Chapter 1

Amanda staggered down the hallway of the Federation Headquarters, her arms clinging to a box full of data slates. Passing into the Vulcan Embassy she scanned her security tab and passed through the barricaded doors to embrace a wall of hot air. Her feet thumped dully on the wine red carpet as she made her way down to her section. When she found her desk in the Ambassador's reception area she ceremoniously dropped the crate onto it and stretched her aching arms with a grimace. The Vulcan at the main desk turned to look at her wonderingly.

"You are injured?" Se'tek inquired.

Amanda groaned as she stretched her elbows above her head.

"Next time you ask me to collect some new data slates can you check how heavy they are going to be before I get them?"

Se'tek moved closer and looked her up and down as if assessing her wellbeing. He held an almost fatherly affection for her. He had black hair peppered with gray and his angular face had aged well over the years. Amanda found his eyes to be particularly expressive.

"Don't worry Se'tek, I'm fine. No permanent damage. Just remember that I'm not really built for hauling heavy crates around. That's a job for Danny." She smiled at him reassuringly.

Slowly she began to sort the data slates into desk compartments.

"Danny was not available, however in future I shall remember to check the weight limit," he assured her.

Amanda laughed lightly and shook her head. Se'tek always had a funny way of dealing with things. Feeling satisfied that the problem had been resolved he turned back to his work.

After filing away the slates Amanda began to sift through the messages for the Vulcan Ambassador that had been forwarded to her by Se'tek so she could sort them into relevant subjects.

She had been working at the Vulcan embassy for a few weeks now. After graduating in the summer she had applied for a position here as an aide. She had finished her degree in xenolinguistics and wished to put it to the test. So far, she hadn't said anything more than the standard greetings in Vulcan.

She had started her position along with Danny who was a couple of years her senior. It had been nice to have a colleague to start work with. Working for Vulcans was very different to a normal working environment and she was glad he had been there when they had to negotiate for a compromise for working hours, lunch hours, dress code and many things she hadn't considered before. But after a few weeks they had most of the wrinkles ironed out and everything seemed to be running smoothly.

Hearing footsteps she looked up to see Danny enter the office. He smiled broadly at her before handing Se'tek a PADD. After a brief discussion he sat down at the desk next to hers and started some menial admin tasks. He had just returned from the Andorian Ambassador with a list of ultimatums. This was a regular occurrence as the Andorians were a dramatic bunch.

Amanda turned to him and whispered: "So the Ambassador? What's he like?" Her eyes sparkled with curiosity. Ever since she had started her post she hadn't met the Ambassador properly, only briefly seeing him as he passed through the office. She and Danny were kept busy dealing with all the paperwork the Ambassador generated on his daily rounds. And for just one guy, there was a lot of work to be done!

Danny had been the first of them to be asked to join a meeting with the Andorian Ambassador and their mystery employer. She was eager to know what it had all been about.

Danny rubbed his chin thoughtfully.

"Nothing that we haven't read from the transcripts before, they're haggling over water. Andoria has more than enough and Vulcan has barely adequate supplies so Andoria has the upper hand. The Ambassador's negotiating tactics were interesting…" he said. Amanda leaned toward him, her tasks forgotten for the moment.

"In what way?" she asked curiously.

"Well, I don't think he ever just asked for it, you know? They discussed and discussed and meandered about and he kept coming up with possible trade agreements which were all fine but Ambassador Atak wasn't interested. It was almost like he was enjoying trying to make him squirm." he said, furrowing his brow.

"So he is too proud to ask?"

"No… I don't think that's the case. I mean, Vulcans are always proud of their heritage but he has such a… powerful presence. I don't think you'd ever see that guy committing an act of desperation. Nah, he's way too smart. I reckon that he has a trick up his sleeve but I don't know what it is yet." He raised his eyebrow conspiratorially.

Amanda leaned back in her chair as she took in all this information. How she wished she could have gone to the meeting too. But nevermind, she was sure to get her chance. Sighing she smiled ruefully at Danny before getting back to the task at hand.

Just as she was getting going again Danny tapped her arm and motioned for her to move closer so he could whisper.

