NOTE: Star Trek is the property of Paramount and Viacom. This is a work of non-profit fan fiction and no copyright infringement is intended. This story is copyright © 1976 by Johanna Cantor and may not be used elsewhere, distributed, or linked to without my consent. Originally published in R&R #6, 7 and 8.



Images of Flame

Johanna Cantor



(To Jean, who challenged)

Part One

"Excellent, Captain," Spock approved, taking the invalid's arm in a firm grasp. Kirk glared, fighting for breath, and held himself rigidly up as Spock tried to push him against the pillow.

"Excellent!" he echoed bitterly. "Damn it, I'm weak as a kitten!"

A smile gleamed deep in Spock's eyes. "At this time yesterday you were still on the respirator," he pointed out.

Kirk snorted, but lay back, mollified. It was true, he was progressing. But it was going to be a long road back. Damn that engineer. Damn Scotty for trying to pull a newly bereaved man out of despondency by putting him back to work. And above all, damn the fragility of the human frame. It would be weeks before he was fit. Damn!

Guessing with fair accuracy the thoughts running through the other's head, Spock left his captain alone, merely inventing small tasks to keep himself busy, while near at hand. He checked the panel. How many times had he checked it during these days? A hundred? Five hundred? Even the Vulcan did not know. Again, he checked the readings. Not normal, not yet. But unquestionably better. He felt a threatening sting behind his eyelids and paused for a moment to reestablish his composure.

"Spock."

"Yes, sir?"

"Get some rest."

"With your permission, Captain, I--"

"Denied. Have you slept at all since the accident?" Spock thought it over. "Never mind. You are hereby relieved of duty for 72 hours. You will, of course, transfer command before you retire. And Spock."

"Yes, sir?"

"I don't want to see your face down here, either."

Spock studied his captain gravely and Kirk grinned up at him. And then, because it seemed vital that there be no misunderstanding, Kirk made himself go on. "You've been on the Bridge or down here since the accident. I know that. Even when I didn't know anything else, I knew you were here. Taking care of my ship. And taking care of me."

Spock looked away and Kirk, his color rather heightened, hardened his voice. "So now go rest. The mission's routine. And I'm fine. Understood?"

"Understood," Spock acknowledged reluctantly. He hesitated a moment longer, but then he turned and left. Kirk waited until the door activated. Then he lay back and closed his eyes.

Spock stood outside the closed door feeling at curiously loose ends. But there was still a duty to perform. He moved to Chapel's carrel, so silently she didn't look up from the tape she was reading. Spock studied it over her shoulder. Mere routine. So he touched her arm lightly and looked down at her, waiting. And what he waited for came: her smile as she looked up and recognized him. He had seen that smile often in these difficult days. Chapel had never given up. Even when Vulcan logic had indicated the preparation of the mind for loss, the nurse had refused to despair. That smile had sustained him then, Spock thought, and it comforted him now. Comforted him? Startled,he reined in his thoughts. He must be tired. "The captain has sent me away," he said aloud. "Will you go to him?"

"Yes, of course. That sounds like a good sign."

Spock gazed after her for a moment. Then he sat down at her desk to order coverage.

"Hi, Spock. Hey, what's the matter?"

Spock looked up from his task, eyebrow in alt. "Matter, Doctor?" he repeated coldly.

McCoy sighed elaborately. "Why are you sitting there looking licked to a splinter?"

Spock frowned his disapproval of this hyperbole. "Really, Doctor--" A hand dropped on his shoulder.

"Never mind. How's Jim?"

"Respiration 12, pulse--"

"Good Lord, man! I know the readings! How's he?"

Spock paused, confused. Then both men turned as Chapel reentered the room, carrying a bottle of sparkling blue liquid triumphantly aloft. She cleared her desk with a gesture that sent tapes flying, set the bottle down carefully, and whirled to get three glasses. Spock stared at the doctor and was relieved to see a wink before the doctor stiffened into formal solemnity, and bent to open the bottle with the dignity of a maitre d'. "Report, Nurse. What's the occasion?"

Chapel came to attention. "It is my duty to tell you, Doctor, that the patient refused the nourishment you ordered."

"Wouldn't drink his Fortified, eh?"

"He told me to take that pap away and bring him a cheeseburger!"

McCoy's face quivered, and Spock looked away quickly, more confused than ever. A glass was pressed into his hand. He looked down at it, then at Chapel, who stood radiating joy and triumph. She lifted her glass. "To health!"

"To health!" McCoy echoed and drank. Spock took, a cautious sniff, and sneezed. The humans laughed at him. Then, with no warning, Chapel burst into tears.

Spock took a quick step forward, then a step backward, feeling as though something had suddenly altered his center of gravity. But blessedly, McCoy was there, holding the woman, murmuring soothingly. Over her bent head he smiled at Spock. "It's an excellent sign, Spock. Jim's going to be all right."

Spock sat down.

* * *

"All the same," McCoy was arguing owlishly, "we're not out of the woods yet."

Spock studied the doctor. Long experience told him that the human was engaged in that human necessity, "unwinding." Chapel had called a relief and retired, presumably unwound, some time previously. The doctor, the bottle, and consequently, Spock, had remained at her carrel.

The bottle. With such an irregular form it was impossible to be accurate without measuring. However, estimating plastic of a half cm thickness, the doctor had ingested perhaps a deciliter; Spock did not know the alcoholic content of luria, but even estimating 40 per cent (surely unlikely in a fermented mixture), at a body weight of - estimate 60 kilos -- the doctor should not be inebriated. Probably it was simply cumulative fatigue, and the relief of anxiety.

"You know that, Spock," Dr. McCoy was insisting. "Jim'll be back on his feet in a week, but it'll be a couple of weeks before he's well. He won't be fit to command, and you know as well as I do what that means. He'll stay off the Bridge so's not to interfere with ship's efficiency, but he'll prowl, and fret--"

"Shore leave?"

"In this sector? All the Class M planets are off limits. And he won't stand for interrupting the mission to take him anywhere. You know that."

"Yes. But we could swing back to the K 201 system with no great loss of efficiency."

"K 201?" McCoy frowned, then his face lit up. "Your parents!"

"Precisely, Doctor."

McCoy shook his head. "It's a good idea, Spock, but it won't work. I looked it up when we took them to the post. They're okay because the governing caste knows that the Emma Flanery landed there, long before the Prime Directive was adopted. But that knowledge was never made known to the other castes. Their position as cultural observers depends on the strictest precautions. You couldn't even contact them to tell them--"

"Contact would not be necessary, Doctor."

"You can't just send an invalid--"

"Of course not. But I could take him there. I am not considering the capital, Doctor, of course. But my parents have a weekend residence. It is a modern house, built to my father's specifications by the First Pentagon. In a secluded canyon, Doctor, both camouflaged and force shielded. The captain would be quite comfortable there. He could walk, exercise, be away from the ship -- regain his strength -- and never be seen by the native population."

"Well, Spock, it does sound good. You can enter?"

"Yes. I have the coordinates and the location of the field control."

"That's right. You were scheduled for leave, weren't you, when the captain got hurt? I'd forgotten. You could take your leave now, visit your parents, and take Jim with you. It's a routine mission. We could drop you off, pick you up in a couple of weeks -- it's ideal, Spock."

Spock nodded. "I will make the necessary arrangements when you determine the captain is fit to leave Sickbay. And now if you are ready, Doctor McCoy, I will accompany you to your quarters."

* * *

"It's just ahead, Captain."

"I'm all right, Mr. Spock. I could even have carried my pack."

Spock studied him, half inclined to call another rest period. Kirk turned on his heel, leading the way down the graded path, forcing Spock to move quickly to catch up with him.

"I must admit I wouldn't care to walk out," Kirk offered an olive branch.

"It would be a steep climb," Spock accepted it. "There it is."

"It's lovely," Kirk said. Spock sighed slightly, and his captain smiled at his relief. "I've always admired Vulcan architecture. And this looks just like a trn."

"I hope you will be comfortable here."

"I know I will be. I just hope it's not an imposition."

"Jim," Spock reproached. "You know--"

"Yes, all right. Only I wish we'd been able to warn them."

"I am only sorry that the skimmer was not at the hangar. I assure you, when they find you here, they will be honored. Come."

Kirk smiled and followed Spock into the house. Spock saw him to a comfortable chair and activated a server. "Rombouton?"

"Sure."

Spock carried the glass to his captain, then walked over to the message desk. "Yes, here is the message I sent from the canyon mouth," he said. "They have not been back here."

"There's no line to the city?"

"There is one, but caution must be observed. There are many Whites moving up in communications technology."

"Whites," Kirk mused. "Amazing that such a rigid caste structure should persist into a Level K technology."

"There are many changes occurring, of course, with increasing rapidity."

"I'm glad your parents are observing. I'll be very interested in their reports."

"I, too. Would you care to become familiar with the house before you rest?"

"I've been resting," Kirk pointed out. "But such tact deserves a reward. I do want to look around a bit, but then I will take a rest period. So you can lower that eyebrow."

Spock complied.

Kirk settled into bed luxuriously. A large window overlooked the courtyard; beyond the courtyard must lie a garden. "I'll explore that tomorrow," he thought drowsily.

It was dark when a soft rap on the door awakened him. "Come," he called and stretched. Then he saw who had come in and struggled out of bed. "Amanda!"

She came to him joyfully and gave him a hard hug. "Jim, it is so good to see you!" she exclaimed. "Now let me look at you. How do you feel, dear?"

"I'm not right yet," he told her honestly. "But I'm getting stronger all the time."

"That's good. Oh, Jim, I'm so sorry you had to walk in. If only we'd known!"

"Don't feel bad, Amanda. It did me good. Hey! Let me look at you!"

"Oh, don't. I always feel like a Raggedy Ann. But we brought the skimmer directly so I'm still in court attire."

"Wow! Cauliflower ears, face paint, red hair and brows--"

"Well, you saw the ears, of course. Leonard did them. The rest is cosmetics. We change colors according to what we're attending."

"Any trouble?"

"None. Of course, most of what we need to observe takes place in the Red caste and they already know about us. Sarek has to be pretty careful about other caste functions -- the Chinkwians are red blooded. Oh, Lord, Jim, if you think I'm a sight, wait until you see Sarek! What we don't do in the name of the Prime Directive. Brr!" She gave a mock shudder, then took his hand. "Do you feel up to coming to dinner? Or would you rather have a tray here?"

"Of course I'll come down."

Sarek was waiting at the foot of the table. Kirk stood respectfully (carefully not studying the ears) while Sarek welcomed him formally to his house and table, then realized a hand was being held out to him. He took it hastily, looking up at the Vulcan in pleased surprise. "You are most welcome," Sarek repeated in Terran. "Will you sit down?" Kirk sat. Across from him, Spock was nodding gravely. His face was expressionless, but Kirk knew the nod repeated the welcome. Tears stung his eyes; hastily, he threw Amanda a gay compliment.

There was so much to talk about. Sarek and Amanda had to be told about the accident. And Sarek had a computer modification to suggest. An excellent idea, Kirk thought. Would the Ambassador dictate a tape? He would be honored. The Enterprise's mission was soon disposed of -- supplies and personnel to Ultra Four. Pure routine. Then Spock turned the conversation to the Chinkwian culture.

Kirk knew the outlines, of course. A civilization based on a class structure rigified by genetic and psychological manipulation, so strictly maintained that in over a century, only the Red caste had learned of the existence of aliens, and only the Reds and the Whites knew of the planet's progress toward its own space capacity. Efforts founded on the contributions of a whole population, destined never to know why they mined and refined and built, content in their task of serving the rulers. A society in which place was everything, even for the Green drones who performed the manual labor, but were gradually decreasing as their tasks were phased out by an advancing technology.

And now that same technology was forcing change -- requiring the programming of more intelligence in the Whites, Blues, and Blacks. Surely, Kirk exclaimed, it was only a matter of time before they moved toward equality, or at least a struggle for it.

That would be the human assumption, Amanda told him. But the programming was not to be underestimated. She had never seen the slightest indication that the Whites, Blues, and Blacks saw their new powers as anything but an increased scope for serving the Reds.

"Even in the face of rapid technological change," Sarek concurred, "this society is proving remarkably stable."

"Ugh!" Amanda said vigorously.

Sarek looked at her, concerned. "My wife--"

"Oh, we don't have to go over it again, Sarek. I wouldn't do anything to interfere, you know that. But it gives me the creeps."

"It does make one uncomfortable," Kirk sympathized. "Particularly the genetic programming. Everything seems laid out for everybody, right from the start."

"It is their way," Sarek responded. "The Chinkwians are aware of no loss of freedom. In fact, they are highly invested in stability. Without his own carefully delineated place, in his pentagon and in the larger society, an individual Chinkwian would be troubled by--"

"Worse than troubled," Amanda broke in. "Downright unstable. Like poor Tur. Even if I thought we had any right to introduce our values, he'd make me think twice."

"Tur, yes. Of the Fifth Pentagon," Sarek explained. "An unusually intelligent and aggressive individual, he holds a position analogous to a prime minister."

"But such a sad story," Amanda added. "Three of his pentagon were killed last year and the fourth is insane, probably permanently. I feel so sorry for him."

"The pentagon is a family group?"

"More or less. They're born together and programmed pretty much alike. They spend most of their time together, one way and another."

"What about Tur?"

"Well, that's a bit of a problem. We haven't gotten the full story. But I suspect there's a movement afoot to reproduce it. Tur's opposing that."

"He does not oppose it, my wife."

"Oh, not eventually. But from what Camil told me, Sarek, Tur is afraid that a new - whole -- Turn pentagon will be created and supplant him. He wants to wait until he's ready to retire."

"A matter of some thirty to fifty years. I see."

"Yes. There's been a lot of talk. Everyone feels sorry for Tur. But it's just plain awkward. Tur's odd man out in everything -- the religious gatherings, entertainments... Just today they had the annual presentation of the new pentagons. Everywhere you looked there were groups, Five, five, five, as far as you could see. Except to the right of the dais. One. I could have cried."

"I was afraid you were going to."

"Well, I noticed you got pretty stiff all of a sudden."

"Mm." Sarek looked down, obviously embarrassed.

"Hey, you know what I've always wondered?" Kirk changed the subject with more haste than grace. "How did you two meet?"

Sarek's eyebrows lifted, but Amanda rose to the bait. "Oh, it was so romantic," she said soulfully. "There we were, all alone, on a deserted planet--"

"K 119-4 was hardly deserted, my wife."

"K 119-4? Tenedos?!" Kirk yelped in mock dismay.

"The backwater of the galaxy," Amanda agreed. "A plague almost wiped out the aborigines. Nearly a third of the adolescent children died. Sarek was part of the team the Federation sent."

"And you?"

"Why, my father had been a cultural observer on Tenedos. Contact was made before the Prime Directive was adopted, you know, so they knew we were aliens. They came to revere my father, almost like a god."

"The aborigines had a profound mistrust of technology," Sarek took up the tale, "but a deep trust of Kalle Grayson. As Grayson's daughter, Amanda went with us to lend the team his credibility."

