Kirk came to Vulcan expecting the ceremony to be held high in the wrinkled peaks behind Seleya, somewhere isolated and ancient. Instead he was swept down into the lowlands. The air taxi read the address from Spock’s datacard and gently deposited them in the middle of a luxurious plaza, all trimmed in red brick, where kinetic sculptures of liquid glass flowed, hardened, cracked, shattered, and were melted again behind the walls of transparent kilns. It was the finest reception ground of the ambassadorial complex, the most brilliant display of aesthetic technology in all of ShiKahr.
As they stepped out of the taxi T’Pau appeared from the crowd milling around the plaza. She extended a hand toward Spock as though reaching for a light ritual meld, but stopped short of his face. Out of respect, Kirk supposed, for the fragile memories that were still annealing in Spock’s mind. Spock did not flinch away.
“I welcome thee from the dead,” she said. Kirk remembered his previous impression that her eyes were vaguely frog-like, bulging out of her pinched face as though she were contemplating zapping out a tongue and gobbling up some airborne pest. He could not tell if she was looking at him, or at Spock; the glassy alert stare seemed to encompass them both. “You are needed by the stage.”
She nodded them away.
Some time later Kirk found himself in the middle of a boiling crowd of people, mostly Starfleet and human, trying to shout over the roar of slightly drunken conversation to McCoy. It wasn’t working. The doctor shook his head and mouthed something which looked like “Give it up, Jim,” before turning away toward the drink buffet. His face was lit by bluish ripples as the Vulcan sun reflected off a wide, shallow bowl of Romulan ale.
Kirk pushed out of the crush, trying to find his way around the table to tell McCoy something, something momentarily important which he later forgot altogether. The noise hurt his eardrums. He ended up in one of the slow eddies at the fringes of the party, where the social circles faded from drunken human, to adventurous human and curious Vulcan, and finally to a calm pool of staid Vulcan dignitaries sipping deionized water.
“Excuse me,” he said to someone’s low-cut, coffee-skinned back. He could see a route to the open walkway beyond. “Sorry, if I could just get—”
T’Pring turned around and looked at him.
She was still lovely, with a few more years visible on her face—far fewer than showed on Spock, certainly. She seemed darker somehow, or perhaps it was just the contrast with her dress, which fell in white ribbons from her body. The same almond eyes watched him with the same confident, amused expression. Kirk felt a sudden clear certainty that she recognized him, that she was thinking how funny it was to see someone who died once at a rebirth ceremony for the man he died to save.
For a moment, no one existed in the universe but her, and Kirk caught his breath at the feeling of a hundred threads of fate and coincidence radiating inward, tangling like white ribbons between them.
And then they were back, in the middle of the crowded plaza. T’Pring raised her hand in a Vulcan salute and inclined her head gently toward him.
“Lady T’Pring,” Kirk said by way of acknowledgement. After that he had no more words.
“How strange a thing is Time,” she murmured. “I understand you took lives to bring him back.”
“You killed for him.”
Klingons raced through Kirk’s mind, with fire lapping at their leather shoulder pads. Klingons, lured onto an Enterprise which sizzled and shattered like a hand grenade in the cool nothing of space. “Only in self defense, and defense of my crew.”
“What else was I supposed to do?”
“I do not condemn you, Captain Kirk. I am pleased he is alive.”
An old swell of anger surged up in Kirk. It had been buried a long time, and he felt a bit guilty that it still was not dead, but—
“You’re pleased? Really? As I recall you tried to kill him once, and me.”
She regarded him for a moment, and he had the impression that something softened in her, so that she looked both exotic and maternal and severe all at once. Kirk’s curiousity warred in him with the twin needs for courtesy and revenge. She was at once more intimate and more weary than the T’Pring he remembered from the blazing hot sands of years past: a study in contradictions.
“You and I are very much alike, Captain. Though you are not Vulcan, I fear. Come, I would introduce you to someone.”
They found her daughter standing at the force-field edge of one of the glass kilns, transfixed by the violent molten display. The girl could not have been more than eight or nine years old.
