An Ideal Husband

by

Pat Foley

Chapter 1

"It is not the perfect, but the imperfect, who have need of love. It is when we are wounded by our own hands, or by the hands of others, that love should come to cure us - else what use is love at all?"

Vulcan seldom has cloudy days. While its red sun couldn't be considered cheerful from a human perspective - though to a Vulcan's perception, the sun wasn't red at all, but bright white - at least almost every day on Vulcan was a sunny one. When clouds did build and obscure the sky, usually that meant nature was going to deliver a devastating sandstorm. Perhaps obliterating the existing landscape.

Amanda could almost consider that a metaphor for her marriage. Day after sunny day, with nothing more to plague her than tiresome Federation Undersecretaries, and the occasional obnoxious Tellurite. Until another major crisis threatened to blow everything away. But at present, she'd been enjoying a sunny period.

Not that she and Sarek didn't have their issues. But with Spock in Starfleet, that source of argument was conveniently off Vulcan. Though not entirely out of the picture, he'd been reduced to a forbidden source of argument between them. Her tormentor T'Lean had fallen to her death from the Fortress' parapets. T'Pau had gone from shunning her to treating her as an honored daughter. Her husband and son were in a painfully negotiated truce, brokered by no less than T'Pau, the two chief combatants taking a time out in their respective corners in Starfleet and on Vulcan, with both his parents hoping that perhaps when Spock graduated, he would agree to return home. So with all these worries either settled or deferred, she and Sarek had spent a relatively happy, even blissful year. Heretical as that state might be for a Vulcan.

But nature is inexorable. The clouds always return to obscure the sky even after the sunniest period. And the storms can't be held back.

She'd been married to a Vulcan for twenty years. She knew when a certain predictable storm was coming.

Sarek was no inexperienced adolescent. He knew as well.

The difference were of control. As his grew less, hers grew more.

Or perhaps that was an inexact analogy. For her it wasn't a question of her gaining or losing control. That she always had in its human form, humans' biological necessities not being quite so all encompassing as Vulcans'. However imperfectly she chose to practice control by her Vulcan husband's standards, hers had served her adequately.

No, what she did was grow more sensible. Or realistic. The unpleasant realities of marriage to a Vulcan that she pushed to the back of her mind after a Pon Far ended, she released from that mental dungeon and dusted off their cobwebs. The old Vulcan Fortress in which she lived had plenty of dungeons to that purpose.

Or perhaps to be quite Vulcan, she released them from that chattel status to which she'd consigned them. Formerly locked away and ignored, time forced her to acknowledge them, when she could no longer fail to recognize the clouds that were obscuring her Vulcan marriage.

She made no apologies for that banishment to Sarek. Even though she knew that the bright blithe blindness she practiced in the intervals between his Times, her preference to avoid dwelling on the inevitability of Vulcan biology, sometimes frustrated her husband immeasurably. Perhaps to his downfall. But it was also at times their saving grace. She wasn't sure she could have the same relationship with Sarek if she didn't.

And Vulcans could also have selective recall. They too consigned Pon Far to a section of their memory they only pulled out when necessary. They just managed that compartmentalization more easily than a human could. Though as a human living with a Vulcan, she'd learned to do something of the same, with what human tools she had at her disposal.

Sarek had blind spots too. They were of shorter duration, and biologically, rather than psychologically induced. Vulcans too avoided the subject, and preferred not to speak of it. They just went about it differently.

For example, Sarek knew precisely the day he tipped over the midpoint from one Pon Far to the next, when his cycle was on its downswing. Though never consciously acknowledged or admitted to her, perhaps even to himself, from that point forward, he would begin to remind her about his need for control. Until it actually got down to the last few months, few weeks. Then he reversed his behavior and grew ever more reticent. Even as he grew ever less controlled.

And then stopped mentioning it at all.

Saying makes it more real, even for Vulcans.

From eight weeks out, he instead began to nag, nag, nag her about seemingly inconsequential schedules. His and hers. When he would be getting home. When she would be getting home. If he would be late. If she would be late. Compulsively keeping track of where they both were. As if there was some critical unmentioned appointment that they couldn't risk missing.

Two weeks out, he went from dogged nagging to impatient snapping. If she overstayed her office hours and he was home before her, she got sharp words asking why she was late.

Though she wasn't late. Not for anything at all.

Within a week of the fever, if she so much as left the room without glancing at him to let him gather his control, he rose up and took her hand as if to keep her by his side.

By that time, she had already informed her department chair she'd be taking a leave of absence, time indeterminate, for an unspecified fever. Sondt, normally very personable for a Vulcan academic, who in the past had unbent enough to admit a fondness for things human such as concerts of "cool jazz", and snacks of budding roses, gave her a grave averted acknowledgement. He all but shuddered as he granted her leave, speaking to a point somewhere over her left shoulder. He refused to look her in the eye.

