Nyota woke early the next morning from a restless sleep. It was five o’clock Academy time – which was also ship’s time – and she didn’t need to be on duty until eight.
Her quarters were too small to exercise, and her nervous energy demanded an outlet; if she sat on the edge of her bed, waiting and thinking for three hours, she might chew off her own fingers. So instead she pulled on her shorts and tank top and decided to check out the ship’s gymnasium. An hour on the treadmill was exactly what she needed to get rid of her adrenaline.
This early, the ship’s corridors were empty – there were only a few of them staying aboard anyway – but there was nothing eerie about the silence. The ship’s quiet hum kept her company as she made her way toward the gym she’d been shown the previous evening, the doors opening with a swish at her approach.
Inside was a small reception area, with lockers, and beyond that a corridor off which branched several different rooms – a couple of courts marked out for both racquetball and parrises squares, a weights room, and a cardiovascular suite. But it was the room at the end that drew her eye, because the light was on and she could hear the squeak-thud of someone exercising. A punch bag rattled and someone landed with a soft thud, measured and controlled.
Curious, she made her way to the end of the corridor and peered around the door.
The punch bag was swaying wildly, its attacker preparing for another assault, shaking out the muscles in his arms. Tall, she thought, muscular. Sweat soaked a V into the back of his vest, glistening across bare shoulders. He ran, long powerful strides, then launched himself into the air, twisted and slammed both feet into the bag. Landing in a crouch, he twisted to his feet and hit the rebounding bag with enough power to shatter bone.
He bit off a curse, shaking out his hand, and she only recognized the words as Vulcan in the same moment she noticed the ears. Perhaps she made a sound, a sharp intake of breath, because he turned with his injured hand half raised – and froze.
Shock reeled across his face, unchecked. It was Spock.
Words fled. She could do nothing but stand and stare, watching his grazed knuckles well with blood. Green blood, alien and strange.
“What are you doing here?” he blurted, then frowned. “I mean— I had not— Why are you here?”
“The delegation,” she managed to say, his discomfort forcing her to master her scattered thoughts. “I’m acting as an interpreter.”
“Oh.” He frowned again, then seemed to notice his bleeding knuckle and quickly brought it to his lips. “Forgive me, I am not—”
“Captain Healy said you wouldn’t be here,” she interrupted. “That’s why Captain Pike asked for me, but if you’re here then I don’t need to—”
“No.” His hands retreated behind his back, but he couldn’t quite pull off the impassive stance with sweat-damp hair pushed back from his face and his chest rising and falling so fast. His voice, however, regained some of its usual composure. “I am not here in an official capacity, merely on a personal basis.” He hesitated, then said, “My parents are among the Vulcan delegation.”
“Oh.” She could think of nothing else to say.
Apparently, neither could he, because after a moment he crossed the gym and picked up a towel, pressing it once to his face, then letting it fall. “I should— Excuse me.” Saying no more, he walked past her and left.
The punch bag was still reeling; she knew how it felt.
A ten minute sonic shower was not enough to calm his tumultuous thoughts, indeed he suspected that an hour’s deep meditation would be inadequate, but ten minutes was all the time he had and so it must suffice.
She was here, aboard the Enterprise. This was a fact. Nyota Uhura was aboard the Enterprise and eight weeks of careful mental discipline was in danger of crumbling in the face of that unforeseen event.
He had not expected to see her and yet the reason for her presence was entirely logical – one he should have predicted had he given due consideration to the consequences of his departure from the Academy. But, of course, he had not given it any consideration whatsoever. For only the second time in his life he had acted on a whim, one motivated by those twin provocations of his childhood over which he still had insufficient control: rejection and contempt. In her eyes, that night, he had seen the same disdain he had known all his life, her rebuff given disproportionate weight because it came on top of past rejections.
Arrogant, condescending, overcritical – those had been her words, but he had seen others in her expression: alien, different, strange. He had always been too human for his childhood peers, and it appeared that he was too Vulcan for Nyota Uhura. There was pain in that, raw wounds cutting through his self-control, but he would master it as he had mastered all the other pains and rejections of his life. And he would triumph.
His father called him a child of two worlds. Spock considered it a peculiarly romantic notion, one that demonstrated his father’s failure to understand that, in truth, he was a child of none. He was always alien, always alone – misunderstood and always misunderstanding.
That he could have so badly misjudged Uhura’s feelings toward him was a matter of unmitigated shame for which he blamed himself entirely. The complexity of human interaction continued to elude him, and he should have known better than to trust his poor instinct in the matter; what he had experienced as a spark of attraction, she had experienced as a spark of discord. The difference between the two was too subtle for him to distinguish, and the result of his failure had been a devastating humiliation.
Her presence here, among the delegation, was difficult. However, it also presented an opportunity he had not previously considered possible. Though entertaining no thought of changing her feelings toward him, he hoped that he might be able to explain himself more fully. There was a high probability that she would be assigned to the Enterprise and, therefore, it was imperative that their mutual discomfort be erased. It was his hope that, by understanding him better, her dislike could be softened into ambivalence, and that they could work together without further incident.
His own feelings, turbulent as they were, would never again be made public. With the application of the right discipline they would, in time, be integrated into his consciousness and cease to hold any power over his actions – he hoped that time would come quickly, for the effort required to maintain control was considerable.
By the time he was dressed, his mind was resolved. During the time she was here, he would make it his objective to explain himself to Lieutenant Uhura. It was a logical decision, based entirely on the probability that they may soon be working together. It had nothing whatsoever to do with pandering to a hope that, through understanding him better, she might come to value him more highly.
Such a hope would be futile, given the strength of her opinion, and indulging it would be irrational and damaging to his emotional stability.
So he did not hope as he left his quarters and headed for the mess hall, and he chose to ignore the unsettled sensation in the pit of his stomach.
He was probably simply hungry.
Nyota forced down coffee and half a croissant, knowing she had to eat something despite her stomach’s queasy protests. And though she had to report for duty in half an hour, her thoughts returned again and again to Spock instead of the technical translation of the ship’s systems.
She had never seen him more disconcerted or less Vulcan than she had that morning; his shock at first seeing her had been disarmingly human. And the way he had brought his injured hand to his lips, the sweat soaking into his shirt, the aggression in the way he’d attacked the punch bag – they were all hard to reconcile with the man she knew.
The man she thought she knew.
