Garden of Earthly Delights
by Claire Gabriel
Seventeen hours before the opening session of the Conference on Interplanetary Unity, several dozen ships from as many Federation planets were orbiting Vulcan. On the planet below it was mid-afternoon.
From the window of his suite at the airtel, Commodore Robert Grayson, the leader of the Earth delegation to CIU, looked out on an infinite expanse of fire-red sky that contrasted sharply with the muted tones and geometric patterns of the terraced airtel gardens five stories below him. In his heart of hearts, Grayson thought that the garden looked rather like a cemetery--except that the grass was pale yellow and the mathematically precise pathways as red as a network of human arteries. But he did not dwell on this analogy. He was a military man who had served his world on many planets, and alien conceptions of beauty were no longer perceived by him as a personal threat. It was enough for him that his wife and his daughter, Amanda, were content to spend their summer vacation (It was mid summer in Earth's northern hemisphere, although early spring in sub-equatorial Vulcan) in this gravity-defying ice palace two miles above the planet's surface. Soon the Conference would begin, and all that began eventually ended. In another week (Earth-time), his job would be done; the planetary delegates would have decided for or against the united Federation fleet, and he and his family would go home to Earth.
"It must be chilly in here for you," he said, and turned slightly from the window and toward his companion in the room--just as his daughter and Mimbi strolled past in the garden below. Grayson's gaze rested affectionately on them for a moment--one still hardly more than a child in his eyes (although he knew the time was already past when he should have begun to think otherwise), and the other, who had never been a child. They were both laughing. Grayson smiled slightly, then politely dismantled the smile as he turned to face his companion. "Shall I turn the thermo-control up a bit?"
"That will not be necessary."
It often seemed to Grayson that the Vulcan charge d'affaires to CIU was able to perform the extraordinary feat of whispering at normal voice volume. None of them ever raised their voices, he knew. But this voice--so familiar now after the many days the two of them had worked together to set up the conference--was at once particularly soothing and yet unusually demanding of attention.
"Fine. Well--." Grayson narrowed his eyes slightly against the sunlight. The Vulcan stood in the center of the room--at ease and yet completely erect--between Grayson and the opposite windows, and Grayson had difficulty seeing anything but a silhouette.
"Permit me to adjust the sunshades," the Vulcan said, and moved to the window opposite Grayson. The silhouette effect dissolved, and the harsh light of the brilliant sun streamed in briefly before the sunshade snapped into place outside the window. It revealed a now-familiar figure: tall, slim and straight in the dark, mandarin-like uniform of the Vulcan diplomatic corps. For the charge d'affaires was also the Vulcan ambassador to the Conference.
"That's kind of you," Grayson said. "But I think we've pretty well tied it up for today." The Vulcan's eyebrows rose slightly, and Grayson silently reminded himself to watch his Earth idioms. "With the Conference starting tomorrow, you must have lots to do." Now the Vulcan's gaze drifted momentarily toward the sky. "I know how to adjust the sunshades. I just forgot to do it until now...." Grayson's voice drifted off into silence. The Vulcan was almost frowning. Good Lord. "Did I say something wrong?" Grayson asked wryly.
"No. My mind was occupied with matters directly related to the Conference." Quiet. Almost gentle. Yet preoccupied. Another touch of a barely-visible button, and another sunshade snapped into place. "Does it not disturb you, Commodore," the Vulcan continued, "to envision a large number of ships orbiting this planet?"
"The method," the Vulcan murmured, "is extremely inefficient." Snap went another sunshade.
For a moment Grayson entertained the fantasy that the charge d'affaires was younger than he was himself, although he suspected the opposite to be the truth. On an individual of lesser stature, the expression the Vulcan wore at that moment would have verged on petulance.
"Inefficient." Grayson smiled in spite of himself. "Sarek, on Earth we would say that you just 'left yourself wide open'." The eyebrows flew. "Look, don't you see what you just said? We've got about forty ships--,"
"Forty three at the moment."
"--Forty three ships orbiting out there. The existence of a single fleet for the entire Federation would permanently eliminate such 'inefficiency.' Future interplanetary conferences could be incredibly streamlined. One ship, or a small number, could transport many delegates."
The Vulcan stared, deadpan. Quite obviously, he was vastly unimpressed.
"Oh, all right." Grayson dropped into a chair, feeling weary. The damn sun got to you even indoors. And the tension was everywhere, even in the outwardly unruffled figure before him. "I suppose that line of reasoning is like saying that we should set up a democracy to facilitate the organization of political conventions." The eyebrows again. "Political.... Never mind. A chapter in our Earth history that you would not approve of."
"Yes," said Grayson wryly. "Indeed. Ask my daughter to tell you about it sometime. Earth history is her field, you know."
The Vulcan turned away; one bit faster and the move would have verged on the abrupt. "A Federation fleet would solve few problems and create many," he said expressionlessly, moving toward the only window left unshaded--the one Grayson had been looking out of a few moments before.
"Ships of war inevitably make war, Commodore."
"Ships armed for defense are not necessarily ships of war!"
"Your people," said Sarek patiently, "invariably advance that argument. And they have invariably regretted it."
"But think of the advantages of a cooperative exploration of the galaxy," Grayson pressed, wondering why he bothered. The Vulcan was merely being polite, and even seemed slightly distracted by something he saw outside and below in the garden. "We're already traveling through space at sixty-four times the speed of light--."
"Sixty four point two three," the Vulcan said vaguely, his hand hovering over the sunshade button.
"Whatever. In a few years materials will have been developed that will allow ships to withstand phenomenal speeds as a daily routine. We have to be ready for that--in our unity as well as in our technology."
"Indeed." But the Vulcan was not really listening. Grayson was sure of it.
He smiled at the straight, dark figure with a sympathy that was close to affection. "The gardens are beautiful, aren't they? My wife and Amanda have enjoyed their stay here."
Snap went the sunshade, and Sarek turned, impassive. "Vulcan is honored by the presence of you and your family. I trust you have found suitable diversion here."
"Mimbi has been most helpful, as always. Since it accepted our invitation to travel with us, its knowledge of other cultures throughout the Federation has been an invaluable asset to us."
The Vulcan's eyebrows rose once more, but only slightly. And this time there was a difference. The dark eyes held a new expression. Almost...approval?
"Never before," Sarek said quietly, "have I heard an Earthman refer to a native of Zetha as anything other than 'he'."
Their gaze held, and then Grayson said simply, "It is my friend."
Approval, yes. But also confusion--barely visible only because Grayson had spent so much time working closely with the Vulcan. Yet he felt confusion too. Was it possible that Sarek did not understand the meaning of 'my friend'?
"Sarek, listen to me. It's important to me personally that you understand my motives, and the motives of my world. I realize that Earth is taking the lead in this fleet issue--pushing for a united Federation fleet. I also realize that Earthhumans have a reputation throughout the known galaxy for--shall we say--our unseemly hurry?" One eyebrow this time, arched. "Our unseemly hurry," Grayson continued with resignation, "when we want to get something settled. And I appreciate the reluctance of your people to--conform." Wrong word? But the Vulcan's expression--what there was of it--had not changed. "But Vulcan did agree to host CIU. Your people have extended hospitality to me and my delegation this past month so that we might organize and prepare for the others. Surely this indicates some willingness to consider the Federation fleet as a viable possibility."
Silence. No expression. "Perhaps."
Grayson slumped a little. "Or maybe you people just wanted to police the thing?"
"But what could possibly happen? All the delegates are here of their own free will, and for a common purpose beneficial to all."
"'Free will'," the Vulcan said softly, "is frequently a euphemism for 'will to power'. And 'beneficial to all' is a virtual impossibility when vested interests prevail." Almost gently, and yet demanding full attention: "As they not infrequently do prevail among humanoid species."
"Vulcans are a humanoid species, too," Grayson said mildly, and felt a momentary twinge. If it was possible for a Vulcan to get angry, this was the likeliest area.
But the right eyebrow simply arched. "I have observed," the Vulcan said quietly, "that Earthmen often ask questions by making statements."
"Touché," Grayson said uncomfortably, wishing his companion would move--pace, shift position, scratch his head, anything. And yet the motionless figure before him seemed not rigid, but only alert.
"My vested interests are the interests of Vulcan," Sarek now replied to Grayson's implied question.
"The maintenance of peace, Commodore."
"But that's precisely why we're all here!"
"Why you are here." The individual emphasis was barely perceptible. "The Federation is still less than a century old. Most of this galaxy is yet unexplored. Yet Earthmen are still inclined to believe that Earth is the center of the Universe, just as your ancestors once believed that it was the center of your solar system." Grayson nodded wryly. "You are also inclined to assume that if your intentions are peaceful the intentions of all other worlds are the same, an abiding innocence that is as dangerous as it is--charming." Whereupon the Vulcan astounded the Earthman by bowing slightly. But then Grayson realized that the gesture and the word 'charming' carried a shadow of mimicry, and just the faintest shade of mockery. The Vulcan had, it appeared, absorbed some useless knowledge in the course of his diplomatic career. "Vulcans," he continued, again impassive, "have been in contact with other planets in this sector of the galaxy for several centuries, and with planets in other sectors since before Earthmen reached the environs of the star you call Alpha Centauri. My ancestors, in fact, observed yours." Now it was Grayson's turn to remain impassive, wondering: if the Vulcan had to needle a guy, why the hell did he do it so gently you couldn't take offense? "You perhaps forget, Commodore, that invaders from the Romulus-Remus system penetrated this section of the galaxy relatively recently."
