DISCLAIMER: The Star Trek characters are the property of Paramount Studios, Inc. The story contents are the creation and property of Lois Welling and is copyright (c) 1981 by Lois Welling. This story is Rated PG. Originally printed in Time Warp #5.



Covenant in the Mirror

Lois Welling



The spinning glow-crystal refracted the soft cabin lighting, washing the room in the full spectrum of colors as Commander Spock, first officer of the I.S.S. Enterprise, sat at his desk. He leaned back in his chair, slowly swirling the liqueur-filled goblet as he contemplated the message that had just been put through his private scrambler. It was from his father and, as usual, the Ambassador did not waste words. It took only three to convey the message, "Suitable female located". More was not needed. Implied was "come home and evaluate", which meant he was free to do so. There would be no trouble with the Council because T'Pau had convinced them it would not be to their advantage.

The Commander allowed a sly smile to form on his shadowed face. When T'Pring and Stonn had failed, the matriarch had immediately switched her allegiance. She had spoken to Star Fleet on his behalf and now, he knew, had cleared matters on Vulcan. The smile twisted. Be warned, old woman. Sarek and I shall have your head on the end of an ohl yet.

Involving Kirk and McCoy had been a calculated risk, but unavoidable. He had been on his way to Vulcan, the fever building within him, when another message had come from Sarek. Although the Ambassador had been off-planet at the time, his operatives had done their job. As always, Sarek's message had been sparse. it contained only one word. Beware! And so Spock's suspicions had been confirmed. T'Pring would challenge, but more than that. The odds would be against him. He had to try to equalize them.

Obviously, T'Pring had changed her plan when she saw the humans. But to choose the Captain? It was the ultimate stupidity; everything was against the human.

For once McCoy was able to think for himself and, thought Spock with amusement, to act without explicit instructions. If the Captain had really died, it would have taken the entire family monies to silence the incident, if indeed it could have been done at all. I owe McCoy. He instructed himself to remember that the next time he and the doctor clashed.

He sipped from the glass, then sat stroking his beard as he thought about T'Pring. Tricky bitch. I would have enjoyed taking her. Could have... I must practice more control. To blame the fever does not absolve me. The action was revenge, pure and simple, and I could have controlled it. But I did so savor the look in her eyes ... and on Stonn's face...

But it had made no sense, he admonished himself. The action had served to snap him out of the fever, but it would have been smarter to follow the traditional course and kill her after the pon farr. Such waste is unVulcan. He downed the last swallow in the goblet. But it is done.

And Stonn's accident while off Vulcan. Such a pity. He saluted the air with the empty goblet placed it on the desk. My compliments, Father.

His mood darkened as he put away the liqueur bottle. He slammed the cabinet door. Vulcans are surely cursed, doubly cursed. The pon farr and the telepathy formed a lethal combination.

Like all sentient males, Vulcans could enjoy sex and derive satisfaction from it, but to reproduce... To reproduce we must endure this humiliation. To survive the fever and create new life, they needed a trained telepathic mate. And a defenseless male was easy prey; this fact had almost led to the extinction of the Vulcan race. The bonding had been instituted and tests devised to secure against such treachery.

But, as Spock's own broken bonding proved, it did not always work. Other races did not understand the importance of Vulcan mate selection. Finding a female was no problem, finding a suitable mate was. They have no idea. They envy us the telepathy, not realizing it's a double-edged sword. Moreover, Spock knew that his recently-aborted pon farr had left him vulnerable, a condition he would not tolerate. So, I shall go to Vulcan and meet this "suitable" female, T'Ayrian.

* * *

Commander Spock faced James Kirk across the desk in the captain's quarters. Kirk looked at his first officer, There was an edge in his voice. "I got you your leave, but believe me it took some doing. The trip to Vulcan isn't exactly the shortest; you'll have several layovers, but it was the best I could do on such short notice."

Kirk stressed the words and the Vulcan nodded, accepting the debt.

* * *

Six days later, Spock emerged from the Vulcan spaceport and boarded the private stratocar his family had sent. He had the car take him to the apartment T'Ayrian's family maintained in the city. He had scheduled the appointment for just after his arrival so he could be done with it. While on Vulcan he had important matters to attend to and wanted this out of the way.