It was ridiculous to imagine that Vulcans didn’t exercise, or fight, or injure themselves – especially a Vulcan who had graduated from Starfleet Academy and must have passed all the same physical assessments as herself – and yet seeing him so real overturned some of her most firmly held beliefs about him.
He hadn’t looked like the pedantic professor, the type to be in bed by ten o’clock clutching a Starfleet manual. He’d looked like something else entirely – something she suspected he took great pains to hide. Something dynamic, potent, and not a little dangerous.
It was unnerving.
And she didn’t know what she felt, only that her stomach was twisted tight and unwilling to accept either the coffee or the croissant. Leaving them both, she got up from her table and headed for the door, keen to get to her duties and put the morning’s encounter out of her mind.
Fate, however, had other plans, for just as she was leaving, in walked the object of her musing.
He was in uniform, not the dour dress uniform of the Academy, but the blue operational shirt of a science officer. It made him appear younger, less severe, and reminded her again that this was his ship – that, above everything else, he was Pike’s first officer. He already belonged where she only aspired to tread.
Her stomach tightened further.
She was expecting to exchange a quick, embarrassed nod as they passed, but to her utter surprise he slowed and said, “Good morning, Lieutenant. I was hoping to talk with you before the delegation arrives.”
He’s going to ask me to leave, she thought. He’s going to suggest that he takes over my role here and—
“I was very surprised to see you this morning,” he said, and his earlier discomfort lingered in the shadows of his words. “I apologize if I seemed unwelcoming; I hope the Enterprise is all you had imagined?”
Nyota stared. “Yes,” she managed at last, “it’s beautiful. Amazing.”
“I concur.” He was silent and around them she was aware of eyes being turned in their direction; aboard the Enterprise, she supposed, Spock drew people’s attention. Or perhaps he always had, and she’d just never noticed. After a moment, hands held firmly behind his back, he said, “I will be attending the reception for the Vulcan delegation this evening, and I wondered...” Here his voice seemed to fail and he took a breath. “My mother will be there and I would like to introduce her to you; she has an interest in xenolinguistics and was intrigued by the ideas in your thesis.”
Nyota blinked, unsure what was more surprising – that he wanted to introduce her to his mother, that his mother knew anything about her thesis, or that he was talking to her at all!
His gaze slipped away from hers, lips pressing tight, and she realized her hesitation looked like reluctance. Quickly she said, “I’d be honored, Commander.”
He took a breath, and she noticed the rise and fall of his chest in a way she’d never done before. “Thank you, Lieutenant. And may I wish you well today – I hope the dignitaries do not cause you too much aggravation.”
“Aggravation?” Despite everything, his choice of word made her smile. “Is that likely?”
His expression was entirely composed, but for an ironic tilt of his eyebrow. “They are members of the Vulcan Science Academy, Lieutenant, aggravation is in their nature.”
Not knowing how to answer, she simply said, “I’ll bear that in mind,” and with a nod he left her to her thoughts.
It was fortunate, because her thoughts were many and varied – not the least of which being that the trace of humor in his eyes had rendered them disconcertingly attractive.
Two hours later, up to her neck in cold-faced Vulcan demands, Uhura understood Spock’s cryptic warning perfectly; aggravating didn’t even begin to cover the attitude of the Vulcan delegation.
For a start, it became apparent very quickly that they could all speak perfect Standard – they just preferred not to. They were making a point, she realized, and she was reminded of her mother’s attitude to the Federation’s lingua franca. Her mother, however, would have made her point with a smile.
As a consequence of their linguistic skill, she was doubly aware of any failings in her own translation; not only did she have to speak perfect Vulcan, but they would know how faithfully she had interpreted the words of the Starfleet personnel. The fact that her group was made up of engineers touring the Enterprise’s engineering department only made her problems worse; technical translation was always the hardest.
Perhaps, she thought sourly, Spock had had good reason to back out of this little assignment.
Her group was comprised of three members of the Vulcan Science Academy – two women and a man. The man was as terse as any of his race, sharp faced and critical when he did speak. The women were worse, clearly thinking better of themselves than of anything they saw aboard the Enterprise. To Uhura they paid little attention, giving her as much consideration as they might a PADD or the ship’s computer. She was grateful they kept their critical comments only for the Enterprise – she dreaded to think what they might have to say about her Vulcan pronunciation.
By the time she’d returned them to the rest of their delegation, her head was aching and she was glad to be dismissed and given a couple of hours to rest before the evening’s reception.
Relaxation, however, was beyond her power because the reception meant a whole new set of headaches. And as she gazed at herself in her quarters’ small mirror, she wasn’t sure whether the tingle of her nerves was caused by dread, or by something else entirely.
9. T’var’eth – n.( offens.) whelp, undisciplined youth
The reception was being held in Enterprise’s mess hall, an uncomfortable gathering of polite smiles and dull conversation. Music played, a bland and inoffensive undertone to the quiet chatter and muted laughter.
Nyota might have been bored had she been there only for the music or the conversation. But the thrill of the Enterprise was still fresh, and there was plenty going on beneath the placid surface of the event.
Ambassador Sarek stood in stiff-backed conversation with the Starfleet top brass, his retinue scattered in loose formation around him. Nyota recognized the three engineers she’d been with all day, the two women both hovering close to the Ambassador in a manner that translated easily despite the species divide; they were drawn to power like moths to a flame, and Sarek burned brightest in this room. She wondered what they wanted – a promotion, funding for a pet project? It was an interesting question; what did Vulcans want?
On the other side of the room, close to the buffet table – a table bristling with slender, two-pronged Vulcan forks – a knot of people had gathered around another of the Vulcan delegation. Among them, she saw the blue shirt and straight shoulders of Commander Spock.
As if feeling his eyes on her – and she wondered briefly about his telepathic abilities – he looked up. Their eyes met and held, then he looked away and murmured something to the Vulcan woman at his side, before crossing the room toward Nyota. He walked with purpose and without haste, as deliberate in this as in everything else, and stopped a short distance away.
“I trust your day was successful?”
Her smile was mostly nervous as she said, “It was interesting, but you’d have to ask T’Prek and Tarvik regarding its success.”
“I think,” he said, his gaze slipping briefly away in a gesture that looked almost subversive, “I shall reserve that pleasure for another time.”
Her own attention flickered to the two women, still hovering around Sarek. “They’re an ambitious pair.”
