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by Sharon Emily

Arm-in-arm, Christine and Karm walked along the corridor of the station orbiting above Vulcan, glancing into the store windows as they passed, but, so far, seeing nothing they wanted to buy.

"Christine, are you still thinking about Spock?" Karm asked quietly when he heard her utter a soft sigh.

"I can't help it; he's - he's so alone," Christine answered. "Karm, he'll always have a special place in my heart. I can't tear him out of it, and I don't think you'd want me to."

"No, I would not seek to change you," he said needlessly.

"That's why I won't be able to stop worrying about him. I want him to find happiness too. . .I'd like to think that someday he'll know the joy that we share. I wish everyone could find a joy like ours--. Pardon me," she said automatically as someone bumped into her.

"Look where you're going, Klingon!" a masculine voice said sharply. "If you weren't hogging the way, the lady could pass!"

Karm turned, intending to inform the stranger that it hadn't been his fault, but the man had already walked away. "Are you all right, Christine?" he demanded as he turned back to his wife.

"Yes, just startled. I wonder why he blamed you, Karm?"

"No matter," Karm replied, taking her hand as he continued down the corridor. But he frowned while she was looking into another window--one with a display of women's clothing.

The encounter with the stranger had been much like others he'd had with humans while still aboard the Klothar--full of bigotry and prejudice. Christine hadn't noticed, but he'd been aware of the glares of resentment--even actual hatred that had been directed at him ever since he'd first set foot on this station.

Hal nog, he told himself resignedly. I am assigned to a Vulcan ship, and I abide by their rules. They do not resort to violence, neither will I--unless I must. We came to see the new language machines on display here. . .we shall see them.

Christine had slowed to a near-stop. He turned his head to see what had taken her fancy--a jewelry store. He started to tell her that they could come back later, then one of the displays caught his eye.

There were two windows, placed side-by-side. One, a showcase for a number of lovely pendants and pins. Placed in the center of the display, where it would be sure to attract notice, was a lovely, glowing, amber-hued jewel, affixed to a simple golden chain. It was a dainty piece of jewelry, suitable to wear about a woman's throat--even while she was on duty.

Karm looked at it then glanced at Christine. He'd established a custom of buying a piece of jewelry for her whenever they stopped at a new world or were on leave--a custom that had started when he'd purchased a rose-pendant on Turon-Lura, where their courtship had first begun.

I'll buy that one, unless she prefers something else, he thought and moved so he could watch her--waiting to see which piece of jewelry she looked at most. But it was hard to keep his mind on the jewelry, for the other window was displaying something that he wanted with all his heart--a dagger with a carefully-weighted and carved hilt, sheathed in a beautifully-supple, hand-tooled wrist-scabbard.

Though he carried no weapons, Karm did have a collection of daggers, knives, and swords on display in their quarters. This particular weapon would be the prize of his collection. But, though he'd been saving his pay, he knew that he could afford either the gift for Christine or the dagger. . .so the dagger would wait.

Christine said nothing, but she'd been watching Karm out of the corner of her eye. She'd seen the expression of longing in his eyes when he'd first seen the dagger. He'd not exhibited any interest in adding to his collection for the past two planet-falls, and she'd put aside all but a small amount of her pay--she could afford to buy this dagger for Karm and still have something left over.

"Karm," she said after a moment. "I just remembered. . . . I promised Helen I'd try to find a skein of cashmere for her. She's run out of the color she was using in that ceremonial scarf she's making for T'Keel. They might have some of the same dye-lot in one of these shops."

Karm nearly grinned with satisfaction but stopped himself in time. "I have no interest in such things," he announced gruffly. "While you do that, I shall try to find that reference manual Kaleth has been talking about. It should have been released by now."

Each went a different direction, agreeing to meet where the language machines were being exhibited.

Again, Karm noticed the glares of hatred and the few braver souls who made obscene or threatening gestures when they thought he wasn't able to see them. He could hear the threats and insults being muttered by those coming toward and passing him. However, no one had accosted him yet, and he had made a point of choosing his steps carefully enough that he would not get in anyone's way--for a fight over such a petty matter wasted time.

