The first day she taught at the VSA was, without exception, the worst day of her life. She let herself in the door of her home, not sure if she would ever, ever go back.
It wasn't that she hadn't prepared for life on Vulcan. She'd worked out in a heavy gravity gym for months before planetfall. She spoken Vulcanur rather than English to her husband at least half the time since their marriage – at least, she did her best to remember to do so. Once on Vulcan, she took the barest minimum of triox, to acclimate more quickly. Sarek had even arranged that they come to Vulcan when it was winter in his home hemisphere, so she would have the equivalent of a Terran year before she had to face the full brunt of a Vulcan summer, Vulcan having a longer rotational spin than Earth. But it hadn't mattered. Winter or not, she was undone.
Her first day spent teaching left her throat parched with dryness, no matter how she had tried to hydrate herself. The passages in her nose and sinuses felt like she'd been left to dessicate in the Sahara desert. Even her eyes felt like cotton balls. And that was just her head. Her breath rasped like sandpaper in her lungs. If she tried to rush, she got light-headed from lack of oxygen. Every muscle throughout her whole body ached with weariness as if she'd been lifting weights. And she had been. Her own weight, magnified by Vulcan's heavier gravity. By the afternoon, she honestly felt like the planet was pulling her down, devouring her like quicksand. Add to that, the longer days, for the length of a Vulcan day was nearly a third longer than one of Earth's, were exhausting in themselves.
By the end of that first superlong day of teaching, she wouldn't say she was ready to go home to Terra. But she did want the next best thing.
She desperately wanted a bath.
She kicked off her sandals once inside the door of her home. She dumped her teaching materials on a kitchen counter, not bothering to detour to her office. She undid the plait of her hair, and tossed the fastener on a hall table. She went straight to her bathroom – thank Sarek for insisting on installing one for her, even though she'd demurred that sonics would do for her as they did for all Vulcans – shedding clothes along the way. Once there, she dumped a quarter of a bottle of outrageously expensive foaming rose bath oil -- imported all the way from Terra -- into the capacious tub -- also imported from Terra, likewise prodigiously expensive. Then she turned the taps on full, warm enough to soothe her muscles, and cool enough to ease her heat-exhausted frame. The water in the Fortress came from underground springs and was both unmetered and unwasted, being recycled into the gardens. Still if she had had to live in the city like a normal citizen of Shikhar, the water in her tub alone would have cost a princess' ransom. She stripped her underclothes off as a final thing, dumping them by the side of the tub, and then sank with relief, shoulders deep, into the water. She let the tub fill until the water reached the nape of her neck, soothing the pain down her back, only her nose dipping above the water. She shook her hair loose in the pool. And then she floated. Soon steam gently filled the room, raising the humidity to a level comfortable to her. The buoyancy of the water eased the pull of gravity. And for a brief respite, if she wasn't on Terra, she was at least in an environment not of Vulcan. And would gladly have renounced all things Vulcan, at least for the present. Until the heard the click of the latch and her husband's voice. He was the one thing of Vulcan, even on a day like today, she would never renounce.
"Yes, here." She felt a moment's guilt. Normally at this time of day, she was in the kitchen, preparing their evening meal. She cleared her throat of the dryness that the steam still hadn't dissipated. "How did you know where to find me?" She asked as he entered the room.
"I followed the trail of your debris." Sarek punctuated the comment by leaning down to collect her discarded underclothes, and tossed them with the others he'd collected into the fresher.
"You don't need to pick up after me," Amanda said, flushing. "I would have done it. I just needed a bath first." She settled back into the water, her eyes closing almost involuntarily.
Sarek eyed her speculatively, hesitating to disturb her. She almost seemed to be meditating. Or at least, resting deeply. "Was your first day teaching at the VSA so difficult?"
She hesitated, then shrugged her shoulders in the water. Somehow it was easier to confess the unvarnished truth with her eyes closed. "It was awful."
"Awful," Sarek said the word as if tasting it and took a few steps further into the room. It was not a word Vulcans would choose and so probably not one he had the capability to immediately understand. "What specifically made it so difficult? Or was all of it 'awful'?"
