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There Is No Sin But Ignorance, by ShouldKnowBetter
There Is No Sin But Ignorance
Summary: Amanda Cole finds that being assigned to the Earth embassy on Vulcan has one noteworthy advantage: a lonely ambassador with too much time on his hands.
The other Humans at the embassy seemed intent on creating the illusion that they weren’t living on Vulcan at all. Still shocked by the recent attack, they rarely went outside the compound, ate Human food, discussed the news from Earth and socialised within their own small circle. Amanda’s suggestion to her colleagues that they go sightseeing had been met with indifference, and she was advised against trying to mix with the Vulcan community living a matter of metres away. ‘Best stay away, corporal,’ had been the advice of her squad leader. ‘They’re going through a revolution. They claim it’s peaceful now, but after what happened a couple of weeks ago, we’re taking no chances.’
So Amanda again found herself confined in one place, with one small group of people. She liked to think of herself as a positive person, but she struggled to find anything to be positive about: the fact that the higher gravity – just about the only thing the Human community couldn’t alter – was improving her fitness wasn’t really worth writing home about. And the news from home wasn’t pleasant either. According to the latest reports, there had been another attack on an alien on Earth, this time a Vulcan who taught in high school. The man hadn’t been injured, but the message delivered in the course of the attack had been clear: aliens go home.
Amanda winced when that was made public. She’d heard the whisper that Earth should expel its alien residents when she’d been on leave, but she’d hoped that the eradication of the Xindi threat would quell the growing xenophobia. It looked like she’d been wrong. The timing of the report wasn’t good either. A session had been arranged for that very afternoon where the Vulcans were to explain the implications of their ‘revolution’ to Ambassador Trent. The chief of security for the embassy went into a hastily arranged meeting with the ambassador, with the result that the embassy’s alert status was raised another notch, and every available MACO was assigned to secure the building. Amanda spent four hours manning the side entrance – the only intruder she had to report was the Vulcan who regularly delivered materials needed for the reconstruction of the embassy – then was told to report to the main conference room with only enough time for a comfort break. Her annoyance dissipated, however, when she realised that her assignment meant that she would get to listen in on the presentation by the Vulcans. Given that she’d been on Enterprise when their revolution got underway, she was curious to know what was happening, but news had been scarce – at least at her level. In the embassy as on Enterprise, it took a long time for information to filter down to the MACOs. Now she would get a firsthand report of events outside the embassy’s walls, and she might even get to meet some more Vulcans; they couldn’t all be as bitchy and erratic as Commander Dog-in-the-Manger T’Pol. When she was briefed on her assigned task, however, Amanda came close to insubordination. “You want me to do what?”
Sergeant Baker gave her a quelling stare. “Are you questioning your orders, Corporal Cole?”
“No, sergeant. But,” Amanda couldn’t help the protest, “why do we think representatives of the new government would carry concealed weapons and explosives?”
“You’re not paid to think, corporal.” Major Ferguson had overheard the exchange and came over to add his disapproval to Baker’s. “You’ll scan the Vulcans – all the Vulcans – for illegal weapons. Is that clear?”
“Yes, sir.” Amanda didn’t bother trying to prolong the debate. It seemed that someone had dropped the word that she was a troublemaker, and she wasn’t. She was just interested in why things were necessary, and she thought that made her a better MACO, even if no one else shared her opinion. She’d scan the damn Vulcans to within an inch of their lives, and it wouldn’t be her fault if it caused a diplomatic incident.
“What are you doing?”
The abrasive question came from the young woman heading up the Vulcan delegation, who looked enough like T’Pol that Amanda took an instant dislike to her. “Scanning for concealed weapons, ma’am.” Amanda held up the scanner to demonstrate, concentrating on keeping her voice and expression completely neutral. “Standard procedure during a Level 6 security situation.”
Not a muscle moved in the woman’s face, but she managed to convey her utter contempt for standard procedures. “You consider representatives of the new Vulcan government - allies of your planet - a security risk?”
“I’m not paid to consider things, ma’am.” Amanda couldn’t stop the bitter retort. “Just to obey orders.” She inspected the readout of the scanner. “You’re clean.” The woman’s outrage grew, but she didn’t bother dealing out another reprimand, just swept on, and Amanda turned towards the only other Vulcan in the delegation, who had already completed the obligatory iris scan. “If you don’t mind, ambassador?”
“A belated precaution, surely?”
The light, precise voice was sarcastic, and Amanda winced internally. The scans were belated. If they had been only a little more careful, 43 people would still be alive, and Ambassador Soval had better reason to know that than most. And if security on Enterprise had been tighter, he wouldn’t have been kidnapped from under their very noses and tortured by the Andorians. She felt guilty about that, and not just because Lt Reed had read them the riot act when one of her colleagues had made a flippant remark about it serving the bitter old Vulcan right. Soval might be the most unpopular Vulcan on Earth, but Amanda had found herself at odds with popular opinion since the Xindi attack. After the probe killed seven million Humans, the press, who had always hated Soval – the ‘bitter old Vulcan’ tag had been their invention after the flight of the NX-Beta – had launched a vitriolic attack on him for holding back Earth’s warp programme. But Amanda had heard him express his planet’s condolences. What had struck her had not been hypocrisy, but Soval’s sincerity that came across in the brief statement. As shocked and grieved as anyone else, Amanda had found it oddly comforting to know that one alien, at least, shared her feelings. So when her scans were complete, she lifted her head to look directly into his eyes – and was startled by the arrested look she found there. Confused she blinked and there was just an elderly Vulcan frowning at her. “I’m sorry.” There were a great number of things she wanted to apologise for, but it was all too complicated and she had her orders. “You’re clean.”
For a second Soval held his position, still frowning slightly, then inclined his head and followed his companion into the conference room. Amanda pocketed her scanner and went to take up her station against the back wall, scolding herself back into a properly military frame of mind. What was she thinking? She was just a MACO, and Soval was a Vulcan and an ambassador and years older than herself. Why should he look at her as if she were somehow special? She’d imagined that moment of recognition, and it was ridiculous to be disappointed because she’d never get to experience a figment of her imagination again.
The woman delivered the presentation, in a tone of voice that was just slightly irritated. Amanda got the impression that T’Pau – no one had bothered to introduce them, but Ambassador Trent’s greeting had given the game away – didn’t want to be there. She certainly kept her presentation brief, and it concentrated on matters of government. Amanda, who had been hoping for information on the changes to Vulcan philosophy, was disappointed, but she perked up when T’Pau finished her summary and curtly requested questions. Trent thanked her courteously, and added, “We’ve heard that the discoveries you’ve made will revolutionise Vulcan society, Minister T’Pau. Can you tell us something of the changes you anticipate?”
“No.” Her voice was cold. “It is a private matter, not for out-worlders.”
Trent was an accomplished diplomat and accepted her rebuke gracefully, but kept prodding. “I can assure you that I meant no offence, madam. I was thinking of general cultural changes, not specifics.”
“The revelation of the true word of Surak will have consequences for all Vulcans, and for all those who have contact with Vulcan.” T’Pau sounded as if she had given the answer before. “You have already seen this in our changed policy towards Earth.”
This time Trent accepted the brush-off, and Amanda sighed and muttered softly to herself, “But how does it affect the people?” Vulcan had undergone a revolution in its philosophy, and T’Pau hadn’t said one thing about how individual Vulcans had reacted. That was plain callous to Amanda’s way of thinking. Then she noticed that conversation at the conference table had ceased and the two Vulcans were staring at her – and remembered all those stories about sensitive Vulcan hearing. She focussed on the opposite wall, hoping the moment would pass, but T’Pau was obviously not a charitable woman. “That,” she said icily, “is none of your concern.”
Trent looked between T’Pau and Amanda in confusion, and Soval said softly, “The woman asked how individuals have been affected by the discovery of the Kir’Shara. It is a good question.” Without moving her head, Amanda managed to swivel her eyes sufficiently to see that he was looking not at her, but at T’Pau, who was staring back. It was obviously an issue between them, and Amanda would have been intrigued if she hadn’t been sure that she was going to be hauled over the carpet for speaking out of turn.
T’Pau came to her feet, head held high. “I have told you all that you need to know. Good day, Ambassador Trent.”
Trent had also risen, and said hastily, “Won’t you stay for a short time, Minister T’Pau? I’ve ordered refreshments to be made available. Chef’s prepared some Earth dishes that I’m told appeal to Vulcan tastes.”
T’Pau regarded him condescendingly for a moment then seemed to decide that she could afford the time to patronise his embassy. “Very well.”
He smiled his thanks, and signalled to Major Ferguson, who nodded to Sergeant Baker, who jerked her head at Amanda, so that it was she who had the privilege of telling the stewards outside that they could serve the carefully chosen dishes. She didn’t even have the chance to swipe a canapé to compensate for missing lunch.
The embassy staff – excluding MACO rankers, of course – clustered around T’Pau. Back at her post by the door, Amanda scowled at them and seriously considered resigning. But the chances of getting a civilian job in the diplomatic service were as slim as being accepted into Starfleet and she’d already failed at that. She was idly contemplating becoming a chef, on the off-chance that her cooking would so impress visiting aliens that they’d ask to meet her – the fact that she couldn’t cook was no more of a hindrance than not meeting Starfleet’s minimum entry requirement – when a quiet voice said in her ear, “Good evening.”
She nearly jumped out of her skin, cursing herself for being so self-absorbed that she’d neglected her duty. How the hell Soval had managed to get so close without her noticing she didn’t know, but it almost certainly meant that she was in for another rebuke from Sergeant Baker and probably from the Vulcan ambassador himself. But she had wanted to meet aliens. She drew a deep breath and turned her head towards Soval, who had approached from the side. “Sir?”
There was a brief pause during which Amanda sought desperately for something to say that might impress him, then Soval asked, “You are one of the new security personnel?”
“I have not seen you there.”
“I thought you recognised me.” She wondered if she should explain that her earlier apology had included the security breach that had allowed the Andorians to kidnap Soval. He looked ill and tired, and that made her feel guilty all over again.
“No. But you reminded me of someone.” He studied her for a moment more, but before she had summoned up the courage to ask whom she resembled, Soval said in the same mild tone, “May I ask your name?”
“Amanda.” She was so surprised that he should want to know that it took her a moment to remember that a Vulcan would expect a more formal answer. “Corporal Cole.”
“Mine is Soval.”
She couldn’t help but smile. “You don’t need to introduce yourself. You are kind of famous.”
Amanda felt her smile slide into a grin. “I hope I wouldn’t be rude enough to agree, ambassador.”
“Many would.” Soval’s response was wry, but somehow she knew that he wasn’t offended by her amusement. “You have an interest in Vulcan society?”
Amanda returned abruptly to scanning the room for potential threats: now for the rebuke, no doubt to be delivered in that blisteringly sarcastic tone for which Soval was indeed infamous. “I’m sorry, sir. I spoke out of turn earlier. It won’t happen again.
“That would be a pity.” The unexpected comment bought her head around sharply and she found herself looking into Soval’s dark eyes again, disconcerted by the appreciation she found there.
“Corporal Cole!” Ferguson’s harsh summons broke the moment, and Amanda snapped to attention, eyes front and centre. “You’d better be apologising to the ambassador for disrupting a very important meeting.”
“Important in some ways, but hardly crucial to the future of this quadrant.” If Amanda hadn’t been focussed solely on being the epitome of a professional soldier, she would have been surprised by the change in Soval’s voice from the quiet, almost intimate tone in which he had spoken to her to the cold delivery directed at Ferguson. “And yes, Corporal Cole has offered me her apology – unnecessary as it was.”
Ferguson ignored that last rider. “Good. She’ll be punished for her lapse of discipline.”
“I see no need to punish harmless curiosity about our culture.”
“It’s an internal matter, Ambassador Soval.” Amanda knew that Ferguson was annoyed at having an outsider meddling with the discipline of his troops, and that she’d suffer for it. But it was kind of Soval to try to mitigate her punishment when she deserved it for not paying attention to her task. “You’re relieved of duty, Corporal Cole. Report to my office in the morning.”
The abrupt dismissal wasn’t what Amanda had been expecting, but she managed to keep her expression blank as she saluted and turned smartly on her heel to leave the room. It wasn’t being relieved of duty that really hurt, however, but the fact that her conversation with Soval had been cut short. She hadn’t even got to say goodbye. Not that it would make the slightest difference to him, of course, but it would have been more civilised, made her feel as if she were a person again, not just a uniform with no one inside it.
With the rest of the MACOs still on duty, Amanda had their common room to herself once she had showered and changed. The solitude didn’t do anything to improve her mood. She wanted someone to complain to, someone who would sympathise then tease her out of the sullens. But apart from Tucker, the nature of whose interest in her she had completely misread, there hadn’t been anyone like that in a long time. The men who weren’t scared off by her physical strength always seemed to want to rely on her for common sense and the ability to take care of herself. In theory Amanda had no problem with that, but just sometimes she would have liked the guy to take charge, maybe even offer her a shoulder to cry on once in a while.
