Chapter 1 - Seven Days and a Wake-Up

"Miss Grayson?"

"Uhm, it's 'Doctor', and yes?" Amanda replied to the newly embarrassed messenger.

"Ma'am, you have been cleared for the flight, but the only quarters available are in first class..." He paused as she looked at him more directly than he preferred.

"I am not paying for the extra cost. Your company's maintenance issues have left me stranded on this station for a week. I have missed work, my house sitter is not happy, and I miss my cat. So how do you recommend we correct this problem?" she asked, her irritation growing. "I just want to go home. Help me out here."

"It's our fault, not yours, no extra cost, Dr. Grayson. Please accompany me. The Explorer is ready to depart the station now." He smiled as the relief washed over her face.

They walked quickly to the transporter pad and she stepped on. She looked at the young man and said, "Thank you." Just as she said that, she dematerialized in front of him.

When she opened her eyes again, she was standing in the first class reception deck of the star liner Explorer. A brand new cruising vessel, it was designed specifically to improve the comfort of interstellar travel. As she looked around, she could not have imagined the luxury that came with the kind of wealth it took to afford this type of passage.

"First and last time I will ever see this," she mumbled to herself. "I'd better enjoy every bit of this."

Another officer approached her and said, "? I am the deck purser. If you'll come with me, I will show you to your quarters."

She followed him through the lounge and past the library toward what she assumed were large conference rooms. No. They were guest accommodations.

"We apologize for the inconveniences you have experienced. You are assigned to Cabin 5. All amenities are at your disposal, and if you require anything, please notify me directly. We will depart the station in five minutes; please make yourself comfortable."

"Thank you."

Deciding that a five day voyage was going to allow plenty of time for touring the ship, she decided to take advantage of the library once she settled into her cabin. She found a tall, wingback chair next to a table with a computer terminal, and best of all, a viewing window. She kicked off her heels, tucked her feet underneath her and plopped into the chair, watching the station that had been her home for the past seven days disappear as the starlight streaked behind them when the ship moved from impulse to warp speed.

She accessed her files on the Vulcan language, opened her notebook, and continued to work on her translations for practice. As she had progressed through her Vulcan studies, she found herself struggling with terms with highly emotional contexts, so she set out to correct this deficit by translating poetic works from throughout the Federation. Time passed without her realizing it.

The small shuttlecraft arrived at the designated coordinates to meet the Explorer en route to Earth. The young Vulcan pilot alerted the passengers to prepare for transport as they awaited the ship's arrival.

"S'haile, the vessel is scheduled to arrive in four point six minutes," he said quietly.

"Acknowledged," Ambassador Sarek replied.

Internally, he maintained the countdown to the ship's arrival, and looked forward to a time of meditation. The failure of the past three weeks' negotiations was one thing, but when the T'Plana Hath experienced a warp core breach and evacuation had been required, he had reached a new limit to his patience. He was controlling his frustration with great difficulty, and sought to bring his mind back into balance.

Sarek had risen quickly through the diplomatic corps on Vulcan, having garnered a reputation for careful thought and planning, consideration of detail, and exacting precision. He had received satisfactory evaluations over the years, and was now following in the path of his father and grandfather before him.

His term as ambassador to Earth had already lasted two years, and, while he found much of human behavior to be inefficient and irrational, he had also begun to understand his grandfather's appreciation for the endurance of the human spirit. The species was surprisingly resilient, challenging, and unpredictable... and he found that acceptable.

The failure of the negotiations caused him to miss a conference on Altair VI where data regarding the latest phase of the universal translation project had been released. This particular tool would revolutionize the processes of treaty development; trade and commerce negotiations; dispute mediation and arbitration, and he wanted to learn more about its progress. It would greatly increase the efficiency of his work, and he was willing to consider any assistance he could possibly render to bring the project to successful resolution.

Amanda watched the ship come out of warp and signaled to the steward passing by. "Why are we out of warp? Please tell me we are not having a mechanical issue...lie to me if you have to," she asked, almost plaintively.

"Oh, no, ma'am. We are picking up a diplomatic delegation. Vulcans, I think," he answered. "It's fairly routine actually."