"Not all," she said, opening her eyes and staring down at the water. She drew up her knees and rested her head sideways on them, looking at him, her hair floating behind her. "My classes are fine. The students are good. I'm sure we'll get used to each other's ways. They don't have much choice, after all. In the polemics between teacher and student, the teacher still has the advantage, at least at a university level."
"And they have chosen to study with you," Sarek reminded her. "There is a waiting list to get into your classes."
"Yes, at least at present there is. And if I shock them too much with my wild Terran ways, at least they are young and resilient."
"As are you," Sarek reminded her. "Though I doubt they were so very shocked. I suspect you are merely fatigued. What you have recounted is nothing that can't be overcome by acclimation on both sides. The essential nature and value of your teaching is not the issue at hand. It has merely been a long day for you. And I'm sure the environment has contributed some difficulties."
"Yes," Amanda admitted. "It's true that a lot of what's wearing me down is just environmental. The lack of humidity, the gravity, the heat. I still get lightheaded from the air, or lack of it." She lay back again in the water. "And if this is a Vulcan winter, my husband, I shudder to imagine a Vulcan summer."
Sarek fingered the clasp he had picked up from downstairs and then placed it carefully on the bathroom counter. "I am somewhat surprised at that. You haven't seemed quite so stressed before today. Indeed, I had thought you were adapting quite well."
She turned to look at him. "But don't you realize how much hotter it is in the city, Sarek? I'd never spent so much time there before. I really had no idea."
Sarek flicked a brow and leaned against the counter, regarding her, well away from the steam rising from the tub, fogging the room's mirrors. "Yes. That didn't occur to me. Vulcans compensate for such minor fluctuations rather easily. I had forgotten humans can't."
"Some Vulcans, perhaps, can compensate for 'minor fluctuations'" Amanda said, a shade darkly. "Others aren't quite so …flexible."
"Whatever do you mean?"
She looked at him minutely, then shook her head. "It doesn't matter." She sank back down in the water.
"Amanda." Sarek came over to her, braving the humidity that was curling his hair into cupidesque ringlets . "What do you mean?"
"Some of the faculty are very nice. Maybe even most of them are. Or could be. But as for the others – well, perhaps I'm not so minor a deviation for which to compensate. But I'm sure they'll stop regarding me like an animal caught outside her zoo -- eventually."
Sarek raised a brow. "I regret that you were made to feel even slightly unwelcome on your first day. But, as you know, even on Terra certain individuals can be less accepting of change than others. You should not allow the few that cannot to affect you so."
"They hate me."
Sarek was startled by this blunt statement. "Surely not."
"Some of them do. You should see the way they--" Amanda caught herself. She leaned her cheek against her hand in a makeshift pillow and closed her eyes against the words.
"The way they what?"
She shook her head again, biting her lip, not meeting his gaze. "I'm just exhausted, Sarek. As you say, it's been a very long day. And these little things bother me more when I'm tired."
"What things?" Sarek questioned.
"Just little things."
"If they are so trivial," Sarek persisted inexorably, "then why let them distress you?"
"They may be trivial, but they add up." Amanda drew up a little. "And for all that Vulcans supposedly have no expression, I have learned to read them very well. The way they look at me, even when I'm doing my best to conform to Vulcan behavior. And heaven forbid if I chance to smile!"
Sarek hesitated at making such a heretical statement. But his wife was human, not Vulcan. Truth was truth. And Vulcans did have a highly aesthetic sense. "Your smile is beautiful."
She gave him an affectionate glance. "That's sweet. But barbaric is more the adjective I think some would assign to it. I do try to moderate my expressions --"
"No one expects you to cease to be human."
"No," Amanda said, a trifle resentfully. "They just expect me to behave as a Vulcan." She flared up a bit. "And it's your fault as well."
"Mine?" Sarek said, startled.
"Yes, yours. You indulge me so, I don't even know what is normal for Vulcans. Even in this," her hand thwacked the water, splashing them both.
"Amanda." Sarek drew back from her, brushing water off his tunic.
"Whatever can you mean?"
"Oh…it was just so hot today, in the city. And I was in the…I suppose you'd call it a teacher's lounge. And faculty were there, and just like any faculty lounge the galaxy over they were making tea and talking and there was a water tap there, you know."
