Sole Solution
by Maguena

Rated: PG (for mention of child abuse)

Disclaimer: All Star Trek characters, settings, etc. do not belong to me, and I am making no profit from writing this.

Feedback to: Maguena at amag-@yahoo.com; while positive comments stroke my ego, it is constructive criticism that nourishes my mind and soul. Flames, however, will be used to keep my tea warm.

Summary: How did Saavik come to trust Spock, and why was she given over into Spock's care? Based on "The Pandora Principle" by Carolyn Clowes.

Kindly betaed by: Virginia and Sierra Crane. Thank you so much!

Could it be somehow damaging for a child her age to hide inside a pile of rubbish for six hours? Surely, she would come out soon. On the other hand, she seemed to still be in the grip of her hysteria.

“Saavik?” he called again. “Please come out.” He had been saying that over and over again - after six hours of trying to coax her out, he had explored all the possible variations of speech that were applicable to the situation.

Ten minutes later, the sounds of her screaming and cursing subsided. Soon after that, she seemed to be asleep. Quietly, Spock called her name - she did not respond. Hoping that she was asleep, not unconscious, he settled down to wait until she woke up. She would be calmer then, and, if he were fortunate, would remain calm for several hours afterwards.

They had only been on Gamma Eri for ten days. Before that, there had been the sixteen-day journey from Hellguard to Gamma Eri. That trip had convinced him that it would be very difficult to handle Saavik.

Two people had been deemed enough to provide care for the thirty-three survivors of Hellguard - Salok, the old Vulcan who had cared for children all his life, and Spock, who had never had that responsibility. Whatever Spock thought about the arrangement, what was, was. That Salok understood the difficulty, and had promised to teach him, reassured him, but not much, when he stood in the transporter room in front of thirty-three beings he had no hope of understanding.

That first day, he still had the luxury of feeling shocked at the thought of what had been done to those children - and the unfortunate results. All of the children had been horribly abused, although most of the damage was mental in nature. Many would require minor surgery and skin regeneration. Thirteen of the children were almost completely unresponsive. They lay very still, and ate when food was pushed into their mouths. Occasionally, their eyes closed and they slept. Spock could hardly believe that their bones did not snap when he picked them up - they looked like skeletons draped with loose skin. Salok said that they would survive if fed, but he had his doubts.

Then there were the four children who clung for dear life onto any adult within reach. Why not each other? Spock wondered with some irritation, as Salok and he both found it difficult to perform other tasks with two children each clinging to their legs, or even carried in their arms. The rest simply acted without the slightest concern for anything but their own comfort. That meant fighting, or urinating where they stood, or too many other things that were not at all easy to consider for a Vulcan used to a modicum of civility.

By the time Spock had beamed up with the last group of children, including the no-longer-knife-carrying little girl, all the children had huddled up into the center of the transporter room. Many were gazing around with obvious fear - others demonstrated their violent tendencies upon the walls.

The sedatives had obviously not worked for long. S’tvan, seated behind the transporter console, out of chaos’ way, did not bother to conceal any of his distaste. He even addressed himself to the room at large, remarking that the best use for any training provided to the children would be to teach them how to clean up the messes they made.

Salok ignored the comment, and Spock, not wanting to get into yet another unproductive argument, followed Salok’s lead. Their first task was to get each child to the ship’s lounge that had been modified to hold the survivors, and take a holopic.

That had been the easy part. After he had verified through experience that even the most fragile-looking of children could be carried safely, transporting them had become easy. Those who could walk followed him with minimal urging (in the shape of a ration bar), which was a pleasant surprise. The clinging children could be detached from his legs so long as he carried them, and in any case, that problem soon solved itself, thanks to the kindness of T’saia, whose workroom was located right next to the lounge.

As in most Vulcan ships, many of the walls were transparent forcefields for minimum noise and maximum sensation of open space. T’saia volunteered her services and those of her husband, S’kvehn, after only five minutes of seeing him struggle to make the children stop clinging to him and remain in the room until he returned. Salok brought in the holocam, and efficiently recorded the children’s appearances, bedraggled and begrimed as they were. He also downloaded each child’s picture to individual padds.

That was about the point at which chaos reasserted itself. Why it had not occurred to him that the children would fight over the ration bars he had been handing out so freely, Spock would never know. None of them, apparently, understood the concept of “enough for everybody,” and those who finished eating first started snatching at the ration bars the other children still held. In attempts to defend their food, the children either ran away or fought - in moments, the room was filled with motion, the slightest bump from a fleeing child enough to jolt another into a fight, and it went on and on, despite his attempts to pull the combatants apart. He raised his voice, trying to tell them to stop, but at levels loud enough to be heard over the fighting and screaming, he only seemed to frighten the children further, so he shut up, and focused his breathing on not succumbing to the general chaos. In the blind melee, everyone present sustained at least a few injuries - bruises and scratches, mostly, and some bites. His robe torn by all the grabbing hands and sharp fingernails, he still struggled to pull the children to the sides of the room, where, of course, they stayed for scant moments. Efforts to calm the children down by entreating them individually and softly to stay where they were and not fight only appeared successful - when examining the period honestly, Spock saw that it was only when the food was eaten that they had truly calmed down.

In the meanwhile, Spock and Salok had to feed the ones who had been unable to retain their food, coax everyone into showering for the first time in their lives, give basic medical attention, rehydrate them, clean up when they made messes, and in general take care of all needs.

