Turning Point

From the moment of first awakening, the day proved unsettling for Spock. Lessons had ended the previous evening, the junior students dismissed, and the deserving seniors presented with their ribbons of honour. The following day his parents would arrive to attend a short ceremony, followed by the end of year concert where each alumnus played a part. After which a new life would begin.

Until the next term started, s'choli'on, the halls of learning at Chin'ohr, would echo only with the steps of Principal T'suung, Master Sijek, and all the rest of the teachers who resided there year round.

Spock, his sparse possessions packed into a carry-bag ready for departure, acknowledged his abrupt restlessness by retreating to his favourite spot in the school gardens. Choosing a bench at random, he sank down upon the sun warmed stone and lifted his face to the orange sky burning far above, aware of the riot of symmetrical, purple, ysleta blooms and white, shmaru vines, scenting the still air with a haunting fragrance. He remembered when he had first attended the halls of learning nine years before; the trunk of those vines had been thicker than his two hands joined finger to finger. Now it was easier for him to span. The shmaru, or moonflower, was said to be older even than T'pau, his great grandmother, who had also studied at s'choli'on in her time. The vine, however, was still not as old as the stone flags of the cloistered walk, the walls of which it now decorated with luminous beauty. None really knew how old the halls were; some parts had been standing even before the rise of Surak when the whole of Vulcan culture had transformed. Spock thought of that time without comprehension, unable to imagine the assured and serene Vulkhanir as violent, bloodthirsty savages. Yet, long centuries ago they had waged war upon each other, glorying in unbridled emotion that had almost wiped out their species.

He sighed imperceptibly, reaching for the thin blue ribbon that fluttered at the shoulder of his kibr. It was a singular honour, a mark of distinction, an indication that his teachers did not believe he had wasted his time of study there. Yet, he knew it as a sign of failure. Whatever he might achieve, however hard he might strive, nothing he did would be enough to satisfy those who would continually look at him and see Human not Vulcan. Unconsciously, Spock's fingers tightened on the honour at his shoulder, pleating the fine cloth of his tunic and crumpling the azure streamers beneath his hand. In the face of Principal T'suung's condescension, the ribbon was merely sand in the wound of his humiliation. It had been given because he was Sarek's half-human son. Nothing less than a blue would have done to save Sarek from indignity, but to have given him anything more would have discredited those truly Vulkhanir students who had shared the many years of learning with him.

Spock closed his eyes, hands balling into fists with shame. Why could they not accept him as he was, he wondered inwardly. Had he not chosen his true path as a child, forsaking his Human side?

He had striven to be more Vulcan than any there, quelling harshly even the smallest trait, denying that part of him he knew existed just beneath the surface of his mind and thought. However, Principal T'suung had rejected his efforts. She had never wanted him at s'choli'on he knew, and only bowed to the inevitable when T'pau had intervened.


He opened his eyes to find Sepek walking towards him, a handsome youth of the same age, two inches taller, and with a marked self-assurance that Spock had often privately envied. He too, wore a coloured ribbon at his shoulder, deep gold in hue, that distinquished him as an outstanding alumnus. Sepek had, no doubt, already been offered a place at the Science Acadamy.

Uncurling his fingers, Spock allowed his tense shoulders to relax, and willed his heart to assume a steadier beat. By the time Sepek reached him, his face was its usual disciplined mask, his thoughts likewise under control. In much earlier days, Sepek, among others, had been a persistant childhood tormenter, but while at Chin'ohr he had come to be one of Spock's greatest friends.

"So, this is where thee hides, basking like a kifua on a rock," the young Vulkhanir said calmly. "And thy father waiting in Master Sijek's apartment."

"My father? Already?" Spock straightened abruptly. "But he was not to arrive until tomorrow."

"Is it not a Tehr'n custom for a child to receive gifts on its conception day?" Sepek offered. "And this is a day for double celebration, neh?"

"Gifts are offered on the anniversary of a child's birth!" Spock corrected automatically, shying away from the mention of his mixed blood in any context. But it was true he had forgotten that this day should have been one of dual remembrance. Swiftly he pulled at his tunic, straightened the folds of his kilt.

Sepek's winged brow rose. "Leave that. There is no time for such minutiae -''

Then he caught sight of the ribbon decorating Spock's shoulder. He reached out, briefly touched the fluttering strands. "What is this? A blue, but -- "

Spock refused to show his mortification, even to Sepek. "Principal T'suung believes my dissertation is false."

"False? But how can that be," Sepek protested. "We tested the hypothesis together."