"All the more reason for a united Federation fleet,"
"Indeed? I would say all the more reason for caution and vigilance. Have you considered the fact that an incident at this Conference could cause confusion and possibly even conflict within the Federation? Consider also, Commodore: no one in the Federation has ever seen one of the invaders--they whom we now call 'Romulans.' Only their ships of war were observed at the time of the conflict. We would, in fact, not recognize one of the aliens if he were in our midst, much less be able to readily unmask a member of the Federation who might be in league with them."
"What kind of an 'incident'?" Grayson exploded belatedly.
"I do not speculate without factual knowledge," Sarek answered a shade testily.
"Hell, you've been doing nothing but speculating for the past five minutes!"
"This Conference," the Vulcan continued patiently, "would be a most logical occasion to cause conflict, since representatives of all members of the United Federation of Planets will be in attendance. This is not speculation."
"We of Vulcan wished the Conference to take place here so that we could effectively--I believe the term you used was 'police it'."
"Yes. I see that now." In his mind Grayson saw also the Vulcan security guards that even now stood impassive in unobtrusive places throughout the airtel. Madeline, his wife, had only the day before referred to one of them as a transmigrated Nazi, whereupon Amanda had turned on her mother with a brief but telling tirade on prejudice. Grayson's mind wandered briefly. Strange. Amanda had never been so touchy on any other planet they had visited.... He pulled his mind back to the matter at hand. "All space vessels currently orbiting Vulcan have the proper credentials, haven't they?"
"Credentials are only a superficial indication of good intent."
"Yes." Grayson felt suddenly overwhelmed with the vastness of the galaxy and the alienness of the delegates.
"You are fatigued," Sarek suggested with the impersonal gentleness of his race. "I would suggest, Commodore, that you leave these matters to me. Whatever my views on the purpose of this Conference, my duty is clear. Shall we briefly review the agenda once more before I leave?"
In the Captain's quarters of the Dadrian ship, the Captain and the Dadrian ambassador to the Conference sat facing one another on the floor. Their position was what Earthmen would call "sitting tailor fashion," but the Dadrians themselves described it with a one-syllable word that could only be translated as we-plan. The two resembled a couple of aged copper Buddahs, for their skin was a dark, motley green, their heads hairless, and their necks almost non-existent. Each wore a small garment resembling a loincloth. But hunched over in the we-plan position, they appeared almost stark naked.
They spoke softly, and in their own language.
"All is in readiness," the Captain was saying in the Dadrians' habitual sibilant hiss.
"Our friends-they will be pleased with the thoroughness of your preparations, Ambassador-he. The domestic inconvenience"--he smiled faintly, a distorted shadow of what passed for a smile on Vulcan-- "which you and they have planned will in all likelihood provide you with the information they desire without precipitating armed conflict between them and the Federation."
"Such is their hope. The plans will go well unless...." The Ambassador frowned.
"I should prefer that the Conference were elsewhere, Captain-he. The Vulcans-they were once a warrior race as we are, and as our friends-they are. And the Vulcan memory is...very long." The naked green back expanded and contracted in the reverse image of a human sigh. "No matter. We will take them by surprise. He-who-is-in-charge will cooperate, even if the Earthman does not follow our instructions. Vulcans-they do not like to be...publicly embarrassed."
Again the Captain smiled his shadow smile. "Do you wish to rest now?"
"For a time. The sun-setting approaches on the planet, and our business is best attended to before the sun-rising of next-day."
The two rose and bowed to one another, swinging slowly from side-to-side at the hips. Then the Captain raised his right hand in a six-fingered imitation of the greeting of their Vulcan hosts. "Live long and prosper, Ambassador-he," he said wryly.
But the Ambassador was frowning again as they left the cabin together.
In the airtel garden, Amanda sat on a bench while Mimbi slept nearby--legs pulled up, its four arms wound around its body. Amanda remained quiet, but watched her chronometer carefully. It had been almost ten Earth minutes since Mimbi had curled up and gone to sleep in the middle of their conversation on Vulcan history, and she didn't want it to get sunburned.
She never felt shut out when Mimbi went to sleep, knowing that the Zethan's metabolism demanded rest much more frequently than humans' did.
A hot breeze drifted across the garden like a breath of tension as Amanda found herself calculating the odds on whether her mother would come out before the ambassador did. Of late, Madeline Grayson usually managed to arrive in the garden while Sarek was there, no doubt arranging it so that he and her daughter would not be alone. Amanda was well aware of her mother's intent, and at first it had irritated her. But today... Today she was not quite sure whether she wanted to be alone with the ambassador or not.
She moved uneasily on the bench, shaded by a tree that was like a stylized drawing of an Earth tree done in embroidered yellow lace, and caught her audio tape player just in time to keep it from falling to the ground. She had brought a pocketful of multi-track minitapes with her into the garden that afternoon, and had fed three into the player when she and Mimbi had sat down to rest. Now "The Rites of Spring" lay aridly on the arid air. It seemed appropriate somehow, more appropriate for spring on Vulcan than for spring on Earth. She had been trying to read a tape on the Capellan influence on Terran literature since 2100, but she was restless and put it aside, preferring to listen to the music. The centuries-old harmonics gave her a sense of her own history that was all too easily lost in this far planet.
Her mother was coming across the grass, looking relieved. And suddenly Amanda was no longer unsure of whether she wanted to be alone with Sarek.
She gave her mother what she intended to be a pleasant smile and made room on the bench, thinking, Please. Not today. But it was apparent that the smile did not fool anybody.
"Working hard, I see," her mother said wryly, sitting down.
"Oh, Mother." Amanda glanced at the scrawl across the topmost sheet on her clipboard: "Post Twentieth Century Earthman; The Second Renaissance." She had not really worked on the paper for a week. Somehow she hadn't really given a damn about post-twentieth-century Earthmen since.... "It's too hot."
"Mmm." There was a short silence. "He's up there with your father, isn't he?"
"Yes. He is."
After a moment her mother said, "I'm beginning to think we shouldn't have come."
"That's silly," Amanda answered a little too quickly. "I mean--I'm having a fine time. You said I needed a vacation before I started teaching full time. So I'm having a--."
"Now what do you mean by--."
"Your 'vacation'," her mother said patiently, "appears to consist of half a day of winding up and half a day of winding down, day after day. Except when you know he isn't coming. Then you give free lectures on cultural prejudice. In the lift."
"That was--," Amanda began, and then stopped. "No, it wasn't. I'm sorry. I know you were just trying to be funny."
"Amanda, where is Peter?"
"Peter who ... oh, Peter." On the space liner, Peter had seemed pleasant company. But Amanda had not thought of him in days. "He's around, I guess."
"Do you suppose," her mother asked, turning to look at her, "that you could manage to show some interest in something besides flirting with the ambassador?"
Amanda could not keep from smiling. "Mother, the ambassador could no more flirt than you could get to Earth by air taxi."
"I didn't say he was flirting." Her mother's gaze searched hers. "Is he married or isn't he?"
Amanda looked away. "I don't know. He--hasn't said, and I--it seems like I'd be prying if I asked."
"Since when is a man's marital status privileged information?" But before Amanda could respond, her mother went on with an urgent gentleness that made interruption impossible. "Amanda, this m--Ambassador Sarek is not human. You don't even know what their marriage customs are! And why? Because there is not one word about Vulcan marriage customs in the Intragalactic Encyclopedia. Not one word! And don't tell me I sound like something out of the twentieth century. I got that line yesterday. In the lift. This problem didn't exist in the twentieth century. That's what your Vulcan friend would call a false analogy."
"It is a false..." Amanda began, and then stopped.
"Precisely. And speaking of centuries, take a good look around you the next time we go planetside. This business of the women following the men--males around everywhere is right out of the nineteenth century. Spain, to be exact."
Amanda sighed. "Does the ambassador strike you as your average macho-in-the-street? Vulcans are too smart for that. Anyway, Mimbi says it's a matriarchal society in a lot of ways. The doctors are mostly all women, and--."
"You're not a doctor."
"Matriarchy or no, when the wives all walk two steps behind, there's a reason. And I'll bet it has nothing to do with smarts--or logic either. It never does."
"Yes, I suppose there's a reason. But if he thought of me as an inferior, I'd know."
For a moment Amanda was confused, wondering how she would know, and why she was so sure she would. But then she realized that her mother was gazing at her with a helpless tenderness that made her next question all too easily anticipated.
"Are you in love with him already?"
"That's not what I meant, but--I really don't know if I am or not. Mother, let me work it out. Please?"
Mimbi opened one white-sapphire eye and blinked at her, already aware of the emotional intensity of the conversation although it was obviously still half asleep.
"I'm trying." Her mother rose, patting her hand. "On top of everything, he's way too old for you. Forty if he's a day." She glanced at the Zethan. "Mimbi, wake up and get out of that infernal sun. You'll look like a bunch of ripe apricots in a little while.'
"I am awake, Mate-of-my-friend," Mimbi answered, obviously relieved that the atmosphere was now less highly charged. Then it grinned, stood erect--a bright orange scarecrow-in-a-purple-tunic with a jack o'lantern's head--and moved slowly into the shade near the bench, squatting down on its bare, two-toed feet, its lower pair of arms around its knees. When Amanda's mother had gone, it turned its gaze to Amanda. "Friend-of-my-heart, how does it happen that your female ancestor is in such great ignorance of the Vulcan's true age? Have you not communicated to her the knowledge that I--?"
