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There Is No Sin But Ignorance, part 2, by ShouldKnowBetter
There Is No Sin But Ignorance
Disclaimer in Part 1
Soval landed the aircar on the roof of a house deep inside a settlement that appeared to consist mainly of similar two storey buildings. Amanda had no time to do more than glance at the view, however, before a woman stepped out of the turret-like structure jutting above the centre of the roof. Amanda felt the intensity of her stare from 8m and moved a fraction closer to Soval. “Your mom?”
“My aunt,” he corrected. “My mother’s younger sister. She shares this house now.” He started towards the slight, erect figure, and Amanda took a deep lungful of the thin air and followed. This was scarier than she had anticipated.
Amanda recognised the phrase Soval spoke as a formal greeting, but his aunt’s response was beyond her ability to translate. She got the gist from the tone, however: he was not welcome. Then the woman’s deep-set eyes turned towards Amanda and she got the second half of the message: she wasn’t welcome either.
“This is my friend.” Amanda thought that was what Soval said; she struggled with the subtleties of inflexion that could change the meaning of a word. He held out a hand, first two fingers extended, and she moved to his side, responding to the gesture as he had instructed. With his aunt looking on, even this formal touch that recognised the relationship between them seemed oddly intimate. “Her name is Amanda Cole. Amanda, this is S’Lek.”
“Good day, ma’am.”
Amanda could manage that much Vulcan without stumbling, but her effort did not please S’Lek, who frowned at her over the bridge of a nose as aristocratic as Soval’s. “Your accent is appalling.”
“Then we will speak English, S’Lek, if Amanda’s courtesy is not to be met with courtesy.” Soval’s tone was the cold one he used for official business. “Where is my mother?”
S’Lek removed her disapproving gaze from Amanda to redirect it at her nephew. “She has no wish to see you.”
“Then she may tell me so. Where is she?”
The two Vulcans locked gazes, then S’Lek turned her straight back and retreated from the roof, her movements barely disturbing the folds of the heavy mantle she wore. Soval followed his aunt, leaving Amanda to enter the turret in his wake. As she had already deduced, it gave access to a winding staircase leading down, but it was also open on all four sides, evidently to let air and light down into the building below it. The staircase wound around the outside of the light well, with no handrail to protect the drop down to a floor two full stories below. Amanda’s first thought was that it was a deeply unsafe place for young children and old women.
Soval was waiting for her at the bottom of the first flight of stairs, where doors led off a landing. One door was open and through it, no doubt clearer to his ears than to her own, Amanda could hear S’Lek’s voice and another, weaker one, answering it. Soval gave her a reassuring look, and she smiled back and followed him through the door, keeping close in a place that felt more alien than anywhere else she had been on Vulcan.
That the old woman seated by a wide window was Soval’s mother, Amanda never doubted. The bone structure over which her thin skin pulled tight was echoed in his face, and her hair was still thick, the white strands wound into a chignon at the back of her head. Her eyes narrowed as they moved from her son to his companion, peering short-sightedly. “M’Tek?”
“No.” It was S’Lek who answered. “Soval says her name is Amanda Cole, a Human. Your son has shamed you again, S’Lar, consorting with an alien young enough to be his daughter.”
“M’Tek?” S’Lar frowned for a moment longer while Soval glared at S’Lek, then the elder woman’s chin lifted in a familiar gesture. “Why do you no longer bring M’Tek to visit me, Soval? Where is she?”
S’Lek turned a contemptuous gaze onto Soval. “You see, nephew, she does not want you here. Neither you nor,” she paused to assess Amanda from booted feet to long, dark hair, “your friend.”
About to back out and leave Soval to deal with the women without her unhelpful presence, Amanda stopped when S’Lar began to keen softly to herself, rocking backwards and forwards as tears slid slowly down her face. Startled at the open display of emotion in yet another Vulcan, she looked over to Soval to see the same shock written on his face. He appeared so stricken that she reached out without thinking, stroking a hand up his back where the muscles were locked solid.
Whether he recognised the Human gesture of comfort and support for what it was, she never really knew, but it reminded him of her presence. She felt him draw a deep breath then he turned, forcing her gently but inexorably back out onto the landing. “Amanda,” his voice was a little too flat to her ears that had become attuned to the nuances of expression that permeated his speech pattern, “would you be good enough to leave us for a time?”
“Sure.” The need for privacy in a family crisis was one she could easily understand. “D’you want me to go back to the embassy. I can …”
“No.” He reached a hand towards her but let it fall before it could touch. “Stay.” Then he faltered. “If you have no objection.”
“Of course not.”
He nodded fractionally. “You may find the city of some interest. It is very old.”
“I’ll go look.”
“You cannot get lost.” The old cliché almost made her smile, but she managed to repress the urge; in his present mood, Soval would not understand her amusement. “But if you should mistake your path, ask for the Street of the Metal Workers: you will be directed here.”
“Sure.” She wanted to kiss him, but it was not the time. “I’ll see you later.”
He inclined his head, and she touched his hand briefly and ran down the steps leading to the ground floor. It was a sure sign that Soval was deeply troubled that he did not think to tell her how she was to find the exit from his mother’s house.
Amanda left it over two hours before returning to the house on the Street of the Metal Workers. She had to ask her way – Soval’s hometown was a maze of narrow, winding streets in which it was very easy to get lost – and was grateful, after S’Lek’s pronouncement on her accent, to be answered readily and with grave courtesy. She would have stayed away longer, but she was hungry. She’d thought of stopping by one of the cafés and trying out her Vulcan again, but eventually decided against it; she had a feeling that if she arrived back to find the rest about to eat and said she wasn’t hungry, S’Lek would not be happy. So she would check in with Soval and then, if he still didn’t want her around, go out again to eat.
The door to the house opened under her hand and she stepped into the ground floor hallway, lit by the fading light falling from the open turret above. It was quiet and she was still debating where to go when Soval appeared above her and came down the stairs. She could not see him clearly, but she could tell from the way he moved that he was still tense. “Did you become lost?”
“A little.” He ignored the hand she held out. “How’s your mom?”
He didn’t answer, instead reaching past her to open a door. “This will be your room for tonight. Your bag is here if you wish to change.”
She ignored the invitation in her turn, frowning as she tried to make out his features. “Soval?” There was a moment’s silence then he seemed to sigh and preceded her into the room he had indicated, closing the door softly behind them. The lights came up when he touched a panel near the door, allowing Amanda to see that the lines on his face were more deeply graven than normal. She took the hand he had refused to offer earlier. “Tell me.”
For a heartbeat – a Human heartbeat – she thought that he was going to pull away then his hand responded to the pressure of hers. “I am told,” and she winced at the apparent indifference in his voice, “that my mother has developed Bendii syndrome. It is a degenerative disease that can affect elderly Vulcans, destroying their ability to control their emotions.”
“And no one bothered to tell you before now?”
“No.” Now she could sense the hurt behind the brief, impassive answer. “But as S’Lek made plain to me, there is nothing I can do to alleviate the situation, either now or when my mother was first diagnosed.”
“I see no reason why you should be. S’Lek is correct. Had I been concerned for my mother’s welfare, I would not have left almost a year since my last visit.”
“Don’t.” Amanda tightened her hand around his, willing him to accept her comfort. “Don’t tear yourself to pieces over it. If this is the sort of reception you get every time you come, I’m not surprised you don’t visit more often.”
Soval’s mouth twisted into a sneer. “‘There is no offence where none is taken.’ I fail in that most profoundly.”
“Surak?” Soval nodded and Amanda shrugged ruefully. “Did he really expect everyone to be perfect the whole time?”
“He expected us to try!”
She looked helplessly back, deeply distressed for him but not knowing how she could ease his pain. However comfortable they felt with each other, it was true that they had not known each other long, and she knew that Soval had a deep reserve when it came to matters that touched him personally. Besides, although he had discussed the Kir’Shara writings with her, her knowledge of Surak’s philosophy was superficial at best: she had no right to tell Soval that he was being too hard on himself.
The opening of the bedroom door prevented anything further they might have found to say to each other. When they turned, S’Lek stood in the doorway, radiating disapproval. “This is not your room, Soval. Fornicate with the girl elsewhere if you must, but not here.”
Amanda felt his hand tighten as if his muscles had contracted then he released her. “We will eat when you join us, Amanda.” His voice was stripped of all expression. “Come upstairs when you are ready.”
He left without a backward look, and she shut the door in S’Lek’s face – hard – and stood glaring at it for several seconds. She was certain that Soval didn’t deserve the crap his aunt gave him, but there didn’t seem to be a single thing she could do about it.
Dinner was one of the more excruciating experiences Amanda had ever endured. S’Lar seemed much calmer than she had been earlier, but she spoke only of people Amanda had never heard of, including M’Tek who appeared to be Soval’s ex-wife. Soval himself remained mostly silent, while S’Lek was either rude or ignored her Human guest. However it wasn’t until S’Lek began to criticise Soval over the second course – which was little more substantial than the first to a hungry MACO – that Amanda’s temper began to escalate. She sat quiet through a diatribe on Soval’s lack of morals and the failure of his marriage, his poor choice of friends and career, and his indifference towards his mother. But then S’Lek moved on to his recent betrayal of the High Command, and Amanda felt herself engulfed in a wave of fury she could not control. “That’s crap!” She didn’t care if the Vulcans failed to understand the profanity; they’d get her meaning from the tone in which it was delivered. “Soval prevented a war by what he did! He was prepared to die – he nearly did die! – to ensure that others wouldn’t. Who the hell are you to criticise him?”
She didn’t realise she was on her feet until Soval’s hands closed firmly on her shoulders. “Amanda …”
She wrenched herself away, striking out in her fury. “Why won’t you defend yourself? You saved everyone. Why …”
Hands caught her wrists, twisting her arms behind her back so that she was pinned helplessly against Soval’s body, then he transferred his grip to one hand, lifting the other to the side of her face. “Amanda, be still.” A sense of calm, of reassurance touched the edge of her anger, spreading over it like a fire blanket. “Amanda,” his voice was compelling, “don’t fight me, ashel-veh. Be still.” Her anger dissipated between one breath and the next, and she swayed in Soval’s embrace, disorientated by the swift change of mood. He released her imprisoned wrists at once, supporting her instead while his fingers dropped from her chin and cheekbone. “Are you all right?”
His tone had changed, losing most of the warmth it had held a moment before, and perversely that helped Amanda regain her composure. “Yeah.” She drew herself up, away from his embrace, looking doubtfully at the two Vulcan women who had watched her exhibition impassively. “I’m sorry. I don’t know what came over me.”
“I do.” Despite her retreat, Soval had left a hand resting in the small of her back while he too looked down at his aunt and mother. “Bendii syndrome deprives the sufferer of the ability to control his or her emotions. Sometimes those emotions can become so strong that they affect others. It was my mother’s rage that you experienced, Amanda. The fault was not yours.”
She turned her face to his, thinking it through. “Then maybe that reconciliation of yours went further than you thought.”
He looked back for a moment in silence. “Perhaps.”
S’Lek rose to her feet, a hand under S’Lar’s arm helping her up. “You may clear the table, Soval. We must meditate.”
“No.” S’Lar’s clear statement took them all by surprise. “I wish to meditate with my son.”
“Of course, mother.” Amanda had to admire Soval’s quick response that prevented S’Lek from intervening. He removed S’Lar from her sister’s grasp just as neatly. “Perhaps you would not object to clearing the table, S’Lek.”
“I will accompany you.” S’Lek’s disapproval of S’Lar’s announcement was very evident. “Your friend may clear.”
“I’ll do that.” Amanda suddenly wanted them all gone. There were too many undercurrents in the house; it made her head ache.
Soval gave her a sharp look, as if hearing some of her distress in her voice, and let S’Lek lead his mother away when he stopped by Amanda’s side. She smiled a little grimly at him, and his mouth thinned. “Go to bed, Amanda. We rise early.” She nodded and he touched her cheek briefly then followed the other two women from the room.
Despite the relative coolness of her bedroom and the books she had brought to read, Amanda lay awake for a very long time. She hadn’t known how vulnerable Vulcans were to mental disorders, nor how catastrophic the loss of their emotional control could be – mainly because it wasn’t the sort of thing Vulcans liked aliens to know. At least Soval trusted her discretion sufficiently that he hadn’t felt obliged to ask her to keep quiet about what she’d seen. But she was worried about his own state of mind when he had still not fully recovered from what Shran had done to him. He’d had a lot to deal with over the last few weeks.
Eventually Amanda threw the PADD containing Skon’s translation of Surak across the room in disgust. It didn’t tell her how she could help a Vulcan deal with family problems, and besides, it was out of date. She only hoped that Surak’s original writings contained a little more compassion than the dry laws laid down in the later distillation. Soval deserved a better set of rules by which to live his life than that. The philosophy expressed in Skon’s book seemed to reflect the ambassador she had only heard of, not the brave, honourable and compassionate man she knew.
The house had been quiet for some time, so that the opening of a door across the hall from hers was audible even to Human ears, as were the sounds of stealthy movement up the stairs. Amanda scowled at the invisible ceiling above her bed. She knew who else was awake and restless, but she didn’t know if Soval would appreciate her company. He had been alone for a long time, and sharing his life with another was a habit that it would take time to establish – if it was even a habit he wanted to learn. But he had asked her to accompany him, and hadn’t wanted her to leave when she had offered. Resolutely Amanda slipped from the bed, picked up a wrapper for modesty more than warmth, and went after Soval.
As she had suspected, he had gone all the way up to the roof, where she found him standing by the protecting wall, arms folded in the first obvious sign of tension she had ever seen in him. He dropped his hands to rest on the coping of the wall as soon as he heard her, turning his head to regard her expressionlessly. Amanda halted metres away, peering doubtfully across the intervening space. “D’you want me to go?” He hesitated long enough that she was on the verge of retreating before he shook his head. Relieved she went forward to join him, looking out across the rooftops around them, leaving it to him to speak if he wanted to.