"Instead of arriving at my conclusions through reason and logic, she says that I must have experienced what Tehr'ns call a hunch. A flash of inspiration."

"But the premise was sound?" Sepek persisted.

"Indeed. However, it is not always the case that end results justify the means, Sepek-dhuan."

Sepek inclined his head. "What will thee tell Sarek?"

Spock's eyes hooded. "What else but the truth? I have failed in my father's expectations."

And only pride stopped him from adding, as I have always done.

Spock was aware of his friend's supportive glance as he entered the cloister once more, hurrying purposefully towards the great double doors that barred his passage into the inner sanctum of Master Sijek's residence, shared with half a dozen of the other teachers and their families, linked through alliance and blood-ties. Entry here was strictly by summons alone and Spock assumed a stiff formality as he reached for the decorative panel inserted into the doorframe. There was a moment's pause before half of the door swung slowly open, giving Spock time to detach the blue ribbon from his shoulder. The next moment the vivid green gaze of Mistress T'pelah, Sijek's daughter, met his own.

"So, thee is here at last, child. Hurry now, they father is waiting." Her voice was soft, calm, almost kindly, as she ushered him forward into the cool depths of corridor beyond the entrance door. Spock followed her in silence as both their sandaled feet made quiet slapping sounds on the stone tiles, his mind on hold, the honour still gripped lightly in his palm. He could hear his heart thudding in his side, the rush of blood through his temples, while his oesophagus constricted around some obstruction abruptly buried deep within his throat.

The school and teacher's apartments, like many ancient, Vulcan structures were formed in the shape of hollow rectangles, each with its own garden courtyard surrounded by a double tier of shaded arcades from out of which opened various classrooms and dormitories, meeting halls and refectories. From the outside, all that could be seen was a two-storey high wall, indented by slit windows heavily barred with stone lattices that once had more than just a decorative purpose. Behind the thickness of four-foot walls, the muted noise of the city was distant and remote; ochre-coloured light filtered down from the high-placed windows and the wide hallway was noticeably chilly after the searing heat outside. The large and heavy doors to the teacher's retreat stood open as they approached. Both T'pelah and Spock inclined their heads in respect to the asenoi that inhabited a corner of the room, the plinth with its shadowy beast-like form lit from below by the glowing coals kept permanently alight in the shallow fire pot. Then, far too soon for Spock's liking, they were before the threshold of the reception room where Sarek waited.

Inside the room, Tela'at Sijek turned unhurriedly to watch the tall and slender youth approach. Back straight, with a way of moving that was faintly reminiscent of the gangling pace of a charah foal, there was a controlled power about him, an awkward grace, that had constantly reminded the old teacher of the boy's mixed parentage.

"Thee sent for me, Master?" He gave the respectful half-bow with which the students approached their mentors, then knelt quickly before both Sijek and his father Sarek, dark eyes beneath the winged brows assuming a wary neutrality.

The old man gazed at the boy, unable to subdue the ironic twitch that pulled at his patrician lips. To be a teacher of the young was to learn tolerance, and this certain child had been his own personal instructor! The head that now bowed in submissive deference to his undoubted age and acknowledged wisdom had not always showed such courtesy. In a human school, perhaps, Spock's behaviour might have been seen as exemplary, but to the Vulcan tutors at Chin'ohr he appeared embarrassingly emotional and unruly. Unlike his peers, he had never accepted anything at face value. He would question any new knowledge or information against his own inimitable logic profile and, if he found that data wanting, he would pursue the matter ad infinitum. His relationship with many of the tutors had not been a peaceful one and, in the early years particularly, there had been discord among his classmates. Yet, despite all the difficulties, Spock had proved to be a brilliant scholar, gifted in a way and beyond any child he had previously taught.

"I see thee is ready to leave us, Spock." Sijek reached out with an age-worn hand to briefly touch the dark head, almost a gesture of affection.

The boy stood, shoulders squared and hands behind his back as he met his teacher's earnest gaze "That is so, Master."

Already, Sijek noted, he had replaced the regulation tunic and kilt with a simply cut kibr and shintiyan of his own that emphasized his wiry slimness. The dark hair, though clean and cut in the usual style, had been allowed to grow rather longer than required. It was a small rebellion, but rebellion none the less, and proclaimed Spock's birthright however diligently he tried to mask it.