"No," Amanda said hastily. "I--um--really haven't had a chance to do that."
A flash of amusement turned the Zethan's eyes blue. "Is it not a saying among Earthmen: 'Break it to her gently'?"
Amanda could not help laughing, and Nimbi joined her, apparently as delighted with itself as she was with it, sounding like a Terran bird whose call had always seemed to her to be saying, "Do it! Do it! Do it!" She joined it on the grass, and when they had stopped laughing she said solemnly, "Now I will give you a history lesson. Historically, mothers on Earth have always been very concerned that their daughters catch the right husband. It's--."
"'Catch'?" Mimbi repeated, confused. "As in 'trap'?"
"Yes. Well, anyway, the approach is different now, but the resulting behavior is the same. It's like an obsession. Historically, Prince Charming is young--among other things. Now he's young and--well--liberated."
Mimbi frowned. "The youthful and gracious son of royalty of whom you speak has been in a rehabilitation colony," it offered hopefully. "May one inquire as to the nature of the crime?"
"I think," Amanda said solemnly, "that we'd better change the subject. Tell me, don't you think it would be much simpler if all the species in the galaxy were like Zethans--living together in clusters, asexual, reproducing autonomously? Just think how peaceful it would be." And how uninteresting.
"I do not think that would be very interesting," Mimbi said gravely. "No, Amanda. I cannot read your thoughts. Do not look at me so, Friend-of-my-heart! It is a perfectly obvious thought. Would you and I find so much joy in each other if we were the same?"
"No, I guess not." They were silent for a moment. "What is it you call your family on Zetha?"
"Friends-of-my-being." It said the words almost reverently.
"Mimbi," she said softly, "you are a beautiful thing."
Mimbi blushed, looking more like a jack o'lantern on top of a scarecrow every minute.
"Don't you miss the other members of your fam--cluster when you're so far away from home?" she asked. There was an unintended wistfulness in her tone, and it surprised her.
"'Home' is one of the few things-of-one-meaning throughout the galaxy, Amanda. Home feeling never ceases to exist." Its tone had grown very gentle. "You would do well to remember that when you walk here with the Vulcan."
"You've been away from home a long time," she said. But the question was there, even though she could not verbalize it.
"I wish to be home at times, but my place is with Robert Grayson. Is it not said on Earth: 'Home is where the heart is'?"
"You don't have a heart," Amanda shot back.
Mimbi opened its eyes very wide. "I speak in metaphor, Amanda!"
"Very good, Mimbi!"
They were both laughing again when Robert Grayson and the Vulcan ambassador appeared in the garden.
"Mimbi," Grayson was saying as he and the ambassador approached, "get the hell out of the sun. That's an order." But he laid his hand affectionately on Mimbi's shoulder--much as another man might casually touch a friend--and the Zethan looked at him without speaking, seeming to shine a little. Both it and Amanda had risen to their feet, Mimbi out of habitual respect of any other sentients, and Amanda because she could not sit still at the moment. When her father kissed her lightly on the cheek, her first impulse was to pull away, embarrassed. Even though the Vulcan had paused a few paces away and was quite pointedly examining the terraced gardens as though he had never seen them before, she was intensely aware that his attention was not on the flora, and the faint aura of his disapproval permeated the thin atmosphere.
"Bored?" her father asked gently, touching her chin lightly with his finger.
"No." Without really thinking about what she was doing, she locked her fingers together loosely behind his neck. "Mimbi and I were having a delightful conversation about--metaphor." Their gaze held, and she thought, You understand. You're the only one I know who loves that beautiful little gentlebeing the way I do. But she knew she did not have to speak the words aloud.
"Metaphor, huh? Well, that beats Federation politics hands down." Her father frowned, and then seemed to dismiss the thought. "Here comes your mother. She seems to have rested longer than usual this afternoon." Genuinely concerned, Grayson excused himself and went to meet his wife, a little distance away, taking both of her hands in his.
There was a short silence. Then Sarek turned, raising his hand, fingers separated, thumb extended. "Peace---and long life, Mimbi of Zetha," he said gravely.
Gracefully and without haste, Mimbi raised both its right hands, fingers separated, each inner thumb extended and each outer one laid close to the palm. "Live long and prosper, Friend-of-my-better-self." Then it bowed, excusing itself. "I must go to My Friend." And it drifted away to sit--in the sun--near enough to Grayson to be ready to move when he did, but not near enough to overhear Grayson's conversation.
Sarek looked after it thoughtfully, apparently not in the least ill at ease. Yet Amanda sensed without knowing how that this moment--the first moment they were alone together--was always the most difficult for him, as it was for her.
"It is...most colorful," he murmured with obvious appreciation. Yet she suspected that it was not Mimbi's color alone that interested the Vulcan. Well, that was an opening, anyway.
"Zethans are so emotional," she said, consciously trying not to sound like her mother having tea with the minister. "I wouldn't think they'd have much in common with Vulcans."
He turned then, hands clasped loosely behind his back, one eyebrow slightly arched, and the dark eyes met hers. "'Making conversation,' Miss Grayson?"
Her tension passed as though it had never been--as it always did as soon as the others left them alone. But somehow she always forgot that it would happen until he was actually there.
But she remembered not to smile. "Yes, I was. But I really don't understand why you and Mimbi get along so well. Is it because you're both telepaths?"
"Zethans are not telepaths. They are empaths." Politely, but without condescension: "Do you understand the difference?"
"Yes," she said, consciously repressing an impulse to mimic his tone, "I understand the difference. But it does seem like Mimbi often knows what I'm thinking."
The eyebrows did not move, although she had expected them to. Instead, a ghost of a smile touched his lips. "One would hope not," he said.
She had no idea how to take that, but was spared the necessity of a response when his attention seemed distracted by her parents, who had remained in low-voiced conversation just out of earshot. Looking in the direction he was, she saw that her mother was doing most of the talking and appeared quite tense. Her father was nodding patiently (She could almost hear him: "Yes, Madeline. Yes, dear. I think you have a point...."), but he was frowning again. Mimbi waited, sitting on the ground nearby, knees drawn up, one set of arms around them and the other elbows on its knees, its chin cupped in its hands.
Still looking at her parents, Sarek said softly and almost expressionlessly, "I have observed that Earthwomen invariably exhibit one mode of behavior toward a husband and another toward a lover"--she could see the eyebrow arch, although he was still not looking at her-- "or a father."
Her fury was so intense that she was not surprised to see Mimbi suddenly put its upper hands over its ears and gaze imploringly toward her. But she could not contain it. It crossed her mind in one shimmering instant to wonder how well the ambassador knew his Freud, but she decide she'd rather not know. The words formed in her mind, heated and given force by her anger, before she could stop them: You bastard!
Quick turn on the heel toward her, eyebrows shooting high. She had never seen him so startled. His recovery was virtually instantaneous, and the planes of his face returned to normal. But there was only one conclusion she could draw.
"Did you hear that?" she whispered, horrified.
Her father and Mimbi were now approaching again, while her mother returned to the suite. So Amanda had barely time to register the fact that, having just seen the ambassador agitated for the first time, she was now seeing him frown for the first time. Genuinely frown.
"Sarek," her father was saying, "I'm going to have to excuse myself. I think I really have to lie down before dinner. Amanda, your mother wishes you do rest, too," he went on--rather pointedly, Amanda thought. And it seemed that he was having some difficulty keeping himself from looking from her to Sarek with the air of a man who has just discovered a hornet's nest on his own front porch.
Mimbi followed him at a slight distance. It had recovered itself completely, and was trying very hard to look serious and thoughtful. But its white-sapphire eyes were almost blue. If it and Amanda had been alone, it would have been chuckling.
The amenities of farewell were dispensed with quickly, and as her father and Mimbi headed toward the building, Sarek turned to her once again.
"Come." She had the fleeting impression that he had almost reached out to take her arm, and then stopped himself. But it was not the first time that had happened. When they had first met, he had occasionally taken her arm as they walked--to guide her in a change of direction. But of late she had noticed that he scrupulously avoided any physical contact with her. She had wondered about that, but today her mind was on other things.
It was only a few steps to the edge of the airtel's lower terrace, where an invisible force screen and a waist-high wall of pinkish masonry were the only barriers between them and the two miles of Vulcan troposphere that extended toward the planet's surface. Here in this unshaded part of the garden the sunlight was almost blinding, but Amanda could see far below the flat expanse of red equatorial desert that stretched from horizon to horizon. Directly below was the only Vulcan city within sight--a huge, circular depression like a volcanic crater that looked from above like a gigantic, hollowed-out anthill infested with geometrically shaped structures that reflected the sun like multicolored prisms. Amanda had often contemplated the surface beauty from this very spot--alone, with her father, and in present company. But all too often her physical discomfort was far too intense for her to be able to appreciate the scenery. Even at this height, the temperature was well over one hundred degrees Fahrenheit in the sun; particularly at this height, the air was so thin that the combination of that fact and the sheer drop immediately before her literally almost took her breath away.
"My intrusion on your privacy was entirely unintentional."
She realized that he had spoken, and tried to concentrate. He was standing close to the wall, but not touching it--hands behind his back as before.
"Yes," she said vaguely. "I know. I'm s--." But she stopped the word in time as he continued.
"It has happened before, however."
She turned to look at him at that, but could only see his profile.
"You must learn control," he said. Almost a sigh, and yet with an underlying urgency that she could not miss.