Eventually he said softly, “I should not have brought you.”
“I don’t mind.” Amanda kept her voice as quiet as Soval’s, aware of the open-sided turret behind them and sensitive Vulcan hearing.
He left another long pause. “It’s agreeable to have you here.”
Amanda moved a little closer so that their shoulders touched. “Does your mom know what’s happening to her?”
“It seems not.” There was little inflection in Soval’s voice. “She appears oblivious to the lapses in her control.”
“Like Alzheimer’s.” She knew that he would never have heard of it. “It’s curable now, but it was a disease that affected some elderly Humans. They used to say that the latter stages were harder on the family than on the one affected.”
“My father died eight years ago.” Amanda found herself hoping that Soval would not regret the confidence he was sharing. “He and my mother had been wed over 140 years. She bore his loss with dignity, but I wonder if she welcomed the onset of the disease because of the relief it offered her.” There was no response she could give, and after a moment he added reluctantly, “It may be that S’Lek’s abrasiveness stems from fear: the fact that my mother has developed Bendii syndrome significantly increases the risk that S’Lek will also.”
“Maybe.” She guessed that it had taken a good deal of effort for him to offer an excuse for his aunt’s behaviour. “None of us likes being confronted with our own mortality.”
Soval surprised her with a disgusted grunt that was very nearly a laugh. “I have had few doubts regarding my own mortality any time these last 80 years. I was 45 when the High Command decided to evict the Andorian settlers from Paan Mokar. I am told that I should not have survived the bomb blast that killed the rest of my patrol.” He drew a deep breath and continued with increasing bitterness, “T’Les told me after that incident that I was wrong to believe implicitly in the direction our society had taken – and that I was too arrogant to listen to her. She was right. It was another thirty years before I finally came to recognise the futility of violence, even logically justified violence.” He glanced briefly at Amanda where she stood turned towards him, her face reflecting the pain he could not acknowledge. “When sufficient of my colleagues had died, I requested transfer to the diplomatic service, to see if there were not other solutions to our problems.” He paused again then concluded quickly. “M’Tek said that I was a coward.”
“Then she didn’t know what she was talking about.” Amanda desperately wanted to take Soval in her arms and tell him that he wasn’t alone anymore. His brief account of his career had made her realise how very isolated he must have felt, first shunned by his wife and family for doing what he believed to be right, then mistrusted by his superiors for his too partial support of Humanity, who in turn treated him with suspicion even as he tried to help them. But she wasn’t at all sure that he would welcome physical contact with her when he was in such a dark mood.
Soval turned his head to watch her impassively for a moment. “Go to bed, Amanda.” His tone was a little brusque. “I’m not fit company for you tonight.”
“Who said you had to entertain me the whole time?” She hoped he’d recognise the emotion behind her rather flippant words. “If you want me here, then I wanna stay.” It was probably only her imagination, but he looked suddenly vulnerable. She gave in to a very Human impulse, reaching out to rub his upper arm, feeling the tension in the muscles beneath the thin, silky fabric of the robe he wore. “D’you want me to stay?”
He looked back for a moment, pain and loneliness in his eyes, then something within him seemed to give way. “Yes.”
“That’s settled then.” She turned back to the view, careful to stay close. It would have been nice to snuggle up to Soval’s lightly clad frame, but it seemed that he didn’t want to hold her as a Human man would; she just hoped he’d take the hint eventually. But there was one question arising from his bitter account that she needed to ask. “Who’s T’Les?”
Soval had relaxed slightly, but she knew he stiffened again, and wondered if he had realised how much of himself he had revealed to her a short while earlier. “A friend.” He seemed to sigh. “A good friend.”
Amanda felt painful stab of disappointment; she’d heard that one from men before. “She’s more than that, isn’t she?”
“She once was.” Faint regret was detectable in his quiet voice. “I wished to marry her, but she preferred to go through with the marriage her parents had arranged.” He paused then added flatly, “She had met her betrothed but once before.”
Amanda closed her eyes on another wave of pity. No wonder Soval had been reluctant to move their relationship forward. It must be very hard for him to trust after such a rejection. “I love you.” She hadn’t meant to say that, but the words slipped out seemingly without her conscious volition. Afraid that she had gone too far too quickly, she turned to confront him, raising a stubbornly set face. “I love you.”
“You do not know me.”
Soval’s response wasn’t the outright rejection she had feared. “I know enough to know that I love you more than I’ve ever loved anyone else.” She brought her hands up to rest lightly on his chest. “I’m not T’Les, Soval, but I’m here. Maybe I can’t replace her, but …”
He placed his fingers quickly on her mouth to stop her continuing. “T’Les is dead, Amanda. But even if she were not, you have already taken her place, and more than her place.” His fingers drifted up her face, and she shivered at the mixture of affection and desire she thought she saw in his eyes. Then Soval repeated what he had said to her once before. “You I know.”
Their kiss was a good deal more passionate than any previous effort, and both were trembling when they broke apart, although almost at once Soval relaxed his fierce embrace, trying to set Amanda at a little distance. “My meditation was signally unsuccessful tonight. You should leave.”
“No.” She leant into him, relying on his strength to support her. “You don’t have to be alone anymore, Soval. Share my bed tonight.”
“I cannot ask that of you.” His voice was unsteady.
Amanda smiled, letting her fingers explore beyond the edge of his robe where the sides crossed over his chest. “You’re not asking. I’m offering.”
“There are facts about me you do not know.”
“We’ve been there before.” She slipped a hand up Soval’s chest to curve around the nape of his neck where his grey hair curled very slightly as it fell over his collar. “I love you. Come to bed with me.” She followed the instruction with another kiss, knowing that her offer was as good as accepted when he responded hungrily. She smiled again when he finally drew back. “Come on.” She took his hand and he resisted a moment longer, hanging back against her peremptory tug.
“Don’t you know better than to argue with a Human, Soval?” She smiled temptingly back over her shoulder. “Are you coming?”
He followed her docilely then, down the two flights of winding stairs to her room and her bed, where they proceeded to demonstrate that Human/Vulcan relations had come a long way in the last few, turbulent months.
It took a long time for Amanda to remember that she wasn’t the sort of woman who liked to lie with her head on a man’s chest after sex and have him run his fingers through her hair. For her sex had always been fun, an enjoyable way to pass the time with someone she liked, preferably to be followed by a shower and pizza and perhaps more sex. But not when the man was Soval. They hadn’t just had sex, they’d made love, and she hadn’t even known that there really was a difference until he’d demonstrated it for her. She didn’t care that, however fit Soval was, his body showed the same undeniable signs of age as his face. She didn’t care that he had gone grey before she was born. She didn’t even care that physiological and cultural differences had resulted in a few awkward moments. She loved him deeply, and she was sure that his feelings met hers at least halfway, however impossible it was for him to admit as much.
Finally realising that, however contented she felt, she hadn’t had a kiss for some time, Amanda raised her head to smile tenderly down at Soval. He gazed back, eyes soft with affection, and cupped a hand around her cheek to draw her close for the kiss she had invited.
They were still enjoying a slow, intimate exploration of each other’s mouths when the noise began. Amanda jumped, lifting her head in startled reaction. “What the hell’s that?”
“The morning gong.”
“Who are they trying to wake? The dead?” The noise seemed to be coming from every direction.
“It’s an ancient tradition.” Soval propped himself up to crack open the shutters covering the window above the bed, thereby doubling the volume of the clarion. “It dates from more troubled times, when a strict curfew was imposed. Now it merely marks the start of a new day.”
“But it’s still dark.” The noise subsided and Amanda pulled Soval back to the bed, nestling close again.
He hugged her gently, stroking his cheek against her thick hair; she’d noticed that he had a definite predilection for her hair. “True. But we must get up.”
“We haven’t been to sleep yet.” That hadn’t mattered before, but she was suddenly very tired.
“Also true. But as guests in my mother’s house, we must prepare the morning meal.”
Amanda groaned softly, and rubbed her nose against the particularly sensitive area she had discovered in Soval’s neck. “Just bring me breakfast here.”
“If I could, Amanda, I would.” With the strength she usually appreciated, he freed himself from her encircling arms and scrambled over her to stand by the side of the bed. She flipped over onto her back so that he had an unobstructed view of what he was leaving, and his eyes slid appreciatively to her breasts before returning to her face. “I am aware that you are very lovely, but we must still get up.”
She sighed, stretching languidly just in case it had the desired effect. “You’re really serious about making breakfast?”
“I can’t cook.”
“Okay, okay. Getting up.”
After the disaster that had been their previous meal together, breakfast passed off relatively calmly, and the day improved for Amanda when S’Lek announced that, since Soval had finally deigned to visit, she would spend the morning away from home. Amanda wasn’t too surprised, however, when S’Lar observed mildly that S’Lek often went to visit friends. They were in the small courtyard behind the house at the time, tidying the overgrown tubs of fragrant herbs. Amanda was tidying, anyway. S’Lar was sitting on a bench to one side, carrying on a reasonably amicable conversation with Soval, while he massacred any plant he came across. Amanda finally lost patience with him when he ripped up a perfectly healthy bush of something that looked like thyme but smelt of lavender and tossed it onto the pile of rubbish they were accumulating. “Is that a weed?”
He stared blankly at her. “I have no idea.”
“Kazhain,” S’Lar remarked idly. “Cultivated for its odour.” She looked at her son with the first sign of amusement Amanda had yet seen from her. “Soval’s father never cared for gardening either.”
Amanda retrieved the plant and set about re-potting it. “Go do something less destructive, sweetheart.”
His fingers stroked the side of her neck, his touch warm and tender, and she couldn’t resist her answering smile while he rose from his knees to take a seat beside his mother. Who said flatly, “You have feelings for her, Soval.”
Amanda held her breath for what seemed like hours, eyes focussed on the soil under her hands, until he responded just as neutrally, “Most certainly.”
She did look around then to find him staring at her, as she had known he would be. Neither was watching S’Lar to see the tears start to flow down her sunken cheeks, but both turned towards her when she whispered painfully, “I loved your father.”
Amanda saw Soval’s uncertainty then he put a hand on S’Lar’s arm. “I know, mother. Come,” he rose, helping her up, “we will meditate together.”
He led her away and Amanda returned to her gardening, hoping that both Vulcans would find some peace.
They left Soval’s family home as soon as S’Lek returned. S’Lar was composed again by then, and from the fact that Soval was less openly affectionate towards herself, Amanda deduced that he too had benefited from the shared meditation session. Their leave-taking was almost civilised until the last moment, when S’Lar remarked calmly, “Bring M’Tek with you next time you visit, Soval. I have not seen her for some time.”
Neither Soval nor Amanda spoke after that until the aircar was on course for the capital. Then he said diffidently, “My mother forgets that M’Tek and I have lived separate lives for the last 50 years.”
“It’s okay.” Being overlooked in favour of the ex-wife wasn’t pleasant, but after last night she had faith that one of the feelings Soval had for her was love. But he still didn’t look around and he sounded uncomfortable when he spoke again.
“There are certain facts I should explain. I would have done so last night, but …”
“Hey.” Amanda left her seat to kneel beside his, gripping his arms gently. “You told me that you felt as if you knew me from the very start. It was the same for me.” She slipped one hand up to lay her palm against his cheek, turning his head to hers. He looked tired, but then so probably did she after a sleepless night. “We belong together. That’s what matters.”
He stared back, a look almost of pain in his dark eyes. “Do you truly believe that?”
“Yeah. I believe that.”
“I do not wish to lose you.”
“Not gonna happen.” Not when she felt happier and more secure in a relationship than she had ever done in her life before.
Soval pulled her to him almost roughly, and they held each other for some time until he sat back. “I must be back in the city for a meeting this evening, but we may have the afternoon together - if you wish?” She gave him a mocking grin for the stupidity of that question. “Is there anywhere you wish to see?”
“Yeah.” Amanda gazed thoughtfully at him. “D’you have your own home?”
“I have an apartment not far from your embassy.”
Soval was frowning faintly, not understanding where she was leading him, and she smiled wickedly. “I’d like to see it. Particularly the bedroom.”
He got her meaning that time; she felt it in the slight increase in tension in his body. “You would be very welcome there.”
“Pleased to hear it.” But despite his urgent kiss, she couldn’t persuade Soval that Vulcan autopilots were sufficiently reliable to allow them to continue exploring Human and Vulcan sexuality before they reached his apartment.
Amanda liked Soval’s apartment. It was spacious, cool, tastefully decorated, and it had a nice big bed, even if it was a little harder than she was used to. It was certainly an improvement on the narrow cot in his mother’s guest room - one of the nicest improvements she’d ever experienced.
Combined with a sleepless night, the improvement was so enervating that Amanda fell asleep almost as soon as she’d caught her breath. She woke an indeterminate time later, disorientated to find herself in unfamiliar surroundings. Then memory returned, and with it anxiety arising from the empty space beside her. She scrambled from the bed, pulling the sheet around her for want of anything more convenient to hand, and stepped out into the living area. Soval was there, seated on a low chair before a lighted candle, hands clasped before him. Amanda did not think that she had made a sound, but his head turned towards her almost at once. “I’m sorry. You should have woken me.”
“You were tired.” His voice was kind. “I needed to meditate. I took no offence.”
Amanda smiled a little ruefully at that and crossed the room to settle onto Soval’s lap. He allowed the invasion, but she didn’t need the elevated eyebrow to know that he was surprised. “What?”
He looked thoughtfully into her face for a moment. “You are very demonstrative.”
“Well, yeah!” She thought he was teasing until she noted the deepening of the crease between his brows. “What’s wrong with a little cuddling when there’s no one to see?”
“Vulcan couples do not touch a great deal except when they intend to have sexual intercourse.”
“You always seem willing enough to kiss me. And I thought you liked holding hands.”
“True. But this,” she had one arm around his neck, the other hand inside his robe, caressing idly, “is far more intimate.”