"I see," Kirk said hopefully. Then seeing they were not going to amplify, he changed the subject again. They talked far into the evening.

"Goodness!" Amanda exclaimed suddenly. "Look at the time!" They all rose quickly and Kirk reeled. His hands were gripped and Spock hurried around to take his arm, but he was already steadying himself.

"I'm sorry," he apologized. "I got so interested talking, I didn't realize I was tiring. "

"Foolish!" Sarek snapped. "You--"

"Sarek," Amanda said quietly. Then she pulled Kirk's arm through hers. "Come, Jim. I'll take you to your room."

Kirk walked with her, suddenly troubled. Surely it was unlike Sarek to snap so. Moreover, Amanda was constrained. In his room, he turned to her questioningly.

"Sit down, Jim," she said quietly, "and put your feet up. Do you feel well enough to chat for a few moments?"

"Of course. What's wrong, Amanda?"

"Nothing is wrong. But there is something you must understand."

"Sarek? Something is wrong! His heart?"

"Oh, no. He's had no trouble with that at all."

Kirk waited.

"Oh, the devil!" Amanda said suddenly. "I'm as tongue tied as any Vulcan. It's so stupid!"

"Take your time."

She smiled at him. "I don't know why I should be embarrassed. Just habit, I suppose. And you already know all about it, anyway. I -- Oh!" She was looking past Kirk, out the window. He turned and saw Sarek in the entrance to the garden, leaning against the gate. Kirk pulled himself to his feet.

"He is ill!"

"No, Jim. There's nothing we can do."

"But --"

"No. The only thing we can do is leave him alone and pretend not to -- Oh!"

Spock was walking toward his father. He paused at a respectful distance and spoke. Amanda caught her breath sharply. Turning to look at her, Kirk saw her hands were gripped tightly together. He turned back in time to see Sarek draw himself erect. He spoke, then again put out a hand to steady himself. Spock moved to his father's side and stood, waiting. After a moment Sarek took the proffered arm, and they walked together into the garden.

Amanda sighed in relief. Kirk turned back to her. "What is it, Amanda?"

"The pon farr," she said baldly.

Kirk was silent, surprised. Then the situation burst on him. "Good God! Of all the times for me to foist myself on you! Amanda, I'm so sorry. I'll call the Enterprise and--"

"No, Jim. He can't use the subspace unless there is danger, you know. He could signal, but even that would look unusual. And it would take at least ten days for the Enterprise to get the message, and another day for her to get here. By that time it will be over."

"But--"

"And there's another thing, Jim. He'd be very distressed if you were to feel unwelcome here. Quite aside from your friendship, you know the Vulcan code of hospitality. Why, Sarek would never hold up his head again.''

Kirk couldn't help grinning at her choice of words, but then he sobered. "Amanda, be frank with me. Wouldn't it be better for you if I left? If I can't get back to the ship, I could at least go camping -- stay out of your way."

"Oh, no, Jim. Please don't talk that way. Sarek couldn't possibly be tranquil, thinking he'd driven you out of the house. Please stay with us, for his sake. I know it won't always be comfortable. But you'll know to look the other way if he gets dizzy, and not notice if he's out of sorts, and--"

"Amanda, don't distress yourself like this. Of course I'll stay, if that's truly what's best."

Her face lightened. "Thank you, my dear friend. You do understand. That's the important thing. And his pride is tender just now."

"His pride. Yes. Vulcans! Is he in pain, Amanda?''

"He always says not. It's an increasing hormonal imbalance, you know. And sometimes a surge that makes him dizzy. And I think towards the end he does feel the stretching. But it is a natural process. It wouldn't bother him nearly so much if it didn't humiliate him so."

"Yes," Kirk said, remembering.

"They're so proud of their control. To lose that... And it's worse for Sarek, because of me."

"Oh, now--"

"It's true, Jim. Other Vulcans can at least tell themselves that the process will produce a child. And their wives can help them -- they know mind techniques that help their men remain calm. But poor Sarek--"

"You were his choice, Amanda. And in all the years I've known you, I've never seen any sign that he regretted it."

Amanda caught herself. "I'm sorry, Jim. I didn't mean to drop my woes in your lap."

He smiled at her. "Look. They're coming back." He followed her to the window. "Sarek looks better."

"Maybe Spock can help him. It would be wonderful if he'd let him, instead of shutting himself off--"

Kirk turned to look, at her, troubled at her distress. Then an idea occurred to him. "You know what? I bet he's cold. I remember Spock admitting that the ability to control the metabolic rate is one of the first things to go. And the night temperature in this area only averages 12. Why don't you go down and build up that fire?"

* * *

Amanda fanned the coals and put another log on. It was a big one, so she used the phaser starter on it, smiling, as always, at the incongruity, then rose to meet the two men as the door activated.

Sarek was consciously controlling, but he did look calmer. Amanda smiled gratefully at Spock and turned to her husband. "It is cold tonight, my husband," she said. "Would you care to sit by the fire?"

He looked down at her and his set face relaxed a little. "That would be pleasant, my wife." Spock excused himself quickly. Amanda took Sarek's arm and pulled him over to the couch. The fire was burning brightly now, throwing the room into flickering highlights and shadows. Sarek blinked then sat down. Gently, Amanda encouraged him to stretch out and knelt beside him, stroking his forehead. He was tranquil; she was content.

Suddenly Sarek shifted uncomfortably. Amanda took his hand in hers. "Just let it happen, my husband," she spoke calmly. "There is nothing to be afraid of." Sarek did not reply, and she realized he was looking straight into the leaping flames. "No! No, my dear!" She shook him, then took his head, forcing him to look up at her. "Don't think of that! The flames cannot hurt you. The fire will not burn you. You will be with me. Remember that! You will be with me."

Sarek relaxed against her suddenly, and she fought to keep her balance. Then his arms were around her and he lay back, drawing her onto his chest. Amanda snuggled down, giving a little sigh of pleasure, then giggled as his torso muscles lifted her effortlessly.

"My wife?"

"Mhm?" He did not go on. "What is it?"

"Nothing."

"Tell me."

"Nothing! Talking changes nothing."

"Sarek, try not to mind it so much."

"You brought the equipment?"

"Yes. It's not necessary, but yes."

"You do not know--"

"Sh. Everything will be all right. You'll see."

"You always say that."

"And it's always true. Are you warm enough?"

"Yes." He sighed.

"Tired?"

"Yes."

"Then go to sleep."

"Here?"

"Of course. Why not?" She reached to brush his forehead with her fingers, then brought her hand down to shield his eyes. He sighed again, then he was asleep.

Gently Amanda turned his head away from the fire, then she turned to look into it. And remember...

* * *

Amanda Grayson again folded the final decree. But the form would not fold small enough to fit in her pocket, so she unfolded it, idly fingering the unfamiliar heavy paper. The antiquated legality merely documented the decree routinely granted weeks before. But it looked so damned official. Suitable for framing, she thought bitterly. So nice of the Government to give you a keepsake... The welling tears spilled over and she buried her face in her hands.

"Amanda!" Sarek halted in the doorway in astonishment. Then he hurried over to her. "Amanda, my colleague, what is it? Are you ill?"

Amanda shook her head violently, sobs breaking from her, longing to throw herself into her friend's arms. But it wouldn't be fair. Sarek was a Vulcan. And for that telepathic people, the display of emotion was not only unseemly, but actually distressing. She found her voice. "Sarek, would you please leave me alone and not let the others come in here for a few minutes?"

"Of course, my colleague." Sarek turned on his heel and was gone.

Abandoned, Amanda cried even harder. But as she sobbed her woe out, common sense reasserted itself. He only did what you asked. It's the Vulcan way. Gradually she grew calmer and finally groped for a handkerchief. Determined to stop, she dried her eyes and blew her nose. Her breath still caught a little, but she walked over to the server and programmed a cup of coffee. At the last minute, she ordered lighting. Charles liked his coffee black, so she'd taught herself to drink it that way. But she'd never liked it. And that part of her life was over now. "To hell with it!" she muttered defiantly.

"Amanda?"

Amanda took a deep breath, smiled, and turned. All three Vulcans stood in the doorway, grouped together for support, studying her anxiously. Amanda nearly giggled at their obvious apprehension, but at the same time she felt the comfort of their concern.

"Come in," she said. "I'm sorry. I--" The tears almost began again, but she fought them back. "I beg forgiveness," she said formally.

"Amanda, my colleague," T'Mel hesitated, then she came forward and reached for Amanda's hand. Surprised, Amanda let her take it, and the Vulcan woman held it as she might have held a small animal. "Amanda, we have noted and appreciated your determination to conform to our ways. But you are not a Vulcan, my colleague. If you are in grief, you must not try to hide it, for you can only contain it, not master it."

Amanda stared at her, too surprised to speak.

"Amanda, my colleague, " T'Mel went on, "is there any of the aborigines who could help you in your grief? Some friend among them?"

Even more astonished, Amanda shook her head.

"No?" T'Mel sighed. "We feared as much. We are not well equipped to care for humans, Amanda. But since there is no one of your kind on this planet who shares your thoughts, will you let us try to help you?"

"Why, T'Mel, I-- oh, damn!" Amanda was crying again. But T'Mel did not recoil. She took the smaller woman in her arms, holding her as Amanda had seen her hold her daughter. It was not a human embrace; it a ritual gesture, with the placement of each hand symbolizing care and comfort. Amanda wanted to throw her arms around the Vulcan and sob on her shoulder. Instead, she made herself concentrate on the couplets T'Mel was reciting, a comforting half-voiced murmur in her ear. ''Let my hand hold your heart as the hand of T'Klar held the heart of..." The names were indescribably ancient, but familiar to Amanda after her many hours of studying the magnificent Vulcan oral literature. The hand was nowhere near her heart, of course. But somehow that didn't matter.

"There, that is better, is it not?" Sel took her arm and she was escorted ceremonially to the arm chair, where Sarek held her coffee out to her. She sipped it slowly, letting its sweet strength combine with the sympathetic silence of her friends. Friendship. That was worth all the calf love in the galaxy.

"Ah, that is better," T'Mel said, watching the Earthwoman. Amanda smiled, and all three Vulcans nodded in satisfaction.

"Amanda," Sel said gravely. "My Terran references indicate that ventilation is not only necessary but therapeutic for humans in grief. May we know the cause of your unhappiness?"

"I don't--" Amanda began. Then she caught herself. Her Vulcan friends had gone well beyond duty and their own customs to reach out to her. She must not do anything they might interpret as a rebuff. "Oh, it's silly of me to be upset now," she began. "It was all over two years ago. I knew that and I thought I'd accepted it. But we never got around to the legalities until now. And somehow when the document printed out, I--"

Sarek stood abruptly and walked over to the message table, where the heavy paper lay so anachronistically among the tapes and printouts. He picked it up and read aloud, heedless of Amanda's inarticulate protest. "Certificate of Divorce..."

Amanda tuned out. Certificate of Failure. And I was so sure... Suddenly a loud ripping sound recalled her to the present. She turned just in time to see Sarek slam the paper fragments on the desk.

"I'll kill him!" he grated. "Only tell me where he is! I'll--"

"Sarek!" Sel barked. He strode over to the other man and grasped his shoulders. "You go beyond the permissible!"

Sarek focused on him, then seemed to shrink. "I beg forgiveness," he answered correctly. But anger still burned in his face.

T'Mel hurried to Sarek's side, putting her hand on his arm. Amanda stood, completely bewildered. But obviously it was necessary to calm Sarek.

"Sarek." She paused. How to explain? "Sarek, among Terrans, a divorce is not an insult. I know it doesn't exist on Vulcan. But on Earth it is very common. A marriage is a legal recognition that a relationship has been formed. A divorce is a legal recognition that it has ended. That's all."

Sarek did not respond, but some of the tension left his stance. Encouraged, Amanda walked toward him. "I thank you for your support. But it was all over years ago. My husband and I separated by mutual consent. A few weeks ago, he sent that he wished to be free to marry another woman. I consented readily. My tears today were -- oh, I don't even know. Perhaps just for an old dream."

She watched Sarek as she spoke, satisfied with the results of her words. Sel and T'Mel were releasing him now, their expressions unmistakably (however briefly) approving. Even relieved. They were worried about Sarek. They had been worried ever since his fiancee's death. And obviously, he was not himself. No doubt it was painful to a man whose own marriage plans had been so tragically altered to hear of the ending of another marriage, however different.

"Sarek," she continued, "there's a reply from Prof. Hirschfield Ka. He offers to review our data. Do you want to dictate a summary?"

"Of course." Sarek found the printout and sat down to read it. Sel and T'Mel left for the lab, and Amanda picked up her stylus, ready for work. The Vulcans maintained that she put their thoughts into much better English than they could manage. Amanda suspected this to be a polite fiction, but she'd never called them on it. Only an accident of birth had returned her to this planet, away from her career and her own people. But at least she could help. After all, a girl had to do something with her head and hands. She couldn't just perch on this planet being Kalle Grayson's daughter, pseudo angel to the aborigines. Amanda, white goddess, she thought, a smile tugging at her mouth. What would Daddy have said?

Sarek cleared his throat and Amanda straightened, stylus at the ready. But then he frowned and lowered his gaze to stare at his steepled fingers. Amanda suppressed a sigh. He'd obviously thought of some other factor and he would not begin dictating until he had the entire summary planned out. She laid her stylus neatly back and tried to assume a Vulcan patience.

The morning sun, which moved so rapidly across this small world, reached the window, highlighting Sarek's motionless figure. Amanda got up quickly to adjust the blind, tiptoeing so as not to break that concentration. She pulled the blind carefully, watching Sarek to determine the adjustment. Suddenly she saw a tiny pulse, still beating in his neck, and as she watched, he swallowed convulsively. The Vulcan was still upset! Concerned, Amanda returned to her seat, studying him. Sarek had grown visibly thinner since T'Peli's death -- a natural enough reaction she supposed. But today he seemed almost gaunt. Even his clasped hands were thin. Grief? But he had assured her -- they had all assured her -- that Vulcans could control grief. Meditation techniques, T'Mel had told her reassuringly. Amanda was certain that Sarek had had the time he required -- as Project secretary, she had guarded his afternoon break like a tigress. Illness? But Sel was a healer. And surely illness would not account for this sense of disquiet -- not in a Vulcan. Even the night of T'Peli's death, Amanda had been struck by Sarek's immediate, logical acceptance of what had happened. Where a human would have denied, or railed against the fate that had snatched his fiancee between one breath and the next, Sarek had only nodded, turning away so as not to distress her with his grief.

The lab's transporter bubble took shape in Amanda's imagination. They had begun to stow some of the supplies, she remembered, at first feeling no alarm. No doubt T'Peli was still talking to the freighter captain; he had been visibly drawn to the delicate woman. And Sarek had shown none of the territorial signals that a human male would have displayed; insofar as Amanda had discerned a reaction at all, she had seen only a quiet pride. Amanda remembered the tiny pang of envy she'd felt -- it seemed that Sarek could not even conceive of his fiancee's being attracted to another man. It was as though their promise had bound them forever, she thought, beyond all possibility of question or misunderstanding.

