Yes, my third Sarek/Amanda origins story. I'm so sorry. This one is unrelated to the Serendipity Paradox series and Meet Me on Sunday.
He laid flat on his back, the lids of his eyes half closed to Vulcan's punishing sun. He had fallen asleep in the shade on the low side of the gorge, but now that the bright orb was fading into the horizon, it was better positioned to burn his already leathery skin. He licked his lips, which were as cracked and dry as the sandy soil upon which he slept. It would be at least another hour before sunset, but he could no longer deny his growing need for water.
Sarek rolled onto his side and upon catching sight of the bowl resting underneath the small rock ledge, fought an immediate instinct to react. One slow breath, then a second one. The coiled figure beneath the stone didn't move, but it was unmistakable.
It was a juvenile k'karee, quite small but quite venomous, wound tightly around his clay bowl. Sarek rose slowly to his feet. The small frown that formed on his face pulled on his parched lips. His head throbbed and his back ached and it took enormous effort to quell his frustration.
It had taken twelve days to shape and dry the small clay dish. There had been many previous failures that had been too brittle or had split when he attempted to cook with them, but he'd had this one for seventeen days now. It was a source of life. It held water, and now it was guarded by a watchful k'karee.
Sarek analyzed his options, which was quite easy, because there were so few. He could attempt to retrieve the bowl or he could surrender it. Repossessing his bowl had the real potential to result in either his death or the k'karee's, whomever was quickest, unless he chose to strike the snakelike animal at a distance with a projectile.
He needed logic, but the sight of the scaled coils of deadly animal around his water source touched a very primal nerve that he found difficult to control. It had always been difficult for Sarek to control his more instinctive emotions, such as fear and surprise. Logic would suggest that the driving purpose of any individual should be a long and prosperous life, and the risk associated with driving this animal away was great. The risk of killing it was far lesser, but the unnecessary taking of life was to be avoided.
He weighed his immediate need for water against the value of the k'karee's life for nearly ten minutes, and just as the sun sunk beneath the nearby mountains, Sarek turned on his heel and began walking toward the flat of the desert in search of a water-giving ka-ran-zhi root. The k'karee could not remain wrapped around his bowl indefinitely, just as Sarek would not remain in Vulcan's Forge indefinitely.
Tomorrow would begin his seventy-third day of the Rite of Tal'oth. Very few Vulcans underwent the extreme adulthood trial in the modern age, as most Vulcans elected to complete their training with the kahs-wan ritual in adolescence, but the tradition had endured within Sarek's family, and so here he was, wandering a hostile and untamed territory with nothing but his clothes and a ritual blade. He was due to return on the day he reached the age of majority, but that was still thirty-nine days away. He needed to survive now, and to survive, he needed water.
A Vulcan could survive without water for an extended period of time. Under ideal conditions he could last as long as fifteen days, but Vulcan's Forge was far removed from ideal. The intense heat and dry air rapidly tapped bodily stores, requiring the consumption of nearly a quarter of a liter of water per day. Much of his waking life was now devoted to searching for this most necessary resource.
His steps were sluggish and his breath was dry, but the only vegetation in sight was the scrubby underbrush that skirted the large boulders. A sehlat screamed in the distance. Sarek froze, training his ears to the sound. Fire would repel wild animals, but the time and energy required to build a fire in his condition would be ruinous. It was a precarious thing, to reject safety for sustenance.
Sarek veered to the left to change course and head into the wind to disguise his scent from the sehlat. He was exhausted and near delirious with thirst, but water eluded him. The sehlat howled again, closer now. Sarek removed the blade from his waistband and continued walking. It would have been better to use the blade to fashion a spear from a length of wood, but no ideal wood was available. Nothing about his current predicament was ideal.
The Tal'oth had fallen out of favor with modern Vulcans due to the poor survival rates. Four months in the harsh and barren Forge was simply too long: even many of the most resourceful, ingenious, and intrepid individuals were bound to fall victim to unfortunate circumstances, and now Sarek suspected he was no exception.
He continued walking and continued searching for a ka-ran-zhi plant or a natural spring from the thick rock of the mountains, but both were rare in this region of the Forge and he was growing weaker. The sehlat would be upon him soon, and he mentally prepared himself for a fight he was not likely to win. Even if he did, any blood loss from serious wounds would only constitute further fluid volume loss, and he was already teetering on the edge of death from dehydration.
On his next step forward, his left knee buckled and crashed hard into a sharp stone. Blood and pain erupted from the site of impact and he sensed death would be upon him soon. He ruminated on the nature of life and death, steeling his mind against the eons of instinct coded into his being that sought to prevent the termination of life.
A shuffling of rocks several meters behind him heralded the sehlat's arrival. His head buzzed and a ringing began in his ears. Sarek opened his eyes and rose to his feet, glancing up at the stars and feeling prepared to die. He gripped the knife hard and turned, but no amount of logic could prevent the sudden shock of what he found. The knife slipped from his hand and clattered against the stone with a series of three tinks.
