by K.V. Wylie

It is our mortality that defines us.
   --Jean-Luc Picard

We will go to the highest mountain.
We will die on the highest peak.
Our thoughts enjoin, our minds beyond.
Forever will we speak.

   --Anonymous Vulcan Poet

After all these years together, Spock could still surprise his spouse with a meal the latter not only failed to recognize, but could not look upon comfortably. Leonard H. McCoy, recently retired for the upteenth time and hoping for at least a couple of years of peace and quiet before either death or another Starfleet reactivation clause came to claim him, wondered if Spock was trying to poison him.

"What . . ." he said carefully, trying to suppress a gag reflex. "What is this?"

"Rhouquats," Spock said, a forkful of it already in his mouth.

Watching Spock actually swallow, McCoy supposed that the Vulcan might not be trying to kill him, unless the latter was planning to leave this life as well.

"What is wrong, Leonard?"

McCoy tried to think of a nice way to say he'd performed autopsies on weeks-old cadavers that smelled better. "Where'd you, uh, get the recipe?"

"It was one of my mother's."

Lovely, McCoy sighed. If he insulted the meal, he'd be insulting the memory of Lady Amanda too. He picked up his fork and faced his plate once more.

Whatever rhouquats were, they looked like slugs in petroleum jelly, topped with sauce made of more petroleum jelly. "This is vegetarian?"

"They grow on Andor," Spock said. "The stems and leaves are toxic, but the roots are edible and nutritionally rich."

McCoy speared one, watched something unmentionable ooze out of it onto his plate, and looked away quickly. "I love you, Spock, and you know that I loved your mother."

Spock's expression was unreadable. "But . . ."

"But," McCoy continued. "Either your mother's recipe is gawdawful, or the stove has turned on you." He covered his plate with his napkin, and got up to get a bowl of cereal. "I'm sorry. Shall I make up my bed on the couch tonight?"

An arched eyebrow lifted. "I am not banishing you, Leonard, but you may wish to sleep in another room regardless. Rhouquats have an aftereffect, which would not be a problem if both of us were inconvenienced."

McCoy paused in the act of pouring milk. "The aftereffect would be?"

"The odor lingers."

"Is that it?" the doctor asked suspiciously.

Innocently, Spock replied, "Yes."

"Hmm," McCoy muttered. "Just in case that's not all, you're sleeping on the couch."

The doctor meant it. The odor was enough to put him off, even if there were no other results. Consequently, when the priority transmission from Vulcan came through in the early hours of the morning, Spock was able to retrieve the message from the main room console without having to get up from the couch.

The contents of the transmission, however, sent him to his feet. He called for his husband through their link.

McCoy could sprint into wakefulness just as quickly. He was in the doorway before the mental echoes died.

"What is it?"

"T'Pau is dying. I must attend to her."

"Oh no! You pack. I'll look up the shuttles."

"She is not on Vulcan," Spock said. "She is here. She was at the seat of the Federation Council when she took ill."

McCoy paused, wondering why T'Pau had left Vulcan, but it wasn't the time to ask. "At least you can get to her quickly. Get a shower. I'll lay out your clothes."

"Leonard, she has requested the presence of both of us." But the Vulcan was in the washroom before McCoy could say anything more.

"You're the Designate," the doctor said to himself. He checked the transmission to make sure he'd heard correctly. There it was. She'd asked for him too.

McCoy booked transport, and was dressed and ready before the Vulcan came out of the shower. "You're the one who's supposed to take her Katra," he said. "I thought that was a private thing."

"I have no information other than the message contents," Spock said. He finished dressing just as a flyer came to their door.

The driver would have heard them, so they kept quiet during the trip. McCoy alternated between keeping an eye on Spock and looking out the window, his mind whirling. They'd been somewhat prepared for this eventuality, for T'Pau was quite elderly by Vulcan standards, but its actual arrival was still jarring. She was the Matriarch of Spock's family, and a direct descendant of Surak. There were several women in the bloodline who could succeed her, but T'Pau had not actually chosen which of them was to take her place. If she died without naming a successor, the resulting competition could divide the family, perhaps permanently.

What T'Pau had done in the matter of her Katra was to, surprisingly, bypass her oldest living male heir, her grandson Sarek, in favor in Spock. Spock was to be the Designate, the Receiver, the one who would be with T'Pau as she died and who would carry her essence to Mount Seleya. The reason for her choice was her own, and no one dared question her, not even Sarek who had the right. But there was talk in the family all the same. Some said it had to do with Sarek's marriage to Amanda, the only Human in the family until McCoy, but if that was the reason, then Spock, 'tainted' with human blood and married to a human as well, would not have been the Designate. Furthermore, Amanda had been offered a place in the Hall of Ancient Thought, a great honor, if not an unsure one for no one knew if Humans had Katras. And still didn't, for Lady Amanda had desired cremation, without the attempt at Vulcan immortality. Three seasons ago, Sarek had silently fulfilled her wish, and carried the ashes to her family's vault on Earth. T'Pau had accompanied him, also silently, but giving favor by her presence. So the reasons behind the choice of Designate were still entirely T'Pau's own.

