Disclaimer: See Chapter 1. Thank you so much to Fameanon, dinopoodle, maba7x, SavanaSahara, dettaarsvenska and T'Sara for reviewing. T'Sara, I thought that was a typo. It's all good! All of you are wonderful, thank you so much!
Soval paced in his office, ignoring the glare of sunlight that hit his eyes when he crossed the beam of light in the middle of the floor. Eighty miles outside the Denver area, a maintenance worker had been killed, and authorities had found Vulcan DNA on the man's neck where it was snapped clean. Soval suspected that Lucy's V'tosh ka'tur assailant had slipped past Earth's defenses and was loose on the planet. The thought sickened him, to think that his humans (the humans, he quickly corrected) were threatened by a madman with three times their strength, a wealth of knowledge at his disposal and the ability to mind-rape anyone he saw fit to attack.
What was baffling about the entire thing was that although Soval had given them access to the Vulcan database, human authorities couldn't find a match. He found it highly unlikely that this man had escaped the registration process as a baby, so either he had erased himself from the database (highly unlikely, as security codes for the database were extremely complicated and required multiple authorizations to even access), or...
Soval had no answers. His logic failed him, because no logic could explain why this man was not in the database. He was prepared to contact Vulcan and have them collaborate with Earth authorities to try and track down this man, but only if no leads presented themselves.
His thoughts turned to the other thing that was bothering him regarding this incident.
"You were subjected to a mind-meld, and your amnesia and subsequent risk for stress disorders are a direct cause of this...because you were forced."
He waited for her to process the information, but her expression was blank. "I feel fine," she repeated softly, looking down at the table. "I don't remember."
To use the human expression, Lucy hadn't batted an eyelash at the fact that she was forced. She hadn't reacted at all. More than this, she hadn't even asked what a mind-meld was. Did her amnesia not extend as far as they thought? When melding with her, did he communicate to her what he was doing? Make her understand what a mind-meld was? He still had no answers.
Furthermore, her lack of emotional response to his admission that she was raped was also disturbing. He was no expert in human psychology (if he was, it probably would have saved him a lot of grief in dealing with these humans), but it seemed that numbness was not the reaction she should have exhibited. Confusion and denial were apparently consistent with trauma, but to wipe her face of emotion? That seemed wrong to him.
He paced a little more, trying to find a solution to this, and he finally sat down and pressed the comm button.
"Put me through to Dr. Strom at the Hardister household, please."
Mousse was purring contentedly on Strom's shoulder, having successfully climbed his pants leg two minutes ago. The light brown kitten dug its claws into his navy shirt, and he could hear the little creature sniff the air. A pot of plomeek broth boiled on the stovetop, and perhaps the kitten was curious about the foreign smell. It purred again, rubbing its miniature head against Strom's ear, and the doctor allowed himself a tiny smile. Mousse was an agreeable little thing, and having it here made his duty watching Lucy a little lighter.
He heard footsteps behind him, and he turned to face Mrs. Hardister, who looked confused. Mousse jumped off his shoulder and padded quietly away to the other room, and he bowed his head briefly to the woman in greeting.
"What are you making?" she murmured, wrapping her housecoat tighter around herself.
"Breakfast," he said simply. "It is my duty as a guest in your household, for as long as I stay here."
Mrs. Hardister came closer to the stove and inspected the contents of the pot. "What is that?"
"Plomeek broth. It is a traditional breakfast on Vulcan."
"Ah," she said softly, then sniffed the air. "Smells good. You cook?"
He turned to her. "Not often. Mostly I eat in the cafeteria of whatever hospital or clinic I'm assigned to. But my mother did make sure I had the skills necessary to make my own food."
The human woman at his side smiled. "Are you married, doctor?"
He paused. "No. I have been on my own most my life."
She apparently got the message that he didn't want to talk about it, because she simply nodded and leaned against the counter.
"I've never had a Vulcan in my house before," she murmured. "And I've only met a few of your people, at IME conferences and functions. I don't know what to expect," she finished meaningfully. He set down the spoon he was using to stir the broth and turned fully to her.
"What do you mean, Mrs. Hardister?"
She paused and tilted her head. "First of all, please call me Mina. Mrs. Hardister sounds like a woman twice my age." She grinned, and he allowed himself a tiny smile in appreciation of her humor. "But as to my meaning...I don't know what you'll need. What you expect from us. I...just don't know. You can hardly blame me if I do something that offends you, as your people don't seem too eager to share your culture with us."
He stared at her for a long moment. "I am here to help your daughter, Mrs. Hardister. It is not my place to judge you or to disrupt your routine, and all I need you have already provided: a space to sleep and work, and my patient close at hand. I will attempt to be as unobtrusive as possible."
