people."
He looked at me, a slight softening in his usual reserved expression. "I think that may very well be the explanation." He looked at me a moment longer as if imprinting the details of my face on his memory, and then back at the statue. "This man could be my Captain, James Kirk. It is not so much the physical resemblance as some intangible quality that speaks to the observer."
I was pleased that he liked the work and was struck by his intensity. "He means much to you, this Captain?" I asked without thinking.
There was a pause. I had touched something vulnerable in him. "We have served together for some time," was all he said.
I nodded. I did not need to be told details when Spock talked to me. I did not know why it was so, but I knew him nearly as well as myself. "Come, let me show you my latest creation." I led the way to the far corner and pulled down the canvas that veiled my recent project.
It was of a young woman and done in holoplasm. Her eyes penetrated the observer, her skin glowed with living color. She was slender, dark-eyed and somehow seemed to invite one's trust. A faint smile curved her lips and I had tried to make it a smile of compassion and understanding. She was a lovely, vibrant creation and I called her simply, "Companion."
"I suppose she reminds you of someone, too?" I teased.
His eyes flinted with responsive humor. "As a matter of fact, yes. She is very much like you."
That surprised me and for a moment I stared hard at the sculpture, then I shrugged and laughed. "I don't see the resemblance, but I thank you for the thought."
"And your laughter reminds me of another human female -- my mother."
"Your mother? But I thought..." I scanned his features. "Surely you are Vulcan? You said as much."
"Only half. My mother was an Earth woman."
"Then you are..." Things began to click in my memory. "Then that's who the Madonna..." I swallowed the rest of the sentence at the still look that came over his face. I turned quickly away to examine the next piece in an effort to cover my indelicacy. I had never known anyone who was half-Vulcan, half-human before, yet the components of the ancestry were known to me and it seemed an unusually conflicting one. I began to understand a lot of things about this strange, reticent man.
"The technique you have devised for executing these works is unique," he went on, apparently unperturbed by my lapse. "Are there others working in this medium?"
"Only a few. It's considered a revolutionary technique and not many are willing to chance failure. Besides, Mikos and those like him resist the idea of change. They call me a 'doll maker' and they say my work belongs in shops, not galleries. But my methods are gaining respect, and due to a growing number of loyal supporters, I'm doing quite well."
"Mikos does not seem to care for you," he ventured.
"The feeling is mutual. I would see him unseated from the head of the guild so that the artisans' union can be opened up to new ideas. The old restricted ideas are stifling the creative drives of many. I know of no fewer than thirty artists who have left Arcania in the past year."
"Oppression is always difficult to live with," he said gravely. "I wish you well in your aspirations."
We climbed back down to the living quarters and I brewed some of our planet's tangy spice tea for him. We sat at my tiny table, arms almost touching, and sipped the fragrant drink.
My sketch pad was near at hand and automatically I picked it up. The first half was devoted to preserving the exhibition and I turned to the reproduction I had done of the Vulcan display and idly studied it.
Suddenly, something very odd began to happen to me. As I stared at the drawing, the figure I had placed in it -- the Vulcan warrior -- began to take on substance. I caught the smell of sweat and blood and fear, the cloying scent of some exotic incense. The sharp blade of the weapon glittered in the blood-red light and I felt and saw Death.
I was icy cold and a black terror gripped me. I knew despair for the warrior and a sense of great loss. The face was no longer indistinct -- it seemed to be Spock's eyes looking at me through the murky mists. My hand shook and the tea bowl slipped from my fingers and shattered on the table.
"What is it?" Spock was taken off-guard by my unexpected reaction.
I gripped the edge of the table with my free hand and turned the sketch towards him. "Spock," I asked unevenly, "Why do I see you in this man?"
For a moment I thought he would not answer. Finally he looked away from my eyes and I could see the set line of his jaw.
"I was there, in a place of kali-fee -- challenge -- not long ago," he said reluctantly. There was no other inflection in his words.
