The one thing about Vulcans is that it's hard to know when they're really preoccupied. Because they're almost always deep in thoughts of one sort or another, whether calculating the numbers of votes and the various political factors required to pass a certain legislation, or, on something simpler and more prosaic, looking over a bunch of fruiting raspberry canes and figuring out how many jars of jam T'Rueth can get out of them before the next crop.
My husband is fond of raspberry jam. Many Terran fruits are too sweet for Vulcan tastes, but low sugar fruits like raspberries and blackberries are catnip to Vulcan taste buds.
Needless to say, after forty years of living with Vulcans, I'm used to the remote, slightly glazed expression of a Vulcan engrossed in the sort of calculations that are second nature to them. And I'm also used to the fact that even when they may seem like they are catatonic, Vulcans are still quite capable of processing myriad sensory inputs. They really are still paying attention. So I tend to chatter on when so inclined. If I didn't, I'd have to get used to a lot of silence, and Sarek would wonder why I never talk to him. Just because Vulcans can't help thinking all the time, doesn't mean they are deaf or immune to social pleasantries.
"I worked out all the subspace links for my classes today," I chattered on undaunted, tasting a bit of plomeek soup. Sasek's hill farm had brought in a bumper crop of plomeek and tavash, and we were eating Vulcan-style for a change. Plus Sarek had increased the percentage of produce for sale from our Terra-styled gardens to counter another rise in Federation taxes. Vulcan didn't charge its own citizens for these, instead garnering the funds from tariffs and trade on imported or foreign goods, from Spaceport fees, and tourist revenues. The proceeds from our garden produce and tourist tours of the house and grounds were plowed into this fund, along with that from many other ancestral sites. Even T'Pau's palace had an ancient wing open to tourists, to help feed the hungry Federation maw. So between the Terran gardens being stripped and the hill farms overproducing, we were eating a lot more Vulcan dishes lately. I didn't really mind. It had always been easier for me to "cook Terran". And for a time after becoming our cook, T'Rueth had had a love affair with Terran foodstuffs, and while exploring them, she had somewhat neglected Vulcan cuisine. So it was past time we enjoyed a more balanced mix. Though I didn't really care for plomeek – sort of like an orange rhubarb – because it was a bit too tart for me. I'd been known to add orange juice or even strawberries to plomeek soup to make it more palatable to human taste. When T'Rueth made it Vulcan style, I would either eat a few spoonfuls, out of politeness, and then go on to the next course, or just add a bit of orange juice. There wasn't any orange juice on the table, so I promised myself after four more spoonfuls I could leave it with a good conscience. I ate another, repressing a slight shudder. Only three more to go. "I had to argue with the head of the Academy to get some of the priority channels," I continued, to take my mind off what I was not enjoying, "and we had to juggle the schedule a bit, but we finally have one that works for everyone concerned. I hope it doesn't interfere with any of the conference meetings you want me to attend. Hopefully I can just listen to recordings if they do. Or one of your advisers can update me."
Sarek said nothing, still abstracted. So much so that he was eating as little as me, even though plomeek was a favorite of his. Though he always said he liked my version of it better than the classic dish. Too bad Spock wasn't here. Traditionalist that he was, he preferred the undoctored version. I raised a brow at Sarek's behavior and took another spoonful. The taste made me close my eyes for a moment, though I refused to actually wince, thinking this time T'Rueth really had made the classic version. Even two more spoonfuls seemed like penance. On the other hand, after twenty years of my trying to cook meals for Vulcan, human and Vulcan/human hybrid tastes, I could commiserate with her on the fact that it wasn't always easy. In fact, it's very difficult to cook for someone when you don't have the same taste buds as they do. She did a far better job of it than I had, and after forty years of experience with the execrable food at certain diplomatic banquets, I was not going to be defeated by a little acrid plomeek soup from my own dear cook. I took a sip of water to dilute the taste, and thought, only two more to go.
