Commander Spock of the USS Enterprise was not usually a nervous man. His Vulcan genealogy and upbringing, his rigorous Starfleet training, the many dangerous situations he had been in through the years, all combined to make him a stoic, unemotional, unflappable individual. However, for all the nerve-wracking situations he had been in, none had been such a test as this.
It was over seven months since a terrorist explosion on the USS Enterprise had taken his sight, and five since he and McCoy had devised a way of breaking down the blinding barrier of pigmented cells in his eyes. Now he saw patches of blurred light fragmenting the blackness, shades of colour only slightly darkened by the cells. It was a relief, he admitted, to be slowly regaining the sight that he thought he would never recover.
In all of this time, Spock had only spoken to his parents through the ship's communication system - short conversations in which neither of his parents, his stoical Vulcan father or his more emotional human mother, had known quite what to say. Now he stood outside the high gate to his family home on Vulcan, eyes taking in the blurred colour of light red walls merging seamlessly into dark red sky, with his hand hesitating on the catch.
But delay was useless. He could not turn back. He was not sure that he could navigate his way back along the streets to the shuttle station, and he definitely could not return to the ship to tell his captain he did not have the courage to open a gate. Vulcans had no pride to bruise, but he had his dignity, and the teasing comments from Captain Kirk and Chief Medical Officer McCoy, though friendly, would be near impossible to endure.
Spock pushed the light gate open with one hand, and felt ahead with his cane, probing in the darkness that encircled and merged into the small field of colour. The stone-flagged path had not changed. He walked through the garden taking in all the familiar scents of the dry-climate plants around him, scents that almost obliterated the smell of sun-hardened earth from outside the walls. Then the cane jarred on stone in front of him, and he stepped up onto the doorstep and touched the doorchime, finding it under his palm by instinct alone.
There was a moment of silence, then a flurry of steps from inside, and the door swung open almost silently. He felt a surge of warm relief at the familiar voice that greeted him.
'Spock! I had no idea you were - It's been so long... Oh, Spock...'
His mother's arms encircled him, drawing him into a tight hug in which he was surrounded by not only her arms, but also her familiar scent and the mixture of her feelings. For once he did not resist that so-human display of emotion. He lightly touched her back with his own palms, then stepped back as she released him, picking up the luggage he had dropped at her hug.
There was a hesitation, and he could feel his mother looking beyond his shoulder. 'Did you come here alone?'
'I took the public shuttle, and then a cab to the gate,' Spock nodded, allowing himself to feel a sense of achievement at the journey he had just completed. It had taken three connections from a Federation Starbase to get to Vulcan on transport ships, and although it had been difficult he was grateful now that he had declined Captain Kirk's suggestion of taking an ensign with him.
'How long do you want to stay? Sarek has no appointments off world - we're hoping to spend at least six months here.'
'I know my arrival is unexpected,' Spock apologised. 'I was granted a month's leave without notice, and was not able to contact you. I will have three weeks here, at most. If my stay becomes inconvenient, I shall find a hotel.'
'Of course it won't be inconvenient. I'm so glad to see you, Spock,' Amanda said earnestly. 'I've been waiting so long for you to visit. It took all of your father's diplomatic skills to persuade me from coming to the ship.' She took his bag from him, then touched his arm with her hand. 'Come on in.'
Spock stepped up into the house with his mother's hand anxiously guiding him. The blur of colour faded as he went out of the sun, but he was stepping into a place so familiar that he didn't need to see. He could quote the exact distance and bearing to the door of his room without thinking about it, and name every book in the bookshelves without seeing the titles. Even the smell was so familiar it was like putting on an old cloak.
'Is Sacha not with you?' Amanda asked, looking down at her son's side for the guide dog he had told her about.
Spock shook his head. 'I have left her on the ship in the care of a fellow officer - she could not stand the Vulcan heat.' He flexed his hand, where the handle of the harness should have been. 'I confess I feel slightly lost without her by my side.'
'She must be a good dog,' Amanda smiled.
