The small triangular-shaped medal of valor sat indifferently in the young science officer's hand. It was said to be an honor to be decorated by Starfleet Command. A part of him appreciated the honor, needed it, clung to it. But another part of him was repulsed. Barbaric of Humans to give a reward for doing what he had done. The heedless decoration was another reminder of the rift between himself and his father. The rift that might soon become a wide chasm. Might already be. Still, he couldn't bring himself to get rid of it, the medal. He found an acceptable compromise by slipping the commendation deep into a pocket of his travel bag.
Looking up to the viewscreen of the transport, Spock watched his vermilion home world loom larger and larger. He started slightly as the face flashed before him again--the horror-stricken expression of the alien just before he dissipated into oblivion. Meditation had helped but had not eliminated the problem. He had been debriefed by superior officers and had gone over it himself a hundred times, each session concluding that he had examined all of his options, exhausted all the alternatives, and that he had fulfilled his duty and his obligations as an officer of Starfleet and of the U.S.S. Enterprise. Yet still he saw the face. And that of another. Sarek.
In spite of Spock's denials, Captain Christopher Pike had sensed that his young lieutenant was troubled about recent events and had tried to assure him that he was not alone. They had all been through it, he said. Doctor Boyce had tried to explain that guilt was a normal reaction for an ethical being, even when it was a "good shoot," necessary to save the lives of others. In time, the memory would not haunt him so often. His captain had encouraged him to take some of his accumulated leave time, and had finally ordered Spock to take it and get off the ship for a while. Even then it was only the repeated pleas from his mother that directed his course to Vulcan.
He'd put off going home for as long as he could. It had been two point one years this time. He reasoned that they probably did not know. It had been an inconsequential action, an isolated incident of no strategic importance to the rest of the sector or to the Federation. Such commendations for bravery were given out liberally in a dangerous galaxy, and knowing Sarek's disapprobation of Starfleet, there was no reason that he should take notice of such a minor service affair. Therefore, the probability was that he did not know.
Amanda greeted Spock in a warm yet appropriately restrained manner, so as not to drive away the son she had desired to see for so long. The years had begun to write their lines upon her beautiful, very Human face, but she still possessed the same brightness to her eye and serene countenance that she had inexplicably acquired on an alien world. Sarek, she mentioned, was in town on business and would be home later.
Spock dropped off his bag in his old room, unchanged since he had left for Starfleet Academy. Leaving the room, he steeled himself for the ritual to come, his mother's compulsion to make him something to eat.
Though irritated by the attention--Spock kept reminding her that he had been on his own for some time now--he was, nevertheless, resigned to it, as usual. As usual, Amanda ignored her son's protests and went about fixing her own secret recipe for plomeek soup while catching him up on family and community news. There was a new student she had taken on, and a local commission she was a part of to locate water resources for future usage. And of course, her garden.
Waiting for the soup, Spock had a peripatetic snack, wandering about the kitchen, munching on a globefruit recently imported from the south, and gazing out the window at the familiar mountain canyons where he had often sought refuge in earlier years. He responded only when required, as was typical of his taciturn nature. His mother required his response only on occasion, as was typical of hers. She made polite inquiries into the health of his captain and other acquaintances, the nature of their recent assignments, and she admonished him for how thin he'd gotten.
When after some time she had not mentioned the commendation, he concluded that she did not know about it. If she did not know, then, Spock inferred, Sarek must not know either. The young half-Vulcan began to relax.
The irritation also subsided, and Spock discovered there could be a curious pleasure in re-experiencing his mother's familiar habits. Living among Humans helped Spock understand his mother better. Not that he would ever understand his shipmates or his mother completely. But it helped. It had been good to get away. He could see his childhood home with such new eyes now. It had not all been difficult. For perhaps the first time, he was beginning to remember what had been good.
