Disclaimer: Star Trek is the property of Paramount/Viacom. This story is the property of and is copyright (c) 1980 by Lynda Carraher. Originally published in Saurian Brandy Digest  #27), Sylvia Stanczyk, editor. Rated PG-13.

HOUSE OF MIRRORED FACES

Part 5

 

II

TUAN FARR

Time of Waiting

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

AMANDA

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The time grows near, and I am surprised to find in myself some quality of apprehension about this homecoming. It is not a happy occasion, washed as it is by the currents moving over Vulcan.

I look out across the courtyard as the last of the artisans pack up their tools and leave the neat stone house my son and his wife will call home now. It is a fine house, but not built with the loving care that went into this one. A house should be built by the people who will live there. Neither of them could be drawn into the planning or construction of their dwelling. My daughter-in-law, I fear, is not particularly domestic, and my son has never shown much interest in his surroundings. The mandate I received from each of them in response to my queries was simple and direct – do what you think best.

The sound of a skimmer cuts through the drowsy afternoon’s heat. Though the garden walls cut off my view of the street, there is only one reason for a skimmer cab to be here on this day. And since Sarek is not here to see, and to chide me for my impatience, I turn on the viewscreen that monitors the approach to our gate.

The skimmer pilot seems to be having trouble with his tiny craft. Instead of hovering at a comfortable distance above the street, it is stalled more than a meter from the ground, and its whining engines attest to his inability to force its further descent. Then the door slides back, and the first sight I have had of my son in 15 months is of him dropping lightly to the street. He turns, reaching up for Lara to lift her down.

My mind’s eye catches that moment when his hands touch her waist and their eyes meet, and files it away as it would a treasured holograph. She smiles down at him for the briefest instant before she leans forward putting her hands on his shoulders and trusting herself to his control. He does not smile in return, my taciturn son, but there is an openness in his face I have seldom seen.

He places her on the street and lifts one hand to smooth back a strand of hair that has fallen across her cheek. There is such intimacy in the simple movement that I almost expect him to follow it with a kiss. But he is still Vulcan after all, it seems, for he takes her hand in the traditional manner as they walk through the gate.

Quickly, I switch off the viewscreen. It was a most serious breach of conduct to spy on them like that. If they knew, I don’t know who would be more embarrassed – Spock, or myself. Still, a mother … a Human mother, anyway … ought to be permitted some small indulgences. Shouldn’t she?

The wind chimes in the entryway announce their passage through the garden. That gives me the excuse I need to open the door without admitting I have watched them. I can’t resist a quick look in the mirror before I greet them. Vanity, Sarek would say, if he were here.

Calm yourself, Amanda. A proper Vulcan wife does not exhibit emotion.

I greet them with a reserve I do not feel. Lara is less inhibited. Her arms are young and strong around me as Spock hangs back, watching us.

“Come in, both of you. Let me look at you.” They are thinner, both of them, than I remember, and Lara’s face is drawn with the kind of fatigue that comes from more than just one sleepless night. Spock looks strangely out-of-place without his Starfleet uniform, and a thin white scar mars the line of his cheek.

“Oh, Spock, look at your face!” The words tumble out before I can stop them, but he moves away from the hand I put up to touch the mark, and quirks one eyebrow at me.

“In the absence of a mirror, that is a physical impossibility, Mother.”

“But what happened? What kind of doctors did they have on that ship--” His eyes warn me away from the subject, and I realize what I have said. “I’m sorry, Lara. I forgot.”

“It’s all right, Amanda.”

But it isn’t all right. I seem to have blundered into a subject they would rather not discuss. “Sit down, both of you, and we’ll have something cool to drink. Or would you like to have it in the garden? Then you can look at your house. Where are your bags? I’ll have them--”

“Mother.” His tone is gentle reproof, and rightly so. I’m trying to cover my embarrassment with empty words and succeeding only in producing babble. Something I have said, something I have done, has altered the air of intimacy I watched them share.

I bring the drinks into the room. Lara is perched on the edge of a chair that seems too big for her, watching Spock, who stands looking out into the garden. He is here, but his mind is elsewhere. Did I imagine that scene outside the gate? The air is electric, as if with the remnants of a quarrel.

Nonsense. Vulcans, in an intellectual debate, could shame Earth’s medieval scholars with their arguments of angels and pinheads, but they do not quarrel. Still, there is something in the way she watches him that speaks of a deep personal problem unresolved. Something that disturbs her because it has given him – is still giving him – pain.

“Spock? Come and sit down. Have a glass of parra.”

“No, thank you, Mother.” He turns away from the window. “Where is Sarek?”

He has changed, my son. No Vulcan should question another’s absence. “He is at Council, and will be here for dinner. As will your father, Lara.”

Lara takes the glass I offer, but she does not drink. She rolls it between her hands, watching the beads of moisture collect on its cool surface.

“Lara, I know you must be tired after your long journey. Would you like to rest until dinner?”

She darts an almost imperceptible glance at Spock before she replies. “That would be most welcome, Amanda. Thank you.” She is quick, this one. I knew that from the time she spent with us during tuan farr – that period between the Ceremony of Promise and the Ceremony of Joining – but I did not know just how deep her perception has grown since then.

She accepts without comment the accommodations made for her. It is only as I leave that she signals she understands my motives.

“Don’t press him too hard, please. Coming here has been very difficult for him.”

“He’s my son, Lara.”

“He’s a Vulcan, Amanda,” she says, and closes the door.

As if she had to remind me. Haven’t I known it, and wept over it, and rejoiced in it, for all these years?

He greets my return with the slightest suggestion of a frown on his face. “Mother, I do wish you would rid yourself of the antiquated notion that travel is wearing. Commercial transports are hardly what they were when you came to Vulcan.”

“Well, something has worn that child to a shade. And you, too, if I may say so.”

“You just did.”

I refuse to rise to the bait. “Besides, she knew quite well that I wanted to talk to you, alone.”

He accepts the rebuff mildly enough, settling into a chair and templing his long, graceful fingers. “I have had no news of T’Pau,” he says.

“She wants to see you tomorrow. She hasn’t much time left, Spock. She grows weaker every day. And her opponents grow stronger. Even the agan-tuá are involved now. They’ve been making plans for a long time, I think.”

This is news to him, and the frown deepens. “T’Faie?” he asks.

“She’s grown very powerful. And she’s never forgiven your father. This rebellion is a way to damage him and build her own power at the same time. I believe she means to replace T’Pau herself.”

“A Vulcan who joined the agan-tuá? The people would never accept that.”

“Vulcan is changing, Spock. ShiKahr is full of outworlders – Rigellians, Lyrans, even Eosians. They’re not dealing with the Council, they’re not here to trade, and they’re certainly not here as tourists.”

His expression lightens as he looks at me. “You have a suspicious nature, Mother.”

“A faculty I have found to be most useful when dealing with the likes of T’Faie.”

“Indeed.” He is doubtful, but still amused, and I sense that his mind is already elsewhere.

“If you’ll excuse me, I have a few things to do for dinner. There are some tapes in Sarek’s office you might like to review. He left them on the desk for you.” He rises to leave the room, and as we pass through the doorway, I cannot resist the impulse any longer. I catch his hand in both of mine.

“I’m sorry about the circumstances, Spock. But it’s very good to have you home.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The dinner, which begins hopefully enough, quickly degenerates into sheer unmitigated disaster.

Ambassador Merritt has brought a fine bottle of rare Terran wine from his private cellar; it is becoming increasingly difficult to obtain, as are all Earth imports. But the wine has been carelessly handled in transit and the dried cork shatters as it is drawn. The wine has the bitterness of over-fermentation, and he is embarrassed by the failure of his gift.

Lara’s obvious joy at seeing her father is soured like the wine when he makes the same parental blunder I did, commenting on her appearance.

“For heaven’s sake, Papa,” she snaps, “I’m not too thin, and I’m not overtired, either. Except of people telling me I look like a sick cat.”

Spock gives her a long, cool look of disapproval, and she is doubly flustered. She apologizes, but the bloom is definitely off the evening.

Sarek, as always, is totally indifferent to food as long as it appears regularly, and Spock has always shared that indifference, except for a brief and typical voraciousness in his adolescence. Even then, he was less interested in quality than in quantity, as he tried to keep pace with the explosions of change and growth going on in his body. Only Lara’s father is enough the diplomat to be enthusiastic about the meal, and to try to keep up the pretense of a Terran-style family gathering.

