Disclaimer: Star Trek is the property of Paramount/Viacom. This story is the property of and is copyright (c) 2009 by Pat Foley. Rated G.
Searching for Surak
Even in this enlightened age of medicine, even in Vulcans, a knife wound, a heart operation requires a certain amount of convalescence. Even Spock, who had hoped to be spared much time under McCoy's supervision, having only given blood, had developed a belated reaction to the Rigellian drug, which attached to his bone marrow with more tenacity than McCoy had thought it would, causing a dangerous rise in blood pressure and an overproduction of Vulcan cells, requiring many touch and go hours with filters and antidotes before McCoy declared him out of mortal danger, and then insisted on forty eight hours of bed rest.
What do all these high powered alpha males, Vulcan and human both, do when they are prevented from work, and required to rest for two whole days?
They play chess.
It was the Captain who started it, bored and fussing and needing a diversion, in spite of getting so many regular reports from his Chief Engineer ensconced on the bridge and giving so much advice in turn, he might as well have been there himself.
Spock was feign to deny his Captain anything, even under his father's judicious eye, and agreed to a game. Anyway, Sarek was deep in healing trance when they started. I'd heard something of these chess games in my son's messages home. But Spock fixed me with a glance, warning me not to embarrass him. I take a hint not to play that game as well as I had taken the hint before, when Spock had given me tacit permission to set McCoy up for a sehlat joke. So I lowered my eyelashes in Vulcan acknowledgment, and said nothing.
I watched the game with something akin to amusement, though I kept it hidden behind a mask worthy of a Vulcan. I could see Spock
had not changed at all. In spite of innumerable opportunities which he must have seen, in spite of his abilities to do more, in spite of
his father's being asleep, and not there to see him take advantage of them, he played a very disciplined, logical Vulcan game against
his human captain's flamboyant emotional one. And he lost, with all due logic.
Sarek would have been pleased I guess. Well, given the circumstances, given Spock was still so eager to prove to his father he was fully Vulcan, I could hardly expect anything else. But I remembered when it had been otherwise. When he was not quite eight standard years old…
I'm not a chess genius, by the way. I lived in a house of chess geniuses. Well, they are geniuses in much more than chess. But I'm not one myself, in chess or much of anything else.
When Spock had been a baby, it didn't really seem to much matter whether he was a genius or not. Vulcan or human, for that matter. At least it didn't seem that important to me. Or to his father, so far as I could tell. Neither Sarek nor I knew what his capabilities would be: a hybrid child. All I cared about, all that Sarek professed that he cared about, during those difficult days of Spock's conception and gestation and the worry we had for the first year of his life, was that Spock would be healthy. Viable. We pinned our hopes on that, and counted our lucky stars that he was so. Somehow, whatever he was, whatever his capabilities, we knew he'd find a place in our societies. That was what we'd pledged to each other.
But as Spock grew and became a toddler, it became obvious that his Vulcan genes were dominant in almost every way. And as his development closely paralleled that of a normal Vulcan child -- and a gifted Vulcan child at that -- Sarek began to change as well. To wish for more, and then as those wishes were continually fulfilled, to expect more as well. He didn't want Spock to be Spock -- my son as well as his.
He wanted Spock to be Vulcan.
I suppose it's only natural, even for a Vulcan, for a father to want his son to emulate him. Particularly when Spock had the ability to do so. If Spock couldn't, perhaps that would have been another thing. And Sarek had other reasons, family responsibilities, for wanting an heir to emulate him, things he hadn't quite made clear to me before we married, and when we'd spoken of having children. Things that plagued him now.
But Spock worshiped his father. He wanted to be just like him. So it seemed to work out all right between them, at least at first. They had the same goals.
It did leave me kind of out of the picture, in the most important thing in my life. But as long as they were happy, that's all that really mattered most to me.
As long as they were happy.
And they were happy at two.
They seemed happy at three, though I sensed the barest beginnings of a strain, first in Sarek, and then between them as Spock reached the age to be sealed to Council and start the beginnings of a Vulcan's life long study in the logical disciplines.
There was a hint of friction at four, but it was to be expected that two stubborn, strong-willed, intelligent creatures would have their moments. At five, when Sarek was so insistent that Spock complete his Kahs-Wan with full honors, on his first try, I first saw that judging look in Spock's eyes, saw him take a mental step back. Saw the beginnings of resistance between what his father expected him to be, and what he clearly knew himself to be.
