Chapter Four:

Monday, December 22, 2290

Earth, South Louisiana

Christmastime in the region of southern Louisiana, that had come to be generally referred to as New Orleans, had changed little in the past three or four hundred years; in spite of sophisticated technology, space travel, global war, ravaging hurricane and whale probe. What are we without our history and traditions? Every planet and every species had them. Every planet and every species kept them alive. The choice was either to embrace them or erase them altogether; the latter had proven time and again to be disastrous.

At Ducheaux House, the wrought iron banisters between the columns of the first and second floors were festooned with strands of local red cedar mixed with the glossy leaves of the camellia sasanqua. The exterior decorations were completed by a tree on the widow's walk, another of Christine Chapel's favorite childhood haunts. Beyond the maze of hedgerows, the gardens looked as if pink snow had fallen under the sasanquas. Ducheaux House seemed a place outside of time and far from the turmoil on a planet thousands of light years away.

It was into this tranquil, timeless setting that an aircar delivered the wife of the Vulcan ambassador at 10:30 a.m.

When Lauren appeared on the porch of the manor house, Amanda introduced her personal attaché, T'Vin. Lauren flawlessly executed a Vulcan greeting which T'Vin returned in kind. To anyone else, T'Vin would have appeared the epitomic Vulcan. Though they had never met, Lauren was familiar with this particular Vulcan. Amanda had spoken of her affectionately many times over the past eighteen years.

"Would you mind terribly if we made our way to your residence through the main house?" Amanda asked. "I have wanted to see the foyer at Christmastime."

"I would be disappointed if you didn't." Lauren said, her smile a little stiffer than she intended. T'Vin made her uneasy, not because she was Vulcan but because she was there.

Inside the eleven foot high foyer, crowned at the top with twelve inch stacked molding, a hand carved Christmas crèche had been assembled in front of two floor to ceiling mirrors that were draped with the same natural greenery as the exterior. The statuary was surrounded by pots of evergreen olive and swamp bay.

"The crèche is on loan from the New Orleans Museum of Antiquities." Lauren said. "We're very fortunate to be able to display it this year, at least through Christmas Day. It will go back to the museum after that."

Throughout the house, the windows and fireplaces were draped with greenery and with a candle on every windowsill. Amanda silently wished she could have enjoyed it under different circumstances. She was amused at the quizzical look on Lauren's face when T'Vin picked up "Cajun Night Before Christmas ®" from a corner table and began to peruse the pages.

When T'Vin stopped to study a historical marker about the origin of the elaborately carved mantelpiece in the dining room, Lauren took the opportunity to quietly ask Amanda, "Vous n'êtes pas venu ici juste pour voir la maison à Noel, n'est-ce pas?" (1)

"Perhaps it is time we moved on to your residence where we can talk," Amanda answered, with a validating sigh. "By the way, Vulcans have excellent hearing and T'Vin understands French."

When they arrived at the residence, Lauren asked her guests to have a seat in the large open-plan family room while she made tea. In spite of its two hundred years, the interior of the caretaker residence exhibited a contemporary design with both utilitarian and comfortable furnishings. When she returned with the teapot and three cups, T'Vin had disappeared.

Reading the question on Lauren's face, Amanda said, "We thought it prudent for her to take a walk in the gardens while we talked."

"I hope I didn't cause any offense."

"Offense is a Human emotion," Amanda said, smiling. "She has been with our family since Spock was five and is privy to many things in our household. I explained to her before we arrived that you would feel more comfortable if it was just the two of us."

Lauren nodded a quiet 'thank you' and decided she would keep her concerns about T'Vin's even being there at all to herself for the moment.

Amanda took a sip of tea and asked, "What has Christine told you about the mission on Q'a'ta'Orbin?"

"Only what you and I have discussed before."

"I meant, what has she told you in the past few months, since the last time you and I communicated?"

"Very little. Amanda, you and I have been through so much together and we have both come within a hair's breadth of losing our children. Just tell me."

"Please, bear with me. It is not an easy thing to explain."

Lauren let out a short breath and tried not to make it sound exasperated. "Her communiques have been fewer over the past three months and those have been, for lack of a better word, uninspired." She suspected that things on Q'a'ta'Orbin were not going well.

"Then, she has not told you that she has been replaced as director of the initiative?"

"No." Lauren, knitting her brow, was momentarily stunned by the revelation. She got up and pulled a bottle of wine from the cabinet. "When did this happen?"

"A month ago. She had no warning. Her replacement, a Doctor Seren, arrived with the supply ship and the official communique. But we believe it was inevitable."

"Why inevitable? And how is it that you know?"

"Through Sarek."

Lauren was silent, weighing the implications. After all that had happened in the past six years, she was aware that her daughter had developed a rapport with the Vulcan Ambassador, although, she couldn't really account for why. She was also aware that Christine had received a rare opportunity to work with a Vulcan Healer for a year, but had declined it in favor of staying on the frontier.

"Three months ago," Amanda began, "Christine reached out to Sarek regarding increasing deficits in supply shipments. I believe she was also concerned about unreasonable restrictions to the CERI team's interaction with the Torbin and the gradual reassignment of personnel for reasons she could not reconcile. When the supply ship that brought her replacement left Q'a'ta'Orbin, a month ago, it took half the remaining CERI personnel with it."

"We received a communique from her only two weeks ago – there was no mention of any of that."

"I thought not. That would have been sent before she was ordered by Starfleet to step aside," Amanda said. "At first, she appealed to the Inspector General's office. When it became apparent that she would not be getting anywhere with the IG office, she contacted Admiral Cartwright. When that failed to yield any results, she contacted Sarek."

Lauren poured wine into her teacup and offered some to Amanda.

