by Cynthia L. Smith
Mr. Scott finished the final inspection and shook his head. "It tell you, mon, it won't work!"
"It has to, Engineer, it is logical."
"And I tell you it's too dangerous, Mr. Spock. You could kill yourself."
"Precisely why I am not subjecting anyone else to the risk."
"Scotty," Kirk intervened, "you worked with Spock on this project. You, of all people, should be confident of success."
"It's not the theory I'm worried about, Captain, it's this blasted jury-rigged contraption! We don't know that it can withstand the stresses it's liable to encounter."
The object of Scott's wrath loomed nearby, gleaming dully in the muted light of the hangar deck. It was barely recognizable as a regulation Starfleet shuttlecraft: heavy armor plating covered every exposed surface and the modified engine nacelles bulged ungracefully. The inside had been stripped of all non-essential equipment which, in turn, had been replaced by newly designed units created expressly for this experiment.
Scott threw a dark glance at the ungainly craft and would have continued, but he caught the look in his Captain's eyes and subsided, contenting himself with muttering predictions of doom under his breath.
Kirk turned to his First Officer. "How about it, Spock? Could Scotty be right?"
"There is always that possibility, Captain. This theory has never been tested in quite this manner before. It is quite probable the shuttlecraft will not be able to withstand the strain, but it would be illogical to use a starship as a test unit. However, since I do not plan to exceed Warp Three, the risk is minimal. I would not undertake this mission if I thought it unduly hazardous."
The theory in question was an attempt to improve the efficiency of the fuel injection system through a modified application of the implosion formula. Though the experience with Psi 2000 (and subsequent incidents) had been a major factor in the decision to install governors in starships, Starfleet was intrigued with the possibilities the formula presented for achieving warp speeds at a considerable reduction in fuel consumption. As the innovators of the formula, the task of developing it befell the crew of the Enterprise, much to Kirk's annoyance--he would have preferred not to have been reminded of that particular experience. (("The Naked Time", live STAR TREK episode.)) However, orders were orders, and work had progressed slowly, but steadily, until they were now ready to test the formula under actual field conditions,or as close as practicality would allow.
Although Kirk would not dare show it, he was as apprehensive as Scotty. He hated the thought of sending his Science Officer into the unknown, particularly an unknown that could prove to be his death. But, as had frequently been the case in the past, there was no other man so well qualified as Spock. Kirk sighed inwardly. One of these days the weight of command was going to be too much to bear.
Kirk shook off the mood that threatened to engulf him. "Very well, Spock, you have permission to continue with the project."
Spock nodded briefly and turned to Scotty. "Is everything ready?"
"Aye, sir," he replied reluctantly.
"Good luck, Spock. And--be careful!"
Spock held his Captain's eyes for a long moment, then abruptly turned and entered the shuttlecraft. The doors closed firmly behind him.
Kirk and Scott strode out to the corridor and the double doors hissed shut behind them. Kirk punched a nearby button. "Depressurize hangar deck."
"Depressurizing," came the crisp, efficient reply. Interminable seconds passed, then: "Shuttlecraft away."
Kirk and Scotty exchanged glances. In spite of his earlier pessimism, the Engineer couldn't bear to see the brief look of pain that crossed his Captain's face. "He'll be all right, sir," he said gently.
"Receiving transmission from the shuttlecraft, Captain."
"Put it on audio," Kirk ordered as he stepped down into the well.
"I am now three point two-eight minutes into the test," Spock's filtered voice continued. "All systems functioning normally. When coordinates are reached in four point six-seven minutes, I shall engage the system. There will be no further transmissions until then. Spock out."
They were the longest four minutes in Kirk's memory. Absolute silence reigned on the bridge--every crewmember intent on his own task. The silence was disturbed only twice: once, when McCoy entered the bridge, crossed to the environmental station, and calmly announced, "Life-support systems functioning properly, Captain."
The second time the interruption came from behind Kirk, to his left: "All test units are green, sir, and ready to be engaged," Scott reported.
Kirk shifted restlessly in his chair. It seemed strange to be staring at a blank screen, but he knew it would be useless during this experiment. Finally. . . .
"Spock to Enterprise." Uhura relayed it without being told. "I am approaching the coordinates and preparing to engage the system. . . ." Eyes glued to Spock's hooded viewer, Kyle wiped a damp palm on his thigh; Sulu busily tracked the shuttlecraft on his scope. "System is engaged. . .now."
"Confirmed, Captain. All units operational," came the Chief Engineer's calm voice.
"No change, Captain," Sulu announced from the depths of his viewer. "No, wait! She's picking up speed. . . ."
As if hearing their comments, Spock's voice broke in again. "Velocity is now Warp Two and accelerating. Instruments indicate fuel consumption is 32.157 percent less than normal. It appears we are successful, gentlemen. I shall continue the test program."
Kirk slowly released the breath he was unaware he had been holding and a smile played around the corners of his mouth. All over the bridge the tension visibly eased.
During the next few minutes, Spock put the shuttlecraft through her paces: Maneuvering, adjusting, manipulating, coaxing. The little craft performed flawlessly. Then, everything happened at once. . . .
"Sir," Kyle reported. "I'm getting some very strange vibrations."
"I don't know, sir, she just started yawing."
"Captain!" Kirk swung back to the helm. "She's picking up speed rapidly--too rapidly!"
"I am aware of the situation, Captain. Compensating for variance." The calm voice completely belied the frantic efforts of the First Officer as he fought for control of the shuttlecraft--with little success.
"The engines are super-heating, Captain," Scotty supplied his comforting bit of information.
"Spock! Compensate!" Kirk ordered.
Spock ignored him as he concentrated fiercely, bringing all his scientific knowledge to bear on the problem.
Kirk could stand being blind no longer. "Screen on! Full magnification!" In the center of the screen the little craft appeared--bucking, pitching, straining to stay on course. "Don't lose her, Mr. Sulu." The helmsman strove to obey.
"Captain!" Kirk's head snapped around at Kyle's strangled cry. "The input valve has jammed open!"
Scotty checked his gauges and groaned. "She'll blow for sure, Captain."
The Engineer shook his head. "Out of range, sir, and she's pulling away fast."
"Spock, shut down your systems!"
"I'm sorry, sir, but I've lost contact with the shuttlecraft. The radiation. . . ."
But Kirk didn't hear her. He was out of his chair and staring at the rapidly receding dot that was the shuttlecraft. "Spock!" This whisper was low, intense--a plea--his hands gripped the back of Sulu's chair. "Emergency Warp, Helm," he ordered. The huge ship surged forward under the excess power. The dot which was the shuttlecraft grew slowly, imperceptibly larger.
"Impossible, Captain," Scott protested. "You'll never be able to catch him."
Kirk ignored him. "Maintain speed, Helm."
"Captain?" Kyle was clearly puzzled. "I'm getting some very strange readings."
"From the shuttlecraft?"
"No, sir--not exactly."
"I wish I could, Captain, but I've never seen anything like it. Analyzing now."
"Sir!" Kirk's attention was jerked back to the screen in front of him, the dot in its middle just barely assuming the outlines of a shuttlecraft. "She's reduced speed a little--I think Mr. Spock is regaining control." Kirk permitted himself a small, tight grin.
"Captain, we canna keep this up! The engines are overheating!"
"Maintain your speed, Mr. Sulu," Kirk insisted stubbornly. Scott glared and resumed watching his gauges anxiously.
Then the impossible happened: the dot, which had been a tangible, concrete image on the view screen, suddenly wasn't there. A shocked silence settled over the bridge.
"Kyle!" The Captain's strangled voice was barely recognizable.
"It. . .just vanished."
Something awakened Lorna. She lay quietly while her mind worked in an effort to discern what had disturbed her slumber. She knew she hadn't been dreaming. The house was dark and quiet and too solidly built to make any of the "settling" noises she used to hear in her homes back on Earth; the children had made no unusual sounds. Besides, she was perfectly calm--no rapidly beating heart, no quickening of breath that normally indicated she had been startled. Yet something had awakened her. What? If it wasn't a disturbance from outside, was it from within? Lorna mentally sounded herself but could find nothing amiss. No, wait! She felt. . .she felt empty, as if something were. . .missing? But that didn't make sense and, try as she might she couldn't put her finger on anything definite.
Abruptly she gave herself a mental shake and sternly told herself it was illogical to be losing sleep over trivial matters. Uttering a soft sigh, she turned to snuggle closer to her husband. It was then that she realized he was awake.
"Sarek? You, too?"
"How long have you been awake?"
"Three point four-two minutes."
Lorna did some rapid calculations and concluded that she, too, had been awake about that long. This was much too coincidental. She stiffened in his arms and drew in her breath sharply.
Sarek looked at her. "Something troubles you?"
"Yes. . .and no." Before he could comment on this seeming paradox, Lorna hastened to explain. "I woke when you did, but I don't know why. There seems to be no logical reason and yet. . . " she paused, unsure how to phrase her thoughts. Sarek felt her turmoil and patiently waited for her to finish. Lorna took a deep breath and plunged ahead, "...and yet, something in the back of my mind insists that all is not well. I feel incomplete. . .as if a part of me were missing. Just when I think I'm about to grasp it fully, it slips away, which just doesn't make sense!"
"But it does." It was Lorna's turn to look puzzled. "A part of you is 'missing'--Spock."
Lorna looked up sharply. "Yes!" she breathed. "Yes, I can't contact Spock mentally--can't pick up any impulses--!" Realizing the full implication of what she had said her eyes widened in alarm. "Sarek! Is he. . . ?"
"...dead?" he supplied when she faltered. "I think not. The sensation would have been different."
"Then I don't understand. What could have happened? How. . . ?"
Sarek placed a finger over her lips to forestall further useless questions. "I do not know, Lorna. And conjecture at this point would be illogical."
Lorna, irritated by his calm acceptance of his son's fate, could control herself no longer. She removed his hand from her lips and cried, "Can't you do anything? Notify Starfleet Command? Something?"
"What would you have me do, Lorna? Must I rouse Vulcan Star Base at this hour merely because we sense that something may be amiss?" he asked reasonably.
"Yes, 'sense,' Lorna. You and I seem to have lost contact with Spock's mind, but that does not necessarily warrant a full-scale investigation."
"Not. . . ! Sarek, I think you're being unreasonable. After all, Spock is your son!"
"Yes." This was said so softly, yet with such undertones of emotion, that Lorna was immediately contrite.
"Oh, Sarek, I'm sorry. I was so concerned with my own feelings, I completely ignored yours." She sighed. "You're right, there's nothing we can do now, but I am worried about him."
Sarek pulled her closer to him and laid his cheek against her hair. "I know," he said gently, a frown deepening between his brows.
Kirk stared at Kyle through the gray mists that seemed to be closing in on him, not quite sure he had heard the Lieutenant correctly. Then, suddenly, the mists cleared and Kirk erupted into action, giving vent to his long-suppressed worry and tension in one huge blast of anger. "Is that all you have to say, Mr. Kyle? 'It just vanished'? I can see that! I want facts, Mister! Specifics--hard data--not idle observations! I want to know exactly what happened!"
Kyle weathered the storm in silence, knowing full well the reason for it. McCoy watched Kirk, concern in his eyes, but he made no move to stop him. The outburst was over as abruptly as it had begun. Kirk took a long, steadying breath and got a firm grip on himself; when he spoke again his voice was calm. "Sorry Lieutenant. I had no right to rail at you like that. May I have your report?"
Kyle accepted the apology mutely. "It's as I said, Captain--the shuttlecraft just vanished. One minute the sensors were tracking it and the next moment it just wasn't there."
"Did it explode?"
"No, sir. If it had the sensors would have registered it--there would've been debris, residual radiation, traces of expelled atmosphere. No sir, it just disappeared."
"Could your 'strange readings' have had anything to do with it?"
"Unknown at this time, sir. I'll correlate the data, but it'll take some time."
"Captain. . . !"
"Reduce speed, Mr. Sulu--Warp Six. Do you have the last coordinates of the shuttlecraft?"
"Then lay in a direct course for them, and continue sensor sweeps. I mean to find out what happened!"
Commander Spock stirred and his eyelids fluttered open. A myriad stars assaulted his retinas and he quickly shut his eyes, frowning slightly. Stars? He had been on board the shuttlecraft. He opened his eyes in disbelief--yes. . . stars, and a small silvery half-moon. He tried to identify some of the constellations--they seemed vaguely familiar--but he couldn't seem to place them. No matter, that could be resolved later. He sat up and became aware of a painful throbbing in the back of his head, accompanied by a slight attack of vertigo. He prudently decided against rising immediately; instead, he closed his eyes and concentrated. After a few seconds he opened them, the throbbing in his head having been reduced to a minor inconvenience, easily ignored.
In the faint light of the rising moon, Spock took stock of his surroundings. He was on a small hillock, what appeared to be the foothills of a massive mountain range that soared into the night sky behind him--black claws reaching up in a futile attempt to tear the stars from the firmament. Those stars again. . .beautiful. . .strangely compelling. . .so familiar. But that moon. . .it just didn't seem to belong. Or did it?
Spock resolutely tore his gaze from the awesome splendor and turned it to the planet's surface. Huge boulders littered the landscape and, huddled against them, scraggly vegetation struggled to survive in the arid climate. Surrealistic shadows slowly crept over the ground as the moon wheeled silently overhead.
A metallic gleam caught Spock's eye: above and slightly behind him lay what was left of the shuttlecraft. Spock raised an eyebrow reflectively and carefully picked his way over the uneven ground toward it. It was not a pretty sight: the armor plating was badly scorched from the barely controlled descent through the planet's atmosphere; some of the plates had warped and sheared away from the body of the vehicle at crazy angles. But the engine nacelles were the worst of all--they looked as if a small nova had taken place inside them. Battered and twisted, they were a mass of fused circuits and bent parts, useful only as scrap. Spock would need to see the craft in the daylight, but already he was certain that not much was salvageable.
He walked slowly around the shuttlecraft and shook his head. His eyes traced the long gash on the hill's flank as he followed the path the shuttlecraft had cut before finally coming to a halt. That he had successfully piloted the craft to a landing and emerged relatively unscathed in the process, Spock was sure, but he had no recollection of doing so. And, to compound matters, he could not even contact the Captain. But the air was breathable, the temperature comfortable, and he was alive. Things could be worse.
Spock straightened and scanned the horizon. In the distance a pearly luminescence gleamed in the night sky--a glow that Spock knew was rarely natural. This time his eyebrow nearly disappeared into his hairline. He took one last look around then set off toward the distant glow.
Damn! she fumed as she looked at her watch and scanned the broad but very empty avenue. There's never a cab when you need one! And damn all faculty meetings, too! I'll never make that reception on time. She sighed softly and briefly toyed with the idea of calling her father to send someone for her, but that would waste more time than it would save. Besides, she didn't live that far away--with luck she'd be home in fifteen minutes. Oh, well, she thought resignedly, the walk will be good for me. Reassured, she hesitated only slightly before striding briskly down the quiet street, the light tapping of her heels echoing in the thin air.
Spock stumbled and nearly fell: the ache in his head had become unbearable again and his brain refused to heed his orders. He had no idea how far he had come, nor, how long he had been walking, and he had long since ceased to care. He only knew he was tired, utterly, unspeakably, indescribably tired, but he also knew he had to keep going. The glow he had been following now nearly filled the sky. Spock topped a small rise and gazed at the scene below him. Blinking dazedly in the harsh light, he attempted to assimilate the staggering panorama.
The Spaceport stretched at his feet, seemingly to infinity. Rank upon rank of sleek ships, both private and commercial, ranged along one side of a broad, flat plain. Opposite them stood a row of buildings in all shapes and sizes, light streaming from a thousand windows. At this time of night, the Port was normally quiescent, but Spock spied several small ground vehicles darting here and there; a few solitary figures scurried about, intent on their own business. Again Spock got the fleeting impression that the scene below was vaguely familiar, but his numbed brain refused to resolve the thought. He stood, swaying slightly, for a moment longer, then started slowly down the slope toward the nearest cluster of buildings.