T'Pau announced her choice after Spock and McCoy had married. Coincidentally, the announcement came the day after they arrived home from their first Isolation, the completion of the first Pon Farr within their marriage. Neither was in much of a state to deal with the news, for the cycle had been difficult for both of them. Spock could appeal, but could only legally do so within twelve hours. Recovering from Pon Farr, he and McCoy slept through the opportunity. He became the Designate, and had since kept his thoughts about it pretty much to himself.

McCoy glanced over at Spock who was living up to the stereotype by looking green. He sent a query through the link.

Spock responded by taking McCoy's hand reassuringly. I am fine.

McCoy doubted it, but let Spock be. They arrived soon afterwards at the Federation Seat, and were whisked away by nervous aides to a private suite in which a Vulcan physician was in attendance.

"I am S'hoav. She has been waiting." He made it sound as if they had taken their time getting there.

Spock entered into an inner room. McCoy headed for a chair, but found S'hoav in front of him.

"Are you not Leonard McCoy of Sarek's House? She is waiting."

"She's waiting for Spock. I don't want to intrude."

"The Matriarch has requested you," S'hoav stated, with another look of disapproval.

McCoy swallowed a retort and entered the inner room, S'hoav on his heels.

What must have been hundreds of firepots lined the walls, going across the floor, and sitting on shelves and tables. The flickering lights cast a reddish glow over the room, and a smell of smudge and spice filled the air. Elegant draperies shrouded a huge bed, the head of which had been raised. T'Pau may be dying, but she would do so upright.

She was wrapped in blankets glinting with edgings of gold thread and jade stones. Her headdress stood firmly atop her head, and she watched McCoy's entry into the room without a quiver of expression across her lean face. Despite it all, she looked small and frail in the finery. As McCoy neared the bed, he realized she was upright only because of the support of many pillows. Her headdress had been fastened to the headboard.

He bowed respectfully as he neared her. "Siddhur," he said.

Spock stood a few feet away from the head of the bed, looking unVulcanly stunned. McCoy went a step toward him, but T'Pau held up a hand.

"Designate," she whispered.

McCoy turned around. She was looking at him.

He was startled for a moment, then he realized. Dim room. Failing eyesight. "Spock," he said. "Get over here."

"Makkoy," T'Pau said, still in a whisper, but the authority of the tone was unmistakable. "Come."

S'hoav approached the other side of the bed. Spock wasn't helping, so McCoy spoke to the physician. "Her wishes are for Spock to . . ." He didn't want to say 'take her Katra' in front of her. It seemed disrespectful.

"Spock is revoked. Thee is my Receiver, Makkoy," T'Pau spoke, her voice unsteady. McCoy turned back to her. Her upraised hand was trembling and her voice was giving way, but her eyes were flint.

McCoy felt the room spin. He was supposed to take her Katra? The Human? More importantly, the unprepared Human? She was aware of what had happened before, with he and Spock.

"No," McCoy stuttered. "No...I didn't...not said Spock...oh for . . .Spock, I told you the smell of those rhouquats was enough to put anybody off . . ." He pointed at Spock. "Unrevoke him."

"That is not allowed," Spock said, finally entering the conversation. "Once revoked--"

"She can. Anything is allowed for the Matriarch," McCoy said back.

"Does thee fight with me as I die?" T'Pau asked softly.

"I'm sorry. Truly," McCoy said, "but, Siddhur, it was always Spock."

"Never Spock," she said. "I meant for you. Since the Koon-ut-kal-if-fee."

Her voice failed and her hand went down.

"What do you mean, never Spock?" McCoy asked quietly.

"If the Matriarch had expressed her true wishes before now, you would have appealed," S'hoav said.

"So you tell me about this now?" McCoy took a breath. "If I appeal, it could take weeks for a hearing. In the meanwhile . . ." He eyed T'Pau. "Your logic is infallible."

She took it as the compliment intended.

"The question is why," McCoy said, but T'Pau could only raise her hand once more.

"There is no time. Makkoy, attend."

A spike of actual fear ran through him. "Siddhur, last time, I failed."

"Thee did not."

McCoy glanced at Spock. Through their link, he felt the Vulcan's lingering astonishment, but also, I am here, Leonard.

The doctor tentatively touched T'Pau's hand with his own. Beyond his own apprehension, he could feel Spock's worry.

How would this work? If he took T'Pau's Katra while linked with Spock, wouldn't Spock be taking the Katra too? Or were there mental barriers that Katras couldn't cross? Would it be like the last time, with Spock's voice running bedlam through his brain until he thought he would go mad from the constant racket? What would T'Pau's Katra feel like? Spock was half-Vulcan, and that had been bad enough. She was entirely and unceasingly Vulcan, unremitting even in the last breath of life. What would that feel like, inside his head?

Mostly, why had she chosen him?

The room slanted. Abruptly he was looking towards the door from the wrong angle. Then he realized. He was seeing from her angle. Spock and S'hoav looked back at him in return. No, they were looking at T'Pau, but he was in her. He could see their faces and, then, his own face, looking at him as if he was outside his body.

