Chapter 1

As soon as she stepped over the line she felt the change. The air seemed to be sharper, the heat more pressing. Instantly, she was on guard.

The transition did not happen, as she always expected, when she opened the door and left her house to abandon herself to the elements, but only after she stepped over the almost unnoticeable border between the garden that still belonged to her home, and the street, which was neither marked by a fence nor a door.

Her first expression was one of tension, which would be extinguished by a radiant smile that would rein in all the inner anxiety, only showing her composure.

Thus prepared, she followed with her eyes the invisible trail of offshoots with a few isolated flowers in between, leading to his feet, then from his shoes to the seam of his trousers and up the lines on his tunic, until she finally met his gaze. "Have a nice day, Sarek."

He was unchanged, like the image she had of him. A calm face. A calm bearing. A tallness, which made him visible in crowds. He inclined his head. "And a productive day to you, as well, my wife."

He turned to go. One last glance at his retreating back, then she was on her way as well, Spock in tow.

Delivering Spock to Nursery School, she made her way to the shuttle station. She walked slightly out of rhythm, like someone not breathing deeply, long steps and inclined forward, as if racing.

Everywhere, though it was still so early, there was a stirring, a beating of shoe-clad feet on the stony ground, ruffling of clothes, youngsters going to school, others going to work, and even now, at this hour, distinguished-looking Vulcans hurrying on errands of mystery, wrapped in the mist and soft humidity of the morning air, which would lift as the day wore on. As she watched them, she could not quite fit them in the orderly alignment of the city.

And how strange, the young offshoots on the hard ground, in contrast to the meticulously arranged decorative plants along the streets. The young plants were left completely to their devices, the Vulcans seemingly ignoring their existence. Yet they stood out, like Amanda felt herself, among the masses of Vulcans all around her.

They lined up so close together that she could no longer see the street or the houses across the way. From all sides they seemed to advance, as if to engulf her. Their unmoving, inhuman faces made her feel uneasy.

Amanda felt a shrinking of her whole body as she shrank from the crowd that seemed more alien than ever, enlivened somehow with some secret knowledge all seemed to share, excluding her. She felt as a child in an enormous world of menacing giants. She felt brittle and crushable.

The feeling of fragility was so strong that she felt surprised when she saw her image in a dark window. Her face looked composed, expressionless, giving nothing away of her inner turmoil.

It was the face of a serious young woman, equal to her surroundings. In the reflection was the image of the person she had become since coming to live on Vulcan, the image she showed to the world, but her inner self could be upset by the tiniest change of atmosphere.

The travel seemed to last forever, yet she was in no hurry to reach her final destination.

The buildings of the ShiKahr Academy never failed to make an impression on her, with the narrow windows deeply set in the walls, the corners strengthened with large jutting stones, and with a quantity of grotesque carvings on the walls, especially about the principal door. The whole complex was like a maze, an unknown number of buildings connected in the strangest ways, some under ground. It had been built over many centuries, the myriad styles and shapes layered over each other, the oldest parts almost forgotten, covered up by later works.

The ShiKahr Academy was a part of the Vulcan Science Academy. The VSA was a combination of many different academies all over Vulcan, connected by an excellence in standard, as well as a unified leadership. The ShiKahr Academy was one of its oldest components, founded long before the VSA came into being.

Amanda only knew her part of the Academy, and even there she managed to get lost from time to time. There was no telling how many unknown, hidden parts there were inside.

Now almost at the entrance, Amanda found herself stalling. Slowing her steps, she let her eyes wander about the Academy grounds. The wild plants were here as well, so out of place in these distinguished gardens, the pinnacle of Vulcan aesthetics. Cheerfully defying the symmetry around them, they comfortably grew everywhere they liked, their mere existence a mockery of the Vulcan-imposed order. This thought brought on an instant improvement of Amanda's mood.

Only a few days ago a very rare occurrence had taken place on Vulcan. It had rained. And like all good desert rains it had been violent and long-lasting. As a result, the seemingly lifeless Vulcan landscape was slowly transforming into a beautiful garden. Each time Amanda noticed a new patch of green she felt delighted.

It had been even better that first day, when the water had poured out of the darkened sky, relentlessly, with no end in sight. She had felt exhilarated, had not been able to resist the urge to run outside and get drenched, and had stood there, in the stream, her eyes closed, her mouth open, trying to swallow as much rain as she could.

Sarek had not followed her outside. He had only greeted her with an unreadable expression when she had gone back to him to tell him how beautiful it was outside, how delicious the cool wetness covering her whole body was, after years of the hot, dry air. Then he had simply told her that she was wetting the floor of his office.

Amanda felt again the disappointment at Sarek's reaction to the rain. Not once had he left the house during the few days the rain had lasted. One would think that after years of drought the rain would have been more of an event. No matter how much Vulcans liked their desert, it was the water that brought life, after all. But even seeing her after a water shower made Sarek uncomfortable. The other Vulcans acted in the exact same way. She had not seen a single Vulcan outside until it was completely dry again. Like nothing else, this first experience with Vulcan rain had made Amanda feel alien.

Entering the building, the receptionist at the entrance looked at her, a look which appeared to Amanda as expressing a question, a doubt. Amanda walked up to the desk and said haltingly: "Didn't… my husband send the certificate of absence due to rain?"

"Your husband took care of everything," said the receptionist.

Amanda flushed angrily. She was about to say: Then why did you stare at me? And why the undertone of irony on your face? And why had she herself hesitated at the word husband?