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Linguistics 101; or, Thirteen Ways To Say "I Love You"

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Linguistics 101 was getting boring. More accurately, Nyota thought, it always had been boring and she was just now getting around to doing something about it.

"If you held this opinion," Spock asked, "why did you continue to study the subject beyond the compulsory requirements when you yourself were at the Academy?"

"Why, let me see. Perhaps it was something to do with who was teaching it." She looked at him, raising her eyebrows the tiniest bit. Spock looked positively chagrined over his breakfast soup. "Seriously," she went on before he could get worried, "I was good at languages at school, I had some vague idea I wanted to be in communications, I did extra reading."

"Of that I have no doubt." He looked innocent.

"Yes, so, I knew that if I only stuck beyond the 101 class, it would start getting interesting. And it did, thank you, Commander Spock." She stuck her tongue out at him. "But how many people with natural talent for communications are we losing, just because we bore them to death in their first class and they go off and be mediocre engineers instead?"

"I appreciate your point, Nyota, but I fail to see how my guest lecture will address the issue." Spock turned away from her for a moment and fetched the just-brewed jug of coffee.

"Thank you." She poured out. "Spock, isn't it obvious? This guest lecture is going to be on linguistics in some aspect, isn't it? But no matter the topic, everyone's going to flock to it – great Commander Spock, such a hero, oh, and such pretty eyes, and those ears."

"I fail to see how the appearance of my ears will increase attendance."

"Just trust me on that one," she said through her mouthful of coffee.

He raised an eyebrow. "I always do."

"Good, because they'll come in droves. So you've got this golden opportunity, you see? Give them a really good, really sparkling lecture, make them think linguistics and communication are vital and elegant and exciting areas of study, and they'll stick through their 101 class for the hope of something better."

"The problem, perhaps ironically," Spock noted, "is how we communicate these truths."

Nyota grinned. "Show them cross-cultural commonality, show them how we're all different and the same, show them how linguistic groups express themselves, in short: tell them how to proposition the galaxy. Ways To Say I Love You, 101."

Spock raised an eyebrow. "Nyota, while I fully endorse your objectives, I think this plan would be unwise."

"Not at all," she said, primly, standing up and clearing away the dishes. "All the ways to say, 'I love you'. It'll be a hit. I'll do you some research."

*

The Chandran race are interesting from a Terran linguistic point of view because of the great gravity and unhurriedness of their thoughts. What would be a brief "hello" on Earth is a ritual taking three standard days; saying "I love you" must be done over several months, preferably when the planet is in a specific point in its orbit, as to incorporate elements of seasonal change and variations in tides. Lovers' tiffs on Chandra V have outlived many Federation linguists.

*

"Pavel," said Nyota kindly, "what's that you've got there?"

She didn't need to have asked, she supposed; Chekhov was perfectly entitled to traverse the Enterprise's corridors in his off-duty hours carrying whatever he liked, but she was only human, and there was something about the sheer level of embarrassment on his face that demanded further inquiry.

Looking more and more as though he wished the bulkheads would swallow him up, he pulled the bunch of flowers out from behind his back. "They are for Ensign Ishikawa," he said shamefacedly. "In stellar cartography. I am having… dinner with her. I thought maybe she would like them."

'I'm sure she will," Nyota said, with a brief sigh inside her head for being seventeen. "They're lovely colours." They were – a mixture of red, blue and purple. She gave him points for taste. "But – aren't they a bit" – there was no way around this part – "freeze-dried?"

"Ah, yes." Chekhov was looking less embarrassed. "I picked them for her on Acamar IV. The planet with all the gardens, you remember? But our... date" – a brief relapse into mortification – "was delayed when we were sent to answer a distress call in a different system and she had to work extra hours. So I had to put them in the stasis facility in the hydroponics bay."

"Ah, I see," Nyota said.

"So they are not perfect." He smelled them reflectively. "But then, neither am I, and she wanted to go on a date with me."

"I hope it goes well," she said. "I'm sure that it will."

"Thank you, Lieutenant," he said, and scuttled off down the corridor, leaving a trail of petals.

*

On Darmel, the expression of love is a necessary precursor to the marriage ceremony, which is also the procreative act. As there are seven required sexes for Darmel reproduction, such expressions must often be arranged by committee. Extra-marital affairs on Darmel are not unknown, but rare.

*

Captain Kirk was walking down a corridor heading away from sickbay, and Doctor McCoy was shouting after him, and that was normal. Nyota held back, nevertheless; it seemed polite to wait till they'd quieted down before going through to the turbolift.

"Jim!" McCoy yelled. "Get back here! Don't you dare go off on another planetside mission and get yourself all banged up when I'd only just finished fixing you up the last time!"

"Bones," Kirk said, stopping, "will you shut up, it's not..."

"One of these days you're going to get yourself killed!" There was a brittle edge to all the yelling today; Nyota noted; a slight cracking in the vowels. "And then Spock will be the captain, and then he and I will kill each other, Jim. They will find us dead because we have killed each other over a difference in semantics. And then Chekhov will die of a broken heart, and Lieutenant Uhura will be left to carry the news to Starfleet and they will have her ritually executed and it will all be your fault!"

Kirk spread his hands. "Bones, you are being ridiculous."

