A week after her campaign to win a place at the MGC conference had begun, Nyota was on her way to her usual lunch spot when she heard someone call her name. Turning, she saw Captain Healy cutting across the quad toward her.
“Nyota,” Healy said, as she drew near, “I’m glad I caught you. Have you got a few minutes? I’d like a word.”
“I was just about to have lunch, that’s all,” Nyota said, with a quick glance at the computer sciences building. There was no sign of Spock, but that didn’t matter because her interspecies ethics class was right after lunch and she could talk to him then.
“Good,” Healy nodded, “then walk with me.”
They headed off together, back towards the linguistics department, an unusual silence between them. After a time, Healy said, “How’s your final draft coming on?”
“Almost finished,” Nyota said. “I’m just tweaking it really.”
“Excellent, I’d like to comment if you could send it to me.”
“Of course, thank you.”
The silence fell again as they wove through groups of cadets making the most of the sun and eating outside. When they drew closer to the linguistics building, Healy put a hand on Nyota’s arm and slowed, turning to squint at her in the bright sunshine. “Nyota, I just wanted to make sure you weren’t too disappointed about the MGC selection.”
Her stomach lurched. “What?”
“The— Oh, you’ve not heard.” She squeezed Nyota’s arm, then let go. “I’m afraid you were unsuccessful.”
“Oh.” It was a sharp disappointment, sour, but she did her best to hide it. “Was there any feedback from the selection board?”
Healy shook her head. “You weren’t short listed in the end, so the board didn’t see your application. Commander Spock felt—”
“He didn’t shortlist me?”
“I’m sorry, Nyota. It was always a long shot.”
Disappointment transformed swiftly into anger. “Yes,” she snapped, “very long.”
“There were many excellent candidates,” Healy said, a warning tone in her voice.
She ignored it. “Did he—? Did the commander give any reason why he didn’t forward my application?”
“He didn’t feel it would be appropriate, given your status as an undergraduate.”
“Appropriate?” She stared. “That’s it? Didn’t he give any other reason?”
“He didn’t have to, Nyota, and I didn’t ask. Commander Spock’s judgment is impeccable.” She softened, patting her on the shoulder. “Come on now, it’s not so bad. Send me your thesis and then come see me, we’ll give it a final polish.”
Nyota gave a swift nod and ground out, “Thank you, sir.” It was all she could squeeze past her anger and, with a farewell nod, she stalked away.
He had all but promised to recommend her to the board! He knew what it meant to her, how much she needed it to secure her posting to the Enterprise; he’d even cautioned her about the appearance of favoritism. All her preparation, all her excitement – he’d let her talk and talk about it, when he’d never intended to recommend her at all. And not because her work wasn’t good enough, but because it transgressed some stupid rule!
Was it some kind of Vulcan joke? Had he been laughing at her behind his smug, superior face? Why had he praised her thesis, discussed it with her, talked about how best it could be presented, while all the time planning on stabbing her in the back?
It was incomprehensible.
Almost without thinking, she found herself back in her room. Gaila was in class and Nyota slammed the door, relishing its echo in the silence. She was alone. Thank God. Dropping her bag, she slumped down on the bed and let her head fall into her hands.
Inappropriate? He had no right. If her work was good enough, the selection board should have decided what was appropriate, not some rule-bound, up-tight Vulcan dictator. She pictured him, with his condescending tone and ironic half-smiles, and felt like screaming.
His ethics class began in thirty minutes, but there was no way she could sit there and politely discuss the complexities of interspecies morality. Not when he had betrayed her like this.
For the first time in her academic career, Nyota was going to skip class.
Several hours later, Jim Kirk was leaning in the doorway, looking at her. “Oh come on,” he said, half an eye on Gaila who was still getting dressed, “you can’t just brood here all night. Couple of tequila’s and you’ll forget all about your stupid conference.”
“I’m not brooding,” Nyota said, glaring up at the ceiling, “and I’m never drinking tequila again.”
He laughed and sauntered into the room, perching himself on the end of her bed. “Has anyone ever told you that you take life too seriously?”
“Has anyone told you that you don’t take it seriously enough?”
“Sure,” he nodded. “But I didn’t take them seriously.”
