Once, when I was first officer of Stissia, my commander was ordered to ferry a delegation of Romulan government penologists and military security specialists to a Klingon prison colony. The labor camp, which consisted in part of a rather large dilithium-mining operation, had only recently opened, but was already being widely touted as the most efficient and productive such establishment in the sector. Stissia's security chief and I accompanied the delegates on their tour of the camp. The frozen asteroid that housed the colony was magnetically shielded to prevent transport, and from our own authorized beamdown point we had to walk fifty meters or so to the underground compound's entrance. For Romulans, who had evolved on a scorching desert world and had adapted to a largely tropical and subtropical new home, the short trip was agony. Our environmental suits couldn't protect us from the vicious wind, which carried icy, stinging snow under our masks and helmets, or from the temperature, which felt like absolute zero. That memory came back to me vividly as soon as Spock and I materialized. Although the wind was less cutting and the snowfall a good deal lighter, the cold air hit my unprotected face and hands with the same bitter force that I remembered from the prison colony.
Spock handed me his knitted cap. "Put this on," he said. "You are unaccustomed to this weather, and you should not go without a head covering to conserve your body heat."
"Never mind my body heat. What is this place? Where are we?" The transporter had set us down in the middle of a gravel road that wound through a forest of dark green coniferous trees-- much bigger versions of the one I'd seen in Chapel's apartment.
"We are in the Gatineau," he said, as if that explained everything. "We have a six-minute walk ahead of us. Take this glove. I will wear the other."
I put on his right-hand glove; he took my naked left hand in his right and sheltered both in his jacket pocket, curling his fingers around mine. Through the link I felt his pleased surprise at the deep intimacy of the contact.
"Everyone who has hands holds them, Spock," I said. "Even Klingons hold hands. Romulans and Rigelians, touch-telepaths. Argoites, in a manner of speaking. Everyone."
"Almost everyone, then. With the obvious exception. I will never understand why your people make a virtue of asceticism. Where is the logic in denying yourself the simplest of pleasures?"
"You don't really want to talk about logic and philosophical disciplines, do you?"
I glanced up at him. We were walking into the wind; his head was bowed slightly, his hair was dusted with snowflakes, and the cold had brought a trace of color to his face. The smile in his mind was barely visible at the corner of his mouth. I silently acknowledged his point: in the hours that we had been together, Spock had denied himself no pleasure, simple or complex. Even now I could sense his unlikely enjoyment of the cold air in his lungs, the sound of snow and gravel crunching under his boots, the faint smell of wood smoke--and above all, and miraculously, the warm, living presence of the woman he desired at his side. He was feeling something irrationally close to happiness, and he was amazed by the power of what he felt. I couldn't restrain my curiosity: Is this so new to you, then? This simple feeling?
There was silence in his mind for a moment. Then: I have never felt this before. Not--not like this.
As we walked along the path, matching our steps, he told me a story. He had once taken a leave to upgrade his computer certification through a postgraduate course at Starfleet Academy. There he had met a human woman, a botanist, at a dinner given by a professor he admired. They had shared an interest in music, and had begun to attend concerts and recitals together. The woman fell in love with Spock, and let him know it. Spock could not reciprocate: his explanation was a terse I am not free--a Standard phrase susceptible of multiple interpretations. Six years later he encountered the woman in the course of an investigative mission to a colony in the Omicron Ceti system. Under the influence of a psychotropic agent dispersed in the spores of a plant, he had declared his feeling for her, and they had made love. But when his mental equilibrium was restored, he had returned to his captain and his ship, leaving the woman to go on her way with the other colonists. The words he'd spoken to Kirk at the end of the mission caught at my heart: For the first time in my life I was happy.
I didn't bother to hide my opinion of the perverse culture which had so ruthlessly conditioned a half-human man that he was unable to find joy in life until he accidentally ingested a mind-altering substance. Spock, however, seemed unperturbed: he was merely contrasting the dreamlike fantasy of happiness engendered by the spores with the reality of what he was experiencing with me. I have never felt this before ... But he felt it now. So the conditioning hadn't worked as well as the dour Vulcans might have wished: I could attest to that. Spock's fingers tightened on mine, and we stopped walking. Our kiss, full of wanting and promise, prolonged the six-minute journey by approximately twenty-two seconds.
* * *
We came to a rise that overlooked a panorama of densely treed hills and valleys. To our right, the gravel road looped and turned back on itself, describing a circle around a large expanse of ground that in summer was probably a formal garden. Dominating this scene was a sprawling multi-winged structure constructed of a pale gray stone that nearly matched the color of the Terran sky. From where I was standing, its several levels seemed to spill down into a glen, following the contours of the terraced ravine behind it. I could understand why Spock had chosen to approach our destination on foot instead of transporting directly: the visual impact of the building and the setting was dramatic. This was obviously no public dining-hall ... Light was finally beginning to dawn in my mind: "Spock, is this your home?"