'Her aid is invaluable. Shall we go into the sitting room?' he asked, but he heard the muffled voices from the room almost at the same moment his mother spoke.
'Spock, we have visitors - it's a delegation from the academy - they're talking about admitting more students from other planets.'
'If it is a business meeting, I shall go to my room until they are gone,' Spock said, turning towards the familiar path to his bedroom.
'Spock, they're staying here,' Amanda said softly.
Spock turned around sharply, trying not to show his dismay. He had hoped for a quiet few weeks alone with his parents, the first time he had been with them since he had been blinded in the fierce explosion on his ship. Instead he would have to put up with making polite conversation with people he didn't know.
'They're all teachers from outshoots of the academy in remote areas,' his mother explained. 'They're being brought together to make the discussions easier - there are no spare rooms at the academy, so we're putting them up here. Your room's empty, though.'
'Then I should go to my room anyway,' Spock said quietly. 'I have no part in the discussions, and I'm sure that Sarek's guests will have little interest in a starship officer.'
He began to turn back towards the corridor, but a door opened, and Spock knew immediately that it was his father standing there. Seeing his mother after all that had happened had proved surprisingly easy – he was not sure that things would be as simple with his father, however.
'Amanda, do we have a visitor?' Sarek asked, then said, 'Spock, I did not expect you.' The slight falter in his voice told Spock how taken aback he was.
'I had no chance to call,' Spock said flatly. Now there was no chance of simply disappearing to his room, or talking privately to his mother. Every stranger in the house knew he was here, and it would be unthinkable not to greet the guests of his family.
'Spock, you don't have to see them,' Amanda said almost under her breath.
Sarek stayed diplomatically silent. Spock knew what he was expected to say.
'Mother, I cannot ignore your guests. It would not reflect well on the family for you to have a son who ignores common courtesy.'
'We are in the sitting room, Spock,' Sarek told him, touching his arm. 'Do you require guidance? How do I guide you?'
'Simply let me take your arm,' Spock said calmly, putting his hand to the soft, thick fabric of Sarek's sleeve. There was a barely perceptible tension in Sarek's arm as Spock touched it. He had never seen his father so nervous.
'Come then,' Sarek said, and Spock followed him through into the room. Sarek announced, 'Our son, Spock. Spock, may I introduce Professor T'Kal, and Doctors T'Ahnu, T'Mir, Stalan and Seren.'
Spock committed the names to memory, sweeping his eyes over the blurred room. He knew even out in the bright sunlight he would not be able to make out individual people, but in here he could barely even see colour. He bowed his head briefly, saying politely, 'I am honoured to meet you.'
'T'Mir is your cousin, by the third generation,' Sarek added. 'I do not think you have met.'
'No, we have not,' Spock nodded, mildly interested at this development. He had heard the name, of course, as he had heard the names of many of his relatives, but Vulcans rarely socialised with those out of the direct family line merely for the sake of shared blood.
'There's room on the couch, Spock,' Amanda said from behind him, gently steering him towards the seat. Spock would normally have resisted being manoeuvred in such a way, but there would be plenty of time for instructing his parents on such things.
'Thank you, mother,' he said, sitting down in the empty seat.
'I am Dr T'Mir,' the person beside him said - a young woman's voice, maybe about his own age. The couch creaked as she leaned back beside him. She smelt very faintly of roses and greenery - she had been in his mother's garden. 'I feel honoured to finally meet you, Commander Spock.'
Spock nodded in acknowledgement of her statement. The fact that she had deliberately used the word *feel* shed an intriguing light on his cousin's personality.
'You have not met the others before?' she asked in a low tone.
Spock shook his head.
'The man speaking at present is Stalan,' T'Mir told him. 'He is the consort of Professor T'Kal. They are on opposing sides,' she said, and there was hint of amused irony in her voice.
Spock listened to the hard, firm voice droning on about the problems posed by foreign students on Vulcan, and was struck immediately, and quite illogically, by the feeling that he did not like this man.