Dear Frederick. I knew him only as one of my husband’s associates until I met his daughter. Over the past two years, he has become a close and dear friend. He is enthusiastic about all things Vulcan, and yet he remains totally Human, even to his pipe. He leans back in his chair now, contented, replete, with smoke wreathing his head like a wooly halo.

“The oddest thing happened at Council today after you left, Sarek,” he offers. It is the first mention any of us has made of affairs of state, and for some reason a tiny prickle of apprehension starts at the base of my neck.

“We were ready to adjourn, of course, when you left. The agenda committee was wrangling about that presentation the public parks group wants to make, when a young man burst into chambers with a bailiff hot on his heels, demanding an audience. It was the most incredible thing, really. Here was this young ruffian – an agan-tuá, from the looks of his clothes – claiming right of statement.” He shakes his head in wonderment and smiles. “This should amuse you, Sarek. He was informed, of course, that only landholders may claim right of statement at High Council, and he had the unmitigated gall to claim membership in your house.”

Frederick is so intent on his story that he does not see the electric look that passes between Spock and Sarek. “The bailiff tossed him out on his ear, of course. Imagine the audacity! I tell you, Sarek, these agan-tuá are becoming more troublesome daily. If you don’t mind an outsider’s opinion.”

“This young man--” Sarek says with a preciseness that chills even Frederick, “was his name Selek?”

Frederick frowns and puts the pipe down. His diplomatic antennae are alert now, and he senses he may have blundered into treacherous waters. “I believe it was. Do you know him, then? Surely there’s no validity in his claim.”

“It is totally valid. Selek is my grandson.”

Frederick turns as grey as the smoke that rises from the now-forgotten pipe. He is not a young man, and I think of heart attack or cerebral accident as he struggles for words or breath or both. He finally recovers enough composure to speak. “I am deeply sorry, Sarek. I meant no dishonor to your house. It just seemed such an incredible claim. No one in Council took it seriously.”

“That was their error, Ambassador Merritt, and one for which you are certainly not accountable. The boy has been living with his mother, and you are correct in identifying him as agan-tuá. However, if she has sent him to Council, or even if he has come of his own accord, it bodes no good. In fact, I believe it is sufficient cause to call an extraordinary session.”

Sarek folds his napkin precisely and rises with controlled haste. I can feel his agitation vibrating through the link, and think of his own diseased heart. He catches the thought, and shakes his head at me in an almost imperceptible gesture that tells me firmly to keep my own counsel.

“Spock, this concerns your work here. You will attend me. If you will excuse us, ladies? Ambassador?”

Frederick is also rising. “Certainly. I shall, of course--”

“Ambassador,” Sarek says quietly, “this is an internal affair. Your presence will not be necessary.”

With practice borne of years in his trade, he continues the motion and the statement as though he had meant to say it all along. “I shall, of course, respect the Council’s integrity in this matter. You may reach me at the Embassy if I may be of any assistance. Again, Sarek, my abject apologies.”

But Sarek is already gone, and Spock with him. “I seem to have put my foot in it that time,” Frederick says, turning to us. “I am sorry, Amanda. Lara, come by tomorrow if you have time, and we’ll visit then.” He starts for the door, waving me back to my chair. “No, no, Amanda. I can blunder my way out alone. Much better, I hope, than I blundered my way in. Good night, ladies.”

The sound of the closing door echoes through the sudden silence of the house. The wind chimes mark his passage. I see Lara’s face, ghostly pale in the candlelight, still as an ice carving, eyes like the blue-grey shadows that mark thin ice on the rivers of my homeworld. Nothing to do now but explain.

“He didn’t tell you about T’Faie, did he?”

“No.” Nothing more. Even the voice is ice. She might be Vulcan herself.

“It’s not what you think, Lara.”

“Really?” I couldn’t care less, she says with the inflection. But she does care.

“You knew Sarek was married before. That his wife was killed in an accident before we met.” Absently, she nods. “T’Faie is their daughter. She was fifteen when Sarek and I were married. She never accepted me as her father’s wife, and every day meant a small-scale war. When she learned I was pregnant, she said-- Well, it doesn’t matter what she said. She and Sarek … well, you know how stubborn he is.”

I wish the wine had not been sour. A little wine might make this easier, somehow. “I’m not telling this very well, am I?”

“My mother died when I was fifteen,” she answers. “My father fell in love with a woman he worked with. I was the most obnoxious, interfering little bitch you could imagine, and they finally drifted apart. I’m sorry now that I did that to him. But at the time… I understand, Amanda.”

This is a facet I did not know she had. Might her sympathies lie with T’Faie, then? I go on, wishing someone else had told her. “She left, and went to stay at our property in the north. It was purest folly – a girl of that age. Somehow, she met an agan-tuá. Do you know of them?”

The ice sculpture is gone now. Complete confusion is in her face. “Amanda – I’m not sure all this is necessary. T’Faie is Sarek’s daughter, and Selek is her son. Is that right?”

“Yes.”

“Then why carry it any further? This is obviously painful for you. Let it be.”

“I can’t. Not now. Because of what is happening here – you do know why Spock came home?” Oh, please know, Lara.

“He’s told me some of it. I don’t understand it all, but I accept it. The details are unimportant.”

“The details are most important. They’re like strands in a spider’s web. Touch one, and the whole web is affected. Some of it goes all the way back to Surak and the philosophy of logic he founded. The agan-tuá never accepted it.”

Agan-tuá. That means ‘meat-eater’, doesn’t it?”

“Yes. And they are. They became wanderers in the desert, herdsmen, dabblers in the occult. That sort of thing. The antithesis of everything Surak stood for. Vulcans don’t speak of them to outworlders. They’re like the idiot cousins you read about in Earth history, locked up in an attic somewhere.

“Anyway, T’Faie met the leader of a small band of agan-tuá, and married him. Mostly to spite her father, I think. She knew he’d never accept it, and she was right. As far as he was concerned, she was dead. We simply never spoke of her.

“A few years ago, about the same time this … madness … about withdrawing from the Federation started, there were reports that the agan-tuá were forming some sort of coalition. It was unheard of – like a broken glass reassembling itself. Rumors were that a woman had become their priestess-leader.”

“T’Faie?”

I nod. “She has Sarek’s skill at politics. Perhaps more, considering the kind of people she had to confront. Her husband had been dead for years by that time. Some even say she had him assassinated. I don’t know. But she’s hungry for power, and she knows enough about the workings of mainstream Vulcan society to make her a formidable enemy. She has the most dangerous kind of drive, Lara – a desire for power mixed with the very personal need to destroy the society she rejected. Or perhaps she sees it as having rejected her. That doesn’t matter. What does matter is that she’s very, very dangerous.”

The expression on her face tells me she understands. At least a little of it. We were wrong not to have told her before of T’Faie. But it was – and is – a difficult thing to speak of.

To Sarek, his daughter has been as one dead since she removed herself from her father’s house and renounced the bondmate he had chosen for her. To Spock, she was only a name in the family history, to be acknowledged as his forebears and numerous cousins were acknowledged in that part of his education dealing with one’s proper relationship within the family hierarchy.

And to Amanda? To me, T’Faie is a stone in the shoe. A reminder of a failure at a kind of mothering I did not seek, but a failure nonetheless. And an enigma in behavior. A full Vulcan, she should have been able to bridle her dislike of me.

Though they deny emotion in themselves, Vulcans are the most prideful race I have ever known, and the opposite face of pride is shame. T’Faie felt shame that her father would choose a Human mate, and felt guilt in the feeling. A double bind of emotions a Vulcan is not supposed to have.

Lara is not bound by that tradition, yet she keeps a tight rein on the questions and feelings I know must be singing inside her. She excuses herself now, with the disturbing, taut control I have seen in her before.

“I’m sorry, Lara. Sorry that this wasn’t explained to you before, and especially sorry that it had to come tonight, of all nights.”

“It’s hardly your fault.”

“That doesn’t make it any less disturbing. But I guess every family has a skeleton or two rattling around in the closet. T’Faie is ours. At least, she’s the only one I know about.” I soften the statement with a smile. Her answering expression is unreadable, but there is a flash of something in her eyes that seems to say she has an intimate acquaintance with both skeletons and closets.

