by Claire Gabriel
There were times when he found Mimbi most illogical.
It called his mother Friend-of-my-heart when all knew that Zethans had no circulatory organ. It called his father Friend-of-my-better-self when its "self" was obviously a totality. And it called him Small-friend-of-many-colors even though he was eleven Vulcan years old, and one color all over.
"Mimbi," he said aloud. "I do not understand you. You are most illogical."
His mother glanced at him sharply, and he wondered if he had again sounded what she called "condescending." They had discussed the matter in some detail only recently--in the walled garden where they now sat with Mimbi, on just such a warm, dry, early summer morning as this. Then, too, he had been feeding his sehlat cub, I-Chaya, who had been his almost constant companion since shortly after the first I-Chaya had been killed in the desert four years ago.
His mother had, on that previous occasion, explained that in other cultures, children who spoke to adults in the tone he used when he was expressing his perception of an apparent lapse of logic were considered ill mannered. "Your father and I often have guests who are not Vulcans," she had reminded him gently. "To one who is not of this planet, Spock, your tone appears--well--condescending, although I know that you do not intend it to appear so." He knew that she spoke the truth; his few meetings with his human grandmother had taught him that humans often said "I know you don't mean that, dear," when they meant just the opposite, but his mother seldom prevaricated. Also, her use of a formal diction that was somewhat uncharacteristic to her told him that she took him seriously and was not addressing him as she would a small child. And so he had listened with attention, and soberly promised to respect her wishes in the matter, all the time trying very hard not to be conscious of how much he enjoyed these moments they spent alone together early in the morning.
Now he glanced at her questioningly, and she seemed about to speak when Mimbi interposed, "And why do you find me illogical, Spock?"
It sat near his mother, but on the ground rather than on the bench next to her. One set of arms was wound around its drawn-up legs, and the other two elbows were on its knees, hands cupping its chin. Spock, who had never seen a jack o'lantern or a scarecrow, simply saw his seemingly ageless Zethan friend as a very thin orange creature with two sets of arms and a round orange face that now seemed almost bisected horizontally by a wide grin.
"Well--" Spock glanced at his mother again, but she now wore a resigned smile and seemed to be listening for his answer. "You call me Small-friend-of-many-colors, Mimbi. But I am now eleven Vulcan years old and one color all over. This seems most illogical to me."
For some reason, his mother briefly rolled her eyes skyward and then bent to pet I-Chaya the second, who had finished his breakfast and was expressing his undying affection for her by whining softly and licking her hand. But Mimbi quickly became serious.
"I see." Thoughtfully: "Do you know what a compromise is?"
"Let us compromise then. I shall never again call you Small if you will permit me to continue to call you Friend-of-many-colors."
"Spock--" Again Mimbi smiled, but this time tenderly. "I could never explain that to a Vulcan."
His mother, too, was smiling now, but he did not care why. To a Vulcan. At that moment, he would have thrown his arms around Mimbi and hugged it if such a display would not have been in very bad taste. Instead, he said gravely, "I do not follow your logic, but the compromise you propose is agreeable." Then, distracted: "Come, I-Chaya. Do not disturb Mother. She is entertaining a guest."
I-Chaya immediately ran to where Spock sat cross-legged in the ground and affectionately knocked the boy flat on his back. Still barely more than a cub, the sehlat was already nearly as large as a full grown collie, and his exuberant affection for his young master was difficult to control. But Spock immediately laid both hands on the animal's neck and gazed into I-Chaya's eyes. Being so young himself, he had never been able to establish sufficient contact with the first I-Chaya to maintain effective discipline. But this I-Chaya was much younger than the other had been when he died, and Spock's mental discipline had improved considerably over the last four years. In a moment the sehlat had settled down with his head on Spock's knee as the boy resumed his cross-legged position.
Then he became aware of his mother's conversation with Mimbi.
"Shall I be staying with you too long?" the Zethan was asking.
"You could never do that," Amanda responded affectionately. "Surely you know that by now, Mimbi. But--" She hesitated, seemingly unable to find the right words, and appearing a little embarrassed--a reaction that bewildered Spock more than a little.
He knew that the Zethan was one of his mother's dearest friends, and that his father also admired Mimbi, if for reasons that Spock did not clearly understand. They had all anticipated this visit with pleasure--but perhaps even his mother could not have looked forward to Mimbi's arrival as he had. Today was the beginning of his longest school holiday of the year--sixteen Vulcan days (or what his mother persisted in calling "about two weeks") of sheer loneliness. With Mimbi there, he would not be so constantly aware that he still had no close friends his own age.
"It might not be the best time for us to have a houseguest," his mother was saying carefully, looking straight at Mimbi now. "I'm not sure, but--life goes on." Still the direct, level look, as though she were attempting to convey something beyond words. "You understand."
After a moment Mimbi said softly, "Friend-of-my-heart, I shall not cause you or Sarek any...distress." Then it turned to smile at Spock. "Tell me, Spock, would you like to show me the desert by night this time? We talked of it five years ago, but you had not then accomplished your kahs-wan."
The word brought a flood of images to Spock's mind, not all of them connected with the formal maturity test Mimbi had referred to. Even now, it was difficult for him to separate in his memory the actual kahs-wan from that other time....
"What is it, Spock?" his mother asked. And he realized that he was frowning.
I must remember-- "Mother, do you recall our cousin Selek?"
"Yes." But his mother, too, was frowning.
Spock flexed his fingers, recalling how neatly Selek had rendered the vicious La-Mantya unconscious. He too was now skilled in the technique, thanks to Selek's instruction. But the gesture was unconscious, for his mind was on other matters.
