Author's note: This vignette is set in the same universe as Unspoken Truth and Any Other Lifetime, immediately after the events recounted in the epilogue to Any Other Lifetime. The planet Remus as depicted here and in the two novels is not the planet Remus as depicted in Nemesis. If that fact retroactively transforms my stories into AUs, so be it.
Acknowledgments: Thanks to Claire Gabriel for seeing and believing, and for helping me to do the same. Thanks too to Jungle Kitty, Rabble Rouser, and Wildcat, for their valuable comments on an earlier version of the story.
The epigraph is from "Prayer," by Tom Sleigh.
Copyright © 2003 Kathleen Dailey. All rights reserved. No part of this work may be archived, reproduced, or distributed in any format without prior written permission from the author. This is an amateur nonprofit work, and is not intended to infringe on copyrights held by Paramount Pictures or any other lawful holder.
God of flesh, god of pleasure,
give us leisure while we're still strong ...
Calm the undertow of the sea,
make the world
go slow as shadows ...
Keep hidden from us what tomorrow holds--
... Oh god of flesh, god of pleasure,
keep us in the dark
one moment more--
* * *
Planetfall on Remus.
By now Ambassador Spock has learned that, for Romulans, the phrase is as charged with emotion as Midsummer on Mars is for Terrans or Peldor on Golana is for Bajorans: a fraught signifier of nostalgic fantasy and illogical expectation--rustic idylls, happy families, some remembered or imagined place and time where it's always warm on Midsummer's day, where the sun never sets on the festival of Peldor, where orchards and vineyards reach ripe perfection on the first night of Planetfall.
He's learned, too, that like any other holiday on any other world, Planetfall has its traditions. Gifts of coins and candies wrapped in blue-for-luck paper. Cascading lights hung from doorways and windows. Flowers, fruits, and twining vines arranged on every table and servery. Tellings and retellings of the "First Planetfall" story--a tale that's part truth and part myth, stitched together from scraps of ship's logs and daybooks, lavishly embroidered with patriotism and pride.
Here in this isolated safehouse on Remus, surrounded by his friends and followers, he is beginning to understand the appeal of all those traditions. Even though the group's conviviality springs less from the holiday spirit than from relief at finding themselves intact and breathing after Galorndon Core, the atmosphere is undeniably festive. They have good reason to celebrate.
And so, Spock thinks, do I.
* * *
Just imagine, says D'Mel the tavernkeeper, looking around the table at his family and friends. Imagine how they must have felt, what they must have thought, seeing these planets for the first time. Spock, listening, allows himself to be drawn into the story, to see the ancient Vulcan homeworld--hot, barren, its red sky lowering threateningly over desert and cliffs. He tries to imagine how those who would become the first Romulans must have seen Surak: not as a voice of reason and a savior of civilization, but as an oppressor bent on freezing forever the ardent blood of all of Vulcan.
What must they have been like? Defiant, certainly, and driven by the same stubborn single-mindedness as their opponents. For the sake of their beliefs, they had boarded primitive generation-ships that carried them--passionate, hopeful, unsuspecting--far into the dark silence of uncharted space.
They must have breathed endlessly recycled air, drunk endlessly recycled water, subsisted for years on tasteless grains and sickly plants from the ships' hydroponic troughs. They must have pushed their crude technology to its limits and beyond, never ceasing to dream of finding a world that might be remade into a new home, a new ideal, a new Planet Vulcan ...
On the night of that first Planetfall, they must have feared that they'd gone mad.
Refugees from a desert world, descendants of nomads who crossed and recrossed the shifting, pathless sands of the trade routes, they were all too familiar with the cruel phenomenon of mirage. Sha-ka-ri, the navigator of the alpha ship must have whispered half to herself, unable to credit what the long-range sensor array was telling her so insistently. Paradise.
Illusion, the helmsman must have replied, peering over the navigator's shoulder, skeptical and yet straining to see on the viewscreen the planets that were still too far away to be visible to mortal eyes. An artefact, a glitch in the telemetry, that's all. But as the sensor readouts were confirmed and reconfirmed, as the spaceworn caravan limped towards the binary system known only by a number on a hastily plotted star chart, the bridge crew--the third shift, perhaps, a mere handful of people awake and alone in the coldest and darkest hours of ship's night--must have slowly allowed hope, then belief, then finally jubilation to supplant the years of hardship and weary despair.