"I have some new gossip for you too," he said, grinning wolfishly.

"Oh! Do tell," she whispered dramatically, unable to wipe the childish grin off her face.

"Well.." he glanced around quickly, "I found out that Ambassador Atak has taken quite a shine to you."

"Really?" She furrowed her brow in confusion. "In what way?" She looked at him suspiciously; did she really want to know?

"At the meeting, when Atak saw me there he asked me if 'Pinky' was coming too." He raised his eyebrows at her. "Now I'm not certain, but I'm pretty sure he meant you."

Amanda looked at him in shock.

"Pinky? But why would he call me that?" she said, giggling to herself at the ridiculous name.

"I dunno," he said leaning back in his chair. "Maybe it's because when you laugh your cheeks go briiiight PINK!" He puffed out his cheeks and pulled a face.

Amanda doubled over in a fit of laughter. Danny pointed at her. "See! It's right there! Conclusive evidence that you are Pinky!"

Amanda punched him lightly on the arm and stuck out her tongue.

Their reverie was intruded when they heard a deep voice resound throughout the room.


They both turned and upon seeing the Ambassador at the main desk they both jumped up guiltily. Danny brushed down his trousers to hide his embarrassment at being caught chin wagging.

"Yes Osu." He bowed his head.

"I require your transcript of the meeting along with its summary on my desk before the end of the day."

The Ambassador looked at them coolly with his dark eyes. His tall height and stoic appearance made him seem to loom over them both. Amanda kept her eyes on her desk. Not really sure what to do.

After what felt like an age the Ambassador left for his private office. No reprimand… as of yet.

Danny collapsed in his chair. "That guy is like a ninja! How come we didn't hear him come in? Oh wait… You were laughing so loud, no wonder he slipped in unnoticed," he teased.

"Hey! You were the one that made me laugh!"

He gave her an "oh really?" look. "Yes you! You can't pull that innocent face and think you can get away with it!" she threatened.

"I think Amanda; you'll find that I just did." He smiled at her smugly.

She glared back at him hard before they both smiled amicably and turned back to their work.

As it approached midday, Amanda found herself alone at the reception desk. Danny was attending to Ambassador Atak and wouldn't be back any time soon and Se'tek was on an errand for the Ambassador, delving deep into the Vulcan Archives for sensitive information Amanda didn't have clearance for. So she was left to field calls, messages and invitations for the Ambassador. He had finished his appointments for the day and was not to be disturbed.

Absorbed in her work she didn't notice her commlink flash red. Seeing it flicker in the corner of her eye she jumped up in shock. Sitting back down, she opened the channel. His deep voice rolled over her anxiety.

"Se'tek, attend."

Then the call ended abruptly. Amanda looked around desperately. Se'tek wasn't back. She still had all this work to do before the day ended but the Ambassador needed something else done.

Sighing she pushed back her chair and tried to arrange her hair in a dignified manner. Grabbing her PADD she held it close to her chest as if for protection and proceeded to his office door.

She stopped herself from knocking on the door, remembering how Se'tek had never done that when he entered the office. Pulling together the last of her resolve she pushed the door open and walked with a determined step into his office.

Entering the dark room, she found it richly decorated in bronze and dark red. Amanda found it funny how the Vulcans enjoyed the colour red so much. It seemed weird seeing the colour of passion and human blood used so much in their décor. It just seemed so… contradictory. Yet it must be strange for Vulcans to see so much green on Earth she supposed.

Walking towards the grand oak desk, she saw the Ambassador tapping his desk screen diligently. His mouth in a tight line, yet his posture was bolt straight. Amanda could never do that, she was a slouch through and through.

Her pace slowed as she verged on the desk. He didn't acknowledge her so she came to a stop a few feet away and waited. A few minutes crawled by. Amanda began to feel her nervousness slowly drain away as he ignored her for longer and longer. He wasn't that scary really. His dark hair and angular jaw could make him look severe but it was difficult when all the time you spent was with Humans who endlessly smiled away. Vulcans were just hard to read and that was what made other humans uncomfortable. Almost 100% of communication is received through body language. Eliminate the facial expression and you still have body language. But even physical expression with the body was carefully monitored by Vulcans.

