The Prodigal Son
Chapter One: Alternate Realities
Disclaimer: I do this for free. What kind of idiot is that!
Somewhere in the future in another reality:
The alien shapeshifter reared overhead, the electrical energy crackling in the atmosphere. Sybok lifted his arms and took a step forward into the blistering heat and fire. This was suicide.
An emotional choice. And the logical one.
The thought made him smile.
"Let me share your pain," he said, moving closer.
And then, "Run!"
Jim Kirk didn't have to be told twice.
The present day in this reality:
This is why time travel should be discouraged. This. The temptation to make things right that were wrong before, the lure of using his knowledge of the future to offer redemption in the present.
Technically, of course, he isn't a time traveler. The universe he had lived in, died in, and was reborn in is continuing on somewhere else, without him.
Spock tilts his head and considers. Time travel might be fraught with dangers, might impose temporal contraints on those who slip backward or forward—but traveling to an alternate reality? What he knows in his own universe may not apply in this one.
Are his hands tied here as well?
In some ways, yes. Here he goes by Selek, leaving his birth name, the one he still hears his family and friends call him in his infrequent dreams, to a counterpart whose life choices both echo his own and depart from them radically.
Such as this, the young woman answering the door.
"Ambassador!" she says, and Spock—Selek—lifts his hand in an approximation of a human greeting.
"Lieutenant," he says. "May I come in?"
The quarters she shares with Spock—her Spock—are larger than the ones he recalls from his own days on the Enterprise. The door from the corridor opens into a sitting room with a built in sofa and a movable chair tucked beneath a desk recessed into the wall. With a practiced motion Lieutenant Uhura swivels the chair around and offers it to him.
"I apologize for the intrusion," he says, settling carefully into the chair. The room, he notes, is agreeably warm, unlike most other areas of the ship. Spock's preference, no doubt, and the lieutenant's concession to his comfort. That bodes well.
"I wasn't aware you were aboard," Lt. Uhura says, and Selek inclines his head.
"A last minute decision," he says. "I will not be long—just long enough to speak to Spock before you leave orbit."
It still feels odd to refer to his counterpart this way, and even odder seeing him emerge from the bedroom, adjusting the hem of his science blues.
"Should I leave you two alone?" Lieutenant Uhura says, making a move toward the door. Even as he says, "That is not necessary," he hears Spock say, "No."
At least they are in accord for now.
The lieutenant perches on the edge of the small sofa and smoothes her hand across the spot beside her, an invitation—no, a direction—for Spock to sit there. Selek feels one corner of his mouth quirk up.
"I am sorry that we have not had more time to speak since I returned from Romulus," he says. Spock says nothing—which doesn't surprise Selek. After all, Spock doesn't hide his disapproval of Selek's attempts to engage the Romulan underground in efforts at reunification. Dangerous and delusional, the young man said the last time they spoke about it.
Which is one reason Selek hesitates now to bring up something even more dangerous and delusional.
"We have not had occasion," he says, "to speak of Sybok."
Spock comes as close to flinching as possible without actually doing so. A painful subject, then. Another way they are in accord.
"You are in contact with him?" Selek asks, and Spock blinks once, as if checking some internal monitor.
"I am not," he says simply, and Selek nods.
"But you know where he is."
Again Spock blinks before answering.
"No, I have not spoken to him since I was a child."
"And I assume Sarek does not know where he is."
"You would need to ask him."
Pressing his hands on his knees, Selek prepares to rise.
"Then you cannot help me," he says.
"The V'tosh ka'tur," Spock says simply, and Selek sits back down slowly.
"So," the elderly Vulcan says, letting a measure of weariness creep into his tone. "He is with them here as well."
"The last time—"
From the sofa, Spock starts and then stops abruptly, dropping his eyes. Lieutenant Uhura puts her hand on his arm and he looks up and says, "The last time my mother spoke of him, she said she believed he was traveling with a group of the V'tosh ka'tur. I never heard anything more."
"What exactly are these V'tosh ka'tur?" the lieutenant asks, and although she is looking at Spock, Selek answers.
