Even as he stepped over the threshold of the big, old ShiKarii house, his home for most of his six and a half years, Spock heard Sarek declare sombrely, "Such behaviour cannot be tolerated."
"I agree, Husband. The situation seems to be an impossible one," Amanda replied, using the soothing manner she employed whenever Sarek was specifically disturbed.
Spock paused in the cool hallway, head tilted, listening intently to their conversation. With his small body tensed for flight - for he had learned early to avoid Sarek when in that state of mind - his agile brain hastily reviewed his many recent indiscretions - any of which might now be under discussion. For it was, undoubtedly, that tone of voice. Wishing to be prepared, he continued to eavesdrop attentively, wondering what he could possibly have done that was so appalling. Maybe it was something to do with the meeting Sarek had requested with Master Shaanak, his teacher, that morning. Although Spock accepted that his schoolwork rarely measured up to Sarek's exacting standards, he was convinced that it had not deteriorated enough to be deemed intolerable even by his father. So, if not schoolwork, what else could have distressed Sarek to such an extent?
Again his father's stentorian tones rumbled out into the hallway, "---totally incomprehensible, Amanda!"
Having already heard far too much for his peace of mind, employing all the stealth and cunning of a hunting le-matya, Spock edged past the archway that led into the siokan where his parents were talking, and scuttled up the stairs to his own apartment. The chaos he had left there earlier that day confronted him as soon as the door whooshed shut behind him.
Perplexed, he stared in growing despondency at the scatter of metal, crystal, and plastic components that littered the floor. He recognised the various bits of shiny machine parts with almost a guilty start as he remembered with what ease he had appropriated the mechanical food server from it's niche in the sai'en and dismantled it in a fit of childish curiosity only a few short hours ago. Could the server's disappearance be the reason for Sarek's disapproval? The thought made him apprehensive and fretful as he tried to neaten the room once more. However, the little piles he shuffled together looked even messier, and twice as incriminating, as they had done before. Somehow he lacked his mother's flair for making everything look so neat and smooth as she did when she briskly shook things out and put them away into the chasulh, the large wooden trunk standing against the wall.
He inclined his head as the muted voices of his parents increased in volume once more. Although he could hear little of their conversation, he easily caught the note of censure in the air. More often than not when he was under discussion, they would take opposing views, one attacking, and one defending him. Hardly ever, in his limited experience, had they both sided unanimously against him at the same time.
Abruptly downcast, he wandered over to the unshuttered window arch and peered down through the deepening twilight into the dense, wild undergrowth that surrounded this side of the house. Despite the fading light, his excellent night vision easily picked out his favourite spot among the thrusting stems and twining creepers, a secret domain that he shared only with Ee-chiya, the families pet sehlat. He had found the spot a perfect hiding place, one that he had escaped to often, especially when he needed to disappear from the derision and taunts of his taller, stronger peers. Or his father! Now, although the appealing allure of the sweet smelling jungle beckoned him as usual, he resisted the temptation to run and hide. That was the behaviour of a child, not of a youth expected to establish his worthiness in the kahs-wan ordeal, the upcoming manhood rite undertaken by all seven-year-old boys.
Spock drew in a muted breath. He had begun to suspect that it was not just one misdemeanour that had sparked off Sarek's irritation, but his entire record of petty misdeeds, emotional outbursts, and the indefensible conflagrations between himself and the other local boys that, more often than not, took place in public. His father's prodigious memory might even have delved back to the time when Spock had propped open the garden gate, allowing Ee-chiya to follow the unsuspecting Sarek to the Science Academy. The old sehlat, Sarek was not slow in pointing out to his delinquent son, had proceeded to cause mayhem among the quietly industrious laboratories and debating halls before he could be suitably restrained.
Turning from the window, Spock paced aimlessly, trying not to hear the words that came vaguely to him from the low rumble of sound below: "short-sighted", "completely inexplicable", and once again that ominous word "intolerable".
