It’s the stillness, sudden, that makes Spock’s eyes snap open. For five-sixths of a second, he sees his quarters as they should be – neatly made bed, single flat pillow, PADD on his desk, incense almost burnt down, lights on their lowest setting, lirpa on his wall – and then he is thrown forward out of his meditation pose and onto the hardness of his floor by the ship’s violent shudder. His PADD crashes into the wall. The Enterprise seems to rock back and forth in place for a moment, straining against something, against itself, and then heaves again and falls still. A fine tremor runs through its walls and quiets.
Spock rights himself and stands. He pulls his shirt straight. The ship appears to be motionless, the familiar faint vibration of its impulse engines under his feet gone. “Computer, status,” he says.
“Impulse engines offline,” the computer responds. “Cause unknown.”
He quashes the last burn of the firepot before he leaves his quarters. As his door swishes open, the wail of alarms begins. Red lights flash in the hallways and the computer announces the red alert.
“Captain to the bridge. Commander Spock to the bridge.” Ensign Jasharian’s voice is steady as she pages her commanders. She is an adequate gamma shift officer and one day may make a solid alpha shift member of the bridge crew.
The probability that Kirk is already halfway to the bridge is 86.65 percent. Spock estimates with 73 percent certainty that Kirk is, in fact, in the turbolift about to step onto the bridge. He doesn’t pause to confirm that he too is on his way, simply avoids the crew beginning to fill the corridors and heads to the nearest lift.
“All crew to stations.”
As anticipated, the captain has already arrived. Spock exits the turbolift into the controlled chaos to which he's become accustomed in his year and a half on the Enterprise. He hears McCoy speaking to the captain over the intercom, reporting injuries. It appears that only minor casualties have been sustained among the crew, mostly caused by falling or having objects fall on them.
“Ah. Spock.” Kirk glances over his shoulder at him as Spock assumes his place at the science station. The captain is leaning over the navigation console but steps back as Chekov relieves the gamma shift operator. “It appears we have a situation. Why do these things always have to happen in the middle of the night?”
Spock doesn’t look up from his computer readings. Kirk’s voice seems to be an equal mix of ruefulness and amusement, which Spock does not fully comprehend, so he refrains from remarking on it. “It is not the middle of the night, Captain, as you are no doubt aware, because there is no night on a starship. If you are referring to our current time of 03:26 hours, then you will recall that only 26.15 percent of these occurrences happen during gamma shift.”
“Huh. Gotta say, doesn’t feel that way.”
Spock does not, as he once might have, remind Kirk that now is not the best time for this conversation. He has learned that Kirk already knows it but uses such trivialities to disrupt tension in these instances. His analysis complete, he looks up at Kirk, who is watching him with an expectant expression.
“Impulse engines appear to be completely offline. According to the computer, the warp drive is functioning at full strength. Yet it clearly is not.”
“Since we were cruising at warp two when we slammed to a halt,” Kirk finishes.
“Working on it, sir,” says Scotty through the intercom. “Our lass seems to be a wee bit confused right now.”
“Same thing here, Captain. I’ve got no control over anything to make this ship move.”
“Our course has been altered slightly,” Chekov says. “We are no longer headed directly toward Fusia. I estimate that our bearing has been altered 1.2 percent.”
“The sudden halt to the ship’s progress may account for that.” Spock speculates that being thrown out of warp is the likeliest source of their deviation.
“Freaky,” Sulu says. “It’s like the ship is dea—”
“Mr. Sulu. Hold that thought.” Kirk frowns at him. “Get me—” But the ship suddenly heaves again and bucks as though being pulled straining in multiple directions. Kirk is thrown to the railing, where he catches himself. Chekov hits his head on his console and pulls himself back up immediately.
“Impulse back online. Warp engaged. We are moving away from the original site of engine failure.” Spock cannot account for this. He does not say it is disturbing, but it is – not logical.
“Give me impulse only and get us back to where we were. Scotty?”
“I didn’t have anything to do with it, Captain. She’s just going again!”
Kirk sits down in the command chair. “Well. This can’t be the strangest thing that’s ever happened to us. People, let’s figure this out. Computer, cancel red alert. I hate that thing.”
They’ve been holding position for the last five hours as they search the area.
“Viewscreen,” Kirk ordered when they first got back to the coordinates where they’d initially lost warp speed. Distant stars fill the face of the bridge, and blackness. “Anything out there?”
Uhura shakes her head. “I can’t raise anyone on the short-range communications. Do you want me to try long-range?”
“Something that far out wouldn’t have caused this. Do it anyway.” Kirk stands and takes a few steps. “Okay, tell me what’s going on. The ship thought we were all set to cruise even though we'd lost power. We had no impulse so we couldn’t even correct our course. And there doesn’t seem to be anyone or anything out there.”
“Total dead space,” Sulu mutters as he examines his console again, as if it will tell him something it hadn't a moment before.
“Right,” Kirk says. “Except for the part where it’s not.” He pauses. “Is it possible there’s something cloaked out there?”
“As we are nowhere near Romulan or Klingon space, it is unlikely. Furthermore, I'm not picking up any trace signatures that might correspond to a cloaking device or an energy trail. I am – interesting.” Spock is aware that the bridge crew all look at him. He turns. “Data collected from the scanners while we were stationary indicate that there was some sort of energy pattern that manifested only briefly before becoming undetectable again.”
“Like it was winking in and out of existence?”
Spock doesn't raise his brow at such imprecision. “Not existence. It is more likely that we couldn’t detect it on a constant basis.”
Chekov swivels around in his chair. “Maybe it was phasing dimensions. Remember the Vorlish? They were doing advanced research on the subject that they wouldn’t share with us.”
“Such a thing would not explain why we stopped. Moreover, you have leapt to a conclusion with no evidence to support it.”
“All right.” Kirk sits down. “So we had some fireflies outside the window. Are they still there?”
“Negative. The phenomenon ceased entirely 3.6 seconds before we jumped to warp again. I shall continue to investigate.”
Kirk taps his finger on the arm of his chair. The captain is always in motion. It is a waste of energy, but it doesn't appear to be detrimental to his functioning. On the contrary.
“Right, then. I want everyone to run every analysis you can think of on your own systems, confirm they’re in working order. Not that I’m sure we can trust the computer since it thought we were at warp two when we were sitting ducks. I’m going to Engineering to talk to Scotty. Spock, do your thing with the fireflies.” Spock raises his eyebrow at the captain.