Spock noticed that his mother had worked T'Pring into the conversation for the second time now. She casually asked if he thought he would see her while he was there. The same tension that had kept him from visiting his parents had also kept him away from his bondmate. Vulcan etiquette provided for various attentions and contacts to be made over the years until the time came for the joining--attentions Spock had neglected. He could tell by the tone of his mother's voice that she was concerned. "Yes, I thought I would visit T'Pring while I was here," he reassured her.
The aroma of simmering vegetables filled the kitchen. Amanda was ladling the steaming soup into a bowl when she noticed her son straighten to listen. Vulcan technology had the reputation of being the quietest in the quadrant, yet Spock could hear the approach of a flitter from a kilometer away. He cleared his mind of the past and of the future and focused upon the now, upon the moment, preparing himself to greet his father. He never noticed the look of concern that washed over Amanda's face.
Spock stood in the relatively cool entry hall as Sarek came in from the outside heat. His father appeared shorter somehow. Not the towering giant he had remembered. Spock raised his hand in the Vulcan greeting. Then he realized something was wrong.
Sarek stared stonily at his son. He raised no hand. He offered no greeting. Looking past him as if he were not there and without a word, the elder Vulcan crossed the living room and entered his study.
Spock felt as though someone had just ripped the heart out of his body. He knows.
"Damn him," Amanda spat softly from behind. "I begged him not to do this."
Spock stood in the hallway with uncertainty. He had never heard his mother curse his father before. It raised ambivalent impulses. At the same time, his father had never so coldly insulted him before. Though their relationship had been strained and tense these last few years, father and son had at least been able to be civil to one other.
"I'm sorry, Spock," Amanda consoled. "He knows about the medal from Starfleet and how it came about."
Spock turned to her slowly. "I understand. Perhaps I should go."
"No. Please. Go to him. Talk to him, Spock," she pleaded.
Spock recognized in his mother the impossible hope that he had sometimes seen in his Human shipmates. He knew that talking to Sarek would be ineffective. But part of her was in him, a part of him that hoped vainly as well.
Of course Sarek had learned of the commendation. He followed his son's career far more closely than Spock would ever know. His connections in the Federation Council made it easy to obtain information, including that not readily available to others. He sat in his study, facing away from the doorway, his telepathic fingers steepled before him.
"Sarek..." Spock began, not sure how he would continue.
"You took life," Sarek stated without turning.
"You knew there was this possibility when I went into Starfleet."
Now Sarek turned. "That is precisely why I opposed your entering. You would not listen."
The younger Vulcan shook his head, "I listened. I considered the advantages to outweigh the potential risks."
"And now. You still maintain this was the correct decision?"
"Given the same set of circumstances, I would do it again," Spock said evenly.
"He saved the lives of the landing party, Sarek," Amanda's voice pleaded to her husband, as she slipped into the study behind her son, "including Captain Pike's."
"Mother--please," Spock urged his mother to stay out of it and then turned back. "There was no alternative. It was the only logical course of action."
"Violence is never a logical course of action," Sarek declared.
Spock strode toward his father, "You were not there. You have never been fired upon or faced an aggressor. You do not know."
"Oh, I don't know? And Surak? Did he not know the chaos of battle? And yet he taught that violence is never a logical course of action. Do you propose that you know more than Surak?"
"His was the correct solution for his time. All violence had to cease in order to end the addiction to brutality that then existed."
Vulcans rarely spoke of their distant past, but all were taught of the depths of depravity to which their race had fallen in ancient days, that they would never return to it again. In the darkest times, fierce warriors would mind-meld with their victims before killing them that they might experience the final horror vicariously. "Suffer the death of thy neighbor" began as a test of courage which grew into a twisted, sought-after stimulation.
"'Correct for his time.' Is that all? Would you have us return to an age of violence and destruction?"
"No. Of course not. But Selik argued that force used to repel aggressors in the course of self-preservation or the protection of innocents is logical when all other avenues have been exhausted."