But he was still just a baby, regardless of any Vulcan rites of manhood. Emotion still ruled in him, far more than logic. Perhaps, as my son too, it always would be a part of his decisions, along with logic. And he wanted his father's approval so badly. He took that first, judgmental step back. And then a step forward. As did Sarek, after that incident. As did I. We -- all of us--- weaved in and out, back and forth in that incongruous dance around the whole dichotomy of illogic in having fully Vulcan expectations for a half Vulcan child.
To deal with it, Spock virtually gave up allowing himself to even consider that he was my son. He called himself Vulcan. He vowed to be Vulcan. It was all Sarek would expect, or even allow, for Sarek called him that too. I wondered where they thought I fit in all this, but my sole voice of -- dare I say it -- logic and reason in that regard went not just unacknowledged but as if it were unheard. Sarek was so determined, it was all the expectations we had space for in our family. There wasn't even wiggle room for anything else. Spock went to his father's schools, had the same prestigious tutors, forced himself, whatever handicaps he might have had, to earn the same accolades. He was going to be just like his father.
And Sarek was content.
Spock and I eyed each other silently in this unspoken but acknowledged charade. We knew better, he and I. But we were locked in a conspiracy to defraud the truth. And we were not talking about it. There was really no point in talking about it. It only created arguments between Sarek and myself that never seemed able to be fully resolved. So long as Spock was relatively happy… Which he did seem to be, most of the time…
Which still left me with the puzzle of where I fit into this.
It didn't help that there seem to be traditions for almost everything in Vulcan. Academic, social, behavioral, psi, even patterns of thought. At times, all of Vulcan society seemed geared to control. Spock went to school, and to his tutors for music, for psi, for special lessons in the history of his clan and his role in it. He went from lesson to lesson, from discipline to discipline, from practice to study. And I had very little place in any of it.
I had my career. I had my husband too. But I was more of a spectator in the life of my son. His mentors were, all of them, Vulcan.
Well, except for one thing. I did teach him piano. Sarek thought highly enough of music that he considered that an innocuous activity. We steered clear of romantic composers, at his request. At least at first. Fortunately, I love Bach.
It was only coincidence that Spock's chess lessons followed his piano lessons. Well, I called it chess -- it's very similar to the human game, and developing quite a following in the Federation. I had taught Sarek the Terran version during one long diplomatic sojourn when we had a chess set in our suite, and the people with whom we were negotiating worked bankers' hours, leaving long evenings free. He taught me the Vulcan version, with three boards. And we whiled away some of our free time playing both.
At first I needed quite a handicap, but then I figured out that a Vulcan, hobbled so much by logic, has predictable blind spots in that
regard, and I learned to turn the game around by doing wildly illogical things, that threw Sarek off, that took advantage of his lowered
expectations in my regard. I learned to hide logical attacks behind unpredictable offenses, and I began to win. Not often - when I concentrated, I could take Sarek to a game in three or four. But chess had never been of much interest to me before, so I considered that I was doing well. Just to see Sarek's eyebrows rise, and him sit back figuratively before an unexpected gambit, was reward enough for me. I didn't really care whether he toppled his king.
I didn't really set out to teach Spock chess. But one day his teacher was inexplicably absent -- well, both Spock and I understood why he was absent, but Vulcans don't speak of such things -- and it was clear he was going to have no lessons for two weeks. Sarek was too swamped with work to substitute -- we were fresh from that diplomatic chess playing assignment, and Sarek was finding it hard to catch up on Vulcan affairs, now that we were back home. I was longing to spend more time with my son after that absence. So, when I saw him sitting down to toy with a chess piece in that hour, playing a half hearted game against himself, or doing chess homework alone, it seemed natural for me to challenge him to a game in this rare free period in his schedule.
He flicked a brow at me, amused in a Vulcan way. And was smugly prepared to beat me with all due logic.