She could not help staring. His eyes were fixed on the middle distance, out over the planet. But he stood even more erect than usual, and utterly still. And his voice.... It was the closest thing to a plea that she had ever heard from him.
"Why?" she asked. "I'm not a Vulcan."
He turned toward her, impassive as usual, and in a split second it seemed as though the preceding conversation had never happened. "Are those your tapes?" he asked.
Never before had she known him to change the subject so abruptly, or to avoid answering a direct question. Well, no doubt he had a logical answer.
"Yes," she answered. "This one is--."
"Sergei Rachmaninoff, 1873-1943," he said, giving the Russian pronunciation to Sergei. "Symphony No. 2 in E minor, Opus 27."
"Yes," she said, and waited, resigned, for what she knew he would say next.
"It is...emotionally undisciplined."
"Yes," she repeated, and allowed herself the smallest of smiles. "You know, Mr. Ambassador, if you should ever be reincarnated as an Earthman"--the eyebrow, arched. And she thought My God, he knows when he's being teased, even if he doesn't know how to do it himself. But then that crack about fathers and lovers hadn't been exactly...-- "you would probably end up a WASP."
"No, not an insect. It's a socio-cultural category that's almost obsolete." She thought of her mother, having tea with the minister. "Not quite, though."
"Your father is...a WASP?"
"Technically. Not behaviorally."
He seemed to be considering this, but not with any great concentration. The tension had left his bearing, and she continued to relax, thinking that Peter (or any one of the other Peters she had known) would have pressed her, possibly into a quarrel.
The silence lasted until the end of the first movement of the symphony--not, she realized, because neither of them could find anything to say, but because neither of them was looking. Finally he began to speak quietly of the city that lay directly below them. Having toured it, she was well aware that Vulcan "cities" had little resemblance to the sprawling megatropoli of twenty-second century Earth. Yet it still astounded her to think that on a planet slightly larger than Earth, the population had grown only to about half a billion throughout countless millennia. The "cities" (the Vulcan semantic analogue could only be translated as "Focuses") were not in fact cities, although there were residential dwellings there. They were educational centers, research centers, cultural centers, where the citizens pursued their professions with characteristic diligence but lived only when they had to. The Focus directly below the airtel was the Vulcan Science Academy. Its diameter was only about twenty kilometers, and there was no other Focus visible in any direction.
Sarek remained gazing downward as he spoke, hands clasped behind his back. "My family has lived in the environs of the Academy for three point five generations." The voice seemed expressionless as usual, but she could sense pride in it. "My father and his father and his father's father were physicists, as am I. My mother--." An almost imperceptible hesitation. "My mother was also a teacher, and a scholar."
"And your wife?" she asked before she could stop herself. The words tinkled out into the silence, bright, brittle, false. Oh, damn--.
She had the impression that the question did not disturb him nearly as much as the tone in which she had asked it. He turned toward her, expressionless. But the eyebrow crooked. Almost the equivalent of an Earthman's wry grin.
"Dissembling, Miss Grayson?"
This time she had no desire to smile. "Yes, of course, Mr. Ambassador."
He had not expected that, she could see. His approval of her willingness to admit to exactly what she was doing was perceptible, although not by any sense that she had ever used before; his expression remained totally unchanged.
"Are you married?" she asked directly.
His gaze did not waver. "I should not be here now if I were," he said without any expression in his voice. He was, she realized, merely making a statement of fact.
"Yes," she said calmly. "I think I knew that." And she thought: That's it. We've moved on. But that thought brought with it only a strange and unfamiliar serenity. Their relationship had changed radically in the space of a few seconds, and yet it seemed to her that they had always been as they were now.
And yet a disturbing thought nagged at her. I should not be here now if I were had not been a declaration voluntarily made. It had come only in answer to a question. And it crossed her mind to wonder if he had been quite ready to answer that question. You don't even know what their customs are....
But he was speaking again, and appeared undisturbed. "My wife died several years ago, shortly after the birth of a child. The child also failed to survive."
Her immediate reaction was astonishment at his use of the word several; she would have expected him to state the time down to the last decimal point. And then quick sympathy flooded her. The child, too? "I'm so sorry," she whispered, hoping that in this one instance I'm sorry would not be considered a breach of etiquette.
"It is difficult," he said flatly, "to attach meaning to the death of an infant." The statement seemed to have considerable significance for him, but he did not seem to expect her to understand. He turned away, not shutting her out, but rather, she sensed because he was preoccupied. "In any case, my present situation presents a serious problem in Vulcan society."
Her mind refused to grasp what he had said. What serious problem? Involuntarily, she spoke her confusion aloud. "I'm sor--I regret that I do not understand. Why should an unattached widower present a problem in any society?"
"My people are what you would call betrothed at an early age." But his mind was only half on the answer to her question, and the eyebrow had begun to climb again. Damn him. "Earthhumans," he continued softly, "have many expressions that evoke rather ludicrous images." The faint smile again, almost as though he could not quite control it. "Your father is, then--attached?"
She turned toward him, a casual, barbed reply already on her lips. But the movement induced a slight vertigo--nothing she couldn't have dealt with easily, but a mild discomfort nevertheless. The garden seemed an oven, and she had stood there too long breathing the parched, almost non-existent air and feeling the relentless sun on her uncovered head. For the rest of her life, whenever she would re-examine the events of that day, she would ask herself: What did I really intend? Did I know even then why he stopped taking my arm? And did I push--again? But all she could ever remember was a sudden, exhilarating mischievousness--that and the thought: If I passed out at his feet, he'd probably just stare down at me reproachfully and say: "Miss Grayson, loss of consciousness is indicative of a lack of discipline...."
It had never occurred to her that he could move so quickly. Later, she was sure that her knees had not even touched the ground before he had broken her fall as easily as one would lift a child. And in the few seconds it took him to carry her back to the bench in the shade, she became intensely aware that what had begun as a harmless bit of human mischief had quite suddenly turned deadly serious. Quite suddenly, his physical tension was so great that she wondered that he could bear it.
"Put your head down," he was saying. "Come, do not struggle so. It will pass. Put your head down--."
"Please," she said, "I'm--." She pulled away, forcing herself to sit erect and meet his gaze. That bad? "Are you ill?"
The tension was etched in every bone of his face, and the dark eyes were haunted as though death itself had made its home there. When he spoke, his lips scarcely moved. "I perceived indications that it was you who were ill."
Self-hate engulfed her, sickening her. Stupid, imbecile child! Yet her gaze did not waver from his.
"Indeed I am a dissembler, Mr. Ambassador," she said harshly. "I am quite well. What you saw is a prime example of Earthwomen's deviousness. I even deceived myself." It was the end. This would be the end. But she could give him nothing less than the truth. "'If you can't get to him any other way, faint.' It's the oldest trick in the book."
She was sure that he barely moved. And yet the recoil on the word trick was as violent as if she had slapped him. His eyes went bleak for just an instant, and although his expression did not change otherwise, she was again sickened to the depths of her soul--this time by her own lack of awareness of how vulnerable he was, and in what ways.
He rose and turned away without a sound or a word. Even the back of his neck was tense. "I am unfamiliar with this book of tricks." It was scarcely more than a whisper.
"There is no 'book'," she said hopelessly, running her fingers across her forehead and yet hardly aware of the gesture. "Unless it's the book of life. You might title it The Garden of Earthly Delights." She heard the bitterness in her voice, but did not try to control it. "That's the way the world turns. My world. Sometimes it's called 'having a little fun.' Sometimes--oh, it doesn't matter what we call it. It's life." She raised her eyes even though she knew he could not see her, turned away as he was. "Sarek, I have dishonored our friendship, and myself."
It was a very long time before he answered, again in a whisper. "Indeed." But somehow she had the impression that once again she had surprised him.
"Whatever happens, I shall never again behave toward you as I have today. You have my word."
As he turned toward her again she forced herself to meet his eyes, expecting the most damning condemnation she had ever received. But what she saw in his eyes was a desperate searching--almost hopeless, as though he were trapped behind an unscalable wall. And, yet still searching. Still hoping against hope that the impossible might somehow become the barely possible. She saw great pain and great sadness. And yet, still hope.
"You have my word," she repeated, surprised that her voice was not quite steady--as steady as her gaze.
"Whatever happens, Amanda?"
No, she thought wildly. I will not! But the fantasies would come--now, with his eyes full on hers, certain private fantasies that she somehow knew he could not fail to see in all their embarrassing detail. I will not! Never had she made such a supreme act of will, knowing that whatever the future held for them, the present was still the present, whatever had passed between them, the commitment had not been made, and it was not yet time to share her soul. The struggle was almost too much for her, even though she was intensely aware that he was making no attempt whatsoever to claim rights to the privacy of her mind. I will not. Inch by inch, like trying to cover open grillwork with sand. The effort was so great that her vision was not quite clear by the time she heard him say very softly:
"You learn quickly, Amanda Grayson."
She knew that she was shaking all over, and she was exhausted. But it was done.
"It's--very difficult." Her voice sounded far away, even to her. "Your standards are very high, Sarek."
"Your own standards would largely suffice."
Puzzled, she tried to see him more clearly, and her vision improved.
"You are honest," he said simply. "The Garden of Earthly Delights is an overlay transparency in your case," he went on quietly, yet with that curious tension that would not seem to leave him. "It does not change the figure underneath, but only adds accidents--which you invariably strip away yourself."