A sharp cry from Sarek had cut into her thoughts and she'd spun around in time to see him dive for the console and frantically signal the freighter. But that was ridiculous, she'd thought. The new 202 Transporter had a 98.9 safety record. That's what the technician had kept saying that day, the day of the memorial, every time they'd seen him. Amanda felt tears sting her eyes again, this time for her dear friend. She was one of the one percent. Just like me. And Sarek His fiancee dead between one moment and the next. Her brother and his wife, the only other Vulcans in the sector, still in orbit, unable to transport until the malfunction was corrected. Etched in her mind was a painful still-life; Sarek, standing alone in the window, staring unseeing at the desert night, breathing regularly in some sort of Vulcan discipline, controlled, unmoving -- except for the involuntary clenching and unclenching of his hands.

Finally she'd ventured to go over to him, to put a hand on his rigid shoulder, "Sarek, if there's anything I can do..."

"Please leave me alone," he had answered politely. Coming from a human, the words would have been part of a facade she'd have ignored without hesitation. But in a Vulcan, control was not something imposed. It was a vital part of the personality -- of the very being. She'd dropped her hand and left.

At dawn, when Sel and T'Mel had come down from the transporter bubble at a dead run, they'd found her asleep at the anteroom desk. They'd shaken her awake, demanding to be told she was all right. Even when reassured Amanda remembered, T'Mel had stayed with the shaky Earthwoman as Sel strode past them into the office. Sarek had turned, controlled but haggard, and stretched his palms out to the man who would have been his brother-in-law. Sel had returned the embrace, then he'd put one arm around Sarek, the other on his heart. Then T'Mel had shut the door.

Damn! Now she was crying again and her handkerchief was in her pocket. She tried to get it out unobtrusively, but Sarek looked up at just the wrong moment. Color flooded his face and he rose quickly. Then his face closed. "I will get T'Mel," he said and left. Amanda fled, damning all Vulcans.

Chagrined to the point of rage, she paced outside the room. Finally it occurred to her that she wasn't sure whom she was angrier at -- Sarek for his control, or herself for her lack of it. The thought made her smile, and her anger began to lift. I'm only human, after all, she thought and checked her chronometer. Almost noon. The Tenedons would be expecting her. Quickly she ran to her rooms to tidy up, then out the back way. She'd had quite enough of Vulcans. for one morning.

Her area today was the Tenedon encampment at the mouth of the large river. Group A. Amanda had turned her main job -- being visible -- into a data-gathering task. And Group A was of special interest, though of course only Amanda and the research team knew that. They were the experimental group. Every pubescent child within a day's journey had received a placebo injection. Group A had been given the project's first attempt at a vaccine. As she chatted, Amanda searched anxiously for early symptoms of the disease. Yesterday she'd had to log two more cases in Group E. But the A's were still symptom free. Amanda smiled, talked, admired a new baby, sampled a fresh batch of the vile local beer, and accepted an invitation to a wedding. Then, fingers crossed for luck, she started back to the trn. The Vulcans would chide her eagerness. "Only time will tell," they would say and, of course, they were right. But there had only been one light case in Group A since the vaccination. Surely that meant something. Her walk became a triumphal march.

"Amanda?"

"Hello, T'Mel. Came to walk me back?"

T'Mel relaxed. "Yes," she said. "Is the news still good?"

"Couldn't be better," Amanda said gaily. T'Mel smiled, but made no response. They walked companionably back toward the lab.

"Amanda, I wish to ask you a question which may be too personal. If I go beyond the permissible, may I be forgiven?"

"Of course, T'Mel." The Vulcans were still upset about her morning's performance, of course. Well, she'd try not to inflict it on them again.

"Is it that you have no husband now?"

Amanda looked at her in surprise. "I'm divorced, T'Mel. The decree was granted last month."

T'Mel shook her head, vexed with herself. "I used the wrong word," she apologized. "Is there -- a man for you? Someone--"

"Someone waiting? Nope, I'm footloose and fancy free."

"Footloose and fancy..." T'Mel's voice trailed off as she analyzed, then assimilated the archaic idiom. "Indeed."

Amanda sensed a slight withdrawal. "It's our way, T'Mel," she said reproachfully.

The Vulcan blinked. "I was not judging you, Amanda. Our ways are different, but that does not make them better."

"Vulcans mate for life, don't they?"

"Oh, yes."

"That sounds very secure." Amanda heard a note of wistfulness in her voice and caught herself. "But not very exciting."

T'Mel's eyebrows rose. "Do you mate for excitement?'' She shook her head as Amanda giggled. "My English seems to be deteriorating," she apologized.

"I know what you mean. No, I think people who marry are generally looking for a more lasting relationship."

"But from what you said to Sarek, marriage is only a legality."

"That's right. It doesn't mean a thing unless a couple wants to stay together. If they want to separate and apply for a divorce, it's granted automatically."

"But children--"

"Okay, then it's not so easy. The parents have to make arrangements for their care and there's compulsory child counseling. But in our case, there was no problem. We'd been separated for two years, so the decree was just a formality. What would you do, under Vulcan law, if you wanted to leave Sel?"

T'Mel stopped, thinking. Then she shook her head. "I cannot imagine wanting to leave Sel," she said simply. "Oh! Oh, Amanda, forgive me."

"It's all right." Amanda dried her eyes and tried to smile. T'Mel took her arm and seated her on the ground, kneeling beside her. "Are you very unhappy, my colleague?"

"No, not really." Amanda shook her head, angry at herself. "It's just -- I guess I'm just disappointed."

"Do you miss your husband?"

"No! And he's not my husband! I sent him packing two years ago. And if he were here today, I'd do it again!"

"He must have treated you very badly."

"He--!" Amanda caught herself. "Oh, well, there were faults on both sides. We were just wrong for each other. "

T'Mel sat down. "Do you want to talk about it?"

"Been reading Sel's references?" Amanda teased. "I guess I do, actually, if you don't mind."

T'Mel settled to listen. "You must have married very young," she said invitingly.

"Yes, that was part of it. And I felt so alone. Daddy had just been killed, you see."

"And you have no other family?"

"Only back on Earth. I haven't seen them in five years. And then Charles Tyndall came along. He was an older man -- like Daddy, I supposed. And I fell head over heels in love." She shook her head. "I was an idiot. I should have known, even then. We didn't have a thought in common. He didn't even like opera! But I thought he'd change, to please me. Only trouble is, he was expecting me to change to please him. Ha!" Amanda gave a bitter laugh.

T'Mel said nothing. She seemed puzzled.

"Well, things worked out after a fashion, for about six months. Then I found I was pregnant."

"I see...''

"I didn't want children, not yet -- I'd had that much sense left. And he'd told me I had nothing to worry about. 'I'll take the shots, sweetie, don't you bother.' Then when I got pregnant, he 'remembered' he hadn't taken them.. But it didn't bother him. 'It's just as well, honey, I'm not getting any younger, you know.' I was so mad! I decided to show him. And I did."

"You showed him?"

"I had an abortion."

"I see." T'Mel spoke a trifle faintly, but Amanda pressed on, unheeding.

"It's a completely safe procedure, of course. 96 per cent complication-free."

"Indeed."

"I'm one of the 4 percent."

"There were complications?"

"Yes. The odds are against my ever being able to conceive a child normally." T'Mel took a breath, but Amanda, now noticing her distress, hurried on. "That didn't matter so much. Though of course, there's a big difference between not wanting to have children and not being able to have them. But I couldn't forgive him for forging ahead on his own with that kind of decision. Soon we were fighting about everything from what to do with the malpractice claim down to who should dial dinner. So one day, I left him."

T'Mel was silent -- shocked, probably. Well, it wasn't very edifying.

Finally the Vulcan woman spoke. "How long were you married?"

"About eight months."

"I see." Silence fell again.

Amanda jumped up. "Come on. We'd better get back to the lab, or they'll get worried." She led the way up the path. T'Mel followed in silence. At the lab, she paused to speak. But Amanda forestalled her with a quick "thank you" and went to her carrel to log the morning's findings.

She did feel better, she discovered. Probably Sel's references were right. In any case, stating her formulation to a sympathetic friend seemed to have made it, finally, valid for her. That part of her life was truly over now. She would finish this project (and the continuing absence of symptoms in the experimental group had a lot to do with her lightened mood). Maybe she'd be free to take the next freighter. Suddenly four months seemed a short time. I'll vocalize tonight, she promised herself, and tomorrow I'll tape some letters. It was probably too early to hint at availability. But it couldn't hurt to maintain contacts....

Amanda finished her log and went to program a dinner. In the small kitchen, she studied the dials with dismay -- they hadn't been touched since breakfast. "Upset by my crying, I suppose," she muttered guiltily, and chose a tempting Vulcan meal. The Vulcans would have spent the period before dinner meditating, so they should be ready for a good dinner. She bustled out, laying a new cloth, making a new centerpiece. When they appeared, she ushered them happily to the table, then had to turn her back to hide her amusement at the two men's silent acknowledgment of T'Mel, who was glowing in gentle triumph.

But the three only picked at their food. A bit worried, Amanda allowed her disappointment to show. Then they ate and she felt a sense of accomplishment. Amanda, white goddess. But it seemed someone had to do it. And Amanda was the closest available.

Amanda excused herself after they'd all cleared the table and went up to her room. There she collected her metronome -- she had a feeling she was going to need it -- and crept out of the living quarters. It was absurd to feel guilty, of course. But the first thing the four Vulcans had insisted on furnishing was her little prefab studio, and they had spent hours of their precious spare time helping her soundproof it. And now she had let weeks go by, hardly even visiting it. Really, Amanda, she chided herself.

She checked to make sure the door was tight, struck a pitch on the portable, and sang the note. "Ooo! This bloody climate!" she exclaimed aloud. But it wasn't really the climate. After a moment of dismay, she crossed to the cabinet and picked up one of the antique scores. "Guess we start with page one," she said to herself. "The porta da voce..." "But you, mein angel, you start not with the c, but with a flat, yes?" Carefully, patiently, Amanda worked through the ancient exercises, smiling at the memories they evoked. Her own voice, teasing, "Look at you. A 19th century man. Aren't you a bit behind the times?" Her teacher's voice, endlessly warm and patient. "The world changes, mein angel, but the human voice... Again...again... Better... good... again... yes, that is it. Remember, liebl'; the good is the deadly enemy of the excellent. Now we do the flexibility exercises, yes?"

Flexibility. Yes. Amanda tried a run. M-hm, She switched on the metronome. Lord! At her debut she'd done that run at 120. Drawing a large sheet of score paper from the stack, she printed "120 by Tuesday" in large red capitals, and attached the paper to the wall. Then she turned to "Preparation for theTrill." Those vocalises would whip her into shape.

Amanda timed an hour, then stopped. No sense hitting the cords hard. But it felt so good to be working again, she didn't want to stop. An idea occurred to her, and she went over to pick up a pile of thick scores. The Tetralogy. She'd bought it as a going away present to herself and hardly looked at it. She opened the scores one by one, marveling again at the number of roles. In a Federation hungry for the newly repopularized music, and correspondingly short of singers familiar with the works, it wouldn't be a bad idea to learn those roles. She could add them to her resume, and send out copies as soon as she was sure she'd be taking the next freighter. "Couldn't hurt," she said buoyantly, and sat down to do some lining out.

She worked through Waltraute, absorbed in her task, until some sixth sense made her look at the chronometer. Then she jumped up. Goodness! She hoped the Vulcans thought she was in her room; otherwise, they'd be worrying. Quickly Amanda turned out the lights and activated the door.

"No!" a hoarse cry rang in the night. Amanda froze, terror stricken. One of the men, shouting in Vulcan. "No!'' Where were they? And who was shouting like that? Now she heard another voice, speaking soothingly. Sel! It must be Sarek who--

"No!" The cry came again and this time she heard T'Mel's voice, high-pitched and commanding. "Hold! Sarek! Hold!" There was a nerve-stretching silence, then a strained sobbing. Cautiously, Amanda crept toward it.

The three Vulcans were in the small portico they had fashioned on the far side of the lab; the place they loved, for strolling and meditating. But now Sarek sat on the ground, head bowed over his tightly drawn up knees, still sobbing. Amanda hesitated, aching to comfort him, but afraid of intruding. Then Sel and T'Mel, who had been standing over him, hands linked, knelt on either side of him, and each placed a hand on his temples. The three remained motionless for a few minutes. Then Sarek straightened.

"I beg forgiveness," he said wearily.

Sel sat down and pulled Sarek into his arms. "Rest," he said gently. "The dizziness will pass." T'Mel began to massage Sarek's shoulders. And Amanda was tiptoeing away, when Sarek spoke roughly.

"Sel, I can no longer control."

"Sh. Wait until you feel better."

"No! Sel, I can bear no more! Tonight I almost attacked you. It must end tomorrow."

"No."

"Sel, listen to me. I have thought it out. We will take the day off and go climbing. The tal shaya leaves no mark. If you throw my corpse from a height it will appear that--"

"No. Sarek!"

"Sel, you are my mentor, by my wish and the arrangement of the family. It is my right to ask this of you."

"Sarek, it is my duty to tell you that you are not in command of yourself. An alternative is possible."

"No! No, Sel. We cannot ask Amanda to--"

"Hush, Sarek. We will discuss this when you are calmer. Now breathe with me." Sel put his hand on Sarek's temple and closed his eyes. T'Mel moved around to her husband's back and sat down, bracing his back with her own. There was no sound but their quiet breathing.

And Amanda's heart. It hammered so loudly she was afraid they'd hear it. One part of her told her now was the time to move away, to leave them in privacy. But even as the thought occurred, she acknowledged it as academic. She wasn't going to move until she found out what they were talking about. She made herself reasonably comfortable on the far side of a large shrub, and waited.

Finally a sigh broke from one of them, and someone stirred. She stayed motionless, listening intently.

"Thank you." Sarek's voice.

"It is my duty to support you." Sel, speaking formally, but very warmly.

"I beg forgiveness." Sarek was sounding more himself.

"It is not necessary, Sarek. T'Mel and I are agreed, Amanda should be made acquainted with the facts. No, do not speak. I am your mentor. You will accept my judgment in this matter. Amanda will be fully informed and there will be no coercion. The decision will be hers.''

"That is not true, Sel. She feels she must act to save my life, just as she felt she had to come here to Tenedos, as an act of service. Asking her will leave her no alternative, save that of committing murder. It is impossible that her choice should be free."

Silence fell. Amanda rose and walked deliberately toward the trio, who froze.

"Suppose you tell me what this is all about," she said harshly.

For a long moment, no one replied. Then Sarek pulled away from the group, stumbling into flight. "Stop him!" Amanda ordered. T'Mel complied. "Now!" Amanda commanded.