He smiled, but even Kirk’s infectious grin wasn’t enough to penetrate her mood. “I’ve got a headache,” she said, closing her eyes, willing him and Gaila to be gone. “I’m going to get an early night.”
She felt his fingers close around her ankle. “You’ll still make it,” he said, quietly. “We both will.”
Her lips tightened into a thin smile. “Thanks,” she said, and meant it. For all his farm boy brashness, Jim Kirk was one of the few people who truly understood her.
That in itself was something of a disturbing truth.
After they’d gone, she spent a couple of hours picking through her thesis and proving to herself, again and again, how damn unfair it was that Spock had denied her the chance to present it to the selection board. She had worked herself into a healthy lather of outrage when someone knocked on her door.
“Gaila’s not here,” she called out, not bothering to get up from the bed and in no mood for company.
There was silence, and then another knock.
Growling a curse, she hauled herself up and opened the door. “I said— Oh.”
To her inexpressible dismay, Commander Spock stood outside her room. She was so surprised, that words fled, leaving her simply staring.
“You were not in class this afternoon,” he said after a moment, “I was concerned.”
“I— Had a headache.”
“I see.” He hesitated, cast a quick glance along the corridor, then hurriedly said, “May I come in?”
With no idea why he was there, and not trusting herself to be polite, Nyota said nothing, simply stepped aside and let him enter.
He looked out of place in her room, too large for the space and uncomfortable as he paced over to the window and stared out. Having no explanation for his presence, and no desire to help him, she sat on the corner of her bed and waited. Perhaps he was going to apologize.
“I saw Captain Healy earlier,” he said, looking out the window as he spoke. “I had wanted to tell you my decision about the MGC myself.”
Irritation rose like bile. “Yes, that would have been polite.”
He turned, studying her with his usual dissecting gaze. “You can be under no illusion as to why I found it...impossible to recommend your application to the selection board.”
He frowned. “Then you do require an explanation?”
“I believe you found my application ‘inappropriate’.”
His gaze faltered, his eyes darting sideways, then back to her face. “Yes, but— That is, it would have been inappropriate to recommend you given the nature of our relationship.”
She stared, baffled by the statement, and before she could say anything else he continued.
“Had an unsuccessful candidate challenged my decision to forward your application to the board, I could not have been certain that my choice was entirely uninfluenced by my feelings for you.”
Her mouth opened, but she couldn’t speak, a creeping unease crawling up from her stomach. Feelings?
“I want you to know,” he said, not moving from the window, “that I have fully considered the consequences of such a relationship – I have taken into account the disapprobation of my family, of Vulcan society in general, not to mention the breach of Starfleet regulations. Indeed, in light of so much opposition, I can only consider my pursuit of this relationship to be highly illogical and potentially damaging to my future prospects. Yet I find that I cannot help myself, that I cannot overcome or control this emotion, and so – logically – I have concluded that I must embrace it.”
His words hung between them. Outside, laughter drifted around the quad, the world moving on, while inside her room the air congealed into a thick and breathless silence.
Nyota swallowed, anger and mortification forming a hard knot in her chest. “I’m unsure how to respond, Commander.” She stood up, hands behind her back, shoulders straight. Formal. “If I’ve given you reason to believe that I share or return your feelings, then I apologize. It wasn’t my intention. Until this morning, I’d considered our relationship to be entirely professional.”
His response was no more than a subtle shift of expression, a tightening of the muscles in his face and shoulders. “Until this morning...?”
“When Captain Healy told me that you’d rejected my MGC application for what, I now realize, were highly unprofessional reasons.”
A flare of indignation lit his eyes. “I can assure you that my reasons for rejecting your application were entirely professional; only had I accepted it could my choice have been questioned.”
“I dispute that, Commander.”
“Do you?” He took an angry step forward. “On what grounds?”
“You’ve just told me the reason you rejected it, and it has nothing to do with the quality of my work.”
He was silent, watching her. After a moment, in a heated voice, he said, “And that is all you have to say on the matter? It is a callous dismissal of a genuine emotion.”
“Genuine emotion?” She might have laughed had she not been so angry. “It seems your genuine emotion has already damaged my future prospects, Commander, but I’m sure you’ll be able to logic it away quick enough to save your own.”