He instructed the driver to wait, then took the lift to the third floor. He used the time to review. Her name was T'Ayrian and she was the younger daughter, just past twenty-five turnings, of T'Salma and Sigeer of a clan whose members had been engaged in commerce for several generations. Her bond mate had been killed before the marriage. A virgin. He smiled inwardly as he remembered Sarek's marginal comment on the portfolio tape and agreed. A definite plus.

He touched the signalplate and waited. Thirty seconds later the door opened. He inspected the young female who faced him. His immediate reaction was positive. Though she was not as striking a beauty as T'Pring, she was attractive in the way he preferred his women; tall, slender, an air of elegance. When Sarek said suitable, he meant it; but then why be surprised? Father and son almost always agreed on what constituted "suitable" in females. When she spoke to welcome him, he noted that her voice was soft, but not timid. He was grateful that she did not have the accent so common to people of the northern hemisphere.

They spoke the traditional greetings and she invited him into the sitting room. As he followed her he glanced at the decor. The extensive art collection represented varied cultures of the galaxy and several pieces were from extinct societies and should have been in a museum.

When they were seated, T'Ayrian said, "I trust thy journey was not too tiresome."

"Somewhat, yes. I had to transfer three different times with lengthy layovers. Have you traveled off Vulcan?"

"I have been allowed to accompany my father on several different occasions, and I did find it most interesting. But my parents would not allow too many trips because of my schooling."

They engaged in polite, surface conversation, but Spock knew that she was as intent in her study of him as he was in his of her. It was obvious that she had dressed to impress him and the effect did not go unnoticed. The deep hunter green of her long dress was a color rarely seen in Vulcan nature. It was worn to bring out the green of her eyes. To compliment the dress and her fair skin, she had chosen a simple gold necklace and earrings that were just barely visible through her loosely upswept hair.

After almost an hour, she said, "I have prepared a meal for us." She stood and led the way to a small garden balcony. "I believe thee will find it pleasant here."

She excused herself and Spock took the opportunity to examine his growing restlessness. He had predicted a short meeting with the whole family in which they would all live up to the formalities these situations demanded. Then he could excuse himself and get on with his other business. But to find her alone and apparently in no hurry... Her return with a tray of food put a temporary halt to his thoughts.

He watched as she set the table for two. Controlling his annoyance, he said, "Your parents will not be joining us?"

"No. They are not at home."

More delays, he thought, inwardly irritated. "I have a tape from Sigeer. He agreed to this time..."

"The tape was altered."

"You?" A questioning eyebrow raised.

She nodded.

"Explain!" Curiosity softened his anger.

"I wished to meet with thee, alone. These occasions can be most awkward for the two principals; extra individuals only increase uneasiness."

Seeing he was not convinced, she continued. "I would assume that thee has read the portfolio, as I have." He nodded. "I wish to know the individual to whom those facts pertain. That can best be accomplished without others present."

"Interesting," was all he said as he took his place across the table from her.

During the silence of the meal, he reflected an her actions. So the attractive package has a mind and can think for itself. But unless that intelligence is founded on good sense, and can be controlled, it is useless. The food is well prepared and served, and there is no doubt of her social grace. She seems to have all the qualifications I would require in a bondmate. The real question is, what does she hope to gain from this?

* * *

Upon arriving home, Spock joined his mother in the sitting room. She turned and smiled at the sight of him. "Spock." They moved toward each other.

"Mother." He embraced her lightly. "You are looking well."

She stood back from him. "I am well, son. And you?"

"Very well, Mother. I assure you." She had given him an opening to discuss the T'Pring matter, should he wish to do so.

When it was obvious he did not, she said, "Your interview, it went well?"

"Interesting. Very interesting. T'Ayrian appears to be a many-faceted female. I could find her acceptable... But, from you, Mother, I wish to know how common gossip evaluates her."

With a haughty look and a mocking tone Amanda said, "And you believe your mother has access to common gossip?"

"Then tell me what un-common gossip has to say."

Amanda laughed and Spock enjoyed the sound. It was pleasant to be home, to be able to trust and let down one's guard.

"Well, my son, the lady is thought to be ambitious. She disagrees with her father's management of the trading company." Amanda watched her son process these facts. "T'Ayrian considers her father too timid. She has plans to expand the business, but he blocks them. It is believed that when he dies and the daughters inherit we shall see many changes."

"Her elder sister shares these plans?"

"It is believed so, although she and her mate live across the Umland and seem involved in their medical practice. Of the two, T'Ayrian is considered the stronger."