But suddenly he was distracted, looking toward the airtel. "Your father awaits you," he said, frowning.
For the first time since they had returned to the bench, Amanda glanced up toward the building, and saw that her father and Mimbi were seated together in the shadow of the façade facing the garden. Well, that was the end of that. But....
"Much has been said between us this afternoon," Sarek said quietly. "But there is yet much to be said. And there is still--time." The word seemed to cause him some slight pain in the very pronunciation, and he was still not himself. And suddenly she realized what his manner suggested. Once while she was still in school she had had a friend who often had migraine headaches that lasted for days, even with the most sophisticated treatment. And yet, her friend had exhibited this kind of tension only after days of battling the pain. Sarek had not been in pain when he came into the garden earlier. She was sure of it. And surely a Vulcan would be infinitely more capable of dealing with any physical pain than would a mere Earthling....
"I'm not tired," she said firmly, and her heart began to beat faster again.
"There is time, Amanda." Again he was simply stating a fact, and not reproving her. "Your father has expressed his wishes with respect to the way you spend the remaining hours until dinner. And I must...meditate." The word seemed to drift off into a silence that she could not break, much as she would have liked to.
In later years, she would also wonder why she did not accompany him as he walked toward the airtel, but instead stood staring after him as he approached her father and Mimbi--perhaps to avoid appearing discourteous by leaving without speaking to them again.
She stood watching the three of them almost without thought. Yet she almost missed Mimbi's reaction as Sarek came near.
The Zethan had been sitting on the grass, facing Grayson, its back in the direction that Sarek was approaching from. Watching absently, Amanda saw Mimbi raise its head slowly, as a human might look up incredulously at an unexpected apparition. Surely it had known that someone was approaching, she thought. Its ears were more finely tuned than Vulcan ears. But it was more than hearing. Mimbi's whole body tensed; she could see it happening even from where she stood watching at a distance.
And then Mimbi ducked. That was the only way she could think of to describe that involuntary pulling back, almost as though from a force field. As Sarek and her father conversed briefly, Mimbi rose and turned, looking down the garden. At her.
She turned away without meeting Mimbi's gaze. But there was no sense in feeling embarrassed. Mimbi was an empath, not a telepath. There was no way it could know what she had done.
Yet as the Zethan approached her, she began to fiddle with her tape player, which had now gone silent. "What was that all about?" she asked lightly, still not looking up.
"Our talk of 'home' was none too soon, Friend-of-my-heart," Mimbi answered softly.
She looked up then, and saw an entirely new expression in its eyes. But before she could identify that expression--tenderness? respect?--she suddenly realized what it had said.
But how could it know? Sarek had not spoken to it. "Perhaps," she said faintly.
The Zethan resumed its squat on the grass and continued thoughtfully, "The Vulcan's confusion is great. One assumes that he believed he had a bit more time." Eager for information, but tentative, respectful: "Is it so with Earth men as well?"
Trying to follow what appeared to be a new line of thought, Amanda concluded that Mimbi was now referring to Sarek's unexplained illness. "Well--yes. I guess so." But it was as though the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle lay scattered on a table before her, and she did not know the picture. A bit more time?
"This knowledge is valuable," Mimbi said gravely. "One does not understand such matters with ease. How long is the cycle of mating on Earth?"
Now totally at sea, Amanda found herself unable to relate to the Zethan's innocent white-sapphire stare. "Mimbi, humans--it's not like that. Humans don't have a cyclical mating drive. It's--well--continuous." How, she wondered, had they gotten on this subject?
Mimbi's eyes opened wide. "Are Vulcans, then, unusual in this respect?"
Amanda stared back. "How do you know that Vulcans are cyclical?"
"One assumes that it is so. Sarek's need to mate was quiescent until you and he spoke alone today. Now he is in great distress...." Mimbi's voice trailed off. "Friend-of-my-heart, is it improper for one to speak of this matter with you?"
"I think you'd better," Amanda said faintly. "What's the matter with Sarek?"
"You did not speak of it?"
"No, Mimbi, we didn't. What's happened to him?"
Mimbi's gaze dropped away from hers. "Perhaps one should ask his forgiveness. Were it his wish that you know of his condition, he would no doubt have informed you of it himself." Sadly, regretfully: "Do you not wish to mate with him, Amanda?"
"Yes, I do," she answered steadily, knowing that revealing her embarrassment would be like robbing a child of its innocence. "Mimbi, please tell me what's happened to him. I really don't understand." But she knew that she was beginning to understand, all too well, what tragic mischief she had made.
But Mimbi answered firmly, "A Zethan does not intentionally reveal information that has been withheld."
"I understand that, but--."
"Do you?" Mimbi gazed at her sadly. "Friend-of-my-heart, can you explain why it is that humans invariably follow the statement 'I understand' with the word 'but'?" When Amanda bowed her head, unable to answer, Mimbi went on gently. "In a society of empaths, the keeping of unintentional confidences affectively transmitted is mandatory."
"But I'm responsible," Amanda whispered. "I did something. A foolish thing." And she explained what she had done. "Do you understand? I'm responsible!"
"I--see." She knew that Mimbi was looking at her, but she could not meet its eyes now. There was a long silence. Finally Mimbi sighed. "The Vulcan is in great pain, Amanda. From the little one knows of such matters, one must assume that his pain will terminate only when you are mated."
Amanda looked up then. "You mean physically."
Again Mimbi's eyes opened wide. "Is it not done physically? One understands that the male--."
"Yes!" Amanda blurted, and realized in despair that she was blushing. "Yes, I'm--I'm sure that you know how it's done."
"One regrets that one has been offensive," Mimbi said softly.
"Oh, Mimbi, it's just--a human peculiarity. Basic Reproduction is taught in every school, planetwide, but at heart we really haven't changed much in several hundred years. I doubt that we ever will."
Mimbi cocked its head. "Your discomfort is an affliction of the circulatory organ?"
Even though her mischief had ended in tragedy less than an hour before, Amanda could not resist. "Yes," she said solemnly. "It's called puritanitis."
"This knowledge is valuable. One must remember such--."
"Oh, Mimbi, I'm teasing you. I'm sorry." But, she thought, I can't say I'm sorry to the one I've hurt the most. "Tell me what will happen to Sarek if we aren't mated. I must know."
Mimbi gazed at her silently, and its white-sapphire eyes grew cloudy. "I do not know, Amanda," it finally said. But its tone lacked conviction.
"Are you sure?"
Mimbi managed a weak smile--a pale imitation of its usual grin. "One should not speculate in such matters without factual data. Is it not a saying of your people: 'When in Rome ...'"
But they did not laugh together again that afternoon. Later, Amanda remembered that bleak, uncharacteristic smile. And in memory it seemed almost haunted.
"The Vulcan ambassador-he is very efficient," the Dadrian ambassador was saying, again in his own language. "He will urgently desire that there not be any widespread unrest at any gathering for which he is responsible. Even if the Commodore-he does not follow our instructions, Sarek will cooperate--to a point. Provided...." He had saved this point for the last, hoping to forestall a lengthy argument. "Provided the Subject-she is not harmed."
There was a silence during which the Captain locked gazes with him. Finally the Captain said hoarsely, "You are of the People. Such a thing should not be asked of me."
"The Subject-she is not of the People."
"No matter. I am the Leader. It is my right--."
"Nor will she be our captive, Captain-he. Simply an 'honored guest.' For a time."
"It is my right! I am the Leader!"
"I am the Leader here."
The Captain rose abruptly from the we-plan position, towering over the ambassador who remained seated, outwardly calm. For a moment it seemed to him that the Captain was about to turn his back--a gesture which, in context, would be the equivalent of gross insubordination. But the Captain did not turn away. He stood, silent but seething, still facing the ambassador.
"It is well that you reconsider your position," the ambassador said smoothly, and rose. "Vulcans are most concerned with propriety in such matters. Come. The time approaches. You will use your private device-for-talk."
"I have been so instructed," the Captain hissed.
"The matter will go quickly. Perhaps only ten time particles will pass between my departure and my return. Be in readiness for the signal."
Amanda had opened the window wide, for the night was as fragrant and invigorating as the day had been debilitating. Yet she did not stand looking out, but sat on the foot of her bed in her nightgown and robe, head bowed, staring at her hands.
The Dadrian ambassador materialized directly in front of her. She had not seen the effect before, but had only read of its use by military vessels. Yet she was instantly aware of what was happening. For in addition to the sparkling visual effect, the alien presence in the room was almost palpable--acrid, oppressive, like bitter smoke, and yet with no perceptible odor.
She had turned off all the lighting in the room and so as soon as the Dadrian completely materialized, almost total darkness descended once more. She saw the vague outline of a figure a few inches taller than she, but nothing more. Nothing but the faint gleam of something in his hand.
"You will not be harmed," the hissing voice said in English--like a whisper, and yet almost like a muted scream. "But you will cooperate. Are you familiar with the properties of a matter-energy transporter?"
She could not answer. There was in her mind no point of reference by which she could understand the situation.
"You will rise," the alien hissed. "And you will stand still. Do as I say."
Her mind groped. Dimly she began to perceive that in a few seconds the walls of the room would no longer surround her.
"For what purpose--" she began.
"For what purpose," she repeated, not rising, "do you intrude?"
"All will become clear." The faintly shining instrument in his hand moved slightly. "Rise, please."
It came to her that she really had no choice at all.