'Stalan is extremely dedicated,' T'Mir told him.
'He does seem so,' Spock nodded.
Spock listened to the five guests debating endlessly for hours - three of them for foreign students on Vulcan, the other two opposed. Stalan was almost violently opposed, and yet his consort T'Kal was a lively, intelligent woman arguing strongly for the cultural benefits that foreign students would bring to Vulcan. Spock wondered what the two would ever speak about together, they were so different - maybe this was what his relationship would be if the icily logical T'Pring had accepted him.
Doctor T'Ahnu's voice was full of a dignity and confidence that few Vulcans younger than Spock's father achieved - indeed, she sounded at least fifty years older than Sarek. Her only reasons for not wanting alien students were presented as perfectly logical ones - firstly that their emotional, unguarded minds would upset the Vulcan students, and secondly that the academy was already crowded, with long waiting lists, and as the standard for admission was high even for Vulcans, few mentally inferior aliens could take the pressure. Her third objection was that the academy and surroundings would become rife with crime and fighting between illogical, emotional and unprincipled aliens. Spock found her views prejudicial and xenophobic, but it was not surprising in older Vulcans, less used to such full contact with alien societies.
T'Mir contributed little to the discussion, but Spock had already surmised that she was for admission. He spoke quietly to her through the evening, listening to the other Vulcans' arguments without commenting. Being part of two cultures himself, he did not want to enter an dispute which would tear his loyalties apart. The more he listened to T'Ahnu speak about the destructiveness of alien minds, the more he could feel the red blood in his own veins - he distinctly got the impression that she was looking at him pointedly as she spoke. Amanda seemed to be taking it all with amazing diplomacy, quietly pointing out that humans had their merits as well as their bad features.
Finally Spock got to his feet, shaking out his cane. 'Excuse me,' he said. 'The journey here was tiring. I must retire.'
Two people got to their feet as he stood, and he knew instantly that they were Amanda and Sarek.
'Do you need help, Spock?' his mother asked, carefully controlling the anxiety in her voice.
'No, thank you, mother. I can find my way alone.'
He left the room to find the peace of the empty corridor outside, and spent a moment remembering the dimensions of this house he had not been in for more than a year. He walked along the corridors, grateful that his parents had never found clutter agreeable. There was very little chance of finding something in his way.
He felt the soft breeze of outside as he neared the garden doors, and smelt the scents of Amanda's carefully nurtured garden. The warm fragrance of roses drifted up to surround him almost tangibly. It was dark outside now, but in some ways the total darkness was easier to move in than the deceptive blur. He found the ancient stone meditation bench with the ease of years of memory and sank down on it, absorbing the stillness of the Vulcan night. He reached out to his left and touched the soft leaves and even softer petals of a rose blossom. Just that movement sent an extra burst of fragrance into the air. Then he withdrew his hand and closed his eyes, slipping himself into the quiet of his own mind.
He had been sunk in the calm of meditation for a long time, and was slowly rising from the detached depths as he heard footsteps approaching down the cool corridor. The doors swung open almost silently. He had expected it to be his mother who came out to be with him, but the footsteps down the path were the long paces of a man. Although he had been separated from his parents for so long, he could still instantly recognise his father through the psionic bond that held all Vulcan families together.
Sarek sat down silently at the other end of the bench. Spock could hear him breathing in slowly, taking in the scent of the plants as Spock had. Eventually Sarek said;
'Your mother has always had a natural talent for horticulture.'
'Yes,' Spock nodded. 'I have noticed the scents of some new plants.'
There was a pause, then Sarek said, 'Amanda has planted some aromatic and pleasantly textured shrubs recently. A number of herbs from earth, some Organian orange-leaves, a native bi'ansin tree.'
Spock turned his head toward Sarek. 'Since I informed you of my blindness?'
Spock nodded, and silence fell again. He could hear his father breathing, and the slight movements he made on the bench, the soft noise of his clothing. Combining with the familiar scent of his father was a faint scent of his mother's perfume, as if she had brushed against him at some time.
