Author's note: This story is set in the same universe as Unspoken Truth and Any Other Lifetime, shortly after the events recounted in the epilogue to Any Other Lifetime and several months before the TNG episode "Face of the Enemy."

Caution: This story constitutes a significant spoiler for Any Other Lifetime.

Acknowledgments: My thanks to beta readers Claire Gabriel, Morgan Stuart, and Roisin Fraser. The title and the epigraph are taken from Goethe, who knew a fitting metaphor when he heard one.

Dedication: For Sharon, with good reason.

Copyright © 2000 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.

Elective Affinities

Kathleen Dailey

"This affinity" [the Captain replied] "is sufficiently striking in the case of alkalis and acids, which, although they are mutually antithetical, and perhaps precisely because they are so, most decidedly seek and embrace one another, modify one another, and together form a new substance." ...

"Forgive me," said Charlotte, "as I forgive the scientist, but ... the choice seems to me to lie entirely in the hands of the chemist who brings these substances together. Once they have been brought together, though, God help them!"

* * *

Saavik of Vulcan--illegal immigrant, criminal fugitive, enemy both de facto and de jure of the Romulan Star Empire--was in immediate need of a new name.

She was here on Romulus in possession of no documentation more official than an expired tenday visa from Barol. If some representative of the civil authorities--or, worse, some Tal Shiar operative--decided to halt her on the street and question her, she'd be taken straight to the local magistrate's office for identity-scan and what was euphemistically called "processing."

When Saavik stopped to think about it, which she was trying not to do, it seemed inconceivable that she should have willingly put herself in such a dangerous position. And yet four tendays ago, apparently in her right mind, she'd signed over her property and investments in trust to her son and his bondmate, delivered Thon and Mewsing safely into their care, and made her farewells to them all. Then she'd cut her hair, packed a traveling-bag with clothing of an unusual color and style, and booked a passage to Kaferia. From there she'd boarded a Barolian freighter, slipped a stasis caplet under her tongue, and accompanied Spock on a clandestine flight across the Neutral Zone.

Saavik's expired Barolian visa, carefully and expensively counterfeited by a Martian acquaintance of Spock's, bore her own name and likeness and showed her world of origin as Rigel V. Those choices had been purely expedient. Once she'd made the decision to go to Romulus, there had been no time for any genetic alterations because Spock was, as he put it, on a timetable. Her skin color, eyebrows, and ears marked her as belonging to one of only three races, and so she had become Rigelian by default. But she couldn't remain Rigelian much longer.

Spock's friend Senator Pardek had offered to assist in the procuring of two Romulan identity-chips, though he'd had no idea whom the second one was intended for. Saavik had urged Spock to agree to his proposal. But Spock had declined, saying merely that other arrangements were in place. Saavik had been tempted to debate the decision with him, but something in his voice and eyes had warned her off.

Now, of course, she knew why Spock had refused to accept Pardek's help.

Caphar, one of Spock's Romulan followers, had been entrusted with counterfeiting the biochip that would document Saavik's new persona--if she ever got around to choosing one. Spock had thus made the preservation of her safety Caphar's duty. By her hesitancy, Saavik was preventing him from carrying out that duty. Therefore Caphar had taken the not inconsiderable risk of seeking her out at her work, at the busiest time of the morning, to press her for a decision.

"Do you think there's no record of you on the government's security net?" he demanded impatiently. "Anyone who served on anything rated above a morgue ship during Tomed is still on file there, right down to the retinal scan. When they find out who you are--who you were--I guarantee that you won't merely be deported to Vulcan!"

Saavik regarded him in silence for a moment. Amid the draped velvets and fragile silks of Mirias's fabric shop, he seemed a gigantic parody of a dress-designer's armature--long arms and legs stuck out at awkward angles, shaggy head bent to avoid the hanging candle-trees, unable to fit himself gracefully into any part of the room. Torn between annoyance and amusement, Saavik made a rash promise: "Tonight," she said. "At the gathering. I'll tell you my new name then. I need some more time to--to be sure I've chosen correctly."

Her last words disarmed him, just as she'd hoped they would. "I'm not trying to push you," he said gravely, though of course he was doing exactly that. "You're fortunate to be able to choose your own name, and you must choose well."

"I know," she said, attempting to match his gravity. "I'll tell you my decision tonight, I promise."

Caphar's frown disappeared, and his expression softened a fraction. "All right. Tonight, then. You know how to find your way?"

"Yes. Mirias showed me."

As he turned to leave, the sole of his sandal caught beneath the silken fringe of a rug. He stopped his fall by grabbing the back of a spindly wrought-metal chair, nearly toppling it in the process. "Go safely," he said to Saavik, toeing the rug smooth, jostling the chair awkwardly upright.

"And you," she murmured, hiding a smile.

* * *

You must choose well. Romulans might be an advanced starfaring race, but their insistence on clinging to certain primitive beliefs and practices amazed Saavik. Their naming rituals were as arcane and complex as those of any system-bound world. Although surnames passed straightforwardly, as on many worlds, from mother to daughter and from father to son, a Romulan's first or personal name was thought to bestow and reveal character, and a great deal of ceremony accompanied the naming of children.

