Sympathy for the Devil
By Rabble Rouser
DATE: October 10, 2000
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: This was inspired by Kathy Dailey's comment that she felt sympathy for T'Pring. I owe a huge debt to my betas. To Jat-Sapphire both for letting me borrow a bit of Vulcanology from "Still Amok" and for looking at this when it was the draftiest of drafts, to Hafital, first and foremost for reassuring me this was worth completing when I had lost faith in it, to Wildcat who spent an incredibly generous amount of time helping me twist this into shape, and to Jungle Kitty, who, among other things, helped enormously in fine tuning my T'Pring.
Note: This story touched off a lovely vignette by Ventura33 "Not Logical" which I think of as a kind of sequel. It can be found on her website at: http://www.gemair.com/~bwhite/ventura33/index.html
© 2000 Rabble Rouser
v v v
It finally began. I was in the hospital cafeteria seated across from my colleague Dr. Elizabeth Vielot when I felt the backwash of his desire shudder through me. My betrothed is away a distance unimaginable from Vulcan yet I am flooded with an arousal that is no way diminished. As that tide washed through me, in my panic and shock I clenched the theris-masu mug in my hand. It shattered with an explosive sound. I heard Liz cry out and she moved to my side.
"T'Pring," she called softly. She stroked the back of my hand. "Let go," she begged. I could see her swallow and the collapse of my shields allowed me to feel a thread of fear from her touch. Of me? For me? "M'Benga—go get a medikit—now," I heard her order. I looked down at my hand as if it belonged to a stranger. It was dripping blood and spasmodically gripping the shards of the mug.
Most Vulcans think Humans are weak. They would not think so if they knew Liz. I looked up at those steady brown eyes and somewhere found enough strength of will to loosen my grip. The human intern returned with a speed that earned him a disdainful look or two. Only one or two, for most in the cafeteria were ignoring us completely. Only Doctor Sorak stared at me a moment, then, as he noticed me return his gaze, he paled and looked away. They knew. Little else but what we were forbidden to even speak of would cause these symptoms in one my age. I knew what Liz must be seeing. Pupils dilated and fixed on nothing. Shudders passing through my body followed by a rigidity surpassing stone.
Usually when this time comes, we hide ourselves away from all prying eyes. This had come upon me with no warning but I should not have been surprised. It has always been so. The connection of the mind knows no distance. From the Time of the Beginning, it has drawn those so connected together to the appointed place. This is why we cannot speak of it even among ourselves. To be tied so to another without control in a way that nothing can blunt save death is for us the greatest of indignities.
I breathed rhythmically and tried to reassert control. There is no pain, I told myself. But it is part of this time that we are stripped of all control physical and mental. I gritted my teeth. I would not ask for a palliative and brand myself as having no more self-mastery than a child. Liz yanked the shards out of my palm. I could not stop myself from flinching. The two humans glanced at each other in consternation at this further sign of my disintegration. I felt the familiar beam of a protoplaser play over my palm knitting my cuts. Next, Liz sprayed a numbing protective coat of biofilm over my hand. Then Liz played her mediscanner over my form. I could see her scowl over the readings. I placed my hand over the scanner. "You must cease this now."
"Are you going to tell me what this is about?"
"No." I said tightly.
"No? We shall see." I saw her lips compress into a thin line that boded trouble. It is easy to underestimate humans. They signal so many of their intentions through their voice and expression, you can forget that in their own way they can be as controlled and determined as any Vulcan and their face as much a mask as any of ours. And the very abundance of their expressions can hide their significance. Liz told me she had no problem reading Vulcans and I believe her. She said that because we let so little through what emotions we did allow expression shouted at her like bold headlines across an otherwise blank sheet of paper. I did not find it so easy to read her after years of shutting down such awareness, but I was learning. I found that observing human nuances of expression only strengthened my emotional control and taught me to know myself and my fellow Vulcans better than years of training in the path.
Doctors Vielot and M'Benga were here on a medical exchange program between Vulcan and Earth. As one trained as a Healer in the traditional ways as well as a physician heading up Internal Medicine, I was charged with their training. It was felt that an exchange of knowledge would be to our mutual advantage. But there was one aspect of Vulcan biology we hid from their eyes.
I understood how illogical this was. But little of how we handled the ancient call of blood to blood was logical. The customs and traditions we wrapped it in came from before Surak and he knew better than to touch its irrational core. We covered it with a silence that headed off any need for rationalization. Part of me wanted to defy the taboo and tell Liz everything. It was not as if she would be the first outworlder to know. No, the mother of my betrothed was the first but not until she was sealed to the clan. For now I shook my head in denial and rose newly composed. I inclined my head in the only sign of gratitude permitted by our customs and walked away, but not before Liz shot some parting words of challenge at my back.
"We'll discuss this later."
I continued on as if I did not hear. She had pitched her voice low but we both knew it would not be beyond my hearing. As a woman, I know this heat is not my own. It is the men who feel the fire. What I feel is but a tingling warmth to his consuming flame. Women do not feel the plak tow. We are in comparison untouched. It is what gives such women as T'Pau their power, that a woman widowed or unbonded need not fear that conflagration and so can coolly step aside and use only logic to decide the fate of others. It is why only women keep the katra on Mount Seleya. It is why women control Gol. It is why women like T'Pau rule Vulcan. But we pay a price.
I could rule if that is what I wished. The clan of Surak is the most powerful on Vulcan. Spock would come to slake his heat in my body and depart, and I would have his name and his property and would continue to be trained to rule at T'Pau's side.
I do not wish to control others. I only want rulership over my own sphere. My own body. My own life. The only way we are allowed to express feeling and passion is through the bond. It is like being pregnant. When wanted, it is a private, joyous sharing. "Parted from me and never parted. Never and always touching and touched."
We hold that the rape of another mind is a crime higher than murder. And yet on Vulcan, where the choice of consort is made for us, we are indulging in it every day even if refusing to call it so. What else to call such an enforced intimacy as this? When such a bond is unwanted, this condition is a betrayal by your own body and a violation of all that you are. We do not speak of it so I do not know if others of my race think of it this way. I only know that for me it is so.
With time and privacy, I would try to reestablish my barriers and restore my cool facade but after the ceremony binding us together I would never be the same—would never belong to myself.
v v v
I went to my office and attempted to meditate on the flame. It was there rather than home that I kept the Fire God idol given to me when Spock and I were joined. Sprak'n—the ancient God of blood, war, flames, and desire. It is ironic that we who follow Surak use as our focus for meditation the symbol of all he sought to quench.
I took out an image of Stonn and attempted to meditate on his features, but the more I concentrated the more his features blurred in front of me until all I could picture was Spock. I cannot call Stonn while I am filled with lust for another. I tried reaching Spock on the Enterprise but to no avail. Already I could feel a tug pushing me toward the place of marriage or challenge. I knew I had perhaps three days before I could resist that call no longer. After a while, I gave up on the mind rules and took a sedative. It would not stop me from feeling what Spock was sending to me, but I hoped drugging myself would allow me to care less.
I started on my rounds hoping it would provide distraction. Liz intercepted me. "T'Pring, I don't think this is a good idea for you or your patients. We have to talk." She took me by the arm and I saw her eyes widen in surprise at my trembling. She briskly walked me to her office. I acquiesced rather than create a scene. I know when Liz will not be diverted.
"I recognized the symptoms I found on the mediscanner. I've seen them before and whenever I do, the patient is hustled away. I saved some of that blood of yours and ran a scan. Your blood has a mess of hormones in it—again like those patients that disappear from M'Benga's and my sight. Do you know what I think?"
"Not without a meld," I snapped, "and I do not feel up to one so I would appreciate it if you would explain as concisely and quickly as possible."
"Keme and I weren't born yesterday. We found it suspicious that the whole subject of sex is absent not just in conversation but in our training here. Plus—you forgot to lock us out of the data on admissions and autopsies. There are too many young women who come here savaged—looking as if they are brutally raped even though we are told primly when we ask that there is no rape or domestic violence on Vulcan. And every once in a while we get a male who looks like his own hormones did him in. And you know Keme has actually troubled himself to learn Vulcan—even archaic High Vulcan—and has come across some interesting reading materials you don't even bother to censor because you're so sure no outworlder will ever puzzle them out. You're in pon farr—and if it wasn't for your age I would guess it was your first."
I was rendered speechless. The sound that came out of my throat next shocked both of us. Laughter that choked back on itself. "I can see T'Pau was right. Vulcans cannot allow humans among us. You are meddling in matters that are none of your affair." Liz's intent stare told me that my rebuke would not deter her. My laughter had only served to confirm that something was terribly wrong.
"T'Pring, you may not like this but right now I don't give a shit. I care about you. I'm not about to stand by and let anything happen to you." Liz took my shoulder and began to shake me. "Talk to me."
I pushed her away so violently she was thrown to the floor. I dropped to my knees. "Liz, are you injured?"
I helped her to stand up and she waved me away when I tried to help her into a chair. "I'm all right. Just got the breath knocked out of me. Serves me right for trying that on a Vulcan in your condition."
"No condition of mine is a sufficient excuse."
"T'Pring, I'm your friend. I'm also a physician. I took an oath as ancient and solemn as yours not to divulge what I see or hear in that capacity. I give you my word that I will reveal to no one—not even Dr. M'Benga—anything you tell me unless you release me from that promise."
I turned my back to her. I could not face her as I said this. "It is my first."
"And?" Liz prodded me.
"The condition is induced by the male and is not as strongly felt in the female since the cause is indirect." I licked my lips nervously, a habit I thought I had long suppressed. I tried to think of Liz only as a fellow physician and make this a report of a diagnosis like any other. "My disturbance is more...emotional than physical from feeling the impact of his...arousal in my own body." Liz was closer to me than anyone living save Stonn, and yet it took much effort to force out each word.
"Even that," Liz said gently, "must be greatly disturbing. I would say the cause is sufficient."
"It usually comes upon us for the first time in late adolescence. My betrothed is a Vulcan-human hybrid. I began to believe his hybrid physiology would spare us this—that the pon farr would never happen."
"Spock—your childhood friend? The one who wound up on the Enterprise?" I turned at that and responded to her grin with a lifted eyebrow. "Well, what you've said practically gives it away. There aren't that many Vulcan-Human hybrids I know of and certainly no others of the right age. You know, I've gotten the feeling that the man's practically a legend on Vulcan. Why haven't you ever told me?"
I did not respond to that, and as the silence lengthened, Liz's smile faded. "I don't understand. Why aren't you bonded to Stonn? It's obvious—"
"Spock and I were promised to each other as children. The wedding will take place as soon as Spock arrives. There is no divorce on Vulcan. The tie can only be broken through a challenge at the marriage ceremony."
"What do you mean? Some kind of legal challenge?"
"No. It has not been invoked in centuries, but it is my right. I can choose a champion to fight him, which will result in the victor claiming me as property."
"Victor? Property? What kind of fight?"
"To the death." For a moment Liz drew back. Her face fluxed as if it could not decide upon an expression. Finally, it settled into a blankness a Kolinahr master would envy. I could imagine her thoughts. Indeed, after much time with her I thought I could hear her thoughts: We of Vulcan, with all our ethical self-righteousness, employed a custom of such thorough barbarism?
"Is there no alternative?"
"Vulcan has sought none. We are told there are always possibilities but in this we are not allowed to speak, not allowed to question. There has been no medical research attempting to cure pon farr, and precious little exists to ameliorate any of the symptoms." I leaned against the wall and tried not to give in to the urge to pace.
"That is not logical."
"No, it is not."