He gathered her more securely to him. “I believe so. Although I will have to increase my meditation.”
“Am I really that irresistible?”
“Very desirable. But Vulcans are naturally tactile beings and have a highly developed sense of touch.” His back arched appreciatively as she ran her fingers down his spine to test out his statement. “Physical pleasure,” he struggled to keep his voice even as she repeated the caress, “must be balanced with mental discipline.”
“Or what? You’ll want sex with me all the time?”
“Doesn’t sound so bad.”
“I am 125, Amanda.”
She laughed then murmured with pleasure when Soval found the opening in the sheet wrapped around her and began to explore. “Is it always like this when Vulcans are together?”
His usually precise voice was abstracted and Amanda smiled; a couple of months ago she’d never thought to hear Vulcan’s ambassador to Earth sound like a man with sex on his mind. But then she’d never expected to see him naked either. “Maybe I’m imagining things.” He ran a lazy hand up her body, distracting her from her half-formed thought, and she shifted her attention to his hair: she just loved the ruffled look, but Soval had a bad habit of smoothing it down again. Then her fingers accidentally brushed the tip of his left ear, he twisted his head like a cat, encouraging her to repeat the caress. She obliged but stilled abruptly. “I’m not imagining it! I can feel how much you enjoy that!” Her fingers moved again to confirm her ascertain, even as Soval turned his head a little to look back at her, eyes narrowed. “Soval, what’s happening?”
He hesitated then said softly, “I told you that all Vulcans are telepathic. It has been said that a physic connection can develop between those who have an intimate relationship.” He trailed experimental fingers over one of her breasts. “It would seem that it is true.”
“Well!” Amanda’s voice was as soft as his. “That’s a little unexpected.”
His hand froze against her at the same instant that she felt a stab of anxiety. “You object?”
The anxiety wasn’t hers, so it had to be Soval’s. She smiled widely, mostly for the present circumstances, but a little at the memory of a certain chief engineer. “Nothing wrong with unexpected.”
“I should have mentioned the possibility.” There was a definite feeling of guilt from Soval now. “Amongst other things.”
“Hey!” He had looked away from her again, and Amanda turned his head back. “I love you. Why would I object?”
“A mental connection is a great deal more intimate than any physical union.”
“I guess it is.” She slipped both hands inside his robe for their mutual enjoyment. “Seems to me like it could be one hell of a lot of fun.”
Soval responded neither to her caress nor to her teasing words. “Amanda, I told you that Vulcan emotions are powerful. Bound like this, you may experience mine if my control falters.”
“I’m Human. I experience emotion all the time.”
She didn’t understand his concern, and Soval grimaced, hesitated, then raised both hands to cup her face. “Not like this, ashel-veh.”
Amanda looked into his eyes, and cried out as he let her see past the layers of control to the passion she inspired in him. “Soval!”
The cry held surprise and disbelief, and resulted in Soval jerking his hands abruptly from her face. She gasped, clutching at him to steady herself, and he said achingly, “Amanda, I’m sorry. I did not mean to frighten you.”
“No!” Still dazed from the experience, she stretched out an unsteady hand to curl around his cheek. “Oh, Soval, no! How could I be scared of you when you love me like that?”
“Because there is a price that comes with it.” Soval’s eyes were wide, unguarded. “Anger, paranoia, jealousy, hate: they still live within all Vulcans. If Shran’s torture has permanently damaged my ability to suppress my emotions, you may find yourself exposed to them.” He swallowed, struggling to calm himself again after the brief moment when he had intentionally relaxed his controls. “Amanda, it could destroy you.”
“No, it won’t.” Still touching him, she could feel his fear. “I love you, Soval. You’re Vulcan, and you are what you are. I can deal with that.”
He drew in his breath sharply, and she didn’t know whether it was with relief or desire until he pulled her head down to kiss her, and she realised that it was both. Then further philosophical discussion became irrelevant.
Amanda was too happy the next morning to be more than mildly apprehensive when she was summoned to Major Ferguson’s office. Soval had been sensible enough to insist that she honour the terms of her one night pass so she hadn’t been AWOL, and she wasn’t aware that she’d upset anyone lately. Besides, what could go wrong when she was in love with the most wonderful man in the galaxy?
Her anxiety level didn’t start to rise until she marched into Ferguson’s office and came to attention, only to find that Ambassador Trent was also present. After what she hoped was an undetectable sideways movement of her eyes in his direction, she fixed her attention on the wall behind Ferguson and concentrated on looking blank; thank God for Major Hayes’ fixation with maintaining a professional mask.
“Corporal Cole,” Ferguson’s tone made Amanda’s muscles tightened still further, “Ambassador Trent’s heard some unpleasant rumours about you. I trust you’ll be able to tell us that they’re not true.”
“So do I, sir.” The answer was automatic; she still had no idea why she was there.
“You’ve been spending a lot of time outside the compound, haven’t you, corporal?”
“I’ve been told,” Trent entered the fray, “that you’ve been meeting a Vulcan. Specifically,” the man’s voice suggested that he found what he was about to say distasteful, “Ambassador Soval.”
“Yes, sir.” Amanda hoped she concealed the fact that she had started to get angry. She’d only seen Soval on her own time when she’d had permission to leave the compound – apart from that first evening.
“So it’s true? You’ve been seeing Soval privately?”
“To what end, corporal?”
Amanda finally moved her head to stare Ferguson rather than the wall. “I don’t know what you mean, sir.”
“I mean, Cole, what does Vulcan’s former ambassador to Earth want from an association with a MACO corporal?”
“Company, sir.” By now Amanda knew that her anger was showing and didn’t care. What she and Soval had together was very special and very personal, and nothing at all to do with these people who dared question her about it.
“I didn’t have you down as naïve, corporal.” There was a sneer in Ferguson’s voice. “We’re talking Soval, here. He’s had 30 years to play fast and loose with Human women if that was his kick. He’s worked for Vulcan’s Ministry of Information in the past – that’s their spy network to you and me, corporal. He’s a bastard, but his government has always rated him highly.” Amanda bristled with fury at the twisted account of Soval’s character and worth. “Didn’t it ever occur to you, Corporal Cole, that you were being used?”
“No!” Her tone wasn’t in the least respectful anymore. “We met and we liked each other. That’s all there is to it.”
“You know the rules, corporal.” Trent re-entered the lists. “Any approach by an alien to serving military personnel is a reportable incident. Why didn’t you report Soval’s ‘interest’ in you?”
“Because it never occurred to me, sir.” Amanda’s response was vicious. She’d give them ‘interest’!
“Did he ask you to keep your relationship secret?”
“No!” She glared at the two Humans. “Vulcans are private people. I knew the sort of crap that would be said if everyone knew who I was dating. I wasn’t gonna subject Soval to that.”
“So you admit that your relationship with Soval isn’t simple friendship?”
“No, I don’t admit it, sir. I’m proud of it!”
“You are so far out of line, corporal,” Ferguson took over again, “that I can’t even see where you’re standing.” She gave him a withering look for the poor imagery, although it was wasted on him; she was too junior for him to accept a critique from her. “I’ve discussed the matter with Ambassador Trent and with my superiors on Earth. They’re prepared to be more lenient than I would be.” He submitted Amanda to a disparaging stare, but she just glared back. “You have two choices, Corporal Cole. One: you accept immediate reassignment back to Earth, and make a sworn deposition that you’ll have no further contact with Soval.” For the first time, Amanda flinched. “Two: you resign from the service, effective immediately. What you do with your life then is your own affair.” He allowed a faint smirk to lift a corner of his mouth at the stricken look on her face. “What’s your decision, corporal?”
Amanda’s heart was pounding harder than it ever had during combat. She’d never understood men and women who gave up successful jobs because they preferred to spend more time with their families. But in a straight choice between her career and Soval … Except he had never given any indication that theirs was more than a temporary liaison while his own career was on hold. He cared for her deeply, she didn’t doubt that anymore, but T’Pau’s attitude had told her that she was a liability if Soval wanted to rebuild the confidence of his superiors. Would he be prepared to give up his career for her, as she apparently was for him? She didn’t know, but she suspected that for him logic would overrule sentiment, as it could not for her.
“You don’t have to make a decision right now, corporal.” It appeared that Trent had decided to play good cop to Ferguson’s bad cop, but Amanda was too off-balance to resent the manipulation. “Sleep on your decision. Let us know in the morning.”
The response was automatic, as was the glance at Ferguson, who nodded condescendingly. “Dismissed.”
Desperately confused, Amanda turned on her heel to leave and, as she reached the door, Trent added casually, “You do know that Soval’s married, don’t you, corporal?”
Anger replaced confusion, and Amanda snapped around to glare at the man. “That’s not true! He’s divorced.”
Trent rocked his head slowly. “Married.”
Ferguson’s order propelled her body out of the door, although Amanda was acting on instinct alone. Her brain was in even greater turmoil than before as she tried to fit Trent’s bald statement of deceit to the man she loved - to the man she thought loved her.
It took more than an hour of lying on her bed in shock before Amanda came to the obvious conclusion: she had to see Soval. He would tell her that he was free to love her and maybe, if she mentioned the ultimatum she’d been given, he’d also tell her to resign, to live with him, to spend the rest of her life with him.
Amanda gritted her teeth at that last thought even as she flung herself off the bed. She’d been a sentimental idiot up until now, but today she’d be sensible and make an objective decision regarding the man she adored. It was a crossroads in her life, and no one was going to make the choice easy for her. She’d have to decide for herself what she wanted. That encompassed Soval, certainly, but he was not the beginning and the end of her world – she couldn’t afford for him to be until she knew if he had any thought of a long-term commitment.
With a certainty she didn’t question, she knew Soval was in before he opened the door to his apartment, already frowning with equally uncanny intuition. “Amanda, what has happened?”
She barely noticed the all too knowing question. “Are you still married?”
The pause gave her the answer before he said simply, “Yes.”
Amanda drew in her breath sharply, batting away Soval’s hand that would have drawn her to him – into contact with his body and his mind, where she’d thought she’d finally found a haven. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
“I tried.” There was a note of regret in Soval’s voice that Amanda did not register. “You stopped me.”
“I guess I did.” She remembered how he’d twice said he had something to explain, but she’d been too drunk on love and lust to want to listen. “But you didn’t try too hard.”
“I have lived apart from M’Tek for over fifty years. Amanda, you mean more to me than she ever did or could.”
“But you’re still married to her.”
“On Vulcan, the termination of a marriage requires the consent of both parties. M’Tek will not consent. Amanda …”
Again Soval reached for her, but again she evaded him. “Why not? Why won’t she consent?”
This time he hesitated even longer. “Because she wished to ensure that I could not marry T’Les after her husband died.”
Amanda sat down abruptly on the edge of the nearest chair. “But T’Les is dead. You told me that.” She raised dazed eyes to the man standing over her. “When did she die?”
“In the recent unrest, when V’Las destroyed the sanctuary where the Syrannites were sheltering.”
“Oh, God.” It was all becoming horribly clear. “She’s the Vulcan I remind you of, isn’t she?”
“Amanda, I ceased to care for T’Les as anything other than a friend many years ago, but M’Tek never believed that.”
“I thought you loved me!”
“I do have feelings for you.” Soval dropped to his knees before her, taking her hands in his, trying to make her look at him.
Amanda really couldn’t think straight, but there was one question she had to ask. “Why did you finally ask me out, when you’d walked away from me that first night?”
“Because you intrigued me as no other woman ever had.” There was desperation in Soval’s voice now, but still Amanda did not – or could not – notice.
“But was it just because you were bored? Because you were recuperating?” It wasn’t the accusation that Ferguson and Trent had made, but it was the fear that had lurked at the back of Amanda’s mind until she fell so deeply in love that she ceased to be sensible.
“There is an element of truth in that, yes. But …”
Whatever the ‘but’ might have been, Soval had been too honest to ensure himself a hearing with an overwrought Human. Amanda tore her hands from his. “You just wanted someone to sleep with! Someone who looked like T’Les!”
“No! Amanda,” Soval recaptured her hands, “Amanda, perhaps my initial motives were suspect, but you cannot doubt them now. You know how much I care for you.”
“No, I don’t!” She tried to twist free, but this time Soval used his superior strength to keep hold of her. “You let me believe a lie. I thought you were wonderful. I wanted to spend my life with you. But you lied to me!”
“Amanda, be calm.” He freed one of her hands to lift his own towards her face, but she knew what would happen if she let him exploit their psychic connection. She wrenched away from him instead.
“Don’t touch me! I don’t want you in my head anymore. Is that how you always get women into bed with you? By pretending to show them how you really feel?” Even as she uttered the damning accusation, Amanda was half aware that she didn’t really believe in the truth of what she was saying, but she was too angry now to think. She just wanted to hurt Soval as much as he’d hurt her, and she knew she’d succeeded when his expression changed, losing the gentleness he’d always shown her. “I’m going back to Earth.” She gulped in a sobbing breath to deliver her final, clichéd rejection. “And I hope I never see you again.”
Soval didn’t try to prevent her leaving, nor did he follow her. Amanda was glad of that. She frequently told herself so during the next few interminable weeks as the transport vessel took her further and further from Vulcan.
Amanda hated being back on Earth. She’d known that the reason for her ignominious return would be on her record and therefore known to her officers, but everyone else also knew that she’d been sent home in disgrace, from her squad leader to the janitors. No one could make it through MACO training and the nightmare of the Delphic Expanse without being able to handle stressful situations, but Amanda found herself pushed to her limit by the knowledge that everyone was watching her, waiting for her to find some new rule to break. She was constantly tired too, which didn’t help her resilience. Whenever she tried to sleep, she was plagued by dreams - or, more accurately, by one recurring dream. She would find herself wandering through a Vulcan desert, searching as she had after her first meeting with Soval. That was bad, with its implication that she still wanted him, even after the deception he’d practised on her. More painful, though, was the sense that she was so close to finding him that she had only to turn one more corner to find him waiting for her. Every time she’d wake with dry sobs wracking her body because she’d never discovered the right corner, and it would take several minutes to scold herself back into a suitably belligerent frame of mind towards the man who had deceived her.
