Amanda chewed on the end of her stylus and flicked her finger across the screen of her PADD. She was already incredibly weary of the words in front of her, but as her exam was less than a day away, she had to focus. It was no wonder she was feeling so fidgety – her last exam before she finally qualified as a real teacher. She was so close to success, and yet the hours stuck here in the library seemed to drag by. If only tomorrow would hurry up and come!
Amanda sighed and powered down her PADD, deciding to take a break. She'd been working hard all day, and now the late afternoon sun was coming in through the library's tall glass windows. Amanda stuck her stylus behind her ear and frowned at the windows. She'd always thought it was quite cruel of the library's architect to put those grand windows there, distracting students with such a beautiful view of the city. San Francisco was stretched out in front of her, and she was stuck inside like a bird in a cage. It was so unfair.
"Psst! Amanda!" Amanda looked around to see her friend Georgia walking towards her, looking just as weary as Amanda felt. "What are you still doing here? I thought you left the library ages ago." Georgia sat down beside her and set down her PADD. The screen displayed long lines of text in a definitively un-Terran script.
Amanda shrugged. "Nope, I'm still here, I'm sorry to say." She looked forlornly at the spread of notes and other clutter she'd amassed in her hours of studying. "And I don't think I'm quite finished yet."
Georgia snorted. "Amanda, I can't believe you. As if you needed to study for this exam! You could probably take it in your sleep. I'm so jealous." The girl leaned her cheek on her hand, slumped over her PADD, as Amanda blushed. It was true – everyone knew that Amanda Grayson could speak and read foreign languages as easily as she could her own. "This Vulcan script is killing me," Georgia continued, scrolling down her PADD with a miserable look on her face. "I've barely studied this text, and Professor Valek said that there will be at least three excerpts on the test. You don't think you could give me a hand, do you?"
Amanda smiled and leaned over Georgia's PADD to take a look herself. She spent about half an hour with Georgia, until a rumble in her stomach told her that she really needed to take a break from studying. "Don't worry about it," She said as she gathered up her bag and notes. "You know it better than you think you do."
Georgia grimaced at her. "Easy for you to say." She said, but she managed to change her grimace to a smile. "I'll see you tomorrow, I guess. Good luck!"
"Same to you. Try to get some rest, okay?" Amanda waved and set off towards the library door. Georgia was probably right – Amanda was pretty certain that she knew the material they'd covered in Xenolinguistics back to front. If only I could find some use for it, she thought as the doors slid open to let her out into the fresh evening air. It was her dream to teach at an inter-galactic institution, which was why she had moved from her native town of Portland, Oregon after completing her undergraduate studies. Unfortunately, it seemed as though she was never going to achieve that dream. Finding a position after graduation would be a nightmare, even if she did ace the last exam.
Amanda had never had an interest in space travel per se, but languages had always interested her. She'd begun with a fascination with ancient Terran tongues in high school, and that had grown throughout her undergraduate years to a genuine passion for xenolinguistics as well. It had been suggested to her that she would do well as a communications officer in Starfleet, but that life had never appealed to her. She wanted to teach: Common, Klingon, anything, just so long as she got to use her knowledge of languages for something useful. There were so many different races in the known world these days, and so many different tongues to learn. Amanda wanted to conquer as many as possible, and maybe help others to do so, too.
When she got back to her apartment Amanda was truly hungry, and not a little dispirited, thinking of her future. The apartment wasn't a cheering sight, either. It was all she could afford on her student's income, and chosen mostly because of its proximity to the school buildings. It was cramped and awkward, but she did her best to make it seem homely. She dumped her bag on her slightly saggy couch and headed for the kitchen, thinking that she'd try to bully her old replicator into making something edible. As she went, she caught a reflection of herself in the little mirror. It wasn't a pretty sight. Her dark brown hair was falling in wisps out of the bun she'd forced it into that morning. Her blue eyes, normally bright and inquisitive, were peering out from tired shadows. That really wouldn't do at all.