"Amanda," T'Mel faltered. "You heard--"

"I heard enough." Amanda felt fiercely angry, She drew herself up, confronting the Vulcans like a wrathful judge. "I heard enough to know that Sarek is in danger -- mortal danger! And there is a way I could help. But you -- you, Sarek! -- would make that impossible, by keeping me in ignorance. I will not have it! You will tell me what this is! Immediately!"

"Amanda, you do not understand," T'Mel intervened, distressed. "It is your welfare that concerns us."

"I'll be the judge of that."

Sarek pulled away from T'Mel's hold. "Sarek!" Amanda shouted. Sarek stopped, back to her, pulling himself together. Then he turned, facing her, but unable to meet her eyes. Amanda studied him in the dim light, trying to see beyond the control, to what was bothering him. Her anger cooled as she watched him and she went to him. "Sarek, let me help," she said gently. He still stood stiffly and Amanda put a hand on his shoulder. He did not respond.

"Go on, Amanda," T'Mel spoke behind her, eagerly. "Reach out to him. He--"

"Hush, my wife," Sel spoke gravely. "This is--"

But Amanda took Sarek's other shoulder and shook him. "Sarek, look at me," she demanded. The next thing she knew, Sarek had caught her in the Vulcan embrace, arms crossed behind her back, and his enormous strength was crushing her body against his.

"Hell!" she said, in utter astonishment.

Sarek drew a rasping breath, then one hand came up, and he brushed her face. "No!" Sel and T'Mel spoke together. "Sarek, hold!" Unheeding, he placed his fingers on her cheek and temple. Still tightly held in one arm, Amanda stood still, thoughts whirling. This was the most unVulcan--

Suddenly Sarek's hold slackened and he crumpled. Amanda looked down, aghast, then dropped to one knee beside him. "What happened? What's wrong with him?"

"T'Mel, explain to Amanda."

"Yes, my husband." T'Mel took Amanda's arm and pulled her to her feet.

"But Sarek--" Amanda protested.

"Amanda, please come with me. Sel will care for Sarek. And it will be easier for him if you are not nearby when he regains consciousness. Amanda, please come."

Reluctantly, Amanda allowed the other woman to pull her away, back toward the lab. "But what made him faint?" she insisted.

"He did not faint. Sel made him lose consciousness."

"Why?"

"He was trying to meld with you. That cannot be allowed. Not without your full understanding and consent."

"The Vulcan mind meld? But why?"

"Amanda, I will try to explain. But it is difficult. Please, my colleague. Can you control your impatience and try to clear your mind?"

Amanda choked down her instinctive retort. After amoment, she said, "Yes. I will try."

"Thank you. Amanda my colleague, what I am going to tell you is something that is never spoken of. Whatever happens, I hope you will understand -- I believe you will understand -- what this means to us and never speak of it. We must trust you, and we do, but--"

"Thank you, T'Mel. I will try to be worthy of your trust." The quietly spoken words calmed the Vulcan woman, as they were meant to do, and she smiled faintly.

"Forgive me. I am not entirely calm myself. This is not an easy time for us."

"It must be terrible for you to see Sarek so ill."

"He is not ill, Amanda. In fact, it is a normal condition. Though he is suffering because of the lack of a bondmate. He--"

Suddenly things fell into place. "The lack of a bond mate. Yes, I see. The lack of a mate, is what you mean, isn't it?"

"Yes, Vulcans mate every seven years. Sarek's time is almost upon him."

"T'Peli."

"Yes. They would have been joined when this time came."

"And now he has no one."

"Yes."

Amanda shrugged. It was a molehill, after all. "All right," she said.

"Wait, Amanda. There is something I have not yet told you. The physiological changes that make the male fertile also inhibit the higher brain centers. When the time comes, he knows nothing, except that he must mate. If denied, or even thwarted, he can become violent."

"Oh," Amanda said in a small voice. "It sounds almost like a rutting season," she added, trying to sound scientific.

T'Mel nodded. "It is."

Amanda was silent, thinking it over. T'Mel gave her time, then spoke gently. "Amanda, I do not wish to minimize the seriousness of this. But I give you my word I do not believe you would be in danger. Vulcan men suffer a great deal during this time, but that is largely due to the humiliation of losing control. It is true that one hears tales of women injured, or made unconscious by a violent male. But if you could comfort him, Amanda -- help him let the process take its course, not fight what must be... If you could accept him, Amanda--"

"I could accept him." Amanda's voice sounded odd to her own ears. But T'Mel gave a half sob.

"Thank you," she said and turned away.

Amanda let her alone, knowing that the Vulcan woman needed to regain her calm. Several questions plucked at her mind, and she set to work to sort them out. Soon one emerged as central and she asked it as soon as T'Mel turned. "T'Mel, would a mind link be necessary?"

T'Mel nodded. "I think so. It might be possible for Sarek to--to--" She groped for a word.

"Copulate?"

"Well, when the sperm is released."

"Oh. Ejaculate."

"It might be possible for him to ejaculate without a mind link, but that is by no means certain. And the strain would be terrible for him. He will need the contact with your mind, Amanda, just as his body will need yours. And you must receive him and contain him with your mind, just as you do with your body. Then he can be at peace."

"I'll try. How--"

"There are images -- symbols -- that will dominate his mind. You can use related symbols to soothe and help him. I can teach you. You already know our epics. But there are segments -- beautiful segments, my colleague -- which have never been written down. They are taught from mother to daughter, and from mentor to pupil. Amanda, if you will permit, I can be your mentor, as Sel is Sarek's. I can teach you how to help him."

"There's no time."

"Oh, yes. Sarek's time is not yet. And if necessary, I can guide you during the mating."

"During the--"

"It will be best for you to learn them yourself, of course. Sarek might perceive the presence of a third mind as an intrusion. But if necessary---"

"Just a minute, T'Mel. Where will you be?"

"Why, at your side, of course." Her eyes widened as she saw Amanda's expression. "Oh! I am sorry, Amanda. We take the presence of the mentors so much for granted that I forgot it is not customary for you. Is this a difficulty?"

Amanda grimaced. "It shouldn't be, I guess. But it sounds like something out of Wrigley's Follies. I'm sorry," she apologized quickly. "If they are your customs--" she shrugged. "Oh! Will Sel be there too?"

"Of course -- oh, most certainly, Amanda. He is Sarek's mentor. It is his responsibility to ensure that Sarek does not harm you, or himself. You must understand, Amanda. There is a madness. The male is driven instinctively to bite, and sometimes in the mating frenzy, a man may try to throttle the female. And it is possible that, since the meld will have to come entirely from Sarek, you may not be able to contain the madness."

Amanda shivered. T'Mel clasped her hands together, rose, and walked a few steps away. "You have every right to refuse, Amanda. We will not hold it against you. No one would hold it against you. You owe no duty--"

"But if I refuse," Amanda said, "then what? Sarek goes 'climbing' with Sel?"

"Yes."

"I gather you can't just wait the madness out."

"No."

"And I'm the--" Ludicrously, the image of the white goddess leapt into her mind. Sacrificial priestess. Maiden -- stop it! You don't qualify!

T'Mel watched her, troubled. ''Amanda," she said finally, "there is no one else. I cannot, for I am bonded to Sel. That bond can be broken only by death. Sarek would perceive it and attack Sel. And we cannot approach the aborigines without jeopardizing--"

"Oh, no. No, of course not."

"There is time, Amanda. Think it over. And if--"

"There's nothing to think over," Amanda said harshly, trying to push away a sense of desolation. "I'll do what I can. Oh! You said the bond can be broken only by death."

"No. When two Vulcans are bonded in childhood and then mate, that is true. But your bond will only be of one mind reaching. It can be broken. Indeed, it may not even be possible to establish. it."

Amanda nodded and stared down at her hands, trying to analyze her sense of disgust. But a life was at stake. Sarek had been right. She had no choice.

The door activated and both men walked in. Amanda looked up at Sarek. He looked away quickly, but she sensed the fear underneath the control. "Sarek," she said firmly. "I will help you."

Sarek flinched, but Sel took his arm. "Thank you, Amanda," Sel said gravely.

Amanda got up and went to them, but Sel shook his head. "Sarek must sleep," he said. "I am going to give him a sedative. T'Mel, stay with Amanda.''

"Yes, husband." Sel led Sarek out. "Come Amanda. You should sleep too."

"Can't we get it over with?"

"It is not yet time. Come."

"All right. You better teach me."

"Sleep first. Have you any sedatives?"

"No."

"Then I will get one for you."

"I don't take--"

"Amanda, be guided by me. This is--"

"Oh, all right."

* * *

"Amanda....Amanda!" T'Mel was shaking her. Amanda woke, smiling drowsily. Then she went cold.

"Is it time?"

"Yes."

"But T'Mel, you were going to teach--"

"I did, my daughter. You will find the knowledge you need in your mind at the proper time. Until then, your own warmth will guide you best. Come, my child."

"What time is it, anyway?"

"2010."

"2010? But I -- T'Mel! What day is it?"

"Thursday, my daughter. As you call it."

"I slept all day?"

"Yes. Amanda, I am sorry, but you must hurry, please. Sarek's time is near. If are not with him, he will soon be in terrible--"

Amanda glared at her, then flounced past her into the bathroom. This can't be happening. But even as she denied, she was readying herself. A feeling of excitement clutched her -- a familiar surge of psychic and physical energy. Curtain going up. Automatically, she began to take deep breaths -- singer's breaths, steadying and containing herself. She reached for a lubricant. What the-- "Hell!" she exclaimed aloud. It seemed that oral tradition wasn't the only thing T'Mel had implanted. Damnation! These Vulcans had no right to walk around in her mind like--damn!

But from somewhere within her, a voice was speaking. "He needs you, my daughter. Only you can help. Be generous..." Amanda calmed herself. Sarek's life was at stake. She pulled on a robe and activated the door. "I am ready, T'Mel," she said.

T'Mel stood as Amanda had left her. "Thank you, Amanda. Whatever happens, we are grateful..."

"It'll be all right, T'Mel. Let's go. Okay?" T'Mel led her down the stairs in silence.

Sarek stood at the window, his figure outlined by the lamplight. Amanda could not see his expression and she had to gather her courage as she walked toward him. But when she saw his face, all other emotions were surplanted by a tender pity and she took his head between her hands. "Let me help, my friend."

Sarek's face quivered. His hand came up to her face, but he held it, poised, inches from her temple. Even now, Amanda realized, he was giving her time to change her mind. She took the trembling hand and nursed it to her cheek.

"Meld, Sarek." T'Mel's, gentle voice came from behind her. "She consents."

"Sel?"

"I am here, my child. Meld."

Sarek positioned his fingers. And abruptly the world dissolved.

* * *

Amanda cautiously opened her eyes. She was in her room, in her bed. But through the unshaded window she saw daylight and the sun. And next to her slept Sarek, mouth agape, sprawled, and uncharacteristically rumpled. So, it had not been a dream. Amanda reached but to smooth the uncombed hair. The Vulcan did not stir.

Amanda took inventory. She wasn't exactly sore, but there was definitely--hm. Must have been a memorable fuck. Too bad she couldn't remember it.

She closed her eyes and concentrated. There had been a dry land, shimmering with heat. Somewhere in the desert, a man whimpered with thirst and need. Come, Amanda had urged. Come to me. She was an oasis in the desert, a place of cool and shade. The heat cried out, crying for assuagement before it burst, to consume everything. But the water, the mother, had only smiled with the serenity of ancient wisdom. Return to me, my child. The heat grew, red and smoldering. But the water surrounded it, holding, soothing, waiting in patience for the heat-born gift. The heat throbbed, agony at its core, but the cool water held it, containing, promising... From somewhere, far away, there came a cry. But the water only chuckled in triumph as the core of heat dissolved into surge after surge of cresting life...

Amanda stretched luxuriously and yawned.

Someone rapped gently on the door. Amanda sat up cautiously, and pulled the sheet around her. "Come in," she called.

T'Mel entered quickly. "I thought you might be awake. Are you all right, Amanda?"

"I'm fine. Is Sarek all right?"

"Yes, thanks to you. He will probably sleep for some time, still."

"Is it over?"

"No. But it can end now, if you wish."

"How's that?" Amanda asked, reaching for the robe T'Mel was holding out to her.

"There is--"

"Unh," Sarek moaned. His hand moved across the bed. Then he screamed, twisting desperately, his arm shooting out in a frantic search. "Amanda! Amanda!"

Instantly Amanda twisted back to him. "I'm here, Sarek. I'm right here." She embraced him hard, then pillowed his head on her breast, holding him close. "I'm right here, darling."

Sarek sighed, relaxing against her. "I could not find you," he murmured.

"I'm here."

"Yes." He yawned, then cuddled down. Soon he was asleep. But Amanda still held him tight.

"Hm." T'Mel's voice in her ear made her jump. "I'm afraid some sort of bond has been established on Sarek's side. It may be difficult to break it."

Amanda hugged the sleeping man hard. "I don't want to break it!" she said fiercely.

"Indeed." T'Mel's face relaxed. "Then matters become simpler..."

* * *

A log flared, then cracked. Amanda woke with a start... Sarek, beneath her, yawned and stretched.

"Feeling better?"

"Yes. Amanda?"

"Yes, my husband."

"When I come to myself, you will be there?''

"You will wake in my arms. Just as you always have. Ever since that very first time."

"Mm. You remember."

"I remember, my husband. And I promise."

"Then I am content, my wife." Sarek held her for another moment. Then he eased her away from him and sat up. "I believe I will go to bed now."

She stretched a hand out to him, but he rose unassisted and moved past her toward the stairs. Amanda followed wistfully, but he undressed, climbed into bed, and closed his eyes. "Good night, my wife."

Tears sprang to Amanda's eyes, but she choked them back. "Can you sleep, my husband?"

"Yes."

"I'll be downstairs. You'll call me if you need me?"

"Yes."

''Goodnight." Amanda left quickly. Sarek needed meditation, and rest, she reminded herself. She must not make a pest of herself. She managed to get well away from their door before she began to sob. Then, remembering that Spock was home, she ran for the observation room. She stayed in the dark until she was sure she could be calm.

Finally, she went down to the kitchen. The computer wasn't programmed for morning coffee, but she'd brought a supply, wanting to be prepared for any guests. She'd program that, and--

Spock was sitting at the table. He rose formally as she entered, but she smiled at him and shook. her head. "Sit down, dear. I'm just going to set up coffee."

"I found it and programmed it."

"Oh, good." Amanda sat down across from her son, studying him. He bore her scrutiny patiently, but she saw a twinge of amusement deep in the dark eyes. "Well, I'm still your mother," she apologized.

"Acknowledged," he said gravely.

"For better or for worse. Not that we ever gave you the choice."

He searched her face. "You are distressed, my mother."

"Oh, damn. I didn't know it showed."

"It does not," he answered politely. Then his voice changed. "This time."

"Yes. I feel so useless. If only I could-- Spock! I saw you go into the garden with him. Did he let you--"

"He permits me all the duties of a son."

"Oh, thank goodness. I--" Amanda caught herself as Spock's eyes closed. The urge to reach out to him was almost an ache, but she clasped her hands together. But he must have realized her distress, for the eyes opened, and a hand was stretched out to her. Amanda took it, clasping it tightly, closing her own eyes against tears of joy.