Once, Saavik had believed that all Romulan names were as unlovely as hers: a deceptively soft sibilance ending in a hard consonant, bridged uneasily by a vague, drawn-out vowel sound that did nothing to reconcile the opposing elements. But a few people had recently offered her the courtesy of their first names, and Mirias had recited some others. Their surprising diversity had caused Saavik to re-evaluate her position. Many names, especially women's, were as pleasing to the ear as their meanings were to the mind. Ardra, celestial music. Sannith, a thousand flowers. Ilani, bright water.

Saavik was beginning to wonder whether she herself was taking entirely too Romulan an attitude to the choice of a name. What did it matter, after all? Vulcan logic would hold--correctly--that a name was only a name, and that one's intellectual energy could profitably be devoted to much more important issues.

Nevertheless, even while she was engaged in her work--serving customers, supervising apprentices, assisting Mirias--she ran through names in her mind, testing them for sound and substance. Some evoked qualities that she thought either descriptive of herself or worth attaining. Lidiya, far traveler. Rhia, steadfast in life. Torryn, hope. And yet none seemed quite right.

"You've already agreed to use my surname," Mirias pointed out reasonably, "so why not keep your own first name? You've grown into it, and nothing good will come of your casting it off. Besides, it's no stranger than some."

Mirias had a point. Although the name "Saavik" wasn't often bestowed on Romulan children nowadays, neither was it uncommon enough to attract attention. Nedali was a big city, and so long as Saavik didn't stray far from her work and lodgings in the arcology's market square she was unlikely to encounter anyone who would associate the name with a memory of a younger face once seen on some long-range intelligence scan.

The truth was that Saavik wanted a new name.

She'd never had any particular liking for her own. Its etymology was Old High Vulcan, its only significance that of an ordinal number: she had been the eighth viable embryo in a cohort of ten, and was identified accordingly by some unknown researcher. On Earth, she might have been Octavia; on Andor, Threyin. On the Romulan colony world of Hellguard, she had been Saavik.

When Spock first brought her to Vulcan as a child, her name had provoked murmured comments and raised eyebrows. Rooted in the Vulcan language it might be, but it was still unmistakably Romulan. Worse, in its spelling and sound it bore the characteristics of names traditionally reserved for male descendants of Surak, the architect of Vulcan reform.

Her Vulcan teachers had insisted that she must be called "T'Saavik," an awkward combination of syllables whose only purpose was to satisfy a linguistic and social convention that even then was falling out of favor. But when Spock, for reasons that she hadn't fully understood at the time, had taken her out of school and sent her offworld, her new teachers on Ferian Prime had "shortened" the name to its original form: Saavik.

In adulthood she had been mostly known by her Starfleet rank: the words "Cadet," "Ensign," "Lieutenant," "Commander," and "Captain" became, each in turn, the functional equivalents of a personal name. When she married, her husband had had his private names for her. Her son had called her "Mother" when he was a child and "Saavik" when he was an adult, according to Vulcan custom. But none of those names suited her now. She was no longer a Starfleet officer. Her husband was dead. Her son was starting a family of his own on Vulcan, a world she might never see again. Now, on Romulus, Saavik would become someone else.

But whom?

She despised her indecision. Hadn't she already reinvented herself many times over the years? Come to that, hadn't she invented herself in the first place? Lacking history, lacking memory, lacking everything except a name she knew how to spell in Romulan and Vulcan, she'd written her own story from the beginning. Tabula rasa, Spock had called her once when she was very young. She'd thought the words beautiful, worthy of a heroine or a goddess. Even when Spock had translated the Latin phrase into Vulcan and explained that it was not a proper name, she'd secretly thought of it as such. Princess Tabula, she'd whispered to herself while she lay in her bed at night. Lady Rasa of Wonderland. It didn't matter that she'd conflated her own fantasy with alien fairytales recounted to her by Amanda, Spock's mother. The words seemed to belong together, and in her child's imagination they conjured a distant and magical land of white rabbits, green trees, and blue lakes, presided over by herself.

Unfortunate that she couldn't use one of those names now. But her lexical implant, procured by Spock from who knew where before they left Federation space, informed her that the nearest Romulan homophone of tabula denoted a popular fried-meat snack, and rasa described a practice that she sincerely hoped took place only between consenting adult sapients possessed of hyperextensible knees.

* * *

That morning, when she'd made her reckless promise to Caphar, the gathering of Spock's followers had seemed ages in the future; now it was barely an hour away. Though the use of open commlinks had been forbidden in the wake of Pardek's treachery, Mirias had somehow communicated with the other members of Spock's inner circle, and they had managed to agree upon a time and a place. They were taking a risk, but even Saavik had to admit that the cause was sufficient.

"The vice-proconsul," Mirias had said, shaking her head, as if the mere title were something to marvel at. "While he had the floor. For the record. Gods of Remus, the implications!"