"It is where I stay when I am on this world. My parents, Sarek and Amanda, live here when the Council is in session." We climbed a flight of wide, shallow steps to a portico. Still holding my hand, Spock used his teeth to pull off his glove. When he laid his palm against the entry scanner, the arched doors slid open immediately.
We hung our jackets in the enclosed vestibule and left our boots to drip on the tiled floor. Spock opened the inner door; but before I could get more than a glimpse of the interior, we were met by two large domestic animals, pink-tongued, bright-eyed, and possessed of enough boisterous energy nearly to topple us with their greeting. We were favored with extensive face-licking before Spock's authoritative "Kroykah!" penetrated their consciousness. They subsided, wagging their tails and watching our faces for some sign of what might happen next, hoping it would involve them. "I apologize for these two," said Spock. "They are still young, and they sometimes forget their manners." He ruffled the animals' thick fur affectionately.
"What are they?"
"Dogs. Canids, native to Terra. Specifically, they are of a breed called golden retriever. This one is Belaar, and this one is Dave." The dogs raised their heads at the sound of their names.
"Belaar--'summer'? That's very pretty."
"She is named for the season in which she was born. 'Dave' is a proper name. Amanda called him that because he reminded her of one of her music students--a boy who had great difficulty concentrating on the subject at hand." Spock looked down at the dog. "It suits him."
The animals followed at our heels as we entered the living room. A vaulted ceiling made the room seem even larger than it was, and one entire wall of windows looked out over the rolling snow-covered hills. But the ceiling and the windows were not the room's most remarkable features: there was wooden paneling on the walls, a wooden floor, a carved wooden mantelpiece, upholstered chairs and sofas trimmed with wood, paintings framed in wood--I had never seen such opulence. "Is everything in this house made of wood?"
Spock must have heard the wonder in my voice. "On this planet, hardwood is plentiful and cheap. It is one of the world's principal renewable resources."
"Ambassador Tilendi said something like that. If it's true, then not one world in a thousand has this kind of wealth. Fresh water and wood in abundance ... it's beyond belief."
"I have been told that Romulus has forests and oceans."
"The forests are more like jungles, and most of the wood is too soft for building. There are very few inland lakes, and ocean water requires intensive demineralization. The technology is costly, and our economy is geared to other priorities--" I stopped myself. "Our conversations ought not to stray into political territory."
"Agreed." He hesitated. "But I hope that someday our governments will be able to discuss such things as demineralization plants. No world should suffer shortages of fresh water, and certain Federation technology would be of great help to your people."
"Perhaps we--what is that?" One of the overstuffed sofas held yet another animal, much smaller than the dogs. This black and white creature had pointed ears, big green eyes, and a long tail, and looked something like a miniature variant of our own four-legged ancestors. It sat upright, its tail wrapped neatly around its feet, and regarded Spock and me skeptically. Then, apparently having made up its mind, it jumped down and began to twine itself around Spock's legs.
"This is Minette," he said, running his hand along the animal's back. "The name means, in the local dialect, 'sweetie-pie.' That is a term of affection," he added helpfully. "She is a domestic cat, also native to Terra. In her own mind, she is mistress of this household." The dogs, who had stayed close to us, backed away as soon as they caught sight of the cat.
"And in the dogs' minds too, it appears." The cat was now rubbing against my ankles, and I bent to pet her as Spock had done. A low rumbling noise came from her, evidently not a growl but a sound of pleasure. "She's an agreeable little creature, Spock." I looked up to find him watching me, his expression grave and tender.
"And a reliable judge of character," he said softly. "Aerlyn, I--" He was interrupted by a series of muffled banging and whirring sounds from somewhere beyond the dining area to his right. The dogs hurried past us, wagging their tails and making small pleading cries; the cat, more dignified, followed them at a haughty distance. "That will be J.B.," said Spock. "The animals are hoping that he will give them a second breakfast while we have our first." With the animals crowding around his feet, Spock pushed open a swinging door. The whirring sounds grew louder, and as we entered the kitchen--surprisingly cool, in contrast to the pleasant warmth of the living room--the smell of baking bread nearly made me faint with hunger. The animals headed directly for a row of bowls and dishes filled with water and cooked meat. I knew that they were the only inhabitants of this house who would be dining on flesh; I had already resigned myself to a vegetarian breakfast.
A human male, close to half a meter shorter than Spock and about as much wider, was operating a food processor. As soon as he saw us he stopped his work and bustled over, rubbing pudgy hands on a checkered apron. His creased, dimpled face looked both pleased and worried. "Good morning, Spock. I'm sorry for the delay. After you called I decided to get some dill and tomatoes, but I forgot the chives, so I had to go back to the greenhouse, and I thought I might as well prepare some grapefruit."