As if Pon Far were catching.

In extreme circumstances, she knew some Vulcans might discuss Pon Far in the abstract, as a far distant possibility, happening to some hypothetical Vulcan. But real and in the flesh, of themselves or their neighbor, like Sondt, they disengaged and drew clear.

That probably was a wise survival instinct. No one would want to be too close to a berserk male. Or in Sondt's case, give any undue and perhaps misinterpreted attention to a female belonging to such a male. Lest you find yourself taken for a Challenger by the irrational male.

So she might have been carrying plague. The Vulcans who were her departmental colleagues stepped aside when she walked through the halls, cleared a path for her, and averted their gaze.

I am become Death, she thought ironically, as she slipped ghostlike through hallways, acknowledged by no one, save for strict necessity. Destroyer of worlds.

Poor Vulcans, she thought pityingly. Then, considering her own involvement in this, poor me.

This being his first Pon Far since he had recovered from vrie, Sarek's healers were as frantic as Vulcans would allow themselves to be. They had also been as furious as healers could be when Sarek had refused to follow Surak's precepts regarding Pon Far preparations following his recovery from vrie that they considered essential for his control. She and Sarek had often been intimate. But the operant conditioning that was supposed to help keep couples safe in Pon Far, Sarek had never reestablished after her physician Mark had told him it was possibly damaging her psychologically. Sarek had decided they were going to fly blind this time. And hope for the best. A very Human approach towards a Very Vulcan Problem. Hence the Healers' panic.

She couldn't say she missed those practices, though.

Since Sarek apparently had refused to discuss the matter further with his Healers, with Pon Far becoming imminent for Sarek, they broke tradition as far as to try, nervously and anxiously, to speak of the Unspoken to her.

She sat in the hallowed Healer's Hall, with a quartet of the most revered and distressed physicians on the planet. For all that she appreciated their concern, they were beginning to irritate her. Or perhaps it was the splash-by of Sarek's hormonally induced testiness through the bond that was fueling her impatience. She couldn't help but be aware that while they had every regard for her, certainly did not wish her ill, and they didn't want anything to happen to her, might even like her if they weren't healers and a degree of latitude away from even normal Vulcan unbending, what was really bothering them was the prospect of losing the heir to Surak. On their watch.

Their contention now seemed to be that somehow, she must have blown it before, for Sarek to have fallen into that chronic Pon Far state of vrie after his last episode. And it behooved her to get it right this time.

That Sarek and she had been happy - yes, happy, she claimed - after his recovery, and prior to this cloud of Pon Far coming onto the horizon, they seemed not to credit. Of course. Happiness was irrelevant. Control was what mattered. Surak strikes again.

Don't fumble this, seemed to be the sole cautionary watchword from these, her coaches on the sidelines. Biology was forcing them to let a mere human carry the ball though this most important game. And she was not a prepossessing player by Vulcan standards.

"I not sure I understand." Amanda said, with wide eyed innocence. "I'm not the one in Pon Far. I'm the passive partner here, aren't I? In your society, my role seems confined to largely not zigging when he zags. Maybe you can explain to me exactly what you want me to do." And then had the malicious satisfaction of watching four elderly Vulcans turn four different shades of chartreuse.

They didn't quite faint. But rather than explaining anything in detail, they suddenly seemed to have important commitments that they had to run to. She'd probably done irreparable harm to their estimation of humans in general and herself in particular. But they left her alone after that. And she was glad of it. One falling apart Vulcan was all this human woman could handle.

She didn't bother to warn her house staff. They were all Vulcans. They understood the signs better than she. T'Rueth had long since cut back drastically on meals, since Sarek was eating practically nothing. The males faded from sight. The woman too, except for older woman, past that state.

Everyone hung, waiting, for the Fever to ripen to acute stage.

Amanda was familiar enough with the behavior that now she could now fairly reliably predict schedules. When Sarek actually snapped at her for leaving the room to relieve herself one evening, even after she gave him a glance and a minute to gather himself, Amanda made her final, practical arrangements the next morning. Pon Far was now just hours off.

No novice herself, she waited till Sarek left for work for probably his last day. She estimated he still had two more days before he lost all control, but she could always have calculated wrong. He'd still woken without a temperature this morning. But this had to be his last day in public. So she began to bring up the supplies she had organized. Not for Sarek, but for her.

She never put these preparations out ahead of time. They were unVulcan and they would just make Sarek anxious. But by this stage, fighting to hold his shattering control together, he was long past noticing anything in their surroundings when she was around except her proximity.