“An astute observation.” He cast her a look she could only call approving. “They would be mortified to be so easily comprehended by a human.”
There had been a time, not many weeks earlier, when she would have heard an insult in his words. Now she heard only irony. What she didn’t understand, however, was whether he was being more open or she was becoming more discerning. Either way, the comment earned him a smile. “Vulcans are not so inscrutable as you might think, Commander.”
He answered that only with a briefly inclined head and said, “Would now be an opportune moment to introduce you to my mother?”
“Yes,” she said, still smiling. “Although – I don’t want to make a mistake. How should I address her?” She laughed, self conscious, as she said, “I know better than to try and shake her hand.”
“I believe she would not be averse to shaking hands,” Spock said in a tone that was not as flat as usual. There was something else in it, but she wasn’t sure what – unease, humor, anticipation? She couldn’t quite make it out, and because they were now walking side by side she couldn’t get a proper look at his face. “And you may call her by her given name – indeed, she would prefer it so.”
He stopped talking as they approached the small group of other Starfleet personnel gathered around his mother. Most drifted away as Spock said, “Mother, may I introduce you to a...former student and colleague of mine? Lieutenant Uhura.”
Spock’s mother smiled, the expression so surprising that Nyota found herself lost for words.
“Lieutenant,” Spock continued, “this is my mother, Amanda Grayson.”
“It’s a pleasure to meet you,” his mother said, holding out her hand.
After a moment, Nyota took it. “Thank you,” she managed, “it’s an honor.” But her confused gaze was drawn to the woman’s ears, to her brow, then back to the formal Vulcan clothing.
Amanda Grayson laughed. “Yes,” she said, “I am human.” She turned sparkling eyes on her son. “Spock, you could have warned the girl!”
“I did not consider it required a warning, here of all places.”
Amanda’s eyes narrowed. “You thought no such thing.” She batted his arm in affectionate reprimand, then turned her attention back to Nyota who was watching the exchange in utter disbelief.
Spock’s mother was human? He was as human as he was Vulcan?
Another edifice of preconception was crumbling in her mind – his Vulcan arrogance, his unfeeling condescension… Despite everything else she had learned, the one thing she’d believed absolutely was that he felt himself superior to humans.
“I’ve heard a lot about you, Lieutenant,” Amanda said, interrupting her thoughts. “I understand you’re a gifted linguist and speak flawless Vulcan.”
“I…” She looked at Spock, but his gaze was studiously averted. “Not flawless, by any stretch. My pronunciation is, I’m told, too inflective.”
Amanda smiled. “I’ve been living on Vulcan for almost thirty years, and Sarek still says I sound like a Romulan spice merchant.”
Nyota couldn’t hide her surprise. “Romulan…?”
“I consider it a compliment,” she said with a significant smile that Nyota didn’t fully understand. Then, in what sounded like flawless Vulcan, she added, “Dom! Nam-tor ri thrap wilat nem-tor rim, ha?”
So! There is no offence where none is taken, yes?
Nyota smiled. “Rim,” she agreed. None.
“Mother?” Spock interrupted, “Will you excuse me? I believe Captain Pike requires some assistance.”
Pike, Nyota saw, was besieged by her threesome of engineers and his back was, literally, to the wall.
“Well, don’t be long, ashalik,” Amanda said, touching his hand. “I would speak with you later.”
“Ha, Mai’h.” He glanced at Nyota. “Excuse me, Lieutenant.”
Amanda watched him leave, her expression fond – yet tinted with something else. She sighed. “Children,” she said, “are meant to worry you less the older they get, and yet I find that the opposite is true.”
Nyota followed Amanda’s gaze, watching Spock insert himself between Pike and the Vulcan engineers. They stepped back, and even Nyota noticed the way their posture stiffened. Pike, on the other hand, looked as if the cavalry had arrived.
“First Officer of the Enterprise is an amazing achievement,” she said, unsure what else to say. “Especially so young. You must be very proud.”
“Always,” Amanda said, still watching her son.
Nyota was suddenly struck by memories of her own mother, of how hard it must be to have her daughter so far away – and wanting to go further, and for longer. A five year mission of discovery… It was a big sacrifice she was demanding of her parents, and until that moment she hadn’t really understood the consequences of her ambition. “Five years,” she said, hesitating in case she was treading on sensitive ground, “is a long time, isn’t it?”
Amanda smiled. “And they say only Vulcans are telepathic.” She turned her eyes on Nyota. “I’ll miss him, and I’m afraid…” She shook her head. “It’s a long time for him to be alone.”
“A mother’s conceit, perhaps,” she admitted. “Sometimes I feel that I’m the only one who truly understands him.”
Nyota let her gaze return to Spock, who now stood alone with Captain Pike. The other Vulcans had moved away, and that, combined with their reaction to his arrival, prompted a nasty suspicion. “I often wondered why he chose to join Starfleet,” she said, which wasn’t strictly true. She’d never wondered about it at all – until now. But as she watched him standing there in his uniform, so bright against the drab clothes of the Vulcan delegation, she found herself consumed by the question.
“It might surprise you,” Amanda said, “to know that he joined Starfleet in a fit of pique.”
“Pique?” She was right, it was almost unbelievable. “Spock?”
“He felt…” Nyota didn’t miss the deliberate use of that word. “…he felt insulted by the Vulcan Science Academy, and so he turned them down.” There was no concealing the pride in Amanda’s voice, or the undertow of ironic humor Nyota had recently noticed in her son. “To say that they were slighted would be to considerably understate their reaction.”
She longed to know what kind of insult would drive him to do such a thing, but she couldn’t bring herself to ask. Amanda Grayson was a very open, forthcoming woman, but Nyota felt her right to pry into Spock’s life was limited. And yet she burned to know. Instead, all she said was, “I never had the Commander down as a rebel.”
“Neither did he,” Amanda smiled. “But he can’t help himself – despite his best efforts, he’s only half Vulcan. Sometimes his human responses get the better of him – and that’s not always a bad thing.”
Nyota shook her head. “He seems so very Vulcan – at least, to my eyes.”
“I’m sure he takes care that he does.”
“It’s an act then?” She glanced over once more to where he stood, hands clasped behind his back, face impassive.