Amanda scowled at that thought and served herself a beer. Self-pity would get her nowhere. She should get out her Vulcan vocabulary and put in an hour or two of study. If Major Ferguson didn’t reinstate her the following morning, she’d damn well get out of the compound and explore. Maybe there were lots of Vulcans with whom she’d feel the same sense of connection that she had with Soval. She certainly hadn’t felt that with any Human lately!
She’d been virtuously studying long enough to be half way through her beer when the door opened to allow one of the stewards to stick his head inside. “Corporal, there’s someone asking to see you.”
“Who is it?” It couldn’t be Ferguson or Baker; they’d simply have demanded her presence.
The porter took a nervous look over his shoulder. “It’s,” he visibly swallowed, “Ambassador Soval.”
Amanda gulped and leapt to her feet, wishing she’d chosen to wear something more flattering than an old shirt and exercise pants, and hoping that Soval wouldn’t get the impression that she was the sort of person who drank alone. And what the hell did either of those things matter anyway? “Um. D’you wanna ask him to come in?”
It seemed that the steward preferred not to speak to the ambassador, because he simply opened the door wider and scuttled away, leaving the way clear for Soval to step into the doorway. Amanda eyed him warily, conscious that she was still holding her beer bottle in one hand and a PADD in the other; it couldn’t look very professional. “Can I help you, sir?”
The ridiculously formal question made her wince, but it appeared not to have a detrimental effect on Soval, who simply said calmly, “I wondered if you would be able to provide me with a cup of coffee.”
“Coffee?” Amanda knew that she must sound like the dumbest creature alive, but the request took her completely by surprise.
“Coffee.” There was a hint of amusement in Soval’s confirmation. “Arabica for preference, but a mixed blend will suffice.” He paused, but Amanda’s head was still reeling. “Coffee is not available on Vulcan, and I have been away from Earth for some time. I would appreciate your assistance.”
“Sure.” Amanda managed to get herself under control and started for the drinks’ dispenser, belatedly remembering that her hands were still full and diverting to deposit beer and PADD on a table. “Uh,” she still wasn’t functioning on all cylinders, “cream, sugar?”
“Black, no sugar.”
She knew she must be reinforcing Soval’s low opinion of Humans, but what else did he expect but bumbling incompetence when he invaded a person’s privacy with ridiculous requests? “Weren’t they serving coffee at the reception?”
“No.” He had followed her to take the cup she offered. “Thank you. Ambassador Trent provided Earth wines. I don’t drink.”
“And you couldn’t have asked one of the stewards to fetch you coffee?” It had finally occurred to Amanda how very strange was this encounter.
“The option occurred to me.” Soval cocked his head fractionally and very deliberately looked deep into her eyes. “I preferred to ask you.”
The warmth was there again, wiping out loneliness and confusion, and she smiled. “Fine by me.” He held her eyes for a moment longer then prosaically broke the contact to sip his coffee, while Amanda took a deep breath and rebuked herself severely for responding as if to a pick-up line. “Is it for the coffee that you’ve stayed Earth’s ambassador so long?”
She realised that it was an utterly inane question the moment the words were out of her mouth, and braced herself to see displeasure replace the unexpected amiability in Soval’s eyes, but he just looked calmly back, perhaps understanding the motivation behind her response better than he had any right to. “In part.” Amanda retrieved her beer to cover her embarrassment. What was it about the man that made her feel like a blushing schoolgirl? “Do you care for Vulcan?”
“I’ve no idea.” She spoke reflexively, only belatedly realising how indifferent that made her sound and hastening to explain. “I’ve not seen anything of it.” She indicated the room behind them. “This could be any military base on Earth, and we’re not encouraged to go off the compound.”
Dark eyes surveyed her thoughtfully. “Has it never occurred to you simply to go out into the city? Vulcan is a peaceful planet.”
Amanda fidgeted uncomfortably. “With the revolution and all?”
“Fortunately, yes.” Soval was still watching her closely, and Amanda disconcerted herself yet again by discovering that, despite the appalling haircut, the pouches under his eyes and the lines running from nose to mouth and cutting through his cheeks, she found him a good looking man. “Officially a similar policy of non-fraternisation with the natives operates for those attached to the Vulcan consulate in San Francisco.” He allowed a brief pause. “Unofficially I recommend a career change to any who do not grow curious enough to see what Earth has to offer.”
Amanda sighed. “Maybe that applies to the diplomatic staff here too. But I’m just a MACO.”
Soval gave her another long stare then said abruptly, “Do you have plans for the rest of the evening?”
She frowned puzzled. “No. Why?”
He appeared to ignore her question. “Neither do I. Would you care to see something of the city? I hardly believe that even if you are ‘only a MACO’ your superiors will object if you are in my company.”
Amanda eyes widened with delighted surprise. “I’d love to!” Then she bit her lip as sanity set in. “Are you sure? I mean, you must have more important things to do and …”
“I never make offers I do not mean.” Soval placed his cup on a nearby table. “Fetch a coat. It will become cool later. I will await you outside.”
In the ten minutes it took Amanda to change into something a little more flattering - she couldn’t let any Vulcans she encountered get the impression that Humans were scruffy, could she? - grab a sweater and sign out of the compound, she convinced herself that she had misinterpreted the whole incident, but Soval was waiting for her. He gave her another assessing look as she came to stand in front of him, although not for the purpose of admiring her figure, for all he asked was, “Do you feel able to walk a short distance, or would you prefer transport?”
“I can walk.”
He inclined his head in acknowledgement and indicated a street opposite. “This way.”
Amanda drew a deep breath of the warm, dry air and followed him happily. She didn’t know what she had done to deserve this treat, but she wasn’t about to look a gift Vulcan in the mouth. Overhead the moonless sky was bright with half-familiar stars, showing up more clearly in the subdued street lighting than they would have done on Earth. The furnace heat of the day was past, but it was still hot, some of the warmth radiated back by the walls around them, and as they passed a doorway Amanda caught a hint of a spicy fragrance she couldn’t place. It was wonderfully different to the sterile atmosphere in the compound and, despite the drag of Vulcan’s gravity on her body, she felt a bounce return to her stride that had been absent for some time. As if sensing her growing excitement, Soval turned his head to look at her and she grinned back, self-consciousness vanished. She didn’t care what was said about him, he had recognised her crying need to escape and had indulged her. She had no idea what his motives were and frankly did not care. She was out and she was determined to enjoy every moment.
The lane ended in a wider street and Amanda halted in surprise. “It’s busy!”
“Of course.” Soval turned to wait for her, letting her look her fill at the lighted shops and restaurants, and the numerous pedestrians. “On Vulcan the professional services keep standard hours much as you do on Earth. This is a convenient time for shopping and for social activities.”
He started forward, a little more slowly than before, and Amanda followed him, trying to look around without bumping into passers-by. “What kind of social activities?”
“Eating. Meeting with friends. Debate.” He glanced sideways at her, a suggestion of a sneer around his mouth. “You believe that Vulcans do none of these things?”
“No!” Then Amanda shrugged, too honest to equivocate. “Well, maybe. But you have to admit that’s not the impression you give.”
“Humans see Vulcans only when we are performing an official function. You do not know us privately.”
“And whose fault is that?” Amanda’s gratitude for her outing only went so far. “You said yourself that official policy keeps Vulcans restricted to their own space on Earth.”
“Not a policy that I support.” One eyebrow flicked; she wondered if it was the equivalent of a shrug. “But you have a point.”
Amanda would have followed up the conversation, but a shop front caught her eye and she was too much of a woman to resist, diverting to stare longingly at the ornately patterned material displayed. “They are just gorgeous.” She gave Soval’s outfit an acquisitive look as he came to stand beside her. “Is it illegal to sell to non-Vulcans?”
“Of course not. Although you may wish to know that this style of clothing,” he indicated his double layer of robes, “is only worn by government officials for formal engagements. They are not the most practical of garments.” He inclined his head to the shopkeeper who had come out, in the universal way of shopkeepers hoping for a sale, and asked a question in Vulcan.
They spoke for a few moments, the woman with a curious eye on Amanda, then he turned back, reverting to English. “Sareh, who own this business, would be pleased to sell to you. She even offers,” his eyes met Amanda’s and she read amusement in his, “to give you a very good price, because you will show what you purchase to other Humans, who may then also come here.”
Amanda just managed to keep a straight face as she thanked the woman in Vulcan, but laughed as they walked on. “There are some universal constants, I guess.”
“Mercantile guile being the most common? I believe you are right.” There was a suggestion of warmth in Soval’s voice, the acknowledgement of a joke shared, and Amanda felt another moment’s uncertainty. It shouldn’t be this easy to talk to someone, not with so much time and space between their birthplaces. “You speak Vulcan?”
“No!” Her denial was emphatic. “They teach us some at school, but I never had the chance to practise. I’ve been trying to brush-up since I arrived in case I got the chance to get out, but I couldn’t follow what you said just then.” She looked enviously up at Soval. “Your English is perfect.”
“Unless presented with idiomatic phrases.” He met her eyes, amused again. “You can confound me very easily if you try.”
“But why? You can learn slang as easily as grammar and vocabulary.”
“It does not form part of the translation matrix, and most Humans are very self-conscious around Vulcans. They try to speak ‘correctly’ and so we rarely hear phrases that are common to you. Then when they are used at inappropriate moments, when it is important to have a common understanding, it can be the source of,” he hesitated, “frustration.”
“Isn’t that an emotion?” Again Amanda was subjected to a faintly disgusted look and she sighed. “Don’t tell me, another misconception, huh?”
“We have emotions.” Soval admitted that with surprising readiness. “Dark ones, powerful ones, that we repress because of their capacity to destroy us and those around us if we allow them dominance.” He glanced down at Amanda, then forwards again. “What makes your species unique in our experience is that you can harness emotion to positive effect.”
“That must be true of lots of species.”
“No.” Amanda got the impression that Soval had given the matter a good deal of thought. “The Klingons, the Andorians, the Tellerites all allow their dominant emotional trait to influence their politics to the detriment of peaceful progress. But without the passion of Humans such as Zephram Cochrane and Henry Archer, your species would still be struggling to survive on a despoiled planet.”
“You almost sound as if you like us.”
Soval gave her another long look. “I respect your collective talents.”
“Then why have you tried to hold us back?”
“Because my government deemed it the safest option.”
Startled she parroted dumbly, “Safest?”
“Originally it was believed that you might still harbour the political and religious divides that led to the war that devastated Earth in the years before First Contact.” He gave the title the capital letters that momentous event deserved. “If you carried those with you into deep space, the peace of the quadrant could have been threatened. More recently, there were those amongst us who feared what you might become.”
“But you didn’t believe that.” Amanda was fascinated at the insight into Vulcan foreign policy that she was getting. “You said it was your government’s policy.”
“I believed it implicitly for the first ten years I was on Earth.” Soval turned his head to look down at her. “Then I found myself starting to question whether we were right, given the progress you were making. For the last few years, no, I found myself at odds with my superiors.”
“That must have been awkward.”
“Challenging.” He pointed behind Amanda’s right shoulder, first two fingers extended. “Observe.”
She turned and gasped at the towering statue that spoke to her of unremitting purpose. “Who is it?”
“Surak. There is none greater in our history, nor ever likely to be.”
“Is it a good likeness?”
“I doubt it. It was erected a thousand years after his death.”
“But you must have digital images.” Amanda turned her head to the living Vulcan who was still contemplating the facsimile of the saviour of his people. “Vulcan had space flight in Surak’s time, didn’t it?”
“It did.” There was surprise in Soval’s look, presumably at the fact she remembered that much of Vulcan history from school. “But almost everything from that time has been lost.”
“As you say.” He returned to his study of the statue. “Our society is built upon the foundations Surak laid for us. Now we must rebuild the walls as he intended.” For a moment, Amanda had the impression that Soval was speaking almost to himself. Then he said briskly, “Would you like to see more, or to dine, perhaps? There are many good restaurants near here.”
“Both.” She turned back from the monument to look hopefully at him, not offended by the abrupt shift to the mundane. “Is that an option?”
“If you wish.” He led her on again, shooting her another assessing look. “The gravity does not trouble you?”
“Not too much. Some of our training’s done in high grav. environments, so it’s not come as a complete surprise. The lack of oxygen got to me for a while. I threw up the first time I worked out in the gym.” Then she grimaced. “I guess I could have left that bit out.”
“On the contrary. I can now ensure that you rest before we eat.”
Amanda grinned at the dry tone and turned obediently to look at the next item on her sightseeing tour.
It was almost two hours later when Amanda called a halt, leaning back against a conveniently placed wall to rest. “I give in, ambassador. I’ve seen enough.”
Soval moved back a pace or two to look down at her. “You are tired?”