After decades of ceding its power and authority by default to the shiar'rim, the Senate--or at least one of its senior members--had suddenly salvaged a scrap of honor from the ignominy of Galorndon Core. Last night Vice-Proconsul M'Ret had stunned the Empire by rising from his seat to accuse the Tal Shiar of usurpation. The speaker, the venue, the formality of the charge--unheard of, said the street gossip, unthinkable, incredible, impossible. So astonishing was the vice-proconsul's speech that Mirias and the other movement elders had decided to summon Spock back from the rural safe house on Remus nearly a tenday earlier than planned.

Saavik knew Spock wouldn't have been pleased by that; equally, he wouldn't have dreamed of refusing the summons. Did he ever allow himself to contemplate the full weight of the burden he'd assumed? Nothing less than the remaking of two worlds, Mirias had said once. But would either of those worlds thank him for his efforts?

Saavik was trying her best to see things through Spock's eyes. Yet everywhere she looked, she found more evidence of irony shading into impossibility. Even the recent Planetfall festivities had brought home with force the uncrossable divide between the descendants of those who had stayed on Vulcan and the descendants of those who had left.

On the morning of Planetfall she'd been awakened in her lodgings above Mirias's shop by the persistent blaring of an Andorian mirthhorn. Stumbling towards the window, she discovered that commerce in the market square had come to a virtual standstill. Musicians had formed impromptu bands at intersections, and strangers were joining hands with strangers, swaying and stepping to the music with uncoordinated abandon. Saavik, who had seen far rowdier street festivals on any number of worlds, was nevertheless shocked beyond all reason by this one. Cognitive dissonance, she'd thought abstractedly, shaking her head to clear it of sleep. For a confused instant she'd been unable to reconcile the revel with the revelers: all she saw was a crowd of laughing, singing Vulcans, bearing wine-jugs and tambourines, suddenly and inexplicably gone raving mad with joy.

Spock's followers themselves seemed blind to the contradictions they represented. They couldn't see that the very passion with which they embraced their cause would prevent them from ever attaining the Vulcan lack of affect they aspired to. The few gatherings Saavik had attended had invariably begun with solemn readings from Surak's canon. "We must embrace pure logic if we are to survive," one or another of them would intone. "Surak teaches that if we fail to achieve true detachment and the rule of reason, we will destroy ourselves." That theme recurred incessantly, obsessively, as if repetition could make it fact. Saavik was waiting for someone--anyone except herself--to point out the obvious: for several thousands of years Romulus had not only survived without Surak, but prospered.

Were the unificationists, not to mention the Vulcans themselves, really unable to draw the tragically logical conclusion from that simple premise?

* * *

Saavik tidied her workstation, readying it for business tomorrow. Mirias had sent the apprentices home early and was already on her way to the meeting-place. Saavik would take a different route and arrive alone. No one was traveling in groups or even in pairs these days. Despite the recent dramatic failure of its bizarre scheme to invade Vulcan, the Tal Shiar was far from a spent force, and its opposition to Spock's movement was now fueled by the memory of humiliation and the desire for revenge. The maximum security measures imposed by Mirias and the other elders would have to remain in effect for some time. No, Saavik corrected herself. Not just for some time, but for ever. Because that's how long it will take them to realize Spock's dream.

Hypocrite, Spock's followers might justifiably have named her. She'd accepted their protection and their hospitality, endangered their already precarious safety merely by her presence on their world, listened to their speechmaking with reservations that went unvoiced by her but not unperceived by them. More than once she'd seen or sensed their discomfort: Why is she here if she doesn't believe in the cause? Saavik of Vulcan, the ex-Starfleet officer once known across the quadrants for her enmity towards the Romulan Empire and all its citizens: her "conversion" could have been a powerful symbol of newfound enlightenment, of peace and reconciliation between two worlds whose histories and prejudices had kept them apart for millennia. She might have become the unificationists' greatest prize, excepting Spock. Instead, she was an unknown quantity, a latent threat, both admired and feared because of who she was and what she had been.

Why is she here if she doesn't believe in the cause?

She'd asked herself that question often enough over the last while. By now she had a superfluity of answers from which to choose.

The first and simplest was still the best: I wanted to be sure that Spock arrived safely on Romulus. Of course, Saavik couldn't imagine how she--unarmed, at Spock's insistence, and without any kind of backup--might have defended either of them if they'd been greeted at the Customs docking bay by a detachment of shiar'rim instead of a movement sympathizer. Regardless, the explanation was believable on its surface: she was a dutiful foster-daughter, willing to lay aside her own political biases in order to ensure a parent's safety and well-being. That was exactly the kind of thing Romulans, with their near-veneration of family loyalties and obligations, approved of wholeheartedly.

But would the ideologues--idealists, Spock would say--who formed the hard core of the reunificationist movement understand her other reasons for coming to Romulus? Not likely. Saavik wasn't sure she understood them herself.

