Author's Note: Many moons ago, a reviewer stated that while she liked Catching Fireflies on a MidSummers Eve, she saw no reason why Sarek would be interested in Amanda. So I set out to write a story hoping to show otherwise. It went through a lot starts and stops over a number of years, but here it finally is. The timeline starts with the first section of Catching Fireflies, and then loops between the two stories, seasons and interludes, the exception being the Spring Fireflies Dance directly follows Winter and pre-dates the Spring section of Catching Fireflies. I hope that makes sense and I hope you enjoy….
The Fireflies' Dance
Part One- Summer Interlude
Blackbird singing in the dead of night,
Take these broken wings and learn to fly,
All your life you were only waiting for this moment to arise...*
The expanse of windows ran the length of the reception area, a good 30 feet high and projecting directly into the cloud base. When Amanda arrived a few hours earlier, the clouds had been packed solid below, almost to the planet floor, a wall of gray mist and fog. Leaving her apartment for the conference site, she had thought to bring a umbrell-all, worried that day would prove to be a dreary one despite the forecasts. But up here, miles above the surface, the cloud cover gave leave and the air was clear and bright. With the afternoon well underway, she suspected that soon even the wisps of clouds that rolled across the heights would be gone from below. If she were bold enough to look down from the edge of the floating conference center, eventually she might be able to see through those breaks all the way down to the vast megapolis that spanned the eastern coast. If she were that brave.
Pacing the length of the lobby, she continued to glance gingerly toward the sky fall between the more prolonged glances at her watch. Amanda had only visited the floating conference site once before, and then under the watchful eye of one of her grandmother's staff, restricted to the inner circle of amusement facilities. Back then, at the age of 10, all she had only been interested in racking up a high score furling arrows on the Derry-Dash game. Life had been so much simpler.
Her relief was supposed to have arrived almost an hour ago, and she was getting restless. The symposium had already started when Amanda had arrived and with the exception of checking in a few late stragglers to the conference, there had been not much to do but watch the progress of cloud, sun, and sky. She caught her reflection in one of the vast expanses of ultra-glass, a slender girl, looking much younger than her 19 years,clad in a conservative dark blue tunic and leggings, her hair a mass of unruly brown curls. She tried hard imagining herself as a sophisticated woman of worlds among the various species that wandered about the conference, but it was pretty helpless. Pulling back her shoulders, tilting up her chin, discretely trying to puff out her chest, reflected nothing different in the vast glass windows. None of it seemed to make much of a difference, it was the same Amanda Grayson that was reflected back, a pretty, too young woman, looking all the student that she in fact was.
Did she look all that much different from the 10-year old dashing through the amusement arcade? She thought to herself, sighing in frustration, it was a lost cause. No matter how many times her grandmother would tell her one day she would bless her youthful looks, no one seemed to ever want to take her seriously because of them.
A sudden commotion arose behind her, and Amanda caught her breath, hoping she wouldn't be disappointed and that she would be granted freedom at last. Happily, she looked up to see a tall, rangy, taffy colored blonde come tottering across the floor in heels meant more to impress than to walk in. Her relief had returned, along with two young men caught in conquest, it seemed. There were other games going on at the conference center than Derry-Dash, and not all confined to the Arcade. Absently, Amanda looked down at her own comfortable flats. Dressing to impress would never have occurred to her as an option.
"Jordan, thank you. If I had to wait one more minute," she chastised her fellow volunteer, " and I'll be eating that stack of input discs!"
She watched as Jordan reluctantly moved to settle in behind the desk, the blonde sadly waving goodbye to her entourage. Amanda rolled her eyes at the site, thankful that her watch was now over and it could be passed into other hands. Putting in for a few hours mid-morning working for the Quantum Studies Conference originally seemed a good idea to fill time as classes would not start for another week, but now it had seemed more like a boring waste.
As a senior, she had now qualified for off-campus accommodations and had spent the last week settling into a small studio apartment, organizing and moving things a dozen or more times until everything was just so. When she had exhausted the options in her apartment, she then took to reacquainting herself with every nook and cranny the campus had to offer. Finally, she had gone through the libraries catalogs until her eyes were blurry.