Spock nodded, apparently following the human's logic. "Good morning, J.B.," he said. "There is no need to hurry; we have just arrived. I should like you to meet Tayva. Tayva, this is J.B. He has served my family on this world since Sarek was first appointed ambassador to the Federation."
"Good morning, good morning, Lady T'Ayva," said J.B., giving my name the Vulcan pronunciation. He spread his fingers in an approximation of a Vulcan salute and bowed, revealing a pink tonsure in the center of his white hair.
"No, you misunderstand," I said. "I am not--"
"J.B.," Spock broke in gently. "Is there any coffee?"
"Yes, oh, yes, but I'm afraid the waffles aren't quite done yet. The dépanneur sent yogurt when I asked for buttermilk, and I had to--and the strawberries weren't the best, so I have to give you plum compote--but the fruit salad is ready, and the croissants--"
"We will have our coffee in the dining room now. You may bring the rest whenever it is ready." The little round man nodded energetically. Spock took my arm and steered me purposefully out of the kitchen.
"He thinks I am Vulcan!" I whispered angrily as soon as the door closed behind us. "Is that what you told him?"
"No. I told him I would be bringing a guest to breakfast. J.B is not stupid, Aerlyn. He has seen many Vulcan women at gatherings in this house, and he must know that they do not dress or move or wear their hair as you do." Spock brushed a loose strand of hair from my forehead and tucked another behind my ear. "He follows the news, and I have observed that his flashes of intuition, like Nyota's, are frequently valid. This may simply be his way of protecting us all." He was silent for a moment. "I did not lie to him, and if he has guessed the truth he will not betray us, not even to Sarek or Amanda. In fact, he has wished for a long time that I would--" But he left the sentence unfinished as a beaming J.B. entered the room bearing a coffee pot and a basket of fragrant baked rolls. Spock held my chair out for me in Romulan fashion, and we sat down at last to our breakfast.
We were unable to keep our eyes off each other, and if we hadn't been forced to use our hands and mouths for eating those too would have been out of control. As it was, we took every opportunity to pass salvers and serving-dishes back and forth just so we might brush the side of a hand or touch the tip of a finger. We talked quietly about the food, the animals, and the architecture of the house, but the conversation frequently lagged: I was more interested in watching Spock's fingers carry morsels of bread and fruit to his mouth ... and it hadn't escaped my notice that his eyes rested very often on my own lips. When I could bear it no longer, I reached over and caressed his hand, raking my nails lightly along his palm. He captured my wrist and kissed the bruise he'd left there when he blocked my angry attack. Incredibly, that had been less than twelve hours ago: not nearly enough time for a bruise to fade, but more than enough for minds and hearts and lives to change beyond imagining.
* * *
When we had finished our meal to the last crumb and drop, we moved into the living room. A fire had already been laid in the hearth, and Spock set it alight. I would have liked nothing better than to curl up in his arms and drowse the day away on the sofa. But there were other beings who also wanted his attention: J.B. joined us, minus his apron and carrying his own coffee mug, and the animals came trailing in after him. Thinking that Spock might want to discuss family business with J.B. in private, I asked to be directed to the bathroom. I took my time there. When I returned, Spock was lounging in a wing chair near the fireplace, his long legs stretched out and his feet resting against one of the sprawled and dozing dogs. Minette had settled herself on the arm of his chair, and he was absently stroking her head as he listened to J.B.'s rambling account of a relative's Christmas feast. His attention was fully fixed on the human: nothing in his manner suggested that he was the scion of a noble clan and that J.B., who was chattering away happily, was his servant. I watched them from the doorway, not wishing to intrude; then Spock became aware of my presence, and our eyes met.
Why the revelation--or, in the more accurate Standard phrasing, the epiphany--should have come to me with such force just at that moment I couldn't say. It may have been the grave kindness with which he addressed the human, or the gentleness of his touch on the animal's head, or something in his posture, or the way the firelight shadowed his face, or simply a reflection and affirmation of what I could read in those dark eyes from far across the room. Whatever the reason, the sudden certainty was as deep as it was irrational, and it filled me with elation and dread: I could love this man forever.
J.B., following Spock's gaze, rose to greet me as if I had been gone for days. "Lady T'Ayva! Would you like anything? May I get you something? Here, sit down, sit down, near the fire." He began to plump the cushions of a chair. "Spock, would you care for some more coffee, or--"
Spock stood up. "No, thank you, J.B.," he said quietly, his eyes still holding mine. "We have everything we want."
"I was thinking, I was thinking I might go to the village to visit Tante Solange," said J.B. rather quickly. "It's Boxing Day, you know, and she always expects to see the nieces and nephews. Do you mind if I leave you for a while?"