As for supplies for her, water of course, was the most critical. Thank heavens they had that in the adjoining bath. Most Vulcans merely used sonics. Still, in spite of having tap water nearby, she pulled case after case of bottled juices and fruit laced waters from the larders that she laid in for just this purpose. Unlike Vulcans, she would desperately need fluids, particularly in this climate, or she would dehydrate. And the sugar in the fluids helped give energy. She added containers of fruit. Even a small cache of snacks: nuts, protein and cereal bars. In a long cycle, which she'd been warned this would be, she might need those too. After watching her collect and inventory these items, T'Rueth helped her carry them up without comment, and watched while Amanda stacked them in her bedroom.

She then piled stacks of clean bed linens again next to the bed. She went to her office and removed a recently delivered shipping package containing the finest of imported Orion ointments and salves. She had ordered these weeks ago. The outrageous prices shocked her far more than their provocative names. She always went to the trouble of ordering them under a coded, privacy protected account, though the Orions were reportedly good about confidentiality. It was worth that trouble, the contents equal to their weight in dilithium to her. She opened one of the tubes, sniffed the fragrance, ran the ointment between her fingers with appreciation before carrying them to the bedroom. To be blunt, no one made pleasure products for prolonged lovemaking like the Orions. Orion pleasure girls, of course, practically lived in bed. Since Amanda did the same thing when her husband was in Pon Far, she had sought out their secrets. The products were rated safe for all Federations races, including Vulcans and humans. The Orions wouldn't think of restricting their attentions to a limited clientele.

She added stacks of prepackaged towelettes. She had learned she could only take feeling grubby for so long before she grew irritable and snappish from that alone. Neither state could she allow herself during a Pon Far.

Lastly, Amanda added ampoules of common human rated anti-inflammatories and painkillers from the bathroom medicine chest. And just to be safe, laid out a few spray hypos of morphine, in case of some injury. The bond was enhanced during Pon Far. Sarek would not intend to hurt her, even with no control and out of his mind with fever. So long as she didn't resist. Even that feedback though, wasn't instantaneous. And strong as he was, operating on Vulcan instinct rather than intellectual knowledge of her human frailty, and half out of his mind with fever, he could do serious damage even in the fraction of a second it would take him to register he was using too much strength. She knew that from personal experience.

When she was done stacking her supplies, she stood looking at them, arms folded, grim.

She wasn't looking forward to this. It looked for all the world like she was preparing for some natural disaster. Which she was, of course: a Vulcan hurricane. Everything for survival within arms' reach. And pray the wind didn't blow them all to smithereens.

Well, that was the whole point of her preparations. Vulcans of course needed none of them. Sarek had never thought of these sorts of preparations, just as he'd never expect water to flow uphill. In the shortest Pon Fars they would hardly be needed, even for her, except for the water. But when the Fever lasted for more than a few days she risked injury, not so much because of Sarek's loss of control, but more from her own. She just wasn't as tough as a Vulcan.

Her first real injuries from Pon Far were because she hadn't understood that Pon Fars varied in intensity. Nor had Sarek. For Vulcans, instinct covered all these things. She had gone into a long cycle unprepared, and had become uncomfortable enough – dehydrated, sore and short on calories and energy, that half out of her head herself with her own discomfort, she'd resisted. That could trigger a violent frenzy in a Vulcan mate. A Vulcan woman would never reach such a state, she figured, and had no need to prepare for it. At least, she'd never had anyone tell her what Vulcan women did, if they reached that state.

Now that she knew what to expect, she had to ensure she had plenty of fluids within arms' reach, had enough calories to keep going, and supplies to keep her comfortable enough not to snap. Sarek would rest at times. But he'd still be too hair trigger to countenance her leaving his side for longer than to relieve herself. Not enough for trips to the kitchen. So these items had to be close by. As Pon Far began to wane and burn itself out, he might accept her leaving him long enough to take a shower, or sleep through her taking one. Actually, he been known to take a shower with her. But during a long cycle, that could be as long as ten days out. Fasting or going without water for a week, even two, was nothing to a Vulcan. To a human, it was akin to suicide.

T'Rueth eyed these supplies with something akin to awe as she looked at her. "You are exceptionally well prepared, Mistress."

Amanda glanced at her, at that unfamiliar, archaic title. She thought of her first Pon Far, fortunately very light by Vulcan standards. She'd survived that by good fortune, sheer luck. She'd stayed hydrated by the desperate exigency of grabbing handfuls of water from the bathroom taps. And that survival due only to an indulgent husband who'd had water as well as sonics being installed in their master bath purely with the thought of pleasing her. Not thinking of Pon Far when he had, not realizing how it would save her life. Had he not, she might not have survived even that light cycle, to be here today. "I've learned to be."