He panicked and cried out. Dizziness overtook him. Then he was back in his own head, looking from the correct angle. The bed was before him, the door behind, where it should be. And T'Pau...

Was dead. Her head lay against the pillow, her face relaxed in an expression of serenity such as he'd never seen on her before.

"The Matriarch has passed," S'hoav announced unnecessarily. He ran a scanner over McCoy. "Tell me your name."

"I'm . . ." McCoy paused. He knew his name, but T'Pau was inside him and every bit as authoritative as before. She wanted to answer first.

Spock pulled over a chair, just in time for McCoy felt himself going down.

"Leonard," he said, concern edging his voice.

McCoy steadied himself, his hands tightening on the armrests. "I can hear her. It's almost as if she...hasn't died. I can hear her!"

"Only the body is in death," S'hoav said.

McCoy reached through the link to Spock.

Do you feel her?

The answer returned, a bare wisp for T'Pau's presence was strong. No, Leonard.

Spock, she's so loud!

She is with you only. I hear nothing.

McCoy felt another rise of panic, but Spock reached through the link, reassuring him.

I am here.

Everyone's here, McCoy thought glumly. In me. Again. Why is it always me?

"Matriarch, are you ready to receive your family for the final time?" S'hoav said to the doctor.

McCoy rubbed his forehead. "You mean, am I ready?"

S'hoav's tone changed. "Family and those whose requests the Matriarch will allow will speak through you, Leonard McCoy. She will hear and reply. You are simply the passageway, the Receiver. It seems you are not aware this is our way," S'hoav replied. Again, the hint of accusation.

Fed up, McCoy responded, "She says you're to be nicer to me."

S'hoav blinked, startled, and McCoy inwardly smiled. T'Pau had said no such thing, but he could feel approval from her.

Cautiously, the Vulcan physician added, "Leonard McCoy, I will attend between visits, to ensure there is no harm to you. When those of the family who wish to speak have done so, you will be escorted to the Hall of Ancient Thought."

"How long will all of this take?"

"No more than one diurnal rhythm. A Vulcan host may carry a Katra for two diurnal rhythms without degeneration, but we are unsure of the effect in a Human host." S'hoav lowered his head. "Matriarch, a reception room has been set aside for your use. If it does not meet your approval, I will request another chamber." He touched a button on the wall. Immediately, the doors opened to admit several Vulcan guards.

They bowed to McCoy and said, "Matriarch, we attend thee."

Feeling horribly schizophrenic, McCoy managed a nod in return.

He was taken to an adjoining room decorated with ornate, blood-green hangings. More firepots had been lit in here, as well as small lamps. Their glow was a little brighter than in the other room. It gave McCoy a small bit of comfort.

The guards helped him up onto a cushioned chair, set upon an elevated platform. As McCoy climbed in, he recognized the crests along the side. It was the same imperial chair that had conveyed T'Pau into the arena during Spock's first Pon Farr.

Once he had settled as best as he could, two of the guards brought out a covering from a chest on the floor and draped it over his lap. The quilt hung down to the floor and was ridiculously multi-colored, but as McCoy studied it, he saw why. A patchwork of designs was sewn on it. Some of the threads, those in the middle, were so faded, they were gray, but the colors became brighter and newer as his eyes traveled to the borders.

He found that what he'd taken for a design was really a script of words, some in the curlicues of ancient Vulcan, and others in the more informal, modern lettering. Near one edge, beside the word Spock 'en Sarek, was his own name in bright, silver thread.

"The family tree," he said in wonder. The guards looked at him, unsure if they were supposed to answer. He ignored them as he traced back a branch of names - Spock, Sarek, T'Pau, other names, some he recognized and others he didn't. Finally he came to a name written in very old thread.


He shivered, though he wasn't sure if the impulse came from him or from T'Pau. She was with him and had been following the names too. She urged him to go farther, so he did, following through Surak's family line which now switched from the father's name to the mother's. In many places, he came upon a single line of female names, the males unrecorded. He felt T'Pau's disapproval at the lost, unrecorded history.

At length he came to where the originator of the family should be, the centre of the quilt, and discovered it was empty, the fabric bare.

She spoke to him, inside his head.

Lost, Makkoy. Where we came from in the beginning is nameless. We know only that we took power by atrocious violence and bloodshed. We murdered so many that the blood we spilled turned the ground to liquid. We ruled by terror.

She urged him to return to Surak's name. He did, and discovered a second branch of names that ended again in an empty place.

Those who went to Romulus. Family we have disowned and who have disowned us. We may have been wrong to stop the thread.

McCoy didn't know how to answer her inside where her voice was. He decided to whisper, even though the guards might hear. "They rejected Surak and chose to keep their emotions. I didn't know anyone disagreed with the Romulans being banished."

Thee married a Vulcan. Are we so unemotional?

"To be honest, I only really know one Vulcan, but him I know pretty well. So I'd have to say, no."

There is another family line elsewhere. Remember this. Someday, thee or Spock may go.

"Go to Romulus?" McCoy couldn't keep the shock from rebounding through his mind. He felt T'Pau recoil. "Forgive me, Siddhur."