"As you might surmise from their name, they are Vulcans who prefer emotion over reason when making decisions. In their strictest sects, they reject logic outright and seek experiences which they believe will give them the greatest emotional value."
"I've never heard of them," she says, and Selek says, "They have been outcasts from mainstream Vulcan society. As you can imagine, their way of life brings them in conflict with traditional practices. Until now, at any rate."
"What do you mean?" Spock says.
Selek takes a breath and lets it out slowly.
"The Vulcan elders have decided," he says, "that in light of recent events, the V'tosh ka'tur should be invited to return and integrate into Vulcan society."
"They will not want to," Spock says swiftly, and Selek raises one eyebrow.
"Perhaps. Two years ago I would have agreed with you. Now I'm not so sure. Our mutual survival is in question."
"What does this have to do with Spock?"
Lieutenant Uhura's tone is both challenging and protective, which is understandable. The last time Selek had asked Spock for help, it had almost cost them both their lives on a distant Romulan outpost. Running the fingers of his right hand along his jaw, Selek says, "Nothing, if Sarek knows where Sybok is. Otherwise, Spock, I will need your help in locating him."
"As I indicated, I have not spoken to him since I was a child."
"But you may know something that can serve as a clue to his current whereabouts."
"That seems unlikely."
"Even so," Selek says, rising, "what you know—or what you can discover—may prove beneficial."
Immediately he senses Spock's skepticism, but he has no other choice. Since returning from Romulus, Selek has been at cross-purposes often with the elders in the High Council. Only his concern about what might happen to Sybok - his knowledge of what did happen to Sybok in another reality - makes him cooperate.
Finding any V'tosh ka'tur who might want to settle is his idea of a futile quest. From what he suspects, not many will want to do so—assuming, of course, that they are like the V'tosh ka'tur of his universe.
And if they are, he doubts anyone will want Sybok to return.
In the not-so-distant past before the realities diverged:
"The first applicant is here," Sarek's secretary, T'Lin, said. Standing in the doorway of his office, she didn't bother to hide her disdain. Not for him, of course—that would have been a serious breach of protocol and decorum—but for the idea that the Vulcan embassy needed a human cultural attaché. Human. Sarek was no fool. He knew he was a rarity in thinking that the humans might actually have something valuable to teach Vulcans.
Like how to prepare for a dinner engagement. Only last week Ambassador Somak had apparently offended his human hosts at the World Wildlife Organization conference by assuming that the catered meal included rare species of animals and berating them publicly for it.
"A natural mistake," the ambassador said later, "occasioned by the name of the organization. Who could have known that the group is devoted to animal preservation?"
Practicing his diplomacy, Sarek did not say what came to mind—that anyone should have known, if he had bothered to check beforehand.
The ambassador's gaffe wasn't the first one, but it did catch the attention of the High Council back on Vulcan. When the expected reprimand came, Sarek suggested hiring a human intermediary—a cultural attaché—as a preventive measure against any future errors.
"Merely precautionary," he said, hoping to smooth the ambassador's ruffled feathers. An interesting phrase he had picked up from the local holovids—was he using it correctly in this situation? That's something else a cultural attaché could do, refine his use of Standard idioms.
"You said the first applicant is here. There is more than one?" he asked, and T'Lin sniffed.
"No others are scheduled," she said, pulling her floor length robe around her, like someone fending off a chill.
"Today, you mean."
"At all. No one else has applied."
Sarek folded his hands in front of him on his desk and took a moment before answering.
"Then this applicant is technically not the first but the only."
At once he was ashamed of teasing his secretary this way. She drew up her chin and gave him a withering glance.
"Shall I show her in?" she said after a moment, and Sarek shook his head.
"First I require another chair for this office," he said, motioning to the empty space in front of his desk. "Could you—"
"I will see what I can do," T'Lin said, sniffing again—this time, Sarek knew, at the idea that a human needed to sit during an interview. She walked down the hallway with more noise than necessary, returning soon with a lightweight plastic chair from the outdoor eating area.
"Shall I send her now?"