It took the best part of six weeks before Amanda finally admitted that she still loved Soval, and that she hadn’t been fair to him during their last meeting. It was a hard conclusion to reach. His confirmation that he was still married and his admission that he had instigated their relationship to pass the time had been bitterly painful to endure. But as the first sharp pain subsided and she grew too tired for anger, it was the other things she remembered: the hours they’d spent talking, the contentment she’d felt lying beside him after they’d made love, the depth of passion he’d shown her after they’d discovered their physic connection. She hadn’t doubted then that she was loved.
Amanda groaned and rolled over to bury her face in her pillow. She would drive herself crazy if she continued like this. It was time to admit that she had made a mistake and to move on. Whether her mistake had been falling in love with Soval in the first place, or running out on him at the end was irrelevant. Even if she wanted to try again, she had given her word that she wouldn’t contact him, and he almost certainly wouldn’t have her back. She’d seen his expression harden as she deliberately tried to hurt him, and he’d told her that Vulcans were not forgiving people. She’d lost him and she had to get used to the idea.
Before she could give way to tears that would solve nothing, Amanda dragged herself out of bed and into the shower, then made coffee and took it out onto the back porch to watch the sunrise. She’d only arrived at her eldest brother’s house the night before. MACOs weren’t often used in a civilian context, but a Vulcan family living in the neighbourhood had received some unpleasant threats, and prominent security had been Earth’s government’s response: official condemnation of the xenophobia that hadn’t yet subsided. That the assignment was necessary made Amanda feel sick, but she was grateful for the excuse to move out of barracks for a while. She’d not told her family about Soval, so there would be no difficult questions, and she liked Seth’s wife and his house – or she had until she’d seen it afresh the night before. It had been built 80 years before, part of the massive reconstruction following First Contact, and now that she’d seen Vulcan, she could recognise the architectural influences. It meant it was a calm, peaceful place to live, but it reminded her a little too sharply of Soval’s apartment.
“You’re up early.”
Amanda rolled her head sideways to look at her brother as he took a place on the swing seat beside her. The five years between them had seemed enormous when she was six and being sacrificed to the ‘volcano’ – in reality a paddling pool filled with red plastic balls – but it had shrunk to nothing as they grew to adulthood, and they’d stayed close. “So are you.”
“Early shift.” Seth was a rapidly rising star of Earth’s police force, and the reason Amanda still had a family. An earlier promotion had been tied to a shift north and, with Amanda and Josh living peripatetic lives as a MACO and a marine biologist respectively, their parents had decided to move north too, to be nearer their grandchildren. They hadn’t known how fortunate that choice would be. “So what’s wrong, kid?”
Amanda turned her attention back to the barely visible garden before them. “What d’you mean?”
“I mean why are you walking around looking like a ghost? I’ve seen healthier corpses, Mandy.”
No one but Seth had dared call her ‘Mandy’ in years, and Amanda felt an irrational constriction in her throat. “I’m fine.”
“Bull. Sally thinks you’re suffering post traumatic shock from your time in the Delphic Expanse.”
“That’s what I told her. D’you want me to go beat him up for you?”
Amanda turned back, frowning. “Huh?”
“The guy who finally broke your heart.” She winced and looked away, and Seth watched her averted profile a little sadly. “Who was he, Mandy? That engineer on Enterprise?”
“No! Trip was just …” She broke off, shrugging. “He wasn’t anyone special.”
“But this guy was?” She nodded, glad it wasn’t properly light yet; this wasn’t the sort of conversation to be having in daylight. “So what went wrong?”
Amanda blinked, tempted to keep quiet, but knowing that Seth would just keep on at her if she didn’t answer. “I forgot mom’s first rule of dating.”
“If you can’t be good, be careful?”
She nearly laughed, although it came out closer to a sob. “Always check the guy’s not married.”
Seth sighed. “He was?”
“Yeah.” The tears she’d kept back earlier spilled over abruptly, and she turned to bury her head in his shoulder.
“Serves you right.” His insulting words were at odds with the arm he closed firmly around her. “Payback for all those boys you’ve had dangling after you for years. I had a hell of a time keeping them away from the house after you’d dumped them.” He let her cry for a few moments longer, then added rudely, “If you mess up my uniform, kid, you’re in big trouble.”
Amanda gulped and swallowed the rest of her tears, sitting back from him as she scrubbed at her face with her hands. “Sorry.”
“It’ll be okay.” He didn’t mean his uniform and she knew it. Then he reached out to muss her hair, just as he had always done when she was off to a party and trying to look like a girl, not a tomboy. “I gotta go. Wanna lift?”
“Nah. It’s only a few blocks away.” He nodded, tweaked a strand of hair hard enough to make her yelp, and headed for the back door. “Seth.” He glanced back. “Thanks.” He winked and disappeared, and Amanda settled back to finish her cooling coffee. She didn’t really feel any better, but she knew for sure that nothing more would be said about the misery she couldn’t hide while she was staying in the house, either by Seth or by Sally. It would be okay – eventually.
Amanda’s new assignment was at the house of a couple who had chosen to live outside the Vulcan compound. She had a sneaking suspicion that Soval must have approved of Selar and Vern. Selar was a paediatrician, her husband the same high school teacher who had been assaulted the day Amanda and Soval met. The Vulcan pair had completed their contractual five year term on Earth and applied for a second, choosing at that point to move out of the compound and to enrol their daughter in a local school. Sem was due to start her first term in less than a month. Amanda knew without being told that unless the situation on Earth improved, that intention would be quashed. She just hoped that the military presence wouldn’t make the situation worse.
The MACO who Amanda relieved was uninformative, simply reporting that all was quiet. She acknowledged the report and took a quick tour of the perimeter to familiarise herself with the layout of the property, then tapped gently on the backdoor where she had seen movement. It opened to reveal a pair of slanted eyebrows under sleek black hair. “Good morning, Doctor Selar. I’m Corporal Cole.”
One of the eyebrows rose steeply. “You speak Vulcan.”
Amanda grimaced; it had seemed only polite, but perhaps she had misjudged. “Only a little, ma’am.” She’d switched back to English. “I apologise.”
“Few try.” The other woman regarded Amanda curiously. “Will you come in?”
She didn’t want to disturb the family, but her brief had been clear. “If you don’t mind, ma’am. Just to check that all’s well.”
Selar stepped aside and Amanda slipped past her, nodding politely to the man who was spooning fruit puree into a small boy, while a larger girl fed herself. “Excuse me, sir.”
“Corporal Cole speaks Vulcan.” Selar addressed her husband from behind Amanda, and he raised an eyebrow just as his wife had done. “You have replaced Corporal Schmitt?”
As far as Amanda could see, the house was fitted with a perfectly adequate security system. It confirmed her view that the MACO presence was just for show. “I’ll be accompanying Dr Selar to work. Corporal Richards will arrive shortly to escort you, sir.”
“To our great comfort.”
Accustomed to Vulcan sarcasm, Amanda winced, but Kern was fully occupied with his son, and it was Selar who caught her eye. “Would you care for tea, corporal?”
“No, thank you, ma’am.” The courtesy was welcome, but it brought back too many memories. “I’ll be outside when you’re ready to leave.”
Selar joined Amanda within fifteen minutes and strode briskly away. Amanda had to jog several paces to draw level. “Won’t you be taking transport, ma’am?”
“Certainly not.” Selar spared Amanda a brief glance. “It is barely 5km and the exercise is beneficial.”
“Okay.” Best practise said that the doctor should take an aircar to the hospital where she worked, but Amanda could not believe that Selar was really at risk, and she understood that need for exercise.
Selar turned her elegant head to observe Amanda again. “How is it that you speak our language, Corporal Cole?”
“I don’t really, ma’am.” She didn’t want to have to explain. “Just a few words.”
Selar let the subject drop, striding along in silence while Amanda scanned the passers-by for anyone who gave the Vulcan woman a funny look. It wasn’t Selar who attracted stares, however. Amanda would have liked to think that people recognised her from the press releases that had accompanied Enterprise’s return from the Delphic Expanse, but she knew that it was because of the uniform and the rifle. Earth’s population liked to know that the military were there in case of emergency, but they preferred to live in the smug belief that the streets were far too safe to need a visible MACO presence.
Amanda scowled at that cynical thought. Soval had been a bad influence on her. Before she met him, she had been prepared to believe the best, but he’d opened her eyes to the murky undercurrents of Vulcan politics, and she didn’t doubt that things were much the same on Earth, however enlightened their post-war society was supposed to be. She didn’t like the change in her outlook, but it was going to be a hard legacy to lose.
Providing security for Selar proved to be an easy task. Amanda spent most of the day standing in corridors, waiting for the doctor to complete her various tasks in the paediatric unit of the local hospital. Neither woman was aware of the first victim to be admitted, although the second was a boy in his early teens. Selar had been unable to make a diagnosis by the time she came to leave the hospital, but she left instructions for further tests to be run and went home to her family without undue concern. Amanda stayed at the Vulcans’ house for a couple of hours, then handed over to her relief and went home herself. It was all very normal, even to the fact that she dreamed again that night.
Again she wandered endlessly through the harsh, desert landscape, hoping to find Soval waiting for her behind every rocky outcrop. However hard she tried, she couldn’t wake herself up this time. She just had to keep searching until her subconscious decided that she’d been punished enough for one night. And that night she wanted Soval so badly that perhaps she didn’t try as hard as usual to snap out of the dream. Or maybe it had become so familiar that the boundary between dream and reality had blurred, so that she was no longer completely sure that she was dreaming. Maybe she really was still on Vulcan with Soval waiting for her, ready to take her into a secluded corner and demonstrate that he had learnt to kiss a Human woman very well indeed.
Suddenly sure that he was close, she broke into a run over the rock-strewn ground, staggering out from a narrow gully to find the Vulcan himself seated cross-legged on the ground before her. She stumbled to a halt, and Soval raised his head from his contemplation of his clasped hands to look directly at her. She made a small sound of distress at the weariness in his face, and he blinked then held out a hand. “Amanda.”
She woke before she could respond to the longing in his voice, and lay still for a long time, breathing carefully. It was a dream, nothing more, born out of her loneliness. She’d simply transferred her own emotions onto Soval because she wanted to believe that he still loved her. She had to get over him, or she really would crack up.
That day she stayed in bed until she heard Seth leave the house, not wanting him to know that disturbed nights were the norm for her now, then slowly got herself ready for duty. Her head ached and she had to rest on the edge of the bed for some minutes before she could summon up the energy to pull on her boots. It was exhaustion, she knew, and she would have to do something about it soon before it affected her ability to carry out her duties, but she didn’t want to see a MACO doctor. For almost the first time, she regretted leaving Enterprise. Phlox had been approachable, and she’d liked his upbeat attitude, but there was no one similar on Earth to whom she could turn. Unless maybe she could ask Selar? It would seem a little odd, but she’d liked what she’d seen of the Vulcan doctor.
Revived by the thought of doing something positive, even if it was as trivial as asking for a sedative to ensure a good night’s sleep, Amanda made her way to Selar’s house only to be told that the doctor had already left. She’d been summoned urgently to the hospital in the middle of the night, and her MACO escort had gone with her. Unperturbed, Amanda shrugged acceptance of the change of plan, and set off for the hospital to take over Vulcan-watching from Private Harris.
That it was not a regular emergency that had called Selar to the hospital became obvious to Amanda as soon as it came into view. The signs were discreet, but there were more air ambulances and police vehicles in evidence than there should have been, and an air of tension gripped all the hospital staff that she encountered. That a crisis was in progress was confirmed when she bumped into Seth as he emerged from the director’s office just as she was passing. He gave her a hard look and beckoned her to follow him into a neighbouring room. She followed curiously. She’d never before seen her big brother when he was on duty. The change was a little alarming. “I’m glad you’re here.”
Amanda heard the unspoken ‘corporal’, and felt her lips compress. “What is it? Passenger vehicle crash?”
“I almost wish it were.” Seth’s expression matched hers. “The doctors aren’t using the word ‘plague’, but that’s what it amounts to.”
Her back promptly knotted up. “Another outbreak of one of the old engineered viruses?” There had been a few of those over the years since the last war, although not in her lifetime.
“That would be easier to handle. No.” Her brother shook his head. “The doctors think this has an extra-terrestrial origin.”
He nodded this time. “Hell’s about right. If word gets out, we won’t just have an epidemic on our hands, we’ll have anti-alien riots and lynch mobs out for any blood that isn’t red.”
“Surely no one’s saying this is intentional?”
“No one rational. The first victim worked at a food processing plant that specialises in extra-terrestrial produce. Everything’s checked for contaminants, but there’s always been a risk that something could get through. Our taste for exotic foodstuff just came back to bite us.”
“But not everyone’s rational?”
“You know the crap that’s been talked since the Xindi attack, Mandy. There are a few who’d jump on this to force the government to exclude all aliens and alien products from Earth.”
Despite the gravity of the situation, Amanda felt a touch of satisfaction from the knowledge that Seth was clearly not of the anti-alien party. “So what are your orders, Captain Cole?”
He smiled faintly at that. “Containment’s the name of the game – both people and, I’m afraid, information. As far as the public knows, there’s a virulent stomach bug going around – and yes, you can blame it on the war if you have to. Public information notices have gone out to tell people what to do. Anyone who arrives here is kept here, whether they’re showing symptoms or not. We’ve closed the city borders, and we’re tracking down those who’ve left since yesterday.”
“You’ll never do it.”
“We’ll have to.” He met her eyes, utterly serious. “It’s not airborne yet, Amanda, but who’s to say it won’t mutate? The doctors reckon it could be fatal in 1 in 3 cases, and they haven’t found a vaccine yet. If we can’t contain it, it could spread around the planet.”