They had washed clean the sores and put balm on the thin limbs. Next, they treated the children for parasitic insects infesting their bodies and rags. Salok sacrificed a lock of his hair to show the children that the buzzing shaver would not hurt them, and then they started the actual removal of hair. Two children decided that the pile of removed hair was great fun, and actually rolled in it, like… like… Spock could not think of an apt comparison, as he had never seen such animalism in actual animals. He tried to pull them away and brush them off, but Salok stopped him. Instead of preventing this behavior, Salok knelt next to the children as they were lolling about, and spoke to them in a quiet, soothing voice, mostly nonsense words. Soon, the rolling stopped, and the children lay down to listen. Their eyes drifted closed and within minutes, they napped, so that Spock and Salok could return their attention to the others.

Throughout, they had to remember how each child had been transformed, so as not to mix the children up. Finally, they washed the loose, blistered skin with disinfectants. Afterwards, he and Salok had to disinfect themselves, as well, and the room. The lounge’s walls, patterned in blue and yellow octagons and squares, which had so recently been pristine, were now smeared with grime.

As a reward for letting themselves be cleaned, they gave the children more ration bars. Salok had quickly found that they had to stand over each child until he or she finished eating - otherwise, the others would descend en masse and tear the ration bar out of the child’s hands, then struggle to retain possession long enough to get some piece of it to their mouths.

Remembering how frenzied, painful, that was to watch, Spock was grateful to Salok for having found a way to prevent it from happening. The children should have realized by now that everyone would get food, but they had not. Newly cleaned, fed, given water, and clothed in child- sized robes - green for girls, black for boys - the children all huddled together again, their differences forgotten. Small fights broke out sporadically, but those were more easily handled by separating the fighting children, because without food, the participation became much less eager, much more prone to succumbing to tiredness.

For the next two procedures, identification and education, they first took a poll of who was capable of assisting, as it would be a lengthy process. It turned out that he, Salok, and T’Safi were the only ones who had the necessary expertise in mindmelding. So they split the children into three groups, and started in.

For each child, Spock took a hologram again, matched it against the previous hologram, then mindmelded with him or her to find out as much as possible about the child and try to teach the child the basics of the new life offered. The theory, when Salok explained it, sounded easy. The practice…

From the very first moment that he connected to the mind of a child, it hurt. The children hurt physically, and their minds carried memory of almost unrelieved pain, both of the body and of the mind. That had been how he had found out the extent of mental damage. Some of the children had been injured and deprived so much that they lacked all but basic awareness of existence, animal-like. He could do nothing except soothe them mentally, and try to impress the rules of language and a basic vocabulary. It was difficult, to face so much destruction, but it was necessary. In those cases, he could record nothing, except to restate the facts of their condition, and try to forget their pain, and go on to the pain hiding inside the next child. The memories he saw took on a sameness, because all children had been treated brutally. He tried not to give in to the numbness and indifference that crept over him when the pain became too much. It helped that sometimes, the child had basic understanding of himself or herself as a person, with a name and an identity. He recorded those delicate details of their beings, entering the data with an almost paranoid care.

One child thought of herself as Ugghh.

After easing out, he ran through three different mental exercises while waiting for Salok to finish his own latest mindmeld. “What do I do?” he asked, with a sharp need for the answer. “I cannot call a child that.”

“Record it for now.” Spock raised an eyebrow in inquiry. “She does not understand what it means, does she?”

“No,” he had to admit.

“It would do more harm to force her to change her name. Spock, despite your initial attempts to maintain your distance, you have managed to put aside your dignity for the children.” Spock opened his mouth to interrupt, but Salok went on, “That is an accomplishment. Remember always, for the children, one does whatever works. If you start thinking of anything else, you will never accomplish anything with or for the children.”

“So it does not matter what I think of her self-name, as long as she is comfortable.”

“Exactly. She will probably change it herself when she understands more. For now, do your job.”

He did, and even though he believed that he had put aside the squeamishness and the reluctance, he now knew otherwise, and banished them again. One does whatever works. That way, he did not even have time to be uncertain about his ability to care properly for the children. He did what worked, and dug up the scanty information recorded in searing memory. The clear picture that emerged over and over again, of Romulan brutality and the utter savageness of these children’s lives, sickened him, who had not been sickened by anything in a long time. He put that aside, recorded everything, and went on.

The little girl, the owner of the knife he still carried in his pocket, put up a fight when her turn came. Together, he and Salok managed to corner her, and he coaxed her into coming closer, promising not to hurt her. She obviously did not believe him.

All he had was her knife, so he pulled that out. “I promise, you can have it back for a minute. You can hold it, and if you feel anything bad happening to you, you will have a way to defend yourself.”

Warily, she crept closer and snatched the knife out of his outstretched hand. She crouched, ready to run, obviously trying to look menacing. She only looked wretched.

He extended a hand to her temple, and, lightning-quick, she slashed at it. He resisted the impulse to snatch his hand back, and braced himself. Blood flowed, but the cut was not deep.

He said, “I did not intend to frighten you. I merely wished to touch your temple, and I will not harm you.”

“I kills you,” she snarled.

“You could certainly do that, but to what purpose? The others would take away your knife again. Let me touch you. I will not harm you.”

Salok returned with a regenerator, but Spock ignored him, focusing on the little frightened girl before him. “I will not harm you.” He slowly extended his hand further.

She placed the point of the knife at his throat.

“I will not hurt you. If you feel any hurt, you are free to defend yourself. You should not hurt those who have not hurt you.”

Obviously not quite convinced, she tried to look threatening, and her knife stayed at his throat. He could sense the fear and desperation behind her aggressive stance.

He extended his hand again, hoping and believing that she would understand what he just said. At this range, Salok would be unable to interfere if she decided to carry out her threat.

Contact.

Carefully, slowly, he found the familiar meldpoints. The feel of the knife was most uncomfortable, but he ignored it, focused only on her. Quietly, he began the chant, “My mind to your mind…”

Yes, there it was, her mind was clearly visible. He entered it slowly, careful not to flinch, not to frighten her, not to make her feel any violation. She was obviously startled, but not frightened. Yes, she had a definite sense of self. Carefully, he probed.