Surely by now Christine had found a shop selling that "skein" he could go back and pick up the pendant for her.

Turning almost in mid-stride, he hurried back to the jewelry store.

"May I help you?" a feminine voice said icily.

"There is a pendant in the center of the window out there," Karm said, feeling a sensation of deja vu as he gestured over his shoulder. "The one with a large yellow stone. I want it."

"Have you got enough money to pay for it?" the woman asked insolently.

Karm's eyes narrowed, but he said nothing. Instead, he reached down to his belt and produced a hefty roll of Vulcan currency.

"Very well," the woman sighed. "One moment; I'll have to get the window-key from Mr. Burns."

Turning idly to be sure the woman really was getting the pendant, Karm saw Christine standing at another counter, holding the dagger he'd been admiring.

"Christine," he whispered, smiling ruefully. "I should have known."

"Here you are, sir," the clerk snapped as she tossed the pendant on the top of the counter. "I assume this is the one you want."

"Aye," Karm said, frowning darkly as he took up the pendant and examined it to see if it had been damaged. "This is it."

"Karm!" Christine said sharply. "What are you doing in here?"

"The same thing as you," he said gently as he turned to dangle the pendant before her wondering eyes. "Purchasing a gift for my Karmitharn."

After a moment of stunned silence, Christine uttered a silvery peal of laughter; the next moment, the deep tones of Karm's laughter rose to join hers.

"Next time," he said when their laughter had subsided, "we might as well be honest about it--we always discover what the other is doing, anyway."

"I suppose so," Christine agreed as she turned back to the now visibly-hostile clerk who'd been waiting on her. "How much did you say this was?"

"Are you--with him?" the clerk demanded rudely.

"Yes," Christine replied, in a tone that informed him she would welcome no further comments.

"I see. Well, the price of this dagger. . . ," the clerk named a price about fifty percent higher than what he'd told her previously.

Her expression warned Karm that the price had been increased because she was with him. He intended to tell her to forget it, but she reached into her belt and produced the required amount without hesitation.

"Do you wish this pendant or not?" Karm's own clerk demanded sharply. "I can't allow you to fling it about in the air like that if you have no intention of paying for it."

"I have every intention of paying--as soon as you have decided how much to add to the original price," Karm informed her coolly.

"Why I. . . ." The woman had the decency to look down in confusion when she saw the contempt and repressed anger in Karm and Christine's faces. "I don't know what you mean, sir. The price is clearly marked on the tag. Of course, there is the ten percent luxury tax. . . ."

"Of course," Karm mimicked as he flipped the tag over to read the price, mentally figured the extra percentage, then counted the bills out on the top of the display case.

"Karm, you. . . ," Christine started to say when she realized that he would have very little left over. She didn't need the swift glance he shot her way to silence her. If he wanted to spend all his money on a gift for her, it really wasn't any of her business--after all, it wasn't as though they needed money. Other than at times like this, everything they needed was supplied.

"Turn around, Christine," he said quietly, approaching her with the pendant gleaming between his hands. "I want to see how this looks on you before we leave this store."

She obeyed and, as always, felt a distinct tingle when his fingers brushed the back of her neck as he fastened the clasp.

"Like it?" he asked as he turned her to face him.

"I'd be lacking in every sensitivity if I didn't!" she replied as she gave him a swift kiss on the cheek. "I've become thoroughly spoiled since I married you!"

She didn't need to hear the gasps behind her to realize she'd shocked the two clerks to the very core---but she didn't care.

"Come on, let's get out of here!" she said as she tucked her hand in Karm's arm, "I don't like the atmosphere of this place."

"Your knife, Madam!" A flimsily-wrapped package landed at Christine's feet.

Karm started to turn, ready to demand courtesy from the clerk, but Christine tightened her grasp on his arm and shook her head. "It isn't worth it, Karm," she warned.

"You're right," Karm shrugged his shoulders. "I would not want to soil the blade of this new sirp with that one's thin blood."

So saying, he bent swiftly to scoop up the package and tucked it into his belt. The next moment, they were back in the corridor again.

