Small Talk


Pat Foley


It had been an odd sort of full circle, from Vulcan to Rigel to Terra's south of France back to Vulcan. My simple little five day conference had turned into quite a trip. Still, I returned to Vulcan. I didn't get lost, nor be captured by Orion Pirates, nor even waltz off into the sunset with a dashing young human. I never even ate a hamburger. I wasn't entirely sure I had settled the issues my trip had raised between Sarek and myself. It would seem Sarek, being Vulcan, was either unable to deal with them, and I, being human, was unable to change. But for the moment, we were at least resolved to keep on trying even in the face of all this: our lack of understanding, and our lack of ability to change our essential natures.

But as Sarek piloted the aircar to a gentle descent down to the red sands of the Fortress, I breathed a sigh of relief. Vacations were all very well, but it was awfully nice to be back home. Behind us in the cargo area, Spock was bouncing up and down with the energy of a beach ball, for all the world like a kid who had forgotten to perform a certain basic function before he left the star terminal.

With a level of control admirable even in a Vulcan who had just had a lengthy vacation, Sarek refrained from correcting him.

"We'll be inside in a minute," I said.

"It's not that," Spock said bouncing back up to see something above his circumscribed field of vision. "Who are they?" he pointed a finger.

Behind the force shield, lined up in rows on the desert sands, were rows and rows and rows of Federation news service personnel, waving recorders.

Sarek looked at them, and his face shadowed. "Wait here," he cautioned, and slid out of the car.

"Sarek?" I turned in my seat.

A roar went up from the crowd of reporters, cries of "Ambassador". I instinctively rose a little to get a better look.

"Wait," Sarek repeated.

"What is it?" Spock asked, beginning to look a little frightened.

I looked at Spock, who was frowning at the banked reporters, his eyes wide, fingers clenched on the seat as he watched his father approach that mob alone. I regretted him seeing this. Sarek and I had both tried to shelter Spock as much as possible from these aspects of his father's profession. "It's nothing, honey. They must want a comment from your father on something that has happened in the Federation."

Spock eyed the massed crowd. "It must be something big. Perhaps we have gone to war?"

"Bite your tongue," I said, wincing. "It couldn't be that. There was nothing like that when we left Terra."

"I thought you wanted us to call it Earth."

"I'm back on Vulcan now," I said, amused myself at how my own mind had shifted gears.

"Why bite my tongue?"

"It's just… Never mind."

"I already did. It hurt."

"It's an expression that means don't suggest such a horrible thing."

Sarek finished conferring with the guards and came back. "Let us go into the house. Quickly. You may run, Spock."

Cooped up in the Surak as he had been, Spock didn't wait for a second invitation to stretch his legs, or break from the usual sedate control that Sarek generally imposed on him on Vulcan. Perhaps his near vacation from Vulcan control was not entirely over, after all. He took off on flying feet.

"Come," Sarek said. "No, leave everything. The guard will bring in the luggage."

"What is it?" I asked, anxiously. "Is it a war?" The reporters roared again, this time yelling my name as I got out of the aircar.

"Dr. Grayson! Dr. Grayson!"

"No, not a war," Sarek said. He put an arm around me, a rare gesture in public, done for protection and urged me through the sweep gates, through the garden, and into the house.

"What's going on?" I asked as we walked into the great hall. "What has happened?"

Sarek didn't answer immediately. Then said, "The guard reports that a priority packet has been delivered for you."

"A packet?" I relaxed and my shoulders dropped. "Well, that doesn't seem too drastic." I fanned myself a little, amazed at how hot Vulcan could seem after only a few weeks away. "What's the big deal about a packet?"

Sarek frowned, but before he could speak, Spock returned, having shed his Earth garments for light Vulcan clothes. "I'm hungry."

I drew a deep breath, feeling a little lightheaded. Already the dry, oxygen starved air of Vulcan was getting to me. And the heavy gravity. "Yes, of course. I think I need a drink of water myself. And to take some triox." Spock and I headed for the kitchen. The new kitchen. I had forgotten about what happened to the old one until now. Sarek must have described it in some detail. It was a fair match, though some of the colors and designs had suffered a little in translation from my originals, to Sarek's perception of them, to his descriptions communicated to our Vulcan contractor. The designs had a decidedly more Vulcan flair than they had before, the colors slightly skewed from what a human eye would have seen. But it was still recognizably my kitchen.