"You'll have to give me the conference schedule, so I can check the times. By the way, Sorlak sends his greetings, and he said to remind you that you promised to give a lecture at the Academy on "The Hegemony of the Vulcan Alliance in Federation Politics". Aren't you straying a little into my territory?"
Sarek still said nothing. I assumed he took the question as rhetorical, which it more than half was. I took another spoonful, shudderingly slightly. Just one more for show and I'd be done with this horrid dish without hurting any Vulcan's non-professed but very real feelings. "Just let me know when you schedule it. I want to be in the front row. Taking notes, of course," I said innocently. "I wouldn't dream of heckling." I smiled at him and he didn't react. Instead he pushed his dish away, nearly untouched.
"Is it that bad to your taste as well? I asked, concerned. "I can ask T'Rueth for some orange juice. I thought it was just me."
"No. Unnecessary." Sarek said curtly.
I stared at him, stunned at this brusqueness, and wondering at a possible cause, though it seemed unlikely. One of the many things I liked about my husband was his sense of humor, when he was in the right mood. It wasn't like him to so misconstrue me. "Darling, you know I was just teasing. I'd never heckle or embarass you--"
"Amanda, your plans are unnecessary," he said, interrupting in a manner rare for him. "We will not be attending the Corridon conference."
I stared at him, stunned. "We won't?"
"Did the Federation postpone again? Or has something happened to cancel it? Is everything all right? You've looked distracted all evening, but I thought--"
"The conference will go on. We simply will not attend."
I swallowed hard and the taste of the plomeek came back to me, suddenly more acrid than before. I pushed my own dish away, that last spoonful be damned. Sarek not attending a Federation conference that we'd been scheduled to attend was like the sun not rising. It just didn't happen. "I don't understand. We got marching orders."
"Someone else will be marching instead," Sarek said with a ghost of his old manner, but then he grew remote again as swiftly as if it had never been. "I will choose among my assistants."
"But how can--" I cut myself off. Having seen our soup plates pushed aside, T'Jar had entered silently with the next course. I waited for her to finish laying the new course and clearing the old before continuing. Sarek waited as well, unexpressionlessly, as still as a statue. "How can someone else go? No one else has the experience to handle a conference of this type. Even for you, this coalition is going to be difficult enough to hold togeth --"
"Never-the-less, we will not attend." He looked down at his food as if wondering where it had come from. And without the least trace of appetite.
I toyed as well with the place setting T'Jar had just set before me, wondering what was happening. It was simpler to focus on something real, prosaic, unchanging. The new course was a Vulcan dish even I favored, anztjen, a deep rooted vine prepared with chunks of a pineapple-like Vulcan cactus. Like all Vulcan desert dishes, it was tedious to prepare, and had to be long stewed to get the woodiness out of the denser fiber. I rarely made it for that reason, even though Sarek usually loved it. And now it looked like neither of us were going to be eating it. I tried to figure out what was going on. "Sarek, I didn't mean it, when I said before that I didn't want to go to the conference. You must know that I was only joking. You're not reacting to that, are you?"
"No. It's nothing you've done."
"Then what is it?" I looked at him, truly at a loss.
For a moment, he didn't meet my gaze, then he relented. "I have resigned my position as Vulcan's Ambassador to the Federation."
I probably felt what T'Pau had felt when he told her he was marrying a human. As shocked as if Sarek had become another person. "You've what?"
For a long moment, I couldn't speak, wondering what Federation I was in. An announcement like that would make every news service. It would cause ripples throughout most of the Federation. We'd both be deluged with messages. There would be press standing yards deep outside the Fortress. Yet I hadn't heard a thing. "I don't – I haven't heard—Sarek, that's--"
"It will be announced tomorrow," Sarek said, as he realized my confusion at least in this. "As soon as replacements have been chosen."
"Replacements?" I boggled at that. Sarek could no more be replaced than I could become Vulcan. "You can't be serious. Resign… you?" I realized I'd been staring at Sarek like a guppyfish for some minutes, and belatedly closed my mouth. "How can you resign?"