'Are there any adjustments that you will need about the house during your stay, Spock?' Sarek asked finally.
Spock considered the question. 'After a few days I will become familiar with the present organisation of the house, and I will be able to navigate without my cane. I can only ask that objects are not left out on the floor, and that nothing is moved in my room. It is a help when my surroundings are predictable.'
'Of course,' Sarek nodded.
'One other thing,' Spock said, allowing himself an almost imperceptible wry smile. 'It is best if doors are kept either fully open or closed – if they are left half open, I tend to find myself walking into them, which is inconvenient, to say the least.'
'Yes, I imagine so,' Sarek said dryly. 'I will let the household know your requests.'
'Thank you, father.'
'Spock... I regret that you were blinded,' Sarek said slowly, as if even that was too much an admission of feeling.
'I am used to it now,' Spock reminded him. 'It is part of my life.'
'Yes. However, I was - relieved - when you informed us of the treatment.'
'As was I,' Spock admitted, remembering the bursting of emotions that he had held firmly hidden when he realised that he was really seeing light after weeks living under the sentence of life-long darkness. 'I was quite gladdened by the discovery.' He felt no risk at that statement. Sarek seemed in the mood tonight to accept emotional statements rather than to disapprove and censure.
'Is the treatment an ongoing process?' Sarek asked as if he had not heard Spock's last words. 'Will you be visiting a doctor here on Vulcan?'
Spock shook his head. 'The equipment needed for the treatment is quite specialised – the Enterprise has one of the few devices in existence, and there are certainly none on Vulcan. We could not procure a license to transport equipment that makes use of disrupter rays.'
'Then you are going without treatment.'
'Yes. I should receive the treatment every three days but obviously I cannot at the moment. Each treatment I miss extends the period of visual impairment since the cells tend to regrow spontaneously. I brought a number of slides of the cells in my eyes with me, Sarek. I thought that you might be interested in them.'
'I would certainly be interested in inspecting them.'
Spock reached into his pocket and brought out a small box. He felt briefly over the label on the lid, then held it out to Sarek.
Sarek took the box, curiosity making him run his fingers over the label as Spock had. The small bumps were distinctive while he could see them, but he could imagine the difficulty of reading them without sight.
'You do not use touch language,' he said.
'No. Braille is the standard tactile language of Starfleet. All of the equipment is made for Braille. I can read our touch language, but the millions of signs are too complicated for the equipment I have.'
'I see,' Sarek nodded. 'It must be difficult to travel without sight,' he said after a pause. The tone was that of a question.
'I would not recommend it to one unused to blindness – but the journey was manageable. I found the crews and passengers on all three ships most helpful. The most difficult periods are when one is alone in unfamiliar quarters.'
He cast his mind back over the journey, remembering the difficulty he had had on the first ship when, unused to the experience, he had not bothered to ask a crewmember to show him around his small quarters. In that ship simply finding the bathroom – behind a door set flush to the wall – had taken an hour of his time, and he had learnt not to repeat the necessity of finding the toilet with a fingertip search.
The silence stretched out again, then to his surprise he felt Sarek's fingers touching his, moving his hand into the warm palm touch that families often used at greetings and farewells. It was such a long time since he had touched his father's skin, and Sarek did not draw back from the touch after a few seconds. He could feel Sarek's ring on his third finger, the metal hot from his blood, and the pulsing of that blood in his fingertips, and the tiny electrical shivers of telepathic connection at the surface of his skin. Spock could not help but be intrigued by that connection. He had touched so many minds, but he not yet touched his own father's.
'You use this baton to aid your navigation?' Sarek asked, finally withdrawing from the touch. Spock could hear his father picking the cane up and unfolding it to its full length to examine it.
'Yes, when I do not have my dog with me. I have grown quite unused to using it since I have had Sacha. I admit I feel quite incapacitated without her.'
'Then the dog is more useful than this device?'
Spock raised an eyebrow. 'Far more useful. The cane can tell me how the ground surface will change a metre from my feet. Sacha can do that, and lead me along paths, remember routes, tell when a way is safe to cross.'