She came to an intersection and hesitated again: if she angled through a section of the Spaceport, she could save a few precious minutes. Ordinarily, she would not have entertained the idea, but she was so late now. . . . Besides, she told herself sternly, you've done this dozens of times before, there's no need to feel apprehensive just because the sun is down. You know full well crime is practically non-existent here! A quick glance at her wrist and her decision was made for her. Turning abruptly on her heel, she chose the road that she knew gave onto the Port complex and quickened her pace slightly.
Her luck ran out a few meters short of her goal. Ducking down a dimly lit passageway between two tall buildings, she was startled as a door suddenly opened, disgorging a stream of light and two slightly tipsy travelers. Her pace faltered for a fraction of a second, then, determined to brazen it out, she strode purposefully toward them, completely ignoring the comments directed her way.
Her ruse worked for awhile. Then, as she passed them, she felt their eyes on her and heard their boots scrape on the paving as they turned. Don't panic now, she warned herself. Show your fear and you've had it, girl! She forced herself to maintain her steady pace, but nothing could prevent her heart from racing.
There was the sound of a footstep behind her and a hand grasped her arm. Stifling a scream she whirled to face them, wrenching herself free, "I beg your pardon!" she said in a voice calculated to freeze liquid oxygen. It stopped them, but only for a moment. "Aw, don't be mad, girlie. Me and Joe was only havin' a little fun. You see, we only just got in and we don't know anyone," The words tumbled out, slipping and slurring over each other. Beside the speaker, Joe nodded vigorously and grinned wolfishly.
All the while she kept retreating steadily, watching them warily. If only she could reach the end of the passage. . . .
"Wouldn't you like to show us around?" the first one asked, attempting to close the distance between them.
"I'm very sorry, but I have another engagement." The voice was still frigid. This time the icy tones seemed to have gotten through, for the men stopped, looked at each other, and shrugged slightly.
She gave them one last withering glance and turned to go. She had only managed two steps before she felt hands on her again, and this time she couldn't break free.
"Let me go!" she demanded.
"Now, you're not bein' very friendly, Honey. I was told this was a nice, friendly planet," the one called Joe said.
"I said, let me go!" She struggled to escape his embrace. "You're hurting me!"
Without warning a shadow detached itself from the head of the passage. Strong hands broke Joe's grip and the woman stumbled back against the wall as Joe was sent flying ungracefully through the air to land in a limp, crumpled heap. His friend's eyes widened and he turned to run, but powerful arms caught him and steel fingers closed over his shoulder. He collapsed silently.
She watched him as he stood reeling slightly over the two still forms. Then, gathering her wits about her, she approached him. "I don't know how to thank you," she began, then stopped as she saw his face when he whirled to confront her. "Are you all right?" She stepped closer and the light from an upper window fell on her, illuminating her features. She halted, puzzled, as she saw the expression on his face. He stared at her, eyes widening with a shock he didn't try to conceal, slowly shaking his head in disbelief.
"No!" The hoarse whisper was wrenched from his lips and bounced mockingly back from the walls. Then, much to her amazement and dismay, Spock collapsed at her feet.
"Coordinates will be reached in two point seven-three minutes, sir," Arex announced with his usual precision.
"Still negative, Captain," Sulu replied. "Except for that split second before we lost Mr. Spock, everything has registered normal."
"Just what was it the sensors recorded, Mr. Kyle?"
"Still analyzing, sir, but as near as I can figure, it was some kind of. . .warp. . .in space."
Kirk digested this information for a few seconds. "Could Spock have encountered the time warp we experienced before?"
"I don't think so, Captain. Comparison of sensor readings revealed that identical conditions did not exist."
"I see. Well, let me know when you have a complete report."
"Captain, coordinates have been reached."
"Thank you, Mr. Sulu. Hold our position."
Kirk stared at the stars on the screen, but he was in no mood to appreciate their beauty. Somewhere out there were the answers they so desperately sought and, by God, Kirk was going to find them if he had to search every single star! "All right, gentlemen, let's get busy. I want a full sensor analysis of the entire area within one parsec of these coordinates. Whatever happened to Spock happened so quickly it had to have originated within that area."
The search progressed systematically and one by one the various stations reported their findings to Kyle who, in turn, programmed the library computer for comparative analysis. But no matter how many combinations were programmed or how many times the programs were run, the result was the same--nothing. The void of space refused to yield its secrets. Even increasing the search pattern to three parsecs failed to uncover anything.
Kirk called the department heads to the Briefing Room. "All right, ladies and gentlemen, we seem to be getting nowhere fast. Let's break this thing down one item at a time: just exactly what do we know? Scotty?"
"Well, sir, we know the experiment worked--up to a point. Until the input valve jammed everything was running smoothly. After that, the shuttlecraft's speed increased uncontrollably; the engines couldna' handle the power and threatened to explode."
"But they didn't explode?"
"I canna rightly say, Captain, but up until we lost contact with the shuttlecraft they hadna--even though they had been perilously close to doing so."
"Uhura, I seem to recall you mentioned something about radiation before you lost contact with Spock?"
"Yes, Captain. At least that's what it appeared to be at the time. I suddenly began receiving huge blasts of static similar to the interference encountered when we approach a star, but much worse and on a different wavelength. I had difficulty maintaining Spock's signal and then I lost it altogether."
"Could it have come from the shuttlecraft, from the overloaded engines?"
"I can't be positive, Captain--everything happened so quickly--but I thought I lost contact with the craft before the engines went super-critical."
"Then where did it come from? Sensor sweeps revealed no radioactivity within the search area. Kyle?"
"I don't know, sir. There didn't seem to be any specific point of origin. It appeared shortly before and disappeared shortly after we lost Mr. Spock."
"Could the two instances somehow be related?"
The idea caught Kyle and intrigued him. "I'll get on it right away, Captain."
"Think you're on to something, Jim?"
"I'm not sure, Bones, but at this point I don't intend to overlook any possibility."
The doctor scrutinized his Captain and reluctantly made a suggestion he knew Kirk wouldn't like. "Jim, you could spend the rest of your life wandering the galaxy searching for clues that don't exist. Give it up for. . . ."
"'Give it up!'" Kirk was incredulous, then anger swept over him in a dark red wave. "Bones, do you know what you're saying? Do you know how many times I owe Spock my life? Do you just expect me to. . . ?"
"Hold on just a damn minute and let me finish, Jim!" Kirk subsided, but he wasn't so sure he wanted to hear what the doctor had to say. "What I was suggesting when I was so rudely interrupted was that you give it up for the time being. You haven't uncovered anything and you won't uncover anything by staying here--the sensors have shown that. Jim, you're too close to the problem--you're jumping at anything that comes along. Back off for awhile, give yourself some breathing room, and look at it from a different perspective. All the data you could possibly need are stored in the computers--you could easily work on the problem elsewhere. Besides, have you forgotten that we're due at Vulcan with the results of the experiment in little more than a day?"
"Some results!" Kirk snorted.
"Captain, what Dr. McCoy says makes sense," Scotty seconded the doctor. "We'll gain nothing by staying here. Plus, the engines need some work--that last chase after the shuttlecraft caused some damage. It's not that serious--I can get us to Vulcan safely--but they could stand some time at a star base."
Kirk opened his mouth to object, then had second thoughts. The two of them were right, that was what was so damnably frustrating about the whole thing. But to leave Spock. . . ? You don't know where he is, how can you "leave" him?! Kirk rubbed a hand over his eyes. Suddenly he was tired, very tired. He reached out and snapped a switch. "Lay in a course for Vulcan, Mr. Sulu, and execute when ready--Warp Factor Six." The Captain surveyed the group around the table. "You win, gentlemen--for the present. However, I expect each of you to devote the majority of your time to resolving this dilemma. I want some answers by the time we reach Vulcan!"
A chorus of "ayes" and the department heads returned to their posts, all except McCoy. "Jim," he said gently, "shouldn't you notify Lorna and Sarek?"
"And tell them what? That we've lost Spock and can't find him?"
McCoy ignored the sarcasm. "They have a right to know, Jim. Besides, with the telepathic link between them, maybe they'd be able to help us. It's worth a try, anyway."
Kirk looked up sharply. Even though he had regained the ability to maintain a mindlink with Lorna, he tended to forget the great distances it could span and the effect it had on those involved. "You may have something there, Bones. You just may have something." He reached out to activate the intercom, then decided against it.
McCoy looked at him curiously. "Are you thinking what I think you're thinking?"
Kirk just looked at him, then rose abruptly and left the room.
McCoy grinned and shook his head.
Kirk sat at his desk, staring at his hands and wondering how to begin. Rousing himself, he raised his eyes to the opposite wall and took a deep breath. His hands were halfway to his temples before he decided he looked ridiculous and dropped them to his lap with a wry grin. Settling back in his chair, he blanked his mind of all extraneous thoughts and concentrated on visualizing Lorna in the blank space on the wall. His last thought before surrendering to total concentration was a hope that it wasn't the middle of the night on Vulcan.
Lorna couldn't concentrate. She'd read the same paragraph three times and still didn't know what it said. Shoving the folder and accompanying tapes aside, she looked at her husband. He had been abnormally quiet since last night's episode. How can you work at a time like this? With a start, she realized he was concentrating in an effort not to think about it. Then came surprise number two: he had deliberately blocked all thoughts of Spock from her! He hadn't denied her access to his mind since he had resumed the Bonding, and Lorna was puzzled and not a little hurt at his action--after all, Spock was as much her son as his. Then she made her third discovery: Sarek would not have acted thusly if he had not been deeply concerned about the incident. Concerned not only about Spock, but about her as well. Lorna's heart went out to him. Sarek, my love, I appreciate the thought, but surely you know we're stronger together than apart?
On an impulse she rose and crossed to him. Kneeling, she placed a hand on his shoulder. "Sarek?" It was almost a whisper.
It only took a moment to transfer his attention from his report to her, but in that brief moment Lorna knew she had surmised correctly. He extended a hand and briefly caressed her cheek, a practice he seldom engaged in while at the office. "You wish to discuss Spock." It was a statement, rather than a question, but Lorna nodded anyway. "Very well, proceed Lorna."
Sarek's willingness momentarily nonplussed Lorna, but she recovered quickly. Seating herself by his desk, she began boldly. "What have you decided to do about it?"
"I thought we resolved that last night--there is nothing I can do."
"You could call the Enterprise. . .ask Jim if anything has happened."
"Lorna," Sarek explained with infinite patience. "Starfleet regulations forbid--"
"You're a Federation Ambassador," she interrupted. "Surely that means something?"
"Must I repeat something you know as well as I? In a situation such as this, there is no legitimate reason for personal utilization of Starfleet frequencies."
"But. . . ."
"No, Lorna," he was firm.
Lorna opened her mouth to protest further, thought better of it, and bowed her head resignedly; however, Sarek noted a familiar determined set to her jaw. He gently grasped her chin and tilted her face so he could look into her eyes.
"And you are not to disturb Captain Kirk. This is one time I forbid you to use your skill, Lorna. If something has indeed happened, I am confident we will be notified." He paused and studied her face for a moment, his expression not inviting argument. "Do I have your promise, Lorna?"
He held her gaze for a moment, then her expression softened and she nodded, a smile playing around the corners of her mouth. "I promise."
Satisfied, Sarek dropped his hand and returned to his report. Lorna gazed fondly at him for a moment, then rose and returned to her desk. Halfway there she suddenly stiffened and stopped in her tracks. Just as suddenly, she relaxed, bit back a murmur of relief, and whirled to face her husband, eyes glowing. "It's Jim!"
Sarek looked up sharply. "Lorna. . .!" he warned.
She shook her head and smiled. "I didn't initiate contact, Sarek, I. . . ."
"Wait a minute. . . ." She held up a hand and cocked her head to one side, frowning slightly.
//Yes, Jim, I'm still here,// she assured a puzzled Kirk. //Relax, you're trying too hard. . .there, that's better.// Her brow smoothed and she smiled again. //Don't force it, Jim--just let it come naturally.//
Kirk's rich chuckle filled her head. //I wasn't sure I could do it at all.//
//You're doing fine, but something tells me you didn't 'call' just to chat.//
Kirk sobered immediately. //True. . . .// He hesitated.
Lorna sensed his turmoil and frowned. //It's about Spock, isn't it?//
//I. . .is Sarek with you?//
//Can you. . .can we. . . ?//
//Yes, but it'll take a few seconds.//
Sarek had been waiting patiently, watching the emotions playing over Lorna's face, and becoming concerned at the rapid shifts from one extreme to another. He rose to meet her as she approached with hands outstretched.
"Jim wants to 'talk' with you, Sarek. . .it's about Spock."
Sarek clasped his wife's hands and quickly fell en rapport with her.
//Peace and long life, Captain.//
//And to you, Mr. Ambassador.//
//You have news of my son?//
//Yes, Ambassador, I do.//
As succinctly as possible, Kirk related the events of the past several hours. After he finished, Sarek and Lorna were quiet for so long he thought he'd lost contact with them. He jumped slightly when Sarek finally spoke.
//You found absolutely no trace of either Spock or the shuttlecraft?//
//Then one thing is certain--Spock is not dead.//
This calm pronouncement did wonders for Kirk's spirits. While he had secretly entertained the same thought, to have Sarek's assurance considerably eased his mind. But his brain still advised caution. //Would you mind explaining how you know that, Ambassador?//
Sarek told of their experience the night before. //...So, you see, Captain, while a court of law would not consider my evidence admissible, there is no doubt in my mind that Spock lives. It only remains for us to determine precisely what has happened.//
//We're working on the problem now, Ambassador, and hope to have an answer by the time we reach Vulcan. I'll contact you then.// He paused and Lorna knew he was grinning. //Only next time I'll use the proper channels!//
Spock regained consciousness slowly. He found it extremely difficult to focus his thoughts: his brain felt as though he were slogging uphill on a 10-g planet. Gradually, the buzzing in his ears resolved itself into voices--three voices, to be exact. Spock lay still and listened.
"...concussion, assorted contusions and abrasions, and exhaustion. There are no complications, but I would prefer that he remain another day for observation. He should become conscious shortly--do not overexert him."
That answered Spock's first question, or part of it, anyway. "Yes, Doctor," a feminine voice replied.
It took all of Spock's self-control to remain impassive. So! He hadn't imagined that voice! Just exactly where was he? Curiosity aroused, he listened intently. A light step and someone approached the bed. For a long moment nothing was said and Spock feared he might have to reveal his pretense, then he heard a soft rustle as she turned and addressed someone in the room. "I'm sorry about the reception, Father, but I just couldn't leave him there."
"That isn't important. What matters is that no harm came to you. Why didn't you call for the car?"
"I know I should have, Father, but I was so furious I wasn't thinking clearly. Besides, I've walked home from the Academy before." Again the quiet rustle. "I wonder who he is?"
Much to her relief, her parent accepted her abrupt change of subject. A heavier tread and he stood by her side. "I have no idea, Amanda. However, it was fortunate he arrived when he did."
"Amen to that!" Amanda breathed. "I wish I could forget the look on his face when he saw me, though. That frightened me more than the other men--I've never seen such a shocked expression on a Vulcan face before."
"From the extent of his injuries, he'd apparently been through quite a lot before he aided you. Even Vulcans have limits to their endurance."
"I suppose so," she replied absently.
Spock had heard enough. He deliberately stirred to catch their attention and opened his eyes. Deep blue eyes smiled down into his. With a start, Spock realized that she was young--much younger than he had expected. Had he encountered the time warp again? But there was still that moon to consider. Interesting. One might almost say fascinating. He realized she was speaking.
"...never did have a chance to properly thank you for last night. I hope my carelessness did not cause you much harm?" Before he could reply, she continued. "By the way, I'm Amanda Grayson and this is my father, Ambassador Jonathan Grayson."
Spock acknowledged the introductions with as much dignity as his prone position would allow. "Miss Grayson, Sir. May you both live long and prosper, I am. . .Spock." That much he felt was safe to reveal; explanations about Starfleet uniforms and shuttlecrafts would have to wait until he learned more about this world. This. . .Vulcan? Spock decided to find out, but before he could ask, she spoke again.
"I must admit you gave me a fright last night. For awhile I thought one of the others had injured you."
"I must apologize for my actions. I had been involved in an accident in the mountains and was not quite myself. For a moment I thought you were someone I once. . .knew. May I ask where I am?"