"Is there anything you would wish of the staff, my Lady?"

"Just…stay out of our way." She suddenly looked at T'Rueth, realizing for the first time there was a Vulcan woman, standing right across from her. One who knew she was going into Pon Far, had been through many a Time herself, and seemed willing to be open about it. "Is there anything I should be asking of you?"

T'Rueth tilted her head at the stacked supplies and raised an evaluative brow. "Vulcans need none of this."

"No. I'm not Vulcan.

"So I can see."

"T'Rueth," Amanda said, with tentative curiosity. "I'm not Vulcan. Is there anything I should know, should do, should prepare for, that I haven't? To make it easier for Sarek? Or for me? I had counsel from the Healers, of course, but they frankly weren't much help. They were thinking from a Vulcan perspective. They're all men. What do they know of Pon Far? They're out of their head with fever during the worst of it, just like Sarek. Off in La-La land, while we women have to deal with the reality."

"Where is La-La land?" T'Rueth asked.

"Never mind. It's a woman's, a Vulcan woman's perspective that I really need to get through this for both our sakes."

"You can't neck pinch him," T'Rueth said suddenly.

"What?"

"A Vulcan woman, if she comes to the limit of her strength, can always subdue an amorous male for a time by that measure. Enough to grant herself a period of respite. It's not recommended, exactly. But it is possible. And it's done more often than is supposed." T'Rueth cut her eyes to her, as if to say without words that she had personal experience with that exigency.

Amanda sighed wearily. "Why would it take twenty years for someone, anyone, to tell me that little fact? Because I've had men advising me. No, I can't neck pinch him." She wiggled her fingers. "I'm human."

"But those drugs?" T'Rueth asked delicately.

Amanda's eyes widened at this surmise. "Now I never thought of that. I don't think I would risk trying to drug Sarek. Or that I could get a hypo in him. Anyway, I've always heard that no drug can stop Pon Far. Or that any attempt to use them could be disastrous."

"That is true. I am relieved to hear that you are aware that is the case."

"So, no to that possibility. The drugs are for me. Just in case."

"I think you are very brave, my lady."

"That's no help," Amanda said. Seeing T'Rueth's face, she sighed. "I'm sorry. I figured there was nothing, but that I might as well ask." She looked over her preparations and shrugged. "I'm going to the Academy one last time. Can you call Sarek's aides and have them let me know when he leaves there, so I can be sure I am home for him?"

"Yes, my lady."

She took her flyer out with a sense of relief. She didn't really need to go to the Academy. She could post her classes remotely. And she'd been wrapping up her work there for weeks, knowing full well this was coming.

But she wanted to get out of the house for a bit. She had to admit, truthfully, that she wished she could get off planet for a bit. Just long enough for a certain Vulcan to get through a certain biological imperative. The first Time since Sarek had been in vrie was bound to be taxing for her psychologically. And that it looked like it was going to be a powerful cycle was even more daunting. She was trying to be matter of fact about it, logical, practical, and not dreading it. But of course she was.

She sat down at her desk and resolutely cleared her email and set an away notice, asked her office neighbors to water her plants, sent a discreet note to Spock, warning him he might not hear from her for a bit, and tidied up her desk. Finally, she had to admit there was no other reason for her to be hanging around the Academy except that she didn't want to go home until she had to. She shut down her computer and drummed her fingers nervously on the case.

"Dr. Grayson?"

She looked up with a vaguely polite smile. The young woman in her office door was not familiar, not a student she recognized. But she might possibly have attended some of her open lectures. "Yes?"

"I wanted to speak to you. I hope you don't mind."

"I don't have a lot of time right now," Amanda said, glancing at her watch. "In fact, I was just leaving. Perhaps we could make an appointment for a meeting in a few weeks?"

"Oh, but it's terribly important that I see you now. I must."

Amanda knitted her brow, studying the unfamiliar face, impressed against her will by her supplicant's desire, something rare on Vulcan, where nothing rated an imperative since the Romulans attacked millennia ago, except biological impulses. It might be a nice diversion to hear of an imperative that wasn't biologically related. "Do I know you? Are you a former student of mine?"

"Heavens, no. I work at the Embassy. Amy Prue." She offered her hand, something even humans generally avoided on Vulcan, even with fellow humans. Amanda thought it was better to simply break that habit, living among a telepathic race. But given she mostly dealt with Vulcans now, she was probably biased. "I transferred from Rigel 9 six months ago."

"And you want to take classes at the VSA?" Amanda asked, puzzled, taking her hand politely. "Generally you have to matriculate to attend here. But there are lectures. And some open seminars-"

"Oh, no. I'm no academic," she said. "I don't know the first thing about what you do. Though we have a lot in common, I think. I'm in communications too."