“You are angry because I told you why I hesitated?” He took a breath, brow drawn into a frown. “Had I been reckless, charged in without thought of the consequences, no doubt you would have been charmed. But I do not think that way, I cannot act so irrationally.”
“Charmed?” This time she did laugh, a sharp bark that gave her no pleasure. “I can assure you, Commander, that there is nothing you could have said or done that would have charmed me. From the first time I saw you, I knew I could never feel anything beyond professional tolerance for such an arrogant, condescending, overcritical —”
“Kroykah!” he snapped. “You have said enough. I fully understand your feelings, and can only apologize for having misread them so completely. Where I saw friendship, you saw professional gain; the failing to comprehend that was, no doubt, entirely my own.” He stalked past her to the door, stopping with his back to her. In a more controlled voice he said, “You need not fear that this subject will ever again be raised between us. Goodnight, Lieutenant.”
And with that he was gone.
7. Kafusik – adj. ashamed
Nyota was still awake when Gaila rolled in, somewhere in the small hours of the morning, but she was careful not to give herself away. The last thing she wanted was Gaila’s perceptive inquisition, so she kept her eyes closed and her breathing even and waited for her friend to fall asleep. It didn’t take long.
But sleep eluded Nyota, her mind running her confrontation with Spock on a perpetual loop. She could still hardly believe it; he’d scuppered her application for the conference simply because he was afraid it might reflect badly on himself! His inappropriate feelings, not her academic status, were to blame. And yet he didn’t seem to think she’d care, he thought she’d understand, that she’d welcome his ‘feelings’ for her!
She was tempted to march straight to Captain Healy’s office, protest on the grounds of sexual harassment, and demand that the selection board consider her application anyway. But something stopped her, a slender thread of unease.
Where I saw friendship, you saw professional gain.
Though she didn’t want to admit it, there was truth in that. She had seen professional gain in her association with Spock – from the beginning, she’d been aware of the influence he might have with Pike and had done everything she could to secure his recommendation. If he’d misinterpreted her behavior that was his problem, but she felt enough unease about her own motives and methods to dent her self-righteous anger.
Nothing could clear him of his own unprofessional behavior, but his words brought just enough doubt to question her own.
And she cursed him for that too.
A little after dawn she got up, pulled on her gym clothes, and slipped out of the door. It was a dull, misting morning and the chill seeped beneath her sweatshirt, making her shiver as she crossed the empty quad. A long stretch on the treadmill, she hoped, would ease her nervous energy and give her enough balance to face the day ahead.
She was halfway across the grass when she heard the distant thud of a closing door and quick footfalls, followed a moment later by a voice.
She froze. It was Spock.
Her first thought was to keep walking, but this was a meeting that had to happen, and better now, while there was no one about, than later in full view of a class. Steeling herself, she plastered on a neutral expression and turned around.
He was stalking toward her across the grass, an old Academy sweatshirt giving him an uncharacteristically disheveled appearance, and the misting rain, that made her hair unmanageable, turning his stark and flat. He looked cold, in every sense of the word.
A couple of meters away, he stopped. “I had hoped to see you this morning,” he said, then held something out toward her. “I would be grateful if you looked at this.”
It was a hardcopy printout. Nyota frowned. “What is it?”
He tensed, she could see it in the tightening of the muscles around his eyes. “The academic transcripts of the linguistic students I recommended to the MGC board.”
“Oh,” she said, taking the papers from his hand.
“I trust you will treat them with the confidence they deserve, a confidence I would not have breached had justice not required it.” He didn’t wait for an answer, simply gave a curt nod and carried on walking, leaving Nyota standing alone in the drizzle.
She stared at the paper, watching the raindrops smudge the ink. He was trying to justify himself, to undo the damage of the previous night’s confession, but she wasn’t interested. He’d told her why he’d rejected her application, and there was nothing he could say that would convince her she’d not been a victim of the worst kind of injustice.
Tucking the transcripts into her pocket, she carried on toward the gym, determined to ignore them. She made it a whole twenty steps before she pulled them out again, the rain pattering against the paper. Curiosity had always been one of her greatest weaknesses.