Sarek staggered forward, oblivious to the pain shooting through his left knee, and fell forward into the young sehlat's glossy fur. He had been nine years old when he'd found the abandoned sehlat pup cowering under the khara bush at the edge of his family's estate. They had grown up together, but early last year, I-Chaya had disappeared when Sarek had gone on a diplomatic visit to Earth with his father. Now here he was, hundreds of kilometers away from home.
The sehlat and Vulcan sat with each other for a time. The purpose of the Rite of Tal'oth was to learn self-reliance and resilience, and I-Chaya's presence violated that. But he could not find the strength to send him away. The Forge was a lonely as it was inhospitable.
When I-Chaya sat up and backed away from Sarek's embrace, he resisted the urge to grip his fur and force him to stay. He took several steps up the mountain, turned, and looked at Sarek.
"Go," Sarek said. "And thank you, old friend."
It was illogical to speak to a being who could not understand, but there were times it seemed likely that his boyhood pet did understand. Even so, he refused Sarek's order and glanced upwards along the slope of the mountain.
"We must part ways."
I-Chaya sat down and uttered a soft growl. Sarek approached him, waving his arms but too fatigued to really shoo the animal away. I-Chaya stood and took several more steps up the mountain, glancing back at Sarek, which suddenly gave him the sense that I-Chaya intended that he should follow.
The mountain was too much for him to manage; the rise was too steep, his body, too weak. Sarek finally caught up to his sehlat companion and collapsed onto his knees, but I-Chaya shoved his large head under Sarek's armpit and nuzzled upward.
Sarek's head rolled on his shoulders, too heavy to be adequately controlled by his neck muscles any longer, but his eyes were still in perfect working order, and he caught sight of a silvery glint poking through the underbrush. I-Chaya had led him to a large thicket of ka-ran-zhi.
He frantically crawled toward the patch of plants, ripping the first one he reached from the dusty soil with renewed strength. Chalky water flowed from the roots and Sarek hungrily bit into one. It was bitter and the wetness stung his chapped lips, but it did not matter. Life flowed from the tips of the ka-ran-zhi roots.
I-Chaya sat down and watched him suck plant after plant of its moisture. There were enough ka-ran-zhi plants to provide water for approximately four days and the location was well suited for shelter. He could rest here and recover his strength.
He half-crawled, half-walked several more meters up the slope and sat down on a smooth stone underneath a large outcropping of boulders. I-Chaya curled up beside him and rested his enormous head in Sarek's lap. The Tal'oth was supposed to teach him self-sufficiency but without the assistance of his boyhood pet, he likely would have died. He supposed there was a lesson in that also.
I-Chaya began to snore loudly. Despite seventeen years of training in logic, he could do nothing to prevent the tiny smile that formed on his lips.
Yellowstone Ecological Preserve
Her fingers were chapped and raw. She gritted her teeth and kept going, faster and faster until smoke started to stream from under the blanket of tinder and kindling. She almost had it. Her grimace threatened to turn into a grin, that was until the twig snapped in her hand, causing her to utter a string of words that garnered a disapproving glare from her father.
"I'm so cold," Amanda moaned. She fell backward onto her backside and shot him an apologetic but resolute expression as she put her gloves back on. "Can't we just use the fire starter?"
"This isn't about staying warm," her father reminded her, his icy breath billowing around his face. "Well, not just about staying warm."
It was about as much injustice as an almost nine-year-old could endure. "I hate this!"
"You were the one who wanted to come."
"I didn't know it was going to snow!"
"Well, let that be a lesson to you. Check the weather before you go camping."
Amanda gave her father another dirty look. "I want to go home."
"It's a seven-hour hike to the car. It'll be dark in about thirty minutes. You think it's cold now, just wait."
"Can't you just call the emergency forest service?"
"Wouldn't it be easier to start the fire?"
"It would be easier, if you gave me the fire starter."
"Life isn't always easy, Amanda."
She couldn't hate her father, not really, anyway, but why did he have to be so mean? Camping was supposed to be fun. "I'll tell mom."
Her words cut a sad frown into his face, much to Amanda's instant regret. She started to mumble an apology, but her father shook his head and said, "You can tell her if you like, but first, you have to survive the night and if you want to do that, I suggest you start a fire."
Amanda flexed her fingers in an attempt to restore some of the blood flow and slowly worked her way to her feet. "But I broke the bow. The snow is making the wood too wet. I'll have to start all over."
"Then you'll have to start all over. So what?"
She wiped her runny nose with the back of her glove and surveyed the frozen ground, which was already coated in a plush layer of white powder. She kicked the snow aside, found another suitable stick, and started working the nylon bootlace out of the broken halves of her earlier attempt at a bow drill.
"Can I make a suggestion?"
Amanda rolled her eyes and sniffed. Rather than respond to her attitude, he gave her a wide smile and asked, "Why don't you try using a bigger stick for your spindle?"
Amanda sighed—she had to let him know how annoyed she was, after all—and rooted around for a thicker branch. When she found one several minutes later, she brought it to him for inspection.
"Pine is no good. It's too flimsy. You want something with medium hardness. Around here, your best bet is cottonwood or willow."