Sarek shook his head again. "Give me three minutes to finish this correspondence and then show her in."
At once T'Lin's expression softened a fraction. Of course, his secretary would be privy to the contents of the letter he had received that morning, would probably be able to anticipate his reply. Still, it was unnerving to have his private business exposed this way.
Not that he was ashamed of it—or of Sybok. It was not his choice, after all, to live apart from his son.
He had known as soon as he received it that the note was from Sybok's grandmother, T'Ria. Anyone else would have used an honorific in the address—Adjutant Sarek or even Junior Ambassador Sarek. That T'Ria had sent the note to "Sarek, Vulcan Embassy, Earth," was an intentional slight.
Intellectually he understood her anger. She blamed him for her daughter's death—or at least, for her daughter's unhappiness before her death. He had been unhappy as well, bonded to a woman with whom he had little in common.
T'Ria counted her family among the Vulcan elite and had only reluctantly approved T'Lahn's kan'telan to Sarek. T'Lahn herself seemed indifferent to her mother's emphasis on family breeding and heritage. Instead, she counted among her closest associates people Sarek had difficulty understanding—people who spent their time not in contemplation or study but in risk-taking designed to elicit strong emotions such as fear or exhilaration. Life-threatening physical activities, indulgences in food and drink, extreme mental practices that altered consciousness and sometimes put their health in danger—T'Lahn's V'tosh ka'tur associates admitted to these and more.
As disturbing as these activities were, what concerned Sarek more was the V'tosh ka'tur's scorn for logic, their willfully pitting emotion against rational thought and choosing, again and again, their feelings as their rationale for doing something.
When he felt the stirrings of his first pon farr and sought out T'Lahn, she refused to accompany him to his family's ancestral place of koon'ut kal'i'fee, causing him a few moments of panic until she led him to her bed.
"I am not interested in marriage," she said, running her fingers across his fevered brow, but by then he didn't care.
Weeks later when she told him that she was pregnant with his child, he asked her again to marry him but she refused.
"I was bonded against my will," she said, "but no one can force me to marry against my will."
Nor was she interested in sharing a home with him. Instead she continued to live with her mother, even after Sybok was born, coming and going as she pleased, apparently, and spending much of her time with the V'tosh ka'tur. Sarek had begun to consider resorting to the courts for more access to his son when T'Ria called him one day in a fury, telling him that T'Lahn had been found dead.
"If you had been there for her," T'Ria said, "she would not have done this."
What exactly T'Lahn had done was never made clear to him.
When Sybok was three years old and still living with his grandmother, Sarek's legal counsel advised him that as an unmarried parent, he had few rights to his child. Shortly afterwards, he accepted a promotion as Ambassador Somak's adjutant and headed to a new posting on Earth.
Now his infrequent trips home always included a great deal of negotiating beforehand with T'Ria for time to visit with Sybok. Her latest letter, he knew, would be a list of conditions and other roadblocks for him to stumble through, maddening if he let them. He opened the letter on his digital notebook and scanned it as T'Lin's footfalls grew louder in the hall.
I plan to be off-planet at the time of your arrival. Please make other arrangements.
Sarek felt his face flush. T'Ria's letter was deliberately imprecise—provocative, really, in what it did not say. She planned to be off planet? Did she mean that she was arranging her travel to coincide when Sarek would be home so that he would not be able to see Sybok?
Was Sybok even going to be with her? If she was leaving him with other caregivers while she was away, couldn't Sarek visit with Sybok without T'Ria present? And if not, why not?
And those other arrangements? If he made other arrangements, would she plan to be off-planet then, too?
Not for the first time did Sarek rail against the imprecision of words. How easy it was to mislead someone this way.
He glanced up as T'Lin paused in the doorway. Behind her he saw a blur of color and motion. The applicant, of course. He took a breath and tried to regain a measure of control.
There was no use in trying to answer T'Ria right now—he was far too angry. The words swirled in front of his eyes.
He heard the chair creak and T'Lin's footsteps receding. Time to get on with it.
"How well do you understand Standard?" he said as he looked up. The young woman sitting awkwardly in the chair jumped visibly. Then the corners of her eyes crinkled and she laughed.
