DISCLAIMER: The Star Trek characters are the property of Paramount Studios, Inc. The story contents are the creation and property of Cheree Cargill and is copyright (c) 2008 by Cheree Cargill. This story is Rated PG.
"Sorry," said the lanky spacer as he leaned over the bar and took another long pull of his ale. "We don't take passengers."
"I'm not looking for passage," answered the tall young Vulcan who stood beside and just behind him. "Well, I mean, yes, I am looking for passage, but I'm willing to work for my transport. I don't need pay or anything. Just a place to sleep and food and a jump to the next system."
The spacer captain eyed him in a disinterested way. "Don't need any crew. Besides, how do you know where we're bound? Maybe it's not where you're going." He downed another deep swallow of ale.
The Vulcan was beginning to look just a little bit desperate, if that was possible. "Your next stop is Salaxis, isn't it? That's what he said." The youth nodded toward the huge, broad-shouldered man on the other side of the spacer.
The captain turned his gaze on his comrade, forced to bend his neck slightly to look up at him. "Did he now?"
The bigger man grinned in an embarrassed way. "Well, that's our port, ain't it, Cap? No secret, is it?"
"No," the captain conceded. "But we still ain't no ferry. Anyway, you look like you could afford a cabin on a cruise ship," he said, his eyes running up and down the boy's frame, noting the well-tailored clothing and expensive shoes. "Why do you want on an ol' bucket like Mandalay?"
The Vulcan fidgeted a bit. "I need a way off this planet," he said finally. "One that is not obvious."
The spacer finally turned to face him and appraised him critically. "Why? Are you hot?"
For a long moment, the young Vulcan appeared puzzled then answered, "No, I'm quite comfortable, thank you. It's no warmer than usual."
On the other side of the captain, the big first mate spewed a mouthful of the ale he'd just taken and burst into loud guffaws, drawing the attention of the other patrons of the bar, before they turned back to their own business.
Both the captain and the Vulcan gave the mate a reproving glance, then the captain replied, "I meant, are you wanted by the authorities?"
"Oh! No, not at all!" The young Vulcan was slightly taken aback. "But it would be difficult for me to leave by regular means. My grandparents would try to stop me."
"Uh-huh." The captain pulled speculatively at his lower lip. "How old are you, son?"
"By Earth count, I am 20."
"Then you're of age. Why would Granny and Pops try to keep you here?"
There was another long pause, then the young man answered cautiously, "I'd rather not discuss that here. It's a personal matter."
"So," said the big first mate, who'd now mopped his face of the spilled ale. "What'd you do? Knock up the maid? Embezzle the ol' man's retirement funds? Burn down the mansion?"
The Vulcan stiffened to his full height and his dark eyes hardened. "Thank you, gentlemen," he said formally. "I shall seek an arrangement elsewhere."
He turned to go but the first mate reached out and caught him by the upper arm. "Hey, don't get in a kink. I was just funnin' ya. Long as you ain't got the Feds after ya, we don't care what ya done."
The Vulcan shrugged off the man's touch, but faced him proudly. "I simply am trying to get to the next system with as little fuss as possible. I can work hard doing manual labor and otherwise will keep out of your way."
The captain was still studying him silently but his cohort grinned and replied, "I'm startin' to like this kid, Cap. I can use another hand down in cargo. Whaddaya say?"
"Hmmm... Alright. As far as Salaxis, no farther," the captain finally decided. "You work for Bully here. No pay, just a bunk, three meals and the oxygen you breathe. I find out you're wanted or you make trouble, we'll let you off somewhere in the Big Lonesome. You got that?"
"Uh ... the ... Big Lonesome?" The boy again looked puzzled.
"He means you'll take a long walk out a short airlock," the bigger man sneered. "Out where the air is thin and the chances for survival are somewhere between zero and none."
The boy gulped, his eyes wide.
Then the spacer laughed and stuck out his hand. "But we ain't spaced nobody in at least a turn, have we, Rud? Bully Hardman's my name. What's yours?"