"You almost lost your life there...no," I interrupted myself, "someone you care for almost died there." I shivered and tossed the sketch book aside. "I do not think I care for your place of kalifee." He made no response but his eyes darkened.
"That is the reason I am here," he finally said with an effort. "The offer to conduct the symposium came just after the incident and our ship's surgeon thought I needed, as he put it, 'some time to recuperate'."
"Were you hurt?"
"No..." he paused. "No, I was not injured." His eyes returned to meet mine.
"Spock," I said abruptly. "This is none of my business, but do you have someone -- a woman -- of your own kind?"
Again there was a slight hesitation as if he silently agreed that it did not concern me. "I no longer have anyone," he replied. The words were stiff, rehearsed, and beneath them lay humiliation and great pain.
I did not press the matter further, realizing he would not have answered anyway. Besides he had told me what I wanted to know; he was not bound to anyone, was no longer obligated. I smiled at him, "You do not find most women attractive, do you?" I asked.
"I ... do not fully appreciate the relative merits that some call 'beauty' in the female," he agreed. Then he looked at me and I saw a minor war waged within himself over speaking the next words. "But there are some qualities that transcend the usual interpretation of beauty," he said. "You have many of those qualities."
I had been fishing and I was ashamed of myself. He had replied as I knew he must because with a feminine instinct I knew he was drawn to me. I was glad to have the admission just the same. I leaned toward him, feeling a smile reach my lips. My breath had suddenly caught in my throat, my heartbeat was rapid.
"I have an almost irresistible urge to kiss you for that," I told him. His mouth was inches from my own, his eyes on a level with mine.
"My people do not kiss," he told me with mock gravity and I could have sworn his eyes were dancing with humor.
I laughed. I couldn't help it. He was pretending to be so calm and yet I knew that inside he was experiencing the same turmoil as I. The moment was vanquished by my mirth and I stood up to clear away my broken bowl.
"They should try it sometime," I told him as I turned away. "It is an excellent means of communication."
He shook his head and spoke as if to himself, "McCoy may have been right, after all."
I turned back to remove his bowl and the spice tea container. "Who's McCoy, and what was he right about?"
"Dr. McCoy is our ship's surgeon. He said I might find myself 'susceptible' for some time."
"Susceptible?" I looked at him in puzzlement. "I ... don't understand."
He shook his head again and this time it was he who laughed, a sound deep, rich, and full of wickedness. It startled me.
"It doesn't matter," he said. "Nothing matters, even if he was right, because I find I like you, Stefan. You are a most unusual woman."
He got up and came around the table to stand beside me. On his feet like that he towered over me, tall and spare, yet vibrant with contained power. "My people do not kiss," he said and his voice was husky. "But we do have a way of communicating that you may find interesting." And he reached down to enfold my hand in one of his.
He drew the hands up between us, palm to palm, and his outer fingers slipped around mine to caress, to cover. Pale cream and palest vert, our hands blended in the ruby glow, male and female paired.
If I had thought myself responsive to him before, it was a shadow compared to the explosion of feeling that occurred deep inside me at the touch of that hand. Fiery heat coiled and blazed, warmth melted and grew liquid. A void opened, crying to be claimed.
I saw his eyes darken, the pupils grow enormous. His nostrils distended with his quickening breath. The heat from his hand suddenly grew intense and I knew an aching pain, an unfed need within me.
Abruptly he released my hand. It was as if he had knocked a support from beneath me. I sagged, knees weak, against the table. He had turned away from me and I could not see his expression, could not read the signs of arousal I knew must be on his body.
"I ... beg you forgiveness," he said and the cello note was back, albeit sad and slightly unsteady. "I had no right to do that... Nothing like this has ever happened to me ... McCoy must have been correct... I am ... unwell."
I drew a deep breath, caught at my faculties and realized that something was wrong with his reaction. It was not one of distress over his lack of control, it was more in the order of anger at himself, and shame because he thought he did not deserve to have such feelings. I went to stand by him but I did not touch him.