Now I put up with a lot of conceited Vulcan superiority from both my Vulcans over my various human failings. I can't lightening calculate, giving rise to my husband's -- and my son's -- Vulcan suspicion that I have never mastered even basic arithmetic, much less mathematics. I never know the precise time to the second, as they always do. And my memory is spotty at best, compared to Vulcan eidetic memory. You see what I mean. With all humans' various built in failings, they often expressed wonder how I can even think, much less function. Live with a Vulcan, and even the most diplomatic can eventually get on your nerves with such attitudes. Live with a know-it-all Vulcan child, who hasn't mastered all his father's diplomacy, and yes, at times, I admit, that child's smug comments can make me see red. After a few of those comments, as he set up the board, I threw down diplomacy myself, and in the ensuing game I whipped my son's scrawny little Vulcan butt, making his brows raise up in astonishment, drop his superior act, sit up and take notice of what I just did.
And then demand to know how I did it. So I showed him human-style chess, the kind I played against his father. Spock was as appalled as his father had been, told me repeatedly how illogical, how heretical, how wrong my playing was. Clearly, I had offended not only his little purist driven soul, but the souls of all Vulcan chess purists down through the dawn of time. Or from Surak and the Reforms, at least.
But given he was tipping his king to me about as often as I was tipping mine to his, his protests sounded a little hollow. And practice was making me perfect. After about a week, when he stubbornly tried to defeat me by logic, and I stubbornly beat him with emotion, his temper got riled up enough by my smug attitude that he proceeded to throw Surak to the wolves (or this being Vulcan, the lematya) and do what was necessary to win, even if he had to use my own tactics against me. I admit, I goaded him. But he's a quick study, that boy. Quicker than his father had been.
We had fun for those two weeks, until his regular tutor returned. I didn't think any more about it, and we never played chess again, given Spock resumed his nearly dawn to dusk tightly choreographed schedule of lessons, study, physical activity, and practice. Neither one of us thought to mention it to Sarek. In fact, no one would even have known about it, but for the yearly academic chess tournament that happened a half year later. Spock was entered, of course. It was tradition in his family. And he was representing his school in his age division. Sarek expected him to win all the logical levels he could be expected to win at his age division, defeating all competitors from other schools. It was such a non-event, that no parents, no audience attended. The matches were recorded, for the sake of recording the moves, not for fond parents to gaze over their children. I didn't even really know about it. Until Spock won.
He didn't just win his division, that predictable non-event. He won the whole bloody tournament, defeating everyone even in the senior academic levels, those students getting ready to leave for the Science Academy.
Spock came home, both pleased and a bit uneasy at his unprecedented win. The Vulcan proctors of the tournament -- bastions of logic and control -- were perfectly polite about what happened. Spock brought back a little sash, a sort of embroidered scroll, a combination of diploma and ribbon and badge, a discreet little thing, that didn't even begin to intimate to me what kind of brouhaha it was about to signify. He didn't say anything to his father about it, and to Sarek, it was such a given that his son would do what was expected, and he was so busy, that he neither expected, nor inquired about anything different. He knew Spock would perform as he should. I saw the ribbon, and congratulated Spock, not knowing he'd done anything differently this year than before. He didn't bother to tell me that it was more than I thought it was. I was inexpert enough in High Vulcan that I didn't easily decipher the archaic lettering, or understand the difference between high honors and highest.
It wasn't until the next day that Sarek found out. My first inkling was when he came home early from work, in time to meet with Spock's chess tutor. There were strong words spoken in his study, unbeknownst to me, and Vulcan heads figuratively rolled. That illustrious Vulcan tutor eventually left with his shoulders ramrod straight and his figuratively rolled head set in a high dudgeon.
I was mystified at this, but again, I'm human. A little slow at the best of times. I didn't catch on to the reasons behind what had happened. I was puzzled at Suron's leaving the house early, but I thought, in my innocence, perhaps Spock was getting a little free time for a job well done. I was caught up in my own usual after school activity of making dinner and working on grading assignments and writing papers. Until Sarek came in, wearing his best high Vulcan, clan leader manner. Demosthenes about to render judgment. I took up a vegetable knife, chopping away at a plomeek in a fine flurry of activity to put him off his stroke, but he wasn't to be deterred.
"Amanda. What have you done?"
Now I may not be the sharpest sword that ever resided in our historically old Fortress, but I know better than to admit anything to my Vulcan husband when he was in a judgmental mood. "I can't think what you mean," I said, playing for time. "Would you like a carrot? They're just picked."
