DISCLAIMER: The Star Trek characters are the property of Paramount Studios, Inc. This story was written for the enjoyment of the author and no infringement of any existing copyright is intended nor is any profit realized or expected. The story contents are the creation and property of Melissa Bayard and copyright (c) 1977 by Melissa Bayard. Originally published in The Best of Pon Farr #3, 1977.

T'Pring's Decision

Melissa Bayard

The stylus would not stay firmly in her grasp. Dropping it to the desk, she touched one hand to the palm of the other. Moisture? Brushing her hands on her dress, she attempted once again to finish the list of directives to her staff.

Stonn entered as she completed it, his face less composed than usual as he sat on the carved bench before her desk. "I met with the elders of my family. There would be considerable opposition to our marriage if you proceed with the liedim. It could be considered an insult, and it would be unwise to offend such an influential house of such a well-known Starfleet officer."

"Your house and mine would be well allied, Stonn. I have no wish to deal with Spock as a mate. His aims and interests are far different from mine. If it is necessary to ask for a liedim to release me from this marriage, then I shall request it."

"It might not be successful, T'Pring. The liedim is granted so seldom, and only for the most serious cause; the Council may not allow you to present your argument at all. And if they do, the members may subject your activities to a longer than usual observation period. The two full years of evaluation time would be difficult indeed. Are you quite sure you wish to have the Coryl question debated openly? It may be a major issue."

"It may be an inconvenience," she answered, "but certainly less so than being permanent consort of a ... man whom I don't wish to wed."

Her desk console winked a green signal. "Excuse me." She answered affirmatively to the identification query and the message proceeded.

* * *

It was uncomfortable in the desk chair, but he remained there, only leaning forward slightly to reach the "record" button. An almost imperceptible relief began to flow through him. It will be over soon.

This would provide the proper notice for the ceremonial arrangements. T'Pau would inform the parties involved and they would gather for the completing ritual. Fingering the control panel absently, he wondered if she were affected by it yet, since his telepathic linkage with her was less efficient than that of many Vulcan unions. If she, too, burned as he did...

Jim would never fully understand. He had heard some of the rec-room bull sessions and had pondered the effects of glandular secretions on human and alien sexual habits. But, he reminded himself painfully, there is some control. With us, so little control remains, and there is no choice at these times.

An involuntary trembling shook him. No medication could ease his discomfort, which had evidently frustrated McCoy. The one cure for his "ailment" would soon be beside him, preparing to fulfill her obligation. How had she changed? Certainly she was no longer the elfin child in the picture he saw before him. He had not requested it, but supposed someone -- Amanda, most probably -- had put it with his belongings when he left for Starfleet. Illogical. Unnecessary because he could not forget her. Her image was oppressively irresistible to his gaze.

It had been over twenty standard years since he had seen her, and there had been no communication, since none was needed. Human females, he considered, either couldn't or wouldn't tolerate such a separation well. Their emotional needs and reactions would prevent them from dealing with such a situation logically, as Vulcan women did. He had met very few human women with the maturity and sophistication most Vulcan women exuded. "Cold fish", the other crewmen called them; but that was inevitable when humans were involved. Infinite diversity... Vulcan women did not complain about obviously logical solutions. Their society progressed without the overwhelming demand for those time-consuming tribal mating arrangements which were often so demanding of, and sometimes dangerous for, adolescents of other races.

The fingers of his left hand gently pressed the button he was almost reluctant to use. The first few words came slowly, then subconscious memory released the rest and when he finished he only remembered saying, "I will await thee at the appointed place."

* * *

Her face colored slightly, inexplicably. Emotional response beckoned as it never had before. Stonn did not see it, for he would not have violated her privacy by listening to her call. On the other side of the room, he was quietly examining a new fafquer sculpture. The image of Spock faced from her viewer and she composed herself with effort. How to explain.

"That was T'Pau." She stood and crossed to where Stonn waited. "There will be no need for the liedim. We meet at Koon-ut-Kali-fee tomorrow."

He turned to her, eyes widening slightly. "So, it is decided for us. It is just as well; the large filing fees, the uncertainty of results, and the possible insult to Xtmprsqzntwlfb will all be avoided."

Their eyes met, hers as penetrating as a devwoal serpent swaying its flared iridescent crest to lull its prey. "I do not want Spock as a mate."