She bit her lip and renewed her quest for a new spindle for her bow drill. What a stupid method for starting a fire anyway. It was a technique for cavemen, which seemed a little pointless, especially since humanity had long ago made friends with aliens from other planets. She kept her thoughts to herself and eventually found a cottonwood branch, which she snapped in half. Not too green and not rotted away. It seemed close to perfect, really.
"That'll probably do," her father called from behind her.
She nodded and pulled out her pocketknife to whittle the ends of her new spindle to fit into the handhold and the footboard, but she couldn't manage it with her gloves on, so once again, she was forced to take them off to work. It was slow going, forming the hole for the handhold, and by the time she greased the joint, it was very nearly dark.
Surely he would have to give in and use the fire starter now? He had made his point and she had gone through the motions of trying to start a fire with a bow drill. So what if she hadn't been successful? She had tried, hadn't she? He wouldn't let them freeze to death, would he? The howl of wolves higher up on the mountain turned Amanda's blood cold and suddenly, freezing to death didn't seem like the worst thing that could happen.
"Fire also keeps away animals," he reminded her.
"The footboard is wet from the snow and so is the kindling," she whined. "Even if I get this spindle going, wood burns best when it's dry."
"True." He shrugged his pack off his right shoulder and rifled around until he found a plastic bag, which he tossed to her. "But I thought I might help you out, just this once."
"Thanks," she muttered. She opened the bag to find a bundle of dried grasses that he'd probably picked up on their hike through the sagebrush earlier that morning.
She shoveled the thin dusting of snow away from the soil and resumed the arduous process of bow drilling. When it was too dark to see, her father offered her a flashlight. She would have preferred the fire starter, but she gritted her chattering teeth and kept going. It took forty-five minutes but eventually, a glowing ember fell from the footboard into the kindling and Amanda fell back, almost intoxicated with glee and disbelief.
"Don't let it go out!" her father barked.
She pitched forward, blew gently, and suddenly, a flame took root and licked up toward her lips as if conjured by magic. "Ha!"
"It's a good start, but let's get a real fire going," he urged, pulling his rain poncho from the nest of logs they'd stacked into a neat campfire formation earlier in the afternoon.
Amanda scooped up the bundle of fast-burning grasses and set them at the base of the logs. They continued to feed it kindling for the better part of half an hour before her father finally pronounced that they had a reliable campfire. She'd been proud before but this was a different feeling. There was awe and humility and joy and relief and so many other things wrapped into the dancing flames before her.
"Huh?" She snapped out of her trance to see her father was offering her a heater meal. "Yeah, I guess so."
"Well, go ahead. You earned it."
She took the slim bag, noting it was the beef stew meal. "Thanks, dad."
He took a seat on the collapsible camping stool next to her and dug in to his own bag of beef stew. "So, you still going to tell your mom?"
Amanda took a cautious bite and leaned in closer to the fire. "If I told her, she'd never let me go anywhere with you again."
"That's probably true."
They sat in silence for a while, enjoying the cackling sounds of the fire and the call of the wilderness as it came alive on a cold, autumn night. Amanda finished her meal, licked the spoon clean, and tossed the biodegradable packaging into the fire.
"Aren't you glad we set the tent up first?" she asked, tucking the spoon into her coat pocket.
Her father shrugged. "I can pitch a tent in the dark. It would have been better to have the fire going while there was still daylight."
Amanda frowned. He was probably right. "Why didn't you say that then before you let me start setting up camp?"
"I wanted to let you work it out for yourself."
"Wouldn't it have saved a lot of trouble if you'd just told me?"
"It might have saved trouble for us both tonight, but not in the long run."
"What do you mean?"
"I could tell you how to do everything and maybe you would remember some of what I told you, but learning it for yourself has a funny way of making you remember things better. It seems to me like you learned a lot of things tonight."
Amanda snorted an indignant laugh. "I guess so. I'm never even leaving the house again without checking the weather."
He chuckled. "Well, there you go."
"I know one thing's for sure—for winter break, I want to go somewhere warmer. Maybe we could finally go to the Everglades."
"I'm pretty sure your mom is going to want to take you to your grandmother's for winter break."
"Can't you talk to her? I want to go with you."
"An hour ago you said you hated camping."
Amanda sighed. "It's not really so bad. Please will you talk to her?"
"She barely agreed to let you come with me this weekend. Which reminds me, I should call when we get back to the forest station."
Amanda sighed. When she had been littler, she'd had a hard time understanding why her parents had gotten divorced, but now that she'd grown older and had learned more about her parents' personalities, she couldn't really understand why they'd gotten married in the first place. They were two completely different people, bridged together forever by Amanda, who in turn was forced to live two different existences—a life with her mother, full of manicures and luncheons and pretty dresses, and a life with her father, complete with camping trips and late nights in front of the holoscreen watching reruns of old science fiction programs and eating ice cream out of the container.
"I love you, dad," Amanda whispered, leaning over and resting her head on his shoulder. "I don't know what I would do without you."
"I love you too, Amanda," he replied. "But you won't be a little girl forever. We're out here to teach you what to do when I can't be there for you."
Amanda laughed. "You really think I'd go camping without you?"
Her father laughed too and shrugged. "You never know."