Suppose she said that she was following Leonard McCoy's suggestion that she "find" her Romulan "half," as if she were an android who had temporarily mislaid some detachable positronic component? Suppose she said that she wanted to atone somehow for all the hateful, hurtful things she'd ever said to Spock, who for years had borne her rage and rejection because he'd formed a friendship with Pardek? Or suppose she said that a lifetime ago on Hellguard a young Romulan commander had lent her a precious possession, and that she had come to the Empire--and only incidentally forsaken her son, her friends, her future, her life--just to return that possession to its rightful owner?

Spock's followers would probably nod politely at any one of those explanations and then move quickly away, fearful of encouraging the madwoman in case she should never stop babbling. Far better to stick to the story that was sure to please: Spock requires my protection. This is my obligation. This is my duty.

No one ever said half-Vulcans were incapable of lying to themselves or anyone else.

* * *

The chrono announced the quarter-hour with a discreet chime. It was time to go: Saavik knew that Spock, as always, would be punctual, and she owed him and the others the same courtesy. Though I'm sure he was in no hurry to leave Remus.

She couldn't help smiling at the memory of Spock and the woman whom she thought of in Vulcan as s'thora and in Romulan as Khisan--the starship commander who'd befriended her on Hellguard so long ago, and in a more important way than Saavik had ever guessed. Aerlyn, she reminded herself, still awed by revelation. I'm to call her Aerlyn now.

Truly, Spock and Aerlyn's story was just like one of Amanda's alien fairytales. Once upon a time, a handsome prince fell in love with a beautiful princess from an enemy kingdom. But a cruel Fate tore the lovers apart. Many long years passed, bringing trials and tragedies. Then a kindly fairy godfather cast a magic spell that reunited the lovers. They walked hand in hand into the endless sunset, and lived happily ever after.

In Spock and Aerlyn's case, of course, the sunset's duration was a scant two tendays on Remus. Whether they were destined to live happily ever after was, to say the least, an open question. And the very idea of Leonard McCoy as anyone's fairy godfather-- But Saavik had seen Spock's face when he looked at Aerlyn, and Aerlyn's when her eyes met Spock's. She would have wagered any amount that the two of them would somehow find a way.

Aerlyn, sunlight through rain. Spock, uniter. Now those were two names prophetically well suited to their bearers. If only Saavik could choose one half so fitting for herself--

Sighing, she gathered up her cloak, ordered the security system to see to the lights and locks, and walked out into the Romulan night.

* * *

If there was one thing Saavik was good at, it was following orders. Decades spent in the service of the Federation's Starfleet had schooled her in the discipline of letter-perfect adherence to instructions. Now, as she made her way through the arcology towards the Krocton segment, she automatically identified intersection after intersection, landmark after landmark in the path Mirias had laid out for her, mentally checking off each location as a task completed.

If this were Shi'Kahr, the planetary capital of Vulcan, she might well be the only person abroad at this time of evening. Businesses and shops would be closed and shuttered, streets and tramways deserted. On Vulcan, public life was conducted during the day; at night, families gathered in private houses behind single-gated walls, opening the doors to visitors rarely and only for sufficient reason.

But Nedali was not Shi'Kahr. These streets were crowded: spring had come early, and the winter-weary had been enticed out of doors into the humid warmth. Shops were doing brisk business, and refectories had opened their window-walls, bringing tables and serveries close to the busy streets. The city was alive in the darkness, filled with noise and people and twinkling shop-lights. Saavik welcomed the anonymity of the night and the crowds; for the moment, at least, she was safe.

Here, now, was the Vallian Fountain, its hundred graceful water-arcs made surreal by the blue and green lightbeams that played on them at night. Make a sharp left at the fountain, Mirias had said. Otherwise you'll end up on the bridge to the praetor's palace. One more turn past the memorial obelisk, then through the Victory Arch, and Saavik was headed away from the harborside, away from the expensive shops and refectories, away from all the grand public spaces of the arcology, towards the hidden layers of the Krocton. It would have been easier and faster to take a tram, but Mirias wouldn't permit it. There was no place to hide in a brightly lit tramcar, and Saavik might put the other passengers at risk merely by her presence: the shiar'rim would willingly kill a multitude to get at one.

The crowds grew sparser and the streets darker and quieter as Saavik progressed northward. Mirias had described her destination as a building typical of working-class Nedali, covering a square block, containing on each of its five floors an assortment of modest apartments, senf-bars, and other services. According to Mirias, this particular building was inhabited by artisans, academics, and--oddly, for the Krocton wasn't known as their segment--theatre-folk.

Why had she ever agreed to attend this gathering? She was as impatient as anyone else to see Spock, but she could easily speak with him tomorrow in Mirias's shop. She could renege on her promise to Caphar and delay choosing a new name for a day or two. Above all, she could avoid going where she wasn't wanted. She saw again in memory the anxious, puzzled faces of the unificationists' inner circle. Why is she here if she doesn't believe in the cause?