"Oh, it's beautiful," I said. I fixed Spock with a look. "Not that this excuses what you did."

Spock just gave me an overly patient look as if to say that a crime so old was surely past the statute of limitations.

I suspected I'd have to resort to the food processor since there was nothing gathered or picked, but then I remembered all those meals I'd prepared. Spock trail of destruction had not reached the items left waiting in stasis, so we had a choice of several different meals. I pulled a few out and set the table. I poured Spock a glass of juice and myself a glass of water. I took a triox pill.

Sarek came back in, a package in his hand. I thought it was the usual diplomatic packet, but he handed it to me. "It's from Stockholm," he said.

Spock's already sharp ears, if possible, pricked even more. "I thought Mother was a Nobel loser?"

"Smile when you say that, buster," I warned him.

"Spock," Sarek adjured, as Spock drew a deep breath, prepared to repeat his assertion with a maniac grin.

I could see Spock was going to take a little while to settle down from vacation.

Eyeing his father, Spock deflated.

"Weren't we supposed to leave him behind on Earth?" I asked my husband, opening one of the many seals.

Spock scowled.

"Control," Sarek said to his son.

"But she was a Nobel loser," Spock insisted.

"Spock," Sarek repeated again, raising a brow.

Spock fought his face back to Vulcan calm, while still sitting on the edge of his seat as I fumbled with seals and thumbprints. "Well?" he asked, "Well?"

"Apparently, not any more," I said, reading. "Xhantu's research was proven to be-" I hesitated, glanced at my son, eagerly listening, and put my hands over both his ears. "Fraudulent," I whispered to Sarek, sotto voice. "He was caught doctoring his results."

"I heard that," Spock said, shaking free of my grasp. "He cheated."

"Let that be a lesson to you, then," I said.

"I never cheat," Spock said, drawing himself up in outrage.

"No, but you have other interesting talents," I said, "Just remember, crime does not pay."

"It would have for Xhantu though, if he hadn't gotten caught," Spock said sagely. "The Nobel has a big prize. I read about it when you lost. A million Federation credits."

"I don't really characterize it as losing to come in second for a Nobel," I said, slightly nettled. "It was still a great honor. I just didn't win'"

"That is illogical. It is a binary function. One either wins or loses," Spock said. "And you lost."

"My loving son," I said.

"Regardless of whether Xhantu was detected or not," Sarek intoned in the voice of sweet Vulcan reason. "There is no honor in a fraudulent award."

"Yes, father," Spock echoed in the same overly pious Vulcan manner. Then he turned back to me. "So now you get the big prize?" he asked eagerly "All of the credits?"

"Um," I said, looking through the packet. "Yes, I guess I do. That's what it says." I fixed him with a look. "And it might just pay for the kitchen renovations," I added pointedly.

"It was an accident," Spock said, sitting back in his chair, scowling again. "Anyway, I had to do something to bring you home."

Sarek eyed him, as if debating whether to chastise him one more for emotionalism. Then tilting his head in a Vulcan shrug, he sat down at the new table. He raised a brow and ran a finger across the top, nodding at the smooth finish. "Satisfactory," he said. He gave his son a pointed glance, and self conscious, Spock squirmed in his newly purchased, unburned seat.

"Amanda. This is the official notification that you have won the Nobel?" Sarek asked, eyeing the packet.

I handed the papers to him "Looks like it. I suppose I should be really happy." I shrugged. "But having lost it to begin with and after all that has happened since," I eyed Sarek thinking that I knew a lot less than I had ever suspected about my own little Vulcan/human family, much less Federation aliens as a whole, "it doesn't really feel like much of a win. It's not the same."

Having read through the papers himself, Sarek set them back down. "Feelings aside, you have done so. You will have to say something to the press about the Committee's decision. The controversy surrounding this-" he glanced at Spock, "fraud seems to have whetted their interest."