Atmosphere, the sensors must have said over and over again, as if desperate to be taken seriously. Oxygen. Water. Sunlight. Photosynthesis. The readouts spoke in the authoritative language of mathematical equations and chemical formulas, but the travelers needed no further convincing. By the time their ships were dispersed in synchronous orbits around the system's two habitable planets, they were naming the geophysical features of the landscapes below. By the time they shuttled groundward to explore their new worlds for the first time, they were writing poems.
* * *
Spock shakes his head--imperceptibly, he hopes. It's unlike him to be so caught up in a storyteller's web-spinning. Still, he's not without imagination: he can visualize the celebrations that must have accompanied the first Romulans' discovery--and the celebrations that commemorate it across the Empire tonight. In the coldest winters and the hottest summers, from the urban arcologies of Romulus to the rural plantations of Remus, on every ship and station and colony world from Acthariet to Janniar, from the edge of the Neutral Zone to the border of the Delta quadrant, Romulans are honoring those who gave them life so many centuries ago.
Here in this agrarian prefecture the autumn weather is cool and damp, just as it was on that first Planetfall, though the candlelit dining-room is pleasantly warm. Fitting, really, that Spock should have been sent to Remus during this festival of discovery and homecoming. For tonight he has his own new world to explore, and its name is Ambassador Tayva.
It pleases him to accord her the formality of her title and surname. Even in the privacy of his thoughts, her given name is not for now, not for here. Later, he thinks, and the word causes his heart to contract briefly, sharply, in his side, sending a rush of blood to his groin. He's been a scientist long enough to make a reflexive mental note of the phenomenon as one more manifestation of the mind-body interface in sapient hominids. He hasn't been a lover long enough, or often enough, not to be taken aback by the sheer brazen force of his desire.
Years ago, when he was young and arrogant, he had been dismissive, even contemptuous, of the love affairs of his non-Vulcan friends and colleagues. Schooled in Surak's discipline of emotional detachment and physical abstinence, he had held himself above and away from the high drama of their passionate entanglements, confident in his superior judgment and strength of will. On the very few occasions when his emotional defenses were breached, he had found a ready explanation that allowed him to maintain his Vulcan self-esteem: missteps were caused not by some vulnerability within himself, but by an external force--a faithless bride, an alien virus, a psychoactive spore.
But the universe seldom allows hubris to go unrebuked, and in due course Spock had been, as Leonard McCoy might have expressed it, knocked for a loop. In fact, the Standard idiom seems apt. Certainly the Vulcan language lacks such bluntly physical descriptions of the experience of romantic love. Like a ton of bricks. Head over heels. Weak in the knees. Walking on air.
In retrospect, the events that began aboard the Romulan flagship Eidolon and ended on a stretch of frozen tarmac outside a hearing-room on Terra have an aura of inevitability, as though nothing Spock might have done differently could have altered their outcome--as though things were as they were for a reason. He's uncomfortable with notions of predestination and determinism; but he's spent a good deal of time with Romulans lately, and he's beginning to wonder whether he should thank farsighted Fate rather than his own careful planning for bringing him at last into the heart of the Empire--and into the arms of one for whom he's waited so long.
The only thing he wants tonight is to be left alone with her. Is that too much to ask? Apparently the answer is yes. He wishes, ungratefully and unforgivably, that everyone else in the room would disappear--all these brave, good-hearted people who have taken him into their care, who have made his cause their own, who are risking their lives to ensure his wellbeing.
Who tonight are testing the last ragged thread of his patience.
All evening everyone has chattered and hovered around him, reaching across heaped platters and brimming flagons, pulling out pocket-padds and crumpled printouts of "An Anamnesis of Vulcan" and "Moral Sanction in Post-Surakian Thought," pushing them at him as if they were holy relics to be blessed. If anyone finds it offensive, bizarre, or merely ironic that Ambassador Spock--advocate of unification, avatar of Surak's harsh philosophy of dispassion and detachment--should be sharing a meal with Romulans on the night that commemorates their ancestors' flight from the Vulcan homeworld, no one gives any sign. Spock's followers are delighted with him and with themselves. He supposes that they are even, in a half-fascinated, half-fearful way, delighted with Ambassador Tayva.
He can't blame them.