Hesitantly, the Vulcan took the proffered hand, aware he'd seen Humans shake hands often. He was unprepared, though, to have his own hand swallowed up by the massive paw that took it.
"Uh ... D-David," he answered. "My name is David." He managed to extract his hand from the firm grip before it was wrenched off his wrist.
The captain didn't offer to shake, but was leaning back against the bar, elbows resting to either side of his body. It made him seem all the more menacing.
"David, huh?" he repeated. "Got a last name ... David?"
Again that dalba-in-the-floodlights look flashed through the young Vulcan's eyes. "Uh ... Grayson," he stuttered after a moment of obvious frantic thought. "My name is David Grayson."
The captain's own eyes narrowed for a moment, then he straightened and hooked his thumbs in his belt. "All right then ... David Grayson, or whatever the hell your real name is. I'm Rudyard Kipling Smith, captain of the Free Trader Mandalay. 'Rud' to my friends. 'Sir' to you. We lift ship at 0530. You be at Dock A7 at 4. One swag, no more."
"Sw ... swag?"
Smith sighed. "One bag of belongings. This ain't the Lyran Queen. I close ship at 0430. Once sealed, I don't open. Be there or be left."
"Yes, sir! I'll be there! Thank you, Captain!" The Vulcan turned and hurried out of the portside saloon and into the gathering dusk.
Bully shook his head and turned back to slap the bar for another mug. "Probably he's really the High Potentate's by-blow," the big spacer grunted. "Tryin' to get away from the palace guards and all them stiff necks."
Smith retrieved his own brew and took a sip. "Vulcan doesn't have potentates and palaces, Bull. I just hope I don't live to regret this."
* * *
Spock was bent over his desk, obviously deep in thought, when Christine entered the study. He was quietly tapping the stylus in his right hand against his lip, his eyes lowered to the datapad that lay before him, and for a moment he seemed oblivious to her presence.
Not wanting to disturb her husband, Christine turned to the open double doors that led to the balcony and walked out to enjoy the evening air. This part of the house faced west along the north slope of the Llangon Hills and over the rugged expanse the last glow of sunset tinged the sky a dusky orange. The heat of the day still lingered, but a cooling breeze was beginning to flow from the heights onto the plains.
With a deep sigh, the woman sank into one of the comfortable chairs and sipped at the cup of tea she'd brought with her. It was real Earth tea -- orange pekoe -- which some Terrans considered common and tasteless but which Christine had grown up drinking and which she still enjoyed, with a slice of lemon, thank you very much. Closing her eyes, she took another sip and thought about home.
A quiet footstep brought her out of her reverie and she looked up as Spock settled into the chair next to her, his own mug in hand. His contained mulled saya. She could smell the spices from where she sat. "The children are settled?" he asked, his gaze holding a gentle smile for her.
"All fed and the twins are bathed and ready for bed," she answered. "Jenny and Kaity are doing school work. Jen is complaining about it ... as usual." Christine's brows showed her consternation. "I'm wondering if we shouldn't send her to the Terran Embassy school in ShiKahr like we did Sapel. I don't think she's doing very well with Vulcan tutors."
"Perhaps. She has always been the most Human of our children and the least suited for Vulcan education."
"Kaity is just the opposite. I think she's got her tutors scrambling to keep up with her." Christine shook her head. "It will be interesting to see how the babies do when their formal education starts."
"They are old enough now," Spock replied. "They are three years old, which is the time Vulcan children normally begin academic training."
"I know ... but I want to keep them with me so much! They are just growing up too fast!"
Spock reached out and squeezed her hand. "As children are wont to do."
His wife smiled sheepishly. "I know. I'm just being a mother."
"And an excellent one at that."
Christine laughed and changed the subject. "What were you so engrossed in when I came in?"
"A problem," he replied cryptically.
"Problem? What problem?"
"The same one we have been discussing for the past three years."