Saavik. I am Saavik.

I greet thee, Saavik. I am Spock.

Many minutes later, he broke the meld. The real world contained Salok, still waiting to treat his arm, and the girl, whom he now knew to be Saavik. Sometime during the meld, her arm had dropped, and the knife lay on the deck. Before she could decide to do anything stupid again, he picked it up.

“I am keeping it safe for you, Saavik.”

She understood, and sat back down. He gave her another ration and more water, and she ate those hungrily. After all that, he finally went to fill in the padd.

While he dictated his notes, Salok ran the regenerator over his arm. “The child is called Saavik. She does not know her age, but it is approximately ten. So far, the presence of the following injuries have been established…”

He listed those, all thirty-seven of them, took a deep breath, and went on, “her mind is educable, and she received the standard instruction in language and behavior. There should not be a problem in developing her language skills - she was one of those who spoke already. However, her history has not been established. Saavik has blocked most of whatever occurred to her from her mind. All I could find were memories of the past three weeks. She remembers starvation, and pain. The memories of pain indicate severe injury, and she should have a medical exam as soon as possible. She also remembers intense headaches, and running somewhere with no sense of purpose on many occasions. The rest of her memories are of survival - killing for food, hiding in the rocks and crevices, and trying to stay warm and concealed. For some reason, she did not visit the colony during that time, except to obtain what little food and water was available. She does not remember obtaining the knife, but it is her favorite possession.” He fell silent. Not much to say about a life.

Putting aside that padd, he took a breath, then reached for the next one. Salok commented, “It is my hope that you never again perform a mind meld at knife-point.”

Recognizing the uniquely Vulcan support offered, Spock bowed his head in gratitude. “Indeed. However, for the children, one does what is necessary.”

Salok’s eyes gleamed, then he left to tend to his own group.

S’kvehn and T’saia came back with the four clinging children, and Spock and Salok finished the mindmelds with those. Then came the time to put the children to sleep. The ship was not designed for this number of passengers, but they managed, with replicated sleeping pallets and mounds of blankets. Most of the children were quite compliant, allowing themselves to be carried to their beds and falling asleep when covered with warm blankets. Others lay down obediently, but their eyes kept tracking the movements of the adults.

Saavik’s turn came, and she exploded. “Not! Notsleeps!” She ran, wailing.

The other children were disturbed by her behavior, so Salok went to soothe them while Spock chased down Saavik. Even when he caught up with her, she flailed about in a blind panic, hitting everything within reach.

He wrapped his arms around her in an attempt to prevent her from hitting, if not kicking, and amazingly, she calmed down a little. He kept holding her, and gradually, some semblance of reason returned to her. He looked over at Salok, unsure how to proceed.

Salok finished tucking in a boy called Frish, and came over. He squatted down in front of Saavik.

“You do not wish to sleep,” he said.

“No!” She was still belligerent, but at least, she was not hitting anything.

“Very well. However, we have a place for you. It is soft and warm, and we will watch over you there, and make certain that no one harms you. You do not have to sleep.”

Salok stood up, and motioned for Spock to go over to Saavik’s pallet. Hesitantly, suspiciously, she followed him, and eventually, sat down on the pallet. He helped her wrap the blankets around herself, and there she sat, like a little cone with a head, watching the others with a determined stare.

Between them, they put the rest of the children to bed, cleaned up the room, and turned out the lights. “We can go to sleep now,” said Salok softly, “But we must be ready for disturbances. Do not sleep too deeply.”

Spock nodded, and lay down on his own pallet. He was just drifting off into a doze, when a quiet wail woke him. He wandered along the rows of pallets filled with sleeping children until he located the crying child, a nameless little boy of five snuffling in his sleep. He did not know how to help, but he strongly wanted to do something. He did not know what he could possibly say to soothe, when the child did not know enough Vulcan yet, and the pidgin the children spoke contained no words for comfort, and only one for safety.

The difference between himself and the boy felt like a separation, and what he needed was a way to connect to the boy, to let him know, for a little while, the safety of being Spock. A mindmeld? No, too much information - the child needed comfort, not information. With an effort, he came up with one last possibility - patted the child, trying to convey a sense of assurance and safety with each touch. The child’s nightmare-memory, of crying all alone and forgotten, came back to him through the touch. Desperate to reassure, he picked up and embraced the crying child, then, when even that was not enough, he softly sang a song about the peace one felt at the very dawn of a new day.

The crying stopped, and the child slept on more peacefully. Spock started walking back to lie down when a disturbance caught his eye. A girl, about eight, was shaking silently on her pallet. He touched her, and felt her terror as unnamable monsters chased her with the intent to devour her. He picked her up as well, but she would not be soothed so easily, so he walked along the rows of dark- concealed small bodies, back and forth, soothing as he best could. In the course of the night, Salok and he did the same for almost all of them at one point or another. It was painful to touch them - he never wanted to know what had produced their nightmares, their terror, but he could not help experiencing their pain as he touched them, or responding to that pain. As he sang, he would hear others’ restless turning becoming still, and experience a sense of relief that he could do something for those nightmares.

The next day was only slightly easier. Fights still broke out, although Spock liked to believe that those were lessening in number. Nonetheless, two people were truly not enough. T’saia helped in many ways, but she had other duties, most notably, recalibrating medical equipment so that the children could finally be treated. S’kvehn was busy creating education protocols for each child. In one way or another, everyone aboard the ship was involved in caring for the children - but not enough people were actually doing things with the children.