"You are not from this area?"
"No, sir." Truthful, but not too truthful. To Spock's relief, Grayson didn't seem inclined to pursue the subject, but he noticed the thoughtful look in the Ambassador's eyes. Spock knew he couldn't postpone his explanations indefinitely, but he needed time to consider the situation from all possible angles.
"This is the medical center of the Vulcan Academy of Science," Amanda confirmed his suspicion. A sudden idea caught her attention, but she hesitated, fearing she might be intruding on a personal level.
Spock noted her hesitation and came smoothly to her aid. "You wish to ask something?"
Amanda nodded. "Yes, I was wondering. . .I was wondering if you had a place to stay after they release you tomorrow," she said, hoping she wasn't too forward.
"No, Miss Grayson, I have not. I did not have time to make the necessary arrangements." Again, that sharp penetrating stare from Grayson. Spock received the distinct impression that something besides his sudden appearance was troubling the Ambassador.
Amanda looked at her father and received his approval. "Permit me to offer you our hospitality. It's the least we can do to repay you."
Spock hesitated only momentarily. "No repayment is necessary, Miss Grayson. You honor me with your offer and I accept."
She smiled and a dull pang went through Spock; he suppressed it hastily. "Fine. I'll make the necessary arrangements and will come by tomorrow with the car."
Grayson roused himself from his contemplative mood. "Amanda, we promised the doctor we'd only stay a few minutes. Have you forgotten you were to meet Chris this afternoon?"
Amanda started guiltily and, to Spock's surprise, colored faintly. "Oh, dear! Poor Chris, I had forgotten all about him! I'd better run. I'll see you tomorrow," she called over her shoulder as she fled.
Grayson gazed fondly after his daughter, a bemused expression on his face. "Please forgive my daughter, Spock, she is not usually quite so disorganized. We'll expect you tomorrow, then. Rest well." A slight bow and he followed his daughter down the corridor.
Spock closed his eyes and prepared to do some long, hard thinking.
Amanda found Pike pacing in the Academy's formal gardens and hurried to meet him. A smile replaced his worried frown as he saw her. His outstretched hands caught hers and drew her to him; Amanda offered only token resistance. A long moment later she broke from his embrace, a guilty flush staining her cheeks, and cast a hasty glance around. Reassured, she relaxed slightly and regathered her poise. Pike watched her performance, amusement shining in his eyes.
"Afraid someone will see us?" he teased.
"No. . .yes. . .I mean. . .well, after all, this is Vulcan," she stammered, annoyed at her sudden discomfiture.
"And we're human."
"That has nothing to do with it!"
Tactfully Pike changed the subject. "You're late," he said, and added before she could comment, "and you weren't at the reception last night. What happened?"
She hesitated then finally said, "I encountered a. . .small problem." Now she was thoroughly annoyed with herself. What is the matter with you, Amanda? It's not like you to be evasive. There is absolutely no reason not to tell Chris what happened last night. Are you afraid he might scold you? She smiled wryly to herself. If he does, you've earned it. After you practically stood him up last night, you at least owe him a satisfactory explanation, my girl, so quit stalling!
Amanda looked up at Pike and found him waiting patiently. She smiled apologetically. "I'm sorry, Chris, you deserve a better explanation." She quickly related the events of the preceding evening. When she finished, there was a thoughtful look in his eyes.
"You have no idea who he is? You'd never seen him before?"
She shook her head, studying his face. "Why?"
He shrugged. "Nothing really--just curious. It seems strange, that's all."
"Christopher Pike, I know that look. What's bothering you?" she demanded.
"The negotiations," he stated simply. "I'd hate to see anything interfere with them."
Amanda was stunned. "Are you implying. . . ? That's absurd, Chris!"
"Is it?" He studied her for a few seconds then shrugged slightly. "You're probably right--I've been so involved lately, you'd be surprised what I've been imagining." He smiled and took her hand. "Come on."
"Where are we going?"
"It's a surprise."
"Honestly, Chris, sometimes you're impossible!" she laughed as she followed him.
Had they looked up, they might have seen a shadow quickly blend into the deeper shadows of the arched balcony that ran the length of the gardens. It hovered there for a moment then disappeared down a corridor leading to the laboratory section.
Spock sat in the corner of the garden farthest from the house, reviewing the events of the last few hours. . . .
The ride to the Grayson home had been uneventful and Amanda had concentrated on her driving, keeping the conversation on a light, informative level. Spock was thankful that she did not seem inclined to ask questions he was not yet ready to answer. He sat back, made appropriate comments when necessary, and generally busied himself observing the differences in the passing scenery. Minor differences: in architecture, street layout, and the addition of the Academy, but it was ShiKahr nonetheless.
Amanda had left him shortly after they arrived to return to the Academy after Spock had assured her he quite understood and did not mind being left alone. In fact, he had been rather grateful for the few extra hours.
A cursory examination of the house had revealed Amanda's familiar touch: delicate embroidery here, a spray of bright flowers there, and everywhere, books. Spock roused memories as he idly pulled a Lewis Carroll from the shelf and leafed through it. Replacing it, he scanned the other titles. Predominant were Terran classics and light reading, but he also noted several volumes of Rigellian poetry, a Phineas Tarbold, some dissertations on Federation politics, and shelf after shelf of books devoted to physics, particularly astrophysics. An eyebrow disappeared into his hairline as he extracted a well-worn volume and opened it to the flyleaf to find Amanda's name. Riffling the pages, he found copious notes in the margins. Interesting. It appeared there were differences between this Amanda and his mother after all. . . .
With an effort, Spock collected his wandering thoughts and focused them on his immediate problem. His hours of enforced rest had produced some conclusion, and he was not sure he cared for their implications. No matter. All problems can be solved--one only needs the time and the resources. Spock had time aplenty, but the latter? He sighed, resisting the thought of having to involve the Graysons in his problems any further. But logic dictated no other course.
How long he sat absorbed in thought he didn't really know, nor, for once, particularly care. When he finally did rouse himself, the sun was low on the horizon and the shadows in the garden stretched languorously toward the house. Spock started to rise but halted as voices drifted out into the evening air. Low voices, in intense conversation.
"It can't be true, Father!"
"I didn't say it was, Amanda, only that it was a possibility." An abrupt pause. "Incidentally, where is our guest?"
She shrugged. "He said he wanted to do some thinking. Perhaps the garden."
The sound of retreating footsteps and the voices became fainter, however, Spock had no trouble following the conversation.
"Father, I can't believe you'd entertain such an idea."
"With the negotiations commencing in a few weeks, I'm not the only one entertaining unusual ideas. The fact remains: there is no record of a Vulcan Starfleet Commander by the name of Spock." Thoughtfully: "He must have been in worse shape than he realized to have made an error of that magnitude."
"I know what you're leading up to, Father, and I simply can't believe it," she insisted. "Why would he come to my aid, thus risking almost certain exposure, if he were Romulan? Honestly! You're as bad as Chris!"
Her parent looked at her sharply. "What does Chris have to do with this?"
"Only that he made a similar comment after I explained why I wasn't at the reception. Father, you're letting your imagination work overtime."
"No, Amanda. I'm simply trying to consider all the possibilities. The Federation cannot afford to have something go wrong with the negotiations--not at this stage and not after all we've been through just to convince the Romulans to begin the talks."
"Well, I'm sorry, but I refuse to believe Spock could be a Romulan spy!"
From his vantage point, Spock elevated an eyebrow and decided he'd heard enough.
"There's only one way to be sure, Amanda. I'm going to have him brought in for questioning."
"That will not be necessary, sir. I am quite willing to tell you anything you wish to know, within my ability to do so, of course."
His silent entrance had startled them and the Ambassador had the grace to look momentarily embarrassed.
Amanda sank into a nearby chair and suppressed a chuckle. Intent in their argument, they had completely forgotten the extreme sensitivity of Vulcan hearing.
Spock advanced into the room and addressed her. "Your father is quite correct, Miss Grayson. Not that I am a Romulan spy," he hastened to assure her when he saw the shock on her face, "but that there is no one of my name and rank in Starfleet. . . in this universe."
Grayson pounced. "What do you mean 'in this universe'?" He waved Spock into a chair and seated himself.
"Simply that, sir--I am not of this universe."
Amanda sat forward, listening intently. The existence of other universes was theoretically possible. . . .
"But you were wearing a Starfleet uniform when you were admitted to the medical center."
"Affirmative. I have reached the conclusion that this is a parallel universe, of sorts, to the one I belong to."
"You mean identical?"
Careful, he warned himself, you're not that sure of your facts. He settled on a compromise. "Not exactly. However, it does seem to have reached the same level of development."
"How did you get here?"
"That, sir, is what I have spent the last twenty-one point seven-three hours trying to ascertain. With the limited data at my disposal, I was able only to reach an approximate conclusion, but I believe it is essentially correct. Starfleet . . .my Starfleet. . .had ordered us to develop a new fuel consumption formula and I was in the process of testing it when the intermix input valve in the shuttlecraft engines jammed. The resultant super-heating produced radiation on an unusual wavelength, which affected the area of space around the craft. The extreme speeds reached, coupled with the now unstable space, caused a rift between our respective universes into which the shuttlecraft was drawn. The next thing I knew, I was in the L'langon foothills. The shuttlecraft was severely damaged, but exactly to what extent I will not know without a closer examination by daylight." He turned to Amanda. "When I encountered you the other night, I was suffering from injuries received in the emergency landing."
There was silence for a few seconds as Amanda and her father struggled to absorb the staggering tale. Finally Grayson roused himself. "I'm just a diplomat. Is all this possible?"
"Quite possible, Father. Theories supporting the existence of other universes have long been expounded, but I know of no documented cases."
Grayson was still skeptical. "This all seems rather incredible. How can we be sure it isn't just an elaborately concocted Romulan charade? Can you give us any concrete proof?"
Spock regarded him steadily. "Sir, I am not familiar with your politics, but I assure you I am no Romulan--my medical records will confirm that fact. And, as for further proof that I am not of this universe--I dare not offer any. Already I fear I may have violated the Prime Directive in relating what happened, but it was necessary for me to trust you. Just as now it is necessary for you to trust me. I must attempt to return to my own universe and I will need assistance. Will you aid me?"
Amanda's eyes had not left Spock's face since he began speaking. Now she said quietly, "I believe him, Father."
The Ambassador conceded reluctantly. "My daughter is an excellent judge of character. Very well, Spock, if she believes you, it must be true. What can we do?"
"I will need to recreate the formula. To do this I must have access to a computer and the assistance of someone knowledgeable in such matters. And tomorrow I must determine the extent of damage to the shuttlecraft."
Amanda was thoughtful for a moment. "I believe I know just the person. . . ."
"We're cleared for approach pattern, Captain," Uhura announced.
"Assume standard orbit, Mr. Sulu. Mr. Klye, has the computer analyzed all the data yet?"
"Completing it now, sir." A pause while relays clicked into position. "We have an answer, Captain! It must have been that last correlation that did it." He grinned at Kirk who smiled triumphantly back at him.
"Lt. Uhura, contact Ambassador Sarek and have him meet me in Briefing Room Three in half an hour. And have Dr. McCoy and Mr. Scott join us. Mr. Kyle, bring your tape and come with me."
Exactly thirty standard minutes later, the doors to Briefing Room Three swished open to admit Sarek of Vulcan and his wife, Kirk turned his attention from the view screen where he had been huddled with Kyle and exchanged greetings with them.
"Thank you for joining us, Ambassador. I believe you'll find this most interesting."
Lorna was one step ahead of her husband. "You've found Spock!"
"Not exactly, but we do know what happened to him. If you would please be seated, we'll try to explain. Mr. Kyle?"
"I believe you're already familiar with the experiment we were conducting?"
The question was rhetorical, but Sarek answered it anyway. "Affirmative. The Captain explained when he contacted us yesterday. Please continue."
"Everything was proceeding as planned when Mr. Spock suddenly lost control of the shuttlecraft. Subsequent analysis revealed a minor malfunction in the guidance system due in part to the extra weight the craft was forced to carry. While Spock was compensating for the erratic system, the intermix input valve in the engines broke under the high interior pressures and jammed open, flooding the engines with excess energy and threatening to overload."
"Why was this equipment not stress tested beforehand?" Sarek inquired when Kyle paused for breath.
The Captain looked at his Chief Engineer who hastened to explain. "It had been, sir. But this was a totally new experiment and there was no way to predict accurately what might happen. According to our calculations, we have provided adequate reinforcement at all stress points."
When Sarek did not reply, Kyle resumed the narrative. "This excess energy not only produced extreme speed, but it also released radiation on an unusual wavelength. This radiation, in turn, affected the area of space immediately surrounding the shuttlecraft.
"When all the data were fed into the computers, the final analysis showed that, while Mr. Spock had not encountered the time warp, he did encounter a warp in space. Or, more accurately, a rift. The combination of his extreme speed and the unusual radiation set up vibrations in the fabric of space itself which eventually tore under the strain, permitting the shuttlecraft to slip out of our universe and into another."
"What happened after that, we can only surmise," Kirk assumed the narration. "We have no way of knowing whether Spock is alive in that other universe or not, but since the shuttlecraft engines seemed to stabilize just before he encountered the rift, it's conceivable that once through he could have regained control of the vessel. Bones?"
"If the shuttlecraft remained intact, then it is highly probably that Spock is still alive, for the life-support systems were functioning normally up until we lost contact."
"Admittedly, these are some rather large 'ifs,' but I feel it safe to assume they are probably true."
"I concur completely. There is one question, however."
"I think I know what it is, Ambassador--can Spock return to this universe?" Sarek nodded. "That's another thing we don't know at this time. But I think. . . " and here a speculative gleam entered his eyes, "...I know a way to rescue him. It only remains for us to convince Starfleet command."
Spock followed Amanda through a maze of not entirely unfamiliar corridors and concourses until at length she stopped in front of an unmarked door. She rapped softly. "Professor?" Receiving no response, she knocked again then quietly entered the room. It was empty.
Amanda frowned in puzzlement. "Now where. . . ?" She muttered. A sudden thought occurred to her and she glanced at her watch. Understanding dawned. Turning to Spock she asked, "Would you mind waiting here for a few minutes while I get the Professor?"
"Not at all, Miss Grayson."
"I forgot he had an early lecture this morning," she explained as she left. "This won't take long."
Spock glanced around the spacious office before crossing to the large window directly behind the desk, which overlooked a beautifully landscaped quadrangle. The room was plain almost to the point of austerity, and to the casual observer would have appeared unoccupied. Not a piece of furniture was utilized that was not strictly functional, from the large uncluttered freeform desk with its simple chair to the shelves full of reference tapes lining the walls; the floor was bare, and the walls devoid of ornamentation. Amanda had long since ceased to shiver inwardly whenever she entered the room, but a corner of her mind occasionally yearned to add a splash of color--if only a vase of flowers. In fact, she used to wonder whether the office had been as cold and impersonal when his wife had been alive, and seriously doubted it since it was no secret she had been an outworlder. However, while Amanda was certain the Professor would have understood her desire to brighten up his office, it was not her place to suggest it, so she had kept her observations to herself and, in time, had become accustomed to the lack of decoration. To Spock, the room's sparseness meant only one thing--its occupant was Vulcan. He observed the fact and filed it away without consciously being aware of it.
Spock gazed at the scene below and let his thoughts wander, noting and comparing differences, and eventually drifting back to the last time he had stood before such a window. Had it really been that long? He was surprised how clearly he recalled the harsh words, the barely disguised disappointment which had quickly turned to bitterness and unremitting unforgiveness, requiring years to be resolved. A frown creased his brow.
The door behind him opened with characteristic Vulcan silence and Spock, lost in thought, was unaware of the other's entrance. The newcomer studied the tall figure silhouetted against the window for a moment. When Spock showed no sign of acknowledging his presence, he spoke. "Miss Grayson tells me you require my assistance."
The soft, carefully modulated voice cut through Spock's thoughts like a knife and he froze for a split second before turning to face the speaker with a bit more alacrity than he had intended. One portion of his mind struggled to refocus his thoughts in the present while another assailed him for overlooking so obvious a parallel. However, the only outward sign of this inner conflict was a momentary flicker deep in his eyes. When he spoke, he was once again in full control. "That is correct, sir," he replied, gazing steadily into calm brown eyes.