She allowed herself the luxury of holding onto him until she had herself under control. Then she rose. "I think I'll look in on your father. He seemed sleepy, but sometimes..."

"Yes." Spock followed her out of the small kitchen. As they left, they saw a light in the study. Both turned toward it. Now they heard a voice -- the high pitched tone typical of a Chinkwian -- then Sarek's deeper voice. Amanda activated the door.

"I regret exceedingly that you are unwell, Sir," the voice was saying.

"That sounds like Tur," Amanda whispered to Spock. "It must be important, or he wouldn't use this channel."

"But since you say your indisposition is not serious, would it be possible to spare Madame to us?"

Sarek hesitated and Tur continued rapidly. "A mere four hours, Sir. I would return her to you tomorrow afternoon. A trifling ceremony of no interest -- except to us unsophisticated Chinkwians." His voice underlined the last words. "But the courtesy of Madame's presence would be most appreciated."

''A moment.'' Sarek closed the channel and turned. "My wife?"

"It's up to you, Sarek. How do you feel?"

Sarek reopened the channel. "Madame will attend. The period of song, you said? And at the palace. Understood. Goodnight." Sarek closed the channel, turned to his family, and nodded. "You will have to make an early start, my wife. I suggest we all retire to rest."

* * *

Jim Kirk woke at a relatively respectable hour, but dressed as quickly as he could. Somewhere in the back of his mind was the not-quite-acknowledged thought that it felt good to be in a house. Coffee -- he sniffed appreciatively. Sarek would pour out a cup for him as soon as they heard his door activate, and he'd hold it out with a slightly humorous sympathy as Amanda fussed over him a little. And maybe later on, he'd ask Spock if there was something as frivolous as a chess set in this proper Vulcan house...

The dining area was empty. Surprised and a bit alarmed, Kirk went into the preparation area. The computer manual was open on the table and neatly pinned to it was a handwritten note.

"Dear Jim: Please help yourself to coffee and anything else you want. I'm sorry not to be here, but I'll be back this afternoon. Don't let them wear you out. Love, Amanda"

He sat down to a lonely breakfast.

Spock entered as he ate. "Good morning, Captain. How do you feel?"

"I'm fine, Mr. Spock. Lovely day."

"Indeed." Kirk studied Spock as he poured himself some coffee and unobtrusively switched on the ventilator. Damn. He had forgotten that. And of course the last thing Sarek would want right now was the scent of bacon and eggs. Even Spock's control was just a trifle obvious.

"Spock," he said abruptly, "your first concern now is Sarek. Don't worry about keeping me company."

"Thank you, Jim." Spock rose immediately and left. Kirk cleared, then went to see if this proper Vulcan household contained anything as frivolous as a reader.

For the rest of the day, he put himself firmly in charge of himself. All medicine, in proper dosages, administered on the dot. He logged that, calories ingested, and a rest period, and left the log where Spock would see it if he came in. By late afternoon the silence was tearing at him. He longed to go and at least catch sight of the two Vulcans. Instead, he plunked himself firmly into a chair and programmed an improving tape on tunain crystals. But he was not interested in tunain crystals. By sunset, he was pacing. I'll be back this afternoon...

Suddenly Spock entered, his face wooden. He checked the message center perfunctorily, Then, without hesitation, he opened a channel and signaled. There was no response.

"Something is wrong," Kirk stated.

"Yes, would you keep trying, please? I must program a sedative."

"Go." Kirk bent to work on the panel, checking all telltales, then the wiring. An inner conviction told him grimly that the problem was not in communications, but he kept at it doggedly, sending signals at random intervals. There was no response. Finally he stopped signaling and stared at Receive, willing it to activate. Amanda! Where are you? Call!

"Amanda!" A shout from Sarek echoed his thought. Kirk ran to the window in time to see Sarek head for the path at a stumbling run. Spock pursued him swiftly, caught him at the shoulder and Sarek fell. Without giving himself time to think, Kirk ran to the computer, grabbed the medication and the medikit and ran out. He knelt beside Spock, holding the equipment for him. Spock filled the hypo carefully and administered it.

Kirk let out a long sigh. "Let's get him to bed," he said. Spock rose wordlessly, his father in his arms, and carried him into the house.

They watched together in silence. Finally Spock spoke. "Go to bed, Jim. There is nothing you can do here." Kirk swallowed and obeyed.

He fell into an exhausted sleep almost immediately. But he was awake before dawn, listening intently. The very silence of the house precluded hope. All right. There was only one logical course. He dressed quickly and went to find Spock.

Spock and Sarek were at the table, together. Kirk strode up to them. "Good morning," he said crisply. "Spock, you'll want to be starting. Tell me whatever I need to know."

"Thank you, Jim," Spock rose. "I have left instructions and computed medication that will combat the fever. This tricorder will calibrate the bloodstream hormone levels; results should be fed in for analysis every four hours."

"Understood." Kirk forced himself to imitate Spock's tone. "How much time?"

"The concentrations would normally approach the plak tow level in approximately 50 hours. However, the absence of the bondmate will retard the process. Also, the patient may be able to slow it, particularly with the help of the antipyrin. However, as time passes, he will become increasingly irrational. Once the subject enters the plak tow, of course, the presence of another male will incite him to violence." Expressionlessly Spock handed over a personal phaser. "If the patient is stunned, medication should be reduced by one fourth."

Dear God, Kirk thought. Aloud, he said, "Right."

"When the plak tow threshold is reached, therefore, the computer will produce a powerful sedative. That must be administered as soon as possible. It will be the only chance of maintaining life."

"I understand."

"I will not take my communicator; such messages must not be sent. However, I have a unit coded to this receiver. A single signal will mean the bondmate is returning. Two will mean return is impossible."

"Spock, are they bonded? Does Sarek know what is wrong?"

"The patient is bonded, but not linked. There is no communication."

"I see. You'd better get started. You'll have to walk out, won't you?"

"Yes. If I do not return, these premises and all evidence of our presence must be destroyed."

"Acknowledged."

"Captain--"

"Yes."

"You--"

"I'll take care, Spock. Don't worry about me. Just find Amanda. We'll be here when you get back."

Spock turned abruptly and went to the communications desk. Kirk walked slowly into the main room, dreading what he might find. Sarek held a hypo and Kirk felt a tinge of fear. Then he realized that the Vulcan was thoroughly, carefully, in possession of himself.

"I regret circumstances have forced you into this position, Captain Kirk," Sarek said. "I have just administered the 6 a.m. dose and logged it. Would you care to explore the garden?"

Spock finished his task and picked up his kit, feeling almost physically divided. Logic indicated that he search for Amanda. It was the only chance and he must take it. But, he resolved, he would return in 48 hours or less. He knew his captain too well, and was far too well acquainted with his outstanding defect -- or virtue. No matter what the risk, Kirk would never give up. He would seize any shred of hope, rather than admit defeat. In this case, too, the human's compassion would be stirred. One last postponement -- an attempt to offer one last bit of comfort...

"Two days," Spock promised himself aloud, and set off on the long climb.

Part Two

(The day before - Amanda's arrival at the Chinkwian capital)

A luxurious wagon waited next to the Palace hangar. Its door opened as Amanda taxied toward it and a figure stood and waved. Hm, Amanda thought. Tur himself. I'm honored. I think.

She waved back gaily and took the skimmer in. Something, she thought, was definitely afoot. In all her years as a cultural observer, girl and woman, she had never known a people as status oriented as the Chinkwians. Yet here was the Advisor to Their Excellencies himself at the post of a wagon. Quickly she locked the controls and hurried out, every sense alert, smiling her best smile.

"My appreciation, Madame. I am most sorry to call you away from Sir. But you will be home soon."

"Tur, I must start home this afternoon." Tur bowed acknowledgment and handed her into the wagon. "What is the occasion? I thought the Principle Pentagon was leaving the capital for a holiday."

"That is the occasion, Madame." Tur took the post. "A very small ceremony of farewell, of little importance. But the Kaln were - that is, they asked why you and Sir - that is, they were disappointed that--"

"I see," Amanda said, taking pity on Tur's embarrassment. The Kaln, the Third Pentagon of the Realm, tended to be touchy and Amanda suspected that her fondness for Tur had caused some awkwardness. It was quite possible that Tur had been put in a situation where he'd had to produce the Federation observers or lose face. Relaxing a little, she began a polite conversation as the wagon sped over the straight road.

At the capitol, she said, "Better let me out at our apartments, Tur. I can't present myself to the Principle Pentagon in a traveling burnoose."

"Of course not, Madame. There is ample time." Tur parked the wagon, then politely accompanied her to their apartments. Amanda waved him to a chair.

"Sit down, Tur, and make yourself comfortable. Would you like something to drink?"

"Thank you, Madame."

Amanda did the honors then smiled and left him. In the bathroom, she checked her painting and did her hair. All correct. She turned, reaching for the door knob. Something was blocking the door. She shoved, then suddenly alarmed, she pounded on it. "Tur! Tur!" She caught herself, forcing a little laugh. "Tur, can you help me please? The door is stuck."

"It is not stuck, Madame." Tur's voice from the other side was as quiet and polite as always. "It is barred. I regret this inconvenience."

"What?"

"In the closet you will find a pallet. I will return at the Period of Song."

"Tur, I have to get home!"

"I regret the delay. But you may return home this afternoon. My word."

"Tur!"

"Feel free to use the facilities." The outer door slammed.

Amanda rattled the door and hurled her weight against it. She called out and called again. Then she screamed. But no voice answered in the silence. She pounded on the door, sobbing in despair.

After a long time, she got herself in hand and sat down, trying to make herself analyze the situation. The picture of a pacing Vulcan intruded, but she pushed it away. She must think. What did Tur want of her? Why had she been imprisoned? She was no closer to an answer when she finally heard the apartment door open.

"Help!" she shrieked.

"Please do not scream, Madame," Tur said quietly. "The household has left the palace. There is no one to hear. When I remove the bar, you will please walk out."

Amanda complied, seething. "Tur, I demand to know the meaning of this."

"Of course, Madame. In one moment. First, there is something I must show you. Please hold out your hand."

Automatically, Amanda extended it. "Ouch!" she exclaimed, looking down in disbelief at the sharp steel lancet Tur was holding, and the blood welling from her wrist.

"I am sorry," Tur apologize, sucking her blood professionally into a sample vial.

"What are you doing?"

"That is all the harm that will come to you, Madame. The lancet was sterilized." As he spoke, Tur disinfected the slash and bandaged it. Then he let her go.

"Tur!" Amanda said threateningly. Tur turned away and opened the outer door. "Tur," she said again. "I want to know what you are doing."

"Of course, Madame. It is not so very bad. It is simply -- insurance."

"Insurance? Against what? What are you afraid of?"

"You know what I am afraid of," he snapped, his polite calm slipping. "The Second Pentagon no longer exists. There are those who would have it re-established. Now. But while I live, I am the Turn!"

"But how--" Amanda broke off as another red-robed figure entered. "Who is that?"

"Madame, may I present to you Turi, the other surviving member of our unfortunate pentagon? Turi will take the sample of your blood to one of my assistants, who is waiting at the public laboratories. The sample will be analyzed and the results sealed. But on my order, the analysis could be made public. Then all of Chinkwia would know who the Reds entertain, and to what end the other Colors labor!"

"Tur, that could disrupt--"

"Precisely, Madame. But do not distress yourself. The analysis will never be made public. The threat will be more than sufficient."

"Tur, you are familiar with our noninterference directive. I cannot allow you to use me as blackmail in an internal political struggle."

"You have no choice, Madame. You will remain here until Turi has reached the laboratory and the analysis is complete."

"No! I must get home!"

"I will take you back to your skimmer myself, this afternoon. My word." He handed the vial to the silent woman. "You know what to do, Turi."

"Yes, Tur."

"Go."

Turi hung back. "Tur," she pleaded. "I don't like--"

"Turi, it is your duty to the pentagon."

"It is my duty to the pentagon," Turi repeated mechanically.

"Turi," Amanda interrupted desperately. "Don't do this thing! What if the report falls into the wrong hands? Have you thought what could happen to your whole society? To the stability you prize--"

"Go, Turi." She turned and was gone.

Tur turned back to Amanda. "There will be a short wait, Madame. Sit down. I will take you to your skimmer as soon as Turi returns."

Amanda studied him, then sat down, her plan forming. "Tur, sit down," she said gently. "You must let me dissuade you from this mad scheme." He sat politely, obeying her gesture.

Now, Amanda told herself. Lucia. Anina. Not mezzo roles, but the flutteriest females she could think of. She began to wring her hands - yes, that was good. Feverishly, she began to argue and cajole, studying Tur under the cover of her staged excitement. He was listening to her politely, but he was not really attending to her. After a few minutes, she jumped up to pace agitatedly up and down. He did not rise. Soon he was not even following her with his eyes. Amanda's hand closed on a heavy vase. Too heavy? But she must stun him, at least. Still talking desperately, she moved toward him. He turned to look up at her then, but she sprang behind him. The vase connected with a satisfying thunk and Tur slumped.

"Well," Amanda said aloud. "Tosca, Act Two. Not bad for a mezzo."

She ran to the kitchen and hurried back with twine. Not the strongest material, but adequate, if she used enough of it. It wouldn't have to hold him very long anyway. She made a thorough job of it, reinforcing her work with tape. Then she sat down to wait and think. She didn't have much time. But she must have a deterrent. Aha!

Amanda rose, got their small audiorecorder, and set it up concealed behind a picture frame on the table. Then she got a bowl of water and dashed it with a certain vicious satisfaction over the neat red coiffeur. "Wake up, Tur," she said urgently. "Wake up."

His eyes fluttered, then fixed on her coldly. "Untie me."

"No."

Damn! Her hands were shaking. She hid them behind her back. "You'll stay here for a while, Tur. Not long. Just long enough for me to find Turi and get back that sample of my blood you sent her to have analyzed. Without the analysis, I don't think your threat to tell all the Colors that Sarek and I are aliens will have much force, do you?"

"Don't be too sure."

"Oh, I am sure, Tur. I am quite sure. And since Sarek and I will be leaving, I'm afraid you're going to have to find some other scheme to guard against the creation of a new Second Pentagon. That was a ruthless scheme, Tur. Even to think of disrupting your whole society, all for the ambitions of one individual."

"It is my survival!"

"No, no one is threatening your survival. Only your position. One unit's petty ambition, to undermine the stability of all Chinkwia. You should be ashamed of yourself, Tur!"

"Stability! And what of my stability? My place? My..." Tur's voice rose almost to a scream. Amanda stood his ranting for a minute. Then she rose. Tur stopped abruptly. "You cannot prevent my plan, Madame," he said more calmly. "You will not find Turi."

"It will be difficult, I know. That's why I made this." Amanda produced the recorder, played back a segment for Tur's benefit, then removed and pocketed the tape. "That's why I made this," she repeated, patting it. "You had better hope that I find Turi, Tur. Because if I don't, I will be reluctantly compelled to deliver this to the First Pentagon this afternoon. They can stop your little plot."