“What do I do?”
“I’m leaving you in charge of security here. Keep control of the situation. If things look like they could get out of hand, step in. Your colleague’s still here, and a few of my men, but we’re spread thin. Keep alert.”
He stared back for a moment then clouted her affectionately on the shoulder. “We’ll be okay, kid. If it’s looking bad, we’ll just throw you into the nearest volcano.”
Amanda introduced herself to the hospital director then went the rounds of the policemen Seth had assigned, ensuring that they knew her face and were clear about their orders. It was only after she’d covered those basics that she took a few moments for herself to admit that she was terrified. As Seth had said, the possibility of alien pathogens causing havoc on Earth had been a reality since First Contact, but initially the Vulcans and then Earth government had taken all possible precautions to prevent such a thing. Now it looked as if the nightmare of all epidemiologists was about to come true.
Amanda took a deep breath. It hadn’t happened yet. No doubt every pathologist and every doctor in the Medical Exchange Program were working on a vaccine. They’d probably have it cracked by lunchtime.
But they didn’t. The trickle of patients grew steadily until every bed had been filled, and the hospital activated its emergency plan, settling newcomers on pallets in public areas. Amanda’s job remained relatively simple; she might deplore the deception, but on this occasion she was fully behind the censorship. No one would benefit from widespread panic.
Despite the efforts of Earth’s medical professionals, the initial breakthrough happened close to home. Amanda had taken the opportunity to snatch a snack and found herself sharing a table with Selar, who looked grim despite her calm voice as she brought Amanda up to date with the latest statistics. Already, only 24 hours after the first reported case, nine had died, all elderly or very young. Amanda shivered. One in three, Seth had said. This was just the start. But at least it was still limited to the one city – so far.
“Are you unwell, corporal?”
She looked up, started by Selar’s question. “I’m fine.”
The Vulcan woman stared critically back. “You do not appear particularly healthy. Kindly inform a member of staff if you experience any of the pertinent symptoms.”
“Sure, doctor.” She was just tired and more scared than she’d ever been in the Delphic Expanse: you couldn’t shoot a virus. To distract the other woman, she asked a question of her own. “Has anything like this ever happened on Vulcan?”
“Yes.” For a second, Amanda thought that Selar wasn’t going to continue then she added, “347 years ago. A new species of orchid was imported from Orion. It was thought very beautiful, but a viral agent in the soil mutated when exposed to Vulcan physiology. Many thousands died. Vulcans who visit Orion are still vaccinated against the possibility of a recurrence.”
“It’s the mutation that’s dangerous?” Biology wasn’t something that had ever really interested Amanda.
“No.” Under other circumstance, Amanda would have been annoyed at the unhelpful answer to a well-meant question, but Selar was already rising to her feet. “Excuse me. I have recalled something that may be relevant.”
She swept away and Amanda swallowed the last of her sandwich and returned to duty, hoping that she’d inadvertently reminded the doctor of something useful. It was likely to be her only positive contribution to the crisis.
Amanda didn’t learn the outcome of her conversation with Selar until the early hours of the morning. She’d been kept busy until then, trying to keep the ever-growing population of the hospital calm. People were starting to suspect that something worse than a virulent stomach bug was at large, and Amanda had been forced to take draconian measures with a small minority, cutting them out from the crowds before lying to them. She’d never thought that the arrant stupidity of earlier generations, who had developed biological weapons for use against their own species, would come in useful, but now it meant that they had a homegrown culprit at whom to point a finger.
When Amanda dropped by the director’s office, she had no thought in mind other than picking up a cup of coffee – the canteen had run out - but she walked into the middle of an angry scene involving the director, Dr Selar and her brother. They all glared at her as she entered, and she was about to back out hastily when Seth beckoned for her to stay. “You might as well hear this, Amanda.” He glanced between the other two, decided that neither was prepared to speak, so summarised the position himself. “Dr Selar’s been able to isolate the origin of the virus. It’s akin to something that struck Vulcan a few hundred years back, although it originates on Orion.” Later Amanda would mentally pat herself on the back for having put Selar on the right track. “She thinks that if we had access to the vaccine the Vulcans developed, we might be able to synthesis something that would work on Humans.”
Amanda looked doubtfully between director, doctor and police captain. “That’s good. Isn’t it?”
“It’s good,” Seth confirmed grimly. “But the Vulcans,” he nodded an apology in response to Selar’s incipient protest, “Ambassador Vornik says that it’s no longer the policy of the Vulcan government to interfere in Earth’s affairs. He won’t help.”
“He is wrong.” Selar sounded angry. “He has misinterpreted his orders. Your government should contact First Minister Kuvac directly.”
Seth shrugged. “Vornik’s already upset too many people. They’re taking him at his word.”
“Try Soval.” Amanda hoped her voice came out steadier than she felt. “He’ll help.”
“Funny you should say that.” Seth’s mouth pulled into an un-amused grimace. “Apparently Captain Archer said the same. Enterprise tried to make contact with him, but he’s dropped out of sight. Our heroic captain will try other channels, but even if he succeeds it’ll take weeks for Enterprise to get here.”
“A Vulcan ship could be here in 18 days,” Selar observed, and Seth nodded.
“And we’ll hope that one is, doctor.”
There was silence all round until Amanda asked steadily, “What do we do now?”
“We carry on.” There was grim resolution in Seth’s voice. “Unless anyone’s got a better plan.”
They carried on for another day, while the death toll and the numbers infected continued to rise. More MACOs had to be drafted in to keep order within the city as concern ramped up in the face of the ‘re-emergence of an old threat’, but so far there had been no outbreaks elsewhere. And wouldn’t be, Seth said viciously to Amanda at one point, if he had to shoot everyone who tried to break out of the city himself. They were standing by the bed holding his two children at the time, both infected and both growing steadily weaker as the sickness took its toll; at two and five, they were both in the high-risk category.
“I shouldn’t have stayed with you.” Amanda could barely choke out the words around the constriction in her throat. “I was at the hospital when the first cases came in. I must have passed it on to the kids.”
“Not your fault.” Seth still sounded angry, although he made a visible effort to calm himself: there was a lot riding on his leadership. He turned from his children to look down at Amanda. “Get some sleep. You’re out on your feet.”
“That was an order.” His voice softened a little. “Don’t wanna lose you too, Mandy.”
She nodded and retreated to find herself a quiet corner, knowing that the advice was sensible: she had been tired before all this began, and she’d lost a night and a half’s sleep since. She would be no good to anyone if she keeled over through simple exhaustion. Maybe she was finally tired enough to stop the dreams.
That last proved a futile hope. She found herself searching through the desert again, although this time her exhaustion invaded even her dream so that it was all she could do to drag her aching body over the ground. Eventually she fell to her knees, panting, feeling tears sliding down her face. “Soval!” It was the first time she’d ever spoken in one of her dreams. “Soval, where are you?”
“Amanda!” Her head had been hanging down, too heavy for her to hold up, but she found the energy to raise it to find her Vulcan again seated on the ground a few metres in front of her. “Amanda.”
She couldn’t move, however much she wanted to fling herself into Soval’s arms to experience the warmth and strength of him that she’d been a fool to think she could give up. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean it. I love you.”
“So it would seem.” She smiled at the relief in his voice. “Ashel-veh, what distresses you?”
“Nothing. Not when I’m with you.”
A frown pulled his eyebrows together. “You lie.”
Amanda’s sense that she was dreaming faded in the face of Soval’s so typical disapproval of falsehood. Besides reality was far too unpleasant to remember when she was with him. “Nothing.”
“Amanda!” She shook her head, and his mouth compressed in annoyance. “Leave me, ashel-veh.”
“No!” She struggled to reach him, but movement was still impossible. “Let me stay. Soval, please! I wanna stay with you.”
And Amanda jerked awake in a corner of a hospital corridor, whispering his name, while busy, anxious people hurried past her. She sucked in her breath and hugged her knees to her chest, fighting to remain in control. So much for dreamless sleep. That had been the worst yet by a long way. How was she supposed to get over Soval if she dreamed of him so vividly that she could still see every line on his face, hear every carefully suppressed emotion in his voice. “Corporal Cole.” She looked up to see one of the MACO privates standing over her. “There’s trouble in the canteen. You’re wanted.”
The trouble wasn’t serious, but it provided the distraction that Amanda desperately needed. She kept herself tightly focussed for the next few hours, not even allowing herself to view the latest casualty figures, let alone check in on her nephew and niece, or ask for an analgesic to alleviate her pounding headache. She knew it was selfish, but there was a job to be done and she didn’t know any other way of performing it.
She was brusquely denying the request of a local tax collector to be allowed to leave the hospital in order to fulfil an important appointment when another MACO approached her. “Someone asking for you out front, corporal.” The message was uninformative, and she was none the wiser as she approached the perimeter across the lawns that had been covered with emergency shelters for the duration.
Her visitor had his back to her, head covered against the fine drizzle that was falling by the hood of the over-long jacket he wore. But there was something about the way he carried himself that made Amanda’s heart race. She gulped, took another step forward then halted, shaking, as he turned towards her. That really was Soval standing two metres in front of her because this time she wasn’t asleep. Except that it wasn’t Soval, it was the ambassador, she could tell that from the rigidity of his expression, for all he was without the robes. She had to remember that the last time she had seen him was when she’d run from his apartment after accusing him of lying while he seduced her. The later meetings, where he’d still loved her, were the products of her imagination. “Ambassador.” Her voice shook despite her efforts. “Can I help you, sir?” She’d said that the night he came looking for her, after they’d met at the embassy.
“What is happening here?”
His tone was cool, reflecting his expression, and Amanda had to swallow before she could speak. “Virulent stomach bug, sir.” At least she remembered the official lie. “I’ll have to ask you to leave.”
He moved very slowly closer and Amanda lifted her chin. This was how all those generations of politicians and Starfleet admirals must have felt when Soval explained why their actions were ill advised. “If this is something that Earth cannot handle alone,” he managed to sound reproving and resigned at the same time, “you would be very foolish not to tell me the truth.”
Amanda glared at him. Now she knew why he was called the bitter old Vulcan. “Am I to understand, ambassador, that you’re here in an official capacity?”
“You know better than that.” He waited a moment, eyes on her face. “But I did not come 16 light years to see you, Amanda, only to discover that the stubborn pride of your species has put you at risk.” She gasped, swaying almost as if he’d struck her, and he asked again, “What is happening?”
“You came to see me?”
She really, really couldn’t think straight. “How? I mean …”
“Amanda!” Soval’s sharp tone refocused her. “We must talk, I agree. But I suggest we do so later. What is happening here?”
“Uh,” her head was spinning, “extra-terrestrial virus. Dr Selar thinks she knows the cure, but your pig of a replacement won’t play ball.”
“Selar’s here?” She nodded. “Then I need to speak with her.”
“Okay.” She turned to show him the way and swayed again when the world pitched around her.
A strong arm fastened around her waist. “Amanda? Are you unwell?”
“I don’t know. I feel …” She trailed off, aware of growing nausea.
“Do you have the virus?”
Soval’s voice was calm, and she closed her eyes, relieved that he’d made the diagnosis for her. “I guess.”
“Where will I find Selar?”
“Dunno.” The shock of seeing Soval had snapped Amanda’s concentration, and her body had taken advantage to let her know just how ill it had been feeling for the last few hours, when she had been too focused on doing her job to pay attention. Now she wanted to lie down and die. “You could page her from the director’s office.”
“Where will I find that?”
“Um, at the back of the main entrance hall. I think.”
“Can you walk?” She nodded automatically at such a stupid question, then found that it hadn’t been so very stupid when her legs buckled.
“Be grateful this is Earth,” faint strain entered Soval’s voice as he lifted her, “not Vulcan.” He started to move away, and Amanda heard one of the MACO guards challenge him although he didn’t alter his steady pace. “I suggest you check my authorisation with Ambassador Vornik.”
No one questioned him again. Amanda located a comfortable place for her aching head on his rain dampened shoulder then mumbled half-heartedly, “You don’t have authorisation.”
“As a check will prove. Your colleagues are poorly trained, Amanda.”
“Momentarily.” She felt him manoeuvre through a door then she was set down and her head positioned carefully. She accepted the invitation and threw up.
The next few minutes were very unpleasant indeed, even with Soval to look after her. Amanda had barely finished emptying her stomach when Seth’s voice asked on a note of tired resignation, “Amanda?”
She was still gasping for breath, and it was Soval who spoke in answer to the query. “Kindly fetch some water.”
Water was exactly what Amanda wanted at that moment, but she could have told Soval that the curt request was not the best way to introduce himself to her brother.
“Who are you?”
The aggressive demand was inevitable, but it had absolutely no effect on Soval, who simply sat her back from the receptacle he had provided and wiped her mouth before looking up at Seth. “My name is Soval. The water?”
Amanda saw a look of confusion pass over Seth’s face, even as he obeyed the peremptory order, fetching a glass from the water fountain across the room. He crouched beside her to tip the glass deftly to her mouth. “Is that Ambassador Soval?”
“Yes.” The Vulcan finally spared a hand to push back his hood. “Who am I addressing?”
“Captain Cole, Earth police, North American division.” Seth’s confusion was passing, to be replaced by annoyance again. “What the hell are you doing here, ambassador?”
Typically Soval ignored the irrelevant question. “I must speak to Dr Selar. Please summon her.”
Amanda decided that she needed to intervene. She loved both men dearly, but left to themselves the stubborn darlings would get into a ferocious and time consuming argument. “Do what Soval says, Seth. You don’t wanna pick a fight with a guy who can carry me.” Exhausted by the effort of speaking, she sagged more heavily against Soval, resting her head on his shoulder again.
“Amanda? Have you met Ambassador Soval before?”
She could hear the shock in Seth’s voice, but was too ill to care. “Just do it.”