"I don't want a carrot. Did you teach Spock chess?"
I was as offended at this as if he'd asked me if I taught Spock logic just because I had once read to him the speech by Tweedledum and Tweedledee in Alice in Wonderland describing what logic was to them. "Certainly not. He has a tutor for that, doesn't he?"
"Are you telling me that he picked up your style of playing -- your very human style of playing -- as some kind of inherited trait? I had seen no evidence of it until yesterday's tournament. Nor had his tutor. The more likely scenario is that you deliberately taught him those tactics."
I was beginning to get an inkling of what I was being accused of. And, now that he reminded me, my faulty human memory did
belatedly recall those two weeks of games some months before when Suron was absent. But I wasn't willing to admit to that yet. "I
didn't teach him. I may have played a few games with him when his teacher was absent. I showed him how I played--"
Sarek raised his brows to his bangs. "You showed him how you played? You showed an impressionable, young Vulcan child that wildly illogical human style of playing--"
"Illogical!" I flung down my cleaver, lest I used it more to a purpose and squared off at my husband. "I may remind you that I whipped your Vulcan pants more than once."
Sarek's eyes narrowed. "That is not the point."
Spock came in then, behind his father, his eyes full of storm warnings, looking to both of us as if he wished he had been born into a nice, uncomplicated family, say a grower of plomeek, or a dealer in kevas and trillium. It was a wish I occasionally sympathized with, no more so than when Sarek was at his clan leader haughtiest.
"What is all this about, anyway?" I complained, looking from one to the other of them. "What don't I know?"
Spock raised his head, a soldier before a firing squad, but said nothing. Sarek gave his son a brief disapproving glance. "Spock has won the pan-academic chess tournament, against all levels. Using your methods."
That brought Spock out of his trancelike state. "Not merely Mother's methods. Only when I exceeded the level of my present -- of
Suron's instructions to me -- and -- and--" he faltered before his father's disapproving gaze. "And I--"
"And then, since he couldn't best them with logic, he used your methods against the more advanced opponents," Sarek intoned to me.
Spock ducked his head.
But I over-rode it when the impact of what Spock had done sank in. "Did you really? The whole tournament? And you beat even the pre-University students? Why didn't you tell me when you came home from school yesterday? Oh, how marvelous!" I exclaimed, causing both Vulcans to turn to me at my unchecked emotional delight. "Congratulations, my son!"
Spock's shoulders straightened a little at this praise, he eyed his father, hopefully, as if the judgment of my court might weigh in his
favor, and then his shoulders dropped again as Sarek turned to him.
"Spock, you are reprieved. You can go to your room."
"Now, wait a minute. Reprieved? Reprieved from what?" I asked.
"Spock. You may go."
Spock gave me an apologetic glance as if regretful that the worm had turned from him to me. But as his father gestured to the door, he left, leaving me in the proverbial Vulcan soup. I bristled, not being unfamiliar with that position, and prepared to play offense rather than defense.
"Reprieved from what?" I repeated.
Sarek merely raised a brow, feigning excessive control. "Perhaps you could explain exactly what you taught him, so that I can
instruct Suron how to best repair this damage."
"Damage?" I asked dangerously. "What damage?"
"Do you not yet understand the repercussions of your actions?"
"Sarek. Not only do I not understand what you are complaining about, I don't understand what the hell you are complaining about!"
"Don't Amanda me! Didn't you just inform me that our son just beat out every single student in this ever so prestigious tournament, from the kindergarteners to the advanced students? And not only are you not pleased, not only did you not praise him for it, you "reprieved" him? From what, I'd like to know?"
"Winning is not the issue. Winning is not the point," my husband said, exasperated. "Logic is."
"Oh, what a fabulous lie!" I said flabbergasted. "And how well you tell it! If I didn't know better, I might almost believe you." I fixed him with a narrow gaze. "But I don't!"
"Amanda, how can you say--"
"How can you! Don't you dare tell me winning isn't the issue. And don't try to palm that off on him, either. He's young, but he's not that naïve. Nor that dumb. What do you think you teach him, every time you go toe to toe with some faction across a conference table, and never back down till you come home triumphant? When you win every debate? What do you think the whole of Vulcan history is about? That Vulcans never lose! And certainly not the heirs of Surak!"
