Guess Who is Coming To Dinner
Starships travel at warp speed. Light travels at 299,792,458 meters per second. But nothing travels faster in Starfleet than gossip.
I didn't mention anything about the Ambassador's changed schedule. Spock was as likely to talk about his family at work as he was likely to talk about his love life. (That didn't stop people from asking me about his love life).
But somehow everyone knew the proposed visit was off. Perhaps because Starfleet is dependent upon funding from the Federation Council and everyone knows Ambassador Sarek sits on the Council's Starfleet Allocation Subcommittee, his movements were of more interest to Starfleet personnel.
Or perhaps everyone knew the same way I knew, even without hearing the official word. Perhaps other of Spock's close associates just perceived how disappointed he was at the prospect of not seeing his parents. It's true that compared to humans, Vulcans have very little expression. But they are not expressionless. If you spent much time with Spock, you could learn to read him.
Much as I loved that little quirk in the corner of Spock's mouth when he was amused or content, now that curve had shifted just a fraction, to an under-turned comma, a Pilot Small expression from a Lois Lenski book, the barest fraction of a disappointed pout.
Outwardly he was still as equanimitable as ever. Inwardly, he was disappointed, and dare I say it, homesick for his parents. It was all the more poignant for his saying nothing about it. He threw himself into his work so thoroughly, as if trying to distract himself from his own disappointment, that he was barely home. When he was home, he was barely interested in food and sleep.
I let him know I was sorry. He let me know that he was unwilling to discuss it. Our relationship and his nature had dovetailed in that he willingly shared joy with me, but he still tended to retreat into himself when something upset him. Expressing his disappointment seemed to make it worse for him. So I offered him as much comfort as I could when he came home, let him know I would help him anyway I could and then waited for him to work his way past it.
Like everyone else, my thesis advisor was also aware that the revised schedule of the Federation Council had cancelled the proposed dinner. She had moved back my deadline to its former time.
So we went back to our regular lives.
I had been buried in my thesis for days, neglecting almost everything else, fighting to make my new deadline. The apartment had once more gotten cluttered with my netbooks and papers. Buried in concepts and theories, with Spock mostly gone, I wore the most comfortable clothes I had, let makeup and nail polish go, and saw little more than the screen of my reference materials.
One evening, when Spock had long duty again, the door chimed. This was unusual. All my friends had been warned not to call until after my deadline.
I thrust my stylus into my hair, which actually was holding a few others in different colors. Padding over on bare feet, I opened the door to a small, foreshortened figure.
My first impression was that it was some child selling something. Soliciting was forbidden in Starfleet housing, but sometimes groups of teenagers came through from the local schools. Knowing Starfleet personnel had limited leave and huge appetites, they knew we were easy marks for purchasing everything from flash burst popcorn to Girl Scout cookies.
The person at the door did have a small satchel over her shoulder, confirming my impression she had something to sell. And she was short, barely up to my chin. Given Spock had no sweet tooth, and I wasn't going to eat anything that was going to break my diet, I didn't plan to buy. I had only a vague impression of long gently curling dark hair set back from a high brow, huge dark expressive eyes, and a heart shaped face of piercing sweetness that I refused to look at too closely lest it guilt me. "I'm sorry, but we're just not interested in any-" and then I got a real look at the face before me. "Oh, my god." For a moment I clutched the door, lest I give into an intense desire to slam it closed and hide until this visitor went away.
"I'm so sorry to burst in on you, but it turned out Sarek and I had a few hours before-"
"You're Dr. Grayson!" I told her.
She smiled, a bit uncertainly at my intensity. "Yes. I know."
"What are you doing here?"
She drew a breath, non-plussed, the delicate skin over her high cheekbones flushing in a blush of unease. I recollected myself. "Oh, I'm so sorry. I just wasn't expecting- Please," I tossed a wild look over my shoulder at the cluttered apartment behind me, sending a stylus clattering out of my hair, but there was nothing else for it, now. "Please, come in."
I grabbed the stylus from the floor.
She stepped into the room, her eyes darting over the apartment. I didn't know if she had ever seen it before, but if she had, I guarantee that she had never seen it in its present state of mid-thesis induced disarray.
"Spock isn't here."
"Yes, I know," she said, turning back to me with a faint smile. "Sarek went to fetch him."
"But he's on duty."
She bit her lip, as if too outright a smile would be improper. "Vulcans are normally very devoted to their duty. But I imagine that under the circumstances, Spock's superiors will give Sarek an hour or two of his time."
I imagined they would, put that way. I belatedly remembered I had yet to introduce myself. "I'm Nyota Uhura."