"And I didn't really think about it. I had a handkerchief in my pocket, only because I do need something to mop myself with, when I get too hot. And I put it under the tap, wet it, not really thinking about it, just to cool my face, and my throat."
"I see." Sarek raised a brow.
"No, you don't. From the way some of them reacted, you would have thought I had stripped naked and swam in the ornamental fountain in front of the administration building."
"It would be the first practical use made of it in millennia," Sarek said dryly.
"Don't try to make me laugh. This isn't funny."
"Surely they made no adverse comments."
"It was what they didn't say. And how they didn't say it. They edged away from me like I was…well, indecent."
Sarek sighed, just a trifle. "I regret to point out, my wife, that from a Vulcan perspective, you were."
"Since the time Vulcans developed sonics, they have come to rarely bathe in water. However, for a female to do so, particularly in these modern times, is considered pre-Reform and highly…" Sarek hesitated over the word, but then went for it, "erotic, to Vulcan sensibilities. And prior to the reforms, when it was not uncommon, still no female would bathe before anyone but her husband."
"Sarek, I didn't bathe!"
"You said you wet your face, your throat…And the nape of your neck, no doubt?"
"Well, yes. It does cool you so, to do that."
Sarek shrugged. "No doubt. But it is very improper. For a Vulcan, which you are not. And being human, compensating for this heat, you have more than justifiable cause, even to bathe, as you put it, in the administration building's fountain. In spite of that, while I would like to say that Vulcans do not gossip, you have probably given quite a number of Vulcans something to discuss."
"Oh! You might have told me!"
"It never occurred to me you would do such a thing before others than ourselves. You never did so on Terra."
"Sarek, I never needed to! On Terra, it's not 115 degrees Fahrenheit in the shade!"
"True. I stand corrected."
"That doesn't do me any good now. Is there any other pre-Reform behavior I indulge in that is shocking?"
Sarek hesitated to say a great deal of her behavior could be considered so. It would serve no useful purpose. She was not Vulcan. "Amanda, you have not done anything wrong, by Terran standards. Nor even, by Vulcan ones, for no Vulcan would expect to hold another being to Vulcan standards. Vulcans are fair, and eventually they will come to realize their mistake. And when more alien beings come to teach at the academy, they will cease to be so…provincial. Indeed, today was probably good practice for them, in that regard. By tomorrow they will have recollected themselves, and will probably never behave so again."
"Oh, Sarek. That's a pretty philosophy. But you didn't see their faces."
"Then they were doubly in the wrong, for showing such emotion. Amanda, do not judge them so harshly. This is new to them as well. While there are some Terrans now at the VSA, most of them have come for only short lecture series. None have tried to extensively integrate with the existing faculty. They will come to appreciate you. As they should. As I have. You must give them a chance."
"I suppose I'll have to try. In for a penny, in for a pound." She glanced up at him. "Were you this miserable when you first came to Earth?"
He looked down at her, a trace of a smile twitching his lips. "Much, much more so."
Against her will, she laughed. "Ever the diplomat. Doesn't it injure your Vulcan conscience to tell such terrible lies?"
"My dear wife," Sarek settled down beside her and took her hand in his. "Vulcans never lie."
"Never, hmmm?" She settled back, sighing softly, and brought his hand to her lips. "I'll have to remember that fact. It might come in useful some day."
"We do not, however," he amended, watching her kiss his fingertips, "always tell the full truth."
She opened one eye to look at him. "I knew there was a hitch somewhere."
"Indeed. But to be perfectly truthful now, I will confess that Terra was extremely uncomfortable to me." He settled back to share a litany of his own complaints. "I was perpetually cold. The humidity left me feeling always damp and doubly chilled. Indeed, it distressed me the most of all those things on Terra. It seemed to soak through my clothes down through my skin. The yellow light hurt my eyes--"
"The red light hurts mine," she commented. "And I'm always hot, and the lack of humidity leaves me parched."
"And in addition, for several weeks at least, until I learned to compensate for it metabolically, the light gravity made me perpetually queasy at mealtimes."
Amanda sighed. "The heavy gravity here just wears me out. And speaking of mealtimes, I really can't face the prospect of making dinner."
"Perhaps, now that you are teaching, it's time to consider delegating such tasks to the Vulcan staff?"