Candidate: Ran Xin Lun
Year of study: Fourth year, research doctorate
She stuffed it back into her pocket and kept on walking. A moment later, it was back out and the rain was turning from a drizzle to a downpour. Her head was thumping and suddenly the bright lights of the gym weren’t what she wanted, so she turned a swift one-eighty and began to jog away from the gym and away from the campus.
On a morning like this, Mubin’s was the only place to go.
By the time she got there she was wet and cold, but the prospect of chai cheered her immeasurably. She found a table in the corner, far from the windows and the slate-grey sea, peeled off her sweatshirt and sipped her tea. The sugar hit her immediately, the heat seeping through the mug into her hands, and she blew out a long, satisfied sigh. Thank God for chai.
Once she’d found her equilibrium, she pulled out the transcripts and smoothed them out on the table. There were three altogether, lists of each candidate’s academic achievements, followed by two pages outlining the research they would be presenting at the conference.
Nyota made herself read them all, and with every word she felt a knot tighten in the pit of her stomach. She was objective enough to see that her own work, by comparison, lacked depth – how could an undergraduate thesis compare with doctoral research? – but she still felt that the crux of her thesis carried weight. As meticulous as this research was, it lacked the imaginative connections she had made. It lacked originality.
And while she could concede that recommending her over one of these candidates might have been risky, the fact remained that Spock’s choice had been influenced by more than her academic ability. She’d suffered because he’d chosen to play safe, and she couldn’t forgive him for it.
Sitting back in her chair she took her mug back into her hands. The chai was cooling and she finished it with a long swallow, before ordering another. She was tired, her sleepless night making her head buzzy, and the thought of the long day ahead was dispiriting. On the plus side, she wouldn’t have to face Spock again until prep on Sunday morning – two days away. But how she’d get through that morning she had no idea. Awkward wouldn’t even begin to describe it.
A fresh mug of chai arrived, and with it a mandaazi. She was about to take a bite, clearing a place for the plate with one hand, when she realized something was written on the back of one of the transcripts. Putting the pastry back down, licking sugar from her fingers, she turned the page over and was startled to see a short passage in Vulcan. Not the Romanized-Vulcan usually taught at the Academy, but an elegant classical script running in three columns from top to bottom of the page. Whatever he’d written, he hadn’t wanted it read by casual observers; there were few humans at the Academy who could read classical Vulcan, and she was one of them.
Her heart beat a little faster, pride and dread mixing uneasily.
Pushing the plate to one side, she spread the paper on the table and began to run her finger down the first line, marking the musical swirls and dashes as she went, translating in her head.
It is my hope that the information herein provided will acquit me of the crime—
No, not ‘crime’, offence.
—will acquit me of the offence of unprofessional conduct which was last night laid against me. The research conducted by the chosen candidates is demonstrably superior in both scope and depth to your own, which is necessarily limited by the narrow requirements of undergraduate theses.
She ground her teeth. He couldn’t write two lines without insulting her! This was clearly not an apology.
It must be noted, however, that your thesis demonstrates dynamic and innovative ideas that, if extended through further study, would certainly contribute to the highest levels of linguistic research.
And, there, a spike of pleasure to add to her already confused emotions. She read on.
While asserting my innocence in the strongest possible terms, I wish to assure you that I would offer no opposition should you wish to register a complaint of guv-smertaya—
She frowned – guv-smertaya? Gender… Gender-harassment? No, sexual harassment.
—should you wish to register a complaint of sexual harassment with the Academy authorities.
It goes without saying that such an action would have no impact on my assessment of you as an officer of outstanding promise.
Here there was a gap between the columns, the next being written in heavier, more emphatic strokes.
I can end only with the words of Surak; ‘there is no other wisdom and no other hope for us but that we grow wise.’
It is both my intention and my desire to do so.
Please allow me to wish you peace and long life,
S'chn T'gai Spock.
It was only when she blew out a breath that she realized she’d been holding it as she read. Sitting back in her chair she stared at the note, letting the swirls and curlicues blur together as she processed the words.
S'chn T'gai Spock.
That must be his full name, his family name. She made a few silent attempts at mouthing the words, but soon gave up. Unpronounceable.