“Hungry. I missed lunch because of you.”
“I apologise. Will you allow me to make restitution?”
Amanda smiled, responding to a glint in his eyes that made her suspect she was being teased. “You did say there were some good restaurants around, ambassador.”
The restaurant to which Soval took her was close, the dining area located in a large courtyard behind an anonymous façade. The tables were widely spaced and the lighting subdued to Human eyes, so that although the place was busy it offered privacy to the diners.
Amanda looked curiously around at the other tables that contained a wide mixture of clientele, from family groups that included children to a couple much older than Soval. “Do Vulcans eat out a lot?”
“Yes. Vulcan cuisine is complex. Most prefer to dine out than to cook after a work day.”
She stared back in mock surprise. “You never invented pre-packaged meals?”
“Centuries ago.” Soval responded to her teasing with a readiness that surprised her. “Fortunately we evolved beyond the belief that they were pleasant.” He looked up at the woman who came to stand beside the table, murmuring what Amanda recognised as a greeting. Then he switched back to English. “Ms Cole, this is V’Ner who will serve us tonight. She once taught English at the Language Academy.”
“How d’you do?” Amanda just managed to resist the urge to offer her hand: she had never realised until then how ingrained the courtesy was. “I’m glad you don’t have to listen to me massacre your language, but you put us to shame, the way so many of you speak English.”
“We appreciate the challenge of a new form of communication.” V’Ner’s voice was smooth, that of a trained speaker. “What will you drink, Ms Cole?”
“Water, please. A really large glass.” The dry air – and the talking - had parched her throat.
“And to eat?”
Amanda glanced helplessly at Soval, who said easily, “Would you provide us with a selection of dishes, V’Ner? For three, given that Ms Cole is Human.”
The woman inclined her head and glided away, and Amanda glared at Soval. “Do I look like I eat for two?”
“Two Vulcans, yes.” He was amused again. “We have a far lower calorific requirement than your species.”
“Oh.” More or less appeased, she remembered something else. “My name’s Amanda.”
“So you told me.”
“Then stop calling me Ms Cole. You make me feel like I’m in trouble.”
He looked steadily back for a moment. “You address me as ‘ambassador’.”
“Habit, I guess. You’ve been the Vulcan ambassador as long as I can remember.”
“My name is Soval.”
Amanda felt herself blushing and skirted the issue, again wondering why he could disconcert her so easily. “Is that your family name?”
“It’s my given name. Humans cannot pronounce Vulcan family names.”
“Then I definitely can’t call you that.”
“Why not? I have always understood that Humans are far more informal than Vulcans.”
“But you’re an ambassador!” She didn’t have a more rational explanation for her reluctance to call him by name. The feeling that to do so would make their encounter too much like a date wasn’t in the least sensible.
“I will remove the robes if it makes you feel more comfortable.”
Amanda hastily averted her eyes from Soval’s calm but somehow amused face. The thought of him without his robes sent her mind off in a direction she’d have considered impossible a few hours before. “What’s an English teacher doing waiting at table?”
He accepted the change of subject without comment. “V’Ner wished to devote more time to her spiritual studies. You will find that many Vulcans take such a sabbatical at some point in their lives.”
“I said many, not all.” He took a sip of his drink that had been discreetly delivered a moment before, meeting her eyes over the rim of the glass. “Some of my colleagues would tell you that I am overdue for such a period of contemplation.”
“They want you out of the way, huh?” She had caught the self-mockery in his tone.
“Perhaps.” Soval turned his head to one side and Amanda saw that one of the children, no more than a toddler, had sidled up. He spoke softly to the boy, who immediately came closer, asking a question in a rush of words she could not follow. Soval looked around the courtyard, located the parents who were watching closely, exchanged a nod with them then picked up the boy to place him on his lap. The child settled trustingly and fixed a grave stare on Amanda, who looked a question at Soval. “This is Tor.” He smoothed the boy’s hair with a gentle hand. “He would like to know what is wrong with your ears.”
“Oh.” She gave the boy an assessing look, then glanced up at Soval. “Is he too young to understand if you tell him that I’m from another planet?”
“Of course not.” He spoke to the boy, evidently translating, and was asked another question that Soval did not bother to pass on. Whatever the answer, Tor accepted it quietly, awarded Amanda with a dignified inclination of his head then slipped from Soval’s lap to return to his parents.
She watched him go, smiling. “What else did he ask?”
“Whether all aliens looked as you do.”
“What did you tell him?”
“That most were not as beautiful.” Amanda blushed again and hid her face in her water glass. She’d been complimented before, but never by an attractive Vulcan ambassador; it was ridiculously gratifying.
When it came, the meal was mostly delicious, although there were a number of the dozen or more small, highly seasoned dishes that made Amanda reach for her water glass. She started to apologise the first time, but stopped when Soval raised an eyebrow at her. “Why should you enjoy everything?” He removed the dish from her side of the table to serve himself. “Particularly when you dislike one of my favourites.”
She laughed at that then looked around guiltily at the other tables in the courtyard, where there was certainly a good deal of conversation but of a most decorous nature. “Is it rude of me to laugh?”
“No.” Soval raised his chin, staring at her down the length of his patrician nose, and for the first time that evening Amanda was reminded of the bitter old Vulcan who didn’t like Humans. “I trust we are not so intolerant of the culture of others.”
“Sorry.” Abashed she concentrated on her plate and he said softly, “Amanda.” She glanced up, surprised by his use of her name even though she had told him to use it, and he continued in the same tone, “I did not mean to rebuke you.”
Conscious that she was blushing – again! - she forced herself to smile. “You looked a little too much like the ambassador for a moment there.”
“And we both know that he is an extremely unpleasant individual. But I thought I had made it clear that for tonight I am Soval.”
Amanda reached for her glass again to hide her confusion. If he hadn’t been Vulcan, she’d have sworn that Soval was flirting with her, and she didn’t know what to do about it. She very much wanted to encourage him, but if she had misjudged the situation and disgusted him by showing her interest, she’d die of mortification. To give herself longer to decide how best to proceed, she took another look at their dining companions. “What sort of things are the rest talking about?”
“One subject alone, almost certainly.” The edge to Soval’s otherwise harmless statement made her look curiously back at him. “The rediscovery of Surak’s original writings and how they should influence our philosophy today.”
“That revolution everyone’s talking about?”
“Yes.” Soval took a small bite of his meal; true to his word, he had eaten far less than she had.
Amanda regarded his down-bent head thoughtfully for a moment, remembering the exchange between him and T’Pau that had followed her not-meant-to-be-heard comment. “So people are just working out for themselves how Surak meant you all to behave?”
His response wasn’t very encouraging in itself, but he had lifted his head to watch her again, and she had the feeling that he was simply waiting for her to voice her half formed thoughts. “It must be scary, having your entire philosophy redefined.”
As soon as the words were out of her mouth, she realised that she shouldn’t have attributed Human emotions to Vulcans, but Soval didn’t correct her. All he said was, “Disconcerting, certainly, and harder for some than for others. Within any society a range of opinion is inevitable. There are some Vulcans who will have to make a larger adjustment in their thinking than others.”
“And there’s no official help for them?”
“Vulcans are extremely well educated.”
“What’s education got to do with it? This is about what you believe.”
Soval’s face was expressionless, but Amanda could have sworn that his eyes were smiling at her. “T’Pau would not agree with you.”
“But you would.” She was already certain of that before his faint nod. “That’s why you two were sniping at each other at the embassy earlier.” He didn’t bother to confirm her assertion this time, and Amanda studied his face carefully. “What about you? How does it affect you?”
Soval paused before answering, but Amanda received the impression that he was not considering the matter so much as compiling an answer she would understand. “I find that my personal beliefs are now more in keeping with current orthodoxy.”
“That must be a relief.”
Again he left a short pause, watching her closely. “Yes.”
The warmth was in his eyes again and she smiled instinctively, then remembered the sense of recognition she’d first seen there. “Who is it I remind you of?”
The warmth faded to be replaced by pain. “A friend, dead now.”
“The resemblance is hardly your fault, neither her death.”
All Soval had to do to make Amanda drop the subject was frown at her, but there was nothing except sadness in the not-quite expressionless lines of his face. It led her to ask gently, “Was she Human?”
He shook his head fractionally. “Vulcan.”
She looked carefully back, trying to judge the best response. “But I haven’t got the cute ears.”
She thought she’d made a mistake as his eyelids lowered, then he raised them again and she saw that amusement had replaced sorrow. “I have never understood the Human fascination with our ears.”
“I told you, they’re cute.”
“A phrase that means nothing.”
“That’s not true! It means they’re,” she studied the appendages in question, “appealing.”
Soval’s tone was disapproving, but the warmth in his eyes contradicted it, and Amanda smiled back, glad that he had answered her question that had perhaps been a little too personal. Then they both returned to their food and, shortly after, to the wealth of other topics they had available for discussion.
Amanda did not realise how long they had been talking until V’Ner approached them again, having long since cleared the table and brought them a steaming pot of spice tea. “Soval,” the Vulcan woman’s tone was gently chiding, “this establishment is closing.”
There was surprise in the eyebrow he raised at the sight of the empty courtyard, and he rose to his feet. “I apologise, V’Ner.”
She said something in Vulcan that Amanda could not catching, and earned herself a frowning look before he indicated to Amanda that she should precede him out into the street. She baulked at the gateway, however. “We didn’t pay.” She fully intended to contribute her half – two thirds! – to the bill, although she was afraid that it would make a large hole in her funds: she didn’t doubt that any restaurant where Soval was a regular customer was expensive.
He just forced her on with a firm hand in the small of her back. “I have an account here.”
“Then you’ll have to tell me what I owe you.”
“No.” He removed his hand and Amanda felt a sharp sense of loss. “You agreed that I should recompense you for your missed lunch.”
She accepted that with a smile, but sobered abruptly. Her treat was very nearly over, but it was ridiculous to feel so disappointed. She could visit the city again. Now that she knew it was safe and that Vulcans were really quite sociable amongst themselves, all she had to do was slip out of the embassy whenever she wanted. Then when she became bored with the local area, there had to be public transport to take her to other places on Vulcan.
“Ms Cole.” She grimaced at Soval’s statement of her name, and noticed for the first time that they had reached the embassy; the restaurant could only have been a few hundred metres away. Reluctantly she turned to face him, finally acknowledging that her disappointment was due to the thought of not seeing him again. She was fairly sure that his invitation that evening had been impulsive, the result of curiosity at meeting an alien who resembled his Vulcan friend. Maybe it had even appealed to the sense of humour she now knew he possessed to single out the newest and most insignificant member of the embassy staff to show her that neither Ambassador Soval nor Vulcans in general complied with the stereotypes that Humans had created for them. He couldn’t have known that she would find herself attracted to him. Now she was ‘Ms Cole’ again, and it could only have been conceit that had made her think a Vulcan would flirt with her.
Amanda raised her chin. “Thank you for a wonderful evening, ambassador.” There wasn’t a lot else she could say that wouldn’t reveal that she wanted to see more of him. “Goodbye.” Recklessly she held out her right hand; she might as well try to touch just once.
Soval responded readily enough to her gesture – she’d half expected him to ignore her breach of good manners - and she shivered with something that couldn’t possibly be desire as their skin met. “Goodbye, Amanda.”
For a fraction of a second, while he retained her hand, she thought that he was going to say something more. But all that happened was that he released her, inclined his head and walked away. Amanda stared after his retreating figure for a moment then strode firmly towards the embassy entrance. That was that. Treat over. Back to reality.
Amanda spent a good deal of her free time over the next couple of weeks in solitary exploration of Vulcan’s capital city. No one at the embassy appeared to know that she had spent the evening with Soval, so she was spared their surprise and curious questions, but they did know that she had left the compound. Major Ferguson added AWOL to the charge of conduct unbecoming and confined her to quarters for three days. Once released, she defiantly asked for permission to go out again, knowing that there was no good reason why she should be refused. Permission was indeed grudgingly granted, but no one wanted to go with her. She didn’t mind being alone – there wasn’t anyone in the embassy she liked anyway – but it would have been nice to have someone to tell her what she was looking at. The Vulcan database was dryly factual, but she was sure that there had to be interesting stories attached to some of the buildings. But although she spoke to many Vulcans in shops and restaurants, none of them seemed to see into her soul when their eyes met, or offered to show her around.
Amanda didn’t know that she had been searching for Soval until the end of the second week, when she thought she saw him on the other side of a busy square. She was already half way across when the man turned his head and she realised that she had been mistaken: he was just another grey haired Vulcan, rather shorter than most of his compatriots. The painful constriction in her throat because he wasn’t Soval was completely out of proportion to the misidentification. She took herself into the nearest café, ordered spice tea and sat down to analyse her reaction.