"Selik was a minor teacher. His views are not prevailing authority."
"He has never been refuted. Moreover, he was a student of Surak, a contemporary. One can infer from his second letter of instruction that Surak never intended for the practice of total non-violence to be carried on indefinitely. And Sibek in the following millennium also discussed the possibility of repelling aggression--and he is considered authority."
"But he came to no conclusion."
"It was not unthinkable."
"It is not an invalid argument just because you do not agree with it," Spock stated forcefully.
Sarek rose and walked away, all the while studying his son from beneath dark, bushy, upswept eyebrows. Spock had the fire of his mother, yet had kept the heat of his opinions within acceptable bounds. Sarek was forced to observe that Starfleet had been good for his offspring in some ways. He appeared more confident, more focused, his thoughts better formed.
The Vulcan statesman was actually impressed by his son's skills. These were no superficial sources he cited. Spock had done his research. It was obvious he had thought a great deal about the subject. Furthermore, Sarek was surprised to see some of his own debating style mirrored back at him.
Still, these were no light matters. It went to the heart of Vulcan philosophy, and particularly to the interpretation taught in their own family branch for over a thousand years. The House of Surak was a powerful clan. Their example influenced others, affected the future of Vulcan itself. The hell of it was that had Spock been another's son, Sarek could have agreed to respectfully disagree. But this was family business. There would be no quarter given. No peace treaties negotiated today.
"You argue theory, Spock. But what of practice? Of course, you realize that such a situation may arise again."
"As long as I wear the uniform, I have a duty and responsibility to protect the lives of my fellow officers and crew as well as preserve the security of the Federation."
"Then you will kill again."
It was a possibility he could not deny. Spock tried a different tack. "Would you have the Humans continue to bear the burden for Vulcan peace and security?"
"We do not ask them to use force on our behalf. But if it is in their nature, then it is neither logical nor possible for us to dissuade them."
"Have you lived and worked so long among Humans and yet not understood them? They have no desire to die for us. They have no respect for those who do not fight their own battles."
"So now it is the Humans' respect you seek?"
"I seek no one's respect, but to fulfill my duty as I see it." It had not always been so. For many years Spock had sought desperately for the respect of the individual who stood before him. But that time had passed and would not come again. Or so he told himself.
Sarek paused again before returning to the crux of the matter. With head bowed and eyes averted, he spoke almost kindly. "You reason well, Spock. But you cannot reason away the fact that you have blood on your hands."
Sarek's usage of a Human metaphor brought the alien's face to Spock's mind again. This time, the juncture of the image and his father's words amused him in a dark sort of way. "Sarek," Spock pronounced patiently, as though instructing a first year cadet, "phasers do not leave blood."
On the Enterprise, Spock had discovered that dry humor could sometimes deflate and rattle an opponent. It was a strategy that often worked against Humans. But such tactics never worked against Sarek. Spock knew his mistake immediately.
His father raised his head calmly and his eyes bore into Spock's. Sarek repeated the Human metaphor he might have learned from Amanda or perhaps from a diplomatic contact firmly: "You have blood on your hands."
Spock held Sarek's gaze until a trembling inside, from a source he could not identify, caused him to turn away. There was nothing more to say. Spock brushed past his mother and out of the study. He knew he would not be back for many years, if ever.
Another might have accused Sarek of ignoring the logic presented to him, even of emotionalism. Another might have argued why he was compelled to leave Vulcan in the first place, or that Sarek had set the precedent for breaking with tradition by taking a Human wife. Spock would not. In spite of everything, he respected his father too much for that.
He retrieved the bag that held his medal of valor from Starfleet Command and clung to it tightly as he walked out into the heat. He would cross the distance to the space port on foot and spend the rest of his leave at a star base awaiting rendezvous with the Enterprise. He could hear his mother calling to him, but he did not dare to indulge in even a look of good-bye. His control was in too precarious a state.
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