"You are quite well," I said clearly. "Everything about you speaks of physical well-being and the fitness of what you have just done. I am not ... inexperienced in such matters, Spock. Do not think that you might wound the sensibilities of a tender maiden. As for your right to do what you did, I invited it -- I even welcomed it. Spock, don't you see," and I finally rested a tentative hand on his sleeve. "Whatever she did to you, this nameless female, does not mean that you've no right to seek another." Suddenly my sensitivity was back and working at full capacity. "Or that another would fail to respond to you simply because she did. Please don't let it stand between us. We have much to offer each other, you and I."
He did not reply for a time, then at last he turned back to me. Something dark had cleared from his face, but he did not offer to touch me again.
"As Vulcan's representative I must attend a musicale at the Kalarian embassy tonight," he said without preamble. "Stefan, I would be honored if you would accompany me."
This was more than I had hoped for and I nodded silently, too filled with a sense of relief to speak.
He gave me that unswerving look that I'd come to know so well, the look by which he took a person's measure. Apparently he was convinced of my honest interest and he seemed to relax. I saw the ghost of a smile play around his mouth.
"I have seen the place where you work," he told me. "Now would you like to see mine?"
Together we walked down the quiet side streets that led to the Federation Educational Complex. My people, though not yet members of the Federation, were on good terms with the organization. The Center had been established two years previously in an effort to speed our decision to join the union of planets.
The Federation furnished us with the latest materials and the finest of instructors, and that was why Spock was here, he told me. With the Enterprise in our quadrant at the time the original instructor was taken ill, he was an ideal choice for replacement, holding an A-7 rating and a solid background on the J-23 computer that was the basis of the symposium.
I parted from Spock outside the complex's main auditorium after agreeing to be ready for the musicale by eight. Then I slipped unnoticed into the back of the auditorium to watch his opening lecture of the day.
As the lights dimmed and Spock began his talks I was conscious that here was an entirely different man from the one I had just spent a few hours with. He was distant, precise without being pedantic, and I saw little of the humor he had shown me. In fact he seemed cold, and a strict disciplinarian. These people were here to learn and he had no patience with slackers. I decided that I would not want to be a student who caught his attention unfavorably.
And yet, he had a way of engrossing his pupils through his sheer knowledge of the course, of making the dullest schematic seem worthwhile. I sat, entranced, and listened to the sound of his voice for almost two hours.
At the end of that time they threw the lecture open for questions and I quietly left the hall. I walked back to my studio musing over the metamorphosis of which Spock was capable. All of us are many people crowded into one skin and Spock was no exception. In fact I suspected that due to his mixed ancestry, he was often so many different people that he had difficulty sorting them out.
And now some other, some unknown factor was working in him. Something that had complicated his life, made him even less sure of his identity.
I wondered if I would ever know what had touched him so profoundly. And hard on the heels of that thought came the question -- was there any way I could help him master it?
* * *
Spock called for me at a quarter past seven. I had spent the early evening examining my meager wardrobe in search of a gown that was suitable. At last I had chosen the full-length Vermese velvet, a gown the color of mulled wine that went well with my dark eyes and creamy skin. Anticipation had given my cheeks an uncharacteristically high color and I was not displeased with the effect.
When I opened the door to greet him I was momentarily at a loss for words. Spock was an attractive male, filled with the lean, dark good looks that haunt romantic tales. He possessed an infinite amount of pure physical appeal for someone like myself, but I was not prepared for him as he was, resplendent and beautiful in the pale blue dress uniform of his service.
I think we were both a little in awe of each other for our trip to the embassy was unusually silent.
My unease vanished slowly as we mingled with the small, intimate crowd in the foyer. Spock seemed to draw his tension inward until abruptly it vanished. Yet he did not appear to relax and I knew he did not enjoy social functions.
The Kalarians were new to our planet. They had established diplomatic relations with the Federation and through them had begun to trade with our people. They were an open, honest friendly race and were respected by everyone, even the reticent Vulcans.
And there were other Vulcans at the embassy, I found. I saw two or three of them stationed about the room as the program began. None of them reminded me of Spock -- to my eyes he was far more handsome. I wondered if he was acquainted with any of them.