"Selek told me something. About Vulcans." And about myself, he thought. "What you do not yet understand, Spock--" But try as he would, he could not remember. He dimly recalled that, shortly after that particular conversation with Selek, the first I-Chaya--the old and dear friend who had attacked the La-Mantya as it pursued the seven-year-old Spock--had begun to die, having been grazed by the predator's poisoned claws. The import of Selek's words had been obscured by the need to make decisions and to act on them, and finally by grief at I-Chaya's death. A child's grief, Spock thought now, trying to ignore the ache as though it had never existed. And yet: "What you do not yet understand...." And the boy said aloud, "But I can't remember what he said."
"You were only a child then," his mother said, and smiled into his eyes. At her oblique recognition of the fact that he was a child then but not now, he felt a great need to smile back, followed by an even greater need to hide the first.
"I should like to send a tape to Selek," he said, looking away from her love so that he could more easily ignore his own. "There is something I should like to ask him."
After a moment's hesitation, his mother said, "You may not get an answer, Spock. Two years ago, your father had occasion to meet his cousin, Sasek. He told Sasek about Selek's visit to us, and Sasek was--surprised. He said his son was elsewhere on the planet during the month of Tasmeen in the year 8877. He didn't think it likely that--that it was the real Selek who visited us then."
Spock stared, unable to comprehend. "Then who was it who saved my life?"
"We don't know."
"Friend-of-many-colors, you are alive," Mimbi said gently. "Does it matter who it was who saved you?"
"He was my cousin," Spock said firmly. "I knew him." But he could not explain what he meant by I knew him.
"Yes," his mother said softly. "I know what you mean. Your father and I--it seemed that we knew him too, somehow." She shivered a little. "Well, he was there when you needed him, whoever he was."
"Why were you alone in the desert, Spock?" Mimbi asked, and Spock, still pre-occupied, explained politely about his personal test and his subsequent Life Decision. When he had finished, Mimbi returned to its former question about their excursion, and Spock was caught up in the Zethan's enthusiasm. He was, by now, an accomplished desert traveler, skilled in the use of weapons of defense. The desert held no terrors, and great beauty. But it was a very lonely place at night, and I-Chaya was still too young and undisciplined to accompany him. With Mimbi by his side.... "...To the mountains," Mimbi was saying dreamily. "On a mountaintop, one feels very close to the stars."
The wistful tone reminded Spock of the way his mother occasionally spoke of Earth. That made him uncomfortable, and so he spoke without thinking, and as a Vulcan would speak of a parent. "Amanda also finds pleasure in observing the stars."
His mother sighed. "Spock, I've told you--in my world, children don't refer to their parents by their given names. It's considered impolite."
"But your objection is illogical." Again he spoke without thinking, his voice clear and expressionless. "This is not your world." And, too late, he remembered the word she had used to describe that very tone. Condescending.
Her eyes dropped from his immediately, but he saw the hurt in them anyway. "Indeed," she said lightly, and then rose. "Excuse me for just a moment, Mimbi. I have something to attend to indoors. I'll be right back." She was far from tears, but Spock knew her too well not to realize that she wanted to be alone, and why.
After she had gone, Mimbi said sadly, "Friend-of-many-colors, you have hurt your mother deeply."
"But Vulcan is not her world! It is not logical--"
"She has tried very hard," Mimbi continued, "to be the wife your father needs and the mother you need--a mother who respects the traditions of your people, and endeavors to help you grow as a Vulcan. It is not easy for her, Spock. You should be more aware of her feelings than you are."
"Feel--emotions must be controlled," Spock said desperately. And the Vulcan part of him flashed non-sequitur even as the human part wept in a secret place known only to him.
"But is that control not very difficult, even for you, who have always known Vulcan disciplines? Imagine how difficult it must be for her, who grew up on Earth, as a human." Mimbi paused for emphasis, and then demanded gently: "Do you think that your father would ever speak to your mother as you did just now?"
Spock got to his feet abruptly, and I-Chaya whined protestingly. "Be silent, I-Chaya. Stay." Then, not looking at Mimbi, the boy followed his mother into the house.
It always made him feel guilty to be up and about before his father was, and at this moment, when he was already overwhelmed with guilt, his discomfort became acute. Humans hurried. Humans rose with the sun, scrambling to be about the day's business without even a thought for meditation. And humans got up with hungry stomachs--the same kind of hungry stomach that urged him to rise and join his mother as soon as he heard her moving about in the morning. A hunger second only in urgency to his need to be alone with her, to speak without embarrassment of all the trivial, day-to-day joys and sorrows that he could never share with his father.
She was sitting at the piano, the only piece of furniture in the house that was from her home planet. But her hands lay idle on the keys.
"I--" Spock swallowed and went on stiffly. "I regret that my words disturbed you." She did not turn, and it occurred to him that she might be crying after all.
"I didn't mean it the way it sounded!" he blurted desperately. But when she finally turned to look at him, he saw with infinite relief that his fears were groundless.
"I'm glad, Spock." She smiled, but wistfully. "And I--regret that I'm such a trial to you sometimes. Don't worry--I'm not crying."
"I--worry is a human--"
"Of course. I'd forgotten." Still the wistful smile. "You see, my dear--I keep hoping that the day will come when you'll stop thinking of me as 'different.' But--hope is 'a human emotion,' and I must not forget that, must I?"
The response I rejoice in our differences came to his mind. But before he could analyze his inexplicable conviction that those revered words were the worst possible response he could make at this moment, he realized that his father had entered the room behind him, and that his mother had ceased to be aware of their conversation.
Spock turned, greeting Sarek expressionlessly and getting an equally expressionless greeting in return. His father looked tired, he thought, and looked toward his mother to see if she had noticed.
She was still apparently unaware of him, searching Sarek's eyes with hers. "Did you sleep well, my husband?" But Spock sensed that she knew the answer, and was really asking another question entirely--and with her eyes only.