"You're a communications technician? You manage the subspace relay net?" Amanda asked, trying to understand.

"Certainly not. I'm no techie! No, I work in reception. I greet people, make appointments, ferry people to the right offices."

"Then how can I help you?" Amanda asked, her brows drawing together again.

"I'm getting married," the girl said.

Amanda smiled again, politely, though at the moment, with a Pon Far looming, she had scant patience for nuptial fritillaries. She sometimes got requests for flowers from her garden for such ceremonies from friends and acquaintances, traditional Terran flowers being in short supply on Vulcan. And a few times even requests to rent the gardens for such ceremonies. She often provided flowers, and once or twice had allowed friends to hold events there, but she drew the line at renting out her gardens to strangers. It was true the staff led tour groups through parts of them, the funds generated going into helping pay Vulcan's Federation taxes. But the tours only went through once a week, and were closely shepherded. She knew the guards would never countenance groups of strangers regularly holding odd (to them) ceremonies there. And her privacy conscious husband would be appalled at the prospect. Amanda hoped it was just another request for a bridal bouquet and not anything more involved.

"At least, I plan to get married. I'm having a little trouble. I thought you could help."

"How could I help you?"

"It's who I'm marrying, you see. A Vulcan."

Amanda looked at the girl, astonished and a little taken aback. Though now that she looked at her more closely she could see her visitor was in fact, not really a girl, probably in her late twenties. Surely past falling for the popular romantically idealized view of Vulcans. "Why should the Embassy care?" Amanda asked unwillingly. "You seem to be of age."

"Terran Embassies discourage marrying natives, as they call them. I haven't been here three months. I've a two year contract. And if I marry now, I'll break it. From their view I would have forfeited my objectivity."

"How much of that does a receptionist need?" Amanda asked, somewhat uncharitably.

"If I break my contract, I'll be liable for my expenses at the embassy to date. I'll owe them the price of the starship trip out and my room and board. My salary will be forfeit. I'll be fired."

"I'm sorry. But I have no authority over the Embassy or their contract with you," Amanda explained. "The Embassy is an independent entity from Vulcan government. I can't imagine why you'd come to me."

"Easy enough for you to imagine," she said. "Because it's a Vulcan that I'm marrying, I thought you'd be willing to help me."

Twenty years as the wife of a diplomat and a reticent Vulcan had left enough of a mark on Amanda that she didn't immediately blurt out what she still felt at this piece of news. She bit her tongue over that. "I'm sorry. I don't have the power to intercede for you with your Embassy. I'm not that popular with them there myself."

The girl made a moue of disappointment, but seemed to take it well enough. "I suppose it doesn't matter if the Embassy turns me off," she said. "I'll still have another option."

"I don't understand."

With a sly look the woman pulled a pamphlet from her tunic. Amanda saw with a sinking feeling that it was one of the most infamous of the 'guides' to Vulcan sold in the Federation section of the orbiting space station, where the major liners docked before tour groups were shuttled or beamed down to Vulcan. All those of that ilk were banned from being sold on Vulcan, but even Vulcans could do nothing about what was sold in the Terran zone.

She had seen this book before in her own gardens. Tourists sometimes brought it in and dropped it while gathering fruit or flowers or in favor of carrying out the latter rather than the book. In heavy gravity, every ounce often felt like pounds to the unacclimated. It was ostensibly a tour guide to Vulcan. But it was told from "her" perspective, that is, some poor deluded writer's imagined perspective of hers. It didn't actually say she wrote the words, in fact, it attributed the text to some tourist guide organization. But it was liberally spotted with pictures of herself and Sarek and written in first person. Unsophisticated tourists assumed it was her words. The problem was that it was horribly inaccurate, and leaned heavily on the old Cinderella marries Prince Vulcan romance portrayal of her life.

"Once I marry," the girl said. "I won't need that job anymore will I? I'll have what you have – and I won't deny it's why I took the job and came here in the first place. But everyone keeps telling me lies, so I thought I had better get the straight dope from you."

"That book is horribly inaccurate," Amanda said flatly.

"It can't be that far off," she said. "I took your tour. I've seen your house. That's what I want."

Amanda despaired at having to explain that even as ancestral clan seats went, there were few on the scale of the Fortress on Vulcan, much less felt able to compare it to the ordinary modern dwellings most Vulcans naturally preferred to reside in. Tradition required the heir to Surak remain resident in the mountain Fortress, but due to its exposed, even chilly location in the Llangon foothills, most Vulcans regarded Sarek as stoically enduring discomfort, rather than envying him or replicating that environment. That the Fortress was more compatible for her physiology was an unusual bonus that would hardly transfer to any other potential human planning to marry a Vulcan and reside on that world. "Whom are you planning to marry?" Amanda asked carefully. "Do I know him?"