Kirk grins briefly and says, “Mr. Spock, you have the bridge.”
Three hours later, Spock has no useful conclusions on the anomalies the captain calls fireflies. All he can say with certainty is that they're no longer present and have not been since the ship resumed moving. He cannot conclude with any degree of certainty that they had anything to do with this incident. He turns the bridge over to Sulu and joins Kirk in Engineering.
Starfleet Command has told them that the nearest Federation ship is three weeks away at warp six, its top speed. “So basically go blow yourself is what they’re saying.”
Scotty laughs. The sound is distant and twisted as it comes through the base of the console that he’s wiggled himself into. Keenser is behind him, handing him tools before Scotty even asks for them.
“We are on a deep space exploratory mission,” Spock points out when Kirk runs his hands through his hair with what Spock knows is exasperation. He does not comment on Kirk’s less than appropriate phrasing. Nonetheless, Kirk smirks faintly at whatever expression Spock will not allow to show on his face.
“We’re not that far out,” he says. “This isn’t even uncharted space, which is what makes this all the more baffling. The Galileo passed through here once, ten years ago on a scientific mission.”
Seven hours later, Scotty and his team have practically disassembled the entire engine core and found nothing wrong. Kirk relieves the main bridge crew, all of whom are in need of sleep except Spock – “You too, Spock” – and orders them to go to bed and report back in six hours unless otherwise called. Kirk himself doesn’t leave. Spock continues working quietly.
Eleven hours later, Kirk slams his hands down and says, “If the computer's to be believed, there's not a damn thing wrong with my ship. All system scans have come back clean. I don’t believe it. Let’s run a full diagnostic.”
“Captain, that will take 17.5 hours.” Spock studies him. “I recommend that you follow your own orders and retire to your quarters. Please take Mr. Scott with you. You will both need rest to continue operating at peak efficiency.”
Kirk laughs a bit and runs his hands over his face. “God, Spock, it’s not that. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I’m bored. I didn’t even know you could get bored in the middle of an emergency. ”
“All the more reason to refresh yourself and return. There is nothing for you to do at this stage. The reports you are waiting for will be sent to you when they are ready.”
The captain grumbles and eventually leaves with Scotty in tow. “I expect you to follow me in an hour. You need rest too.”
Spock nods. He has pointed out on numerous occasions, seven to be precise, that his body does not require sleep in the same amounts as the human body does. It generally goes like this: “But you’re part human, Spock. That must have some effect.”
“My physiology is primarily Vulcan. However, you’re correct to some extent. My strength is not that of a full Vulcan, and I do tire more easily. I have learned to partly compensate for this with additional mental training.”
Kirk laughs. “We poor frail humans.”
“Captain, it was not my intent to—”
Kirk waves away his objection. Spock finds it curious how easily this man laughs. It would convey many meanings if Spock knew how to interpret them all.
His hour passes in silence. He has found that living on a ship full of humans is not the trial he once believed it might be. Although they have no control over their thoughts, most humans do not project greatly. Spock’s shields are sufficient to keep any loud mental activity at bay. Also, as the crew has grown accustomed to having a Vulcan around, they have learned not to touch him, to be careful of their accidental brushes against him. Over time, he has been able to devote 2.9 percent less energy to maintaining his mental shields than while he taught at the Academy. It is acceptable.
Even so, he finds the occasional periods of solitude restful.
After another forty-five hours, they have not found an explanation for the ship’s malfunction. In fact, they don’t even know for sure if it was the ship that malfunctioned or if an outside force prevented the ship from moving. Spock finds this most unsatisfactory.
Uhura relays their orders from Star Fleet. Kirk says, “Commander, see me in my ready room,” and Spock follows him.
“I don’t like it,” Kirk says without preamble. “We still have no idea what happened. What if it happens again? How can they expect us to head off to the moons of Fusia for geological exploration if we might not make it there at all?”
“I gather your request to dock for diagnostics at Starbase Five was denied.”
“They wouldn’t even listen. Komack, of course.” Kirk glares at nothing in particular. Spock has found that he expends 0.22 percent more energy maintaining his baseline mental shields when the captain is like this.
“Then we must proceed as ordered. I do, however, share your concerns. I will continue to monitor the situation. Also, if we proceed at warp four, we will have 2.5 weeks until we reach our destination.”
Kirk sighs and heads for the door. On the way out, his hand brushes the ship’s wall.
When Spock was a child, his mother used to send him to bed, saying, “Sweet dreams.” At age five, Spock informed her that it was illogical to say such a thing to him because she was well aware that Vulcans do not dream.
“Oh, Spock,” she’d said. “Everyone dreams.” Sarek, working across the room, had looked up but said nothing.
Spock takes his evening meal in the main mess four times a week. His counterpart had advised him to do so. “Humor the humans, Spock,” he’d said with a disconcerting thread of amusement in his voice. Spock hears the wrinkles of his own voice there, deeper, smoother, and more flexible.
The advice has proven useful. On certain occasions, members of his science staff will join him to discuss their research. The bridge crew also eats with him when they arrive at the same time. Uhura takes at least one meal a week with him after their shift is over. More often she eats breakfast with him – yogurt and fruit for her; juice, fruit, and a nutritional blend of grains and proteins for Spock. Even McCoy eats with him when Kirk heads for his table.
Other than with Nyota and Kirk, he finds it more comfortable for all involved if he is not left alone with only one other person. Spock does not see much need to converse while he eats but he has long been aware that humans view eating as a social activity. Nyota is content to eat in relative quiet with him; Kirk chatters away and fills the silence or alternately is silent, but lacks the self-consciousness that most humans exhibit under such circumstances.
They are five days, ship’s time, from the moons of Fusia. “Lieutenant Anderson’s team is exhibiting signs of excitement at our upcoming mission,” Spock tells Kirk and McCoy.
McCoy snorts. “Rocks. Only a bunch of geologists could get their panties in a bunch over a heap of rocks.”