The evening was long, and although I appreciate good music -- and the Kalarians are past masters in the matters of tonal artistry -- I found myself glad to see it end. I had put in several strenuous weeks on the exhibition and my strength had been taxed.
Perhaps that is why my usual awareness failed me, why I was not cognizant of tensions as I guided Spock to the refreshment table. Several Arcanians were gathered around it and they parted, wordlessly, to let us through. I felt hostility in some of them and saw the closed, guarded looks they exchanged.
It was perfectly proper to have a Vulcan expert teaching at the symposium, after all they were noted logicians and mathematicians, but it seemed to be quite unacceptable to have one escort an Arcanian woman for an evening. However, they had the courtesy to hold their tongues. In fact it was their silence that embarrassed me and I hoped that Spock did not find them rude.
I accepted a glass of the heady Kalarian wine. Spock declined to take anything and we made our way into the adjoining drawing room. The few people who were there had already gathered in small groups and as we walked in I saw that the Vulcans were standing alone, distant and observant, near the door.
One of them, a man much younger than Spock, a boy really, broke away when he saw us and came to stand before us. After a moment, during which I realized Spock was waiting for some form of greeting, the youngster's right hand was raised, fingers paired, and he said, "Live long and prosper, Spock."
Some of the tension flowed out of my companion as he returned the salutation.
"Live long and prosper, Sardec." His eyes and manner were very grave, unusually restrained.
"I just arrived from Vulcan today," Sardec told him. "Your father, the Ambassador, expects to be here by the end of the week."
Spock merely nodded and I had the impression that he was aware of his father's plans, yet he had the good manners not to say so.
Sardec began to make Vulcan small talk which seemed to consist largely of discussing relatives. I found the complicated genealogy too confusing to follow and I let my attention wander.
"T'Pring and my cousin Stonn are married now, Spock," he was saying and suddenly my mind came back to him with sharp focus. There was a subtle alteration in Spock's manner as Sardec mentioned the names and keyed as I was to his nature the change did not escape me.
"A good match, I would say." Sardec's eyes were alive, baiting Spock on some unrevealed level. Spock made no reply and the youngster grew bold in his silence. "I never held you in awe like the rest of them," he said. "I was glad to see her choose another."
Spock made a movement as if to turn away. For some unexplained reason I was suddenly terrified, an icy fist had closed around my heart. Sardec was treading dangerous ground, if only he had the sense to realize it.
Encouraged by Spock's silence, the young Vulcan pressed his advantage, blocked Spock's intended retreat.
"Ever since I was a child," he said clearly, "I have had to listen to tales about you. I would have thought by now you would have learned it does not pay to flaunt your alien blood. What was it I heard she said to you? -- 'You have become much known among our people, Spock, almost a legend' -- Perhaps it was not the legendary side of you she disliked, Spock. I can see she had grounds for doubting your racial loyalty." And his glance came sideways to rest on me, the human female who had been chosen to accompany Spock.
My knees were trembling now, I was so upset, alarmed for what Spock might do. His face had gone pale, the corners of his mouth etched with deep lines as he fought for control. At that moment Sardec was close to destruction.
He was stronger than I knew, this man at my side, capable of controlling where a normal Vulcan could not. Perhaps the long years had taught him that.
"Sardec," he said and his voice was very deep, very resonant, the rumble of warning in it. "Perhaps I am only half Vulcan, but even I have enough respect for my elders to avoid offending them. I suggest you leave insults to those who are capable of backing them or else accept the consequences -- and may I remind you that a hybrid is generally much stronger than a purebred Vulcan?"
Sardec paled. He, too, had heard the rumors, the stories of Spock's phenomenal capabilities. It is one thing to bait a legend, safe from retribution; it is quite another to face the fury of one. He stepped back, ducking his head in confusion and we turned to leave the embassy.
"Sardec is so young, so foolish," I heard someone murmur as we left. "He has yet to learn that the embers that are slow to smoulder may conceal the hottest flame.