"So are you!" McCoy was building up steam again. "Sometimes the captain doesn't have to be on every away mission going! Sometimes he stays with the ship! Sometimes it's positively traditional that the captain stays with the ship! Somewhere nice and safe where he can have his vaccinations and not get shot at by psychotic tree people!"

"They weren't tree people, they were photosynthesising humanoids!" Kirk snapped back. "And I tell you what, if I get banged up this time, you don't even have to fix me up, how about that?"

"Yeah, I do," McCoy said, quietly, and went back to sickbay.

*

On Menak III, the same word is used to indicate approval of one's breakfast, one's mother, one's acceptance into Starfleet and one's boots. The verb "to love" exists, but has only been recently documented by outsiders, as according to strong cultural tradition and taboo, it may be spoken just once in a lifetime. Deathbed scenes are often very touching, and crowded.

*

It was always an event when the political situation on Orion stabilised enough for external transmissions to start getting through, so when a data-package from home arrived for her, Nyota set out immediately in search of Gaila.

She wasn't in her quarters, nor in the mess hall, nor was she exercising on the recreation decks or sitting, as she did sometimes, on the observation deck, watching the stars go by. Upon being asked, the computer informed Nyota primly, "Ensign Gaila is in Engineering."

Gaila's duty shift had ended an hour before, and on first sight Nyota wondered if the computer might be seeing things – Engineering was mostly deserted, crewed by the bare minimum. But after a moment, she heard Gaila's laugh, and with apologies to the ensigns on duty, headed forwards

And stopped. She could just see a pair of green feet sticking out from under a warp core relay, and heard Gaila say, "You're right, Mr. Scott, the refinements are working just like you said. The efficiency is well above the levels in the documentation."

"Aye," said Scotty, appearing from behind a control panel. "It's a lovely piece of engineering. And you've done good work on it, too, don't give me all the credit."

"Some of the credit probably goes to the ship, too." She laughed, and tried to stagger to her feet. She didn't quite manage it, and stretched out, the humming panels next to her ear.

"There is that." Scotty laughed and lay down next to her. "She's a beautiful ship" – but he was looking at Gaila, and Nyota stepped smartly away, thinking that maybe letters from home could wait a little while longer, after all.

*

On some worlds, the whole subject is tentative, never broached out loud (or equivalent, where communication is visual). On Acamar V, it's a matter of pheromones: released consciously at an appropriate moment, the scent is discernable to close neighbours and parsed as an expression of love. Artificial synthesis of the particular compounds is strictly regulated, and researchers are advised that to avoid diplomatic misunderstanding, they use only unperfumed soap.

*

Amanda Grayson had never specified, in life, what service she wished performed on her death. Of course not, Nyota found herself thinking in the chill of the ship's evening, she wasn't in Starfleet. It was almost a cadet rite of passage, that realisation that when their time came they might be light years and parsecs from home, whether home was a people or a place, and if there was something they wanted it had better go in their file, seventeen or not.

For the Lady Amanda of the House of Surak, there had been rites and rituals, noble tradition. Spock had returned calm, but ashen and weary, boneless with loss. But for the human woman Amanda, who had not died on board the ship, but almost, there was a memorial service with the Terran rites. For the living, Nyota thought, more than anyone else.

"We are assembled here today to pay our respects to our honoured dead," Kirk was saying, and he seemed, to Nyota's eyes, to be the cadet in her classes at the Academy, and too young by far to say anything like those words. He spoke well, she thought, dispassionately. He had wanted to captain a starship, and now he had done it, and here were the things he had to do. It was as simple as that.

Spock said nothing at all, but sat still. Even when everyone else had gone, leaving him to solitude and space, he looked out to the field of stars through the observation deck glass, to the space to which there was no body to commit, in which words would fall unheard.

*

On Centaurus, when a person loves someone else, they go to them and say, "I love you." There are no other socially sanctioned ways to express love. There is very little domestic strife on Centaurus. There are also few wars, and little in the way of literature.

*

The evening after the service, Spock set his soup spoon down on the table and said, "Perhaps you should give the guest lecture rather than myself. I do not have the relevant practical experience."

"Me?" Nyota raised her eyebrows. "I don't have a scrap of relevant experience. You've been teaching for years, and you know I hate getting up in front of people to speak."

Without rancour, he said, "You deliberately misunderstand me."

"Yeah, I do. Try and make something of it, why don't you."

"I do not understand." And it seemed as though he really didn't; he looked tired, and still, with dark circles under his eyes, and he had left the bowl of soup untouched. She stood up, took delicate steps around to his side of the table and put her hands on his shoulders, pressed her lips briefly to the nape of his neck.

"Don't tell me," she whispered, holding him, whispering into his skin, "that you don't have practical experience. That you're a Vulcan and that means you have no emotion. You know that's a lie. And it's a lie that Vulcans don't lie."

"I would not lie to you."

"No," she said, "not to yourself, either."

"I do not..." He paused. "Express myself with the precision I would like."

"Then be rough, be approximate, don't be human, be yourself. Sarek and Amanda, what are they to you? This whole crew, its people, Jim Kirk, Doctor McCoy, who are they, what are we? And me?"

"You." Spock closed his eyes, leaned back into her touch. He said it in Vulcan first, and she understood. Then in the old poetic, high tongue of his ancestors, and she understood, and in Standard, and she understood.

He turned around and kissed her, and she understood that, too.