Spock says, “I don’t understand how one’s undergarments could become entangled with mineral matter of variable composition,” and, “The chemical composition of these rocks, Doctor, indicates a potential usefulness bearing on any number of sciences. The instruments used by the original mission for soil analysis were comparatively imprecise, but they support the hypothesis that the rock may contain the first-known naturally occurring instances of terenium. The benefits to warp technology alone would –”
“So why hasn’t anyone examined it before if it’s so crucial to us?” McCoy stabs at his replicated chicken with what Spock thinks might be an inordinate amount of snippiness. Or it could be pleasure. Spock has a difficult time telling with McCoy.
“The first contact mission was twenty years ago,” Kirk tells him. “At the time they hadn't realized what a valuable resource terenium is. No one thought it was important. So Starfleet Command put it way down the priority list.”
Chekov appears with Sulu at McCoy’s shoulder. “May we join you, Captain?” He looks as flushed as he usually does when he interacts off-shift with members of the command team, but he's smiling.
Kirk pats the seat next to him. “Join away.” He sometimes has an uncanny ability to know what each member of his crew needs at any particular moment, Spock has observed.
“This terenium is very exciting, is it not?” Chekov says. Spock sometimes forgets how young he is.
McCoy rolls his eyes. “If that’s all you can talk about, gentlemen, I’m leaving.”
Kirk laughs. “Don’t forget our poker game later, Bones.”
“Going to join us, Mr. Spock?” Sulu asks.
Spock could say “no” and leave it there, as would be logical. Instead he says, “I have approximately 4.6 hours of work left on the last of the diagnostics I ran after the ship foundered. I must then spend 1.5 hours on science reports. Therefore I will not have time.” He does not say, “Thank you for inviting me despite my failure to accept,” but Kirk claps him on the shoulder anyway, leaving a brief sensation of brightness.
“Next time, Spock.”
In the mess the next morning after breakfast, Spock looks out a viewport into the deep of space. They are still at warp, but within the displacement field, their enveloping bubble of space-time, he sees the stars surrounding them. They appear to fall the way leaves fall in an autumn hurricane wind, or snow in a blizzard, streaks sideways across a window, the illusion of falling in a straight line diagonally down.
He gathers his PADD and arrives 0.2 minutes before the briefing begins. Kirk is there already, with Uhura and Chekov. The captain is proving to be surprisingly punctual. This is appropriate. Spock takes the seat next to him because it's more efficient. Sulu slides in at 08:02. Scotty comes in five minutes later, apologizing.
“Sorry, sorry, got somewhat waylaid by a minor problem. Everything’s well under control,” he says, before Kirk can ask.
Kirk leaves it. This trait is new to him. As recently as six months ago, he would have inquired further. At the start of their mission, Uhura had complained bitterly to Spock. “What’s his problem? We know how to do our jobs.” At that point, they had not yet terminated their involvement.
Spock does not believe Kirk doubted his crew. Rather, after some weeks of study, he determined it was the fact that Kirk lacked the surety in himself and his own job performance that led to such inquiries on his part. Nonetheless, it was an unfortunate habit.
He has nothing new to report from the last of the diagnostics. “I cannot find anything wrong with the computer or any of the component systems. Nor can I attribute any pattern, meaning, or causal effect to the sporadic trace energy we recorded.”
“It’s okay, Spock. You can just say ‘fireflies.’”
“Thank you for your permission, Captain.”
Kirk grins. The others look puzzled. Spock had estimated the effect of his words with 96.4 percent certainty.
“All right.” Kirk turns serious again. “We have more pressing matters. Since we haven’t been able to explain why we just stopped dead in space and we’ve run through all the available data, we have to move on. But I want you all to keep an eye and ear open for any anomalies and let me or Spock know immediately.”
The briefing turns to other matters. Spock remembers that hurricanes in autumn occur on the eastern seaboard of the North American continent, where he has never been. There are no blizzards in San Francisco.
Before Spock fully comprehended the rule of logic, he concocted implausible scenarios. He was slow to grasp logic – "hampered by his human blood," the healer told his parents. With the curse and blessing of an eidetic memory he remembers that Mother had stiffened and turned and left the consultation. She’d taken his hand as he'd stood in the outer room near the doorway, listening; he’d allowed it. They had left together, Sarek following only much later. That night, he’d put his pillow over his ears to block out the sounds of his parents loudly discussing the matter. That is, Mother was loud. Sarek was not.
“He’s just turned five. Let him be a child! My god,” she’d said. “Human children barely understand the concept of time at his age. They’re just learning what right and wrong are. Spock’s already learned to meditate and mastered classical geometry and trigonometry. What more do you want from him?”
Spock can picture his father standing with his hands clasped behind his back as he is forced to engage in this conversation. “Spock is ahead of his peers in his intellectual development,” he agrees. “I am satisfied. However, his emotional control and his ability to shield his telepathy are insufficient for one his age.”
Spock feels both proud and dismayed by his father’s pronouncement. He knows he is young, but he doesn’t wish to be lacking. To reflect poorly on the family – this much he does understand. Mother has taught him to hold his head high among his esteemed relatives. “Why do they look at us like that?” he’d asked her once. He does not wish to be an embarrassment to Father. He resolves to do better.
“Oh,” his mother says. Her voice trembles and he hears it clog with tears, and he throws aside his covers and gets ready to march across the hallway to her. But then she speaks, and there is so much anger and scorn in her tone that he merely edges to his door and stays there. “His emotional control and ability to shield are insufficient. Well, then, my emotional control must be positively deficient. My complete lack of shields must send you round the bend. How do you put up with us? It must be so hard for you. We frail humans are so taxing to your superior race.”
“Amanda. My wife.” There is a note of something in Sarek’s voice that Spock does not understand, as he has never heard it from his father before. “We agreed to raise Spock on Vulcan as a Vulcan child.”
“Yes! Child, Sarek, child!”
Sarek does not pause for her interruption. “If he does not master these things, his life will be a torment, made so by his peers, society, family, and most especially his own nature. Do you think I would wish that on my son?”
There is a long silence. And then, “Just go away, Sarek. Go read your reports. Meditate. Have an emotion. Or don’t. I don’t care.”
Spock’s eyes widen.
“Wife, you are –”
“If you tell me I’m overwrought, so help me god, I will –” There's another pause. “I hate it when you’re right,” she finally says, her voice low and heavy. “Oh, Spock.”