Of course she was disappointed not to see Soval again. He had given her the best night out she’d had in ages, and she’d enjoyed his company. But he was Vulcan’s ambassador to Earth, way out of the league of a MACO corporal. Hoping to meet him by accident in a city of several million Vulcans was foolish, and even if she did, what was she going to do? Offer to buy him a coffee? If he’d wanted to see her again, he wouldn’t just have walked away from her that night.
Amanda swallowed a mouthful of tea, scowling at the sting of the too-hot liquid that provided a timely opportunity for annoyance. It was unfortunate that the one person she’d met so far on Vulcan didn’t want to be her friend, but no more than unfortunate, and the sooner she stopped feeling sorry for herself the better. And it was time she admitted that she had no interest in the architecture of the Vulcan government buildings and took herself off to another part of the city. She drank some more tea, activated the PADD she always carried onto which she’d loaded useful data, and began a search. There had to be lots of absorbing things to do in Vulcan’s capital city.
The café was busy, with people regularly coming and going. Amanda didn’t know why she looked up when the door opened that particular time, although she did know why she looked hurriedly down again. It seemed that you could stumble into one particular person even in a large city – particularly if you haunted the Ministry of Inter-Planetary Affairs. She took another peek and saw that Soval wasn’t alone. His companion was some years younger, similarly dressed in a robe over the Vulcan equivalent of a suit, and he was listening attentively while Soval talked at some length.
Amanda studied her mug of tea again, cursing herself. It shouldn’t come as any surprise to find that Soval had friends on Vulcan, even if he did spend a good deal of his time on Earth. If she had liked him so much on such short acquaintance, so would many others. It was only her rampant imagination that had suggested he’d been as glad of her company that night as she had been of his. He could have a wife and children – even grandchildren! - on his own planet.
That thought tightened Amanda’s hands around her mug. Why hadn’t it occurred to her before that Soval was married? Because she hadn’t wanted him to be, that was the truthful answer. She’d wanted to believe that he was available because she was attracted to him, and she didn’t meddle with married men. No wonder he’d walked away from her. He must have felt her tremble when they shook hands and become aware that she wanted more from him than information on Vulcans and their planet.
Miserably humiliated by the belief that she had disgusted Soval, Amanda jumped when one of the waitresses addressed her and had to ask for a repeat of the question, which turned out to be a diplomatic request for her to either order again or to leave. She chose to leave, knowing that at this busy time of the day the cafés and restaurants expected people to pass through quickly, not sit staring into an empty mug. It was better to go than to have to watch Soval concentrating on someone else, just as he’d concentrated on her that evening they’d spent together, misleading her into thinking that she was special. She slunk out without another glance in his direction and so didn’t see that he noticed her presence as soon as she stood up.
Soval’s companion watched him with interest when he halted his discourse in mid-sentence at the sight of the Human woman. Skon had known the other man for many years and was familiar with his faults – impatience in the face of stupidity being the worst – but a lack of focus had never been one of them. “One does not often see Humans here.”
Soval wrenched his gaze from the door, staring blindly back for a heartbeat before his customary control reasserted itself. “No. As I was saying, Skon …”
“She is one of their diplomats, I presume?”
That earned Skon a repressive frown, but after fifty years it had no effect. He simply waited. “One of their soldiers.”
“Why are you so interested in a Human soldier, Soval?”
“I’m not. Do you wish to discuss my proposal, or something of no import?”
Skon studied the other’s drawn face for a moment before returning to their discussion. “Soval, your suggestion that Navin is brought home to aid those struggling to assimilate the information contained in the Kir’Shara is a good one, but the new government is not yet willing to listen to you.”
Soval’s mouth thinned, a sure sign that he was struggling to remain unmoved. “Because I acted against the orders of the High Command?”
“Yes.” Skon allowed a short silence. “They will change their minds in time, but until then, and until they decide what part Vulcan should play in the inter-stellar community, you will not be sent back to Earth.”
“Then I should be allowed to be of some use here.”
“You should, but take my advice for once, my friend. You are not fully recovered from your time in Andorian hands. Take this opportunity to rest.” He saw the other man’s chin go up and sighed; stubbornness was another of Soval’s less estimable qualities. “I think you have forgotten that duty is not everything, Soval. Visit your family. Take some time to study the Kir’Shara for yourself.”
Soval grimaced faintly. “T’Pau believes that those of my generation are too old to adapt to a new way of thinking.”
“That is sheer nonsense. Besides, does she not know that you favoured the Syrannite teachings yourself?” Soval didn’t respond and Skon doubled back to an earlier subject: his worst fault was curiosity. “You have a great depth of feeling for that Human woman.”
Soval dropped his head to take a sip of broth. “Don’t be ridiculous.”
“I trust I am never ridiculous.” Soval continued to concentrate on his bowl and Skon regarded him with well-regulated concern. “How do you come to know her so well?”
“I do not. We met but once.”
“But she made a very great impression on you.”
Skon found himself subjected to a fierce glare. “You go too far.”
“Soval, I have heard it said that a Vulcan subjected to the form of torture that the Andorians inflicted on you is never the same again.”
“You are not.” Skon held his friend’s angry gaze for a long moment. “Your emotions are nearer the surface than they used to be. Either the Humans have finally affected you, Soval, or Shran’s torture has done so. Listen to me, my friend. You have not handled Kuvac well these last weeks. You are not helping your position with the new government by continually pointing out his mistakes.”
Soval sat back, scowling. “Thank you for your concern.” Skon did not like the bitter edge to his voice. “You are saying that I should retire from public life? I must select a hobby. Gardening, would you suggest?”
“You are too valuable an asset to lose to retirement, Soval. But you do need to rest.”
For a moment, Skon thought that the older man was about to snap back, then he took a deep breath and said calmly, “Then I will go to Mount Seleya for a time.”
“No.” Skon knew that what he was about to suggest was profoundly unorthodox, but he did know Soval very well. “You have had too much solitude in your life, my friend. Soval, if you have feelings for that Human girl, act upon them. She looked most unhappy. She may be glad of a companion. And so might you.”
Soval stared back, expression so blank that even Skon could not tell what he was thinking. “What you propose is hardly fair to Amanda.”
It was the first time in thirty years that Skon had heard Soval call one of the Humans by a personal name, and he had not dismissed the outrageous proposal. “Only if you are not honest with her. They are an adventurous people. The concept of having an alien lover may appeal to her.”
“She is a great deal more than a willing body to occupy my bed at night!”
Skon allowed himself a moment’s gratification at having demonstrated his point so easily. “Then why are you sitting here?”
Amanda walked rapidly away from the café, not particularly caring in which direction her feet took her. It came as a surprise when she emerged from the shadowed passage between two tall buildings and found nothing before her except grey sand tinged with red and tumbled rock. She’d known that Vulcan’s capital was surrounded by desert, but she’d only explored the government and retail sectors, and so had not appreciated how sharp was the dividing line between city and wilderness. To left and right of her, elevated transport lines brought in traffic and there were a few clusters of outlying buildings, but most of the gently rising ground was featureless until, several kilometres away, it climbed sharply in a series of jagged cliffs.
Angry with herself over Soval, Amanda experienced a sharp desire to walk out into the desolate landscape, to pit her Human body and her survival skills against the worst Vulcan could throw at her. But she was neither stupid nor reckless, so she rejected the idea of going out into the killing desert unprepared. It was far more sensible to return to the embassy and its air-conditioned gym, and to run on a treadmill until she was exhausted, so that was what she would do. But not just yet. Slowly she moved out of the shadows cast by the buildings around her, and the full force of Vulcan’s sun hit her from above and below, where it reflected back from the sand beneath her boots.
Rebelling against her own good sense, she kept moving despite the glare that hurt her unprotected eyes, until behind her a voice hailed her sharply. She spun around, half believing that the heat had already caused her to hallucinate, and Soval rapidly closed the distance between them until she could see his forbidding frown. “Not even Vulcans go out into the desert at midday in this season. I did not take you for a fool, Ms Cole.”
“I’m not stupid!” Amanda’s throat ached – the effect of the dry air, nothing more. “I wasn’t going far.”
“I trust you were not.” Soval had halted barely a metre in front of her and Amanda forced herself to meet his eyes, hoping the contempt she’d see there would cure her of what was no more than a schoolgirl crush. It didn’t work. “Will you give me your word,” Soval’s suddenly softened voice reflected concern, not contempt, “that you will not enter the desert without a Vulcan to guide you?” He didn’t wait for her answer. “Vulcan can be inhospitable even to we who evolved here. It can be lethal to other species.”
“I said I’m not stupid.” She turned her back on him to hide the inexplicable effect he had on her. “But I’d like to go out there someday. Does anyone run tours?”
“Not in the sense you mean.” Soval had moved even closer. If she stepped backwards, they’d be touching. “Vulcans sometimes chose to spend time in the desert, but it is usually a private affair.”
“Why do they go?”
“The Kir’Shara tells us that it is the path to enlightenment. Until recently, most went simply to find peace.”
“I could do with some of that.”
She spoke reflexively, more to herself than to Soval, but she’d forgotten the capabilities of Vulcan hearing again. He moved slowly around to look directly into her eyes, and she stared grumpily back, resenting the calm scrutiny. Finally he said neutrally, “I saw you earlier, but perhaps you did not notice that I was in the café by the main ministry building.”
“I saw you.” The ache of regret returned abruptly. “You were with someone.”
“A friend. He believed that you were unhappy.”
The statement sent Amanda into another spin. “I wasn’t unhappy.” Liar. “I was just deciding where to go.”
“You selected the desert?”
“No!” She looked away, searching for an excuse. “I was going over there.”
Soval directed a frowning look at the structure she’d randomly indicated. “The recycling plant?”
“Yeah.” She groaned inwardly at her bad luck and lied heroically. “I like recycling plants.”
He studied her again then said so gently that she knew he’d recognised her untruth, “May I suggest that you might find the art gallery more interesting?”
“I could give it a go, I guess.” Amanda fixed her gaze on the tall, turreted structure that rose out of a cluster of other buildings some two hundred metres outside the city boundary. “Thanks for the advice, ambassador. Goodbye.”
“I’ll come with you.” She jerked her head around to stare at him. “If you have no objection?”
Amanda’s tongue answered before she had considered the wisdom of accepting. “Sounds great.”
Soval inclined his head and turned away, and she fell in at his side, trying not to hope too hard.
In contrast to their first encounter, Amanda and Soval talked very little. Newly aware of how very much she liked him, Amanda was hesitant over babbling about everything she’d seen, and she just couldn’t bring herself to ask her one burning question: is this a date? For one thing, she doubted that Soval knew the term, and for another … Well, it was just such a stupid question for her to be asking the Vulcan ambassador to Earth. Of course it wasn’t a date. In every possible way, she and Soval were completely unsuitable partners for each other. Yet why else would he have sought her company if he didn’t like her more than all the rest of the Humans on Vulcan?
“Amanda?” Twice in the same day she jumped at Soval’s statement of her name, and realised that she had halted, staring at the artefact in front of her with an attention that was quite at odds with its level of interest. “That is another katra ark. I am surprised that you find this one of such absorbing interest.”
“Of course I do.” To her relief, an excuse surfaced. “I was trying to remember what it reminds me of. I find cultural parallels real interesting, don’t you?”
“Yes.” He looked from her to the jar. “The nearest in style that I have discovered are the monumental heads on Easter Island.” She stared back, speechless, and he added encouragingly, “I would be interested in your opinion.”
“How long have you lived on Earth?”
“Intermittently, for over thirty years.”
Amanda shook her head, half in awe, half in resignation. “I don’t think I wanna trade views with a guy who probably knows more about everything than I do.”
“You underrate yourself.” The soft compliment sent a shiver down Amanda’s back, but before she could think of a response that would justify it, he continued, “I asked before if you cared for Vulcan. Have you since had the opportunity to find out?”
“I’ve been exploring the city.” Her level of defensiveness was certainly unjustified. Soval couldn’t know that she had been hoping to meet him. “I like it.”
He left a noticeable pause, still holding her eyes, and she received the oddest impression that he was debating fiercely with himself. “Would you be interested in seeing more?”
“Yes.” Her heart had begun to pound, although it was always possible that he was simply about to recommend a good guidebook.
“I currently have a good deal of free time.” Amanda held her breath. “Would you be willing to let me show you more of the city?”
“Yes.” Aware that she’d accepted indecently quickly, she cleared her throat and went for belated dignity. “I’d be honoured, ambassador.”
“My name is Soval,” he reminded her, and finally turned to continue their slow amble around the gallery. “When are you available?”
“Tomorrow evening.” Amanda was suddenly and stupidly shy, but it wasn’t every day that a girl got to make a date with a Very Important Vulcan.
“Could you meet me outside your embassy at 1900?” She nodded. “Then I will see you there.”
“Okay.” She took a deep, steadying breath. “Thank you, amb…” She saw a frown start and grinned. “Thank you, Soval.”