Neither did Sijek miss the absence of the honour ribbon given out that morning. Spock had not overlooked T'suung's calculated slight, which the Principal had meant as a slur against Sarek as much as his son. Sarek had broken Tradition by marrying a woman from Tehr'a. He had, furthermore, spurned the offer of T'suung's own illustrious Family, to do so. T'suung, apparently, had never forgotten the incident, though rumours at the time suggested that Sarek's actions had not perturbed T'pau, matriarch of Ansh'oine t'Shikaaru and also head of the ruling council, quite as much as that venerable Lady had publicly avowed.

Spock was such a strange, compelling child, so different from any other, but with a promise of future greatness that could equal - or possibly surpass - that of their common ancestor Surak, Father of all they had become. Could this child be capable of changing their course as the One had done? Was it illogical to believe that this son of a Vulcan father and a Human mother could somehow become a bridge to a greater alliance between such two dissimilar peoples?

Time would tell, of course. In the meantime, he knew that the interview between father and son would not be an easy one. Sarek had high expectations; ones that T'suung might have effectively nipped in the bud by her ill will. Spock also was an unknown force. Certainly, devastated by T'suung's latest cruelty he had not yet had the opportunity to consider what her action might ultimately mean for his future on Vulkhanir. Sijek observed the boy's wary expression, the defiance Spock supposed hidden behind the indifferent mask his young face assumed, and wondered if the child could possibly still surprise them all.

He glanced at his daughter T'pelah who waited only for his sign. Sijek inclined his head and she bowed to their visitor. "May we offer thee some refreshment after thy journey?"

Sarek bowed in return. "That would be welcome."

Spock broke the expectant silence as the two teachers left them, his lips stiff with apprehension. "I must apologise for keeping thee waiting, A'nirih."

"I was not expected until tomorrow," Sarek replied. A tall, broad-shouldered Vulcan in his middle eighties, he wore darkly formal anjalha, sirwal, and kibr that pronounced his rank beyond the need for any overt decoration or honorific. His eyes, keen and speculative, missed nothing about his son or the way in which Tela'at Sijek had greeted him. "However, thy mother thought it more fitting if I attended the school a day earlier."

"M'aih has not accompanied thee?" Spock asked and hopefully masked the feeling of regret he felt when Sarek answered in the negative. Confessing childhood transgressions and failures had always been easier in Amanda's presence.

"She will attend the graduating ceremonies tomorrow as planned." Sarek continued. "In the meantime she sends appropriate greetings for the occasion. Happy birthday, Spock."

So, Sepek was right. His father merely wished to honour this personal commemorative day and had not been summoned by T'suung. It made the situation in a way both easier and more difficult. For now Spock himself would have to provide the explanations. He accepted the small package Sarek handed to him. Wrapped exquisitely in tshekin, a soft, silky plant fibre that clung to itself, he knew instantly that the gift giving was not entirely Amanda's idea. But that knowledge only made Spock more ill at ease.

Vulcans did not celebrate birthdays. To them it was an illogical concept to remember the day of one's birth, though gifts were often exchanged on days of special achievement. However, his father had always marked this special anniversary even when he had worked off planet. Spock could not remember a time when a unique gift had not appeared to surprise him with his father's thoughtfulness and generosity.

At last, the gift was revealed. Spock held it in reverent hands; his fingers steady only by a supreme act of will. The blue porcelain bowl was a masterpiece of craftsmanship, so delicate that he could see his skin shining through the semi-transparent china. It was a rare treasure, centuries old, and for a moment, he stared down at it in wonderment. Then he raised his eyes to Sarek's face, a little surprised by the continued firmness of his voice.

"I cannot accept this, A'nirih."

Sarek remained serene. "It is not to thy liking?"

"The bowl is without imperfection." Spock murmured. Not even a fool could miss the fact that it was the work of Ehiozekhq, a pre-reformation artist and of incalculable value, both intrinsic and pecuniary. "But I am undeserving of such a presentation."

"Should not thy mother and I be the judge of what is, or is not, appropriate for our son?"

Spock's fingers tightened infinitesimally about the fragile porcelain before he met his father's inquisitive gaze. He would not shirk his responsibility. It was time to speak out against Sarek's plans for him. Inwardly, he shuddered before plunging on, knowing the danger of quicksand beneath his feet. His hands were cold, his mouth dry, and the pulse in his temple beat unsteadily. "I will not be taking a place at the Science Academy, A'nirih."