When he's sure Father has gone to his study, Spock slips his door open and crosses the hall to his parents’ room. He's not supposed to go in there, any more than he's supposed to leave his bed once he has retired for sleep. A Vulcan must have more control over his body, through his mind, than not to be able to fall asleep when the time is appropriate.
“Mother,” he says.
Her eyes are red but she smiles when she sees him and opens her arms to him. “Come here, little one.”
“You should not call me that, Mother.”
She chuffs against the shiny black top of his head. “That’s right, you're far too grown up for such things.” She settles onto her huge white bed with him. All the other rooms of the house are fully Vulcan, but here in her bedroom Amanda had insisted on white linens that blow in the hot desert wind and require constant cleaning from the red dust that stains them.
“The environmental controls would prevent the need for this illogical waste of time and energy,” Sarek had pointed out. “Yes,” she’d replied, “but then I wouldn’t get to feel the breeze from the open window,” and she’d held out her hand for her husband to press his fingers to.
His face had softened. “Very well.”
“Tomorrow,” Spock says to his mother as he sits in her lap on the bed, “I will study Surak's compendium. When I've mastered that, I will devote myself to a study of the Lesser Fathers of Vulcan before returning to examine the complete annals of Surak.” He hesitates. “As I am part human and—” He swallows. “—insufficient in my understanding of logic and emotional control, I believe I will have to start there.” The compendium is an abridged version of Surak’s teachings and is considered necessary only for the slowest of children or, perhaps, foreigners.
Mother sighs against his head. Her breath is cool with its human temperature. “That is logical, Spock.”
They remain in orbit for three days around the third moon of Fusia while various away teams go to the surface. Once they decide it’s safe to bring samples aboard, the geologists fill up their lab with various pieces and begin running tests. It’s hot and humid there, Spock discovers on the second day when he beams down. Not hot and humid the way a jungle would be in the tropics of Terra, rioting with roots climbing up to the sky, giant leaves and fronds splaying themselves over the steaming earth, but different.
Later, in his quarters on the ship, Spock considers the information stored in his tricorder. He has not experienced firsthand the sensation of the jungle crawling over his skin, water alive in the air, weighted by the melancholy of the dense undergrowth, and Vulcans do not imagine. But he does know that the moon of Fusia does not carry this feeling. Rather, it is like the heat of a Terran summer in the northern hemisphere, brief and sudden and ferocious. In that heat, even though the sticky air gropes against bare skin and underclothes, the potted plants need constant hydration. He thinks of a woman, in red, stepping out onto her high-up balcony, bending over her plants, drawing her finger along a long leaf, rubbing her face against her arm, watering the plants. Someone is watching her from far below. His hair is bright and his eyes bright, too, and he smiles with appreciation before turning away, and Spock sees the captain’s face.
He closes his eyes. He requires meditation.
Spock’s mother kept plants, too. She used to place them in the shade. “They burn in this sun,” she’d told him. “It’s too dry for some of them, but I keep trying.” She’d smiled wryly. “An illogical waste of resources. I don’t know why your father lets me keep at it.”
Neither did Spock, then.
He picks up his chess set and exits his quarters for the mess. The captain has suggested a game of chess tonight. They have played before, and it has been a most interesting experience for Spock. While he has won more often than not, he has not won as often as he would have predicted. His victories have been hard-fought. It is, therefore, necessary to play more games so that he can analyze this.
When he finishes setting up the board, he sits, hands folded on the table, and waits. Kirk breezes in 2.8 minutes later. “Sorry,” he says with his trademark smile. “My yeoman snagged me with reports to sign off on.”
“It is of no consequence, Captain. Shall we begin?”
Kirk rubs his hands together with a smirk. “Bring it on.”
Three hours later they are still playing. During the course of their game, they have gained, lost, regained, and re-lost an audience. The mess is mostly empty now, late as it is. Spock plans to stay at the board for another twenty-five minutes before he suggests continuing this game at a later date if they are not yet finished, as he is aware that Kirk will need to sleep before alpha shift. Chekov is nodding off over his PADD a few seats away.
“Hey, kid.” Kirk shakes his shoulder. “Go to bed.”
It is strange, Spock thinks. Were another person onboard to call Chekov “kid,” which he still is in many respects despite the rapid maturity the Enterprise forces on them all, the ensign would turn splotchy red and throw sharp words against that person. He does not do this with Kirk, and Spock doesn't believe it is because of Kirk’s rank.
In the course of their three-hour play, Spock and Kirk have also discussed their recent findings on the third moon of Fusia, the ongoing exploration on the fourth (and substantially colder) moon, their favorite foods (this was the captain’s idea), the article regarding a new variation of the amangarth grain just published by Drs. Brown and T’Vrath’han (“It could revolutionize colonization and terraforming,” Kirk said), and the relative merits of various forms of hand-to-hand combat. Spock finds that Kirk tends to jump from one topic to the next with few obvious connections, although Kirk doesn't appear to believe the topics are unrelated.
When he gathers up his set and bids Kirk good-night, they have not concluded their game. “Day after tomorrow, my quarters?” Kirk says, and Spock responds, “That is acceptable.”
Spock had once alluded to his relationship with Nyota in one of his infrequent video transmissions with his mother. He was an instructor at the Academy at the time.
“I'm happy you've found someone you can know,” she says.
He raises his eyebrow. “I haven’t performed a mind meld with her, Mother.”
Amanda laughs softly. When he was younger, she might have teased him: ‘Such a shocked expression, little one.’ But he had requested that she not do such things, and she had respected his wishes.
She says, “While it may be a Vulcan instinct, the meld and even a bond are simply tools in order to know and be known. The bond may create love, or it may be created because of love, but it itself is not love. ”
Spock thinks of Nyota. She is magnificent coolness of manner and sharpness of mind and long legs tangled in a crisp sheet. “Sparrows in a sunrise,” she had once pointed out, one early morning spent on a pier at the Bay. With her, he is content. That is enough.
“I'm even happier you've found someone who can know you,” Mother says.
Spock makes no comment to that.
When they have completed their survey of the geological properties of the moons of Fusia, they are to proceed to XurXa for a diplomatic mission. This is their last day in orbit around the fourth moon, and they've been down on the surface. “I’d rather pick up rocks any day than wine and dine diplomats,” Kirk says to McCoy.
“What about having boulders fall on you?” McCoy snaps back. Kirk is sitting on one of the beds in sickbay having his shoulder patched up.