Sometime in the late afternoon, the situation stabilized, because enough of the Vulcans realized this simple fact and made a point of coming in to spend time with the children whenever they could. That was still not enough, but at least, Spock had time to slow down a little, to plan ahead instead of reacting to the latest crisis. He was grateful for even that much, and Salok commented that his interactions with the children had become more efficient and better in quality. After some thought, Spock realized that now, he approached the children without thought, simply doing what was necessary, where before, a combination of inexperience and reluctance kept him at a distance. No wonder that being here had become so much easier.

Not everyone shared that thought, he discovered. S’tvan, in particular, made an effort not to come into the lounge unless he absolutely had to. S’tvan replenished their supplies of rations, bandages, clothes, and other such necessary stuffs very efficiently, but he would deposit them inside the door, pick up the refuse, and leave without saying a single word or looking at any of the children.

After the fifth or sixth such encounter, Spock could no longer keep silent, and followed S’tvan out the door. “You have had children, S’tvan. How can you treat these so?”

Spock was entirely unprepared for the response. S’tvan whirled on him, drew himself up so that the two of them were at eye-level. “These are not children. These are animals, without katras, without minds. You are correct, very correct, Spock - I had children. I came to that world, knowing that my children had died there. I wanted to at least see their bodies. Instead, these - these - are before me, and you dare compare them to my daughter and my son? My children were Vulcans. My children honored me every day with their existence and their deeds. You - you do not know, you are not Vulcan, so how can you - you call these Vulcans. They are not.” S’Tvan’s yellow robe and the bundle of laundry in his arms actually flapped with the speed of his retreat down the corridor, and that left Spock with nothing to say, but to go back inside, and see what else needed to be done.

As he looked down upon the milling crowd of small bodies, he wondered what made S’tvan so certain that the children lacked katras and minds. He asked Salok, who replied, “Perhaps that is the way in which he sees them,” which, while certainly true, was not very enlightening.

“Not Vulcan? Only because they have not been raised as his children have been, and so do not act the same?”

Salok snagged Frish out of the crowd in one smooth movement, and gently put the boy inside the bathroom before replying, “It is hard to know what being Vulcan is, have you not found it to be so, Spock?”

He nodded, making a mental note to ask Salok, after they finished this topic, how he had known that Frish needed to use the bathroom.

“It is also hard to estimate what another may become. You think that these children will recover to the point where no one will be able to distinguish them from any other Vulcans. S’tvan believes that they will always be as they are. According to logic, what is most likely?”

Spock did not wish to admit it, but Salok had a point. “Logic would dictate that each position is too extreme to be very likely.”

“Indeed,” said Salok, “and in such cases, logic does not indicate what will actually happen. It can only state probabilities, not certainties. When one understands that, one will see that logically, one can only wait for the outcome, whatever it may be, and not try to guess the future. What is, is. Speculation is a waste of time. As is argument.” Salok gave him a significant glance.

Spock breathed deeply and slowly. “Argument may be the single thing that determines the fate of these children. If no one gives them the help they deserve, because of a belief that such help is wasteful, one will never know what might have happened with proper support.”

Salok deftly stepped between two children who were glaring at each other in preparation to a fight, and picked one up. Spock hurried to pick up the other one, and since it turned out to be Saavik, got bitten on the arm before she decided to relax. Salok continued the conversation smoothly, even though he had turned away for the moment. “Is S’tvan one who decides that?”

“No.” Saavik was squirming to be let go, so he released her, but kept a watch. She ran full tilt to the sleeping area, and snatched a blanket.

”Then your energies are better spent arguing with someone else.”

“I…” Spock took a moment to organize the thoughts whirling through his mind, “I hear S’tvan say such things, and I know that others will say the same thing. Others will be unwilling to even look at these children.” Spock indicated them with a sweep of his hand, incidentally noting that Saavik was ripping her blanket apart, and that five or six other children were copying her. “If they do not see them, you know as well as I the consequences.”

Probably nothing should be done - they could always replicate more blankets, and this way, the children were not destroying each other.

Salok did not answer for a long time, but retrieved Frith from the bathroom and checked him for cleanliness.

When finally he spoke, every word sounded both unassuming and measured at the same time. “You may have been too close in your mindmelds with others, Spock, if you believe that you can change another’s mind for him.”

“That is not so! I am merely trying to show him another way of seeing. It is a worthy -“

Quite rudely, Salok interrupted. “Worthy, yes. Your father does it most skillfully, and it is well that he has taught you this method. Still, there is a difference between talking of another way, and forcing another to see it. The second cannot be done, and should not be attempted. You have your tasks - S’tvan has his. You cannot change the future by arguing with him - you cannot change anything by arguing with him. The choice to change his beliefs belongs to him alone.”

“I know all that.” Why was Salok talking as if to a child? Well, he usually spoke that way; force of habit could explain it, perhaps.

“Then know it a little better. Also, it is time for instructing the children now.”

After three days of frantic care giving and peacekeeping, Spock witnessed something he could only consider a miracle. They, and a handful of other adults, who volunteered their off-time to help, were trying to feed all the children as quickly as possible. The medics had finally succeeded in recalibrating their instruments for the unique physiologies of the children, so they would be getting their medical exams as soon as possible. In the middle of the chaos, S’tvan walked in, he who had been so vehement and so disdainful of the children. He had some message for Salok from the medics, but he stayed to watch, and even to help keep the peace.

One of the clinging children, a little girl of eleven, wrapped herself around Salok and effectively halted his progress. Spock had been about to deal with this, when Salok called out, “S’tvan! Assist me.”

S’tvan called back, “In what way?”

“This child needs to be held. Hold her.”

S’tvan looked at the girl in distaste. “She is obviously far too old for such things.”

Salok spoke in an extremely firm tone, “You are wrong, S’tvan. Physically, she is eleven. Mentally, she is but an infant. You had children of your own. Do you remember what needs to be done for infants?”

