A dry warm breeze drifted through the common room window, warning Picard that Vulcan's sunrise was not far away. He and Data had arrived the week before to report to the High Council on the attempt at reunification between the Vulcans and the Romulans of almost two years ago, and had spent long days not only with the High Council but also at the Vulcan Science Academy with the department of Romulan Studies. Today was their first day free of official obligations, but Picard struggled not to slump in his meditation chair, wondering if he had the energy even to walk out to the landcar in Vulcan's heat and gravity. Data, in contrast, calmly (and coolly) sat at the commnet screen and read off a list of the day's events of general interest.
" . . . and a symposium regarding the collaborative dance works of T'Fav and T'Minan, with demonstration. Open days. It is an open day at the healing herb garden, the largest of its kind in this quadrant, with tours every hour. It is an open day at Sukhov Studio, with the artist in residence. It is an open day at s'Shar, an archaeological site—"
Picard straightened, interested in spite of himself. Data caught the movement in his peripheral vision and called up the full announcement, reading,
"s'Shar, an archaeological site administered by the Vulcan Science Academy, will be open for one day only. Tour of the site. Lecture by Dr. P.Y. Edwards, Master of Pre-Reform Vulcan Studies. Excavation, lab work, hands-on participation in what could prove to be a breakthrough in the understanding of Vulcan evolution." Data raised his eyebrows and commented, "Interesting that a human would be in charge of a department at the Vulcan Science Academy."
But Picard's mind was elsewhere. "A breakthrough in the understanding of Vulcan evolution," he murmured, fascinated. "Excavation, hands-on participation—Mr. Data, what an opportunity!"
"I take it you have made up your mind."
"Yes, I believe I have."
The meeting room in the main building at s'Shar was small, perhaps a dozen chairs in a semi-circle facing a holographic projection table. Picard sat down between a Betazoid male and an Andorian female.
A Human female in her mid-age, of average height and regal bearing, came forward. "Let us begin, shall we?" she asked. Picard noted that her long reddish-gold hair was bound simply, at the nape of her neck, her plain tunic and trousers were a pale rose color, and she wore no ornamentation except for a large, rectangular, black onyx ring with a Vulcan character like a signet across its face. She looked vaguely familiar to him but he couldn't quite place her. "I am Doctor Edwards. On behalf of the Vulcan Science Academy and the Department of Pre-Reformation Studies, welcome. Your presence honors us."
She turned on the holo-projector and displayed an aerial view of s'Shar and Picard straightened, for the moment giving up trying to connect the doctor to a past crew member or acquaintance and concentrating intently on the holograph. "As you are probably aware," Doctor Edwards went on in a clear, deliberate voice, "s'Shar is the site of some of the most spectacular finds on Vulcan—no small honor, since archaeological conditions all over the planet are ideal. But here at this site are the finds that have contributed most to the understanding of Vulcan's physical anthropology. You will recall the first find—" She bent over the holograph, zeroed in on a point. "—the now famous V'kii bones—"
Doctor Edward's discussion, technical and detailed, absorbed Picard's full attention. He took notes and observed the map and pictures of the finds closely until he felt he actually had worked at the site for many years. Doctor Edwards turned off the holo-projector and staff members started filing in at the front of the meeting room.
Picard realized there were only two Vulcans among the staff and one in the audience and registered for the first time Data's comment about a Human in charge of a department at the Vulcan Science Academy. He looked more intently at Doctor Edwards as she explained, "Today we hope to share with you what we believe we have found at level nine, the deepest we have excavated to date—"
She had to be an extraordinary woman, Picard mused, to have risen to such a high level of academic responsibility on Vulcan, and to be so committed to Vulcan culture and evolution . . . . She must have sensed his scrutiny because her gaze, a blue that was almost grey, was piercing as she looked back at him—piercing, and unmistakably familiar.
"—we have not been able to confirm our findings as there is still some clean-up work to be done but, of course, this is where your help will come in—" she continued, as Picard struggled to place her. Hadn't he seen that ring before? And her features, so at peace yet intent, earnest. So like and yet so unlike—
She concluded, "—I hope you will find our record here at s'Shar—satisfactory," looking directly at Picard, and he sat bolt upright in recognition of the phrase and of her.
Each person in the audience paired off with a staff member for a tour of the site. Picard held back and finally he was left with Doctor P.Y. Edwards, who smiled at him, saying, "Captain—" At the friendly shake of his head she amended, "Jean-Luc. It's so good to see you again."
Picard smiled back, held out his hands to Sarek's widow. "Perrin. What a pleasant, pleasant surprise."
"When I married Sarek I gave up my administrative and research duties to be able to travel with him," she explained as they left the main building and walked to the edge of the site which lay like the large, dark red maw of an even darker, redder beast—Vulcan's stark desert landscape—before them. "I resumed my teaching only a year ago and just recently I was chosen to be master of the department again."
Picard slowed his pace, matching her more measured step. "Congratulations on your posting," he told her.
"Thank you," she accepted with a nod.
"I must apologize for my obtuseness in not recognizing you sooner," Picard said. "I'm usually much better at recognizing faces, but—"
"You were distracted," Perrin stated goodnaturedly, and Picard was surprised by the amusement in her voice. "I saw the rapt attention on your face," she went on. "Actually, I counted on your fascination with archaeology to bring you here. I maneuvered the tour of the site to coincide with your 'free' day and hoped that you would come. I could think of no other way to contact you without violating Vulcan etiquette or my own sense of propriety. It's not as if I have any claim on your acquaintance."