Peace and long life – sochya eh dif – was a standard greeting, but almost always used as a farewell.
As for the rest… She reached for her chai, closed her eyes and breathed in the fragrant steam. As for the rest, she had no idea, but in two days they would be face to face and by then, she knew, she had to have an answer.
Nyota did everything possible to ensure that she didn’t run into Spock before their meeting – and she suspected he was doing the same, because she didn’t see a glimpse of him. But Sunday dawned all too soon, brash and bright, and there was no escaping the meeting.
Deliberately, she chose to wear her uniform despite the fact that their preparation sessions were informal; it would send a signal that even he couldn’t misinterpret. But as she crossed the quad towards the computer science building, the words she must say to him were running, unformed through her head.
I hope we can work professionally together…
Let’s put this misunderstanding behind us…
She sighed. Her biggest fear was that he would raise the subject, despite his promise, and that he’d want to justify himself. Perhaps she should at least tell him she wouldn’t be filing any kind of complaint. But that meant talking about it, and that was the last thing she wanted to do.
Damn. She should have sent him an email, just a note along those lines. What was she thinking, leaving it until this morning when she’d have to say it all out loud?
The computer science building loomed ahead, its morning shadow swamping her as she walked up the steps. Nerves bunched in her stomach, tingled in her fingertips. In her memory she could still see his face, impassive but for the gleam of indignation in his eyes, and then again the following morning, cold and rain-damp. Bleak.
At the end of the corridor she paused, summoned her courage, and walked with quick, sure steps to his office. The door was closed, which was unusual. Still…
She pressed the door chime and waited.
There was no answer.
She pressed again, waited again, and there was still no answer.
The third time she pressed, the chime coincided with a bleep signaling the arrival of a message on her PADD. With a sinking feeling, she pulled it out of her bag and opened her inbox. If he was dropping her as his TA…
But it wasn’t a message from Spock, it was from Captain Healy – a curt request to come to her office, immediately.
She didn’t run, but somehow she was still a little breathless by the time she arrived outside Healy’s office. The door was open and Nyota took a steadying breath before she stepped inside; she’d half expected to see Spock there, waiting.
Healy was alone, however, at her desk and beetle-browed over her computer. She glanced up when Nyota said hello, but didn’t smile.
“I meant to contact you last night,” Healy said, waving her toward a seat, “but it slipped my mind.”
Not knowing how to answer, Nyota said nothing and waited.
Healy shuffled some papers on her desk, then glanced up with a slight smile. “I’m afraid you’re stuck with me for the rest of the semester.”
Still not understanding, she frowned. “What do you mean?”
“I’m taking over the phonology class—” She cocked her head. “Oh, Spock didn’t tell you? Perhaps he didn’t have time.”
“Tell me what?” Her mouth was unaccountably dry, her patience paper thin.
“No need to look so worried,” Healy said with a faint smile. “Commander Spock requested a period of personal leave prior to taking up his duties on the Enterprise.”
“Oh,” was all she could muster.
“It’s left us in something of a jam,” Healy said, frowning back down at her papers, “but we’ll muddle through; he was only doing me a favor anyway, taking this class. They’re not too happy over in computer sciences however…”
Holding her breath, Nyota said, “Did he…give a reason?”
“Nope.” Healy shook her head, still studying the papers on her desk – schedules, Nyota realized. “I didn’t pry, he’s a very private man, and if the Academy agreed his leave then who am I to argue?” With a sigh, she pushed the schedules aside and sat back in her chair. “He did, however, leave comprehensive notes and told me that you were more than able to do almost all the prep work yourself – which would be a great help, considering my other commitments.” Healy smiled. “That’s a compliment, by the way.”
“I’d be happy to do it,” she said, though it was proving difficult to focus past the fact that he was gone – and that she was afraid it was because of her.
“Good,” Healy said, and pushed a PADD toward her. “These are the commander’s notes for the next couple of classes. Let me know if you have any trouble. Oh, and let’s make an appointment now to go over some comments I have on your thesis; the section on prosody is given too much weight, and I’d like to see you qualify some of your assertions about its significance.”
Her hand froze on the PADD.
She jerked back into motion. “Sorry, I was— Commander Spock had made the same comment.”
