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 6

III

KAH-IF FARR

Time of Combat

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

AMANDA

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

It is midafternoon when the messenger comes. I see him from the second-floor window as he comes up the walk, distant beyond the physical space that separates us, impassive and formal as he disappears from my line of sight.

It is only a few moments before I see him leaving. I start to say something to Lara, but her mind is light-years away today. She is behaving most oddly, and I cannot put my finger on it. She barely picked at her lunch, even though I know she ate only part of a kfah before we left the compound. I wonder if she may be coming down with something. Her face is flushed and there is an odd and musty scent about her, not at all like the perfume she generally chooses. She alternates between periods of fidgeting, as if her skin were put on that morning with an uncomfortable wrinkle to it, and long moments of musing, as she is doing now.

Obviously, she did not know the vote was to be today; still does not know why Spock told her to come here. I think sometimes he keeps too much from her. I cannot determine if it is because he cares for her too little, or too much.

Frederick comes into the room, and when his eyes meet mine, I know what news the messenger brought. He sits down heavily in one of the ornate chairs, breathing a deep sigh. He runs a hand through his grey hair, looking suddenly very old, very frail.

“So,” he says. “It is done.”

Lara comes out of her daydream. “The vote?” she asks, and her face is flushed with excitement. “Have you heard something?”

“The vote was in favor of withdrawal. I have five days to close the embassy. A Federation ship will be permitted to pick us up, and then the ports will be closed to them. To us.” He looks across the room to me, a man whose world is tumbling, pulling down structures he has worked years to strengthen. “I’m sorry,” he says.

Lara is at his chair, on her knees, and her expression as she looks up at him is, incongruously, one of joy. “It’s all right, Papa. It will all work out for the best. You’ll see. Now maybe you’ll do what I’ve been nagging you to do for years. Retire. Give yourself time to do all the things you’ve ever wanted to do.”

He looks over her head at me, and his eyes hold the pain of a man whose beloved child has called his life’s work worthless. “This is what I’ve always wanted to do, daughter.” He gets up slowly, as if the movement gives him pain. “So much to be done…” he says.

“Is there something I can do to help” she asks. “Spock won’t be here for a while yet.”

He puts a hand on her cheek, sorrowful that she still doesn’t understand. “No. …No… I think the time for that is long past, my dear.” His mind is elsewhere long before he leaves the room. He is right that there is much to be done, and not by him alone.

I hate being here, though I understand the reason for it. Lara has neither emotion; she has dropped back into her musings. She is humming something under her breath. I do not recognize it, though I am sure I have heard it somewhere, and recently.

“What is that song?”

She stops in mid-gesture; it looks curiously like a dance movement, and her flushed face carries the look of a child with a lovely secret. “Just … something I heard somewhere. There’s a story that goes with it.  …I thought it might make an interesting ballet.”

Ballet! I think she is losing her grip on reality. Doesn’t she know what this means, to all of us?

She hasn’t long to wait to begin that learning. As the shadows lengthen outside, the crowd grows before the gate. I can see them, standing aimlessly, and the rising wind carries the murmur of their voices to me. A skimmer from the tashai – the peace force – cruises by, and the loiterers disperse, but are back almost before the leaves stirred by the car’s passage have settled.

Lara joins me at the window, searching the faces below. “Who are they?” she asks.

Who are they, indeed? The manifestations of racial madness, Sarek would call them. The new savages of Vulcan, freed from the caves and trees of their primeval minds. I see a few Vulcan faces in the crowd, though not many, and those are agan-tuá by their dress and bearing. Most are offworlders – tall, haughty Eosians, many of them; Andorians, Tellarites, a few Lyrans identifiable by their uniforms.

“They’re the reason Spock asked you to come here. There’s going to be trouble, and he wanted you out of it.”

“Trouble? Why? They have what they wanted. We’re out of the Federation.” She stumbles a little on the last word, and that odd, musty scent curls around us.

“I would have expected more insight from an ambassador’s daughter.”

She seems to be about to say something, but then her gaze goes past me, to the crowd, and concern appears on her face for the first time. I turn to see what she saw, and I spot him in the crowd, shouldering forward with the pack at his heels – Selek. He is smiling at first, until he begins to speak. I cannot hear his words, but I can hear his tone. It becomes more and more agitated, and he gestures toward the embassy gates.

At last he finishes, with a gesture that carries his arms upward. It is as if it were a command; the crowd surges forward toward the gates. A vanguard of stones precedes them, and I pull Lara away from the window as the strongest throwers find their targets on the ground floor. The tinkling sound of breaking glass rings through the air.

She is frightened now, and I think Spock was wrong not to prepare her for this. “This can’t be happening,” she says, almost to herself. “Not on Vulcan.”

“Did you look at them?” I ask her. “How many Vulcans did you see in that mob? Real Vulcans, not agan-tuá? No, you don’t have to look.” I pull her down; she is actually about to get up and expose herself to view. “Those aren’t Vulcans. They’re jackals, drawn to the scent of anything dying. S’Rakel has set them loose on us, and when it is over, he can deny knowledge of their actions. It’s all really quite logical.” It was a poor attempt at humor, and she does not respond to it. She seems to be thinking of something else.

“The tashai--” she begins.

“Are not trained to deal with pogroms. Yes, pogroms. There is no other word for it. They’ll be seeking out Federationists tonight, and no other reason is necessary for them to burn and destroy and even up old scores. Half the tashai are no doubt on S’Rakel’s private payroll already. The other half are realists. We’ll be safe here at the embassy. S’Rakel has no desire to goad the Federation into an act of retaliation.”

As if to punctuate my words, the siren of the returning tashai skimmer pierces the room. One final stone finds its mark, bursting through the window beside us and scattering both of us with broken glass.

There are angry sounds as the crowd is dispersed to go about its clandestine business elsewhere. A glance through the shattered pane reveals two uniformed tashai standing solemnly at the gates. There will be no more stoning this night. Not here, anyway.

A splinter of flying glass has nicked Lara’s cheek; she puts a hand to it to wipe away the blood and then looks at her stained fingers as if she’d never seen them before. “Where is Spock?” she asks, and her voice relays her nearness to tears. I have never seen her weep. This night seems to be one for all sorts of revelations.

“Out there,” I answer her. “Somewhere. Trying to keep it all together.”

“I have to find him.” She pushes herself to her feet like a sleepwalker. “There’s something I have to tell him.” She starts for the door.

“No, Lara!” I pull at her arm.

“I have to find him,” she repeats.

“He wanted you here! He knows you’ll be safe here.”

“No. Have to tell him…”

I shake her soundly. “Listen to me! You can’t go after him now. You mustn’t even think of him.” She gives me a blank look and starts to pull away. There is more strength in her slim form than I would have guessed; it is all I can do to maintain my hold on her.

“Lara, listen to me! There’s danger tonight for Spock. For Sarek, too. They must be free to fight it – to stay alive at all. If you interfere by going out there – even by trying to use the link to summon him – you could distract his mind at a moment when his life depends on being able to think clearly. You must do as he asks.”

Something in my words seems to make an impression on her at last, and the determination goes out of her body like air out of a child’s balloon. She lets me lead her to a couch, push her down, cover her with a bright blanket. I stroke her forehead as I would a child’s, and I remember a time, a long-ago time…

No. That is past, that time when I had a son who could be comforted in that way. If I can do anything for him now, it is to keep his wife safe from harm.

“Sleep, Lara. Sleep, and wait for him to come. That’s all you can do for him now.”

“But I wanted to tell him…”

“I’m sure he knows. Don’t you think he does?”

She is relaxing now, and her face wears the child’s look of secrecy I had seen earlier. “Yes,” she says. “Of course. He always knows, doesn’t he?”

“Yes,” I tell her. “He always knows.” And in a few minutes, she does sleep.

Not even the sirens wake her later, and I stand alone at the ruined window, watching the sky lit with flames and wondering, even though I know I shouldn’t. Where are they? And asking only for their safety, wherever they are.

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

The glow of dawn is masked at first by the artificial dawnglow of the fires burning throughout ShiKahr. When at last the sun’s rays break through the smoke and haze hanging in the air, they refract and shatter until the whole sky is as red as blood.

The night, this first physical night, is over at last, though for Vulcan’s people, the dawn of reason will not come for a long time yet. I wonder, and not for the first time in the past months, if Sarek will be here to see that dawn.

I have been part of him for longer than I have been myself. I used to think it was impossible that I would ever be his widow. But I may be, even now, and not know it.

No. I put that thought aside. I would know it. I would feel the loss through the Sundering – through the loss of that terrible, beautiful link that we have shared for so many years. To lose it must be a real and as painful as losing an arm or an eye. Sarek lives, because I live. And even when he ceases to be real in the flesh, he will still exist in my mind. No one is dead who yet lives in another’s consciousness. That statement is one he would vigorously refute as illogical, but I know the truth of it nonetheless.

“Amanda?” Frederick has come in so quietly I did not hear him. “I’m sorry I didn’t make better arrangements for you.” He looks about the room. “Did you sleep at all?”

“As much as you did,” I tell him, and his tired smile gives me his knowledge of the truth in that.

“I’ll have some breakfast sent up for you,” he offers, but I shake my head.

“I’m sure your staff has enough to do.”

He chuckles ruefully. “My staff,” he says. “All three of us. The one constant that has never changed in all the long history of diplomacy is that the household staff always disappears at the first sign of trouble. They’re an excellent weathercock, my dear. Although I’m sure you know that.” He sits down with a sigh that says he has not given himself even that small luxury for many hours, and as he does so, he sees Lara’s sleeping form. “At least someone had the good sense to do the logical thing,” he says.

“I don’t know,” I tell him. “I’m very concerned about her. She wasn’t at all rational last night.”

He surveys the broken window and the bloody sky beyond it. “No one was, Amanda.” He flexes his hands, and I realize for the first time his pipe is missing. He seems almost undressed without it. He pats his pockets absently, looking for it perhaps, without taking his eyes off his daughter. “I know what you mean, though. I saw it myself, yesterday.” He rescues a piece of hard candy from a deep pocket, unwraps it and pops it into his mouth absently. “The thing you have to understand about Lara,” he says, “is that she thinks she can make things happen just by willing them to happen. She’s always been that way. I remember once when she was just a child--” He breaks off, looking back at me. “Ah, well, you’re not really interested in hearing that. Forgive an old man his maunderings, Amanda.” He pushes up from the chair. “I really do have to go. I’ll have someone bring you some coffee, at least.”

He leaves less cautiously than he entered; the closing of the door jerks Lara into wakefulness. She appears disoriented for a moment, her eyes flicking over the room until she remembers where she is, and why. Her face is white and drawn, and she winces as if in pain when she moves her head.

“Lara, dear, are you all right?”

“No,” she says, and her voice is thick and ragged. “I’m going to be sick.”

“Not in here, you’re not.” I pull her arm around my shoulder and hurry her down the hall to a bathroom.

She bends over the basin, retching painfully, but her empty stomach has nothing to expel. When the spasm has passed, she leans against the counter, white and clammy with cold sweat. I dampen a cloth and bathe her face, and some of the color comes back into it.

“I’m all right now,” she says after a few minutes have passed. But the hand she puts out to push the cloth away is shaking. There is that tight, polite uneasiness between us that two adults share when one has been messily ill and the other has witnessed it.

“Well, you don’t look all right. Come and lie down again.” Once I have her installed on the couch, I offer to bring her some coffee, or hot parra.

“No. I couldn’t keep it down anyway.” She shudders with a sudden chill and draws the blanket around her shoulders. It is perhaps a trick of light that her skin has the cold pallor of finely polished marble, almost translucent and yet not real flesh at all. Whatever her ailment of last night, it seems to have left physical traces, if no behavioral ones. I think for a moment that she is about to slip back into sleep, then she starts with a sudden thought.

“Spock–?”

“Still no word from either of them.”

“But he was here. Last night.”

“No,” I tell her.

“He was! I saw him…” She trails off, disoriented and a little frightened, I think. “Amanda…” she begins. “Last night … I saw things … I heard things. I can’t explain it.”

“You were ill,” I tell her, but she will not dismiss it that easily.

“It was like being drunk,” she says, “or drugged. I remember leaving the compound yesterday … and then only bits and pieces.” She looks past me at the shattered window. “Some of it, I guess, wasn’t my imagination. There really was a mob out there.”

“Yes.”

“And Selek was there, egging them on?”

“I wish that was part of your illusion, Lara. It was far too real.”

“What’s going to happen, Amanda? To all of us?”

“I wish I could tell you. For now, we just wait. That part hasn’t changed, in all the hundreds of centuries of all the civilizations that ever existed. The men go out and fight their battles, glorious or foolish, on all the kinds of fields they can devise to try to destroy one another, and their women wait for them.”

“We really haven’t come very far then, have we?”

“No, I guess not.”

She picks at the pattern of the blanket, then looks up suddenly at a sound from the street. We reach the window at the same instant, to see the broad gates swing inward as the two forms, so alike and yet so different, pass through.

Perhaps it is the flash of movement at the window that makes Spock look up; perhaps it is some emotion or unspoken message surging through their private link. Whatever it is, he raises that elegant and somber face, and his shoulders lose their weary slant as some new reserve of vigor and strength opens to his use.

Sarek does not look up, and something dark and evil squirms into life in a corner of my soul that does not bear too close examination. Why is it, my dark half says, that she can reach so easily through that icy Vulcan reserve in a way you never did? Never with him, never with his father. Is it Spock’s own Human half? And if it is, why with her? She has something I’ll never have, and for an instant I hate her for that.