"I've been speaking it all my life!" she said, still smiling.
Sarek had noted before the complexities of human laughter, the way it altered not only facial features but posture and breathing. The woman sitting before him tipped her head to the side, her small, white teeth flashing as she emitted a two-toned explosive sound—not unpleasant—and bent slightly at the waist. Her fingers, long and tapered, fluttered as she reached up and smoothed her hair away from her face. A nervous habit?
He followed the motion of her hands and realized with a start that she was in fact very young—newly adult, most likely, or nearly so. She wore her hair uncovered the way most humans in San Francisco did despite the damp and cold, and though it was pulled back loosely and fell to her shoulders, Sarek could see that it was dark and slightly wavy. Her eyes were dark, too, fringed by thick lashes and framed by brows that at the moment were high and arched.
As she laughed she reached around with one hand and tugged off the sweater she was wearing, the sheen on her forehead suggesting that she was overly warm. Human body temperature was several degrees cooler than Vulcan—would that be an issue if she worked here? He looked at her closely for other signs of heat distress.
The expression on her face flickered and her laughter died.
"I'm a native speaker, if that's what you mean," she said, stammering.
The lightweight plastic chair creaked as she shifted in it, sitting up straighter. Anxiety? Because she was forced to answer a question? Sarek began to feel anxiety of his own—that this woman was far too young and inexperienced to work effectively as a cultural attaché. And what had T'Lin said? That there were no other applicants?
"How versed are you on Terran traditions and customs?"
To Sarek's astonishment, his question turned up the corners of the woman's mouth and she laughed again.
"I know a few!" she said.
That was alarming. A cultural attaché with such limited knowledge was useless.
Clearly this wasn't going to work out.
"Only a few?" he said. "Then you may not be suitable."
1640 Earth time. If he hurried, he could make a call to his human contact who had arranged this interview, explain the unsuitability of this applicant and urge him to find someone else.
The young woman's dark eyes grew round and he heard her intake of breath.
"I was only joking!" she said, twisting her sweater in her hands. "I'm very familiar…with Terran customs and traditions."
A joke. Something said with a humorous intention. That put things in a different perspective. The laughter, the fidgeting—all part of the presentation known as a joke.
On second thought, the young woman was actually quite appealing, in a human sort of way.
Sarek realized that he was staring.
"Your references seem to be in order," he said abruptly, pulling his eyes back to his notebook. "I am only the adjutant, but I believe the ambassador will approve your hiring. I will contact you in either case."
The change in her mood was almost palpable. She smiled and for one shocking moment, Sarek thought she might be about to extend her hand to him.
"Oh!" she said, standing up so quickly that her chair teetered backward and fell over. Blushing furiously, she leaned down and righted it.
"Thank you, Mr.—"
"Sarek," he said, watching her struggle around the skittery chair. She nodded at him quickly and looked back once more as she left the room.
And only then did he realize that he had never spoken her name. He looked down at his notebook.
A/N: Aiyee! I feel like I'm walking a tightrope without a net! If you've read any of my other Star Trek stories, you know I've littered them with bits and pieces of stories about Sarek and Amanda and Sybok. For quite some time now I've wanted to gather up all those orphaned stories and stitch them together.
I won't retell those stories exactly as I've already told them—but I may pull out bits of them and imagine from another character's POV.
As for Sybok, I have a true confession. My least favorite movie in the entire Star Trek franchise is Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. And one of my least favorite characters is Sybok. An estranged half-brother seems like too important a part of Spock's history for him to never have mentioned.
That said, however, I find the challenge of making Sybok believable (and showing how his history with Sarek, Amanda, and even lil' Spock explains his present day actions) rather exciting.
But then, so is walking a tightrope without a net (or so I've heard!)
Wish me luck, and please come along for the ride! If you do, let me know what you think so far. It will help tremendously as I get ready to write the next bit!
Thanks to StarTrekFanWriter for her suggestions and support. She's currently playing in Avengers world with a great Loki story, "Blue." Check it out in my faves.