His father had spoken so softly that Spock again turned to look at him, and then quickly averted his eyes. It was as though he had intruded on a private conversation--a conversation without words.
After a moment, Sarek asked, "Are you prepared to leave for the Academy, Spock?" Horror flooded him. How could he have forgotten?
Today was the day he had so long anticipated--the day that he would go with his father for his first informal lesson in computers. Most young Vulcans were not permitted to work at the Academy computer installation, the most elaborate in the Focus, until they were several years older than Spock was now. But his grasp of mathematics was far beyond his years
"I am prepared," he answered impassively, forgetting that hope is a human emotion as he fervently hoped that Sarek was unaware of his confusion.
He met his father's eyes squarely, and their gaze held. And Spock was momentarily acutely conscious of his father's pride in him. That awareness brought with it a pleasure so intense that he had only recently become able to control the accompanying congestion in his throat and the inexplicable burning behind his eyes. But he did control them now.
"Come then." But Sarek moved toward his wife rather than toward the door. As his parents touched fingers in parting, their eyes met once again, and Spock looked away, deliberately concentrating his conscious mind on his rapidly rising anticipation of at last being able to realize, one of his fondest dreams.
At eleven, Spock was totally aware of what would begin to transpire between his parents before another sun would rise. But that awareness existed only deep in his unconscious mind.
It had been four years since his Bonding, and the memory of that event was now only present in his conscious mind at infrequent intervals, much as a human child might remember, at eleven, a seventh-birthday party at which he had been the center of attention. But at the time, all details of the rituals of Koon-ut-Kalifee and the primitive, cyclical mating drive shrouded by the ritual had been telepathically placed in his conscious mind, and then submerged in his unconscious by a method similar to post-hypnotic suggestion. Yet Spock had not been hypnotized, and the injunction "Forget all, until Thy Blood becomes as Fire" had not been a suggestion but a command--a command that he could not consciously be aware that it had been given.
There were also other commands: "Thee will Take Note without Taking Note, Be Aware without Being Aware; Thee will Spare Thy Father as Thee will one day wish to be Spared; Thee will Be Silent and demand Nothing of Thy Mother." As a small child, he had been sent to stay with relatives. This time, no such measures would be necessary. In the manner of all Vulcan over the age of seven since the dawn of the planet's civilization, he would tend to his own needs, prepare his own food, and never once wonder consciously why his parents did not appear.
And yet, since then, there had been times when his knowledge had come close to the conscious level. At such times, because he was half-human and heir to all that implied, he was momentarily at once intensely excited and unbearably ashamed, and both without ever knowing why.
Spock and Sarek did not speak as they walked across the Academy grounds that morning. This in itself was not unusual, for the two of them had often walked together in companionable silence beneath the reddened sky and the lacy trees, simply enjoying one another's company as they had done since Spock was able to walk at all. But this morning, Spock was conscious of a vague but pervasive anxiety that followed him like a clinging fog. As they neared the gigantic, multi-faceted diamond of a structure that was their destination, he concluded that the source of his discomfort was apprehension--a fear that he might somehow embarrass Sarek in front of his colleagues. This conscious rationalization of an unconscious agitation was not without foundation in reality, for there had been times when he had displayed his emotions in public, incurring Sarek's patient but pained displeasure. But those times were far in the past, and by the time they reached their destination, Spock had convinced himself that he was completely in control of himself and the situation, while at the same time remaining obscurely troubled that his logical reassurances had done little to mitigate his entirely illogical tension.
Once they had entered the Academy proper, their route took them through the complex's spacious central concourse, which housed one of the most renowned museums of Vulcan natural history on the continent. Spock had always enjoyed his visits to the Concourse of Evolution, and even this morning his mood lightened as he was filled with a reassuring sense of his own history. As his father paused briefly to speak with a colleague who was passing through the concourse in the opposite direction, the boy wandered away from the two adults toward one of the walk-through, full-scale dioramas dotting the long, arena-like concourse that stretched away under a translucent, semi-cylindrical dome.
He realized as he approached the diorama that there was a party of off-world tourists in the immediate area--Earthhumans, judging by their disorganized babble and the patient expression on the face of the tour guide. The group was a short distance away, and had already passed through the diorama that Spock was heading toward. But a boy a year or two younger than he had lagged behind them, and was still standing in the midst of the diorama. Each simulated animal was preserved from the touch of careless hands by an invisible force screen. But Spock noticed that the boy, unlike most tourists from Earth, did not attempt to touch anything, but simply stood gazing about him, totally absorbed.
The diorama itself was a primitive scene in the Vulcan evolutionary cycle. The creatures comprising it were black and sleek, resembling the panthers Spock had seen on tapes from Earth, but larger, with less obvious musculature and no extended whiskers. The animals' pointed ears were placed low on each side of the skull and appeared incapable of independent movement. Each felinoid had four long, clawed fingers and a thumb-like extension, also clawed, on each of its two front paws.
The scene was one of sheer mayhem. Closest to Spock, one animal was mauling a fresh kill--a small, sehlat-like creature with four long fangs. Farther away, two other felinoids were engaged in a vicious battle while a third sat watching dispassionately, her tail curled around her feet like that of a disinterested housecat on Earth.
Judging by the slow turning of the human boy's head from one side to the other, he found two aspects of the scene most enthralling. The two male combatants were criss-crossed with gashes where their sleek hides oozed green blood. And in the center of the diorama, a fifth cat squatted like a biped, holding a stick in one clawed, five-fingered forepaw. The animal was using the stick to tend a small fire.
Watching the human boy as he slowly digested the implications of this glimpse of Vulcan pre-history, Spock shifted his weight, and the other boy turned to look at him.