By the end of their fourth meeting, Amanda was none the wiser about whether she and Soval were dating, or simply becoming friends. It took most of one sleepless night before she reached the startling conclusion that she didn’t know because Soval himself was unsure. It seemed preposterous that a senior Vulcan diplomat couldn’t come to a decision, but the theory fitted the facts. It explained his inconsistent behaviour when he would make her heart melt one moment with a certain look in his eyes or a soft-voiced compliment, then abruptly retreat behind a haughty mask if she responded a little too warmly, only to extend another invitation to her before they parted. Remembering a few remarks Tucker had let drop about T’Pol, Amanda wondered if an inability to commit themselves was a weakness common to all Vulcans, and for the first time felt a tug of sympathy towards the engineer. It was certainly frustrating to be kept at arms’ length, and after her fifth non-date with Soval and another sleepless night, Amanda regretfully decided that she ought not to see any more of a man she liked rather too much for her peace of mind. Only it didn’t quite work out how she’d planned. She headed for their rendezvous all prepared to explain that she didn’t want to see Soval again, but he was there before her and in the few seconds it took her to reach his side, she forgot all her good intentions.
“Amanda.” For once his voice didn’t hold the intimate tone that made her want to tumble into the nearest bed with him. He sounded more like the ambassador, and a close scrutiny of his face told her that he again looked tired and strained; he’d gradually been losing that look since the first time they’d met. But neither of those things made the slightest difference to the fact that she was happy to be with him again; they just made her worried. “It is agreeable to see you.”
“Agreeable?” She’d also forgotten every word of her carefully compiled farewell, but self-preservation made her speak lightly. “Isn’t that a little bland?”
He frowned at her. “It is the truth. Would you prefer me to say that it is ‘nice’ to see you?”
Amanda winced as Soval managed to turn the innocuous word into an insult: he definitely wasn’t in a good mood. “It’s more usual.”
“The English vocabulary is as rich as that of Vulcan.” He had already started walking, clearly having a destination in mind for their afternoon’s venture. “I have never understood why Humans use so little of it.”
“We’re lazy, I guess.” She already knew better than to try to bullshit her way through an argument with Soval; he slaughtered her if she tried, but it was always stimulating to talk with him.
“How is your study of our language progressing?”
“Slowly. I find the pronunciation real hard.”
“I do not understand why you will not let me help you.”
“You’d laugh at me.” Soval turned his head so that she could observe his lifted eyebrow, and she grinned, seeing that the tight lines of his face had relaxed a little: she could do that for him, at least. “Not outwardly, maybe, but you’d laugh. Where are we going?”
“I thought you might care to see the council chamber. It is not usually accessible to visitors, but there is no session today. There is a good deal of history associated with the building.”
“Which you know all about, right?” He inclined his head in acknowledgement. “Okay. I’m up for it.”
They fell silent while Amanda scolded herself for having submitted so tamely to the lure of Soval’s company, and tried another approach. Perhaps if she concentrated on the fact that he looked much the same age as her father, she’d forget the excitement she’d experienced when he shook hands with her that first night. She’d never been attracted to an older man before, and Soval was undoubtedly older than anyone else she’d ever met. The trouble was that she rather liked the grey hair, and he really was quite handsome.
Amanda scowled at her conclusion, which wasn’t where she’d meant to end up, and tried again. She liked tall, well-built men to offset her own well-toned body: men like Trip Tucker and Travis Mayweather. Not elderly men only a little taller than herself, who showed no sign that they took any exercise beyond a gentle stroll. “D’you work out at all?”
“A great deal when I’m on Earth.” Soval remained unmoved by the seemingly random question, although the fact that she’d blurted it out made Amanda squirm. She redeemed herself slightly by finding something sensible to say.
“Because of the lower gravity? You couldn’t come back to Vulcan unless you prevent your bones and muscles atrophying?”
“Indeed.” He turned his head to look at her. “Why do you ask?”
“I just wondered,” if you have a nice body under those robes, “if you practise any martial arts.” Nice catch, Amanda. “I’ve heard that Vulcans are pretty deadly when it comes to hand-to-hand combat. I’d be interested in learning about it.”
“There are some skills I maintain.” Soval’s voice took on a hard edge that Amanda hadn’t heard before. “Diplomats cannot always rely on others respecting their non-combatant status.”
“I’m sorry.” Something told her that she’d strayed onto a subject that touched Soval deeply, and not in a good way. “I didn’t mean to pry into something you don’t wanna talk about.”
He stopped walking to face her, keeping her waiting a second or two for his response. “You should not assign me Human feelings.”
She scowled, ridiculously hurt at the reprimand, although pride and honesty kept her eyes on his face. “Then tell me you weren’t angry whenever it was you had to use those skills you maintain.” She caught a brief glimpse of surprise before his slanted eyebrows drew together, deepening the permanent crease between them. Then he turned away abruptly.
“I do not claim to be the best student of Surak.”
Amanda followed him, frowning herself now. Soval was definitely more touchy than usual. “Are you okay?”
“Why do you ask?”
His voice was colder than she’d ever heard it except when he addressed other people. “Because you seem real emotional today.” She saw a faint grimace contort the muscles of his face. “But you told me that you had to repress your emotions, and it was dangerous if you didn’t.” He didn’t respond and after a minute’s silence Amanda asked again, “Are you okay?”
Soval nodded a little jerkily, then seemed to find that inadequate. “I’m fine.” The silence drew out again, and this time it was he who broke it. “The device that Colonel Shran used to ensure I was not deceiving him lowers the emotional threshold. There may be some lingering effects. Temporary ones, of course.”
“Sure.” Amanda was certain that that last had been added for Soval’s own benefit, not hers. At least she now knew why he had so much free time. By the sound of it, he was on sick leave. And she reckoned she knew what had put him into such a temper. “What did the doctor say?” He confirmed her suspicion by subjecting her to an outraged stare, and she rammed her point home. “The doctor you saw recently: the one who upset you.”
“Vulcans do not become ‘upset’.”
“If you say so.” They had halted again to talk face to face. “What did he say?”
“She,” the emphasis was uncalled for, “confirmed that the physiological damage was healing.”
Amanda didn’t need Soval’s sneer to know that she had gone too far. For a second she thought that she had destroyed any chance of a relationship between them, then his eyelids flickered, almost as if he had been struck by some memory, and the disgust and haughtiness faded. “That I should increase my meditation.”
There were a number of other questions she’d have liked to ask, but it was time to back off. “Doesn’t sound so bad.”
“No.” Their eyes met and held and, after a very long interval, Soval said quietly, “You are very perceptive.”
There were a number of things that she would have liked to say to that as well, but none of them seemed advisable. “I’m Human.”
“Yes.” Silence fell again, which Amanda dared not break in case an impulsive word pushed Soval away again. Then he hesitantly lifted a hand, the first two fingers extended, to stroke her cheek with their backs. “Very Human.”
It was the most tentative of touches, but her breath still caught with hope as much as with desire. Maybe that was how friends touched on Vulcan, but she really didn’t think so, not given the intensity with which Soval’s dark eyes were regarding her. “Is that a problem?”
“It would seem not.”
Her heart jumped, but before she could demonstrate that that was quite the most logical conclusion she’d ever encountered, footsteps heralded the approach of someone else in the quiet alley where they’d halted, and a voice said fiercely, “Soval!” Amanda jumped, and Soval turned to look impassively at T’Pau, who had halted a few metres away. The Vulcan woman continued harshly, “What do you mean by behaving in this way with an outworlder?”
“Ms Cole has an interest in our culture.” Soval refused to acknowledge the real thrust of T’Pau’s question. “Something so rare should be encouraged.”
“You know it is inappropriate.”
“Then we will continue her education elsewhere.” Amanda suspected that Soval’s uncharacteristic mildness was designed to irritate T’Pau, who appeared to be possessed of a temper just as nasty as his own. Amanda let him guide her past the other woman, who added, “You will have heard, Soval, that Kuvac has appointed your replacement.”
Amanda flinched at the bald statement, and, when she looked, Soval had halted, staring back at T’Pau. After a moment, he said levelly, “Indeed? May I know who?”
“Vornik. He leaves for Earth today.”
“He has no experience of dealing with Humans.”
“He lacks your intimate knowledge, certainly.” T’Pau’s eyes moved insultingly over Amanda, who glared back. She objected to the implication that Soval was demeaning himself by sleeping with a Human, and it was doubly annoying because it wasn’t true. “It was thought best that the new administration make a fresh start with the Humans.”
“Most logical.” Soval still sounded indifferent, but Amanda could see the tension in his clasped hands. “I trust he will prosper. Good day.” He turned, pushing her ahead of him, and she took the hint, not speaking until they had turned into another street.
“Soval, I’m sorry. Should I tell them it’s not true?”
“That what isn’t true?”
The question was curt and Amanda grimaced at what she was going to say. “That we’re more than just friends.”
He stared back for several seconds, and she watched his rigid expression gradually ease before he reached out to touch her cheek again. “Are we not?”
His voice had softened, and Amanda’s body responded with interest to the combination of touch and tone. “Not that I’ve ever noticed.”
“Something that can be remedied.” While she wondered if she had imagined that statement that seemed to promise a great deal, he dropped his hand. “I must leave you. I wish to speak with my former staff on Earth prior to Vornik’s arrival.” Amanda nodded; she approved of Soval’s desire to break the news to his people himself. She hoped that they’d be disappointed at losing him. “So far you have only seen this city. Would you care to see more of Vulcan?”
“Yes.” She’d agree to anything now that he finally seemed to have come to a favourable decision about their relationship, although she cared enough to ask anxiously, “What will you do now?”
“I will show you Vulcan.” She should have known that he’d duck the question. “Can you leave your embassy for an entire day?”
“Then we will meet there at 0900 the day after tomorrow. There are many places that I believe you will find of interest.”
“Sounds good.” If she couldn’t get Soval to kiss her after a whole day together, she really would give up on the idea of dating him. At least, she almost certainly would. Probably. Maybe. Maybe not.
By 0855 on the morning she was to meet with Soval again, Amanda had talked herself into a profound state of the jitters. When they’d parted, she’d been sure that they’d finally arranged a proper date. Even before he’d been told that he’d lost his job, she’d sensed that Soval had crossed his own personal Rubicon regarding their relationship, and his subsequent reaction to T’Pau’s insinuations seemed to confirm it. But then Amanda had woken the next morning, and for the first time it had truly hit her that it was Soval whom she wanted to seduce: Soval, the bitter old Vulcan who despised Humans and who could reduce strong men to stammering idiots with a contemptuous look. Not the attractive, intelligent, entertaining man who’d taken her on sightseeing tours and bought her dinner. She’d spent a whole day oscillating between a firm belief that she had misinterpreted his remarks, and an equally strong conviction that her attraction to him was reciprocated, fuelled by the memory of warm fingers stroking her cheek. And now it was 0855 and she wasn’t even sure that he would turn up.
A nondescript aircar descended a few metres away and the door opened invitingly, but Amanda stared doubtfully at it, unable to identify its occupant through the opaque windshield. The time was right, but Soval was an ambassador, even if he was currently unemployed. What could he want with a MACO of no great distinction, who’d been rejected by the last man she’d thought liked her? A few very long seconds passed then Soval appeared in the doorway and directed a questioning look at her. “Are you unable to come with me, Ms Cole?”
Amanda sucked in her breath, whether in relief or to calm herself she could not tell, and marched firmly over. “Sure I can.” She swung herself lithely through the door and Soval stepped back out of her way. “But why am I ‘Ms Cole’ again?”
Soval indicated the left hand seat and she settled into it, taking the opportunity, while he was engaged in programming new instructions into the helm, to study him appreciatively. “Given your reluctance to join me, I suspected that I had been relegated to ‘ambassador’. Formality seemed in order.”
She grinned, relaxing already. “You can’t be the ambassador. You’re not wearing the robes.” And she was pleasantly surprised by what they had been hiding. Soval was far less bulky than she had thought. The outfit he was wearing fitted well enough to show that she might like what was underneath, and it even had short sleeves so that she could see that he had nice forearms: she always had liked arms, despite the fact that people laughed at her for it.
Then Soval raised his head from the control board to look at her, and she had to bite her tongue to prevent herself from smiling too lustfully back. He had nice eyes too; and ears; and lips. And if she didn’t get herself under control, she was going to disgrace herself before lunchtime.
“I trust you will remember that.”
For a second she thought he was answering her unspoken thought then quickly backtracked to pick up the conversation again. “I’m pretty sure I will.” He was still looking at her, and she was almost certain that he liked what he saw as much as she did. “Hello, Soval.”
“Good morning, Amanda.” She gave him a wide smile and he finally turned back to the controls, lifting the aircar from the ground.