'I have been monitoring your progress on your ship since you told us of your blindness. Few Vulcans who lose their sight perform so well.'
'Perhaps a benefit of my human parentage,' Spock suggested lightly. He knew that Sarek was saying in a veiled way that he was proud of him. 'It is possible that my need to see does not extend to the vital requirement of most Vulcans.'
After a long moment of silence, Spock asked, 'Sarek, have you eaten this evening?'
'Not yet.' Spock got the impression that he was smiling with his next words. 'I have not been given the chance by our guests - they ate before returning this evening, as did your mother.'
Spock nodded, then took his cane back from his father and got to his feet. 'Then would you like to accompany me to T'Shal's Restaurant in town? The air should stay warm for another few hours.'
'I will come,' Sarek nodded. 'I must inform Amanda.'
'I will meet you at the front gate,' Spock told him, shaking out his cane.
He went through the house and out to wait by the front gate. The walk into town would be useful to reinforce his memory of the surroundings, but it would also be good to take a walk in the Vulcan evening after so long on a sterile starship.
'Tell me about the discussions,' Spock said as he walked with Sarek towards the centre of the town.
The old place smelt familiar, every warm breath of wind and slight muted noise combining to give an atmosphere of twilight that did not need to be seen. Every soft footfall, sweeping shuttle engine, snippet of murmured conversation, sounded undeniably Vulcan. Spock was glad that Vulcan sidewalks were predictable enough that he didn't have to cut into the quiet with the sharp tapping of his cane. He could rely on Sarek's arm for guidance, and not worry about ground variations, or draw attention to himself by the noise.
'Some time ago it was suggested in the monthly meetings that the Academy should select more non-Vulcans for entry. The Federation Council had questioned admittance rates at almost the same time as the internal processes perceived that there was a problem.'
'You believe that there is a problem?' Spock asked curiously.
'While I believe that Vulcans should not be overwhelmed by un-Vulcan principles, total isolation from other species can also be harmful. The IDIC notion holds as true today as ever.'
'That is fact,' Spock nodded. He was a walking example of infinite diversity in infinite combination - specifically the combination of worlds as diverse as Earth and Vulcan.
'Perhaps if the academy had simply lifted its acceptance quotas, no fuss would have been made - but they rightly chose to put it to discussion, and so we find ourselves in the present situation.'
'Which is?' Spock asked. Sarek had used hardly any inflection in his voice, but Spock could detect something sinister in his tone.
'The discussions are not running smoothly. They have necessitated a number of people lodging with others - as is the case in our house - so as to be able to attend late and early meetings. Discussions have been heated at times, and there have been threats.'
'Around the table?'
'No. Some members favouring alien admission have received warnings through their communication systems. Nothing has come of them, but it increases the tension in the debating room. The sense of trust has been damaged.'
'I see,' Spock nodded.
He carried on down the street in silence, hearing the echoes change minutely as they passed the wide square with its plants and water wells, and then back into the narrower streets of the restaurant quarter. After a while he asked, 'Where do you stand, Sarek?'
Sarek paused almost imperceptibly in his step, then continued onwards.
'We are approaching a kerb, Spock,' he said, slowing down as they reached it. He waited until they had crossed the street, then said, 'My position is not easy. As Ambassador, I am expected to protect Vulcan interests whilst maintaining amicable relationships with other worlds - therefore I support the admission of those alien students who merit places as long as Vulcan students do not suffer.'
Spock nodded. 'And personally?' he asked. He hoped the answer would be that Sarek was for admission. How else could he continue to walk along these streets walking so close to his father, touching his arm in a contact more personal than any he had experienced for over twenty years?
There was a long silence, then Sarek said, 'Some aliens can be disruptive, they can be dangerous, they can threaten our very way of life. However, it is generally agreed that it is education which lifts beings above disruptive and degenerate behaviour. To deny beings education because of the world they were born on or because of their genetic heritage would be to deny the Federation peace.'