As her thoughts droned on, she looked at her PADD. Maybe she could send a message to Daniel to see if he could "urgently" call her away. She had work to do and it was clear the Ambassador had no pressing issues. As she began typing a message on her PADD, she realised that the Ambassador was no longer typing himself.

Looking up she found dark eyes traced on her own. His hands were folded in his lap. Closing the program on her PADD she bowed her head reverently.

"Osu. Do you require assistance?" she asked politely. She hoped he would make it quick.

Silence brewed between them.

"Miss Grayson, are you aware of the numerous mistakes you have made prior to our meeting?" His voice dripped like ice down her back. She gasped.

What? Mistakes? What had she done wrong? She closed her open mouth, suddenly feeling self conscious.

"I'm sorry Osu; I'm not sure what you mean," she said, her brow furrowed in confusion. Her heart began to race and her discomfort grew as he continued to stare dispassionately into her eyes.

"Allow me to be clear. Your behaviour has been below my expectations."

He stood from his chair majestically. Amanda took an involuntary step backwards. Shocked and hurt by his words. As he spoke he slowly began to pace toward her.

"Firstly, your attire is unfitting for someone of your position," he said, raking his eyes up and down her form. She blushed furiously.

"Secondly, your socialising with Daniel is unbecoming for a single woman of your stature and you do so in such a way that it detracts from your work. Hence, you are inefficient."

"My…" She tried to speak but he cut in.

"I have not finished Miss Grayson, do pay attention."

She fumed inwardly. The arrogant condescending little…!

"Thirdly, you should not speak about private affairs of the embassy with your colleague. Fourthly, when attending me you shall wait to be spoken too. You will wait quietly and be still, it is rude to do otherwise." He glared pointedly at her PADD. She grabbed it tightly, as if seeking reassurance from it.

"Fifthly, you speak only once I have spoken to you."

Stopping before her he cocked his head to one side and gazed at her passively. "And your final mistake: do not interrupt when I am speaking." His tall form loomed over her, she felt terribly small looking up into his dark eyes.

"Do you understand Miss Grayson?"

Amanda swallowed subconsciously and shook her head as if to scatter her thoughts.

"I hear you, but I don't understand." He did not say anything. She felt cold throughout her entire being. To think she had been so excited to meet him when he had been coolly judging her every move, not giving her a chance to introduce herself. She felt terribly sad but also she felt terribly angry. She looked into his eyes defiantly.

"I believe your requirements of my appearance, behaviour and actions are excessive."

She looked down at her white blouse and knee-length grey pencil skirt with smart but low heeled black shoes. Flicking her gaze back to his she raised her chin defiantly. Time to make a stand.

"My attire is modest and formal. Se'tek approved it before I started my position. As to Daniel, I admit we were gossiping and I do apologise for it. It won't happen again. But my social interactions with him are not impacting on my work. We are friends and we have a close working relationship and we get along together really well. We have to; otherwise we wouldn't be able to spend such long hours together doing intensive work. And finally, when I came to your office I was merely trying to be efficient but you did not respond to me for ten minutes! Now that is rude behaviour. Not interrupting you I understand but only speaking when spoken too and waiting for you to acknowledge me? That isn't how we do things on Earth. I am not Se'tek, and I am not Vulcan. If you grade me by Vulcan standards I will always fail because I am and I always will be human."

She breathed deeply, suddenly feeling a little embarrassed by how carried away she had got. Oh God, he's going to fire me isn't he? She swatted away her worries like irritating flies. No, she had a right to be heard.

"It may not be the normal practice on Earth; however once you enter the Vulcan Embassy you are on Vulcan soil and should therefore adhere to its customs." He pointed out neatly. He raised an eyebrow at her.

She pursed her lips and remained silent. Slowly he walked back to his desk and lazily flicked his hand across his desk screen.

"I believe you said in your resume, that 'you enjoy a challenge, no matter how impossible it may seem.'" He glanced up at her, she nodded in acknowledgement.

"Then I issue a challenge to you Miss Grayson." He leaned across the desk to stare boldly into her eyes. "Exceed my expectations."