“All infants require the maximum of contact for proper mental, social, and physical development,” quoted S’tvan from the “Lore of Childrearing,” the book that all Vulcans referred to and followed when raising children. He blinked, and said, “I understand, Healer. I will do this.”

He picked the girl up and held her, and she burrowed her head into his neck and held on convulsively.

Spock had himself heard this speech two days ago, when Salok explained that all children would require such contact, to make up for their starved childhoods. “None of them have any chance of developing properly unless we treat them as newly emerged into the world.” Currently, Salok was trying to arrange to have a person for each child to cling to, not only for the ones who demanded it.

What surprised him was not that S’tvan would follow the dictates of logic, but S’tvan’s further actions. Five minutes later, S’tvan was stroking the girl’s head and patting her back. Then he looked up, and asked, “What is her name?”

“She does not have one yet,” said Spock. “She has no sense of herself as a person.”

S’tvan looked back down at the girl. “I will give her a name, for she is very much a person. T’Asii.”

Spock fought to conceal his astonishment at this display of concern. “I - will record this.” He finished handing out rations and breaking up the inevitable fights. Quietly, so that S’tvan could not hear, Spock asked of Salok, “How did you know that he would not simply reject her?”

Salok answered, with a glance that suggested that Spock should be able to figure it out for himself. “Spock, you are young, and you have never been a parent. No parent could refuse to help a child, and S’tvan has had three children.”

Spock could still not understand. “Before, S’tvan did not wish to help the children.”

“You are mistaken, Spock. Do not assume. Where children are concerned, assume nothing, either about children, or about those who care for them. You have much to learn.”

“I know that, but I do not understand why S’tvan would change his opinion.”

“S’tvan also has much to learn. In his case, he will have to deal with two contradictory factors. The loss of his own children to the Romulans - and the fact that the girl he holds could well be his grandchild, yet half- Romulan. It is difficult for him. He will resolve it in his own way. Do not interfere.”

Spock nodded his understanding, then paused as a thought hit him, “You knew that this would happen…”

The twinkle in Salok’s eyes was confirmation enough.

In the small room that served as their office and place of temporary refuge from the chaos, he located the padd on the girl, T’Asii now. T’Asii, in Old Vulcan, was the name of the goddess who guided the wayward winds, and so provided the stability of change. Duly, he recorded the giving of the name, and replaced the padd.

Before going back out to face the further chaos of getting the children to Sickbay, he slumped against the file cabinet, and rubbed his tired eyes. He had been far too busy for the past three days to sleep. If this continued, he would have to induce sleeplessness into his metabolism. In the meanwhile, there were things to do, and no reason to leave others to do it. Others might help, but Salok made it clear that the primary responsibility was theirs.

Spock rushed into the cramped medical area, wincing at the noise. The children were never quiet, but they screamed here. “How do you require my presence?” he asked of the first medic he saw.

Sehelliw turned and, because his arms were full, tilted his head to point at a diagnostic table where Saavik was strapped down. Strapped down? Spock realized at that moment that most of the noise came from that corner of the room.

“She has been very resistant,” Sehelliw explained. “It took three of us to get her on the table, and we have been concerned that she will injure herself further. Salok says that she is of your mindmeld group - perhaps she will listen to you.”

Spock nodded, and approached the table, hands out in a non-threatening gesture. “Saavik,” he began, but the next full-throated scream drowned him out. “Saavik,” he tried again, “What is wrong?” The twisting of her mouth and another painful assault upon his ears told him exactly how stupid the question was in her estimation. “We are only trying to help you,” he raised his voice in order to be heard, “but your behavior causes difficulties to us!”

That did nothing to calm her, either. Bracing himself against what would certainly be a very painful contact, he slid his hand into position for a meld.

Painful, yes, but… understandable. Understandable? Yes. He did not like feeling helpless, he did not like being forced down and tied up. No, _she_ did not like those things. Yet, in her position, he would not like them, either.

T’saia appeared near him, and he cleared his mind in order to ask her, but she anticipated him. “Your estimates of her injuries were helpful, if not exhaustive,” she said, tapping away at the padd with one hand while speaking to him. “We have already corrected the surface scarring,” and indeed, instead of the sores, scratches, and cracked skin, patches of the shiny pearl green of newly-healed skin covered her body, “although her soles, knees, and elbows will require further treatments for full recovery. We could finish correcting most of the bone damage if she would lie still.”

She typed something else in as he nodded, and then turned the padd so that he could see a miniature diagram of Saavik’s body, with several areas shaded bright green, to signify injury. “Here,” she said, pointing everything out in turn, “you can see the bone breaks. Two of the breaks have regrown incorrectly. I would recommend against surgery at this point, because the damage is non-critical, and her body needs time to assimilate the other surgical changes that she has had and will have. Similarly, where there is bruising and tearing of the internal organs, there has been enough healing that attempting to correct the damage right now would be counterproductive. Scars can always be removed later; we need to concentrate on the critical areas. The most critical,” and she flipped to the next diagram, “would be the brain. I would estimate repeated blunt trauma here, here, and here - you can see how the splintering of the bone ruptured the meninges, and allowed blood to mix with the cerebrospinal fluid. The clotted remains of that blood need to be removed, and here,” she winced slightly at a particularly loud scream as Saavik tried to twist in her bonds and get a look at the padd, “preliminary brain scans indicate the presence of a tumor, but we would need more detailed scans. Correcting this requires a much greater amount of neurosurgical skill than I possess.”

Someone exited with a slam of the door, but Spock barely noticed, because he was trying hard not to frown. “Healer, how does this damage affect her functioning? Will she become retarded?”

“Until I have clearer scans, I cannot answer that question, but many injuries to the frontal and temporal cortexes are most unfortunate. Already, she exhibits retrograde amnesia; it is highly probable that she will suffer some kind of neural impairment.”