Perhaps Master Shaanak had conveyed the opinion to Sarek that his young son was apt to have an embarrassing tendency to forget what logic he had miserably learned and react more with raw emotion than good judgement. His temper, Spock knew, was short, and his ability to control it marginally shorter - a fact that left him disgraced and totally at the mercy of his classmates. However, his many troubles at school resulted mostly from his major confusion over which path to follow. It was no easy task to make the choice wholely between Tehr'n and Vulkhanir - and to merge the two successfully had proved beyond his prowess so far. He was afraid to show the qualities that marked him indelibly as an Earther - and yet to submerge his pride in his mother's birthright came equally as hard. Yet, the time of the kahs-wan was only a few months distant. Determined by whether he was victorious or suffered ignominious defeat, his father would require a decision from him, a decision that would have implications for the rest of his life.
He sighed heavily again, too agitated to settle on any of his usual pastimes, sensing a terrible fate about to descend. He stooped half heartedly, picked up an electronic book, a reproduction of Alice in Wonderland that lay among the discarded machinery parts, a story that never usually failed to divert or entertain. However, the closely displayed script swam before his agitated gaze. He put the padd down and rose to his feet, searching for adequate distraction from his worried thoughts. Atop the chasulh, several tapered batons were stacked. Spock picked up three of the lead- weighted, wooden clubs and began to juggle them hand to hand, tossing each one up into the air in a calculated pattern. He caught them as they fell, feeling the smoothness of the sher'skah snap firmly against his palms. Grabbing another club, Spock worked it into the configuration before reaching for the fifth and last baton. The clubs tumbled and flew, perfectly synchronized, precisely aligned; a skill that required dexterity of hand and eye. Many Vulkhanir possessed and practiced the ability, his father among them, though Sarek threw the spinning crescent shaped blades of the lirash, the ceremonial fighting staff, used once, long ago, for hand to hand combat. Even with the batons, it took concentration and, after a moment or two, Spock felt himself relax into the whirling motion, seeking and finding a sense of balance that he had missed since arriving home.
The solemn pulse of the chochin, a tranquil summons to the evening meal, caught him unprepared. With peremptory thoroughness, he cleansed his hands and face, changed quickly into a fresh kibr and matching sirwal, smoothing the rich material absently as he considered his next move. He could saunter down to the lanai as if nothing were amiss and hope that his presence would silence any further talk about him. On the other hand, Spock considered with a quickening heart, Sarek might conceivably be so exasperated that he waived normal etiquette and mere bravado would only aggravate the situation.
He pondered thoughtfully and concluded that the more efficient strategy of divide and rule would provide the solution to the quandary. It was a tactic he had only recently learned and successfully employed at odd times, especially against his chief tormentors, Sepek a youth of his own age, and the younger Sofek, who nonetheless still surpassed Spock in height and weight by three inches and ten pounds. However, he wisely decided, neither Sarek nor Amanda could ever in any circumstance be compared with the boys at school. A more conciliatory approach would better serve, perhaps! Or, maybe, he should evaluate the situation as it occurred and, as M'aih might well say, play it by ear!
He stifled a nervous giggle at the odd Earth-saying, mentally envisioning a pointed ear industriously plucking away at his father's lyrette, an image that fortified his flagging spirit at least to the foot of the stairs. However, all sign of mirth was gone as he stepped through the arch that led into the main room of the house and took his place at the low table, set now with a varied menu prepared by his mother.
"Good evening, M'aih," he nodded dutifully in Amanda's direction. "A'nirih, good evening, sir."
Sarek inclined his head in greeting but there was a noticeable frown etched between his deep-set eyes.
"We are honoured that our son is so gracious to attend at last," he said in a pleasant, well-modulated baritone, a tone of voice that boded only danger. "May I enquire what kept thee so long in thy room? Not schoolwork, by the reports I have heard recently."
Spock's heart immediately took a nose-dive but he resisted the impulse to glance over at Amanda as she stoically served the evening meal without benefit of the appropriated server, oblivious, it appeared, of yet another confrontation between father and son.