The Professor noted his visitor's fractional hesitation but dismissed it as unimportant. "I am Sarek," he said as he crossed to his desk and waved Spock to the only other chair in the room. "How may I be of service?"
The Professor set the aircar expertly down beside the shuttlecraft. He climbed out and stood gazing at it in silent appraisal; a second figure joined him. The harsh sunlight glinted off torn metal. It was worse than Spock had remembered. However, he spared it only a glance as he unlimbered a tricorder and entered the craft.
The interior was a shambles. Spock silently eyed the useless machinery for a few seconds then, stepping gingerly over the debris, he approached the control console. Experimentally depressing a button, an eyebrow rose in surprise as a few telltale lights glowed into existence. Stooping, Spock deftly removed an access panel and quickly shunted the remaining battery power to the onboard computer. He straightened and programmed a taped readout of all data pertaining to the experiment. Then he turned to the wreckage behind him and proceeded to salvage what he could.
Sarek watched Spock disappear into the craft, then reached for his own tricorder and headed for the rear of the vehicle.
Spock spent the next few minutes wrestling battered pieces of equipment from the shuttlecraft and loading them into the aircar. At length he retrieved the computer tapes, shut down all systems, and joined Sarek, who stood frowning at the tricorder in his hands.
The Professor looked at Spock and shook his head slightly, handing him the tricorder. Spock didn't need to look at it to know the engines were beyond repair, nevertheless, he gave the gauges a cursory glance. He looked up to find Sarek's gaze on him.
"It appears there is nothing more to be done here."
Sarek silently agreed. "I will arrange to have the shuttlecraft brought to the Academy where it can be dismantled for further examination."
Spock nodded assent and with one accord they returned to the aircar. Spock spent the remainder of the trip to the Academy outlining a plan of action.
"I'm starved!" Amanda announced. "Can I get you gentlemen anything?"
Spock and Sarek interrupted the discussion they had been engaged in ever since they left the Academy long enough to politely decline then immediately resumed talking.
"Amanda, is that you?" Grayson's voice floated out from the back of the house followed a minute later by the Ambassador himself. "I was beginning to think you were living at the Academy--I've hardly seen you for the past two days."
"I was beginning to believe it myself," she replied, helping herself to a large swallow of his drink. "Oh! I needed that!" She was about to hand it back when she had second thoughts. "I'll bring you a refill," she promised, disappearing into the kitchen.
Her parent started to follow then stopped, shook his head bemusedly, and turned to his guests. They were still standing in the middle of the room, engrossed in their conversation, oblivious to all else. "Spock. Professor Sarek. Won't you please be seated?" he asked, exchanging greetings. "Tell me, how's the project?"
"We are making satisfactory progress, Ambassador."
Grayson raised a hand in protest. "Please! As long as you're a guest in my house--call me Jonathan, please."
"As you wish."
"I find the project stimulating," Sarek commented. "It is a theory I had not considered before--one that reveals a whole set of interesting applications."
"It certainly does!" Amanda returned balancing a tray on which reposed two tall glasses and a plate of hastily assembled sandwiches. "Father." He took the proffered tumbler. "Are you certain you won't have anything? It's no trouble. . . ."
"Quite certain, Miss Grayson," replied Sarek. Spock concurred.
She gave a tiny shrug as if to say "Well, I tried," then curled up in a chair and proceeded to placate her stomach, studying each man in turn as the conversation circled the room. Her father was evincing his usual polite interest, but Amanda knew he would be completely lost if the discussion became any more technical, although his diplomatic training would never let his confusion show. Apparently sensing this, Spock was doing his best to describe their progress in as non-technical language as possible--without being condescending--and was succeeding admirably. Amanda had a feeling this was one skill he had perfected long before he met her father.
But it was the spark of interest in Sarek's voice that merited most of Amanda's attention: he was positively animated. She couldn't remember when he had been as interested and absorbed by a project. As she watched Spock and Sarek alternately discussing various aspects of the project, it occurred to her that Spock was as responsible for the change in Sarek as the project itself. Amanda smiled to herself as another of the numerous facets of Vulcan personality revealed itself: as much as they cherished their privacy, Vulcans required companionship to maintain their mental equilibrium, and she was glad he had found a friend in Spock, if only temporarily.
Amanda suddenly realized she was staring, and hoped Sarek hadn't noticed her breach of etiquette. With an effort, she regathered her thoughts in time to hear her father inquire: "Then you will be able to duplicate the formula?"
"Affirmative. There was some damage to the memory banks, but I believe I can supply the missing data. The problem would seem to be locating a suitable vehicle and redesigning its components to withstand the tremendous pressures involved. I could, of course, design one completely anew but--and the Professor agrees with me--that would entail more time and materials than are reasonable to expend."
"Perhaps Starfleet could be persuaded to part with a shuttlecraft. If this formula performs as well as you claim, I should think they'd be extremely interested."
Spock considered this for a few seconds. When he finally replied, his voice was thoughtful. "While I resist the idea of involving yet another in my endeavor, if I am to return to my universe, it does seem to be the only logical alternative." He looked at Sarek who cocked an eyebrow in agreement.
"In that case. . .Amanda, do you think the Commodore could be prevailed upon to help Spock?"
Amanda blushed faintly and kept her eyes riveted on her plate for a fraction of a second, wishing her father wouldn't tease her about Chris in front of others. However, her discomfiture passed quickly and she raised steady eyes to his face. "I believe the possibility exists," she replied smoothly, surprised at how calm and detached her voice sounded.
Amanda's hesitation, while slight, caught Spock's attention and his eyes flew to her face, searching. What surprised him most, however, was Sarek's reaction: the Professor's eyes were also on Amanda's face, but his gaze held more than mere polite anticipation of an answer. Spock elevated a mental eyebrow and wondered whether Sarek knew just how much he was revealing. Probably not--to all but a Vulcan perhaps, his face wore the impassive mask habitual to his species; however, Sarek's approval of Amanda's control and subsequent reply was almost palpable. The look vanished as quickly as it appeared, but Spock had not been mistaken. This was something that would bear watching. He was hardly aware that Amanda had changed the subject.
"Father, how are your preparations coming?"
"Rather more slowly than yours, I'm afraid. Right now we seem to have reached a stalemate--over something rather trivial--and if a solution isn't reached within the next few days I may have to pay a personal visit to the outpost." He sighed. "I don't know. Sometimes I wonder if the Romulans are really sincere in their desire to talk peace."
"May I ask what the difficulty is, Jonathan?"
"The Romulans have suddenly decided they don't like the location of the asteroid on which we're planning to hold the conference. In spite of the fact that it's on the edge of the system and that we have assured them there will be no Federation vessels patrolling the area at the time the negotiations are being held, they have decided they would be in far too vulnerable a position and now threaten to forego the conference entirely unless changes are made."
"Have you suggested Babel, Father?"
He nodded. "They vetoed that at the start and I can't blame them--after all, it is deep in Federation territory."
"It may seem a 'trivial' matter to you, Ambassador, but consider the Romulans' position for a moment," Sarek volunteered. "They have been at odds with the Federation and the Klingon Empire for almost one hundred years--each year their raids grow bolder and each year the retaliation becomes harsher. Suddenly they are offered a truce, a promise of peaceful coexistence, by the very people who have been trying to eliminate them--or so it seems to them. And where are these negotiations for peace to be held? On the edge of one of the most powerful systems in the Federation. Granted it was selected because of its relative nearness to the Romulan Empire, but it is Federation territory nonetheless. Add to that the fact that it was suggested the negotiations be on a face-to-face basis and the Romulans, quite predictably, will react with fear and suspicion and refuse to cooperate.
"May I suggest, if all attempts at reconciliation fail, you abandon the actual physical confrontation and substitute two-way visual communication instead. In that way the Romulans could conduct the negotiations from what they would consider to be a safe distance. It is quite probable they would even be willing to reach a more rapid settlement."
Grayson looked at Sarek as if seeing him for the first time. He smiled wryly and shook his head. "I must be getting old. Of course! That's the perfect solution. We're so used to conducting our business according to accepted standards that we completely overlooked the obvious alternative. Have you ever considered entering the diplomatic service, Professor? We could use more fresh, objective minds like yours."
"I am quite content with my scientific duties, Ambassador."
"Well, if you ever change your mind, let me know."
Amanda rose, bringing the conversation to a halt. "If you gentlemen will excuse me--I'm afraid it's been rather a long day. . . ."
"I, too, must bid you good evening--my agenda calls for an early start tomorrow."
The last thing Amanda saw as she and her father left the room was two dark heads bent, once again, in discussion.
The reception was in full swing when Amanda arrived at the Embassy. Can't I ever arrive on time anymore? she thought despairingly as she dashed up the back stairs and into what she and her father privately referred to as the "Contingency Room." Slipping a colorful flowing poncho over her jumpsuit, Amanda splashed water on her face and ran a quick comb through her hair before piling it on top of her head and securing it with an ornate comb. She studied her reflection for a moment, gave one final settling tug to the poncho, and decided she would have to do. Less than five minutes after entering the Embassy, Amanda descended the front stairs and began to mingle with the guests: tonight's reception was just one in a series of functions welcoming Valeria and its representatives into the Federation.
If Amanda hadn't known better, she could almost have sworn she was in the wrong building, so startling was the transformation. As it was, she had a little difficulty recognizing her surroundings: the normally tastefully furnished foyer was now crowded with potted plants of all shapes and sizes, complete with a small splashing fountain in one corner. Amanda fleetingly wondered which greenhouse had been burglarized.
Just off the foyer several adjoining offices and conference rooms had been turned into one large room by retracting the connecting walls, and the caterers had set up a lavish display of both exotic and familiar hors d'oeuvres and beverages at one end. Voices and laughter echoed down richly paneled hallways that normally heard only the muted sounds of office equipment and footsteps muffled by thick carpeting. Overall, soft music issued from the P.A. system, periodically interrupted by the announcement of arriving guests by an impressively liveried doorman.
Gravitating toward the center of activity, Amanda spied several familiar faces and stopped to exchange greetings. In the middle of a conversation with the Aldebaran Envoy, she spotted her father. Excusing herself, she went to join him. Slipping up behind him, Amanda slid her arm through his and gave it an affectionate squeeze.
"Sorry I'm late, Father." Grayson smiled down at her. "Have you seen Chris?"
"Something came up at the Base and he won't be able to make it." Amanda frowned slightly. "But you're just the person I've been looking for," he added mysteriously, although there was a twinkle in his eyes.
Curiosity over her father's remark overcame Amanda's momentary disappointment. She raised puzzled eyes to his face.
Grayson chuckled. "Awhile ago the Valerian Ambassador and I were discussing various dance forms," he explained, "and for a race that prides itself on innovative dancing, apparently they've never developed the waltz." He grinned. "Shall we demonstrate?"
Amanda grinned back. "Why not?" As her father led her down the hall, she inquired, sotto voce: "Whose idea was it to have the jungle in the foyer?"
"Oh, that! I'm afraid it's a rather long story. Unfortunately, by the time I discovered it, there wasn't time to dismantle it. Just be thankful we were able to remove the birds."
Grayson sighed. "I'm afraid one of our junior staff members got his planets mixed up."
"I'll say he did!" Tears of suppressed laughter gleamed in Amanda's eyes; Grayson grinned ruefully and shook his head.
"Here we are." They entered a large conference room from which all the furniture had been removed, except for a few small tables and chairs against the walls. Small groups of people were scattered about, conversing quietly. Grayson approached a tall, strikingly handsome couple. "Ambassador Therold. Lady Mina. I'd like you to meet my daughter, Amanda."
"It's a pleasure to make your acquaintance, Miss Grayson," Therold replied, bowing deeply over her outstretched hand.
"The Ambassador has told us so much about you, I feel I already know you," his wife added. Her voice was deep and melodious.
While they exchanged courtesies, Amanda had a chance to observe the striking pair more closely. She had heard of the renowned Valerian beauty, but hadn't quite believed it until now.
Both the Ambassador and his wife stood approximately two meters tall, although Mina was a few centimeters taller than her husband, and both had flaming copper hair--Mina's falling in a shimmering cascade far below her waist; vivid cobalt blue eyes accentuated pale translucent complexions. Slightly built--even more slender than the average Vulcan--they moved with a fluid, natural grace. Amanda readily understood how the Valerians had achieved their reputations as the finest dancers in the Federation.
"Father tells me you were discussing the waltz earlier," Amanda said, in an attempt to steer the conversation away from the seemingly endless social pleasantries.
"Yes. I understand it's been one of the more endurable and popular Terran dances for centuries," Mina replied, "but I'm afraid I'm still slightly confused. Is it a fold dance of some sort?"
"Not in the true definition of the word. But we can discuss its history later." Amanda cocked her head. "Aren't you more interested in learning how to do it?"
"I thought you'd never ask!" Mina laughed. "Is it difficult?"
"Not at all--in fact, it's just the opposite. All waltzes are written in triple measure, which makes it very easy to mark time and stay in step. Father, shall we demonstrate a few bars to give them the idea?"
Grayson walked over to a panel on the wall and pushed a few buttons; the lilting strains of a waltz filled the room. Gathering his daughter in his arms, he and Amanda proceeded to demonstrate some of the variations that could be done with the basic waltz step. In a few minutes they rejoined Mina and Therold, and shortly thereafter all four were sweeping gracefully around the floor.
Amanda looked up at Therold accusingly. "Are you sure you've never waltzed before?" The twinkle in her eyes belied the tone in her voice.
"Positive. It has a vague similarity to our tligett (tlē'-gĭt), but it's not as complicated."
"Did you know the waltz was once considered scandalous?"
"This lovely dance? Impossible!"
Amanda proceeded to relate the story to a very skeptical Ambassador. After a few minutes she abandoned her attempt to convince the Valerian, and decided it was time for him and his wife to try waltzing on their own. Explaining her intentions to Therold, Amanda caught her father's eye and nodded. The next time the two couples swept past each other, there was a brief flurry of graceful pirouettes as Mina and Amanda exchanged places then, without missing a beat, the Valerians and the Terrans were dancing with each other.
Freed from the unconscious restraint employed while dancing with strangers (even though the strangers in question were excellent dancers and had quickly mastered the basic techniques), Amanda and her father revealed their own dancing prowess. Gliding across the floor, Grayson led his daughter through a routine they had worked out over the years that perfectly fit the changing moods and tempos of the piece: it was not for nothing that he had selected his favorite waltz for demonstration purposes.
Amanda glanced over her shoulder as she was whirled around and noticed Therold and Mina rapidly incorporating their own personal nuances into the dance. She nudged her father and they exchanged grins.
"I think we've started something!"
Grayson chuckled and twirled her even faster.
All too soon the music reached its crashing climax and Amanda collapsed breathlessly against her father, laughing delightedly. "Whew! I'm glad we don't do that too often," she exclaimed when she could breathe again.
The sound of gentle applause startled them and they looked around at the crowd that had gathered, apparently attracted by the music. Amanda blushed in sudden confusion as she recognized the Professor's face in the throng, but before she could analyze her reaction, she was distracted by the approach of Therold and Mina and forgot all about it.
"Now you must try our favorite dance," Therold announced. He crossed to the far wall and whispered something to one of Grayson's aides. The aide nodded and pushed the appropriate buttons on the panel as Therold rejoined his wife.
Amanda groaned inwardly as she heard the music--not because she was unfamiliar with it, but because she hoped she'd remember all the steps. Therold had selected a dav' ona (dä vōn'-a)--an intricate dance of Valerian origin, resembling a cross between the ancient Terran gavotte and quadrille, but even more involved. She shot a rueful glance at her father. He shrugged philosophically as they took their places on the floor, along with Therold and Mina, and several other couples, who had recognized the music. Briefly closing her eyes and praying she wouldn't disgrace herself, Amanda took a deep breath and the dance began.
The dav'ona comprised a series of related sets involving fancy footwork and frequent changes of partner. It was not a particularly rapid dance, but it was long and required a certain amount of concentration, especially if one danced it only infrequently. After the first few halting steps, Amanda stopped trying to remember what happened when, and just let her feet follow the music. She was pleasantly surprised to discover she recalled more than she thought. Like riding a bicycle, she decided.