The Earthchild was deeply tanned, and tow-headed as are many human children whose hair turns light brown in later life. One straw-colored strand fell across his forehead, almost as though it were permanently positioned there.
Seeing Spock, the boy jerked his head toward the felinoid tending the fire and said with a faint but friendly grin, "I suppose the monkeys chase mice around here?" He seemed a trifle amused by his own subtlety--almost what Amanda would call cocky. But the smile clearly indicated that his attitude was friendly.
"On Vulcan," Spock answered gravely, "'mice' chase 'monkeys.'
The other boy was delighted. His grin was like a golden wash on a watercolor of a golden child, radiating a genuine, personal warmth as well as amusement. But at that moment, a woman with a round, pleasant face called anxiously from the crowd of tourists.
"Jimmy? Come on now, dear. When will you learn to stay with the crowd?"
"Coming." The boy pulled a face that said Mothers! as clearly as words, and then moved away with a casual wave of farewell. But as Spock watched, he sensed that the Earthchild was aware that he was still being watched, and that he enjoyed that awareness immensely.
As Jimmy joined the group of tourists, he passed quite near a girl about his own age or a little younger. The little girl wore a pair of very short pants that Spock identified as a type of outerwear that he thought had been called Warm Trousers during the several eras in which the style had been in vogue on Earth in the last few centuries. This particular garment had an expandable, gathered waistline.
What happened next took only an instant. As the human boy passed the diminutive wearer of Warm Trousers, his hand shot out. Snap! But before the horrified girlchild could recover enough to accuse the snapper of her waistline, Jimmy had disappeared into the crowd.
Spock turned and headed blindly for his father, filled with a roiling mixture of acute horror and utter delight--a reaction that he could not, at that moment, have explained to save his life.
His first computer lesson flew past as though time had sprouted wings. His father's directions and explanations were clear and precise as always, although it seemed at times that Sarek's mind was elsewhere. But Spock did not consciously notice his father's preoccupation. His entire consciousness was directed toward the relatively elementary exercises that Sarek assigned to him--relatively elementary for an experienced computer technician, but intricate enough to challenge the boy's mind without ever demanding skills that he had not yet mastered. Again Sarek's pride encircled and warmed him, if anything more palpably emotional than usual. But the boy, fascinated as he was by the task at hand, simply enjoyed his father's companionship as never before without finding himself in danger of giving an emotional display.
Toward the end of the morning, Sarek became engaged in conversation with yet another colleague who had passed to chat in passing. Spock was became aware that the two Vulcans were making arrangement for the colleague to assume some of Sarek's academic duties for an unspecified length of time--both of them staring impassively at nothing as they conversed, neither of them making the slightest reference to the reason for Sarek's anticipated absence. Again the boy experienced a moment of acute agitation with no perceivable source, and firmly attempted to train his entire attention on the console before him.
He did a series of rapid calculations, but already he had mastered the basic techniques, and suddenly he was bored. His fingers still moving absently, he allowed his mind to wander back to his encounter with the Earthboy, and to Jimmy's subsequent passage at arms with the diminutive human female.
He could not begin to understand what had prompted the other boy to so flagrantly violate the personal privacy of another human, and he knew without doubt that he could never live among such creatures with any degree of contentment, let alone with what humans called happiness. And yet--the peculiar delight that had flooded him upon observing Jimmy's escapade returned, this time only faintly shadowed by disapproval. Interesting, he thought. However one might disapprove of these creatures called human beings, they were indeed interesting....
Suddenly, miserably, he became aware that both Sarek and his colleague had been watching him for several moments. Watching Spock, the son of Sarek, standing before a computer console doing absolutely nothing but smiling dreamily to himself.
And in the instant before the burning shame overcame him, Spock thought quite clearly: I do not belong. Not here. Not with Earthmen. Nowhere do I belong.
Throughout the silent family meal that evening, he was unable to eat. Your behavior, his father had said, was totally unacceptable. Again and again he heard those words repeated in his mind: Your behavior was totally unacceptable. Yet it was not the truth of those words that smote his spirit like a jagged knife, nor even the fact that he had betrayed his father's trust--and his father's pride in him. These were facts, and he was a Vulcan. He could deal with these facts, and would. It was his father's tone that smote him even in memory--harsh, cutting, uncharacteristic. In the inner recesses of his unconscious mind, Spock knew why his father's control had broken--why Sarek had spoken to his son today in a tone that Spock could not remember him ever having used toward anyone. But that knowledge remained hidden, for it was forbidden to the boy to become consciously aware--for any reason whatsoever--of his father's growing tension. For any reason whatsoever--and least of all for the purpose of mitigating the shameful condition that humans called "hurt feelings."
And so it was that Spock was already suffering considerable interior turmoil when he again chanced to observe the briefest exchange of glances between his parents.
The ensuing surge of chaotic emotions clamoring to be recognized was so strong that for a moment he thought he must again disgrace himself, this time by bolting away from the table before the meal was over. He knew without knowing how he knew that no real Vulcan would ever experience the inexplicable torture that he was now experiencing, and for the first time in his life he hated his humanity.
Mimbi was watching him.
Of course, the empathetic Zethan would know how he was feeling, and would be suffering with him.
Spock lowered his eyes, unable to meet the compassionate gaze of his Zethan friend. Gratitude that someone knew how he was suffering coursed through him, followed immediately by an agonizing self-disgust that he could feel gratitude because another sentient had shared his private emotions.
It was only a few moments after the meal ended that Mimbi again suggested, this time quite firmly, that it and Spock journey together into the desert for a period of unspecified length.
