Author note: Characters, events, and other elements of this story which are found in the "Star Trek" continuum are the property of the writers of the television/motion picture episodes and commercially published novels, or of the company that owns them; as concerns additional characters and planets and non-human races: while they are my own creation. I am taking no profit, monetary or otherwise, from their association with established Star Trek elements. This is purely for fun.

Part I: Beta Quarter

Ch.1: Akadem

"…Welcome to Akadem, a galactic intermediate and secondary education center housed on the planet of the same name in the Tantalus Sector. Its more than 60,000 students are educated in 17 complexes or clusters of instructional centers and classroom buildings, each cluster encompassing related disciplines. The students are housed in 90 dormitories and other living arrangements. In most clusters, educational and housing facilities are grouped near each other.

"Akadem offers schooling for all young beings who are able to pass the qualifying tests, regardless of age. Expressed in human terms, the ages of students range from ten to twenty years…

"…Length of a student's stay depends upon the individual education plan worked out among student, student's family or guardians, and the academic advisors assigned to the student. The average time needed to complete a curriculum is eight years."

If it had been possible for a Vulcan to fidget, roll her eyes, pick at clothing lint, or otherwise show impatience, Saavik might still not have done it. She had read through the entire Akadem Prospectus hard-copy exactly seven times already for want of anything else to do on the shuttle; she skimmed the next section on the academic work

"Basic courses are taught in the Lower Division 2 to 4 years, although a student may take part in advanced courses according to his/her/its abilities. Specific fields of interest are developed during the Middle Division 3 to 4 years; at this stage many proceed to training academies in a wide variety of disciplines, or to exchange programs on other school planets…

"Upper Division study 2 to 4 years involves intensive academic preparation and pre-professional development for those students aiming at the G.B. Galacticum Baccalaureum or towards admission to an advanced Academy in their chosen field. A number of individualized field programs are offered on a Quarter basis.

"The academic year is divided into Quarters designated Alpha, Beta, Gamma, and Delta. Alpha Quarter begins during the planetary equivalent of winter. The year on Akadem is 422 standard sidereal days long. The allows even division into four Quarters of thirteen weeks each, and permits a four-week break between Delta and Alpha Quarters and a ten days' break between each of the remaining Quarters."

Saavik quelled the apprehension over what the next years on Akadem would bring her way. She had thoroughly memorized the general outline of programs offered in each complex; the electives and the non-academic activities… an impressive list of galaxy-renowned professors who had the task of helping "some of the brightest young minds" to unfold to their potential…

She had known she was coming here for quite a while. Spock had chosen Akadem for her formal education since so many of its faculty were acquaintances of his. In addition, some of the Stanek's Vulcan scientists had spent their school years on Akadem and had given favorable reviews of the curriculum. Intellectually, Saavik knew she could perform the work and advance in such an environment.

She skimmed through the remainder of the standard guide issued to all new students, but saw nothing that raised any more questions in her.

The intercom hummed. "One hour and fifteen minutes to planetfall." Their shuttlecraft had made good time. From planet Rubicon to Space Station Sirah there had been other passengers, but after that, for the long-distance segment to Akadem, there had been only she and Spock. The passenger area was utilitarian, designed as it was for short journeys under twelve hours. Saavik laid her printout on the bulkhead shelf and gazed into the unfamiliar space outside the nearest view port – unrelieved blackness.

Spock observed, "We will arrive in the planet's early morning hours. I believe we will have adequate time for all necessary arrangements before my shuttle to Berengaria station departs." He looked at her neutrally. "Have you any questions before we arrive?"

But he knew she would be reluctant to speak freely, as had been the case ever since he began making plans for her future. Saavik had never been a person to reveal all that troubled her. The Vulcan officer had taken great pains to prepare her for the academic demands of organized education. In fact, Spock was sure that his protégée was already far advanced over human children of twelve or thirteen… although her knew no human children personally and had not been overwhelmingly impressed by the few he had met during his discovery days on the Enterprise

Spock of Vulcan was secretly proud of her, Saavik realized as she saw the way he looked at her now. She was acutely sensitive to his concern for her, very much aware that he had poured a great deal of his own outlook and personality into her – and that her had made a commitment to salvage her and help her see the Vulcan Ways. Inwardly she shuddered at the memory of what she had been, and where she had been headed, before his appearing in her life. Now, in place of that Saavik was a calm-faced, poised young Vulcan girl in crisp new flight coveralls, dark hair pulled back perhaps too severely from her face, just another Vulcan child.

Spock lifted one eyebrow slightly and kept his gaze steady upon her. Saavik was aware that thoughts were forming in her mind, pulling together what Spock had been telling her for a long time: this is a necessary step…the people with whom you will live and work will not all be to your liking, but it is essential that you know, and know well, the realities of the world. It was almost as if Spock were actively telepathic with her, but Saavik recognized that she was just gathering thoughts already spoken at other times. And she knew it was true. There was no going back to a home that had not been a home. Neither Vulcan nor any of the worlds of the Romulan Empire could be home to her, not unless a lot of things changed… and she had consigned the memories of the planet of her birth to oblivion… pretty much.

Spock seemed to be hesitating about something, then reached across the small space between their seats, to barely touch the edge of her right temple. Saavik was surprised and un-Vulcanly moved. He was reminding her of their mind-link – now, instead of later when there would be others around. She allowed peace to settle over her and seemed to hear the words, "That is better", not spoken but transmitted through the light touch. Spock withdrew his hand then.

"You have much to learn. Your potential is great. If I were more inclined to express my human side, I would almost envy you."