There were a few seconds’ silence then she heard him make the call. Soval picked her up again and settled her on a couch, freeing her braided hair so that it wouldn’t dig into her scalp before slipping a cushion under her head. Amanda subsided gratefully, then realised that there was a downside to being horizontal: Soval wasn’t holding her anymore. “Soval?” There was no response and she forced her eyes open, squinting against the light that stabbed painfully to see that he was standing by the couch, not looking at her but at Seth. Regardless of Vulcan proprieties, she held out a hopeful hand. “Soval.” He turned his head, hesitated, but came to perch on the edge of the couch beside her, taking her hand in a firm clasp. She sighed and relaxed back down, then remembered that she ought to explain something. “That’s my brother.”
“So I deduced.” If Amanda hadn’t been too ill to think, the response would have explained Soval’s willingness to touch her. “You are much alike.”
“He said he’d push me into a volcano if things got too bad.”
“Then we must ensure that they do not.” His tone was reassuring, as was the gentle hand that rested briefly on her cheek. Amanda closed her eyes on a wave of irrational relief: Soval would sort things out.
“Amanda,” Seth sounded even more incredulous than before, “just how well d’you know the ambassador?” She smiled faintly because Soval was stroking her forehead. It didn’t ease her headache, but it was very pleasant, much too pleasant to bother with her brother’s question. “Don’t tell me this is the guy who broke your heart.”
“Mm.” It struck her that Seth might not be too pleased at that news, and summoned up the strength to add, “He came all this way to see me. Isn’t he wonderful?”
The door opened before Seth could pursue the matter, and Selar said with evident relief, “Soval!” Amanda smiled a little more, even though Soval immediately abandoned her to deal with the doctor: at least she now knew that the Vulcans on Earth had regretted the loss of their former ambassador. “You must instruct that fool Kornik to authorise immediate medical assistance.”
“You would benefit from a period of meditation, Dr Selar.” Soval’s voice was critical. “Explain the situation – without giving way to emotion that will assist no one.”
“The Orion plague virus has mutated again. The Humans are affected. We must help them.” Despite his request for calm, the doctor’s voice reflected her anger. “Kornik says that our new policy of non-interference prohibits this. Ambassador, is this true?”
“No.” Even if she hadn’t loved him, Amanda would have believed the firm denial. “What do you require, Selar?”
“Access to the serum that provides immunity. It will also ameliorate the symptoms in those already infected. But there may not be time. It is 18 days from Vulcan to Earth.”
There was a brief silence then Soval said calmly, “Perhaps you would examine Corporal Cole while you are here. She appears to have been infected.”
“Really!” The doctor could be as bitingly sarcastic as Soval, but she did bend over Amanda, scanner in hand.
“Is it possible, Selar,” Soval had evidently been considering options, “that you could derive what you require from the blood of a Vulcan who has been immunised against the Orion plague?”
“Of course it is possible!” Selar wasn’t impressed with a suggestion that implied she had overlooked the obvious. “But no Vulcan resident on Earth has been to Orion. Neither have you.”
“No.” If there was perverse satisfaction in Soval’s voice, Amanda was too ill to detect it. “But Kornik has. He may lack my intimate knowledge of Humans, but not of Orions.”
“Then we have to get him here.” Seth had been following the exchange carefully. “I don’t care what your government says, Ambassador Soval, we have to get him here.”
“I agree.” Soval’s calm was in stark contrast to the Human’s anger. “Captain Cole, can you arrange transport for me to San Francisco?”
“You got it.” This time Seth didn’t need to be asked twice. “You and Dr Selar?”
“Myself only. Selar must mediate. No, Selar,” she had started to protest, “I will not lack for support at the embassy, but you will be of no benefit to your patients unless you are in control.”
“Okay.” Seth’s voice had been firm and professional up until that moment, but then he wavered. “Ambassador,” Amanda could tell that he didn’t like what he was about to say, “will you stay with Amanda until I can arrange for her to be admitted?”
“Certainly.” There was a short pause in which the door opened and closed, then Soval asked more quietly, “What is your assessment of Amanda’s condition, Dr Selar?”
“She has the virus.” Selar’s voice was also quiet. “It would not normally prove fatal to one of her age and health, but she is exhausted.” The doctor hesitated briefly. “She may not survive.”
“Thank you, doctor. Be sure to meditate for a time.” Amanda heard the door close again, then a warm hand cupped around her cheek. “Amanda.” She smiled, but opening her eyes was far too much effort. “Amanda, look at me.”
She sighed, but obeyed the instruction; she really should tell Soval that he couldn’t order her about as he did everyone else. His face wasn’t quite in focus, but she knew his expression had softened. “I’m sorry.” It really was very hard to keep her eyes open. “You never told me you were divorced. I just wanted you to be.”
“As I wanted to believe that you understood my situation.” Warm fingers caressed her face gently; she had always believed that Soval’s hands expressed his emotions more clearly than he would have wished. “We were both at fault, ashel-veh.”
“I love you.”
“As I do you.” Both his hands were on her face, keeping her focussed on him. “Amanda, you told me that you did not want a mental connection with me again, but you are very ill, ashel-veh, and I fear for your life. Will you let me meld my mind with yours? I can help.”
“I missed you so much.” She wasn’t truly lucid anymore.
“I know. How else could you have entered my mind when I meditated?”
“I was dreaming.”
“No: a physic connection. Amanda, please consent. You need my strength.”
“I kept searching for you.”
“You found me twice. Amanda, do not make me meld with you against your will.”
“How could you?” She had finally understood what he was asking. “I love you.”
He drew a deep breath, and shifted the fingers of his left hand to the specific points that would allow him to begin the melding process to be very sure that she would not slip away before he had had time to bring help.
Amanda woke slowly, and lay in mindless contentment for some time before it occurred to her that there were quite a few questions that required answers. She nudged the body lying against hers. “Soval, sweetheart, wake up.”
Dark eyes opened to frown a little at her. “I was not asleep.”
She ignored a statement so obviously untrue. “Why are we here?” The bed they occupied was in the guest room at Seth’s house.
“You were considered well enough to be released from the hospital, but your brother’s children were not. Captain Cole asked me to bring you here.”
“Will the kids be okay?”
“So you made Kornik help out?”
“He was persuaded to cooperate.”
“Good.” Immediate fears assuaged, Amanda snuggled into Soval’s side and dozed for a few minutes more. “How many died?”
He worked an arm under her to pull her a little closer. “Three hundred fifty three.” She gave a small sound of distress and he turned his head to press his lips to her temple. “It could have been a great deal worse, ashel-veh. Thousands died when the same plague struck Vulcan.”
“I know. Selar told me. But they needn’t all have died if Kornik hadn’t been an idiot.”
“If Kornik had not been on Earth, it would have taken far longer to procure a cure.”
“He’s still an idiot.”
“I would not disagree with you.”
They drifted into silence again, while Amanda came to terms with the losses and gave thanks that it hadn’t indeed been worse. Then she moved on to more practical considerations and pulled abruptly away from Soval, distastefully fingering the hospital gown she wore. “How long has it been since you melded with me?”
“Nearly 36 hours.”
“I must stink.” She swung her legs off the bed, stood up then sat down abruptly as the room spun. “Aw, hell.”
“Move slowly.” Soval already had an arm around her. “Dr Selar said that you were severely affected because you were already exhausted. And,” he added reprovingly, “because you did not seek medical assistance when you first became ill.” He thrust a beaker into her hand. “Drink. You were given intravenous fluids at the hospital, but you have not eaten or drunk for some time.” She swallowed obediently, recognising the taste of re-hydration salts in the water, and thought back to her last conscious memory, when Soval had melded their minds and reinforced her will with his before leaving her in his meditation place - a vision of the Vulcan desert that she found very familiar - to await his return. He’d explained what he was doing, but she’d not paid too much attention; she’d felt too calm and peaceful to bother with explanations. Almost the last thing she remembered was when he’d returned to her. She had heard his voice say gently, “Rest now, ashel-veh,” and after that there were just a few disjointed impressions of voices and movement, presumably from when he brought her home. Then she’d woken up beside him hours later. One day she’d have to get him to explain it all to her, but right now her priority was to be clean again.
She made it into the bathroom on her second attempt, to emerge fifteen minutes later feeling a little more alert and a great deal cleaner. Soval appeared to be asleep again, stretched out neatly on the bed, hands clasped at his waist. She watched him tenderly while she brushed her hair. She knew without asking that it was the strain of keeping her alive that had exhausted him. Their minds were no longer joined, but the physic connection was still there and, through it, she could sense how weary he was. Hair dealt with, she crawled carefully onto the bed to avoid waking him and cuddled close, quite happy to go back to sleep herself.
“I am still not asleep.”
“Liar,” but given that he had woken up again she raised her head. “I’ve cleaned my teeth.” He looked drowsily up at her for so long that she thought he wasn’t going to take the hint, then he stretched out a hand to draw her down to him.
They were both too tired to do more than kiss, and soon returned to simple cuddling, until Soval said quietly, “We must talk, Amanda.”
“What’s there to talk about?” She propped her head on one hand, raising the other to stroke his face. “I love you, you love me, we wanna be together. End of story.”
“Nothing is ever that simple, ashel-veh.”
“Soval, you came 16 light years to see me. You wouldn’t have bothered if you didn’t want me.”
“But that was before the events of recent days. I will have to pay for what I did here, Amanda.”
“Pay! But you saved us all!”
“And in the process undermined an official representative of the Vulcan government.”
“Who wasn’t implementing his government’s policy! Kuvac should thank you. You prevented a major breach between Earth and Vulcan.”
“Perhaps.” He shook his head gently. “But I broke too many rules in the process.”
Amanda grunted angrily, and settled almost aggressively beside him, pressing her head firmly into his shoulder. “I’ll just have to come visit you in jail. Because I’m not leaving you again.”
“Your career is here.” Soval began to stroke her hair; he seemed to find it irresistible. “I do not wish you to lose that because of me.”
“Too late. As soon as they find out I’ve seen you again, I’ll be thrown out of the MACOs. That was the ultimatum Ferguson and Trent gave me just before I came to see you that last time: give you up or resign.” Amanda absently unfastened Soval’s tunic so that she could rub the palm of one hand over his chest; he’d removed his shoes and jacket, but nothing else. “I was gonna tell you, maybe even ask if I could stay on Vulcan with you. Then Trent told me you were married.” She turned her head to press her lips to his throat. “I should have realised, particularly after your mom kept telling you to bring M’Tek to visit.”
“I intended to explain. But then from what you said, I believed that you understood.”
“Not your fault.” Amanda shook her head firmly to dismiss the matter, looking up at him again. “What did you do after I left Vulcan?”
He hesitated, but in the end accepted her change of subject. “I went out into the desert, into the Forge,” he shifted his hand from her hair to her face, holding her eyes, “to the place where T’Les died.” Even with Soval touching her mind and body, Amanda flinched, and he continued levelly, “I went to consider carefully whether my feelings for you were simply a transference of those that I had once had for her.”
“What did you decide?”
Her voice shook and Soval tightened the arm still embracing her. “That I had cared for T’Les because she foreshadowed what I found in you.” He smoothed back the hair tumbling over her face. “When T’Les ended our relationship, she told me that I had much in common with Humans. She was right, although it took me many years to acknowledge the affinity. It would appear, Amanda, that you are precisely the woman I have been waiting to meet.”
“I love you too.” She was very near tears and Soval pulled her down on top of him, holding her tightly until she stopped shaking. “Sorry.” She blotted a few stray tears on his shoulder before raising her head. “Still tired, I guess. Did you stay in the desert for long?”
“Many days. I meditated a great deal.” Soval ran his fingers through her hair again, dragging one fat strand forward over her shoulder. “The one emotion I could not master was regret. I found it unacceptable that I would be alone again, so I decided to see if it were possible that we could still have a future together.” He paused, although his fingers continued to play with her hair. “It seemed to me that I could sense your presence at certain times when I meditated, but it was not until I had nearly reached Earth that your mind finally found mine, and I knew that I had not simply been a sentimental fool to seek you.” His hand moved from her hair to her face. “Regret is not a pleasant thing to live with, Amanda.”
“I know. I’m glad you came.”
“As am I.”
Their eyes locked then Amanda leant forward to kiss Soval and, tiredness not withstanding, things might have become more interesting if Seth had not yelled up the stairs, “Anyone home?”
Amanda muttered something rude under her breath that caused Soval to raise an eyebrow, and left the bedroom to lean over the banister rail that protected the drop to the hall below. “No.”
“Hey, kid.” Seth grinned up at her, his son tossed casually over one shoulder. “We’re gonna call out for food. Does Soval like Chinese?”
She suffered an immediate pang of guilt, even though she was 28 and had been innocently sleeping with the man she intended to spend her life with, rather than 15 and caught making out on the sofa. “Why d’you think he’s here?”
“Because he promised to stay with you, and I don’t think he’s a guy who gives his word lightly. So, does Soval like Chinese?”
“Yes.” The Vulcan answered for himself, coming to stand at Amanda’s shoulder, tunic neatly refastened. “Your children are recovered, captain?”
“They’re fine.” Seth proved the point by depositing the boy he carried on the floor; the child immediately scooted off in the direction of the kitchen. “Come down when you’re ready.”
He followed his son, and Amanda leant back against Soval with a sigh. “D’you feel up to dealing with my family?”
“It would seem that I have little choice.” He pressed her close for a moment then surprised her with a very un-Vulcan-like remark. “I’m hungry.”
They had had more relaxed meals around the kitchen table, but the atmosphere improved as time passed and Soval didn’t make any of the withering remarks for which he was renowned. Amanda quickly realised that Seth must have come to terms with the fact that his sister was in love with a married Vulcan while she was unconscious: not difficult to understand when Soval’s intervention had saved the lives of Seth’s children. The two men entered into a healthy debate over censorship, but it took her two-year-old niece to break the ice with her sister-in-law, who was distinctly overawed at having a Vulcan eating beancurd with braised vegetables in her house. The only shy one in a family of extroverts, Emily had watched Soval closely throughout the meal, and eventually slid from her chair to move around to his. He stared gravely down at her for a moment then assisted her to climb onto his lap, where she settled comfortably, leaning her head against him.