"You have the greatest claim of all, Perrin."
She stood still and considered his softly-spoken compliment. Then she told him frankly, "Sarek always spoke very highly of you, Jean-Luc, and he trusted you above all other men. I can't help but feel that same esteem although I don't really know you."
Caught off-guard by her straightforwardness as well as her humor, he tried to remember the Perrin he had met only twice before, once aboard the Enterprise during the Legaran diplomatic mission and again on Vulcan just before Sarek died of Bendaii Syndrome. Neither set of memories accounted for the person he was talking to now. But he began to understand that what he had perceived on their previous meetings as her personal gravity—her careful movements, her clear and deliberate speech, her measured gestures and gait—was an effect of Vulcan's physical gravity, stronger than Earth's, and Vulcan's heat and dry, thin air. Such physical responses as hers to a planet's environment could indeed mask a sense of humor. And of all the years she had lived on Vulcan and of all the Vulcans she had lived among, her husband Sarek had been the most scrupulously straightforward ambassador the Federation had ever known.
Picard said slowly, wanting to match her honesty and realizing what he felt as he expressed it, "I too feel—as if I know you, as if I should be very close to you, but I don't have that right."
"Nor do I have that right with you." She appeared gratified by their exchange and continued to walk, saying, "Both times we've been together haven't been the best of times for me, Jean-Luc. Those were times of personal crisis for me, I revealed so much of who I am to you, and yet we don't really know each other, not in a conventional sense, at all. I would like to rectify that."
"As would I." They looked at each other. "Well, what would you suggest?" Jean-Luc asked, looking so ingenuous Perrin covered her mouth to stifle a laugh.
"Pardon me, Jean-Luc. It's just that I don't have the slightest idea what to talk about now. And for a moment there you looked just like—" She stopped herself, not finishing her sentence.
"Well," Picard said, pleased at their rapport and covering for her hesitation, "I think what most people do is talk about themselves."
"Is it that simple?"
"Well, I would like to know what you have been doing since we saw each other last—" He spread his hands matter-of-factly, indicating the site with its guide-roped grid and signs marked in Federation Standard, Vulcan and two other languages. "—and it seems to encompass over a million years of Vulcan evolution. I think that's a start."
The thin clouds overhead were just starting to lose their bright orange tinge as they moved higher in the sky, away from sunrise. Perrin shielded her eyes and peered down into the excavated area, then turned to him decisively. "Then let me show you level nine, and what happens when a group of nomadic Vulcans crosses a plain between two closely spaced eruptions of a volcano." Picard's eyes lit up with excitement and he followed Perrin down into s'Shar.
"I can't tell you how it feels to see, to touch, the evidence that Vulcans walked bipedally thousands of years earlier than previously thought," Picard said enthusiastically as they walked back to the main building before the midday heat and light became unbearable.
She smiled at his declaration. "It's good to hear what's in your voice—it so matches my own feelings," she told him. "I was an ambassador's wife for many, many years, Jean-Luc. But this—" She turned back, indicated all of s'Shar. "—is my first love."
"I seem to recall seeing the name 'P.Y. Edwards' on a paper about s'Shar not too long ago. Not about level nine, of course, but some other—"
"The Ajrast remains," she supplied, pleased that he was familiar with her work.
Picard said in recognition, "Ajrast. The leg bones with the striations on the—please, you must tell me about that, it must have been so exciting for you!"
They walked into the main building, where some of the staff and guests helped themselves at refreshment tables or examined the lab facilities.
Perrin led the way to a table and they sat down. "It was exciting to me, unspeakably so," she confided to him. "When we realized the implications of the striations the muscles left on the bones, I could hardly contain myself. But it wasn't exciting to the Vulcans at the dig. And that had nothing to do with being logical and controlling your emotions. If anyone feels the exhilaration of a successful scientific endeavor, it's a Vulcan." She went on thoughtfully, "For all of their adherence to tradition, they really don't have any curiosity about their origins. And I think that's because it reminds them of their violent past, of what they had to overcome."
"Is that why—and I don't mean to be rude by asking—why there are so few Vulcans at s'Shar?"
"It is not rude when the observation is correct," Perrin said simply. "Neither Romulan studies nor pre-reform Vulcan studies are terribly popular with the citizens here, because of their links with the past. Dr. Shira, a good friend of mine and the master of Romulan studies whom you've been meeting with since you arrived—" Picard nodded in recognition. "—is one of the few Vulcans who has made one of these fields his life's work. The rest is up to offworlders like me."
"If I weren't a Starfleet officer, I'd become one of those offworlders—" He snapped his fingers. "—just like that. That is, of course, if you'd have me."
"Well, if zeal counted for anything . . . " They smiled warmly at each other. Then Perrin, as if she were uncomfortable with the emotion between them, shook herself and said, changing topics, "Actually, it's because this is a field studied mostly by offworlders that Sarek and I met. s'Shar—"
She interrupted herself with a cough, her throat dry. Picard quickly mixed her a drink from the pitchers on the table. She gratefully accepted the glass he offered and took a sip. "Thank you, Jean-Luc. I sometimes forget that if I do nothing but talk when the heat—" She stopped herself again. "Fruit juice and soda water," she murmured, looking at the glass, and then at the variety of pitchers to choose from.