"And Stonn. Would he serve as your champion?"
"I would never ask it of him. Liz, I know not what to do. I do not seek Spock's death. I simply want to be left alone." I felt a need to jump out of my skin and could not stand still any longer. I wanted to break something. Instead I began to walk back and forth along the length of the room.
"Can't you ask Spock to let you go? Come to a private understanding?"
I remained silent.
"T'Pring, you can't show up there without speaking to him! I don't like your choices. You can't tie yourself to a man you don't love for the rest of your life."
"Such considerations do not enter into a Vulcan's calculations," I said dryly.
"Bullshit. You can't marry him. There has to be a way around this without throwing away Spock's life. Maybe he can find another partner. Maybe you could go offworld."
"Liz, it is already too late. By the time the woman feels symptoms in her own body, the male is beyond reason and self-control. He could never give me up now. Besides, I did try reaching the ship. A Lieutenant Uhura tells me he is not answering her hail. I can only assume he is refusing to communicate with me."
"Can you reach him through the link? I assume you are linked in some way or what he feels wouldn't be affecting you."
"We were linked at seven but it is not a deep bond. Only enough so that we'd be drawn together to the appointed place at the appropriate time. I cannot know his thoughts without a meld. That would ordinarily be the case even in a true marriage bond. I only feel enough to know he is alive, to know he is coming closer, and to know that he lusts." I could not keep from shuddering and I sat before my legs gave way.
"And that terrifies you."
"He is a stranger. And he has let things go so far that by the time he reaches me he will be beyond controlling the violence of his passions. Yes, I am afraid. Does it make you happy, to hear me admit to that?" I asked bitterly. I looked down at my trembling hands and clenched them into fists.
"No, it makes me very afraid for you."
"It is our custom that the bride be accompanied by her closest friends. I would like you to be there." I hoped Liz could hear my apology for lashing out at her in that request—and the acknowledgment of what our friendship meant to me that I had never before quite voiced.
"I'll be there."
After Liz left to see a patient, I returned to my own office to call Stonn for all the good that would do me. I have never had any real control over my fate. That was sealed for both Spock and me when we were seven years old.
v v v
I cannot remember when I first met Spock, for that would be like asking when you first met your parent or older sibling. We grew up near each other's households in Shi'kahr. My mother was Healer to their Household and a frequent companion of Spock's mother, Amanda. Amanda for her part, continued to teach Terran music as she had on Earth. Terran music is highly prized on Vulcan. One of my earliest memories is of Amanda correcting my fingering on the violin during my music lessons. At three that was one of the few tactile contacts I was permitted with another.
Spock, at three, would be seen in the courtyard poking the soil with a stick to better observe the insect life. He would sit still there for hours. Even then his powers of concentration were uncanny. His parents ensured he was proficient in the Vulcan lyre, but the true instruments of his choice were the computer and his home-made sensor array that he put together at five and with which he would examine T'Kuht and the other planets and the stars.
His pursuits were solitary although not entirely by his choice. By the time he was five, his older half-brother, Sybok, was already creating controversy as a student at the VSA with his heretical beliefs. There were whispers of a taint in the blood, and people pointed to Sarek's choice of a human as a second wife as confirmation. Even the adults considered Spock doubly tainted, and when their children taunted him against all the precepts of logic and IDIC, they did nothing to discipline them.
I remember once when we were both six. Spock came scrambling over the wall. I could hear the jeers of his pursuers. His tunic was torn and soiled, the streaks of tears marked his face, and his lip was split and bleeding. At that time he had less control than the usual Vulcan of his age, which was taken as evidence of the weakness of his human blood, and only increased the harassment and his isolation from his peers.
I suspect that it was not his biological heritage, especially considering his later mastery. Amanda resisted Spock's complete inculcation into the path. Spock's father, Sarek, would admonish Spock for betraying emotion in his voice and thus not acting Vulcan. Next Amanda would attempt to coax a smile from Spock and lament he was not acting Human. Between the two of them, they were cleaving Spock in two.
"Spock, come with me." I took him by the hand and led him to the courtyard pool. I dipped my kerchief in the water and used it to wipe the tears and blood from his face. I said nothing more but tried to let my calmness settle him before Amanda or Sarek saw us. Amanda would cry and make a fuss and arouse the entire household into a pitch. What Sarek's reaction would be to Spock's tears was not one I cared to contemplate.
"They say I am not truly Vulcan but am of human blood," he said, his lower lip trembling.
"Humans bleed red," I said pointing out the obvious. "And after all both your mother and Mozart are human," I added as if that settled the question.
I was oblivious to the contradiction in both assuring him he was not human and that being human was not anything for which he should feel shame. I was also of the belief that any people who produced Mozart should be absolved of any other fault. Had I the sophistication, I would have argued that it was not logical to taunt someone for their nature. Moreover, to taunt him for being human or not being Vulcan was not in keeping with Surak's teachings on IDIC. But such a philosophical understanding was beyond me then and I had never heard the adults such as Sarek argue so.
He restrained my arm and took the cloth out of my hand. He dipped it into the pool and wrung it a little, then held it to his swelling lip. The presence of open water on the estate was one of the many indications of this household's wealth and position. Even as I had made extravagant use of the water, part of me had inwardly cringed.
"My father says he is going to approach yours about betrothing us," Spock said. I could see him swallow convulsively. He looked down at the ground.
I could not have withheld my reassurance and acceptance any more than I could deny myself music. Spock was the chief companion of my days. He was teaching me to pick out the different stars in our skies. I in turn would go over with him a music manuscript of Brahms or Mozart.
I held out my two middle fingers to him in the gesture I had seen so many grownup couples make. "That would be greatly pleasing to me and a great honor. It would mean we would never part. I would never reject you."
We of Vulcan have gifts that seem to be denied humans. We have some telepathic abilities and have an unerring sense of time and place. But we have no precognition. I could not know how my words as a small child would reverberate through the years. It is not a mercy that our memories are so keen.
Spock looked up at me shyly and his eyes shone with his joy at such an acceptance. Slowly he held out his own two fingers and touched mine and a wide smile lit his face.
"Spock!" We looked up and drew quickly apart. It was Sarek. Spock had after all not been undone by his tears but by his smile. I still remember that smile vividly. It was the last such smile he ever permitted himself in my presence.
v v v
After that I was told I could not see Spock. Worse, as I was not allowed on the estate, I could not continue my studies on the violin with Amanda. That is when I learned my greatest lesson about emotional control. Indifference can itself be a form of victory. I had been at the top of Mount Seleya once. I imagined myself there and drew the cold to me. I would feel nothing. It is not punishment if you feel nothing. They do not win if you feel nothing.
Nearly a year later, I was told that I would be betrothed to Spock after all. Sarek had not found someone else who would link a daughter to a seemingly unstable son. My mother told me stiffly that in the future I must hold myself as an exemplar of Vulcan propriety and that public displays of affection even between those betrothed were unacceptable. For my family, the connection represented a distinct honor. Sarek's House had wealth and position far beyond any on Vulcan. For that, my mother at least was willing to overlook irregularities Houses older in honor would not. My father, for his part, thought well of Spock who would often pester him for tales of his travels off-world as a trader.
My first question to her was if I could resume my music lessons. My mother gazed at me searchingly, but I had remembered to keep any eagerness out of my expression and was rewarded with a nod. After the ceremony, I was told, I could resume my lessons and see Spock again. Obviously my mother did not wish Sarek to see me acting in any manner that would jeopardize the match.
Amanda drew me aside from the others before the ceremony. I felt her cool moist lips on my brow. "T'Pring, it will be wonderful to have you as a daughter! Wouldn't you like that?" She squatted down and tried to embrace me.
"I already have a mother, Lady." I thought I saw hurt in those alien blue eyes as I pulled away. My face was ice. I could not articulate it then even to myself but there was something in the surreptitiousness of her gesture that repelled me. If Spock has grown ashamed of his human heritage, I do not think you need look to the taunts of children. His own mother refused to hold to a Vulcan discipline and yet would not simply be—there was something in her manner that spoke of shame of her humanity. It would be many years before I met other humans and learned that hers was not at all the usual manner of those born of Earth.
I felt chilled anew when I saw Spock but this was not the inner ice I had summoned. At Spock's side stood a Kolinahru. My mother's sister had entered Gol two years ago. She had gotten a short leave when Grandmother had died four months ago. The computer that ran our home had more personal presence than a Gol adept. The Kolinahri rarely left the Sanctuary. I had heard that an exception had been made for Spock and that a Master of Gol had taken leave to serve as Spock's tutor.
In less than a year, Spock stood transformed. He had chosen the Vulcan way after the kahs-wan, and like many whose right to a path was questioned, he had sought perfection. In his eyes I saw no welcome and he barely permitted himself a slight nod acknowledging my presence. This is not how I had imagined our reunion. It occurred to me that I no longer knew Spock. I did not permit myself even a nod then but stood eyes front and center.
T'Pau officiated over the bonding ceremony and would guide us in the link. T'Pau was then the chief deputy to T'Kahma, who ruled the Council of the Clans and through it Vulcan. In less than a year, T'Pau would succeed her. That she would preside over the ceremony was yet another sign of the power of Spock's family. I schooled myself to stillness as our fathers read aloud from the scrolls that linked our Houses and lit the coals signifying the burning that would later draw us together. Spock and I exchanged the ritual words that fulfilled the forms of assent.
Then T'Pau approached us. She interlaced her fingers in my right hand and guided the other to Spock's meldpoints on the right of his face. Then she did the same with Spock's hand drawing his fingers to my meldpoints.
There was little subtlety in T'Pau's mental touch. She held her position by birth rather than mental acuity. I felt as if I were being placed into a cage. My mind rebelled and I pushed against her physically and mentally. I sensed her profound disapproval as she imposed her heavy weight on my mind. Spock could feel my rising panic. Through our growing link I could sense him shy away mentally, and over it T'Pau by force locked together two immature, barely trained minds. The more she pressed on my mind, the harder I resisted the link. I felt my knees buckle and sunk into unconsciousness fearing I had betrayed Spock in a way he would not forgive.
And so it was done.
v v v
When I awoke, I was in my room at home and my mother and father were at my side. So was T'Pau. Though my head was on fire I scrambled to stand. Even at seven, I knew that you do not face T'Pau from a position of weakness. My mother helped support me with a hand at my elbow.
T'Pau passed her gaze over me as if assessing a good in the market. "Foolish, stubborn girl. It is hard to comprehend why Sarek would think it logical to tie himself to this House. To forge an alliance with the daughter of a physician and a merchant where once he had married a princess. No doubt no other House was willing to let their daughter marry a human."
My father put his hand on my shoulder, a rare gesture among us. "I agreed to the match because they were friends and I felt that might be a good basis for a life partnership. I can only assume Sarek thought the same. Spock has considerable abilities, as does T'Pring, and he has chosen the Vulcan way. Neither House should have any reason to regret the match."
"So speaks Provenn the trader in trillium and other trinkets. Sarek cannot now think he chose wisely given that the girl fought so visibly against this bond." I felt my father squeeze my shoulder and I looked up and saw him look down in reassurance. T'Pau's snobbery did not bother him and he often had a caustic comment about the High Vulcan affectations in her speech—often enough used wrongly.
"Due to the clumsiness of your mental touch, T'Pring could have been permanently damaged," my mother said.
T'Pau ignored the insult. "She now belongs as much to the House of Surak as to the House of Peren and as such she will need to learn discipline. I shall have her fostered with me."
"I think not," said my mother.
"She has a duty to the clan," said T'Pau.