There was a short silence. She began again, softly. "There must be a way. I have the right to challenge -- the Kal-i-fee -- if I desire it."

"Then you will use the Kal-i-fee and I will win you."

"You flatter yourself, Stonn. Spock is a formidable opponent and Starfleet training has been no hindrance to his abilities."

"But the blood fever burns in him, does it not?"

"And in me. I did not think it would be so strong." She reached down and touched his hand with hers. "There are risks, Stonn."

"Acceptable risks, T'Pring." His raised hand offered two fingers to her and she placed hers in like manner over his. Neither of them could explain why it brought both anxiety and reassurance. He carefully took her entire hand in his. She pulled away slightly at first; then, issues considered, embraced his hand with hers. Their dual thought: "Tomorrow!"

* * *

The silver white dress swirled around her as she moved to the mirror. She considered the probabilities of success as her gatya prepared her hair and began to tie the silken tamsik-leh around her waist.

"No, T'Lun, not in that manner." Taking the cord from the old woman's hands, she wound it around her upper hair twice and let the tamsik hang down over her shoulder.

"You would not wear it thus, T'Pring?" gently scolded T'Lun. Only her age permitted her this criticism. The physical discomfort T'Pring felt made rational thought an effort. She glared at T'Lun, but did not answer. This, too, was her right, and she would not be deterred. Worn at the waist, the tamsik-leh indicated the bride's willingness to carry out her obligation and contribute to a stable family structure suitable for raising children. She had no wish to do either -- with Spock. Leaving T'Lun to deal with Vulcan Space Central and place a call to Spock when he arrived, she retreated outside.

The crimson sand beyond her garden shimmered in the mid-day heat. She preferred the coolness that descended every evening, but she had sought quiet here, not relief from the scalding heat within her. Soon Stonn would come for her. There would be no discussion, no questions for her. She was grateful for the silence customary at such times, a respite sorely needed.

He would be there soon, too. Preparations for the ceremony had already been made. Ceremony! An impolite phrase escaped her taut lips. She rose jerkily and began to pace the stone path, her gait sure and defiant. Control slowly returned. His integrity, lauded so frequently, his honors; what do they mean when one knows his true mind? She could not discuss his behavior in public, for it would be a violation of his right to privacy and bring ridicule upon her. Her eyes narrowed as she imagined for a moment what Sarek would think if he knew.

Some of the energy released, she sat again; this time by the srltrin pool. Its orange liquid reflected her furled brows and downward curl of mouth.

She remembered the thin boy beside her long ago. Both of them obediently quiet as they stood with their parents before the Bonding. The celebrant arrived, her robe billowing in the wind from the open desert. A serious face, almost malignant in its solemnity, but they felt no hesitation as she took their small hands, drew them together and close to her. The Pledges began, each adult giving testimony and the children responding in turn. As is the way with the young, they took comfort in the inevitability and regularity of the procedure. Placing slim fingers selectively on first Spock's head, then T'Pring's, she began the traditional ritual, mentally chanting the words that would be etched into their collective subconscious. There was silence as all perceived the litany:

"Thy duty is before thee. From this day forward thee shall follow thy obligation with honor. As it was in the dawn of our days and will be for all tomorrows, thee shall regard thy mate with favor and generate respect for thy house. Thee shall practice discernment, for thy thoughts are now known, one to the other; but concealed within thy union, thy privacy retained. Thee are Bonded, one to the other."

At the completion of the formal vows, they had separated and had not spoken since. Within days, the enormity of it faded; but as with others of their Vret, they began to sense a never-lessening peripheral awareness of the other. Such it had been since childhood with their parents, so it brought no repulsion. But now it meant much more than the simplistic child-parent tie.

When the ancient drive was within them, they would have the use of the knowledge given so long before. The burning of her body tore away total control. There was only partial cognizance of reality. The guidance she sensed was thready yet insistent.

Now it was as the old woman had described it, the agony of body and mind. She could not think clearly and did not trust her tongue. Rarely spoken, the words of her childhood came to mind. "Never parted, always touching." Oh, ancient gods, would it were not so! Not to a mate who could treat her in such fashion.

His honor would demand her compliance in areas where his own reputation was affected. As one family unit, I would be obligated to respect his wishes, as he would mine. His observation of my business activities, however limited, would be most disruptive. Spock comes from a scientific, not commercial background, and it is certain he cares more for his ethics than profit, and prefers a most conservative policy.