* * *
"How could they dare?" I fumed as I paced. "We are adults, free to choose our own companions. Our friendship harms no one."
He got up from where he had been sitting on my couch and came to stand near me. "My people," he said slowly and deliberately, "are not known for their tolerance of other races, despite their logical minds. Other individuals have discovered this in the past."
"But my people were rude to you. Not one of them spoke to you. You represent all of Vulcan. How could they be so uncivilized?"
I could not bring myself to mention Sardec's baiting of him -- it was too painful even in retrospect. I thought of the look on his face when the Vulcan cast his slur and my heart twisted in my breast.
I could not stand the thought of his being hurt, knowing as I now did how vulnerable he was in regard to his ancestry. The memory would not ease and without warning a tear spilled over my lid, was followed immediately by another. "Spock," I said, thick wool choking my throat, " regret..." and turned away, ashamed to have him, a man of admirable control, see me lose my own.
There was a tentative touch on my shoulder, then a strong arm slid around me, turned me back to face him. I stood, struggling to stop the tears, and afraid to say anything for fear he would retreat.
I could hardly believe it when his other arm came up and suddenly he was holding me against his chest. If he could not understand the reason for my tears, he understood that his compassion would mean a great deal to me just then. I rested there, the reassuring feel of his solidity lending warmth and comfort to me.
"I'm sorry to inflict my tears on you," I said, muffled against the soft silk tunic. "I know you must find them distasteful."
"You have had a strenuous day, following a strenuous week," he soothed. "And after all, you are not Vulcan."
I moved my head to look up at him. There was something in his tone that implied he was not displeased with my lack of Vulcan heritage. Suddenly the differences between us were a source of pleasure to me, and I was wild to explore them to their fullest.
"No," I said, looking into the shadowed depths of his eyes, seeing my reflection there, imprisoned as if it belonged to him for all time. "No -- *I am not Vulcan*."
His pupils flared, my mirror image there was swallowed in their blackness. His head bent to me and slowly, tentatively, I felt his lips touch mine.
There was a moment of hesitation as if he would withdraw, but I was human and accustomed to kissing and he was, after all, only half Vulcan. I think he sensed it was time he learned about the other side of his heritage. His mouth closed firmly on mine and I felt the warm pulse beat under its softness.
My lips parted, welcoming, inviting. My legs were suddenly useless and I pressed against him, savoring the lean, hard feel of him, discovering that we fit together as if made for each other.
My eyes had remained open and for a time, so had his. Now, he closed them as if he felt the same sweet pain as I. His arms held me closer as if trying to melt the two of us together. His body stirred and the sensation brought me added joy; he needed me as much as I wanted him. I clung to him, wanting him so badly that it became a deep, physical ache.
I think that he was surprised by his own reaction, was perhaps unconsciously studying this unfamiliar side of himself. Yet it did not trouble ms. There were three of us in my studio at that moment, but I could love both halves of him. I would heal the schism in him, make him whole.
No need to be Vulcan with me, or fear to be human. It made little difference to me. I loved him for what he was -- a strong, cultured, learned man who had the mind of a computer and the soul of a poet. A being who listened to the rigidly patterned song of components by day but who was occasionally troubled by the haunting melody of freedom in his sleep. A freedom he had never known, the freedom to be only himself -- the unique creation of Spock -- just as he was, not as he thought he must be.
I wanted to give him that freedom. And I knew that to grant him that boon I must take care not to entrap him in another kind of prison -- the prison of obligation, of responsibility, to me.
For just as Spock was a creature that was not meant to be bound to a woman, I was not created to be possessed by a man. Each of us had a life to live, careers to pursue, apart, unfettered, and I had no desire to change that. But what we could share for a time might be the sweetest moments either of us would ever know.
I drew him to the sleeping couch, pulled him down with me, but there my control over the situation was usurped. A knowledgeable and ancient need had taken hold of him and it was he who undressed me with fingers that were sure and gentle, soft on my body and warm against my skin.