Sarek's face remained immobile, but Spock had long since learned the Vhosh'anta Way of how to read the tiniest signs of body language. This moment reminded him of countless other times, duplicate scenes from childhood when he transgressed and received punishment. Not a physical reproof, that was hardly logical. No, retribution came in the form of guilt, engendered by his father, reinforcing the awareness that behaviour such as he displayed was not that expected of a true Vulkhanir. He remembered the anniversary of his seventh year particularly when, once again, Sarek had witnessed his son fighting in the street. Although not specifically Spock's fault, he had taken the blame. It was after that particular interview that the need to prove his worth was first born. Failure to live up to the harsh demands of Vulkhanir standards and principles had meant only one thing; he could not be a true Vulcan.

"Shall we sit down?"

Spock automatically complied with what amounted to a command. Father and son faced each other from two low floor stools set on each side of the long windows open to the cloister walk and the Master's garden beyond. A hot breeze plucked devilishly at the knife folds of Spock's kilt and Sarek's wide sleeves; the heady fragrance of ysleta and tsinan blooms wafting into them from outside. In the shade of the opposite arcade, Spock recognised the bondmate of one of the lesser tutors, eyes staring unseeingly into space as she meditated in the silent tranquillity of deserted schoolrooms and the deep quiet of that special place. But Spock could not avoid Sarek's intense scrutiny for long, although he set himself to motionless in silent defiance of his father's remorseless intent. It became a duel of wills, of who would break the silence first.

But T'pelah eventually shattered the taut atmosphere, bringing with her the promised refreshment. She set the tray down on the black lacquered table positioned near at hand, her green gaze rueful as she glanced from one to the other of them. Without a word, she accepted their thanks, and departed, no doubt appreciative that she did not have to mediate.

As soon as the door closed once more, Spock picked up the waiting flask of sheekuya and poured the amber liquid into one of the tiny bowls T'pelah had placed beside it. "Will thee take wine with me, A'nirih?"

Sarek's eyebrow arched but he inclined his head in agreement and Spock offered the poured beverage with both hands, his right forefinger and thumb delicately holding the bowl out while the little finger on his left hand added extra stability. His every movement was formal, ritualistic, the small drinking ceremony giving the both of them time to reflect. Sarek took the bowl and raised it in approbation before lifting it to his lips. He sipped slowly, appreciating the sheekuya's colour and aroma along with its taste as the cool liquid swirled over his tongue. He offered the bowl back and Spock bowed his head before repeating his actions, again serving his father. Only then did he pour wine into his own bowl.

For a time they sat on in silence, allowing the slight tranquillizing properties of the sheekuya to soothe them both. When at last Sarek addressed his son, he was in complete control once more, his voice soft and composed. Spock's vigilance intensified.

"Eleven years ago, thee decided to follow Vulcan philosophies instead of less demanding Tehr'n traditions. I advised thee at that time that once on the chosen path it would be difficult to turn back. Are thee now intent on rejecting that advice?"

Spock, who had not had time to extract reason from his jumbled thoughts, now groped for words to logically explain to his father what lay at the root of his decision not to attend the Science Academy. True, the blue ribbon award would not exclude him from entry, but T'suung's ungentle accusation of using intuition in his work instead of pure logic had struck a nerve, for it was an accusation that he could not entirely refute.

"I have never regretted my choice. I am not Human." He hesitated, knowing he must sound desperate to his father, wishing that he had the dignity of age to add significance to what he so badly wanted to say. "But neither am I fully Vulkhanir."

"On that we are agreed." Sarek's tone was mildly astringent, but it was obvious that he had switched to ambassadorial mode and inclined to diplomacy, at least for the moment!

Spock inclined his head, seeking clarity amidst the fog of his bewildered thoughts. "I have -- not always been content with my self-control, A'nirih."

Shame-faced he readily admitted his lack of restraint. He breathed deeply, aware of how much his Human temperament, the traitorous force inherited from his mother's people, was in evidence. "Even now, raw emotion fights to gain mastery over me. Will it always be so? And what will happen in the future if that Tehr'n part of me is seen to be stronger?"

"I am aware that control has never come easily to thee, Spock. Perhaps a time of contemplation -- "

"I must visit Tehr'a, Father."

Sarek's total lack of expression pinpointed his shock. "Thee will do nothing of the sort."

Spock's long fingers clasped at his bare knees as he leaned forward. "Is it not logical to face what I am?"

"To my mind this talk has every appearance of self-indulgence. Thee is a Vulkhanir."

"Indeed I am, A'nirih. Nor can I truly admit that I wish to leave. This is my home. Yet how can I stay when those with influence (and also those without!) will not accept me?" Reluctantly, he released his hold on the crumpled honour and gave it to Sarek. "This is Principal T'suung's judgment. But she is not alone."