In her childhood and youth Saavik had faced--intruded upon, interrupted, disturbed, discomfited--many such circles. You don't belong here. You'll never be welcome. We are a unit, we are family, we are friends. You're not one of us and you never will be. Go away. In her early years at the Academy, the circles had opened a little to include her in study groups, in labs, in training sims; and then they'd closed again, seamless and unbreakable, when the classes and watches ended, when the eating and drinking and singing began, when friends sought out friends.

On Vulcan, the circles had never opened at all.

* * *

Once, when she was first attached to Starfleet Intelligence, she'd viewed a tape of the Klingon rite of discommendation--warrior after warrior, comrade after former comrade, turning violently away from the disgraced one, leaving him to stand alone yet surrounded by living reminders of his lost honor. At the sight of that ritual shaming, she'd caught her breath in recognition: That's just how it was on Vulcan.

Not literally, of course. On Vulcan, where emotion was said to be mastered but more often was merely repressed, a rigid code of social convention made the world go around. No one would have dreamed of speaking an abusive word to another or betraying an overt expression of hostility. Saavik of Hellguard, ignorant of the Vulcan control disciplines and the rules of civilized public conduct, would have been glad if someone had. Instead, with frigid, faultless courtesy, her classmates and teachers had shunned her because of her Romulan blood, patronized her because she spoke Vulcan imperfectly, disdained her because she lagged far behind her age-group academically. During her first year on Spock's world, Saavik had learned a new and exquisitely subtle kind of misery.

One night she had finally let Amanda see her fury and her hurt. Spock's mother, who was no more able to shield Saavik from the cold and merciless judgment of all of Vulcan than she had been able to shield Spock, had finally shouted at her in Standard: "For heaven's sake, Saavik, stop crying! Try to control yourself!"

Decades later, when Saavik had a child of her own, she would remember that night and hear clearly in Amanda's voice what she had been unable to hear then: frustration, exhaustion, helplessness, guilt. But at the time Amanda's rebuke had cut like a blade. If even Spock's human mother could offer no comfort, then Saavik was truly alone--as alone as she had ever been on Hellguard.

The tears had come harder and louder. At that moment the entry-door had opened behind Amanda to admit Spock, home on leave from the Enterprise. Saavik, distraught and unthinking, ran to him, almost knocking him off-balance. Amanda's exasperated "Saavik!" rang in her ears, but she was beyond caring. Spock let go of his kitbags and dropped to one knee. Saavik clung to his neck, sobbing out her anguish against the cool smooth fabric of his uniform. His arms closed around her then, and he held her very tight. "Saavikam," he said in a low voice, "this will not do." Oddly, that gentle reproach had the immediate effect of calming her. Hiccuping and sniffling, she moved away from him, rubbing at her eyes. "Please go to your room," said Spock. "I want to talk to Amanda. I'll see you in a few moments."

Was he angry with her? He didn't sound angry. But except for Amanda, no one Saavik knew ever sounded angry. Or happy. Or much of anything else. Conscious of Amanda's eyes on her and Spock, Saavik swallowed her tears and obeyed.

What passed between Spock and Amanda that night she never learned. But when Spock finally came to Saavik's room--not a few moments later as he'd promised, but after nearly an hour--he made no reference to the scene in the entry-hall. Instead, he talked to her at length about a world called Ferian Prime and a boarding-school operated by acquaintances of his who had emigrated there from Vulcan. By the time he said goodnight and put out the lamp, Saavik knew she would be leaving Sarek and Amanda's house within a tenday. What she couldn't have known was that she wouldn't see that house--or Amanda--again until the day she came home from Mutara.

* * *

Amanda, worthy of love. Even if Saavik wanted to use that name here on Romulus, she couldn't. It was irredeemably Terran, and thus suitable only for the woman who'd borne it. Despite Amanda's long marriage to Sarek and her Vulcan façade of controlled composure, those close to her knew that she had remained possessed of all her human weaknesses until the day she died. Sometimes morose, sometimes merry, alternately cold and kind, Amanda was mercurial by Spock's definition and mentally unstable by Saavik's.

Of course, people used to say the same thing about me.

Saavik pushed the thought aside. Counting the blocks under her breath, she left the threadbare respectability of Ullas behind and entered the outskirts of the Krocton. It was hard to tell one unnumbered residential structure from the rest--their names were almost impossible to read in the darkness, and their bulky silhouettes were indistinguishable to someone not familiar with the neighborhood. But as the Romulans liked to say, Fate was in the mood to be helpful: a streetlight illuminated the name "Pavilion of Paradise" chiseled into the stone lintel above one particularly shabby-looking door.

That door was open to the warm night breeze. The concierge's reading-lamp gleamed yellow through the leaded-glass window of his cubicle. Tapping lightly on the glass, Saavik finally succeeded in getting the old man's attention.

"What name?" he asked without looking up from his reader.

I only wish I knew. "Caphar," Saavik said. Thus far no one had entrusted her with Caphar's first name--certainly not Caphar himself. Why, she wondered, had Spock's followers never troubled to alter their own identities to avoid detection and retribution? Perhaps the numinous power they accorded to names outweighed both their Romulan love of secrecy and their instinct for self-preservation.