The difference in our bodies as Vulcan and human were not as important now as the differences of male and female. There was still the timeless female portal, the well of my more passionate being, and his marvelous implement for unlocking that pleasure.
It seemed for awhile that I contained all that he was, all his future, everything of his past. He was as lost as I in the moment, in that pleasurable destroyer of time when clocks stand still. It was a moment when I could grant him the gift of myself, could surround him with my love. And a time when he could fill me with the essence of his being -- the caring, the passion -- and wash away the unhappiness of the past, give life to hope for the future.
I had known men before. Lovers who had shared my couch for a week, a month. Yet I found something in Spock I had never known. We shared a basic quality, something that went beyond the physical appeal. There was a kinship in our understanding of others that brought us infinitely closer than most couples. With other men there had always been a part of me unfulfilled, untouched. With Spock I was involved, mind and body. Every tissue, every pore seemed to be pervaded by his passion.
Out of control, I threshed my head on the pillow, my hands kneading at his back, urging. As we moved in erotic simultaneity, we reached the unbelievable explosive summit of our ardor and I felt the release of our joy mingle inside me.
He rested over me, his cheek against mine, his breathing slowing to normal. Inside, I felt the throb of his sex as his seed continued to rush into me. Some part of me opened to welcome it, flower petals released by the warmth of the sun.
Later, as we prolonged our love-play -- that post fervor time when there is no pressing need for haste -- he explored my body with sensitive hands, fired it with the touch of warm lips. And I did the same for him. He was a beautiful creature to me. My sculptor's hands memorized every detail of his finely chiseled face, the strong neck with its prominent veins, the chest with its intriguing mat of crisply curling hair. I traced the hirsute line down across his concave belly to other, more easily stirred, parts. And once there, at the root of my pleasure I was not shy about caressing them either. His own respiration had become ragged as my fondling grew more intimate.
We joined once again, a joyous, perfect union. He was whole at that moment -- not part Vulcan, not part human, merely Spock. And I was the perfect mate for him, we were matched by our tempestuous natures.
He teased me a bit, later. Lying side by side with me, this man who avoided physical contact in normal life could not seem to touch me often enough.
"Does that bother you when I do this?" he asked with disarming innocence, his fingers endearing themselves to me.
"You know it does," I replied, my eyes closed in the ecstasy of the sensations. "How does it make you feel?"
His answer was a throaty chuckle as we moved to each other once more.
* * *
That night I learned some of what had happened at the place of kali fee. Not all of it. He would never be able to talk of all of it. But beneath the few, sparse words, I gathered the truth of T'Pring's traitorous act and what it had done to him. His pride had been shaken, his identity once again questioned. And an old wound -- the refusal of some Vulcans to accept him -- reopened. It was one of the reasons he had chosen to devote his talents to a Federation Star Ship and take the risk of engaging in war rather than serve his homeland. It had been a satisfactory, if not totally willing, choice. Now his adopted life had been rudely altered. He might never again regain even the partial measure of peace he had won unless he could finally function as a complete male.
T'Pring had robbed him of this assurance, had increased the division in his soul. He was half a man, half a Vulcan, to her. Not really a total entity and certainly not what she wanted in her bed.
The effect of this on a person like Spock was devastating. He lost much of his sense of self-worth at the place of challenge.
His ability to have relations with me, outside of the crisis period of his pon farr, must have been a revelation to him. His human half exerted a dominance and the power of that drive must have been awesome to one so accustomed to denying emotions. More importantly, he found he could give pleasure, and T'Pring's rejection became a pale ghost beside that knowledge. Give pleasure and experience it, too, for he had enjoyed the evening. Oh, how he had enjoyed it! I was filled and suffused with his joy!
I think Spock took the first steps toward his healing that night.