Sarek turned the honour over in his hand, his face stern. "T'suung has reasons of her own for animosity. It does not concern thee."

Spock repressed the anxiety that threatened to tie his tongue into knots. He dared not show any weakness in front of his father. None-the-less, the temptation to accept Sarek's reassurance, to ask forgiveness in the face of his temerity, was very strong.

"How can that be?" He asked with a certain degree of scepticism that Master Sijek would have recognised immediately. "Principal T'suung is highly regarded. Is that not the reason the most gifted and able of all Vulcan's progeny attend the Halls of learning at Chin'ohr?"

"Indeed, it is one of the reasons, certainly. T'suung, and the other members of her Family, have proved themselves worthy of producing the finest of our scholers, musicians, and poets."

"And most, if not all, of those previous scholers now hold posts of significance throughout Vulkhanir society? As thee does, A'nirih."

Sarek's left eyebrow flared upward. "And thee believes T'suung will sway them to her way, prejudice them against thee?" Sarek rose to his feet and stood looking out at the rioting foliage that basked in the late afternoon heat.

He turned to face Spock once more, his eyes contemplative. "It is a possibility, but not one I will entertain. And if thee is truly my son, thee will have the strength and determination to overcome such a predicament."

Spock felt sudden, overwhelming antagonism as he stared back at his father for the first time seeing the situation with a precision that had been missing until that moment. He was d'mallu bait merely to prove Sarek had not acted irrationally when he took a Human woman for his wife. The reasons for that action were still shrouded in mystery for Spock but obviously, as the first and so far only, Vulcan/Human hybrid, there would be many eyes watching him, and not merely on this world. His thoughts raced chaotically as he sought a solution, knowing that in any event he could not remain on Vulkhanir alert to the reality of being some sort of laboratory specimen constantly under scrutiny, a concept he abhorred. With a supreme effort, he reined in his indignation and stood, meeting Sarek's sombre, awesome gaze without flinching.

"I intend to apply for a post in the Tehr'n Starfleet, A'nirih." It was not an entirely new preference, merely one he had never seriously considered until that moment. "Only by observing Humans themselves can I hope to detect and confine that part of me -- "

Sarek, apparently completely astounded, stared at his son without comprehension. "Starfleet? Have I misheard, child? Thee is prepared to disregard thy duty, go against all logic, and ignore the honour of the Family - to join Starfleet?"

"A'nirih, I do not wish to cause thee any distress, that is not my intention. Can thee not respect my choice, even if it is not to thy taste? I cannot remain here until I prove to myself that I am a true Vulkhanir."

"And thee hopes to do that among Humans?"

"Among Tehr'ns I will be just another Vulcan. Not a Human dressed in a Vulcan skin."

"I believe there is a flaw in that argument. No, I will not tell thee where it lies. That is for thee alone to find. Understand only that there is no easy route to self-knowledge. That will come only in time, whether thee is Human or Vulcan. But I caution thee, Spock, not all Humans will be as wise as thy mother. Thee may seek enlightenment and find only prejudice. It is not just a Vulkhanir failing. Are thee certain Starfleet is the answer?"

"I am."

Employing a singularly moderate tone, Sarek stated, "Thee is, of course, prepared to support thyself in this endeavour without my assistance."

At the statement, Spock's shoulders tautened stiffly. He would not attain his majority for another twenty-two years. Until that time, he officially remained a child subject to his father's control. He held few assets of his own. Sarek could, quite legitimately, prevent him from accomplishing his desire simply by withholding the necessary authority. However, such an undemanding solution to what he certainly viewed as his son's enduring defiance, had never been Sarek's approach. Spock had always previously learned the error of his ways from direct experience, the logical operation of cause and effect. Sarek obviously thought that, sorely chastened by poverty and the need to earn a living, his son would fail in the irrational endeavour he had chosen and return home, to comply meekly in defeat with his father's long held ambition.

He inclined his head; "I would not wish to burden thee against thy will."

Sarek keenly searched Spock's impassive features and saw only the usual obdurate determination there. Abruptly he turned his back on his son, lips thinned to an inflexible line. "Very well. There is nothing more to say. Thee hast my permission to depart."

While Sarek continued to stare out over the garden, now quickly being swallowed inch by inch by oncoming twilight, Spock bowed, murmured a brief leave-taking, and quietly vacated the room. It was to be many years before father and son met in harmony again.