She pulls back from the window, dropping the blanket and turning for the doorway like a child released early from the classroom. I know her thoughts as well as if they were my own; indeed they might have been my own, years ago, before I gave way to the reality of things as they are. “She thinks she can make things happen just by willing them to happen,” her father said. What she wills now, though she does not see it that way, is a stripping away of the protection Spock has built throughout a lifetime. I cannot allow her to do that to him, not now in this hazy dawn which is in reality the twilight of a night that will be long and dark. He will need all his armor.

“Lara--”

She stops with her hand on the door. Her face wears that same expression I saw the first day on Vulcan as Spock lifted her down from the skimmer.

“Let him be what he still has to be,” I advise her. And somewhere within me, a grotesque and blackened creature gloats.

For a moment, I think she is going to defy me, to do what her heart tells her, and then her hand slips from the door and she composes her face into the calm, unrevealing mask a proper Vulcan wife wears so well. Only the pulse beating at the base of her throat betrays her feelings as we leave the room together to descend the broad stairway and greet the alien, unreachable men we have chosen to love.

>>>>> <<<<<

LARA

>>>>> <<<<<

They stand bracketing my father, the two tall Vulcans, Spock lean as a sapling and Sarek sturdy as an old Terran oak. Despite Amanda’s counsel, it is difficult not to reach out and touch him. Harder yet to keep my thoughts from doing so. From last night’s jumble of nightmare and nightmarish reality, the clearest memory is my conviction that he is now free of a vow made to a dead woman, and I want so much to have a private time and place to share that conviction with him.

The men have not yet acknowledged our presence, but I know Spock feels at least part of the urgency of my thoughts through the link. An abrupt lift of his chin and the slow creeping of color into his cheeks and ears tells me he has misinterpreted – at least partially – my silent appeal.

Like some psychic hangover, the eroticism of some of the things I fantasized last night has crept unbidden into my mind, and the inappropriateness of it here and now has embarrassed him and closed his mind to me more surely than a physical embrace would have. Amanda was wrong, whatever her motive, in stopping me, and I was wrong to heed her. I felt relief and receptiveness in his mind when he looked up at me from the walk, but it is gone now, sealed off and shielded.

He and Sarek finish their hurried conference with my father before they deign to notice us officially. His fingers under mine are as cold and as distant as his mind. There are a hundred things I want to tell him, a hundred questions dancing a mad ballet in my brain, but they will have to wait for the proper moment, if indeed it ever comes.

He is studying my face, clinical, remote. “You are unharmed?”

“Obviously.” I can be as remote as he. And then he reaches out and touches my cheek with his fingertips, and my wall is shattered.

“Your face is cut,” he observes.

Is it? I have no clear memory of that.

“A splinter of glass,” Amanda says, and his touch picks up my annoyance at her interruption. He breaks the contact, and I feel like a high-wire walker suddenly left without a balance pole.

“They were here, then,” Sarek says.

“Just as you predicted,” Papa tells him. “Beating their chests and howling like kabbori. But no real harm done. What of your work?”

“Done, most of it,” Sarek tells him. “The ones they sought most eagerly are in a place of safety. It remains only for Spock and myself to join them, which we shall do when we have seen you three safely off-planet.”

My hand tightens around Spock’s. “Do you mean to banish us as well, then?” I ask.

“Your terminology is unfortunately,” Sarek says.

“But essentially correct?”

The distress in Amanda’s face tells me she was not aware of this portion of the plan. “Sarek--” she begins.

“This is not the place to discuss it,” he says, and his tone is precisely the same as Spock’s was when he said the same thing to me on the Enterprise.

“Hunger is a poor father to decision,” Papa quotes. “Come and have some breakfast, and then I’ll leave you to your discussion.”

His secretary is placing the last of the plates as we enter the small balcony overlooking the garden, and I can’t help but notice it is family ware, not the formal embassy table setting. Presumably the embassy dishes are packed … or perhaps Papa is even yet playing his diplomatic games. I smell the sour sharpness of youbash and the strong odor of Terran coffee, and my stomach rolls.

“If you’ll excuse me, please--”

Amanda looks at me sharply, but not unkindly; moves as if to take my arm. “Perhaps you ought to go lie down again.”

Spock’s look demands an answer, and I really don’t want to elaborate. “I seem to have eaten something yesterday that didn’t agree with me,” I offer. “Perhaps that kfah I had for breakfast.”

Spock arches a questioning eyebrow, and I know he isn’t going to let it pass. But I’m hardly prepared for the intensity of his response. “There have been no kfah in the city for months. The season is over.”

He is right, as it happens, but I hadn’t thought of it until that moment. “Something else, then. Something I ate here.”

“You ate nothing here,” Amanda puts in. “And it was a kfah. A northern one, from its size.”

I am growing exceedingly bored with this conversation, and I cannot understand why Spock seems to find it so fascinating. He is looking at me with that same clinical expression he used before he touched my face, mixed now with something else, something I can’t identify. “I don’t see that it makes any difference,” I say crossly.

It seems to make a great deal of difference to Spock and Sarek, however, for they exchange careful glances. Spock pushes away from the table. “Come with me, please,” he says, and I follow him into an anteroom off the main hall.

“Tell me what happened,” he says, closing the door.

“Spock, this is silly.”

“Tell me what happened,” he repeats, and his measured tones brook no evasion.

I tell him, as well as I can, leaving out only the grotesque sexual circus that haunted the depths of the nightmare. He does not seem surprised, somehow, and when I am finished, he says a name. “Who?” I ask.

“Not who. What. Sohti – it’s a drug. The agan-tuá use it. And that gives us who – Selek.”

“Selek? But why?”

“To prove that he could, perhaps. He has a fondness for displaying what little power he has.” He looks away from me. “Lara, he meant to kill you. If you had eaten all that fruit, he would have succeeded. Don’t stay here where he can try again. Get off-planet with your father now, while you can.”

“Let’s both go.” The words pop out before I can stop them. “Come with me. You’ve done what T’Pau asked Come away – leave Selek whatever he and his kind want. It’s not your fight any more.”

He shakes his head. “It is only beginning. T’Pau knew this would happen. She wanted--”

“I don’t give a damn what T’Pau wanted! She’s dead! She has no right--”

“A promise is a promise,” he says.

“You made a promise to me, too. At the marriage grounds. Doesn’t that count for anything?”

He turns to look at me, and his voice is cautious. “Inherent in that promise is the responsibility to keep you from harm.”

“There are many kinds of harm, Spock. We’ve been over this time and time again. I thought we had it all settled before we left the Enterprise. I love you. I want to be with you. My feelings haven’t changed. Have yours?”

His eyes, meeting mine, show the first wavering in his determination to see me packed up and gone like so much excess baggage. “No,” he says, and looks away. “But I should advise you to keep open the option of leaving while it is still available to you. It may not be possible for you to leave once the spaceports are closed to Federation vessels.”

“I’ll take my chances. What about Amanda?”

There is quiet amusement in his eyes now. “You and my mother are quite possibly the two most stubborn women on Vulcan. I am sure she will do what she wishes to do … just as you will.”

>>>>> <<<<<

Amanda’s determination to stay is somewhat shaken, as is mine, when we return home. With Spock and Sarek looking out for the welfare of other Federationist supporters, and Amanda and myself stowed away at the Embassy, no one was left to keep the rampaging vandals away from our family compound.

The stone buildings will not burn, of course, but the walls are blackened and stained from the fires kindled inside. Everything movable seems to have been piled in the main room of each dwelling and set alight. Paintings and holographs have been slashed from their frames, and Sarek’s collection of miniature statuary has been reduced to so many pieces of rubble. The neckpiece of Spock’s lyre extends from one smoldering heap, and he steps over it without appearing to see it.

The exterior walls are spattered with whatever rubbish the mob could lay hands on, and there is not a whole window in either dwelling. Amanda’s precious Terran books, given a separate pyre in the courtyard, would not burn entirely, and the despoilers did not take time to see the job through to its end. She picks one up, and it falls open to a color plate. She looks at it for a long moment, and I think she is going to weep. Then she tosses it aside angrily and goes on to examine the rest of the damage.

Some of it shows simple, mindless violence, but there are also indications of careful planning here. The wall of the fountain in the courtyard has been breached, and the waters permitted to flood the flower beds. Nothing living remains there; the smaller plants are crushed into the mud and the trees uprooted or hacked off grotesquely.

Spock kneels by the fountain’s ruptured wall, running his fingers over the smooth surface of the break. He looks up at me soberly, knowing I share his knowledge. That break was not made by a crude battering ram; its sealed edges show unmistakable evidence of the use of a phaser. Phasers are not readily available to the general population. Someone in that mob had access to a sophisticated piece of weaponry.

The sobering thought comes to me that, had it not been for Spock’s warning, Amanda and I would have been here alone when the jackals came. Perhaps he reads some of that in my mind or on my face, for he rises and comes to me.

“You see?” he says. “Do you understand, now, why I wanted you out of this?”

“You’re not running from it. Why should I?” There is no reproach in the tone, but I know he hears behind it echoes of the hours of terse discussion we had earlier in the day about whether he should leave. My dream of escape for us was just that – a drug-induced fantasy no more real than the ones in which a horned and bearded Spock coupled with me under a starflung sky while lust-filled faces ringed our two-backed form, waiting their turn as eagerly as I awaited their embraces. I shake the hideous memory from my mind, shamed by it and shamed by the loose-limbed pleasure it gave me at the time.

“Was it like this all over the city?” I ask, because I have to ask something, to give my mind something else to fasten on.

“Yes,” he says. “Homes and shops, all looted and fouled like this. We got perhaps a hundred people away to B’al Graai. More will come, if they can. And we will go there tonight, to begin to plan and rebuild.”

B’al Graai, Place of the Winds, the northern property held for centuries by Spock’s family, has been designated the place of sanctuary for those Federationists who survived the night. I have never seen it, though it figures large in family history.

As we approach it in the gathering night, it is an eerie and isolated outpost, set in the base of the rocky, barren mountains. No lights flare from its windows, and from the outside it appears deserted.

Within its smooth stone walls, however, it is a warren of lost and injured people. The stench of fear, of blood, of unwashed bodies hangs within like moisture clinging to the walls of a cave, and the physician in me is appalled at the conditions.

“Spock, these people can’t live like this!”

“It is not intended that they shall,” he reproofs me gently. “The important thing last night was getting them here.”

“All right, they’re here. Now take me to your doctors and let’s get to work.”

“There are no doctors. No equipment, either, and only such medication as we normally maintain here for household use. These people have only what they carried here with them. There was not sufficient time for complete preparation.”

I do not wait for his suggestions or offers. I commandeer some few assistants, set them to bringing in water, finding the available medicines, and sorting the most seriously injured from those whose treatment can wait. Then I begin to work.

It is like the aftermath of some great natural disaster. Almost every conceivable kind of injury is represented, and after an hour of doing the best I can, I even discover a young woman in advanced labor. Slim and slight, except for the mound of her belly, she is hardly more than a girl. She is bruised and appears disoriented, though not in any real danger. Still, I am loath to leave her, though there are others who need attention. I am kneeling by her side, explaining what the progress of the labor will be and when to call me, when Spock reappears.

“S’gref is here,” he says. “I think you should see him.”

“This girl--” I begin.

“I will attend to this,” he says, and smoothly cuts off any objection I might have made about his qualifications as a midwife. “Go on.”

S’gref has been brought in by one of the most recent arrivals, and I feel an anger growing in me that this gentlest of men, this apolitical scholar whose only crime was association with Spock’s household, should have been so viciously and methodically brutalized. It would have been the greater kindness, perhaps, to leave him to die in his own home, where they discovered him. His brittle old bones have snapped like so many twigs under the beating someone has administered, and his skin has the yellowing tone that tells of internal hemorrhaging.

He is struggling to speak, and even though I try to quiet him, he forces the words past his bleeding lips. “Important,” he says. “To remember. See that someone--” He breaks off, coughing, and vomits a pool of black, frothy blood.

I clean his face as gently as I can. “Hush now, S’gref.”

“Remember,” he says. “Write it down.”

“Yes,” I tell him. “I’ll see that it’s done. Rest now, S’gref.”

He clutches at my hand, and I feel the bone ends grate together in his fingers. There is more yet that he has to say, but he cannot seem to force the words into audibility. I lean over him, and the sibilant whisper burns into my ear. Then the pressure relaxes, and he is gone, beyond the reach of the one whose name he spoke.

Selek.

I feel the tears start and behind them wells the cold hate of helplessness. There is not even a blanket available to draw over the lifeless form; there are others who need his covering more. I pull it off with anger overflowing into my movements, and call someone to take him away. They show gentle respect for his form, nothing more. Human emotion is out of place here, counter-productive. Perhaps these people are right to deny themselves emotional attachment to another. It must make their losses easier to bear. I dash the unshed tears away, wash my hands, and turn to the next case.

It has been perhaps an hour since I left Spock when I hear his voice. “Lara,” he calls, and though the tone is low and even, it has the unmistakable ring of urgency in it.

He holds a newborn baby in his long, capable hands, but no welcome outraged cry comes forth. The child is a boy, well-formed, but turning the green-tinged azure that indicates anoxia in Vulcans. I take him, slick and warm from the mother’s womb, dangling him by the heels and slapping his back in the ancient way.