She sighed quietly and sincerely hoped there would be no further interruptions. She just wanted to go home. The Altair conference had gone well, her presentation was received with high accolades, and the conference with her team members for the universal translator was finally showing light at the end of the tunnel. But none of those things could satisfy her need to sleep in her own bed, use her own shower, make coffee in her own kitchen... it was home, and she was not there.

She went back to her translations after the ship returned to warp - her fascination with moving faster than the speed of light never lessened. Finally feeling she could relax, Amanda released her long, brown hair from its up-do, the curls settling in around her face and neck. She stood long enough to adjust the chair so that she was completely facing the window and then settled deeper into the wingback, returning to her work.

Ambassador Sarek stood, flanked by his aides, inside the reception area. After successfully quartering aboard the vessel, he had finally been able to enter meditation, and found himself more centered than he'd been in days.

"Soran, we will require a private space to work. We will not arrive at Earth for four point three days, and I will not risk any further delay in our efforts."

His aide bowed silently and departed to obtain an appropriate workspace. Sarek stepped up to the bar and ordered Altair water. He stood before an observation portal and waited.

"S'haile, there are no rooms that can be reserved for private use; however, the purser has informed me that the library is largely unused as it is designated a 'quiet room'. Due to the low number of passengers aboard, we may use it as we need."

"Understood. We shall meet there in fifteen minutes."

Fifteen minutes later, the Vulcan delegation walked into the library to find it apparently unoccupied. Seating themselves in a rather logical fashion, Soran immediately set to work sorting through communications received during and immediately following the warp core breach. As he distributed them, each person's PADD would chime softly, and they consequently would begin to sort through their communications as effectively as possible.

Amanda was having a most pleasant dream: she was sitting under the oak tree at her grandmother's home, reading. The breeze was blowing softly through the trees rustling the leaves, someone was cutting grass somewhere... and it all came to her on that gentle breeze.

As she sat at the base of the trunk, her toes slowly wriggling in the warmth of the sunlight, she began to hear chimes... but her grandmother's wind chimes did not sound like that. She sat up and listened - they were behind her, but she didn't see where they were coming from. She stood and quietly walked behind the tree, but there was nothing. Then they sounded again, behind her. She turned and found nothing…

As Soran completed the distribution of communications, a split second of silence took place wherein Sarek's mouth opened to speak, and then they heard it: a soft snore. They each looked to the observation portal and realized they were, in fact, not alone in the library. Sarek observed a pair of black women's dress shoes, one standing up with the other laying on its side next to it. As his eyes moved upward, he saw a stack of PADD's and a folder bearing the seal of the translation initiative.

Amanda opened her eyes slowly and saw that they were still at warp. That was a good start. Realizing the chimes had stopped she stretched slowly, reaching her arms upward and yawning. She lowered her feet to the floor, wiggled her toes for a moment, and then straightened her blouse. Looking at the chronometer on her personal PADD, she decided to head back to her room and then find dinner.

Standing quietly, she moved the chair back to its original position and then realized she had an audience. She looked upward slowly to find three Vulcans watching her with distinct curiosity, as one of those awkward social silences poured into the room. She looked at them, blinked, and quickly picked up her belongings, and put on her shoes, not realizing her translation notebook had fallen to the floor. "Excuse me, please, so sorry..."

They just watched as she hastily left the room. Sarek rose and picked up the translation book she'd accidentally left. He opened the front cover and found her name. "Fascinating," he said.

"Sir?"

"Precisely the researcher I wished to speak with."

He stepped out into the hallway, but she was nowhere to be found.

Amanda stood in the shower of her luxury suite attempting to wash away seven days of space station living and the embarrassment of meeting the Vulcan diplomatic delegation in such disarray. She had hoped they would be at the Altair conference, but when they did not show, she shrugged it off.

Now that delegation was here, and the ambassador was probably among them. Any hopes she had of obtaining assistance from the Vulcans in the final phases of developing the universal translator was certainly gone.

She took time to dress and, after locating the dining areas of the ship, she proceeded to one that seemed to be off the more popular paths used by other passengers. Exiting the turbolift at Deck Four, she rounded the corner to find the dining area nearly empty. Perfect. Then she saw him.