"I should be honored to have Spock as a guide when I first view the nocturnal beauties of the Vulcan desert," Mimbi insisted with its characteristic affectionate formality. Then, when both Sarek and Amanda offered polite if noticeably reluctant demurs that the desert was hardly an ideal place for an off-worlder to spend a vacation: "We shall travel by night, Spock and I, with the stars to light our way and the cool nightwind to soothe our spirits. Come, Friend-of-my-better-self, permit me this time to become better acquainted with your son. I shall treasure the memory to the end of my life and beyond."
Again Sarek and his wife exchanged glances, but this time Spock anticipated the intense, almost physical contact and kept his own eyes firmly in check.
"Very well," Sarek said expressionlessly. But then his gaze shifted to Mimbi, and he said almost gently, "As your host, Mimbi, I am reluctant to give my permission for this journey. I give it only because you seem to wish me to do so. And Spock has spent much time in the desert since his kahs-wan. He is now most skilled with weapons and other techniques of survival in the wilds. You will be in good hands."
Preparations were made quickly, and by the time the fiery Vulcan sky had turned to star-studded black, all was in readiness. As Spock stood alone with his father in the garden, he fought to control the singing pride that Sarek's unexpected praise had elicited.
"Father," he began, "I shall endeavor not to disappoint you again. I regret--"
"Spock--" Their eyes met and held as Sarek went on softly: "You do not frequently disappoint me." As Spock stared at him, firmly swallowing the lump that would rise in his throat, Sarek raised his hand, saluting his son. "Peace. We shall not speak again of the events of today."
After his father had left him, the boy tied his sehlat securely, remembering all too well another desert journey when he had been less firm, and I-Chaya's predecessor had died as a result. "Do not cry so, little friend. It is for the best." Still not fully in control of the emotions his father's praise had stirred in him, he hugged the whining cub close and then linked his mind with I-Chaya's, calming the sehlat until the whining ceased and the cub was quiet.
The two of them were sitting together in the shadows, deep in silent communication, when Amanda and Mimbi entered the garden, both of them glancing around for Spock but failing to perceive his presence.
"He'll be here in a minute." Amanda turned to her friend, the faint light illuminating her face. "Mimbi, I still don't think this'll be much of a vacation for you. I hope you're not--I hope you don't think--" But she could not seem to finish her sentence.
Mimbi opened its white-sapphire eyes very wide. "Amanda," it said with mock gravity, your assumptions are entirely unfounded. Spending an unspecified number of days in the desert is my life's ambition." And then, without a flicker of a smile, it winked.
Much less familiar with human customs than was Mimbi, Spock was bewildered when his mother's face briefly reflected the same horrified delight that he had experienced earlier that day at the museum. "Get along with you now," she whispered, and, confusing her son still further, she took Mimbi's face between her hands and kissed its forehead. "If I didn't love you so much, I'd slap your face for that."
"Friend-of-my-heart, my apologies." With some difficulty, Mimbi managed to look repentant. "Can you ever forgive me?"
"Never," Amanda answered solemnly. But somehow it seemed to her son that she already had.
He got up then, and noticed that both his mother and Mimbi looked startled when they realized that he had overheard their conversation. But he could not conceal his bewilderment as he came toward them, and both of them seemed relieved.
He knew that his mother wanted to embrace him as they said goodbye, knew also that she would not allow herself to do that, and found himself torn between relief and a certain wistful envy of the brief but loving kiss she had placed on Mimbi's forehead.
That first night, he and Mimbi walked almost until dawn.
At first it did not occur to him that Mimbi might be tired. Even at the age of eleven, he possessed an abundance of that peculiar resilience and stamina that enabled Vulcans to remain awake and active for a day and a night without experiencing any discernible fatigue. Then too, he himself was carrying their food and water, as well as the slim, lethal firearm that would protect them should they be attacked, while Mimbi carried only a light kit containing their emergency medical supplies. Yet, in truth, during that first night, Spock was largely unaware of anything but his exhilarating relief at being as far away from his parents as possible. The desert was so beautiful, stretching away before them toward the mountains like a dimly glowing ocean of sand under the clear, black sky. There was peace here. He took it in great gulps and rejoiced in the taking, expanding his lungs and his spirit until it seemed that he and the desert were one.
He knew that there was animal life abroad in the night, and once or twice a La-Mantya's roar could be heard in the distance. But he was not frightened. He had examined and adjusted his weapon before they started out, and he had implicit trust both in it and in his ability to use it efficiently, should it become necessary to take a life in order to save himself or Mimbi. Failing that, his skill in the use of the neck pinch added to his confidence, and the stars had begun to pale in the pre-dawn sky before he noticed that Mimbi was falling farther and farther behind him.
"Come," he said firmly, overruling Mimbi's faint objections with a brief shake of the head. "We shall rest here for a time, and then find shelter before the sun surprises us." Expertly avoiding the snapping tentacles of a suddenly activated plant with malevolent intent, he guided the Zethan to a high rock where they dropped their gear on the sand and sat down to rest, their backs against the unyielding façade.
They had sat in silence for only a few moments when a terrified creature resembling a miniature spider monkey shot past them, squealing, followed by a rotund, sharp-faced rodent the size of a beaver, but with a thin, hairless tail. Spock reached out, gently seized the rodent's tail with one hand, gently rendered the animal unconscious with the other and then just as gently laid it on the sand as the frantic squeals of its intended prey died away in the darkness.
"Ah, Vulcans," Mimbi said softly. "A predator is a predator, Spock. What would you do--destroy the balance of nature?"
"The chalea is well-endowed with excess fat," Spock said absently. But his mind had again returned to the events of the morning. I suppose monkeys chase mice.... A quick mind, and a ready smile extended in friendship. And yet the golden Earthchild was alien. If the son of Sarek should fail to become completely Vulcan--if he should somehow continue to behave like the half-human he was, where would he find sanctuary? Could he ever hope to feel enough kinship with his mother's people to be able to dwell in their midst? "Mimbi," he said aloud. "I shall be at home nowhere. I am both Vulcan and human, and so I am neither. Where do I belong?"