Makkoy, this is why I chose thee. This is why I traveled to Earth, when my end neared.

He hesitated. "You chose me because I'm emotional?"

I chose thee because thee dares. Thee defied me when T'Pring legally challenged.

"I don't remember that."

Thee gave Kirk a drug to simulate death, and allowed him to cheat.

"Oh. That."

Makkoy chooses by a logic of compassion.

He frowned. "Siddhur, why would that be important now?"

She fell silent.

"Siddhur," McCoy tried, then called loudly, "Siddhur!"

The guards stared at him.

Makkoy, order them to bring to thee the daughter of Stellek and T'Penna, and to leave us alone.

He did so awkwardly, however, they reacted as if T'Pau really was speaking to them. They bowed hastily and sped from the room.

McCoy sat for a few moments, lightly tracing names on the quilt. "Now what?" he asked softly.

The first approaches. Listen.

He heard footsteps and voices. One of the guards entered the room and asked, "Will the Siddhur receive Admiral Nogura of the Earth Federation Council?"

T'Pau was willing, so McCoy nodded. This ought to be interesting, he mused. The last time he had seen Nogura, it was to yell at him for promoting Kirk out of the Captain's chair.

Nogura was a short Terran, barely four and a half feet. McCoy had often thought it ironic that the smallest people could command with the greatest iron rule. Nogura was such a commander, his inflexibility legendary, a reputation matched only by T'Pau's.

As Nogura approached the chair on the platform, he looked even smaller than McCoy remembered. As he bowed, McCoy noticed a bald spot.

"T'Pau of Vulcan," he said, looking not at McCoy but at one of the firepots. "I have come to offer my sympathy. The galaxy will suffer by your death."

In a whisper McCoy himself could barely hear, he asked T'Pau, "Are we polite or do we give a parting shot?"

There is no accommodation for discourtesy. Does thee have issue with the Admiral?

"Big time." In a louder tone, McCoy repeated T'Pau's words in his mind. "Thy words honor us."

Nogura must have been prepared for the masculine voice and the man sitting before him - obviously he knew the protocol for this situation - however, he hesitated, and had to gather himself before going on. "If you have any last wishes, I am willing to do my best."

McCoy recited T'Pau's reply. "There is Sarek's work with the Legarans..."

"T'Pau, a treaty at this time would be meaningless."

"Thee need not be involved. Thy aide, Anlev, is competent."

"Competent," Nogura repeated grimly. "I suppose you could call her that. I call her disagreeable."

"She only disagrees with thee, and only on the matter of the Legarans."

Nogura finally looked up, and McCoy shifted uneasily in the chair. Would Nogura believe that T'Pau was insisting on this point, or would he think this was the doctor, being argumentative again?

"She may go," Nogura said at last, looking disagreeable himself. "T'Pau, if I may, I thought that Captain Spock was your Designate?"

T'Pau silenced, so McCoy did too. This bothered Nogura. He turned to take his leave, but turned back and ventured, "Are there any further requests? Any, perhaps, to do with James Kirk?"

Yup, McCoy thought, he does think I'm up to something. T'Pau urged him, and in a bland voice, the doctor said, "The situation with James Kirk does not concern us."

It concerns me, McCoy thought, but, frankly, he was a little unnerved at the thought of what T'Pau could do in his head, should she get upset with him. That time with Spock's Katra had been bad enough. So he repeated her words verbatim, and bit his tongue afterwards.

Damn, damn, damn, he said to himself, and felt the Matriarch's admonition. Patience, Makkoy.

Nogura attempted another exit, but T'Pau suddenly decided she wasn't finished.

"Nogura of Earth, we ask one final question of thee."

"Yes, T'Pau."

"What does thee believe will happen after thee dies?"

McCoy couldn't keep the surprise from showing on his face. Neither could Nogura, who stared back in amazement.

The doctor shrugged as if to say, hey, I'm only the passageway.

"I don't know what happens," Nogura said. "I've never thought about it."

Liar, McCoy thought, and he felt T'Pau's agreement with the sentiment. However, her reply was only, "Live long and prosper, Nogura of Earth."

"Thank you, T'Pau," he said, and made his exit quickly.

S'hoav came in with a medical scanner, ran it over McCoy, and left without a word. Afterwards, McCoy sat for a while, following lines of names on the quilt, before saying, "Siddhur, Spock wants to come in."

He shall be the last, Makkoy.

"So we just sit here for the rest of the day?"

Thee may break thy fast or administer to personal needs.

"I'm rather used to 'administering to personal needs' by myself. And I'm not hungry. Siddhur, why did you ask Nogura about his soul?"

She didn't answer.

"This isn't helping," McCoy muttered. He tried another way. "Siddhur, have you ever been in the Hall of Ancient Thought?"

Yes, Makkoy.

"What's it like?"

She gave him a mental picture of a long, shadowed dead end burrowed into the side of a mountain. Innumerable, small white receptacles lay in chiseled-out indentations in the red, rough-stone walls. Murmuring stirred the air, the sounds of hundreds of thousands of indistinguishable voices.