It was a stiff climb up to whatever it was that Soval had brought her to see. Amanda was glad that she had had the foresight to bring a hat, sunglasses and plenty of water, and just as glad of the occasional help that Soval offered her up the steepest bits. While she didn’t want him to think that she couldn’t handle the gravity and the heat, she got to enjoy the same tingle of excitement she’d experienced when he took her hand at the end of their first evening together.
Amanda smiled to herself as Soval reached down to pull her up a step in the path they were following. She was pretty damn sure by now that they were on a proper date. Certainly if it turned out that Soval was just being avuncular, she’d be desperately disappointed. Then he retained her hand a moment too long as she gained the higher level, meeting her eyes, and Amanda let the smile show on the outside too. Oh no, Soval wasn’t feeling avuncular. Regardless of what was at the end of their journey, it was going to be very interesting indeed.
She followed him up another curve of the path that climbed through a cleft in the steep cliff ahead of them, then halted in shock at the sight of what lay below. She cleared her throat and managed a heartfelt, “Hell.”
Soval turned back from the sturdy parapet that edged the concrete walkway built around the edge of the crater he had brought her to see. “Given your cultural background, I suppose you may well see it thus. But it is quite safe.” He held out a hand to summon her closer. “Come.”
Amanda approached reluctantly, even when invited to stand close to Soval’s compact body. “That is a volcano down there, isn’t it?”
“Indeed. This is one of the largest active volcanoes on Vulcan.”
“Naturally. Why else would it be of interest?” He indicated a small building some distance above and to their left. “There is a scientific team in permanent residence here. The walkway is closed to visitors if they anticipate activity above a safe threshold.”
“That’s good.” Then Amanda humiliated herself by giving an undignified squeak and clutching at Soval when a lava plume erupted only a hundred metres away.
He looked at her with some surprise, although she noticed that he made no attempt to detach her. “Amanda, you are a soldier. I am sure you faced the Xindi with courage. Why are you afraid of a natural phenomenon that cannot harm you?”
“I know it’s dumb.” Since he hadn’t objected, she retained her grasp on his upper arm: there was hard muscle under his sleeve. “I’ve two older brothers. When I was about six, we saw an old film where a girl was gonna be sacrificed to a volcano to stop it erupting. The boys loved it. Afterwards they made up a game where they competed for the right to push the sacrifice into the volcano. I got to be the sacrifice.” She pulled a face. “I’ve been terrified of volcanoes ever since.”
“Your parents should have stopped the game and explained that you had nothing to fear.” Soval sounded severe. “We do not allow our children to be frightened in such a way; not until they are of an age to master their fear.”
“Dad did try to explain. We even went to Iceland on holiday, but I just cried when we went to visit the volcanoes there.”
“Then it is past time for you to overcome your phobia.” Soval pulled away from her grasp and turned in the direction of the science building. “We will visit the education facility.”
Amanda stayed where she was. “We could just leave. I’ve seen it. It’s real,” she halted, lost for a decent adjective, and ended lamely, “interesting.”
“On no account.” Soval was already several metres away. “You will be quite safe.”
Amanda dithered for a moment then hastened after him, daring to slip her hand into his as she took up a position on his far side from the crater. He gave her a frowning look that she returned with her best effort at wide-eyed and innocent. “It’s a Human custom.”
“My culture does not approve of public demonstrations of affection.”
Soval glanced down at their joined hands and she felt him return the pressure of her fingers. “A pleasant custom, I agree.” He looked up again, no longer frowning but firm. “But I believe that I must observe my own traditions.”
“Okay.” Amanda gave him her sweetest smile; he deserved it for saying that holding hands with her was pleasant. “I’ll let go as soon as we see someone else.”
“Then I suggest you do so now.” Soval inclined his head along the walkway. “Or that school party will be set a very poor example.”
Amanda had to squint in Vulcan’s red-tinged sunlight in order to see far enough ahead, but then had to admit that Soval had a point: there was indeed a group of children ahead of them, apparently engrossed by the quiescent volcano. “Okay.” She released his hand, but her smile was wicked. “But don’t you think there are times when everyone should rebel a little, Soval?”
Usually he responded to teasing, but this time he just grimaced faintly. “I’m too old to become a revolutionary.”
“You’re here with me,” she pointed out, and directed a questioning, challenging look at him along her shoulder. He looked back for a moment then flicked an eyebrow in rueful agreement.
Amanda was still grinning at having won the exchange when they came abreast of the children, who looked to be about seven or eight years old. They were supervised by a teacher, with whom Soval exchanged a quiet greeting as they passed, and Amanda a quick nod. She was too interested in the drawings on which the children were working to take much notice of the adult, and one girl seemed to sense her scrutiny, looking up from her portable workstation to stare at the Human woman. Amanda smiled at her and was rewarded with a faint answering smile before the girl returned to her work.
Fascinated Amanda crowded close to Soval’s side again to whisper, “That kid smiled at me!”
“She is young.” His tone was tolerant. “She is yet to attain full discipline.”
“So you let the kids experience emotion?”
“While it does not endanger them.” Soval halted their progress again, forcing her to face him. “It is not an easy path that we chose to follow, Amanda, but it is a most necessary one.”
“But is it a choice at all?” She frowned back, struck by the inconsistency in what he had said. “If you teach the children that it’s the only right way to behave, what choice do they have? They won’t know that there are other options.”
“If we wished to restrict our children to one narrow view Vulcan would be closed to aliens. We would not teach comparative sociology, nor permit freedom of information. Many do rebel against the discipline, Amanda. Almost all return to it freely once they have experienced the alternative.”
Amanda found herself on the defensive. “I’m sorry.”
Soval shook his head, mouth compressing. “Do not apologise. I wish you to understand our culture.”
“Then I have to keep asking questions.”
“Have I given the impression that I will not answer?”
“No.” Amanda stared into his calm face. “But I don’t wanna bore you. You must have been asked the same things so often.”
“No.” Once again Soval’s dark eyes seemed to look into her very soul. “You are one of the very few who do not assume, but who ask and listen and then question again.” His voice had dropped to the caressing tone that made her melt. “It is a rare trait amongst more than your own species, Amanda.”
She almost lost sight of the compliment in the sadness Soval’s words evoked. “Are Humans really that prejudiced?”
“Many are. Our fault as much as yours, I do not doubt.”
They had been so focussed on each other that the man had approached them unnoticed, and he evidently didn’t see any point in asking them to clear the path. He brushed past Amanda so roughly that she reeled, caught off balance by the high gravity, only prevented from falling because Soval caught her arm. He frowned after the other man, speaking sharply. The other hesitated, turning to look back over his shoulder, and Amanda’s body tensed as if for combat at the sight of the naked despair on a face that should have been expressionless. She knew that Soval was equally disconcerted because the hand that had steadied her tightened rather than falling away. When he spoke again it was still to the other Vulcan, but his voice had gone quiet, not the private tone he used with her but that of someone calming a child.
Whatever he said, it didn’t have a positive effect. The man’s face twisted still further and he muttered something as he began to back towards the parapet. “No!” It was the only word of Soval’s response that Amanda understood, but the command was unmistakable as he tried another approach. That failed too. The other man’s face crumpled and he turned, grasping the edge of the parapet to launch himself over, dropping the 3m to the ground below and starting at a stumbling run towards the nearest lava vent.
Amanda gasped in horror, and then again as Soval released her and took two quick strides towards the parapet. “Soval!” she protested, and he gave her a brief, burning look.
“Remove the children.” Then he vaulted after the other man.
Amanda sucked in her breath in distress, and ran towards the school party, still busy sketching 30m away, as yet oblivious to the impending tragedy. She was panting by the time she reached them, unable to summon up her Vulcan. She fell back on hope instead. “D’you speak English?” One of the teacher’s eyebrows went up at the discourteous interruption, but she indicated agreement. “You have to get the kids – the children - away from here.” The portion of the crater of which the children were making careful scale drawings was at 120o to that towards which Soval and his quarry had headed, but all they had to do was look around to see the incipient tragedy.
The teacher certainly got the point when Amanda silently indicated the scene where Soval now confronted the man he had gone to save, the latter apparently teetering on the brink of one of the vents. She nodded and briskly began marshalling the children. Within seconds they were filing neatly towards the science building, and it was only then that she returned her attention to Amanda. “I will send help.” Then she looked out across the crater. “The next plume from that vent is due in 205 seconds.”
Amanda gulped, remembering the first plume that had so startled her, and the fiery rain of molten rock that had accompanied its collapse. Anyone within 50m of that would be killed or seriously injured, and she was damned if she’d allow that to happen to her boyfriend, especially when he hadn’t even kissed her yet. She knew that any intervention on her part could push the unbalanced Vulcan over the edge – quite literally – but she couldn’t stand by and watch Soval die. She took a deep breath and swung herself over the edge of the parapet to let herself down carefully, wary of breaking an ankle in the high gravity if she landed badly, then ran towards the two man silhouetted against the drifting smoke from the vent behind them.
Soval was not as close to the other Vulcan as he had appeared, but he was still well within lethal range of the plume’s fallout. He shot her a disapproving look when she panted to his side before returning his attention to the other man. “Amanda, you cannot help. Go back.”
“That thing’s gonna blow in two minutes.” She’d kept count, MACO explosives training for once useful for something other than destruction – hopefully.
Soval’s mouth tightened then he repeated, “Go back,” and addressed himself to the other Vulcan again, simultaneously moving slowly forward.
Amanda gritted her teeth to prevent an instinctive protest, but stayed where she was. If Soval was about to do what she suspected, he might yet need her help; however persuasive a diplomat he might be, he couldn’t hope to change a suicide’s intention in only a few seconds.
She had rightly anticipated Soval’s next move. He had progressed to within a few metres of the other Vulcan, still speaking in a firm but reasonable tone, when he dived forward, taking the other man to the ground with him. Amanda leapt towards them but as she reached the two men Soval evaded a wildly swinging fist and gripped the junction of the other’s neck and shoulder. He went limp and Soval pushed the dead weight from him to get to his feet, although he immediately bent to hoist the body up, scowling at Amanda when she leant a hand. “I told you to go back.”
“You need help.”
“You would do well to obey instructions.”
She didn’t respond because they were hauling the potential victim away from the lava vent as fast as they could and she didn’t have any breath to spare for insults, nor even for keeping a time count. That Soval had been doing so became obvious when he abruptly released his share of their burden, grabbed Amanda’s hand and pulled her forward at a run. They had made another 10m when she heard the ‘whump’ of an erupting lava plume behind them. She kept moving, every second expecting to feel red hot rock fragments burning her skin, then Soval jerked her arm to topple her to the ground and dropped on top of her, curving his arm protectively over her head. Too winded to protest, she could only lie trapped under his surprisingly heavy body, his breath hot against her ear, and imagine him being horribly injured.
Finally his weight shifted away. Gasping for breath, Amanda scrabbled around to find him lying beside her, looking calmly back at the now quiescent vent and the smoke rising from the cooling lava it had spewed out. She grabbed a handful of his tunic. “Are you hurt?” Her voice croaked.
“No.” Soval turned his head to inspect her and Amanda fancied that a note of satisfaction crept into his voice. “I was confident that we were clear of the danger area.”
“Well!” Furious with relief, she released his tunic but only to thump a fist into his shoulder. “Then why’d you throw yourself on top of me like some bloody stupid hero?”
“Because I did not wish you to be injured if I had miscalculated.” The utterly obvious answer defeated her as nothing else would have done, and she could only watch mutely as Soval climbed back to his feet to return to the still unconscious body of the man they had – hopefully – rescued. Duty struggled with shock in Amanda and won; she followed Soval to look down at the man, wincing at the sight of a couple of deep burns where he had been caught by lava droplets. “Will he be okay?”
Amanda retreated a little way to allow Soval to deal with the newcomers, who were dressed identically to the injured man. She deduced that he was one of the scientific team who monitored the volcano, and grimaced for the desperation that had driven him take the ultimate way out – which reminded her how close to death Soval had also come. She sunk abruptly to the ground and lowered her head over her bent knees to counter a wave of dizziness. Soval and the assistance were talking together, but their voices seemed to come from a great distance while she concentrated on breathing, determined not to humiliate herself and the whole Human race by fainting. It wasn’t squeamishness over a potential suicide that was making her shake, nor the after effects of an adrenaline rush. It was relief that Soval was alive and uninjured when she’d thought that he was going to die. It shouldn’t be possible to fall deeply in love with a man you’d only met half a dozen times, but Amanda was forced to admit that she’d done so. She’d never before felt light-headed with relief over a boyfriend, not even Tucker who’d been in danger more than once in the weeks when she’d thought they were dating. And she wasn’t even sure of Soval’s intentions. He liked her, was undoubtedly attracted to her, but she still suspected that he was simply amusing himself while he was otherwise unoccupied, unaware of the appeal he held for the Human woman he’d chosen as his companion. She was such a fool!
“Amanda?” A hand touched her shoulder. “Are you unwell?”
She gulped in another lungful of the thin air. “Just a little short of breath.”