Half an hour later, Amanda was relaxing in the bath – a real water bath, she deserved something better than a sonic shower tonight – eating a plate of spaghetti and watching a favorite trashy soap opera on her PADD. She had earned a little relaxation. It wouldn't do her any good to show up for her exam tomorrow looking and feeling like a zombie. It was difficult, however, to pay attention to the show when Klingon subjunctive tenses kept anxiously repeating themselves in her brain. She turned up the volume in an attempt to drown them out, and relaxed back into her bath.
The next morning, Amanda felt quite a bit better. She'd barely touched her notes after her bath the night before, but she could nevertheless feel her mind buzzing with information ready to be tested. That was a good feeling, and she couldn't help smiling slightly as she made her way to the large lecture hall where she would be taking her exam. In a few short hours, she would be finished, done, ready to graduate and move on to bigger and better things.
When Amanda reached the hall, it was already half-full of students, most of whom looked near dead with exhaustion. The curriculum hadn't been easy on them, and Amanda could sympathize with the glazed looks in many of her fellow students' eyes. She chose a seat at the end of a row near the back. She spotted Georgia in the crowd and waved. Her friend returned the greeting with a little less enthusiasm. Amanda bit her lip and brushed her hair behind her ear. She'd always been a little self-conscious of her zeal for learning, feeling that it might earn her unwanted attention from her peers. Fortunately, most of the other students were working too hard to notice her very much, except to occasionally ask for her help.
Down at the front of the large hall, Amanda could see the various professors of xenolinguistics. She scanned their ranks for her favorites, even catching a smile from Professor Pra, who taught the Tellarite language. Amanda smiled back, but it turned into a frown a moment later. Where was Professor Valek? He certainly wasn't one to miss an examination. He'd earned a reputation for being especially keen on examinations, much to the dismay of his students. Amanda searched for him among the rows of students, but she finally saw him on the other side of the room, at the back. She was surprised to see that he was standing with two other Vulcans. Aside from her professor, Amanda had only seen a handful of Vulcans in her lifetime. There weren't many of their race eager to study education in a Terran institution. These Vulcans were dressed in much darker clothing than Valek, and they looked, if it were possible, even more severe. What could they be doing there? Were they representatives from the Vulcan Science Academy? Or perhaps government attaches? There was no time to ponder this further, however, because the console screens in front of every student had just flickered on. Amanda jumped and turned to hers, feeling a little embarrassed. She'd been staring openly for almost a minute. She hoped none of the Vulcans had noticed her rudeness.
Amanda entered her student identification number into the console. It only took a moment for the computer to process her information. The screen immediately displayed XENOLINGUISTICS 360 FINAL EXAMINATION in large letters. Beneath it was her name, AMANDA GRAYSON, followed by a prompt. BEGIN. Amanda took a deep breath and touched the screen. Here we go.
Three hours later, it was over. Amanda's head felt significantly lighter, as if she'd been carrying a wet sponge for a brain all day, and it had just been rung out. She couldn't help feeling lighter in spirit, too. She now had a week before the test results would be announced, and two full weeks until graduation. She could spend some time relaxing, finally. Maybe she and Georgia could spend a few days at the beach, or maybe visit a museum or two. They'd been so busy over the past semester that Amanda had barely walked anywhere but the route between her apartment, the library, and the campus buildings. She was ready for a break. No more assignments, no more late nights studying, no more long lectures, no more teachers -
"Miss Grayson, I would like to speak with you a moment." Amanda turned to see Professor Valek striding towards her, his gray robes billowing out behind him. He was flanked by the two Vulcans she'd seen earlier. Amanda couldn't help but gape. She'd completely forgotten about them as she'd puzzled through the test, but now curiosity flared up in her again, like hot coals under a bellows.
"Uh, yes, Professor?" She said, trying to keep her eyes on Professor Valek's face, and not allow them to stray to the two sullen Vulcan faces behind him.