Only a few days ago she was an unwilling participant in a conspiracy that would have seen the annihilation of himself and his followers and the occupation of Vulcan by the Tal Shiar. Tonight, because she has, as she puts it, the luck of the gods on her side--and a few powerful friends in High Command--the shiar'rim are temporarily neutralized and the Romulan Star Empire is, if not quite at peace, then at least not at war with the United Federation of Planets. And she is here on Remus, here with him, in a remote rural safehouse, concealed behind the festive cloak of a holiday celebration. Ambassador Tayva--Fleet commander, diplomat, loyal Romulan citizen sworn to the Empire's defense--is sitting down to eat with radicals and subversives, lying down to sleep with a blood-enemy of the state.
Lying down to sleep with him.
Although his mind and body are tense with longing for what he knows this night will bring, he wishes that the morning were already here. He'd like to wake and find her strong, slender warmth curved against him. He'd like to kiss her slowly to awareness and arousal. He'd like to take his time with her--all the time they were never given, not a hundred years ago, not three days ago. He'd like the two of them to be left in peace, as if she were not a soldier, as if he were not a revolutionary. As if they were nothing more than ordinary lovers, long separated, joyfully reunited.
As if the only thing that waits for them on Romulus is all the time in the world.
* * *
On a night like this, the travelers' long journey came to an end.
Spock, wondering when D'Mel's story will do likewise, shifts in his chair--again, he hopes, imperceptibly. He has no wish to appear bored or impatient, though in truth he's both.
He's also more than half erect.
He must be entering his second adolescence. Third, technically, says a wry inner voice. Regardless. He's a twice-married man in the middle of his middle age, and he hasn't found himself in this unsettlingly spontaneous condition since he was a boy on Vulcan, not yet adept in the control disciplines--when the mere sight of T'Pring, his first betrothed, would render him unable to rise from his chair and greet her.
But that was before their wedding-day, and the memory of that event should be enough to cool his blood and calm his flesh more quickly than a recitation of the periodic table or thoughts of Surak. Instead, it fills him with a tender pity for T'Pring, and for the Spock that he was then. It was so long ago, and we were so very young. Perhaps even T'Pring has been granted her own second chances at love and life...
Tonight, he thinks, I can forgive anything in anyone--even myself.
He shifts position again and quickly amends the thought: he would never forgive himself for embarrassing Ambassador Tayva in front of their hosts and the other guests. Drawing in a breath, he prepares to control away the physical evidence of his arousal as quickly as he would a sneeze or a yawn--
Just then Rhia, D'Mel's sister and the chatelaine of this house, bends to quiet the toddler who's clambered into her lap. Suddenly Spock is able to see past Rhia to the far end of the table, where Ambassador Tayva is seated. She's in three-quarter profile to him, and even Spock, who knows all the tricks of their mutual diplomatic trade, can't say for certain whether she's listening attentively to D'Mel or whether she's looking straight through him, longing for escape.
A moment, he promises himself. Just one more moment. One small indulgence after so many years of queues and crowds, of interstellar summits and interplanetary congresses, where he would catch fleeting sight of a fall of dark hair, a certain angle of shoulder and back. His heart would leap within him then, his stomach tighten painfully with the shock of illogical hope. And in the next instant--never enough warning, never enough time to steel himself against what he already knew was coming--he'd be sent reeling by the backhand blow of truth: It is not she.
Now, looking at her, he feels his heart leap once more, not with futile hope but with exultation. Such sweet secrets he keeps--the knowledge, the privilege, the anticipation. It's all he can do to stay put in his chair. He wants to take her hand and lead her out of the room, up those winding stairs to their borrowed lodgings. Undo that high-necked tunic, unbind that shining hair. Taste her mouth, her throat, her breasts. Lay her down on someone's forgotten childhood bed, in the silence, in the dark, in a room where all the ghosts are strangers--
Control, he commands his rebel body, invoking the most elementary of the Vulcan biofeedback techniques, and is both surprised and faintly amused when compliance comes sluggishly, reluctantly. He's long past attributing such insubordination to his Terran blood, but he wonders whether, given Ambassador Tayva's new and vivid presence in his life, he oughtn't to do some remedial work on the mind-body disciplines, and rather soon.
Control. All night long he's thought of no one but her. Perhaps in the circumstances he'd do better to think of anyone but her. That's less easy than it sounds, for the memory of his liaisons provides him with disappointingly meager food for thought. Apart from a few early and inexplicable infatuations, his wives and his companions--can he, in conscience, call them lovers?--have come to him out of duty or self-interest. Or, worse, out of curiosity. Or, worst, out of pity. One and only one taught him how to love and be loved, and she did so by example. Each of us put the other's wellbeing ahead of our own. And now they're ready to put all that's past behind them. Let the votive lights in her house on Romulus burn with remorse for everyone and everything that's gone before. Here on Remus their bed is too narrow for anyone but the two of them, their room too small for any memories except the ones they'll make tonight.