* * *
We saw each other nearly every day after that The symposium had only a few days left to run and we were caught in the hot winds of passion that drive lovers like leaves before a storm. We seldom thought to eat, scarcely bothered to sleep. Our free hours were spent in the closed, quiet sanctuary of my studio where we could talk solemnly about the universe's problems, or as Spock's mental attitude began to improve, humorously, about Sardec's hasty retreat at the embassy that night. And we made love as often as he wished it. Occasionally I was roused from exhausted slumber by his needs, but I turned to him gladly, for the renewed ardor was a sign that he was mending and I was happy for him. I revealed in the vert-tinted skin of him, the elegant ears, the dark velvet eyes of him. I grew to love the feel of the length of his lean body, its tensed hardness pressed to me. His presence -- touching, covering, or just being near -- gave us pleasure.
Now there was no reluctance on his part, no detached observation, no pain at the arousal and no shame over the slaking of it. He was as he must have been before the kali fee, before the burning slap of refusal T'Pring had hurled in his face.
I had known he was a sophisticated man, exposed as he'd been to Star Fleet life and other worlds. How he proved it. He had become the artist and I the clay as he created infinite pleasure for us in a multitude of ways.
Occasionally I found him too Vulcan, too aroused, too close to the plak tow that can kill or consummate the pon farr. Then we must wait, my arms restraining him, my body soothing him, until it subsided, until we were able to complete the act, for at such times I found the differences in our bodies too great and we could not safely achieve union.
Frustrating as these times were they taught me his great tenderness for he had no desire to hurt me even in his fervor. And I knew then that his healing was nearly complete, for he could not bring himself to inflict pain on the female he had chosen.
* * *
Our time together had come dawn to a few last hours. The Enterprise would soon be in our quadrant once again and a shuttlecraft was scheduled to pick Spock up. One last time we made love in the garnet glow of my studio. I forced my mind away from the thought of the dwindling hours and Spock was far too practical to let regret interfere with the moment. Our joining was like all the times before, enjoyable and complete within itself. I felt a pang of bittersweet possessiveness towards him, but it soon passed. Our love was not the kind that gave labels nor endowed ownership, and that was one reason it had been so perfect.
Afterwards we walked through the early fall evening to the shuttlecraft landing site. Blue shadows wound beneath the trees and an autumnal haze hovered over the nearby river. It was a time for endings -- a time for new beginnings. There was a fitness about our parting as in all our relationship. I did not want him to go, but he would, and I accepted it as I had accepted our meeting. There is logical order and a proper time for all events.
Spock carried with him a small, flat package. He had brought it with him to my studio and I suspected that it was a gift for me. Why he had chosen to bring it with him to a more public place was not immediately evident to me.
Then I saw a small contingent of Vulcans gathered near the schuttlecraft pad. Most of them were students from the symposium and I saw a few of other races there also. There was no demonstrative motion from them. They had simply come to quietly wish him well. I saw none of my own people there, except for Mikos. As head of the gallery it was necessary for him to bid farewell to Vulcan's cultural advisor, politician to the end, he even managed a strained smile when Spock glanced in his direction.
I was startled to recognize Sardec among the group gathered to see Spock off. He was the last Vulcan I would have expected to pay respect to my companion. And then I realized he had come for a more personal reason.
The younger Vulcan came forward, eyes downcast. He appeared properly respectful but under his controlled demeanor I sensed his continued resentment of Spock. He paused directly before us and without salutation began to speak.
"I have heard from Vulcan." His voice was low-pitched, strained. "The time of closure ended for Stonn and T'Pring two weeks ago," he said. "There was great rejoicing for test showed she carried my cousin's child." Spock waited, still as jade. Sardec raised his eyes and I was struck by the agony in them, the brimming pain.
"It was a tubal pregnancy -- the embryo was surgically destroyed this morning to spare her life."
I glanced quickly at Spock. His head had bowed a trifle. What must he be thinking now, I wondered? The child should have been his. It would have been his seed ripped so rudely from its mother's body.
Then, overwhelmingly, I realized the greater implications of the event; a child lost on Vulcan was lost to all of them, a precious commodity not easily replaced. Had Spock come far enough from the pain of the kali fee to acknowledge it?
He was of noble stature, this man I had chosen to love, and of great heart. He was more Vulcan at that moment than I had ever seen him.