"If you would accompany me, I have an important matter to discuss with you." Professor Valek said. Amanda was surprised to hear that his voice was even more monotone than usual. She'd thought that had been impossible, but she supposed that the influence of these two severe individuals behind him made Valek "smarten up". It hadn't occurred to her that Valek's icy Vulcan nature might have softened slightly around the edges during his time spent away from his own kind.
"Of course," She finally managed to say, her gaze flicking to the two Vulcans behind him. She unconsciously tightened her grip on her bag. Was she in trouble? Did they think that she had cheated on the exam? How could they?
Valek said nothing, only nodded curtly and motioned for her to follow him. Amanda hesitated for a moment before obeying. The two other Vulcans fell in behind her. They were both men, both wearing the traditional Vulcan hairstyle, and thick, dark robes. Amanda felt as though she were being followed by a police escort. It was incredibly unnerving. In an attempt to alleviate some of her tension, she sped up to walk at her professor's side. "Is something wrong, Professor?" She asked, trying to keep any hint of nerves out of her voice.
"Not at all," He replied, keeping his eyes ahead. Amanda waited for him to say something further, but he remained quiet. I could never get used to being around Vulcans, she thought grimly. This silence is just creepy. They proceeded in this manner for a few more minutes, leaving the lecture hall to go towards the building that housed the conference rooms and other official spaces of the school. Professor Valek led them to one of the smaller rooms, with a long shiny table and several chairs. There were already two people sitting there. Amanda recognized with a start the head of the school, Graham Wyse, sitting comfortably and speaking with yet another Vulcan. This one was a woman, and she was dressed less severely than the others, in a robe of dusty plum purple.
Wyse stood up when they entered, although the Vulcan woman did not. She surveyed Amanda with cool gray eyes as Wyse said "Ah, Miss Grayson. Please take a seat." He motioned to the chair in front of him, which Amanda took, feeling a little wary as she placed her bag on the floor. She felt far too casual for the setting, in her old jeans and cardigan, surrounded by be-robed Vulcans and the head of her school. "I'm glad to see you here."
"Um, thank you." Amanda said, her eyes flicking nervously to the Vulcan woman and back to Wyse. His greeting had puzzled her. Why would he be glad to see her?
"I would like to congratulate you on your recent test score, Miss Grayson." Wyse said, taking his seat again and smiling. "You did exceptionally well. That is why I've asked for you to join us here." Amanda gaped at him.
"How could you know my test score already? I just finished taking it." She blurted, immediately feeling stupid for having asked so bluntly.
Wyse folded his hands on the table. "We had your score sent here immediately after you sent in the test, along with those of some other students. You, however, received the highest score. But it isn't solely for your test score that we asked you here. In fact, we were really only waiting until you had finished your examination to ask you here. You see," He said, looking to his left, to the Vulcan woman, whose stare was beginning to make Amanda feel uncomfortable, "Starfleet has sent a request to several planets for exceptional students who are qualified to participate in a new cultural program. They want to create a fellowship program for interested individuals to travel to foreign planets and learn from them, culturally and academically. That's why our visitors are here." He gestured to the Vulcan woman beside him. "This is T'Rea. She is the head of the Vulcan division of the project."
T'Rea inclined her head. She was very beautiful, in a sort of haunting way. Her hair was very dark and piled up on her head in an intricate updo. Amanda, whose thick hair had always been as unruly as a lion's mane, was impressed. "It is good to meet you, Miss Grayson." She said. Her voice was very dark and rich. It made the hairs on the back of Amanda's neck tickle.
"Um, it's a pleasure to meet you too, T'Rea." Amanda said, when she'd managed to untangle her tongue. The Vulcan lady's eyes flashed, whether in pleasure or effrontery Amanda couldn't tell, but it seemed as though T'Rea had said all she meant to. Wyse cleared his throat and began to speak again.