"Is something the matter?" he asked. "Perhaps plain water?"
"No, I—soda water and cehena juice is my favorite drink, I just wonder how you . . . " She trailed off, masking her slight frown with a shake of her head. "We were speaking of?"
"s'Shar, and how you and Sarek met," Jean-Luc supplied, noticing that her eyes had turned an Earth-sky blue and feeling uneasy.
"Yes," she said determinedly. "Sarek had been called back to the embassy on Vulcan. He liked to come to our department, attend our events because he wanted always to remember who it was he worked with and among: offworlders. I was giving a lecture about the Ajrast remains—"
"Yes," Jean-Luc broke in, remembering, "You were wearing—"
Perrin looked at him oddly. Jean-Luc had a vision in his mind that couldn't possibly be his, of approaching a young light-haired woman after a lecture in a large hall, of looking down into stern eyes and making those eyes light with a smile. Jean-Luc couldn't think how to end the sentence any other way and let it hang, finishing lamely, "Sarek remembered it vividly."
Perrin nodded, starting to pale. "I thought I was imagining it," she said softly. "When we were talking this morning and you said, 'What would you suggest?' you made me laugh because you looked so much like Sarek when he used to tease me," she told him. She set her drink down carefully before she said, "You sweetened the soda water with cehena juice the way Sarek knew I liked it." Her frown reflected more than puzzlement, it also held uncertainty. "What is it?" she asked. "Have you—when you and Sarek performed the mind meld so he could complete his mission with the Legarans, did you—"
"I don't know," he admitted, at a loss for his behavior, the flash of memory that wasn't his. "It's been several years since then, and I have never—"
She straightened and seemed to wrap a mental cloak around herself, and Picard suddenly realized why he hadn't recognized her when he'd first arrived. Now she looked as he had remembered her aboard the Enterprise, and even when he'd seen her on Vulcan over a year ago. Now she was all careful control and diplomatic presence stilling something deep inside her. But when he had first seen her this morning she had been truly at ease, serene, centered.
Her emotions transformed her already strong features, showed in eyes as changeable as Earth's seas. And at the same time that Picard was fascinated by their color, now a green-grey, he felt afraid of that fascination, as if it might not really be his but Sarek's, and he wished for his own mental cloak as he looked at her across only a table and knew she had already removed herself a hundred times that distance from him.
"I must impose on your good graces, Jean-Luc," she said with a small smile. "You will excuse me? I—"
"No, no—it's quite all right, Perrin—" Picard wanted to forestall any excuse she might feel compelled to tell him, but Perrin's eyes, he suddenly realized, weren't reserved. They were sad.
"I am grateful for this morning," she told him. "But I must think about what this means. I have missed Sarek greatly but I do not want to seek him in you since this might be the only chance to come to know you."
A sudden realization stunned Picard. All this time he had carried two conflicting memories of Perrin—his own, and Sarek's. Just one instance was that Perrin had spent most of the Legaran mission hiding the truth about Sarek's condition not just from Picard but from herself as well, which contradicted Sarek's memories of someone more clear-seeing than that. But now Picard saw the Perrin that Sarek had loved so well. She was the person who had frankly sought a starship captain's acquaintance today—she was even the person who had come to him to beg for her husband's career despite either her pride or Sarek's. She was indeed a woman who could look inside and acknowledge what mattered to her, beyond any personal considerations whatsoever.
Picard felt as if he were only now beginning to understand her and he struggled with the new knowledge, but he managed to say, "Then I will take this opportunity to think on this as well."
"Please stay as long as you wish, and visit again if you find yourself without obligation elsewhere. You will always be my guest." She arose quickly and left the room.
When Picard and Data returned to their lodgings that night, Data bid the captain good night and went to his room to work on his official and personal logs as well as various reports to Starfleet, the Science Academy and the High Council while Picard went to the common room. After several hours had passed, Data realized that the part of his mind which registered environmental noises had not heard the captain preparing for bed and he arose to see if Picard had fallen asleep elsewhere in the small house or otherwise required assistance.
Data's golden eyes could see clearly into the common room even though the old-fashioned stone lamp on the table had burned low. He stood in the doorway and scanned the captain in a meditation chair. Picard was apparently staring at an eye-level point on the wall opposite. A bound portfolio of original watercolor renderings of varieties of a native root plant lay flat on his lap as if forgotten.
"Captain," Data said as softly as he could, but Picard looked up, startled, anyway.
"Mr. Data," he finally acknowledged, sitting up straighter and looking down as he closed the book, avoiding the android's bright eyes. "It's getting late."
"Yes, sir," Data acknowledged noncommittally.
"What time is it?" he asked, putting the book next to the lamp on the table.
"Ship time or planet time?"
"Ah . . . never mind." Picard looked abstractedly at the designs on the room's rugs while Data continued to regard him in silence.
When Picard had made no move to rise or speak for five minutes, Data took it upon himself to offer, as he thought Counselor Troi would, "Sometimes, Captain, it helps to talk about it."