"Thank you, Mother. I shall meditate upon this when I am in the desert."

"You leave tomorrow?"

"Yes. And Sarek will join me in two days."

"I am pleased that you shall have this restful time. You say you are well, but a mother knows different."

Before he could protest, they heard a stratocar on the landing pad. Spock offered his arm to Amanda and mother and son went out to greet Sarek.

* * *

The next morning Spock hoisted the pack onto his back and began walking, letting the heat soak into his body. He forced the problems of the Enterprise from his mind. He needed this time away. Even a Vulcan must relax sometimes and be free of tension. While on board he could never let down his guard, he had to remain constantly alert. A careless officer was a dead one.

He walked and surveyed his surroundings. With each step he recalled the historical significance of what had happened here in the desert. With time the dunes had shifted and nature's forces had weathered away the evidence of the battles that had been waged here. But much of what Vulcan was today had been settled an this spot. Here the upstart Surak had been beheaded.

During the evening of the third day, he rounded a dune to find Sarek setting up camp at the agreed-upon place. Spock pitched in and they shared the chores of their meal, then spent the evening in silence. Spock could see that his father was attempting to relax in preparation for the next day's hike. Could the work and the strain be getting too much for him? Spock worried. For the first time in his life, he realized that his father would not live forever. It shocked him. He vowed to discuss Sarek's health with Amanda.

* * *

In the following days the two men, alone with each other and without operatives in constant attendance, were free to talk. As careful as they were, homes and offices were never truly safe. Here in the desert, freed from that worry, they talked; each briefed the other as to the state of events in their respective circles and discussed plans.

On their last night, with business finished, they relaxed by the fire. Sarek had fared well on the trek and Spock was much relieved as to his father's physical condition. As the evening grew late and the fire settled to a glow, Spock decided to ask a question that had been gnawing at him.

"Father, why did you summon me home for this interview?"

"Spock, if you read the psychological tests, you know the match would be good."

"Sarek, you avoid the obvious. Her family is not of our political persuasion."

"I realized that and had not previously considered her. But she does offer other assets... And it was Sigeer who approached me. I reviewed her portfolio and decided to forward it. An interesting note, my son. Sigeer told me that it was T'Ayrian who requested the interview."

"Indeed... Do you suspect something?"

"No. I have checked this out most carefully. I do not believe Sigeer uses his daughter in this." Sarek's voice held a hint of amusement. "From what I hear of that female, I do not think she would allow herself to be used. No. If there is purpose in this, it is personal. And that, of course, is your problem." Sarek was obviously enjoying this at the expense of his son. "Spock, she has much to offer in appearance and personality. If one must be bonded, it is preferable not to be chained to a bore."

"One question, Father. Was either my heritage or my recent difficulty mentioned?"

Spock could sense his father's piercing eyes across the glowing embers of the fire. "Do you believe I would allow it?"

"Then you do not believe that a marriage between us would signify an alliance between our families?"

"No. If a bonding should take place, I shall take care to see that that impression is not given."

"Control of a trading company offers many possibilities."

"We can wait until she inherits."

As they approached the last rise in the terrain, revealing the house a quarter-kilometer in the distance, Spock admitted to himself that he did not want this trip to end. It meant the return of reality and deadly serious matters.

They arrived hone to find Amanda waiting in the garden. "Where have you been? You were due home this morning."

"Is there some problem?" Sarek asked.

"Problem? No. It is just that... I was concerned."

Sarek took her hand. "I am sorry, my wife. That was not our intention."

"There is something else. Sigeer called. He extended an invitation and I accepted. We are due there in less than an hour." Amanda relaxed, now she knew husband and son were safe. She watched as they exchanged glances over this news. "Well, am I to have a daughter or do I call and convey our regrets?"

Sarek added his question to his wife's. "Spock? The choice is yours."

When Spock did not answer immediately, Sarek said, "Amanda, perhaps he has been among humans too long. His ability to make decisions seems somewhat impaired."

Amanda smiled as she agreed with her husband .

Spock watched his parents have their little joke as he contemplated the matter. There was really only one decision. Eventually, he would require a Vulcan wife. By waiting he could not hope to do better and, in all likelihood, the reverse would be true. Moreover, T'Ayrian was too eligible to remain available for very long. "I shall accept this bonding."

"Very well," said Sarek. "Let us try not to be late."