His mind tried to process the implications: she might never recover, but medical science could repair almost any injury, but not injury that has long been left unhealed, but surely, there were other such cases, and support could be provided…

An angry shriek jolted him out of those thoughts, and turned his attention back to Saavik, still bound down, and still very angry. She was growing hoarse, but showed no signs of stopping.

“Can you not sedate her?” he asked.

“Most sedatives we know to be safe do not work very well with these children, and you must certainly understand that this is not the time for random experimentation. We also have no restraint field here.”

He nodded, trying to think quickly. He doubted he could get Saavik to cooperate - she was afraid of them and mistrusted them, and would not simply surrender. Perhaps she should not - perhaps it was the will to struggle that allowed her to survive such injuries. Sedation would not work, and the restraints did not immobilize her enough. What else could be done to keep her still?

When he put the question this way, the answer became obvious.

With a quick explanation, he headed for S’kvehn’s laboratory.

“Have you finished the introductory lessons in reading?” he asked.

“Only the first two modules, and I have yet to integrate the reward protocols,” S’kvehn said.

“May I assist you in finishing the task more rapidly?” Spock explained his reasoning, and they worked together to complete the programming, then to transfer the program to a unit that could be mounted above a diagnostic table. Unit in hand, Spock returned to the medical ward, where he found a simple, though partial, solution in place - everyone was wearing earplugs. Spock took the proffered earplugs, and quickly installed the unit. As he had hoped, Saavik was extremely interested in finding out what it was for. When he pressed a key so that the screen lit up and the soft curl of an “a” appeared on the screen, she stared, then jumped a little when she heard voice pronouncing “aaaa.”

With a light touch to her temple, Spock conveyed to her mind the idea of pressing keys in order to get a result, then placed her hand on the keyboard. With growing excitement, she pushed a key, in this case, “m,” saw it written on the screen, and heard it pronounced. Simultaneously, a tiny piece of candy dropped from the inside of the unit into a cup at the side of the unit. All Spock had to do was put the candy in her mouth, and he could almost see her “getting it.” Within two seconds, she was happily pushing keys, looking, listening, and eating candy, which was delivered less and less often, until she was looking disappointed.

Before another tantrum could arrive, Spock switched the computer to the next mode, in which she heard the sound and saw the letter, and had to push the corresponding key. It took her a little longer to understand this task, but once again, candy proved to be a powerful inducer. Fascinated, she moved nothing but her arm and her mouth, and she was not screaming. So, while Saavik was learning to recognize letters and sounds, Spock slipped away to do his other tasks, and the doctors went to work.

Spock came back to himself, sitting by the rubbish in which Saavik hid. The chronic lack of sleep was getting bothersome, in that it intruded on his competency. He was surprised at himself - aboard the Enterprise, he had sometimes had to go without sleep for weeks, but he had rarely felt so exhausted, even during some lengthy emergencies aboard the Enterprise. Well, he would have his chance to make up lost sleep hours soon. Today was the day the fates of the children would be decided.

Some of the Vulcans who originally went to Hellguard had expressed the sentiment of wishing to care for those children, if the youngsters did not apply for the antigen scan that would determine who their families were. Those must have already submitted their claim to Guardianship.

In all, that was a fairly typical response. Once they had gotten over the initial distaste and horror of the idea of “progeny of rape,” many of the adults had discovered that they wished to interact with the children and help them with their integration into Vulcan society. Spock was very relieved - he was no longer concerned over the fate of the children whose families might not want them. Salok once told him that the instinct to care for children was very strong within the Vulcan psyche. He had heard similar sentiments expressed throughout his life, but this was the ultimate proof of it. A survival characteristic, no doubt.

He dragged his mind back to the current situation. Fourteen children had recovered enough to understand what an antigen scan and a family were, requested it, and had been placed with their closest relatives who were also willing to care for them. There was always a long list of parents waiting to adopt, and few children who needed adoption. Yet Spock remained concerned over those who did not yet understand what an antigen scan was, and so could neither ask for it nor reject it. Already, he had not expected that fourteen children would find places for themselves within less than a month, but his concern was over the other nineteen. Without families, their education would depend on the kindness of strangers. This number included the thirteen unresponsive children, five children who were like the other fourteen, only savaged and in need of being educated - and Saavik.

As he had many, many times, he wondered what had happened to her, though he did not wish to even think about an event that could produce such damage. It constantly amazed him that Saavik had survived - because of her stubbornness, he now thought. After all, some good must have come of such an unpleasant trait, to counterbalance all the problems it was causing her, or she would not have kept it up. For all that it was problematic, her behavior was merely one of many concerns. Scans confirmed the presence of a growing tumor.

Healer T’veyr, the best expert in Vulcan neurosurgery in the Federation, was on her way to Gamma Eri to treat the damage, but would not arrive for another two weeks. In the meanwhile, the injury seemed to produce frequent intense headaches, which would lead to erratic, unpredictable outbreaks of hysteria, which would exacerbate whatever she was doing at the time. So far, Spock had seen outbursts of violence, depression, screaming, almost catatonic calm, and many other things. This latest one was panicked flight.

He had been trying to get her to come along and have a lesson in writing with S’viht. Apparently, she disliked S’viht, so when he had pulled at her arm, intending to hustle her along, she screamed, broke free, and fled. Before he could catch up with her, she had hidden inside a recently damaged part of the station. He had scanned the pile of debris for the best way to retrieve her, and discovered that the structure was inherently unstable. He dare not go in after her or pull the wreckage aside - if he did, it might collapse, possibly crushing her. No, he had to coax her out of her own free will.