Though she had cherished the idea of living on her own, finally she found she couldn't bear the thought of going back and looking at her four walls for any more than was necessary before the start of classes, so she signed up as an open volunteer for any campus related activities in the next week. At the last minute, opportunity presented itself, with an offer to work at the conference welcome desk. The previously scheduled volunteer had come down with a stomach virus (though Amanda expected it was more like a hangover- she had seen the fellow going into the corner bar far too early the day before) and she had jumped on it. It had occurred to her as a good way to acquaint herself with some of the newer staff members and professors as well as a pleasant diversion. But looking back on the last four hours, it was more like babysitting furniture. Jordan should have been back an hour ago in time for Amanda's shift to end.
"Sorry I took so long, I was just talking to those cute guys and next thing, well you know how it is, lunch was over!"
She wanted to say, no, she didn't know, but held her tongue, "Yours was, but mine is well past due,"
Amanda looked up to see the stream of attendees now coming out of the last panel and sighed. Life was, well, too important to waste on chasing members of the opposite sex and missing lunch because of it. Right now, she was far more interested in experiencing life on her own, no strings, no drama. But first, that lunch.
It had been her plan to grab a quick meal and head back to her apartment on a hopefully near empty shuttle before the conference itself broke for the mid-day meal. Now there was no chance of that. She imagined that most of them would all be heading to the handful of food carts and stalls that lined the conference hall's food court, and then onto packed shuttles. If Jordan hadn't been late, she would have already eaten and avoided this mess. It was certainly a diverse group, she could count a dozen or more different planets represented just with a quick glance. But she expected that after several hours they had one thing in mind no matter what species. Food. At least she did.
Amanda bent down to pick up her bag, "I suspect most of them are done for the day. Just a few general inquires left before..."
"Wait, no! Don't leave yet. I think he's staring at me-" Jordan fluffed her long blonde locks and put on her best pout, "No, don't look. Gods he is good looking..."
"Who?" Amanda stood up quickly and went to turn, but Jordan grabbed her arm stopping her mid spin. She had been through this any number of times with fellow classmates and found it all the same nonsense. Whether it was trying to hook up with someone or figuring out how to snag a beer, none of it made any sense to her and she had little patience for it.
"No, don't turn! Wait he's heading this way! Do you have to go to lunch now? I think that I may have an sudden..."
Amanda didn't need to turn to recognize that voice, though she had only heard it once before, at one of her grandmother's soirees. A black velvet night, filled with the light of fireflies. Biting her lip, she slyly smiled at Jordan, whose mouth had just about hit the floor. For once the tall, stacked blonde had lost out to the short, too young looking brunette.
"Ambassador Sarek, what are you doing here?" She turned and instinctively, she had started to reach out her hand before remembering the proper response and nodded an acknowledgement. She took in her Prince Charming for the moment, tall and dark, dressed in layers of russet and black. If he was here to whisk her away from this god-forsaken table, that was all she required of him.
"I was here to meet a former colleague who is speaking at the conference, but at this moment, I am planning to eat. Is there an suitable vegetarian establishment nearby?"
Amanda took a deep breath, somehow, she suspected that the Ambassador would not be looking to eat at the Ohn-Lee Veggie food cart. She spun the possibilities around in her head...there were a number of higher end establishments on the way to the shuttle port. Fate seemed to have decided that she was not going to be eating anytime soon, so she might as well wait until she was back earth side. It would be worth it to imagine the look on Jordan's face as she escorted the Vulcan ambassador from the conference level.
"Actually, I was heading in that direction myself, I'll be glad to show you the way," Amanda looked up at him smiling. Maybe it wasn't such a wasted day after all- fate had put her here, just where she needed to be.
It wasn't clear to her how she went from directing Sarek to the entrance of the restaurant, to sitting here across from him. One minute she was out there ready to say goodbye, and then somehow, someway, she was being escorted to a table.
RivenSkye was a breath-taking place, a showplace of neo-art nouveau decor. Carpeted in a mossy green, the inner walls where a series of slowly morphing murals, that melded from one lush forest scene to another. The outside clouds now gone, the large windows that framed the outer walls were traced with stained glass foliage glistening in the pure sunlight so high above the earth. Both work ends of the restaurant were hidden by walls of a softly cascading rainfall, the sound of which mixed with bird songs muted by a the use of scattered speakers throughout the deep blue ceiling, itself a rolling mix of sky and cloud. It was an enchanted forest setting to be sure, and she wondered if she had made the right choice. It had been listed as "the" vegetarian fine dining option, but she wondered how it would appear to Vulcan ascetics. Very romantic, very elaborate, and very over the top. Maybe a bit too indulgent...