“It wasn’t a big one.” Kirk shrugs, or tries to, and McCoy grabs his arm to hold him still.
Spock decides it would be prudent to leave. “Not so fast.” McCoy whirls on him. “I still haven’t checked out those cuts all over your hands. You should have let that thing fall right on him. Would’ve served him right for all the crazy stunts he pulls.”
“Hey, I was just standing there,” Kirk protests. “Come on, Spock, help me out.”
Spock looks at him. He looks at McCoy. “Ah, Nurse Chapel,” he says. “Would you be so kind as to assist with my injuries?”
When he wakes up he feels as though he’s been running, and he is winded. Above his head, above the line of the forest, is the sun, Sol, yellow and benevolent, filtered through the green of trees, the leaves translucent and thin-veined in the summer morning. He brushes aside a sapling, and it bends and snaps upright. His skin is dappled with shifting sun and shade as he runs faster and faster. The trees blur around him, and he is running faster than he can possibly run, faster and faster, and he can’t breathe for the exhilaration in his chest, and he's in a hovercraft, public transportation, and there are strangers sitting around him, and around them all the green forest is a soft blur with one sharp tree standing out now and then. The hovercraft rises and falls with the hills, and he looks to the sky where he knows he will soon go when Starfleet assigns him. But now, now he is going home.
Spock throws aside the covers and puts on his robe. It's hanging on the hook in the bathroom where he left it last night, as he does every evening. It is 05:20, his standard time to rise. He tilts his head. Nothing is out of place; his mental shields are strong. It is time for his sonic shower.
The ship has a garden, Spock discovers. Discovery is the only word for it. He had, of course, been aware of its existence before he ever set foot onboard, having examined the ship’s schematics so he would be sufficiently familiar with the Enterprise’s layout to perform his duties as First Officer to Captain Pike. He had seen the arboretum diagramed on the ship’s plans.
There is no opportunity to visit the arboretum until some time after Kirk has been awarded the captaincy and they have learned the basic running of the ship and her crew. Nyota takes him there one evening, two months into the expedition, and it is she who calls it a garden. When they step in, the air changes. The flooring grows soft and the sound of splashing water fills Spock’s ears. It is quiet. There is no one else visiting. Nyota had checked with the computer before entering.
It seems as though the plants breathe warmth across the surface of his skin. Spock looks around, turning his body in a slow circle as he walks further into the garden and loses sight of the entryway and exit.
Nyota bends over jasmine, closing her eyes. “Isn’t it beautiful here?”
Spock concurs. Inwardly, he experiences the sensation of discovery, of something expanding within himself. It would express its delight – a smile, an exclamation. Spock inhales sharply. This was unlooked for, this warm, living space on a cold silver ship.
He wouldn't part from the Enterprise without good reason; it is a ship without peer and will offer him unparalleled opportunities and the chance to excel, perform his duty, and gain experience and learning. It is, he would agree, an exceptional tool. However, Mr. Scott and even the captain seem to treat the ship as something intrinsically more than that. To Spock, it is a starship beyond compare, worthy of his care as an officer to whom it has been entrusted, but he doesn't fully understand the affection Mr. Scott and Kirk lavish upon it. He notes that Federation Standard perpetuates an affectation found in some old-style Terran languages; namely, that certain inanimate objects are assigned a gender. Thus, the Enterprise is referred to as “she” rather than the more logical “it.”
“Spock.” Nyota is suddenly focused. She looks resolute, and sad. “I – I brought you here for a reason. Neutral territory, you know?”
Spock looks at her with an expression he knows she will understand to be inquiry.
She looks away. “Crap, this is hard. Because we’ve been good together.” She pauses and visibly orders her thoughts. “Okay, I’m not doing this very well.”
With a flash of insight, Spock knows. “You are, as humans say, breaking up with me.”
She purses her lips and blinks rapidly and says, “Yes.”
“I see. May I inquire why?” Below his left hand is an Andorian tillan flower; he lets his finger trace the velvet petal.
“Because I want more. From myself and from you. We’ve talked about this, but nothing changes. We are the people we are. And I want to be the best communications officer in the Fleet and maybe someday get on the command track, and I wanted us to be the best team out there, you and me. Together something bigger than the sum of our parts. Something radiant.” She looks away, at Spock’s fingers tracing the tillan flower. “And we’re not. I think we were better friends than lovers. I’m sorry, Spock. But I have to do this. I suspect if you look at it logically you’ll find yourself agreeing with me.”
Spock looks out over the arboretum – the garden. It is no less beautiful than it was a moment before, and he is glad of the quiet warmth on his skin.
The people of XurXa are largely peaceful. They produce little of value to the Federation. Having achieved warp technology some fifty years after the Terrans and lacking a trade net as large as that of the Federation, they are slightly behind in their technological development. They do, however, have a highly refined system of music. The operatic tradition is considered its peak.
“Depends on what you mean by refined,” Kirk mutters so quietly as they mount the transporter pad that no one but Spock hears.
Because Spock is Vulcan, he does not glare at his captain for his inappropriate statement.
“Don’t you look at me like that.” Kirk tries to raise his brow at Spock. It wobbles. “I happen to know that you dislike XurXanian opera just as much as I do.”
It's true they had had to sit through 6.45 hours of it in order to sign the treaty they had brokered seven months ago. Spock had calculated to the nanosecond the amount of time they were subjected by their hosts to this musical spectacle, and then made the mistake of sharing this information with Kirk. From there Kirk, illogically but not incorrectly, had made a leap of deduction and concluded that Spock shared his distaste. Kirk has an unsettling knack for taking two and two and coming up with five, and somehow being right.
“Starfleet wants us to check up on our new friends. It’s their yearly solstice festival, and they’ve invited the Enterprise,” Kirk had told his officers during the pre-mission briefing.
Sulu had frowned. “Does Starfleet usually participate in these things?”
“No.” Uhura shook her head. “But since the situation with the XurXanians is delicate and we need them to provide us with intel due to their location near the neutral zone, we want to keep them happy. I believe our orders are to ‘show some good will.’” She looked at Kirk with a gleam in her eyes. “Did you know they use the solstice festival to perform all the latest operatic compositions, as well as some of the classics? I’m sure you’ll be invited to attend. Captain.”