* * *

They arrived in time and were ushered into the sitting room. T'Ayrian was there with her parents. All performed the standard greetings and the three newcomers could not help but notice the tension that existed between T'Ayrian and her parents. After several seconds of strained silence, Sigeer faced Spock.

"I assume your being here now means that you are agreeable to a bonding between T'Ayrian and yourself."

"Correct." Spock could guess that was not the answer Sigeer wanted to hear. As he watched this family he was thinking that it was so different from his own. He, Sarek, and Amanda were united. Their body language told him that the other trio was not. T'Ayrian seemed to be playing the role of dutiful daughter, but anyone could sense the undercurrents. Now he understood why she had wished to meet with him alone.

Sigeer continued. "My daughter has a somewhat unusual request. She wishes for a bonding and marriage to take place before Spock leaves Vulcan."

Silence.

Amanda recovered her voice first. "May we ask why?"

T'Ayrian rose from her chair. "Children are bonded so they may become acquainted and so they will have certain knowledge of each other when -- it is needed. Not only have Spock and I not had that time, but I believe that such knowledge alone is not adequate to build a solid marriage. Spock and I, even bonded, would be strangers, and I have no desire to enter my marriage bed with a stranger."

Spock's immediate reaction to her speech was that it sounded rehearsed, but all he said was, "T'Ayrian and I will discuss this alone." He took her arm and guided her to the balcony.

"I forbid..." Sigeer was out of his chair, but it was too late. The balcony door slid closed.

* * *

Alone on the balcony the two faced each other. "Why a bonding now?" Spock asked.

"Because we are strangers. Does thee really wish to face thy time with an unknown mate?"

"It is traditional."

"It is stupidity! Spock, it is not unheard of to marry before the time."

"Under certain circumstances." He knew that among the poor there were oftentimes problems that made it feasible for a couple to marry before the next pon farr. "None of which apply here."

"Spock." Her voice was not soft now. "The offer was made as a pledge of my faith. If it makes me suspect, I withdraw it."

"A pledge of faith?"

"If we were married now, I could not challenge later."

"There could still be betrayal."

"From you also."

"Yes."

"Strangers cannot trust." She moved across the balcony to stand at the rail.

When he stood beside her, he said, "This is an uncommon action."

"I have never considered myself common. I do not intend to live a common life -- with a common mate."

He ran his finger down her cheek. "I do believe that marriage to you would prove to be most interesting."

She smiled up at him. "It is decided then?"

"It is decided."

The two joined the others and Spock made the announcement . "I leave for the Enterprise in two days. Can the ceremonies be performed before then?"

Sarek stood. "Certainly not tomorrow. We shall arrange them for the following day. I shall contact T'Pau..."

Impatiently, T'Salma nudged her husband and he spoke. "My wife is related to T'Mal. She acted for our other daughter and we should prefer to ask her again... If there are no objections?" he added hesitantly.

Spock exchanged glances with Sarek and Amanda. Neither expressed a sign of dissent, and he knew that T'Mal was a political neutral. Sarek gave a slight nod and said, "No, Sigeer. No objections. Please ask T'Mal." Spock sensed his father was amused at the snub to T'Pau.

The remainder of the evening was spent in planning the event. Because of the lack of time it would be a simple ceremony, held at Spock's home two days hence with only the family present. Spock would leave later that day.

* * *

Early on the morning of the ceremonies, Amanda entered her son's bedroom. "Spock, have you considered what you might wear?"

He forced open his eyes and stared at her. When he remembered that all the previous day he had been doing several things at once, just to stay even, he said, "Believe me, Mother, it never crossed my mind." He threw back the blankets and went into the bathroom, leaving her to choose his outfit.

Some time later, wrapped in a towel, he stood in the doorway and watched as Amanda examined the contents of his closet. After inspecting several garments, she chose a long cream- colored, wide-belted tunic with matching trousers. Then she found the maroon sleeveless long-vest and matching boots.

He tried to imagine what she was thinking as she ran her hands over smooth lenta leather. Her gestures were so sensual. Finally he cleared his throat and she looked up to meet his gaze.

"I would have predicted you would choose that one."

* * *

T'Mal took her place and motioned for the couple to approach her. Spock offered his arm to T'Ayrian and together they moved toward the elder and knelt in front of her. She placed her hand on his temple and Spock sensed as T'Mal entered his mind. In this instant she would first check to see that all remnants of Spock's first bonding were eradicated.