The waiter appeared as she was taking it all in, dressed in a forest green velvet shirt, she suspected all the better to blend in with his surroundings. He cradled a bottle of wine in the crook of his arm, offering it to Sarek for his approval.
"May I offer the gentle-being a glass ?"
Sarek looked directly at her, and paused for a moment when she did not respond immediately, "Although I do not ordinarily partake, I do understand that many of your people do seem to like to imbibe with their meals."
"Um, " Amanda tried to be as low-key as possible," it's just..."
The waiter immediately cut in, " I believe the young lady would need to have proof of age?"
Sarek turned to face the waiter, a stare to freeze anyone that had the audacity to interrupt or question his dining companion.
"Ambassador, he's right, I'm too young."
"Too young?" The eyebrows raised. This was going to be interesting.
"To drink alcohol. You have to be 21 and I'll only be 20. Next month."
"I see, " His eyes seemed to widen just a touch, "I did not think human had any restrictions on alcohol from what I have experienced. I can think of many much older than you that should be restricted as well due to their lack of... restraint."
"I would like some iced tea, though. Please," She didn't know whether it was the altitude getting to her, but suddenly her mouth felt very dry. Was that sarcasm that she had just heard from a Vulcan or did she imagine it ?
"Sir?" The waiter blinked. Maybe he had be caught off base as well.
"Nothing for me."
The waiter bowed and left with her drink order.
"You are studying the quantum sciences?" He raised his brows with the question. She was trying to take note of what subtleties in his expression that she could, trying to read into them what lack of any real inflection prevented.
"Well, from the philosophical standpoint I am. I'm not much for scientific thought," she laughed at this raised brow, "Is that unheard of then, someone being interested in approaching these theories on a non-scientific basis?"
"If we view everything from the exact same perspective, there would be little diversity of thought, would there not? Indeed, the ability to approach an idea or theory from different disciplines allows new lines of thought and conjecture as we view it from an alternative mind frame. It is how new theories and lines of study evolve."
"Do you approve then?"
"Philosophy is a noble line of study. "
He seemed to be amused. Was it just the play of light on his face that gave it animation? Or was she imagining it?
"That would be my first choice, but there's not a lot of call for philosophers these days, so right now it's a minor. I'm majoring in education."
"Teaching in a noble profession as well, " He nodded and lifted those brows of his again. They were like dark wings hovering over the strong planes of his face. Then suddenly the light was caught within his deep-set eyes. She expected them to be dark brown or even black, but as tilt of his head raised them to hers, she realized they were in fact flecked through with green and gold. Odd the fact that his eyes were not what they seemed to be on a cursory glance. It caught her off guard.
She paused for a moment, composing her thoughts again, "And maybe, if I'm lucky I could someday become a philosophy professor and bring them together. Or write a book and make lots of money and not have to worry about it all! Fat chance of course that would happen."
"Chance. Low odds that I could make a living on it. Mostly philosophy majors end up doing something totally unrelated to their degrees- like working in coffee shops!"
"It would seem that humans have little respect for the pursuit of knowledge for it's own sake. On my world, there is value in simply lending one's life to a course of study."
She thought about this for a beat, her eyes catching the play of stained glass on his large, well-shaped hands, its graceful fingers absently tracing the embossed leaves on the table cloth. Was there anything physically about this man that was not attractive? For a moment, she imagined what if she were that sophisticated woman of the worlds that she had wished she were back before the wall of glass. She imagined that Amanda might have a chance here, not the little mouse of a student, not the child of a child of an old friend.
"And how do they support themselves?," she finally responded, " Are you all independently wealthy? You have to be able to make a living!"
"There is no greater goal than to continue to learn and grow. We believe the pursuit of knowledge should, no matter the discipline, be it science, art, philosophy or metaphysics, whatever course of study one desires, an individual should be supported by society."
"Which is why an ambassador is at a symposium on comparative quantum theories?"
"Indeed. Before I became a diplomat, I was an astrophysicist."
Amanda titled her head, wondering just how that evolution would have occurred, "That's an odd combination. How did you manage that shift?"
"I never gave up one for the other, I merely changed their priorities. I consider myself to be both . My personal interest is in the sciences, but talent and training, along with family obligations, eventually shifted my main focus to government and the diplomatic corp. But I have never abandoned my scientific studies."