The graduation ceremony was held in s-choli'on's main auditorium, a small, aesthetically severe amphitheatre of bare stone walls and terraced seating, purposefully left plain in order that nothing should distract attention from the softly lit, uncomplicated proscenium occupying a central position.

The lady Amanda, sitting quietly among the eight hundred strong, Vulkhanir audience of parents, teachers and students, with Sarek stone-faced and silent beside her, remained unperturbed by the stern dignity, the weight of countless ages past, that pervaded the place. What made her heart quicken and her palms damp with nervous perspiration was the thought of the final performer yet to make his appearance at this concert arranged by Master Sijek to exhibit the major talents of his senior pupils. One by one, the young people had come and gone, each perfectly in control, serene and with an almost stately poise that would have been utterly alien to most Human students. Every child in turn was greeted by a listening silence, a readiness from the audience to partake in the experience that artist and spectators both shared. All, so far, had proved excellent in their chosen fields and the only one left to play now was Spock.

For the nth time that evening, Amanda consulted the strangely beautiful Vulkhanir hieroglyphics that decorated the pages of her hand made programme, still taking in only the information that Spock's piece was to be a classical work by T'sa'piye, composed soon after the Reformation. It would have been a strange choice for any other student, for the music of that period was often overlooked in favour of far more modern works but she guessed, rightly enough, it appealed to her son precisely because it still retained the fiery spirit of a world and a people long since disappeared. The Vulcans of that time had been searching for a new identity, unsure of who they were or where they were going. A passionate, war-like race transmuted by Surak to one that worshipped logic, all the rage, and repressed fervour had, naturally enough, been channelled into the arts of music, dance, and theatre. Mostly forgotten now, those stunning masterpieces gathered dust in various archives and private libraries, like the one at s-choli'on, waiting for their time to be rediscovered. Amanda knew that Spock had far more than just a passing interest in that period of Vulcan history. However, to choose to play such a piece in this place and at this time was sure to lift more than a few winged eyebrows.

She hid a nervous grin behind her programme, wondering how Spock must be feeling now, waiting as he had for most of the evening. His performance could be a tour de force or, bearing in mind what had happened in recent days, it could very well end up a success de scandale. Although a naturally gifted musician, well thought of by his teachers, he had always shunned attention. A public performance of such a work would be viewed by some as impudent, ill mannered, and arrogant, a poke in the eye to T'suung, and a raised finger to his father!

Amanda smothered a sudden chuckle but even so, Sarek rewarded her with one of his more sanctimonious looks. She wished fervently now that there had been some time to talk with her son, but the day's activities had made that impossible to arrange. Circumstances, or Sarek possibly, had contrived to keep them apart, and Amanda on arrival at the school that morning had seen Spock only briefly.

Sarek had informed her about his interview with their son the day before and of its outcome. Although his voice had remained cool, quite dispassionate, Amanda could not miss her husband's pain, the bewilderment at what he considered a further betrayal from their child. Yet, in a way, she had not entirely been surprised to learn that Spock wanted to join Starfleet. Young Lester had a lot to answer for!

Covertly, she glanced at her husband but he was now wholely absorbed in the empty stage. After a moment or two, he seemed to minutely straighten and when she looked in the same direction, she found that Spock had, at last, made his entrance.

As Spock ascended the steps of the proscenium, the breathing quiet stirred in a way that it had not done for any other performer. Once seated on the low floor stool, he spared the waiting audience not the slightest glance as he composed himself to play. Amanda studied her son avidly as the auditorium darkened and he was haloed in a soft, pure light, trying to gauge what the months of separation had changed or developed in him. Dressed in a formal kauan, a long robe made of dark vel'ashava, his hair brushed into a shining cap of perfection, he still looked absurdly young despite his eighteen years. And yet, she was aware how tall he had grown, how much he now resembled his father at that same age. That had never been quite so apparent before. Now Spock's serious, determined face, having lost its childish roundness, was the face of Sarek. Amanda looked away briefly, fighting back sudden tears, knocked off balance by the abrupt realisation that her baby had disappeared forever. But she mentally shook herself as Spock, delicately and without hesitation, struck the first powerful chord of his chosen piece. Telling herself how embarrassed both her men folk would be at such a blatant show of maternal sentiment, she turned her attention to the music.