Satisfied that this was the case, she joined T'Ayrian to the link. With a sureness of her years of training, she began to focus their minds onto each other and away from hers. Both felt the joining, but the sense of being bombarded with the whole of another's consciousness tended to blur individual thoughts. The result was a mixture of vague perceptions. Now was not the time to explore deeper.

T'Mal was trained to keep her own mind exiled from this meld. She was simply the focal point. The ritual words were spoken, the idea planted, to grow and be called to the surface when 'the time' was upon them. When the meld met with her satisfaction, T'Mal withdrew from it; the bonding was completed.

Amanda went to the pillar and loosened the bindings that held the chimes and bells. Here in the garden the constant breeze off the desert immediately moved them and the air did the work of the absent bell ringers in creating a solemn mood. Spock approached the gong, a smaller version of the one that had stood in the desert. He took the mallet from its hanging place and raised it, signifying his intent. T'Ayrian was correct, he thought. It did give him a sense of relief to know there would be no challenge.

The low tone of the gong vibrated through the garden. It was done.

* * *

Sarek came to where the newly-married couple was talking. "It is time, son. Your car is waiting, your gear is aboard."

Spock said his good-byes to everyone in the room, then moved to where T'Ayrian was standing.

"Spock, might I accompany you to the spaceport?"

"If you wish."

Together they went out to the launch pad. Spock introduced T'Ayrian to his driver. "T'Opa, congratulate me. T'Ayrian has just become my wife."

T'Opa bowed slightly. "May your joining bring joy to you both."

"We thank you. When I have departed, you will take my wife to her parents' home."

T'Opa nodded and seemed casual as she prepared the car for take-off, but Spock caught T'Ayrian eyeing then both. She does not miss a thing, this wife of mine. A pity, T'Opa, but we shall have to forego our little pleasures. You are too close to home.

When the car was in the air, T'Ayrian said, "Spock, within the next few weeks your operatives will be reporting to you that I have left my father's house and have taken separate lodging. I tell you this now to assure you that all I wish is to be free of my parents. I have no other motives."

"Indeed. There is room in my family's home."

"I will not trade one set of parents for another."

"I will make no objection, unless given reason."

"You shall find none."

"Where will you go?"

"An apartment near my work."

"Ah, yes. The hydro plant. You shall be continuing?" She nodded. "Why that choice of a career? Why not business?"

"I have such training, but I prefer this work."

The car landed. Spock stood and extended his hand in the traditional way. "Until we meet again, my wife."

She met the gesture. "I await your return, my husband."

* * *

He was out of his seat waiting for the shuttle to land and doing his best to control his anger. To again have to ask Kirk for emergency leave... What goes on in the head of this female? She leaves her father's house, then informs me she will join Star Fleet. I deal with that idea, and now she has disappeared.

Spock covered the distance from the launch pad to the house in record time. The guard at the door told him he would find his parents waiting for him in the study.

"T'Ayrian is here, you were in tirne?" he asked before even greeting his parents.

"Yes," Sarek said. "She was trying to leave Vulcan. We intercepted her before she boarded the liner."

"You questioned her?"

"No, my son. I left that for you. She occupies the guest room. An interesting point... She had her nephew with her. We returned him to his parents."

Spock took the stairs two at a time. She looked up as he entered.

"My husband." The words were a taunt.

"You will explain your actions!"

"I wished to be near you..." The back of his hand caught her across the cheek.

"I will have answers." He moved closer.

"There is no need of force. I shall answer." She sank into a chair.

"This concerns more than just us." He went to the intercom and pressed a button. Sarek joined them, but stayed in the background.

There was no apology in her tone when she spoke. "I needed to get off Vulcan and not call attention to myself. It is also why I pushed for the immediate marriage. I wished to also align myself with your clan. I needed your protection."

"You are not very coherent, my wife. Why should you need protection?"

She faced him defiantly, but said nothing.

From the back of the room came Sarek's voice. "The Sukar conspiracy... Could there be a connection?"

"You know of it?" There was genuine surprise in her voice.

"I am aware of what Sukar is plotting. But I see no connection... Sukar... The unknown factor..."

Father and son locked eyes as both recalled their discussion in the privacy of the desert. Sarek had told Spock what he knew. Sukar was planning to eliminate his chief obstacle in the council. He stood to increase his finances tenfold if his expansion plans went unopposed. Sukar's chances were not considered good, and it was known that someone with interplanetary connections conspired with him. Until now it had not been known who that someone was.