Now that they'd been reminded of the prejudices against all Klingons, they both were aware of the glares, the gestures, the vocalizations of hostility.

"Odd," Christine murmured. "I'd nearly forgotten. . . . I would have thought that they'd have realized by now that not everything said about Klingons is true."

"Old habits are difficult to discard," Karm said crisply. "Besides, I think they prefer to take the path that has been trodden by others before them."

"I'll be glad to get back to the Otsud," Christine continued. "All this emotion is becoming tiresome."

It could also become dangerous! Karm thought grimly, shifting the package containing the dagger so he would be able to reach it easily, should it be needed.

"Karm! Look! They have one of those new one-man scout ships here!" Christine exclaimed, tugging at his arm as they rounded a bend in the corridor. "They're supposed to go twice the distance of the older ones. I don't see how. . .their fuel tanks aren't that much larger. . . ."

She'd started to join the line where those who wanted to see the ship were standing, but an arm reached out to bar her way.

"Sorry, Miss Chapel. If you're with him, you can't see the ship," said a voice that sounded somewhat familiar.

She looked up at the tall, dark-haired man, then frowned. She couldn't recall his name, but this man had formerly been a Security Guard aboard the Enterprise--one who had been transferred on normal rotation after the ship had returned from one of her journeys to the outer edges of the galaxy.

"What difference does that make?" she demanded coldly. "Plenty, Miss. He's a Klingon."

"Correction. He is the Assistant Engineer of the Vulcan Science Academy Ship Otsud," Christine said calmly. "As such, he is entitled to free access to this ship--or to anything else on this station."

"He's. . . ?" The guard's eyebrows weren't able to reach his hairline, but they made a valiant effort to do so. "I'm sorry, I'll have to see some credentials to prove that."

During this brief discussion, a crowd had gathered. There were several cat-calls now, suggestions regarding what Karm could do with his "credentials", if he had any. Someone else expressed the opinion that things were coming to a bad pass indeed when a "dirty Klingon" could walk around this station as if he owned it.

There was a definite tension being generated in the area. Things could get ugly.

Karm moved slightly, thrusting Christine to one side so he could shield her if anyone attacked him.

The attack came from a totally-unexpected quarter--in the form of a tug on his pant leg.

"What--?" Karm looked down, a long way down, to meet the gaze of a Terran child. "Go away, child!"

But the child, a boy about seven or eight years of age, stood firm, still grasping the fold of cloth that he'd tugged to get Karm's attention. When Karm didn't say anything more and sought to move away, the child tugged again.

"What do you want?" Karm looked down at the boy again, his eyes gleaming with anger at the child's audacity.

"Please, Mister. My Mommy says that you're married to a human woman! Is that the truth?"

Karm eyed the child speculatively. Was this young human preparing to subject him and Christine to scorn and verbal abuse? If so. . . . A second glance told him that the boy was truly curious, asking the question merely for the sake of getting an answer to something he wanted to know.

His nearly three years of service aboard a Vulcan ship had taught Karm patience and respect for some forms of life. He also realized that dealing with this child's questions might enable him to gain an advantage over his undeclared enemies. The maneuver he was about to execute might be rash, but it would also be an effective means of expressing his contempt for the threats and insults that had been coming his way. Also, it would ease the strain on his neck muscles.

Suiting the action to his thoughts, Karm went down on one knee to bring himself to eye level with the boy. He wasn't going to employ the "let's-be-friends, arm-about-the-shoulders" gesture he'd seen others use with children, but he would employ the tactic of intelligence seeking to communicate with intelligence--first.

"Yes," he said quietly. "I am married to a human woman."


"'Why?'" Karm steeled himself, anticipating that now would come the words that would trigger the "incident" these people were awaiting so eagerly.

"Did you marry her because you love her?" the child asked, his clear eyes meeting Karm's unwaveringly.

Karm studied the child for a long moment, then the tension of his muscles relaxed slightly. Insofar as he could determine, this child was not seeking to practice any deceit. He would answer him in kind.

"Yes, I love her," he said.

"Is she happy with you?"