"No, thank you. Lauren," Amanda said, taking her hand, "there are some things I have not told you."

"What else could there to tell?" Lauren's heart was beating rapidly. Every instinct told her she should brace herself.

Amanda thought, "Where to begin?"

"About your daughter's personal relationship with my son."

Lauren and Amanda had only occasionally spoken of their children. Amanda's admission, that if she were to choose a wife for her son it would be Christine, was diametrically opposed to her own hopes that it was an impossibility. She respected Amanda. She respected the Vulcans. And she respected Sarek if only because Amanda loved him so. She had even come to understand how Christine would be attracted to Spock. But she would not want that life for her daughter, even now, even after all that she had learned and all the petty prejudices, borne of misinformation, she had overcome.

"As far as I know, there isn't one, at least beyond mutual respect." Lauren was still defiantly holding on to her hope that it was not possible. How had a discussion about whatever was transpiring on Q'a'ta'Orbin suddenly, and inexplicably, segued to a discussion of a personal relationship between their children?

"I know this is not want you want to hear," Amanda continued, "but I don't believe that professional respect or even friendship is the full extent of their relationship."

Lauren, shaking her head, gave her friend a smile signaling surrender and a deep sigh. "I knew she was still in love with him. Christine came home for a last visit before returning to duty on the Bradley." Lauren stopped for a moment and organized her thoughts. "You remember those gargoyle bookends that Sara thought were wonderful?"

"Yes, you said they belonged to Patterson's mother," Amanda answered.

"For some reason, she asked for them. She wanted to take them with her. While we were packaging them up in the conservatory, I took advantage of her vulnerability to ask about her feelings for Spock. I suppose I convinced myself that I wanted to understand and help her through the pain, but I'm ashamed to admit that I think I really just want to know."

She poured herself another teacup of wine and with a far off look in her eyes, as if trying to capture a moment in time. "I don't remember exactly how I said it, but I commented on how difficult it must be for her. I was astonished that she answered. She said that…loving him was the easiest thing she has ever donehaving to explain it is what makes it difficult. I resolved never asked her anything about Spock again."

"And I have long suspected," Amanda said, "that Spock's interest in Christine is more than just professional respect. I never mentioned it to you because they were just that, only suspicions that might have been borne of my own hopes, especially after he gave up his quest for Kolinahr. Yes, it goes that far back. I was only certain of it when I saw them both at an official function a few weeks before…before the training cruise."

Lauren put her hand on Amanda's.

"They had gotten into a debate over some philosophical question. I don't even remember what it was about. I was more intent on their interaction than the subject matter. That they had become more than colleagues, more than friends, would have been unmistakable for anyone paying attention. Perhaps I should not have, but I was so caught up in the possibilities that I took the chance to confront him about it. Of course, he would not confirm it. But he did not deny it either. When I chastised him for guarding his privacy too closely, he told me that I 'was assuming the privacy in need of protection was his.'"

Lauren had never considered that her daughter's affections for the half Vulcan son of her friend might actually be, or at least had been, reciprocated.

"Forgive me, Amanda, but what does one thing have to do with the other?"

"There are forces working against the Torbin. It is unclear why or to what end. The fight she is waging, and will continue to wage, is about to become very public. I believe that it is why she has asked Sarek to cease his efforts to investigate or intervene. She practically begged him to stand down. When he refused, on principle, she contacted to me to beg me to persuade Sarek that he would only be giving her adversaries more ammunition if he continued."

"And you believe it is because there is a relationship…"

"Was," Amanda said, sadly. "I'm afraid that what happened to my son also ended whatever they may have had together. I can't even tell you why or how I know. I just do. I believe she is afraid that any hint of that would compromise Sarek's ability to help the Torbin cause. He reluctantly agreed. Christine is very determined and will do what she has to do. Since Christine is in no position to do so, Sarek and I thought you should at least have some warning."

When Lauren finished relating the story to Patterson, she was weary from the effort. It seemed more devastating in the retelling.

"Amanda apologized profusely for having to interfere with our holiday, but she and Sarek leave for a conference on Rigel V tomorrow and she didn't want to put anything in a communication."

"Is she afraid their communications, or ours, are being monitored?"

"I asked her that. She couldn't say."

"Then why the Vulcan attache?"

"T'Vin will be remaining at the Embassy on Earth. Amanda wanted me to meet her. She said T'Vin could be trusted and that if we needed to communicate with her, it should be through T'Vin."

"Then I suppose the only thing left to do is wait for the other shoe to drop," Patterson said, as he poured the last of the Chateau La Barre into their empty glasses. Holding his up to meet Lauren's, he added, "To our daughter and her magnificent obsessions."


Wednesday, December 24, 2290

Earth, South Louisiana

For centuries, parents have sent their children into the unknown; sailors went down to the sea in ships, pioneers into the west, explorers into the darkness and dangers of space…There was never a time when it became easy.

The bonfires on the levee on Christmas Eve were traditionally intended to light the way for Papa Noel. Tonight, for Lauren and Patterson Chapel, it represented a beacon to light the way for their daughter to come home.

Little did they realize, then, how long and difficult that journey would prove to be.

(1) Translation: "You didn't come here just to see the house at Christmastime, did you?"

A/N: In the Christian tradition, a nativity scene (also known as a manger scene, crib, crèche (/krɛʃ/or /kreɪʃ/, or in Italian presepio or presepe) is the special exhibition, particularly during the Christmas season, of art objects representing the birth of Jesus. By the late 18th century, crèche (which we borrowed from French and now sometimes spelled without the accent mark) had displaced those older forms, and the word had lost its former "manger" meaning, coming to refer instead to a representation of the Nativity scene itself .– Nativity scene – Wikipedia.