Kirk looked at his PADD, considering. “I do believe we might have some communication difficulty on this mission, and a communications expert would come in handy. Lieutenant Uhura, I'm sure you won't mind taking Lieutenant Almodovar’s place on the away team.” He smiled at her.
Sulu had hastily turned his laugh into a cough when she leveled her gaze at him.
Uhura follows them onto the transporter pad. Kirk glances around. “Got everyone? Good. Scotty, the ship is yours. We’ll check in every eight hours. Energize.”
They spend three nights on XurXa. Kirk claims he goes to bed each night with opera ringing in his ears and wakes up with a headache bouncing from side to side of his skull each morning, although his demeanor with their hosts is professional and courteous. Spock meditates briefly before retiring to his bed each night as is his habit, sleeps soundly, and wakes up with a mind clear and ready for the coming day.
The XurXanians are a gracious people. “Perhaps you can understand, Commander,” Rann says to Spock as she escorts him to a puppetry show. “All we want is to be left alone, but our location is such that it is no longer possible.”
When they leave their hosts, both sides are satisfied. For all his profession of disliking diplomacy, Kirk is learning its ways.
As they materialize back on the ship’s transporter pad and the ensign at the controls says, “Welcome home,” Spock sees Kirk smile and relax his shoulders. Perhaps he only notices this because his own body tenses as an unexpected pressure assaults his temples. He does not believe his face betrays this, but it must because Kirk reaches out.
“Spock? You all right?”
“I am fine, Captain,” Spock says. “I momentarily experienced a lapse in my mental shields.” He does not wish to admit this, but embarrassment is illogical.
Kirk narrows his eyes. “Why?”
“I do not know. ” Spock considers this unacceptable. “I will endeavor to correct this matter. If I may be excused?” The pressure is tightening.
“Maybe you should see Bones.”
“That will not be necessary, sir.”
Kirk lets him go. He walks down the hall in the opposite direction, and Spock hears him coming McCoy. “Hey, Bones,” he says. “I’m back. Miss me?” and through the handheld unit fading down the long sleek lines of the Enterprise’s corridor with every step Kirk takes, Spock hears McCoy respond, “Like a fungus.”
The thing is that Spock is not, actually, a very good Vulcan. After Nyota terminated their relationship, he found it taxing to be in her company, even on the bridge during alpha shift, for twenty-nine days. Surely this was illogical. He knew she was stepping back, allowing him to come to his own terms with her decision. He knew equally that she sought his forgiveness. Forgiveness in this situation was both unnecessary and illogical since she was, in fact, correct in her assessment of their relationship, and yet Spock had not been able to approach her with it.
But equally illogically, he found that he was not truly upset by what she had done. His pride, again an illogical emotion, was injured, but he did not suffer from her loss. With Nyota, he had been content. Their similar personalities complemented each other. And yet –
He quashes the treacherous thoughts rising within him. Since the age of four, he has known that he is deficient as a proper Vulcan. Nonetheless, he must try to be better.
He is in a turbolift with Nyota. He must stop at Science Lab 13 before he can retire to his quarters. He waits until the door hisses open, then steps into the corridor and says, “Good night, Nyota-kan.”
At his use of the Vulcan diminutive, her smile grows luminous.
Thanks are illogical, Spock thinks automatically.
Nyota had said, “I want more.” So does Spock. He wants –
Kirk says, “Spock, you all right?” when they beam back from XurXa and Spock’s head begins to pound.
The headache at his temples grows more intense as he walks from the transport room to his quarters and Kirk’s voice fades down the hallway. When the door shuts behind him, Spock lights his incense and fire shrine. Trying to relax, he focuses inward and examines the barriers in his mind. The external walls are dented inward slightly. He pushes them back out, convex, smooth and supple.
Two point four hours later, as he slowly brings himself out of his meditative state, he becomes aware that he is hungry. He's feeling pleased with the latest tweak he’s made to the engines because it will increase efficiency by 0.03 percent, and if it’s not, strictly speaking, something to be found in the Starfleet manual of standard modifications, that’s just because no one else has thought of it. And no one else needs to know just yet. He could really use a turkey sandwich right about now.
Along with some whiskey. He’s got a headache and Ensign Verkis’s idiocy with her phaser, the power wrench, and the botany lab isn’t helping much. He’s trying to run a sickbay, not a playpen for toddlers.
But today is his birthday and he misses his sisters because they’ve always thrown her a huge party and all her aunts and uncles and even Gramps come, and this is the first time she hasn’t been home for it, with family, and what was she thinking signing up for a five-year deep space exploratory mission. Even if it does give her the chance to serve under Kirk, who admittedly is the hottest thing since Bo Wheatley in the seventh grade, and have you seen that lazy half-smile he has, the one that makes his eyes go all dark and sexy, bedroom eyes her granny would have said, the one that makes you feel like you’re the only person standing in the room with him, but that’s totally not the reason she got herself into this mess, and to be fair it’s not really a mess because it’s so huge out here, endless and infinite and she’s so small, and she desperately wants the captain to notice her, to have some need for her techno-agro skills because she’s damn good at her job and all she wants is to visit some other world, put her feet on a new place, untouched, unknown, not that she’ll ever be on a first contact team, and god, it’s a good thing she doesn’t ever have to see Kirk because she’d probably do something horribly embarrassing in front of the captain and her sisters aren’t even here to tease her about it and make her feel better for being a complete spaz and
and he does not understand and sinks back down into meditation, further and further inside himself until it is silent save for the beat of his own heart.
“Better?” Kirk asks him later. Spock has been aware of his presence since the moment he entered the room, although he was silent at first while Spock waited.
Spock considers. “Affirmative.” There is order now.
“Great. We’re going to take a little space-stroll along the border of the neutral zone for the next week since we’re so close anyway.”
This hardly seems like a sound plan. Rather more provocative than necessary, in fact, given the tense situation with the Romulans after the Nero incident. Kirk apparently sees his reaction on his face, although Spock is again sure that he didn’t move a muscle, because he says, “Yeah, I know. Starfleet in its wisdom. But those are our orders. I say we’re going to hang back a healthy distance, though. Hard on the crew, having to be constantly looking over their shoulders. Maybe when we get out of here we can organize something for morale. Some sort of competition or round of games.”
“I do not think I am the proper person to assist in that endeavor.” Spock can think of many more successful pursuits with which to occupy his time.