The arrival of the tea made them aware that the waiter had once again appeared, patiently standing by them, waiting for their order. They hadn't even bothered to look at the menu, but all it took now was a swift scan.
"You go ahead. I'm fine with the tea," she nodded at her companion and took a long sip, grateful for what she hoped were the unlimited refills to fill her growling stomach. One glance at the menu and it was immediately flagged as not one her meager student pocketbook would have afforded. Her grandmother helped her financially, but she made sure to avoid any extravagance.
"You are not eating?"
"It is not good to go without nourishment. You yourself spoke of needing to have 'lunch'."
"Well, to tell you the truth," She felt very sheepish admitting her shortfall, " I had expected to eat out at the food cart on the corner- that's more within my budget."
Had the crease between his impressive brows deepened or was she just imagining it? Either way, he didn't seem inclined to allow her time to answer.
"You will order. I will pay."
Half-heartedly, she had though to protest, but suddenly she felt intimidated. Very intimidated, in fact. It was not an offer, it seemed more of a command. Amanda had not felt this way in his presence earlier- had a switch been turned on somewhere? She supposed this had to be a very effective tool in his line of work. Make the opponent feel comfortable, then bam!
Again, he raised the brows, waiting.
"I'll have the fresh herbed risotto with sun-dried tomatoes," Reluctantly, she acquiesced.
"Massaman curry, and make sure that is is sufficiently spiced."
She smiled timidly as the waiter walked away, wondering what level of spice was considered sufficient. Maybe the cook just plugged in "Vulcan" in the computer and was told how hot or not to make it. At any rate, the waiter didn't ask for further instructions
"Your grandmother, is she not aware of this lack of funds?"
"Goodness no, she has enough on her plate just paying my tuition here!" Louisa Saint had insisted on her granddaughter getting the best education she could afford, from Swiss boarding school to major university. There was not going to be any temptation for this one to take off for parts unknown with the excuse of getting a paid-for education.
"You must pay to attend school?" Oddly, to her mind, this seemed to truly puzzle him and he seemed to straighten his already upright posture even more.
"Well, if you go the community college route, no. But if you go to a major university like this one, you pay- a lot."
"Again, I cannot understand the low value that you seem to imply that humans place on education and study. No student should lack due to a shortage of funds. Indeed, no student should be called on to fund an education. It should be seen as an investment in society's future."
"If you were a politician here, you'd be strung up!" There was a twinkle of mischief in her eyes and she laughed. It was funny how one culture could be advanced on one side and naive on the other.
"You would never have lasted in public affairs. Too revolutionary, too socialistic viewpoint. Imagine free university education!" She shook her head.
"The more I know of humans, the less I understand," He seemed to sigh, but she wasn't sure. Frustration, maybe?
"But you must eat. And I do insist upon paying."
Her small studio apartment was in some ways already proving too much of a luxury. The gift of a nice meal in a decent restaurant, was not to be overlooked. And in repeating himself, it softened the effect. This time it seemed less a command than an offer.
"Alright, but you have to agree to let me find a way to return the favor one day."
As if on cue, the waiter arrived with their meals. It smelled delicious and tasted even better. Amanda had wondered if RivenSky's reputation was built on atmosphere more than cuisine, but it seemed that one out did the other. Unsure of Vulcan etiquette where meals were concerned, she spent the next few minutes silently enjoying her choice. But Amanda was uncomfortable with having any silence hanging too long- she was brought up in a household where dinner conversation was always lively. She took the plunge, after all he was on earth, he should be expected to follow the local customs.
"Do Vulcan theories on quantum physics vary from ours? Do you think the we are, for example, a fixed point in a succession of universes?"
"Many things vary and many things agree. But it is the nature of the quantum field, is it not? Ever changing, ever shifting. And that is the nature of existence- change."
This was a surprising response. Humans had been told that Vulcans were a stagnant and inflexible species, and here she had found one that seemed to indicate otherwise. Like his eyes, he was not what he seemed to be at first glance...
"Did you attend Dr. Too Lak's shifting multiverses panel this morning. What do you think of his theories?"
"That strings of alternate universes splinter at a major axis only? It certainly would seem preferable to every action resulting in the creation of a new 'universe' as some of your scientists would have it. "
She pursed her lips for a few seconds, composing her next question, blue eyes sparkling mischievously, "Well, do you think , for example, that say we always meet in each string of time and place? It was a string of seemingly random choices that brought me here today. "
Like the proverbial waiter, she had caught him with his mouth full. No problem, she could forge on, "Am I talking too much? Please let me know if I am making a fool of myself here."