Sarek was sitting in the dining facility waiting for his meal to arrive as he read through the final message on his PADD. After completing his reply, he looked at the notebook she'd left in the library, and noticed hand-drawn Vulcan symbols on the back cover. While slightly misshapen, they were correctly drawn. As he turned it back over, a piece of paper fell from it. He picked it up and found a poem he was unfamiliar with that she was in the process of translating.

The Tree by Kapact

The tree doesn't care that I loved you.

Rai panah-tor vesht ashau tu nash-veh.

It doesn't care that you're gone.

Rai panah-tor vesht tev-tor lap tu.

But my tears will help it grow.

Gol-tor to'ovak lap dungi bezhun-masu t'nash-veh.

He looked at the poetry and considered it. Despite the overtly emotional content, it translated well and held the emotional referents. He put the book down as his dinner was served to him.

Amanda watched him as he read. He was handsome in an 'interesting' way - thick, black eyebrows slanting upward, a distinctly arched nose, strong, high cheekbones, and those pointed ears. She debated approaching him, but decided against it, and left to choose another dining lounge.

The next morning, Amanda rose and found her way to breakfast. As she sat in front of an observation portal, she did not see him enter. She was too preoccupied by the beauty of the stars they were traveling past. The captain had chosen to slow to sublight speed as they passed a nebula, allowing the passengers to observe it.

He entered the dining lounge and saw her. Deciding not to miss the opportunity, he approached her quietly. "Dr. Amanda Grayson?"

"Yes?" she answered, and then looked. 'Oh god...how do I get out of this now?' she wondered.

"I am Sarek. We were not properly introduced last evening," he said, looking at her pointedly. "May I join you?"

She blinked for a moment, and then realized she had not responded. "Yes, please."

He sat quietly and when the waiter arrived, he ordered fruit, an assortment of breads, and asked tea to be brewed from a sachet he pulled out of his robes.

She sat quietly, trying to think of how to apologize or explain the previous evening, and then decided she shouldn't have to. "So," she said, "how often does a diplomatic delegation have to meet a star liner? Is that normal?"

"It is highly abnormal. The transport I normally utilize experienced a warp core breach and required complete evacuation."

She looked at him silently. "So, what do you do for excitement?" she asked, immediately realizing he did not get the joke.

"I do not understand," he answered.

"Never mind," she said as their breakfast arrived. "I was under the impression that your home world had a group registered to attend the translation initiative meetings on Altair."

"We were unavoidably delayed, Dr. Grayson."

"Please call me Amanda. I was hoping to speak with your ambassador about a collaboration for the applied testing phase of the universal translator," she said, taking a bite of melon.

"That can be arranged at your convenience," he said.

"Really? He would not mind? I am sure he is very busy."

"Indeed; however, I am certain he would accommodate an appointment."

"What, are you his aide or something?"

"No."

"Then how do you know he would?"

"I am he."

" Do you have time to discuss this now?"

"After first meal, yes," he answered, saying no more as he ate.

Once a very silent breakfast was complete, he invited her to join him in the library. As they entered, she saw the other two Vulcans from the previous evening.

"Dr. Amanda Grayson, these are my aides, Soran, and T'Lyra."

"Hello," she said, suddenly feeling nervous.

"What do you propose for the collaboration you spoke of earlier?" Sarek asked.

She sat quietly at the conference table. "Well, to be very honest, sir, we are nearing the end of the alpha phase of testing. The beta phase would mean applying the device in stable conditions for practical, real-time tests. While we could involve any number of diplomatic groups, the development panel feels the Vulcan delegation would be the most objective and direct route for diplomatic application and evaluation."

"Ah. How would you suggest it be tested?" Sarek asked.

"In parallel with current translation techniques. It will require an individual to monitor all translations, note any discrepancies, and scrutinize said errors for complete causation. There are, well, a few inaccurate translations for Vulkahnsu that must be addressed, as well. We have inputted all available terminology, but some phrases will not translate appropriately."