“I hope she’s the only one you ever have to learn about, Amanda.” Her words hang in the air after she leaves, like the smoke from her father’s pipe, forgotten now on the table. And like the smoke, the words leave a bitter tang on the back of the tongue.

>>>>> <<<<<

LARA

>>>>> <<<<<

I manage to keep my composure until I reach my room; then the suppressed physical reaction hits me with shaky knees, sweaty palms, and a rolling stomach that promptly rejects the meal Amanda has spent the better part of the day preparing. The face that greets me in the bathroom mirror after I rinse my mouth is drawn and hollow-eyed. I hope it is a private face and not the one I wore in front of her.

She was right, of course, when she thought I assumed Selek to be my husband’s son. Knowing otherwise, I can ask myself now if it would have been so awful had that been the case. He ought to have sons, my husband, and since I cannot give them to him…

Even as an exercise in fantasy, the concept disturbs me. I am too tightly bound by my particular heritage, which says children should be conceived in love and nurtured by the two people who gave them life.

I shut the fantasy off firmly and wash away the last traces of it in the shower. The bed, when I reach it, is narrow and firm. It sits high above the floor, scaled for the height of a Vulcan. It is almost exactly the same height as a hospital bed.

The thought triggers a memory I thought I had buried. But it is too recent and too raw, and I know even as I lie down that I’m going to relieve the last six weeks in this night.

>>>>> <<<<<

For three days after the accident, Jim clung to that precarious tightrope that stretches between life and death, and it seemed at times that the whole crew walked it with him. Drawing each breath, willing each heartbeat with him, for him. Hoping, praying, demanding that he live. And he did. Against all odds, against all logic of what the human body can endure and keep on functioning, until at the end of the third day the word swept through the decks and corridors and rooms of the great starship – He’s going to make it.

“At least three weeks flat on your back,” Sanchez decreed, and six days later I caught him walking around the edge of the bed; white-faced, clammy with cold sweat, and holding on to the railing for dear life … but walking.

Four days later, Christine Chapel, prompted by that sixth sense inherent in all good nurses, walked in unannounced past the sign that read “No Visitors” to find two of them – Chief Engineer Scott and a bottle of Scotland’s finest.

“It thickens the blood,” Scotty said with conviction.

There was a general celebration in the main rec room that night, and several crewmen’s blood got considerable thicker. I stopped by as I was coming off duty, but my appearance seemed to put something of a damper on the festivities. Speculation and gossip about the captain and the lady doctor had not disappeared; it had merely gone underground and become open to a wider variety of interpretation.

Lieutenant Uhura was just leaving as I went into the room, and the faint tightening of the line of her mouth as she saw me brought home a fact that disturbed me more than the speculations about my private life.

Uhura, as Chief Communications Officer, had transmitted my resignation, as well as Spock’s. She had not, I was sure, breached security regarding personnel matters, but she knew. And that knowledge colored her attitude toward us more than any question of what Jim and I had been doing alone in a hostel room on Argelius. She wondered and worried, I knew, about what Jim would do when he learned Spock was leaving. As I wondered and worried.

It was a worry that dogged my days as we continued our exploratory mission under Spock’s command. Jim grew stronger daily, and I knew the day would come soon when he would return to his duties as captain. And that when he did, he would have to be told. As it turned out, we did not have even that much margin.

Two days after the episode of the smuggled Scotch, we met with the starship Yorktown, outbound from Starbase Nine. Among the items transferred in this scheduled rendezvous was the new Chief Medical Officer of the Enterprise – Dr. M’Benga.

M’Benga was a stocky, solidly-built man with skin like finely polished walnut. He appeared to be quite pleased with landing the plum assignment, back on a ship where he had served before. One of the first things he did on arrival was to stop by to see Captain Kirk, both to check on his progress and to hand over an unofficial communiqué from Commodore Stocker of Starfleet Command.

The communiqué, we later learned, held wishes that the Captain’s recovery be swift, and suggested that Starfleet would appreciate knowing if Captain Kirk had given any thought to naming a new First Officer for the Enterprise. Jim’s immediate response was to want to know what the hell was going on with Mr. Spock.

What was going on with Mr. Spock at that precise moment was most emphatically nobody’s business but Spock’s and mine. Suffice to say that it was a rare occasion when our work schedules happened to put us in our quarters simultaneously. And when one of us was just coming out of the shower at the time…

I was at that delicious point of half wakefulness and half sleep, comfortable despite – or perhaps because of – that crowded tangle of arms and legs and sheets that occurs when two people occupy a bed designed for one, when the far-away sound of a buzzing intercom interposed itself like a pesky fly.

“Leave it,” I said, knowing what his answer would be.

“I cannot,” he replied, starting to untangle himself.

“Answer it here, then.”

“Lara--” he began, but I cut him off.

“I don’t think it would shock anyone too terribly. Unless, of course, you put it on visual.”

I had come into possession of some rather interesting information in the previous two weeks. Vulcans – at least, half-human ones – can blush. And do. As he did then. But he did take the suggestion, reporting “Spock here,” in a businesslike tone that totally belied his status at that moment.

The voice of the duty officer was properly apologetic, but not particularly shocked. “I’m sorry to disturb you at this hour, sir, but Captain Kirk would like to see you in sickbay. Immediately, he says.”

Spock’s intuition – he would call it logical foresight – was better than mine. I thought it an odd and rather peremptory summons and let it go with only that and a measure of jealousy at how quickly his attention could be summoned elsewhere. His own response was an abrupt tension I could feel down the line of his body where it touched mine.

“Tell him I’ll be there shortly,” he said, snapping the intercom shut.

He dressed quickly and left me wondering naïvely what could possibly be so urgent as to interrupt that particular and rare interlude. Spock had been putting in 18-hour days since adding command duties to his own, and I was functioning on a particularly barbarous ten-hours-on and ten-hours-off which Sanchez had come up with as an equitable roster. There had been very few times when the two of us could manage a few hours alone to explore the new quality of our relationship.

The wall of non-emotion that had seemed so insurmountable when Jim and I confronted Spock about the mission to Parsus was gone. It began to crack, I think, when he took my hand on that long walk through the Enterprise; it was assaulted anew when Jim and I followed him down, and the last standing stones were rolled away that night in sickbay, when I pushed and pushed, not knowing for certain which way the last stones would fall. At that point, I hadn’t cared. I only knew I had to have an answer, one way or another. There was simply no place left to hide. Not for either of us.

I am not particularly proud of what I did that night. It was as painful and degrading as an act of rape, and it left us both victims, each psychologically naked to and defenseless against the other. But it banished the last traces of the wall, left us both open to begin to build something new, something stronger than the old dividing barrier, because it was held together with the mortar of Human caring.

A measure of its effectiveness came later, when he returned. Instead of shutting himself up with what must have been an immensely painful memory, he opened himself to its sharing.

Jim was angry, confused, hurt. Hurt and hurting in body and mind; the body not yet fully healed, the mind assaulted by something he saw as betrayal, as deviousness, from one who had never served him that way before.

I will never know exactly what transpired between them in that sterile room. I only know they both survived it, both came away altered and no longer quite what they were before, but whole men, both of them.

I saw Jim briefly, the next morning. Dr. M’Benga had released him from sickbay, much to Dr. Sanchez’ annoyance. Sanchez goes by the book, M’Benga by the man. There is a vast difference.

Jim was dressed and ready to leave. He still looked thin, the newly-regenerated skin taut and reddened across his cheekbones. The former ease between us was gone.

“Spock tells me you’re leaving, too.” Confusion in that face, and pain, too. Oh, Jim, I’m sorry. I never meant… “Where will you go, Lara? What will you do?”

I realized then what I should have known. Spock told him I was leaving, but not all of it. He left that for me. My … right? My responsibility.

“I’m going with him. To do whatever needs to be done.”

The silence was thick between us. Not only a Vulcan can build a wall. “I see,” he said, finally.

But he didn’t see. Not all of it. And it was better, I thought, kinder perhaps, to leave him with that. Better than to fan some spark to kindle into self-immolation. He retreated then into his Captain’s skin. “I’ll be sorry to see you go, Lara. You have the makings of a damn fine doctor.”

“Thank you … Captain.”

Something came into his eyes then, some deep spark of a fine irony recognized and acknowledged. “You’re welcome … Doctor.”

And it was that way until our papers came through weeks later and we prepared for departure. Both of us – all three of us – walking carefully around the edges of a wound that was slowly … very slowly … beginning to harden into a scar.