“Not an act,” Amanda corrected, and as she spoke Spock’s gaze flickered slightly toward Nyota; he knew they were talking about him. “But an effort, a deliberate choice. His physiology is different, you see. The emotional control all Vulcans practice doesn’t come so easily – his mind simply isn’t wired that way – and sometimes the control breaks down. Not so much now, but as a child…” She chuckled. “The boy could throw a tantrum like you’ve never seen!”
“I can’t imagine,” Nyota said, still looking at him, waiting for another subtle flicker of his eyes in her direction. “I didn’t think Vulcans experienced emotions that way.”
Amanda made a soft noise, a snort of disdain. “That’s what they’d like you to think, but the truth is the reverse; they experience them just as intensely, if not more intensely, than us. But their minds are different, they’re capable of instantly comprehending feelings it would take the average human a year of therapy to understand.” She paused, then said, “They’re actually more aware of their emotions than we are, and it’s that which gives them so much control – we humans are enslaved by our passions, but Vulcans are their master. Most of the time.”
Most of the time… She remembered his face during their dreadful encounter in her room, the tension that had looked like anger and indignation. Could it have been something else? Hurt, embarrassment, disappointment?
“But Spock is only half Vulcan,” Amanda continued, “and he can’t process emotions like his father can – and he’s only half human, so he can’t release them like I can. He’s stuck between the two, and I’m afraid it’s a lonely place to be. That’s why I’d hoped…” She sighed, drawing Nyota’s eyes back to her. “When he joined Starfleet, I’d hoped he’d find the friendship there that he never found on Vulcan, but…”
There was a question in the unfinished sentence, one Nyota couldn’t answer – at least, not in the way she suspected Amanda Grayson wanted. “I think,” she said slowly, “that many humans find him…complex.”
“And he finds many humans complex in return.” Amanda smiled and touched Nyota’s arm, a gesture of understanding. “But listen to me running on about my son. What I really wanted to talk about was your linguistic theories…”
Nyota doubted that, but appreciated the change of subject. It gave her a chance to think. In the rubble of her crumbled preconceptions, a new image of Commander Spock was being built – one very different and very intriguing…
One she wasn’t sure what to do with.
Later, after what turned out to be a deep and thorough discussion of her thesis, Spock returned and Nyota watched with guarded fascination as Amanda slipped her arm through his. “Were your ears burning, ashalik?”
“No more than expected.”
Amanda smiled, resting her head lightly against his shoulder, before straightening and releasing his arm. Her expression changed. “Your father,” she said, and Spock’s eyes moved to somewhere past Nyota’s shoulder.
She turned in time to see Ambassador Sarek approach, T’Prek and Tarvik gliding in his wake. It took a moment for Nyota to understand that Spock’s father was, in fact, the illustrious Ambassador to Earth. She shot Spock a look, but his attention was elsewhere – turned inward in a manner she’d never seen before. He was bracing himself.
“T'nar pak sorat y'rani, sa-fu,” Sarek said, the most formal of Vulcan greetings.
“T'nar jaral,” Spock replied in kind. Then, in Standard, added, “I trust you are well, Father.”
Sarek’s gaze slid over Spock’s uniform. “I am well.”
Silence fell, the tension sharp and cold. Not knowing where to look, and feeling that she was intruding on something personal, Nyota turned her attention to the buffet table behind her. But her ears were pricked.
“Sartel was elevated to the position of Provost during last year’s Academy honors,” Sarek said then. “Your cousin sends his greetings.”
“And I have been commissioned as first officer of Starfleet’s new flagship,” Spock replied, with a heat Nyota well remembered. “Please, convey my congratulations to my cousin.”
Silence again, into which Amanda puffed a sigh and moved past Nyota to her husband. “Eit’jae, Sarek.” From the corner of her eye, Nyota saw Amanda draw two fingers over her husband’s hand in a gesture of unmistakable intimacy. “He is our son.”
After another excruciating silence, T’Prek spoke. “Commander Spock,” she said, “before we depart I wish to view the...” She made a show of not knowing the correct term “...tash-svitan of this ship.”
“The bridge,” Spock supplied. “I would be honored to show you, Doctor T’Prek.”
“Thank you,” she said, but then added, “perhaps you should ask permission now, before your superior officer retires for the night?”
It was a dig, barbed like an arrow so that most of the damage was done on the way out.
Spock bristled. “It will be sufficient to confer with Captain Pike in the morning,” he said, but Nyota heard the thread of anger in his voice clear as a bell. No doubt T’Prek heard it too, and counted it a victory.
Nyota turned, expecting Sarek to jump down the insolent woman’s throat, but he said nothing and she found her own anger rising instead.
“Ah, food,” Amanda said, breaking the tension with a false jollity that couldn’t hide her own pain. “What do you have there, Lieutenant?”
Nyota looked down at the few canapés she’d put onto her plate, unsure what any of them were – her attention had been fixed elsewhere, and even now she found her gaze drawn to Spock’s tight lipped expression and his distant eyes. “Mushroom, I think,” she said, popping one into her mouth. “Or maybe—”
There was a dramatic intake of breath and she saw both the Vulcan women turning their heads away, hauteur spreading across their angular features.
Amanda winced and Sarek looked entirely blank.
It was only then, with crumbs on her fingertips, that she remembered the Vulcan taboo about touching food with your hands. “Oh I’m so sorry,” she blurted, dusting her fingers on her skirt – then stopping, in case that was worse.
Nothing to ease her discomfort. She wanted the floor to open up and swallow her whole.
Then, into the silence, Spock said, “Do you not think, Father, that it is an especially illogical taboo? There is no reason, given modern standards of hygiene, why food should not be handled in this way – and it is certainly more efficient.”
Nyota looked at him in surprise, catching Amanda’s slight smile from the corner of her eye. He moved to her side and lifted a canapé with two fingers, examining it. “There is a Terran expression, Father, with which you are, perhaps, familiar.” He popped the canapé into his mouth, chewed, swallowed, and said, “Si fueris Romae, Romano vivitomore.” His gaze swept to T’Prek. “On Earth, Doctor, it is considered an insult not to live as those around you live.”
With a nod to his mother, and half a glance at Nyota, he turned and walked away.
“T’var’eth!” T’Prek hissed the insult beneath her breath, loud enough for Spock to hear, but he didn’t break his stride.
Nyota felt like cheering.
Only thirty years of practice kept Amanda Grayson from giving full vent to her chaotic human emotions and stalking out of the Ambassadorial reception. But she made sure Sarek knew how she felt before she turned her back on the social-climbing hangers-on and headed toward the quietest corner she could find.