"And if she needs training in that duty I am willing to let her spend time with you. But she has obligations to this House as well and is to receive training as a Healer. As you well know, a Healer's training must begin young and all too few have the gift. Your rights here do not go so far that you can remove my daughter from her duty to this House."
"It is well. A Healer's training, along with what I can teach her, will instill the mental discipline she requires. Listen to me carefully, T'Pring s'T'Sela. If thee do not master thy passions, they will be thy undoing. To act as thee have is to act as an animal, not a Vulcan. Only animals and humans allow their actions to be ruled by the passions of the body. Thee are a child no longer and will not be indulged as one. I will not allow someone of thy future position to grow up wild. If thee persists in thy stubbornness, I will put thy mind under my control until thee can assert discipline. Does thee understand?"
I nodded my head, not trusting myself to speak. I knew then that from now on the only thing that stood between me and an invasion of my mind was a countenance and voice schooled to utter blankness in her presence.
v v v
I was still abed a week later when my father ushered in a visitor. Spock hung back at the threshold a moment, then walked to my beside and sat.
"Spock, I did not expect to see you here." After a year apart, I completed in my thoughts.
"We are betrothed. It is only proper that I visit."
"You seem well."
"I was not injured. Father says those with the healing talent have delicate dispositions and…"
I snorted. The closest thing to laughter I was permitted. I wanted to ask if he was angry with me. I wanted to apologize. He would only deny the first and question the logic of the second. Amanda and Spock had taught me much of the language of emotion but I had already learned better than to use it. I shrugged, an expression I had picked up from Amanda. "It is over and I will soon be well. I do not want to speak of it."
"Father has been teaching me to program the computer. I have built one of my own devising."
"I would like to see it."
"I play chess with it."
"It is an ancient Earth game that is becoming very popular. It is a challenging exercise of strategic skill that requires a player to logically plot out his moves and that of his opponent several steps ahead."
"Yes, Uncle Mardek once tried to teach me. The rules are simple but the play is complex. I did not know what to make of it."
"I will teach you."
There was a confidence in his voice and a new poise in his bearing that was appealing and intimidating at once. I did not know what to make of this Spock except that he was neither the shy, unsure boy I remembered nor the cold, distant automaton I feared when I saw the Kolinahru by his side at the bonding.
He removed something white from his pocket and laid it on my bed. "I kept this for you." At my puzzled look he continued. "It is your kerchief from the last time..."
He cleared his throat. "Father has warned me not to tire you. Mother wants to know when you will come to visit."
"As soon as I am able."
Spock nodded and left.
I kept twisting the kerchief in my hands after he left. I felt strangely pleased and yet confused that he had kept it for me. I felt he was trying to send me some kind of message I could not decipher. I think sometimes of that young T'Pring and Spock with a kind of despair. Was it that we were each in our way too alike? If one of us then had found the key to unlock what we were feeling, could one have freed the other?
v v v
Soon afterwards I resumed my music lessons with Amanda. Nothing I did could stop her greeting me with an embrace and quick caress of the cheek. The woman seemed starved for touch. After a while, I endured her touch quietly, for even having her chaotic emotions thrust upon me in this manner was a small price to pay for the music lessons. I was welcome to come at almost any hour to practice. It was on one such occasion that I finally met Sybok.
The music room was paneled in a wood, mahogany, imported from Earth. No where else on Vulcan have I seen this, an entire room lined in wood, for there is little of the land of our planet that is not desert, and wood here is more precious than any metal. A grand piano, also imported from Earth, dominated the room. Its very presence spoke of a vast wealth for few could afford to import such a massive item from across the stars. From the window one could see the Earth roses that Amanda cultivated. They were delicate blooms never meant for our desiccated air and greedy for water that was applied with a liberal hand.
I made sure I was alone. I told the computer to call up the accompanying music for Barber's Violin Concerto. I should have worked on the closing presto, for the accelerating tempo of that movement with its triplet semiquavers was difficult to master and a good exercise of technique. Nevertheless, I was far less fond of the angular presto. I could not resist beginning with the allegro as I loved the lushness of that opening. I expressed through that music all the wayward passions that were being stripped from my voice and face and movement in my training with T'Pau and my mother. I closed my eyes and luxuriated in a sensation of lightness and soaring I could not find elsewhere.
What I saw when I opened my eyes, made my heart beat rapidly in my side. By the door was Spock and a strange young man stood with him. What had my countenance revealed? The first thing I noticed was that Spock looked relaxed as he had rarely been in the two years since we had been bound together. The stranger actually had his arm laid casually around Spock's shoulders. He had a presence that spoke of command and utter confidence. When he spoke, his speech added to my confusion. It was informal and warm in tone and not what I had come to expect.
"That was beautiful, little one," said the stranger, "and unlike most your age you're not afraid to play it as it was meant—with feeling." I felt my face coloring.
"There is no need to insult me, sir. I was simply practicing to bring out the inner voice of the harmonic language."
He moved toward me and I drew in deep breaths to resume control. To my shock he took my free hand in the human manner and held it in both of his. "I have you at a disadvantage for Spock has told me who you are, T'Pring. I'm Sybok, Spock's elder brother." One shock after another, for then he smiled at me and took my violin and bow from my nerveless fingers and studied them a moment before laying them on the piano. "This is a brave choice. Your choice of the traditional lyre is far safer, brother, a more ethereal instrument."
Some of the stiffness returned to Spock's face. "Music is a worthy intellectual exercise that engages the mind, trains the ear, and inculcates great manual dexterity."
Sybok shook his head in mock severity. "I believe the music lessons taught among us so universally must be our first lessons in hypocrisy. For how can one value music as we do and pretend it's only an intellectual exercise akin to mathematics?"
I felt a fierce urge to defend Spock. "The choice of instruments was not ours. Sarek chose the lyre for Spock."
"But you chose the violin for yourself," Sybok said. "Amanda has told me the story. You were not yet three when you were begging to learn it and refusing to practice any other instrument. Indeed, Amanda is quite proud of you. She tells me you could make it your profession, and that you remind her of the most gifted musicians from her own days as a conservatory student."
"My path is otherwise. I am to be a healer as is my mother and as was her mother."
"Is that what you want?" he asked gently.
I did not know how to answer. No adult before this had ever asked what I wanted. He took each of my clenched hands in his and squeezed tightly. I heard him whisper softly so only I could hear. "So much pain in someone so young. What are we doing to our children?"
v v v
Sarek was away that entire year on a diplomatic mission off-world. I would spend time with T'Pau being schooled in the disciplines of logic and feel like someone buried under sand. When I was on Sarek's estate, it was as if I had broken the surface and could draw in great gusts of air. Sybok had been expelled from the Academy and was continuing his studies in pre-Surakian Vulcan philosophy in private. We two children were the first he tried to convince that the route to enlightenment was through emotion rather than logic.
I was there when Sarek came home. Sybok was reading to us from a pre-Reform treatise, S'Pak's "Dialogue of Ni'var," about the meaning of love. Sybok was seated in a chair while Spock and I lay sprawled on the floor with a chessboard between us. Spock, as usual, was arguing against his brother's advocacy of emotion with a relish that betrayed an emotion of its own.
"How could love be infinite? That is not logical. Everything there is must have a measure to have an identity. If there is no measure, how can you know it is real?" Spock asked. As he spoke, he moved his knight and took mine without pausing or looking down at the board.
"S'Pak is saying that love is unbounded and often seeks to break boundaries. Like Sarek and your Mother who broke the boundaries of custom and even species to come together and have you."
I looked at the board and casually tipped my king. No need to postpone the inevitable. It would be checkmate within five moves if Spock did not make a mistake—and Spock never made a mistake. "Father was explaining that the only way to measure what a good is worth is what people are willing to pay to gain or keep it. Maybe love is like that, it is measured by what you're willing to give up to get it."
I saw a look of impatience flicker over Sybok's face quickly smoothed over with a smile. "I suppose it is inevitable given your background that you would think in such metaphors. Emotions are of the spirit, and like the spirit, partake of the infinite. You should not try to bound it with things material."
"Even katras must be tied to the material to continue to exist, Sybok," Spock countered coolly. To my chagrin, Spock was setting up the board again. I could never refuse a challenge from him even one as implicit as this one. I think I also was trying to keep a connection to him in any way he would allow. Why he bothered to play with me I could never understand. Nine times out of ten he would win with ridiculous ease, the tenth time I could perhaps manage a draw. Yet he never seemed to tire in his attempts to teach me the nuances of the game. Perhaps he still hoped to shape me into a worthy partner.
I looked up to see Sarek at the threshold. That he had not called out or in any way greeted us was not a good sign. Sybok saw the direction of my gaze and turned. A smile lit his face. That was his first mistake.
Sarek lifted an eyebrow. "I had hoped the reports exaggerated. Or that at least you would have enough courtesy not to act in this manner in my house. Must you debauch even children? A worthy thing to match yourself against unformed minds."
"Act? You do not object when the Lady Amanda expresses emotion."
"The Lady Amanda is human and is too old in years to be trained otherwise. What is more, she acknowledges the superiority of the Vulcan way and of my authority. I expect more from my son—both my sons."
"I could say that Spock is half-human—but that would be to concede that it is the human side only that is emotional and passionate. We know better. Don't we, Father?"
"It is because Spock is half-human that he will be the perfect bridge between our worlds. He has chosen our path and is well on his way to mastery. Spock will show humans that this too is a path open to them—the path to peace and harmony."
"The path to sterility and hypocrisy."
Sarek turned to us then. "Spock, T'Pring—leave us."
Spock took the chessboard with him and we went into the garden to play. For the first time I defeated him easily. He made no comment but attempted to set up the board again—this time I stopped him with a hand. From here Sybok's voice carried to us. He was shouting. I had never heard a Vulcan raise their voice in anger. I felt then as if something in myself had been pulled out by the root and saw Spock go rigid at the same moment.
I knew immediately what had happened. Sarek had sheared his parental bond with Sybok. Every Vulcan is tied tenuously to the other. When a quake destroyed the city of T'Qen, every Vulcan on the planet felt the shock as thousands of minds went dark. We have words to categorize a dozen kinds of links from this slenderest of gossamer threads to the strong cable of a marriage bond. The link I had with Spock was not meant to be strong or permanent at this point. Sometimes when in close proximity, it made us sensitive to each other's moods. Yet even I could feel the shock of the severance of the familial bond through my link with Spock. I saw Sybok stride through the garden. Spock ran to meet him but he turned him away with a gesture. That would be the last time I saw Sybok cha'Sarek for several years.
v v v
We were seventeen. Spock came to see me at my home when the ruling from the Council came down. At first those in power had ignored Sybok. There were those who had relished the fact that Sarek's prestige was damaged by his wayward son. As Sybok gained more and more adherents among the young, the Clan Council found itself less than amused.
Sybok's property was forfeit and he was to be banished from Vulcan. His very name was to be stricken from every record and his katra would not be allowed on Mount Seleya. His adherents were given the choice of renouncing all that Sybok stood for or sharing his exile. Of the hundreds of his followers, a few dozen chose to go with him. His wife, T'Shan, had little choice. The law did not recognize any separate identity for her. The works Sybok had used for his research were to be removed from the nets and libraries and stored on Mount Seleya where access to them would be strictly limited.
It was—illogical. One cannot unring a bell. All those volumes were now printed in offworld editions and translated into Standard and Rigelian—for the most part due to Sybok's very followers. The works were not popular, but given time their dissemination would eventually change the way others thought of us—as works from offworld were already changing how we thought of ourselves. That is what the Council feared.