There is no response, and I place him back in Spock’s arms, freeing my hands to turn the tiny, moist head sideways and explore the toothless mouth with a crooked finger. There is, as I suspected, mucus in the mouth and upper throat. As I clear it out, I get a gag reflex from the infant, a good sign. “Hold him still,” I instruct, and place my mouth over the child’s mouth and nose. Careful, now. Exactly right. Too much force and the tiny, delicate lungs can rupture. Too little, and the effort is wasted.

... breathe … wait … breathe … wait …

I can feel the eyes of the mother on me as I continue to breathe for the child. Quiet. Waiting. Will she feel grief if the child does not live? Or does a proper Vulcan wife have to repress even that instinct?

... breathe … wait … breathe … wait …

“Lara--” Spock says, and I know he is going to tell me I am wasting both his time and mine, when there are other tasks to be done.

... breathe … wait … breathe … wait …

There! A convulsive movement of the limbs, and the chest rises and falls on its own. And again. The child kicks out, nearly slipping from Spock’s grasp, draws a deep breath, and lets go that most joyous of sounds – the outraged squall of the newborn. The color pours into his contorted face as he protests the injustice of this cold and noisy, too-big world, and I look about for something to wrap him in.

There are only bloody, rough scraps of sacking, and then Spock hands the child to me, loosening the short cloak of his k’viet. It is torn, and none too clean, but it is the proper size, soft, and warm from his body heat. I think of another man, on another planet, stripping off his shirt to cover a child we were too late to save. If he has any memory of that, it does not show on his face as I hand the child to its mother.

She says nothing, and there is no readable expression on her face as she takes him. I feel a moment of resentment at her coldness, and in the next breath am thanking that same stoicism for making my job easier. The one thing I do not have to worry about here is shock. It is virtually unknown among Vulcans, except in the very young who have not gained complete control of their bodies. Those patients I have already treated are quiet, withdrawn into the Vulcan healing trance, all extraneous systems shut off to permit them to heal themselves.

The remaining cases are minor burns, cuts, and bruises, but by the time I am finished with them, the meager supply of medicine on hand is completely exhausted. I try to locate Spock, to tell him, but he is no longer in the room. He is on watch, I am told, and I wonder how long it has been since he has eaten or slept.

I find an unoccupied corner and lie down, but my mind will not shut itself off. Someone has brought in a huge pot of steaming parra, and I give up the idea of sleep as a lost effort, pour out two mugs of the hot drink, and seek out my husband.

He is alone on a dark parapet, high above the quiet desert floor. He takes the mug wordlessly and continues to look out southward, toward the city. It is too far away to see the lights, but the dim glow on the horizon locates ShiKahr. We sit in quiet companionship while the soft sounds of the desert night stir the lazy darkness. I feel some of the tension drain from my mind and body as the moments stretch on.

“You need sensors,” I comment.

“We have them. In the cellars. Tomorrow, I shall see that they are made functional.”

“Is there really danger of an attack on B’al Graai?”

“Enough to warrant a watch.”

“For how long?”

“A few days. Probably at least until the spaceports are closed. Then S’Rakel will issue an official statement of regret, and pontificate upon the unfortunate excesses of the mob. Everyone will know, of course, that he set it loose, but the formalities must be observed.”

“Then what? Do we go back to ShiKahr?”

“It hardly seems worthwhile. The senators can travel into the city for Council sessions. Our planning can be done here. There is nothing else to go back for at this time.”

“How will they live? All these people?”

“There is sufficient food here, and water for a long time. In a few more days, we would have had medical supplies and plans for a physician.” The ramifications of what he has said suddenly strike me. Sensors, food, medical supplies. These plans have been long in the making, and only the advance of the voting date led to yesterday’s confusion.

“You knew this would happen, didn’t you?”

“The probability was quite high,” he admits.

“And yet you stayed.”

“It was necessary.”

“But why? If you knew it would fail?”

He walks to the end of the parapet and back before he answers me, and then he sits down for the first time, but his gaze is still on the desert below. “When I was a child,” he says, “we used to come here every summer. I wanted very badly to climb that cliff face.” He moves his head toward the forbidding rock face to the west of the house. “It is an extremely difficult climb; impossible for a nine-year-old child. But I wanted to make it. I had to make it. Finally my father told me to go ahead.

“He went with me to the base, and then he went away. And I climbed and fell, and climbed and fell, and climbed and fell again. And when the day was ending and I knew I had failed, he came to take me home.”

I feel in his voice and in the touching of his mind the crushing sense of failure he felt then, and the shame of it. He does not often speak of his childhood, and then only to make a point, as he is doing now.

“When S’Rakel has climbed and fallen, when he knows he, too, has failed, Sarek and others like him will be waiting, to lead Vulcan home. I owe that to T’Pau. More than that, I owe it to S’Rakel, and to that child born tonight, and to his sons.”

I feel something break away inside me, and I know it is the dying of a dream. Of my dream of peace and solitude for us, of a life together away from this place, these people, he calls his own. And I know, suddenly, why he told me the story of Surak and T’Paal. T’Paal, who gave up what she wanted most in life that the man she loved might build his dream.

And if she had not? It is pointless to contemplate that. If she had not, there would have been no Vulcan as we know it; no Spock to hold my heart and future in his hands. And I would not be sitting here with slowly stiffening muscles in the long night of Vulcan, feeling my own dream die.

==========

KIRK

===========

I lie awake, sometimes, listening. Feeling the steady thrum of power that encompasses every part of the Enterprise. I don’t know what I’m listening for; some difference, perhaps, in her heartbeat. It’s not there, but she’s a different ship.

You wouldn’t think replacing three people out of a crew of over 400 could make that much of a difference. But it does. M’Benga’s a good man, a good surgeon, and we have an easy, comfortable relationship now, but he’s not Bones. Never will be.

The science department runs smoothly under Varyschenk – more smoothly, perhaps, than it did under Spock, because Varyschenk doesn’t have that alienness about him that Spock always wore. Sulu’s my First Officer now, and I couldn’t ask for a better one. Except for the one I can’t have.

And Lara. Nobody is Lara. That’s not an assumption. It’s a cold hard fact I thought I could live with.

There’s no anger left in me now. There was for a while. I know I was a bastard to live with, to serve under, in the weeks that passed between the time they filed their requests and the time they left the ship. We were civil to each other, polite, remote – all the things civilized people are supposed to be in an intolerable situation – during the weeks it took Starfleet Command to red-tape its way through the muddle of forms and official approval they find so necessary to their continued operation. I suppose every petty bureaucrat has to justify his plush office and buxom secretary by making every simple operation a major undertaking.

Just a simple operation. Yeah, that’s it. Like the amputation of a hand. Only they don’t have the decency to do it in one clean stroke. They hack away at it with a butter knife.

Come on, Kirk. Stop feeling sorry for yourself. Spock did the only thing he could do, being Spock. And Lara did the only thing she could do, being Lara.

And Kirk? Kirk stomped around like a Gorn with a sore tail and generally rode everybody’s ass until end-of-tour, when he went out on the loudest, drunkenest, whoringest shore leave in the long history of Starfleet.

It didn’t work, though. Because I had to come back. Back to a ship that’s the same, but changed. Back to a crew that’s the same, but changed. And back to a service that’s becoming something it hasn’t been in over a hundred years.

The word comes slowly, filtering down through chain of command. Science expeditions scrubbed. Exploration missions scrubbed. Research people replaced by technicians, tacticians, weaponry and intelligence specialists. To hell with the acquisition of knowledge, we’ve got a political mess on our hands. Trouble brewing on Vulcan, on half the outlying planets in the Federation. We must not forget our prime function, gentlemen – the perpetuation of this comfortable little organization we have here. Can’t have anybody rocking the boat. Get tough. Slap a few wrists, and they’ll come back into the fold.

How can they be so blind? How, after generations of being affiliated with Vulcan, of dealing with Vulcans, can they choose not to see the determination there?

Word came four days ago. Vulcan’s pulling out of the Federation. Get somebody out there to pick up our people. Whose sector is that? Damned if I know, with all the shuffling that’s been done around here in the last six months. Wait a minute. Got it right here somewhere. Oh, yeah, Enterprise. Okay, fine, have Kirk whip over there and pick up our embassy team and anybody else who wants off-planet before they close the ports.

Somewhere, I think, the Great Bird of the Galaxy must be snickering into its wingtips over the delightful exigencies of fate that happened – just happened – to put the Enterprise and her captain in that particular sector at that particular time. I had harbored the fond dream that by putting enough space, enough time, between myself and Vulcan, I could remove from my mind the thought of two very special people living there. Yet with the orders to pick up refugees, my first thought was for them.

Will they emigrate? Will she?

Part of me wants them both back on the Enterprise, even knowing what it would be like, with the shadow of the past falling across us all; even knowing it could put Spock in a position where he might have to lead an action against his own people. There is that hard, stubborn nugget of selfishness inside that says it wouldn’t matter, when logic says of course it would.

But what if Spock should decide to stay, and Lara not…

Yes. What if…

And that’s the real question, isn’t it? That’s what has me lying here staring at a bulkhead when I should be sleeping. Lying here wondering if Lara, having made her choice, is having second thoughts. Wondering if Spock, with that tortuous logic of his, knowing how Lara and I felt about each other, still has it in his stubborn mind that she and I ought to sail off into the stars together.

Felt? No, feel. Admit it, you still love her. Haven’t stopped. Never stopped, not even for a moment, not even in the arms of other women.

“Captain?” The voice from the speaker is low, as if there were another person in the cabin who should not be awakened.

“Yes?” There’s nobody here but me and my ghosts, honey, and they’re already awake.

“You asked to be called when we established orbit around Vulcan.”

“Very good. Have you contacted the Embassy?”

“Yes, sir. Ambassador Merritt says they’re ready to begin beaming up at any time.”

Merritt? Of course. I’d forgotten. Then she’ll be there, surely. She’d want to say goodbye to her father, even if she’s decided not to leave…

A soft noise from the speaker reminds me that the scan officer is waiting for me to make some kind of response. “Advise the Ambassador that another officer and I have to beam down and verify the situation first. Then contact Commander Scott and have him meet me in the transporter room.”

==========

Ambassador Merritt is somewhat of a surprise to me. I don’t know quite what I expected, but it is not this stocky, rotund man who looks rather like an overgrown koala bear. He holds an unlit pipe clamped firmly in his jaws, and he has the slightly distracted air of someone who is constantly assailed by petty interruptions demanding his immediate attention. There is nothing about him of Lara, I think, but as he comes closer, I see his eyes – the same fine, expressive, grey-blue eyes I have seen in reality and dream for what seems like all my life.

“Ambassador, I’m Captain Kirk from the Federation Starship Enterprise. This is Commander Scott. We’ve come to evacuate your people.”

His handshake is warm and firm. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Captain, though I wish it were under happier circumstances. My daughter served under you on the Enterprise – perhaps you remember her?” There is no guile in his voice, but his question makes me a bit uncomfortable nonetheless. I decide to bull it through.

“Very well, Ambassador. I was hoping, in fact, that she might be planning to come off-planet with you. We’d like to have her back.”

He shakes his head regretfully. “She is determined to stay here, Captain, though I wish she would reconsider. She was most adamant about it this morning when she came by.”

“I see.” I hope my disappointment is not too apparent. “How many people in your party, then?”

“Thirty-five, including myself and my staff. Most Terrans have been gone from Vulcan for some time, as I’m sure you know. And we do have a considerable amount of cargo, I’m afraid.”

“No problem, Ambassador. If you’ll show me where it is, we can begin the beam-up process immediately.” Once the cargo beam-up has begun, I have the opportunity to discuss the situation on Vulcan with the Ambassador.

“We’ve been asked by Starfleet Command to survey the situation here. Can Commander Scott and I move about the city freely?”

He eyes my uniform. “Not like that. I think I can lay hands on two k’viet for you. You won’t pass for Vulcans, of course, but there are plenty of off-worlders in the city. If you keep the hoods up to cover those Fleet haircuts, you should have no trouble.”

The garments he finds are old, but adequate. They are also stifling hot. He is right, however, about their allowing us to move with relative anonymity. We receive hardly a passing glance as we move through the shops and parrahouses, watching and listening. He is right, too, about the off-worlders in ShiKahr. They are everywhere, from everywhere – Eos, Lyra, Tellares. And they all bear the same stamp, marked on their faces and in their voices and posture. The terms have been different on different worlds and in different times – privateer, freebooter, mercenary, soldier of fortune – but they all mean the same thing:  trouble.

Trouble is written, also, in the boarded, broken windows and smoke-blackened facades of the isolated shops and offices we see scattered randomly about the city. There seems to be no pattern to their location, and yet they are most disturbing. A uniformed tashai hails me as I stand peering into one, and I have a moment of uneasiness, hoping he doesn’t ask me for any identification. But he only points out the broken cornice overhanging the street, and suggests I move back.

“Looks like they had a little trouble here,” I offer.

He arches one eyebrow in a gesture I find disturbingly familiar. “You have been out of the city perhaps?”

I would perhaps have been better off not to comment, but the only thing to do now is to play the hand I’ve dealt myself. “That’s right. I’ve been in Pan Sohn.” His expression does not change, and I decide to raise the stakes a little, just to see what he’s holding. “It was the same way there.”

“All over,” he agrees. The Federationists, I think, will be much more reasonable now. Though, of course, S’Rakel has denounced the actions of the mobs as reprehensible.”

“Yes, of course.” I flash a Vulcan salute at him, and what I hope is a knowing smile. “Live long and prosper.”