"What?" Picard glanced hard at the android's outline in the common room's doorway. "Mr. Data—"
"I am concerned that you are not experiencing a regular pattern of sleep tonight," he said in simple explanation. "We have a full agenda for tomorrow and sleep is essential for humans to function efficiently, especially REM-type sleep, as was proved conclusively when we encountered the Tyken's rift on stardate—"
Data leaped to the next part of his explanation. "When humans have difficulty going to sleep and that difficulty is not related to physical causes such as a gastrointestinal disorder or the pain after a bone is—"
Data started again farther along in his discourse. "It is commonly caused by mental preoccupation, such as worry, fear, expectation, apprehension, regret—"
"Data," Picard fairly growled.
"Is there anything I can do to help?" Data asked, truncating his whole reasoning process and turning innocent eyes on his commanding officer.
At the question, Picard visibly gave up bristling and heaved a sigh, too fatigued to resent Data's concern. The android took this as a signal to move into the room and sit in the chair facing Picard. Data stated, "I regret that I do not have Counselor Troi's empathic abilities, but I listen with great attention—if all you need is an ear to fold."
Picard thought briefly before he corrected with a half-smile, "Bend. Ear to bend, Data."
"Bend," Data repeated, sitting with perfect posture in a chair meant to support a relaxed body. When Picard again would not speak, Data asked, "Would a leading question help, such as, 'Does this have to do with your day at s'Shar?'"
"In a way, yes."
"Ah. 'Does this have to do—'"
"No, I meant—yes to—yes, it does have to do with what happened at s'Shar, that's what I meant." Picard bowed his head and rubbed his hand tiredly across his eyes.
"What happened at s'Shar?" Data asked, being helpful.
Picard looked up at Data slantwise and, deciding he really had no one else to talk to, he sat back in his chair and told Data about meeting Perrin. Then he said, "When Ambassador Sarek performed the mind-meld on me, we became privy to each other's thoughts, each other's memories and feelings and he became a part of me, indelibly. I haven't—accessed that part of who I am for a long time, because it simply never came up. At s'Shar, when we—I found . . . " Picard sat forward, willing Data to understand his dilemma, "I felt that I was acting as myself, as Jean-Luc Picard, but Perrin told me that there was a drink Sarek always fixed for her and I made her that drink without thinking. I said something in a way she recognized as Sarek teasing her. And there was this scene in my mind, so vivid I started to share it with Perrin and then I realized that it wasn't my memory at all. It had to be Sarek's memory of when he first met Perrin."
Data said, "I am curious about that scene in your mind. Has such a sudden, vivid memory that you realize is not yours occurred to you before?"
Picard considered, then shook his head. "No. That's why it was so astonishing when it did happen."
"Possibly Perrin's presence had some influence on you."
"Undoubtably, Mr. Data. But whether she is or isn't some sort of trigger isn't what concerns me. I am still, essentially, inviolably, Jean-Luc Picard. I say that, but I don't know if I believe that anymore. Sarek's memories, associations, are those what are driving me now, or is it me? Can I ever be sure of that again?
"And Perrin is . . . a woman worth coming to know," Picard continued. "She was very frank with me today and at the same time so gracious. And that is why I don't want to—cause her discomfort, or hurt her by reminding her of her dead husband. But how can I possibly determine what actions would cause her discomfort when I don't know who I am?"
After a suitable pause, Data told him solemnly, "It is commonly recommended that the person listening offer to share his or her own personal experience in order to create a bond between the listener and speaker, and I now offer to provide an instance of a situation analogous to yours."
Picard, amused at Data's counselor-by-the-book approach, laced his fingers together and gave Data his full attention.
"The combined knowledge of all the colonists on Omicron Theta, the planet where I was created, were stored in my memory," the android began. "That information is forever a part of me, but it does not 'interfere' with my functioning because it has been there from the very beginning. I have never known a time without its presence. In addition, my programmed heuristics are such that, if—" he paused to think of an example, remembered Tasha Yar, "—for instance, a person were to tell me that something did not happen, although the information would still exist I can 'forget' the incident by making it inaccessible. I say our experiences are analogous, not similar, because although to me knowledge and memories, since they are both information gained, are equivalent although not strictly so, for Humans a memory is specifically that information gained which has an emotional element. Also, we have different mechanisms whereby we manage our information.
"Now the listener, by stating what he or she would do in a situation similar to that of the original speaker, offers an instance of empathy. Although I cannot feel empathy, I can conjecture my behavior if such a situation were to occur," Data went on when Picard, far from interrupting, seemed very interested. "If it were indeed possible for a Vulcan to perform a mind meld on an android, I believe I do have the heuristics to keep the information gained from the mind meld separate from the information existing before the mind meld. But I would not choose to do so because from previous experience I realize that the information gained from every colonist on Omicron Theta is a part of me and my acceptance of that is what makes me who I am.
"Unlike me, you do not have an option. You cannot separate that which is Picard from that which is Sarek, and it is futile for you as a humanoid to try. Although you sense that Sarek's memories are interfering with how you function as Jean-Luc Picard, you have already stated that you feel Sarek is a part of you. Therefore, your acceptance of Sarek's memories will make you, inviolably, Jean-Luc Picard.
"One is the sum total of one's experiences, Captain, and for you that includes what happened through that mind meld."
Picard's eyes were withdrawn as he considered what Data had said. Then, still not looking at the android, Picard said softly, "There was another mind meld. It was not as—intimate as that between me and Sarek, but again it made me privy to information—"
"The one between you and Ambassador Spock," Data supplied.
