DISCLAIMER: The Star Trek characters are the property of Paramount Studios, Inc. The story contents are the creation and property of Guinn Berger and is copyright (c) 1983 by Guinn Berger. This story is Rated PG. Originally published in It Takes Time On Impulse #1.
The Trouble With Kids Is, They're Always Running Amok...
T'Pau looked sternly at her grandson, Spock, and then at the two Earthmen who had accompanied him to the place of Koon-ut-kal-if-fee. The very idea of a well-brought-up Vulcan lad actually bringing a couple of - Earthlings to his family's sacred ground offended T'Pau deeply. What was more, the two men obviously hadn't manners enough to keep their eyes averted. They looked T'Pau brazenly in the eye, apparently having no concept of proper masculine decorum. T'Pau found herself stung into asking sourly:
"Are our ceremonies to be shared with outworlders?"
Spock, of course, refused to take the hint. Instead, he had answered back, "It is my right." Indeed! But then, he had always been a cheeky little boy. When T'Pau had attempted to instill in him an attitude becoming a Vulcan male, telling him that little boys ought to mind their manners and not fight or be willful, he had not lowered his gaze respectfully and said, "Yes, Grandmother." Instead, he had looked her straight in the eye and, without missing a beat, had asked, "Why NOT?"
This T'Pau had attributed to the influence, or lack of it, of Spock's mother. Earthwoman, she thought disgustedly. They were soft and foolish; not like real women at all. Why, Earthwomen let their men get away with practically anything. T'Pau's own son, Sarek, had married the silly creature who was Spock's mother, and who let her husband lead her around like a pet sehlat on a leash. The things Sarek got away with made his mother squirm with the urge to wade in and SHOW Amanda how to discipline a man, the old-fashioned Vulcan way, but custom prevented T'Pau. Sarek was, after all, a grown man with a wife of his own to look after him; theoretically, anyway. It was Amanda's privilege to spoil her husband in any way she chose, T'Pau supposed.
Still, she would never get used to these new ways, she thought with a thin, impatient sigh. Why the Council had chosen to send a man to act as ambassador to Babel, and particularly that man, she failed to comprehend. Sarek, judged as an ambassador, was a pretty good musician. He had abused his diplomatic privileges at Babel, had put people from the other delegations in an extremely bad temper with his blunt rudeness, and generally made a bad showing; but then, the Vulcan Council had been determined to show the rest of the Federation that they were "up to date" by appointing a man to something, even though most Councilmembers privately shared T'Pau's conviction that men were unsuited to government or any really important work. Males were just too emotional, that was all. Power and responsibility invariably went to their heads.
Oh, well. Spock was here to be married and like-father-like-son thoughts put aside, they might as well get on with it. "Kah-if-farr," T'Pau ordered, feeling just a bit sorry for the bride-elect. There was, T'Pau mused silently as the bell-banners jingled their merry tune, no honorable way out of the wedding for T'Pring. - And good thing for Spock, at that. If there had been a graceful way of jilting T'Pau's grandson, the girl would probably have disappeared like a drop of water in the desert, and what other Vulcan woman in her right mind would accept a rock-headed, uppity male like Spock as her husband? Luckily this thing had been set up when they were both children, before anyone could tell how Spock would turn out, but T'Pau still considered it something of a dirty trick on her friend T'Vell's daughter.
...Of course, even though there was no honorable way out of this for T'Pring, still if one were really desperate...
"Kal-if-fee!" T'Pring shouted suddenly, apparently more desperate than T'Pau had thought.
T'Pau was beginning to feel a little put upon, also embarrassed, not to mention humiliated. NO ONE had challenged an arranged marriage in almost five thousand years - until today, and who should be the first one to inspire such drastic measures after all that time but Spock, her own grandson. The disgrace of it all! Worse than all the rest, however, was the fact that it had happened in the presence of two Earthmen; members of a race notorious as the nosiest bunch of bigmouths outside the Klingon Empire.
"What's the matter?" they demanded with typical loutish insensitivity. "Doesn't she want him?"
"T'Pring has chosen the challenge," the old lady explained. "She will choose her champion." ...who will then help her to murder my grandson, she seethed inwardly, helpless before T'Pring's perfectly legal challenge. "Spock is deep in the plak tow, the blood fever. He will not speak to thee again until he has passed through what is to come." Then she offered the two a chance to go back to their ship, hoping to get rid of them.