Like any half-healed wound, it is still tender to the touch, and now as I lie in this bed which isn’t mine, in a house which isn’t mine, I can feel the pain the probing has caused. Will it ever be a memory that doesn’t cause this kind of pain? I doubt it, somehow.

>>>>> <<<<<

With that strange duality of time, the days pass quickly, grow into weeks almost without realization of it, and yet the individual hours of each day crawl by with agonizing slowness.

We are installed in the new house with proper ceremony, after I allow Amanda to tow and tug me into the domestic pettiness of choosing the furnishings for it. I had wished that she had done so, but as usual, there was a purpose behind her lack of action. I made a hundred decisions a day as to color and style and placement, and it gave me something to do with my hours. But the house is finished now, as finished as it ever will be. I do not think it will ever be a home.

I turn back to dancing again. Another prop to keep my body, if not my mind, occupied. But even the firm demands and concentration of resharpening a skill which has gone rusty after years of inadequate use are not enough.

I contact my former associates at the medical research center, and am rewarded for my persistence with a job in my former field – without the grant I had before. I begin to learn bureaucratic deviousness and find ways to continue the research I had been doing, with a new insight and respect for the financial maneuvering that is the lifeblood of medical research.

I am feeling especially pleased with myself on this particular afternoon. I have just managed to acquire the services of a first-rate lab tech, a young Vulcan woman I had worked with under my previous grant. She has agreed to take a substantial salary cut to work with me, primarily because I can offer her considerably more autonomy than she had before.

I decide to reward myself with a half-holiday, and as I go home through the sunbaked midday streets, I am thinking of an afternoon of pure hedonism, without Spock’s slightly disapproving looks.

I am barely inside the house, however, when the wind chimes announce someone’s passage through the garden compound. I have a guilty moment of hoping it is not Amanda. She is not entirely approving of my work; she gave up a promising career when she married Sarek, and I sense she had expected the same of me. But Amanda had a son to occupy her time, something I will never have.

It is not Amanda, however, who comes through the entryway. It is Spock, and the grim set of his mouth tells me something is seriously wrong. He wastes no time with preliminaries.

“T’Pau is dead.” The words, spoken, hang in the air like the after-image of a holographer’s flash, freezing motion and thought.

“Oh, Spock, I’m sorry.” I think of T’Pau as I last saw her, on the day Spock and I were wed; incredibly ancient to my eyes, emanating power and the vague malevolence too much power can sometimes carry with it. She would not have been an easy woman to know, and yet…

“Do not grieve for her, Lara,” he says sharply, but he has put the wrong interpretation on the emotion he reads in me.

“Not for her, Spock. For you. And for the others she left to follow the course she charted. What will happen now?”

He sits down and stretches out his long legs, still unfamiliar and vaguely uncomfortable in the dark Vulcan k’viet. I can almost see him willing the tension out of his body.

“For a few days, nothing. There are certain … formalities to be observed. Like your Human custom of mourning, they serve as an excellent cover for the realignment of power. The Separatists will undoubtedly wish to promote one of their own people to Supreme Elder, and to place someone of their beliefs in the senate seat left empty. The agan-tuá will very probably make some demand for recognition – if they have a plan. The only certainty is that of change.”

Just how much change, and what form it is to take, I rapidly discover.

When the three days of formal observances are over, and I return to work, my new technician is waiting for me with the announcement that she will not be able to work with me after all. There is just the faintest trace of condescension in her voice. Half my staff makes similar announcements through the course of the day – all Vulcans, and all with the same vague, maddeningly elusive air of superiority.

In the days that follow, requests for equipment are lost or delayed, instruments mysteriously malfunction, and the background data for an experiment I have been setting up for weeks disappears. It hardly comes as a surprise when the division director sends me a blunt announcement that the project is being closed down. No, there is no other place for me anywhere on the staff.

I have been expecting it, but I am still angry, and it is an anger I do not bother to control or conceal when I go home. There is a meeting going on in Spock’s study; half a dozen low, Vulcan voices drift through the door.

Dammit, Spock, I need you, too. Chuck this place. Let them hang on their own gallows. We have no need of them, and they don’t want us here anyway.

I can feel his admonition, sharp as a whiplash across my consciousness, and even that angers me. There are no doors to slam in a Vulcan house – not even, it appears, the door of the mind.

I take the skimmer out of its dock and wind through the city streets, impatient for the openness of the desert. Once there, I drive furiously, mindlessly, wanting the speed to wash away the anger.

You chose this, I tell myself. No one said it would be easy. No, but no one said it would be like this, either. Or did they? “Vulcan will not be a pleasant place for Terrans,” he told me. “I cannot keep you safe there.”

I thought he spoke then of physical danger, of stealthy footsteps in the night and the white terror of tal-shaya. Not this insidious, unfightable race-hatred. How much more difficult must it be for him – carrying the bloodline the Separatists would excise from the planet, yet bound here by a vow to a dead woman, to a civilization perhaps itself in death throes.

...We are the greatest city,
the greatest nation,
nothing like us ever was…

Where did that line come from? Something dimly remembered … something read in school, or quoted by an instructor to check the hubris of scholars who thought themselves unique. It was an Earth poet; I remember that much. And he was telling an essential truth, as poets are supposed to do. Only he couldn’t have known it was a galactic truth as well.

Building up and tearing down … it has gone on forever; will go on forever. And the wants and needs of two very insignificant beings can’t change that. They – we – can only accept.

As my anger dissipates, so does the drive to flee the city. I turn the skimmer around, guiding it through the foothills and back to ShiKahr. The city rises like a mirage on the plains, as distant and independent and self-contained as the race that built it, beautiful and elegant and flawless on the surface. I have seen the beauty, and I have seen the other face of ShiKahr, too … the offworlders’ bars and the streets where the powerless live. A third face of ShiKahr is beginning to emerge for me now. It is also a city where power dwells; power and the silent corruption, the dealing in lives, that so inevitably feeds it.

I guide the car through the streets, noticing the outworlders now, and realizing for the first time how few of them are Terrans.

The meeting has adjourned by the time I arrive, and the lengthening shadows begin to spell some coolness as the night draws near. Spock is near the fountain in the compound, his attention on a seedling that is withering under the pitiless sun of Vulcan’s perpetual summer.

“I’m sorry if I disturbed you this afternoon,” I tell him, and explain the happenings of the day, and of the days that have gone before.

He nods in an abstracted way. “It has begun, then. I had not thought it would be so soon.”

“Was it important? The meeting, I mean.”

He sits beside me on the fountain’s rim, and trails his hand in the water for a moment as if to wash away the day’s business. “Yes, as such things rate their own importance.” He closes his hand; the silvery water slips through, unchanged. “S’rakel is to have T’Pau’s position as Supreme Elder, but the Separatists bought it at a high price. One of T’Pau’s people will have his senate seat.”

“You?”

He shakes his head, the ghost of a smile shadowing his mouth. “You overestimate my importance, Lara-kai.” He touches my cheek with a hand that is still cool from the fountain.

“That’s a wife’s prerogative.”

Again, the ghost of the smile, then it is gone like his fleeting touch. “Sarek is to have S’rakel’s place.”

“Your father? But he’s Ambassador to the Federation.”

He shakes his head again. “There is no longer a Vulcan representative to the Federation. Word went out this morning. All Vulcans in service to the Federation are to withdraw. That is not an official announcement, of course. But it will happen.”

“They can’t do that!”

“They have.”

“But what about the ones in Starfleet? They can’t just walk off their assignments.”

“Those with commissions will resign. The others…” The full impact of it is beginning to sink in. The term is ‘civil disobedience’, and it is a euphemism that covers many potentially ugly things. “There is a purpose,” he says. “Prisoners must be guarded, fed, housed, and cared for. Energy and resources used in that manner cannot be turned against us in combat.”

An ugly chill is crawling up my spine. “Surely it won’t come to that.”

“That is why I am here, Lara. To see that it does not.”

^^^^^^^^^^

SPOCK

^^^^^^^^^^

There is more, but I cannot tell her that. Not now, not yet, even with the openness that has grown between us in the last months.

I cannot tell her of the bitter infighting in the Senate and the Council, or that even though my father will bear the title of Senator, I will be his eyes and ears and voice in the struggle ahead.