And yet he had defied tradition and honor, but cannot be brought to task for it.

"T'Pring," T'Lun called, with soft guttural intrusion. "Thee must answer Spock. Vulcan Space Central is placing thy call shortly. Come."

The face on the viewer was not, by itself, displeasing. He was on the bridge of his ship, chunky humans smiling rudely around him. She knew Spock did not really see her and was relieved. He could only follow the traditional formal greeting and reply. She wondered, Does he realize what he's done? Does he really expect me to accept him as if he'd done nothing untoward? Yes. His physical state is all that concerns him. He does not know of Stonn, nor of our intentions. Strange. He considers only his duty, to me and to Starfleet once the madness has left him. There is no perception of me, nor my desires, in this union.

You are neither human nor Vulcan, Spock. Thy need of me is less than my need for a suitable mate. And thee would ask humans to be thy escort? Thy companions must be few indeed, and thy mind feeble, to so disgrace our Tradition.

As his image faded from the screen, she turned with acute relief to Stonn, who had been waiting for her to finish and had just entered. She faced him appraisingly, noting the brightness of his eyes and his quickened breathing. Her own state must have triggered his.

He touched her hair lightly, fingers seeking the tamsik-leh, his eyebrows raised in question. Then he examined her gown with his eyes. It would be a good match, and soon he would have need of her.

In the vehicle and at the ceremonial grounds, she considered how this change in Stonn's condition would affect the outcome. In the distance she heard the gone signaling their entrance. The procession began the slow, sedate march into the inner arena, arranging themselves in proper order. T'Pring watched for Spock as she entered the stone portals. He stood tense but solemn beside his companions. The humans will not find our world to their liking. There was no response at all from him.

Spock came forward and knelt before T'Pau. She placed gentle hands upon his head and prepared him. The overlay she placed upon his consciousness would allow him to correctly function in this situation. He would respond to her order -- regardless of instinctual pressures.

* * *

His head began to ache as he awaited the procedural details. A small awareness began as he lost touch with the here-and-now. She knows! She knows about Leila, but can she understand what happened? Such liaisons are exceedingly rare among Vulcans and she must think...

T'Pring, you are my chosen mate. I did not expect comfort or even affection from you, only completion of duty and biological necessity -- for both of us. I had no wish to...

* * *

No, Spock, it will not be so easy. I am NOT yours, nor will I be if it is in my hands.

The ceremony proceeds, I must act now. "Kal-i-fee!" I choose the challenge.

Spock's eyes bore into hers as he whirled, face rent with confusion.

The challenge is old and little used. Not for 43.6 years has anyone invoked it. Will Stonn be able to win me in his present condition? The blood fever burns in him and his control is not as complete as Spock's, even now... the Captain of the ship, though, is obviously a trained fighter. Perhaps ... Yes, there is a way.

"I choose ... this man!" How silly he looks to see that he is chosen. And he accepts. Thee are as good as mine, Stonn. I will explain later why it was necessary.

His thoughts distracted. Jim -- no, that cannot be. You cannot hate me for what I did not do. That is an emotional response. You are MINE. But not Jim...

Thee are foolish, T'Pring. Thee gives up much for the possibility of having Stonn. But your choice is legal. I shall allow it.

Will T'Pau forbid? "No, Stonn, do not interfere!" T'Pau allows the choice. Interesting. "Later, Stonn, I will explain." All reason is lost in his eyes, the pressure of pon farr wrestles within him.

T'Pau must allow my claim, but she is not surprised. Perhaps she knew I planned to ask for a liedim though we have seldom discussed it.

They grovel in the dirt like beasts, murderous expressions locked in place. Yes, this is more appropriate than the liedim. If Spock had not returned so soon ... She wondered who the girl had been. On his ship, perhaps? In that case, he would have no need of her even if he won her. At first, she hadn't believed it, but through the Bonding, the telepathic impulse was too strong. His passions had most definitely been aroused. Leila? Was that the name? She had not received it clearly, but it sounded correct. It did not matter now. She cared to know no more than that, since it served no useful purpose to be critical of his actions now. She would not be a tool for the political interests of the Xtmprsqzntwlfb family. She had her business and had no intention of giving it up to attend and conduct diplomatic meetings.