"You will of course," she said, "But I don't think you do now. Though he says he knows you. That is, he's seen you, from a distance. It's Stregan, of the clan Skegallan."

Amanda blinked at this. Now that she was in Council, she knew something more of Vulcan clans than she had before. Skegallan wasn't so much a clan as a loose confederation of the clanless. Originally composed of nomads and desert wanderers, often from the inhospitable equator or the south, those who had never held clan lands or clan seat, now it also contained those whom over millennia had been cast off from the main clans, or those who separated themselves from their clans. It gave them representation and votes in Council. The Skegallan clan was known on Vulcan as the phantom clan because it was composed of wanderers and the displaced. This knowledge gave Amanda no clearer picture of this woman's potential home or fate.

"What does Stregan do?" Amanda asked.

"He's a customs inspector. He works at the space station, sometimes. That's where I met him. But he's based at crew quarters in Iolani spaceport. That's where we're going to live after we're married." She hugged her book. "I'll have princess gardens just like yours and tourists from all over the Federation will come to see them."

Amanda knew Iolani. It was on the equator, and thus rarely frequented by tourists, who generally came down to the Sirakvui spaceport nearest to Shikahr. Iolani dealt mostly with cargo, and with shuttles and crafts servicing the geocentric satellites and other stations circling the equator. And with a desert reclamation project that might in several millennia show results. Vulcans often took the long view.

Amanda had been there just once, when traffic had been diverted from Sirakvui to Iolani for security purposes. Sarek had hustled her onto a climate controlled shuttle mere minutes after their arrival. But the memory of that arid wasteland still made her shudder. If Vulcan was a vision of hell, Iolani was the epicenter of that inferno. It might only rain infrequently in Shikahr, or during a certain season, but it did rain and you could find surface water in the mountains. The air had some humidity in Shikahr. The massive oasis under Shikahr that supported the city had been famous for thousands of years as supporting one of the most fertile spots on Vulcan. Shikahr was known as the 'city of a thousand fountains' for that reason. Sarek's clan had originally gained much of its wealth and power, and its legendary history of war and conquest just for keeping and holding this most valuable area on Vulcan. The prevalence of water over and under the Llangons was a valued feature of Sarek's clan lands. But it was not common elsewhere on Vulcan. And at the equator, there was practically none.

"Have you ever been to Iolani?" Amanda asked skeptically.

"No." The girl gave her an irritated look. "What difference does that make? Vulcan is Vulcan."

"No. It is not." Amanda tried to imagine how to explain the huge difference between crew quarters at Iolani and the old Fortress or even Shikahr. Most Vulcans found the micro-climate of the mountainous Fortress damp and chilly, particularly at certain seasons of the Vulcan year. The Fortress had been built to guard the mountain passes from the Llangon Mountains into the oasis lands of the Shikahr Plains. The head of Surak's clan lived there almost as a testament not only to history but to warrior fortitude. That it happened to suit human environmental needs better than most of the rest of Vulcan was a plus for her. But even Surak's clan had booted from it millennia ago, now living in the Shikahr Plains, an area far more hospitable to Vulcans. Only the clan head was expected to endure the discomfort of the original clan Fortress. Most Vulcans considered Sarek a martyr to the twin gods of tradition and duty.

When Surak had come into power, even that legendary warrior had rapidly built a new clan seat on the other side of Shikahr, in the dryer plains, leaving the Fortress to languish as an almost obsolete guard and war post, now that it was no longer needed to defend the city. That new seat now by tradition housed the Matriarch of Vulcan. T'Pau's palace had all the advantage of unlimited water from Shikahr's deep springs, and a more hospitable climate for Vulcans. Even T'Pau perfunctorily commiserated with Sarek over his archaic residence, with some recent hints that it would be soon enough that Sarek could relocate, when Spock came of age. Amanda had come to realize that as much as she had come to love her archaic home, it was considered something of an embarrassing relic. The equivalent of a starter home, for in her family, the parents got the Palace. The kids roughed it in the old Fortress.

But it was not more hospitable to humans. Amanda found even Shikahr's heat and lack of humidity nearly unbearable in summer, in spite of it being the city of a thousand fountains. When she had to spend time in Shikahr in the height of summer, she could hardly wait to come home. And that was just for a day's teaching, not to live.

She couldn't imagine living at the equator herself. And she wouldn't give a human odds on living three days in Iolani before being carried out on a stretcher. Not unless the human were living in an entirely enclosed artificial climate. And crew quarters in Iolani were designed for Vulcans, not outworlders. Which meant very little in the way of environmental leeway, sonics rather than water facilities for bathing, and highly restricted conservative water use.