"Ah." Christine took another sip of her tea and turned her gaze to the rapidly darkening sky. On the horizon, the last remnant of the sunset was still discernable, but the stars were beginning to show. Prominent among them were 40 Eridani's two sister stars, known as The Eyes. Vulcan orbited the alpha sun in a triple star system, an orange dwarf. The other two dwarf stars -- one red and one white -- were well outside the plane of the ecliiptic but shown with the brilliance of Venus or Jupiter on Earth. The red one was called the Eye of Fire and it was this one that gave Spock's family its ancestral name -- da'Ni'ikhirch.
"So ... let's talk about it some more," she said with a determined tone in her voice. "Let's make a decision, one way or the other."
Spock cocked an eyebrow in her direction, amused. When his wife's face settled into that expression, it meant she'd pretty much made up her mind. "I concur," he answered, hiding his smile by taking a sip from his mug. "And what have you decided?"
"Decided? I haven't decided anything," she protested. "I just said we needed to discuss it."
"Christine, how long we been bonded?"
"What? Twenty years, why?"
"And you believe that I do not know you by now?" He was smiling openly.
"Oooh ... shut up!" But it broke her seriousness too, for a moment at least, then she continued. "I mean it, though. We've been bandying this back and forth since before the twins were born. I'm sick of the indecision. Either we're going or we aren't."
"I fully agree with you, t'hy'la," he replied. "This continual debate serves no purpose except to waste time. So ... yes or no? I would like your honest opinion on the matter."
Christine closed her eyes and her brows knotted together for a long, agonizing time, then she whispered, "Yes. I'm scared to death, but ... yes!"
Spock's jaw tightened as he too considered the question, then he nodded as well. "Yes," he agreed finally. "Yes. We go back."
* * *
The Vulcan youth going by the name of David Grayson showed up at Dock A7 promptly at 0400, duffle bag slung over his shoulder, and was put to work within 10 minutes of arriving. First Mate and Cargomaster Bully Hardman directed him to stow his gear in one corner of the cramped ship's bay and then set him to the task of stowing the final load of merchandise they were hauling. The cargo area was already nearly full, but the assistant cargomaster, a dark-skinned woman called Jewel, expertly directed the final stowing and securing.
At 0430, the ship's speaker blared the captain's voice. "Bully? You squared away down there?"
Hardman thumbed the contact button. "We're square, Cap. Seal 'er up when you're ready."
"Acknowledged." The speaker shut off again.
Hardman turned to see David and Jewel standing beside him and the big man grinned. "Okay, kid, if you're gonna change your mind about going with us, now's the time to abandon ship! Once those doors seal, the next daylight you'll see will be on Salaxis."
For a second, Grayson peered out at the Vulcan spaceport, the day already sweltering hot in the pre-dawn darkness, and something like longing flickered over his features, his mind's eye obviously seeing beyond the concrete and steel. Then his young face settled back into resolution. "I'm ready, sir."
"Good kid!" Bully slapped him on the shoulder, a blow that nearly knocked him off his feet, and walked away laughing.
David blinked and found his balance once more. There was a hydraulic whine and the cargo doors began to move into place, then closed with a soft thud and the buzz of the magnetic seal coming on. David felt his hair lift slightly in the static charge and involuntarily stepped back.
Jewel chuckled and said, "Come on, Dave. I'll show you where you'll be bunking. You can stow your gear and then we'll get up to the bridge. There's still work to be done before we lift."
* * *
Christine was already up when Spock appeared in the huge communal kitchen that fed the numerous residents of Keldeen. It was early, just barely dawn, but she was dressed and busy at work alongside T'Fen and T'Galia, two of Spock's seemingly countless cousins who came and went during the course of the day at the family estate. They were all at work preparing breakfast, this morning consisting of a large pot of tikh porridge which was bubbling away on the heating slab, fresh fruit of various kinds, and slices of a rich red root vegetable that was grilled to crispy perfection. Christine was feeding chunks of a'lkopa into a juicer and watching the golden yellow nectar drip into a clear pitcher.