Sarek is himself in poor health; the heart condition which prompted his near retirement years ago has again begun to affect his stamina, and he plans to hold his official title only until he can see me safely in the position he has so recently accepted. He faces conflict in his personal life as well. It was only through purest luck I was able to deflect a meeting yesterday that could have had dire consequences for him. And may yet.

Sarek had been gone only moments when an aide, searching for him, came into my office. “There is a woman here, seeking to meet with Sarek,” he announced.

“He is no longer here. Tell her he is granting no audiences until next week.”

The aide returned in a moment with the news that the visitor would not be put off. “Now she asks to speak with you.”

“With me? Who is she?”

“A kinswoman, she says. She is most insistent.”

“Very well.” I think I knew then, but refused to accept the thought. I returned to the work at hand, and she entered so silently I was not aware of her presence. How long she stood there, watching me, I do not know. It was some minutes before I became aware I was no longer alone; it was hours later before I realized that what had signaled her presence was the faint but pervasive scent of sohti. At the time, I only knew, suddenly, that I was being watched.

Old training, old habits, die hard; as I turned in the chair I was for a moment again a Starfleet officer, tensed and ready for a physical assault. If she noted the lapse, she did not comment on it.

“Spock.” She did not greet me with the traditional gesture; she simply waited for my acknowledgement.

“T’Faie.” That was all I gave her. The passage of the years had not changed her; she was beautiful as only a Vulcan woman in the prime of her life can be beautiful. She was tall, nearly as tall as I, and carried that haughtiness she inherited from our father. Her gaze was almost sleepy, but I knew that behind those sohti-dulled eyes, there was a mind as quick and as vicious as that of a le-matya.

She sat down without waiting to be asked; she would have stood forever if she had waited for my invitation, and she knew it.

“My son seeks the rest of his heritage,” she said bluntly.

“To what end, T’Faie?”

“To know his proper place in the scheme of things, as all Vulcans must.”

Xa’an.” I chose the word deliberately; it is not one I have often used, and never to a woman.

“There is no need to be vulgar, little brother. What other end could I have?”

“With you, who knows? You always have a purpose behind the obvious.”

She arched an eyebrow appreciatively. “You have gained insight, I see. You lacked that in your youth.” She examined her fingernails, stalling for time.

“The other purpose, T’Faie.”

She took her own time in answering. “Power,” she said at last. “Its acquisition and retention.”

“Then you have come to the wrong camp. I should think you would be looking to the Separatists.”

“I already am. But it never hurts to have a foot in each camp. You see, I do not underestimate you, either.”

“Then what makes you think Sarek will ever accept your son?”

“He won’t. But you will.”

“Indeed?”

“Of course, you will. Sarek needs the one thing he doesn’t have – time. Time to strengthen his position so he can turn it over to you. The Separatists have already decided they will concede to your demands – S’rakel will have T’Pau’s place, and Sarek will have his. If Sarek should become … incapacitated too soon, your people will lose that Senate seat. And a man in his ill-health should not be subjected to any … shocks, should he?”

I understand her meaning well. Never the show of the blade for T’Faie, when a quickly-glimpsed view of the sheath will do. “What is the price of your silence, T’Faie?”

“Only the concern a proper Vulcan should show for his poor, fatherless nephew. Exposure to the proper way of Vulcan life. Training in restraint. Selek lacks that. Even as his father did as a young man.”

“Be careful, sister. It would be a shame if the tashai found your body in an alley late some night.”

“You lack subtlety, Spock.”

“One is not subtle with a le-matya.”

She toyed with the folds of her sleeve for a moment, and I thought I had found a chink in her armor. But she was only playing her game. “I saw your wife yesterday,” she remarked casually. Too casually.

“She is no part of this.”

She gave a mocking half-smile, and I knew my quick response had betrayed me. I had been too long among Humans … or perhaps Humanness had been too long within me.

“No, of course not,” she said. “I was just making conversation.” She smoothed her hair back from her flawless face in a gesture that transcended race. I have seen beautiful women all over the galaxy use it, and always to make the same statement of their own beauty. With the point made, she went on. “She is a totally unremarkable young woman, even for a Human. Whatever do you see in her?”

“That is none of your affair.”

“Of course, now that her diplomatic connections are no longer important, you could terminate the relationship. You’ll never get any sons on that one.”

“You have made your statement, T’Faie. You may go now.”

She made no move to leave; went on as though I had not spoken at all. “But, then, I never understood why you released T’Pring. You should have taken her into the temple and klaajed her cross-eyed. I doubt Stonn would have wanted your leavings.”

“Get out of here, T’Faie.” I rose from the desk, anger threatening to break loose the controls I had clamped down the moment I realized her purpose.

She, too, rose, but without haste. “Your Human half is showing, little brother. We shall speak of this again, and soon. I will let you know when to expect my son.”

Only when she had gone did I have the time and control to sort out and review the multitude of things left unsaid. She knew too much – entirely too much – about what had gone on in closed sessions of Federation proponents. That meant she had a listening device planted somewhere – or more likely, someone to feed her the information. And not only from our camp; we were not then certain that the Separatists were ready to concede to our demands. She knew of my rejection of T’Pring – a thing which happened when she was buried in the desert with the agan-tuá. And she knew of the reason behind my marriage – more importantly, she knew she could strike at me through Lara. That was something I fancied no one knew, except perhaps Lara herself. If T’Faie was not sure of that when she entered the office, she was sure of it when she left. I gave her that certain knowledge, placed another weapon at her disposal in an instant’s loss of control.

I am glad, in a way, when Lara tells me she has lost her position at the research center. The less she is out of the minimal protection afforded by the family compound, the less vulnerable she is to direct physical assault by one of T’Faie’s henchmen. Except that soon now … very soon … T’Faie’s son will share even that sanctuary.

That is a subject which must be broached soon. But I wait, hoping for the proper time. I should have learned from my experience with Jim that there is never a proper time for a painful discussion. There is only a time of one’s own choosing, or the time of another’s choice.

Still, there are defenses. T’Faie cannot breach all of them entirely. It is of utmost importance to her that her agents move freely through ShiKahr. A few words in the right ears, and they find they have lost much of that freedom. A trained tashai can spot an agan-tuá no matter what his disguise, and where there is an agan-tuá it follows as day follows night that there are violations of the law. Concealed weapons, stolen property, and sohti. Always sohti. They are never without it, never far from their caches.

Harassment, the delegation charges.

Clear and consistent violations of the law, the Council counters.

There is a danger, my sister, in having a foot in each camp. Neither side trusts the other completely, and no one is entirely sure which agan-tuá owes allegiance to whom.

So T’Faie is forced to wait, biding her time. She has had much practice at it. Who knows how long she planned her latest ploy, with her son as the leading edge? Since his coming to manhood? Since his birth? Or even before that?

It is Lara who gives me the opening I seek. With her work at the research center terminated, she is at loose ends, and her restlessness grows. For all of her life, she has functioned either as a student or a Starfleet officer. I cannot restore the latter position to her, but the former opens several doors.

Vulcan history has never been the subject of an in-depth study by an outworlder, and she is daily confronted by customs and attitudes she has had to take on faith alone. She asks for a fuller understanding, and I make arrangements for a tutor. With that accomplished, I am able to turn an evening conversation with Sarek to the subject of Selek’s education.

The boy has been at Council again, and on this particular afternoon has committed a social gaffe of such magnitude that he was forcibly removed from the visitor’s section. I suggest to my father that Selek’s action was motivated not by vindictiveness so much as by ignorance, due to his lack of proper training. It is hardly fitting, I point out, to have a member of Sarek’s clan appear in public to display the lapses in his upbringing.

Sarek’s agreement is grudgingly given, but it is given, nonetheless.

We have in the household, I remind him, an excellent tutor in Vulcan mores and manners, as well as in the traditions that gave birth to them. Would it not be fitting to include Selek in the course of study Lara has set out for herself?

He pierces me with that gaze that says he knows I have been attempting to manipulate him, but there is no rancor in it. “You would have him in this household, then?” he asks sharply.

“Yours or mine; it makes no difference.”

His sigh is not so much defeat as it is resignation, and I press my point home. “If he is here, it also gives us the opportunity to keep a close watch on T’Faie and her people,” I point out.

He considers this for a moment, or appears to consider it. His decision, however, was made and voiced in that sigh. “You will speak to his mother?” he asks.

“Yes.”