"I know. I'm Spock's mother," she said, and offered her hand, human style. I took it bemusedly, still staring at her as if she had beamed in out of thin air. I had meant to greet her in perfect Vulcanar. I still had this feeling I had fallen asleep over my books and in a moment I would wake with the print of the netbook keyboard pressed into my face. But no matter how I wished for it, if this were a dream, I wasn't waking up.
I realized I was still clutching her hand and she was staring at me with some puzzlement in her eyes. I let it go abruptly. "I'm sorry. .I've been studying for hours and I've just-," I turned as if to gesture her into the room and saw our quarters with new eyes. And I saw the apartment, me and the situation as she must be seeing it. My netbooks and reference materials were stacked on every flat surface. Sheets of my chapters were tacked up to the walls to better help organize the ideas. Not only did I have no fancy meal prepared, I didn't have any dinner in the house at all, since I knew Spock would not be back until Sunday morning.
And as for me… I had planned to meet my future in-laws dressed in my best, a new gown, designed to stun. Instead I was wearing old gym togs, recycled so often they were soft and comfortable to work in, my nail polish hadn't been touched up in two days, and I had a stylus, no several styluses sticking out of my hair. I had a frightening vision this was what my gran would have called shenzi.
"Please…sit down." I grabbed a stack of netbooks and pushed aside a place for her to sit, then stood there, realizing it was hopeless. I'd need a good hour to straighten all this up, at least ten minutes to tog myself out in my best, and by then our visitors could be gone.
"Please don't worry –"Amanda began and then the door cycled and Spock entered, deep in conversation with none other than the famous Sarek of Vulcan.
"Nyota, may I present my father, Ambassador Sarek," Spock said to me. "Father, Nyota Uhura."
Sarek turned toward me. Being Vulcan, he only fractionally hesitated as he was confronted with something clearly other than what he expected to see. His gaze went from my bare feet to the top of my stylus studded head, eyes lingering there for a moment before recovering his Vulcan cool and giving me a perfectly proper Vulcan greeting.
"It's an honor to meet you, Ambassador," I said, striving to keep my face Vulcan calm. There was nothing I could do now about it.
He inclined his head to my perfectly accented Vulcanir greeting and my grave Vulcan salute. At least I had recovered enough to get that much right. Though none of my linguistic skills detected any sign that the fact that I could speak his language, at least after a fashion, or knew some of his customs counted in my favor. His searching glance seemed to sear my soul rather than worry about my grammar. Or anything else. From all appearances, he was in typical Vulcan mode, reserving judgment.
Spock greeted his mother and let her hug him in turn. He even returned her embrace in a restrained Vulcan way reminiscent of any teenage boy humoring a female relative.
I glanced at Spock, and jerked my chin to our bedroom, "Can I have a word with you for just a moment?"
Spock blinked and said "Certainly." He seemed a little puzzled, glancing at me curiously. I barely managed not to push him into our room. Before the door closed behind us I was pretty sure I heard Amanda turn a laugh into a throat clearing cough. But I had bigger things on my mind.
"How could you not tell me they were coming?" I hissed at him.
"I didn't know." Spock said, all Vulcan innocent. He looked at me, not only unconcerned but with eyes alight. The Pilot Small expression had turned over, the faint turned under comma had become the little curve in the side of his mouth again. I was glad to see it, even considering what it had cost me. But frustrated.
"Where is all this telepathy when we need it?" I wanted to know.
"Do you know what the apartment looks like? What I look like? And what are we going to feed them?" I asked
"Sarek and I brought dinner," Spock said with naïve innocence. "And you look fine. Nyota, my parents will be here for only an hour or so. It is illogical for them to have come light-years from Vulcan and thousands of Earth miles and for Sarek to have obtained a leave from work for me if we are in here, and they are out there."
"What did you bring- "I asked, but Spock was already turning to rejoin his parents.
"Come," he said.
"I have to change," I said
"Why?" he asked. And then went out without waiting for my answer.
I took a look in my mirror, and removed the three styluses from my hair, but the rest of it seemed a lost cause. When I came out, Sarek was at the table opening the few small cartons that he and Spock must have purchased from the bumboats on the way back to the apartment. Spock was splashing their purchases: grapes, snap peas, raspberries, under water. Amanda was walking around the room, peering at the sheets of paper I had hung up.
"Please excuse the disorder," I gestured at the papers and pads cluttering the room. "I have a revised draft of my thesis due next week to Dr. Farnsworth."
"Oh, I know Keitlan," Amanda said, turning to me with a charming smile.
Of course you do, I thought.