It was the middle of the Vulcan night before Robert Grayson decided that he had no choice but to notify the charge d'affaires--even though the letter had specified that no one be notified.
The very existence of the letter lent an other-earthly terror to a situation that was already beyond the limits of Grayson's worst nightmares. In an age when long-distance written communication was virtually obsolete, the letter was like an artifact out of the past of his own world. He himself had not written a letter since he was in school, and the flat, pale green substance on which was printed the message that seared his soul was so thin as to be almost non-existent, and yet so sturdy that it could not have been torn by the strongest of men.
"Read it," he said dully to the charge d'affaires, and turned away.
The Vulcan seemed, at the moment, to be carved from a particularly rigid piece of stone, and Grayson did not wish to burden him with an Earthman's emotional reactions to the situation. Collapsing on the couch in the room where he and Sarek only that afternoon had discussed the possibility of an incident at the Conference, Grayson buried his face in his hands, not wanting to look at Mimbi. The Zethan seemed to have a better grip on its emotions than he had at the moment. But whenever he looked at it, Mimbi seemed to shiver as though with a violent chill.
The letter was brief, and Grayson had memorized it already. In fact, he was sure that he would never forget a word of it.
Your daughter is at present our guest. Where you shall not know she will remain our guest until you have joined her and until other matters have been attended to. You have information, which we desire you to share with us. Your daughter and you will be returned to your rooms after our business has been completed in a manner satisfactory to all.
You will not speak of this to the other members they of the Conference or to any other being. No one shall know of this.
At precisely 26.5 Vulcan hours, you will take a position in the center of the unit for socializing in your group of rooms. The remainder of the arrangements for your transportation have been made.
The words lay like a vile deposit at the center of Grayson's being. Yet even now, something tugged at his shattered consciousness: the phrase the other members they of the Conference. In a night of grotesques, the error seemed but one more grotesque. And yet--the writer seemed to have a certain command of stilted, stylized English. Enough to get his message across anyway. The other members they...?
"May I?" the Vulcan was asking.
Grayson looked up to see Sarek indicating that he wanted to show the letter to Mimbi.
"It has seen it," he said.
"Indeed." Vulcan and Zethan exchanged a look that was totally incomprehensible to the Earthman.
"Is there something I missed?" he asked desperately. "Look, don't hold out on me." He realized that his voice was shaking. "She was in her room. There's no way they could have gotten her out of there except by means of a transporter. That means that she's on one of those ships up there--."
"It may mean that," Sarek said expressionlessly.
"Blast you!" Grayson rose, almost incoherent. "You--can't you even--."
"My Friend," Mimbi said beseechingly, "you have gone against instructions, perhaps endangered Amanda's life, because you wished to have the benefit of the Vulcan's ability to put logic before emotion in this situation." A brief glance at Sarek--so brief that Grayson almost missed it. "Please--do not censor him for that which you require of him."
Grayson slumped to the couch once more. "I--." Forcing himself: "I--regret what I started to say, Sarek. Please disregard it. What is it that you and Mimbi see in that letter?"
"There is a probability of 94.85% that your daughter is even now on the Dadrian ship."
"Did you not notice the phraseology of the sentence 'You will not speak of this to the other members they of the Conference'?"
"Yes, I did, as a matter of fact. This is Dadrian phraseology?"
"It is a Dadrian construction--one that is not used by any other race now in attendance at the Conference." If anything, the Vulcan's voice was more expressionless than usual. "The Dadrian ambassador did not wish to be in residence at the airtel during the Conference. He wished to return to his ship every night and is, I should estimate, there at this time. Hence the high probability that Miss Grayson is there, too."
"Then we can--," Grayson began, and then stopped. They could what? Attack the Dadrian ship in space?
"We can do nothing," Sarek said calmly, "but follow the instructions in the letter, perhaps with--variations." A faint frown.
But Grayson had not heard. "Sarek, she's seen them. What--how can they let her--." He could not finish it.
"She may be blindfolded. If not, they may intend to do precisely what they say they will do--return both of you to Vulcan when their 'business' has been transacted. In that event, the ship could, if properly prepared, outrun pursuers with little difficulty. Or they may plan to kill you both."
Just like that, Grayson thought, but kept from saying it out loud with considerable effort. Poor Madeline, seeing a bear in every bush and a suitor for Amanda in every garden. "I wonder what information they want?" he said aloud.
"Speculation on that matter would be futile at this point." Sarek noted the time. "Commodore, we have little time. There is no sensing device now extant that would enable the Dadrians to ascertain the race of a humanoid standing at the designated coordinates. I would suggest that you permit me to take your place."
Grayson gaped at him, noticing with a small part of his mind that Mimbi had buried its face in its arms with something very like despair.
"It is logical," the Vulcan said, and Mimbi winced slightly. "Your emotions would preclude your operating at maximum efficiency in the present circumstances. However, Miss Grayson and I have established a rapport that may prove useful."
"In freeing her, unharmed, of course."
"F---." Grayson stared, unable to continue. But he was aware that Mimbi was scrutinizing the Vulcan with the intense concentration of a technician surveying an unfamiliar object with highly sensitized equipment. Finally Grayson said helplessly, "You won't be blindfolded." It was not a question.
"Nor would you," the Vulcan answered.
Even Sarek was startled by the unexpected voice of Madeline Grayson from the doorway of her bedroom. "Excuse me. I'm sorry to intrude, Mr. Ambassador, but my daughter isn't in her room, and I'm worried."
Grayson rose hurriedly and guided his wife back to their bedroom. At the door, he turned briefly to Sarek. "I'll be back in a minute." And he and his wife disappeared into the bedroom, closing the door behind them.
In the silence that followed the closing of the door, Vulcan and Zethan regarded each other without speech for a moment. Then Sarek turned away--deliberately, but obviously without intent to offend. As though only partially aware of what he was doing, he picked up a ceramic artifact from a table and examined it closely. The hand with which he held it was completely steady.
"Are you aware," Mimbi asked into the silence, "that Dadrians by custom treat female captives as part of the spoils of w--."
"I am aware." The Vulcan did not raise his voice, and the hand remained steady. But somehow the ceramic artifact slipped from his fingers and crashed to the floor, shattering into a dozen pieces.
"Friend-of-my-better-self," Mimbi said gently, "I feel a great unhappiness with your pain of body and spirit."
The Vulcan froze. "Leave me, Zethan!" It was only a whisper, but the lethal instincts of countless warrior ancestors clamored to be heard.
Mimbi swallowed once and then made for the door.
"Wait." Sarek stood erect, but his face was in shadow, for the lighting fixture was behind him. "I regret that you have been frightened." His voice was tight with his effort at control. "You have spoken of that of which Vulcans do not speak, even among ourselves."
"Ah," Mimbi whispered, heartbroken. "I am devastated." Then it turned, curious in spite of itself. "The Vulcan circulatory organ is also afflicted with puritanitis?" Silence. "I ask forgiveness. One assumed that this malady was indigenous only to Earthmen. This knowledge is valuable."
Still silence. Then Sarek said expressionlessly, "It is illogical to assume that similar effects always indicate similar causes."
Mimbi stared, confused. "Have I made a false analogy, Friend-of-my-better-self?"
"Indeed." A pause, and then Sarek went on. "Why did you not interfere when I proposed to undertake this mission?"
"I am forbidden to speak."
"Your mission will succeed or fail in a few hours. One assumes that, within that time your competence in this matter will exceed that of My Friend."
"You will inform the Earthman of the situation after I have gone?"
If Mimbi heard the slight edge of desperation in the still controlled voice, that fact did not register. It turned, outraged, near to tears.
"Vulcan, a Zethan does not inform!"
Staring defiantly at the shadow-face, it could not read the expression there. But it was not totally surprised when the answer came, almost in a whisper.
"Yes, I know." A barely perceptible sigh. "It would seem, as the Commodore might say, that we are 'even'."
"It would seem so," Mimbi agreed stiffly, the tears still in its voice. "Sarek of Vulcan, my apologies. But I would ask your permission to speak in aphorisms. It is the custom of my people when--in circumstances where offense is easily given."
"Mixed motives are not by definition illogical."
Silence. Mimbi shivered a little once more.
"It is the logic of nature," Mimbi went on carefully, "that opposite poles attract throughout the galaxy."
"Specious reasoning, Zethan." Almost another sigh. "This is not the time--."
"Hear me," Mimbi said softly. But its voice carried clearly. "You will not find her better, Friend-of-my-better-self. In the years since your mate ceased to exist, you have traveled far, and also lived among your people. Have you then expectations of finding perfection beyond the farthest star? That is Earthmen's logic."
Mimbi never knew what might have happened to it had not its Friend returned to the room at that moment.
Amanda and the Dadrian ambassador waited in a small room in silence. The room contained only the console and two transporter pads, housed in a small alcove. She had not been permitted to leave the room, nor had she seen anyone but the ambassador since they had come aboard the ship. She had, however, had the impression that someone had just left the room--perhaps after operating the console--when she and the ambassador materialized. The door was closing softly, and the room was filled with the lingering, smoky, wispy-vicious aura of yet another Dadrian.
"You should not have permitted me to see you," she said now, almost conversationally. The whole thing was like a mad charade, and she still could not situate it in what she had always perceived as reality. The fact that her statement and its implications could be a proximate cause of her own death was obvious to her intellect, but her emotions refused to apprehend that fact. "I can identify you now. The Federation--."