"I thought this was supposed to be a reception, not a ball," Amanda whispered to her father at one point.
He grinned. "At least no one can accuse the Terran Ambassador of throwing dull parties!" he managed to reply before the dance required several rapid changes of partner as a new set began.
Amanda was watching her father and chuckling in private amusement, so it was a few seconds before she noticed her new partner. When she finally did, it was only the insistent rhythm of the music that kept her from stopping dead in shock: she had never known the Professor to dance before. In fact, since his wife died, he had been known to assiduously avoid social functions of all kinds.
Fortunately, a few moments later, the dance required her to remain stationary for several measures, during which time Amanda managed to re-gather her composure. If Sarek noticed her confusion, he kept his observation to himself.
This particular set was long and done entirely with the same partner, which afforded Amanda an excellent opportunity to study Sarek's technique. She had not had many opportunities to observe Vulcans dancing, and had the usual Terran misconceptions--namely, that a logical, emotion-controlling race would consider dancing frivolous and thus move stiffly and awkwardly. In fact, as Amanda rapidly discovered, just the opposite was true: in their continuous quest for harmony and consonance in all things, Vulcans had raised the blending of movement with sound to an art almost on a level with the Valerians. While it was true they did not display this talent frequently, when they did it was with grace and dignity.
Amanda felt herself relaxing under Sarek's skillful handling and, for the first time since she'd learned it, actually found herself enjoying the challenge the dav'ona presented. She also discovered Sarek had a wealth of knowledge to offer concerning Valerian customs and listened in rapt attention as he related the origin of some of their dances. By the end of the set, she had even forgotten to be disappointed over Pike's absence.
The dance's furious climax followed shortly thereafter and, in the flurry of the final partner changes, Amanda lost track of Sarek. By the time she'd regained her breath and managed to extricate herself from the crush of admiring spectators, the Professor was nowhere to be seen. Amanda scanned the room, brow knit in puzzlement, then shrugged. Her question could wait. Selecting a drink from a nearby table, she rejoined the group clustered around Mina and Therold. Amanda knew she would probably regret the late hour and her unaccustomed exertions tomorrow, but for the present she was determined to enjoy what could probably be the last party she'd be able to attend for awhile.
Amanda sat at a huge console, fingers flying confidently over the keys as she set up an intricate program. At length she leaned back, flexing her fingers and easing her aching shoulders. She had been at her task for several hours. While waiting for the computer to complete its analysis and subsequent readout, she had leisure to observe her colleagues.
To the uninitiated, the scene in the lab represented Chaos personified: technicians scurried about, seemingly directionless; work benches and tables were littered with countless tools and components in all stages of dissemblance; and, permeating throughout, was the low hum of machinery and voices. But to Amanda and the other privileged few who were involved in the research project, the huge room was as orderly and calm as a library.
She swiveled in her chair and glanced at Spock and Sarek. They were huddled at one end of a long table, busily dissecting part of the damaged shuttlecraft nacelle: dark heads together; brows furrowed in concentration, hands moving swiftly and surely. It was an attitude Amanda had observed frequently in the past few days. Now as she watched them, it suddenly occurred to her that they worked extremely well in concert--almost too well for the length of time the project had been in progress. Before she could pursue this vague impression further, her thoughts were interrupted by the computer: it beeped discreetly and disgorged a thin cassette. Extracting it, Amanda rose and approached the Vulcans.
"Comparative engine circuitry analysis," she said proffering the tape.
"Indeed," Sarek murmured, still intent on his task.
Spock's eyes snapped up at the mild surprise and approval in the Professor's voice, but Sarek's face wore its habitual noncommittal expression. Spock fleetingly wondered if Sarek was even aware he had spoken.
He took the tape, inserted it in the tabletop viewer, and set it for rapid scan. Sarek joined him. Graphs and equations flashed on the screen so quickly that Amanda just barely recognized the date with which she had been working; however, the two men seemed to have no difficulty comprehending it. Amanda raised her eyes from the dizzying display and watched their faces while they interpreted the results, but the only change she could detect was a slight--a very slight--lessening of the lines of concentration that seemed to have been etched on their faces since the project began.
The tape ended and Spock stood staring thoughtfully at the blank screen for a long moment. Before the suspense grew too unbearable for Amanda, he spoke: "Good." And again: "Very good." He snapped off the viewer and removed the tape.
"Extremely efficient," Sarek commented, not referring entirely to the modification process he had just seen demonstrated.
Amanda didn't seem to notice. "You can use the shuttlecraft?"
Spock let Sarek explain: "We shall have to do extensive re-routing of some circuits, but the crafts are basically compatible. I had not expected to begin work at this date, however," he added as an afterthought. This earned him another sharp stare from Spock: a not infrequent occurrence of the past few days.
Amanda suddenly realized Sarek had complimented her and a warm, inexplicable glow began to develop inside her. At the same time, she sensed it would be improper to display her pleasure, and she fought to subdue the feeling. Amanda succeeded in schooling her features into an even mask, but her eyes betrayed her. Her breath caught in her throat--was that a gleam of amusement she saw in Sarek's eyes? Before she could be certain she hadn't imagined it, the look vanished and her attention was diverted as the door opened and Pike entered.
He stood on the threshold for a moment scanning the room. His gaze found Amanda and he adroitly threaded his way toward her. His practiced eye took in the littered table as he greeted the trio. "Making some progress, I see."
"Affirmative, Commodore. We begin the modifications tomorrow."
"I did request the best technicians be assigned to the project," Sarek explained quietly.
Amanda again felt an inexplicable flush of pleasure, and this time she was unable to prevent it from surfacing; she avoided Sarek's eyes.
"Yes, of course," replied Pike, slightly embarrassed by his unintentional slur on their ability. He turned to Amanda. "Hungry?"
"Ravenous!" she exclaimed, grateful for the change of subject. "I didn't realize it was so late."
"If you'll excuse us, gentlemen."
Sarek watched them leave; Spock eyed Sarek speculatively. The Professor rarely bestowed praise for the performance of one's duty, but Spock had noted he had been almost lavish with it where Amanda was concerned in the four days they had been working together. This was the first time, however, that Amanda had exhibited an awareness of it.
Spock observed the Professor's expression--or, rather, extreme lack of it--as he followed Pike's and Amanda's departure from the lab, and he cocked an eyebrow reflectively. Amanda had been correct earlier in that she had seen something glimmer in Sarek's eyes, but it had not been amusement. Approval, perhaps, for her almost successful control over her sudden emotional upsurge, and
just a hint of pride at the swift completion of a complicated assignment--but definitely not amusement. Surely Sarek was aware of Amanda's capabilities? Spock understood that she had been assigned to his department for at least six standard months, more than sufficient time to observe one's work habits, one would think.
Spock recalled the look in Sarek's eyes and raised a mental eyebrow as observations began to coalesce in the back of his mind. Here, too? he mused. Remembering the relationship between his own mother and father, and the happiness his father now shared with Lorna, Sarek concluded that an equal potential existed for this Sarek to find happiness and fulfillment with Amanda. Judging from what he had observed thus far, the Professor apparently had reached the same conclusion. Then why the hesitation? Sarek had seen Amanda's reaction to his praise, so he must know she wasn't indifferent toward him. Was he concerned with the possibility of a rival in Pike? Well, there was one way to find out.
Spock turned back to the nacelle where Sarek had resumed working and picked up an instrument. "Miss Grayson is extremely efficient," he said, consciously echoing Sarek's previous comment while studiously concentrating on loosening a stubborn bolt. It had the desired effect. Spock felt Sarek's eyes on him, but when the Professor finally spoke, his voice was noncommittal.
"I have found her to be so--on many occasions."
"There were others?"
Sarek scrutinized Spock, not quite sure what, if anything, this line of questioning was leading to, then decided it was simply professional curiosity. "There were," he assented. "I have had previous occasion to work with Miss Grayson. She has proven herself an invaluable assistant many times: her ability to grasp a concept and quickly pursue it to its desired conclusion is a necessary requirement for a project of this type. Consequently, and since she was already acquainted with your problem, it was logical she should be selected as part of the research team."
"I quite understand," Spock said.
In fact, he was beginning to understand all too well. Despite the fact the Professor had kept his carefully modulated voice free from inflection and innuendo, the accolades which had just poured forth revealed volumes. A portion of Spock's theory slid neatly into place: Sarek definitely was attracted by more than Amanda's technical skill, and apparently had been so for some time. However, that only partially explained his reactions.
"Miss Grayson is an attractive woman," he continued. Stunned silence filled the air and he looked up to find Sarek gazing at him, eyebrows raised in astonishment. "It would be illogical to deny the obvious," he stated reasonably.
Sarek was silent for a long moment before replying. "I quite agree." But it was impossible to tell to which of Spock's statements he was referring.
Spock noted Sarek's increasing wariness, but having formulated a theory, he was determined to see it through to its conclusion. "With her youth and technical prowess, she would make someone an ideal mate," he persevered. "Is the Commodore the correct choice, I wonder?"
That did it. Sarek's features closed with such rapidity Spock could almost hear the mental doors slam. When he spoke, his voice was frigid. "I make allowance for the fact you are not native to this planet Perhaps your customs are somewhat different, but here one does not discuss such matters outside of the family, and idle speculation is considered an unprofitable endeavor." Having thus voiced his displeasure, he apparently decided that perhaps he had been overly harsh, for he added in a quieter tone as he resumed work on the nacelle, "It appears she has made her decision."
Spock stared at him thoughtfully. You underestimate yourself, Sarek. Aloud he said, "If I have violated your social mores, I beg forgiveness," he apologized, knowing full well he had done so, but realizing he would not have gotten a reaction otherwise. "Are you positive?" he added quietly.
Sarek's head snapped up; Spock calmly absorbed the stare that had devastated stronger men than he. "I shall not caution you again," Sarek said dangerously. He held the younger man's gaze for a moment longer, then, resumed his interrupted task.
Had Spock been able to, he would have smiled with satisfaction. He hadn't liked to employ the shock technique, thus exposing himself to Sarek's justifiable displeasure, but it was the only way he knew to break through Sarek's barriers and prove his theory. No, he wouldn't broach the subject again--it had served its purpose: he was positive there was some serious readjustment in Sarek's thinking taking place behind that impassive face.
Spock retrieved his tool and resumed working.
Amanda lay down her book and stretched. It was late and she should have been feeling sleepy, but she wasn't ready to retire just yet. She glanced across the room at Spock. He was tinkering with yet another of the damaged shuttlecraft's components. She smiled fondly at him as he worked. His long silences never seemed to be rude but, rather, companionable and Amanda reflected how extremely easy it was to work with him.
Lately, it seemed that every time she looked at him, he was huddled with some piece of equipment. Don't you ever rest? Then, I suppose if the situation were reversed, I'd want to return home as quickly as possible, too. She watched him for a moment longer: watched the long, sure fingers work swiftly and confidently; watched the dark, gleaming head refract the light into miniature rainbows. It occurred to her that he reminded her of someone, but she couldn't quite place whom. I must be more tired than I realize. Oh well, it would come in its own good time.
Amanda suddenly realized that although she had known him for--goodness, was it only five days!--and had worked with him for four, she really knew very little about him.
"Spock? Tell me about your universe." He looked up at her warily and started to object, but Amanda forestalled him. "I know, you've already explained why it would be unwise to do so, and I agree with your reasons, but I'm not talking about specifics--just a general comparison. You must admit, it is scientifically fascinating."
Spock studied her for a few seconds, weighing his objections against her argument. Having encountered previous examples, he was well aware it was a fascinating experience. But there were dangers to be considered also--dangers not always apparent on the surface.
Quite suddenly he had a most illogical desire to confide in her. Fortunately, his Vulcan half managed to overrule his human half and he settled on a compromise. What right had he to deny her--a fellow scientist, as well as a person of integrity--the opportunity to expand her knowledge? "What would you like to know?"
For a moment Amanda had thought he might dismiss her request. She had sensed, rather than seen, the conflicts raging within him and she had kept still, hoping he might accede to her wishes, but willing to abide by his decision. When he finally did agree, she smiled with gratitude and not a little relief, and plunged right in. "Is your universe exactly parallel to this one?"
She had dropped the expected bombshell and Spock didn't even hesitate. "Insofar as technology is concerned, I have found the two universes extremely similar. Were it not so, I would be unable to even attempt to return to mine. However, from what little I have learned thus far, it would seem that exact similarity ends there. For instance, your Federation has been allied with the Klingon Empire for a number of years; we are just beginning to attempt a peaceful relationship."
She nodded. "Ours was a case of forced cooperation for the sake of self-preservation. The Romulans had always been extremely aggressive, but about a hundred years ago they began to get really savage and continually provoked incidents with the Empire and the Federation. Twenty-five years of ceaseless and senseless slaughter proved to be almost too much for both governments and they formed the current alliance. Over the years the Empire and the Federation gradually lost their mutual distrust. Now, they both interact freely and completely with one another, and together are striving for a unified galaxy. In that regard, just getting the Romulans to consent to begin the preliminary talks was considered a major achievement, and is one reason why Father was upset the other night. Hopefully, they will eventually see the advantages of cooperative existence, but I'm afraid I won't live to see it."
"With a man of your father's caliber in charge, I am confident the negotiations will proceed smoothly."
"I'm keeping my fingers crossed in any event--the Romulans are so volatile. . ." She took a deep breath and shook her head. "Well, enough of that. How else do we differ?"
"The difference in politics seems to be the most distinctive; however, I have noted some physical discrepancies. There are two rather obvious ones concerning Vulcan itself: my native planet orbits a trinary star and has no moon. There are other minor deviations---in architectural styles, in time lines and relationships--but our basic philosophies and lifestyles appear to be analogous."
"Time lines and relationships?" She was puzzled. "Have you advanced or regressed time-wise when you shifted universes?"
If Spock could have felt annoyance, his face would have twisted with it. For some reason, which he barely acknowledged with his subconscious mind and certainly not on a conscious level, he found Amanda easy to talk to and, thus involved in his narration, had let slip an observation he had no intention of divulging.
The damage was done; he would rectify it as best he could. "Not exactly. However, I have observed several instances where an individual and his occupation have not shown a parallel development."
Amanda digested this for a few seconds, then suddenly everything fell into place. "That explains it." Spock looked at her inquiringly as she continued: "I thought you and Professor Sarek seemed to work extremely well together--you've worked with his counterpart, haven't you?"
Spock couldn't deny it, but neither did he elaborate, then he adroitly changed the subject: "Tell me, how long has Sarek headed the Physics Department?"
"I really don't know--quite a few years, I imagine. I understand he directed the Computer Division for many years before taking charge of the entire Physics Department. He's an extremely brilliant man," she added unnecessarily.
"So I have observed. Do you enjoy working with him?"
"Absolutely! I thought I'd had a rather extensive education until I met him--he's taught me more in the few short months I've been at the Academy than in all the years I spent at various universities, and not just academic subjects. I could study with him for years and probably only put a dent in his wealth of knowledge."
"With your intelligence and scientific ability, you would be an asset on board a starship. Have you ever considered applying to Starfleet Academy?"
"Once--briefly. But since Mother died and I've had to assume official hostess duties for Father, I've been to so many places that I'd really like to settle down somewhere and develop some roots. Don't misunderstand me, I love the broadening aspects of travel and other societies, but I haven't had a place I could call 'home' since I was fifteen, and I miss that kind of security."
"Do you think Vulcan could provide that security?"
She looked at him thoughtfully. "I haven't really given it much thought. . .I suppose it could. I'd probably miss Earth after awhile, but if I had a fulfilling job and really felt I was accomplishing something worthwhile, then I suppose I could be quite content here as anywhere else. There are many aspects of Vulcan philosophy that I admire. . . ." Her voice trailed off and her eyes grew pensive. She was roused from her reverie by what eventually proved to be an enormous yawn. "Oh, dear! Excuse me!" she cried as she tried vainly to stifle it. "I didn't realize how late it had gotten." She rose gracefully. "Goodnight, Spock--and, thank you."