"You're lucky to have her as a thesis advisor." She turned around, taking in me, Spock the small apartment, the clutter of pads and reference materials. "How this brings back my own student days. Don't you think so, Sarek?"
He glanced from his wife to his surroundings. "I think you are so essentially unchanged, my wife, that there is little difference between then and now to 'bring you back' from or to."
"Flatterer," she accused him.
He didn't deign to contradict her, but I could see what he meant. She had one of those timeless, classic countenances that would probably be the same at sixty as at sixteen. And for all that I had built her up in my mind as this huge, formidable figure, in person she was the exact opposite. Tiny, as diminutive as a child, small hands, small feet, with a sweet trusting countenance that belied her shrewd mind. She could be a perfect little English gentlewoman of a few centuries past. Though I could see what Spock had meant when he had teased me that his mother would be no good with a cudgel stick. She didn't look like she could last two minutes in a Starfleet hand-to-hand class. I could see her hosting a fabulous diplomatic dinner for 200, or being led by her distinguished husband into some glittering diplomatic reception. But I couldn't see her securing an outpost against Klingon invaders, or fighting off an advance force hand to hand. Given that, it was hard to believe she had loomed so overlarge in my dreams. In spite of all that, I couldn't shake the impression that she wouldn't need a weapon to mop the floor with all of us.
Spock and Sarek had settled at our small dining table, and were engaged in a rapid fire, shorthand discussion in Vulcanir. As much as I had flattered myself as being facile in the language, with all these other distractions, and with the addition of some strange vocabulary in their words, I had lost the thread of their conversation, and it quickly descended into gibberish.
Amanda must have noted my confusion, for she said, "They are talking clan politics. And now they are talking about what fields are being planted with what at home. Nothing very interesting. They are really just catching up on recent news since their last subspace message." She looked up at me. "You are much more beautiful than your holograph."
"Thank you," I said, and then added. "I don't look anything like you, though."
"Well," she laughed a little. "I don't look anything like T'Pau."
I didn't think I could have been any more shell-shocked at the moment, but I felt like I had just been punched in the stomach at this casual conveyance of that bombshell. "Spock's grandmother is T'Pau? T'Pau of Vulcan? The legendary T'Pau?"
"He didn't tell you?"
I tried to smile politely, though it was difficult given I was gritting my teeth together hard enough to fracture a few molars. "No, he managed to overlook that small detail."
"Sarek didn't tell me that before we were married either," Amanda said. "I honestly think it is just cultural blindness. Being such common knowledge in Vulcan society, they don't think they need to tell anyone. And perhaps that it shouldn't matter."
"Do you think it doesn't matter?" I asked.
She tilted her head slightly. "It will have an impact on your lives, of course. But what matters most is that you love my son. And that he loves you."
"Love…is not what I think would matter in Vulcan society."
"Surely by now you know better than to take Vulcan society at face value," she said, raising a brow Vulcan style.
I looked away from her too discerning eyes. "He thinks the world of you," I said. "You're brilliant; you're amusing; you sing like an angel."
Her lips twitched. "Funny," she said. "That's pretty much what he's said to me about you."
I let out a breath. "I've been a little …worried," I confessed apologetically. "I was perfectly fine admiring you, when you were parsecs away. It was only when you were going to show up, all maternal perfection, in our backyard that you suddenly seemed like a threat."
"Not all maternal perfection," she countered. "He couldn't have said I was much of a cook. I was always too busy teaching to do much more than just throw together quick meals."
"I'm not much of a cook either. I had planned to give you this grand dinner," I fretted. "And now you are here and I don't have a thing in the apartment to feed you."
She laughed again. I gave in and fell under her spell just like Sarek and Spock.
"Your thesis is fascinating," she said. "I hope you don't mind my looking."
"No, of course not," I said. The unreality of the situation was finally fading from my mind. After all that I had worried about regarding this first encounter, as differently as I had imagined it, here it was and it had finally happened. I could understand what Sarek and Spock were saying now. Sarek was talking to him about Starfleet appropriation legislation and Spock was listening avidly and making a few key points.
I looked back at Amanda, and saw that she had some of my sheets around her, and was flipping through the pages of one of my netbooks. "Have you ever considered," she asked, "the theory that given sensory perception necessarily biologically limits linguistic thought, an enhancement of new sensory modes can result in enhanced relational modes?" She looked at me, hopeful, smiling, charming. "Not just perceptually, but cognitively? There are studies by Tharlon of Andoria. While there's necessarily a learning curve before comprehension is enhanced, and some species, even humans, have a limit on the flexibility of neural adaptation, even for humans there are drugs that can restore such flexibility. It's seems any communicative model has to include the requisite modes for what is required when perception must be, by physical restrictions alone, limited."