"Not to be, uh, disrespectful, but they look like ping pong balls," McCoy said.

Size is immaterial.

"But how do you know who is where?"

Thee need not know where. Thee need only listen.

"If Lady Amanda had chosen to do this, could Sarek visit her? Would she still be, somehow, within his reach?"

He would not visit her. Requests which are self-concerning are not allowed. He would need sufficient cause before being admitted, and many years training in order to learn how to communicate with the presences in the Hall.

"I see," McCoy said. In the image T'Pau had given him, the pitch of the voices was getting louder. "Are the presences talking to each other?"

Theirs is a level of existence living Katras do not understand. The Masters do not believe the presences in the Hall are aware of each other.

"Siddhur, I know this is the Vulcan way, but I can sympathize with Lady Amanda's decision not to be put into a ping pong ball."

Why, Makkoy?

"It seems hopeless and lonely."

Illogical, Makkoy, and emotional.

"I know." McCoy closed his eyes and tried to get comfortable in the chair.

He had no sense of time, and he wondered if he'd been dozing for, when the next guard interrupted, he experienced a few moments of disorientation.


Here, Makkoy.

"Are you all right?" he asked, before catching himself. "No, I guess you're not, having...passed on."

Attend, Makkoy. T'Pring enters.

T'Pring was dressed in elegant, though simply cut clothing. She wore no jewelry and her hair was loose and unadorned down her back. She bowed when she came in the room, took a few steps near to the chaise chair, then went down on her knees on the floor.

"Siddhur," she said softly. "I grieve."

T'Pau made no answer for several, long minutes. McCoy waited uncomfortably, and finally 'nudged' T'Pau as best as he could.

She is no longer of Sarek's house, Makkoy. She chose to Challenge, and Spock subsequently refused her as his wife. We may choose not to acknowledge her.

From his elevated perspective, the doctor was aware that T'Pring's bowed position made her seem smaller than if his chair had been on the floor, rather than on a platform. She may have been counting on the view appearing so. Still, the realization didn't make the silence any easier for him.

At last, T'Pring said, "Siddhur, I ask of thee one last favor."

T'Pau's words surprised McCoy. He repeated them, but not without some human emotion creeping in. "Does thee make requests to Sarek's house after having challenged? Where is thy consort, Stonn? He, at least, may approach us without reproach."

It seemed to McCoy that T'Pau already knew the answer to her question. It was not enough to take T'Pring on her knees - she also had to state out loud a source of shame.

"Siddhur, Stonn would not take me as his wife."

"Why did he scorn thee?"

Now McCoy was certain that T'Pau already knew the story. He turned uneasily to look at a wall hanging, but the Matriarch ordered him to return his eyes to T'Pring.

T'Pring kept her gaze fastened on the floor. "Stonn had desired to be my Challenger. He could not see the logic of my argument. He saw only an insult to his honor."

"Thee put a human in his place. There is no logic. There is only dishonor, both to Stonn's family and to Spock's. Thee continues the dishonor by thy presence before us. Does thee not have a husband now, to speak on thy behalf?"

In a very even, but very soft, voice, T'Pring said, "Siddhur, when it became known that I would Challenge, no other male has inquired of me."

"Return to thy family then."

"They will not have me."

T'Pau knew that too, and McCoy was hating this conversation thoroughly. These endless family insults and dishonors were ridiculous. All T'Pring had done was decide against the one her family had picked for her when she was seven. McCoy also knew for certain she didn't cross Spock's mind anymore.

T'Pau decided to either relent or pose a different angle of attack.

"Speak, and we will hear, T'Pring."

"Siddhur, I will make whatever restitution is required of me. I ask only to be forgiven by Sarek's House."

"Thy request is denied."

McCoy did look away now. He could barely stand to repeat the words.

"I understand, Siddhur." T'Pring rose and left.

McCoy felt ready to explode. "You cannot be serious! Siddhur, this happened years ago!"

Time is irrelevant, Makkoy. T'Pring understood when she Challenged.

"But she's cut off from every family. She has no one."

Do not be foolish with thy sympathy.

"It's hardly foolish," McCoy fumed. "This woman's paying her whole life for one action. As far as I'm concerned, Siddhur, your House is still violent and bloody."

Makkoy, there is no precedent for deciding otherwise. This is the way it has always been. Shall I spurn what has been the Vulcan way for thousands of years, for no reason other than compassion?

"Yes, make a precedent. You're the damn Matriarch!"

No, Makkoy. During this day, thee is the Matriarch. My time has ended. Thee could require T'Pring to return here, and thee could forgive on behalf of Sarek's House.

"I could," McCoy frowned, "but you don't like that option."

No one can hear my voice, but thee, Makkoy. No one would know that I did not forgive T'Pring.

"Siddhur, I'd know," McCoy muttered.

S'hoav returned with his scanner, followed by an attendant with tea and fruit.

"Is anyone else out there?" McCoy asked the Vulcan physician.

"Ambassador Sarek, Matriarch."

After S'hoav and the attendant left, McCoy murmured, "Here we go."

Sarek entered the room, then knelt. "T'Pau."