"Blackmail! You--"

"The diplomat's best friend," she returned serenely.

''Tapes can be manufactured," Tur sneered. "Do you think you would be believed?"

For answer, Amanda reached over, removed the jewel of office from Tur's breast, and pocketed it. "Oh, I think so, Tur. I do think so." Ignoring Tur's sputterings, she took a rapid inventory of the apartment. They probably would not come here again. But everything personally precious had gone with them back to the house. They had never brought in anything alien to the culture, of course. So far, so good. She hooked her hands under Tur's arms and heaved. He struggled, protesting, but she dragged him into the bathroom, stepped over him, quickly removing anything sharp, then stepped out, barring the door. "Feel free to use the facilities," she called.

Damn! Now her voice was shaking too. Reaction. Ignoring the weak feeling in her knees, she hurried to the apartment door. Turi had been gone for almost half an hour, she calculated, trotting down the long empty corridor. She might even have reached the lab by now. Amanda's best bet would be-- "Oh!" Amanda tripped over a bundle huddled next to a pillar. "Who-- Turi! Oh, Turi!"

Amanda knelt by the crumpled woman and gently removed the vial from her hands. Turi looked up at her, without recognition, and Amanda read the misery in the fear-stricken eyes. "What is it, Turi?" she asked impulsively. "Turi, tell me. I'll help you."

"I should not be out, Miss. I am not supposed to be left alone. I don't like to be alone!"

Amanda glanced around the silent, eerily empty halls. "Not to be alone, yes. You should be back at the hospital, Turi."

"Yes, oh, yes!"

Amanda hesitated, checking the time. She'd be late, but the poor woman... "I'll take you back, Turi."

"Please," she whimpered.

"Come with me." Amanda pulled the Chinkwian to her feet, then hustled her back to the wagon. They left the empty palace with no trouble and Amanda turned toward the city. Just beyond the palace, the road crossed the Tyx River. Amanda uncorked the vial and sent tube and contents spinning over the bridge to land with a satisfying splash. Turi did not react; she sat huddled in the corner, trying not to look at the passing scenery. "Turi. Turi!"

"Yes, Miss?"

"Where is the hospital?"

"I don't know." Turi huddled tighter.

"Oh, wonderful," Amanda said crossly. She didn't know either. But a hospital shouldn't be hard to find. She'd drop Turi off, then make a beeline for the skimmer. At the first intersection she made a confident right turn and drove into the city proper - straight into a maze of ancient, one-way streets.

Almost two hours later, they finally pulled in to the hospital grounds. "At last," Amanda sighed, gathering the shreds of her temper as the gates opened and two guards appeared, saluting respectfully. "I have returned a patient," Amanda said calmly. "Could you take charge of her, please? I am late for a Palace function."

The guards' eyebrows rose, but Amanda's Red served her well. They bowed and assisted Turi from the wagon. Barely waiting for the door to slam, Amanda reversed, and drove cautiously back toward the gates. In the guard station, she heard a signal sound. One of the guards went to answer it. Amanda backed slowly. She wasn't overly used to wagons.

"Madame! Madame!" One guard was waving. Amanda shook her head and continued backing; the guard ran to activate the gate. Amanda swore and sped up. She just made it through. Reversing the gear with a screech, she barreled back toward the city. Damn Turi! Tur had probably freed himself and the probability was high that he had decided to call her bluff. His next move -- his next logical move at any rate -- would be to find Amanda, get the tape and jewel from her, then discredit her, if possible. Amanda's position would be strengthened by the tape, but like all Federation observers, she had learned a healthy respect for the power of xenophobia, even in the friendliest cultures. Besides, using the tape would itself be an intervention -- exactly what they tried hardest to avoid. But above all -- oh, most of all -- Amanda could not afford to play cat and mouse with Tur. She had to get home!

* * *

Sarek was beginning to pace. Spock ignored it, continuing to read aloud from the antique book. Probably the exercise would help. Amanda should not be long now. But finally his logical mind revolted at the waste of effort, and he closed the book. "You are not attending, my father,'' he reproached gently.

"No," Sarek admitted sheepishly.

Spock rose and took his arm. "I will walk with you. Is this better?"

Sarek linked arms with his son. "Yes, much better. We should hear the skimmer soon, should we not?"

"Perhaps not," Spock said cautiously. "Remember, the capital time is an hour earlier. And from what you told me, the Chinkwians are not strongly time oriented."

"No, that is true. Still she should be on her way."

"Oh, yes, most definitely, she is on the way." Sarek gave a little sigh, and they walked in harmony, searching the horizon.

* * *

A police klaxon sounded in the distance. Amanda's hands tightened on the post. Even if Tur hadn't started a search, she was as conspicuously out of place as an ice cube in a coffee cup. A Red, alone, driving a Palace wagon. She pulled in to a large lot.

The attendants -- drones, poor things -- bowed low, almost overwhelmed by confusion. "Park this. Guard it. I will return," Amanda said. One spoke very simply to drones. She left them stammering acknowledgment and swept into the shopping complex. Here she had two pieces of luck. The first was a pair of White supervisors who pushed aside the Blue clerks to give the Red lady the quickest possible service and were almost overwhelmed at her generosity -- buying a complete outfit for a White friend! The second was a deserted alley where Amanda swiftly discarded the dangerous red burnoose, climbed into the safer white one, and repainted her marks. She could do nothing about her red hair - if some misfortune exposed her head, she was finished. And she would still be alone. But as a White, she could move about the city with comparative freedom.

Fingering her ample stock of Chinkwian currency, Amanda hesitated. The temptation simply to hire a wagon to take her to the hangar was strong. But that would be Tur's first thought. The cam? Better, but still a problem. But wait! Tur would be expecting her to move toward the terminal. What if she took the cam around the city in the opposite direction? Tur would be looking for a Red moving clockwise. A White traveling counterclockwise should go unnoticed. Amanda started for the cam. It would take time. Too much time. They would worry. But she should still make by tonight.

The tape and jewel weighed her pockets, but she might still need them. Besides, she could think of no safe way to dispose of them. I suppose I could always swallow them, she thought. "An entertaining suggestion, my wife, but not very logical..." The thought of that deep voice was a mistake; she had to swallow a sudden lump in her throat. Hold on, Sarek! she thought. I'm on my way.

* * *

"Slow down, Sarek," Spock reproved. "You are allowing your anxieties to rule you."

"I beg forgiveness," Sarek replied automatically. Then he stopped, deliberately calming himself. "You are right," he apologized. "I had expected to hear the skimmer by now."

"Doubtless some minor delay. If there had been any serious mishap, Tur would have signaled."

"Yes, that is true." Sarek began to walk again, setting a slower, steady pace. "Your presence is calming, my son."

"It is an honor to serve," Spock replied, falling into step beside him.

* * *

The cam was unbearably slow. It stopped every two kilometers and Chinkwians ambled off, as often as not impeding other groups waiting to climb on. Amanda had always admired the leisurely pace of this culture. Now it made her want to scream. Only one terminal short of the airport, the driver, then all the passengers, descended for afternoon ices. No one else seemed to mind -- or even consider it unusual. Amanda could have wept with frustration. She got off with the others, fighting for calm. There was nothing she could do about it. Deciding that sitting alone at a table would make her too conspicuous, she wandered around the station.

A trio of Red women passed her, chatting gaily. Suddenly, just past her, they were stopped. The officers, Whites, were super polite, but they still checked the trio's identification, pentagon, and place of origin before they boarded the cam. Amanda listened, hand to her throat, not daring to turn. She couldn't be sure she was the object of this search. But she didn't dare assume she wasn't.

Passengers were getting back on the cam. But a lone individual in this clustered society... Amanda hurried to the Ladies Room, grateful for the never-before analyzed observation that at least the Chinkwians pee'd alone. She locked a cubicle, sat down, and drew her feet up out of sight. The minutes crawled, but finally an hour had passed. It should be safe. She crept out and began to move toward the gate. Then she froze. The same guards stood at the cam entrance, watching the moving line. Alone, even as a White, she dared not risk it. Hungry and discouraged, she returned to her sanctuary. Promptly at ten, the great engines shut down and silence descended. Amanda sighed. It was going to be a long night.

* * *

The Chinkwian sun was setting. For a moment it burned like flame in the eyes of the watching Vulcans. Then it sank.

"Spock." Sarek spoke calmly. Too calmly. "Would you please go inside and see if -- and see what message your mother has sent?" Spock opened his mouth to protest. "Please," Sarek repeated. He hesitated, then stepped up to one of the benches. Placing his palms flat on the back, he promised, "My hands will not leave this stone."

Spock turned and ran into the house. Sarek was beginning to feel difficulty -- that was obvious. But he was lucid enough to be aware of his danger and to know that he must not, at any cost, give in to what must already be a stabbing need to seek out his mate -- to hear her assurance -- that she awaited him. Firmly, Spock pushed aside these thoughts and the memories they evoked. There would, of course, be a message. A slight delay -- perhaps even a minor malfunction in the skimmer...

There was .no message. Instantly -- illogically -- Spock signaled. He waited and signaled again. In his imagination, buzzers sounded in a skimmer, an office, an apartment. There was no answer.

"Something is wrong."

Spock started slightly; he'd been unaware of the captain's presence. He turned, suddenly anxious, but the captain looked rested and even stronger. Here was an ally. Something inside Spock relaxed, making it easier to deal with the situation.

"Yes," he acknowledged. "Would you keep trying please? I must program a sedative."

"Go," the captain said. Spock whirled and hurried to the computer console. Behind him he heard the captain working -- checking the equipment for malfunctions. That was a logical possibility which had not even occurred to Spock. Spock shook himself mentally. Now, of all times, he must rely on logic. Once again his father's life depended on him. But once again, there were larger issues which must not be lost sight of. Only this time, Sarek would not understand why--

The stab of pain that accompanied that realization almost overcame Spock, and he closed his eyes, reaching deep into his reserves, seeking the calm to do what he must. Then, braced, he left the working computer to return to the garden. Sarek would have to know.

His father remained as he'd left him, but he lifted his bowed head as Spock approached.

"There is no message," Sarek concluded.

Spock shook his head.

Sarek looked down at his hands. "I must find Amanda," he said quietly.

"You cannot leave here, Sarek."

Sarek whirled on him. "I must find her! Something has happened to her!"

"Highly probable."

"But-- Tur! Spock?"

"I ... signaled. There is no answer."

"No answer! Spock! I must--"

"Sarek, you are agitating yourself. This is contraindicated. Come with me, my father. I will--"

Suddenly Sarek reeled. Spock moved toward him quickly, knowing the dizziness would hamper his control.

"Amanda," Sarek whimpered. Then he shouted, "Amanda!" He broke into a run, heading straight toward the path. Spock pursued him swiftly, caught him with the neck pinch, then eased the crumpling body to the ground. The captain was there almost immediately with the sedative. Spock administered it, then carried his father up to bed.

They watched together, Kirk silent, but supportive at Spock's elbow. Spock accepted his presence gratefully as he composed himself and made himself ready for what must be done. Then he spoke. "Go to bed, Captain. There is nothing you can do here." The captain almost protested. Then he swallowed and obeyed.

Spock waited until the door activated, then established a light meld. Even on surface contact, he could sense the threatening need and madness. But the sedative had taken effect. Good.

Spock moved silently down the stairs and set to work. The programming was intricate but finally all contingencies were provided for. He picked up the medikit's analyzer and took it upstairs. Sarek was restless now, too close to consciousness. Spock found the nerve juncture once more and gripped, this time maintaining the pressure for a carefully counted interval. Then he activated the analyzer, absently rubbing his father's neck and shoulder as it calibrated. That Sarek should suffer a sore neck on top of everything else seemed unbearably unfair. But another sedative would only cloud a mind which must be as clear as possible.

Spock returned to the console, hurrying now, and fed the analyzer's data in. As the computer worked, he calculated the safety margin. About 55 hours under normal circumstances, but Amanda's absence would slow the process. And if Sarek could regain control, he might be able to retard it also. The medication, reducing the fever, would help.

He took the first dose upstairs and administered it, then sat, gathering his strength. Finally he placed the fingers of both hands for a deep meld. //Sarek, awaken, and work with me. You must control.//

* * *

A babble of chattering awoke Amanda the next morning and she shifted uncomfortably. Underneath the door, she could see the feet and legs of groups of women, mostly Whites. What were they doing up so early? She tried to make out what they were saying. Shopping! Of course. Today was the traditional market day. Groups of women would be riding the cam around the city all day long! She formed her plan with renewed hope and gratefully left her cubicle. Luck had turned in her favor again, for the first thing she saw was two elderly Chinkwian Whites, primping and chattering. Amanda went up to them and gazed at them beseechingly.

"Is something wrong, Miss?'' The voice was as kind as the face.

"No," Amanda faltered artistically. "Well, yes. I was separated from my sisters. If you are taking the cam, Misses, might I travel with you as far as Lanal?"

It was that easy. Amanda breakfasted hungrily with the pair, then boarded the cam without so much as a glance from the guards. Amanda smiled to herself. Probably it had not even occurred to Tur that she might have changed castes. Well, of course, it would be almost inconceivable to a Chinkwian. Lucky she'd never let him know how often she'd slipped out to a White function. Sometimes the habits of a lifetime did pay off.

Feeling immeasurably safer in the company of her adopted cluster, she took the cam directly to the airport and hurried confidently through the public buildings towards the State hangers.

She got as far as the outer door. On the door was a large sign. NO ADMITTANCE WITHOUT AUTHORIZATION. And in front of the door stood a trio of large guards. Amanda gave an apologetic shrug, like a tourist who has taken the wrong ramp, and turned away.

* * *

Four hours, Spock calculated, reaching the top of the canyon. Good time so far. Part of his mind was urging him on -- to hurry! He ignored it, carefully unpacking Sarek's white burnoose and folding his uniform neatly into a regulation bundle. Haste would only lower efficiency. He glued the burnoose to his forehead. There had been no time to alter his ears; the hood must remain on at all costs. He painted his face and whitened his eyebrows, snorting inwardly at his appearance in his little hand mirror. He looked like a singularly ill-groomed Terran White Owl, he decided, but it would have to do. He must, in any case, be careful how he showed himself.

Spock repacked his small kit, still ignoring the part of him that was yammering for haste. Then he clicked the forcefield off and on again behind him. The hangar here was empty. Amanda had gotten this far at least. Feeling -- however illogically - that he had accomplished something with that deduction, he started out to the road that led toward the public terminal.

* * *

Sarek and Kirk stood together, watching Spock as he climbed, making good time up the steep path out. Soon he was out of sight. Solemnly, Sarek took Kirk's arm and they turned back to stroll in the garden, chatting and then debating. They walked and talked -- a pleasant bout of mental calisthenics, each challenging the other's every argument.