"I mourn with you over our loss," he told Sardec gently. "Tell T'Pring ... tell T'Pring..."
There were others present too close for him to speak freely. One hand came up blindly and touched Sardec's face lightly, fingers splayed. I stood fascinated -- this was the famous mind touch telepathy I had heard about. Sardec's eyes grew unfocused briefly and then as Spock's hand was removed, returned to normal. The younger Vulcan nodded wordlessly. He hesitated as if about to speak, his face had altered subtly. He no longer seamed so antagonistic toward Spock. Then he turned and went back to join the others.
We moved nearer the ship. "What did you say to him?" I asked quietly as we retreated from the group. I had no right to ask, he had no obligation to answer, yet we had come so far together that he told me.
"I told him to tell T'Pring I grieve for her, and that I have learned that one cannot live with regret for the past, only with hope for the future," he said.
It was a melancholy moment, but underneath it all my heart was glad. Spock had finally laid to rest the ghost of the kali fee.
We paused just outside the ship. Everyone was waiting silently, eyes on the two of us, for Spock to leave. He handed me the package and I knew then that he had intended all along for the Vulcans to see him give it to me. It made up for Sardec's rudeness to me at the embassy, and I believe there was a symbolic acknowledgment of his human half in the act.
I unfolded the package and the soft silken length of a shasheen glimmered at me. My fingers caressed the fragile beauty as I groped to speak around the sudden constriction in my throat. My feelings nearly betrayed me. I knew, as I had known for some time, that there would never be another like Spock, that perhaps never again would I be as close to another living being as I had been to this dark-eyed man. But I could not undo the work of healing that had been accomplished. I managed an unsteady reply as I looked up at him with blurring vision.
"Thank you, Spock. It's a lovely gift."
"You have done much for me." He seemed to want to acknowledge the debt.
"And you for me. Not every woman has had the privilege of loving a legend." I spoke the word deliberately and when he did not flinch, I smiled. Slowly I saw an answering gleam in his eyes.
"What you say is true. I shall endeavor to remember it."
"Do. It will help keep the memory of me alive." His face altered. I saw tenderness there, and a small sadness.
"Your memory will always remain alive for me, Stefan," he said. "May your memories of me keep you as warm as the shasheen."
"I've no fear about that, they will keep me snug against our long Arcanian winter -- and it isn't far away."
He lifted his head and looked about. The season's change was touching the land, but he had not noticed it until now. He nodded.
I had reserved the best news for last, now I was anxious to share it with him. "Yes, our Arcanian year is ending," I told him. "All elections must take place at this time. The guild has proposed my name as Mikos' opponent."
Pleasure touched his face briefly. "You will be elected," he said firmly.
Then it was time for him to leave and he gave me only a formal Vulcan salute. But underneath the upraised hand his level gaze spoke a hundred unvoiced words. I smiled gently back at him, he turned, walked up the shuttlecraft ramp and out of my life.
We watched the ship leave, myself, Mikos, and the distant group of students. None of us said anything as the ship lifted off and vanished. The Vulcans left as soon as it was gone. I turned and found Mikos' angry gaze on me.
"How did it feel to love a half-breed?" he asked rudely.
I looked at him and I could almost pity him with his closed mind and bitter prejudices. The warmth of his soul was squeezed off into a tiny frozen part of his brain. He would never even understand how envious he should be of someone like Spock, a man who carried the burden of his painful heritage like a banner and who was forced to exceptional deeds because of it.
"Mikos," I said patiently. "It would be useless to explain such a thing to someone like you." And I turned and walked away from him and the landing site.
Mikos, Sardec, and the others could not touch me for I knew that Spock no longer looked on his human half with such shame. It was a thought I would treasure along with the shasheen.
My pace increased. Ahead lay the guild elections, a possible defeat for Mikos and all he stood for. And I had plans for a new holoplasm sculpture, that of a proud, dark-eyed man whose heart rested in two worlds but whose mind reached for the stars. I could not wait to begin the new year.