"You will submit a written proposal directly to my delegation within forty-eight hours. I will make a decision before we reach Earth orbit."

"As you wish. Thank you for your time, sir," she said quietly.

Amanda finished the written proposal he'd requested, and added an appendix including their most recent statistical information on the device's performance in testing situations. After proof-reading the content, she saved it to a data chip and set out looking for the ambassador. She entered the library to find T'Lyra working quietly.

"Excuse me, T'Lyra?"

"Yes?"

"Could you tell me where I might find the ambassador? I have the proposal he requested," Amanda said quietly.

"He is unavailable at this time. I will deliver it to him in your stead."

She handed the Vulcan the chip. "Thank you."

Sarek read the proposal for a second time, considering carefully how his involvement in the testing of the device would alter conducting his government's business. He decided that requesting permission from the Vulcan High Council was the most logical course of action. He waited quietly as his request for an audience with the Council was accepted and transferred.

"Sarek, peace and long life to you," T'Pau said quietly.

"And to you, First Minister."

"Have you been able to amend the loss of time after the warp core breach?" she asked.

"Yes. We are on schedule to complete the previous timeline, T'Pau. I have a request regarding a different matter that requires your advisement," he said.

"Regarding?"

"The development of the universal translation device. By manner of coincidence, one of the senior researchers for the project is aboard this vessel. We have spoken about the progress of the project, and she has submitted a request for collaboration with our delegation."

"Elaborate, Sarek," Councilor Stevan requested.

"Dr. Grayson submitted a written proposal to me yesterday afternoon that explicitly details the progress of the alpha testing phase. Statistical data suggests the device is ready for live testing. The research panel has requested the Vulcan diplomatic delegation use the device in tandem with current translation methods and techniques in order to evaluate its effectiveness," he answered the elder Vulcan.

"Why the Vulcan delegation, and not any other within the Federation?" T'Pau asked, skepticism seeping through her voice.

"Dr. Grayson informed me that the research panel agreed unanimously that our delegation will use the device accurately and provide the most effective feedback. They trust us to critically evaluate the project objectively." He paused for a moment. "There is one issue that will complicate the matter of beta testing the device."

"Elucidate, Sarek," Councilor T'Sira requested.

"In order to maintain efficiency of performance, a member of the research development team will accompany the device at all times, performing a constant evaluation of its performance in real-time negotiation. Allowing one of them to accompany us during the testing phase would mean that the individual monitoring the device's performance would have access to matters of Vulcan security."

The Council sat quietly. T'Pau drew herself up and spoke. "Sarek, if this device is to accompany our delegation, the responsibility for the behavior of the research member will rest upon your shoulders. If there are no objections, I will authorize the testing phase of the project; however, you shall answer for any unauthorized usages of secure information, should it they occur."

"Understood, T'Pau. Sarek out."

Amanda sat in the observation lounge on the fourth deck. Less than twenty-nine hours from home, she finished correspondence to coordinate scheduling. She looked at the observation portal and saw his reflection behind her. "Would you care to join me?" she asked.

"Yes. I have decided that our delegation will utilize the translator; however, there is one issue that must be resolved beforehand."

"What's that?"

"The issue of who will accompany the delegation as the device is evaluated," he answered bluntly. "There are issues of diplomatic security that require an individual capable of maintaining confidence. Additionally, the person selected must not have obligations planet side that require constant involvement."

"Ok. There are two members of the team that I believe would meet the criteria. It's just an issue of whether or not they will want to go." She smiled as he looked confused. "How soon are you wishing to integrate the device?"

"Without emergent conditions, our delegation is not scheduled to depart Earth for three weeks, four days. Can you recommend any individuals for the project?"

"Yes, I can. If you'll excuse me, I will contact them and find out if they are interested in going. You said three weeks?" Amanda answered.

"And four days," he said, matter-of-factly.

"Mitch, seriously? They will take the beta phase completely as we designed it, no changes, and you won't consider going?" she asked, feeling exasperated.

"Amanda, if I thought I could handle being around them for more than a couple of days, I would apply - but, yeah, I have to say no. I am sorry. What about Aaron?"