He didn't reply but gazed thoughtfully after her for a few minutes before picking up the neglected component and continuing with his work.
Kirk controlled himself with an effort and forced himself to listen calmly as Admiral Foxworth droned on explaining why what Kirk had requested was impossible. A multitude of objections, including "regulations," "high risk," and especially "cost factors" floated sonorously across the room and bounced off the Captain's stony countenance. Kirk fidgeted in his chair and stole a glance at Sarek. The Ambassador had assumed an air of polite attentiveness, but Kirk had the feeling this was more out of deference to the Admiral's position than to what he was saying.
Foxworth finally ground to a halt and the expression on his face did not invite debate; however, Kirk was never one to give up easily. Drawing a deep breath, he mustered every ounce of diplomatic ability and charm at his command. "Admiral Foxworth," he began, "I couldn't agree with you more, and if the circumstances were any different, I'd capitulate completely, but we're talking about a man's life! If we had incontrovertible proof that Mr. Spock were dead, then I could understand your reluctance to grant my request. But we don't know that, Admiral. Spock could be trapped in that other universe, unable to return on his own--you can't simply write him off because of 'regulations.' You were a Starship Captain once, sir--how would you feel if you were forced to abandon one of your officers to an uncertain fate?
"Admiral, I ask you once again to reconsider. We have demonstrated indisputable computer evidence that we can repeat the experiment safely---we now know exactly where to apply additional strength--where to make necessary modifications. And I can assure you that there will be no possibility of entrapping ourselves in that universe. Once the rescue has been accomplished, we will take the necessary steps to insure that future such incidents will not occur, but at the same time will enable you to utilize the formula to its fullest potential.
"Admiral, I urge you to reconsider."
"May I add, Admiral Foxworth," Sarek spoke for the first time since entering his office, "that I concur completely with Captain Kirk's argument. I speak not only because it is my son who happens to be involved, but because it affects the entire Federation.
"The Federation is dedicated to seek out and investigate the unknown. If we permit ourselves to become overly cautious by this one incident, then the Federation is condemned to a future of stagnation: we will become impotent--existing, but no longer viable. I do not believe we are ready for such unconditional surrender, but should you believe differently, I am prepared to do whatever may be necessary to prevent it."
It was a simple statement of fact and a man's deep convictions, but coming from the Vulcan it was almost a threat. Kirk held his breath: if Foxworth chose to dismiss their request a second time, he knew there would be no third chance.
Foxworth was silent for so long that Kirk knew he was waging a war with himself. Finally he stirred. "Very well," he conceded, albeit reluctantly. "You have not been advised just how badly the Federation wants to be able to utilize that formula; therefore, you have permission to proceed with your rescue effort. But be advised that Starfleet Command will not be lenient if you fail."
"I understand, Admiral. We will not fail."
"Damn!" Amanda hit the "erase" switch for the second time in as many minutes. Two identical eyebrows lifted in mild surprise as Spock and Sarek located the source of the disturbance, but Amanda was unaware she had spoken aloud. The two Vulcans exchanged glances and resumed working.
Amanda pressed her palms against her eyes for a moment then briefly massaged tense neck muscles. Taking a deep breath, she settled herself for yet another try.
Work on the project had been proceeding practically non-stop for the equivalent of a Terran week and showed no signs of abating. This particular day had been an especially arduous one and, though it was only mid-afternoon, Amanda was nearly exhausted and having difficulty keeping her mind focused on her work.
When she failed to successfully complete the program for the third consecutive time, she snapped off the machine irritably and pushed her chair impatiently away from the console. "All right, you win," she muttered. Uttering a deep sigh, she slowly walked over to where Spock and Sarek were working.
"Gentlemen, I am exhausted," she announced without preamble and continued before they even had time to react, "and if I don't get away from here for a few hours, I am going to scream!" Predictably, two pairs of eyebrows rose in astonishment, but Amanda was too tired to even think of being amused. "I'll be here for the test tomorrow," she promised as she left.
The two men worked in silence for several more minutes. Spock made one final adjustment and lay down his tools. Picking up a tricorder, he took a quick reading. Satisfied, he announced: "The mechanism is ready for the test. Until tomorrow." He saluted and departed.
Sarek stood staring sightlessly at the unit in front of him for long moments after Spock left.
Amanda paused long enough to grab the lytherette from her office, then she was out the door and striding briskly toward her favorite park. The avenue rapidly broadened and merged unobtrusively with the surrounding landscape until there was no discernible difference between the two. Amanda mentally blessed the city architects, and Vulcans in general, for incorporating wide open spaces into their plans: they had been beneficial to her peace of mind more often than not--as often as for ShiKahr's residents, of that she was certain.
She chose a familiar path and wandered slowly. In a few seconds, the city was out of sight and out of mind. A tiny flower caught her eye and she stooped to admire it. While not resembling the lush greenery of Earth, the native flora had an exotic and not unpleasing beauty of its own. Amanda used to wonder what prompted the inhabitants of an arid planet to seemingly and illogically waste precious water, but she had soon learned that not only was the native vegetation able to exist on a minimum of moisture, but the water in the few small pools and streams was controlled by a sophisticated recirculation system that minimized wastage and evaporation. Besides, it was a small price to pay for maintaining the sanity of the population.
Amanda sat down on a small stone bench by her favorite pool; the musical tinkle of a nearby waterfall carried clearly in the still air. The face which gazed up at her shimmered from the heart of a liquid ruby; sunlight ricocheted off the surface, dazzling the eyes. In the shadow of an overhanging tree limb, small silver fishes played tag with the pebbles on the bottom. A leaf broke off and floated gently down to settle on the pond, startling the fish and sending circular ripples across its surface. Amanda laughed delightedly. The face in the pool lost its drawn look.
The master architects had worked their magic--once again she was at peace with the universe. The Universe. . .but not the only universe it seemed. How wondrous was the Mind that had conceived this Master Plan, this Grand Experiment: not content with just one Creation, It had seen fit to design a second. And why stop at two? Why not two times two, or twenty times two? Each one slightly different, each one special unto itself, each one unique in its own way--an infinite variety in infinite combinations. Truly the ultimate achievement.
A fish breached, ecstatic with the joy of living. The soft slap brought Amanda back to reality with a start. Goodness! she thought, struggling to refocus her brain. What brought that on? At the moment I have enough problems with two universes, why compound the matter by hypothesizing more?! Yet - yet. . .is it so very illogical? Amanda shook her head sharply. Get a grip on yourself, Amanda my girl--you came out here to clear your mind, not clutter it with idle speculations! And a clear head you shall need tomorrow! She sighed. How Spock expected something so unstable to work successfully was beyond her, but if he. . .if they succeeded, think of the possibilities it would open up for Starfleet. . .abruptly her thoughts changed.
Ah, Chris. Dear, sweet, dependable Chris. What would I ever do without you? Amanda didn't have the answer to that one, but she did know that he seemed to be getting serious--far too serious. She would have to do something about that, and soon. Dammit, Chris! It's not fair. It's not that I don't love you--it's just that I'm not in love with you. I just can't feel the way you want me to.
She sighed again, shifting her position slightly, and suddenly remembered she was still holding the lytherette. It had been a present from a friend who had learned that Amanda had an aptitude for musical instruments. Actually, it had not been so much a present as a challenge, since it is not an easy instrument for a human to master. Amanda smiled at the memory and her fingers began to caress the strings and coax the instrument to life. The notes came slowly, haltingly at first, then as she gained assurance, they flowed smoothly, confidently into one another. She began to weave a melody and soon she was lost in concentration and the spell the music spun. Eventually she let the notes trail into silence and opened her eyes. Another face was staring back at her from the depths of the pool. Startled, she gasped and turned as he spoke.
"You play very well, Miss Grayson."
"Professor! I didn't hear you approach." Amanda forced herself to breathe slowly and loosened her grip on the lytherette.
"I beg forgiveness if I startled you, but I did not wish to interrupt your playing. May I join you?"
"Please do." Amanda slid over to make room for him.
"You handle the lytherette with remarkable agility. Have you taken lessons?"
"Not formally--just advice and suggestions gleaned here and there."
"Would you be offended if I offered a few 'suggestions'?"
This was almost too good to be true--one of the best, if not the best, lytherette musicians on all of Vulcan offering to instruct her?! Amanda jumped at the opportunity as she strove to keep her voice calm, "I would be honored, Professor," she said as she handed him the instrument.
He took it and appraised it with a critical eye. Satisfied, he positioned it. "First, if you would hold it more like so and then place your fingers over the strings in this manner. . . ."Amanda watched him closely, absorbing everything and filing it away for future reference. Then she forgot everything as he began to play. Here was truly a virtuoso. The notes fairly flew from his fingers to hang trembling in the air, each one as sweet and clear as a crystal bell. The images he conjured up, the moods. . .it was almost too beautiful to bear. Amanda looked at him through awed eyes and was startled to see the look on his face--it was peaceful, content, almost. . . tender? Yes, that was the word that described it, and somehow Amanda was not surprised at the discovery. Here was a side to his personality that few people were privileged to see. Embarrassed and touched for some reason she didn't quite understand, Amanda looked away and closed her eyes in sheer joy at his playing. But not before she noticed that several small silver birds had fluttered in from the sky and were perched on the tree limb listening in rapt attention.
Sarek let his fingers wander at will over the strings: caressing, coaxing, cajoling. It had been long. . .too long since he had last held a lytherette and now he relaxed and permitted the music to work its familiar soothing magic. An eternity later he ended the composition--a composition never to be duplicated, for it had been of the moment and from the soul. He was strangely reluctant to break the mood so he sat silently for a moment, his long fingers quiet on the instrument.
Amanda also was reluctant to disturb the mood. She sat very still, savoring the sweetness of the last clear notes. Even the birds remained quiet. Then she opened her eyes to find Sarek's gentle gaze on her. Before either one was aware of what was happening, Amanda found herself in Sarek's arms. Startled, she returned his kiss, but, as before, she was not really surprised at his action: it all seemed very natural and perfectly proper.
He drew back and looked down at her, at the soft cloud of hair shimmering in the sunlight, at the deep blue eyes smiling up into his. A bird twittered and broke into song, abruptly shattering the mood. Sarek stiffened as he suddenly remembered who, what, and where he was. His arms fell to his sides as the familiar cold, impassive mask closed over his features. "I beg forgiveness. My conduct was inexcusable." So saying, he bowed stiffly and disappeared down the path.
Amanda picked up the discarded lytherette and stood gazing thoughtfully after him, wondering why there was nothing to forgive.
Amanda shivered slightly and pulled her billowing cloak more closely about her. Pike thought he had never seen her look more lovely.
"Cold?" he asked, draping an arm around her shoulders.
She shook her head. "Not really. I was thinking about the concert--good music always sets my spine tingling."
They strolled silently down a well-manicured path in the gardens outside the hall. Soon the lights and bustle of the main avenue were left behind. Amanda stopped by a small splashing fountain and lifted her head to gaze at the night sky.
"It's so beautiful!" she sighed. Pike agreed, but he wasn't looking at the stars. "This is my favorite time of day. All those stars! And the moon is almost full." Pike reluctantly followed her pointing finger.
Amanda was glad for the curiously refractive properties of the Vulcan atmosphere, which gave the moon its silvery glow. While it was only about one-third the size of Earth's moon, she was grateful for its presence--it helped to ease the pangs of homesickness that, in spite of living on Vulcan for almost eleven Terran months, still occasionally assailed her.
Pike squeezed her shoulders. "Don't worry, it won't be completely full for another two days."
His comment was intended to reassure her, but instead it roused thoughts she wasn't aware she had been harboring. Her brain whirling, she sought safer ground. "I wonder how the negotiations are proceeding?"
Pike looked down at her. "I'm sure your father has everything under control." He clasped her shoulders and gently turned her to face him, then placed a finger under her chin and tilted her face to his. "Amanda. . . ."
She recognized the look in his eyes and quailed inwardly. She had seen it often in the past few weeks and had hoped she was wrong, but there was no mistaking it tonight. Oh, Chris! Why? Why did this have to happen? I don't want to hurt you.
Oblivious to the thoughts racing behind those deep blue eyes, Pike bent his head and kissed her. He didn't seem to notice that she wasn't responding on the same level as he. A long moment later they drew apart, but he continued to hold her close and buried his lips in her fragrant hair. "Amanda," he whispered, "I love you."
He didn't see her eyes close in momentary pain, but he did feel her stiffen and draw away from him. Must you make it even harder for me? Puzzled, he released her and watched her retreat, a frown crinkling his brow.
She stopped but didn't answer.
"Amanda, what's wrong? Is it something I did?"
Mutely she shook her head, not trusting herself to speak.
Pike had a flash of insight. He took a step toward her. "Is there. . . " he hesitated, afraid to hear the worst, then resolutely completed his question, "...is there. . .someone else?"
"No." The whisper was barely audible, but at least her voice was under control, which was more than could be said for her thoughts. For, even as she denied it, a vision of Sarek seated by the pool floated before her eyes. Sternly she banished the image from her mind. No! You had this problem long before that, and it's your own fault for procrastinating. Now get hold of yourself and have the decency to be honest with the man! She struggled to marshal her thoughts.
"Then what is it? You do love me, don't you?"
Again her eyes closed briefly in pain, but she had succeeded in finally organizing her thoughts. She faced him, her eyes bright with unshed tears. "Yes, Chris, I do. But," she added before he could gather her in his arms again, "not the way you want me to."
He stopped as effectively as if she had erected a force field between them. The look on his face was a mixture of bewilderment, surprise, and pain.
Amanda took a deep breath and continued as gently as possible. "I do love you, Chris, please believe me. I love being with you, and doing things with you, and I think the world of you, but. . .I'm not in love with you."
"That's rather sudden, isn't it?"
Amanda didn't blame the bitter tones and her heart ached for him. "No, Chris, it isn't, I suppose in my own selfish, foolish, blind way I just refused to believe that you might feel differently. In fact, I'm not sure I know exactly how I feel even now. All I know is that you're asking me for something I can't give you--at least not right now, and perhaps never. Try to understand, Chris. . .please."
For a moment Amanda thought he was going to storm off in anger and she wouldn't have blamed him one iota. Then his brow cleared and one corner of his mouth quirked upward in a halfhearted smile. A long finger gently brushed away the huge tear that was coursing down her cheek. "You won't mind if I try to change your mind, will you?" Amanda gave him a tiny, grateful smile. "Come on, I'll walk you home."
Sarek sat motionless in the darkened room, elbows propped on the arms of the chair, steepled fingers resting against his lips. He had been that way for some time, thoughts racing behind his hooded eyes. Thoughts he didn't particularly want to face; thoughts that would have been illogical to ignore. . . .
How long had it been? Almost three years? To be precise, it was exactly two point eight-seven years since the accident which had claimed his wife and unborn child. Two point eight-seven years. And the pain, the great aching loneliness, the empty ceaseless longing, still remained. His brow clouded at the memory. It wasn't logical, but it was true.
They had had only a few years together, but they had been ecstatically happy ones. Sarek had been wary at first and then surprised at the measure of contentment and peace they had achieved--he had not thought it possible to attain such completeness with an off-world wife. Yet, subconsciously, he must have suspected it could happen else he would not have married her.
Lorna had come suddenly into his life had, in fact, literally fallen from the sky. Abruptly the years rolled back, and Sarek once again found himself in the L'langon foothills. . . .
The man picking his way around boulders and outcroppings, descending slowly but steadily toward the desert floor, was a different man from the one who had ascended those same hills almost two standard weeks ago. Sarek's retreat was long overdue, and it had taken him nearly twice as long to resolve the last lingering effects of T'Pree's violent death several months earlier; however, the solitude and serenity of his majestic surroundings at length enabled him to heal the remaining scars left by the shock of the sudden severance of his Bonding.
Concentrating on his footing, he was unaware of the aircar's approach until it was nearly abreast of him, and even then it was only the almost palpable feeling of alarm in the air that made him stop and look up in puzzlement. A vehicle was descending swiftly and erratically out of the sun, side-slipping ever closer to the mountain's flanks as it approached, its controls apparently frozen. The driver was attempting to guide the craft into a long shallow glide to a landing on the desert floor, but it was obvious to Sarek there was neither the time nor the space in which to maneuver.