She nodded and set about making coffee (he remembered the smell from the Earth embassy in Shi'Kahr), and soon after he heard a beeping noise in the next room. Mrs. Hardister went to answer it, but returned after a few seconds.
"It's for you, doctor," she said softly. He followed her back to the comm unit, and she engaged the viewscreen, then left him alone.
"Ambassador," Strom said solemnly, bowing his head. He switched to Vulcan to offer the diplomat the proper greeting, and he raised the ta'al. The ambassador did the same.
"How is Ms. Hardister?" Soval asked. Strom sighed almost imperceptibly.
"She appears well, but I know there is something wrong with her. She knows things a human girl her age should not know. And her speech seems...restrained. She seems odd."
Soval raised an eyebrow. "As you know, I talked with her before you departed San Francisco. I told her what little we know about the attack...and she did not react at all. She said nothing...showed nothing...please talk to her and examine this further."
"She is traumatized. I'm sure this odd behavior will dissipate soon enough."
"I'm no psychiatrist, doctor, so I'll defer to your judgment on this...but a seventeen-year-old human girl like her should have asked what a mind-meld was when I told her she was forced. She...brushed it off as if it were nothing."
Strom nodded in understanding, finally comprehending the purpose of Soval's communique. "I will speak to her. Is there anything else?"
Soval shook his head, and they exchanged the traditional farewell. With the press of a button, the screen turned to black, and Strom wandered slowly back into the kitchen, deep in thought.
"Is Lucy still asleep?" he asked Mrs. Hardister. She shrugged.
"If she's not up, she's in her room. When will this broth be ready?"
He glanced at it. "Another five minutes or so. Shall I fetch your daughter?"
Mrs. Hardister chuckled. "Good luck getting that girl out of bed. Watch out for flying pillows."
Strom was left bemused at her statement, but he headed back up the stairs anyway.
Lucy's room was right across from his door, and he knocked lightly on the door, but heard no summons to come in. He opened the door a crack and peeked in; though the bedcovers were in disarray on the bed, Lucy was not lying among them.
He opened the door further and glanced around at the cloud blue walls. The door to her bathroom was open and the light was off. There was a chair in the corner, and her closet doors were closed. He noted a small journal open on the bed, and he walked up to it and glanced at it.
09292152. Rcrring drm. C prev ent.
The code meant nothing to him, but it was only on this side of the room that he could see Lucy standing at the window on the other side of her bed. She was wearing a simple camisole that left her shoulders bare and ragged sweatpants that clung to her thighs before loosening below the knee, and he turned away; her attire, while casual and modest by human standards, left too little to the imagination for his tastes.
"Lucy," he said quietly. She didn't move.
He frowned and approached her slowly, diverting his eyes from the low cut of her top. "Lucy, are you all right?"
"I'm fine," she murmured, still staring out the window. The morning sunlight lit up her face, but it cast shadows underneath her eyes. "Can I help you?"
He leaned toward the cool glass and lightly placed a hand on her shoulder. "Did you get any sleep last night?"
She didn't answer and didn't look at him. "Doctor, can I help you?"
"No, Lucy, there is nothing you can do to help me. I'm interested in you. Did you get any sleep last night?"
She shook her head. "I got some."
"How long, do you think?"
"Three hours," she murmured, absentmindedly tucking a stray hair behind her ear. "You fixed breakfast?"
He smiled ever so slightly as she turned to face him. "Yes, I did. Would you like some?"
"I'm not that hungry...but ok," she said softly.
He paused, not sure what to say, and she turned back to the window.
"Come down as soon as you're dressed."
It was little wonder Soval had gotten so little out of her. Her speech was truly restrained, and it seemed like she picked her words with caution, only saying what was necessary and nothing more. It was an admirable quality in and of itself, but it didn't make his job any easier. He needed her to speak freely to him, so he could help her come to terms with this attack and move on.
He sighed and left her alone.
Immediately following breakfast, Strom told Lucy to go to bed, and he helped Mrs. Hardister with the dishes. Silence fell between them after she explained the system of how they washed things here, but finally Strom cleared his throat and spoke.
"Why is your daughter so...fascinated by alien culture?"
Mrs. Hardister looked up at the wall, apparently deep in thought. "I've asked myself that question many times, doctor...don't get me wrong, I'm fine with whatever she likes to explore...it's just...Lucy never had many human friends growing up. She liked to devote herself to quiet pursuits...reading, writing, music, that sort of thing. Sometimes I think she pursues friendships with aliens to make up for the ones she missed as a child."
