When the Winter Comes


Pat Foley


In the weeks that followed, in the melting heat of a full Vulcan summer, we gathered the intangibles we needed – our health, our strength, our sense of being back in the real world. And we left winter behind.

We went to Babel. When the Surak slipped into a circular orbit around that Federation caravanserai, our equipment was packed and ready. A portable shelter, all the survival tools we could think of, water purifiers, medical equipment and drugs, clothing for every possible climate, a raft, a cart, a light airplane, powered personal transport harnesses and thrusters, and packets and packets and packets and packets of emergency food. Including T'Rueth's contribution, some freeze-dried plomeek soup. Toast and jam and butter. And if it was absolutely necessary, Sarek's bow and some hand weapons are there too.

The Surak herself had not increased her weaponry. But she did install a transporter, a new technology that Vulcans tacitly disapprove of from a philosophical perspective. But in an emergency…

And before we left Vulcan, Sarek surprised me with an unexpected gift, a box of a half dozen puff balls – day old sex-linked chicks. Though the planet's customs department frowns on introducing alien animals into the Vulcan environment, for Sarek they let them through, with the understanding and promise that they'll be confined to our terra-formed gardens, and not invade the Vulcan ecosystem. He didn't buy them for slaughter. They'll all be hens. We expect them to be very good layers. He's decided unfertilized eggs are okay as a protein source. I suspect he doesn't intend to eat them scrambled or over easy himself. But he won't object to them cooked in dishes.

At first the Vulcan staff eyed the alien creatures askance. But the little chicks had engaging personalities, and soon won them over. T'Rueth is a bit chary at the notion of using eggs in cooking, but Vulcan curiosity is hard to resist, and she began straying through cookbooks for suitable dishes. Soon she was seduced by recipes for soufflés and quiches. T'Jar enjoys throwing them scratch. She looks like a Vulcan goose-girl, a vision from a storybook, when they all come rushing toward her. Though they much prefer rooting through the rose garden. Wol, my husband's rescued Vulcan raptor, would be happy to end the controversy over egg-based dishes, and eat the chicks herself. So much that Sarek had to have a serious talk with her – though don't ask me how he communicates with her. The result is that though Wol is highly offended at seeing these creatures made off-limits, when by her lights they ought to be prey, her regard for Sarek is such that she'll tolerate them. Just.

I'm grateful to Sarek for understanding my feelings enough to lay in supplies and equipment that in all probability, we will never use, except for occasional camping trips on the Forge. It's difficult even now for me to imagine a similar situation occurring. We do have dangerous duties, but lightening doesn't often strike twice. Not that I have any wish to see those purchases justified. While I have enjoyed our shared trips to the Forge, I am in no way desirous to revisit the kind of real survival scenario that we so recently lived through. To return to what we were.

And still are. That's one thing I've learned, coming back. We can comb the burdocks out of our hair, scrape the dirt from under our fingernails, can exchange rags for clean fresh clothes. But we can't leave it behind and go on. We have to carry it forward, with us.

Not just me, but Sarek too. My little chicks, his archery practice, stand in evidence of that.

Though apparently we don't show it.

In fact, waiting for Sarek in that laser line before the reception, while the lobbyists importuned him, a couple of distant acquaintances -- apparently not up on the latest gossip -- complimented me on my lost weight. Standards differ. Impractical as it may seem, being dangerously thin can still be regarded as very fashionable. And though my flowing gown hides my weight loss pretty well, my cheekbones show it. They asked me enviously what spa I'd been to. Since I couldn't quite characterize our last assignment as a spa destination, or wish to go into such details with near strangers, I demurred politely. The questioners' shoulders tensed, taking it as a snub. At the same time, one of the political reporters, eavesdropping on the sidelines, made the acid comment about cushy ambassador's jobs, living high off the public trough.

I looked from one to the other of them, the acquaintance bristling because I wouldn't let on my non-existent spa secret, the reporter with his smug sneering expression and his hard, cynical eyes. And I thought about myself, only a few weeks ago, chill-blained and windburned, standing barefoot in the freezing river with my mouth full of weeds and my stomach flat against my backbone from starvation.

About my shoes, still there even now, covered with drifts of snow, rotting on the riverbank.