Sarek drew up at that, fingers steepled in control. "You are being emotional."
"That's no argument," I dismissed. "You always say that when I'm right and you're wrong. Anyway, I have as much right to be emotional as you do to be logical. I'm human. Try that with Spock and you might get him to back down, but it's no great shame to me."
"Certainly there is some truth to your comments," Sarek said carefully, "but there are also limits to behavior. This tournament was a scholastic exercise in a very particular logical discipline. There were set expectations as to how it was meant to be played--"
"Did he break the rules? Is what he did considered cheating?"
Sarek drew back and looked at me. "No. Obviously not, or he would not have been awarded the title."
"He wasn't stopped or disqualified the first time he tried those tactics?"
"That is hardly the point."
"Yes, it is. So he didn't have all the advanced moves that the upper students had, because he hadn't been taught them yet. So he improvised. He found holes in their logic, in their attacks, and he simply exploited them. Just like you do at every conference table. There is no difference, Sarek. I should think you would have been proud that he emulated you so well, in an entirely different context."
Sarek closed his eyes at that. "Proud." He shook his head very slightly. "It is clear we will never resolve this." He regarded me levelly. "I will explain to Spock that your form of chess is not an example to be followed. And we will leave it at that." You're wrong. It's not about chess. And it's not my example he was following. I wish it had been, just for once, but it wasn't. Sarek, I can lose. I even lose gracefully, when you give me half a chance. No, it's your example he was following, to pull off that win. It's always yours. And now, you're not losing gracefully. Can't you be happy, for once, when he combines both of our influences into some success? Isn't that part of what we set out wanting for him? To take the best of both of us?"
"So you do acknowledge your influence in this?"
"If it will make you answer my question, yes!"
"I don't consider the undisciplined illogical emotional style of playing he displayed to be any sort of best behavior."
"Can't you even acknowledge the victory that even his teachers and his school did?"
"Amanda," Sarek ground out with excessive patience. "This was no victory. It was a setback. A failure from years of careful lessons."
"Oh!" I shook my head, appalled. "Did you tell him that?"
"He knows it to be true, now. I trust he will quickly remedy his behavior. And never behave so again."
"You couldn't even be a little pleased?"
"There is no pleasure to be taken in such--"
"You must have broken his heart." "Must you continually evaluate everything in emotional terms?"
"And you're breaking mine!"
"No, Amanda," Sarek said, a little too forcefully. "I will not let you do this. However you might wish to make it one, this is not an emotional issue. It has to do with a failure of logic. And that is how it will be dealt with."
"Your failure, Sarek. And it is an emotional issue. But it's not my emotion and it's not Spock's. And it wasn't his teachers' either, or that of the people who ran the tournament. It's yours. Spock is just a little boy. Oh, yes, he wanted to win, to please you. Because it's you who is embarrassed when he didn't win strictly by your methods. It's you who were ashamed. Isn't embarrassment emotion? Isn't pride? Where are Surak's precepts in all of that? By your own standards, you have no right to inflict your emotions on Spock. Or on me for that matter."
"You insist on turning the conversation to emotional concerns. But my concern is Spock's logical thought processes. Vulcan is a society based on logic. Half human, or not, he has the ability to function within it, and I will see him properly trained to do so. It is not pride, or embarrassment, but my duty. And it is yours. You will therefore cease to instruct him in your version of chess."
"I didn't instruct him. I just played with him."
"Then don't play with him," he snapped back, finally losing some of his Vulcan control.
"Go to hell," I answered, and flinging the basket of plomeek at his head, had the satisfaction of seeing him duck.
"You're lucky I'm not that emotional. It could have been a knife," I retorted. "And don't you dare tell me what I can and can't do with my son. My son, Sarek. Not just yours."
He closed his eyes for a moment, as if struggling to regain his control, realizing he'd crossed a line. And then finally sighed. "Is there any point at which we can compromise in this? I don't think I am asking for much."
"Not much," I agreed bitterly. "You just want it all, as usual. Your human wife, and your Vulcan son, and everything perfect in your neat little Vulcan world."
"There is nothing neat in this Vulcan world," Sarek sighed, and began to gather the tossed around vegetables.
"Leave them," I snapped. "I like them where they are. We need a little disorder and chaos in this house. And if I wanted them picked up, I wouldn't have flung them at you."