Dutifully, her husband followed.
“You are upset,” he said as he drew close.
“Yes I am.” She turned to face him, keeping her voice low and her expression as calm as propriety demanded. “He’s our son, Sarek. How could you let them treat him like that?”
Sarek lifted an eyebrow. “I believe he defended himself admirably.”
“And would it kill you to defend him yourself, for once?”
“I doubt it would endanger my life.”
“Don’t play semantics with me, Sarek.” She drew closer, let him see the extent of her anger. “You know what I mean.”
He considered his answer. “This is a subject we have discussed many times; my opinion on the matter has not changed. Spock must defend himself, or forever stand in my shadow. I do not believe that would be a satisfactory outcome for either of us.”
It was a subject they’d discussed, frequently, over the years. And he knew she agreed with him – to a point. However, “And you couldn’t congratulate him on his commission either, could you? You had to bring up that po-faced Sartel!”
“Sartel’s accomplishment is noteworthy.”
“So is Spock’s!” She drew a breath, composed herself, and added, “You can’t forgive him, can you?”
Sarek was silent.
“If he’d made a different choice,” she said, “if he’d chosen the Science Academy and kolinahr, if he’d purged all his emotions – as if that’s even possible! – I would still have been proud of him. I would still have loved him.”
“Now is not the time to—”
“Oh, then when?” She took his hand and felt him recoil from the unwanted mental contact. Too bad. “He’ll be gone for five years, Sarek. Maybe he’ll never come back. Is this how you would say farewell?”
Sarek pulled his hand from hers, severing the link. “You know that I cherish our son, but I cannot—” He took a breath, struggling with something. “His choice to join Starfleet was based on an emotional response to a minor insult, it was not rational. That failing, I cannot forgive.”
“I see.” She drew herself up, hurt and taking care that he saw it. “His choice was very human, Sarek. Why must you always reject what there is of me in him?”
“I do not—”
But she couldn’t bear another denial, because the truth was clear and they both saw it, so she turned and walked away.
This time she did leave, and let the gossips be damned.
Nyota glanced both ways down the corridor as she left the mess hall, caught a glimpse of blue disappearing around a corner, and began to run. She tried not to think about what she was doing – and especially not why.
When she rounded the corner she saw him stalking toward the turbolifts with long ground-eating strides, and she called out, “Commander!”
He stopped dead, as if he’d slammed into a wall. After a moment, he turned around and watched as she hurried toward him. “Lieutenant?”
“I just wanted…” She was slightly out of breath, and smiled an apology. “Sorry, I just wanted to say thanks – for back there.”
“No thanks are required,” he said, hands retreating behind his back. “I am afraid there are those among my father’s people who take pleasure in the discomfort of others.”
“Your father’s people…” The phrase was revealing, but she didn’t comment. “Yes, as you say – aggravating.”
He gave a little nod. “I was the target. I apologize that you were caught in the crossfire – so to speak.”
“Ha!” She snorted her anger. “You’ve got nothing to apologize for. I can’t believe how rude they were.” She grimaced. “And I can’t believe I forgot about the fork.”
“Do not concern yourself,” he said, “they were less affronted than they would have you believe.”
She smiled. “I kinda thought so.”
The corridor was empty, only the gentle hum of the ship filling the air between them, and she was suddenly very aware that they were alone. His gaze had drifted just shy of hers and she found herself studying the dark frame of his lashes, and the way his mouth curled up at the corners, as if his natural inclination was always to smile. She thought of what his mother had told her of his dual nature, and wondered what conflicts and passions he hid behind those guarded, human eyes.
Spock cleared his throat and straightened his shoulders. “You return to the Academy in the morning?”
It took a moment to refocus her thoughts, a swift heat rising into her cheeks. “Yes,” she said, “I’m taking a shuttle down at nine.”
He was silent, but frowned as if words were balanced on his lips, waiting to fall. In the end he only said, “Then I wish you a safe journey, Lieutenant.”
With a nod, he began to walk away.
And she knew, with a sudden certainty, that if he left she would never see him again, would never find the words to apologize for what she’d said to him that night.
“I haven’t seen the bridge.” It tumbled out, unbidden.
Spock turned, eying her with caution. “The bridge is off limits to any but the Enterprise’s crew and maintenance staff.”
“I know, but I was wondering if you’d be able—” She cut herself off, suddenly afraid that he’d think she was asking a favor and exploiting his feelings. “Sorry, I shouldn’t have asked.”
He hesitated, studying her, then said, “I do not believe it was an inappropriate request.”
“I wouldn’t want to put you to any trouble.”
“I am currently unoccupied.”
She smiled, but it was mostly nervous tension. “Okay.”
“We can take this lift,” he said, indicating one of the turbolifts. He touched a pad and the door swished open. “Unlike for T’Prek,” he said as he followed her inside, “I do not require Captain Pike’s authority to bring a member of Starfleet to the bridge.”
“I’m assuming her tour is off?”
“Unfortunately, yes.” His gaze met hers briefly, just long enough for a spark of humor to pass between them. “I believe my duties will require me elsewhere tomorrow morning.”
“She’ll be disappointed.”
He reached past her and pressed a button, the lift accelerating fast. “One can only hope.”
Her smile became a grin that only vanished when the turbolift doors slid open to reveal the bridge. She sucked in a breath. “Oh…wow.”
It was beautiful. She had no words. A vast, elegant space, full of gleaming technology and the promise of adventure opened up before her, and she stepped out as if into wonderland. Her heart was racing and the grin returned, sharpened by ambition. She wanted this so much it hurt.
“This,” Spock said from behind her, “is the communications station.”
She turned and ran her eye over the console. I know how to do this, she thought as she drew closer, trailing a fingertip over the screen. This is my place.
“What about you?” she asked, glancing up and finding him watching her intently. “Where’s the First Officer’s station?”
He gestured to the side. “I will also be the Chief Science Officer,” he said, “and that will be my station.”
She closed her eyes and took a breath, getting control of her galloping feelings. “I envy you,” she said at last, letting out a long sigh. “This is everything I want.”
There was no reply, and when she opened her eyes she found that he was at his station, touching something on the screen. There was a flicker behind her and Spock said, “Look.”