"He said no too." She paused. "How did we arrive at an agreement as to who should beta this thing without considering who was accompanying the device to begin with? We are professionals...how'd we miss that?"

He laughed. "I don't know. I am sorry, but, well, I'm planning to propose to Karen soon. I can't see me doing that and then disappearing for months - and you know that's what it's gonna mean."

"Yeah."

"Mandy, what about you? Seriously."

"I don't know, Mitch. I don't think I have enough experience to field test it. In the lab, yes, but out there? You saw how seven days on a space station got me cranky." She smiled at him.

"Hey, don't get all 'sissy-girl' on me. You are the reason the project got this far, and we all know it."

She interrupted him quickly. "Um, you know that this was all of us, not just me. I can't take credit for it like that, and what if I like being a sissy-girl? Have you spent seven days on a space station against your will?"

"No, I haven't. But Mandy, think about it...you don't have a major family commitment, not to rub that in. Your contract renewal is in what, two weeks? You have more freedom than any of us, and you, sissy-girl, are the lead for the addition and editing of the Vulcan language portion of the project. Besides, I believe you were the one who was not wanting to renew at that school. If memory serves, you were tired of the poor performance of most of your students," he replied.

"How dare you use my own whining and complaining against me?"

"Easily, my friend. Talk about an opportunity at a time when you can afford it. I envy you, actually," he said honestly.

She looked at him momentarily. "You really think I should? Would the rest of the team agree?"

"Yes, and yes. Confession time: I already knew you were gonna ask. I had a heads-up from everyone else about it. We all agree you should go. Honestly, Mand, I have a feeling this will change your life in ways you cannot imagine yet. I don't know why I feel that, but I know it's true. When the window of opportunity opens, you go through it. So represent us well," he replied.

She looked at him for a moment, and smiled softly. "I will do my best, Mitch. Thank you for your confidence."

Walking down the hallway, Amanda Grayson began to get nervous. Then she decided to do what her grandmother always told her to do: get brave, girl. So after adjusting her blouse and pinning her hair up in a more appropriate do, she buzzed the door chime to the library. Soran answered and invited her in.

"Hello, Soran. May I speak with the ambassador, please?"

"Yes. Wait here," he answered, leaving the library.

Moments later, Soran and Sarek returned. When he walked in, she caught herself looking a nanosecond longer than she should have. His hazel eyes studied her blue ones silently, and without the scrutiny she had received in previous days. In its place there was a certain curiosity she'd not yet seen.

"You wished to see me?" he asked. The voice was softer and deeper than before, or at least it seemed that way to her.

"Yes, sir. I have spoken with the other members of the research team, and they have asked me to accompany the device for testing."

"Indeed. Are you prepared for that which we discussed?" he asked quietly.

"Yes. I have a teaching contract that expires in two weeks; however, the students are on break and if you agree to accept me, I will not renew. I have no familial obligations, and I will not discuss any secure information I become privy to with anyone. Is there anything else I should be aware of?" she asked.

Soran and T'Lyra looked at each other, and then back to the ambassador.

"Provide Soran with your contact information. We shall integrate you into the diplomatic party at the embassy in three day's time," he replied.

Amanda sat in the comfy, wingback chair in the library watching Earth grow larger as she thought about the coincidental meeting with the Vulcan delegation. Her grandmother would have told her there were no coincidences, and that she should glean all she could from the experience that was coming to her.

After a quick lunch, she walked back to her quarters and quickly packed her belongings, suddenly realizing her notebook was nowhere to be found. She scoured her room and sat on the edge of her bed, rather frustrated that she'd lost it. It was not Earth-shattering, but it did have all of her practice translations, unusual phrases, and research into the older dialects. It was a lot to lose.

Once she was finished packing, she called the purser's desk to have her luggage retrieved for the shuttle, and then went to the lounge on Deck Five, to watch the ship arrive at space dock.

'Finally home, only to leave soon. What was I thinking?' she wondered to herself, 'and what have I gotten myself into?'

Author's Note: Many, Many Thanks to Selek for his patient beta reading... Thank you to Kapact for allowing me to translate and use this poetry for this story! Much appreciated.- T'Ashalik.