“Very well. But I’ll not have that spawn of the le-matya under my roof. You must be responsible for him – and answerable to any breach of conduct on his part.”

This assignment of liability is a particularly non-Vulcan statement, and emphasizes the depth of Sarek’s dislike of the boy and distrust of his mother.

It is an odd thing, perhaps – or at least physiologically inaccurate – to refer to Selek as a boy. By many standards he is a man – 25 years old or nearly so, taller and heavier than I, with that solidness of physique he inherited from his grandfather. In fact, he looks rather like Sarek, magnified by perhaps ten percent, as if freedom from the rigid bonds of Vulcan discipline had expanded Sarek’s being into this new, bolder version. It is rather his attitude and mental state which prompt me to speak and think of him as a boy. He is as unpredictable and as dangerous as a rogue comet.

T’Faie brings him to my office at the close of the day on which she receives my message, and his face is drawn into a sullen scowl so open in its disgust that it would have shamed a child of five.

T’Faie apparently wants more to annoy me than to offer motherly advice to the son who is leaving her household, for she speaks as if he were not in the room at all. Her sleepy, indolent eyes have a certain amount of amused satisfaction in them as she greets me.

“Your avuncular concern will not go unremarked among the agan-tuá, little brother. When we attain our rightful power, your familial devotion will be amply rewarded.”

“I should not wish to base my livelihood on that prospect, T’Faie. It may be an excessively long time in coming to fruition.”

She does not appear disturbed. “It is amazing to me that you Federationists, with your much-vaunted logic, cannot see how untenable your position is.”

“Even an untenable position is preferable to one which leads to annihilation, sister. The Separatists’ belief in our invulnerability will lead us only into chaos and destruction. Even if they should succeed in forming their republic, it does not necessarily follow that the agan-tuá will have any power within it.”

“But it does, Spock. To achieve and maintain power in the Republic, Vulcan will need warriors. Where will they come from, if not from that class which has never allowed the softness of pacifism to eat away at its core?”

There is enough truth in her words – about the need for warriors, though not necessarily about agan-tuá superiority in such fields – to shed a bit more light on her eventual goals. But a warrior needs more than sohti-induced blood lust. He needs discipline, too. I start to voice the thought, then realize that this, too, is part of her plan. She would have me train this pup to become the lead wolf of her pack.

“Well-planned, T’Faie. You must have been many years at this endeavor.”

“One strives to recognize opportunity when it appears. And sometimes to contrive its appearance at a fortuitous time.”

She appears to grow impatient with our discussion. Or perhaps she is disconcerted that I have seen the purpose behind her purpose so soon. At any rate, the tempo of the stately dance she has orchestrated undergoes an unsubtle alteration. “Teach him well, Spock. He has a right to your knowledge.”

“The bonds of kinship do not extend to include self-destruction.”

“You will survive. You are too valuable to be permitted to destroy yourself purposely, and too intelligent to do so inadvertently. You are a survivor. I have certain knowledge of that fact, remember.” She gathers her light cape around herself. “Selek will have what his heritage entitles him to have. And you, Spock, will give him what he needs to cope with it.”

She leaves without waiting for any answer I might give. It is a gift I do not question too closely; I have no answer for her, anyway. There is no answer to a dance, to the carefully plotted steps and counter-steps that give the dancers the illusion of movement but which sooner or later return them to their starting positions.

In the meantime, however, I have Selek to deal with, and the sullen set of his mouth warns me that I will have plenty to occupy my time. The first clash is not long in coming, and it comes, as I knew it would, over sohti.

Lara has prepared a room for him, and he goes in, shutting the door behind him and shooting the lock loudly enough for us to hear it. Lara gives me a look, a Terran shrug, and says, “Well, that’s what locks are for, isn’t it?”

“Not really. The lock is there to tell the guest he may use it; in return, he is supposed not to use it. If he does, he indicates that he feels the need for it, which is a grave insult to his host.”

She links her arm through mine and draws me down the hallway. “Well, I don’t feel the least bit insulted. What I feel is extreme hunger. Selek was told it is mealtime, and if he chooses not to eat, that’s his problem.”

After the meal, Lara places a tape of Vulcan history in the reader and is quickly lost in her studies. If she is aware of the scent, she does not recognize its significance, and does not mention it. She only gives me a curious look as I leave the room.

The odor is almost overpowering as I go down the hall to his room. “Selek? I wish to speak with you.”

He takes his own time unlocking the door, and his expression when he opens it tells me he knows why I have come. I indicate the small mound of yellowish powder with a nod. “That is not permitted while you are here.”

“Why?”

“For one thing, it is illegal.”

He makes a sound of disgust. “Not for long. When we have legislative power--”

“Which you do not now have. It is forbidden because it distracts the mind and debilitates the body. You cannot complete your course of training – cannot even embark upon it – while you continue to ingest sohti.”

He scoops the powder back into its case, and places the case in a pocket of his k’viet. “I shall use it as I see fit. It is my property.”

There is more he wants to say, but it takes him a moment to work up the courage to say it. He wants this confrontation, wants it now, because he has to test the bounds. “If you want it, you’ll have to take it.”

“As you wish, Selek.” He does not mistake the statement for acquiescence. He goes into the hand-fighter’s traditional crouch as I move toward him.

The boy has not the slightest inkling of the proper way to defend himself against anything but the most primitive attack. It is ridiculously easy for me to overpower him; there is not even the sound of a struggle to disturb Lara. But under the uncoordinated, uneducated movements is a strength which, properly trained, would be formidable. I file that away in the back of my mind even as he hands over the box.

“I can get more,” he flares defiantly.

“I should not advise you to attempt it. We have much work to do, and I do not have the time to play games with you.”

“This whole charade is a game, Uncle.” He comes down with force on the last word, his dark eyes flaming. He knows, then. It was foolish of me to assume T’Faie would not have told him. That does not alter the situation, of course, though it may alter Selek’s response to it.

“You may consider it a game, if you wish. But its purpose is quite real, I assure you. Your mother and I have entered into a bargain, and I intend to fulfill my part of it, with or without your cooperation.”

My words are truth; he may interpret them any way he wishes. I will fulfill my bargain with T’Faie, but I shall do it at my own pace and in the order of my own choosing.

The studies of Vulcan’s history must come first, then the mental disciplines which should have begun in Selek’s infancy. Not until I know his mind and can predict his actions will I trust him with the physical skills he wants so much to learn. He is too strong, too young, too potentially deadly, to be given his own body as a weapon.

And I must see to it that Lara is out of his way before that happens. I see the way he watches her as the days grow into weeks, and what I see disturbs me deeply. I told Jim once that she was capable of defending herself against assault. She was, then; trained and in training as all Starfleet officers are. And she is strong for a Terran female, with her body disciplined and strengthened by the dancing she thinks I do not know about. But she is no match for a Vulcan male at full strength, and there is no training that could make her so.

It is not lust I see in Selek’s open face, though he is subject to that, too, as are all agan-tuá. It is the realization that Lara is a vulnerable target, even though I am not. An assault against her, sexual or otherwise, would be an assault on me. A particularly fitting assault, by his reasoning, if it involved rape.

She is aware of it, an awareness intensified by seeing it in my own mind when we make love. “He doesn’t frighten me,” she lies, and her neck arches with bravado.

“Yes, he does. And that kind of fear is a healthy thing. Hold onto it, Lara. It makes you careful.”

She hides her face against the base of my throat. “Sometimes it would be nice to be able to lie to you, Spock. You have enough worries without my adding to them.”

“Do not wish for that capability, Lara. A lie is a dangerous and cruel thing to tell another, regardless of your motivations.” It is also a dangerous and cruel thing to tell oneself, but I do not point that out to her.

>>>>> <<<<<

LARA

>>>>> <<<<<

I know the truth of his words about lies, know even the unspoken one about lies to oneself. But it does not alter my desire to be able to conceal from him the way I feel about Selek.

From the first moment I saw him, he has made me uneasy, in a way that became identifiable as fear only recently, and then only partially. There is and was, first and strongest, an inexplicable revulsion, as though there was something unclean about him. It is an almost instinctive feeling of deep and essentially baseless distaste, like the queasiness some people have about insects or snakes.

He watches me, watches Spock, when he thinks he can do so unobserved, and in those sly, dark eyes, I see a number of unpleasant things. What kind of poison must have flowed from T’Faie’s breast to rear a child so full of evil?