She could not deny a grudging admiration for their refusal to leave. This "wedding" promised to get very messy presently, and the two humans were certainly plucky; she had to allow them that.
Unfortunately, it turned out to be less pluck than stupidity that made the Earthmen stick, and T'Pring turned out to be not only desperate but downright unscrupulous. In her anxiety to get out of marrying Spock, and at the same time avoid risking her preferred lover's skin, she chose one of the Humans as her champion; the big, dumb-looking one. He was dumber than he looked, too; he accepted.
"No!" That had come from T'Rel's boy, Stonn. T'Pau stared at him in sheer amazement. "I was the one!" he bellowed angrily. "It was agreed!"
"Silence!" T'Pau nearly jumped out of her chair with fury. Why, Stonn had never so much as said "boo" to anyone in authority since the day he was born. He was the image of a proper young Vulcan gentleman, usually. Yet here he was, hollering and hooting over a woman like some shameless "Rodeo" or whatever it was the Terrans called a woman-crazy male of no particular breeding or virtue.
Stonn begged her pardon, cowed by the fire in the matriarch's eyes, but with ill-concealed resentment. This was very bad; rebelliousness was spreading, T'Pau could see. Formerly very well-behaved young men were now not only questioning but actually flying in the face of authority, and all, T'Pau believed, was directly attributable to the corruptive influence of Earthlings.
With this in mind, T'Pau grimly offered the Earthman one last chance to extricate himself from the combat, reflecting that it would only be justice if the creature insisted on going through with it. After all, Humans (so she had heard) actually liked to fight. They were proud of their ability to pound one another into senselessness, and seemed to believe that this made the victors somehow spiritually superior to those who were defeated. It was a true mystery how Humans managed to have any description of society left. T'Pau could just see them hacking each other to pieces, killing and maiming, with only weak, ineffectual little simpering females like Amanda to prevent them. No wonder Earthmen were so obnoxious.
The Human decided to fight. Well, so much to the good. Spock, in his condition, was no match for Stonn even if Spock had been a hell-lematya as a child, fighting at the drop of an insult, and Stonn a docile, gentlemen-like boy. Stonn would have no trouble beating Spock, as matters stood. The Human, however, Spock could take apart like a tinker toy no matter how bad the plak tow got.
"T'Pau..." (Oh, no...) "Forbid, T'Pau... I plead with thee... I beg..."
To be able to speak while in blood fever! Spock had gumption, that was for sure, but T'Pau was in no mood for his stupid heroics. This might be a pretty sneaky thing to be doing, even to an Earthman, but considering that the alternative was having Spock, her own flesh and blood, end up shredded all over the desert, T'Pau was willing to feel guilty about the Human for awhile.
"It is said thy Vulcan blood is thin," she said to Spock, coming as near to scowling in public as she had ever come. How could he DO this to the family? Tradition after tradition was going down in flames this afternoon, all shot down by her own grandson. She doubted that she would ever be able to face any of her fellow councilmembers again, except maybe T'Rel and T'Vell. If anything, their children's behavior was even more bizarre than Spock's. She found very little comfort in that, however.
"It is decided," she announced with relief. "Let the combat begin with the lirpa." ...and may the best man win, oh please, she concluded silently.
The bells jingled again and T'Pau dropped the other shoe.
"If both survive the lirpa, combat will continue with the ahn woon."
The Earthman was not quite as empty between the ears as one might have guessed.
"What do you mean, 'If both survive'?" he asked, turning very pale.
"This combat is to the death," she said, her dignity and assurance returning now that it would be impossible for him to back out.
He looked as though someone had just hit him in the belly, but he didn't try to squirm out of fighting as T'Pau had half-feared he would. She gave him credit for that. Besides, if he had refused to cooperate, the axeman would have been bound legally to end the Earthman's life, right there - and that would not do wonders for Vulcan's reputation. Reporting the man dead in combat was one thing; explaining his execution for cowardice to the Federation authorities was another.
The fighting began, and it was clearly no contest from the start. Spock was literally wiping the arena with the Human, although his opponent was a scrappy fellow who was able to get in some licks. When Spock managed to draw blood, however, T'Pau's stomach lurched. She had forgotten what a nauseating color Human blood was. She took the first decent opportunity shout "Kroykah!" It would be far less aesthetically jarring to have Spock finish the man off with the ahn woon.