“Peace and long life,” he replies, returning the gesture and moving on his way.

When his back is safely turned, I allow myself to expel a long-held breath. Out of the corner of my eye, I see Scotty step out of the concealment of a doorway, aggression in every line of his body and a dark Gaelic scowl on his face.

“Tha’ was a near thing, Captain. I thought for a moment we’d ha’e to take him on.”

“Correction, Scotty. I’d have had to take him on. If either of us gets in over his head, the other is to return to the ship immediately. Our prime responsibility is to get those people out of here. Use all transporters simultaneously, if necessary, and never mind the power drain.”

He looks disgruntled, but accepts it, knowing that my order applies to both of us equally. “Aye, Captain.”

“That Vulcan’s information jibes with what Ambassador Merritt told me about the rioting here. Let’s make a quick sweep through some of the suburban areas and then get back to the ship.” An idea growing in the back of my mind has transformed itself into compulsion, and Scott’s open face, for once, is unreadable. He says nothing as we move into an area of the city where I have been only once before, when I accompanied Spock to his parents’ home on a brief and somewhat uncomfortable Christmastime shore leave.

The streets begin to look the same, with all the houses hidden by their high walls, and it is obvious that there is no intelligence to be gained here. Still, Scott says nothing, and I begin to feel a helpless sense of impotence. How can I drag him off on this fool’s errand, after what I’ve just told him about the importance of the evacuation? And how can I think that even if I should locate Sarek’s house, that Spock or Lara would be there? It is the height of folly … but folly is the child of compulsion.

Scott is growing antsy, and I know I can’t justify this quixotic search much longer, when I spot a gate whose lintel is made of intricately carved Argelian jade. I know that lintel; I bought it on Argelius and had it sent to Sarek in thanks for his hospitality on that long-ago shore leave. I cross the street with Scotty trailing behind me, uncomfortable but loyal.

“Captain--” he begins apprehensively as I push open the gate.

“It’s all right, Scotty. This is Ambassador Sarek’s home, I’m sure of it. I want to make sure … everyone’s all right.”

“Yes, Captain.” His voice is short, but his formality speaks of his total understanding … and disapproval … of my actions.

The minute we pass through the gate, the stench of burned cloth and rotting vegetation hits me like a blow, and I feel my stomach tighten in apprehension. Calm down, I tell myself. He said he saw her this morning. And surely he would have said something if any of them had been injured. But how … how could anyone have survived this kind of destruction?

The garden is in shambles, leaving the house – two houses – naked and defenseless against the sun. Two houses? Am I in the wrong place, then? Impossible that there would be two identical jade carvings, and yet…

“What is it?” Scotty asks, sensing my uncertainty.

“It’s … different. I’ve only been here once, but--”

And then I see her, sitting on the rim of a ruined fountain. The sound of our voices has alerted her, and she rises slowly, frightened by the appearance of two hooded strangers in this private place. Scared but defiant at the same time. She hasn’t changed, then. The soft hair a little longer, grazing her jaw, the slenderness drawn out like a taut bowstring, but essentially the same, and I feel a surge of emotion that threatens the stability of my knees.

“Lara--” I call, and push back the hood. Her face changes, like dawn thundering up out of a dark sea, and she breaks into a run toward me.

“Jim? Oh, my God – Jim!” She comes into my suddenly open arms at warp speed; her momentum is such that I have to lift her up and swing her around to keep both of us from falling. And, having her in my arms, the natural thing to do is to kiss her soft and waiting mouth.

It is like coming home, the scent of her, the yielding passion of her lips on mine, the touch of her arms around my neck, and every dream of her I’ve ever had fades into a pale replica beside this intense reality, this essence of woman in my arms. My woman. The woman all the gods in all the galaxies meant for me to have … who belongs to my best friend.

I put her down gently, untwining her arms, suddenly very conscious of Scotty standing there, radiating disapproval like a star about to go nova. Incredibly, she doesn’t feel it, or feeling it, brushes it aside as irrelevant. Her shining eyes, huge in a face grown brown from the Vulcan sun, never leave mine.

“Jim – oh, Jim – how? What are you doing here? Why--?”

I force a laugh and hold her at arm’s length. “We’re here to evacuate the Terrans. You’re coming, aren’t you?” She has to come, now, after this. She can’t possibly deny what she felt an instant ago.

But she pulls away, slowly, hugging herself with the gesture a person in pain will use to keep from giving way to it. “No, Jim. I can’t. Please, don’t ask me.”

I step after her, forgetting about Scotty’s presence, forgetting my own quiet of an instant ago, forgetting everything but the intensity of feelings out of control now and rapidly turning to anger. I catch at her arm, jerking her around to face me.

“Why do you think I came out here, dammit? I can’t leave without you – can’t go on like this, not knowing from one day to the next if you’re all right, if you’re in trouble…”

She won’t meet my eyes this time, but I can see the silver track of one tear tracing a path down her cheek.

“Do you want me to beg you?” I ask, keeping my voice low, for her ears alone. “Is that what you want? To prove you can make me forget everything I’ve ever learned about dignity or self-respect?” My hand tightens around her arm. “All right – you’ve got it. Only don’t – please, Lara, don’t stay here!”

She rubs the tear away angrily, roughly. “I can’t come with you, Jim. Don’t you see that? You told me once you couldn’t run my life for me. Don’t try to do it now! Please, just go away before someone finds you here.”

Scotty has heard her last words, and he comes forward now with concern lining his face. “Captain, by the terms of our agreement wi’ the Vulcans, we’re required to break orbit less than two hours from now. We need to verify the closin’ of the Embassy, sir.”

I am caught on the horns of his truth. But two hours… I have gambled more with less chance of return. “Go on back to the Embassy, Scotty. Verify and beam up. I’ll join you on the ship when it’s time to break orbit.” I see the tightening of his jaw, feel the restrained movement and comment.

“That is an order, Mr. Scott,” I remind him. “You don’t have to approve of it, you just have to carry it out.”

There is a moment when Scotty’s better judgment wars with his sense of military discipline, then the years of subjugating his own desires win out, and he gives me a curt nod. “Aye, Captain.”

Lara watches him go, and finally says, “You shouldn’t have done that.”

“That’s my trademark – doing things I shouldn’t. Didn’t you know?”

“Jim … don’t be bitter.”

“What the hell do you expect me to be? One minute you’re kissing me like … like--”

“That’s not fair,” she breaks in. “You took me by surprise.”

I touch her face, reaching for a way to lighten the moment. “I’ll take you any way I can get you, lady. Including by force, if I thought it would do the job.”

She stiffens and draws away, and I realize she actually believes I would. “Hey – I was only teasing,” I tell her. “Bad joke. I’m sorry.” She looks so vulnerable, standing there with her back to me. I reach out and touch her shoulder and she flinches. “I’m sorry, Lara. You’re all right, aren’t you? I mean – nothing has happened, has it?”

She whirls around, eyes snapping, and her voice is high, shaking with sarcasm. “Oh, hell, no!” she flares. “Just a few minor inconveniences is all. Like losing my job and losing my home and having my father kicked off the planet and finding out I don’t have a license to practice medicine here any more. Certainly nothing to get upset about. And then you – you come charging in here just when I thought I’d finally gotten you out of my system. Damn you, Jim Kirk! Damn you!”

She comes at me swinging, and I trap her in my arms, holding her close, feeling her anger dissolve into tears of frustration. I lead her back to the edge of the fountain and sit her down, wiping away the tears with the broad sleeve of the k’viet.

“Hey, come on. I didn’t come clear across the sector to fight with you. I love you, you crazy lady. Now what’s all this about losing your home? You aren’t living here, surely?”

She takes a deep breath and looks around. “Not any more. We did, until Selek and his mob got through with the place, five days ago.”

“Who?”

“It doesn’t matter. There wasn’t really anything here to lose anyway.”

“But is everybody all right?”

She looks up at me and smiles that bittersweet smile. “He’s fine, Jim,” she says, understanding my question all too well. “As fine as any of us are.”

I have the sudden, unshakable feeling we are being observed, and fight the urge to turn around. “Is he here? Now?”

“No. We’re staying at--” She breaks off, a look of caution crossing her face. “We’re at a safe place. We couldn’t stay here, obviously. I came back to look for my medikit. It was locked away, and I’d hoped the looters missed it.” She makes a wry face. “I’d give my left arm for thirty minutes in the Enterprise pharmacy.”

“Level with me, Lara. How bad was it here? How bad is it?”

“Bad enough.” She tells me in her clear and concise manner about the tensions and infighting that led up to the vote, of the growing distrust of Terrans and her expulsion from the research center. It is only when she begins to talk of the night of the rioting that her account becomes confused, sprinkled with “Spock said” and “I guess”, colored by a kind of confusion which can’t be laid entirely to her being in the Embassy during the height of the riots. She is more definite about the evacuation of Sarek’s followers from the city, though she still carefully avoids telling me precisely where they are headquartered. Finally she comes back to her original point – the medikit.

“We don’t have any equipment at all, Jim, and no medicine of any kind. There are sick and injured people out there, and I don’t have any way to treat them. I came into the city this morning determined to buy, borrow, or steal what we need. But I’m a lousy thief, I guess, and nobody’s lending. That’s when I found out I don’t have a license any more. I tried to buy some broad-spectrum antibiotics at the central medical supply house, and the computer confiscated my authorization card. My medical license has been revoked, it seems. So I came out her to see if there was anything to be salvaged.” She spreads her hands. “I guess there isn’t.”

“Then why stay?”

“Oh, Jim, don’t start that again. I love him, and I want to stay with him. He hasn’t changed, but his world has. He needs a Human contact, because he’s Human, too. You gave him that once, and McCoy did, too, but he can’t have that any more. So he has to have someone. Amanda knew that long before Spock did, I think, and she certainly knew it before I did. That’s why she chose me for him.” She stops, seeing the surprise on my face. “You didn’t know that, did you? That it was an arranged marriage.”

“No. I wondered about it, but I never asked.” There are some things you don’t ask, no matter how much you want to know. “But if it was Amanda, and not Spock--”

She puts a finger to my lips. “Don’t say it. It doesn’t matter any more, whose choice it was. It’s mine now.” She takes her hand away, lacing her fingers in her lap and studying them. “I used to think McCoy didn’t like Spock, and that was why he baited him so. It took me a long time to realize he did it because he cared about him, and because he saw that if Spock didn’t have someone, somewhere, to let that humanity out with – or on – he’d go up like a nuclear pile at critical mass. McCoy acted like a damping rod, but he could only do it by provoking Spock. You could do it with love. And now I have to do it both ways.”

Enterprise is a big ship,” I tell her. “I think she has room for two more people.”

“That wouldn’t work either, Jim, even if he’d agree to come. We’d tear each other apart.”

“It doesn’t have to be permanent. Look, there’s a new sector-wide pediatrics project being set up on Hadrian. They’re crying for doctors, all kinds of science staff. I know I could get you an appointment there, and Spock could write his own ticket. The children--”

“There are children here, too, Jim. I can’t turn my back on them. I’ll get equipment and medicine somehow, somewhere. In a few weeks, things will settle down here, and I can get a flight out to somewhere my license is still valid, and then--”

“Lara, listen to me. I’m going to tell you something I shouldn’t, and if you say I did, I’ll deny it. But it’s true. If you don’t come with me now, today, you’re not going to be able to get off-planet at all.”

“What?”

“There’s going to be a blockade. The orders came through yesterday. We’ll transfer our passengers at the sector boundary and then come back here with a patrol fleet. The Eosian council voted to withdraw from the Federation the same day Vulcan did. And the Lyran and Tellarite systems vote this week. They have space fleets, Lara, and the Federation isn’t going to stand around and wait for them to join forces. They’ll all be blockaded so tightly you couldn’t get a bicycle through.”

She is shaking her head as the full meaning of what I’m saying dawns on her. “You can’t do that! Our whole technology is based on interplanetary trade. If Vulcan is blockaded, she’ll fight, Jim. Fight for her life.”

“Would you rather fight the Romulans? They’re waiting to see which way the Federation jumps, but we know they’re tooling up for a war. If we can’t settle this thing, and quickly, we’ll find ourselves fighting on two fronts, and we’ll all go down. Then there won’t be anything between here and the Coal Sack to stand in the Romulans’ way.”

She is looking off over the garden wall, toward the towering bulk of the mountains to the north. “I don’t know what that was supposed to do,” she says, “but what it did was make me feel pretty insignificant.”

“That’s not what I meant it to do, you know. I meant it to make you realize just how important you are to me.”

She gets up, uncomfortable, and moves toward one of the empty houses. I follow her, unable to shake the feeling I had before, of being observed, though a glance around shows no watcher.

“You are, you know,” I tell her as she steps across the threshold. “Important to me. I don’t think I realized just how important, until I held you again. It was like the last few months never happened. Everything was new again. Everything was … right, somehow.”

She touches a torn drapery, hanging precariously from a broken support, then turns to face me, shoulders braced against the wall. “I told you – you took me by surprise. I was glad to see you, that’s all.”

“Shall we try it again? When you’re not surprised?”

“Jim, I don’t think--”

“That’s what’s wrong with the world today. Too much thinking. Don’t think. Just feel.” I cup her face in my hands and touch her lips lightly. She remains passive at first, and then I feel her arms around my neck and she leans against me, shaking like a leaf in the summer wind. She’s like velvet and fire in my hands, and I know this is what I came to Vulcan for – this and no other thing, and I’d do it again and again if I had to, if I thought there was one chance in hell of having her for my own.