Spock nodded politely to the other two women then went over to his wife. She gave him a small dignified smile of greeting and said, "I'd exchange a proper hello but my fingers are sticky from this fruit. There's coffee if you want it or saya tea if you don't."
"I believe coffee will do this morning," he answered pleasantly and retrieved a large mug from the cabinet shelves. As he poured the steaming black liquid from the carafe, he continued, "You have arisen especially early today."
"My turn at KP," she replied, putting more fruit into the juicer. "And I've got an early meeting with my staff this morning."
"Old military term. Surely you must have done KP when you were a cadet."
"Oh, yes. 'Kitchen patrol.' I did not perform this duty at the Academy; however, I have practiced it a number of times on away teams and camping with the Captain and the Doctor."
She put the last of the fruit into the juicer, waited until it had run through its cycle, then turned it off and set the cleaning function to activate a few minutes afterward. Running her hands through the sanitizer and dryer, she turned and lightly touched fingers with him. "There. Good morning, my husband. I trust your sleep was restful."
"Quite restful, my wife. I thank you for your greeting."
Formalities over, Christine picked up the pitcher of juice. "Your assistance would be welcome, husband." She nodded to where T'Fen and T'Galia were grasping the heavy caldron of porridge and starting through to the meal room. It was clear that they were doing the job easily, so Spock instead took up the large tray with the beverages and condiments on it and followed the women. It wasn't long before the breakfast foods were laid out on the buffet.
T'Fen seemed satisfied and struck a small gong hanging from the ceiling. Its mellow tone sounded throughout the house and within a few minutes, the rest of the family, about thirty in all, began to gather quietly for First Meal. Among them were a dozen sleepy children, the little ones rubbing their eyes and yawning.
The various family groups took up their places around the long, low table, all standing and awaiting the morning invocation. Two of the smallest children were led in by a Vulcan teenager. Barely more than toddlers, the little boy and girl were deposited on either side of Christine who fondly and quietly encouraged them to stand beside her as the teenage girl moved to her spot on the opposite side of the table. They were followed by another little girl, about five years older than the babies, who solemnly took up her place by Spock. For a long moment, the group waited but the open spot on the other side of Spock remained unfilled. The group began to glance toward the door, obviously beginning to grow a bit impatient.
Finally Spock looked down at the child beside him and inquired softly, "Where is your sister?"
"Still in the bathroom," the little girl answered.
Spock gave an imperceptible sigh and straightened again. This was becoming an everyday occurrence.
At that moment, a teenaged girl hurried into the room and quickly took her place beside her father. She appeared Human except for the slightly Vulcan cast to her brows and her ears. "Sorry," she muttered.
"Nice of you to join us," Christine muttered back.
The girl gave her a sideways glance, but didn't reply. The breakfast table wasn't the place to get into an argument with her mother.
Now that the entire family was assembled, Spock as the Elder of Keldeen, led the group in the short morning meditation and reverence of their Ancestors, the few moments of silence with steepled fingers that allowed each person to calm and center themselves and reflect on the bounty of their First Meal of the day.
When the individuals of the family began to stir, they moved in orderly fashion to the buffet and began to collect their food. Christine made the twins, Soran and T'Larin, each a plate of fruit and toast, juice and porridge, and settled them onto the cushions on either side of her where she could supervise them. They were three years old and had been born on Vulcan, the surprise result of Spock's last pon farr. They were especially precious to Christine because she knew there would be no other children after them. She would be past child-bearing age the next time around. And these two babies were the very real reincarnations of two she had lost so many years ago, their living katras held within her when she, Spock and their older children had been rescued from their long exile on Terra Two, now called Avalon. To all appearances, they were typical Vulcan children except that they had both inherited their mother's sky-blue eyes.
The middle daughter, eight-year-old T'Kai, returned to the table and regally settled upon her cushion next to her little sister. Petite and seemingly fully Vulcan, she had Spock's dark hair and eyes. Her mannerisms too had been Vulcan almost from birth and Spock believed that she held the reborn katra of one of Sarek's sisters, who had died when Spock was a boy.