Sarek fixed me with a repressive look. "It is a simple act. One says 'no'."
"But it's your duty!" I exhorted, with the watchword of our lives for forty years. "It's a familial position. I thought Vulcans had to die, or divorce, to get out of these sorts of duties. That they can't be simply not chosen." I left off the statement, even though it crossed my mind, that he'd excommunicated his own son for making that kind of choice against Vulcan tradition. Where was duty now?
"That is generally the case," Sarek said, but refused to elaborate.
"What about the High Council? Are you still Head of that?" When Sarek didn't respond, I said, "Don't all these hereditary positions go together?"
For a moment, Sarek blinked, actually looked unsure. "I had not thought… I expect I will resign from that as well. Perhaps. Probably."
If I hadn't been sitting down, I would have fallen down at that like a felled tree. "Does that mean I resign as well?" I asked, struggling to understand a Vulcan without Sarek at the head of it. As Sarek's wife I'd held a largely ceremonial Council position.
"You are not affected by this."
I shook my head at that, trying to imagine sitting at Council without him. None of this made any sense at all. "Sarek, I don't understand."
"There is nothing for you to understand. Simply reschedule your classes and continue with your duties as before."
"Enough, Amanda." He said it in English, not the Vulcan kroykah. But somehow the emphatic inflection came across to me regardless of the language barrier.
"Enough?" English having no similar inflections, I simply raised my voice in response to his tacit demand. "How can you expect me to comply with tradition when you are throwing it off? I don't understand. And I need to know--"
"I said enough," Sarek repeated, his eyes narrowing and his tone shading further, past impatience into something more. He switched then from English to Vulcan. "We will cease to discuss this."
The dark tone of that one word, in full emphatic inflection, echoed through my body as if I'd been touched with a tuning fork. When I stared at him, shocked and uncomprehending, he pushed aside his untouched meal and rose, gazing down at me with a forbidding look on his face I had not seen for twenty years. "This subject will no longer be raised between us."
Given in that tone, with that inflection, his words weren't a suggestion. They were an order, plain and simple. An order such as I hadn't been given in a long time. His eyes met mine, waiting, demanding a response. There was only one response I could give, even though I could hardly understand it, or him.
"Yes, my husband."
He turned and left. I sat there, breathing hard, struggling with sheer disbelief, my entire world turned upside down between the two courses of what had once been only another evening meal, of the many thousands we'd shared before.
But I was only stunned, not blind or dumb. My mind raced on. Even if my husband had forbidden that the subject not be discussed between us, I could hardly not consider it. I knew only a few things would keep a Vulcan from the performance of his duties. Death. Divorce, if they were familial duties given in marriage. Dishonor, which could hardly be the case. Pon Far, of course. But after forty years, I knew all the signs of Pon Far. This wasn't that.
But there was something worse than Pon Far. Something far more dangerous and insidious, that crept up, unaware until it came to a head with devastating consequences. Something that, like Sarek's look and tone, I hadn't experienced for twenty years. Could it have come back? And how?
No. Never, I thought.
But, the rational part of my mind urged, while the rest was reeling in disbelief and sheer, stubborn, human denial, What else would keep Sarek from his duties? What else would cause him to speak to me, to deal with me, in such a way? In a tone, in a look, in a manner he hasn't used for all these years. What else ever has?
The blood fever – not the acute and short lived Plak Tow of Pon Far, but the far more dangerous and chronic Plak Vrie. Nearly always fatal, except in certain rare cases with certain specific and equally unpleasant remedies.
I swallowed hard and reached blindly for a water glass, but my shaking hand wouldn't hold it. I clenched my fist as if to deny its trembling and bit a knuckle instead.
Vrie. Again. What else could it be?
"Oh, my god," I whispered and I closed my eyes tight against the tears that spilled anyway, in spite of that futile attempt.
Implacable nature being the one thing never denied by a Vulcan. Or to a human married to one.
To be continued….