The smaller of the two Earthmen chose that opportunity to complain about the atmosphere. He claimed the thin, hot air gave Spock an unfair advantage, as if T'Pau could do anything about that!
"The air is the air," she told him, at which he explained that he could do something about it: a tri-ox compound, administered hypodermically to the other Human, would change everything.
Tri-ox? she almost asked. Wasn't that also known as ozone? And wasn't it also poss... Daylight began to break and T'Pau's respect for this fellow jumped upward at least ten points. She gave no indication, as she consented to the procedure, that she had noticed anything unusual about it. She only hoped that the Earthman's plan would work -- if he was trying what she thought he was. There might yet be a decent way out of all this.
The hypo was administered, the larger Human shook his head as if to clear it, and the fighting continued. It was pitiful. Spock was all over the Earthling like a zasthar on a phtrix, and on at least one occasion, T'Pau was sure she smelled burnt hair as Spock came within millimeters of forcing the other's head into the hot coals of the firepit.
Then, somehow, T'Pau was never quite sure how, the Human managed to get his hands around Spock's throat while Spock was winding the ahn woon around the Human's neck. Moreover, from the look of things, the pressure of the Human's fingers was just about to cut off the flow of Spock's blood to the brain - which would mean Spock's death even if the Human only rendered him temporarily unconscious. If Spock were defeated but not killed, he would have to die anyway. The blood fever would still rage, and even though Tradition made T'Pring the personal slave of the winner because she technically had committed murder be demanding the combat-to-the-death, the winner could do with her anything he chose except give her back to the man whose claim she had challenged. And there was no other woman available to Spock. The axe would be his only escape from a slow, torturous death by plak tow.
T'Pau held her breath in an agony of anxiety, and then - suddenly the Human began to choke. His face paled, he gasped for breath - and fell to the arena floor, senseless.
It was as if a switch were turned off inside Spock, who stared in horror at the man he had apparently killed. Everything seemed to pass by him in a dream.
"Kroykah!" T'Pau called out thankfully. The Human, McCoy, was as capable of concealing emotion, in his way, as any Vulcan. In spite of the elation he must be experiencing due to the success of his ploy, he pronounced his friend dead with great conviction. T'Pau only hoped as she said, "I grieve with thee," that the little Human's grief was a feigned as she suspected.
Little remained to be done. McCoy, having acknowledged Spock as next in command of their ship, quickly beamed himself and his friend's corpse aboard. Spock was left, and a heart-rending sight he made as he quietly interrogated the faithless T'Pring.
"Stonn wanted me, I wanted him..."
Oh, her reasons were straight-forwardly expressed, but what they amounted to was simple, appallingly stupendous selfishness; an egotism so great that it would sacrifice the life of another to its own desire without the least trace of remorse. T'Pau was less astonished than relieved when Spock, with simple dignity, turned over his rightful prize to the lover she so obviously preferred; to Stonn.
And now T'Pau noticed the very odd thing which had happened. For some unknown reason, Spock's body no longer radiated the tension and fever from which T'Pau and all who were witness today, had had to shield themselves. The plak tow was abated; pon farr was broken and Spock was free! But how? Perhaps his Human genes! If that were so...! A way to stem an ancient racial curse might just have been born out of this miserable, aborted mating. She would have to consider this...
Meanwhile, Spock had approached the place where his grandmother sat, seemingly impassive, but with a mind full of thoughts and emotions which she would never have confessed - certainly not to this unruly but much beloved grandchild - and prepared to take his leave.
"Peace and long life, T'Pau," he said in a forlorn tone of voice which made it difficult, momentarily, for the old lady to dispel the memory of a small boy, aching with contrition over some, now it seemed, very minor naughtiness.
"Live long and prosper, Spock."
"I shall do neither," he replied. "I have killed my captain and my friend." And he beamed up to his ship.
Oh, thought T'Pau, as the procession made its way back to the aircars and thence to ShiKahr, but you WILL live long - AND prosper. The moment she could get her hands on a communicator, she thought, she would at least see to it that Spock and his two Human friends did not have any difficulty with superiors over what had transpired here today. They had, after all, been through quite enough.