The captain nodded. "Ambassador Spock does not intend to return to Vulcan, nor can he risk communication with the Federation in any way. I am the only communication possible between Spock and Perrin now. I know from my mind meld with Spock that he wished there were some way to explain to Perrin his actions, his reasons, his—feelings towards her and Sarek. And when I last saw Perrin over two years ago, she felt very strongly that Spock was wrong to leave Vulcan when Sarek was dying. I could be the instrument of their understanding. I just—don't know if I should be that instrument, or even how to go about it."
Picard sighed heavily. "Perrin told me she was reluctant to make my acquaintance merely as an agent of Sarek's presence and that she wanted to get to know me. But it seems that the two are intertwined, and I cannot help that. And I do not know if Perrin even wants to hear about Spock after all this time—"
"At this point, I believe, the listener turns the discussion outward, towards action," Data observed. "The first action is, of course, that you get your rest—" Picard looked heavenward at the suggestion, but oddly felt relaxed now, as he hadn't since Perrin had left the table at s'Shar, "—and the second action is defined by the problem, that of not knowing what the other person wants or thinks. Arrange a time to ask the other person, and your course of action will be correct."
"Ask Perrin," Picard said slowly. "Just—ask her if she is uncomfortable around me because of my association with Sarek, and ask her if she would like information regarding Sarek's son."
A notice posted on the commnet the next day stated that anyone who had come to the orientation at s'Shar the day before was welcome to participate in further activities. Picard took this as Perrin's way of letting him know that he was indeed welcome back. But there were other reasons he was on Vulcan, and he needed to attend to them before he could see Sarek's widow again.
"The 'gallery' appears larger today," Picard commented as he and Lt. Commander Data entered the High Council meeting room the next day with Dr. Shira, the master of Romulan studies, referring to the audience that came to listen to the daily Council proceedings.
Dr. Shira, who had become the Starfleet officers' unofficial liaison with the High Council by temperament and inclination, led Picard and Data through the gallery to their seats and then looked up at Picard. He was a short, rotund man with black hair liberally streaked with gray and large, liquid dark brown eyes that had always shown as much genial humor as a Vulcan was allowed in polite company. Today, his eyes held a hint of apprehension. "That is because your report regarding your mission to the Romulan homeworld is concluded," Shira told him. "Today begins the questioning."
"The questioning," Picard repeated, hearing an importance behind the two words he wasn't sure he understood.
"It is the chance for not just the Council, but concerned Vulcan citizenry, to put questions to you and Commander Data. And I am afraid that there are those Vulcan citizens who do not believe that reunification with our Romulan kin is wise. Or desirable."
"We have come merely to report. We can make no recommendations, Doctor," Data pointed out.
Shira gestured for them to sit. "Of course," he agreed with the android. "And of course you would not be here at all had not the High Council asked you to come." After seeing them settled, the Vulcan sat down heavily in his seat carved out of rock, sighing before he pointed out, "But there is no 'of course' when it comes to Vulcan sentiment. To some, the fact of your mission to the Romulan homeworld and your presence now are recommendation enough."
Picard nodded, and then looked straight ahead. Despite the heat of Vulcan's morning and the weight of his dress uniform, he suddenly felt a chill he was at a loss to explain. It wasn't just that he recalled Perrin's explanation of why few Vulcans were interested in Romulan or pre-reform Vulcan studies, although that fact would contribute to an—interesting questioning.
It wasn't even that only a handful of people in the Federation knew of the attempt at reunification between Vulcans and Romulans and that those people felt that such an issue should be put to Vulcan first, agreeing with Starfleet to let Picard and Data make their findings known in order that Vulcan be able to make an informed decision and only after Vulcan had spoken, letting the Federation as a whole enter the debate. Although, as Data had stated, they could make no recommendation, the way the Starfleet officers responded to the questioning could influence how Vulcan viewed reunification. Picard knew he had to be careful to remain absolutely neutral, but that had been his concern from the beginning of their assignment to Vulcan.
There was something else, some other consideration that was filling his mind with an uneasiness that threatened to turn into dread, as if the weight of all of Vulcan rested on his shoulders. A hot breeze swept through the room as the large double doors rolled aside for one last Council member and Picard shivered.
The room was called to order. The first questions, initially from the Council and then gradually from the gallery, put politely and sensibly, were informational, asked out of curiosity. But Picard, although he answered to the best of his ability, could not relax, his mind constantly in a turmoil he struggled to place. As time went on and the questions became more probing and incisive Picard's apprehension rose and he traded glances with the android, then looked at Dr. Shira, eyebrow slightly raised, in what had become their signal that they wanted a short recess.
Shira smoothly broke into the proceedings and escorted Picard and Data to one of the small meeting rooms off the main Council chamber.
When they were alone, Picard unexpectedly began to pace around the stone conference table in the middle of the meeting room as he asked, "Mr. Data, does it seem to you that the discussion today is having less and less to do with the information we can give the Council and more and more to do with Vulcan politics?"
Data stood calmly near the closed door and answered, "That is my perception." Then, as if wanting to check his insight with the captain, "Is it your opinion that we should exit the proceedings at this point?" Picard didn't answer, but continued to pace. Data watched him, one part of his mind as always monitoring Picard's pulse, breath rate, body temperature and angle of posture, but he was pleased that he didn't need to consult any of those facts in order to know the Human was distracted, almost agitated. He asked carefully, "Captain, are you all right?"