I knew why Spock had come. Who else could he come to? Sarek would not speak of Sybok. Amanda could not without crying. Only I had a hint of what Sybok meant to him and would listen without either forbidding him to speak or forcing upon him an excess of emotion.
"You have heard," he said.
"Yes. I was there. I am at T'Pau's side now at all such meetings." With Sybok's disinheritance, the clan seat that had been held by his wife would fall to me once Spock and I were wed. As a result, T'Pau had already ordered me to give up my "frivolous" study of the violin with Amanda. When I became a full Council member, I would be forced to give up the healing profession as well. It was not a prospect I relished. Meanwhile I was required to be present at all Council sessions.
"I would have liked to be there."
"He was dignified, Spock. He showed more emotional control than many on the Council. He said that they could silence him but that they could not forever shut off Vulcan from the entire community of worlds. That the repressed will return stronger by tenfold. He would not wait for the sentence but predicted it out loud and left saying he would have many preparations to make. He said that it was time, in any case, for him to leave and that he was looking beyond Vulcan now for his answers."
"Sybok has always had a gift for the grand gesture." He moved to a window and looked out at the night sky as if trying to draw strength from the cold distant stars. "He asked me to go with him."
I schooled my face and voice to impassivity. Sybok had not thought to ask me. He presumably believed that Spock would speak for both of us. For Sybok would expect me to follow Spock—if he would let me. "Your answer?"
"I told him I could not follow him."
At his response, I found to my surprise that what I felt was relief. I did not want to leave Vulcan to follow Sybok. No, what I found appealing in Sybok were his questions—not his answers.
"And yet I do not know how I can continue to remain on Vulcan. How can the Council decide to block a path untraveled? To declare that if one turns right rather than left, one will be cast out? That is not the path of science, of logic and reason but of fear. How can I follow my father into the VSA? A scientist cannot allow himself to be told here you may look but here you may not."
I found I was holding my breath. Spock had never before questioned the path laid out for him—at least not vocally—not to me. I had never found a wedge with which I could openly question his devotion to the Surak's way, and I feared Sarek and T'Pau too much to share my own doubts more than very tentatively. Even with that, I was always shut down by his stiff disapproval.
We were at an age where the male often experiences his first pon farr. I was finding it hard to tolerate the limbo we were in. Until the onset of pon farr that would give proof of my promised husband's fertility, we could not wed and I could have no children. Yet part of what brought on pon farr was a mental closeness and compatibility. I decided to grasp this chance or we might never find our way to each other.
"Spock," I said and laid my two fingers across his in the gesture only bonded couples are allowed. I allowed him to feel my desire and felt a warming tingling from him. I drew myself up on tiptoe and pulled down his head to brush an eyelid with my lips. I licked his lips and pressed my body close to his. Slowly I felt his body respond to mine. Spock made a sound deep in his throat and held me close.
Even now I hold this as a memory dear to me. Even with all its fumbling clumsiness, the wonder of that exploration and that attempt to hold onto each other and find comfort in shared pleasure is sweet to me. Spock was so gentle and yet brought all the intense concentration to me he brought to everything he does. When we came together in body, I feared I would come apart with the sheer pleasure and pain of it.
But then we tried a meld. I think sometimes humans are the lucky ones. Sometimes it is a good thing to not be too close mentally. To be able to keep things close to oneself until understanding ripens. To share the body and what part of your thoughts and emotions you are ready to impart without having all exposed so ruthlessly. Both of us were relatively inexperienced at shielding.
What did he see in me? I fear he saw my resentment that my tie to him was constricting me to a narrowing path. Rather than feeling real joy in the bond, I sought accommodation. And I think that for all his outward conservatism—and that of his father—Amanda had taught him to seek and expect more than that. And in him? I saw one who could not see me as a person separate from himself. Someone who could not imagine I could have or want a path apart from his. And how could he? How could Spock, gentle, honorable Spock, truly allow himself to think of the nature of our bonding and the reasons behind it and live with himself? And to be fair, he was not one who ever considered what he wanted and needed, so how should he have enough imagination to think of me?
The meld collapsed and left us feeling awkward and ashamed of our nakedness. We drew apart without a word. I turned to the wall finding I could not look at him as he quietly dressed and left. We would never attempt either kind of intimacy again.
v v v
Not long afterwards I heard from Amanda of his plans to join Starfleet. She was hysterical because Sarek would not accept this decision and would not have anything to do with Spock. Amanda begged me to try to change Spock's mind. She was terrified for Spock. He was her only child and the thought of her unique and special son "risking his life" in this manner was enough without Sarek's profound disapproval.
I was not surprised by Spock's decision. I think I understood why. Spock could not stay on the world that had rejected his beloved brother for acting from the emotional, passionate part of his nature. A part of our nature equated with being Human. The very part they would not accept in him.
I was relieved that Sarek had not dissolved the parental bond. I would have felt that. Nor had he disinherited Spock the way he had Sybok. Perhaps he had learned from the previous experience. The way he had acted with Sybok had left his eldest son with little to lose from complete defiance.
I found Spock packing a few items he would take with him to Earth. He must have known how Sarek would act for he had not informed his parents of his decision until the last possible moment before leaving. He had not bothered to tell me anything.
"I understand you have enlisted in Starfleet."
"My betrothed, did you not think this was a matter for the two of us to decide together?"
"I saw no need to consult you."
"No? Spock, you are well beyond the onset of adolescence. With your mixed heritage..." At those words I saw him stiffen but I cared not. "...when and if your time may come upon you is not predictable." I was surprised at my cool, passionless tone. My training with T'Pau was making this voice second nature.
"We shall not discuss this."
"It is not a good time for us to separate. If we are not to discuss this now, then when? When your time first comes, we must both be here on Vulcan. Do you expect me to come to Earth with you? To stay there or on Vulcan while you wander through the galaxy? Amanda tells me your father will no longer recognize you as his son. Have you considered what such an estrangement would mean to me? To any children we might have? Do you expect me to raise such children alone while you are assigned here and there at Starfleet's whim?"
"I am a scientist. It is imperative if I am to grow in my chosen profession that I have the opportunity to observe first-hand the kind of phenomena accessible only to Starfleet personnel."
"I do not believe that. There are other options. In Starfleet you would have other duties beyond that of the scientific distracting you. There is no evading that its essential character is that of a military organization. That is Sarek's objection, is it not? You are running away from Vulcan. You are choosing to be with humans. Why not admit it?"
I was certain Starfleet's military nature was only the beginning of Sarek's objections. Despite his unorthodox marriage, Sarek was a traditionalist who would expect Spock to follow his path into the Federation's diplomatic service which was dominated by Vulcans. Starfleet, in contrast, although open to non-Humans, was basically the military/exploratory organization of Earth and her colonies. Only recently had there been talk of strengthening the Federation to form a closer relationship than the loose alliance of worlds that now existed. Starfleet vessels were Earth ships. Spock would be the very first Vulcan to join Starfleet. Though Sarek was at the forefront of those trying to reform the Federation, I do not think he foresaw that Spock would seek this way of contributing to his goal.
"I am Vulcan. I am not leaving the path. Indeed, this may make it easier to find the direction."
"Because here you have never been accepted as Vulcan, is that not it? The Humans will not know what to expect and will accept however you act or whatever you tell them since you will be the first. Are you indeed cleaving to the path or trying to find a space where you can make your own?"
I saw my comment strike home but did not stay for a reply. Perhaps, if I had acted as Amanda would have, I might have reached him. But my training bit too deep. I would not beg for a place by his side. From now on I too would strike my own path—but I would not swerve from it to accommodate his.
v v v
I was not totally cut off from Spock. He addressed me together with his mother in his dutiful monthly communications. Not all Amanda's admonishments could coax him into more frequent correspondence nor would I communicate with him directly despite her urging. So accustomed was she to Vulcan reserve and inexpressiveness that she did not pick up on the cold distance that had opened between Spock and me. After a while, I began to forget about Spock and enjoyed the freedom to shape my own life his absence allowed.
Over the years, Spock became more and more respected on Vulcan as his name appeared in scientific and technical journals to which he contributed groundbreaking articles. One change in particular was telling. No longer was Spock referred to even by T'Pau as Human. Now Vulcan wanted to claim him as one of their own. One Vulcan after another was joining Starfleet and a Constitutional Convention had been called to form a closer union between the United Federation of Planets. Sarek himself led the Vulcan delegation to help bridge the differences in values and governance of our disparate worlds. Yet in the matter of his own son, Sarek could find no space for compromise and reconciliation.
One day I found Amanda in my office. I confess I felt irritation at the sight of her. I found that the healing profession was the one choice made for me that suited me well. Here my privacy and talents were respected. No one asked to whom I was bonded or questioned why I never mentioned a bondmate or child. Her presence was an intrusion on a territory I had staked out as my own.
Nor was it a convenient time. My latest patient was a seven-year old girl who had collapsed at her bonding ceremony. I had just come from T'Vashti, trying for the third time to bring the child out of her coma. I had come dangerously close to succumbing myself to the blank darkness I found in her mind and another healer had needed to break the meld to bring me back. I was exhausted and sensitive to the slightest stimulus.
"T'Pring, I have such news. I don't know where to begin."
"The beginning should suffice," I snapped.
"One of my old music students, Stonn, has surfaced on Earth. He is starring in a production of Turandot at the Metropolitan."
"I fail to see how this concerns me." After Spock had left, I had stopped playing the violin. I found that music opened me up in ways I now wished closed. Since the death of my father soon after Spock departed for Earth, there had been none to gently tease me and show me affection. To my mother I was little more than a colleague. I had decided that "happiness" as humans such as Amanda defined it was not possible for me. Avoidance of unhappiness through the embrace of non-emotion was now my goal. This is not why my people pursue logic but for me it sufficed.
"Don't you remember? I suppose you were too young. Stonn was one of those who chose exile with Sybok. Through Stonn we can find out what happened to him. I just know that Sarek's estrangement from Spock is tied to Sybok somehow. If we can reconcile the two of them..."
"I still fail to see why you have disturbed me here."
"I want you to go with me to Earth. Spock is there now at the Cochran Institute. The Enterprise is being refitted for a five-year mission and Spock has taken an extended leave for the next four years to continue his scientific studies. If you, another Vulcan, are with me, Stonn is more likely to confide in me. I've already asked Spock if he would go with me to see Stonn but he refused. If we go together, we could visit Spock while we are there."
"I see no logic in your proposal. I do not see that Stonn has anything in common with Vulcan any longer. He has chosen Sybok's way and has chosen not to return to Vulcan. Moreover he has chosen a profession that requires emotional exhibitionism." I had long come to the conclusion that nothing good could come of contact with Sybok. Amanda and Sybok both thrived on drama. I have never aspired to be the stuff of legend. I prefer an ordinary everyday peace.
"I have a mother's rights to your help, T'Pring. I have never made demands on you before and I am asking so little now. Oh, where is the little girl I once knew! You used to be so..."
I tried to tune her out and hoped she would eventually run herself down but Amanda would not relent. Was this the way she so often got her way with Sarek? I was no longer a child. She no longer had the ability to impose her emotions upon me with a touch. But her emotional display was wearying and I found myself willing to do anything to end it. So I agreed, not knowing how much would change among all of us as a result.
v v v
If Amanda hoped that seeing Spock again would draw us closer, our visit could not be counted as a success. I had not realized that Amanda had given no warning. She simply showed up where he was staying with me in tow. At his apartment was a young woman who could not have been more different than I. She had the light golden hair of their sun that would have immediately marked her as an outworlder on Vulcan. Her eyes matched their sky and her voice was musical, soft, and low. So this was Spock's choice.