"Nothing like a good controversy to peak the Press' curiosity."

"That is no doubt why they are standing out there in the sun. You should relieve them."

"I just got home," I complained. "Can't you do something about them for now? Move back the perimeter? Anyway, the press almost never cares about these academic prizes. They are just interested in the scandal."

"I will certainly move the perimeter. But first you must speak to them. Then we can order them to leave, and reset the boundaries until this dies down."

"Can I at least finish going through all this stuff so I know what I'm talking about?" I complained. I opened up another stiff packet, which turned out to contain an offer for the new Nobel winner to keynote at the Interstellar Federation Ethology conference, the flagship of all conferences for my profession. It included a first class Starship ticket, and a voucher for all expenses. "Oh, my," I said, staring at it.

"You're not going away?" Spock asked, eyeing the documents, rapidly losing what little Vulcan control he had remastered. "You're not going away and leaving us? Not again!" He turned to Sarek. "Are you going to let her go?"

"Haven't I heard this somewhere before?" I asked the room bemusedly.

"Spock," Sarek reproved.

Sarek had picked up the invitation, turning it over in his hands, still Vulcan steady even in the face of potential future disaster. But in spite of not losing his countenance, as his son had, he seemed to have turned two shades paler.

"It is the primary conference in your field," Sarek noted evenly, leaving me an opening.

"It is," I said. I looked up, meeting two sets of Vulcan eyes, anxiously waiting.

"I completely understand why you would wish to attend," Sarek said, again without the slightest expression. "In fact, I believe you should. Spock and I will stay home. We will be perfectly fine."

"No!" Spock said.

"Child," Sarek said. "That is quite enough. I believe it is past time for you to reacquaint yourself with the disciplines. This is not Terra."

"She can't go alone."

"I certainly can go alone," I said, feeling as if I had really come full circle. "And I don't want you to ever repeat the kind of behavior you displayed while I was gone. I don't want to hear about you ever attempting to steal a starship again, either," I said. "Or not until you are at least thirty and your father and I are no longer responsible for your crimes. Yes, crimes."

"But I had to rescue you!" Spock said.

"Spock," Sarek warned.

"Everyone can calm down," I said. "I only said I certainly could go alone. But I am not going alone," I took the documents back from Sarek. "I am not going at all."

"Amanda…." Sarek drew a careful breath. "It will be all right."

"It won't," Spock muttered.

"Thank you. But no," I said. "I don't want to. Frankly, the thought of going to another conference right now…well, it just wears me out."

Spock cheered.

"Spock, that is quite enough," Sarek said sternly. "This is not Terra, and we are not your wild Terran friends. You will control yourself."

"You're part of the reason the thought wears me out," I said to my son, who stared back at me, coolly unrepentant. "But," I drew a deep breath, "I also have had enough conference for awhile. I don't think I can handle any more…small talk," I added, eyeing my husband, who looked away briefly. "And in spite of this Nobel, I am feeling very unqualified. Regardless, I am going to claim a prior commitment. They didn't want me before, so they can just whistle for me now," I concluded.

"Sounds do not travel through the vacuum of space," Spock loftily informed me.

"Thank you for the information. But I – we – are not going."

"Good," Spock said. "Because if Mother keeps going to conferences, we'll keep having to go on vacations."

I grinned over my son's head at my husband. "Didn't you like Earth, Spock?"

"Terra is interesting and -" he eyed his father cautiously, "fun. But Vulcan is home."

Even across the table as he was, I could feel Sarek relax, just fractionally, in relief at his son's statement.

"My thoughts exactly," I said meeting my husband's eyes. He carefully retained his non-committal expression. Though he seemed to have regained his color.

"I suppose I have to say something to that crowd of jackdaws now. You'll come with me, won't you, Sarek?"

"Let us hope they will lose interest with a statement." Sarek said, rising. "Otherwise we will have to increase security until the controversy dies down."

"My making very little of this should help that."

"Yes," Sarek fixed Spock with a glance, "You will stay here. You will refrain from volunteering any comments to the Press, regardless of what you are asked. Is that clear?"