"T'Salma! T'Salma is in league with Sukar... They must be secret bondmates. All these years we speculated. It is common knowledge that Sukar and his wife do not share a bonding. My compliments, they kept their secret well. It also explains much about the marriage between Sigeer and T'Salma. He is so much older, and below her status. As the only heir to her father's trading company, she could have made a better match... Sukar and T'Salma... Fascinating... They must have been planning this for years and now, together they make their move."

"And together they die!" T'Ayrian spat out the words. "I have no desire to die with them."

"As Sigeer's daughter, you would have his protection..." Spock stopped and stared at her.

T'Ayrian remained defiant. "So there you have it, my husband!"

Spock's eyes narrowed. "You are not Sigeer's child and he knows it. He would not protect you if indeed he could."

"Protect me? He hates me and wants me dead with them."

"This is why you sought to join Star Fleet. You would be off planet when the attempt took place."

"Yes. It provided a legitimate reason to leave Vulcan. Think, husband, you could align yourself with Sukar, then there would be a chance of..."

"No!" Sarek interrupted angrily. "We pledged our neutrality in this and will not become involved."

"You forget, sir, that if I come safely through this, I have much to offer. As T'Salma's legal heir, I inherit a trading company and as Sukar's daughter, I have his favor even if he cannot acknowledge me."

Sarek ignored the remark as Spock continued. "Who do you believe opposes you, besides Sigeer?"

"Do not toy with me, husband. When the attempt fails, and we know it will, the reprisals will certainly result in the elimination of my mother's clan. Since I have married you, I should be spared..."

"Then why run?"

"My nephew..."

"So now we have it."

"Yes. He should not have to die because of this. He had no part in its planning. If we went there now, we might get him..."

"No!"

"Is it a coward who speaks?"

"Do not throw words. If our positions were reversed, you would do the same. You view this through emotionalism."

Sarek stood. "Confirm this," he said to Spock, and left the room. A sly smile crept into Spock's eyes as he stared at T'Ayrian. "So, all the talk of pledging faith, of strangers marrying..."

"It is true!"

"You sought my protection."

"You blame me for choosing life? You spoke of reversed positions, place yourself in mine."

"I do not fault you, T'Ayrian. Under the circumstances, you did well. You chose a clan neutral in this attempt and one with a status greater than your own."

"I am honored," she said in a voice that would have curdled plomeek.

"But I do not relish being played the fool." If her tone had been sarcastic, his was deadly serious.

"I had no such intention. I do believe our union could be productive -- in many ways."

"Then your only motive in running was to save the boy?"

She nodded. "He and I have always been close. It would grieve me deeply to see his life wasted over this."

"What of the rest of your family?"

"I cannot undo that which has been set into motion."

"So you save yourself and the boy."

"That was my hope."

"Not an easy task, my wife. But let us confirm this."

"No..."

"Why do you resist? If you have spoken the truth, there is nothing to fear."

"I resent the intrusion."

He jerked her into his arms and could see that the action surprised her. Vulcans can be so narrow, he thought as he embraced her. His dual heritage and training had taught him variety. From James Kirk he had learned that there was more than one way to do almost everything. Using that information, he had decided that there should be some very interesting ways to mind link. He held her head and forced his mouth over hers. He felt her anger surge as she struggled for several seconds, then stopped. She was not fool enough to continue at a hopeless task. Still, he admired her for trying. And was sure she would take advantage of any miscalculation on his part. He was enjoying this match.

Instinct had brought her mental shield into place, but he had no trouble breaking through. His mind was operating on two levels. One scanned through the information in search of items pertaining to the business at hand. The other, instinctive, was responding to the female in his arms, and these responses manifested themselves in the physical. Automatically, she began responding, then fought to control. He enjoyed her predicament. Vulcan women were so sheltered, so ignorant in these matters. They hadn't the wealth of information available to women in other societies. Mentally, he promised her other delights when there was time.

Satisfied that there was nothing there to contradict what she had told them, he withdrew from her mind. But he continued kissing her. She did not struggle now. Finally he pulled away, gently. "A human custom. Interesting, do you not agree?"

He left the room and spent several hours talking with Sarek.