"What's the occasion?" said the concierge.

"Family reunion," Saavik said, acknowledging the code.

"Fifth level," said the concierge, his eyes still on his reader. "East corridor, fourth door. Lift's running slow."

Saavik nodded her thanks. "I'll take the stairs." When the old man didn't reply, she headed for the wide staircase at the far end of the lobby hall.

Five flights of winding steps left her slightly out of breath. She found the east corridor solely through her innate sense of direction, for there was no signage. When she arrived at what she thought was the correct apartment, she paused. The lexical implant never caused her to stumble on the spoken or the printed word; but when reading script, as now, she still had to sound out the letters one by one, making allowances for the vagaries of penmanship. Finally, satisfied that the chipped and faded nameplate did indeed say Caphar, she touched the entry-signal.

Caphar filled the height and width of the doorway. "Welcome," he said, unsmiling, and stood aside to let her enter.

"Shouldn't you have verified my identity? I could have been anyone."

"The concierge called. He described you."

"Considering he didn't even bother glancing at me, that's quite a feat."

"He sees everything. Born to his job." Caphar hesitated, as if he had forgotten what to do next. "Setri haleth," he muttered finally.

According to the implant, that customary householder's greeting meant that her presence brought joy to the day. Looking past Caphar towards the small group of people gathered in the sitting-area of the apartment, she wondered how many would agree with him--

Whatever she might have expected by way of a welcome, she never imagined that it would take the form of an embrace. That the embrace should come from her s'thora seemed only slightly more incredible than the fact that it came at all. But Aerlyn was there, moving towards her, reaching out, pulling Saavik into an enthusiastic hug.

Amazed, Saavik returned the hug.

"Saavik--" Aerlyn drew away a little and studied her face. "It's agreeable to see you again."

"Aerlyn," Saavik said, unused to the name and the privilege of speaking it. "What are you-- I never expected to see you here."

"No one did," said Caphar, urging them away from the door and into the sitting-area.

"Don't worry, Caphar." Aerlyn gave him a wry look. "You won't see me here again."

"Indeed you will not," said Spock. "Greetings, Saavikam. Please sit down. We were beginning to be concerned about you."

"It took me a little while to find the place."

Mirias, who was handing around large mugs of ale, took that simple reply as an opening to expatiate on the oddities of the neighborhood, the building, and the residents thereof. It was plain that the old woman wanted to put Saavik and the others at ease. Her tactic was effective. The focus of attention shifted from Saavik, and interrupted conversations gradually resumed.

When Spock turned away to answer a question from a man seated on his left, Aerlyn moved closer to Saavik. "They don't like my being here," she said, sounding not at all displeased by the fact. "Spock because he fears for my safety and the others because they fear for his. But I wanted to see you."

"I'm glad you came," Saavik said. "I wanted to see you too. But we should have met at Mirias's shop, where you could look as if you had business. You took a terrible risk coming here, s'thora. Spock is an outlaw on Romulus--a fugitive. And you're--"

"Not just a diplomat but a soldier still," Aerlyn finished for her. "Sworn to the Empire's service and defense. A soldier who's stretching her oath to the breaking-point by keeping silent about Spock's activities. Among other things." She was smiling, but her gray eyes were sober. "I'll find a way to communicate more discreetly with you, I promise. But tonight I wanted--well, we had so little time to talk on the day Spock and I left for Remus. I came here so that I could be sure of having a chance to thank you."

"Thank me, s'thora? What for?"

Aerlyn glanced towards Spock, who was deep in conversation with the man next to him. "He and I were separated for a hundred years," she said in a lowered voice. "Almost half a lifetime. We--oh, Saavik, you more than anyone must know that the past is a chasm, an abyss--how difficult it is to make your way across it and survive." She fell silent for a moment. Then: "Do you know the meaning of 'the butterfly effect'?" She spoke the last words in Standard.

"Sensitive dependence on initial conditions. The notion that an insect stirring its wings in Nedali can transform storm systems in Kevas."

"Just so. That day we met in Mirias's shop--you said that Spock and McCoy helped you to find your way back. From Tomed and from--from Hellguard. McCoy in his human way, and Spock--"

"Yes," Saavik said quietly. "It's just as I told you, s'thora. He saw you--that is, my memory of you on Hellguard. Afterwards, when he explained--you see, he hadn't known that you survived the Senate's trial. But--but the time wasn't right. His marriage-- I'm only sorry it's taken all these years--"

Aerlyn stopped her with a gesture. "That doesn't matter. Don't you see? If it weren't for your act of faith--if you hadn't stirred your wings--he might not be here with me today." She looked around the room at the others, allowed her gaze to rest on Spock for a moment, and then turned back to Saavik. "In a sense, Saavikam, it was you who set all this in motion."

* * *

You set all this in motion.

If that was true--if Saavik had somehow brought herself and these others to this place, this state, this condition, facing an unimaginable future--it had surely never been her intention.