“This is T’Min,” T’Pring said, taking the child by the shoulders to turn her around.
T’Min raised her delicate hand in a salute and said in perfect English, “I am pleased to meet you, Captain.” She had her mother’s impassivity. She did not lower her hand until Kirk returned the gesture.
“The displays are impressive, aren’t they?” he said to T’Min, hoping he didn’t sound condescending. “We don’t have anything like them on Earth.”
“They are a pinnacle of engineering. I find it admirable that the artist was able to incorporate his technical skill into his portrayal of a cultural story unrelated to technology. The required magnetic field control is most advanced.” T’Min glanced toward T’Pring, looking for approval of this answer from her mother. T’Pring nodded.
“A cultural story?” Kirk asked, surprised. “What is it?”
The girl-child turned back to the display case, holding one hand out toward the force field as though warming her skin in its heat. “An ancient creation myth of Vulcan held that the planet was formed when lightning struck sand on the homeworld of the old gods. It made glass, a tube of fused silica which retained the pigmentation of the original sand. It was very rare. But the old gods had lived in that world for so long that they no longer took interest in novelty, and no one picked it up.
“Then, one day, an elderly worker of the artisan class was walking in the desert, as part of a ritual in which he expressed his sense of loss concerning the recent death of his wife, and the fact that he she had never born him a child. He saw the tip of the glass tube and pulled it from the sand. Then he took it home and began to work it into a globe in his kiln, thinking he would make something of aesthetic value to sell in the market place of his home town.
“But the glass did not form into a perfect globe. So he melted it back down and tried again. And still it was not perfect. He tried repeatedly but met with less success each time. At last, driven by his primitive rage response, he took the still-amorphous semi-sphere and cast it out into the sky at night. There it has remained since, slowly cooling and settling into its shape. The globe, of course, is representative of Vulcan, and it was believed that it would continue to shift and alter itself physically until the people of this world also grow old and sedentary, at which point another world shall be produced in the same manner. It was,” T’Min added thoughtfully, “a highly unsophisticated theory of planetary origins.”
“Well, they were doing better than Earth for at least realizing that their planet was round,” Kirk told her, chuckling. “At the time when we were making creation myths, most people thought the world was flat.”
“A product of your limited global circumlocutions until the advent of efficient sea travel. Vulcan suffered no such barriers.” In the high-pitched voice Kirk could hear the beginnings of T’Min’s Vulcan disdain for humanity, and he grieved briefly.
“In any case, it’s a beautiful story,” he said. “Do they teach you that in school?”
“T’Min is a scholar of art history,” T’Pring cut in. “She pursues this interest in her own leisure time, with the help of her father.”
“It is his field of study.”
Kirk looked at her—T’Pring the murderess, T’Pring the mother, T’Pring who built this little family unit out of her own daring—and turned back to the daughter without forming any conclusions. He didn’t want to deal with her, not now.
“Well, I wish you luck in it, T’Min. Come to Earth sometime and I’ll give you a tour of the Louvre.”
“I would have to review several texts on Terran psychology in advance.”
She was so solemn.
T’Pring led him away, toward the empty aisle where he had originally been aiming. Removed from the heat and light of the dancing glass, he felt exposed, chilly. Impossible in this desert air. But true. She turned to face him, and waited a moment before speaking to gauge the reaction on his face.
“Do you see now why I sought the challenge?”
“I knew I would one day have a child. I wished her to be mine and Stonn’s. Not the daughter of a legend, not the legacy of a Starfleet officer who had no interest in her. Can you see, Captain, that your death would have been inconsequential by comparison?”
Kirk found his voice. “Mine, yes. Spock’s, no. He trusted you, T’Pring.”
“As my daughter trusts me, to give her a world in which to thrive.”
And there was David, all of a sudden, in Kirk’s memory, leading the Klingons down their bloody track, the empty gash of what might have been—no, more than that, of what was. The knowledge that he grew up abandoned. Deprived because his father was not strong enough to argue with Carol, to subjugate her and his needs to David’s; deprived because in his heart of hearts Kirk cared more about Starfleet than about his own son. T’Min did not deserve that lingering lack.