McCoy closed his eyes - it was all he could do to give the two of them some privacy. It was also disturbing, addressing his father-in-law who was addressing him in return as his grandmother.

Open thy eyes, Makkoy.

He sent a resounding negative back to her.

I cannot see unless thee sees. I cannot move unless thee moves. Let me look upon Sarek when I speak to him.

And she would speak to him. Finally, McCoy had to open his eyes, for T'Pau was getting rather relentless in his head.

He found Sarek still kneeling.

"T'Pau," Sarek said. "I grieve."

"Sarek, we find no fault in thee. Does thee have any requests?"

McCoy wondered if he'd ask about the choice of Designate. Instead, Sarek rose and said, "I have none, T'Pau. I will inform you that Admiral Nogura's aide, Anlev, will be assisting me in my work with the Legarans."

This was the Vulcan way of saying thank you, McCoy knew. Sarek was grateful for T'Pau's intervention with Nogura.

"Live long and prosper, Sarek."

Sarek nodded, then turned to go.

Anti-climatic, McCoy thought. Was that it?

It wasn't. T'Pau called her grandson back.


He waited. T'Pau took her time to answer. McCoy wondered why.

"Why did thy human wife prefer dissolution to the Hall of Ancient Thought?"

The tiniest flicker of a muscle in Sarek's jaw was the only betrayal of his being taken aback. "My wife had a belief set consistent with a Terran monotheistic religion, the dominant theme of which is--"

T'Pau interrupted him. "Were thee not her husband? Were thy minds not one? Why did she choose disintegration over thy objection?"

Unwillingly, Sarek replied, "Illogically, Amanda did not believe her Katra would disintegrate if it was not transferred to the Hall. She had no proof."

"Makkoy, also, will not accept the Hall." McCoy repeated her words, overwhelmed with a feeling of unreality at being simultaneously part and not part of the conversation.

"It is a Human tendency," Sarek commented.

Fortunately, the conversation finished there. After Sarek left, McCoy said, "Siddhur, I admit I can be a dense man, but I'm sensing a trend."

She refused to answer.

"The whole thing's illogical, isn't it?" McCoy said to no one. He drank his tea and ate some of the fruit, then gave in and went to the washroom. He was half-spooked at the thought of looking at himself in the mirror over the vanity, as if he might see T'Pau's reflection. Instead, a familiar, unshaven, baggy-eyed face stared back at him.

He returned to the chair to find S'hoav waiting for him. "I'm fine," he told him.

S'hoav checked his medical scanner. "Matriarch, your vital readings are acceptable for a Human."

"Right now, you're only speaking to me," McCoy said.

S'hoav gave him a look, clearly hesitant to pick up any part of that debate.

The doctor sighed. "I know. Today, I'm the Matriarch."

"Yes, Siddhur," S'hoav answered.

"And you have to do whatever I tell you?"

S'hoav took a second. "Yes, Siddhur."

McCoy drew the quilt back over his lap, then said, "It's good to be the Matriarch."

"Yes, Siddhur. Will there be anything else?"

Nodding, McCoy said, "Were you T'Pau's personal physician?"

"Yes, Siddhur, I attended you for sixty-seven point eight standard years."

"So you knew her pretty well?"

"Only the body is in death, Siddhur," S'hoav replied. "It is correct to say that I have knowledge of you."

"Actually, S'hoav, she's being real quiet right now, so you're only speaking to the Human."

The Vulcan physician pulled out his scanner again, but McCoy waved it off. "She's still here, but there are some questions I've been asking her that she's refusing to answer."

"Perhaps, Siddhur, such questions are not Leonard McCoy's concern."

"I think they are," McCoy said. "There's a reason why she made me the Designate. I'm supposed to do something besides carry her Katra."

"I know of no basis for such reasoning, Siddhur." S'hoav ran his scanner again anyway.

McCoy waited until he was finished before continuing, "Why was I chosen? If you heard anything about the last time I did this, you'd know it didn't turn out very well."

"The Refusion was successful," S'hoav said.

"Is that what T'Pau wants?"

"The body is in death, Siddhur. The circumstances with Spock 'en Sarek were different."

"Then why choose me?" McCoy persisted.

S'hoav relented. "I do not know, Leonard McCoy."

"It's an irrational decision."

"I pass no judgment on that. Stellek, T'Penna, and their daughter await you, Matriarch. Are you ready to receive them?"

"Yes, thank you," McCoy said, "but just the daughter first."

S'hoav left. A few minutes later, a striking-looking young girl entered the room. She could not have been more than nine or ten, and McCoy could see her ability at Vulcan discipline was not yet strong enough to cover her awe at being called alone before the Matriarch. Her hands were shaking as she approached the platform.

"Siddhur," she said, and bowed. "I grieve."

"Speak your name, child."

T'Pau already knew the young girl's name, but she wanted to see how the child responded.

"I am T'Pel, Siddhur," said the girl, raising her head and managing a clear, even voice. "I am the daughter of Stellek and T'Penna, and I am betrothed to Tuvok of the House of Storak and son of T'Meni."

"Thee is cousin to Spock 'en Sarek."