Damn you, she said, but I’m already damned, and no help for it.

==========

The time, the precious, irreplaceable time, has flowed through our tightly clasped fingers like starshine, and now there is no more.

“Lara,” I tell her, “It’s time. We have to go.” She stirs against me like a sleeping child, though I know she does not sleep, and there is nothing really of the child in this woman.

“No,” she says, and puts a hand on my chest.

“We have to.” I pull away, reaching for my shirt. “There’ll be plenty of time later on.”

“I meant no, I’m not going with you.”

“But you said--”

“I said I loved you. I do. But I’m not leaving. I can’t.”

“You can if you want to.”

She shakes her head. “What I want – the one thing in the universe I really want – is the one thing I can’t have. I want you not to be hurt. I want Spock not to be hurt. And yet I’ve hurt both of you. You, probably worst of all because I’ve taken something very precious away from you and I can’t give you anything to replace it.”

“Then what the hell was this all about? I thought--”

“That’s what’s wrong with the world today,” she says, and the ghost of a smile tugs at the corner of her mouth. “Too much thinking.”

I find I can’t meet her smoky gaze. “I guess I had that coming.”

“Yes, you did. But I’m not going to let you go away thinking you came slinking in here and seduced me. Everything that ever happened between us happened because I wanted it just as badly as you did.”

“Lara--”

“Now get out of here, Jim Kirk, before Mr. Scott sends a search party out after you. I don’t think I could handle that twice in one lifetime.”

“Promise me something. Two things.”

“What?”

“First, that if you ever change your mind, you’ll get in touch with me.”

The smile-ghost haunts her mouth again. “You’ll be among the first to know,” she says.

“One other thing. Stay here for a few minutes after I leave. Give me half an hour at least.”

“Why?”

“Don’t ask. Just promise.” She watches me, seeming to be waiting for something else, something that doesn’t come. Finally, she nods. Then there’s nothing else to say. No way to put off the inevitable. I contact the ship, and give the one order I don’t want to give…

“Kirk here. One to beam up.”

>>>>> <<<<<

LARA

>>>>> <<<<<

When he has gone, the air seems colder, the ruined house emptier, than one person’s passage should make it. Maybe part of the emptiness is inside me. The wind is starting to blow, and it rattles the dead leaves strewn across the courtyard like the sound of someone walking. It’s a spooky feeling, and I dress quickly, wishing I hadn’t made that second promise. I’m tempted to leave right now. He’ll never know.

But I’ve broken so many promises … to myself, to Spock, to Jim. He had some definite purpose, and thirty minutes of my time isn’t so much to ask, after all. It is long enough, however, to give me time to realize that what I did today was selfish and cruel. Perhaps, then, I am selfish and cruel. No perhaps. I am, and that is a bitter thing to face.

It was wrong to let him think making love would change my mind. I never told him it would. But I let him think that, and that was a kind of lie in itself. Unspoken lies are the worst of all. Spock said something like that once, though I can’t remember exactly what prompted it.

The time is almost up. Have they already warped out of orbit?

The sound is so unexpected that it startles me, and I look around in a moment of panic before I can identify it as the whine of a transporter effect. Its origin can be only one place – Enterprise – and I don’t think there’s anybody from the Enterprise I want to see right now.

But the squat, lumpy shape materializing across the room is not even a remotely human one. The shimmer fades, and what I see is even more confusing. It is an old, well-worn spacebag, common enough to pass unnoticed anywhere. I have one mad moment when I think perhaps Jim – no, he wouldn’t. Couldn’t. But still, I wait, until it becomes apparent that no one and nothing else is going to materialize in this room. The other thought was insane on the face of it.

Cautiously, I approach the bag, though where that caution comes from, I don’t know. If this came from Jim – and there seems no other possible source – then it cannot hold anything dangerous. Still, I give it a gentle nudge with my foot. Solid, but bulky. There is a dull thunk as something inside, something metallic, shifts.

I kneel by the bag, pulling open the top, and the first thing I see is a standard-issue medical tricorder. I close the bag quickly and look around. This is crazy. There’s no one here to see. But … oh, Jim.

It’s still there when I re-open the bag. And under it, vial after vial of broad-spectrum antibiotics, half a dozen spray hypos still in their cases, painkiller, stimulants, plastiderm … and in the bottom, a brand new feinberg. Everything but a bone laser, and he’d probably have thrown that in, too, if he could have figured out how to make one fit.

But how … my God, there’s several thousand credits worth of equipment and supplies in here. How could he possibly have gotten this out of sickbay to start with, let alone account for it on the control log? Jim, my darling, somebody’s ass is going to be on the line when this stuff comes up missing.  How are you going to explain it?

For that matter, how am I going to explain it? The drugs, I suppose, could be transferred to other containers, except those in aerosol form. The tricorder, though…

To hell with it. If you don’t have an explanation, don’t give one. If necessary, bluff. Gut it out.

Very well, then, no explanations. I left B’al Graai to get medical supplies. I have them. No other explanation is necessary. Indeed, with the Vulcan respect for privacy, it will not be expected that any would be offered. What I do, I do for my own reasons, on my own responsibility.

Jim’s open-handedness with Federation equipment is nearly too much of a good thing, I discover when I try to pick up the spacebag. It is all I can do to lift it. I don’t know how I am going to carry it to my rendezvous with Spock.

Never mind. I’ll find a way.

He doesn’t ask, when he meets me in the market plaza. He just hefts the bag, gives me a bowed eyebrow, and places it in the groundcar.

I had not intended to say anything about seeing Jim, about what he said of the coming blockade, yet now I find myself wishing for a moment to do so. But we are not alone, and I cannot discuss the matter in front of Sarek and the other senators who have journeyed into ShiKahr today for the first Council meeting since the vote. They are a quiet compendium, each lost in his own thoughts, and the air is heavy with unspoken plans and unfinished business. Even when we reach B’al Graai, there is no time for a private talk. There is no place to be alone in that great stone warren with its sudden and ill-prepared band of refugees.

Spock immediately adjourns with the other passengers so that they may continue their discussion, and I realize my presence in the vehicle inhibited their conversation as much as theirs did mine. Maybe more. Even here, I feel that slight hesitation in my presence. Earther. Alien. How did he stand it, all those years, when he was the alien, the odd one, never quite trusted with the deepest, darkest secrets? Except by one man.

The thoughts bring a presence to my mind I don’t particularly want. Not here, not now. There are controls. Even a Human can learn them…

I stow the supplies in the tiny room that has been designated – more by acceptance than official decision – as my rude clinic. Perhaps it was a storeroom once, deep underneath the towers of a younger B’al Graai. It still has that earthy scent of roots and herbs and soil. I set my mind to consider the items I now sort and put away and set out for use as though they were the ancient foods. Sustenance for the body, nothing more.

I make a quick tour, checking on the patients, administering antibiotics for infected cuts and burns, a growth-promoter to a man with a broken jaw, looking at the unsatisfactory progress of a shattered elbow. Delicate work, that, done in haste without proper tools. He won’t have full use of that arm again. If I had a bone laser, though…

Oh stop it, Lara! God, you’re greedy.

A painkiller for this burned child, then, who hasn’t yet acquired the mastery to turn it off, and thank you, Jim. Wherever you are, whatever you risked to acquire this comfort for her.

By all indications, my decision was the correct one. As the days go by, no questions are raised about the origin of the equipment and supplies – not even by Spock, who most certainly recognizes their origin, if not their precise source.

I have come to a better understanding now of the link. I know he picks up general emotions and moods, and sometimes a direct thought, though that is also sometimes done by Humans who are close to one another. For specific memories, there must be the touching and the purposeful probing, and I think it requires the cooperation of the other. Since there seems to be no point in opening old wounds, I do not tell him I have seen Jim. If he knows, somehow, he does not mention it. There has, in any case, been little opportunity for the kind of privacy the link requires.

B’al Graai was planned for a large family and a large staff, but certainly not for the hundred-odd people it holds now. It is more crowded than Enterprise ever was, and it seems the dramas of our lives are constantly being played out center stage.

Like today. Word has come of another small group of Federationist supporters who have found safety near Pan Sohn. At the midday meal, there is talk of little else. Names are passed along the table with the food, and the girl whose child Spock delivered ten days ago shows a surprising breach of etiquette by becoming openly hopeful that her husband may be among the other group. As the names are exchanged, she waits with the color rising in her face. When her husband’s name is not mentioned, she asks if the listing we have received is complete.

“There may be others,” Spock tells her. “There is always a certain amount of confusion, a margin of error, in such cases.”

“Then he may be there?”

“It is not likely. Was he in Pan Sohn the day of the vote?”

“No, but--”

“Then we must assume him to be among the unidentified dead S’Rakel had cremated.”

“But if there is a chance--”

His voice is cold and level as he overrides her objections. “All the refugees are from Pan Sohn, T’Borr. Stofal is dead. Accept that. The pain you felt was the Sundering, not the beginning of your son’s birth.”

Her eyes close down then, and the flush drains from her cheeks. I can almost see her fighting for that terrible Vulcan control. The others carefully avoid looking at her, that they may not be tainted by this unseemly show of emotion. At length, she leaves the table, in control again but diminished somehow. I don’t know what propels me after her. It is some Human recognition of need, I suppose, but Spock reads the purpose in my mind or on my face, and he, too leaves the room.

In the hallway, away from the others, he catches my arm. “No, Lara.”

He reminds me, oddly enough, of Amanda at this moment; of that morning she dissuaded me from running down the stairs to meet him. I have given much thought to that moment, much conjecture as to what might have happened if I had followed my instinct that morning. There was an instant when he walked through that gate, when his eyes and mind met mine, when he was ready to give up this self-appointed bondage. If I had gone to him then…

There is little of that man here now, holding my arm, asking me – no, telling me – not to respond to a Human emotion.

“Let me go!” She needs--”

“She has what she needs,” he replies, and his grip does not loosen. “She is a Vulcan.”

“She’s a child! And she has a need to believe her husband might still be alive. How could you do that to her? How could you be so cruel?”

His eyes bore into me. It’s like looking into deep black water, cold and still. “The truth is often cruel. The sooner she accepts Stofal’s death, the sooner she can adjust to her situation.”

“You can’t ask a person to live without hope!”

He drops his hand from my arm, and I can see him wrapping the cloak of Vulcanism around himself. “Hope is a Human emotion.”

“And one with which you, of course, are not familiar!” The instant the words are out, I want to call them back. Something flares briefly in his eyes, then crumbles like a burning ember crumbles into cold and lifeless ash.

“There are more productive uses for one’s energy,” he says softly.

It is I who reach out for him now, but he turns away and leaves me standing alone in the empty hallway. If he hears me whisper “I’m sorry, Spock. I didn’t mean that,” he gives no indication of it.

Dammit, why are we so often at cross-purposes? Why do I let him goad me into saying sharp and hurtful things? It’s almost as if some arbitrary deity has decided that every minute of intimacy must be paid for with hours and days of alienation, of separateness, of being alone on this planet of empty eyes and shielded emotions.

I do not return to the dining hall, going instead to the clinic where I spend the remainder of the day ferociously pretending to be busy. Most of my patients have recovered. There remain only a few children, fretful and impatient that they cannot heal themselves as rapidly as their elders do.

It comes as a considerable surprise to me when Spock enters my office early in the evening. “Your presence is required,” he says.

My first thought is that someone has been injured, or is ill. Sarek? Each day he grows more drawn, more weary.

Spock has picked up the thought, or my movement for the medikit. “Not as a physician,” he says. “As a member of the household. There is a certain … ceremony to be held tonight. You will attend me.” It is not a request. His voice has that slightly condescending air Sarek so often uses when he is speaking to women or Terrans or other inferior species.

Anger is wasteful. Anger is counter-productive. Nothing will be gained by giving in to its demands. Biting my mental tongue, I follow him to the dining hall, surprised to see that everyone is there, plainly waiting for something. There is a subdued air of excitement in the room. The eldest of the senators stands at the head, with Sarek and Amanda at his left. At his right is an empty place, and Spock holds out his hand for the formal touch as he leads us to the waiting space. I take my cue from Amanda, who stands quietly with her fingers across Sarek’s, waiting. The mass clearing of minds is almost audible, and then comes the faint sound of temple bells. A wedding, then? Or a betrothal?

There is a small stirring at the far end of the room as the bell-bearers take their places before us, and then a slim, feminine figure enters, bearing something. It is T’Borr, and she carries her infant son – at arm’s length, as one might proffer a tray of fruit. I feel a sudden chill at this almost sacrificial presentation of the child. There are societies, of course, where widows and orphans are considered superfluous … but not here, surely. Or is this another of those things Vulcans prefer not to speak of to outworlders?

There may be some tremor in my hand; there is certainly enough in my mind to alert Spock, and I feel his reassurance around me like a warm current in a sea of uncertainty. I have not felt this particular kind of resonance through the link since that last evening we spent in the garden, and it is as if the sharp words of this afternoon and the cold formality of a few moments ago had never occurred.

T’Borr stops a few feet away from us, and turns slowly, holding the child high. When she speaks, it is in the ancient formal tongue. “Attend me, brothers. Attend me, sisters. This is Skolann, first-born of T’Borr and Stofal, he who is inheritor of all things past.”

She launches into a detailed description of the child’s lineage, to the requisite ten generations, and I can begin to relax. A christening then, with Selek’s household honored as hosts of the ceremony.