“We must make a statement regarding what happened here. Are you well enough to do so?”
That brought her head up, pride conquering sensibility. “I’m fine!” Soval stared calmly back and she tried not to think that having his arms around her was just the remedy she needed. “I’m a MACO.”
He rose from his crouch beside her. “I apologise.”
Amanda glowered at him then held up a hand, silently demanding help. He frowned, but grasped her hand to lift her easily to her feet, retaining it while he continued to study her face. “Your attitude is inconsistent.”
“I know.” She squeezed the warm, dry fingers wrapped around hers. “So’s yours.”
“Perhaps,” his voice had softened, “we simply need to learn more of each other.”
“I guess.” Conscious of the temptation to find out if Soval did hugs, Amanda pulled away: it was far too soon when they hadn’t even got handholding resolved. He fell in at her side, indicating that they should proceed directly towards the science building rather than taking the longer route via the encircling walkway. “Did that man work here?”
The brief answer made her check Soval’s expression, to find that it had tightened. “Why did he want to die?”
He didn’t answer immediately then said heavily. “Because he could not reconcile his beliefs with those that we now know to be Surak’s.”
Amanda winced, guessing how much that knowledge must hurt Soval. “Is suicide common?”
“No.” He shook his head to emphasise the point then grimaced faintly. “Although V’Las also chose that route. He was found dead only a few days after the Kir’Shara was brought before the High Command.”
“Convenient.” Amanda spoke without thinking. “Tidies away the old regime.”
Soval turned his head sharply to frown at her. “You imply that he was murdered by the new administration?” She shrugged reluctant agreement and the frown deepened. “One of the first acts of Kuvac’s government was to abolish the death sentence. Surak deplored the taking of life.”
“Sorry. I guess I read too many political thrillers.” Soval’s frown hadn’t lifted, and Amanda rejected speculation in favour of fact. “You did everything you could for this guy.”
“Did I?” His mouth pulled into the faint sneer she hated. “I was concerned that some might come to this when the Kir’Shara was revealed to all. I proposed caution but evidently not plausibly enough.” The sneer became more pronounced. “Or perhaps more truthfully, I was not trusted enough. There are those who believe that if I was capable of betraying the High Command, I cannot be trusted to remain loyal to the new administration.”
“No one who knows you!” Amanda’s protest was as instinctive as it was irrational given her limited knowledge of Soval’s character, but he didn’t challenge her ascertain.
“Perhaps them most of all. I cannot deny that I would do the same again if I believed it to be in the best interests of Vulcan.” He shook his head in weary acceptance of his own nature. “Perhaps even for the greater good of this quadrant.”
Impulsively Amanda slipped her hand into his again, pulling him to a halt. “They should be glad to know that there’s an idealist on their side.”
“If I was ever an idealist, Amanda,” Soval sounded very tired, “it was eighty years before you were born.”
“Then why did you tell the Andorians where to find the Vulcan fleet?”
“Because of an arrogant belief in the righteousness of my own opinion.”
“Don’t believe you.”
He lifted the hand she was not holding to brush her cheek with the backs of his first two fingers, a more confident touch than before. “You think too well of me.”
A hail broke the eye contact between them, and they both turned in the direction of the science block from whence it came. Soval signalled acknowledgement and started towards the figure that had summoned them, Amanda’s hand still in his. Remembering his earlier caution, she pulled free. “Maybe this isn’t a good time to start another revolution.”
It didn’t take long for Amanda to make her statement, but Soval became involved in a lengthy discussion – in Vulcan – with the head of the detachment from the Science Institute. When someone in the uniform of Vulcan’s internal security service arrived and the discussion looked like starting all over again, she finally wandered off to find the education room Soval had mentioned. The school party was just leaving so she thanked the teacher for her warning, then had the place to herself, which just gave her too much time to damn herself for falling in love with a man she barely knew. It wasn’t a happy subject, so once she had inspected the diagrams and played with the interactive modules, she distracted herself by wondering what Soval had been discussing with the chief scientist. Actually she suspected that ‘discussing’ was too mild a word. ‘Arguing about’ was probably nearer the mark, given the frigid politeness the two men had displayed towards each other; until she met Soval, she hadn’t realised that Vulcans had ways of expressing disapproval or approbation that had nothing to do with any outward show of emotion.
And that brought her straight back to her own problem. Soval had told her that Vulcans had emotions, but could not allow themselves to experience them. She didn’t know what that meant in terms of having an intimate relationship with another. Where did liking stop and loving start? She couldn’t define the difference herself, so how could she possibly hope to second-guess how an alien would behave?
A blunt-fingered hand reached past her to activate the 3-D simulation she had been mindlessly contemplating, and a miniature fountain of lava erupted while a written commentary in angular script hovered in the air above it. She shuddered and deactivated it hurriedly. “I don’t know how you can bear to look at that.”
“If I had not studied it as a child,” Soval’s voice was gently chiding, “I would not have known the extent of the danger area.”
“Great!” Amanda continued to stare at the empty display, hoping her voice did not sound as shaky as she felt. “I’ll be sure never to go near a volcano again unless you’re there to advise me.”
Warm fingers touched her chin, turning her head gently so that Soval could study her face for a moment. “Are you ready to leave?” She nodded mutely, finding comfort in contemplating his calm face. “I apologise for involving you in this. Do you wish to return to your embassy?”
“No.” Then she remembered that this was no ordinary Vulcan, but a very high ranking one. “Unless you have other things to do. Is this gonna cause you extra work?”
“Possibly.” He looked deep into her eyes for a second longer. “But not today. Come.”
They returned to the aircar by a much shorter route than they had ascended. Amanda spent most of the flight trying to clean off some of the dust that coated her, and almost missed seeing their destination from the air. It was the sparkle of light that caught her attention and she looked up to see a wide sweep of ocean beyond the canopy of the cockpit, small waves just visible on the surface. “Is that water?” She craned for a better look. “I thought Vulcan was a desert planet.”
“It is defined as such.” Soval brought the small craft into a neat landing on a beach of red sand. “This is the only sizeable expanse of open water on the planet. Is it more to your taste?”
“Yeah.” Amanda turned to smile at him. “Thank you.”
He rewarded her with another of the looks that made her think he wasn’t just using her to help pass the time, and released the hatch so that they could climb out. The air outside was still warm, but lacked the burning heat that Amanda had come to associate with Vulcan. Indeed it was almost humid, although a stiff breeze off the water stopped it from being oppressive. She sighed with pleasure, and watched in surprise as Soval reached back into the aircar for a thigh-length jacket. “You’re never cold!”
“No.” He indicated the direction they were to take. “Nor do I intend to be.”
She fell in at his side, stealing an appreciative glance sideways. The breeze had tousled Soval’s thick grey hair, making him look younger and still more attractive, even with the jacket concealing his solidly built body. Then he turned his head to look questioningly down at her, and she knew that she hadn’t just tumbled into love with an alien because she was bored and lonely. But how the hell did he feel about her? “You must freeze on Earth.”
He accepted the continuation of their conversation readily. “Vulcans can tolerate a wider range of temperatures than can Humans.” An eyebrow flicked in a shrug. “But there are times when I could wish Earth warmer and drier.”
“This feels like home.” Amanda pulled a rueful face. “Except for the colour of the sea, of course. I was born in Florida. You’re never far from the coast there.”
“Do you miss the sea when you are far away?”
She gave the question some thought. “I don’t know. Not when I was on Enterprise, there was no time to miss anything. Now,” she grimaced in reluctant admission, “now I can’t think of Florida and not see what the Xindi did there.”
“Did you lose anyone in the attack?”
Soval’s voice was gentle and she appreciated that. “No. I was one of the lucky ones. My family had moved north a few years before. But my hometown was in the path of the probe. It’s not there anymore.”
She shook her head a little. “Like I said, I was lucky.” Wanting to change the subject, she turned to look up at Soval. Not that she had far to look; he was only a few centimetres taller than she, just a nice height for kissing – and that was another subject that could only distress her. “D’you miss Vulcan?”
“That would imply an emotional attachment, which, of course, I do not have.” She was fairly sure that Soval was mocking himself with that self-satisfied statement. “But this is my home.”
He glanced over quickly, as if surprised. “I am pleased that you think so.”
She couldn’t resist teasing him. “Isn’t that an emotional reaction?”
They reached a low rocky ridge blocking the beach along which they had been walking and scrambled over, Soval reaching up to offer Amanda a steadying hand as she descended the last metre or so. But he didn’t move out of her way when she reached ground level so that she ended up right in front of him, head tilted back to look into his face. “Amanda,” he said softly, and raised his other hand to brush her cheek with the backs of his fingers again. Her mouth curved in a wholly unconscious smile at the expression in his eyes and Soval bent his head slowly, giving her plenty of time to evade him if she wanted to, and touched her lips gently with his own. Amanda quivered despite the brevity of the caress and leant even closer. “You must excuse me.” His voice was barely above a whisper. “I have never been intimate with a Human woman before. Perhaps you would be willing to instruct me?”
“I think I might be.” Her voice was just as quiet as she lifted her mouth to his.
Their second kiss was as gentle as the first but, innocent though it was, it satisfied Amanda that she hadn’t mistaken her attraction to Soval. She didn’t object, however, when he simply continued their walk when the kiss ended, although she did make sure that their hands remained linked. There was no hurry. Just being together, learning more about each other was enough for now. She could wait for the sex, and in the meantime there would be kisses enough to make the waiting interesting. There was a lot to be said for old-fashioned courtship.
Amanda didn’t see Soval again for over a week. He sent a message cancelling the date they’d arranged, and she was on the verge of moping before he finally requested her to meet him for lunch. Even then he was late. She’d been lurking on the street corner he’d named, trying to look inconspicuous, for more than ten minutes before he appeared. It was hard to resist the urge to greet him with a kiss, but she already knew better than to make such a public demonstration. She had to be content with a grin and the answering warmth in his eyes. “Hi. Do I get an apology?”
“Good day, Amanda. An apology for what?”
“For standing me up the other night.” She saw the familiar incomprehension. “For cancelling our date. Our meeting.”
“I was under the impression that I had already apologised.”
“A one line note?”
“It seemed adequate.”
Amanda laughed, knowing that she was being teased, and fell at his side. “How long have we got?”
“I beg your pardon?”
She sighed and clarified; sometimes she wondered if Soval deliberately misunderstood to force her into better use of English. “How long do we have together before you have to be back at work?”
“No more than an hour.”
She grimaced. “I guess someone found a use for you after all.”
“Indeed. Kuvac agreed that I should lead an investigation into the impact of the Kir’Shara on individuals within our society.”
“You’ll do a good job. You care about people.”
“You are too charitable.” There was a bitter edge to Soval’s smooth voice. “It keeps me very much out of policy-making discussions.”
He sounded so grumpy that if they had been alone, Amanda would have reached out to touch him, if not to comfort then at least to demonstrate her support, but that breached etiquette. She changed the subject instead. “How are we gonna practise kissing if we can only meet like this?”
Soval looked back for a second, reading in her eyes what she had not said, then said softly, “By careful planning.”
She couldn’t help the wide smile that answered him, however much it might shock a passing Vulcan. Soval had dropped his voice to the caressing tone that let her know she was more than simply a friend, and it made her want to crawl into his lap and demonstrate how very much she loved him. And the fact that he had given the problem of kissing her some consideration was deeply gratifying.
Before she could think of a suitable response, Soval turned sharply into a side street, then left again into a tiny garden enclosed by high walls, with a gate that he pulled shut behind them. Amanda turned to face him, grinning. “Nice planning, ambassador.”
He took the hands she held out and drew her close, but he was frowning. “Ambassadors do not kiss.”
“What about Soval?”
“He greatly enjoys kissing.”
“Good,” and she closed the small distance between them to help him find out more about how Human women liked to be kissed.
Their experiment was still gentle but it lingered a good deal longer than their previous attempts, leaving Amanda almost purring with pleasure when it ended, although she managed a poor effort of a frown afterwards. “For someone who claims to have led an unadventurous life, you’re very good at this.”
“An excellent teacher, perhaps?” Soval suggested, and she smiled so invitingly that he captured her mouth for a second kiss. When she tried to pull him back for a third, however, he resisted. “We must go to lunch.”
“Let’s just stay here.”
“We cannot.” He ran the backs of his fingers down her cheek. “Aside from the likelihood of discovery, I have a friend who wishes to meet you. He will be waiting for us.”
“You’ve told him about me?”
“He already knew of your existence.” He put her gently away from him. “Come.”
Amanda sighed with regret, but followed obediently, planning to tell Soval that she wasn’t usually so amenable. Then she remembered that she hadn’t asked the really important question. “How’s the man you saved?”
“I seem to recall that you were also involved,” he remarked dryly. “He is,” and then he paused with a faint shake of his head, “disturbed.”
“Will he be okay?”