Mimbi did not answer immediately, and finally Spock was able to achieve enough control over his expression to turn toward his friend.
The Zethan was gazing upwards toward the fading stars. Now it raised both its right hands and pointed, each hand seeming to emphasize the gesture of the other. "Neither Vulcan nor Earth is the universe, Friend-of-many-colors. There are billions of other worlds out there waiting to be explored. Great ships are beginning to explore a very few of them even now, and will go on doing so far, far beyond our lifetimes." Very gently: "The universe awaits you, Spook. Is that not home enough for anyone?"
But even as the image of billions of uncharted worlds took fire in Spock's young mind, Mimbi sighed.
"Forgive me," it said softly. "Words are too easy to say."
"But you are correct--" Spook paused, having realized the source of Mimbi's wistful sigh. "You wish to go home to Zetha," he said, and then wished he hadn't. For he knew that it had been many Vulcan years since Mimbi had last seen its home planet.
"I shall, Spock. Someday. I do not believe that I will soon cease to exist, and even then...." Mimbi's voice trailed off. "Look--the affronted one."
The chalea had regained consciousness and staggered to its feet, its pointed nose quivering in a vain attempt to regain the scent of its prey. Just before Mimbi spoke, it had turned to look at them, obviously deeply offended. Then, as though in answer to Mimbi's comment, it unleashed a long "speech" of animal chatter and departed, turning several times to add another tututututut to whatever it had already said.
And so the long night ended with one Zethan and one half-Vulcan having what humans call a good laugh--although the half-Vulcan quickly managed to confine his reaction to a half-Vulcan smile.
Sometime during the second night, Spook became certain that they were being tracked.
They had spent most of the night climbing a mountain in the L-langon range so that Mimbi could be "close to the stars." But the effort had proved strenuous and the thin air on the mountain too much for Mimbi's alien lung. By the time they reached the foothills again the sun was rising, the Zethan was exhausted, and the essence of hungry La-Mantya hung in the already sultry air--imperceptible to human and Zethan senses, but all too perceptible to Spock's half-Vulcan ones.
They found a convenient cave that was also relatively cool, and Mimbi fell into a deep sleep without even bothering to eat--curled up on the ground, its four arms wound around its head. Spock ate sparingly, his weapon across his knees, his eyes fixed on the cave entrance where he had kindled a small fire. He knew that no La-Mantya would venture past a fire, but he remained with his smarting, tired eyes fixed on the entrance until the sun was well past its zenith.
Mimbi was difficult to awaken, and Spock regretted that this was necessary. But he, too, was tired from their climb the night before, and needed to sleep for the few hours remaining before dusk. "Tonight we shall come to a lake," he told Mimbi, and was rewarded with a grateful smile as the Zethan seated itself to begin its watch, having been carefully instructed by Spock in the necessity of remaining alert and keeping the fire burning. "It is the only inland lake in this hemisphere. We shall sleep in the travelers' hostel there--perhaps for two or three nights. You will rest there."
"Rest?" Mimbi blinked, deadpan. "What is that, Friend-of-many-colors?"
"Oh, Mimbi, I'm sor--I regret that your holiday has proved so strenuous."
"Ah, Spock," Mimbi answered softly. "I regret nothing. Seeing you standing on the mountaintop with the stars reflected in your eyes was well worth the climb."
Spock turned away quickly, his throat tight. "The stars are very far away," he said huskily, wondering why it was that the more people one loved, the more difficult it was to control that deepest of all emotions.
The last thing he saw before he fell asleep was Mimbi sitting cross-legged with Spock's weapon across its knees, facing the entrance where the fire burned brightly in the afternoon heat. And the first thing he saw when he awoke was his weapon lying on the ground, barely visible in the very faint light from the cave entrance.
It was dusk. The fire was out. And Mimbi was fast asleep, its chin resting on its cupped hands.
Then all light was blocked out as a dark form filled the cave entrance. And Spock smelled death with every pore in his body.
As the La-Mantya sprang with a roar upon Mimbi, Spock sprang upon the La-Mantya, calling on every reserve of strength and skill as he sank his fingers into the animal's neck. But with Mimbi's first scream came the certain knowledge that there was not enough strength in an eleven-year-old's fingers to execute a neck pinch effectively on a fifteen-hundred-pound carnivore.
The animal turned its head, snarling, its long yellow eyes flashing in the faint light from the entrance, and sank its fangs into Spock's left arm, tearing away flesh as though it were as unsubstantial as a cloud. As Spock rolled to the cave floor, dizzy with pain and shock, Mimbi screamed again and then was silent as the La-Mantya's poisoned claws ripped into its orange flesh.
Still supine, Spock grasped his weapon, aimed for the back of the animal's head, and fired. It was a clean hit, and true. The La-Mantya made no further sound as it rolled sideways and collapsed on the cave floor.
But the sight it revealed as it rolled to its death was more than Spock could bear.
"You do not frequently disappoint me....."
He struggled to his knees, wishing to lose consciousness but feeling only nausea, bearable pain in his bleeding arm and unbearable pain in his bleeding soul.
"A Vulcan would face such a loss without tears."
"Loss of life is to be mourned, but only if the life was wasted...."
I will not cry!
Still kneeling, he pressed his fist against his mouth, biting down hard on the index finger.
I will not cry!
"You do not frequently disappoint me, Spock...."
It's not there, he thought wildly. The pain in my arm is the only pain. There is no other pain. A Vulcan does not feel....
Selek. What had Selek told him?
"What you do not yet understand...."