The elder speaks now, and his words, too, are ancient and eloquent, polished smooth with centuries of loving use. He speaks of tradition, of family ties and ties that go beyond blood, and the rhythm of his words is a hypnotic fog, reaching out from the mists of Vulcan history. He speaks of respect and of duty … God, how I have learned to hate that concept. It was duty that brought us here, that keeps us here, that wraps about us with chains stronger than any ever forged of any element known. And through it all is the warp and woof of tradition, going back to Surak and beyond. Of the concept of the tcha-klei, and the sanctity of that relationship between adult and child, tcha-klei and tcha-tzin.

I grow weary of his words. I would much rather be exploring the tiny chink that seems to have appeared in Spock’s icy demeanor. I steal a glance at him; he is watching the proceedings with his typical single-mindedness, as though there were not a million things more important at this moment than the christening of a child.

The elder is winding down now, and high time, too. No, he is off again on the subject of the tcha-klei, asking if one has been chosen for this child. The choice, T’Borr replies, has been made and freely accepted. It is time for the one chosen to step forward and acknowledge the lifelong relationship which will begin at this moment.

My mind is so far away that I do not at first realize why Spock is moving forward; when I do, it takes all my control to keep from plunging after him, to keep myself from demanding that he refuse to accept this new, unbreakable link in the chain that holds him here.

You can’t! my mind cries out. We’ll never be free of this place!

And his eyes, meeting mine with a fierce pride, and his mind, commanding – Don’t interfere. This is a thing I must do, as it was done for me. This is what I am.

He places his fingers on the infant’s temples … gently, the size and strength in them holding back, seeking only the gentlest contact. And the other hand finds T’Borr’s face, seeking, I suppose, the depth of her commitment. It is a moment of such intimacy that the hot knife of jealousy slashes at my innards. That he should do this – could do this – for another woman’s child, can never do it for a child of mine… If I had my hands around that young, slim throat of T’Borr’s…

A presence comes into my mind as the three interlocked figures turn and proclaim their relationship to the others. I know the source, know almost the words it would use to express the concept, though it is not put into precise words.

This takes nothing from us, the presence says; this makes us more wholly a part of the society we live in. Accept it; look beyond your Human emotion.

There is a force to the presence I cannot resist and cannot fully explain. It is as if the presence and power of his mind were reshaping my soul and casting out the black and bitter things hiding there. Then the presence is gone, as he breaks off contact with T’Borr and the child, and the elder pronounces the ceremony completed.

I have room for other impressions now – the proud lift of Sarek’s head and the bright suspicion of tears in Amanda’s eyes. Rites of passage…

I have to be alone; I have to have a place and a time of privacy to sort out my thoughts. No one stops me, no one comments as I slip out of the room and back to the only place of solitude I can think of. Like a rabbit going to ground in its burrow, I seek out the tiny room off the rough clinic, trying to sort out the thoughts that tear around in my head.

How could he accept such a binding responsibility – one which extends even beyond the political commitment which brought us here? And T’Borr – how could she allow him to touch that child, after the brutal words he spoke to her today? But he did touch the child … and her … and even if it was not in the same way he has touched me, it was close enough…

It takes nothing from us, the presence said. That warming, enfolding presence I have known and would know again, perhaps, if I could learn to keep a bridle on my tongue and another, stronger one, on my emotions.

Oh, Spock, help me. I can’t do it alone. I need your patience, your wisdom, your strength. You make me see things beyond my own faulty vision. Please.

Sitting here alone in the darkness seems to help. Maybe if I can concentrate hard enough, I can reopen that pathway to his mind. I can summon his face in an instant – sometimes the vision of it falls suddenly on my consciousness when I don’t even realize I’m thinking of him. If I could summon that presence as easily, or Spock himself, perhaps things might be different.

The times we’ve had together, good and bad, unwind in my memory like tapes on a viewer, and there are so many scenes I would rewrite if I had the power to do so. Chances missed, words not spoken – or worse yet, words spoken that shouldn’t have been.

I don’t know what time it is, or how long I’ve been sitting on the rough cot, when I become aware of another presence in the room. A real presence, not a mental one. Spock has come in so quietly that I haven’t heard him, and how long he has been standing there, I don’t know. Perhaps he’s been in my mind, too. I don’t know that, either.

He makes a move to light the lamp, but I stop him. “You should not be sitting here alone in the dark,” he says.

“I’m afraid I’m not very good company tonight. Besides, I’m not alone now.”

He seems to have no answer for this – for once – logical observation.

“I was hoping you’d come,” I admit.

“I know.”

Of course he knows. He probably even knows the childish game I was playing with myself – like a scared kid promising some faceless god eternal obedience in return for getting out of just one more scrape. Just this once, please, and I’ll never ask anything again. I used to do that. And I meant it – every single time. But something always got in the way of the perfection I’d promised myself.

I’m stalling. I know it, and so does he. “I wanted to apologize for what I said to you this afternoon. It was…” No, that’s not really what I want to say. “I had no right…” That’s not it, either. “I’m sorry, Spock.” But, having refused to admit himself capable of being verbally wounded, he is now bound to give me no sign that an apology is of any importance to him.

Still, he is here. He did understand my need to talk to him alone, did respond to it. Perhaps the impression of receptiveness I felt in him during the ceremony was real after all. Certainly it deserves another try.

“I was wrong when I said you expect Vulcans to live without hope. That ceremony tonight – hope was what it’s all about, isn’t it?”

He moves to sit beside me. “It is an acknowledgement of our past, and an affirmation of the continuance of our way of living,” he says.

“That’s what I said. Only – Humans call it hope.”

He takes my hand, lacing his fingers through mine. “Word games, Lara-kai. Sometimes I think things would be much simpler if we had never developed language.”

“Quieter, anyway,” I offer, and he gives me that sidelong glance he so often substitutes for a smile. Then he looks away, pensive, and in the dim light that filters in from the next room, I can see that the expression on his face is much like the one he wore when he touched the child.

“Spock?” He makes a wordless sound that indicates he is listening, if only with one small corner of his mind. “Does it bother you … Do you ever regret the fact that we – that I – can’t have children?” He is quiet for a long time, and I think that either he has not heard me, or has chosen not to respond. He studies our interlocked fingers, and the deep breath he takes would have been called a sigh if it had come from anyone other than a Vulcan.

“No.”

Somewhere in this room was a woman who had promised to bridle her tongue. Someone else, I’m sure. It couldn’t have been me.

“Tonight, when you touched T’Borr’s baby, it seemed as if--”

“I do not wish to impose my peculiar heritage on any other being,” he says with a vehemence I have seldom heard him use. “That was one reason--” He breaks off abruptly, but the words have been said. He can’t summon them back, any more than I can pretend I haven’t heard them. Or understood them.

“Another of your cruel truths, Spock? That was one reason you agreed to marry me?” Don’t say it. I don’t want to hear it.

“Yes.” His fingers tighten around mine just as I am about to pull them away. “I thought it a fine irony. My own private … revenge, if you wish … on T’Pau. The one rebellion I could see. The one item she overlooked in her careful plans, and the one item I took great pains to determine. T’Pau could engineer my birth. That was her right as Supreme Elder. She could plan my life. That was her right as my tcha-klei. But she could not force a continuance of the line. That was one thing I could choose, or not choose, for myself.”

“I see.”

“No. You only think you see. I tell you I hid your barrenness, like some private treasure, and you think it the only reason I accepted you.”

“Isn’t it?”

“No. There were the … other reasons. You know them. Then, later, was the realization that you are all the things I cannot be. You fight, Lara. You never give in, not even when all the logic in the universe tells you that the prudent thing, the logical thing, would be to surrender. And you can dream without losing your hold on reality. You say what you are thinking, and even when you do not, it is right there.” He touches my forehead with the tip of his index finger, but there is no searching to the touch.

“And I hurt people sometimes. Even when I don’t mean to; even when I love them.”

“Yes. That, too. And are hurt in return. But it means you are alive, Lara. Every minute, with every nerve and fiber of your body. And knowing pain, you can also know pleasure.”

“Sounds like a pretty poor arrangement,” I tell him, because I’ve got to say something, or shatter into a million pieces. “Lousy planning somewhere along the line.”

“Sometimes the best moments are not planned,” he says, and his searching hand touches my face, opening his mind to me and mine to him. “The greatest pleasures are those we never sought – never dreamed of seeking. You are all that to me, Lara.”

Perhaps I speak his name; perhaps I only think it. It doesn’t matter, really, because he knows my mind as well as he knows my body, and they both sing at his touch.

>>>>> <<<<<

The days and weeks that follow that night are jewel-like in their clarity and value. When we are apart, as we often must be, I can pick one out and hold it against the light of my mind, wondering at its brilliance and perfection, and warming myself in its light.

If he goes sometimes to the parapet at night, to stand watching the skies, I understand it and wait, content in the knowledge that he will seek me out when that moment has passed, and that we can create our own galaxy of stars and roam among it freely. If there is sometimes in his mind now the memory of the life he once had, and sorrow at its passing, I can see it as I never saw it before. I can share that, and add my own memories to it, and smooth away the jagged edges for both of us. When I see him speaking to the girl T’Borr, or holding the child, I no longer feel the violent thrust of jealousy. For I begin to understand, if only a little, what it means to be tcha-klei.

I have not forgotten Jim, or his prediction of what was to come; I have only refused to dwell on it. But as the weeks grow into months, I am no longer so easily able to ignore it.

Blockade. It is not a particularly sinister-sounding word, but I am quick to learn to hate its sound. When someone goes into the city to fill a need we cannot provide at B’al Graai, they more and more often come back empty-handed, and ultimate reason is always the same – the blockade.

Are there no new k’viet to be had? No, for it seems that the factories that produce them can no longer acquire the Catullan dyes that gave them their brilliance. Substitution of inferior dyes caused a malfunction in the machinery, and the foundry that built it has been shut down – no more imports of raw Orion korgalite are available.

Are there no shoes? Oh, yes, there are plenty of shoes. But they are in Pan Sohn. The transport pilots refuse to fly them out, because the guidance systems in the cargo ships need active crystals, which are grown and polished on Rigel. Some shoes are coming in overland. They will be here tomorrow, or perhaps the next day, but you must be prepared to pay a little more for them.

And so it goes. A parra crop in the west has failed because a certain relay in the irrigation equipment malfunctioned, and no replacement was available in time. There is a shortage of tape for viewers that no one ever adequately explains, and for some reason there is not a sewing needle to be had in all of ShiKahr.

It is not panic. Not yet. But people are becoming displeased; there are rumblings that S’Rakel’s move to withdraw from the Federation was too hastily made. I remember what Jim said about the need to accomplish the Federation’s goal quickly, and as each new sign of dissatisfaction filters into B’al Graai, I greet it with relish.

The members of the Council who came to B’al Graai with us also watch and listen and plan, and some of them feel confident enough to return to ShiKahr. They send back encouraging reports, and it seems to be only a matter of time before Sarek and his followers can force a reversal from the full Council.

Then the news becomes sober. The outworlders on Vulcan, the mercenaries and the scavengers, become impatient and aggressive. Tales of blockade-runners begin to come in, and we hear of hit-and-run battles in deep space. The Lyrans have a well-developed space force, and they threaten to break the blockade of that system. They feed their force to their nearest galactic neighbor, Eos, and rumor has it that the Eosians, fierce fighters that they are, have managed to capture a Federation destroyer, Darius.

I don’t know the truth of that. I know only that I heard it the same day an Eosian messenger appeared at B’al Graai, demanding an audience with Spock. That surprises me, and makes me uneasy, for Sarek is the senator, and the head of the household.

If Spock is surprised, there is nothing in his manner to show it. The message comes in the early evening, as he and Sarek are in the midst of a discussion of their own. Amanda and I are playing cards, and she is trouncing me soundly, because my mind is not on the game. Spock and his father exchange glances, as if this were something they had been expecting, and Spock leaves the room without comment. Amanda and I play out the hand, then I deal another, with one ear listening for the familiar step which does not come.

It grows later, and still he does not return. Amanda stifles a yawn and excuses herself for the night. I am uncomfortable alone with Sarek – I always have been – and in a few minutes, I make some remark about the lateness of the hour and leave. It is not weariness that guides my footsteps, however. It is a growing sense of uneasiness as I fail to locate either Spock or the Eosian.

Finally, in the kitchen, I spot the young Vulcan who relayed the message. His face is without guile or curiosity as he tells me Spock left with the courier almost an hour ago. They were bound for ShiKahr.

^^^^^^^^^^

SPOCK

^^^^^^^^^^

The message was brief enough, clear enough, and indeed we had been expecting it for some time. It is only when I reach the appointed place that any surprise awaits me. Commander P’lef was hardly to be expected. She greets me formally enough, but behind that experienced mask, she watches carefully for any changes in my manner.

“It was good of you to come so promptly,” she says.

“Do not confuse courtesy with agreement, Commander.”

“Will you hear the offer before you make that decision?”

“I am here.”

She sits down for the first time since I have come into the room, and motions me to a chair. She seems hesitant, somehow; plainly she has no love for this task, but she plunges in, direct. “We have a destroyer.”

“So I have heard.”

“We have need of a commander for her.”

“That honor should go to whomever captured her.”

“She was taken at great cost. The squadron leader is dead, as are half the attack force. We seek someone with more skill.”

“Why come to me?” I know the answer to that, but it is necessary that she make the statement. I will not make P’lef’s job any easier.

“You are the one we seek.”