As he watched in frustrated helplessness, the aircar disappeared around an outcropping. Seconds later, the desert silence was rent by the ear-splitting shriek of metal scraping against stone. The fading echoes bounded mockingly about for a few moments, then all was silent once again. The external sensation of alarm ceased, to be replaced by Sarek's own mounting concern as he hurried toward the crash site.
Miraculously, the driver was still alive--barely. Sarek did not concern himself with possible future consequences--if she was to continue to live, he would have to act immediately. Working swiftly, he established a mindlink and stabilized her condition then, improvising splints from pieces of the wreckage and using one of the seats as a stretcher, he carried her to safety across the desert.
During the weeks of therapy that followed, Sarek learned much of this remarkable woman--this Lorna Mitchell--who had refused to perish in the desert, and how she had come to Vulcan to learn to control her telepathic gift. Part of that therapy involved instruction in self-healing techniques, and, as the weeks passed, Sarek gradually realized he had come to think of Lorna as more than just a student. This realization startled him at first, but the more he thought about it, the more logical it seemed, until there came a time when he couldn't imagine ever having thought of her in any other way. Thus, he had been only mildly surprised when Lorna voiced a similar opinion.
They were married shortly thereafter--shocking many of the Elders--but Lorna quickly proved she was an asset to Vulcan as well as to her husband, and the initial resistance rapidly evaporated. Their marriage was a successful blend of both cultures: Sarek introduced Lorna to the subtle nuances of Vulcan philosophy, while Lorna began to teach Sarek the complex art of understanding humans. Several years later when Lorna announced she was carrying their long-awaited daughter, their joy was immeasurable and it seemed they could ask no more of life.
Thus, the sudden loss of both his wife and unborn child--ironically, in the same type of accident that had brought Lorna to him in the first place--plunged Sarek into the depths of despair. He had not believed it possible to feel so desolated: it was even worse than when T'Pree had died, for this time he was unable to find solace in meditation or retreat. And yet, it was illogical to behave thus, so Sarek buried his pain behind his impassive Vulcan façade and threw himself into his work. Eventually the passage of time numbed his grief, but the ache and the longing remained, hidden just below the surface, ready to spring into being at the slightest reminder.
Then, eleven standard months ago, a tiny ray pierced the bleakness surrounding him. However, it was not until many months later that he finally acknowledged its existence. And still he hesitated. While he longed to experience again the completeness, the oneness, he had shared with Lorna, one remote, illogical corner of his brain urged him to keep his distance, to avoid a relationship which could, in all probability, result in a great deal of pain again. All of Sarek's training had told him it was not logical, told him there was no basis for such a premise, but he heeded the tiny voice nonetheless.
Sarek sighed and raised his eyes to stare out into the night. A fat gibbous moon, rising over the distant mountains, caught his attention. A frown knit his brow as a new thought assailed him. Was this afternoon merely a reminder that eventually he would be forced to select another consort?
He watched the rising moon and pondered, deliberately forcing his mind to review the events of the afternoon with clinical detachment. No, he concluded, there had not been even the barest hint of incipient insanity underlying my actions.
An eyebrow rose in surprise as he found his mind exploring paths he thought existed no longer. Yet, he hesitated still. Was another Terran wife the best possible choice? Or was T'Pirla, who was equally qualified, superior?
Sarek's thoughts again drifted back to the scene by the pool, to the spontaneity of his actions. His years with Lorna had taught him it was possible to be Vulcan and respond to emotion simultaneously, without betraying either world. Would T'Pirla be able to understand that? Would she be able to give him what he now, albeit reluctantly, conceded he needed? Could she fulfill him to the degree he was certain Amanda could?
Sarek rose abruptly and strode out onto the terrace, his decision made. However, he reflected, his choice might be rendered academic, judging from what he had observed thus far.
Work on the project and negotiations proceeded at its normal, hectic pace. The newscasts were full of details of the impending conference and busily denying rumors that the last minute conversion to the communications network would delay the start of the negotiations, currently scheduled to begin in two days. Despite her father's personal involvement at the outpost, Amanda gave the news little thought. Indeed, since the successful completion of the preliminary tests several days ago, her involvement in the project had grown to such an extent that she was barely left enough time to consider her own needs, much less allowed the luxury of watching the evening newscasts or worrying over her absent parent.
As the need for detailed computer analysis declined, Amanda found herself busier than ever. She quickly adapted to any task given her, but found her light touch particularly useful when installing miniature components whose extreme fragility precluded the use of conventional instruments. She had just completed one such operation and had given the mechanism to Sarek to incorporate into a larger piece of equipment. He had taken it wordlessly and had returned to his work.
Amanda took a few steps toward her work area then halted, puzzled by Sarek's reaction. She knew he had been working harder than usual lately--they all had been--but she had never known him to completely ignore common courtesy before. Now that she thought about it, not only had he been unusually quiet for the past several days--since the day of the test, in fact--but he seemed to be deliberately avoiding her. What have I done to deserve that? she wondered.
Turning, she shot a puzzled glance at Sarek, but he was absorbed in his work and didn't notice. Her eyes widened as the idea that he might possibly be embarrassed over the incident in the park suddenly crossed her mind, but she dismissed the thought almost before it was formed--Vulcans don't get embarrassed. However, that still didn't explain his behavior. Amanda was convinced there was a logical explanation somewhere, but for the moment she had more important things to worry about. Mentally shrugging, she turned on her heel and resumed her work.
In spite of the hectic tempo, the hours passed slowly and Amanda began to wonder whether the day would ever end. The pace she had set for herself gradually slowed until, at one point, she was sitting motionless, staring sightlessly at the unit in her hands. She returned to reality with a start as Sarek bent over her, gently took the unit from her grasp, and set it aside. She flushed guiltily, angry for letting herself work past her optimum efficiency; however, Sarek didn't appear to notice.
"Miss Grayson, come with me."
His voice was completely toneless and Amanda couldn't tell whether he was annoyed at her behavior or simply had another task for her. Puzzled, she followed his rapidly retreating figure.
Before she knew what was happening, she was being handed into an aircar and Sarek was maneuvering skillfully away from the city. Thoroughly bewildered and consumed with curiosity, she looked at him, her face a question mark.
"You are fatigued," he said simply.
Amanda's eyebrows arched in surprise, but since he didn't seem inclined to elaborate, she shrugged slightly and settled back to enjoy the ride.
They quickly left ShiKahr behind and presently were over the desert. Kilometer after kilometer the undulating sands stretched away, bounded on one side by the massive L'langon range and on the others by the inverted ruby bowl that was the Vulcan sky. In spite of the monotony and desolation of the scene, it possessed a beauty uniquely its own. Even so, Amanda couldn't imagine why Sarek had chosen to come here.
The faint purr of the engine, coupled with the unchanging scenery, began to make Amanda feel drowsy. She thought she had successfully fought off the feeling, but the next thing she knew, Sarek was setting the aircar down next to one of the most beautiful sights she had yet encountered on Vulcan. She climbed slowly out of the car and stood gazing in wonder, all thoughts of fatigue forgotten.
A small arm of the mountains jutted out onto the desert floor and nestled in its lee were thousands of fragile crystalline spires. Some towered like minarets over their heads; some resembled tiny fairy castles; no two were exactly alike. Under the slanting rays of the afternoon sun, their many facets glittered with all the colors of the spectrum.
Amanda knew what she was looking at -- she had just never visited one before. It was a L'lilaq (lē-läk'): one of the rare Vulcan crystalline "gardens." There were only a few places on the planet where atmospheric conditions and mineral content of the soil combined in such a dramatic fashion to create these delicate crystal towers.
Amanda released her breath in a long, drawn-out sigh. "It's just beautiful, Sarek!" she said, completely unaware she had dropped his title. She suddenly realized she was indulging in a rather blatant emotional display, but for the first time in a long while she didn't care whether Sarek noticed. She approached one of the glittering columns and tentatively put out a hand to touch it. To her surprise, it was much more resistant than it appeared.
Sarek watched her through tolerant eyes; it was always the same with humans whenever they first saw a L'lilaq; Amanda had reacted no less predictably than any other. Now he approached and stood beside her. "I suspected you might benefit from a change in environment," he said gently. He slipped a hand under her elbow, "Come." He guided her along one of the many narrow paths that meandered through the crystal forest.
Amanda was very conscious of his hand on her arm, but since he seemed unconcerned, she certainly wasn't going to object. A particularly dazzling formation caught her attention and Amanda forgot all about his hand as she observed the fantastic display around her.
The realization that she had been wanting to be alone with Sarek for a long time suddenly made her very shy, and they proceeded in silence for some minutes. Before the silence could become awkward, however, she spoke accusingly, although she kept her voice light. "Why have you been ignoring me?"
He stopped, surprised. "I was not aware I was doing so, Miss Grayson. If I gave that impression, I beg forgiveness." They resumed walking. "Have you mastered the changes in fingering technique I suggested?"
Amanda was still pondering his answer, and it was a moment before she realized held changed subjects. "Oh, the lytherette!" Lightly, mockingly: "And when have I had the chance? You've kept me so busy I've hardly had time to think, much less indulge in the frivolous pursuit of music! But I haven't forgotten." No, that was one lesson that was indelibly etched on her memory.
"Music is frivolous only when it ceases being creative." With that statement, they were off on a variety of topics ranging from the role of music in society, with emphasis on the gourd music of Balta-Trianguli Five, through Federation politics, and at length back to geology.
They walked for hours and Vulcan's slightly higher gravity finally began to affect Amanda. Sarek sensed her fatigue and again slipped his hand under her arm to support her. They walked a few meters farther down the path and came to an intersection of three paths. Here, the formations were not as thickly clustered, and three small benches had been spaced around the circumference of the almost circular little clearing. Sarek led Amanda to the nearest one and she sank into it with a grateful sigh; he seated himself at the opposite end.
Amanda took a deep breath and released it slowly. "I thought I was accustomed to Vulcan's gravity! I must be more tired than I realized."
"You have been doing more than your share of work on the project. Your fatigue is understandable."
"Do you really think Spock will be able to return to his own universe?"
"If his calculations are correct--and I believe they are---there is no reason why he should not succeed."
They fell silent, topics of conversation temporarily exhausted. Amanda's earlier shyness had long since vanished and in its place was a feeling of contentment and well-being, so overwhelming she could hardly believe it. She was determined to savor the moment as long as possible. Picking up a perfectly crystallized pebble, she toyed with it, watching it sparkle as the sunlight caught its facets.
Sarek watched her, thinking: he, too, felt strangely at peace for the first time in many months. He watched the sunlight glinting off her hair, the sweep of her lashes as they brushed against her cheeks. He had learned more about her in the few hours they had spent together this afternoon than in all the months she had been at the Academy; he was not displeased. She was gentle, intelligent, poised; in short, she was indeed all he desired in a wife. He realized now he had known it for eleven months but had been too. . .yes, too stubborn. . .to admit it. He knew no one else could give him the feeling of totality he sought better than Amanda, but would she have him? And, what about Pike? Lately, he had noticed a slight change in Amanda whenever Pike was present: while both still appeared friendly, there was a constrained attitude about them, and Sarek was at a loss to understand it. Well, there was one way to find out. . . .
"Amanda, there is something I must know."
She looked up, startled at the use of her name, but smiling encouragingly.
He hesitated--this was not going to be easy. "Amanda. Are you committed to anyone?"
She struggled to control the shock she was certain must be visible on her face. Her heart began to thud crazily. She briefly dropped her eyes to her lap where the tiny pebble lay still on her palm, then raised them to his face. "No," she whispered.
He rose abruptly and paced away from her, hands clasped tightly behind his back. Amanda watched his broad shoulders curiously--she had never known him to be less than perfectly self-possessed. He raised his face briefly to the sky as if seeking help or assurance of some sort, then he spoke. "What I have to say is difficult for me, but I have thought it through and can find no logical alternative." He turned and faced her squarely, "Amanda. . .I wish you to remain on Vulcan--as my wife."
The pebble fell unheeded to the ground. Suddenly flustered, she looked away, although her heart was singing with a joy that knew no bounds. Amanda couldn't recall when she first realized she was in love with him--sometimes it seemed as if it had been all her life--but never once had she thought he might consider her a suitable mate. If he had suddenly offered her his weight in dilithium crystals, she couldn't have been more surprised or delighted.
Vaguely she realized he was speaking, counseling caution, emphasizing their differences, praising her adaptability, but she wasn't really listening. He stopped abruptly as she lifted her eyes to his--eyes radiating a happiness she didn't try to conceal. He met her gaze almost anxiously.
"I am honored, Sarek, and can conceive of no greater joy than to spend my life by your side."
It was the answer he wanted to hear, but a tiny part of him sought additional assurance. "It will not be easy--there will be many difficult times. You know very little of me."
"I know enough, Sarek, and I'm not afraid. You see, I love you. I know! It's not logical, but love you I do. If I had to face a Capalent power cat unarmed, I would willingly do so, as long as I knew you were with me."
He didn't smile, but the lines on his face softened visibly. He held out his right hand, first two fingers extended. Amanda went to him unhesitatingly and joined her fingers to his in like manner. With Sarek coaching, together they recited the ancient words that would serve to bind them until the formal ceremony could be performed.
He briefly placed his hand on her temple to strengthen the bond. At his touch, Amanda felt such a great sense of peace pervade her that what she had thought was bliss before seemed a drop of water compared to an ocean. Even after he removed his hand, the feeling persisted.
Sarek gained possession of her hands and they stood gazing silently at one another for a long moment. There would be time for words later. Right now they were content to be in each other's presence.
Sarek released her hands and slid an arm around her shoulders to guide her back to the bench when she suddenly stumbled, twisting her heel on a pebble in the path. Amanda's gasp of alarm turned into one of surprise and then into a peal of laughter as she found herself lifted into Sarek's arms so swiftly it took her breath away. She flung her arms around his neck to steady herself.
"You might at least have warned me!" she chided gently when she could breathe again, her eyes denying the tone of her voice.
The echo of Amanda's laughter reverberated in Sarek's mind and sang in his soul. Any last shred of doubt or misgiving he might have had vanished entirely under its influence--he knew now what had been missing from his life. His arms tightened around her as he searched her shining eyes. "Are you injured?" he asked, concern creating a tiny furrow between his brows.
Amanda smiled and shook her head, hair sparkling in the rays of the setting sun. "No--just startled."
Reassured, his brow cleared, yet he made no move to set her on her feet. Cradling her in his arms like the precious jewel she was, Sarek let his gaze roam gently over her face, absorbing and recording every detail and nuance in her expression. At length, his eyes came to rest on hers.
Amanda sensed, rather than saw, the smile behind his tender gaze. She reached out and trailed her fingers lightly down his face--a face, which suddenly seemed years younger. She looked at him curiously and was caught up in the intensity of his gaze. She seemed to drown in the depths of his eyes. Just when she thought she could stand it no longer, a sense of peace and contentment flooded through her once again.
She slowly slid her hand up the back of his neck and entwined her fingers in his hair. Sarek bent his head to her upturned face, when there was a slight rattle of pebbles and the air was filled with a pristine chiming as they collided with the crystal towers. Amanda instantly found herself on her feet, thrust behind a fiercely protective Sarek. There was another small rattle of stones, followed simultaneously by more chiming and a soft "plop."
Sarek stood rigidly, facing the direction of the sound. Amanda tried to see what was happening, but was held firmly behind him. The tension suddenly left Sarek's shoulders and Amanda heard a soft whine. She ventured to peer around Sarek's back, and when he didn't try to prevent her, she stepped out and stood next to him. The sight that greeted her almost made her laugh out loud, but she controlled it with an effort.
In the middle of the path sat a very forlorn and bewildered sehlat cub crying softly. Amanda's heart melted and, glancing sideways at Sarek, she started toward it, murmuring words of endearment.
"Take care," he cautioned.
"It's only a baby, Sarek."
"Even more reason to exercise caution--its parent is certain to be nearby."
The cub sat watching her, completely unafraid. By now, Amanda was close enough to get a good look at it. "I don't think so, Sarek, the poor thing is half-starved and its paw is injured. You poor little thing," she told it. "Has something happened to your mother?" She stroked the soft golden fur and the cub responded to her soothing tones by trying to climb into her lap. "Careful, now! Don't tear my clothes!" she laughed.