Thirteen-year-old T'Jenn, on the other hand, was her mother's daughter. All of the children were three-quarters Human and a quarter Vulcan, but Jenny barely showed a trace of her Vulcan blood. With deep brown hair that tended to streak blonde and bright blue eyes, she could have passed unnoticed in any group of Humans. In fact, she thought of herself that way and had always been emotional and stubborn.
"Feisty" is how Christine had described her once to Spock. "Like her mother," he had responded with a smile and kissed his wife fondly.
Jenny was now picking at her porridge in a desultory fashion as she sat on the other side of her father. Spock took notice and gave her a disapproving look. "You need nourishment in order to perform your studies well," he told her in a low voice.
"I'm sick of this stuff, Pa," she answered, knowing that she needed to keep her voice down.
"It is satisfactory food and you will not dishonor your cousins who prepared this meal," he admonished her.
"Yes, sir. I'm sorry." Jenny began to eat, but without much enthusiasm. She was aware of the quick, disapproving glances directed toward her by T'Fen and T'Galia and other members of the clan. Suitably chastened, she directed her attention to her food and finished the porridge.
The only member of Spock and Christine's family not present was their oldest son, Sapel. Three years before, he had requested permission to live in ShiKahr with his grandparents and attend the Terran Embassy school. Since that time, he had done well, but there was an undercurrent of restlessness that remained and Spock knew the reason -- Sapel missed the planet of his birth and was determined someday to return there. The problem was that, although Avalon had been approved for colonization by the Federation, it was already inhabited by primitive, sentient beings and the issue was being handled with delicacy. The small colony on the planet was primarily exploratory at the moment, its members carefully chosen for their experience and value.
Spock and Christine had been asked early on to return and serve as advisors and administrators, but twelve years of exile there had been enough. Both longed for a normal lifestyle on a civilized planet. Resigning their commissions in Starfleet, they had settled on Vulcan to pick up their lives and raise their children.
But, as time passed, both began to miss the expansive beauties of the world they had escaped. Not even Spock's family estate of Keldeen, nestled on the northern side of the Llangon Mountains and overlooking the polar prairies, covered in miles of tikh grain -- grown by the family as part of Vulcan's food bank -- could match the quiet and the crystalline air of Avalon. There was always the bustle of a busy house on a busy world, of people coming and going, of the tedium of routine and never-ending decisions to be made about the estate's management, about crop yields, about Christine's attempts at returning to her bio research while raising a brood of small children. A constant, subtle stress began to develop. Spock and Christine both began to realize they missed Avalon and wanted to return.
It was the "problem" they had discussed over and over and finally, the evening before, had made their decision. They both missed the free life they had lived on Avalon without the overlying pressures of the modern world. They had decided to leave Vulcan and return to the world on the edge of the Romulan Empire where they'd been left for dead but had learned to survive. Without realizing it, they had grown to love the vast beautiful planet with its strange animals and unexplored vistas.
Now both of them could begin the process of winding up their affairs here and starting the process of moving back. Of course, it was not as simple as hopping on a ship and going. They would have to apply for colonization, be approved, and then there would be a long period of time as they made all the preparations necessary for an interplanetary move. Meanwhile, life would go on here on Vulcan, but now there was an exciting future ahead of them.
First Meal ended and the family members began to rise and head off to their daily jobs. The children were allowed to return to their chambers to ready themselves for the school day, and the kitchen workers and Christine began to clear away the remains of the meal. Spock started for his office to begin his day's work, his thoughts already going over the agenda he had reviewed the evening before.
He had just stepped onto the stairs to ascend to the second level of the house, where his office was located, when T'Saik, one of the family members who oversaw the cleaning of the huge house, stopped him. "Spock, there is a communication from your Honored Mother. She urgently requests to speak with you."
"Indeed. Thank you." Spock went back down the stairs and turned into the library, where the nearest comm unit was located. There was a blinking red "hold" light and he sat down before the screen and punched the button.