Which was why he had been sitting there for six hours, attempting to talk reason into a child crazed with fear and out-of-control neural reactions. He often sang to the children, both at night and during day, until his throat was hoarse, but it truly helped in keeping the children calm. Even Saavik’s out-of-control behavior sometimes ceased as he sang. Not always, but sometimes. It also often helped to hold her, but only in a certain way that did not make her feel trapped.

He sighed. Over the past month, he had done his best to provide her with an environment in which she would feel safe, yet the slightest thing could set her off. She fought with other children often, smashed objects, yelled insults at the top of her lungs, and was generally uncontrollable. She did seem to enjoy learning. As far as anyone could tell, her intelligence was formidable. She had already learned how to read simple words. He had repeatedly melded with her, and with many other children, imparting information on Vulcan vocabulary and grammar. He believed that she understood, but her speech remained fragmentary. Most probably, that was yet another result of the brain damage. Would she recover, even with the surgery? Already, he knew that she would need to take carefully balanced doses of neurotransmitters after the surgery, for several months at least, because her body was not producing proper amounts on its own. Perhaps she would depend on the drugs all her life - perhaps they would not even work.

Firmly, he told himself not to waste time on that over which he had no control.

She could learn, very fast, that much was obvious, but her learning was punctuated by those outbursts, during which she could not concentrate on anything, not even her own hysterical actions. He had tried to provide her with training and tutors - he had imparted information through his weekly melds with her - but he could not seem to get through to her on many counts.

She was willful, disobedient, and very obstinate. He did not know how much of that was her illness, and how much was her personality. She rarely obeyed him - on many occasions, he had had to resort to half-tricking her into doing what she needed to do. That included demonstrations that no harm came to him when he did the same thing, coming up with reasons why she herself might wish to do it, and even what humans called “reverse psychology.” With Saavik, even more than with the other survivors, one did what worked.

He did not truly mind the effort - he still had that unexplainable sense that she must be nurtured - but he was sometimes exhausted just from being around her, and doubted that any of his efforts did her any good. Now that they were at Gamma Eri, his responsibilities to the other children vanished as others took over, providing care for all those children who needed attention. Amazingly, even the most violent of children had changed significantly with constant care - despite some uncivilized behavior, they obeyed the adults, and truly tried to learn all that was required of them.

In short, they were rapidly becoming like normal children. Spock thought that this change must have been what convinced many Vulcans that the children were not animals; that they could indeed be taught. Few people, for that reason, could tolerate Saavik for long, so he took it upon himself to help her as much as he could. He accepted this duty, was even often glad for it, because there was something about Saavik, something he could not truly identify, but it called to something in him. She needed him, and he tried to be of assistance to her.

It was only that it was so difficult sometimes - having to constantly care for a child with violently shifting moods, coping with her neediness and violence, her curiosity and her disobedience. He often felt genuine relief and gratitude when someone offered to tutor her for an hour or two.

Sometimes, he was surprised at this reaction - should he not be more tolerant of her? He did not wish to disapprove the way other Vulcans did, but he could not deny his reactions. All he could do was to control them and keep them from showing - and take naps when somebody else was responsible for her, for however long.

His musings were interrupted when he perceived Salok and Father coming towards him. Earlier in the day, Salok had announced that Guardian assignments for each child who had not undergone the antigen scan would be made today. Guardians were those who would make certain - by finding worthy substitutes, in the meanwhile, doing it themselves - that each child got primary care. It had been proven that extensive stimulation was necessary to make the unresponsive children respond, and so far, they had only received it intermittently, as duties allowed. Logically, these children required a stable role-model family in their lives, who could provide them with surrogate parenting until they chose their own families. The Vulcan High Council had announced its decision that all who wanted to assume the responsibility for one or more of the surviving children could do so, pending a confirmation of their suitability.

An option of caring had opened for the children, but few had expressed any concern over Saavik. She was just too difficult. Unresponsiveness, ignorance, even clinginess, all seemed to be tolerable to someone. Violence and unpredictableness, it seemed, were not. Spock had considered submitting an application himself, but he knew that a bonded pair who had already raised children was considered optimal in providing surrogate parenting.

Since he did not fit those standards in any way, how could he care for Saavik properly? He had barely managed to care for her so far. No, it was best that she had a real family to take care of her, people who knew what they were doing and could raise her properly. Suddenly, he realized that he would miss her. It was all for the best; nevertheless, he acknowledged to himself a need to suppress his anxiety as he saw Salok and Father walking towards him. Her fate would be decided now, as she lay sleeping inside a conglomeration of rubbish.

He got to his feet as they stood in front of him. A careful scrutiny revealed nothing of their intentions. Of course not - they were Vulcans. On the other hand, there was no sternness. Usually, Father looked stern when he anticipated that Spock might find something displeasing.

Sarek spoke first. “Decisions have been made about the children, Spock. Do you wish to hear about them?”

“Yes.” He listened to the list of names and assigned parents. As he expected, Mish and Luushan had been placed with S’kvehn and T’saia, and the other two clinging children placed with another couple who wanted them. Most of the other assignments had also been expected - one by one, they had gone to those who had expressed the most concern over, and spent the most time with, a particular child. Some children were assigned to those he did not know - couples who would be coming to the station soon. The list came to an end. Silently, he offered a prayer that all children would find themselves well cared for - adoption these days rarely involved troubled children, and all those in charge of these upset lives would need to find ways of coping.

At the same time, he realized that Saavik’s name had not been on the list.

He had to ask. “What of Saavik?”

His father and Salok exchanged glances. “That is what we wished to speak to you about the most,” said Salok.

A feeling of dread settled in Spock’s stomach. He quelled it firmly, and raised an eyebrow in silent inquiry, his features otherwise smooth and composed.