In the daytime, with the tutor S’gref present, I feel the menace much less, though S’gref is so old that he would hardly present a barrier to violence. Perhaps it is because my mind is fully occupied during our classes, and I am less able to dwell on the danger Selek radiates. He is a belligerent scholar, though I sense a quick – if undisciplined – mind at work. He challenges virtually every statement S’gref makes, and in so doing, he forces much more information from that distinguished elder than I would have done. So Selek’s presence, though occasionally disruptive, is probably a valuable thing in the long run.

The long evenings, when Spock and Sarek are frequently absent, are the worst times. I begin to spend them with Amanda. Our conversation, quite naturally, often centers around Spock, and I begin to see him through her eyes as well as my own. One evening very late, she gives me a gift I shall always treasure.

We are discussing … or perhaps lamenting … the killing schedule the two men are putting in – the long hours, the tense political maneuvering which seems to be going in favor of the Separatists, despite their struggles.

“I suppose it’s selfish of me,” she says, “but I’m very glad you chose to come back here with Spock.”

“It’s no different, I suppose, from your staying here with Sarek.”

She smiles, but her mind is suddenly far away, long ago, and I am guilty of the same uncontrollable curiosity about her marriage that so infuriates me when Spock and I are its object. “Sarek is … Sarek,” she says, as if that explained it all. “If I were not here, he would be much the same. But Spock needs … he needs someone to remind him of his Humanness – to reflect that back to him as something worth cherishing. He’s like an invisible man in a house of mirrors, but you give him back his own image.”

I have to turn away at that, to hide the sudden burning in my eyes. “Thank you, Amanda.”

“No,” she says. “Thank you.”

I excuse myself, and go back to the quiet of my own dwelling. Though her words have pleased me, there is still – somewhere deep inside – a voice that says she would hardly have made that statement if she knew I came to Vulcan as much for Jim as for Spock.

We were all invisible, some part of each of us, in that house of mirrored faces that was Enterprise. Each of us saw some hidden corner of self only in the other’s eyes. And if I am Spock’s mirror, he is mine.  If there is an empty spot in that reflection sometimes, it is because I am wholly Human, and he is not.

I think of other reflections in other eyes, sometimes – though not as often as I did when we first came here. …What is he doing right now, at this moment? Does he think of me … and of his friend? I wonder, too, in moments like this, just how much of him Spock sees in my mind.

He never speaks of Jim; in fact, never speaks of anyone from the Enterprise. It’s as though he is able to neatly compartmentalize his mind. I wish I had that ability, that sureness that what he does at any given moment is the right thing to do. Once he had made up his mind to come back here, I don’t think he spent an instant regretting it or wondering what would have happened had he chosen to defy T’Pau. Does he ever look back at the roads not taken? I doubt it, somehow. That is one unique Human frailty he has escaped.

My own life, in retrospect, is a tangled maze of roads not taken, of opportunities missed, and of blunders into thickets of my own making. I’ll carry the scars of those blunderings – of those rainy midnights of the soul – to my grave and beyond, if such a state exists. If there are ghosts, and if the spirits of the dead can return, perhaps they are searching vainly for that road not taken, trying now to make the proper turning and thereby alter the life they no longer have.

I drift off to sleep with those thoughts meandering through my brain, so it is not surprising that I dream of Jim and Spock, standing at opposite forks of a path, each waiting to see which way I turn. Neither of them moves, neither says anything to try to persuade me, but I feel their eyes and the tug-of-war of their thoughts as I stand and stand and stand, not able to decide.

>>>>> <<<<<

The meetings, the maneuverings, the tallying of strength, go on as the deathly heat of summer drags on. The days grow shorter, and the heat gives way to the mild autumn season which is as close to winter as Vulcan ever comes. As the summer slips past, so do the hopes of the Federationists.

I can sense the fading of those hopes in both Spock and Sarek. Sarek, particularly, seems to be aging before my eyes, and each burden that slips from his wearying shoulders finds a new home on Spock’s.

Selek grows more openly contemptuous of us as he, too, senses which way the dice will fall. He often absents himself from the house for two or three days at a time, and I count that more of a blessing than anything else.

I don’t know why Spock tolerates him at all, nephew or not. When Selek speaks to his uncle, his voice drips with a contempt that makes me want to slap his handsome young face. He does not speak to me at all, which I find eminently satisfactory.

He left the compound this morning with that particular stride and manner which stated he had no intention of returning until the mood hit him, and S’gref and I spent a peaceful, if uneventful, session discussing the era of Vulcan’s technological revolution. It is rather heavy going, and he rewards me by giving me a quite rare tape of poetry from that era, along with a written transcript of it. It has never been translated from the original language, and S’gref suggests that I might find it challenging to try an English version.

I put it aside as he leaves, meeting Sarek and Spock in the entry to the compound. It is early for them to be home, but there is no air of holiday about either of them. They part wordlessly, each going into his own dwelling with his own thoughts.

Whatever those thoughts are, it would seem that Spock intends to keep them private. It is with an air of patient distraction that he puts aside my offer of food, and he shuts himself away in the study. I know better than to disturb him when he is in such a mood – though he would deny with arched brow that he is subject to any kind of “mood” at all.

The prospect of eating alone doesn’t appeal to me, and I settle down at my desk with a playback unit and the tape S’gref gave me. The quality of the recording is not good, and the poet’s voice is slurred. Irritated, I snap the unit off and pick up the written transcript, peering at S’gref’s shaky script. The possibilities of the translation are fascinating, and I do not know how long I sit there engrossed with the painstaking literal translation while patterns of rhyme begin to form for its eventual English rendering.

The music seems at first to be coming from my own head, and it takes me a moment to realize it is not. It creeps under the door and slides through the curtained windows as subtly as fog and as unexpected as fog on this arid planet. It is not the delicately webbed, mathematically precise music of Vulcan; it has the sound of legends spoken around a dying fire, of secrets shared, and the mingling of two themes, baritone and bass. The baritone carries some hint of a deep order; the bass holds the tones of incipient power. And yet they blend and complement each other and grow in scope.

The sounds fade away, then the bass theme is back like thunder, unrestrained by the precision of the other. As that realization comes to me, the baritone theme returns, only to be drowned in a wild paean of sound that cries of savage land and savage men and rings with the sound of swords.

I leave the cloistering room, and though there is only one possible source for the sound, I find I must confirm it. I pick up the recorder and a blank chip as I leave, wanting to capture the sounds, to assure myself later that I did indeed hear them. In the night garden, Spock sits with his head bent over the strings of the lyre as the sword clashes die away with the failing light. He looks up at me and mutes the sounding strings with his hand.

“Please go on,” I ask him.

I switch on the recorder as he begins anew, and for a moment I think it is a different piece entirely. There is a new voice to the lyre, delicate as a butterfly and strong as a shaft of summer sunlight, haunting and lyrical. It meets the baritone theme, and the two come together so cunningly in their difference that I think fleetingly of ni-var. The baritone theme breaks through alone now, brooding, and the bass notes crash in with a menace that drowns it out. There is a measure of silence as the notes die out, then a reprise of the soprano notes, in a minor key this time, which fades away slowly, leaving its sweetness hanging in the long twilight. Spock puts the lyre down and I rub the gooseflesh from my forearms.

“That is most beautiful,” I venture. “Is it an original?”

He shakes his head. “It is very old. I learned it from a dje-kalla in my youth. He is long dead, I suppose, for he was very old then.” He looks at the lyre as if it could return the ancient teller of legend to life. “There seem to be fewer dje-kalla these days. Perhaps we have outgrown the need to hear our legends told.

“The historians say this one is a myth, you know, when they say anything at all. For the most part, they prefer to ignore it.”

“It must be a very powerful story, then, if they wish so much to see it die.”

The comment sparks some secret amusement behind his dark eyes. “You are most perceptive, Lara-kai.”

“Tell me the story, Spock. Be my dje-kalla this night, and tell me your Vulcan myth.”

He looks for the truth behind my desire, and sees it. There was a time on Vulcan, and not too long ago, when a man and a woman could pass a lazy evening hearing the old stories and growing closer in their ancient, solemn words. A time when “kai” meant more than “wife” … when it meant what I hear when he uses it with my name. There is a desire in all of us, buried more deeply in some than in others, but there all the same, to return to a simpler time. I would return to that if I could, and draw him back with me. It is all I have ever wanted, and I know he is aware of it.