"No, A'nirih. I regret my unpunctuality. I was meditating and did not realise the time." It was more of a half-truth than a direct lie, Spock decided weakly, as he saw his father's impressive brows draw even closer together. After all, he had been deliberating, even if it had not been on one of the recognised T'lala sequences. He felt his mother's eyes upon him suddenly, and turned his attention to the food in his bowl, reluctant to meet her penetrating gaze. It was one thing to use subtle deception on Sarek but quite another to try to fool Amanda. Simple trust was just not one of her many sterling qualities. Spock had often concluded, privately, that his mother must have an extremely reliable early warning system where he was concerned, a built in contraption that defied all logical explanation.
"Such dedication is commendable. However, it might also prove worthwhile if applied to thy studies." Sarek said tersely and continued in a personal aside to Amanda as if Spock had suddenly become invisible. "Can thee not see how it is? The situation is quite beyond the bounds of logic."
Spock's teeth closed with a snap around the earthy tasting plomik he had just popped into his mouth. Wide-eyed, he stared at his father.
His mother nodded. "I can appreciate that the arrangement is not altogether satisfactory. Could thee not mention it to T'pau?"
The plomik, barely chewed, forced its way down Spock's constricted throat. He spluttered, coughed, and gasped for air. T'pau, was his great-grandmother and the head of the governing council. Surely, his mother was joking? But no, he remembered tremulously, Amanda never indulged in the typically Tehr'n pastime when his father was at home. Now she admonished him with a pointed glance.
Quickly he reached for his riman bowl, and swallowed a mouthful of the fruity beverage. In the conflict between common sense and utter despair, compounded by a less than innocent conscience, his lower lip started to tremble. He fought for dignity as Sarek inclined his head.
"Then the matter is settled, Wife. I admit I am pleased by thy concurrence. It will be something of a relief if T'pau takes him off my hands."
The riman bowl fell from Spock's limp fingers and crashed to the highly polished surface of the floor, shattering into a dozen fragile pieces. Two pairs of startled eyes centred on him immediately.
"Spock, what has got into thee this evening?" Amanda asked in kindly stupefaction as she bent to pick up the broken china. "Are thee unwell, child?"
"M'aih, --- I--- " His pounding heart and panicked breathing would not allow further explanation. His tongue seemed fused to the roof of his mouth and the half chewed plomik lay heavy on his stomach.
Amanda turned to Sarek as he looked at her questioningly, likewise perplexed by the gratuitous rudeness of his son.
"Well, Spock?" He asked, one eyebrow slanting upwards.
Spock gulped, the blood draining from his face, leaving it ashen and pinched. "A'nirih ---I---"
The light of comprehension dawned suddenly for Amanda as she saw the frightened expression on her son's face. "Did thee think we were talking of thee, Spock-neha?"
Amusement crinkled the corners of her eyes. "Silly boy."
Her tender laughter surrounded him solicitously as she reached out to touch him on the cheek with one cool finger.
"But my schoolwork." He managed to say at last, "The mechanical server---!"
Sarek's lips curved in a flicker of tolerant amusement. His large hand was a reassurance as he laid it fleetingly on the head of his small son. "Don't be absurd, child. Thy mother and I were discussing the problems arising from the appointment of my new aide."
"Thy father," Amanda added thoughtfully, "feels he will be unable to work successfully with such a staunch critic of Tehr'n ---"
"Amanda!" Sarek warned firmly. But Spock was listening no longer; such was the bittersweet relief and joy that washed over him in a sudden liberating wave. Of course as he considered the conversation, it was obvious they had not been talking about him, he saw that clearly now. T'pau indeed! He repressed a grin. How could he have been so illogical? Moreover, he had blabbed unnecessarily about the server. He glanced surreptitiously at his father but Sarek was deep in serious conversation with Amanda once more. He could reconstruct it and sneak it back into the sai'en without anyone noticing. There was a small but inherent fault he had discovered that, if fixed, would make it work even better than before.
Inwardly comforted by the thought, he studied both his mother and father with fascinated awe.
Parents, would he ever, completely, understand them?