For I could see all the marks of it that Amanda and the girl herself seemed oblivious to. The way he started when he saw the way I looked at her. The way his lips would twitch slightly upward at a comment of hers. The way he swallowed as he introduced Leila Kalomi to us as his "colleague." And as he introduced me to her as "an old childhood acquaintance." I looked at Spock coolly without comment and without even the lift of an eyebrow. Nor did Amanda attempt to correct him. I was not surprised. Amanda had visited Pike's Enterprise once and had later gifted me with the information that Spock had told no one on the ship of our relationship. I could hardly reprove him for that. I did much the same.
Amanda and the girl found it easy to talk. They had much in common. Neither seemed to notice Spock's silence or mine. I saw opening up to me the prospect of decades of this. Decades silent by Spock's side or absent altogether as his mind grew attuned to others. It took many hours of meditation that night to restore myself to my sterile equilibrium.
v v v
I have to admit that I did not find Stonn's countenance pleasing at first sight. But then he began to sing. The sounds came up to me as if from a well deep within my own breast. I was grateful for the dark of the opera house for I could not trust my emotional control as the music unraveled a knot deep in my core. Turandot is the fable of a princess who sends every suitor to his death until she meets her prince. A woman "encased in ice" until she learns the name of her prince is "love." It is a dark tale for the lovers are united only through the death of another.
At the end I felt wrung out. The rush of applause slapped me back to self-awareness. I felt manipulated. I thought Stonn might be using his telepathic abilities to amplify feelings in the audience. We had heard reports in the Council of the spell Sybok wove before audiences. Some had muttered of telepathic manipulation although most did not think it possible. After this experience, I began to credit it. If Stonn was doing what I suspected, it was a tremendous abuse of his gifts and one that as a healer I was obliged to investigate.
Amanda, as Sarek's wife, was an important personage, and she had no problem obtaining invitations to the reception afterwards. My eyes immediately found Stonn as he stood talking to a group of admirers with a rather overaffectionate blonde by his side. I pondered this seeming proclivity of Vulcan men on Earth for such creatures. Was it perhaps the richness of the air that interfered with their judgment? Amanda pushed her way to his side.
"Lady Amanda," said Stonn, not bothering to hide his astonishment. "All of you will have to excuse me. The lady is an old friend I haven't seen in years."
"This is T'Pring. She is Spock's betrothed."
I saw an eyebrow lift at that and stiffened. I imagined him calculating Spock's age and mine and coming to his own conclusions from the fact that I was being introduced as Spock's betrothed rather than his wife or bondmate. He led us to a small room and indicated that Amanda and I sit down. He stood half perched on a desk in a relaxed pose atypical of Vulcans.
"Stonn, where is he?" Amanda asked without preliminaries. Stonn did not ask whom she meant.
"I do not know."
"You are the last we know of to have been with him."
"Lady, I feel he lost his way. Sybok was a revolutionary. He taught that the way to self-knowledge is through emotion and looked to the old ways and those of other civilizations to find new ways. But now he chases a myth—Sha Ka Ree. I have no wish to go questing through the universe to find what should be looked for within. Besides, I found he was looking for a way to eliminate pain. I did not fight my way back to feeling emotion to give up half of what I am. If one is looking for self-knowledge, our pain is as good a teacher as any. And with time, I found much in Surak's path to value that Sybok couldn't acknowledge."
"Then I have come here for nothing."
"Not, I hope, for nothing. It is a long time since I have had any contact with Vulcan. Please tell me you'll stay at my home as my guests." He turned a look on me that made me flush like a child. I threw out a challenge to cover the effect he was having on me.
"I do not wish to be the guest of one who uses his mind to manipulate others."
His eyes narrowed. "What do you mean by that?"
"That performance. You must have been using a mental technique to project emotion."
Stonn burst out laughing. The action was so incongruous in a Vulcan I was startled into speechlessness. Sybok's follower indeed.
"I only used the kind of techniques humans have been using to move and stir emotions for thousands of years. With a little help from Puccini."
My face burned. If true, what I had admitted was almost as damning as what I had accused him of. It meant that with his voice alone he had been able to disturb emotions I had long thought killed within me.
He smiled knowingly. "I don't think I've ever received a greater tribute to my abilities."
"I am a Healer. I am fully in control of my emotions."
"Which is to admit you have them. Vulcans! It never ceases to amaze me. We are a race of empaths trying to dry up the very spring of our identity."
"We are telepaths."
"So-called 'touch telepaths.' Tell me, T'Pring. What is it that you experience in a meld? You feel the very physical sensations of your subject, their emotions, and only incidentally and with great focus, their thoughts. Vulcans are not true telepaths. Is it not easier for you to reach thoughts when they resonate with emotion?"
"We are taught to empty ourselves of all emotion before attempting a meld."
"Then you are blocking off half of your ability."
I did not answer that and Amanda broke into my thoughts.
"My son is in San Francisco. We're returning there for the next two weeks before we go back to Vulcan."
My words were directed at Amanda but it was Stonn's gaze I held. "You can return. I intend to stay in New York City. There is much I wish to explore here."
Stonn nodded his head. "You have not asked after my T'Lara, Lady Amanda. She died with the others three years ago. Sybok was chasing yet another rumor of Sha Ka Ree and landed us on what turned out to be Klingon territory. Her family will not receive messages from me. I do not think they know. I would like to tell you, T'Pring, what happened to each of our party. Perhaps their families would be willing to learn what became of them from you when you return. I would hope that it is enough that their katras are lost without their totally being banished from memory."
"I grieve with thee," I said. "I will be glad to give their families that peace."
"T'Pring, you can't stay. We have to leave tomorrow. Spock will be expecting us both."
"You may feel free to send my regrets. In any case I do not want to be in the way. I doubt Spock will miss my company."
"T'Pring, this is a chance for us to be together as a family..." She broke off, perhaps noticing I was no longer paying her any attention. "I want to return to our rooms."
"I will meet you there later."
"And when will that be?"
"It is early yet," Stonn answered for me, "I'll see that she returns safely." I glanced back at Amanda and saw something dangerous flicker in her eyes a moment before she turned and left.
v v v
When I returned, she was waiting for me fully dressed.
"It's three in the morning."
"I am aware of the time. I was not aware of a curfew."
We argued—or rather Amanda shouted and threatened, and I refused to change my mind. I assume she fully informed Spock of where and with whom I would be spending my time. I cared not. There is no logic in hypocrisy and pretense. There is no hiding such secrets in a Vulcan marriage bed. Through meditation I had teased out the emotions I had felt upon encountering Spock again. Envy that Spock had found someone? Yes. A stung pride? Yes, otherwise I would not have signaled my intent not to be held to Vulcan propriety so starkly. What I had not felt was jealousy. Indeed, the strongest emotion was relief—and release. From what I was not yet sure.
There was one consolation. For the next six years, I would not be graced with the company of the Lady Amanda.
v v v
I stayed in New York City for the balance of my leave. I fast grew accustomed to the mild spring climate and felt a euphoria there I at first attributed to the lightness of the gravity and the oxygen rich air. Stonn and I were constantly in each other's company. I knew it was wrong. I knew he was a threat to my duty and my honor and my hard-won serenity. It made no difference. On one of those days we walked to Central Park.
I followed Stonn closely. As we walked side by side, my hand would at times brush against his. That slight contact sent a warmth through me I had not felt in a long time. It hurt. Hurt in the same way as when a bandage too tight is loosened to let the blood rush back in. I wondered if the trees in bud about us felt that same pain when the sap rose in them after the long winter. What was so disturbing is that I knew that with my strong shielding this was not the result of telepathic contact. I was being moved emotionally by physical contact alone. The slightest of touches with a man I barely knew.
We strolled in a city where almost everyone strode quickly. There is nothing slow and unhurried about New York City. Above us flitters wove around each other in such profusion it was dizzying. Walkways and thinly spun bridges linked buildings—some so tall they were wreathed in clouds. The myriad colors of the clothing on the people about us and the sounds—laughter, the cries of infants and woops of children—were so unusual to me as to cause a sense of vertigo. With all this, it was a shock to come upon a large expanse totally free of buildings, ground cars, and flitters. We entered, and the sight and scents of a profusion of flowers overwhelmed me.
I touched one of the yellow flowers with a finger. "What are these?"
"Daffodils. Beautiful aren't they? This is one of my favorite places in the city. It feels strange to think of all the madness ringing a place of such quiet and stillness. Look at all the lush growth around us. A small walk up this path will take us to a lake and yet this is nothing to the abundance and richness of life outside the city. This park is very old, T'Pring, as this part of Earth measures things. Not much older than what would be a couple of lifetimes for us but that is about as far as tradition goes here. There is hardly a building here that can boast of being older than T'Pau. This city is always reinventing itself."
"That would make me feel rootless."
"I find it freeing. On Vulcan I was Stonn, the farmer's son. Here I am king of my profession and no one cares where I came from."
"Indeed, I thought you a prince."
He smiled at my reference to his role as Calaf in the opera. That smile transformed his face. I caught myself thinking what a pity it would be if he lost that smile to conform to Vulcan custom. I admonished myself that I was being illogical. "Is there nothing in you left that is Vulcan?"
"I am Vulcan. Here, I can be Stonn also. Here, I can be as Vulcan as I choose." He drew my arm into his. "Look, I can link an arm with yours and no one gives us a second glance. I can cup your cheek," he said, suiting action to words, "and there is no scandal." Instead of pulling away as I knew I should, I leaned into the touch.
"Do you not fear loss of control?" I murmured.
"Look around you. Here people smile, laugh, touch and there is no chaos, no rape and rapine in the streets."
"They are human."
"They are feeling rational creatures not so different from us. They are no more emotional berserkers than we are passionless beings of logic. You asked what is left in me that is Vulcan. I have not thrown away what I learned, but have built upon it. Now I meditate to integrate emotion instead of to dissipate it. I feel I bow more to reality-truth now that I accept all of what I am. I feel Earth has much it could learn from Vulcan as we could learn much from Earth. That is how it was meant to be. That is the true meaning of IDIC—rather than sealing Vulcan under a tight airless dome so no ideas can enter or escape."
"Have you ever thought of returning?"
"There is nothing of value for me on Vulcan. No ties. I will not pay the price that would be asked. I am not willing to have my memories and my emotions stripped so I may return. Strange as it may seem, Earth is the only place I can feel free to be a Vulcan."
"I do have ties there. And find there much of value."
v v v
The first thing I did when I returned to Vulcan, was check in on T'Vashti. There had been no change in the time I had been gone. I returned to my home and looked for my old violin. I found it undamaged. It was a gift of my father's. After my betrothal to Spock, Amanda had wished to gift me with the Stradivarius she had lent me for my lessons but father would not permit so rich a gift. So he had sold an heirloom a thousand years old to buy me this wondrous construction of maple, spruce, and ebony imported from Earth. As I tuned the strings, I hummed to myself snatches of the andante of Barber's Violin Concerto. I found it expressed a tender longing I now appreciated better than I had in childhood. Doctor Elizabeth Vielot had just joined the Hospital staff and was looking for companions to form a string quartet. I decided I would inquire if she still needed a violinist for the group. My fingers caressed the grain on the back of the instrument before slipping it under my chin. When I began to play again, I felt as if my entire body was vibrating with song.
That is when the idea flashed into my mind. Vulcans are not true telepaths. Is it not easier for you to reach thoughts when they resonate with emotion? I could not even tell another Healer my idea. They would think me in need of healing myself. Could not even ask one to stand by in case something went wrong. Emotion was the key.