'You support admission?'
'I support admission,' Sarek nodded.
'Dr T'Ahnu appears less amenable.'
'She is old. Her family is regal, and they have never been reconciled to the idea of out-worlders on our planet. It was an almost foregone conclusion that she would oppose admission with vigour.'
'I would assume she has high standing at the academy?'
'She is a teacher of five variations of historical physics, the head of the department of ancient science, and sits in the synod of governors.'
'I see,' Spock said with a sense of awe. Teaching just one subject at the academy was demanding enough. T'Ahnu was obviously as zealous in her job as she was in her political views.
'A small step up, Spock,' Sarek warned, turning to the right.
Spock could smell the delicately cooked traditional food of T'Shal's Restaurant as they turned in through an automatic door. He could sense mildly curious eyes following him briefly and then flicking away as patrons reacted to the rare sight of a blind Vulcan, and then realised that this was Spock, the half-human Starfleet officer who had been born in this town. Since Vulcans did not gossip, it would not be surprising if many had not heard the news that Starfleet's most famous Vulcan officer could no longer see.
'Do you wish me to read the menu?' Sarek asked as they sat.
'No need. I will have vorshak and salad.'
'For me too,' Sarek said, his voice angled upwards, and Spock realised that there was a waiter hovering over them with typical unobtrusiveness. 'And a carafe of mila juice for the table.'
'Your meal will take approximately eight minutes to prepare,' the waiter said smoothly, 'Do you wish the charge added to your account, Ambassador Sarek?'
'To mine,' Spock said as Sarek began to reply. 'Commander Spock, USS Enterprise. Thank you.'
'Perhaps you could tell me more about T'Mir, father,' Spock said as the waiter moved away. 'You say she is a cousin of the third generation?'
'She is descended from your great grandfather, and is a little more than ten years younger than you. Her mother was T'Phen, the commander of a vessel in the Vulcan space fleet. T'Phen was killed in an unprovoked Romulan attack near the neutral zone when her daughter was thirteen years of age. T'Mir has been active in the improvement of Vulcan-alien relations since that time.'
'I see,' Spock nodded. It was admirable to hear that his relation had turned such a negative event to such a positive quest. 'And she is - normal?' He hesitated to use that word, but it was the only way to express his interest in the subtle sense of emotion he felt from her, without directly asking if her discipline was well-formed.
'T'Mir was schooled as any other Vulcan,' Sarek replied levelly. 'I believe her mother's death affected her. Thirteen is a crucial age in any Vulcan's upbringing. She was never able to meld with her mother in order to cement the family bond. I believe that is something she regrets.'
*As I missed my melding with you because of my entry into Starfleet*, Spock thought silently. *Something I also regret*.
'T'Mir is unusual in more ways than one,' Sarek continued, 'But I cannot say she has negative flaws. Her appearance and her attitude to life have simply held her rather separate from the people of our planet. To some she appears to be a little too sensitive, but the attitude seems to lend her grace.'
Spock nodded. He too had felt the odd warmth and gentleness from the woman, but felt attracted by it rather than repelled.
'You mentioned her appearance?'
'Yes - her eyes.' There was a short pause, then, 'I forget you could not see your cousin. Her eyes are copper-coloured - unusual, for a Vulcan.'
'Indeed,' Spock nodded. He tried to recall the last time he had seen copper-coloured eyes in a Vulcan - a musician in a traditional orchestra, who had looked at him with deep brown eyes so flecked with gold and copper they seemed to be made of metal. In the past, Vulcans with those eyes were almost invariably artists of some sort. He felt a dull sense of regret that he would not see the eyes of his cousin, or know the lines of her face. He would leave Vulcan before his sight returned, and probably would never have reason to visit the woman again.
But at that moment the scent of lightly cooked vegetables heralded the approach of their meal, and he leant back to allow the silent waiter to place the plate before him. It was of no use to regret not seeing T'Mir's face. It was, after all, just a face, and it was the person behind the face who intrigued him.