Turning, she saw the world laid out at her feet; he’d opened the view screen and the blue-green crescent of Earth shimmered before them. She’d seen it before, of course, but that didn’t dim the world’s splendor. “Beautiful,” she whispered, stepping forward and letting the sight fill her vision. “Thank you.”
Again, no answer, but he crossed the bridge to stand at her side and she turned to look at him. His gaze was fixed ahead, but she could tell his focus was on her – she could feel it.
“I owe you an apology,” she said at last, screwing up her courage until it stuck. “I was— I said some things that night which I regret.”
His shoulders straightened, she could see the tension clench in his jaw. “I believe the events of that evening are best forgotten by both parties.”
“Yes,” she said, though there was an emptiness in the word that seemed to linger inside her chest. “Perhaps that’s best…”
He glanced at her with an uncertain frown. “You, I think, would wish to forget.”
And she didn’t know how to answer. Forget his anger, her outrage? Yes, for sure. Forget the fire in his eyes, the heat in his voice, the emotions slipping through his fingers? She wasn’t sure it was possible.
She itched to touch his arm, to make contact so she could understand what was going on, but his hands were firmly clasped behind his back and his expression was unreadable. What he felt for her now, she couldn’t tell.
But what she felt for him…?
If pressed, she’d have described it as an overwhelming desire to know him better, to pull him apart and understand the intricacies of that complex and fascinating mind. The duality of him intrigued her, all her preconceptions overturned by a briefly sketched man of profound contradictions. Half Vulcan, half human. And always, she realized, defined by his difference.
She looked at him, at those dark impenetrable eyes, and for the first time felt that it might mean something to have reached such a man, to have spanned the dichotomy that defined him and touched the soul within. For the first time, she began to feel something like regret.
His gaze deepened, brow creasing into a wary frown. “I can not—”
But his words were drowned by the sudden blare of claxons, the ship going to red alert. Spock was moving before she’d drawn breath, darting back to his workstation. “The fire suppression systems have been activated on decks eleven and twelve.”
“Deck twelve is the mess hall and guest quarters…”
“Yes,” he said, bringing up more data on his screen. “We must begin immediate evacuation.”
Unsure what else to do, Nyota ran to the communications console and performed a quick sweep for life signs. “Most people are still at the reception,” she said, “some in their quarters, engineering— Oh.”
“Lieutenant?” It was a terse command, a tone she’d never heard him use before. She was ashamed by the little thrill it sent shooting down her spine.
“There’s someone in the observation lounge on deck eleven, sir. It’s the section reporting the fire.” She drilled down into the data. “They’re not moving. Respiration is poor, pulse weak; possibly smoke inhalation?”
“Most likely. Lieutenant, order immediate evacuation through docking gate Delta. Alert the yard authorities and request their assistance with fire suppression and search and rescue. Have a medical team standing by.”
“Aye, sir.” She gave the order, sending the requests for assistance even as she spoke over the ship’s internal comms. Her pulse raced but her hands didn’t shake; she felt nothing but focused and alive.
Leaving his station, Spock strode toward the turbolift. “I must ensure the safety of the Captain and the Vulcan delegation.”
He stopped, turning. “Yes?”
“That person on deck eleven? They won’t last long enough for search and rescue to find them if they’re already oxygen deprived.”
He frowned. “My duty must lie with—”
“I can go,” she said. “I can find them.”
He looked at her for a heartbeat, then nodded. “So ordered, Lieutenant.”
10. Vitehvar-tor – v. to endanger; imperil
The evacuation was already in progress by the time Spock reached the mess hall, Captain Pike having, naturally, taken command.
But his face tightened as Spock approached, and he gave a terse nod toward a cluster of Vulcans on the other side of the corridor – one of whom was his father.
Spock approached the group, seeing disquiet in their faces. “Father…?”
“Your mother is missing,” he said, lips in a tight line. “She left the reception early and I have not been able to locate her. She is not in our quarters.”
Spock felt a surge of fear, but rode the wave and said, “It is possible that she is in the observation lounge on deck eleven. Lieutenant Uhura is on her way to that location.”
“I should not have—” His father cut himself off, taking a breath. Around them the claxons wailed and Spock heard the thud of booted feet as a fire team came over from the yards. “She left in anger,” Sarek said. “I should not have permitted her to go.”
“I do not believe Mother has ever required, nor asked, for your permission to do anything.”
His father made a soft, somewhat un-Vulcan, sound in the back of his throat. “If she has come to harm…”
Spock spun around, unable to control the sudden flare of relief at the sight of his mother running toward them.
Sarek pushed past him, reaching for her hands as she drew close, and they stood for a moment, forehead touching forehead. Spock found himself staring; he had never witnessed such a public display of affection from his father. It left him strangely shaken.
Then his mother lifted her gaze and smiled. “I’m sorry if I worried you, ashalik. I went walking and got lost.”
Spock glanced past her, down the length of the corridor. It was empty. “Did Lieutenant Uhura find you?”
“No.” His mother’s face fell. “No, I haven’t seen her.”
The fear returned, sharp and clear. He examined it briefly, understood all it implied about his feelings for the lieutenant, then put it aside. “You were not in the forward observation lounge on deck eleven?”
She shook her head. “No, I was just walking and then I heard the sirens and came back as fast as I could.” His father, Spock noted with a small corner of his mind, took her hand again.
“You must evacuate the ship, now,” Spock said, indicating the Starfleet officers rounding up the last of the delegation.
“And you?” said his father.
“I will join you as soon as I am able.”
Turning away, he found Captain Pike. “Sir, permission to take a search team to deck eleven. There are two people there, one injured.”
“Go,” Pike growled. “The sooner we clear the ship, the sooner I can find out what the hell happened.”
With a nod, Spock was moving.
She could smell the smoke halfway down the corridor, acrid and catching in her throat. Ahead, the doors to the observation lounge were closed, and she could see ghostly fingers of grey seeping beneath and between them.
Cautiously, Nyota approached and put her hand to the door. It was warm, but not hot enough to indicate that the fire was right behind it. She placed her ear against it and listened. Nothing.
Glancing back down the empty corridor, she considered her options – there was really only one. She stepped to the side, flat against the corridor’s wall, and pressed the pad to open the door, ducking into a crouch as she did so.
The doors opened and a ball of black smoke rolled out into the corridor.
Instantly, her eyes started stinging and she swiped at them, pressing her other hand over her mouth and nose, then – keeping low – she headed into the lounge.