"The United Federation of Planets is no longer of concern to me and my people," the Dadrian hissed. "Our presence here is part of our mission. Once that mission has been completed successfully, we will cease to exist as far as the Federation is concerned."
"I doubt that."
"Doubt as you will, Miss Grayson. It is a fact. If your father cooperates with us, we will transport you both back to the airtel gardens and then immediately leave orbit at top speed, which is just a bit faster than any Federation vessel can yet travel. All has been calculated, and all is in readiness." The Dadrian smiled. "Are you quite comfortable?"
"Quite." The small straight chairs that had been placed in the room for both of them were anything but comfortable; it was obvious to her that Dadrians had not the same proportions that humans had, for she felt as though she had been sitting on the sharp edge of a cliff with a rock wall at her back for the last hour. But she was not about to admit that. This was the first time that the Dadrian had engaged her in conversation, and she resolved not to waste that opportunity. "What if my father doesn't 'cooperate'?"
"That," the Dadrian said softly, "would be extremely unfortunate, for both of you. Your father understands that, I am sure." He rose and began to study the console. "It is almost time." He smiled thinly. "It would appear that your father is more than prompt." He made some adjustments. "The mechanism is now programmed for your father's ascent, as well as for the return of both of you to the gardens. A gesture of my...good faith?" Amanda nodded almost imperceptibly. "Good faith. A most interesting concept."
"What is it that you want my father to tell you?"
"You ask a great many questions, Miss Grayson. Your father-he will shortly provide you with the answers, I trust." The Dadrian frowned. "Your pardon. My English is not always flawless." He stared at the instruments for a moment, and then, apparently satisfied, activated the mechanism.
Peculiar sound, she thought, and then shivered for the first time. There was no way out of this, and yet her emotions refused to grasp that fact even though her mind had grasped it long ago. It had to be military information they wanted, perhaps something about the plans for the United Federation fleet. Else why would they have chosen her father? But he could not and would not give them any military information--of that she was sure. And then what?
A figure began to shimmer into existence on one of the pads, and she rose, wanting her father to see her as soon as his vision returned--wanting to reassure him that she was still all right. And then? What would they do to him when he refused to cooperate? Her emotions swam nearer the surface. The kindest, sweetest man she had ever known. In all the universe, there was only one who meant more to her....
The figure on the transporter pad materialized and became recognizable. And Amanda gave a small cry as all the terror that had been submerged burst upon her in full force.
Don't touch him, something seemed to scream at her. You've hurt him enough already. And so she forced herself to stop, her hands clasped together for a moment in anguish as Sarek's eyes met hers.
"Go back!" Her hand flew up, entreating, as though to push him back into matterless energy before it was too late. "They don't want you! Please--."
"That is quite impossible, Miss Grayson," he said calmly. "The ambassador here can verify that fact." Calm as stone. And yet, in one instant, his eyes had appraised her completely, and underneath the stony composure she saw a flash of pure horror. It was gone in an instant. But that instant had been enough: for the first time since she had been taken from her bedroom, she realized that she was wearing absolutely nothing but a thin summer nightgown and a lightweight flowered robe.
She deliberately lowered all mental barriers, focusing her entire consciousness on projecting one word: opaque. But she never knew whether her desperate yet calculated attempt at reassurance was successful. The Dadrian's hiss cut across her consciousness--and, she was sure, across Sarek's--severing whatever link she had accomplished like the crack of a whip.
"Sarek of Vulcan, you are a fool!" The weapon that he had used in her room was now quite visible, pointed directly at Sarek. "Ten paces, Vulcan. No closer. Hear me."
He was afraid, damn him. Amanda stifled a quick surge of nervous laughter. Scared out of his green, wispy-vicious wits. But she was almost shivering now.
"As you wish." Sarek's eyes left her for the first time since he had materialized, and flicked briefly toward the Dadrian. Hate. She was sure of it. At that moment the Vulcan could quite cheerfully have sliced the Dadrian up like a cucumber and fed him down the disposal chute. But that couldn't be right, she thought dazedly. Vulcans don't kill.... "Let us speak, then, of the matter at hand."
"I have no wish to speak with you, Vulcan." The Dadrian's eyes zigzagged from Sarek to her and back again. "You have not the information my superiors require."
"Indeed?" Sarek's eyebrows rose. "What a pity. I would therefore suggest--." He took a step toward his adversary.
There was no arguing with that. The Dadrian was not quite as terrified as he had been at first, but he knew Vulcans--perhaps better than she did, she thought. Ten paces it would be.
"Miss Grayson." The Vulcan turned toward her almost casually. "I find it disturbing that we should meet again under circumstances so different from those of our last meeting." To Amanda's utter surprise, he bowed in his most polished diplomatic manner, and both she and the Dadrian stared. Now what the--? "Such a pleasant conversation we had this afternoon. Do you recall it?"
"Well--yes. Of course," Amanda answered faintly. What in the universe--?"
"Miss Grayson," Sarek continued, turning slightly toward the Dadrian with smooth politeness, "related to me this afternoon certain aphorisms from a Terran volume entitled The Garden of Earthly Delights. I recall in particular--." He turned again toward Amanda, almost smiling, and she wondered hopelessly if he had permanently lost his mind or was suffering from a temporary malady. "--An aphorism that you designated as being of most ancient origin." Suddenly his gaze locked with hers. "Do you recall the substance of that aphorism, Miss Grayson?"
Mother, she thought wildly. Having tea with the minister. She smiled serenely into his eyes. "Of course, Mr. Ambassador."
"I have reconsidered." Thoughtfully. Almost as though he were genuinely pondering a complicated problem in computer technology. "I now believe that in certain situations, this most ancient aphorism may be extremely relevant."
The Dadrian made a noise that sounded as though he were spitting. "Vulcan, have you taken leave of your senses? This is no time to discuss Terran philosophy!" Still pointing his weapon, he circled warily toward Amanda. "It will be necessary to confine you both until we can again establish contact with Miss Grayson's father. I would suggest that you.... Miss Grayson, are you well?"
She had put her hand to her forehead, and it was indeed shaking, and quite without pretense. "I--I don't know. I'm frightened." And how true that was. But she could not dwell on that. If she gave too good a performance, she might even convince herself. "Do--do you suppose--." She reached for the chair, letting the shaking of her hand become quite obvious.
The Dadrian was looking full at her, perplexed, but obviously taken in. And she could feel Sarek tensing every muscle--that even though he had not moved.
She let her knees give way just as she had that afternoon in the garden. But this time there was no one to catch her. Sarek had not started toward her, but the instant the Dadrian's attention wandered completely from him, he moved with a swiftness that she would have believed impossible until now. Breaking her fall herself, she steeled herself for the inevitable--the impact against the Dadrian's skull, or perhaps a garroting arm around the neck from behind. And so she was totally unprepared for what actually happened.
But that was impossible. Sarek could not possibly have rendered an adult humanoid unconscious by simply pinching him.
Before she could mentally catalogue this new bit of knowledge, he had grasped her arms, and all thought of anything else vanished into a void of shock. Had he shaken her?
"Have you been harmed?" The desperate control was still there. She could feel it as though it were a steel band around her own head. But the intensity of his suffering was almost palpable.
"No, of course not," she said gently. "Please don't worry about me." Don't touch him. The need to put her arms around him and somehow comfort him against the pain that was her doing was overpowering. But Mimbi's warning was very much with her, and they were still in great danger. "Sarek, he told me he'd programmed that--that thing to return me and my father to the airtel gardens. A gesture of good faith, he said. Can you--do you know how to work it?"
He dropped his hands to his sides--not the all-in-one dropping away of a person who has turned his mind to something else, but a consciously directed sequence of movements. "He who 'works it' is not ordinarily one of those who are being transported." He seemed a bit disoriented, and she felt something close to panic. But the consciously directed sequence continued--within his thought processes as well as in his physical movements. "Go to the platform. I will see what can be done. There is a time lapse between the activation of the mechanism and the commencement of the dematerialization. I will endeavor to join you before--."
"No! I won't go without you!"
"Amanda, attend." It was scarcely more than a whisper, but she could hear the desperation in it. "You are in more danger here than I am. Do you understand?"
The bitter, acrid presence filled the room, and even without turning Amanda knew that yet another Dadrian had come in, closing the door behind him.
She dared not look at Sarek. Could they use the same ploy a second time?
"I am the Captain," the newcomer hissed. "I was given instructions to remain outside, but I see now that the ambassador-he was not able to carry out his plans." There was a hint of triumph in that tone. "Stand away from the female, Vulcan-he. I am the Leader here now."
Sarek did not reply. Not did he move for what seemed like an interminable time. Then, slowly and with great precision, he took Amanda's wrist in his left hand and pulled her behind him, taking a position between her and the Dadrian Captain, and facing the Captain. She could not see his face, standing behind him as she was. But at the moment she did not want to. The grip on her wrist was impersonal, ungentle, and very nearly tight enough to stop the circulation.
"Do you have a weapon?" he asked the Dadrian. And Amanda's eyes dropped to the floor where the Dadrian ambassador still lay. The weapon he had been holding was nowhere in sight. And Sarek's free hand was in front of him. Somewhere.
There was another spitting sound much like the one the ambassador had made when confronted with two people inexplicably determined to discuss Terran philosophy. "Where did you get that?"
"No matter. Is it your intention to challenge me, Captain? I should like to suggest that such an action would be most unwise."
"My crew--" the Captain began.