Father gave him an assessing look, and spoke. “We have been unable to assign suitable caretakers for her. You must realize, none had asked to care for her, and it would be unfair to assign her to someone who had not experienced the full extent of her… problems.”

Spock gave a single sharp nod. He had expected such a conclusion, but not that they would refuse to assign her. “What will then become of her? It would be illogical to waste her potential. She is very intelligent, and her… problems… may disappear after treatment.”

“That is certainly a possibility,” Salok responded. “But until that happens, who to care for her?”

Spock remained silent. He did not know what to say. Humans and Vulcans shared a saying, “Life is not always fair.” Nevertheless, it seemed wrong to him that life, after being so cruel to young Saavik, would be unkind to her yet again. The only option that seemed to remain was to place her in a clinical situation, bereft of the care she required.

Salok confirmed his thoughts by saying, “We could always place her into the care of Healers until that time. It is not a good option - she requires parental-like attention.”

Father looked briefly at Salok, then back at him, tilted his head slightly, and said, “There is another option that has not yet been discussed. It is not one I consider proper, but it must be considered.”

Spock’s head snapped upwards with barely concealed surprise. “What is that option?” Anything had to be better than leaving Saavik in the hands of strangers.

Sarek did not speak directly. Instead, he asked, “You have been spending much time with her, have you not?”

“Indeed,” Spock answered, wondering where this sentence lead. Father could make transitions to the strangest of topics - an excellent rhetorical strategy, but not when Spock wanted to hear the answer.

“You agree that she needs specialized attention by someone who can tolerate her range of behavior.”

“Most certainly.” Behind his back, Spock tightened his hands.

“Yet you have not asked for her care to be assigned to you.”

For the second time in as many minutes, Spock had to fight to conceal his surprise. It could not be… could it? “She needs a family, two people experienced in caring for children, especially the kind of problems she has. I am obviously unsuited for providing those things for her, therefore it seemed illogical to place a request that would not even be considered.”

“In this case, you are mistaken, my son.” Spock wanted to protest, but the statement had been made without any hardness. “Normally, you would be correct. However, logically, there is no one better qualified.”

“How so, Father?” Spock tried to repress a surprising sense of hope.

Father assumed his lecture mode, and declaimed as though he were trying to explain a basic concept on the first day of class. “Although no one asked you to do so, you have been spending most of your time providing care for her. You have tolerated all of her range of unacceptable behavior without complaint. Indeed, on occasion, you have defended her actions to others. You are able to get her to behave as no one else can. Most importantly, she trusts you and actively seeks out your company. All of this is a much higher quality of interaction than she had been able to achieve with anyone else.”

He shook his head. “You are mistaken, Father. She can barely tolerate me, and usually disobeys me. I have rarely been able to ‘get her to behave.’”

“It is you who are mistaken, Spock,” Salok cut in. “Granted, there are many difficulties that you have encountered. Nevertheless, you have accomplished more with her than anyone else. Do you not realize that she has lately been asking for your presence, especially when upset?

“I have not noticed such a thing,” he replied. Was it true? Was all his work with Saavik paying off? “Mostly, she seems to scream at me whenever I am in her presence.”

“I have observed her in both types of interactions. She screams much more when you are not present.” Was that a twinkle in Salok’s eyes?

Father spoke again. “You seem not to have realized this, but you are the best qualified to care for her. One Guardian is better than none. As for inexperience, I do not believe that anyone else has ever had experience with a child such as Saavik. She is unique. This means very difficult. I doubt that, even with the best of care, she could ever be normal - I personally would not wish for you to waste your time trying. Nevertheless, for the sake of fairness, we must ask you if you will reconsider submitting the application.”

Spock looked both of them in the eye. “It would be an honor to be Guardian to Saavik.”

He signed the datapadd held out to him, which contained a filled-out application. Salok took it back, and spoke.

“As the ones assigned to make the decisions in such cases, we accept your application. Spock, son of Amanda and Sarek, we assign to you the Guardianship of Saavik, daughter of unknown parents. You responsibilities are to provide her with primary care, as it has been defined by the Vulcan council, regulation 6/E. However, realize that what is truly needed is to teach her to behave herself, make certain that she gets a proper education, and that she is eventually qualified to choose her own life path. You have that responsibility until she chooses to acknowledge her family, or she is ready to live on her own, as an adult. You may and should give her into the care of suitable others, but the ultimate responsibility for her health, well-being, and education is yours only. Do you accept that responsibility and promise to honor that commitment?”

His throat tightened, and he stood straighter. “I accept all responsibility for Saavik. I swear to honor my commitment until such time as she no longer requires a Guardian. It is my honor.”

Salok nodded slowly as he added his signature, and passed the padd to Father. “The pledge is made and witnessed. May you be successful, Spock. It is a great responsibility.”

Leaning towards Salok, he explained the idea that had flashed through his head when he had made the decision. “I shall take a leave of absence from Starfleet. A year should be enough to teach her how to behave. If not, I shall extend that leave.”

Spock could tell that his father was not quite satisfied with the turn that events had taken. Nevertheless, he also added his good wishes before leaving.

Spock sat back down on the floor and softly let out a breath. He was still not certain that he had done the right thing. Despite the reassurance, he was not at all certain he could be the kind of guardian Saavik needed.

However, he had promised to try - and he would do his best to teach her. It hit him - she would be his student. It would be proper to address her as… Saavikam. He rolled that around in his mind. It had a strangely pleasing quality to it. Saavikam. He wondered what she would think of that - would she even understand what just happened?

He listened again to her soft breathing. Still asleep - she had not even heard this conversatiion. He would wait for her to come out, and try to care for her and teach her. They had an entire year ahead of them.

He leaned his head back against the bulkhead. Without noticing it, he soon fell asleep. He would need his energy for the days ahead.