He nodded in understanding. "Her accomplishments are noteworthy, Mrs. Hardister."
She smiled. "She's a smart little thing. But her social skills have always been lacking. Strange...I also have the thought that she understands how aliens must feel coming here, being outcasts. And she knows what it's like to be an outcast, so she makes every effort to reach out to them, to relieve their loneliness, I guess...You've seen it already, doctor. She made sure I knew about the no-meat deal with you, and about touch. You saw how she told me not to shake your hand when you arrived."
"Yes," he acknowledged. "What language were you speaking?"
"I come from Mexico," she murmured, handing him a plate. "I speak Spanish, and so do Lucy and Arturo, my son. My husband only knows a little."
Silence fell between them again, and Strom pondered her words. She makes every effort to reach out to them, to relieve their loneliness...Those were dangerous words to speak to an unbonded male such as himself. He didn't want to admit to himself that he was lonely, but the thought of a lifelong partner was appealing. She makes every effort to reach out to them, to relieve their loneliness...Dangerous words indeed...the beast in him contemplated those words and growled, urging him to go to Lucy, to speak to her, seduce her...
After all, the beast in the darkest part of him whispered. She's a xenophile. She loves Vulcans, and I know you aren't even sure if her gestures have been purely out of friendship. Perhaps she wants something more with you...
He would not listen to the beast. He would put those words out of his mind and continue his work; she was less than half his age and was suffering from acute stress disorder. He couldn't think of a worse partner than a childish and overeager girl with long black hair that curled in fascinating ringlets and bright hazel eyes that lit up when he made her laugh...
He would not listen! Lucy would someday be an attractive woman to be sure, but he was not the man for her! She needed a man who...
He had no idea what kind of man she needed.
Find out, the beast purred seductively. You may be exactly what she needs. You could be precisely what she wants.
She doesn't want an older man like me, he protested. I'm old enough to be her grandfather.
By Vulcan standards, you are still young enough. And she smiles at you...you give her joy. Her touch sends an electric thrill through your veins and boils your blood. Wouldn't you like to feel that again?
No! Strom countered. It is not appropriate! I will not approach her for anything of that sort, and I will cease this illogical line of thinking!
Easier said than done, the beast growled triumphantly, his parting blow making Strom wince a little.
Mrs. Hardister's voice brought him abruptly back to reality, and he glanced at her.
He nodded quickly. "Simply thinking."
She raised an eyebrow, then handed him the last dish to rinse and dry.
The wind and the driving rain drove the chill into his bones, and he huddled miserably in the tiny bramble bush he had found at the base of the mountain. Authorities here were not as stupid as he thought, and apparently they had received a tip-off that he might be in the Denver area. No doubt Ambassador Soval had had something to do with it...just how a dullard like Soval had managed to get into the diplomatic arena and have some semblance of success was beyond him...
He pulled his woolen cap tighter around his ears and tried to find a more comfortable position. He would take the hottest day in the Forge over this miserable mess. No Vulcan ever liked the cold, and it was seeping into his skin, and the wind seemed to find every opening in his clothing and slip its cold fingers in.
This last week had not gone the way he had planned. He was supposed to be on a shuttle far from Earth by now, with Lucy in his bed! Instead, he was stuck out in the wilderness approximately three hundred miles from the Denver area. It would take him another week just to get back to where he started!
The human authorities were apparently efficient in this universe, showing up barely two minutes after that little rat made the call. He extrapolated that they had the Denver area on stand-by, and that reaching Lucy's house would not be an easy task. The chill here was maddening, and it looked as if he would have to travel at night if he were to make any progress. The flames of fury roiled within him, but he was outnumbered, and he had overheard one of the authorities call the Consulate to send for Vulcan reinforcements. He couldn't fight the humans and his people as well. He decided to flee.
Just as he reached the shuttle door, he heard a plasma weapon discharge, and an electric sting shot up his leg. He carried on, trying to suppress the pain, but he was momentarily disoriented and pressed the nearest button to get the shuttle airborne.
When he awoke, he checked the coordinates and let out a few choice swear words. He was three hundred miles from Denver, and his shuttle was about to die. He had no way to refuel without exposing himself, so he would have to find other means of transportation, whether that be stealing another shuttle or simply walking. At the moment, his only option was to backtrack on foot. He could reach Denver in a matter of days if he pressed on, but autumn was fleeting, and the nights were getting colder.
And now he was huddled in the bushes, inundated with the overwhelming urge to wring the necks of the crows in the branches above him. Their incessant caws where making it hard for him to sleep!
He sighed and tried to center himself, and he calmed down with thoughts of Lucy. Another week did not matter in the grand scheme of things, and soon they would be together. Soon.