Smoke hung like thunderclouds across the ceiling, the air choking. Nyota started coughing, even this close to the ground, and peered into the smoky gloom.
“Hello!” she called. “Can you hear me?”
There was no answer, but she could make out an electrical fizz coming from the far side of the room and made her way towards the noise. The lights must have shorted out, because it was dark, and she quickly found herself disoriented. Pausing, she turned and could just make out the light from the doorway. She used it to keep her bearings.
She’d done this before, in simulations. She knew what to do.
“Hello!” she called. Then again, in Vulcan.
Still no answer.
Ahead, through the smoke, she saw flames. Not huge, the heat was bearable, but sparking and dangerous; an electrical fire. That would explain the smoke – something plastic was smoldering, the casing of one of the consoles perhaps?
And then she heard it, a soft moan of pain.
She darted forward, hit her shin on something sharp, and fell forward with a curse. Coughing, ignoring the pain, she stumbled back to her feet and kept going, ears sharp.
It was closer now, more distinct. A weak cough followed, then, “Gul-tor…”
Bracing her hand against the floor, Nyota coughed again, so hard she had to struggle for air – each breath was catching in her lungs now, her eyes streaming. She swiped at them, looking around, searching for the sound.
From behind a bulky shape – a chair? – she saw a hand. Struggling for breath, Nyota scrambled closer and saw a woman sprawled on the floor, her face and hands burned. It was T’Prek.
She put her cheek to the woman’s lips, waiting for a breath against her skin. It came, barely, on the edge of a wheezing cough. There was no time to check for further injuries – if she didn’t get her out of there right away it would be too late, so she slipped her hands under T’Prek’s shoulders and began to drag her over the floor.
She didn’t get far.
Vulcans, she belatedly remembered, were more muscular than humans. And damn heavy!
Cursing, she crawled over T’Prek until she was crouched at her side, and hauled the woman up into a sitting position. T’Prek’s head lolled, she was barely conscious. Nyota ducked her head under the Vulcan’s arm, grabbing her wrist, and maneuvered her weight until she could get her feet underneath and push up into a low crouch, T’Prek slung over her shoulder.
She was coughing so hard now that every breath was choking. But she could see the light of the corridor ahead and knew that she could make it. With slow, deliberate steps she carried T’Prek toward the exit, holding her breath in case the next coughing fit made her drop the woman. Her head began to swim, graying at the edges.
Two steps beyond the door, breath exploded from her lungs and she sank to her knees, dropping T’Prek none too gently onto the floor.
Her chest burned and she fell to all fours, heaving and choking as she tried to suck in the clean air. But breath wouldn’t come and stars sparked in front of her eyes.
Dimly, she heard footsteps running, but all she could see was a narrowing point on the floor between her hands and all she could think was Don’t pass out. Don’t pass out.
And then there was a hand on her shoulder and someone was pressing something cool against her mouth and nose. Oxygen. She breathed, coughed, choked, and breathed again. The mask was held firm as she was eased upright and helped to rest against a bulkhead. She closed her eyes and let her head sink back.
“Try to breathe normally.”
There was a rush of activity all around her, calm voices giving orders, the comforting hum and hiss of technology.
As her faintness receded, she reached up to take the oxygen mask and her fingers closed over a warm hand. She opened her eyes.
Spock half knelt before her, holding the mask to her face; he didn’t look away when she met his gaze, nor move his hand from beneath her own.
A fierce flash of gratitude filled her mind and he wasn’t sure if it was her own, or his.
And then the medic was there, taking the mask and pulling their hands apart, and she winced as a shot went into her neck – then breathed, deep, for the first time in forever – and Spock was getting to his feet, making room for the medics, backing away. And whatever they’d given her was acting too fast because her mind was slipping and she wanted to tell him, she wanted to say...
The query came from behind him, jolting his attention from the medical team wheeling T’Prek and Uhura toward the turbolifts.
Spock turned around and saw a smoke-streaked crewman standing in the doorway to the lounge. “Fire’s out, sir,” he said, “but there’s something you need to see.”
With a not entirely irrational sense of foreboding, Spock followed the crewman into the fire-damaged room. The ceiling was sticky and smoke-black, the air heavy with the stench of burned plastics; the place must have been unbearable when Uhura had entered.
A vivid image flashed into his head and he repressed it with a firm hand, focusing on the matter before him.
Picking his way through the remains of the lounge, the crewman spoke over his shoulder. “Looks like it started in one of the data terminals,” he said, approaching the area of greatest damage and lifting something up. “We found this attached to the console.”
It was charred, wires dangling, and almost unrecognizable. Almost. Spock felt a shard of anger slip through his grasp and he clenched his jaw to keep it contained. “It appears to be a Vulcan communication device,” he said. “It is possible that Doctor T’Prek was attempting to patch into Enterprise’s comms systems to access her own communication network.”
The crewman barked a laugh. “She was trying to hack us? These systems aren’t even operational yet!”
“It is one theory,” Spock said, dissembling. In truth, he could see no other explanation, and the act perfectly fitted the sense of entitlement prevalent among many members of the Science Academy. However, Captain Pike would not thank him for being less than circumspect – given the delicacy of the situation. “All the facts are not yet known,” he said. “Take the device to the Captain and inform him that I shall join him shortly.”
The crewman left and Spock found himself momentarily alone in the charred observation lounge.
He was grateful for the brief solitude and, inappropriate as it was, took the opportunity to examine a persistent and distracting memory; her hand on his, her skin as cool as he remembered, and her grasp strong. But her mind...?
He could hardly trust his own judgment in the matter, but surely he could not have mistaken what he sensed when her hand closed over his; warmth, radiating toward him in waves. Enough to drown him.
Yet the question remained, what did it mean?
He did not dare answer.
The doctor insisted on keeping Nyota in the medical bay over night, depriving her of her last night aboard the Enterprise. She could smell the smoke in her hair, on her skin, and just wanted to soak forever in a shower. A real shower, with water. And sweet-scented soap.
They’d given her an Academy t-shirt and pants, instead of a medical gown – thank God for small mercies – and she lay on her narrow bed with one leg rolled up over the nasty cut she’d got on her shin. The blue synth-skin would have it healed in a day or so, but meanwhile it was painful. According to the doc, she was lucky not to have shaved off a splinter of bone.