“Very well, then,” he says. “You must come and sit at my feet to do it properly, and fill my purse with kamarr when I am done.”

“All your purse can hold, my greedy friend, and a meal to put in your pack as you travel down the road.” It pleases him, I can tell, that I know of the ancient custom, and I settle myself at his feet.

“This is the legend of Surak and T’Paal,” he begins, “and there are many who say it is not true. If T’Paal lived, there is no record of her being, yet it is true that Surak came to power under the reign of Selim.

“In the old times, Vulcan was ruled by warrior-kings, and one of the last of them was Selim of the high country. Selim and Surak were boyhood friends, so the story goes, and they spent their days at the games of the young body and their nights at the games of the ancient mind.

“Selim wept at the violent nature of his people, and determined that he would find a way to change it when he ruled. Surak counseled him in this, and urged him to look at the natural, unemotional order of the movements of the stars and the patience of the growing things in the world about him.

“They grew apart as they grew older, as boyhood friends so often do. Selim came to rule, and the pleasures of the flesh wooed him away from his earlier concern for his people, while Surak withdrew into the mountains, where he began to formulate his philosophy of logic. And when Surak was ready to begin his teaching, he came from the mountains to the court of Selim, his ruler and his friend. But he found only chaos and strife at Selim’s court.

“Selim had chanced to see the woman chosen by his youngest brother, Sta’aj, and her beauty was so great that he could think of nothing but possessing her. When he could not convince Sta’aj to give the woman over, nor T’Paal to yield to his lust, he determined to challenge Sta’aj at koon-ut-kal-if-fee. The counselors of Selim advised against this, cautioning that the people of the high lands would never accept as their ruler one who had slain his own brother. They asked him to find a surrogate for the challenge, one who could defeat Sta’aj in combat, and give over T’Paal in victory.

“So when Surak came forth, speaking of logic and mental discipline, Selim would not heed the words of his boyhood friend. He could think only of T’Paal, and finding a warrior to win her for him. They all denied him, for Sta’aj was known for his skill with the lirpa and ahn woon. At last Selim came to his friend and asked that he issue kah-if-farr to Sta’aj, and in return for the woman, Surak would be given the support of the king for the school of discipline he wished to establish.

“At first, Surak also denied him; not because he feared Sta’aj, but because he had vowed never to take a life. But Selim persisted, and as the time of koon-ut-kal-if-fee approached, Surak weakened.

“Some say that Surak, too, had seen T’Paal and was himself bewitched by her beauty; others say that Surak weighed the life of one man against the future of a race and found the purchase worth the price. Whichever it was, Surak agreed, and met Sta’aj in combat and slew him at the marriage grounds. But the friends of Sta’aj rose against Surak, and would have spilled his blood, and he took T’Paal and fled to the mountains, where they hid for many months.

“The legend says Surak grew to love the beautiful T’Paal, and she, him. He spoke to her of his dream for Vulcan, and she saw the truth of it. And though their love for one another was great, she saw that it stood between Surak and his dream, and because she was as wise as she was beautiful, she reminded him of his promise to Selim.

“So he took her back to the palace of the king, and handed her into his keeping, and Selim kept his bargain to endow Surak’s school.

“Then did T’Paal beg Selim to give her a month to prepare for the wedding, and so piteously did she weep and so prettily did she promise, that he granted her wish. And when that month had ended, she begged another and another and another, until at last Selim’s patience came to an end and he decreed that on the very next day and no other, they must meet at the marriage grounds.

“But when he sent the women to fetch her in the red dawn, they found T’Paal had defeated Selim again, and this time for eternity. For she had opened the veins of her arms and she lay dead in all her marriage finery.

“Selim’s rage knew no bounds, then, and he sent his warriors to seek out Surak and slay him, but he, too, was gone – fled to the mountains with his followers.

“And there they stayed, and learned, and grew in numbers and in the strength of their determination. And Surak’s dream became the dream of Vulcan, and when it passed from dream to reality, it changed the lives of millions yet unborn. And Surak’s name lives in the hearts and minds of every Vulcan for all time, but the names of Selim and T’Paal live now only in the legends of the dje-kalla, and in the songs they play.”

It is full dark now, and I see only the outline of his face, dimly lit by starshine. He is looking off over the low wall that surrounds the compound, looking toward the great dark bulk of the mountains that rise beyond the red desert, and I wonder if he sees them, or anything at all. I remember that in the old times, young men in training as dje-kalla were ritually blinded, so that their visions of the present might not cloud their visions of the past.

It was a violent place, this long-ago Vulcan, and there are those who fear it will become so again. They battle to keep the fear from becoming reality – battle with a ferocity not even matched in kah-if-farr and this man Spock the foremost warrior among them.

“Play it once more,” I ask him.

“It grows late.”

“It’s a song for late night, don’t you think?”

“A song is only a song. It has no preference for night or day.” He profile turns; he looks down at me. “And a legend is only a legend, Lara-kai. There is no truth in it.”

“Are you sure?” Even in the dark I can see – or feel – the questioning arch of his brow.

“No. And that is why I will play it for you one more time, and then no more.”

I hand him the lyre, and our hands touch for a moment on the strings; the sound they make might be a lover’s sigh on the arid night wind. He takes the lyre, and the music swells into the night. T’Paal’s theme soars like the scent of the exotic night-blooming flowers around us, and when he is finished he takes my hand and lifts me to my feet and we walk together into our house.

>>>>> <<<<<

Later, we lie together quietly, each locked in private thoughts. There has been no lovemaking this night, nor for many nights past; his mind and attention are elsewhere, yet there is a quiet reassurance to be had from his physical nearness.

I had thought he was sleeping, but then his voice comes at me out of the dark, a creature of the dark itself. “Do something for me,” he says, and it is not quite a request.

“If I can.”

“Tomorrow, as soon as Sarek and I leave, take Amanda and go to the Federation Embassy. Stay there with your father until I come for you.” It seems an odd request, but something in his tone tells me not to question him.

“If it’s important to you--”

“It is,” he says, and then no more.

Not only is Amanda not surprised at my request, she is ready before I am in the morning. Plainly, Sarek has made the same request of her. Her impatience is such that I do not even stop for breakfast; I merely grab a kfah from the bowl on the kitchen table. The fruit has an unpleasant mustiness to it, and I discard it after a single bite.

Amanda is quiet and withdrawn, wearing a worried frown, and we do not speak as we go through the streets. There is a quietness, a kind of tension in them, with few people about and those few intent on their tasks.

The secretary who greets us at the embassy is likewise distracted, and a prickle of apprehension I should have heeded earlier tells me something serious is afoot. Papa greets us in an anteroom, wearing a worried frown that is a twin of Amanda’s. As usual, he has his pipe clamped firmly in his teeth, and as usual, it has gone out.

“What are you two doing here, today of all days?”

“That’s a fine greeting,” I say, trying to lighten his mood. “Aren’t you glad to see us?”

“I’m always glad to see the two prettiest women on Vulcan,” he says, pulling on his best Ambassador’s face. “I’m just surprised to see you here today.” Again, that reference. I start to make some comment, but my tongue will not respond.

“Sarek thought it best,” Amanda says, and they exchange glances that rip through the suddenly thin fabric of my patience.

“Will somebody please tell me what’s going on?”

Papa sits down, taking his pipe in his hands and looking vaguely surprised to find it there. “The Council is voting today on whether to stay in the Federation,” he says.

“Today? But I thought the vote wasn’t to come for some time yet.”

Amanda cuts in with a smoothness that tells me she has known of this for some time. “Sarek and the others hoped to postpone it, but the Separatists have pushed the voting forward. Needless to say, they think it’s to their advantage.”

Papa fusses with his pipe and finally puts it back into his mouth, still unlit. “Your papa may be out of a job by nightfall,” he says. His words make hardly any impression on me. His form is hazy, out of focus somehow, and he seems to be surrounded by a faint blue aura. I shake my head and rub at my eyes, and the aura goes away.

I find myself thinking of that vote … and what it might mean. If Vulcan chooses to withdraw, Spock will have seen through his promise to T’Pau. We will be free to leave this place, free to build a life of our own somewhere else. His defeat would become my victory, and I cannot deny the selfish hope that the Separatists carry the day.

The galaxy is a broad place, and maybe that island of peace and calm is not an impossible dream, after all.

TBC