“I have great confidence in you, Mr. Spock.” Kirk half-smiles at him, lazy, inviting him to join in his confidence, and in fact they are the only people in this room. Spock cannot help but be aware of the space between them.
“Besides, it’ll be fun.” Now Kirk is grinning outright.
Spock at times has the discomfiting feeling that Kirk sees too much that Spock has not intended to express, knows too much – is coming to know Spock too well. He reminds himself that it is natural for those in a command team to become well-acquainted. Additionally, Kirk takes a peculiar interest in all his crew members and, unusually in a human, had learned their names and at least one key piece of information about each in under three months of command: Ensign Soolack’s middle name, how many sisters Chief Gerraldi has, the breed of Lieutenant Haya’s dog.
“If you will excuse me, Captain, I am needed in the science labs to review Ensign Faala’s report.”
The next few days are filled with tense shifts on the bridge. Sulu insists that time goes more slowly when they cruise along at only warp factor two, but this is clearly a psychological response to their current situation. They spend a few hours at yellow alert when they pick up energy traces that could be the leftovers of a cloaked ship in the area, but ultimately determine it’s the exhaust from the Debnian trader ship that passed by three days ago with a defective energy modulation system.
“Broken tailpipe,” Kirk calls it. Spock does not know what he means by this. He inquires, and somehow launches a lengthy debate between the bridge crew on old-time Terran transportation mechanisms and their progeny. Sulu won’t budge from his conviction that a 1968 Ford Mustang is the ultimate in desirability, while Kirk shows a strange fondness for 1960s red corvettes. Chekov insists that the first car was built in Russia near his hometown, and Uhura, with a trace of a blush on her high cheeks, admits to thinking the original Volkswagen Beetle convertibles “cute.” “But,” she says, “if I were going to get a car, I’d want one of the late 21st century BMVs. The ones with proto-thrusters.”
Kirk is delighted. “I knew I liked you for a reason, Uhura. ”
Spock raises his brow. “Is that not the same model that had a 36.55 percent explosion rate due to inherent instability within the microfusion chamber? The same model that led to the collapse of the company in 2098?”
“Awesome,” Kirk says. Sulu nods vigorously and looks at Uhura with admiration.
“I didn’t know you were interested in these things, Spock.” Kirk is still grinning.
“It is logical to cultivate a cursory knowledge of all topics that might, however improbably, arise during the course of one’s duty.” Spock folds his hands and Kirk points at him, unaccountably triumphant.
“Hah. So in other words, you didn’t have a clue what we were talking about and looked it up in the ship’s computer.”
Spock straightens. He admits nothing.
At night, Spock wakes up at an average interval rate of 43 minutes, if the average is computed from five days ago when they began their patrol of the neutral zone border. However, each night the average shrinks. If he were to examine tonight’s intervals alone, he would find that he has awoken every 26.20 minutes.
Each time, he carries new thoughts in his mind. They are like echoes or silver mirrors, reflections of things that are not his and yet which he knows intimately now. Crewman Sparks, the gamma shift officer on call for the sanitation system, can’t figure out why there’s a kink in Section Four's purification system. Mr. Sulu is sneaking into the gardens to water his night-blooming kinuriz flowers, hoping he won’t run into any of the alpha shift because Dr. McCoy keeps asking why he’s been looking so tired lately. Ensign Waters has a backache, and Ensign P’Qith is sucking on sweets that are making her teeth ache. Lieutenant Shin appears to be playing a Terran card game against the computer, something she identifies in her head as “Go Fish,” and Spock ought to reprimand her for misuse of the bridge science console.
At 03:23, Spock snaps awake with his heart racing after he and Ensign Nkhansah have been chased by a great white rabbit. It is not until his eyes open that he realizes the image does not belong to him. He touches his temple. This is what humans call a dream.
Meditation has not quelled these breaches in his mental walls. The most disturbing thing about them, other than that they are occurring, is their random nature. There is no sense to be made of the images he sees – no pattern, no meaning.
He resolves to stay awake, but even so the thoughts of others grab at him. He is swimming under green, warm waters, surrounded by fish and seaweed so high it resembles an underwater forest. Ensign Palui is looking down, entranced by the creatures swaying gracefully around him, but Spock is looking up, back up at the sun filtering through the ocean, pale like worn glass from a wine bottle and sharp as white sand splintering against the eye. He cannot look away. The ocean holds him and pushes him back and forth with green currents, and the world here is soft, gentle hands touching him and his mother is singing him a lullaby, and he is losing her, losing her, losing her, and somewhere on the ship Chekov is waking up and gasping and clenching his fists.
Tomorrow, Spock will call on Dr. McCoy.
McCoy runs every scan he can think of on Spock, but, “Damn it, Spock, it’d help if you could actually tell me what’s going on in that overstuffed noggin of yours. What do you mean, your telepathy is malfunctioning? Be more specific, man!”
“I regret that I cannot be, Doctor. My shields do not seem to be effective against the thoughts of the humans that surround me.”
Only this is not it, quite. This does not seem to come from within Spock, but without. His telepathy, like that of most other Vulcans, has never enabled him to pick up random thoughts and feelings from people without physical contact and certainly not from those outside immediate physical proximity to him. There is, however, no other logical explanation, so he must start with the possibility that his own telepathy has malfunctioned. No other being on this ship has telepathic or empathic ability: Spock had checked the ship’s roster when he first requested this assignment in order to determine what level of mental protection and caution he would have to utilize.
After 25.6 minutes, Spock tells the doctor that he must report to the bridge to begin his shift.
“Hold still for another five minutes,” McCoy orders. “I’m not through with you yet.”
“Alpha shift begins in 2.5 minutes. It will take me 1.3 minutes to reach the bridge. Therefore, I cannot do as you request.”
“Well, you’re going to have to. I’m in the middle of this scan and I can’t stop now or the reading will be off. You wouldn’t want me to draw a conclusion from incomplete data, now would you, Mr. Spock?”
Spock has learned when he is being mocked. He spent most of his younger years undergoing daily derision from his learning mates. He considers Dr. McCoy. It is because, despite his words, his manner appears to be genuinely concerned that Spock acquiesces.
“All right, then.” McCoy reaches over to the wall intercom with his free arm and buzzes the captain’s chair on deck. “Jim,” he says.