"I do everything within my power to insure her happiness," Karm replied.

"As I seek to insure his," Christine said as she moved to stand beside her husband.

"You're his wife?" the child said wonderingly. "You're a very pretty lady!"

"I think so," Karm said, smiling grimly. When he looked up at Christine, he didn't try to hide the love that he was sure his eyes were revealing; it might be the last time. . . .

There was a soft murmur passing among those observing the scene, and Karm could actually feel the tension beginning to lessen, to fade away. He remained where he was--not touching the child in any way, one hand resting on his uplifted knee. This was a vulnerable position, but his pose was one that indicated both his willingness to be peaceful--and his readiness to defend himself, if need be. The package containing the dagger was still in his belt, placed where he could drop his hand and draw it out easily.

"I heard that Klingons were always ordered to kill every human they ever met!" the child exclaimed. "You don't kill humans, do you?"

Karm had killed humans, but he didn't see that it was necessary to mention past battles, "Until my wife bought this sirp--this dagger," he reached down to indicate the package then brought his hand away a few inches again, "I was not even carrying any weapons. We don't aboard the Otsud."

"Mommy, I believe him!" the boy exclaimed as he turned toward the distraught woman who had finally succeeded in getting through the crowd to reach him.

"Who? Oh, this Klingon?"

Karm looked up, expecting more of the same treatment he'd received from others today--daring her with his steady gaze to say anything derogatory.

"Why, Peter, is this one of those you've read about?" she asked without the slightest hint of fear or revulsion. "You remember, that news report about two officers from the Enterprise who'd married Klingon men and then had assumed tours of duty aboard the Otsud?"

"That's what he says, Mommy, but I don't think anyone here thinks he's telling the truth." The boy turned back and looked at Karm again, his eyes round with excitement and admiration.

"Why aren't you doing something?" the woman demanded as she whirled to confront the Security Guard, who'd been standing to one side, watching.

"There's nothing I can do, Ma'am, not unless he starts something," the guard replied with exaggerated patience.

"Huh! Looks more to me like everyone else is ready to 'start something'--not him! What will it take to get you to let him on board this ship so the rest of us can see it, too? I'm helping with a field trip. I can tell you right now that if you don't let us aboard that ship, you're going to find yourself buried knee-deep in a bunch of restless Fourth-Level Terran students!"

"Ma'am, Klingons can work wonders with disguises and surgery--that woman may not even be Human! She may just be pretending to be someone I know!" the guard protested. "There's no simple way to settle this matter."

"Karm," a dispassionate voice said suddenly. "There is difficulty?"

Syluth, the stocky Vulcan expert on cultures, had somehow managed to make his way through the crowd and now stood with his hands behind him, calmly waiting for an answer.

"Greetings, Syluth," Karm said as he rose to his feet. "It is a minor point requiring clarification."

"What he means," Christine said, her eyes snapping with anger, "is that none of these people believe that he's a member of the crew of the Otsud! I don't think they'd believe his credentials if they did give him a chance to show them!"

"Sir," Syluth said calmly as he turned to the guard. "I assure you that Karm truly is Assistant Engineer of the Otsud. Do you require further confirmation?"

"No, sir. . .not if you vouch for him," the guard replied. "We've met before, and I know your word is good. Okay, everybody, line up. Er. . .would you and your wife like to go first, sir? I think that'll be all right with everyone."

Karm might have refused, but Christine laid her hand on his arm again. He looked down at her, still seething inwardly, then subsided at the pleading that he glimpsed in her eyes before she smiled up at him. "It's his way of apologizing for what might have happened--but didn't."

"Aye," he replied. "Let us tour the ship."

They moved through the entrance and walked up the ramp, pretending to ignore the comments of those following. The general consensus of opinion seemed to be that Karm's communication with the child--his patience and honesty, had swayed many to his side. One unidentified individual was heard to say that perhaps Klingons had a good side, somewhere.

"I think we have learned much this afternoon, Christine," Karm said later as they made their way back to the Transporter Room.

"So did everyone else. Perhaps we've all taken another step in the 'right' direction."


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