"As it is a brand new initiative, there has been no application – Starfleet would like to give it something of a test run before the program is officially begun. Because of your talents with linguistics, specifically Vulcan linguistics, you were on our short list. If you are interested, you would travel to Vulcan to work with political and cultural dignitaries on the planet." Wyse leaned slightly across the table, looking straight into Amanda's eyes. "I need hardly say that this is a very great honor. Vulcan has agreed to accept only one student from Earth."
"Only one?" Amanda asked, feeling a little breathless. "Out of all the schools on Earth?"
Wyse glanced at the Vulcan lady beside him. "Not all," He said. "There were several institutions that were asked to participate in the program. The Terran Institute for Educational Studies happened to be one of them. And you are the student we consider most qualified for the position."
Amanda swallowed, twisting her fingers together under the table. She looked over at Professor Valek. He looked just as stiff and solemn as ever, but there seemed to be a hint of pride in his eyes that Amanda was surprised to see. Amanda tried to say something, to open her mouth even, but words would not come to her. She sat there dumbly, staring at Wyse and willing herself to speak. It was T'Rea, however, who relieved her of that obligation.
"We have looked over your academic record, and your professors are confident in your abilities," She said, her gray stare meeting Amanda's blue one. "I am willing to accept that you are a good candidate for our program. If you choose to accept, we will provide you with passage to Vulcan. There you will be given lodging in Shi'Kahr and granted access to many of the important offices of the city. You will have escorts to guide you safely."
Amanda felt as though a bucket of cold water had been thrown over her. Everything she had ever heard of Vulcan had been of the secrecy of its people, and their unwillingness to share any but the most commonplace aspects of their culture. She'd never even heard of humans who had lived on Vulcan for any extended period of time. Could they really be extending this offer to her, Amanda Grayson, a girl from Oregon who only wanted to teach kids their xenolinguistic ABCs? "I…I don't know what to say," Amanda finally managed to say, her voice sounding odd in her own ears. "What exactly will I be doing?"
"As you have studied to be an educator, the majority of your activities will be centered on the Vulcan education system." T'Rea said, smoothly cutting in over Wyse, who had just opened his mouth to answer. "You will be observing and participating in classes of different levels, as well as learning the concepts of Vulcan pedagogical theory and practice." Amanda's heart leapt into her throat. She wondered if she were dreaming. She'd never imagined that she'd stumble on such a golden opportunity right upon walking out of her last exam. This couldn't be better, or more terrifying. Amanda clenched her hands together under the table to keep them from trembling. But…would this journey to Vulcan be throwing a wrench in her plans for her future? She'd hoped to stick around in San Francisco and find a little teaching job somewhere, rise up through the ranks and find somewhere where she could be a real educator. A simple life on Earth, not unambitious, but simple. She felt as though she'd been walking down a straight, wide path, only to trip over a tree root and find a rocky trail up to the top of a mountain shrouded in mist. It was completely unknown and risky. This was a dangerous choice to make. But…Amanda could feel her heart thrumming fast with excitement. The very idea of setting foot on Vulcan, seeing the reality of Shi'Kahr, hearing the Vulcan language all around her, made sparks of excitement leap in her chest. She'd never even dreamed of travelling there, but now that the opportunity was in front of her, she was nearly wild with enthusiasm.
"I…yes," Amanda stuttered, her eyes bright. "I mean, I would love to participate in the program." Then, as an afterthought, "It would be an honor."
This answer seemed to satisfy both T'Rea and Wyse. The headmaster smiled broadly and held out his hand for Amanda to shake. "Well then, congratulations Miss Grayson. You are receiving a privilege no one has ever been granted before."
Author's Note: Well, this is my very first fic. Not first attempted fic, but first actually published one. I wrote it out of necessity really – I haven't been able to find an Amanda and Sarek fic anywhere that I really like! So here it is, I hope you like it.
ps. I apologize for any factual errors!