"Are you suggesting that a sightless velopod can somehow communicate with a rainbow heliopticad?" I asked, intrigued, but skeptical.
"Well," she said, and tilted a netpad toward me, began to sketch out what she meant. By the time we looked up from this, Sarek and Spock had moved onto the food as they conversed. Sarek was eating raspberries, while Spock demolished the bowel of snap peas, interspersed with grapes.
"I'm sure we can do better than that," I said, as Amanda and I joined them. "We can go out… or order something in."
"Thank you my dear, but I'm afraid we hardly have time," Amanda said, reaching for a snap pea. "These are scrumptious. Such a nice change from three days of reconstituted starship fare. I don't see how you two plan to survive on it."
"It is one of the drawbacks of Starfleet service," Spock admitted.
"Hmmm," Amanda said, giving her son a look compounded of affection and exasperation. "There are alternatives."
We ate the peas and the raspberries and grapes. In true diplomatic form, our distinguished guests behaved as if it were a perfectly natural meal. When they were finished, Spock gave me an uncertain look. "We may have dessert. Nyota, there is still some ice cream, is there not?"
I had never touched the pint of vanilla Swiss almond which Spock had brought home that long ago evening. "Yes."
Spock retrieved it from the freezer. I got dishes and spoons.
"Chocolate," Amanda said, raising an eyebrow, Vulcan style.
I blushed a little again. There was all sort of rumors that chocolate was a mild Vulcan aphrodisiac. I don't normally kiss and tell, so all I will say is although Spock didn't have a sweet tooth and seldom indulged in chocolate, he didn't have a need for any artificial aids. If chocolate was, he'd never shown any sign of it affecting him, nor any need for it. With or without chocolate, I had no complaints.
We shared out the ice cream, and I noticed Sarek didn't hesitate to eat the Swiss almonds. He and Amanda did seem to sit a little closer, and Amanda smiled at her husband once in a way that didn't leave any doubt that she was human in love as well as in marriage. But ice cream, chocolate or not, her mind soon switched to her son's career.
"I completely understand a desire to be on the forefront of scientific endeavor," she said. "But I'll never understand this fascination you've developed for war mongering. Or whatever it is you do in this Games and Theory. You certainly didn't come by that from me."
"Amanda," Sarek said reprovingly.
I thought it was interesting that it was Spock's human mother rather than his Vulcan father who seemed more opposed to his Starfleet career.
She gave me a dazzling smile. "And I'm sure we could find a place for you at the Vulcan Science Academy," she offered.
I nearly choked on my ice cream at her astute perception of what had, before I met Spock, once been one of my ultimate dreams.
"And Spock, of course, has a long standing offer of an instructorship there, from the High Council itself," she continued.
"Nyota has her degree to complete," Spock said calmly, as if used to these machinations from this quarter.
"Your theories are fascinating," she said, smiling charmingly. "I know I'd love to work with you. I'm sure Keitlan would understand."
And I had no doubt that she knew how to give a lesson, in spite of that guilelessly innocent face. I understood a little more how she had wound up with Sarek. He probably hadn't realized what had hit him.
Sarek and Spock meanwhile, were trading glances rife with Vulcan suppressed amusement. "Mother, stop trying to steal my bride before we are married," Spock said.
"I don't understand why you are waiting," Amanda said, with a politely retrained nod to our obviously shared living arrangements.
"Starfleet is conventional enough that it is not considered "done" for an officer and a student to marry," Spock said patiently. "You know we must wait till Nyota graduates."
"On Vulcan that would hardly matter. And there is a whole community of scholars there whom Nyota could study with. Including myself."
"Mother," Spock said, shaking his head in amusement, "you know that with Father's travels you are hardly ever resident on Vulcan."
"Well, that's another material point," Amanda said, refusing to be daunted. "You two need to carry on your father's and my traditions there, in Council and at the VSA."
"No doubt they will, in time, my wife," Sarek said, looking up from his finished desert dish. "It is quite clear to me that Spock's tactical abilities in Games and Theory were not entirely inherited from our shared Vulcan warrior ancestors."
Amanda scowled at him, while blushing to the roots of her hair. Meanwhile Spock lowered his head to conceal a smile.
"However," Sarek concluded, "we also must consider the time…"
"Oh, we can't need to leave yet" Amanda protested looking at her watch in distress.
"I entirely regret that it is indeed so."
Amanda gave a meaningful look to Sarek. He responded by taking a small box from his tunic.