“I do not expect you to forgive me,” T’Pring said, and Kirk was grateful, because he still hadn’t. He never would—he knew that with all the certainty of the weight of his boots on the red brick tile. “Your understanding does not require you to condone my actions. Sometimes an individual must sacrifice the desires of others in order to fulfill his own. As you cannot regret the deaths of the Klingons you killed, I cannot regret yours. Someday, perhaps you too will take pleasure in the life of a creature you once tried to destroy, without feeling regret for your past attempt at destruction. Then you shall understand my presence here.”
She turned to leave, her back as straight as an Egyptian queen, and Kirk knew with a powerful lurch that he would never see her again, not like this. She had said her part, now he must say his. He took a step forward and felt the thin, scalding air hiss through his trachea. He was older now, so much older—it wasn’t fair to make him fight this fight again. He didn’t have the heart.
“You have a beautiful daughter.”
“I am aware.”
She was gone.
By the time Kirk managed to locate Spock in all the proceedings, it was at least four hours later, nearly dark. Only the glow of lanterns, and thin light strips in the cracks between tiles, lit the plaza. He was standing by the wall at the edge of the main stage, where Sarek and the other speakers stood conversing in the aftermath of the party. They were gilded shadows, flashing with the occasional glint of a ceremonial collar or piece of jewelry. By contrast, Spock had nothing in his uniform to reflect light. He seemed very ordinary, very simple in all the finery. He stood perfectly still, hands resting on the low wall of a dry plant bed.
Kirk noticed that Spock had taken his boots and socks off, and placed them neatly beside him in his own shadow. It was an uncharacteristic move. Before Spock’s death, Kirk had never known him to act so casually at a formal gathering. He had the impression that the Vulcan looked a little lost.
“Surviving it all, Spock?” he asked lightly, stepping up beside him and turning to half-sit on the plant bed.
“Your speech was good. How was mine? I didn’t make any unforgivable cultural blunders, did I?”
“Of course you did not.” Spock’s voice was quiet, even a little affectionate. Kirk itched to take advantage of the moment and hug him, but didn’t. He’d tried that once a few weeks ago, to disappointing effects.
“I talked to T’Pring. Did you see her?”
“I did, but I did not speak with her.”
“Maybe you should. I met her daughter. It wasn’t easy, but it was worth it.” He didn’t add that a conversation with T’Pring might help dredge up some of the emotional memories he so desperately wanted to see in Spock. No pain, no gain.
“I did not know she had a second child. I was aware that her son is a linguistics computing expert and did not attend tonight’s celebration.”
“Well, her daughter’s a lot younger. Sweet girl. Her name is T’Min.”
“That is an unusual name.”
“It is a noun not normally employed as a given name. It means ‘glow,’ as in the light emitted by a heated body.”
“Interesting.” And it was. “She told me a story about those glass exhibits. Said they’re a visual representation of a creation myth.” He told Spock the story, as best he could remember it, then added: “Why don’t you put on your shoes, by the way?”
“They are uncomfortable. Captain—” he began, and then did something very strange. He turned around and hoisted himself up to sit on the lip of the wall next to Kirk, scooting all the way back so that his bare feet could no longer touch the ground. It was an oddly childish pose, especially disconcerting because he still wore the rest of his formal Starfleet uniform. “Did T’Min tell you the rest of the story?”
“I shall assume that implies she did not.”
“Do you know it? I’d like to hear.”
“I am familiar with it. The second half concerns the process of colonization of the new planet Vulcan by the old artisan and his wife.”
“I thought the wife was dead?” Kirk pulled himself up onto the wall too, turning his half-sit, half-lean into a yoga-style pose on the brick shelf. It wasn’t dignified, but if he was going to listen to a long story he might as well get comfortable.
“She was. The artisan looked into the sky, saw the light from the still-burning globe of glass and realized that he had made a mistake in throwing it away. He put his wife’s katra in a vessel, then threw a rope up into the sky, which fused into the glass when it touched. He waited for the new world to cool before he climbed up the rope, taking her with him.