"Amanda. I don't wish to be at odds with you. I regret if I offended you."
"That's not good enough."
He eyed me warily. "What do you want?"
I drew a breath, striving for calm myself. "Tell Spock you're proud of him."
Sarek shook his head. "I am not."
"Not even a little bit?"
"No. And he would not believe me if I said so."
I sighed, and rubbed my forehead. "Sometimes, I really, really, really hate you."
"What I do, I do for Spock. Whether you believe it or not."
"I find it very hard to believe that now."
"Amanda. There must be something."
I sighed. "Then promise me that someday you will."
"Will what?" he asked.
"Be proud of him. Don't tell me you can't -- Vulcans feel pride. You do, certainly. And tell him so."
"I will not promise," Sarek warned, but at my warning look, he relented. "But if I do, I will."
"And don't be too hard on him now. It's mostly my fault, you know."
"That I can well believe."
"Don't push your luck," I said darkly. "I've still got a whole basket of vegetables here, just itching to be airborne. Not to mention a rack of cleavers, razor sharp."
"Then it is best I restrain you," he said, and approached.
I let him. He was wary enough to offer me the Vulcan touch, before he risked more with his hellcat Terran wife. "Be nice to Spock," I warned again, but then I relented and let him kiss me. It was sort of ridiculous to blame Sarek for being Sarek. But I was still mad enough to only kiss him perfunctorily and then I pushed him away. "Go on and talk to your son. Nicely. I have to get dinner."
He paused, to get one more dig in. Never let it be said he wasn't always determined to win. "I trust we aren't going to eat the vegetables now on the floor?"
"Just you," I said sweetly, giving him as good as I got. "Your punishment. Now get out." I ordered and watched him as he flicked a brow but left, back to resume that dance we were forever engaged in, Human to Vulcan, and back again, trying to find our place.
I don't think anyone expected or could have predicted that Spock would find that place in Starfleet. Certainly not Sarek. Or that a quarter of a century later, I'd be watching another chess game, with Spock playing his father's game against someone using the same wildly illogical tactics his mother had used, so many years ago.
I kept my promise. While my son was growing up, I didn't play chess with him again. He never asked. The next year, he won his tournament division, but didn't try any illogical moves to get beyond his age level, though I understand a few others at the senior levels did. And he kept winning his level, every year until he finally, legitimately, won the pan tournament again at the highest level, with only Vulcan methods. His father was pleased, but not proud enough to say so. In fact, I don't think Sarek ever kept his promise in that regard.
Now, years later, we were all playing chess. When Sarek woke and saw what they were doing, he watched, a hint of disapproval in his eyes at Jim Kirk's game, and with a hint of relief that Spock kept to Vulcan tactics. I distracted him with a game of our own, and beat my husband, using my own wildly illogical tactics, but then he was in a weakened state. The next day, feeling better, he beat me soundly. I also lost to Jim Kirk, but I gave him a very good game, and some new tactics he hadn't considered. We had a nice talk over the chess board, and not just about winning tactics to use against Vulcan logic. And then, late on the second afternoon, when our game was over and Jim had finished ragging the bridge crew, and had settled down for a nap, I found Spock and Sarek at a game. I didn't intrude, just watching from the doorway, but from what I saw, Spock had a superior position on the board. They played for a long, long, hotly contested, fully Vulcan game. But then, finally, Sarek tipped his king. I don't know what Sarek said to Spock afterwards, but my son inclined his head and lowered his lashes, a Vulcan reaction to a compliment. And the tips of his ears went a little green as Sarek continued to speak.
He had, of course, been playing by Vulcan rules. In chess. And in life, in spite of being in Starfleet. Nearly letting his father die because of those Vulcan rules. I couldn't forgive him for that, not really. No more than I really forgave his father for his behavior, long ago, after Spock's winning chess tournament. But I understood the motivations. Wanting to please his father so badly, he'd forfeited his human heritage. And almost his father's life. It wasn't a motivation, I could understand. But it was Vulcan, part of that long legacy from Surak that ruled both my Vulcans. Spock had at least learned some of those lessons to perfection. Perhaps enough to make his father proud.
In fact, I'd say from my son's reaction, my husband finally made good on that long ago promise to say so.
And about time too.
I think even Surak would have been pleased about that.