"We wanted to give you this," Amanda said solemnly, taking Sarek's hand in hers, "just to welcome you to the family."
Inside was a necklace, a tiny figure of a lematya, set with inlaid gems.
"A family symbol," Sarek said.
"It's beautiful." I looked at Spock. "Would you?"
He stepped behind me. I held my long hair out of the way while he fastened it around my neck. Amanda leaned against her husband, watching contentedly.
"Thank you," I said, telling myself firmly that Starfleet officers do not cry.
They left us both with family gestures of affection. Sarek shocked me that after trading a familial embrace with his son, gravely extended the same to me.
Amanda sidestepped Vulcan tradition with what I was beginning to recognize as typical directness, in spite of her deceptively sweet looks. She hugged her son, then kissed me on the cheek, standing on tiptoe to do so, and looked me straight in the eyes. "Do consider what I said."
If little angels needed to learn how to give orders, she could give them lessons.
"I…I will," I stuttered, momentarily caught in her spell. I suddenly had a real commiseration for Sarek. I wondered if he had ever had a chance.
The door closed behind them, and suddenly it was just Spock and me. Alone. I shook myself as if coming out of a spell.
"There, you see," Spock said, totally ignoring the disorder of the apartment, my lack of decent dress, his bare ability to get away from work, not to mention the lack of any coherent dinner. "I told you it would go perfectly well."
"Well!" I echoed, flabbergasted. "You call this well?"
"What went wrong?" he asked, raising a quizzical brow.
"What went right? I mean, your parents were perfectly charming, but this was nothing like what I had imagined or planned."
"Indeed?" he asked, looking clueless but content. "I don't understand. But what does that matter? I told you that my parents were nice. You can see that my mother likes you. And my father gave you the symbol of our clan. All these minor things which seemed to so concern you before proved groundless."
She did indeed seem to like me, I thought. That much had been genuine. But I also had a sneaking suspicion that as much as she did like me, she would have overlooked a great deal at the prospect of getting her much loved son home again.
"And the dinner," he concluded, "was delicious."
"It was supposed a gourmet meal," I complained. "Not raw vegetables, fruit and ice cream."
"Vulcans prefer raw fruits and vegetables," he said. "And do you know how many supposedly gourmet meals my parents have had to sit through?" Spock asked. "They wished to meet you and see me. Dinner was never an issue."
I opened my mouth to deliver a killing retort. But I didn't get to say anything. Maybe it's true that chocolate is really a Vulcan aphrodisiac. Spock drew me to him and kissed me.
"You were wonderful," he said. "But I only have another half hour's leave," he added, lips against my throat, inches from that little lematya pendant.
"Then we had better hurry if we are going to make up for lost time," I said.
And so we did.
I'm not sure how news of Spock's parents' visit traveled through Starfleet campus. Sarek certainly would have been seen on campus when he went to extricate Spock from duty. Or perhaps someone had seen Sarek when he and Spock at the bumboat vendors. Perhaps it was that Spock's Pilot Small expression had shifted to amused, rather than disappointed.
Perhaps it was that little pendant.
Gaila certainly noticed it. "Your loss, Nyota," she said. "I can still set you up with a real cat."
Delia from our fight class noticed it. She saluted me with her pugel stick and gestured with her long, wickedly pointed nail at the little charm. "I hope you're not going to lose your edge, Uhura, just because you're settled." She made it sound like a fate worse than death.
My Gran sent me a message, letting me know Sarek and Amanda had called her to introduce themselves. They sent her a lovely selection of flowers. My Gran managed to refrain from mentioning, to me and hopefully to them, that it didn't compare to a good goat.
And Dr. Farnsworth, my thesis advisor, reviewing my latest thesis chapters, pointed to a section I had recently added. "Your dinner must have been quite a success, based on this."
I didn't pretend not to understand. "Do you think I shouldn't include this part?" I asked.
She raised a brow. "That would be a little insulting to your new mother-in-law, wouldn't it? Not to mention that it is brilliant. You did collaborate together on this section?"
"We worked on it for a few minutes," I admitted.
"I could hardly object to your having another thesis advisor," she said. "You must have made quite an impression."
I thought about it, from my gym clothes, to my stylus studded hair, to my thesis cluttered apartment, to our avante guarde dinner…
"I guess I did," I replied.
She nodded complacently. "I congratulate you. I knew you had it in you, my dear. You gave a great dinner party."
And the truth is that in spite of everything, I guess I really did.
Guess Who is Coming to Dinner
See also in this series
Linguistics; Hello, Again; Guess Who is Coming to Dinner, The Last Unicorn and What It's Like