Sally stared at her daughter in surprise. “She doesn’t usually go to strangers.”
“Human children like Vulcans.” Amanda had seen that for herself, watching Selar at the hospital. She smiled into Soval’s impassive face. “Because Vulcans like children.”
“Without children there would be no future.” There was a great deal of tenderness in his eyes and looked away hurriedly before she embarrassed them both. He had been very relaxed about touching her around her family, but she knew there were limits to what he would tolerate.
“Will you be able to have children?”
It was the inevitable question from a fond mother. The sense of regret from Soval should have given Amanda the answer, but she remembered that other Enterprise they had encountered in the Delphic Expanse and her half Vulcan captain. “We’ll see.”
The doorbell saved them from further discussion on that topic, but when Seth returned from answering it, he wasn’t happy. “Someone looking for you, Soval.” He grimaced. “Someone official.”
The official was in the grey uniform of the High Command that no one had yet got around to redesigning, and if he was surprised at being sent to retrieve the former ambassador to Earth from a suburban villa he was too disciplined to show it. “Ambassador Soval,” at least he was polite, “I am here to escort you to the ship that will return you to Vulcan.”
“Very well.” Amanda scowled at Soval’s back: he ought to have asked why he was being taken back to Vulcan. “Will you allow me a few minutes?”
“Of course, ambassador.”
The two men exchanged courteous nods then Soval turned and frowned at Amanda; he’d told her to stay in the kitchen. She glared back and pushed open a door off the hall where the meeting had taken place. “In here, ambassador.” He followed her, still frowning when she shut the door firmly and faced him, arms folded. “I’m coming with you.”
“You will stay here.”
“No, I won’t.” She advanced until they were almost nose-to-nose. “You think what you did was wrong, so you won’t defend yourself. I’m coming to make sure both sides of the story are heard.”
“You believe that Kuvac will listen to you?”
“No.” She knew how little impact the testimony of one ex-MACO corporal would make. “But I think Skon will. He’ll speak up for you.”
“I am quite capable of managing my own affairs, Amanda.”
“Really? Remind me why you’re on Earth right now.” His frown deepened and she smiled a little smugly. “I’m already part of your life, Soval. It’s too late for either of us to back out. I’m coming with you.”
He drew a quick, irritated breath and remembered that he was an expert negotiator. “We will not be entirely separated. The psychic link between us …”
Amanda shook her head firmly. “Psychic links might be good enough for Vulcans, but I’m Human: I need sex.”
They stared challengingly at each other for a few seconds then Soval’s frown relaxed, even as his mouth pulled minutely to one side. “I would not wish you to be deprived of physical gratification.”
His infamous sarcasm was in evidence, but Amanda knew he wasn’t entirely displeased at the outcome of the argument. She unfolded her arms and wrapped them around his neck instead, while she demonstrated that she wasn’t the only one who enjoyed the physical side of their relationship.
The three week journey to Vulcan was uneventful. Both Soval and Amanda slept a good deal for the first few days, then passed the remainder of the time proving that the best way to learn a second language was in bed with a native-speaker. The time certainly improved Amanda’s Vulcan, although she had little opportunity to practise on anyone but Soval. She had been pleased to find that Kornik had also been summoned to Vulcan, but he studiously ignored them, so they had few external distractions. She felt the fact that she and Soval were still talking after living in a small cabin with no change of company was a pretty good indication that they’d manage to make a life together. Then they reached Vulcan and were taken straight to Kuvac’s office.
The first minister wasn’t the only one present. Amanda recognised T’Pau and Skon, and there were half a dozen others there too, all seemingly ranged against herself and Soval. The only consolation was that Kornik was also on the wrong side of the table. Amanda planted herself at Soval’s side and met the calm gazes of the other Vulcans squarely: she was damned if she was going to be intimidated. And she was also damned if she was going to let Soval go down without a fight.
Her action didn’t go unnoticed. Kuvac turned a frowning look on her. “This hearing is internal. I will inform Ambassador Trent of the outcome in due course.”
“I’m not here to represent Earth.”
Amanda could see that Kuvac didn’t understand: evidently Vulcans didn’t gossip. “Then why are you here?”
“Because I’m Soval’s,” she hesitated, suddenly lost for a euphemism the Vulcans would understand, “friend.”
Kuvac blinked, and Skon said gently from the background, “They are lovers. T’Pau can confirm this.”
The first minister turned a doubtful look onto the young woman who nodded reluctantly. “It’s true, Kuvac. I saw them together before the Human left Vulcan.” She glared at Soval. “I believed that Soval had thought better of the relationship. It would appear that he has not.”
“I see.” Amanda wasn’t sure that Kuvac really did see, but he clearly wasn’t going to pursue a matter he found distasteful. He turned his attention onto his pair of erring ambassadors instead. “This is a serious matter.” It was a statement of the obvious, but Amanda supposed he had to start somewhere. “Kornik, what do you have to say for yourself?” Amanda brightened up at once. Perhaps Kuvac wasn’t the dithering idiot she’d thought him.
“That I was carrying out Vulcan’s policy of non-interference with regard to the Humans.” There was absolutely no inflection in Kornik’s voice.
“You did not consider referring the matter back to Vulcan?”
“I did not. The decision was clear.”
“We heard of the incident from Captain Archer.” T’Pau entered the interrogation. “This is a great embarrassment to the Vulcan people, Kornik. You acted improperly.”
“I acted in accordance with the guidance I was given. The guidance may have been at fault, but I was not.”
Amanda gritted her teeth on the urge to mutter ‘arrogant swine’; she remembered what had happened the last time she’d made a sotto voce comment in the presence of Vulcans.
“Something that will be taken into account.” Kuvac switched his gaze onto the other man with ambassadorial rank. “Soval, you had no authority to act in this matter. Yet you did. Explain yourself.”
“When I was informed of the situation, it was clear to me that Kornik was in error.” Soval’s voice was as flat as Kornik’s. Amanda wondered how long he could keep it up. “I acted to correct the error.”
“By an unofficial approach to your former colleagues.” As someone who had breached security to enter the High Command with the Kir’Shara, Amanda thought that T’Pau had no right to call Soval to task for a misdemeanour. “You should have used official channels.”
“Which were officially unavailable to me.” Amanda had known that Soval wouldn’t be able to keep the sarcasm out of his voice for long when faced with stupid questions. “Time was of the essence, T’Pau. The plague was within hours of escalating out of control.”
“Why were you on Earth, Soval?” Kuvac hadn’t given up on the questioning. “Your assignment was over.”
“The undermining of Kornik’s position?”
“He came to see me.” Amanda knew she hadn’t been asked to speak, but the First Minister seemed to be overlooking the obvious. “It was just serendipity that Soval arrived when he did.”
Kuvac turned a disbelieving look on her that she returned with a bright smile. He looked hurriedly away, possibly concerned that he might succumb to the same insanity that had clearly afflicted Soval. “I must discuss this with my colleagues. You may await our decision outside.”
Amanda had been wandering idly around the antechamber for some time when Kuvac and his cabinet emerged. She would have preferred to pass the time kissing Soval, but he’d glared at her when she’d suggested that option, so she’d ruled out anything more interesting than inspecting the decor. But his earlier disapproval didn’t stop her from taking up a defiant position at his side, or from slipping her hand through his arm. Etiquette be damned: they were together and the Vulcan government could like it or not.
Kuvac frowned at their stance and said distastefully, “Really, Soval, I must protest.”
Amanda fully expected Soval to put her to one side, but he could still surprise her. “Amanda prefers to follow Human customs. I respect her right to do so.”
Kuvac appeared to sigh. “You would try the patience of Surak himself at times, Soval.” He paused to allow Kornik, who had been waiting in a corner, to join the group, and addressed both ambassadors. “This is the decision of our government. Kornik, we accept that you acted in good faith, but you were too rigid in your interpretation of our policy towards the Humans. They require flexibility in our dealings with them. You have been removed from the post of ambassador to Earth. Soval, you acted improperly.” Kuvac didn’t seem totally reconciled to what he was about to say. “Yet we cannot condemn the outcome of your actions. We have received the thanks of Earth’s government for your intervention. Indeed,” this really seemed to shock him, “they have enquired why we saw fit to remove you from your position.” He eyed Soval for a few seconds in silence then continued. “We have decided to reinstate you as our ambassador to Earth – dependant on your scrupulous support for the policies of our government.”
“I know that, Soval.” Kuvac’s switch from the third person to the first perhaps showed a better understanding of his ambassador’s character than Amanda had so far given him credit for. “Will you continue to do so?”
“What of Amanda’s presence in my life?”
Kuvac switched his gaze onto the Human woman for a moment, then looked back at Soval. “She is non-negotiable?”
Again Kuvac considered Amanda uneasily. “Vulcan cannot acknowledge your relationship.”
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Soval frown, and reached out to him through their psychic connection. “Just agree, sweetheart.” They’d got quite good at picking up each other’s thoughts during their trip from Earth to Vulcan. “We’ll still be together. And one of us had better have a job.” He turned his head to scowl at her, and she smiled back. “They’ll change their minds eventually.”
Soval turned back to Kuvac. “Very well.”
“Then will you return to Earth?”
“Then make haste.” Kuvac’s tone very clearly stated that the need for haste was Soval’s own fault. “The Humans have arranged a conference to discuss inter-species cooperation. Even if you leave at once, you will not arrive in time for the opening ceremony.” Soval accepted the admonishment with a sarcastic inclination of his head – only Soval could make a simple gesture sarcastic - and Kuvac swept away, followed by most of his cabinet, although Skon and T’Pau remained behind.
The Vulcan woman looked from Soval to Amanda and back again before speaking. “We have much to do to understand the impact of the Kir’Shara on our society, Soval. Do you really believe that this is the time to introduce an alien amongst us?”
“I do not doubt that the Kir’Shara will change us, T’Pau.” Soval’s voice was surprisingly mild given the criticism. “But we can learn from the Humans too – as perhaps they may finally accept that they can learn from us.”
“You are a hundred years too soon.”
“Amanda and I cannot wait a hundred years.”
T’Pau did not deign to debate the matter further, simply moving away after Kuvac with a disapproving flick of her robes. Skon, however, produced a data recorder from within one of the sleeves of his robe and held it out to Amanda. “A new section of the Kir’Shara has been translated, Ms Cole. I was certain that you would find it of interest and so have translated it into English for you.”
A little surprised, she took it from him and started to flick through it, while Soval said dryly, “Does T’Pau know of this, Skon?”
“She knows. We have reached,” he left a significant pause, “an understanding.”
Soval raised a knowing eyebrow in response, then looked over at Amanda when she gasped. “What is it?”
“I think,” then she shook her head and handed him the recorder, “I’m not sure.”
“I believe your original assessment will prove correct.” Skon was amused. “I wish you peace and long life together.”
He moved gracefully away, although neither noticed. Amanda’s attention was fixed on Soval, who was frowning as he studied the recorder. “What does it mean?” she demanded after a few more seconds, and he raised his head to look a little dazedly at her, if a Vulcan could look dazed.
“That Surak believed that without a psychic connection between the two partners, a marriage was no true marriage.”
“Did you ever have a connection with M’Tek?”
“But we do?”
“So you’re not married to M’Tek. You’re married to me.”
Soval dropped his head to study the recorder again. “So it would seem.”
Amanda grinned at the unenthusiastic answer. “Don’t you want me now you’ve got me, sweetheart?”
He scowled at her. “Of course I do. But …” Again he glared at the recorder in his hand. “This will cause a good deal of disruption.”
“I guess it will.” Amanda was too pleased at that moment to care greatly. “All those couples who don’t like each other will split up, and all those who’ve been connected for years will come out of the closet. And we’ll be married!”
He shook his head. “I doubt that I will be legally free of M’Tek. The government cannot simply declare all marriages null and void, as this would imply. Future marriages will undoubtedly require some form of psychic bonding, but …”
“Hey.” Amanda took the recorder away from Soval and tossed it onto a nearby console. “I don’t care about the legal side of things.” She took his hands in a tight grip so that he couldn’t easily free himself. “But Surak would have recognised that what we have is important. Isn’t that a good thing?”
“Yes.” Soval’s eyes were a lot more loving than his brief answer. “A very good thing.”
“That’s what I thought.” She smiled widely. “Kiss me?”
He found the suggestion so distasteful that he disengaged himself and turned for the exit. Amanda strode after him. “I think we deserve a kiss. You’ve got your job back, and we’re married. That’s not bad for one morning’s work.”
“Not in public.”
“I don’t see anyone.”
“That is not the point.”
She slipped a hand into his, which he permitted although with a look that said she was treading on thin ice. “I thought you respected my right to follow Human customs.”
“The less outrageous ones, yes.”
She pulled a face at the caveat. “Admit it, sweetheart, nothing bad would happen if I kissed you in public.”
“On the contrary.” He made her wait for the explanation. “I would be forced to follow your brother’s example, and throw you into a volcano.”
Amanda was still laughing when Soval pulled her to him to demonstrate that there was something of the revolutionary in him after all.
Starfleet Garden of Remembrance, San Francisco, Earth, 6 years later
Amanda knew that her face was an expressionless mask and she also knew what people would say: that Ambassador Soval’s companion had given up her Humanity in favour of an alien culture. It wasn’t true. She was still as Human as she’d ever been, curious, affectionate and impulsive. It was hardly likely she’d change when they were some of the characteristics that had attracted Soval in the first place. But today an appearance of non-emotion, that owed more to MACO training than to Surak’s teachings, was the only way she could hide her abiding anger.