Spock, in keeping with T'sa'piye's masterwork, had elected to play the vis'cacha, a seven stringed horizontal lyrette set at intervals with nacre studs which, though less technical to play than the ka'ithirah - a much later version of the instrument - was, even to an experienced musician, infinitely more challenging. Designed primarily as an accompaniment, the solo vis'cacha also had an extensive repertoire of its own. When Amanda had first lived on Vulcan, the sound it made reminded her uncomfortably of an animal wailing in pain yet, over the years, she had gradually become accustomed to what her Human ears wanted to interpret as a mournful dissonance. Now, under Spock's long fingers, the vis'cacha's strings throbbed like a fevered wound, conjuring before Amanda's eyes a desert landscape. Arid mountain scenery unfolded before her transfixed gaze, great talons of granite, basalt, and laminated gneiss clawing at the sky. The rhythm changed, became a lament, hot and lonely winds sweeping among the crags of a desolate planet. Spock painted his world with T'sa'piye's genius, eyes closed and face impassive, yet the music he made held his audience mesmerized, swept them back into the far past, to share the union of despair and ecstasy that Reformation had aroused. The spell he wove ensnared them all in a mysterious labyrinth of confused sensation that seemed to shout; see our world, our home, and the planet we all revere, it will not prevail unchanged, we cannot continue as we are, and I am unable to stay.

But the very earth held him captive, the red sands of the desert, the great sweep of the Arlanga Mountains against the flinty, pitiless sky, clutched him with an embrace stronger than even the bonds of loyalty to his Family. To leave was unthinkable, to remain there an impossibility. The grief and profound regret that Spock could not help but feel, travelled through his able fingers to the strings of the vis'cacha and spoke intimately to every Vulcan that listened in rapt attention.

I am lost, he cried in unspoken distress. I am alone. Support me in my need. Bring me comfort in defeat. See my anguish and offer me solace. Do not turn away ---

At last, the strings of the vis'cacha jarred on the final notes of T'sa'piye's tormented theme, faltered, faded, and slowly shuddered into silence. Spock sat unmoving apart from the laboured rise and fall of his young shoulders, dark head bowed on his heaving chest, long-fingered hands resting on the now silent strings as he waited for a response.

There was a prolonged hiatus, a pause that seemed to stretch into infinity and then, as Spock raised his head to look at his audience, first one, then another and another quietly rose to their feet until all of them were standing. They bowed to him in hushed unison, a salutation, and the highest tribute they could give; equal to the excited tumult of applause he might conceivably have received on Earth.

A firm hand on her arm brought a startled Amanda upright to join the rest, and she turned triumphantly towards Sarek, her eyes aglow.

"Are thee not pleased by thy son, Husband?"

But Sarek said only, in the maddening way he had, "I expected no less, my wife."

Their attention was drawn to a flurry of movement near the proscenium as Principal T'suung left her place. She approached Spock who had arisen from the floor stool and was about to leave. A short conference ensued between principal and student that culminated in Spock resuming his seat. He changed the vis'cacha for a ka'ithirah and after a moment to collect his thoughts, began to play a second piece.

Although still disguised in the spare Vulcan style, this was something that Amanda out of all there, recognised alone. It could in no way be compared to T'sa'piye's agonized magnum opus. In contrast, this second refrain was light, easy on the ear, with a melody that any child from Earth could have sung, though they might have quickened the beat and altered the tonal values. If she'd been anywhere else, Amanda might have laughed aloud. As it was, she had to clasp her fingers together to stop herself from clapping. Knowing that this was Spock's gift to her, she listened with tears in her eyes, as he went from one Terran nursery rhyme to the next in quick, but expert succession. Pat a cake; pat a cake; three blind mice; hickory, dickory, dock; Jack and Jill. Without expression, he played all the simple childhood tunes she had taught him as a very small boy, and although she could not see his eyes from this distance, she knew that deep within the brown depths a sparkle of Human merriment twinkled there.

As soon as the recital finished, Amanda left Sarek talking quietly to Principal T'suung and Master Sijek, intrigued no doubt by Spock's finale. He was waiting for her in the long, colonnaded walk adjoining the auditorium, the full-length kauan he wore thrown open to reveal a high-necked, mustard coloured sirwal. The fluttering ribbons of a blue honour decorated the collar. It was still warm, though the brief sunset had already begun to fade. The thin air bore the lush cinnamon scents of baked earth and desert sand, the perfumes of a half-dozen night-blooming flowers - and a profound melancholy.

Amanda, slightly bemused, still intoxicated by Spock's musical gift, had to tilt her head back to look up at him. "When did thee grow so tall, child?"