That seemed very real. The people before me, more like some fragment of a dream.

I didn't bother to correct them. What could I say? How can you explain such an experience? There's a part of me that will always be there, cold and starving in a planetary winter on a half ruined world. That's more real than any silly political or social backbiting.

You can't see that part of me. I can't see it. But I can feel it. And nothing is more real, regardless of if it comes to me from the past.

But most of me is here, in the present. In a handsome dress, jewels in my hair and on my manicured hands. I've done a pretty good job of combing out the burdocks and scraping out the mud. For me, that was part of coming all the way back.

Though hidden beneath the long skirt of my presentation dress is one of my secrets – I've got very sensible shoes on my feet.

Sarek is still very thin, but stronger than he was before our long sojourn on the planet, now his illnesses have been cured. He's never had so much freedom from the demands of conference table and desk. And in that regard, I think he comes back reluctantly. At least, I've noticed he tries to take some time every day, to keep fit. Unwilling to lose that much of his feral edge, perhaps. Though, after much meditation on the subject, he still doesn't choose to wear a knife. I don't think Sarek really feels that need for himself. Perhaps, in joining with me in gathering all our survival equipment, he was just indulging his human wife. Vulcans are so very different, in spite of our traits in common. But I'll never forget or cease to cherish the memory of him, popping up that portable shelter in our suite, or going through all the equipment with me.

And after all, he has his hands and his wits, and years of experience surviving on the Forge. And for a Vulcan, that is more than enough. I believe that, anyway.

But since I'm not Vulcan, on my belt is a little device that pops into a dozen useful tools. I can't forget how even the simplest things became treasures to us. A pot. A scrap of net. A strip of leather from a dead man's belt.

If it's difficult for me to remember and talk about, for me to expect Sarek to fully understand, how could I discuss any of this to strangers? Even if I tried, what simple few words could convey the experience? You would have had to have been there. And you would never want to be.

I can't really explain my feelings even with Sarek, who no doubt is struggling, albeit with Vulcan control, to regain his own equilibrium.

So I put them down here, in this journal, that I hope no one, ever finds. I have tried to write the experience out. I'm doing it just for me. To set the events and my feelings down. To set them free. And then to close the book on that part of our lives. To finally, outrun winter.

Except for those parts that I choose to take with me.

I smile at Sarek as he finally shakes free of the insistent lobbyist and joins me. He looks handsome in his newly tailored clothes, in spite of his thinness. He answers the reporters' questions placidly. Even when the more knowledgeable ones touch on that last disastrous mission, he never looses his set expression, or lets on that it was more than a regrettable outcome. Even to the one reporter's veiled hostilities and miscast allegations, he says nothing personal. He gives away no hint of the nightmare of those months.

Perhaps Sarek's Vulcan disciplines have succeeded better than mine and he has put the worst of our experience from his mind. What he thought then. Of what it was like for him, waiting for winter. Where it led us. The struggle for survival that even as a Vulcan he had to feel. The loss of hope that I knew he felt at times. And how, even now, our journey to fully return, in spirit as well as in body, is not quite complete. But there's not a trace of winter in his manner, in his eyes. His control is that good.

But perhaps there's none in mine, either. Though the memory is still a raw wound, almost too delicate to disturb, I have done my best to mud wall over the worst of the holes.

He turns, finally, and leads me into the ballroom. The reporters take a few more pictures, and the lights flash against our retinas. I don't even jump, though in my mind, I still hear the roar of explosions, and my hand tightens on Sarek's. He returns the pressure briefly. We share a glance. I remember how he pulled me by this very hand out of the rubble of a terrorist explosion. But here the lights wink and glance harmlessly off the jewels in my hair, and off the gleaming embroidery on his council tunic. Brighter than sun on snow. We do clean up well. As battered as we had been, we look every inch as if we lived a charmed life. Even the cynical reporter is silenced.

In truth, we so often do.

Those kinds of winters come only rarely.

But as I walk into the ballroom, my other hand reaches down and fumbles through the drifting veils of my gown for the hard little lump that is my Swiss army knife, and I squeeze it, reassured by its comforting presence.

Just in case.

Fini, fini, fini at last

When the Winter Comes

A Holo series Novel


Pat Foley

October 2008 – January 31 2009