"I will not cry," he said aloud, and then repeated the words twice more, again aloud, his voice rising shrilly in the swiftly darkening cave. "I will not cry!" His voice broke, but he steadied it. "I will not cry." His grief almost blinded him, and it seemed that if he could only remember what Selek had said, those words would give him strength. But he could not remember.
And yet: "You do not frequently disappoint me...."
"I will not cry," he said once again--and realized that he had for the first time spoken in the future tense rather than in the imperative.
It was then that he saw the light that emanated from Mimbi's body.
The interior of the cave was now completely dark, and so the light, though faint, was clearly visible--surrounding Mimbi's body like a perceptible energy field, but not a static one. It pulsed as though with a life of its own, and with each pulsation it grew a little brighter and took on more color. The mangled corpse seemed to grow pale until it was the color of the inside of a pumpkin's rind. But as what-had-been-Mimbi lost its color, the light grew in intensity, its orange hue deepening and spreading like a gaseous dye, its pulsations growing stronger and more regular.
For the first time since the La-Mantya's teeth tore at his arm, Spock began to feel dizzy.
Then, suddenly, the pulsing light pulled free of Mimbi's body and seemed to roll itself into a ball about the size of Spock's head. The corpse was lost in the merciful darkness as the orange ball of light rose slightly in the air, beginning to display amethyst highlights. It began to spin, and then emitted a small shower of golden sparks as it suddenly projected a tail much like that of a comet, but definitely connected to the ball itself. The amethyst highlights gleamed--triumphantly, Spock thought--and the small comet shook itself, sparkled, pulsed once or twice, and began to move toward the boy.
He felt no fear, for a deep sense of Mimbi's loving presence pervaded his being as the light hovered before him and then slipped forward, pointing its tail at the boy's injured arm. But as Spock dropped his gaze to his arm, fear tore at him as the La-Mantya's fangs had torn at his flesh, and the dizziness washed over him again.
In the orange light of the tiny comet, his sundered green flesh looked almost black. And below his limp hand, a black pool was slowly widening on the cave floor.
He fought back the dizziness and the nausea inch by inch, and finally found his voice. "The medical kit....
Immediately the ball of orange light moved away across the cave, lighting his way. But even as Spock clumsily dressed his wound with his one good hand, he knew that these measures were not enough. The bone had been exposed, and though the La-Mantya's teeth were not poisonous as were its claws, any such bite was almost surely highly infectious. And he was two nights travel away from home.
Weakened from loss of blood, he sat down cross-legged on the cave floor and tried to think as the orange comet hovered near, pulsating slightly.
Of course. That was the only way. But--
"You will have to awaken me, Mimbi," he said aloud, and explained what he was going to do. "And protect me."
The comet immediately shot to the cave entrance and demonstrated its protective capabilities with a shower of multi-colored sparks that would have sent any self-respecting La-Mantya streaking in the other direction.
"Good," Spock said approvingly, and the little comet glowed deeply, its amethyst highlights now almost purple. "You will not fall asleep again?"
POP! The explosion was audible. Then the comet materialized again.
"Very well," Spock said gravely. "When I call you, you will awaken me."
The comet glowed, curled its tail around itself and settled down in midair to wait. And Spock stretched out on the cave floor to put into practice the lessons he had learned of the Vulcan capability for self-healing.
He never knew how many days and nights he lay there, deep in the healing trance that was the only possible method by which he could save his arm, and perhaps his life. Since he was never asleep, he knew in one part of his consciousness that Mimbi was required more than once to frighten away a prowling carnivore. He also knew that, some time during the first day, Mimbi permitted several animals to enter the cave. Even in his trance, Spock recognized dimly the dark, low-slung shapes of the D'feena--the carrion-eaters of the Vulcan desert country. But the trance prevented his actually observing the D'feena as they went about their grim task and then slunk away, leaving only polished bones where the La-Mantya and what had once been Mimbi had died side-by-side.
Eventually, he came close to consciousness, and realized that the time had come.
Human ears might not have heard him, for he barely whispered the name. But immediately it seemed that there had been an explosion directly in front of his half-open eyes. Again and again the shower of sparks seemed to enter his very skull, tearing the fading remnants of his trance to shreds until he was wide awake--and surprisingly clearheaded.
Early morning sunlight poured in through the cave entrance. And when he examined what had been a gaping, angry gash in his arm, he found only a welt of pale green scar tissue.
He traveled homeward by day as well as by night, for the long trance had rested his body, and it was now no longer necessary to consider the corporeal Mimbi's physical limitations. And so it was that well before the next dawn broke over the desert, he was again within sight of his home Focus.
Mimbi had disappeared visually during the long day, although Spock had continued to sense its hovering presence as he crossed the broiling sand. As night fell, the tiny comet had re-appeared, bobbing companionably along beside him, flicking its tail occasionally as though to say, "Yes, I'm still here, Friend-of-many-colors. Did you think you could leave me behind?" But as they neared the Focus in the last velvet-black hours of the night, the comet slowed, glowing steadily, and perched atop a rock much like the one they had rested against after the first part of their journey.
"Come," Spock urged, "do not hesitate, Mimbi. You will always be welcome in my father's house."
But the tiny orange-and-amethyst comet remained perched on the rock, and finally Spock joined it there.
They sat quietly together for some moments. And then, just as Spock began to understand what was to come and felt the tears rise in his throat once again, the little comet that was his only friend rose slightly in the air and silently pointed its tail toward the stars.
But Spock closed his lips firmly on the word. Mimbi was alive. More than that he could not ask of whatever fates or gods had made that possible.
"Very well," he said aloud, "I understand." But he could not trust himself to speak as he raised his hand in the Vulcan salute.