"No, I'm not," Picard admitted frankly. "The longer I stood in the Council chamber, listening to those questions, trying to answer them, the more I—" He stopped, his forehead creased in a frown as he tried to sort his thoughts.
It was a long moment before he resumed his pacing and said slowly, "Mr. Data, people talk about feeling 'torn' between two sides of an issue and they use the word as a metaphor, as physical imagery of a mental process. But I must tell you that I've never felt so strongly about two courses of action before. I feel—literally torn! It was a physical struggle to stay calm and impartial under the questioning from the gallery. I could feel my jaw tightening, my fists starting to clench because I was actually on the verge of joining them in debate, I—"
"Between which two exact courses of action are you torn?" the android asked, trying to help Picard clarify what he was thinking.
"Between leaving now and letting Vulcan politics take their course, and staying and—"
"We have told them all we can, Captain," Data reminded him. "We can only reiterate at this point."
"Of course. And I cannot debate the Vulcans, this is their own decision to make." Picard paused, looking out the window. Vulcan's sun had almost approached its zenith and the muted stone of the surrounding buildings, having absorbed all the light they could, were starting to reflect it back. He stared deliberately into the glare and said, "But we could possibly be of further assistance in their decision-making process. A logical decision can be based only on the full truth of a situation."
"Surak," Data commented.
"I beg your pardon?"
"'A logical decision can be based only on the full truth of a situation' is a quote from 'Lessons, Volume IV' by Surak," the android elaborated.
"I haven't ever read that," Picard dismissed, returning his gaze to the small room and continuing to pace. "I'm not sure what our best course of action is. The decision they must make is so very important—they must not decide wrongly."
"Do you know which decision is right?"
The question, with the android's slight emphasis on the word "know," was so keen Picard stood dead still, and what had been wrestling in his mind suddenly became absolutely clear.
"Oh, Mr. Data," he said in a small voice, sitting down suddenly.
"No, I do not know which decision is right. But Sarek does."
There was a knock on the door.
Picard absurdly wished that if he looked up there would be sympathy in Data's eyes. But he knew the yellow eyes would glow with the same intensity they always did, perhaps the android's head would be slightly tilted as he puzzled over this new bit of knowledge about his captain and the effect of the mind meld with Sarek—
Dr. Shira looked in. "Captain, Commander. What is your wish?"
"We wish a recess until this evening," Data told Dr. Shira immediately, with an assurance that Dr. Shira would respect and not question.
Picard looked up and saw Dr. Shira nod and leave the small room. The android quietly closed the door, went to the commnet and signalled for a landcar, and checked the tricorder recording of the morning's proceedings, all with unhurried motions as if giving Picard time to collect himself. And if there wasn't a softening of the light in Data's eyes as he bent over Picard to say, "Our landcar is here," the android's actions were enough for Picard to place a hand over Data's and say sincerely,
"Thank you, Mr. Data."
At the end of the day Picard went back to s'Shar, walking north from the main building and shielding his eyes from the setting sun's deep red rays. As he topped a small rise he caught his breath at the sight of Perrin watching the sunset. She looked as if she were made of flame, her long hair and plain cream-colored clothing subsumed in crimson, maroon and amber. He walked more quickly towards her and she turned at the sound, waiting for him to join her. She gestured to the space by her side. "I am glad to see you, Jean-Luc," she said, smiling. "Please, if you have time, watch with me. I so seldom get to admire the sunset, and it's a wonderful thing to share."
Picard, with an ease that surprised him, managed to free his mind of any other thoughts than of the present, of her face and the Vulcan sky. He was mesmerized by both and despite what had happened earlier that day he felt at peace beside Perrin.
As the sun finally disappeared below the horizon and its last rays reached across s'Shar, Perrin sighed in satisfaction and turned to him. "Thank you."
"Thank you, Perrin. A most extraordinary experience."
"Yes." She bent her head as if in thought, then looked up at him again. Picard, his eyes still a little dazzled by the sun, couldn't quite make out her features, but he sensed that she was feeling something very deeply and he touched her shoulder in concern.
"Mr. Data and I have decided we have done all we have come to do, and our work on Vulcan is done," he told her. "I would like to take my leave of you. But if you would welcome it, I would like to—I would speak with thee," he said, using the formal phrasing of High Vulcan to let her know how serious he wanted the conversation to be.
Her face became solemn and she nodded for him to continue.
Picard told her about his conversation with Lt. Commander Data and his subsequent struggle to come to terms with the part of himself that had been her husband, Ambassador Sarek.
"Just as each day you dig here deeper and deeper, excavating and probing Vulcan's past, since we met again yesterday I have been forced to dig deep within myself, not only to understand what a Vulcan mind meld is and how to integrate that which is Sarek into that which is Jean-Luc Picard, but to understand who Jean-Luc Picard is and will become. My only regret is—that—" Picard searched for a way to tell her he truly did not want to hurt her by reminding her of her husband, but Perrin interrupted,
"Your apology is not necessary." She took his hand and pressed it carefully between her own before she said, "We are both struggling with something very difficult, Jean-Luc. We should help each other. I was in the gallery today—" At Picard's surprised expression she explained, "I came in late, perhaps you didn't see me. But I saw your struggle and I felt for you. It was as if I, too, knew what Sarek would have done in just such a situation and I, too, knew that you could take no such action." She sighed. "All this afternoon I have done my own 'excavating,' trying to understand all this. Will you listen to my thoughts?" Picard nodded.