After Tomed, after Semir's death at the hands of the Romulans, after her breach with Spock over his continuing friendship with Pardek, she had been perilously close to breakdown. And yet somehow, at the lowest moment of the lowest point in her life, she and Leonard McCoy had survived what he called their "donnybrook" and what she thought of as their pitched battle. To this day Saavik was unwilling to examine the event in detail; it was bad enough to remember that he had called her a self-righteous bigot and she had called him things far worse. She might easily have killed him in that moment; certainly their friendship, at least, should have died.

But Saavik--who, as McCoy said afterwards, had been brought up right--was not quite so far gone that she didn't recognize truth when she heard it spoken, or rather shouted, by one she trusted. It had also helped that she was in deep shit, as McCoy put it, with Starfleet Command; her superiors had finally had enough of her strident anti-Romulan speechmaking, and they were exerting their own kind of pressure. In her heart she wanted to be healthy again, and so she took a year's leave and did what she had to do. But the time came when all of McCoy's talk therapy wouldn't carry her any further, and she had approached Spock for help in taking the last step in her journey to wholeness--the help that only he could give.

Light and air. That had been McCoy's prescription for her survival, and he and Spock together had led her--compelled her--towards the brightness and into the uncontaminated day. I looked Hellguard in the eye, she'd told Aerlyn. I was trying to find my way back. But in truth she had been brought back: by love, by compassion, by Spock's and McCoy's steady and stubborn refusal to give up on her.

McCoy had commandeered a private lab from a colleague. He'd seated Spock and Saavik in facing chairs. Then, knowing from experience the complications that could arise in a mindmeld, he'd hooked them up to every physio monitor in the room. Perhaps he'd had some idea of the kinds of memories that were about to come crashing down on Saavik--and on Spock, who would live through her ordeal on Hellguard even as he helped her to mitigate it.

The experience was every bit as bad as one might have expected it to be, and no worse than Spock and Saavik were able to bear.

Much later, when she was finally able to view the clinical recordings McCoy had made, Saavik was surprised to discover that she had spoken only a few words during the meld: she'd returned to her own consciousness with her throat abraded to rawness, as if she'd been screaming for hours. McCoy, plainly in distress himself, was trying not to look at their faces. His audible sigh of relief had signaled that he'd known when it was almost over, when Spock was finally at the point of separating Saavik's mind from his own. At that instant Spock had made some sound--a catch in his breath, a sigh or a gasp, not quite an intelligible word. McCoy turned suddenly away from the monitors and towards Spock, just as Saavik's eyes flew open. Spock's reaction to what he was seeing in her mind was enough to jolt her part way out of the meld, but only part way. When she spoke, she did so with Spock's intonation--shock, disbelief, elation.

"Aer'linnh," Saavik said in Romulan, looking straight at McCoy.

The word, and its Romulan pronunciation, had of course come from Spock's memory; Saavik had never known the young s'thora's given name. But the face was familiar to them both. Spock, who had been prepared for anything except this, allowed his iron control of the meld to slip for a fraction of a fraction of a second. The physio monitors flashed and whimpered in alarm. Spock slumped in his chair, as if some puppeteer had slackened the strings that held him upright. McCoy, panic written on his face, had rushed towards them. "Spock!" he cried helplessly. "Saavik!"

Saavik, by what power of will she never knew, had somehow pulled herself fully and brutally out of the meld. Terrified, dizzy, nauseated, forgetting everything she'd ever learned about the Vulcan mind disciplines, she'd followed her first and worst instinct. She drew back her arm and with all the strength she possessed struck Spock full in the face, again and again, as if he were not caught in the identity-destroying vortex of a mindmeld gone dangerously wrong, but merely asleep in a healing trance. Against all reason and logic, not to mention Vulcan physiology and psionics, her insane action had succeeded; Spock's hand shot up to grasp her wrist, stopping the rain of blows. "Enough, Saavikam," he said, sounding as though he were declining a second glass of tea. Though she had no conscious memory of it, the recordings testified that for several seconds more she'd repeated over and over in a hoarse whisper a single phrase in Vulcan--the only words she'd been able to speak when Sarek and the others had first come to Hellguard, the only thing in the universe she knew:

Saavik viim'sh Saavik viim'sh Saavik viim'sh I am Saavik I am Saavik I am Saavik--

* * *

The gathering, which had begun as usual in quiet civility and with many quotations from Surak's canon, was progressing--also as usual--towards fractiousness and raised voices. For the last while, the group had been sharply divided over the best way to turn M'Ret's speech in the Senate to the peace movement's advantage.

At first, Saavik had paid little attention; she was preoccupied with observing the others, putting names to faces, and wondering how she might be able to avoid keeping the promise she'd made to Caphar. But eventually the burden of the discussion began to make an impression on her.

"One of us should approach M'Ret directly," said a woman named Caris--mediatrix, Saavik thought reflexively. "Anyone in power who openly repudiates what the Tal Shiar tried to do at Galorndon Core is a potential ally--"

"A potential enemy, you mean!" cried an old man. "Have you already forgotten Pardek? He didn't just make speeches--he worked all his life for reform. And yet the moment Sela deigned to notice him he changed the color of his cloak! And Neral--we believed all his lovely speeches, and look where it got us!"