Mimbi rose still higher, hovering, glowing a loving farewell. And then, as Spock firmly blinked back the tears that would come, the tiny comet streaked away toward its home among the stars.
He could not watch it go, but rose and stumbled toward his own home. It was still quite dark when he fell on his knees, exhausted, beside the delighted I-Chaya.
And it was still quite dark when he awoke, his head still resting against the sehlat's warm, comforting body, to find his father looking down at him.
Sarek's relative calm was immediately evident, and the thought It's almost over flashed through Spock's conscious mind in the moment between sleeping and waking. But by the time he was fully awake, he was conscious only of a profound but inexplicable sense of relief.
He rose to his feet and approached his father without speaking, lowering his eyes as Sarek positioned his hands on either side of his son's head.
Some time later, again struggling with the overpowering sorrow of his final parting from Mimbi, he experienced an equally overpowering need to move still closer and rest his weary head against his father's chest. But his need was firmly erased, and he knew that he had not disappointed his father this time.
Yet there was sadness as well as approval in Sarek's voice as he dropped his hands to his sides.
"Spock," he said softly, "you have not yet learned that denial of emotion is not the same as control."
Spock raised his eyes, staring unbelievingly. "I remember--now I remember what Selek told me that night he saved my life!" What you do not yet understand, Spock, is that Vulcans do not lack emotion. It is only that ours is controlled...We have emotions, but we deal with them, and do not let them control us....
For a moment Sarek's eyes reflected something very like surprise. But the moment passed, and he said quietly, "He who called himself Selek was wise, perhaps beyond his years. But I too have spoken of these matters with you." Still no disappointment. Only regret.
"Indeed," his father said gently. "So it is with many of us. You will perhaps 'forget' Selek's lesson--and mine--many times, Spock. For when one is young--particularly then, but not only then--it frequently appears less difficult to deny the truth than it is to live with it. The former course, however, is much the more difficult of the two."
"I will remember," Spock said firmly. But his wound had taken its toll, and his head swam with fatigue. Already he had difficulty remembering what it was that he was promising never again to forget.
"Perhaps you will. But my words, like Selek's, are only words, and words are all too easily forgotten. This lesson, like many, may be learned by some of us only in the living of it." His father sighed, and then took the boy's wrist, turned the arm and carefully examined the healed wound. Satisfied, he released the arm and again held Spock's gaze with his. "You have done well, my son. Peace be on Thy sleep."
But it seemed to Spock that he had barely fallen asleep in his own bed when he felt the touch of his mother's hand on his forehead, and opened his eyes to hers.
If only she didn't understand, he thought desperately. If only she didn't need him to share her human sense of loss as much as he needed her to share his.
"Don't!" He flung himself away from the gentle, comforting touch that seemed about to tear his soul in two. "Mother, please go away! I can't--!"
She sat still on the edge of the bed for what seemed like a very long time. Then, finally, she said, very low, "It's all right, my dear. I understand."
"Yes," she said softly. "I do. Will you try very hard to believe that?"
"I'll try." But it was hopeless, he knew. She could never understand--a human woman among Vulcans. And he could never forget that he had turned away the first time she had ever really needed him as a human.
As the sky began to redden with another dawn, Amanda stood at her window, watching the stars wink out. Sol, there, winking out. So incredibly far away. And yet not nearly so far away as Zetha.
Mimbi, she thought, are you home at last, my brother?
But her tears had all been shed for the moment, and the only tears she could feel were the ones her son had held back.
There was no sound to tell her of Sarek's approach, and yet she knew he had paused a few feet behind her, hesitating as though he knew that, for the first time since their first Time, his need elicited confusion in her.
Only in these last few days had he at last come to her without shame, and with an incredulous joy that would have been almost pathetic had it not been so strong and free. Even now, her body and mind responded in kind without even feeling his touch. But although her own grief was temporarily spent, her child's unshed tears seemed a great and heavy weight on her soul, and even on her desire.
But when Sarek finally touched her, it was only to lay his hands lightly on her shoulders from behind, and then, very gently, to draw her closer until her head rested against his shoulder.
Moved almost to tears once more, she rested there, wondering why her child must reject his grief when his father did not reject hers.
"He could not respond to your need," Sarek said softly.
"No." She shook her head. "That doesn't matter. It's his need--."
"He is a Vulcan, Amanda." Proud. Almost serene, were it not for the waning but still perceptible desire that now sang in her blood even as it rose in his. And yet his hands remained on her shoulders--gentle, and not yet demanding.
Must he be more Vulcan than you?
She knew that he had perceived the question, and that it caused him a moment of discomfort. But the moment passed, and he answered quietly, "He is but a child. With time, one's image of oneself grows less vulnerable to threat."
"But he'll always be half--," she began, and then stopped, her breath catching as she realized that this was as close as he had ever come to verbalizing his deepest feelings about their changing relationship.
"Our son has made his Life Decision," Sarek answered. "All will be well." She knew that his calm was not rapidly diminishing, and hers along with it. "Come, my wife." His fingers moved to the fine gold chain that loosely encircled her throat, and then to the single amulet that adorned it: an exquisitely wrought golden circlet, broken offside near the bottom by an extension in the shape of the base of a triangle. The gift was only a few days old, presented to her shortly after Spock and Mimbi had left for the desert. Realizing anew the deep significance of that particular gift at that particular time, she felt her grief mingle with her loving desire, no longer mitigating but rather enhancing it as Sarek's fingers moved to her breast, urgent yet gentle. "Thee has taught me well of the body's healing touch on another's pain of spirit. Let me now teach Thee."
As the sun rose, glorious in the crimson sky, Spock was dreaming, his grief and his guilt forgotten as he and the Earthboy with the golden grim flew on silvered wings, searching for Mimbi among the stars.