"Youthful..enthusiasm... is always to be ... appreciated, " The eyebrows raised again and he restrained himself from the next bite. To be prepared, she supposed.
"I'm glad you approve, 'cause I'm apt to ramble at times. It's just that I find the philosophical implications of quantum theory, well, fascinating. I have to wonder if our meeting this afternoon been truly a matter of chance, occurring only in this line of existence, this pin-prick in the multiverses' web, never to be repeated again? I was not scheduled to be at that meeting until this morning, and if my relief had not been late coming back from her lunch, I would never have run into you."
"Met up with you in that hallway."
Sarek looked at her for a long moment before responding, "I was scheduled for a meeting with the Denebian Ambassador this morning, which was cancelled last evening. Dr. Too Lak is an old acquaintance and I took the opportunity to take in one of his lectures when my schedule was freed."
That was a surprise, that neither of them were where they had expected to be today, and Amanda plunged in a little more, "Do you think that outcome always be the result-will our meeting always be the same? Or does the result shift? Where does the parallel effect end and a new one begin?"
"No one theory has yet to be proven regarding strings of universes and where they diverge, " It was half an answer and she knew it. Ever the diplomat he did not want to commit yet. Maybe he was trying to read her as much as she was trying to read him.
"I'm no scientist, so the theoretical doesn't hold much for me- that is, it's not important to me on how one gets to the idea or proves the theory, but rather what one does with it when it gets there. What it means to the daily essence of our lives. It's that end game that I want to delve into- the effect on thoughts and actions on each of those layers of existence. I want to see where it all takes me, I suppose."
"These are indeed deep thoughts for one so young."
She looked at him for a long moment, wondering what 'so young' was in relationship to how old he was. Surely he looked to be no more than his mid-thirties, but she knew he was older still. Was he in his forties? Could he be possibly in his fifties? His age was a mask, a fact she supposed that could be said of him as a whole. And she wondered if there were any way to get behind that facade, to see what was really going on...
"I would think that, if one is given to believe in multiverses," Sarek took a long look a out into the distant sky before he responded, "If there were a succession of Sareks, then maybe that at least some of them would be gifted with meeting their universe's version of Amanda Grayson. And only time will tell what direction each will take with that in their lives. I, for one, have much to think about regarding the values of Terran society and education.,"
As if on signal, he removed a small device from within the folds of his tunic. The sound that it was gave off was barely perceptible once he had brought it out from it's hiding place, and she wondered that he had been able to hear it at all. He barely glanced at it before motioning to the waiter for their check and rising.
"And now, Ms. Grayson, while I am most appreciative of the diversion of the afternoon, my staff indicates I am needed elsewhere. Please give my regards to your grandmother," He signaled for the check and rose, signing it as the waiter rushed along side him, not giving a moment's thought to stopping.
Amanda watched him as he moved through the crowded room, people standing aside like parting waters, as if on command. Stretching her neck, from her vantage point by the window, she could see a limo had pulled up to the private port. And in a flash he was gone again.
She sighed. He was certainly handsome in a dark and dangerous way, and probably double her age. She had felt what it was like to be intimidated by him, and she supposed some people would even be afraid of him. But underneath all the show there was a quiet, reassuring grace hidden by the imperious air. He was a coin to be flipped to show either face, yet which, if either, was the real one, she wondered?
If he weren't an Ambassador, if he weren't a Vulcan, if he weren't so much older, she might have finally found a man who was worth being interested in. Maybe the fairy tale setting of RivenSkye had cast its spell upon her and made her think such things were possible, if only for a moment.
But that was the stuff of fantasies, wasn't it?
She finished her meal, quietly, with only that vast sky for company, And when Amanda got up to leave the restaurant, she was unaware of the the glances and nods in her way. Even less aware of any whispered conversations that might have occurred after she left . Part of her was already on her way to the shuttle port and her apartment, and the other, well, maybe in some other universe another Amanda Grayson was in that limo that was racing back to who could be sure where or whom...
And for Sarek's part, that evening, despite his best efforts, his mediation was haunted by eyes the color of ha'lei'ha flowers...
*Blackbird by Lennon and McCartney