I knew that if I did open myself up in this manner, I would not be able to will myself back to the sterility of the past decade. Indeed, in truth it was already too late. Something within me was already unfolding and could not be shut again.
v v v
I returned to the Hospital that night. T'Vashti's mother was asleep in a chair at her child's side still holding her daughter's small hand. Her father, Sofel, was pacing like a caged le-matya. I woke her and asked them both permission for what I would do. I did not minimize the danger. The odds were not favorable. I calculated a probability of 15.33 percent it would lead to her recovery and a 15.24 percent probability the procedure would result in her death. But as Sofel noted, those were better odds than those if we did nothing. I did not tell them there was a 54.56 probability the meld would leave me in her state or cause my death. A Vulcan, even a caring parent—and these cared—might decide that logic demanded that two lives should not be risked where only one was at stake.
I plunged into her consciousness at a level we usually did not dare. I had already repaired the surface trauma to her neural pathways—the cause of her continuing unconsciousness had to lie deeper. I found myself in her inner world on a vast plain above which rose Mount Seleya. I saw T'Vashti sitting on the ground dressed in the traditional loose white pants and tunic of the kahs-wan—the test of survival after which we are counted adults. She was playing with a sehlat cub that could not be more than three weeks old.
I sat down beside her and scratched the sehlat under the chin. I could feel the rumble of a purr. "T'Vashti, you must come back with me. Your parents are waiting."
"No! I will not go back. He will be there."
"Stapek, my betrothed. He is cruel. He cannot find me here."
"Child, neither can any one else. You cannot stay here or you will die." The sehlat cub leapt up and began to lick my face. I felt a laughter bubble up I could not suppress in this state. There was no hiding emotion mind to mind. That is why the meld is such a private thing. "What is her name?"
"K'athia. She will not be there."
"T'Vashti, I am sure she is waiting for you."
"Stapek killed her. He set her on fire. I saw it in his mind. He enjoyed it. He will kill me too someday. I saw it."
I was rocked back on my heels. "Chiya, there are laws. He will not be allowed to hurt you. His mind is sick. I will get him help."
"I do not want him helped. I want him gone!"
I kept silent. I could not lie mind to mind. There were limits to what could be healed. When one is linked, for a moment one glimpses all that one is. She did not speak out of fear but from knowledge. A memory I had buried came back. That is part of why I had resisted the link with Spock. I had seen the fault line running through his Vulcan and human halves and knew it was a matter of time before it caused him to run or led him to Gol. I had seen it all those years ago but had not allowed myself to really think about it.
T'Vashti's situation was far worse. We claim to be ruled by logic and yet hold ourselves more bound by traditions than the Humans. Liz and M'Benga honor what family traditions they will and decide which to pass on to any children. I have seen humans create new traditions and adopt some of ours for their own. Yet we do not see tradition as something we shape.
The laws regarding a bond have not been changed within recorded memory. We are taught as much in the lessons in ritual and tradition leading up to our kahs-wan. "As it was in the dawn of our days, as it is today, as it will be for all tomorrow's..." It does not matter that T'Vashti would have her life joined to one with a twisted mind. There would be only one way open to her a decade hence—the challenge.
And what woman would chance it? To invoke the challenge could leave T'Vashti Stapek's chattel. How could she choose it knowing that a man who cared enough to risk his life for her—perhaps her only defender—could be killed before her eyes? And even if her champion won, could she trust him to free her? No, there was ample reason that no woman had chosen that route for centuries.
"T'Vashti, this is not logical. You are closing off all choice. There are always possibilities. I give you my word. If you return with me, I will not rest until I find another way for you."
I saw her resistance and knew words of logic would not be enough. I had been trained to empty my mind of all emotion when attempting a mental healing. We were supposed to be a transparent pool—a calm surface for another disturbed mind to mirror. The traditional Vulcan healing would not allow the release she needed.
I drew her to me gently. I brought to mind my own disastrous bonding ceremony. I let her feel my understanding and compassion for her. I did not try to block or shield that part of myself away. I rocked her gently back and forth and gave her permission to feel what she would. At first she resisted my embrace but I just hugged her tighter. I could feel her trembling. She hugged K'athia closely to her. Finally her eyes welled up with tears. I did not reprove her but continued to hold her until her sobs subsided. It felt as if a poison within her had finally been allowed to drain. She pushed away from me and gently placed the cub on the ground.
"I promise I will try." She nodded at that and took my hand. I pulled her up to where her life was waiting, not sure if I did her a kindness.
T'Vashti recovered. She is now thirteen and at most it can only be a matter of a few years before Stapek enters pon farr. Six years later I am still looking for a way out—for both of us.
v v v
I was walking to the Hospital one morning the next year when I heard a voice call my name. I turned and fought down the overwhelming urge to run to his side. He walked slowly to me.
"Stonn. What price have you paid to be here?"
"Close to nothing. I entered with a Federation passport as a Federation citizen, with a Federation party. I will be heading up the Music Department at Terra University that is being established in Shi'Kahr."
"You took a terrible risk. Did no one try to stop you?"
"Vulcans are not good at dealing with the unexpected. They could not think of how to bar me without causing embarrassment before the Earth Ambassador. I have merely been cautioned that certain names and ideas are not to be spoken here and that a certain amount of decorum is expected."
"I thought you said that only on Earth did you feel free to be Vulcan."
"If I cannot be a Vulcan here, I cannot be one anywhere. Perhaps I have finally become an adult. It is a hard thing to learn that your homeland has flaws; it is like learning that your parents aren't perfect. It is an even harder thing to forgive them that and love them anyway."
"And when you said there was nothing of value for you here? No ties?"
"I was wrong."
"You have given up so much. Your career. Your home in a city you love."
"Nothing of value is gained without paying a price, T'Pring. I believe I will profit much from the trade." He closed the distance between us and tilted up my chin to meet his eyes. "But there are things of Earth that will always stay with me. Like this custom." He bent down and kissed me. A soft, featherlight kiss that teased and promised more. "The truth, T'Pring, is that nothing is worth savoring without you there beside me."
I could not name what I was feeling beyond a desire that melted me from inside out. I could not name it when that night I took him into my bed and he awakened every nerve in my body. I could not name it in the following weeks as he courted me as if it was my choice what man I could have by my side. As if, he would learn of me from the outside in—first learning and teaching back to me the responses of my own body, then challenging and seducing my mind. And finally teaching me to put a name to this feeling that is no longer in the Vulcan lexicon. Not putting a name to it does not prevent a Vulcan from feeling love.
In the glow of that first year, we were perhaps not always as careful as we should have been. I made room for Stonn beside me in my life. Liz became his friend too as she had became mine. One day T'Pau spoke cryptically of the need to give respect to at least the outward proprieties of a bond. Of how those in the Ruling Council could do almost what they willed as long as they were discreet. This is how I knew she had heard of Stonn and me. The only road that one would not travel is a straight line. I had no wish to lose what I had. T'Pau could banish Stonn with a word. I think she was pleased to have such power over me. I conformed as I needed to in public and refused to consider what might happen if Spock finally entered pon farr or what would happen if he never did.
v v v
When I called Stonn, he would not discuss Spock over the com link but told me to wait for him at my office. The first words out of his mouth stunned me.
"T'Pring, you cannot go through with this. Challenge him. I will act as your champion."
"Are you mad? Would you make me your murderer? When is the last time you have trained with the lirpa and the ahn woon?"
"Probably not much more long ago than it has been for Spock."
"Probably? The last time you have had fight training was for a mock duel in an opera. Spock has had his fighting abilities honed by the techniques of two worlds and the disciplines and demands of a Starfleet career."
"And he has been under Earth conditions on that starship. Even as a Vulcan it would take days for him to be fully reacclimated. And feeling the symptoms you describe, he cannot be far away from the blood fever. He will be weakened by that. I am willing to take my chances." At my grim shake of the head he changed tactics. "It is suggestive, is it not, that Spock should finally be undergoing pon farr now?"
"I do not know what you could mean."
"Do not be obtuse. You are a Vulcan and a healer. What is the last time you have seen him? Six years? And never a hint of these symptoms before this. He has met and grown close to someone since. That is what has brought on the onset of the pon farr. You do not owe him any faithfulness. The symptoms are being funneled through you because of the link and he will continue to fixate on you as long as the link lasts but you have not precipitated this." Stonn gripped me by my arms. "Could you possibly want this? To be tied forever to a man and know every time he touches you it is another woman, a human shipmate perhaps, that he really wants? To know it better perhaps then he even knows it himself? Has it even occurred to you that he has chosen to undergo this with you because he would not risk a human lover in pon farr?"
"We cannot know that such a person exists."
"We cannot know who—what matters is that it is not you."
I broke away from his grip and stood silent hugging myself. Such a tangle of thoughts and feelings were passing through my mind at once it was hard to know which strand to pull on first. Let Stonn be my champion? If he should die! And if he should survive, what would that do to us? He would have been forced to kill. Could he forgive me that it would be Sybok's brother that he had killed? Could I forgive him for killing Spock?
"I have sworn the ancient oath to T'Kuht as a Healer to bring light and life wherever I go. Am I to break that oath now and start by condemning you or Spock to death? I still care about him, Stonn. Even now."
"T'Pring, you have the right to defend your life. Do not misunderstand—it is nothing less than your life and mine, and the right to it for which I would be fighting for—and I would rather lay down my life than see you connected to that man unwilling. Can you truly tell me that you want Spock? If you do, I will accept it with more pain than I could express in words but don't think you would be doing me a favor to let me live on and watch you smothered in such a lifebond. Humans say 'life is too short' when they are unable to endure the intolerable. T'Pring—our lives are far too long to endure this."
"Spock did not ask for this to happen."
"Neither did you." I saw him swallow and suddenly he opened his arms wide. "T'Pring." I went to him and he crushed me against him. I put my arms under his and curled them around his back grasping his shoulders. I laid my head on his chest and felt it rise and fall with his breathing. Warmth suffused my body and I clenched him tighter as if I could draw him entirely into myself.
"It is illogical to wish. Yet I could wish there might be another way," I said.
"There may be a chance."
My head snapped up at that. "A way Vulcans have not found for thousands of years?"
"But they did find it. You knew Sybok. Surely he read to you from S'Pak's dialogues—the Story of Satek and Stal. Of how Stal linked with Satek to bank the flames of pon farr so they would be survivable."
"That is a myth."
"Is it? Do not Healers do much the same with Bendii's Syndrome at times—link with the patient to bring enough emotional calm to at least close up affairs? Spock is partly human—he may not feel pon farr at its full force."
"I can assure you based on what I am feeling that is not so."
"He is influencing how you feel as you can moderately influence him. I propose linking with you. Adding my strength to yours. It would at least make this easier for you to withstand."
"And weaken you at a time when you intend to fight Spock. You would lose much of your own emotional control."
"It may weaken the hold of the pon farr over him—and even the link between you."
"Another legend, Stonn." I quoted the passage from memory. "And katra calls to katra and no bond not made of like material can withstand the like."
"Much myth has a core of truth, T'Pring. And if I am right, the link between the two of us will not be the only one pulling at Spock."
In all the time we had been lovers, I had refused to meld with his mind. I remembered too well how such contact had only driven Spock and me apart. I do not know how I found the will to assent. I suppose I did it because I knew I must. I could not bear the alternatives.