Nor would she curtail her comments and activities off-world to avoid embarrassment to Sarek's diplomatic status. The Coryl issue was questionable, but there were others which Spock would veto to protect family interests and his own reputation, if for no other reason.

And the children. Could Spock even give her heirs? Debatable, and inconsequential now. She childishly imagined for a moment the stares their quarter-human offspring would have invited. To some factions, even her own status would be lessened if the marriage were to take place. And he would never be home to take his part in traditional rituals, thus the responsibility for everything would be hers, alone.

It is finished. He has won me.

I am indeed honored. He sees the logic in my decision. Stonn will not question choosing me. He will have no time or need for that.

"Live long and prosper, Spock." I do not wish you ill; it will be difficult for you now, more so than before. I will have Stonn, our interests and heritages a fine meld. You will not find it necessary to censure me for my convictions, and I'll not have to curb my tongue for your reputation's sake. We would not have been a compatible couple.

* * *

The contact was gone. He no longer sensed her presence and perceptions so sharply. The Bonding was officially dissolved. It is for the best, T'Pring, he thought. You haven't the capacity to act with compassion.

He looked at her, pleased with herself that her plan had worked and Stonn was hers. "Love long and prosper, T'Pring."

He stood, for possibly the last time, on the sand which floored the Koon-ut-Kali-fee. No. "I shall do neither." No mate, which is something of a disgrace at my age, but Sarek would approve. And it is certain that Amanda would. It made no difference now. He would not need one. One brief thought remained for a second, he remembered the gentle pliant responses of Leila. There would never be a match like that for him, especially now. Then the horror returned at full intensity. His anguished human half wanted solace and his guilt demanded reason, but sense of duty pushed him even harder.

* * *

Stonn sat before her, his expression no longer intense and harried. "The decision is mine, T'Pring. You are my property, but from this moment, I release thee."

"That is not logical. You have no other consort, nor are you displeased with me. There is no need..."

"You do not consider everything. Though our trading companies would function well under one ownership, and we are of similar ethical persuasions, I do not intend to offend the Council by making you my full legal consort. And I would not ask you to stay if you were not given that status. It would be beneath you. It has been made quite clear to me by family members that if I do elevate you to that position, my place and rank will be negated. I will cease to exist in family affairs. I will have no business responsibility, no status. That is more than I will suffer. Our marriage would offend both the Council and the Xtmprsqzntwlfb family. You have been responsible for the death of a Starfleet officer. That may not be punishable by our laws, but your name is not spoken with pride among our people. Your choice may have been logical, but it was not moral. You will have to face the consequences of that alone.

"I would have fought honorably for you. But you denied me that option." He left her, alone and regretting the necessity, indeed, the logic of his actions. Reluctantly, he reported her reactions.

* * *

The sparse-haired Vulcan took Stonn's call, then leaned back in his desk chair, expressionless. He did not speak to the woman opposite him, and she had been silent throughout his exchange with Stonn.

"It is done?" Her eyes glinted with fire as she asked.

"It is done. Stonn will dissolve his claim upon her. T'Pring is a free woman."

"There will be no difficulty for your company because of this. We shall see to it. But there must be no more Coryl questions. Without the support of Council, she dare not conduct her arrangements so carelessly. Vulcan's reputation is not to be treated lightly."

"T'Pring was Bonded to Spock because they would have been suited for one another. Council was waiting for the marriage completion and Spock's subsequent interest in her business practices. He would not have permitted the Coryl situation to develop, and T'Pring knew it. If she intended to continue selling such questionable items to Coryl, and other worlds, it was logical to exclude Spock from her future."

The businessman's interest was piqued. "Will Spock be court-martialed by Starfleet? His actions were neither illegal nor immoral, here. And the Captain agreed to the traditional rules."

"Spock," answered the old woman, "will do what he must. He is Vulcan." At that, she left, slowly and with great dignity.

As she rode to her mountain home, far above the desert, she considered this Kirk, he of the clear eyes and willing hand for his friend. Censure for the fact that this human still lives? No, she thought at last. But there should be a protest of some kind lodged because the rules were not formally observed. However, even on Vulcan, that particular kind of violation, unprecedented though it was, did not carry the death penalty. A suitable punishment, then...

* * *

The formal protest finally received by Starfleet read, in part: "Neither this nor his accomplice (the physician) shall ever be permitted to actively accept the challenge again..."