“Yes, I remember. He was impressed by your work.”
She made a bitter sound. “I doubt it.”
“A critique does not imply criticism, Nyota, you should understand the difference by now.” Tight lipped and harassed, Healy turned to her screen. “Right, when can we meet?”
Time passed. The semester crawled on toward summer, and Nyota seemed to spend most of it shuttling between the library and Captain Healy’s office. Her thesis was finished, bar the last proof read, and she had to admit it was stronger for the changes she had made. She was proud of it, though it didn’t gleam quite so bright in her mind as it had once done. She could see now where her research could be deepened, where, if she’d chosen an academic path, she could develop her embryonic ideas into something truly worthy of attention by her peers.
Meanwhile, her workload for the phonology class increased, and she even taught a couple of classes, but for some reason the experience felt flatter than she’d expected. Her students were dull, their discussion formulaic and unchallenging.
Everything tasted a little blander than it should and she was at a loss to explain why. However, graduation wasn’t far off and she wondered if she was mentally moving on – readying herself to say farewell to the Academy and to embrace the adventure to come.
Gaila, by contrast, was now consumed by Jim Kirk – to a level Nyota found disturbing. And Jim Kirk was consumed by beating the Kobayashi Maru simulation.
“You just watch,” he said with that cocksure grin of his. “There’s no way those computer science geeks can out strategize Jim Kirk.”
That earned him a thump from Gaila. “Are you calling me a geek?”
Kirk just smiled and slipped his arm around her waist.
Nyota found herself spending less time with Gaila and her other friends as the weeks continued, busying herself with her work and her plans for life after graduation. And it was only at night, when sleep eluded her, that she permitted herself to run over the strange end to her association with Commander Spock.
The transcripts she had long ago destroyed, but for unexamined reasons she kept his note. The few lines of Vulcan script were committed to memory now, and she often ran over them as she lay in the dark.
There is no other wisdom and no other hope for us but that we grow wise.
It is both my intention and my desire to do so.
It was an apology, she realized – an admission of his mistake and a promise to learn from it. There was something gracious about it; despite all she’d said that night, he’d mastered the very human anger she’d seen in his eyes.
Please allow me to wish you peace and long life.
That one had driven her back to her second year notes, and, yes, it was specifically a farewell. He’d known he was leaving when he’d written the note, which meant he’d decided to go the night of their argument. Nyota made no claims about her own powers of deductive reasoning, but it didn’t take a genius to make the connection – he’d left because of what happened that night. At first she’d felt contempt that he would run away and not face her, but as the weeks wore on and the note he’d written grew fragile from folding and unfolding, she began to suspect that it was not her he was fleeing at all, but his own sense of shame.
And, somewhere in those weeks, her contempt softened to pity. Arrogance and inappropriateness aside, he had confessed to feelings that must be alien to the Vulcan mind – and she’d shot him down without mercy, fuelled by what she now realized was a completely unjustified resentment.
Her thesis was not as good as she’d imagined – it had the potential to be, given a couple more years hard study, but that was all. Potential. Spock had seen that, and she’d resented him for telling her the truth.
And somewhere along the way, pity dissolved into compassion.
These circular thoughts, however, were interrupted one morning as she stepped into Captain Healy’s office and found the captain smiling at her.
“Take a seat,” she said, her smile turning into a grin. “I have some news for you.”
Nyota did as she was told, but the captain’s grin was contagious and she felt her stomach knot with a sudden excitement. “What news?”
“As you know, the Enterprise is being commissioned shortly. Prior to that, a Vulcan delegation will be touring the fleet yards as part of the transition between their Ambassadors to Earth. Ambassador Sarek will be returning to Vulcan, and Ambassador Kelov assuming the role in his place.” Healy sat down opposite. “Now, originally, Commander Spock was due to attend as part of the Academy delegation, however, in his absence, Captain Pike will be attending. Unfortunately-” she smiled “-or fortunately, for you, Captain Pike can’t speak a word of Vulcan. He is, therefore, in need of an interpreter and has requested you. By name.”
Her heart gave a fierce kick. “He knows my name?”