"Not at all. Take one of the groundcars if you like."
"Oh, thank you, Spock, but I'd prefer to ski there. Goodness knows I need the exercise!" He patted his stomach proudly. "Now, if you get hungry there are salads in the cooler, and leek soup, and trifle from my cousin's Christmas party, and-- oh, well, you know. I'll be back in time to prepare dinner ... around six o'clock? Is that all right?"
"Of course. I will let you know if there is a change in plans. Please give my family's regards to your aunt."
"I will, I will. Goodbye, Lady T'Ayva. It was a genuine pleasure to meet you, and I hope I see you again soon." He made another attempt at a Vulcan salute.
"Thank you," I murmured, automatically returning the gesture. J.B., nodding and dimpling, left the room as he had entered it, escorted by the animals.
At once all was silent except for the quiet crackling of the fire. Spock, who had not moved, held out his hand to me. I crossed the room and touched his paired fingertips with my own. The contact was electric, but he was able to lead me through the calming motions of the ritual embrace. Then he placed his hand on the back of my neck, sending a shiver through my entire body: Come with me.
From the living room we walked through a gallery to another wing of the house. Spock opened a door, then watched in silence as I quickly took in the details of the room and all that they revealed about its sometime occupant-- shelves of folios, books, and scrolls; a compact workstation; a highly polished black meditation stone positioned in the geometric center of the room; an attunement icon whose principal face was oriented precisely, I knew, to the star the humans called 40 Eridani A; a chair, a table, and a narrow bed in a glassed-in alcove that overlooked a steep ravine. On my homeworld, this would have been the cell of a hierophant.
Spock stood perfectly still, waiting, watching me, his expression unreadable. Part of my mind urged me to flee for my life, or for however much of it might be left to me on Romulus, before all reasoned judgment was swept away beyond recall. The other part insisted that I would have no life worth living on any world without this man by my side. We will find a way ...
I took a step towards him and touched his face. No force in the universe could have stopped me from speaking aloud what I now knew beyond a doubt to be the truth: "Spock--beloved--Seia tre ... Seia tre khoia."
It was as if he had been waiting a lifetime to hear the words, though he had never imagined that they would be spoken in Romulan. His fingers seemed to burn my temples where they rested, trembling: Shen s'eya ka'al tiu, t'hy'la ...
As the words echoed in mind between us, his sudden intake of breath confirmed my own strong and very odd sense that something tangible was crystallizing, falling into place--like the piecing together of a torn document, or the clicking of lock tumblers at the turning of a key. The utter rightness of what we were feeling pushed aside every other consideration. A joyous, incredulous hunger was growing in us: amplified and fed back through the link, it was too strong to be denied or even deferred.
Spock guided me to the bed and pulled me down beside him. He drove his fingers through my hair, freeing it from the pins that held it, molding his hands to my skull. His face, still unshaven, was rough against my skin as he kissed my forehead, my mouth, my throat. We could not hold each other close enough, could not say the words often enough: Let me love you now, beloved ... Oh, let me love you--
Our need was urgent and overwhelming. Spock pushed up my sweater and fastened his mouth on my breast through the thin fabric of my camisole. My body arched in his arms like a bow, and I could feel him hard against my thigh as I twisted under him, tugging at the waistband of his trousers. Oh, let me love you now--
Unsurprisingly, neither of us consciously heard the communicator signal. Only after Kirk transmitted a vocal hail did Spock pull away from me and fumble for the device on the table. But when he spoke, his voice was almost steady.
"Everything all right, Spock? I had a problem getting through."
"Yes, Captain. I am speaking to you from Sarek's house."
"I know, I've just been online with Elydex, and I thought I'd save her a call. Fed Security is nominal as of eleven hundred. Escort the commander to her quarters, and then beam directly to Command Two, Gresham Block. Komack wants you here PDQ."
"Have you seen the news today?"
"The leaks are springing left and right. Is the commander anywhere nearby? I want her to hear this."
Spock raised an eyebrow and tilted the communicator in my direction. "Yes, Captain," I answered softly.
"Commander, last night Arecibo lost subspace communication with a Federation science ship and its escort, and they disappeared from destination relay sensors at the same time. The science ship was carrying a high-security payload, as everybody in the quadrant suddenly seems to know. Particle trace evidence suggests that a Romulan or Klingon vessel was in the vicinity of the ships just as they disappeared. Care to hazard any guesses?"
There could be only one answer to that question: "I can't speak for the Klingons, Captain. But if a Romulan ship was indeed traveling within Federation space, then I would guess that instrument failure caused a navigational error. I am told that it sometimes happens."
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© 1996, 1999 Kathleen Dailey. All rights reserved.