“No, P’lef. We are on opposite sides in this.”

She goes on as if she had not heard my refusal. Indeed, she must have been prepared for it. “Full command rank goes with the offer. Name your price, Spock.”

“Surrender of the Eosian forces. Petition for readmission to the Federation, on whatever terms their security council sets forth.”

“You know I cannot offer that.”

“Then we have nothing to discuss. I am committed to the philosophy and actions of the Federationists. To help prolong the efforts of the Separatists is not only illogical, it would be morally reprehensible.”

“Men have changed sides before in this struggle. Even Starfleet men. Even Enterprise men.” She watches carefully for my reaction to this. Though her statement is a surprise to me, I do not let it show. There is another message to her statement, and it has the resonance of warning. “His name is Farris,” she says. “He has served with you before.”

I join a face to the name; nothing more. He was an ensign in security, and a member of the landing party on Parsus II. Plainly, P’lef expected some reaction to the name; now she is puzzled, unsure if I am concealing my response or if I truly have none. There is more she wants to say, I am sure of that. An invitation, however oblique, must be extended.

“To my knowledge, Commander, being a turncoat is not contagious,” I tell her.

She hesitates, warring with something within herself. “Spock…” She breaks off, tries again. “My Matriarch has a long memory.”

“So I have observed.”

“But she is my commander-in-chief.”

I make no reply. Whatever Kyra has in her mind is plainly distasteful to P’lef, but she is a soldier and I respect her for that.

“Do not make an irrevocable decision, Spock.”

“In this matter, Commander, I have no choice. I, too, have a commander-in-chief.”

She draws herself together. Some decision has been made. “I shall be here for ten days. If you should change your mind, please contact me.”

I rise, thinking the interview is at an end, but she pins me with her violet eyes, and the message in them is clear. Listen to me. This is a coin I give you from my own purse. You may have need to spend it, and soon.

“My ship, of course, cannot be held out of action that long. It will return in nine days.” Do you understand?

Not entirely, Commander, But I will not forget.

“Nine days or ninety, it makes no difference. I will do nothing to prolong this madness.”

Now she rises, too, extending both palms to me. “You are an honorable man, Spock. I am glad that there are still a few left. I wish you luck in maintaining that honor.”

I press her palms with my own, and the resonance of danger, of warning, is so strong that It is all I can do to maintain the contact long enough to give a proper farewell.

I decline the courier’s offer of transportation back to B’al Graai, knowing that the information will be relayed back to Commander P’lef. It does not matter. It is easy enough to elude the watching eyes, and there are people I must see tonight.

^^^^^^^^^^

It has been six days since the message came from P’lef. Six days of watching, waiting for the further action she all but promised. No move has been made against me or against B’al Graai, but that does not mean none will be forthcoming. She has contacted no one else about taking command of the captured Federation destroyer Darius. My sources tell me that much. That means Kyra is sure she can force me into a position from which I cannot refuse her demand. So the waiting game continues. The next move must come from Kyra. Or from someone in league with her.

I learn just how far her reach extends on the evening of the sixth day.

I am going over the intelligence reports for the dozenth time, looking for a pattern that simply is not there, when one of the men on security detail comes into the room.

“Sensors indicate a small party approaching from ShiKahr,” he reports.

“An attack force?”

“No; only one small aircar. They carry no weapons we can scan. They were hailed, and indicate they wish to parley.”

“Good. Contact Sarek and--”

“The person making contact specifically requested that you meet with her. It is T’Faie.”

T’Faie. Of course. She is in this up to her elegant ears, and I should have known that. “Tell her I will see her. And have a guard mounted around that car.”

If T’Faie is concerned that her plans for power are slow in being realized, she gives no sign of it. Nor does she give an indication of annoyance that I have let her cool her heels for half an hour before I meet her. She is looking out the window when I enter the room, apparently undisturbed by the cordon of men around her vehicle.

“It has been a long time since I was here,” she says conversationally.

“What do you want, T’Faie?”

“Only to see my dear family.”

“Sarek will not see you.”

“Pity. I should like to see his face when you tell him you are accepting command of the Darius.”

“Neither of us will see that. I gave my answer.”

“You underestimate Kyra’s determination. She would give much to have you under her thumb. Or perhaps between her thighs.”

“What did she offer you, sister?”

She smiles her slow, chilling smile. “Enough.” She sits down comfortably on a broad lounge. “We had a very interesting visit on Eos. Tell me, Spock, what did you do to make her hate you so?”

“Nothing.”

She thinks that over for a moment. “And that was enough?”

“Apparently.”

“Some day you must explain to me this strange power you have over women. Did you refuse to bed her, or simply refuse to do it often enough?”

“T’Faie, you have the mind of a shalna.”

“Only when I am around you. As you know, even I am not immune to your magnetic charm.”

I clamp down on the growing spark of anger, shutting off my receptiveness to all external stimulation. Emotion, wasteful at any time, can become supremely dangerous when prompted by this woman. I want only to get her out of here before she precipitates a scene with Sarek.

“What do you want, T’Faie?”

“You are repeating yourself, little brother.” She gets up and drifts toward the door, fingering a small statue on the table. I move away from her, feeling the malevolence of her presence, even though she does not look at me as she speaks. “I told you what I wanted. This is purely a social call. Won’t you offer me a cup of parra, at least?”

“T’Faie, your presence is highly offensive to me. I have no time for your games, and--”

The explosion of terror in the link shatters the barriers T’Faie’s goading has led me to erect, and I realize suddenly what her real purpose has been, who the real target is tonight.

She sees the birth of my movement for the door, and interposes herself. I reach out to thrust her aside, barely catching the flicker of movement as she draws the short-bladed knife from its scabbard in her sleeve. She does not mean it as a lethal weapon – her plans do not include my death – and the thrust is aimed for my side. I don’t really feel the rip of the blade until it strikes bone, but it throws me off-balance far enough so that the blow I land on her throat only knocks her back against the doorway.

She comes back at me, kicking and clawing, trying to keep my attention away from the desperation pouring through the link, wide-open now and searching for direction. I catch her knife hand, yanking her away from the door, and plunge into the corridor, shouting for a security guard as the link breaks off, like a light going out. But I have a direction now. Down, into the cellars, into the clinic.

People are everywhere, suddenly, and I push them aside as I run for the stairway, cursing myself for a fool that I let T’Faie’s nonsense distract me even for a moment. Lara was the target all the time. I should have known that, should have known T’Faie would try to use that lever to further her plans.

The corridor has never seemed so long. I can see the open doorway now, and now into the room itself, catching a blur of movement as Lara is flung onto the cot. Her fall is awkward, and I realize it is because her hands are bound.

She draws up her feet and plants a solid kick in the belly of her attacker, and as he staggers backward, I can see that it is Selek, with the side of his face laid open from temple to jaw, and the sohti madness in his eyes. He does not see me; his attention is on Lara as he hauls her up by the shirt-front and cracks her across the face.

My leap carries me across the room and solidly into him. We both go down, crashing against the cot and overturning it. Selek is the first on his feet, lunging at me with his arms raised for a double-handed blow. I step inside it, the edge of my hand slicing into his face. He hooks my feet out from under me, and I grab for his arm as I go down, twisting it up and back until I hear the pop of the shoulder joint as it dislocates. Then I am up again, my hands on his throat, just so, for the tal shaya. One twist, and it will be over.

Then his eyes meet mine, and I know I cannot do it. Great Cas, forgive me, I cannot do it. There is that blood tie…

I push him away, and the fight is gone out of his stance as he cradles the injured arm and the room is suddenly filled with the people who have followed my rush down the corridor.

I see T’Faie, outraged and struggling in the firm grip of a security guard, and even Sarek and Amanda are in the crowd. Someone frees Lara, loosening the rough cords that have scraped the flesh from her wrists and removing the crude gag. She slips away from the supporting hands to seek the shelter of my arms.

Selek is regaining his breath now, the pain and the sohti making him bold. “Look at them!” he hisses. “The cowardly halfbreed and his treacherous whore!” He has learned from his mother, this one. When cornered in an indefensible action, attack.

“Now he fights for her!” he shouts. “Ask him why he didn’t before, when she was rutting with the starship captain and giving him Vulcan’s secrets!”

There is hesitation in the crowd, questioning, and T’Faie tries vainly to catch her son’s eye and make him hold his tongue. I step toward Selek; I will silence him now, as I should have when I had the opportunity, but Sarek’s hand is on my arm.

“You words are strange, Selek, for one who comes to do violence in the night.”

“No violence was intended. She was to be taken before a Truther, brought up on charges of treason. How do you think the Federation ships mounted such an effective blockade so quickly? Because this one--” He gestures toward Lara with his good hand. “--this Terran slut told him where we were weakest, and he paid her for her words with this.” He stoops and retrieves a medical tricorder from the overturned supply shelf. It bears the clear logo of Federation supply.

There is a shift in the atmosphere; even though we oppose the aims of the Separatists, the accusations Selek is making are serious. I look at Lara, at her white bruised face, and she meets my eyes, her mind reaching out for mine. Not true. Not the treason part. You know that. And the question. Why? Why didn’t you kill him when you had the chance?

“This will not be settled here,” Sarek says. “You may not take the woman tonight, not without papers and a proper escort of tashai. You have invaded my home and violated my hospitality, Selek. Not even a kinsman may do that. But because you are a kinsman, you may go now. Leave us, Selek, and take … your mother … with you.”

Not once has Sarek looked at T’Faie; even now he is not willing to acknowledge her as his daughter. The hate is plain in her eyes, and I think for a moment she will use her threat. I hope she does. Once said, the words will no longer have power. But she bites them back, and takes Selek’s arm as they leave.

Now Sarek turns to me, and there is pain in his eyes that even he, with his great control, cannot completely master. “They will return, with their charges, in the morning. See that your wife is ready. You may accompany her, if you wish.” Then he leaves, and as if by common consent, the others leave with him.

The silence in the room is only of words; Lara’s mind is a tangle of emotions – shame and anger and traces still of fear. Then she gathers herself up and begins to pick through the scattered medical supplies.

“You’re bleeding,” she says. I feel her need to do something to avoid what she knows must come, so I permit her to dress the knife wound with shaking hands.

“And now it is your turn,” I tell her. She makes no reply as I smooth down the torn skin on her wrists and rub a healing balm on the bruises that are beginning to darken her body. “What happened?” I ask her.

She draws a deep, shaking breath. “I was in our room,” she begins, “getting ready for bed, when someone came to the door and said there’d been an accident – I was needed in the infirmary. I don’t know who it was – there was no one in the hall when I came out.

“Selek was waiting in the clinic. He didn’t say anything then about a Truther – he didn’t say anything at all, just started dragging me toward the corridor. I fought him – I hit him with something – I don’t remember what. Then he hit me, and I guess I must have blacked out, because the next thing I knew, we were in my office and I was tied up.

“He was ransacking the place and shouting – he wasn’t making any sense, Spock. I thought maybe I could get out before he saw me, but I didn’t make it. Then he really went berserk. He started knocking me around and shouting about rape … I don’t know if that was what he had in mind, or if he was talking about someone else. I managed to get away from him again, and I think that’s when you came in.”

She puts down the piece of rope she has been twisting in her hands and braces her palms on the desk, fighting for self-control. “It was a lie, Spock. About me telling Jim secrets. My God, I don’t know any secrets to tell, and he wouldn’t have asked me anyway. He sent those medical supplies because he knew I couldn’t get them any other way.” She raises her face, meeting my eyes. “He was here, on Vulcan. The day they evacuated the Embassy. And Selek was right about … about part of it. I’m sorry, Spock. We didn’t mean…” She turns away, and I can feel her fighting not to cry.

I touch her shoulder. “Come. We have much to do.”

“When do you think they’ll be here?”

“Sometime in the morning. But we will not.”

“What?” She turns to me, eyes wide.

“I will not let them take you.”

“You can’t do that! It’s not true, anyway. I’ll go before the Truther, we’ll mind-link, and it will be clear there’s no basis for the treason charge. The other…” She falters. “The other is just something I’ll have to get through.” She forces a wry grin, but there is no lightness in it. “They don’t cut off the breasts of adulteresses any more and cast them out into the desert, you know.”

“Lara, you don’t understand. You would never reach the Truther alive. That treason charge – that wasn’t the reason they came. I think it was meant only to cover your disappearance.”

“He meant to kill me?”

“Not tonight. I think they meant only to take you.”

“But why?”

“There is something T’Faie wants me to do. She thought I would agree if they had you, and if I had gone to the tashai, there would have been the treason story. You had fled, somehow, with Jim. Now come. You will need warm clothes. It is cold in the mountains at night.”

^^^^^^^^^^

I keep her too busy for other questions, though I can feel them in her mind as we make our hasty and secretive preparations. I choose waterbags, a few light tools, a hand torch, and blankets. There is food in the mountains for those who know how to find it, and we will not be there long, in any case. We can elude them for three days, I am sure, and then I can get her to a place of permanent safety.

There is no reason to try for a groundcar. We go on foot, as my ancestors did. Perhaps as Surak once did, with the woman he was ready to sacrifice his dream for, and by dawn we are high in the same mountains where he hid. We stop to rest then, by a stream, and she drinks deeply of its coldness while I cut some roots for our meal. I can feel her weariness through the link. We have a few hours, perhaps, before they discover we are gone, and if I push her to exhaustion now, I cannot reach my goal.

It was, though, perhaps a mistake to stop, for now she has time to think, and to voice the question I felt in the aftermath of Selek’s attack. “Last night, Spock … you were ready to kill him. I felt it. Why didn’t you.”