On Earth, I came to her as an enemy. On Romulus, I came to her as a supplicant. On Remus, I come to her as myself.
Not that he's any prize. He's a fugitive from the very government she serves--a homeless and stateless mendicant, a true believer in a cause that not only high Vulcan logic but plain common sense has long since declared lost. In fantasy, he'd crown her with a galaxy's worth of stars; in reality, he hasn't a coin to buy a flower for her hair. He can offer her nothing but faith, promise her nothing but mortal danger. That she should take him into her arms now, that she should open her mind and heart and body to him in such love and trust, seems to him nothing less than a dream come impossibly true.
In fact, he's dreamed of her for years. Her hands in his hair, her face between his hands. Her smile against his mouth, making him laugh despite himself into their kiss. The moment when her smile disappeared, when with a soft sigh she opened her lips to his tongue-- And then, inevitably, the aroused, bereft awakening. In his cabin aboard the Enterprise, in embassies and consulates on alien worlds, in his marriage-bed in Shanai'Kahr. That last the worst, for infidelity is not in his nature, and in a Vulcan marriage the thought equates to the deed.
When he'd showed her those memories while they were on Romulus, she'd answered with a flash of rueful empathy: she too had been married, and she too had longed for what she could not have. She'd drawn him into her arms then, whispered his given name ...
And who else has ever called him by that name? He can almost count the times he's heard it spoken in his life. By his brother occasionally, when he was very small. By his father once, in a moment of weakness during the descent from Mount Seleya. Never by either of his wives, never by any of his lovers--except the one who sits so very near to him now. It had been their first and only binding-token, a trust for a trust given in atonement for the past, in hopeful affirmation of the future--
Suddenly Rhia, his host, straightens and stands, sweeping the toddler into her arms, blotting out the agreeable view. My friends, she says to the gathering, rest well. Breakfast at third hour, for those who don't sleep in.
A sudden burst of talk and bustle around the table, a clinking of glasses and shuffling of chairs. Ambassador Spock of Vulcan brings to bear the intuitive logic that's famously marked his brilliant diplomatic career: The story must be over. And, yes, there is a longed-for corollary to that premise: It must be time to go to bed.
Goodnights, farewells, wishes for a joyous Planetfall descend upon him; arrangements for tomorrow's cadre meetings and strategy sessions are made, debated, confirmed. The hubbub of cross-conversation allows him a little space in which to collect himself so that he can stand and speak to the other guests without risking his dignity. How long he'll be able to maintain that dignity is an open question. When the flurry of noise and attention that envelops him begins at last to subside, he casts a nearly desperate glance across the room.
His gaze meets and locks with hers: she's already found him. She stands at relaxed attention, a little apart from the group. Although she's dressed in the same casual style as the other women, he'd know her for a soldier at a thousand paces. He's touched her in body and mind as intimately as one mortal can touch another, and yet at this moment he has no idea what's going on behind those storm-gray eyes.
He steps away from the table, crosses the room, and goes to stand behind her.
Because he's in the company of Romulans--who, unlike Vulcans, aren't offended by simple gestures of affection--he lays his hand lightly on her shoulder. He leaves it there while he makes courteous goodnight speeches to his hosts and the other guests. Finally, with a movement too subtle and casual to draw attention to itself, he lifts his hand to the back of her neck, fingers spread and stroking, skin against bare skin.
Matching his subtlety, she arches her neck very slightly. Then, giving the appearance of merely shifting her weight, she moves her hips against him.
All defenses crumble, every barrier falls. Desire sparks and flashes across the open mindlink, quick and fierce as flame through paper. Another minute and they'll be treating the assembled guests to an entertainment not traditionally associated with Planetfall festivities--
She catches the thought: her laughter bubbles through the link, sending his heart soaring. There's no containing these feelings now. Spock of Vulcan, advocate of all things reasonable and moderate, is officially out of control. He wills his face to blandness, for that's all that's left to him, and makes a wordless plea. In the end, it's she who says their final goodnights, she who offers their best wishes for the holiday, she who speaks ritual words of hope and triumph and peace.
It's she who takes his hand and leads him up the winding stairs, into the silence, into the dark.
* * *
Feedback is very much appreciated. Please send your comments to Kathleen Dailey.
© 2003 Kathleen Dailey. All rights reserved.