* * *

Later, on his way to bed, he passed her door. Ah, yes ... my wife. He raised his hand to touch the plate and enter the room. No. She would have no desire this night, he could understand why. He had definite plans for their first time together and no wish to mar that occasion. He would leave her be, would force no more from her tonight. Perhaps, he could comfort her... No, there was not enough trust between them, yet. Someday... But the need was still with him, a residual of their earlier scene. T'Opa? No. I need my rest. He turned and went to his own room.

* * *

Just before dawn, Spock felt his father's hand on his shoulder. "Spock, it has begun."

In the next instant he was awake and out of bed. As he pulled on his trousers, he said, "I shall tell T'Ayrian." It struck him that his first thoughts were for her.

He went to the guest room to find it empty. "She cannot be far. The guards would have stopped her." But it seemed that T'Ayrian had outwitted them. Spock was amazed, then even more so when a search produced an unconscious guard and T'Opa bound and gagged. They ran for the launch pad and were not surprised to find a stratocar was missing.

Sarek returned to the house to stay in touch with developments at the capitol and Spock took another stratocar to look for T'Ayrian. His first stop was her apartment. When he found it empty, he headed the car across the desert to the Umlands and called for directions to her sister's home.

He spotted a car next to the house and feared he was too late for the boy and his family. But the stolen car was not to be seen. The noise of his approach brought three figures running from the house.

He landed the car and removed his hand weapon. He would give then no excuse to fire. He exited the car with his hands in plain view. By the clan insignia, he recognized these men as hirelings of Sukar's intended victim and knew the coup had failed.

"We have no quarrel with your clan, Spock. You pledged neutrality."

"You have that. I shall not interfere. I only seek my..."

A fourth hireling came out of the horse dragging a small boy of about ten turnings. The man's free arm hung loosely at his tide, running blood. "Found him upstairs, sir. He attacked me." He threw the boy to the ground in front of the leader.

The terror in the boy's eyes told Spock what lay within: his parents, dead. And he was to be next, all knew it. Can I stop this? Spock asked himself. Why do I even want to? The look in those terror-filled eyes, and the one Spock could anticipate in T'Ayrian's when he returned with her nephew alive answered him.

Spock turned to the leader. "You have had your revenge. Be satisfied with that."

"This clan is to be obliterated. The name will be struck from the archives."

"The adults are dead. There are other ways to deal with a boy."

"You will claim him as a ward?"

"Let us ask him how he wishes to be judged." Spock turned to the boy. "How are you called?"

He got to his feet and held his head high, for he recognized the opportunity Spock was offering him. "I am called Stvan."

"Very well, Stvan. How do you stand before me?"

"Stripped of my family name, but I stand as an adult." The quivering voice belied the bravery of his words.

"Then I call you brother, and in my father's name, I offer you the rights and protection of my clan."

"And I call you brother and accept responsibility, pledging my loyalty to your clan."

"What will you take from this place?"

"Only that which I wear."

"That is wise. And this house?"

"Torch it, and let it stand as a sign that this clan is no more."

"It will be done." Spock turned to the men. "You have witnessed."

"We have witnessed," they said in unison.

"Then it is finished." The four men left while Spock and Stvan set about their task.

They stood back, watching it burn. After some time, Spock said, "Stvan, I am seeking your aunt. I had expected to find her here."

The boy kept his eyes on the burning house. "She called earlier and spoke with my mother. Then I was ordered upstairs."

Spock's thoughts began to race. If she came directly here from my home, she should have arrived before me. He forced down a red alert that began clanging in his mind. "Come, boy."

Spock took the car up and began searching the direct route between the boy's home and his own.

The sight of the rising wisp of smoke sent an involuntary shiver down his spine. No! It cannot be! He landed his own car and leaped out. As he was running toward the downed vehicle, his mind kept repeating the word. No! No! No!

He found her in the pilot's chair, her neck broken. He pulled her free and held her, and he mourned for all that would never be between them, all that he had anticipated. Your nephew lives, my wife, a wedding gift to you ... another human custom... Then rage exploded within him and he had to clench his hands into fists to stop them from trembling. How dare they!! She was my wife. Of my clan. She belonged to me!

His mind raced with thoughts of how he would kill them -- all of them. First the ones directly responsible, then those who had ordered it. And for the one from his own organization who must have revealed her whereabouts, for that one -- a special consideration. But, he told himself, I must control. This could not be quick or overt. This would take planning; it would have to be done slowly and with great care. He knew that they would claim she fired first; that they acted in self-defense. Yes, time. He would take his time, for they had killed his bondmate and he would savor his revenge.

THE END

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