Amanda's worried face appeared on the screen. She was old now, her well-loved features heavily wrinkled with age, though her blue eyes generally still shone with the vitality of a lively mind. Today, however, they held a hint of fear and she did not waste time with greetings.
"Spock, is Sapel there at Keldeen?"
"No, of course not," her son answered. "Is there a reason he should be?"
"He didn't come home last night, Spock. He said he was studying late at the Embassy and that we shouldn't wait up for him. But this morning, he didn't come down to breakfast and his room was empty. His bed hadn't been slept in and we found some of his things missing ... clothing and toiletries and such." Her eyes filled with tears. "Oh, Spock, I think he's run away."
"Mother, I doubt that he has 'run away'," Spock answered calmly. "He is an adult, remember. More likely he simply decided to spend the night at another location and did not wish to wake you or Sarek to inform you. I am quite certain he has left you a message with that information."
Amanda seemed a bit calmer. "I suppose you're right, Spock. I'm sorry for disturbing you this early in the morning."
"Not at all, Mother. It is always a privilege to speak with you. And please do not concern yourself with Sapel's safety. He is perfectly safe anywhere on Vulcan. I am certain he will be home soon."
She nodded. "Of course. I'm a silly nilly to worry so much about him. Have a good day, Spock."
"And a pleasant day to you as well, Mother."
He waited until she signed off and then rose to continue to his office. T'Saik and her crew had begun the morning cleaning and had opened the doors and windows to allow in the morning air, still cool enough here in the hills to be refreshing before the day heated up. Outside, Spock could hear the farm workers begin to head out toward the fields as planting continued on this year's crop of tikh, and farther away was the sounds of the estate's animals lowing as their caretakers began to feed them. Birds twittered in the surrounding a'qa trees, the leaves whispering as the breeze moved through them.
And there was one other sound that barely registered in Spock's conscious, so common and ordinary that it was simply part of the faint background noise of the modern, everyday world.
It was the sound of a ship dopplering out from the ShiKahr spaceport on the other side of the mountains, heading for the stars.
* * *
Ruddy Smith leaned back in his office chair, one foot propped up on his desk, and said, "Come" as he looked over the datapadd in his hands. He didn't seem to notice the young Vulcan male who entered, their new crewmember/passenger -- David Grayson.
"You wanted to see me, sir?" the young man asked.
"Sit," the captain directed, then added pointedly, "David Sapel da ... um ... Nickerk?"
"da'Ni'ikhirch," the boy answered automatically, using the proper pronunciation, then caught himself. "So ... you know my name."
Smith tossed the datapadd onto his desktop and folded his hands across his stomach, pinning the Vulcan with a steady gaze. "You think I don't thoroughly check out who comes aboard my ship? I got your ident last night right after I got back to my office. I know that you're the son of Commander Spock of the Enterprise and the grandson of Ambassador Sarek. I know you and your family were marooned on Avalon for twelve years. And I know you've skipped town and that there's probably a sizeable reward out for your return by now."
Sapel looked panicked. "Sir, please don't contact my family--"
"Relax, boy. I'm not going to turn you in. I'd've done that before we lifted ship if I meant to. You're a grown man and I figure a grown man's got the right to do what he pleases, long as it doesn't break any laws or serious taboos." Smith's expression softened just a bit. "I just wish you'd done me the courtesy of being square right from the start."
"Sorry, Captain. I didn't think you'd take me if you knew who I was."
"I might not've. But then again, I might've. Honesty is best, son. So, now ... tell me why it was so damn important to get off Vulcan and where you're really headed."
Sapel sighed. "I'm going home, sir. Back to Terra Two ... er ... Avalon."
Smith cocked a curious eyebrow. "That's hell and gone across on the other side of the Alpha Quadrant and it's restricted space. What's so important there?"
"Like I said ... it's my home. I was born there and grew up there. I never wanted to be 'rescued' or taken back to 'civilization.' I don't belong on Vulcan or any of the other Federation planets. My family and the authorities won't allow me to go back through 'official channels', so I decided to get home any way I could." The young man's brows lowered slightly in a frown. "I guess if that doesn't satisfy you, then you'll just have to turn me in."