He let me initiate the contact at my own pace and I think that may have made the difference. I did not feel invaded or erased. There was only a gradual lowering of barriers that allowed an acceptance and love to flow in that brought me a joy I had never before felt. We exchanged the names that only the mind could hear. That kind of intensity could not be sustained for long, and with regret, I pulled back a little and began to build the link. The link was not strictly speaking telepathic. We would not share thoughts. Stonn would send to me and through me to Spock a steady calm and he in his turn would absorb into himself much of our turbulence. I slowly withdrew mentally and physically.
I was restored to a calm such as I had not felt since Spock's lusts had broadcast themselves to me. It was a small miracle. But I feared it would not be enough. There was but the slightest chance that keeping my emotions tightly locked within could influence Spock and our link. I did not care to calculate the odds. I knew the probability of success would be lower than what I calculated before attempting the meld with T'Vashti. And this time it would not be my life alone at risk.
"T'hy'la," he whispered. T'hy'la. Sibling. Friend. Lover. Spock had been all those things to me once—had been the first but never like this in the full meaning of the word that was more than the sum of its parts. Stonn and I had never before dared to use the word to each other. There was no defiance in his tone, just a desperate tenderness and yet I heard his challenge to me. We could have this openly, recognized without question. All I would have to do is be willing to sacrifice Spock's life—assuming that the life sacrificed would not be Stonn's.
v v v
When Spock had visited Vulcan two years before, he had left a curt communication informing me of the length of his stay, and I had responded that my duties made it impossible for us to see each other. I was sure he was as relieved as I to have an excuse not to meet.
Now, I have seen Spock again, speaking to me from the bridge of the ship with which he has become so identified. The bond with Stonn had already relieved me of much of my distress. The sedative I took, exhaustion from the echo of his passions on my body, and the ability to resort to the ritual phrases also allowed me to retain my composure, which is well.
Little time remained. Liz and Stonn were waiting with me at the place of my ancestors. Liz stood apart shielding her eyes with a hand and looking into the distance for the arrival of the marriage procession. Stonn was at my side. I was clad in a stiff costume of icy silver that constricted my very breath. My hair was piled on top of my head like a crown. I felt like a child's doll rather than a living woman.
"Stonn, I do not know that I can do this."
"T'Pring." Stonn's hands gripped my arms so tightly it hurt. "We are so close. Think of yourself as on the stage playing a role. Do not allow yourself to think of this as real. Do not think of the consequences. You need only say the lines prescribed in a script that was never of our own making. After that, you must trust me to play my part." We heard then the clinking of the ritual bells and drew apart. T'Pau and her party had arrived.
T'Pau stared at Stonn and Liz. "He may come. She may not," T'Pau declared.
"It is my right."
"Not to bring outworlders to our ceremonies."
"The groom's own father was wed to his mother in such a ceremony and she is an outworlder."
"I forbid it."
I would have protested further, but T'Pau summoned a guard with a gesture, and I moved back into the line. I looked for Liz and pleaded with my eyes for understanding. I saw her give me a cool nod that braced me as the procession continued on. As we walked to the place of koon-ut-kalifee, I was still unsure of my choice.
Spock himself had chosen to defy tradition by enlisting in Starfleet, yet in my place, I cannot imagine him even considering the challenge. For him it is axiomatic that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one. Perhaps it is time that someone said, "Enough!" The only way to free a people is one by one, even if it is for a time uncomfortable for the many. Or perhaps I was rationalizing what I was about to do. I have found that logic is as easily used to that purpose as any other. One of the ironies of ignoring emotion is that it is hard to separate the rationalizing from the rational.
When I saw Spock at the place of marriage or challenge, at first he seemed much the same as I remembered him. Cool. Aloof. Untouched.
Beside him were two humans. One introduced himself as McCoy. The other I recognized. Captain James T. Kirk. Barely two years a Starship captain and already a legend. Kirk had gained some notoriety on the Clan Council for his actions in destroying Landru. It had been the humans who had carved an exception to the non-interference principle for a culture that was no longer living and growing. Kirk had been the first to risk using this exception and it had created some controversy. I wonder if Kirk "defender of individual choice" even gave a moment's thought to how little choice I had in all this. I could only assume that he felt a strange woman's freedom was a small price to pay for his friend's life.
I watched as T'Pau challenged Spock about the humans' presence much as she had challenged me. But with a different result. Kirk and McCoy would stay. T'Pau would not oust a Starship captain from his place at Spock's side.
Our nature is not kind to us. The man is enveloped in flame but the woman does not burn. Even from where I stood, I could feel the beast waiting behind the eyes of my betrothed. If he had been here when it first came upon him, there might be some control. But I looked at him and felt fear coil in my belly. There would be no tenderness between us, no connection to ameliorate his brutality. He was near the plak tow. If I did not challenge, he might take me here on the desert sands. I am a small woman and barely reached his shoulder. If he won, I might not survive the next few hours. I used the fear in a way the followers of Surak would not understand and let it chill all conscience, all remorse, and all pity.
"Kalifar!" T'Pau cried and it began.
Spock was moving to the gong that would end all my choices. I could not allow myself to hesitate.
"Kalifee!" I yelled, denying him ownership over my body and mind. I met his eyes and refused to let him see fear. Forbidding myself any hint of softness, I settled a haughty mask upon my face. I waited impatiently while T'Pau explained what I had done to Spock's two companions. I needed this to be over quickly to keep my resolve.
"T'Pring, thee has chosen the kalifee; the challenge. Thee are prepared to become the property of the victor?"
"I am prepared." Our laws allowed me no other answer. I felt utter calm as the lying words left my throat. I was not prepared. No matter what happened I would not accept this. If Spock killed Stonn, Vulcan would not long see my shadow.
"Spock, does thee accept challenge according to our laws and customs?"
He nodded for he too had no choice. Oh Spock, how did we come to this!
"T'Pring, thee will choose thy champion."
It was a different fear I felt then—this time for Stonn. Stonn had not been trained, as Spock had been trained, by Starfleet. Stonn had not followed a warrior's ways. What if he found he could not after all force himself to kill Spock? If Stonn hesitated, Spock, blinded by his blood lust, would surely kill him. Spock had been weakened by the blood fever, but by how much? I could not retreat but neither could I risk Stonn. Now fear was the enemy. I had to force myself to feel nothing and think nothing to get through the next few moments.
Drawing out the ritual words, loathe to come to their end, I walked slowly toward T'Pau. As I spoke, I saw Spock's two companions gazing at me. An audience watching a figure in a play. I reached Stonn and looked at his face. I could not do it.
"This one," I cried and pointed to the man in gold. The words flew out of my mouth of their own accord yet had the ring of inevitability about them—as if some part of my mind knew this was the way out as soon as I saw him. Kirk no longer looked like a spectator.
"No!" Stonn said, his voice hoarse. "I am to be the one. It was agreed!"
"Be silent!" T'Pau ordered. How astonished she must have been. I could not help feeling a surge of pride. What other Vulcan would so defy her publicly? Yet the passion in his voice made me also fear our link was taking its toll. At Stonn's next words I feared he would tell of our bond to all that listened.
"Hear me—I have made the ancient claim. I claim the right. The woman is ..."
"Kroykah!" T'Pau shouted and this time a guard stepped forward to enforce her edict.
"I ask forgiveness," Stonn said tightly and withdrew.
Throughout what followed I dared not look at Stonn. I could imagine Stonn's feelings of betrayal and confusion. Why would I choose this human as champion? Would he forgive me the dishonor I would bring? It was one thing for him to take part in this challenge according to our laws, to have him undergo a risk willingly accepted. But would he willingly choose to connect himself with one who had committed murder?
For immediately upon choosing Kirk, I had seen the elegant logic of this solution. I thought T'Pau would not allow it and risk Kirk's death. That would create a scandal even she could not control. After all, for all her traditionalism, T'Pau had already denied me my right to have my friend at my side. I reasoned that if she did not allow me my champion, I might find a way to challenge the validity of the marriage.
But T'Pau permitted it to go on. And spent by what I had willed myself to get through, I did not think to take back my words.
T'Pau had to know what the result would be. Did part of her exult to see a foe and a rival focus for power brought low? For here was the symbol of all she opposed when she refused a seat on the Federation Council. Not even Spock's plea from the depths of the plak tow could move her. When that occurred, for a moment I felt a treacherous hope bloom that Spock's human side might prevail and free us all but after T'Pau's refusal, he plunged back into the flames. When McCoy protested, T'Pau made it clear further objections would not be tolerated.
It was a travesty. Kirk did not even try. I could see that. Here was a Starship captain with the training to deal with a stronger opponent. Spock was not fully in his right mind nor was he physically well, but time was on his side. Our heat, our gravity, our air, Kirk's unfamiliarity with the weapons—it all worked in Spock's favor. To fight defensively as Kirk was doing was to invite death and he had to know it. He was throwing his life away to save his friend. It was not long before Spock drew first blood. No one looked more astonished than Kirk. Until that moment I do not think he really believed Spock could kill him.
Kirk lasted the first round, and McCoy requested permission to equalize Kirk's chances. T'Pau feigned indifference and impartiality. "The air is the air." But I could tell she was pleased to impart permission and seem magnanimous. After all, the conclusion was certain, and she could always say the humans participated of their free will and with her full cooperation.
It did not take much longer. Curiously, the tri-ox compound did not help. I watched as my would-be husband strangled the life out of his friend. I saw Kirk's body go limp, and at the same moment felt a lurch in my own. For the first time in almost thirty years I was free of the link! This was no more possible than Spock's plea from the depths of plak tow and yet there was no doubt. McCoy raced to his captain's side and angrily pushed Spock aside.
It was too late for regret. And yet I looked down at that pale face as it sparkled in the beam of the transporter and felt grief. Here was one who had so little at stake in the affairs of Vulcan and yet who died because of our failings—or rather he died because even if someone else had to pay the coin, I would set no limit on the price I would pay for my freedom. He died for Spock's life and though he did not know it, he died for my happiness.
Now I needed all I had learned from both Vulcans and humans to form a dispassionate mask, for the man who is my oldest friend—and now my most implacable enemy—was face to face with me.
"T'Pring. Explain," he demanded.
"Specify." I could not make this easy for him. He could not know the true reasons for the challenge. It would only give T'Pau more power over both of us. And after all that I had done, it was kinder to give Spock no reason to think well of me. Nor could I trust my emotional control if he pressed further.
"Why the challenge and why you chose my Captain as your champion."
"Stonn wanted me. I wanted him." The simplest version of the truth I could not fully tell.
"I see no logic in preferring Stonn over me."
Oh do you not, my old playmate? I thought. Stonn is here by my side as you have not been, willing to die for me, as you are not. Your two human friends stood by you—one even onto death. Can you truly not understand?
But I said nothing of this. I made my voice smooth, dispassionate, uninflected. I allowed my shock to help me remain detached.
"You have become much known among our people, Spock, almost a legend…."
Can you not hear my warning? Do you really expect the truth from me spoken openly for T'Pau to hear? There is nothing that can be said between the two of us in this place that will not soon be known throughout Vulcan.
"And as the years went by, I came to know that I did not want to be a consort of a legend…."
Indeed, has not your devotion to the man who lay there slain by your hand not already become a large part of that legend? How long did you expect me to wait, Spock? Until your human lived out his natural lifespan? I wanted a partner, a man who would be by my side or want me by his—not a distant figure whose only use was to leave me a footnote in the history books, who showed more devotion to his captain and to Starfleet than to me.
"But by the laws of our people, I could only divorce you by the kalifee…."
What would you have me do? Lament before all of Vulcan that I had no other choice that would not bury me alive?