Spock shook his head, smiling so fleetingly that afterwards Amanda wasn't sure he had smiled at all. She laid gentle fingers upon his proffered arm and together they traversed the gardens ostensibly for Amanda to inspect the plants, though both knew it for the excuse, it was. At last, Spock halted before the glowing moonflower vine, luminous in the pre-dusk gloom. His thoughts seemingly elsewhere, he reached up and gently detached one of the blossoms. It was full-blown, almost ready to fall, but in the darkness, cupped by his elegant fingers, it shone like a captured star.

"Father has spoken to thee, of course."

"He has." Amanda agreed softly, torn by conflicting emotions of allegiance to her husband and unconditional love for her errant son. "I can understand why thee should wish to visit Earth. After all, it is part of thy birthright. Thee probably has forgotten much of our last stay there."

On the contrary, Spock could recall every detail. He had been ten years old and while Sarek had attended a scientific convention, Amanda had taken him to visit her sister, his Aunt Dorrie, and her two young sons, Lester and Jimmy, who were correspondingly one year older and younger than he was. The visit had not been a complete success. From the first, Spock had found his Tehr'n cousins immature and infantile. Neither did he work hard to hide his obvious contempt. Fortunately, although the Human boys outshone him in cunning and deviousness, he was also taller and stronger than either of them. While the visit had never been repeated, it had made a lasting impression on the young Spock. Admiration didn't play any part in his estimation of Human behaviour.

"Thee wished me to visit our relatives?" He asked, side-stepping that particular issue.

"I'm sure thy Aunt would welcome thee." Amanda did not possess her son's night vision and although it was now quite dark, she imagined one winged brow ascending skyward in some scepticism. She sighed. "This is Lester's doing isn't it?"

Lester had joined Starfleet as a cadet when he was fourteen, taking to the life like a duck to water. It just so happened that his first training cruise brought him to Vulcan. She could do no other than invite him to stay. However, it was obvious from the start that he had not troubled to find out anything at all about the Vulkhanir or their customs. On top of everything else, Lester's visit had coincided almost exactly with s-choli'on's mid term recess.

"I would have thought that Lester's role as Starfleet's emissary left a great deal to be desired!" Amanda murmured caustically. "Why must thee go now? Thee knows thy Father's views on the subject. Thy place at the Science Academy…"

Without moving, Spock appeared to shrink back from her. He crossed his arms, gathering the vel'ashava robe closer to his body as if he suddenly felt chilled.

"Cousin Lester is not entirely to blame for my decision, Mother!"

In fact, he had found Lester little changed from their boyhood meeting, except, perhaps, he was even more brash and insolent than before. The Human boy would never have swayed him in a thousand years. No that had been T'suung's doing.

"Can thee not try to understand, M'aih? I need to know what it means to be Human. I cannot learn that at the Science Acadamy."

He was taken aback when Amanda chuckled ruefully. "So you decided to jump in at the deep end? Oh Spock, are you sure what you are doing?" Like his mother, he switched to English.

"Earth will be my testing ground." He admitted, sounding solemn and very, very young. "I tried to explain to Father. He would not listen…."

"Don't be angry with him, Spock. He only wants what is best for you."

"I do not bear him any ill-will."

Amanda reached out, wanting to hug him close as she had done when he was only a little boy but, at the last moment, she refrained. "Will thee send me word, news of thy progress?"

"Of course."

She bit her lip. They were back where they had started, in the colonnade beside the now silent auditorium. Light from the high window-slits shone down upon them both and Amanda realised that Spock might learn rather more among Humans than he bargained for. Looking at him, with the shadows playing across his features, she was aware that his falcon-like hauteur and unemphasized maleness would have a certain allure for many of her sex and species. In that moment, she almost begged him to stay, fearing that if he went he might never return home. But instead, she asked,

"Has thee everything thee needs for the journey?"

Spock inclined his head. "Indeed. Master Sijek has allowed me to remain at the school until the Xanadu arrives."

Amanda shivered abruptly. "It's getting cold. Will thee come in with me?"

"I will follow in a moment. Mother, I -- "

"Yes, my son?"

He shook his head, hesitated as if making up his mind then stooped, and very gently kissed her lightly on the cheek. Without another word, he turned and walked off into the darkness.

Eyes wide with surprise, Amanda watched him disappear into the gloom, hoping that he would learn quickly what he must without too much pain and disillusion. But, sadly, she realised somewhere inside herself that, whatever happened, Spock would never make life easy for himself. In that he was more typically Human than he knew. She sighed softly, staring up at the night sky and the many stars that shone there, her mind full of idle musings. Shivering again, knowing that, like her son, she had reached an important and significant turning point in her life, she quietly stepped through the entrance to the colonnade and went to find Sarek