"Yes, Siddhur, I have that honor."

"Does thee know why I have called thee before us?"

"No, Siddhur, but I am ready to fulfill any requests which you make of me."

"We well know of thee, T'Pel. Call thy parents to attend, and our physician S'hoav."

She bowed, and strode slowly to the door. McCoy had to admire her; he could tell that T'Pel wasn't sure if she was in the Matriarch's good graces, or bad ones, and probably would prefer to bolt, either way.

S'hoav came in first, then Stellek and T'Penna entered, T'Penna holding her daughter's hand. They bowed, and Stellek said, "Matriarch, we grieve."

T'Pau told McCoy to sit up straighter than he was. Already, his back was aching, but he managed another half-inch of ramrod to his spine.

"T'Penna, let go of thy child's hand. T'Pel must stand on her own from this day forward. We name her our successor, and the Matriarch of the House of Sarek. She will bring added commendation to the House of Storak. Her bridal price is to be increased accordingly."

The parents remained as stone-faced as before, but T'Pel's eyes widened. She looked at her parents and, finally, Stellek said, "It shall be done, Matriarch."

"S'hoav and the Human Makkoy are thy witnesses. Go forth with the news."

When they were alone, McCoy stretched and said happily, "Siddhur, I enjoyed that."

Enjoyment is not pertinent. T'Pel is the logical choice for succession. She possesses the correct aptitude and is of the line of Surak.

"What sort of qualities make up this correct aptitude, Siddhur?"

The child is remarkably intelligent and able to withstand physical stress.

"Physical stress? You mean, she was ill?"

Yes, Makkoy, and she nearly succumbed. Before she was of four seasons, she experienced significant periods of separation from her parents, which resulted in a higher level of independence than most Vulcan children achieve at that early age. She is also curious.

McCoy blinked. "You admire curiosity?"

Admiration is an emotional state, Makkoy.

"Fair enough, but we can agree that curiosity is a desirable trait?"

I will allow that description.

"So she gets in because she's smart, independent, curious, and has withstood illness. These were qualities you had at her age?"

I did. There is another who possesses these qualities in such a high degree.

"How did you choose between them, Siddhur?"

T'Pel is of the blood-line. The other was given a different role.

McCoy felt that strange moment of disorientation again. "Siddhur?" he said cautiously.

I am here, Makkoy.

"The degeneration in the human host might be going faster than S'hoav thought."


"It's, uh, a bit of a concern, don't you think?"

No, Makkoy. More of the family will be here soon, and T'Pel will return to attend. Quickly, follow the logic. T'Pel was given the highest honor. The other was given the second. What is the second highest role to the Matriarch?

"Consort to the Matriarch?"

The Matriarch does not need to have a consort, nor can a consort become head of the family.

McCoy ran over several possibilities, but kept coming back to one. "Designate to the Matriarch?"

Thee has the correct aptitude.

"And this...aptitude is important want me to do something," he said hesitantly. "But, Siddhur, every time I ask you what it is you want me to do, you silence."

The decision is thine.

"What decision? What is it you want me to decide?"

She quieted. "Oh great," McCoy whispered. "Siddhur, this is obviously huge."

Still silence.

"All right," he said, "Why do you prefer to leave whatever-it-is in my hands?"

Thee is my Designate, Makkoy. For this day, thee is Head of the Family. Thee holds my fate in thy hands.

More family arrived. T'Pel accompanied the first visitors in, and remained standing, solemnly and quietly, at the side of the chaise chair until late evening and nearly all of the family had been to pay respects.

"Will you receive Spock now, Siddhur?" McCoy asked.

Thy husband may enter, Makkoy.

He nodded at T'Pel who went out to get him.

"Siddhur, about T'Pring--" he said. "Instead of looking at it as, um, spurning thousands of years of tradition, could we not, instead, see it as that she's been punished enough?"

I do not offer forgiveness, Makkoy.

"I don't get it," he persisted. "Because I suspect you want me to defy tradition on another point. It's not ok for T'Pring or anybody else to Challenge, but it's ok for the Matriarch, the upholder of tradition? Is this rule written down somewhere? Because it seems to have crept out of the woodwork."

I have been faithful to Vulcan ways, Makkoy.

"By a sneaky loop of logic, yes, you have, because, technically, I'm in charge at this moment."

T'Pel returned, with Spock. She took her spot by the chair. Spock bowed before it, and said, "Siddhur, I grieve."

Spock looked collected and unflappable, but McCoy, who had looked at him more closely and for more years than anybody else, could see the tension. Spock had been stranded in their link, for T'Pau's voice was overpowering in McCoy's head.

McCoy found it harder to speak to him than it had been with Sarek. "Spock, we find no fault in thee. Does thee have any requests?"

"I have none, Siddhur." Spock looked steadily into the doctor's eyes. "I am ready to fulfill any request you would make of me."

T'Pau quieted. It took McCoy a few minutes to gather himself. "Would you, please, tell S'hoav that it's time to go to the Mountain?"