"There was also Stonn, who wanted very much to be my consort, and I wanted him…."
I cannot stand here looking at you and think you do not understand what love can drive a person to. Is it not logical to choose love and companionship over status and propriety?
"If your captain were victor, he would not want me, and so I would have Stonn…."
No, no man raised on Earth would want to claim a woman as chattel, least of all that one. If Kirk chose to fight you, to spare you a fight with Stonn, that was his choice and more freedom than had been allotted to me.
"If you were victor, you would free me because I had dared to challenge, and again I would have Stonn…."
And this way not even Stonn owns me. I belong to myself.
Having won, at most Spock would find relief in my body this once and then depart, releasing me from the bond, as is his right since I challenged. Even as I spoke, I had known the real reason Spock would free me. But I would not acknowledge it publicly. I could see the cold hatred in his eyes. I had killed what he loved and forced his own hands to be the instrument.
"But, if you did not free me, it would be the same, for you would be gone and I would have your name, and your property, and Stonn would still be there."
These were the only words he could believe after my act. They were words I calculated would ensure Spock would free me lest he become a cause for furtive whispers. They were the only words T'Pau would respect. Above all I would not conduct myself in any way to invite pity. That would help neither of us. Better he thought me a monster.
"Logical. Flawlessly logical," he responded.
I closed my eyes for a moment and fought for control.
"I am honored."
My voice sounded strange to my ears. I knew he meant me no honor. The Spock I had known could give no higher praise. I had never been able to get him to admit any other measure of worth, but I could hear the irony, the subtle sarcasm in that voice and in the bitter curse he hurled afterward.
"Stonn. She is yours."
I saw Stonn step to my side and accept, and felt my heart lift. He had not rejected me after all.
"After a time, you may find that having is not so pleasing a thing after all as wanting. It is not logical, but it is often true."
Ah, Spock, why did there need to be a death between us before you could admit there is truth to be found beyond logic? I listened to him exchange words with T'Pau with an increasing sense of unreality. I watched then as he too dissolved in the sparkle of the transporter.
v v v
Liz stood waiting for us at the starting point of the procession. She looked at me and Stonn and began to sob. Soon she was sitting on the ground. I knelt beside her and placed a hand on her knee.
"Oh God...I don't think I really allowed myself to think about this. You were bonded to him for years, T'Pring! I know you still cared for him—Spock is dead, isn't he?"
"No." It was the only word I could get past my constricted throat and I cursed myself for it. For Liz looked up from her tears with a smile lit by hope. Stonn continued what I could not.
"Liz, there has been a death. Captain Kirk."
Liz's eyes widened and she shook her head. "A Human? What was he doing there?"
"He was with the groom's party standing as Spock's friend. I chose him as my champion and he accepted to spare Spock," I whispered.
Liz laughed bitterly. "He stood by Spock's side the way you asked me to stand by yours and this is how he is repaid. I guess I should be grateful I was a friend of the bride and not the groom's."
"Is it so different for you now, Terran, that it has been red blood that has been shed rather than green as you were expecting?" Stonn said accusingly.
"Yes, damn you," she shouted. "Why should a human pay the price for an insanity of Vulcan's making? Kirk came here as Spock's friend and now he's dead! All because of a ritual that meant nothing to him. Did he even understand what was happening? How can you be so unfeeling?" She turned her gaze on me and at her next words I felt slapped. "I don't know you."
Stonn would not leave it at that. "He could have refused. Think of what he fought for. When Kirk accepted, he didn't know the combat was to the death. No doubt he thought to throw the fight so Spock could have T'Pring. Should she have submitted to rape and lifelong bondage?"
"I know what Kirk fought for. He fought for his friend's life. It was bad enough when it was Spock's life you were willing to sacrifice but this wasn't even a fair fight. As a doctor, I know how much stronger a Vulcan is and the effect this planet has on a human not accustomed to the climate, the atmosphere, and the gravity. T'Pring knows that too."
I could not look at her. She was only repeating back to me my own thoughts. Yes, I knew what little chance Kirk had. Some part of my mind could not stop itself from calculating the odds to the third decimal place even as I was telling myself that T'Pau would not allow it. For who was James Kirk to me? And that way Stonn would survive—and Spock.
"You forced Spock to kill his friend—someone important to him or Spock wouldn't have brought him to the ceremony. How will he live with that, T'Pring! How could you? You could have run. You could have left this planet and never looked back."
"T'Pring could not leave. Why do you think they were linked? She could no more avoid being drawn to the place of koon-ut-kalifee than Spock was. And I knew why she chose Kirk as champion. She did it for me. I should have insisted..."
I gripped his arm. "You had no rights T'Pau would have recognized. All you would have done is publicly reveal what we are to each other—and that is dangerous. It was my decision."
It is ironic. For once in my life I did indeed act as the perfect Vulcan. I chose a goal and allowed no feelings to divert me from my course. Each choice I made logically followed inexorably from the other. Now, it was time to face the consequences of following that logical chain to its end. I forced myself to meet Liz's gaze and face her judgment. I found I was not too proud to beg.
"Liz, I had no other choice."
That is what I said, but what I was really doing was pleading for her not to hate me. Liz looked at me searchingly for a long time and then slowly shook her head.
"No, I can't hate you. I can't even be sure I would have acted differently and I think that in the coming days you're going to need a friend. You are about to become notorious—and hated—but not by me."
She swept me into an embrace and I held on tightly while she did the crying for both of us. I wonder how and why Spock and I had managed to gain the gift of such humans for friends.
v v v
The Lady Amanda sat waiting in my office. I wrapped myself in indifference like a cloak and unhurriedly walked to her side. She stood up and struck me in the face with all her strength. She surprised me with that strength. The imprint of that slap was still on my face days later. At the time I managed to not even blink.
"You traitorous snake. I treated you like a daughter and this is how you repay us."
"You are emotional, Lady. Your son had more dignity."
"My son deserved better than you."
"Then you can hardly be upset at the result. Now he can make his own choice. As I have made mine." She spat in my face and then swept out the door.
I cannot find it in me to be offended. As usual, the Lady Amanda had chosen the Vulcan way and then reacted like a caricature of human irrationality when the consequences of our traditions were not to her liking. Her hatred is but a small part of the price I have paid for my freedom. I can only hope that what I have with Stonn can survive it. After a while I composed myself and called Liz and Dr. M'Benga to my office. I already knew what I had to do to begin to atone for what I had done.
v v v
That same day I was summoned to attend T'Pau. Now that I was no longer to be connected with the House of Surak, I anticipated I would be free of her as well. I no longer shared Spock's rank. To my surprise she greeted me in the traditional manner. I was astonished when she expected me to complete the negotiation she had assigned me. Her tone to me was almost genial. It occurred to me that with my actions at the koon-ut-kalifee I had finally gained her esteem.
"Do you really think things can continue as they have been? What has happened cannot be covered up. I have caused the death of a Starship captain—one that is already a hero throughout the Federation. How do you expect that to be explained?"
"We explain nothing. Spock will respect our ways. The Enterprise will continue on its path. Kirk diverted the Enterprise here against orders. Admiral Komack has agreed to forget that matter and has assured me that this unfortunate incident will not be used to violate our privacy."
"And McCoy? Do you think he will keep silent?"
"He is a Starfleet officer. He will follow Komack's orders."
I thought not. The McCoy who called both Spock and Kirk friend, who had pled for their lives before T'Pau, would not keep silent. And Spock. Spock had changed. The man who could call two humans friend, who could break out of plak tow to plead for Kirk's life, who told T'Pau he would neither live long nor prosper? I knew what he meant to do. The Federation had no death penalty but Spock carried his own death in his veins. The release provided by the combat was but a stay, not a commutation of his sentence. He had not mated with me. He would not, I think, allow that dangerous fever to be slaked by some willing female aboard the ship. He would let himself die to atone for killing his friend. But not I think before placing himself on report and recording the whole ghastly story. Spock would not let Komack sweep Kirk's death "under the rug." Suddenly I had a thought that chilled me to the bone.
"You wanted this."
"I do not know what thee could mean."
"You did not let my friend stand by my side and yet you allowed Spock's friends to attend. Why?"
"I need not explain."
"Very well. Allow me. The presence of Stonn spoke plainly to you that I would challenge. You knew I would do anything to spare him. You knew that the presence of the two humans would suggest to me an alternative. We all knew Kirk's reputation. That he was not one who would back away from a challenge. That he would do anything to protect a friend. Yet even when you learned Kirk did not know this fight was to the death you would not allow him to back out. His death is convenient. The manner of his death is even more convenient. Kirk and Spock together were becoming a symbol of what Earth and Vulcan could accomplish together. Either taken separately was a challenge to what you stand for. The two of them together were an affront you could not abide. We were manipulated. Well, no matter if McCoy keeps silence for I will not."
"What do thee mean?"
"I will tell our secrets to every and any outworlder who will listen. I will no longer stand by and see men and women be killed by silence."
"I will not permit this."
"It is not for you to permit or not permit. You no longer have any hold over Stonn or me. I am a Federation citizen. Unlike Sybok, I have somewhere to go if necessary."
"Thee will not speak that name."
"Very well. I will not speak of Sybok, at least not if you do not force me to. But about pon farr I will not keep silent. I will let this secret out and within a year Vulcans will speak openly of it to outworlders, that I promise you. Within a generation or two I expect there will be treatments to make pon farr more than survivable without binding people unwilling."
"Thee shall never get the chance."
"Threats, T'Pau? But it is too late already. Before I came here, I sent every bit of data about pon farr to the Enterprise. I have already sat down with Doctors Vielot and M'Benga and told them all I know. Indeed M'Benga will soon be leaving us for duty with Starfleet. I am sure they will make full use of his expertise. Nor do I think you will exile me. Vulcan is a full Federation member now and has enjoyed too much prosperity and security from the association already. It would cause severe strain now if Earth and her colonies knew of Vulcan's true shame, of how farcical is our claim to IDIC and of our custom of banishing dissidents. I would not remain quiet in exile."
"Thee are an abomination."
"It is the koon-ut-kalifee that is an abomination. Today I take the first steps to free my daughters and sons of it forever. That is a goal worthy of a life's work." And perhaps, I thought, a way to redeem myself for the death and pain I have caused.
v v v
The com buzzed and seeing the identicode I engaged the screen.
"I thought you'd like to see something."
Her face left the screen and in its place was a holovid program. I blinked trying to clear my vision. A fatuous voice spoke of the importance of the inauguration on Altair VI today. The new president was at the podium. A striking man but he did not engage my attention. Standing behind him I could see a familiar pair. One was in the glittering gold of a command Starfleet dress uniform. Another clad in blue was by his side. I remembered to breathe. I felt hands encircle my waist possessively. "Alive...both alive," Stonn whispered in wonder.
"Yes." Just the one word. Even with him I could not chance more lest I lost all control. Liz had taught me poker. It is not often that one gambles away everything to find the other side does not collect on your stakes. Yet in a sense, have I not paid and will I not continue to pay through all my days? Every time Kirk or Spock performs one of their feats will I not calculate the lives they have saved? Lives that but for this miracle would be lost and thus part of the tally paid toward my blood price? For I know, and the taste is ashes, that if I were given the choice again and knew not this reprieve, I would choose the same. There is another, bitter irony. As I have begun to speak out, as T'Pau and others have put their twist to this tale, I find I have become part of Spock's legend after all. And my part in it is not pretty.
And yet, and yet...Spock is wrong about one thing. I truly hope that someday he learns how wrong he is. Wanting is not better than having. Not when you have your heart's desire by your side.The End
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