"No, not yet. It's going to take me some time to acclimate, as you have said, but I think I will. In the meantime, I left some pre-prepared meals in stasis. Can you shift for yourself, just for tonight?"
"You must eat too, Amanda."
Amanda shook her head. "No, not yet. I couldn't. I'm still too dehydrated to think about food."
Sarek looked down at her, one hand pushing back the foamy hair from her brow. "How can one be dehydrated in a pool of water?"
"The water helps, but unfortunately I don't take it in by osmosis."
Sarek's hand trailed down, tracing the plane of her cheekbone and then crossing to her lips. The water and bath oil coated her skin with an iridescent gleam, accented with the white foam from her shampoo and the bath bubbles. "You look like a mermaid," he said.
"A mermaid?" Amanda said, amused. "What do you know of mermaids? None of you Vulcans have ever had any history of legitimate sea creatures, much less fanciful ones."
"I've read the fairy tales and legends that you advised me to review. Quite archetypal, as you suggested. And useful, in that regard, in dealing with humans. All humans. Even, dare I say it, my wife."
"Really. I assure you, I'm quite ordinarily human."
"At times. But for now, you appear quite the picture of a little mermaid. Or, if you prefer," he said, seeing her make a face, "an Aphrodite, born from foam." He cupped a handful of it, and watched it swirl in the water.
"Aphrodite was the goddess of love," she reminded him.
"Quite appropriate. A goddess capable of charming anyone, human or immortal."
Sarek sketched an amused nod. "For this Aphrodite, and this Vulcan, that goes without saying."
Amanda flushed a little, still embarrassed. "Well, this goddess has feet of clay. Just as the original Aphrodite shocked the 'pious residents of Cos', I've shocked the 23rd century equivalents at the VSA."
"I am sure they will eventually come under your spell."
"So I'm not going to get a lecture on how you expect your wife 'to behave herself, naturally?'"
"Only to behave herself naturally," he said, gently teasing.
"What a difference a comma makes," she said. "And what a relief. Though I confess, it's not what I was expecting to hear."
"Then rest assured, my little mermaid, that it is what I do expect."
"Mermaid indeed," she said tartly. "Miss Goddess, to you."
Sarek half smiled. "Either is appropriate. Given," he brushed a soapy curl from her forehead, "you appear quite foam borne."
"Well, I have you to thank for the bath. I don't know what I'd do without it. But I'm sure you must be finding this humidity uncomfortable. You should go and eat something, Sarek. I'll be done in a little bit." She sighed. "After I've had more of a nap."
"You must eat as well, Amanda."
She shook her head, leaning back to float again. "Oh, no. I couldn't possibly."
"Come then. I'll take you to bed."
"No. I'd really rather just rest here for a few more minutes. If you don't mind." Her eyes began to close again and her breathing slowed. "I'm still so tired."
"Amanda," Sarek protested. "You can't sleep here."
"Not sleep. Rest. Just for a few more minutes," she murmured. "It's so comfortable here, in the water. It quite counteracts the gravity."
"Amanda," Sarek said. But she had finally exhausted her reserves and was fast asleep. Floating in the water which swirled around her, rising and falling with a gentle motion, just touching her lips as it rocked her. Sarek found himself watching that iridescent gleam as the light glanced along her limbs, kissing them. For a moment, in a trick of the light, she seemed even more other worldly. Ethereal. Unreal. Almost without volition, his head bent, and then he was kissing her too, feather light. The water dipped and moved, touching his lips as well, sealing them both in its magic kiss. She was fast asleep; she did not wake. Sarek drew back, looking down at his changeling wife, tasting the water on his lips. A creature only comfortable on Vulcan in her natural element. A woman from a water world, born on foam. Capable of charming anyone, Vulcan or human. But fated to periodically return to her element, if she was to survive.
"Mermaid," he said, his voice hushed enough not to disturb her dreams, but unable to deny the confirmation of what now seemed an inexorable fact. "Mermaid. Mermaid, mine." He settled down beside her, her hand in his, watching, waiting for the time when his changeling mermaid wife would awake. Would arise from the foamy pool.
And transform herself back into a girl.
An ordinary, human girl.
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Holography series 0