So far as Amanda knew there were no outworlder modifiable living environments there. Even the spaceport, meant for Vulcans alone, had no outworlder compatible environmental controls. And water in that area of Vulcan was of limited and poor quality. Extra water had to be brought in, for the deepest wells there could not provide enough for the spaceport crew's drinking needs. Water was prodigiously expensive.

"I don't think a human can survive living at Iolani," Amanda said bluntly.

"Stregan mentioned that. He said he thought it best if he lived in Shikahr with me."

"I'll just bet he did," Amanda said. Even a Vulcan would get the hell out of Iolani if he could. Particularly if he could live in comfortable Shikahr.

"But he doesn't understand that the Embassy will kick me out of my apartment when I marry him because I'll have broken contract. And I'll owe them a big penalty that I can't afford. But I don't care. I'm not marrying him to keep working for the Embassy. I want to have a real Vulcan marriage."

"What does that mean to you?" Amanda asked wonderingly.

"Why one with all the trimmings." She hugged her book again.

"You can't use my marriage as an example," Amanda said, appalled. "And that book isn't accurate. How do you expect Stregan to afford what you'll need to keep you alive, much less comfortable at Iolani? Particularly if you are not working? His income probably won't extend to a lot of luxuries. Even just the basics for a human will be out of his range at Iolani. Don't you know water is one of the most expensive commodities on Vulcan? And doubly so in that climate."

"That's where I thought you could help."

"What do you mean?"

"Well, Stregan is going to marry a human. So he could be a diplomat like Sarek. Then we could live in a palace too."

Amanda tried to think of a way to counteract the myriad deeply flawed assumptions inherent in that statement. "Marrying a human is not an instant qualification for a career in diplomacy."

"I didn't think you would be this way," the girl accused. "So unhelpful."

"I am trying to help you, if only by telling you the truth."

"I thought you'd understand. Help a young romance. Like yours was once." She waved her book. "Not be so…poisonously jealous. Trying to keep all the Vulcans to yourself. Trying to keep all the romance to yourself."

"Oh, my god," Amanda muttered. Her communications unit chimed softly, and she saw the notice that Sarek's aide sent, warning her that her husband was on his way home. His control unravelling further if she wasn't there to meet him. She couldn't risk that, not in this first Pon Far after vrie. "Believe me, I'm not. One Vulcan all by himself is more than any human can handle. And I'm talking practicality, not romance."

Amanda looked at her watch. "Look, I can't really talk about this now, but you should not make any hasty decisions. Marriage to a Vulcan is for life, you know. You need to understand what you are getting into before you make that commitment, for his sake as well as yours." Amanda rose and began to gather her things as she spoke. "Your intended fiancé needs to take you to see a Vulcan healer, so you can understand what marriage to a Vulcan really means. Don't base your expectations on pulp romance. And you need to explain your legal situation with him. You should talk to your supervisor at the Embassy or the Terran Consul. They can explain the ramifications of marriage to a Vulcan for a human, the citizenship issues. You should talk to our medical staff about what living under Vulcan conditions does to humans. And someone needs to explain their culture to you. And what bonding means. Though I'm not sure how much any human can understand of it. All that will take some time. If you are still determined, after all that, I can talk to you in a few weeks. But not now."

"Oh, I can't wait that long," the girl said guilelessly.

"Why not?" Amanda asked, looking up from her things.

"Why should I wait? You got married to a Vulcan, when you were younger than I am. You knew what you were doing. So do I."

"Our situations are not similar. And I don't think you really do know. I must counsel you to wait."

"But I can't wait."

"Why not?" Amanda repeated, frustrated.

The girl bridled, smiling coyly. "You know why."

Amanda stared at her, unwilling to draw the obvious conclusion. "No. I don't."

"You know. Vulcans have that mating fever. Stregan is going into it."

In spite of being human, Amanda had absorbed enough of Vulcan delicacy that she colored up to the roots of her hair. "Miss Prue. You shouldn't be telling me this."

"Oh, I don't mind. I think all that Vulcan stuff is terribly romantic. Sort of Vulcan cave man. He's gotten all abrupt and sharp. And dominant. It's thrilling, really. I can't wait, even if he could. And he can't. That's another reason why I know I can afford whatever I want. I'm going to write a book, you see. Like yours," she held up a romance novel.