Perrin said, "When Sarek died I tried to change my life, did away with all the badges and decorations of ambassadorial life and tried to live life simply again. I wanted to get to know you, who was more than a friend to my husband, but what I found frightened me because you remind me so much of him. Changing my life did not change my feelings, only buried them for a time, and I realized more than ever that I miss him, Jean-Luc. I miss him so much."
She drew a deep breath. "Watching the sunset was something Sarek and I would do when we came back to Vulcan after an assignment. Watching it with you gave me the same sense of serenity I used to have, and I must thank you for that. I understand that it is not Sarek you are sharing with me, it is yourself, and this no longer frightens me. I know that now."
The sky around them, darkening to deep blue and violet, prevented Picard from seeing any detail of Perrin's face, much less the color of her expressive eyes, but he found he didn't need to in order to know how she felt and he told her, wanting her to know he was comfortable with the knowledge, "I need not be frightened that I sense what you feel. Or of how I feel about you. It is a gift from Sarek, and from you. I accept that gift."
The guide-lights around the site began to glow in response to the darkness, and Picard knew his face was a mirror of the solemn, earnest one he looked at now.
"Sarek took such an interest in you, Jean-Luc," she told him. "He read the Enterprise's mission logs, kept track of its ports of call, knew what commendations you received and what actions you were involved in—and now I guess you're taking that same interest in Sarek."
Picard, knowing Perrin's statement for the attempt at humor it was, smiled at her.
She smiled back, offered, "I have tried to keep up with your career, also, but I do not have the connections Sarek did and there is so much left unsaid in the official mission logs. What is it like, really, to command the Federation's flagship? To explore a limitless universe? Here at s'Shar, of course, we make discoveries, but we know within what parameters those discoveries will be. What is it like, to explore but not to know what the parameters are?"
She was asking for, and Picard wanted to share with her, stories of the Enterprise's missions, the kind of information that went beyond what the public read. She was presenting him with a chance he wanted, that of working on a closeness he felt was growing again between him and Perrin. But he also knew his time was limited and there was one more thing he had to tell her.
"When Data and I went to the Romulan homeworld, the most recent information from our deep-cover agents was almost a solar year old," Picard decided to begin. "We could not be sure that our behavior or turns of speech would mark us as soon as we tried to interact with the Romulan citizens. But, we did the best we could and somehow made it back. When—" Picard stopped, said more gently, "while I was there I saw Sarek's son, Spock—"
"There is nothing about Spock to discuss," she said with unexpected finality, stiffening away from him. Her eyes had turned a steel grey and Picard was suddenly reminded of "grey-eyed Athena" from Greek mythology as, taken aback, he said quietly,
"As you wish."
But just as quickly as her temper had flared, she subdued it with an act of will so strong it was almost palpable to him. Her mental cloak assumed its place around her and with effort she matched his quiet tone with hers. "I did consider that you might speak of Spock, but I'm afraid consideration was not adequate preparation."
"Will you share this with me?" he asked gently.
She nodded, and took a deep breath before she began deliberately, "Spock knew Sarek was dying. And he knew that I, being Human, had no training, no natural telepathic abilities. All I had was a thin thread stretched between Sarek's mind and mine and that thread grew thinner and thinner and then snapped, hard. And Spock, rather than take on the responsibilities of Head of Household, rather than be the one to receive Sarek's katra and make sure he didn't die alone, chose to leave the planet. Spock wasn't there, not to support Sarek, not to support me, not to support T'Saire who took the duty and responsibility that should have been Spock's. He knew where he belonged and he chose not to be there."
Speaking seemed to calm her, and gradually Picard could sense a flow of feeling from her again. He moved closer to her as she continued,
"When Sarek died, he truly left me. I could not even mourn him the way I would mourn a human husband because there's a hole in me where we used to be linked mind to mind. I have nothing left of him, and there was nothing I could do for him. How could I forgive Spock for not doing the one thing I would have given anything to do for Sarek? How could I forgive him for not ever letting me rest?"
Picard took Perrin's hands in his, not surprised that they were cold, and said nothing for a long moment. Despite the silence he felt as if they were closer now than when they had been talking, and he was grateful for the feeling.
"There is nothing I can say that would take away your pain, Perrin," Picard told her finally. "But Spock did make his peace with his father at last, through me, and I believe he would want to make his peace with you."
"I do not think I am yet ready to hear what Spock would have to say to me," she admitted. "But, I think I know how to make my own peace with Spock. And with Sarek."