Seeing that his warning was going to go absolutely unheeded, Sarek released an almost exasperated sigh and approached the two of them, who were now making complete fools of themselves, and apparently enjoying it thoroughly. He tried to keep a stern expression on his face, but found it practically impossible to do so. "Amanda, it is a wild creature; you should not treat it as a pet."
She looked up at him. "But we can't leave it here--it'll starve. Won't you, baby? And that paw should be cared for."
Much against his better judgment, Sarek acquiesced. "Very well. We will take it to the Academy where its injuries can be properly treated, but when it is stronger, it will be brought back and released."
If Amanda had a comment to make concerning his statement, she kept it to herself. She gathered up the cub and followed Sarek to the aircar.
They were almost there when they were met by a messenger from the Academy. "Your pardon, Professor, but I have an urgent message for Miss Grayson which necessitated tracing your vehicle's homing beacon."
Amanda maneuvered around Sarek, carefully avoiding the crystalline formations, "What message?"
"It concerns the Ambassador."
"He has just been brought into the medical center."
Amanda's arms closed convulsively around the sehlat, who whined in protest. "What happened?"
"I do not know. I was told only to locate you and bring you to the Academy. Your presence is also requested, Professor."
"Go with Setek, Amanda."
"But. . . ."
"I will follow with I'Chaya." Sarek took the sehlat from her arms. "Go," he repeated gently. "Your father has need of you. I will not be far behind."
Amanda gave him one long, searching look, caressed the cub a last time, then rapidly followed Setek down the path. Sarek thoughtfully watched her depart, absently stroking the suddenly restless sehlat.
Amanda was well on her way to the Academy before she realized Sarek had named the cub. She smiled briefly through her worry and approved.
Amanda was met by the doctor as she stepped off the lift. "How is he?"
Doctor Hardwicke, senior of three Terran physicians stationed at the Academy, took her arm and gently steered her out of the traffic pattern. "He'll be all right--we got to him in time."
"Just a little old-fashioned appendicitis, but with a few complications. In a very few cases, instead of rupturing the toxic material seeps into the abdominal cavity and sets up a massive infection which can be well established before the person even feels ill. On occasion, a person will even pass the symptoms off as inconsequential until it's too late. This is apparently what happened to your father. We operated in time, but the infection was so massive it will take some time for his system to completely drive out the effects."
"I estimate about seven days before he's fully recovered and able to resume working."
"Oh, dear, that does present a problem." She frowned momentarily then smiled for the first time since entering the complex. "Doctor, I predict by the end of those seven days you're going to have one very impatient patient on your hands, if I know my father! May I see him?"
Hardwicke nodded. "He's in considerable discomfort and we're keeping him sedated, but he's conscious. Just don't stay too long."
Amanda closed the door softly behind her and leaned against it for a few seconds. Her father's sheet-draped figure lay quietly across the room under a body-functions panel. Amanda gave it a cursory glance, noting his vital signs were stable. Shoving herself away from the door, she forced a smile on her lips and approached the white-faced figure.
It stirred. "Amanda?"
Instantly she was at his side, one hand clasping his, the other smoothing tousled hair off a damp forehead. Her eyes darkened for a moment as she noted the skin drawn tightly across his cheekbones. "Yes, Father, I'm here." She bent and lightly kissed his brow. She smiled down into pain-darkened eyes and squeezed his hand reassuringly. "Why?" she asked quietly.
"I couldn't afford to be ill," he stated simply.
Amanda understood. "What happens to the negotiations now? Can you postpone them?"
He shook his head slightly. "I dare not, but I do have a plan. . . ." She looked at him expectantly, but he had closed his eyes against the pain. Amanda held his hand and waited. Presently his eyes fluttered open and he continued as if there had been no interruption. "...however, it involves Professor Sarek." He scanned the room. "I don't see him."
"He should be here shortly." Amanda suddenly became very shy and dropped her gaze to their clasped hands. "We're going to be married," she said very softly.
"It's about time."
"What?!" Her eyes flew to his face. "You mean you knew all along and you didn't even. . .Father!!"
"I didn't--know all along, that is. I merely had a strong suspicion based on a conversation we had a couple of weeks ago. I hoped I wasn't wrong--you were beginning to look a little obvious."
She was aghast. "I wasn't!"
Her parent just looked at her.
"Oh, Lord! If Sarek noticed, it's no wonder he avoided me," she groaned. "I'm surprised he even proposed."
"I doubt 'he noticed,' Amanda--only a parent would have seen the change in you. Anyway, I'm very happy for you." He squeezed her hand.
Further discussion was suspended as the door opened and Sarek entered. He caught Amanda's eye. "I'Chaya is being tended to."
"I'll tell you later, Father."
Sarek approached the bed. "You wished to see me, Ambassador?"
"Yes. I'd like you to replace me at the conference for the next few days."
"But I am not familiar with the situation. Surely one of your aides would be a more logical choice."
"You're as familiar with the situation as anyone else at this stage, and my aides can brief you on any particular item. It's not that they aren't capable, but I'd rather have you represent the Federation. The Romulans have been very touchy throughout the entire preparation period and I would prefer to have someone there who can keep a cool, level head at all times. Besides, it would only be for seven or eight days at the most."
"Spock and I can manage quite well," Amanda interrupted, "there isn't much left to be done. Your time would be better spent at the conference. Please, Sarek?"
Sarek was outnumbered and he knew it. Actually, it wasn't as if he were adverse to the idea--in fact, he was rather looking forward to the challenge. "Very well. I am honored, Ambassador, and I shall endeavor to uphold the honor of the Federation as well."
"Thank you. My aides have been briefed and are expecting you."
Grayson's voice had grown progressively weaker until it was barely more than a whisper, and now his eyes fluttered shut. Amanda pressed his fingers. "All right, Father, that's enough. You get some rest." She dropped a kiss on his brow, and the last thing Grayson remembered hearing before sleep claimed him was Amanda demanding to be taken to "I'Chaya."
In spite of her worry over her father's illness and Sarek's subsequent absence, the days passed quickly for Amanda. . . .
The main activity now centered in a hangar at the Spaceport where a score of engineers and technicians completed the modifications to the body and engines of the shuttlecraft. This did not mean, however, that the laboratory had been deserted--if possible, the pace there was even more frantic. Each day a multitude of last minute tests and calculations had to be run and minute adjustments made until everything performed flawlessly.
Spock and Amanda were hunched over the main computer console running one such series of tests. Results thus far had been extremely satisfactory.
Amanda was deeply engrossed, and although she had heard the door open she didn't give it a second thought. She first realized someone was standing behind her when she heard the soft sound of a throat clearing, followed by a bass rumbling. "So, this is where you spend all your time, Miss Grayson!"
Although she was startled, Amanda instantly recognized the voice, and with a little cry of delight threw herself into her parent's arms. Grayson chuckled and held her close.
In the middle of the embrace, Amanda suddenly remembered where she was and drew away from her father, but continued to hold him at arm's length. "What are you doing here?" she demanded. "I thought you weren't going to be released until tomorrow."
Grayson's eyes twinkled. "I just used my diplomatic charm and convinced them to let me go a day early."
"Charm, my foot!" Amanda said indelicately. "If I know you, Jonathan Grayson, you either pulled rank and threatened to have everyone dismissed, or made life so miserable for everybody they released you early to save their sanity! But I'm glad to see you anyway."
Spock, who had made it his business to be elsewhere during this exchange, now approached, hand raised in greeting. "Ambassador. It is gratifying to see you once again enjoying good health."
Before Grayson could reply, the door opened and Sarek entered. Amanda's heart gave a joyful leap and she clasped her father's arms tightly for a moment, then released him and turned a composed face to the Professor. Sarek had noticed her performance, however, but when their eyes met briefly, Amanda only saw approval reflected in his.
The Ambassador recovered first. "Sarek! What brings you here? Has something happened to the negotiations?" he asked, voicing the questions uppermost, in everyone's mind.
"On the contrary, Ambassador, all is proceeding without incident. The Romulan Ambassador requested a few days to consider a proposal I offered and I thought I could make better use of the time involved by returning to Vulcan. Your aides have the situation under control, and I will submit my formal report shortly. You are looking well, although I had not expected to see you for another few days."
"That's rather a long story, I'm afraid. . . ." Amanda suppressed a smile. "...Suffice it to say, I have excellent recuperative powers." Grayson hastily switched subjects as Sarek seemed inclined to pursue the matter further. "You encountered no difficulty with the Romulans?"
"None, except perhaps for a quite understandable hesitancy in dealing with the Federation. However, I was able to convince them our intentions are sincere."
Grayson smiled. "We'll make a diplomat of you yet, Sarek."
"I am giving the matter serious consideration, Ambassador. I cannot deny I found the mental gymnastics involved most stimulating." He turned to Amanda. "How is the project?"
"I think we're almost finished."
"We are finished," Spock said from across the room where he had been called by an impatient computer. "The final tests have been completed and the results correlated. I have just been informed all preparations have been made aboard the shuttlecraft. I leave with the Enterprise at 0600 hours the day after tomorrow."
"Approaching coordinates, Captain. Arrival in nine point six-five minutes," Kaleth informed his commander.
She nodded and rose. "Inform me when they are reached--I'll be on the hangar deck. You have the con."
Spock emerged from the shuttlecraft, tricorder in hand, and approached the knot of quietly conversing people. "All systems are functional. I anticipate no problems," he announced.
Pike broke the awkward silence that threatened to develop. "Good luck, Spock," he said, extending his hand. Spock hesitated only momentarily before clasping it briefly. "If for some reason you should be unsuccessful, you'll always be welcome here."
"Commodore, your cooperation with this project was greatly appreciated. Should the need arise, I will consider your offer." He turned to Sarek, fingers spread in formal salute. "Your assistance has been invaluable, Professor. I wish you success in your future endeavors."
"And you in yours," Sarek returned the salute.
"Live long and prosper, Professor Sarek."
"Peace and long life, Spock."
Amanda had drifted a little apart from the group and now watched this exchange with interest. Again, she was struck by the resemblance between them and suddenly something Spock had alluded to earlier flashed into her mind. Her eyes widened comprehension. Of course! A tiny smile tugged at the corners of her mouth as understanding dawned.
Spock approached her. "Your assistance has also been invaluable, Miss Grayson, I regret I did not have the chance to acknowledge your father's contribution, but I am gratified to learn he is making unprecedented progress with the Romulans."
She smiled. "It was a pleasure to have been able to help and an experience we'll not quickly forget." She glanced at Sarek and lowered her voice. "Thank you--for both of us."
"Your gratitude is unnecessary--I merely advanced the inevitable outcome."
"Nonetheless, I thank you." A tiny pause. "Sarek wouldn't tell you this himself, but I think he'd want you to know--if we have a son, we have decided to name him after you."
Something in the tone of her voice caught his attention. Spock looked deeply into her eyes and realized she had discerned his true identity; he also saw she would keep her knowledge locked in her heart. "I am honored." He raised his hand in salute. "Peace and long life, Amanda Grayson." He held her gaze for a moment longer.
The doors to the hangar deck suddenly parted to admit the Captain of the Enterprise. She nodded at Pike before approaching Spock. Pike returned her smile: capable and efficient Starship Commander though she was, she would always be "Number One" to the Commodore.
"We'll be arriving shortly, Spock." He nodded. "I'm only sorry I didn't have time to get to know you better."
He glanced at Amanda. "Time has a way of making all things possible, Captain." She looked slightly puzzled, but he didn't elaborate. "I greatly appreciate your assistance, Captain, but regret I am unable to reciprocate."
"The formula is thanks enough."
The intercom's bosun's whistle interrupted further discussion. "Coordinates have been reached, Captain," Kaleth's filtered voice announced.
She held out her hand. "Good luck, Spock."
He took it briefly then shouldered the tricorder and climbed into the shuttlecraft. He paused in the doorway and turned to survey the group one last time. He noted Amanda's happiness as she moved to stand by Sarek and the tenderness in the brief glance he gave her before turning his attention to the shuttlecraft. Spock raised a mental eyebrow; a tiny seed germinated. He spread his fingers once more in formal salute then disappeared into the craft.
The image on the main screen receded, rapidly becoming just another glowing dot on the shimmering starfield. Lorna, hands clasped tightly, moved unobtrusively closer to her husband; Sarek stared impassively at the screen.
"Receiving transmission from the shuttlecraft, Captain. Switching to audio."
"Approaching coordinates, Captain--preparing to engage overdrive," the Chief Engineer announced.
"Acknowledged, Mr. Scott. Proceed as planned."
"Captain!" Kyle cried, eyes glued to Spook's viewer. "Something's happening! I'm getting the same readings as before--when Mr. Spock disappeared."
"That's impossible! Scotty hasn't started his run yet."
"I know, sir, but the readings are identical," he insisted.
"Scotty, hold your position. Something's developed."
"Aye, sir. We're reading it, too. Standing by."
The Captain had no time to think about this unexpected development, for even as he began to speak, the phenomenon ceased and a small object suddenly materialized and streaked across the viewscreen.
"What the devil. . . !" McCoy's startled voice filtered through the still open link between shuttlecraft and Enterprise.
Realization dawned on Kirk a split second before Sulu and Kyle made their simultaneous announcements:
"It's slowing down and reversing course!"
"It's a shuttlecraft, Captain!"
Lorna stepped forward and grasped the back of Kirk's chair as the Captain happily slammed a fist down on its arm. "Spock!"
Seconds later a familiar voice hailed the ship. "Spock to Enterprise. Spock to Enterprise. Request permission to come aboard."
"Permission granted. Open hangar doors, Mr. Sulu. Mr. Scott, you may return to the ship."
"Blast you anyway, Spock! After all we've been through, you at least could have let us rescue you," McCoy was heard to grumble before Uhura closed the circuit.
Kirk's grin rivaled Lorna's and shamed a supernova; lines of tension melted from Sarek's face. All over the bridge, the crew expressed its relief in delighted smiles and cheerful banter.
Kirk leaned back and eyed his First Officer affectionately: it was good to have a whole crew again. His gaze wandered around the table. Judging from the expressions on the faces of his department heads, they felt the same way--even McCoy.
There was a thoughtful note in Spock's voice as he completed his narrative. "I find it rather strange, however, Captain, that the one other universe in which you commanded the Enterprise but I did not exist was changed by my going back into time. And, now, it seems we have encountered a similar situation. By my making it possible for Spock to exist in that universe, the probability increases that other similarities will also begin to manifest themselves. Is it possible you and I were meant to exist in every universe? Was my accident not an accident at all?"
"Spock, I'm afraid the only answer I have for you is an old cliché-- 'Fate works in mysterious ways.'"
Before Spock had a chance to ponder Kirk's reply, McCoy spoke. "Whatever the reason, Spock, I still say you were just plain lucky." Eyebrows rose predictably over startled eyes. "Your scientific know-how may have enabled you to return to this universe, but you can't deny it was plain, simple, little old 'Lady Luck' that put you in a compatible universe to begin with! And put you there in one piece, too! If that hadn't happened, all the knowledge in the galaxy wouldn't have done you one single bit of good."
Spock eyed the doctor for a long moment. When he finally spoke, his reply astonished everyone. "In that regard, Dr. McCoy, I agree with you completely. Random chance does appear to have operated in my favor."
McCoy stared, dumbfounded. Kirk caught Lorna's eye and she smiled. Before McCoy could think of a suitable retort, Scotty asked a question and launched himself and Spock on a detailed comparison of shuttlecraft engines.
Kirk grinned at the love-light in the Engineer's eyes, then shifted his gaze to Spock. Was it his imagination? Did Spock really appear more at ease than usual, or was Kirk reading some of his own relief into his friend's expression?
Kirk studied the Vulcan: His features were as impassive as ever, his voice as controlled, and yet. . .Kirk shrugged mentally. Whatever it was had vanished. Besides, it wasn't really important, Spock was back and the formula worked, that was what mattered. Time would tell whether Spock had been affected by his experience in that other universe. . .time would tell.
Get Kraith, Showcase, and Jean Lorrah's NTM fanzines on paper: