Falling temperatures and high winds put a quick end to the January thaw that evening. At any other time I would have lit a fire and enjoyed the pleasure of being warm and dry while the elements raged outside. But tonight I could concentrate on nothing except finding some escape from the prison that Tilendi and Ra-ghoratrei had constructed for me. There has to be a way to fix this ... I poured myself a glass of brandy and sat down to think.
Who would have credited the Federation with such shrewdness? With a single master stroke Ra-ghoratrei had proved that two could play the kind of high-stakes game at which Romulans excelled. Even the Federation's enemies had to admit that it kept its word more often than not: if Ra-ghoratrei said that his government would forever renounce cloaking technology, then it would probably do just that. Given such an opportunity, why shouldn't the Empire relinquish a soldier in exchange? After all, there was no security risk: every Romulan command code, tactical procedure, and ship deployment had undoubtedly been altered long ago, when Tal first brought word that I was being held prisoner on Enterprise. And in any case, the Senate knew that a command-conditioned officer would never reveal military secrets to the enemy. How, then, could the Empire lose?
The simple answer was that it couldn't. And the simpler truth was that if I had been in the imperial praetor's place, I would have sacrificed even a Fleet commander every bit as quickly as he had, and with as little regret.
* * *
By the time I finally went to bed, the brandy bottle was two-thirds empty. Normally that amount of ethanol, consumed on an empty stomach, would have sent me into a deep sleep for hours. But instead of dulling my mind, the brandy seemed to have focused it. I lay awake for the rest of the night, thinking, theorizing, fighting despair. But this time I had no Adiv and Lem to help me test the soundness of a strategy, no Tal to intercede for me, no Devor and Tecla to carry out a mission on my behalf. Wherever I turned, I saw Tilendi and Ra-ghoratrei allied against me, strengthened by the will of the Empire and the Federation.
Alone in my bed, shivering in the cold dawn of an alien world, I whispered the words I'd sworn I would die before saying: I stand defeated.
* * *
The next day passed slowly. In less than twenty-four hours the inquiry into the Enterprise incident would begin; I'd supposed that I would be surrounded by people at this point--Elydex and Venn, Tilendi and Nanclus, perhaps even McCoy and Uhura, all of them offering last-minute instructions and advice. But Ra-ghoratrei's revelation had changed everything. Suddenly the inquiry was no longer the most important event on anyone's horizon.
Late in the afternoon I finally heard from Tilendi. She had nothing substantive to say, except that she had decided, for reasons that didn't interest me, that I was to appear before the inquiry dressed in civilian clothing rather than in uniform. After that fascinating discussion was concluded, she informed me that Legate Nanclus would be returning to Earth in a few hours, and that I must be ready to appear at the commission's chambers early tomorrow morning. Almost as an afterthought, she inquired whether I wanted company. When I told her that I was tired and would prefer to be alone, I sensed that she was relieved to hear it.
I kept the monitor tuned to the news reports, but there was no mention of the so-called Treaty of Algeron. No doubt the Council president was waiting for a more opportune time to make his announcement--though when such a time might come I couldn't imagine. Unlike Tilendi and Ra-ghoratrei, I wasn't convinced that the citizens of the Federation would enthusiastically approve of the renunciation of cloaking technology. The Diet of Andor, at least, would protest strongly, and so would the Tellarite People's Assembly. In fact, the treaty might even drive a permanent ideological wedge between the worlds of the Federation. With that thought, my spirits began to lift a little.
For the rest of the evening I occupied myself with a number of small tasks, the most tedious of which involved choosing for the next day an ensemble that met Tilendi's stringent requirements. Since nothing I was engaged in required any intellectual effort, I had plenty of time in which to consider recent events.
Hindsight, as always, brought crystal clarity. I could hear Uhura's voice in memory: We're not going to accomplish anything today, and not by ourselves. And McCoy's: We can't just stand by and do nothing! Oddly enough, I was almost able to empathize with that sentiment. Unwilling to accept that events were out of their control, certain that someone they considered a friend was facing an unjust execution, convinced that they knew what was best for me, McCoy and Uhura might indirectly have given Ra-ghoratrei just the impetus he'd needed to strike his deal with the Empire. They had probably made their case to someone high in their own chain of command, someone whose argument would carry weight, who wouldn't balk at the notion that he might be going against Starfleet's wishes or even its interests ... someone who, in a matter so delicate and important as this, would have sought counsel from his friend and first officer.
My first impulse was to go to the terminal and demand to be put through to San Francisco so that I could speak with Uhura, Kirk, and Spock, not necessarily in that order. But I knew that McCoy had undoubtedly been in touch with some or all of them as soon as he'd left my apartment; I also knew enough about their likely reaction to be patient. It was only a matter of time until my questions would be answered, though probably not in the way I wished.
Once again, thought seemed to conjure reality. The commlink chimed, and the building's transporter operator--a fledgling, by the look of her--announced Spock's arrival in a tone of awed reverence. I was still shaking my head at that when he materialized.
"Perhaps this is the first time she's been responsible for maintaining the molecular integrity of a galactic hero," I said, knowing that he had heard her too. "Quite a burden for a beginner."
Spock started towards me, and probably would have taken me in his arms if I hadn't held up my hand to stop him. The smile that had been dawning in his eyes disappeared.
"But even a galactic hero's reputation can be tarnished," I said quietly. "Are you aware that your glorious mission in the Neutral Zone was for nothing? The Federation has decided that our cloaking technology isn't worth the trouble after all. 'The fruit of a poisoned tree,' Elydex said."
He nodded; as I'd suspected, he knew exactly what I was talking about. "Commodore Parizeau acted without Starfleet's authorization," he said. "It would be discreditable for the Federation to profit from his deception."
"That platitude will do nicely for the press," I said, "along with a homily about the evils of capital punishment and the sanctity of life. Because you already know how I fit into all of this." It was not a question.
"I do not know the details. Jim said that you were now out of the Empire's reach and therefore no longer in danger."
"Out of the Empire's reach--yes, you could say that. McCoy thought I would be offered a choice, but he was wrong. The bargain was struck and sealed by others. I was merely the inducement to the transaction."
He shook his head. "You should not think of it in those terms."
"Oh? And how should I think of it, if not from the viewpoint of one who will never see her family again, never walk on her own world?" He might have answered that, but I didn't give him the chance. "Just tell me one thing. Do I have you to thank for this? Was this what you meant when you said that we would find a way?"
"Aerlyn, when did you last eat? You look unwell."
"Thank you for the compliment. You sound just like McCoy, and you're no more skilled at changing the subject than he is." In truth, I felt lightheaded and faintly nauseated, and I couldn't remember when I'd last eaten or drunk anything other than the brandy I'd had the night before.
"I do not want to change the subject," he said, "but you must sit down."
I didn't protest when he took my hand and led me to one of the couches. Through the link I could sense only his concern for me; he was controlling, and doing it very well indeed.
"Stay there," he said. "I will be back in a moment." He disappeared into the kitchen; I heard the faint clinking of cutlery against china, the rush of running water, and the hum of the cooker. I laid my head against the back of the couch and closed my eyes, wondering whether sleep would ever again bring rest. If only this were all a dream. If only I could wake at home, in my own bed, with Spock beside me ... I must have lost myself in that fantasy for several minutes, for when I opened my eyes Spock entered the room. He placed a tray on the low table, filled two mugs with steaming tea from a large white pot, and began to prepare a plate of food from the containers on the tray.
"Spock, what is all this?"
"Pasta in a cheese sauce, watercress salad, and whole-grain scones. Your kitchen is well stocked. This food is nutritious and digestible."
I took the plate from him and made as if to set it down on the table, but he stopped me. "Eat," said the first officer of the Enterprise.
"All right." I ate a forkful of pasta, then another. When he was satisfied that I was making progress with the meal, he sat down in a chair opposite me and filled a plate for himself. We ate in silence for a few moments. "I should like to know," he said presently, "what happened here yesterday."
"Oh, come. You've already heard that my government and yours have signed a treaty, and that I'm the consideration for their bargain. What more is there to know?"
"Tell me exactly what you were told."
"No. Not until you tell me what part you had in this. You and your captain, that is. I'm sure that Kirk played a role in Ra-ghoratrei's little melodrama." I could still hear McCoy's words: Jim's not gonna let you go without a fight.
"You must understand that Jim is balancing his loyalty to Starfleet on one hand and his conscience on another. Ra-ghoratrei asked him for an opinion on your trustworthiness. The captain replied that he believed you to be an honorable officer, and that he himself was prepared to do anything that might help to protect you. If that meant publicly acquiescing in the Federation's decision to abandon the cloaking technology, then he would do so, regardless of Starfleet's displeasure."
"Then he's a fool for risking his career. And what about you, Spock? You must have known what was going on. Why didn't you tell me?"
If the words had a familiar ring to him, he didn't show it. "There was nothing I could say with any certainty. I knew what Jim wanted, but I did not know whether he would get it. Ra-ghoratrei is not a supporter of Starfleet, and he disapproves of Jim; for all we knew, he might have paid no heed to his counsel."
"What about what I wanted? Did that topic ever arise in your discussions?"
"What would you have me do?" His voice betrayed his exhaustion. It came to me suddenly that endless lawyers' meetings and confrontations with Starfleet Command must have taken their toll even on a Vulcan constitution, and that he had been hiding the strain, and probably much else, from me. "I could not violate your privacy. And I am nowhere near as certain as you are that you would not be executed if you returned to Romulus."
"But I wouldn't have been! Why couldn't you trust my judgment?"
"I ask you again, Aerlyn. Tell me exactly what was said to you."
I gave up; he was not going to be sidetracked. "They described the terms of the treaty. Counselor Venn asked whether we had to give up our firstborn to Starfleet in exchange for the Federation's concession." Amazingly, that brought the hint of a smile from Spock. "Ra-ghoratrei said the abandonment of the cloaking technology was dependent on my not returning to the Empire, and Counselor Elydex asked for specifics."
"And?" He leaned forward on the edge of his chair, elbows on knees.
"Ambassador Tilendi said that I would be offered Federation citizenship, and that if I refused it, as I would, I might relocate to one of the nonaligned worlds. I would never be able to return to the Romulan Empire or any of its colonies, or place myself under Romulan jurisdiction."
"I see." He pressed his lips together as if to prevent himself from saying any more.
"Do you, Spock? I doubt it. After all, no one has sentenced you to any kind of exile. When this inquiry is over you'll still have your career, your family, your friends. You'll be sent on another deep-space assignment, saving the Federation from who knows what threat, gone for years--" I didn't care to follow that train of thought any further.
He pushed his chair back and came to sit beside me; when he took my hands in his I felt a surge of emotion from him. "This arrangement that Ra-ghoratrei struck with your government--is it part of the treaty proper?"
"My staying here, you mean? No. He was at pains to emphasize that it wasn't written down anywhere. I suppose even the Federation would object to the use of a sapient being as a form of currency. Elydex was upset about it, but evidently there's nothing she can do. And the Empire doesn't care--a soldier is sworn to follow orders, and High Command will order me to do this. It's--I'm--a small price to pay to keep cloaking technology out of the Federation's hands."
"Are you sure you have given me an accurate account of what was said?"
"Quite sure. I may not have an eidetic memory, but I know what I heard." His hands tightened on mine; I could feel his tension. "Spock, why are you asking me about all this? What does it matter now? The Federation has what it wants, and that's the end of it."
"You must stop thinking of the Federation as the whole universe. It is not, you know."
That made me smile in spite of myself. "Ah, but it is now--my whole universe, at any rate. And as I recall, that line of reasoning didn't impress you very much."
"I have had some time to think it over. Your argument was sound."
I searched his face, unsure whether I was reading him accurately. "What are you saying?"
"My place is not in the Empire," he said, "and yours is not in the Federation. But we belong together, beloved. Do you doubt that?"
"No. That's the one thing I've never doubted."
He nodded. "Nor I. I told you we would find a way, and now that way has been opened to us."
"I don't see how."
"The humans have a saying--you cannot see the forest for the trees. Do you remember telling me that what you wanted most in life was to be a starpilot?"
"Yes, of course."
"You did not say that you wanted to be a soldier."
"No. But in the Empire that's the route any pilot must take if she wants to command the best and fastest ships. You have to go where the technology is. On my world, that means the military."
"Understood." He paused. "Have you ever flown a Kaferian ship?"
"Kaferian! Not likely. High Command tried for years to buy a fleet of their Pathfinder light cruisers, but they wouldn't even discuss a sale. The Kaferians won't supply vessels or armament to any of the great powers, and their own forces are strictly defensive."
"But you agree that they are among the quadrant's foremost astronautical designers and engineers."
"Oh, yes. Their ships are marvelous. And Kaferian pilots are the--" I stared at him, suddenly understanding where he had been leading me. "The finest in the nonaligned worlds," I said faintly. "Gods, Spock--"
"Sometimes it is hardest to see what lies directly in front of us."
"'The nonaligned worlds'--" For an instant I imagined that the planet was shifting beneath my feet. "I heard Tilendi say it, I even heard myself say it, but I didn't hear it!"
"Ra-ghoratrei must have known that your government would never permit you to accept Federation citizenship. He and Tilendi had to offer you a choice."
"So McCoy was right after all," I said, "but not in the way he imagined. Kaferia--"
"The world is also home to the University of Kohath-Seredi," said Spock, "whose faculty of computer science has produced more recipients of the Nobel and Z. Magnees Prize than any institution except the Vulcan Science Academy. Now, what do the two attributes that we have identified suggest to you?"
"That a Fleet-trained pilot and a Vulcan computer scientist might be welcomed with open arms," I said, feeling slightly giddy. "Well, with open pincers, anyway. Do you suppose they'd offer us reconfigured helm controls and computer keypads?"
"I am certain of it," he said with a smile. Then, more seriously: "Enterprise's five-year mission comes to an end a few months from now. When I am recalled to duty after the inquiry, I will tell Jim that I intend to resign my Starfleet commission when Enterprise returns to Earth. As soon after that as we can manage it, you and I will leave the Federation."
Now it was my turn to repeat the question he'd asked me on our first night together: "Spock ... is this truly what you want?"
"Starfleet has been my home for many years, Aerlyn. I believed it would be my home for life." He drew me into his arms: Now you and I will make a home together.
We held each other in a tight breathless embrace, slipping effortlessly into the unity of the mindlink. When he spoke aloud again, his voice was very soft. "Are you aware that Kaferian geneticists are known for more than their hybridization of legumes and fruits?"
"I hadn't thought about it," I said, still more than a little dazed. "Come to that, I've never even tasted a Kaferian apple."
"The university supports a large research center dedicated to interspecies reproductive technology," said Spock. "Three of the physicians who were present at my own conception were Kaferian."
We were still in close physical contact, and I didn't have to guess at his meaning. "A child of our own," I said, awed by the words, the thought, the picture. "Oh, my mother would be beside herself with joy! She'd insist on being present for the birth if she had to hijack the imperial praetor's yacht at phaserpoint--" Spock perceived my next thought before I could put it into words.
"Kaferia's borders and those of the entire Cetan Commonwealth are open to all who come in peace," he said. "The government's neutrality is well established, and travelers from the Empire or the Federation would certainly be granted visitors' visas. You will see your family again."
"I can't believe it. After everything that's happened ... that we can still have each other, and our work, and our families--it seems too wonderful to be real."
"The humans have another appropriate adage, you know. They deride it as a cliché, but I have sometimes found it to be true."
"What is it?"
"Every cloud has a silver lining." He moved his hands on my shoulders; I turned and lifted my face to his kiss. His mouth was gentle, but there was a sweet insistence in his mind. Now, I thought. Now is the time. I pulled away a little so that I could see him.
"On Romulus," I said, "we have a custom--something that a man and a woman say to each other and to their families when they're ready to contract a marriage. My father thinks it was a tradition on Vulcan many centuries ago, but that it isn't done there any more."
"Say it to me."
I clasped his hand in mine, entwining our fingers, and in the formal language mode of my homeworld spoke the ritual declaration: "'We have touched willingly in mind and body, and we desire not to be parted.' Is that what your people would say?"
"Not precisely, though the meaning and the intention are the same. We make an affirmation at the time of bonding and again at the time of marriage."
"Say it to me."
He lifted his other hand and touched my temple, strengthening the link, thinking the words in Vulcan as he spoke them in Standard. "'Parted from me and never parted.'" His voice was barely above a whisper. "'Never and always touching and touched.' Aerlyn, beloved--"
It would have been so easy, so simple and natural, no more difficult or dependent on conscious thought than breathing, to move to the next level of mental contact--to form the bonding link that could be broken only by death or challenge to the death. Somehow, though, we found the strength to stop; for the first time, I was able to help us resist what we longed to surrender to.
"I've been practicing," I said, blinking back tears. "Didn't I tell you that you were a good teacher?"
"Our time will soon come." Spock's lips brushed my forehead, and I could feel a lightness of spirit in him that I had never sensed before. "We can be patient a little while longer."
* * *
That night we made sweet, slow, exultant love. In the past, we had always come to each other with an underlying sense of urgency, fearing that each touch might be the last and that at any moment we might be separated forever. But now the long span of a life together had suddenly been laid out before us like a banquet, and we were content to take our time.
We're young, I thought. It was as well that I was not compelled to speak, for my mouth was otherwise occupied. We have two hundred years ahead of us, maybe more.
A lifetime, Spock replied in kind, and for the same reason. It should be enough to make a beginning.
* * *
I woke sometime before daybreak to find Spock sitting on the edge of the bed, pulling on his shirt and trousers.
"I did not mean to disturb you," he said in a low voice. "Go back to sleep, beloved."
"I was dreaming." I sat up and tried to focus on him. "Why are you leaving?"
"I am required to appear before the inquiry in dress uniform. I must return to Sarek's house to get ready."
"I'll get up with you--"
"No. You need your rest. You will probably be called to testify today." He laid his hand against my cheek: What did you dream of?
The images were already fading. "You and I were at my parents' house," I said aloud, trying to summon a mental picture for him. "It was spring--the rains were almost over and it was warm, and no one else was there ... which doesn't make any sense, because someone is always in residence at that house. But we were walking in the garden behind the house. You were holding my hand, and we were looking towards the river and the orchards--" I stopped, unable to go on.
He lay down beside me on the bed and gathered me into his arms as if he were comforting a child. "The longing for home," he said. "That is something I can understand."
"I took so much for granted, Spock. Even when I was hundreds of light-years away I always knew that I could go back there someday. And now ... now I can never go back. Can you really understand that?"
"When I first came to Earth and to Starfleet," he said after a moment, "I thought I already knew the limits of loneliness. I was wrong. I had visited this world before, but always in the company of my parents or one of my mother's relatives. I did not know how to live by myself in an alien society, with no family, no friends--" He paused. "My coursework took up much of my time, but not enough. I needed little sleep, and I had nowhere to go except the laboratories or the library. So at night I began to read books other than my mathematics and science texts. Poetry, literature, history, most of it Terran."
"I tried that when I was aboard Enterprise. I didn't understand much of it."
"Nor did I, often. But I had nothing else to do, and no one to do it with."
"That sounds like something McCoy would say."
The sound he made was not quite a sigh, not quite a snort of amusement. "While I was working my way through those books, a title caught my attention. The story was about someone who leaves his home for what seems to him a good reason. Later, when he decides to return, he finds that all has changed, that nothing is as he remembered it and wanted it to be. At the end of the book I found a passage--a kind of coda--that seemed to encompass something of what I was experiencing. It made me remember why I had left Vulcan and what I hoped to gain by doing so."
"Say it to me," I whispered.
He thought the words in a careful, measured cadence, as if he feared that speaking them aloud might somehow lessen their remembered power:
To lose the earth you know, for greater knowing; to
lose the life you have, for greater life; to leave the friends
you loved, for greater loving; to find a land more kind than
home, more large than earth--
--Whereon the pillars of this earth are founded, toward which the conscience of the world is tending--a wind is rising, and the rivers flow.
* * *
I tried to go back to sleep, as Spock had suggested, but found it impossible. I had far too much to think about.
You will see your family again. By identifying the escape route Ra-ghoratrei had provided, Spock had made that statement as true for himself as for me. Allowing for scenic detours, the Cetan Commonwealth was a manageable few days' flight from both Federation and Empire at medium warp speed; there was no reason that Spock and I mightn't entertain our friends and relatives whenever the opportunity arose. I lost myself in a daydream for a little while, imagining the two of us, surrounded by children and pets, welcoming visitors to the sunny garden of a high-walled Kaferian villa ...
I could have lain there in bed indefinitely, elaborating and refining that fantasy. But Elydex and Venn were scheduled to arrive in less than two hours to escort me to the inquiry, which meant that I had only a short while to do some preliminary research. I put on my dressing gown and went to the living room. When the terminal asked politely how it might be of help to me, I was able to provide a ready answer: Search library directory. Subject Tau Ceti Three, Federation designation Kaferia, indigenous designation Kohath-Seredi. Download all overview files, including temperature ranges and geophysical characteristics, social history, and government and economy. I looked at the screen for a moment, then added one more command: Find names, addresses, and membership requirements of Kaferian interplanetary and interstellar astronavigators' guilds. It couldn't hurt to get a head start on things.
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© 1996, 1999 Kathleen Dailey. All rights reserved.