Healy smiled. “The delegation arrives tomorrow, and you need to report to the fleet yards at 1400 hours today for briefings.”
She shot to her feet. “Yes sir!”
“Be prepared to stay a couple of nights, these things can drag on.” Her smile turned wry. “I guess I’m teaching this week’s class, huh?”
Nyota couldn’t swallow her smile. “I guess so.”
With a chuckle, Healy sent her on her way and Nyota wasn’t entirely sure if her feet touched the ground between the linguistics building and her dorm. She was packed in ten minutes, a note scribbled for Gaila, and then she was heading for the hangers.
The fleet yards were noisy and hectic, a far cry from the rarified atmosphere of the Academy. Engineers, officers, and crewmen bustled about, paying the group of cadets little attention; this was the real world, this was where she longed to be.
She’d visited the yards a couple of times before, of course, for zero G training and her basic piloting assessment, but never before had the Enterprise been docked, and her eyes had been glued to the window of the shuttle as they arrived.
And, oh, how beautiful she was – all sleek lines and power. Nyota got goose bumps just remembering.
She loved every trip to the yards, loved seeing the operational crews in their reds, and golds, and blues – loved their easy confidence and hoped that, one day, she’d be able to walk the decks of her own ship with just such assurance. But this trip was different, this time there was a buzz of excitement as they prepared for the delegation, and this time she wasn’t just there as a cadet, gawping at the sights. She had a purpose, a role. And Captain Pike knew her by name.
The briefing room was narrow, with short rows of chairs from front to back, and Nyota took her place as close to the podium as possible. There was no sign of Captain Pike, but an officer in operational uniform sat at the front and studied a PADD as the rest of the Starfleet delegation arrived.
Nyota couldn’t stop smiling. Her stomach flipped over and she willed the rest of the personnel to arrive so that it could all begin. At last – it felt like an age – the doors at the back of the room were shut and the officer at the front stood up.
“Welcome, my name is Lieutenant Commander Dryson,” he said, tugging down his gold shirt. “I’m responsible for cultural liaison here at the San Francisco Fleet Yards and this afternoon we’re going to be going over tomorrow’s proceedings, as well as a few of the dos and don’ts in regard to our honored guests.” He lifted his PADD. “You should all have been sent a copy of the schedule, take note of where you need to be and when – lateness will not be tolerated.”
Nyota paid close attention as he spoke, scrolling through the schedule on her own PADD, making note of where she was required. She couldn’t help a surge of disappointment when she realized that she’d not be accompanying the delegation to the bridge, she was needed to take a group to engineering instead. Still, maybe there’d be time for her to take a peek when—
The lights dimmed and a screen behind Dryson filled with the image of an umber planet, shrouded in a light, swirling atmosphere.
“Vulcan,” Dryson said. “Anyone been there on vacation?”
There was a smattering of laughter and no raised hands.
“Right, not top of our list of vacation hot spots. Although, it is hot – very, with a thin atmosphere and heavy gravity. Anyone ever met a Vulcan?”
A few hands went up, including Nyota’s.
“Okay, not including our own Commander Spock, anyone ever met a Vulcan?”
Nyota lowered her hand, as did almost all the others.
Dryson smiled. “Yeah, so despite being one of the founders of the Federation, the Vulcans are an insular lot,” he said. “And for good reason.”
The image changed to show a city of sweeping arches and buttresses, clawing its way out of the rocky planet, industrial and distinctly alien. Nyota shivered; it possessed a harsh beauty that she found compelling. “Shi-Kahr, one of Vulcan’s primary cities,” Dryson said, “and home to Ambassador Sarek, who will be visiting us tomorrow.
“The physicality of Vulcan has shaped its people,” he continued. “Pointy ears and green blood aside, they are stronger, heavier, and faster than you or I. They are also – and listen up, because this is important – they are also telepathic.”
Nyota started, glancing around to see her surprise mirrored on the faces of her companions.
“Now that’s not something they advertise, and you don’t need to worry about them reading your mind across a crowded room and pulling your bank details out of your head. Vulcan’s are touch-telepaths, which means they need to be in physical contact to establish a telepathic link – skin to skin. For that reason, and this is what you need to know, it’s considered extremely invasive to touch a Vulcan without invitation. Unless they’re given a moment to establish a mental barrier, and because we don’t practice the same mental disciplines they do, skin to skin contact exposes your thoughts to their mind.”