“This new world he named Ah’rak, an ancient name for a kiln with bellows. The artisan carved a new body for his wife from its crust. When he had revived her, they worked together to create a race of new creatures in the same manner.
“The wife was displeased, however, because she still had no child. They were both elderly and dying. So the artisan decided to take their katras and split them up among the people, giving them consciousness. The wife said, ‘The people will still not be our children.’ The artisan replied, ‘The future of this planet is our child.’ And thus the wife agreed, and civilization on Vulcan was born. The native name for Vulcan remains Ah’rak in honor of the legend.”
“I didn’t know Vulcans were so fanciful,” Kirk joked, to no reply.
Across the plaza, an attendant was ushering out the last guests. The dignitaries on the stage had dispersed; T’Pring and T’Min and Stonn (if he’d been here) were long gone. T’Pau was speaking to Sarek beneath a darkened lamp post, the light strips painting their robes from bottom to top with streaks of color, faces sillhouetted. Amanda had long since retired, citing the heat and her tiredness after a long day of entertaining.
In the dark, Kirk could make out the outline of Spock’s profile. The proud, long nose and very slight overbite were as familiar to him as his own hand. And yet the man behind them was not. He was a slightly different sort of Spock, the sort who would take off his shoes in public and sit on planters and tell magical stories about a planet made of glass, and yet retain so many of his characteristically Spock-like gestures that Kirk could not bring himself to imagine he was looking at a different person than the Spock he remembered.
Perhaps, he thought, this is what it feels like to walk on ground that’s still cooling and shifting.
“Do you ever regret not having children?” Kirk asked abruptly.
“I do not believe so. Mentally, I am currently a child myself.” He turned to Kirk, who was sitting with his arms and legs crossed, watching the attendant start to put out the lamps and displays. “Perhaps I will regret it in the future. What of you, Captain?”
“Spock, I had a son.”
“David was Carol’s child,” Spock said gently, speaking the truth that Kirk both knew and didn’t want to hear. He shut his eyes.
“You are a starship captain,” Spock continued, “And you chose that over family. Do you regret it so?”
“No. No, but an old man like me shouldn’t die childless. The universe isn’t fair, is it? Not to men like us.”
The attendant moved closer, waving to them. It was time to leave. Spock picked up his boots and pulled them on, then stood and straightened his uniform jacket in a way that still made Kirk wince. In the low reflected light he looked the same color as the bricks, and Kirk had a wild idea that maybe he really was made of glass, really would shatter if you dropped him. In a way Spock had been melted into a puddle and then cooled too fast, leaving thermal stress lines in his very being. The silence of the Vulcan night was like a polarizer, letting the fine silvery fault lines show through if you only bothered to look. It scared Kirk, right down to his marrow, and he put a hand on Spock’s arm reflexively.
The attendant called to them. A taxi was waiting.
The craft carried them up, up into the starry sky, and Kirk looked out the side port, craning his head to see the constellations above, and then the lights of the ShiKahr hotel complex below.
“Captain,” Spock said into the quiet of the craft.
“You must not grieve too deeply for your lack of progeny.” He said it adamantly, as though it were something he had just recently realized and believed to be an urgent truth. “The future of this galaxy, this universe, is your child too. You have saved planets, and that will be long remembered.”
Kirk smiled slightly. “I’ve saved people, too. If the future’s my child, doesn’t that make it yours as well?”
Spock heard the hidden question, surely.
“If you so desire,” he said simply.
Somewhere on a faraway planet, Klingon families were holding funerals for their best and brightest sons, all their hopes and dreams splattered into space with the grotesque explosion of an enemy starship. There were no bodies left, just memories. They burned with anger. They were asking why, cursing the man who had violently taken so much from them. It was unforgivable. It was unavoidable. It was evil and it was right. It was sick and twisted and ugly, but their deaths were inconsequential to him—as his own had always been.
“I do so desire, Mister Spock,” he said flippantly. And the taxi craft flew onward over a planet of red glass, and rare and brilliant lightning.