“He is a kinsman. The old prohibitions are strong.”

“T’Faie doesn’t seem to feel them. Why should her son be protected by them?”

It is time. There can be no more denials, no more evasion. “Because he is also my son.”

In her face, in her mind, there is a terrible breaking, then denial, and then a revulsion that vibrates through the link like a physical blow. “No.” She is shaking her head, fighting down a sickness I can feel in my own throat. “No. That’s a lie. He couldn’t be. You couldn’t…”

“Selek is my son, and T’Faie’s.”

No!” She screams it, and then, because she has to lash out at something, she lashes out at me.

I catch her shoulders and hold her away. “Lara, listen. I want to tell you how it was. That does not change it, does not excuse it, but I want you to know. Give me your hands.”

“No. I don’t want to hear it.”

“You will not hear it. You will know it, through the link.” Through my grip, I feel the shuddering of her slight frame. She will not meet my eyes, but she cannot escape my voice. “Lara…” There is a hoarseness to it, as though I was speaking through stones. “It is … important to me.”

She hesitates, still fighting back revulsion at this breaking of her culture’s most ancient, most sacred taboo, this unforgivable violation. She is shaking her head as she extends her hands to me, shutting her eyes as if she could also shut her mind. I place her hands on my face, and mine on hers, creating a double link. Strong enough for a depth of understanding I have never before attempted with her, strong enough to pull to the surface that memory I have denied for so many years, denied and hidden and tried to forget.

I was a young man … youth does not excuse it, but that was why it began. Because I wanted to leave Vulcan, and Sarek opposed me. And Amanda, torn between husband and son, made a decision which cost her deeply – how deeply, I can only imagine. She came to me and asked what I wanted, and agreed to intercede with T’Pau on my behalf, suggesting that it would be better if I were to absent myself from the household while she did so. I wanted to stay, to make my own statement, but she convinced me that her way, her patient way, was best.

I took a pack and came into these mountains and tried to climb away and walk away my anguish, damning myself for letting my mother fight my battles, questioning whether I had the right to follow my own desires. Because I was lost in my own mind, I was not cautious enough, and I blundered into an agan-tuá hunting party.

The agan-tuá were jealous of their lands and of the secrecy of their comings and goings. It was not for an outsider to view them. They considered it great sport to hunt all manner things … including men, if the opportunity arose. And when their quarry was run to earth, cornered and exhausted, the best sport of all began.

From the violent days of the old ones, the agan-tuá remembered the subtle tortures that can keep a victim alive for a long, long time. It takes no skill to kill a man cleanly. The greatest honor goes to the one who can sustain a life and elaborate on the old rituals. Even so, there comes a time when the sport grows tiresome, and the game must end. This time, though, there was to be a different ending.

The wife of their leader pointed out that I was from an important family. A wealthy family. Might I not be more valuable to them alive than dead?

I did not know how she knew me … I did not care. I knew only that she made the pain stop, saw to it that I was left alone … and brought me sohti.

Sohti. I did not know what it was, what it would do, and after the first few times, I did not care. You know, Lara, even though you did not admit that aspect of it to me. You know the blinding of logic, the unquenchable lust that answers to no control. It was not rape, though doubtless that is what she has told Selek.

It must have seemed a colossal joke to her at the time; a fitting revenge on Sarek. When I realized what was happening, who she was… She told me, yes. Later, when she was sure she had conceived. I should have killed her then, but I didn’t. I only seized the first opportunity and ran, like a coward, hating myself and more determined than ever to leave Vulcan.

I told no one of the experience, of the child. It was a shame I could not face. So he was left with her, to rear in hate, to nurse on lies until the time when she could find some evil way to use him. And when she found that way, when she brought him to me in ShiKahr … I ran again. Not physically. I ran inside myself; I lied to myself, to you, to everyone, by not speaking a truth I could not bear. And this is the result…

I cannot continue. I break the hold, and her hands fall from my face, but I can still feel her mind turning the story over, touching it, beginning to accept and understand it. Her face is wet with tears, for herself and for me, and always that meeting, that offer:  Let me in. Let me help.

“And you’ve never told anyone?”

“No.”

“All these years, you’ve lived with that?”

“I could not change the past. I am only sorry that I did not tell you before.”

Her eyes are far away, and her mind. “Secrets,” she says. “And half-truths. I’m sorry, Spock. The things we’ve done to each other, thinking it was for love. Nothing hurts more. Can you forgive me?”

“For what?”

“For what I thought. For what I’ve done, for the mess I’ve gotten you into.”

“That is not important now. What is important is that we keep moving.”

“Where?”

“To a place I know. For a few days.”

“And then what? We can’t hide out here forever.”

“We will not need to. Come along now, before the sun is any higher.”

We push on, through the rest of that day, though I feel her weariness growing and end the day by nearly carrying her up the final slope. The cave is much as it was when I last saw it years ago, musty with the smell of long-gone animals and years of dust and dead leaves.

I can see the towers of ShiKahr from the point above the cave. It will be an easy night’s walk, tomorrow night. Into the city at dawn on the third day, then. To P’lef. But now is not the time to consider that. Now is the time for rest, and food, and keeping my plans from Lara. One more secret. One more half-truth. Because it is necessary. Because whatever pain it may cause is also necessary.

She is making a pallet with the leaves and the blankets, and pulling off the dust-caked clothes. Her body is white and smooth and supple. One worth remembering in the bad times, worth celebrating in the good ones. She catches my eyes on her, and a flush warms her skin as her mind touches mine, questioning.

Yes, Lara-kai. This time. This one more time.

^^^^^^^^^^

The trip to ShiKahr, like the trip to the cave, is made in darkness, warily, watching for patrols. We see two, and conceal ourselves from them in the stones of a ravine along the road.

The house that was never really home for us is still empty in the thin light of morning. It is not a good place, but it is better than a hostel, where employees watch and talk. We will not be here long, in any case. I leave her there, knowing she would try to stop me if she knew what was in my mind. But her weariness makes her less sensitive to my shielded thoughts, and she accepts the need for her to stay behind.

P’lef does not seem surprised to see me, though her attitude holds some trace of sorrow. Yes, the ship is at the spaceport, and she is open to my offer. Twenty minutes of radio time, in exchange for my promise to leave with her. She knows, I think, but she does not question it. If there are consequences – and there are sure to be, from one source or another – she will answer them, and I will. It does not make any difference now.

If Lieutenant Uhura is puzzled by this call on a frequency she did not expect, her voice does not reveal it. There is a second of hesitation, of surprise, when I identify myself and ask to speak with Jim. He does not ask why. He asks only for the coordinates, for an hour to bring the ship within transporter range, and the contact is broken. I return to P’lef’s hostel room.

“There is one more thing I must do, Commander, and then I will return. You have my word on that.”

She meets my eyes with her level gaze. “I know that,” she says. “You are still an honorable man, Spock. Even in this.”

As I am leaving, I spot one of T’Faie’s men. Of course. They would keep a watch on P’lef. There is no trust between these two. I wait in a side street until he passes, and then follow him until the opportunity presents itself. The nerve-pinch puts him out quickly, and I drag his unconscious form into an alley. There is no need for him to pay for his loyalty with his life, no matter how misguided that loyalty may be. There is time now.

Lara is cautious, not showing herself until she knows it is I. That is one thing I have taught her – caution. That, and other things she would have perhaps been better off never having had to learn. Perhaps, when this is all over…

No. Not again. Hope is, after all, a Human emotion, and there is no room for that now.

She senses something, and I can feel the questioning in her mind. It is time to tell her now. Part of it, anyway. “Jim is coming. You will go with him.”

“Are you out of your mind? He can’t come here. And I can’t leave you. Not now.”

“Yes, you must. Don’t challenge me on this, Lara. It is what you have to do. It was wrong to bring you to Vulcan, and a weakness on my part. There will be no more of that.”

She argues, protests, threatens to go to the Truther herself, but I will not be moved.

Where is Jim? It has been more than the requested time, and the longer we stay here, the greater the danger. T’Faie’s man will be conscious by now, and it will not take long to relay the information. I have spent the extra time barricading the entrance to the courtyard and to the house itself, but the barriers will not hold long under concentrated attack.

The whine of the transporter effect comes as I hear the sounds of the searchers in the street. Too soon for them, too soon.

“Let’s go,” he says as soon as the effect releases him.

“Not me, Jim. Only Lara.”

“Like hell. You’re both coming back with me.”

I can hear them blasting away at the barricade. “I have no time to argue with you, Captain. Just get out, now.”

“Spock--” Lara says, resistance still in her tone. I step toward her, catching her face in my hands, using these last few seconds to convince her, knowing that if I do, she will keep Jim from attempting further action later. There is no time for delicacy now, no time to seek the well-worn pathways. I let it all explode in her mind, to be sorted out later if she wishes.

Get out of here, Lara. Go with Jim and don’t look back. Get off my world; get out of my life. They’ll destroy you if you stay, and everything I’ve done, every tradition I’ve defied to keep you with me and keep you safe has been just an empty gesture if you stay here and allow that. I won’t permit it, because if you don’t exist, then part of me – all that’s left of me – won’t exist, either. Because I love you. Against every tradition of my race, against every tenet of order and logic, I love you. Treasure the memory, Lara, and know that I will treasure it, too.

Then there is no more time; they are through the outer barricade and in the courtyard now. I break the link with a brutal swiftness that leaves her reeling, grab her arm, and throw her against Jim.

“Go! Now!”

He gives the signal, and as the doorway begins to crumble, so do their outlines begin to dissolve, leaving nothing behind but the scent of her perfume in the air and a sudden, unexpected emptiness inside me.

>>>>> <<<<<

LARA

>>>>> <<<<<

            It is quiet here, and almost peaceful, except for the nights. At night, the wounded men in this Starbase hospital want to talk. To each other, to me, to anyone who will listen. And they want to be talked to. How did I get here? What ships have I served on? Do I know Bittern, from the Potemkin? Have I ever met Nilsson, from the Yorktown? And was I here when Cooper came through? You’d remember Cooper, Doctor. He lost a hand in an engagement with the Nyhie.

            You’ve heard of the Nyhie? They used to call her Darius, when she was a Federation ship. Before the Eosians took her; before that renegade Vulcan took command.

            Yes, I tell them. Yes, I know the Nyhie. Because if I don’t tell them, they tell me. I’ve heard all the stories. Many times, most of them. The most recent one they take as an indication that the Vulcan has lost his reason. Either that, or he’s the bravest damn man on either side of this crazy war that nobody will admit is a war.

            It was out on the edge of Sector 9. Enterprise territory, since she’s been off blockade duty. She was jumped by a Romulan patrol. Jesus, we haven’t got enough troubles with the Separatists, now the Romulans are in it, too. Another few months and they’ll be out in full force. Hell to pay, then.

Anyway, here was Enterprise, taking a hell of a beating, almost dead in space, when this destroyer comes out of nowhere, shooting up Romulans like some damn kind of Wild West show. I’m not kidding you. Like something out of Rodeo. Do you know Rodeo, Doctor? It’s a resort planet, like nineteenth-century North America, on Earth. I’m going there, soon as I get liberty.

Oh, yeah, the destroyer. It was Nyhie, and she wiped up that patrol like a starship. The say he’s modified her, somehow. They say the man’s a fucking genius. Excuse my language, Doctor. Wiped ‘em up and took off like a bat out of hell. Warp ten, they say. Enterprise didn’t fire a shot at her. Craziest thing I ever heard of. Kirk got a reprimand for it, I hear. They damn near took his command over it.

Crazy goddamn brass. Kirk’s the best captain in the fleet. I put in for Enterprise, but I couldn’t make the grade. Do you know Captain Kirk, Doctor?

Yes, I know Captain Kirk. And the renegade Vulcan. And why they did what they did. I don’t tell them that, of course. I tell them to go back to sleep, and order a sedative for them, and see them healed and reassigned and replaced in the hospital beds by more young men with more questions and more stories to tell.

Sometimes, when I feel I can’t face their questions or hear their stories any longer, I rotate to day duty. But that only leaves the nights to be endured alone.

By my own choice. There were other … options. As many as two people in love can consider when there is a third person involved, also loved. But none that I could face; none that Jim could face in the long run, had he thought about them carefully. He is as driven in his own way as Spock was … and is.

Two men, caught between forces they cannot control, forces that have placed them on opposite sides in a war neither of them wanted.

Did it have to happen this way? That’s a question that echoes through my brain on the nights when I am alone. Was there one turning, out of all the turnings, that we could have taken to make things different?

If I had not been so attracted to Spock from that first meeting…

If Jim had never shown himself to me as anything but a starship captain…

If Spock had said earlier what he finally said in that last, burning link … I love you … would that have made a difference?

If…

That way lies madness. Treasure the memory, he told me. Oh, I do.

And then that ogre rears up in my mind. That monster we call Fate, and laugh at and fear, because its tricks can be so cruel. That fate – or that Humanness – that made us choose our turnings in those fragile moments when one word, one action altered, would have changed what later came. That fate which, I know, will one day bring them together, face to face across the void around them, and force them to decide, finally, whether their loyalties lie in professional honor or personal honor.

Those are the nights I flee my bed, or my office, driven into the night by the furies in my mind, to watch the skies, and wait. Because there is nothing else I can do. Just watch the skies.

And wait…

THE END

[Story continued in the sequel "Reflections of Honor" by Lynda Carraher]