This gave Saavik an odd thrill. Spock did not need to envy, emulate, or compete with anyone! His words made her proud. It was almost too much.

By the time the planet Akadem, wobbled into sight shortly thereafter, Saavik was calm inside. Spock, in the other seat, was once more a formidable Vulcan enigma. It was time to begin growing up. She realized that even considering the horrors of her childhood, this might be the toughest time of her life.

--

Neill Gallaghan couldn't exactly be accused of sulking, but it was a fact that this morning found her in a rotten mood. One year from entering the Upper Division, she really hadn't clicked into a satisfactory place on this damned planet. Dr. Brady had identified her problem pretty accurately during her last session with her Triad: "Your academics are fine, Neill," he'd said in that old-fashioned heavy way of his, "but you obviously have issues no one here has even scratched the surface."

Well, whatever. Not feeling that this was anybody's business, Neill had closed her obtuseness around herself, as she usually did when directly confronted. There in Dr. Brady's tiny Faculty House office, with Brady and Hakat and that wishy-washy Suzy Gomez inspecting those purrrr-fect nails, Neill had been forced to defend herself.

"My work is fine, as you have just said. In fact, it's better than fine. I know my plans for Upper Division, and even beyond that. That's all that matters, OK?"

Brady had sighed, given her another moment, and then gone into a lecture about the place of Akadem as a Galaxy AAA school: the careful selection process; the painstaking and conscientious role of faculty advisors and of the Triad system itself. "Neill, four years is a long time to be so unhappy. Our job here isn't to be your jailers or psychologists or social advisors…"

And so, on and on, blah, blah, blah.

Neill now sat by the boat basin, wanting to heave some rocks into the water, but not finding any due to the faultless grounds keeping. She remembered Howard Brady's every word.

"…Above all, this school aims to help students develop their entire being. You are in the top two per cent academically, and further study in any advanced academy will be no problem at all." Predictable. Then, a hint that she should lighten up, be a real person, make friends, all that psych jazz they'd been telling her for years, dammit, even the hint that Akadem might not be the place for her, after all.

The, Hakat had thrown her a surprise. "Filimas has praised your eye for lines and spaces, your organization and the cleanness of your planning. Have you considered training for architecture?" That had jolted her. She certainly did enjoy her sessions with the resident galactic artist. She did know that there were valuable things beside computers, data matrices, and statistical analyses. But Neill would never, on her own, admit to anyone just how much she looked forward to her art studio visits. Suzy Gomez must have told, though: she was also one of Filimas' pupils.

That was the drawback of this system, Neill thought: there was always some do-goody student in one's Triad – and she'd had some doozies. But hardly anyone stayed with her for more than a Quarter. Her sullen and barely civil demeanor usually put them off, and she rather enjoyed her power over others.

"We respect independence, individuality, even iconoclasm," Dr. Brady had told her once in exasperation, "because we want students with those qualities, who won't be afraid of anything when they leave here. We tolerate a wide range of personalities in our students and faculty, because that seems to go along with brilliance. And we know most people have a great many personal oddities, especially if they've already been recognized as the sharpest edges and the brightest lights of their home world as children. But an abrasive personality will prevent you from learning all you could, and the kind of suppressed violence I sometimes see in you can only harm you, here and on the outside."

Neill had dismissed this with cold impatience. She had resisted the Triad's attempt to insert the Architecture model into her major curriculum for Gamma Quarter, annoyed at their pressure. As far as she was concerned, her course was set for the next three Quarters, pure science only – and she had won out, keeping the Arch. module only as an elective. She was a brilliant science student, blast them, and nothing was going to take her off track.

There were some boats on the water now – some rowboats, some early-season crew members, even one of those ridiculous pedal boats that looked like a swan, for heaven's sake. She was not interested in any of this; in fact, she was wasting her time here. Neill gathered her bag and her jacket from the bench and hiked back to the moving sidewalk.

"Hey!" Someone was hailing her from the stationary walk alongside, and although she would really rather have ignored the boy, she turned to see. It was Tor Srimandan, a former member of her Triad from Alpha Quarter last year. Tor had actually stuck with her for two whole Quarters, quite a record. He was an Upper in pre-medicine and just too damned cheerful and friendly. Still… Tor had been one of the few guys she might have allowed herself to consider liking. God knows how many males on this planet she had been thoroughly unpleasant to! The few who were on good terms with her were all complete computer geeklets.

Reaching the library, Neill stepped off the mover and entered by the side door, going straight to the ultradata processing center. She reviewed the parameters of her new program for Hakat, a complicated analysis which could be applied in her physics course as well. Hakat taught that also. She was sure it would have his approval when she sent it to him through the datastream. Hakat practically lived in Science Delta, shuttling between his cubicle and the end of the basement computer array and his wife's office in the astronomy lab section. His seven-foot frame would clatter through the corridors and then stretch itself over two or three ordinary-size chairs, and although he would probably not smile when he scanned her program (Ledaynans rarely did), his double-pupiled eyes would light up with lively and instant comprehension at her initiative and the elegance of her mental processes.

Was she smiling, herself, at this thought? Maybe… maybe because Hakat was not human and thus did not make her uncomfortable. She did not resent his comments or criticism. Filimas, strangely enough, also had this effect upon her. She would bend over a hunk of styrodyne or old-fashioned clay, shaping it to her will, or align a strut on one of Neill's models, and talk about improvement needed in her own work, or her own views about art, never lecturing Neill. And Neill would get that disquieting feeling that her own strongly-defended laws of life did not, perhaps, cover everything important, at least not while she was with Hakat or Filimas…