Kirk smiled inwardly, admiring the Vulcan's composure. Like son, like father, I suppose. Sarek, for his part, was observing the captain clinically. So far the mild activity did not seem to be tiring him. But as Spock had taken some pains to point out, the captain was not always wise where his own well-being was at stake. It was important not to let him tire himself. He would make him stop soon, and--

"Oh!" Sarek broke stride as a wave of dizziness hit him without warning. Amanda! But he bit back the call, knowing it was futile. Small hands were steadying him -- human hands, but the wrong hands. But he pulled himself together, fighting back his weakness and despair. After a moment, he managed to speak. "Forgive me, Captain Kirk. What were we saying?"

Guts, Kirk thought again. It seemed they ran in the family. He restarted the conversation, again walking beside the ambassador as though nothing had happened. Sarek was setting a slightly quicker pace; Kirk increased his to keep up. Probably the activity would help.

But as time passed, Kirk began to doubt his strength. The Vulcan was speaking less and less, and walking faster and faster. Kirk kept up grimly, not knowing what else to do. Soon he was forcing his legs to continue mechanical movements. Sarek hardly seemed aware of his presence. More time, and now Kirk was aware of nothing but the necessity of keeping his legs going. Left, right, left...

Suddenly Sarek veered, shaking off the human's light weight, and started toward the path that led up out of the canyon. "Ambassador!" Kirk shouted. "Sarek, no! Sarek!" He started to run after him, the ground rose toward him. It struck him and darkness descended.

* * *

Kirk woke with a shout, struggling up. But strong hands grasped his shoulders, settling him back. He was back in the house, in his bed. And Sarek was looking down at him, concerned. "You allowed me to exhaust you, Captain," he apologized gravely. "Never do such a foolish thing again."

Kirk smiled up at him. "It was foolish," he conceded. "I won't."

Sarek nodded and reached over to the table. "I drew a Complan for you," he said, "but if you would rather have something else..."

Kirk didn't want anything. "Complan is fine," he smiled. "Thank you."

Sarek reached for his shoulders and lifted him easily, then sat behind him, using his body to bolster the human in a sitting position. The support seemed to ease the ache in Kirk's legs and back and keep the light-headedness pushed away from him. Slowly, Kirk finished the portion.

"Your medicine?" he asked.

"I will take it when the time comes."

Kirk twisted to look at the chronometer. "It's ten past now."

"Indeed."

Kirk pretended not to notice the suddenly hollow tone of voice. "Can you get it?''

"Of course. Remain in bed, Captain."

Kirk obeyed, listening carefully. The sounds were correct. But would the ambassador actually take the medicine? Vulcans in this state could do the damnedest things - accustomed to depending on their remorseless logic, unaware that their reasoning was erratic...

Sarek's return cut into his thoughts. "This," he said, holding a hypo, "is my medication. I have logged it." He pressed the hypo into his arm. "This," he held up a second hypo, "is a sedative. I am somewhat fatigued; it should make me sleep most of the afternoon. And this," he held up a third, "is a sedative for you, if you require one."

Kirk smiled and shook his head. Sarek nodded acknowledgment and left. Kirk gave it half an hour, then crept across the hallway to peek into the master bedroom. Sarek lay on the bed, asleep. So far so good. He tiptoed back to his own room and crawled gratefully into bed.

* * *

A service truck pulled slowly past -- at last an empty one! Amanda ran for it and sprang in, huddling down against the side. Then it turned. Damn! She scrambled out, running for the shelter of some crates. Damn! Less than a kilometer gained and still at least three to go. It would be dark soon -- an advantage for hiding, a disadvantage for making her presence even more unusual if someone saw her. Her hand closed on a club-sized piece of crating. No one had better see her. This time she was getting home, through a whole pentagon of guards, if need be. Sarek-

Calm down, Amanda, she admonished herself. Panic wasn't going to help.

In the end, she waited among the crates until dark. Then she trotted toward the skimmer hangar. There were no guards. Again, Tur would not be expecting her to move from outside. Happily, she trotted inside, toward her skimmer. Climbing in quickly, she activated the controls by the light of the telltales.

"Mother!"

Amanda gasped, whirling. "Spock!" Her sudden relief was displaced by a sharp anxiety. "'Spock, why aren't you with your father?"

"I had to come to find you."

"Okay ," Amanda conceded briskly. "You found me. Let's get this bird in the air."

"Impossible, Mother."

"What?"

"I intercepted a message from the palace to the airport dispatcher. All units have been given the license and description of this craft. If we take off, we will be forced down immediately."

Amanda sat down, utterly weary. "Damn!" she said.

* * *



Kirk woke reluctantly, still fatigued. But as his eye caught the chronometer, he sat up, galvanized. Sarek should have received another dose two hours ago. "Fine nurse I make," he muttered reproachfully and hurried to the computer. The medication was there, untouched. Apprehensively, Kirk filled the hypo and hurried up the stairs.

Sarek was in bed, still asleep. Sighing in relief, Kirk crossed to the bed, hypo at the ready. A moan brought him up short. Worried, he put a hand on the Vulcan's shoulder. "Take it ea--"

His hand was seized and Sarek pulled the human into his arms with a strangled gasp. Then, before Kirk could react, the Vulcan slammed him off the bed.

Winded and terrified, Kirk lay still on the floor, trying to get his bearings. Finally catching his breath, he got to his knees. Sarek was trembling violently, the whole bed vibrating with his shudders as he forced himself to remain still. Kirk reached out to him, then hesitated, afraid of making things worse. "I--I'm going to take a reading," he said, trying to steady his voice. "I bet a stronger dosage is indicated."

There was no reply. Kirk took the reading, then started out. But he couldn't leave him like this. Moving back, he picked up a clenched hand and guided it to the bedframe. "Here," he said. "Hold onto that." After a moment, the hand opened, then tightened around the frame. "Good," Kirk approved, relieved. "Now hold tight. I'll be back in 5 minutes--"

He hurried down to the console. And as he'd suspected, the analysis triggered a substantially larger dosage. The fever must really have taken a jump. Swallowing a sudden panic, he returned to the bedroom.

"This will help."

"No!" Sarek raised an arm to hold him off. But Kirk had expected that and he darted quickly under the arm, pressing the hypo home. Sarek twisted away from the slight sting. But then he lay still. "Control!" he said.

"Yes," Kirk agreed. "The medicine will help you. It will bring the fever down, so you can think."

"Amanda? "

"She's coming, Ambassador."

"Tell her to come now. She must be here."

"I'll tell her."

Sarek curled into a ball, grasping his knees. Kirk watched him for a moment, then turned to get a light blanket. He tossed it over the Vulcan's head and shoulders and sat down to wait it out.

* * *

"Mother, you must think," Spock urged. "What other form of transportation is fastest?"

"There aren't other forms! It's a ten-hour trip by wagon."

"Can we obtain a wagon?"

"We can't afford the time, Spock! Sarek--"

Sarek! Ten hours! Spock suppressed the yammering firmly. Logic rules. "Sarek can still control, my mother, and the medication he is on will help. The skimmer is far too conspicuous. A wagon will be much safer, especially if we signal. And we must signal." He paused, double checking his conclusion. Yes, that was logical.

Amanda sighed wearily. "All right. You're right, I suppose."

"Are you ready?"

"Yes, let's go. Better lock up again."

A few minutes later, two white figures crouched behind the hangar. "I wish we knew when the next landing is."

"I hear one now."

Amanda listened intently. "Yes! Let's go."

It was fully dark now. No one challenged them as they moved stealthily around the building, then hurried toward the slot where a large skimmer was nosing in. The line of passengers began to stroll toward the terminal. Two Whites joined it and moved casually through the public room to the leasing desk. Amanda presented her credentials proudly. "A wagon for the guest of the First Pentagon," she demanded loudly, and the Black clerks almost fell over each other in their eagerness to obey. They were on the road in record time.

"Now. Signal, Spock."

He shook his head. "There is a concentration of vehicles just ahead."

"A traffic circle."

"I will signal from there. If our signal is tracked, the tracker will not be able to pinpoint our direction."

"Right. Now." Spock signaled, repeating, while Amanda made the rounds of the circle. Then she took her exit, unconsciously heaving a sigh of relief.

"We will be there at dawn, my mother," Spock said, almost impassively. Amanda reached to grasp his hand for a moment, then allowed the wagon to pick up speed, heading home.

* * *

Sarek was quiet now, breathing in pattern. Kirk sat nearby, making himself relax, gathering his forces. The Vulcan's fear communicated all too easily. But calm could be communicated too. And care.

Finally Sarek pulled the blanket from his head. "Captain?"

"Better now?"

"Yes. Captain, you said Amanda was coming. Have they signaled?"

A reassuring lie spring to Kirk's lips. He caught it just in time. "No."

Sarek turned away. "I see."

"But she is coming, Ambassador. I know she is."

"You cannot know it."

"I know her. And what's more, I know Spock. They're on their way."

"Yes. If they are able." Sarek closed his eyes for a moment. Then he sat up. "Have you eaten?"

"No. I'll get something. Want anything?"

"I will take some tea." The men descended the staircase in silence. Midway down, they heard the computer activate. "A message!" Sarek gasped and froze, clinging to the bannister in dread. Kirk sprang past him and ran to the terminal, where the printout was clicking through. He snatched it with a wild yell of triumph and ran back.

"I knew it! I told you so! They're corning!" Sarek sat down on the stairs, burying his face as the human pounded his shoulders in jubilation.

* * *

Kirk finished an excellent dinner and hunted up a small glass of brandy. The good doctor wouldn't approve, of course. Or maybe he would. In either case, the good doctor was far away. And the captain felt like celebrating.

Glass in hand, he wandered over to the window, watching a revived Sarek as he climbed the cliff face opposite the path, jogged up and down the rim and climbed down again. Sarek had not (understandably enough) felt the least desire to sit watching Kirk eat and the restlessness had returned. But Sarek himself had suggested this admirable solution, and he himself had chosen the canyon's opposite rim, so that he climbed away from the direction Amanda must come. Kirk watched the older man, envying the ease of his powerful activity, and raised the glass in a silent salute before settling at the reader.

From time to time, he ambled casually to the window to check on Sarek, then across to look up the path, searching for the returning pair. But the hours passed and there was no sign of them. By midnight Kirk was fairly pacing from one window to the other. Now what was the delay?

The computer activated and he jumped for it. But then the buzzer sounded. Just medication. Kirk filled the hypo and squared his shoulders. He'd be cheerful if it killed him.

Sarek was making a descent -- not an activity Kirk would have chosen in this light, but no problem to a Vulcan. Seeing Kirk, he bounded down and fairly ran over to him. Kirk pushed the hypo home. Then, unexpectedly tongue tied, he patted Sarek's arm.

Sarek stiffened. "There is no sign of them."

Kirk shook his head.

"And no further word."

"No." Kirk made his voice sound pleasant. "You know the old Earth saying. 'No news is good news'."

Sarek turned on his heel and stalked back to his rope. Kirk sat down, worried and miserable.

The Vulcan's movements were losing their smooth ease. Now they were tense -- almost jerky. And even as Kirk watched, a shudder took him. Sarek clung to the rope, waiting it out. Then he resumed the climb. If he fell, Kirk thought grimly, that would solve his problem -- maybe permanently. But short of stunning him, there was no way to stop him.

Kirk drew the phaser, considering. But the Vulcan was still aware and that probably meant he was still exerting some degree of control. And control equaled time. They might need every minute they could get. If Sarek was driven into the plak tow...

I'll challenge. Kirk made his decision as soon as the idea formed. A challenge, then flight. If he could get a head start... At least he could lead the Vulcan away from the path. And with luck, the aggressive activity might relieve some of the pressure. If that didn't work... Kirk rechecked the setting on the phaser, set to stun, and relocked it.

Suddenly he realized Sarek was no longer climbing. Alarmed, he scrambled to his feet. He'd made a descent a minute ago. Where was he? Kirk hurried toward the cliff face. Now he could just make out the Vulcan, seated at the base, head pressed into drawn-up knees. Kirk moved closer, cautiously. A choked moan reassured him, and he knelt. "Let me help," he said gently.

A hand was extended; Kirk put his into it. Then, to his dismay, Sarek took the human hand to his temple and placed it carefully. Of course, that was what he needed. Kirk swallowed a lump of pity and distress. "I'm sorry," he whispered. "I can't."

Sarek lifted his head, gazing at Kirk for a moment. Kirk looked away from the mute misery, but then recognition dawned. "James Kirk."

"Yes."

"Forgive me." Sarek released Kirk's hand. "I thought you were my son."

"I wish I were." Carefully, Kirk reached his arm around Sarek's shoulders. The Vulcan stiffened, and Kirk paused, but it was another shivering fit, not a rejection. Kirk held him until it had passed, then Sarek relaxed against him.

Kirk lifted his free arm to embrace Sarek, then stopped himself. Surrounding the Vulcan only gave him another input to fight. "Are you in pain?" he asked.

"No."

"Tired," Kirk concluded sympathetically. "And cold, too, I bet. It's too chilly for you out here. Let's go in."

"I-- Captain! Where--" Sarek stopped himself abruptly.

"Easy. I know it's bad. But there's been no other signal, Ambassador. They're coming. Just hold on." Sarek pulled away, hugging his knees again, and buried his face. Kirk waited, aching with helpless sympathy. If only the Vulcan would let him-- Shut up, Kirk, he admonished himself savagely. Those are your needs you're thinking about, not his.

They sat in silence for a long while, but finally Sarek straightened. "Captain."

Kirk stiffened. The Vulcan was speaking very formally.

"Here, sir."

"Captain, I--" Sarek swallowed convulsively, but he caught himself, controlling tightly. After a moment he began again. "Captain, you have seen the blood fever."

"Yes."

"You realize that once that stage is reached, your presence will be a challenge."

I'm counting on it, Kirk thought. But aloud, he said, "We'll cross that bridge when we come to it. Come on. Let's get you to bed. You'd better rest while you can."

* * *

The wagon slowed, rousing Amanda. "What's the matter? Why are you slowing down?"

"A town."

"Damn!"

"We will be through it in a few minutes, Mother. We are making goad time."

Amanda checked her chronometer by the telltales. Spock resisted the urge to ask her what time it was. He knew what time it was. And all the worry they could muster wouldn't affect the situation.

Perhaps it would help Amanda to talk. Besides he wanted... "Mother?"

"Yes, my son?"

"May I ask your advice?"

"Of course."

Spock paused, gathering his thoughts. Amanda waited. "Mother, do you remember Nurse Chapel?"

"Yes," she said carefully.

He hesitated again and suddenly Amanda recognized his expression. She hadn't seen it in years, but it was here now. Spock was embarrassed! "In the family all is silence, my son," she reassured him formally.

He took a deep breath and plunged in. "Some years ago, Nurse Chapel told me she loved me. She was in an irrational state at the time. But I have reason to believe that she would accept an offer of marriage."

"And you are considering that. I see."

"You know my circumstances, Mother. I have no mate. And in three years, perhaps even earlier, I shall--" Spock choked and swallowed hastily.

"I know. Do you love her?"