"Yes, sir," Spock said.

"Since the main Nobel ceremony is already passed," I said to Sarek as we walked out the door, "I think they will not be too disappointed if I refuse to attend any formalities. It is a shame we didn't hear about this before we left Earth. You don't mind, do you?"

"At the risk of repeating what our child said," Sarek intoned, handing me up to the guard lookout, and making sure we were well out of Spock's hearing. "Yay."


Left alone in the shining new kitchen Spock looked around speculatively, and sighed for lost opportunities. Then he picked up the packet with the conference invitation and ticket, and surreptitiously chucked it in the brand new recycler, just as outside, the assembled press let out a roar again as his parents again came into view.


Small Talk

A Holo series Novella


Pat Foley

March 2011

Author's notes:

Spock, of course, did steal two starships in his thirties, one for Chris Pike and one for himself, in Amok Time, though we have no evidence that he stole any more prior to that.

Sarek, of course, never quite cured himself of the habit of keeping unpleasant secrets from and engaging in lies of omission with his wife, as we discovered when he concealed his heart condition in Journey to Babel.

Perhaps irritated that she didn't come to Stockholm for the ceremony, the Nobel Committee never did award Amanda another prize, though she did pick up a third Zi.

Concerned for his son's future, Sarek continued to stress the importance of Spock's suppression of emotion and adoption of the Vulcan way. Amanda thought her son should have the option of private expression of emotions, much as his father did, while Sarek contended such was suitable only after adulthood, when control had been fully mastered. That disagreement, coupled with Sarek's bonding of Spock to a girl, T'Pring, whom Amanda did not think was suitable for Spock, created conflict between Sarek and Amanda. Their actions during this period threaten Spock, who just as any small child would, only wants his parents to remain together. When their conflicts become so great Spock believes Amanda might take him to Earth and leave his father, Spock checkmates her by claiming he wants to fully adopt the Vulcan way and all the strictest of Vulcan disciplines. It keeps him and Amanda on Vulcan. She doesn't contest his choice, though she does not entirely believe it. For the moment, though, it appears as if Sarek was right all along as to Spock's true nature.

But Spock has also come to realize he is a source of contention between his parents. As a bonded Vulcan male himself, he believes he has no right to threaten his father's bond with his mother. On the other hand, he also is his mother's son and wishes to explore that side of his heritage. His only solution, he believes, is to wait until he finishes the education his father has set out for him, and then make his own way, removing himself as a source of conflict for his parents.

Amanda was perfectly correct that Sarek's suppression of his unease with her less than Vulcan attitudes regarding marriage, compounded by their arguments over Spock, would eventually return larger than ever as most repressed conflicts do. Amanda cannot help being human. But for a Vulcan with a fatal mating cycle and no prospect for divorce but the Challenge, her attitudes are extremely difficult for any Vulcan bondmate to handle. Over the years, Sarek struggles to master his own purely Vulcan and emotional reaction to her perceived rejections, though Amanda perceives them as ordinary disagreements.

This events and decisions in this next Holo novel sets up the attitudes and conflicts that preview the novel Holography 1: The Catalyst that result in Spock leaving for Starfleet, and Sarek falling into crisis, and as a result maintaining the 18 year breach with his son. The latter is not fully resolved until the aftermath of Sarek's heart operation in Journey to Babel. After the constant strain of emotional control over his issues with Spock and Amanda has shattered Sarek's heart, he becomes more accepting of Spock's choices. While he and Amanda are still two species who can't entirely change, Sarek seeks to conceal less from Amanda, even though it had always been done to protect her. And with the conflict between Sarek and Spock at least partially resolved, she has less to 'challenge' Sarek with, which means he has less to deal with.

It can't be expected that a family so strong willed, opinionated and diverse never has any differences. But they have learned and grown enough to handle them not as a conflict between human and Vulcan, but as a compromise. Which was what Sarek and Amanda had originally set out to do.

Amanda should have won a Nobel for this alone. But she was well satisfied with her husband's and son's healed hearts.

Small Talk copyright Pat Foley March 2011