Lt. Commander Data looked up from running the pre-launch checks aboard the Galileo and saw Captain Picard through the forward viewport walking towards the shuttlecraft with another Human, Perrin of Vulcan, a woman whom Commander Riker had referred to as having "a stern beauty." Since that time, of course, the woman's features had changed, however subtly, in ways that Data's android senses could easily measure, but taking those minute observations as a whole, he suspected that the woman could no longer be called "stern." If he were to have the same discussion with the Enterprise's first officer today about Human beauty, Data might try to make a case for his perceptions, for the simple line and color of her clothing, for the long, unadorned hair, for a more natural angular juxtaposition of shoulders to spine, for the lessening of tension in the facial muscles around the—
Picard, seeing Data in the shuttle, invited him by gesture to come outside and broke the android's train of thought. Data exited the shuttle, considering that perhaps his catalog of perceptions was too technical and he still had a lot to learn about something as subjective as Human standards of beauty.
"You remember Lt. Commander Data," Picard re-introduced.
"Yes, I do. I'm Dr. Edwards, but you probably remember me as Perrin, Ambassador Sarek's wife," she said pleasantly, smiling at him. "How are you, Commander?"
"I am well. And pleased to make your acquaintance again. How are you, Doctor?"
"I am well, also. I wanted you to know, Commander, that Jean-Luc has given me his personal subspace code so I can keep you both apprised of the latest news regarding the decision on reunification."
"Will you be attending the Council meetings, then?" Data asked, divining that there was only one way Dr. Edwards could get the latest news.
"Actually, I intend to be an active participant in the proceedings."
"Indeed," Data said with genuine interest, tilting his head slightly and favoring her with glowing yellow eyes. "Is it that important to you?"
Perrin and Picard traded glances and Data tried to guess what passed between them. "I discovered that it was," she said aloud. "I was Ambassador Sarek's wife, and I am a citizen of Vulcan. That is a hard thing to ignore."
"I would agree," he said neutrally. Then, not able to contain his curiosity, he asked, "Do you know on which side of the issue you stand?" Instantly he wondered if his question would be considered impertinent and looked to Captain Picard.
Perrin smiled, apparently accepting his question, and explained easily, "Sarek held IDIC—Surak's most basic tenet and at the same time his highest ideal—above all else. I can do no less now. Just as Sarek is a part of Jean-Luc, Sarek is a part of me. When the questioning started in earnest in the Council chamber yesterday, not only Jean-Luc, but I as well, struggled with the urge to take a stand, to explain why reunification is not only possible, but necessary. And I know without a doubt that despite any differences Sarek had with Spock, Sarek and Spock would have agreed on this one thing."
Data nodded. "It is a fit tribute to your husband, Doctor Edwards."
"And a challenge she is well suited for," Picard added warmly. "A part of me is at peace leaving Vulcan, knowing that the arguments inside me will not remain unspoken."
"Speaking of leaving Vulcan," Data said, pleased at how smoothly he had engineered a conversational segue, "Captain, we have a scheduled rendezvous with the Enterprise."
"Yes, of course."
Data bowed slightly to Perrin. "Doctor Edwards, thank you for coming. I will look forward to your reports, and I hope your endeavors are successful."
"Thank you, Commander Data. Have a good journey."
Data turned and went back into the shuttle to continue the pre-launch check, leaving the shuttle hatch open for Picard.
"A certain Vulcan once observed that Humans like a sense of finality," Data heard Picard tell Perrin.
"Ah, Vulcans. Eternal students of Human behavior."
"Not unlike Commander Data." Data looked up from the navigation console, intrigued by Picard's comment. The two Humans were standing close to each other, and Data could tell that his captain was in good spirits, better than he had been since they had first arrived on Vulcan.
Data was fascinated to note that Perrin's eyes changed color, from blue to green, as she clasped his hands in hers. "Thank you, and more than thank you, Jean-Luc. For everything." As she released his hands she commented, "But Sarek used to say that one did not thank logic."
"He did indeed." He held up his hand in the Vulcan salute. "In Sarek's fashion, then. Peace, and long life."
Perrin matched his gesture. "Live long and prosper."
Picard started for the shuttle but turned and added, "And it might not be logical, but—good luck."
At Picard's voice Perrin's eyes changed color again, became green-grey. And Data was momentarily startled as he identified the voice—a slightly higher pitch he had come to recognize as conveying humor but a more resonant timbre than usual for Picard—as the one he stored as Ambassador Sarek's. Picard stiffened as if he saw the change in Perrin's eyes, and he took a step back towards her.
"Au revoir, Jean-Luc," she stopped him.
The captain stood still and looked at her for a long moment as she smiled at him and nodded. He replied, pitch and timbre correct, "Au revoir, Perrin."
Picard entered the shuttle and closed the hatch. "Mr. Data, are we still on schedule?"
"Yes, sir," Data acknowledged crisply. "Course plotted and laid in for rendezvous with the Enterprise in four hours, forty minutes."
The shuttle lifted off and gradually s'Shar unfolded on their port side, illuminated by Vulcan's rising sun. Picard gazed at the site, briefly pressing his fingertips against the viewport. As the shuttle left Vulcan's atmosphere and picked up speed, Picard settled back in his chair and looked absently out at the stars.
Data, who had found it odd that although Doctor Edwards' facial muscles had indicated a smile at the last, there had been strain, not relaxation, behind it, felt it would be a good time to ask Picard for clarification and began, "Captain?"
Picard smiled, in the same way Perrin had. "Yes, Mr. Data?"
The android assimilated the Human's expression and turned back to his console. "Maintaining speed and altitude. Four hours, twenty minutes to rendezvous," Data said instead.
Even an android knew when discretion was the better part of valor. And this definitely was not the time to go excavating.