"You are not, at the moment, in contact with your crew. Nor do you have a weapon in your hand. And if you make one move toward that door, toward me or toward this woman, I shall fire the weapon I hold in my hand. I do not know whether the result would be lethal, for I am not familiar with this weapon. But I estimate the probabilities at 68.53% that I should kill you where you stand." Slowly Sarek released Amanda's wrist. "I must examine the console of the transporter mechanism," he said with so little change of tone that she had trouble realizing that he was now speaking to her. "Can you fire if that should become necessary?"
She took the weapon from him and stood facing the Dadrian while Sarek moved quickly to the console. The Dadrian met her gaze steadily, and a smile played about the corners of his mouth. A shudder passed through her, but she held the weapon steadily aimed at its target until Sarek returned to take it from her.
"Go to the platform. Now, Amanda."
She went, knowing that there was no other way. If she could have operated the mechanism herself, she would have argued with him. But then it was probably better that she couldn't. He was, she knew, in no mood for argument.
It was only a few moments later that they both materialized in the airtel gardens, not far from where they had conversed that afternoon. Even as she dematerialized, Amanda had not been sure whether she would arrive on Vulcan alone. She had seen Sarek start toward the platform, the weapon in his hand still pointed at the Dadrian Captain. Then the whole scene had dissolved. But when awareness returned, Sarek was with her in the garden.
Her first impulse was to run. The Dadrians had proved themselves capable of yanking her out of her own bedroom; surely they would have no trouble locating her and Sarek, standing perfectly still, alone, in the middle of the deserted garden. But Sarek, much more knowledgeable than she in these matters, simply stood as though rooted to the spot where he had materialized, staring down at the Dadrian ambassador's weapon, which he still held in his hand. The gardens were lighted by floodlights at night, but the place where they now stood was a well of darkness, surrounded by hulking, boulder-like trees. And so she was unable to see his face.
"Sarek, shouldn't we--can't they find us and get us back if we just--?"
He hurled the weapon away from him with such force that she could almost feel the air recoil from it. There was a dull clunk somewhere nearby, and in the silence that followed it she could hear his irregular breathing slow to near its normal rhythm.
"I took the liberty of insuring the mechanism's inoperability for a short period after our use of it," he said. "I would estimate that the Dadrian ship is even now preparing to leave orbit, if it has not already done so. We shall meet again in war--or not at all. I would estimate the probabilities at...."
His voice died away. And it came to her suddenly that she was alone in the dark, in her nightgown, with a male of an alien species who was even now struggling to control forces that she, herself, had set in motion only hours ago, and only meters away from where they now stood.
Yet even though she could hear him move slowly toward her, she did not move.
"Amanda." It was barely more than a sigh, barely louder than the faint breeze that floated through the garden. His hands closed on her shoulders again, and again he shook her--but gently this time, almost wearily. Weary to his bones, and yet so very far from being at rest. "What am I going to do with you?"
An Earthman might well have asked the same question, and possibly in the same tone of helpless bewilderment. Yet from an Earthman, it would not have been a real question, but simply an idiomatic statement of utter confusion. But she calculated the probabilities at slightly over 99.9% that Vulcans had no such idiom, and wished that she could see his eyebrows when she answered his very real question.
"You could marry me," she said quietly, and not at all the way she would have coyly answered an Earthman in similar circumstances.
"I have, of course, considered this alternative," he answered expressionlessly. "It is not entirely logical."
"There are--varieties of logic," she ventured, wondering idly why this conversation seemed quite sane and reasonable at the moment, and whether it would still seem so in retrospect.
"So I have been told," he answered, and she thought she detected a faint irony in his tone. "I have recently been instructed in the logic of nature, and also in a certain species of logic practiced by Earthmen in--similar circumstances."
"Indeed?" Startled as she was, the word slipped out before she could stop it. "I mean--you have?"
"The problem is...most interesting."
"It's not a 'problem' to me, Sarek," she said gravely. "Not any more."
He stood quite still for what seemed to her like a very long time. Her parents must be worried sick. She and Sarek should go in. But she could not move. His hands still rested lightly on her shoulders, but she sensed that he had withdrawn deep inside himself, perhaps for one last profound soul searching, subsequent to her oblique but pointed revelation that her own decision had already been made.
When? she wondered. Here in the garden with Mimbi? Sitting on the foot of her bed, absorbed in the dawning realization that she did not feel trapped, but only committed?
No. Her decision had been made at the moment he materialized on the Dadrian ship--the moment when she had realized that of all the people she loved, Sarek of Vulcan was the one whom she most desperately wanted not to see in danger.
His hands released her shoulders and gently but purposefully enfolded hers, raised them and laid them on either side of his face. Still unable to see him, she could only guess at the meaning of this gesture, which she sensed had little to do with affection, as she knew it, and even less to do with sex. Something was about to happen that would leave them both forever changed, and quite suddenly, an instant before his fingers touched her temples, she felt real fear for the first time since they had returned from the Dadrian ship. And, unable to control her essentially involuntary reaction, she withdrew her hands and slipped away from him.
"Please," she said shakily, "I can't see you. Can't we--."
"There is no need to see, Amanda." Sadness, but strangely enough, not disappointment. He had in no way withdrawn. He was simply waiting.
"I don't understand what--."
"I believe," he said softly, "that you do."
Again they were silent, and this time it was she who searched her soul--and came eventually to the ultimate question: was her perception of the essence of Amanda Grayson so tenuous that it could be destroyed in the sharing?
The answer did not frighten her, but strengthened her.
"I'm ready now," she said, and raised her hands to him again.
Pain. And at the end of pain, death.
She seemed to be sinking, reeling with shock and horror. Oh, Mimbi, why didn't you tell me? Sinking. Falling. And yet she dimly perceived that physically she was in no danger of falling. The sensation was entirely internalized, and it was from within that she was steadied and borne upwards again, steadied and reassured by a strength that she knew was not her own, but his. Pain remained, and also the acute awareness of the proximity of death. But in spite of all, there was a clarity, and an order present within her, that was as bright and perfect as one of Mimbi's tears. She perceived, almost in an instant, a life pageant--strange and totally alien, and yet somehow never to seem strange or alien to her again. The image of the mother who had been scholar and teacher at times slightly overlapped the image of Amanda, and she experienced a tender amusement that seemed to be mirrored or echoed in his consciousness--perhaps a bit ruefully, but with nothing she could call embarrassment. A father, as devoted and concerned as her own for her, and yet.... Did he love you? her mind questioned. And the answer, which was neither yes nor no, came without words so that words could not be a barrier to her understanding of it. Wife and child dead, beyond reach. Acceptance for one death, confusion for the child's. And she thought: I'm so sorry....
Loneliness. Duty. Searching. Her mind could not encompass it all, but there would be years for that. The last few weeks since he had met her were perceived by her as a rush of confusion, conflict, longing, continuous struggle to abstract, to consider logically, to meditate on the course of life while the Conference directed the use of time and demanded commitment to duty. The last few hours were a discordant crash, from the contemplation of which she emerged with a silent scream, even as one struggles to awaken from a nightmare. And yet, even in the holocaust of pain, single images emerged. Mimbi....
Oh, Mimbi, she thought, now actually near to tears. Give up, my beauty. You can't out-logic a Vulcan.
She knew as they approached her parents' suite that the link with Sarek had not been completely broken, and probably never would be. The commitment that Amanda-who-was had so feared was now a part of Amanda-who-is, making her not less herself, but more.
And she would need the strength of it in the next few minutes. For the two who loved her most (Do you love me? she asked without speech, and the answer, which was neither yes nor no and for which there were no words, was at once all she had expected and more than she had hoped for)--those two would never understand how they had lost her forever, and why.
"I will help you," he said aloud, and she nodded without understanding why and looked up into his eyes. Knowing and known, accepted and accepting, he was nevertheless near exhaustion and yet so far from peace that for a moment she almost turned away from the suite. "No," he said steadily. "There is time. Your parents await you, and they are suffering."
"So are you."
"There is time, Amanda."
For a few more moments she allowed her gaze to linger on his, wordlessly repeating the promise she had made without words in the garden. Then she opened the door and they went into the suite.
The first person she saw was Mimbi, crouched on the floor near the doorway. It looked up quickly, before either of her parents, who were huddled together on the sofa with their backs to the door, knew that she was in the room. Joy broke over its face like a radiance--and then paused hung, suspended. Its eyes went to Sarek and then back to her, and a tear spilled over almost immediately, shining like an amethyst. Then Mimbi rose slowly and raised its two right hands as it had done in saluting Sarek that afternoon. But now its eyes were on her.
"Live long and prosper, Friend-of-my-heart," Mimbi whispered softly--so softly that her parents did not turn.
Then its eyes returned to Sarek, and it seemed to stand a little taller, almost with defiance, and yet without any real fear. And suddenly Amanda remembered that Sarek was now aware of Mimbi's revelations to her that afternoon, and that that knowledge had not pleased him at all.
"It would appear," Sarek said very softly, "that Zethans do, on occasion, 'inform'." But just as Mimbi was not really afraid, Sarek did not seem really angry.
"Knowledge," Mimbi said firmly, "is required before responsibility can be evaluated and discharged. It was her right to know, Friend-of-my-better-self. And my duty to tell her."
"Indeed?" But it was only a sigh. And if her parents had not turned and seen her at that moment, distracting her, Amanda would later have known for sure whether she had heard what she thought she heard: a very tired, reasonably patient, but extremely un-Vulcan "Go away, Mimbi. Just go away."