Another wave of frustrated fury threatened to engulf Amanda and she gritted her teeth, then felt Soval’s mind connect with hers: trust her Vulcan to know when she was about to explode. She welcomed him gratefully, drawing on his strength to help maintain her composure, even while she regretted the necessity. He hid it from public view, but Soval had never quite recovered from Shran’s torture, and helping her would strain his own control when he was already angry himself over Trip’s ‘death’.
“No, I’m not.” His quiet voice reached her without the need of speech, a useful upshot of a strong physic connection between a Human and a Vulcan – so useful that it had led them all here, to this official conclusion to the career of one of Starfleet’s finest engineers. “If I’m angry, it’s at your guilt, Amanda. You are not responsible for this.”
“I was the one suggested it.”
“Lt Reed would have done so if you had not. T’Pol and Commander Tucker had exploited their connection many times for Enterprise’s benefit.”
“And yet Starfleet still wouldn’t permit their relationship while they served together.”
“Not something that inconvenienced them greatly.” Soval’s mental tone was as dry as his voice could be. “Captain Archer made himself conveniently blind to their attachment.”
Amanda turned her head to view the close-knit group from Enterprise, gathered behind their captain and first officer for the last time. “Everyone must have suspected, but no one said a word. It’s sad.”
“That they were able to continue their relationship?”
“That there’ll be no official record of it.” She moved a little closer. “Two hundred years from now, everyone will believe that they split up after their baby died.”
“History is rarely an accurate reflection of reality.” Soval’s fingers wove discreetly through hers, the gesture mostly hidden by the full sleeve of his robe. “History will also report that Command Tucker died during Enterprise’s last mission.”
“And even if Trip succeeds, he won’t be able to come back as himself, will he?”
“No.” Soval’s mind was wrapped around hers as securely as his fingers held hers, comforting and supportive. “The Alliance cannot acknowledge that there were those who sought to destroy it before its charter was even signed.”
Ahead of them, the service was drawing to an end, the casket disappearing into the ground. Amanda’s teeth closed hard on her lower lip. “I could have volunteered in place of Trip. I’m just as well qualified. All that’s needed is a totally secure, non-detectable psychic link to a Vulcan.”
The flag of the newly invested Alliance that had covered the casket was handed to Mrs Tucker – an acknowledgement of her son’s contribution to the Alliance’s formation, even if he had not been there to see its charter signed. Trip’s mother was dry-eyed, proud, but Amanda could see the tears running down his father’s face. Her own eyes filled suddenly in reaction to the waste and the unfairness. The universe should be a kinder, cleaner place. Not somewhere that required one of the nicest men she’d ever known to enter into the dirty world of undercover investigations to find out who was behind the continued attempts to undermine the Alliance before it got well started. And it was all her fault.
“Enough, Amanda.” Soval spoke aloud now that the ceremony was over and the crowd breaking up into smaller groups, talking quietly together. He turned her to face him, one hand still holding hers while the other reached out to rest on the barely discernable bulge of her stomach. “You could not have volunteered.”
She nodded, swallowing more tears for the sake of their baby, who didn’t have much chance of survival, even without his mother’s self-indulgence. But they’d wanted to try, however much grief it might ultimately cost them. Trip wanted to try too, but how could you explain a baby when you were supposed to be no more than fellow officers? In her bitterest moments, Amanda wondered if that was part of the reason the engineer had accepted the assignment, with all the sacrifice it entailed. Maybe he hoped that one day, if he survived, he and T’Pol could start a new life together, one not bound by Starfleet regulations. Amanda experienced a stab of entirely selfish relief. She and Soval had had it easy compared with those two.
“Because you were willing to give up your career.”
She managed a watery smile, knowing that Soval had responded to her last thought. “Maybe I had less to lose – and more to gain.” She drew a deep breath. “I should speak to Trip’s parents.”
“I would not recommend it. You do not lie well, ashel-veh.”
“I won’t be lying.” They believed that their youngest son was dead, barely eight years after they’d lost their youngest daughter to the Xindi. She wouldn’t be lying when she told them how much she grieved for their loss. She took another steadying breath. “Let’s go mingle, sweetheart. We gotta do our bit to ensure that history doesn’t know the truth.”
And so Soval and Amanda went to play their part in a conspiracy that would remain one of the Alliance’s best-kept secrets. Why should it not when, as Amanda had once told Ferguson and Trent, Vulcans were private people? It was no concern of the inhabitants of one of Vulcan’s smaller provincial cities when, a year or so later, another Human came to live in the house on the Street of the Metal Workers where Soval and Amanda now stayed when they visited Vulcan. Nor was it the locals’ business if one of Soval’s former protégés came to reside there too. Good manners aside, there was a strictly practical reason for reticence on the subject of the new Human: he could always be relied upon to fix defective kitchen appliances, and who would risk losing such a valuable addition to the community?
A whole mess of folks have made comments
i love your stories! they are great. i hope you write a sequel to this one!!
When I saw you were back with a new story, I pounced on it with joy like a cat on a mouse! I have not finished yet but I am greatly enjoying it. It is hard to concentrate on my day job knowing the story awaits me at home. I purposely left it at home so I would not get caught reading when I am supposed to be scheduling batch computer jobs and trouble shooting failed jobs! I will make more comments later. Glad you are back SKB, what a treat!
I enjoyed this story very much. Thank you for writing it.
Oh I've so enjoyed the Amanda/Soval stories and this one is another winner. Nicely fixing the stupidity of that TNG holodeck fiction.
This bit... I lost it utterly completely and wonderfully --
Amanda held her breath for what seemed like hours, eyes focussed on the soil under her hands, until he responded just as neutrally, “Most certainly.”
She did look around then to find him staring at her, as she had known he would be. Neither was watching S’Lar to see the tears start to flow down her sunken cheeks, but both turned towards her when she whispered painfully, “I loved your father.”
Amanda saw Soval’s uncertainty then he put a hand on S’Lar’s arm. “I know, mother. Come,” he rose, helping her up, “we will meditate together.”
SKB I was so suprised to see your name listed as having a new story.I really liked your story but the last part seems to have been cut off.I was excited to see you started writing Enterprise fanfiction again.I want to ask for all the Trip and T'Pol fans would you please consider doing another series of stories dealing with Trip and T'Pol's story during season 4.Alot fans of your stories here at Hot and trektodays Trip and T'Pol's thread have been begging you to consider to do more stories of our favorite couple.It would make alot of fans of your stories very happy.
Soval and Amanda both seem gentler in this story, less rough around the edges. I like the longer build up in their relationship that you give them. Also the scenes on Vulcan are so vivid, we see more of the landscape and townscape and inside houses. I loved the line from the child “what’s wrong with your ears”. How true of children to be so frank. And that Vulcans need less to eat than Humans makes sense as their bodies must conserve nutrients in a harsh environment. It is nice to see different Vulcan personalities developed such as Skon and Kuvak. The effect of the change in philosophy on Vulcans as seen in the personal conflict which approaches suicide, was a great idea to explore. Soval’s reason for changing careers was extremely interesting. Your story had so many facets that it really gives the complexity of a real world. It makes me hope there really are Vulcan-like aliens out there!
It is ok with me if you think you have borrowed ideas from others, consciously or unconsciously. We are fleshing out a culture here, sort of our own canon in fan fiction. I have assumed things about Vulcan culture and I don’t remember where they came from: the canon of the movies and series, the fan fiction, the published books. I know I have borrowed from you the idea of Amanda trying to spike Soval’s hair. That is just hilarious! I like the interactive creativity in the fan fiction – writers being inspired by each other.
Right now I am finishing up a Soval and Amanda story that I would like to submit to the Pocket Books ‘Strange New Worlds’ contest. I was concerned about submitting it because pairing Soval and Amanda was originally your idea, not mine. Would submitting the story be ok? I could email you a copy of it because I won’t be putting it on Soval’s Annex until it gets rejected by the contest (or accepted and published). I should be positive about this even though there are probably a thousand entries! There is some question that putting a story out on a web site might invalidate it as an entry in the contest. I emailed a Pocket Books editor with the question and got what Myst and Bucky think is too ambiguous an answer.
I think we both came to the same conclusion that Soval’s relationship with Amanda would not be accepted publicly by the powers that be on Vulcan. In my story I was trying to explain why Spock considered himself the first Vulcan-Human hybrid and still give Soval and Amanda a child or two. It is an interesting puzzle to solve!
Please don’t go away again. It is great to be so eager to get off work so I can get home to read a new SKB story!
This is my first time reading any fic that had Soval as a main character. I was wary at first, thinking it probably wouldn't hold my interest...WRONG! I am delighted with the story; I really enjoyed how you brought the two characters together. This is a pairing I would never have thought of, and it works surprisingly well. I also liked how you borrowed lines from some of the episodes....didn't bother me at all.
BTW, one comment?? North Americans (I'm Canadian) would never say, 'I cleaned my teeth".
Thank you sooooo much for writing a new story! I adore your fics. And this is another winner. Very, very good!
I pretty much never stray out of the Trip/T'Pol fanfiction, but I must say that your story (thanks to the link in the T/T fanfiction page) utterly sucked me in!
Well done, it was beautiful. Just as HopefulRomantic has made me fall in love with Lorian, you have made me fallin love with Soval.
The end, of course, was extremely poignant to me and brought me to tears. Thank you for that.
I finally finished your story I liked Soval and Amanda in your Story.How complex Vulcan Culture is and how the Ki'Shara turnred everything upside down.I hope you'll consider Writing more Trip and T'Pol stories like how they planned Trip's Disapearence and T'Pol living together on Vulcan your ending Screams sequel for these two to continue..Your Vulcans remind alot of how Diane Duane or Susan Schwarts &Josepha Sherman portray Vulcans in their books.I hope too you won't disappear again you were sorely missed from not having new stories from you.Here's to more stories from you soon please.
Eeeeeeexcellent (steeples fingers in manner reminiscent of Mr. Burns). Great stuff, and even though I've always thought that Amanda and Soval were one of the oddest couples ever thought up in the world of fan fiction, I LOVE what you people can do with them! Bravo! And nice hat tip to TATV at the end, well done! :)
Here I Am... up after 10:30 (I NEVER stay up this late!) because I had to finish this story. This is the very first Soval/Amanda story that I've ever read. I've heard they were out there, but I always thought it was rather a creepy pairing... kinda smacks of cradle robbing. Nothing could be further from the truth. This story was terrific, and then we get a little TnT lagniappe. Will you write their story too? I'd love to read it.
Ditto on what everyone else said. I usually have probelms reading May-December romances, but Soval and Amanda seem to work and is not "icky" to me. I also love how you inadvertenly fixed the finale also. I too hope for a sequel, at least to see if Amanda's pregnancy is successful.
Actually Scarletwitch, Soval and Amanda are not the tipical May-December romance if you consider the Vulcan lifespan. Soval and Amanda have about the same lifespan ahead of them. I think that works better than a young Vulcan and a young Human, because the Vulcan will loose his Human partner in early middle age. How sad.
I was thrilled to see a new story from ShouldKnowBetter, and delighted to find it was another luxuriously long and satisfying read. I've stayed up way past my bedtime to finish it in one sitting! I loved every word of it -- and now I'm hoping the reference to Trip entering the "dirty world of undercover investigation" is a teaser and means another SKB story is underway!
Thanks, Linda. You're right. I was not thinking. I actually like some parings that "touch" in this catagory (i.e. O'Neill/Carter).
I haven't been on Trip/T'Polers in quite some time, but I got a real treat with your story. It was like I was reading "Spock's World" or "Sarek" all over again. The Vulcan/Human interaction was superb. Bravo, and much applause to someone who should be hailed as much as A.C. Crispin, Diane Duane, and the lovely writers of "Vulcan's Forge" and "Vulcan's Heart", etc. whose names I can't recall.
I laughed and giggled out loud, sometimes in amusement, sometimes in pure delight. I sighed at the romance, and felt miserable at the angst. Bravo, Bravo, Encore! One of my all-time favorite stories. Thank you ever so much for gracing us with your talents.
I just read this for the second time and I've decided that it is at the top of my list of favorite fics. I have no doubt that I will be reading it again and again in the future.
I find it particularly appealing because it answers some of my questions regarding Sarek/Amanda relationship, which I found both intriguing and baffling. Why would a Vulcan such as Soval (and Sarek) be attracted to a human and vice versa. You have superbly answered that question.
I hope that there will be more stories in the future from you. I've read all of your work and it's been interesting to see how your skills have truly become honed. You have excellent plots. (My personal favorite aside from this one being the Daybreak series.)
Anyway, excellent work! And to quote little Oliver: "Please, [ma'am], I want some more!"
SKB I always enjoy your stories. Once again you have portrayed these characters in such a sensitive way that it is hard to stop reading. Well Done! Please be encouraged to continue in something that you do so well and provides such pleasure to others.
You are so gifted!! When it comes to Enterprise fic, I'm pretty dedicated to TnT pairings. One of my few exceptions are your Soval/Amanda stories. You sucked me in with your "Casablanca" universe and now I can't get enough of your bitter old Vulcan and his MACO lover.
Your stories are so well crafted, you manage to balance plot, humor, and emotion so well. And this time out you even managed a finale fix (even though neither Trip nor T'Pol said a word!). Well done. I would love to read what happened to Trip during his year undercover. Any chance of that ever seeing the light of day? Inquiring minds want to know! :-)
Another brilliant fic, thank u soo much for writing and posting so we cud all read it. utterly fantabulous i hope there is a sequel or at least more fabulous stories of this pairing. p.s luv all ur other stuff aswell.
This is the tenth time that I've read this story. I just felt the need to say that this is a phenomenal fic.
I really hope that you'll write more. You've made Soval, a character that I once hardly noticed, so compelling that he's become my favorite... upon reviewing the series once more.
Thank you for that!
This is by far my favourite story on house of tucker. The writing is brilliant and so descriptive. I like other readers just keep coming back to it. Its like my comfort food of stories :o)
I would love if you could write a sequel to this as I believe there is plenty more for these characters out there but I guess the ending really is the ending!