"I do not believe I am capable of -- no, let me explain. I am not denying my emotions. Once, I might have, but it is illogical to deny our natures. And Vulcans do love. But I -- I have never--"

"What do you feel for Christine?"

"Respect," he answered readily. "Nurse Chapel is a woman of courage and achievement. She is emotional, but like you, she can control her emotions. I believe I could live with her and--"

Amanda shook her head. "Spock, you would make her miserable. Almost as miserable as she would make you." Spock masked his reaction quickly. But Amanda had seen the hurt. ''Forgive me, my dear, but it is my duty to give you my best advice. Listen to me, Spock. You are capable of love. Great love. I have seen it in you! What you feel for Jim. For Leonard McCoy. Have you ever felt that for a woman? Perhaps once for T'Pring?"

"No. Only-no."

Amanda studied him, then smiled. "Well, I won't pry. But you will."

"I see no guarantee of that. And in my circumstances--"

"Spock, if necessary, Sarek will make arrangements for you. You may safety leave that to your father." His face stiffened, and she reached to pat his hand. "I know it isn't easy for you. And it's natural that this time should make you apprehensive. But there is, somewhere, a woman you will love as you love your friends, and more. And there is time." Involuntarily, she checked her chronometer again.

"And you advise against--"

"Emphatically. Christine is human, Spock. You would miss a true bond -- probably almost as much as you miss it now. Just as your father always has. And Christine would miss the warmth a husband who loved her could give her. You could destroy each other, Spock!"

"You made it work."

"Spock, I will be frank with you. I don't want to distress you, but I don't think a day has gone by in the last 40 years that I haven't cursed myself for having been so stupid as to fall in love with a Vulcan." She smiled faintly at his expression. "Oh, it's not so bad as all that. No relationship is perfect. Any marriage is a constant process of adjustment. You have to fight about what you care about and give up a lot that you care about so your husband can have what he cares about. That's just how it is."

"But--"

"But, you love each other. So you want to be together more than you want to be apart. At least for today. So you give and take. But without loving -- don't do it, Spock."

"I will consider your advice, my mother."

"Oh, it's up to you, of course. I will welcome any woman you choose. But you still have time. Don't hurry into it."

"I--" Spock interrupted himself, watching narrowly as they pulled around another wagon. There was no sign from the other vehicle and they both sighed in relief. "I thank you for your advice, Mother."

"Spock, I'm sorry. I shouldn't have been so abrupt, but suppose -- suppose a human woman bound only by -- oh, by a sense of duty, were in my situation now. What do you--"

"It is duty that takes you to my father."

"No. Oh, all right, yes. But there's more than that, Spock. Things that make it worth it, the -- oh, I do hope they're all right!"

"I am convinced they are."

"You mean you wish you were!" Amanda forced back a sob and made herself continue quietly. "I don't suppose we'd better signal again."

"I think not. We do not know how sophisticated the Chinkwians' trackers are. When we get inside the canyon's force field, we can explain the situation."

"How?"

"Interstellar. I call use the signaler to flash the code."

"Oh, good. Oh, I do hope they're both all right."

This time Spock did not reply. They drove in silence.

"Mother?"

"Yes?"

"At the-- Sarek told me he would not require my witness."

Amanda smiled a little. "He'd probably feel better if you were there. But I wouldn't. That's one part of the Vulcan custom I'd never get used to."

"The danger--"

"We worked that out long ago, Spock. Don't worry."

They drove a little further. "I will be within call, of course."

"As you wish. But don't worry, Spock. I promise you, there's no danger."

Spock swallowed. After a time, he said, "You would do well to rest, Mother."

"I can't, Spock! Sarek will be frantic! And Jim--"

"They know we are coming. Sarek will control. And the captain is both sensible and resourceful. Lean back, Mother. We still have a long way to go."

* * *

"Captain Kirk.''

Kirk started awake in the chair next to Sarek's bed. Sarek was speaking from the doorway! "Sorry, I guess I dropped off."

"Captain, there is a signal. I believe it is Interstellar, but I cannot -- will you come?" They hurried down the stairs. "Here is the tape." Sarek reached past Kirk to punch the playback. Seeing him for the first time in the daylight, Kirk gaped at him, startled. Sarek was in control, but everything about him told Kirk that the cost was growing too high. He sat down rather quickly, clasping his hands to hide their shaking. This message had better be good.

The speaker beeped. "It is Interstellar!" Kirk cried. "It's Spock!" Quickly he grabbed a stalus and decoded. "They're all right, Sarek. They're at the canyon mouth!"

"Ah!" The exclamation ended as a gasp, but Kirk pretended not to notice. He decoded the rest, then rose, bracing himself.

"They're all right," he repeated. "Spock signaled from the canyon mouth. They're walking in. It won't be too long now. They--"

"Walking? No! Oh, no!" Sarek brought both hands up, convulsing, and Kirk caught them, holding with all his strength. "All right," he said intensely. "You're all right. I'ts not long now. Come on. We'll meet them half way."

Sarek's hands parted and closed over Kirk's, the fingers biting into his wrists. "Wait," Sarek said. He took a deep breath. It caught. He blew it out, and began another. This time Kirk breathed with him and Sarek nodded gratefully as together, they established a pattern. In, out, in-

"How long will it take them to walk in, Captain?"

"Spock and I made it in three hours. But we were going very slowly."

"Three hours. Very well. Please signal that I am in some distress, but not enough to warrant tiring Amanda."

"Ambassador--"

"Send it." Sarek turned his back. Kirk obeyed. The acknowledgment came immediately and he signed off.

Sarek was looking out the window, up the path, his hands tightly clasped. "Captain, do you have your phaser?'' he said quietly.

"Right here."

"I believe I will be able to warn you, should I lose control, but please keep it nearby, and be observant."

"Understood." Kirk sat down, troubled. There must be something he could do. Sarek stood rigidly, his breath coming in short gasps. As Kirk watched, he swayed slightly. "Would another shot of the antipyrin help?"

"No. It is no longer effective."

"How about some triox? Help you breathe."

"It might -- mmm." Sarek shut his teeth. Kirk hurried over and got the hypo. Sarek did not turn as he administered. Kirk sat down again helplessly. The minutes dragged past.

"Captain?" That sounded a little better.

"Here, sir."

"What time is it?"

"It's been ten minutes. Hey, that would help you, wouldn't it?" Sarek turned, questioningly. "You've lost your time sense."

"Yes. In fact, I have no sense of time passing.''

"Right. No wonder you're miserable. Come on. Let's walk it with them. I remember some of the landmarks. They're probably coming past that spring now."

"In ten minutes? What is a slow pace? About -- oh! I cannot think--"

"Easy." Kirk moved to the Vulcan's side and put an arm carefully around him. "Let's say they're passing the spring now. Maybe they stopped for a drink."

"Yes. They stopped for a drink. Calculate it for me, please. But be conservative. We must not expect them too soon."

"All right. They've started again now."

"She is coming."

"Yes. Walk with me." Carefully set a measured pace. Sarek matched step obediently and they walked around the room. From time to time Kirk invented a piece of scenery to fill in between the landmarks he remembered, keeping up a gentle, reassuring, meaningless prattle.

Sarek's jaw was permanently clenched now, his eyes closed tightly against the heat. But he kept walking. Fifteen minutes passed, half an hour, 45 minutes.

"Less than two hours now, Sarek."

"Understood. Walk with me. They must not stop. They must keep moving."

"They are moving, Sarek. They're coming. It's less than two hours now. Come on. Left foot, right foot."

"Sarek!"

"Listen!"

"It's Amanda. Amanda!" Sarek tore himself out of Kirk's hold, and ran to the doorway. He flung it open, then staggered, clutching at the frame. Kirk caught up with him and grabbed his arm. "It is Amanda! Look, Sarek. They're running -- oh, I see. It's old Earth Indian technique. Run 50, walk 50. No wonder they got here so quickly. Here, hang on. Hang on tight. It's not long now."

"Captain." Sarek's voice was queerly constricted. Kirk studied him, alarmed. "Captain, I am in considerable difficulty. I do not -- uh -- Captain, take me upstairs. To our room. Now."

"All right. Come on." Kirk started off, then had to return for the Vulcan. "Come on." He took the other's hand and led him toward the stairs. Sarek followed docilely, but moving slowly like an automaton. Once in the room, he stood still, eyes tightly closed. Kirk waited. Then he moved to loosen the neckband constricting the swelling neck.

Sarek stirred at his touch. "No."

"Might as well make you more comfortable."

"No, Captain. The lower drawer. A rope."

"This?"

"Yes. You must take my elbows and tie them behind me. Be certain -- completely secured..."

"All right." Kirk's voice was harsh, but Sarek's eyes opened.

"Also in the drawer, Captain. A bit. Put it on the table, in easy reach. I -- ah!" Sarek writhed involuntarily, then desperately re-established control, forcing himself to hold still. "I beg forgive-- me -- Captain. It would help if I could hold on to something."

"Easy." Carefully, Kirk led him to the bed and placed Sarek's hands on the headboard. Sarek's hands tightened on it and he gave a little sob.

"Easy," Kirk said again. "Just let it happen. Don't fight it anymore. You don't have to." He put his hand on Sarek's shoulder. "Just let it happen."

Sarek shrugged. "Don't, please." Kirk removed his hand. "Your touch is - stimulating. Therefore ... superfluous."

Kirk couldn't help grinning. "You're going to make it, Ambassador. Just let go."

"No!"

The door opened. "Sarek!"

Sarek whimpered at the sound, but Kirk ran to the door. "We're upstairs, Amanda. Come quickly!"

"Captain! Captain! Now. The rope. Please!" Swearing, Kirk ran back to the bed, grabbed the rope, and pulled Sarek's elbows back. Sarek cooperated, grunting with the effort of control, but stretching his arms back to allow Kirk to tie him.

Amanda burst in the door, Spock at her heels. "Oh, my poor dear,'' she exclaimed.

"Wife! Oh, I cannot. Spock! Spock, please--"

Spock strode past his mother and placed his hands on Sarek's head. "Be careful, dear," Amanda warned. Spock nodded, then his face grew calm. Sarek seemed to relax slightly, and he took a breath. "Just one moment," Amanda said and ran into the bathroom.

Sarek groaned agonizingly as she disappeared and Kirk saw the struggle on Spock's face. "It'll just be another minute,'' he reassured them both. Carefully, he counted down and his voice seemed to help the two Vulcans. "40, 39, 38--"

"Okay," Amanda said. "Thank you, Jim." Kirk nodded and started out. "Spock," Amanda said. "Spock!"

Spock's eyes flew open, startled. He focused on his mother. Sarek, suddenly deprived of support, gave a long, gasping moan. Kirk saw his hands whiten as they clenched. Amanda saw it too and for a moment a look of fear crossed her face. Then she composed herself and smiled, "Thank you, Spock," she said, dismissing him.

"Mother, he is near the plak tow."

"Yes."

"I will witness--"

"No, my dear."

"The madness--"

"Must be gone through. Yes. I will be all right, Spock. Jim, please take Spock outside. Tell him I'll be all right."

Spock hesitated then he eased Sarek onto the bed, gently drawing the austere outfit off. Kirk turned away from the ugly green swellings in the Vulcan's back, terrifyingly engorged from the long buildup.

"Spock!" Sarek moaned. Spock hesitated. Then he caressed his father's shoulder and moved away. "Spock!" Sarek cried. "Help me! I cannot--"

"Go, Spock!" Amanda grated. Kirk grabbed friend's arms and hurried him out of the room.

As soon as they were through, the door activated behind them. Rubber-legged, Spock made it to the top of the stairs. Then his legs gave way and he sank to the floor, buying his face in his hands. Kirk knelt next to him, dismayed. A whimper made them both turn back, but Amanda's voice sounded, deliberate, reassuring. "Just another minute, my dear."

"Ah!"

"I' m here, Sarek. Hold on. Open your mouth. That's right. Yes, I have you, my dear. That's right. Now."

Sarek cried out sharply, causing Spock to shudder violently. But Amanda's voice was still calm. "There. Better now? Oh, my poor darling. I know. But I have you. You're with me now. Meld, my dear. Meld."

There was a nerve stretching silence, then a loud gasp from Amanda. Spock sprang to his feet. Kirk grabbed him and held tight. Sarek was whimpering now, miserably, but Amanda's voice was still murmuring softly, wordlessly, but comfortingly. Kirk heard movements begin and then speed up. Suddenly a howl from Sarek went through him like a knife. But almost immediately, two voices cried out together, again and again. Then there was silence.

Kirk released his friend and turned away, trembling so violently he could hardly stand. Spock lifted his head and saw the captain's distress. Kirk felt the supporting arm around him and leaned gratefully against Spock's body, choking back sobs.

"Amanda?" Both men stiffened, but it was Sarek's voice. Weary and tentative, but his own voice.

"Yes, my darling."

"All right?"

"Of course, my dear. Shhh. Rest. You had a bad time. But it's all over now."

"No. I need--"

"Of course, you do. Just let it have its way with you. That's right. Hmm. Hold, my dear..."

Kirk took Spock's arm and led him firmly toward the stairs. Spock walked obediently, but Kirk had to steer him to a chair. Spock sat, staring sightlessly. After a moment, he gripped the table.

"Leave me alone. Please." Kirk turned and walked out into the light.

* * *

The captain pottered aimlessly about the grounds, not letting himself think of anything but the warmth and light of the day. His wandering brought him to the rope Sarek had climbed, again and again, and a sob rose in his throat. But that was all over now and everything was all right. He loosened the rope, coiled it neatly, then he kicked over the path Sarek had worn into the base of the cliff face. He never wanted to see it again.

Spock joined his captain as he was finishing the task. Wordlessly he helped Kirk cover the last traces of the beaten track. Then both men settled down in the shade.

"I am sorry, Jim."

"I'm all right. You?"

"Yes. I regret my loss of control."

"You don't have to apologize. I've never felt so divided. Half of me wanted to run away. The other half wanted to run in and make sure things were-- I've never felt like that! It must have been a thousand times worse for you."

"The pon farr is most difficult to witness. That is why the containing rituals are so rigid."

"I could almost touch the terror. And I'm not even vaguely telepathic."

Spock only nodded and the two men sat in silence. Gradually, Kirk relaxed. Spock, too, was easing. Finally the Vulcan lay back, hands clasped behind his head, looking up into the bright sky. Kirk followed suit and they watched the clouds companionably.

After a while, Kirk murmured, "What delayed Amanda?"

"It is a long story. I will tell you this evening."

"All right. Damn, I'm sleepy."

"Of course."

Spock waited until his captain's breathing steadied, then his own eyes closed. He would make Jim stay in bed tomorrow, he promised himself. Probably there'd be no difficulty. The human was looking licked to a splinter, as the doctor would say. Fortunately, it would be a week before the Enterprise returned. In that time, the captain could recover any lost ground.

As soon as Sarek was ... better, they would have to consider what to do about Tur and his plots. But that was for another day. For today...

Spock opened his eyes to stare into the calm depths of the sky and never knew when they closed again in healing sleep.

THE END