An uneasy sensation curled into Nyota’s chest – a flash of memory.
“This is especially true,” Dryson continued, “in regard to the hand. The touching of hands in Vulcan culture is codified and exceptionally significant – it’s tantamount to a kiss. You could compare walking up to a Vulcan and grabbing his hand to walking up to a human and planting one on his lips.”
Amusement rippled around the room, but it stopped dead when it met Nyota.
She had grabbed his hand – He’s proud of you now, I’m sure – and she vividly remembered that cold pause, the stiff way he had withdrawn his hand.
Only maybe it hadn’t been cold, maybe it had been awkward. Maybe he’d just been embarrassed.
“Now,” Dryson continued, “the Vulcans in this delegation understand that a human handshake isn’t a come on, and no doubt they’ll have their mental shields up, but nevertheless – out of courtesy – please refrain from offering your hand to, or otherwise coming into physical contact with, our guests.”
A heat was creeping into Nyota’s face, her heart thumping in her chest, and she suddenly felt an angry kind of sympathy – how difficult it must be for him to live among humans and their casual ignorance, and yet why hadn’t he said something? He spent his whole time with his hands clenched behind his back, probably to avoid exactly the kind of thing she’d done, and he never once explained why!
“Now this,” Dryson said, holding a long, slender two-pronged fork in the air, “is a snauk.”
A snigger followed, which he permitted with a nod and half a smile.
“Yes, yes, funny word. However, at tomorrow night’s reception each and every one of you will have a snauk in your hand and you will not be letting go. Understood?”
There was a flutter of curiosity.
Dryson smiled. “Handshakes are one thing, and almost forgivable, but touching food with your hands? No. No, no, no. Do I make myself clear?”
Curiosity dissolved into an attentive silence and Nyota felt a little sick.
I would prefer to use a knife and fork…
“Vulcans never touch food with their hands – it’s a cultural taboo that you cannot break. To Vulcan sensibilities it’s as disgusting as, say, blowing your nose into your hand and wiping it on your shirt.”
She closed her eyes, trying to banish the memory. When in Rome, Commander…
But the memory wouldn’t leave, she could still see his slightly averted gaze, the precise way he lifted the chapatti from the plate with his fork. She’d thought him rude and judgmental, but now all she could think was, I should have known. I should have known this.
And with that thought came a wash of emotion that felt like chagrin; for all his Vulcan arrogance, she had been the one judging him by human standards and finding him wanting. His criticism of her work had colored all her opinions and now, seeing him in this new light, she understood how juvenile and resentful she’d been.
The briefing ended soon after and she left the room deep in thought. Though she didn’t regret turning him down, she did find herself ashamed of some of her wilder accusations – she was pretty sure she remembered calling him unfeeling and unprofessional. Her face heated at the memory. Should she contact him, send a message to apologize for what she’d said? Or was it best just left alone, water under the bridge? Who knew if she’d ever see him again? But it wasn’t in her nature to leave things unfinished. Nyota Uhura had never been a coward, and if she felt something needed to be done then she would do it – however uncomfortable it made her feel.
She was so deep in thought that she wasn’t paying attention as they were led through the yards toward the Enterprise, but not even her nascent guilt could spoil the moment she stepped aboard. As she walked onto the pristine ship for the first time she inhaled deeply and knew, with more certainty than ever, that this was where she was meant to be.
Everything about the ship was perfect, from her gleaming technology to the quiet efficiency of the personnel going about their duties. Nyota ran her fingers along the smooth wall of the corridor as she was led past the ship’s gymnasium to her temporary quarters, and even they were perfect.
She sat on the edge of the bed, alone, listening to the quiet hum of the ship’s power systems. Like a pulse it subtly shifted in tone, her sensitized hearing picking out a cyclical rhythm, like the hush of the ocean against the shore. It was solid and comforting and when she climbed into bed she let it lull her toward sleep.
But guilty memories plagued her and when she dreamed it was of dark, piercing eyes and the touching of hands across the void.
To be continued in Miscommunication: part four.