"Nevertheless," Spock said, "M'Ret is something of an anomaly. He is a colonial, for one thing, and unlike Neral owes no debts to the hereditary power-blocs. And he has spoken out before in support of peace with the Federation and the Klingon Empire."

"He's a maverick," Aerlyn said in Standard. Until now, she'd remained as silent as Saavik. "A renegade," she added. "A cowboy."

Spock looked at her. "Indeed," he said with a slight smile. "In my opinion, Caris's suggestion has merit. We still have a connection or two in the Senate. An overture might be made."

"Talking generalities about peace is one thing," said a man seated next to Caris. "Accusing the Tal Shiar of usurpation is quite another. M'Ret has signed his own execution warrant, no mistake."

"Agreed," said Mirias. "He may have truth and even honor on his side, but those won't get him offworld fast enough when the shiar'rim come for him in the night."

"Offworld," Caris murmured. "Now that would be a triumph. A defection or two to the Federation of persons of M'Ret's political stature, and then a few more, and more--"

"It couldn't be managed," said the old man. "The shiar'rim have eyes and ears everywhere. The logistics are impossible. We'd need cooperation on an interstellar scale! We'd need safe houses, and fronts of some kind, and collaborators across sectors, and starships--"

"We'd need an underground railroad," said Saavik.

* * *

She couldn't call the words back. She couldn't plead that she had apparently lost her mind and forgotten where she was and to whom she was speaking. Worst of all, she could never unsay that we.

We. Where, in the name of what remained of her sanity, had that come from? How had she gotten so caught up in the fantasies of the unificationists that for an instant it had seemed as if she were back at Fleet Intel, planning covert strategy with her colleagues? Her mind had raced ahead of her judgment and even her conscious awareness, testing tactics and possibilities, already beginning to assemble the bare bones of a mission similar to many she'd planned before: the extraction of vulnerable operatives from hazardous postings.

Perhaps she really was going mad. Perhaps her own hard-won identity was slipping away on this alien world that was hers and not hers, just as Spock's identity had almost slipped away in their mindmeld.

Her consternation must have been evident, for Aerlyn quickly laid her hand on Saavik's. "I think," Aerlyn said, "that it's time I left." Once again her gaze moved from face to face until it came to rest on Spock. "The rest of your conversation is probably best conducted in private." She turned to Saavik. "Will you accompany me back to the city? I'm staying not far from Mirias's shop, near the harbor."

The invitation was not merely an escape route; it was an open act of kindness. Saavik squeezed Aerlyn's hand in thanks. "Yes, of course. We can leave whenever you--"

"Don't go yet," said Caphar, "I'd like to see you in the kitchen for a moment. I--I could fix you some dinner to take with you."

Beside her, Aerlyn gave a soft snort of amusement. But Saavik knew well enough why Caphar wanted her: I'll tell you my decision tonight, I promise. Sighing inwardly, she rose and followed him into the tiny kitchen.

Like most city-dwellers on Romulus, Caphar habitually took his meals in refectories; Saavik had often seen him in the market square, spooning his meal absently in the general direction of his mouth, never looking up from whatever he happened to be reading. It was no surprise to discover that his kitchen lacked a replicator and that the cooker and cooler could charitably be described as rudimentary.

Nevertheless, he had managed to produce an enormous pot--almost a cauldron--of vegetable soup. The smell transported Saavik in memory to Amanda's kitchen in Shi'Kahr and the very first Vulcan food she'd ever tasted.

"How were you able to find plomik?" she asked. "Or did you have it replicated somewhere?"

"Replicated it myself," he said, "at work, in the dining-hall, after everyone was gone. Spock gave me the code. I hid the stuff under my cloak and took it home."

The image of Caphar--dignified and respectable in his artisan's guild-cloak, traveling home on a crowded tram, enveloped in a pungent cloud of plomik--was too much for Saavik. Despite herself, she laughed. Her reaction drew a bemused look from Caphar, and too late it occurred to her that in present company a laugh might be considered a solecism.

"It isn't safe to delay any longer," Caphar said. He fumbled in his pocket and withdrew a miniature biochip. "I can have this ready for you tomorrow morning. You just have to tell me your--"

The kitchen door opened. "More guests, Caphar," Aerlyn said. "Mirias let them in. Saavik, when you're ready--"

A young boy, not quite an adolescent, crowded into the doorway next to Aerlyn, then past her and into the kitchen. "Hello, Caphar," he said. "Hello, Ambassador Tayva. Did you and Spock transport here? Did you use your tricorder?"

"This is D'Tan," Aerlyn said to Saavik, giving the boy the same wry look she'd given Caphar. "We keep running into each other."

"Hello." The boy regarded Saavik with interest. "Who are you?"

"D'Tan," said Caphar. "That's not polite--"

"No, it's all right." And it is. Or it will be. It has to be. Her eyes met Caphar's over the boy's head. "I am Saavik," she said.

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