"That's not my work-"

"Only it will be the real story. Maybe they'll make a film from it. I can't imagine why you never told about this sexual frenzy thing, but it works out great for me. The press will fall all over a first-hand account of it. It will really sell. I'm going to make millions. I'll be so rich. I'll have gardens bigger than yours." Her eyes grew starry in speculation. Then she drew up, remembering, newly injured. "So it doesn't matter if the Embassy kicks me out, or your Sarek doesn't take my Stregan into diplomatic service. After our honeymoon, we'll go on talk shows and give interviews, real interviews, with all the details. Not hide it all like you did. We'll make a fortune. Appearance fees, movie rights, book deals. I'm going to have everything I wanted. It'll just take a little longer. But I will. That's why I came to Vulcan after all. That's why the Embassy is so mad. I knew what I wanted. I just needed to find the right Vulcan."

"The right Vulcan," Amanda echoed, appalled. "Do they do psych studies on prospective employees?" she asked.

"Funny you should ask that. That's what the Consul asked my supervisor. He said that it's hard to get anyone to come to Vulcan. They had to take what they could. That's partly why they have the contract set up as it is. But that won't stop me," she said with satisfaction.

"Most Vulcans marriages are arranged. What happened to Stregan's first wife?" Amanda asked warily.

"Some sort of accident," the girl said indifferently. "Seven or eight years ago."

"That long?" Amanda said, blanching.

"It's a more than decent interval of grieving, even for Vulcans," Prue said haughtily. "And Stregan really needs to get married. He wants me," she giggled. "You know. He hasn't had a woman in that long."

Amanda drew a breath, more than just appalled. "You plan to get married and your first experience with him, and his since his last -" Amanda swallowed the words, too Vulcan-conditioned to say them before a relative stranger, "- is going to be in - No. You can't do this!"

"Who are you to tell me what to do?" Prue said, pushing back in her chair. "I thought you were going to help me. I thought you would understand."

"It's you that doesn't understand. Look, if you won't listen to me, then at least talk to the physician attached to the embassy. Mark Abrams. He can explain."

"Oh, they already tried to get me to go to him. I refused."

"Refused? Why?"

"I've gotten enough lectures from my supervisor and the Consul. Abrams works for them. He'll just try to talk me out of it. Repeat the same lies. It's what they pay him to do."

"He will tell you the truth."

"Like you?"

"I have tried to tell you the truth, as much as I can. And help you."

"You're trying to discourage me. Stop me."

"Yes, I am," Amanda admitted.

"Thanks but no thanks," the woman said, rising. "I've already made up my mind. I thought we could be friends. Best friends. Both of us married to Vulcans. That you'd understand."

"It's you that don't understand. I'd help you more if I could." Her communications unit beeped again, urgently. Amanda looked at her watch, and rose. "But I just don't have the time now. Please promise me you'll talk to Mark."

"I don't have time either."

"You can't make that decision with so little knowledge of what you are doing."

"You did," the woman said coyly. "And look how it turned out for you. You have it all. Everything you could possibly want." She waved her books.

"No, I don't!" Amanda said, more candid with this stranger than she had been with most of her friends. "That is a fantasy," Amanda snapped. "A fairy tale."

"Well, I want the fairy tale too."

"Marriage to a Vulcan is not like that. And if you even survive what you are planning, if you think it is some kind of get rich quick scheme, or that the Council or the Federation or even the Terran Embassy will let you go out and embarrass the Vulcan government by telling Vulcan secrets to the galaxy at large, an Embassy employee under contract, you are mistaken."

"They can't stop me. I'm a Federation citizen. I'll do what I want."

"And once you marry a Vulcan, you also become a Vulcan citizen. Their laws take precedence. And your husband wouldn't want you to tell. Didn't you listen to anything your Consul told you? Have you really talked to Stregan about this?"

"I know what I want. I set out to do it, and I have it in my grasp. And nothing and no one is going to stop me. Even if you, the First Princess of Vulcan," she said sarcastically, "doesn't want any rival spoiling your limelight."

"Believe me that is not why I am counseling you against it." Amanda looked at her watch again. "I'm sorry, I just have to go. Talk to Mark. Talk to the Terran Consul. Don't get married yet."

"All you've done," the girl said, "is convince me I had better do it now and soon, before anyone else tries to stop me,"

"No. Please!"

The girl turned back, and Amanda drew a relieved breath. But then she saw the look of frustrated fury on her face. "And I know something else, Lady Amanda. Something my Stregan told me about you and that fancy diplomat of yours. Something that might embarrass you in an interview or an article. I don't know it all, not enough. I wasn't paying much attention when my Stregan told me about it before. But I'll get the true word from him soon enough. And then I'll write my own story about you and that husband of yours," She waved the book, "and get paid for it too. Maybe it will be the first interview I give. Unless you choose to pay to keep it quiet."

"Miss Prue!" Amanda called. But Amanda was talking to a retreating back.

She debated going after her. But one final look at her watch convinced her she had to fly.

to be continued...