“I don’t know. I am told that his wife refuses to see him.”
Amanda scowled. “That’s horrible! What about love? What about loyalty?”
Soval did not answer immediately. Then he said evenly, “All Vulcans are betrothed in childhood. Most marry their betrothed. Many such marriages are successful, but not all. I suspect that Telar’s was one such. His wife has simply used this incident as an excuse to part from him.”
“It’s still horrible.” One implication of Soval’s explanation struck her unpleasantly. “Did you have an arranged marriage?”
“Yes.” Then he answered what she hadn’t quite had the courage to ask. “I became estranged from my wife when I left the military: another convenient excuse.”
“There’s no need for you to be.” His voice had grown soft again. “Our marriage failed. We could not find common ground. We certainly did not develop an affection for each other.”
“She must have been an idiot.”
Amanda blushed the moment the words were out of her mouth, but Soval only shook his head. “The fault was largely mine. I did not approach the relationship positively.” Then he gave her a look that promised her his very positive cooperation in regard to their relationship, and only forestalled her unseemly reaction by holding open the door of a restaurant for her. Amanda let herself be distracted, reflecting that another thing she really should tell Soval was that she was quite capable of opening doors for herself. But the sensation of being looked after was quite delightful, at least when it was still a novelty.
A tall man some years younger than Soval rose from one of the tables, and Soval nudged her over. “Skon, good day. May I present Amanda Cole?”
Calm eyes assessed Amanda for a long moment then the other Vulcan astonished her by holding out his right hand. “I am pleased to meet you, Ms Cole.”
She took the proffered hand gingerly. “Hi. I thought Vulcans didn’t shake hands.”
“Skon spent some of his formative years on Earth.” Soval took a seat, indicating that she should do likewise. “His father was Solkar, our first ambassador to Earth.”
“Wow!” Amanda regarded the other man with some awe. “That means you’re the Skon who translated Surak into English.”
“A youthful work.” The man’s eyes were as dark as Soval’s and she discovered, when she looked closely, that her Vulcan wasn’t the only one with a sense of humour. “I have been told that I was presumptuous to attempt such an undertaking.”
“I hope you’re gonna do an update. I wanna know what Surak really wrote. I reckon Soval doesn’t tell me the half of it.”
Skon turned a slightly perplexed expression onto Soval, who said lightly, “I suggest you do as Amanda instructs you, Skon. Now that she knows you, she will allow you no rest until you have done so. Nor Surak, if she disagrees with him.”
Amanda grinned and Skon looked back at her, more serious now. “I would do as you ask, although you would need to be patient. Even to translate the Kir’Shara into modern Vulcan will take some years because of the care that must be taken to ensure that no nuance of meaning is lost. But I doubt that I will be permitted to undertake another English version. The Syrannites were most vocal in their objection to my original translation.”
“Then ask T’Pau to collaborate with you.” Soval’s slightly hectoring tone told Amanda that this was not the first time the two Vulcans had discussed the subject.
“She would not.”
“Despite your unorthodox views, Skon, your family is one of our most prestigious. T’Pau is an ambitious woman. She would agree.”
“The days when one rose through the influence of one’s family rather than on merit alone are long over, Soval.”
“True. But T’Pau is no longer betrothed, and you are widowed and childless. It would be an advantageous match for you both.”
“To those who oppose T’Pau’s policy of cultural isolation, I believe you mean, Soval.”
Amanda had followed the exchange with increasing disbelief. “I thought Vulcan politics would be, well, logical! You make it sound worse than what goes on back home.”
The two men turned almost identically perplexed stares onto her. “It would be entirely logical for Skon to ally himself with T’Pau.” Soval frowned faintly at her. “Earth government also relies on alliances between opposing parties.”
“Yeah, but politicians don’t marry to make it work!”
Skon gave her a wry look. “I believe the expression is ‘playing dirty’.” Then he turned the conversation to less weighty matters, asking Amanda about her home and mentioning some of the places he had visited when he lived on Earth.
Outside the restaurant, Skon watched Soval watching Amanda’s upright figure mingle with the other pedestrians in the street and raised a thoughtful eyebrow. “I understood that many Humans had come to distrust us. Yet Ms Cole seems entirely free from prejudice.”
She had vanished around a corner before Soval finally deigned to answer. “Amanda has a talent for seeing the individual rather than the species.”
“She has an enquiring mind.” Skon left a momentary pause. “She reminds me strongly of T’Les.” The apparently innocuous observation brought Soval’s head around sharply, displeasure detectable in the tight lines of his face. Skon’s lips thinned faintly at the reaction. “When you had T’Pol removed from the Seleya, there were those who suggested that you had an inappropriate interest in her.” He paused again while the older man visibly struggled to maintain his composure. “They were unaware of the long-standing friendship between you and T’Les.”
“The Seleya’s mission was ill-advised.” Soval had mastered his temper. “T’Pol was a fine officer. I simply ensured that her potential was not wasted.”
“I am sure that you acted logically.” They had begun to move slowly towards the nearest government building. “But are you acting logically now, Soval, or as a result of your sentiment for a dead woman?”
“There is no danger at all,” Soval’s voice was quiet, although Amanda would not have recognised the tone, “that I could ever confuse Amanda with T’Les.”
Skon threw his friend a concerned glance, aware that he had trespassed too far even for their well-established friendship, but equally aware that he had encouraged Soval to pursue the Human woman. “She loves you.”
“I know.” This time Amanda would certainly have recognised the tone, although it caused Skon to frown.
Amanda and Soval continued to snatch a few hours together whenever their work schedules permitted, nearly always managing to take in one of the small gardens that littered the city; Amanda learnt that they marked the wellheads that had once been the only source of water for the residents. But it wasn’t a satisfactory arrangement, and she finally protested when Soval told her that he wouldn’t be able to see her again for another week. “But I miss you! Can’t you even make lunch one day? Or breakfast? Anything?”
He frowned. “I have responsibilities, Amanda.”
She groaned and leant her head forward to rest on his shoulder for a second - they happened to be in one of the gardens - before looking up, expression firm again. “Yeah, I know.” She sighed, and stroked one finger up a slanted eyebrow. “You’re turning me into one of those clingy women who aren’t happy unless they have their man around to keep them company.”
“Not your fault, sweetheart.” To distract Soval from her rather too heart-felt observation – she really was concerned at how much she wanted to spend time with him - Amanda kissed him thoroughly, only to find, when they broke apart, that he was clearly a little distracted. “Hey! I thought you liked kissing!” He stared down at her, relaxed mood vanished, and Amanda frowned herself. “What’s up?”
“I visit my mother in three days’ time.” The faintest of grimaces twisted his mouth as if he still wasn’t sure about what he was going to say. “Would you care to come with me?”
“You have a mother!”
“You will find that even Vulcan ambassadors are born into this world, Amanda.”
“But she’s still alive?”
“Indeed. Otherwise I could not visit her.”
“Should I be insulted?”
“No!” Amanda managed to get her disbelief under control. “How old is she?”
“201. And before you ask, I am 125.”
“Do you still wish to know me?”
That snapped her out of her shock. “Of course I do! And I’d love to meet your mom.”
“That I doubt,” he said dryly. “Are you able to be absent overnight? She tires easily and I find an overnight stay to be the best solution.”
“Sure.” She wasn’t quite sure how she’d manage it, but manage it she would. “Are you proposing a dirty weekend, ambassador?” He shook his head in incomprehension and she translated. “A trip away with lots of sex.”
“Of course not!” He was clearly affronted at the suggestion.
“Oh.” She had been prepared for a long courtship, but the prospect of sex was appealing when she was close to Soval’s warm body, knowing there was muscle under the concealing robes. Kissing was nice, but she was ready to move on.
His heavy eyebrows drew together, deepening the crease between them. “Amanda, whilst it might seem otherwise, I do not lightly become involved with another. I would prefer to wait until we know each other better before extending the intimacy between us. But if you …”
“Hey.” She touched her fingers to his mouth. “I was teasing. I can wait.” Then she shook her head slightly, sliding her fingers up to Soval’s cheek. “But I feel as if I’ve known you for ever.”
“Illogical but true.”
Her eyes went wide. “You feel it too?”
“Yes.” His voice was as soft as hers. “I’m not impulsive, Amanda. I would not normally have approached a woman as I did you the night we met. But you I seemed to know.”
She smiled, utterly disarmed, and Soval bent his head to kiss her.
When Amanda slipped into the aircar beside Soval a couple of days later, he took one look at her mutinous face and powered down the craft before turning to face her. “What troubles you?”
She glowered at him for a moment then slumped back in the high seat. “You would not believe the crap I’ve heard the last couple of days.”
“I could believe most easily.” His voice was as dry as his hand was gentle when it caressed her cheek. “I know how much I am disliked, Amanda. I am sure that the press on your world have made much of the fact that I have been replaced now that Kornik has arrived on Earth.”
She made a sound of profound disgust and moved forward to kiss him fiercely, scowling when she drew back, hands gripping his shoulders tightly, almost shaking him. “I hate what they’re saying about you. You’re not like that!”
“Indeed I am.”
“Yes.” Soval gripped her chin firmly, forcing her to meet his eyes. “I do my duty, Amanda. That means that I have frequently acted in ways of which you would profoundly disapprove.”
“You dislike it just as much.”
He hesitated briefly. “Sometimes.”
She looked rebelliously back for a moment then sighed deeply, reaching out to stroke his face. “Kiss me.”
His eyelids flickered, the only outward sign of emotion, although he released her chin to slide his hand along her jaw. “Not strictly relevant to our conversation.”
Soval’s voice sent a shiver down Amanda’s back that extended to the rest of her body when he captured her mouth for a slow, intimate kiss. She sighed again when they parted. “Hi.”
She laughed softly and kissed him once more. “Let’s go. I’ve only got a one-night pass. Don’t wanna waste it.”
He gave her another lingering look, then turned back to the vehicle’s controls. “I am afraid we have a significant journey ahead of us. My mother lives on the other side of Vulcan.”
Amanda settled herself comfortably, half turned so that she could watch him, glad that he had reverted to one of the short-sleeved outfits that revealed the muscles in his forearms. “I bet we can find something to talk about.”
As usual they found much to talk about, although Soval fell mostly silent as they approached their journey’s end. Amanda didn’t notice at first, busy telling him about her failed attempt to enter Starfleet, but finally registered his taciturn mood when he gave a monosyllabic response to her request for his impression of the premier institute on Earth. She studied him for a moment, then asked softly, “Soval, what’s wrong?”
He turned his head, studying her blankly before looking back to the control panel before him, an unnecessary action with a more than adequate autopilot. “My apologies. What was your question?”
“Nothing important.” She reached out to touch him lightly. “What’s wrong?”
He stared forward a few seconds longer then said heavily, “I believe that I was wrong to invite you to accompany me.”
Amanda sucked in her breath, hurt at the admission. “Oh.”
This time it was Soval who reached out, taking her hand in a firm grip. “Not because I do not wish to spend time with you, Amanda. But I should have told you more of my family’s circumstances so that you could have made a rational choice.”
“Hey,” she couldn’t help the poor joke, “I’m Human. I don’t make rational choices, not where you’re concerned. I wanna be with you too, Soval. I’d have come whatever you told me.”
“Even had I explained that I am not a welcome visitor? It does not make for a pleasant stay.”
He grimaced faintly then turned to the control panel again. “My wife’s parents and mine had been friends for many years. Our marriage was arranged for that very reason. My wife was most displeased when I left the military to embark on a diplomatic career. She believed that I should have followed in the path of my father and hers, who both held senior postings in the intelligence service. My parents agreed with her. We did not speak for the next forty years.” Amanda gasped and he glanced quickly at her. “Such things are not uncommon. When my father died I contacted my mother. I cannot honestly say that we were reconciled, but we meet occasionally.”
He met her eyes. “We are not a forgiving people. You would consider us too bound by tradition. But it gives us stability, and that it is very necessary.”
“How can it be necessary when it means that parents disown their children?”
“I told you that Vulcan emotions are dangerous. We must suppress them, and stability assists with that.”
Amanda stared back, forcing herself to think past her certainty that her attraction to Soval was reciprocated. “Where does that leave us? If you can’t have feelings for me …” She broke off, unable to voice the unacceptable conclusion she had drawn, and Soval lifted his hand to her face.
“I have feelings for you, Amanda, never doubt that.”
“But it’s bad for you!”
“No.” His fingers flexed against her face to emphasis the point. “Not if I remain in control.” He was deeply in earnest, wanting her to understand. “But I cannot respond to you as a Human would. Do you believe that you can be satisfied with that, Amanda?”
She thought about it, knowing that Soval didn’t want a reflexive answer, remembering the hours they had already spent together, the way he could make her laugh, the way he kissed her. Maybe he would never be able to say that he loved her, but their relationship had already been more fulfilling than any other she had had. She smiled tenderly. “I think I can manage.”