McCoy lifted his head and tried to see to the peak of Mount Seleya. It was impossible, even with enhanced-vision goggles. The top was perpetually covered by brown haze, a dry, dense silicate of dust, not breathable for Vulcan air was rarely moist enough to create any fog that lung tissue could handle. Fortunately, they didn't have to go right to the top.

He was being carried, in state, in the chair by six, muscular, Vulcan males. As strange as the conveyance felt, he was grateful for it. He felt exhausted beyond measure.

The men were being very careful not to jostle him as much as they could help. It was making the trip longer, but McCoy wasn't concerned. The trip was going to be shorter than anyone around him expected.

T'Pel was also being conveyed in a small sedan. Spock, Sarek, S'hoav, and an almost innumerable line of guards followed behind, walking slowly along the narrow path.

In a bare wisp of a voice, McCoy said, "Siddhur, if you want me to push on one point, you have to give on another."

Thee is the Matriarch, Makkoy.

The procession was three-quarters of the way up the mountain, still over a kilometer from the Hall of Ancient Thought, when McCoy said loudly, "KROYKAH!"

The chair shuddered as everyone suddenly stopped in their tracks.

McCoy removed his goggles. "Turn the chair around. I wish to see who I'm speaking to."

The chair's attendants were forced to shuffle, to get the chair turned.

McCoy glanced around. No one looked surprised at being stopped on the path, but he was sure they probably were. Sarek and Spock both had similar, raised eyebrows.

"I have two things to say. The first is something I've been arguing about with the Matriarch all day. The upshot is, she's going to give in on this point, in exchange for my doing a favor for her. I hereby formally declare that T'Pring is forgiven by the House of Sarek."

He waited. Vulcans were a hard audience; he never really knew where he stood with them. He especially waited on Sarek.

Sarek finally nodded. "It is done."

McCoy breathed out. He wasn't sure if they were going to believe him on the next point, or what proof he could provide anyway. Spock was shut out of his conversations with T'Pau, and S'hoav seemed naturally suspicious.

"The second is that I know I have a reputation, that it is believed I do not respect ways I think are too harsh. This is not true. I do respect traditions, even when I do not agree with them. I am not guilty of deliberate or vicious ignorance, but, yes, I am sometimes guilty of defiance. There are some personal lines I cannot cross, no matter what the grounds. I would like to believe that I have only ever trespassed for reasons for compassion."

He glanced around again. S'hoav's brows were drawn. T'Pel was once more wide-eyed. Sarek was impassive, but he looked as if he had an idea what was going on.

Spock was gazing back at McCoy with tacit support.

McCoy continued. "The Matriarch chose the only Human in the family as her Designate. I wanted to know why she had done this, but every time I asked her, she refused to answer. She has given me indications, through her conversations with those who came to pay their respects, that she chose me because she wished me to make a decision for her. An illogical decision. A decision made when there can be no proof to guide it." He turned to Sarek. "When Lady Amanda was offered a place at the Hall of Ancient Thought, she was allowed to go there, to see it, was she not?"

Sarek nodded.

"After she saw it, what was her decision with her Katra?"

"My wife chose not to allow her Katra to reside in the Hall, Siddhur," Sarek replied.

McCoy ignored S'hoav, who had opened his mouth. "Sarek, tell us why."

"Amanda did not believe her Katra would disintegrate if it was not received by the Hall."

"You disagreed," McCoy said softly.

"Yes, Siddhur, but I respected her wishes."

"Illogical," McCoy said, "but hopeful."

"Hope is emotional, unreliable, insufficient--" S'hoav started, but McCoy cut him off.

"Excuse me, who's Head of the Family right now?"

"You are not dealing with your Katra, Human, but the Matriarch's," S'hoav stated.

"I know." McCoy took a breath. "And this is hard, but I believe, honestly believe, that this is right for T'Pau. I make no claims that what I am about to say is a better way. I doubt it is. Vulcans have been doing this for thousands of years, and if it wasn't good, you wouldn't still be doing it. But for this one Vulcan, the accepted way is not enough. The Matriarch chose me as her Designate because I dare to Challenge. Therefore, I have decided that T'Pau's Katra will not go into the Hall."

A Human audience, confronted with shock, will give a collective gasp. Klingons will yell. Even mild Deltans have something to say. But a Vulcan audience is ever hushed when faced with the unforeseen. S'hoav looked offended, but even he closed his mouth.

McCoy glanced at T'Pel. She looked back in clear wonder, and, then, with a little quiver of amusement.

"I will be honored to serve you," he said. "Are you ready?"

The child nodded. "Yes, Siddhur."

He smiled at her, then said to the attendants. "Lower me down, please."

They obliged. The row of guards watched him as he got up and strode to the edge of the path, but they did not interfere.

He turned his back on everyone and looked over the desert. Its true expanse was hidden by the oncoming, deepening darkness, but the brash, red sand still glowed in the last sparks of light it could find.

Whispering, he said, "T'Pau, I will miss you."

I find no fault in thee, Makkoy. Live long and prosper.

He kept his gaze on the last light of the sunset as she taught him how to release her Katra. Then, gently, quietly, he let her go.

As the desert closed into the night, he felt Spock's presence return through their link. Warmed by it, he smiled.

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