Captain Smith set his foot back into the deck and rose, standing hands on hips. "Well, I guess that depends on how I'm feelin' when we get to Salaxis. So you'd better keep your nose clean, hm?"
Reflexively, Sapel reached toward his nose, but the captain stopped him with a smile and a dismissive gesture. "Go on and get squared away. Chow is at 0700 ... and new man does the washing up chores the whole voyage."
* * *
By evening, it had become apparent that Sapel was not coming home and the authorities had been alerted. Amanda had taken to her bed and Christine was nearly as frantic. Only the Vulcans seemed calm, although Chapel could see that her husband's patience was thin, a sure sign of stress that Spock was barely containing.
It didn't take long to track Sapel's retina scanprint as registering his access through a cargo gate at the spaceport fourteen hours earlier. Eight cargo ships had left ShiKahr by noon that day and it was a logical assumption that Sapel had been on one of them. It was simply a matter of contacting the ships and requesting their crew and passenger lists. Sarek and Spock had assured their distraught wives that the missing family member would be back in the fold quite soon. Then the two men ventured to breathe a very quiet sigh of relief themselves.
And Spock began to rehearse mentally the "talk" that he would need to have with his errant son.
* * *
"Message, Captain," said the woman in the co-pilot's seat.
Ruddy Smith didn't look up from the datapadd he was scribbling on. He simply grunted an affirmative, meaning that his partner was to relay the information. She knew him well and what all of his various expressions, motions and noises meant. She had been married to him for 22 years. She flipped on the Receive switch and a slightly accented voice issued from the commboard.
"Mandalay, this is Vulcan Space Central. We are relaying a message from the Ambassador to Earth, Sarek cha'Skon, regarding a missing person of his household, Sapel cha'Spock, age 20, black hair, brown eyes. We have reason to believe he took passage on this or a similar ship at approximately 0600 Vulcan Eastern Meridian Time this day. Please transmit your personnel manifest. Failure to respond to this message will result in restriction of docking privileges on Vulcan for ten standard months. Vulcan Space Central out."
The woman reached for the computer to key in the answering transmission when Ruddy stopped her. "Reply with crew manifest of 0400, today's date."
The co-pilot turned puzzled and slightly skeptical eyes on her husband. "That's not a current readout, Rud," she said. "You know this kid's on board."
"Don't know nothing of the sort, Seiko," he answered blandly. "We don't have any such crewmember on board this ship."
"Rud," she reproved him. "Don't you think they're going to notice that the report we send them is 17 hours old? They'll want a current list."
"Funny how our subspace radio acts up sometimes, isn't it?"
Seiko Smith sighed in exasperation. "Do you want us blacklisted from Vulcan?"
The Captain met her gaze calmly. "Vulcan isn't the only planet, you know. I've been thinking about Avalon since I found out who our passenger is. That's a whole new territory opening up out there. If we get in early on the action, we can make a fortune ... and call our own tune to boot!"
Seiko shook her head, her short inky hair moving like an onyx wave. "You are out of your mind," she told him and reached again to send the reply message as directed.
* * *
Sarek handed the readout slip to his son, his face careful not to reflect how deeply the strain of this was affecting him. "Vulcan Space Central reports that all ships contacted report that they have no one matching Sapel's description on board."
Spock drew a deep sigh and centered himself. "Then we broaden our search. It is probable that he remains on Vulcan but somehow managed to leave the spaceport without being detected by automated identification posts. Or, he may still be on the grounds of the port somewhere. There are a finite number of possibilities, although that number is higher than we anticipated. I shall inform Christine of these findings."
"As I will inform your mother." Sarek allowed his gaze to drop for a moment, then brought them back up. "Why would Sapel do this? Why would he leave without informing someone?"
For a second, Spock could not suppress a slight expression of sardonic amusement. "I suspect it is because he is my son. I do recall an unauthorized excursion into the mountains when I was seven."
"You do not suspect this is a kahs-wan of some sort, do you?"