T’Prek was elsewhere, but would recover. Her Vulcan physiology had saved her, apparently, although when Nyota had asked about it, the doc had winked and said something cryptic about not being able to save her skin twice in one day. What that meant, Nyota didn’t have the energy to find out.
She was tired, her throat was still sore, and although they’d taken her off the oxygen she still felt light headed and a little breathless. Her parents had called earlier, her mother insisting she come home for a couple of days; Nyota had gently refused, on the grounds of finals and the fact that Starfleet officers didn’t go running to their parents every time they scraped a knee. But it had been nice to see her face and hear her concern, and it made her think again of what it would mean to be gone for five years…
The PADD was still on the bed next to her, and she jumped when it beeped. Half expecting her mother again, she idly picked it up and smiled when she saw the transmission ID. Gaila.
She opened the link, her voice still smoke-scarred. “Hey, you.”
Gaila’s lips pressed together, tight, then wobbled. “Oh, Nyota…”
It seemed an overreaction, even from Gaila. “Hey, it’s okay, I’m fine.”
Gaila wiped her eyes, sniffed, then cocked her head in surprise. “Are you in sick bay?”
“Isn’t that why you called?”
“No.” Her lips wobbled again, but she managed to say, “What happened?”
“Nothing, doesn’t matter. Gaila, what’s wrong?”
She blinked, wiped at her eyes again. “Jim—”
“I knew it!” She held the PADD closer to her face. “Didn’t I tell you, Gaila? Jim Kirk should come with a health warning! I told—”
“No,” Gaila snapped, “it’s not that. God, I wish it was that.”
There was something about her tone that settled like a cold weight in Nyota’s chest. “Is he okay? He hasn’t—?”
“Nyota, shut up, will you? Just listen.” Gaila took a deep breath, real fear in her eyes. “I’ve done something really stupid. Jim wanted— It was just a joke, right? Just a prank, you know what he’s like.”
She knew exactly what he was like, but resolutely resisted the urge to comment.
“We’d been working on virus protection, and Jim wanted to see if he could get around the department’s firewall – you know, just to see if he could – so he created this little animated gif, just a guy dancing.” She laughed, but it quickly faded and her voice dropped. “Anyway, long story short, he wanted me to email it around my class, to get it into the secure system and see how far it spread. And I thought it would be funny, but the thing is, when people opened the attachment, it crashed the whole system. I mean the whole system. And now…” Tears threatened again and she sniffed, struggling to get the words out. “Now I’ve got a disciplinary, and Captain Podhar says…she says I might not… It was so stupid!” She dissolved into tears.
“Tell them it was Kirk,” Nyota said. “Gaila, tell them he made it.”
She sniffed. “He’s already told them.”
“And I’m the one who compromised the secure system…” She sobbed again. “What if I’m thrown out, what if I can’t graduate? Nyota…”
Her fingers gripped the PADD so hard she thought she might crush it. “They won’t. They won’t do that…”
Gaila looked up quickly; someone had come into her room. “I have to go.”
“Is that Kirk?”
“I’ll talk to you later.”
“Is that Jim Kirk? Kirk! You make sure you take the rap, you make—” But Gaila cut the connection and Nyota threw down the PADD in disgust. “Sonofabitch!”
With a start, she looked up to find Spock standing in the doorway, one eyebrow raised. Her heart jumped. “Commander…! Sorry, I was— Sorry.”
He paused, then said, “I came to see if you were recovered.”
“I’m fine,” she said, coughing as if to disprove the point, her anger making her breathe too hard and fast.
His gaze darted to the PADD, then back to her face. She could see the calculations going on behind his eyes. “You appear unsettled…”
“I’m fine, it’s just—” She took a breath, controlling both her breathing and her emotions. “Just some bad news from a friend of mine, that’s all.”
He was grave. Once, she might have thought him uninterested, or judgmental, but now she realized he was just uncomfortable and didn’t know what to do or say.
“My friend, Gaila—”
His chin lifted, recognition sparking in his eyes.
“Ah,” she said. “You’ve heard. Of course you’ve heard, it’s your department.”
Spock nodded. “Captain Podhar contacted me last night. The prank has caused considerable damage to the department’s systems. The captain was unimpressed by your friend’s conduct.”
“Yeah…” Nyota sighed. “I can’t believe she was so stupid.”
He walked further into the room, not toward her but toward the window that looked out into the starry black. “Cadet Kirk has admitted to the creation of the virus.” He paused, then said, “It was a virus of deviously adept design; a single error caused the system to crash. Without that mistake, I believe he would have circumvented our firewall unobserved.”
Nyota smiled. “Unfortunately, Kirk’s a genius level ass.”
“Indeed,” Spock said, a slight curl to the corner of his mouth. Then his shoulders straightened, hands clasping tight behind his back, and after a brief hesitation he said, “I understand that Cadet Gaila has a personal relationship with Kirk?”
Nyota was unsure how to respond. “That’s hardly an excuse for what she did.”
“No,” he agreed, staring straight ahead. “But it is, perhaps, a mitigating circumstance; such emotional entanglements often lead to poor judgment.”
She could guess the path of his thoughts; emotional entanglements were dangerous and best avoided. His own experience had taught him that much. With a sigh, she said, “There’s a chance she won’t graduate, isn’t there?”
“There is a chance,” Spock admitted, still gazing into the void. “Captain Podhar was extremely angry.”
Nyota closed her eyes and let her head sink back against the wall, a knot of tears bunching in her throat. She would not cry in front of Spock, but, oh, Gaila… What the hell had she been thinking? And what was Kirk playing at? A computer virus? Since when were computer viruses his thing? It didn’t make any damn sense.
“You are tired,” Spock said. “I shall leave you to rest.”
She opened her eyes. He was still standing at the window, but now he was watching her with an unreadable expression that she wanted to parse like a complex sentence.
“I would wish you luck in your future career,” he said, “if I thought it required. But you have been an exceptional student and I am certain that chance will play no part in your inevitable success.” He paused, as if uncertain how to continue. “Instead, I shall simply wish you fair winds and a following sea.”
She smiled, touched by his confidence, and melancholy at the finality of it all. “Thank you.”
After a hesitation, he said, “Goodbye, Lieutenant.”
He walked to the door and, with a serious parting look, was gone.
Nyota sighed. Even amid her worry for Gaila she found a moment to regret their parting – just when she wanted to know him better, he was closing the door between them forever.
Concluded in Miscommunication: part five.