"No, of course not," Spock answered. "He successfully passed his manhood ritual while we were on Avalon." The Vulcan looked thoughtful. "No, I suspect this is a bid for the freedom that has been denied him since we have returned home."
Suddenly Spock inhaled sharply and his brows bunched together. "I know where Sapel is headed, Father. Why have I not seen it before?" Sarek looked inquiringly at him. "Sapel has set out for his home ... Avalon. We must seek out a ship bound in that direction."
* * *
Sapel was resolutely feeding the dinner dishes and pots into the small cleaning unit in the galley when Captain Smith ambled up behind him. "How's it going, son?"
"I believe the proper response is 'fine'," the young man answered. He caught himself speaking in the manner of the Vulcan people and changed to a more Terran pattern. He didn't have to talk like that anymore. He was among Humans. "And I wanted to thank you for not turning me over to the authorities. Bully told me what you'd done for me."
Smith waved it away with a dismissive hand. "Nada," he answered, then crossed his arms and leaned back against the counter. "Tell me about Avalon."
"What do you want to know?" Sapel responded, wiping his hands on a towel. "There's not much there. It's not inhabited, except by the Lemurian people and I understand that the Federation has declared them off-limits."
"There's the Fed colony, too. Know anything about that?"
"Just what I've overheard from my father and grandfather. There are about 100 colonists ... scientists and their families. But if I get back to Avalon, I'm not going there. I intend to head for the hills ... be on my own. Or, maybe look up some Lemurians I know. I don't care what the Federation says. I know those people and they'll hide me if I need it." He paused. "Why? You can't go to Avalon."
Smith smiled lopsidedly. "Kid, we're Free Traders and we go wherever the hell we want to in this galaxy. Where there are people, there's trade." His grin spread. "How'd you like to stick with us all the way back to your planet? You know what gives with the natives and I know how to deal with the Feds."
Sapel couldn't suppress a very un-Vulcan grin himself. He stuck out his hand and Smith grasped it. "Captain, you've got yourself a deal!"
* * *
Christine Chapel wiped tears off her face and tried to pull herself together. "You're sure?" she asked her husband as they stood in their bedroom, the late night sounds of Keldeen whispering a soft backdrop. "He's really going home?" She was in her nightgown and had been about to get into bed when Spock came back from his parents' home in ShiKahr.
"I believe so," Spock replied, resting his hands on her shoulders in a gesture of comfort. "And one more thing, which my parents decidedly do not agree with. I believe we should not interfere with his decision."
Christine turned her blue eyes on his face, shocked. "Spock! How can you even think such a thing?!"
"How old is Sapel?"
"Twenty," she answered.
"How old were you when you left home?"
"Nineteen," she replied, beginning to see what he was getting at.
"I was seventeen when I left Vulcan to attend the Academy," Spock confirmed. "I considered myself quite grown up and able to make my own way in life."
His wife couldn't help a sheepish smile. "So did I. You mean that it's time to let Sapel go. That's he's left the nest and we need to let him fly."
She wiped another batch of tears that flowed down her cheeks. "I can't bear to think that my baby's gone ... all grown up." She sighed raggedly. "But I'll get used to it, I suppose. I would like you to continue to try to find him, though, just so we'll know he's all right. Let him know he has our blessings."
"Of course," Spock answered. "I shall do so. I agree that we need to know his whereabouts and let him know that we support and love him, no matter what he chooses to do with his life."
Christine nodded, sniffed and straightened. "And we still have four other children to raise and our own decisions to make. What now?"
"What we have already decided," her tall husband responded, pleased to see that Christine was displaying her core of strength and pragmatism. "We continue to make our plans to relocate our family to Avalon. If all goes well, then we shall meet Sapel there at some point in the future."
The woman nodded then and sank into his arms. "Just one request first, though," she sniffed. "Just come to bed and hold me. I need your support and love tonight."
Spock enfolded her in his warm embrace and rested his cheek on her dark hair. "Always, my t'hy'la."
It was going to be a long night.