“Bones, what’s up?”
“Just letting you know Spock’s going to be a few minutes late getting up there. Yes, it’s all fine,” he says preemptively because Spock can hear Kirk shift through the comm. “Routine checkup.” To Spock he says, after he has closed the intercom connection, “He worries too much. Damn kid thinks he’s responsible for everyone on this ship. Sometimes you just don’t need to know so you can’t kick up a fuss.”
Spock nods. Although Spock is uncertain whether McCoy is protecting him or the captain, he doesn't wish to raise concern about this matter until he has an explanation.
McCoy huffs. “It wouldn't hurt you to say thank you.”
“Thanks are illogical.” Spock raises his eyebrow. He does not believe the doctor can read him well enough to know that he is amused. Kirk would know, he thinks, and banishes the thought. “Nonetheless, this has not been a complete waste of time.”
Years ago, his mother implied that love is not a feeling so much as the gift of knowing another and the trust to allow oneself to be known by that person.
What seems like years later but is really only a short time after the Veshu come onboard and leave, and the Qen on Mypra-annex assault the captain, and the Uror are betrayed and the Sloxit on Sentra V ambush Spock’s away team, and they all encounter the great ship Mufe’eswu – after all these things, Kirk will say to Spock, “Are you moping? Stop moping. Do you want me to make it an order? Stop moping!”
Spock will reply with great dignity, “Vulcans do not mope, Captain,” and Kirk will look exasperated and say, “Maybe this one does.”
There will be a long moment of silence, and then Kirk will say, quietly, “Okay, so maybe humor’s not the way to go here.” He will sit down on Spock’s bed uninvited, as though he belongs there, and pat the spot next to him. Spock will sit slowly, carefully.
“I guess I can’t really understand it. I’ve never had anyone inside my head before like that – well, except you,” and Kirk will blink away from Spock and look down at his hands for a moment. The room will be warm for a human; Spock keeps his temperatures set at near-Vulcan intensity.
Kirk’s face will be flushed. He will get up and press his hand against the interior wall of the ship, much as Spock himself has done so often of late.
They are to pass Veshu Prime in a week and pick up the Ambassador and his staff to rendezvous with the U.S.S. Reliant and transfer them to her so that she can finish ferrying them to their destination. “Glorified taxi service,” Kirk says wryly, annoyance bleeding through his humor.
“Captain, are you aware that you are dissatisfied with 62.3 percent of Command’s orders?”
Kirk is taken aback for a moment and then grins. “Surprised it’s not more. I mean, they’re not out here. They sit at their desks all day long.” He comes over to look at the PADD Spock is holding out to him. His shoulder brushes Spock’s, fleeting, imprecise. “So you’re keeping count now, Spock?”
Spock cocks his head. “I have always kept count of you, Captain.” This is what Spock does – he watches and measures and tallies and computes. It has been 39.05 hours since he had an intrusion in his head; before that, he had 209 mental impressions forced upon him that were not his own; he has spent 97.50 hours in meditation since he first became aware of the issue. Kirk has realized that his XO is not at his peak, because in the three days since he visited Dr. McCoy the captain has watched him out of the corner of his eye 1.83 percent longer while they are together on bridge, in the mess, sparring. There is a 10.3 percent chance that the Veshuvan Ambassador and his staff will cause a commotion of some sort while on the Enterprise, and if that comes to pass, there is an 87.99 percent chance that it will revolve around Kirk.
Kirk is studying the information on the PADD. “We’ll have to brief senior staff and heads of department on the more interesting behavior patterns of the Veshu so that they can inform their staff how to behave while our guests are with us.”
Spock watches the play of expressions on Kirk’s face. They shift so quickly that they appear almost not to exist to the untrained eye, but Spock frequently watches his captain so. He must, he has found, because Kirk usually won't stop to take care of himself when he pushes himself too hard, as he often does in his effort to be a successful captain, the youngest of the Fleet and in Starfleet’s history.
“I’m earning this all backward,” he’d said to Spock once, only the evening before last, 38.75 hours ago, just after the mental intrusions ceased but before Spock became aware of their cessation. They were sparring, and Kirk had landed on his back, sweaty and with a bruised lip, Spock leaning over him with his hands still posed to strike. “I didn’t work my way up, I just leapt over everyone else. And hell yeah, I’m the right guy for this job and they’ll have to take me out of here bleeding and raw, but I’m not the only one who fought the Narada that day.”
“You are, however, the one who succeeded,” Spock notes. He straightens.
Kirk is still breathing heavily from their exercise. “Not alone. I have to be – I WILL – do this right.” The look he throws Spock is defiant and determined, with the faintest shades of anger and fear edging it.
Spock cannot look away. He is pinned, held by the conviction of this man, his captain, and considers that he is the one, the only one on this ship of 430 souls other than perhaps Doctor McCoy, with whom Kirk would share this thing, this truth. He does not know what to do, so he offers Kirk a gesture, one which Kirk may not understand – he is not sure how conversant he is with Vulcan culture, but he knows that Kirk knows Vulcans do not touch others with their hands, even if he may not know why.
But this is what he has to give. He holds out his hand for Kirk to grasp and pulls him up.
Now Kirk looks up from Spock’s PADD. “Gonna have to tell everyone not to smile at the Veshu. They might take it the wrong way. Think that’s going to be a problem for Sulu? He smiles a lot.”
Not as much as Kirk does. His mouth is turned up, warm right now, again. Spock shifts his weight backwards. His hands brush the coolness of the wall. He leaves them there.
“Okay,” says Kirk. “We might as well be on our way. Sooner we get ‘em on, sooner we get ‘em off. My girl doesn’t like ferrying these stuffy diplomatic types around,” and, “Oh, hey, this is cool – did I tell you what we’re doing after this?” Kirk’s eyes are clear and happy. “We’re going star-mapping.”
That evening, Spock is filled with a sense of joy, of expectation. It suffuses him. It reminds him of those occasions when Kirk sets foot on a new planet, somewhere no one has ever gone before. The first time they did so, Kirk threw his arms out and whooped with glee and spun around. “Fuckin’ awesome!” The grin hadn’t left his face for hours afterward. “Look at it, guys.” He whirls and invites his security team in on the fun. “This is amazing. Look at those mountains, the way they’re covered in blue.”
Spock has his tricorder out. “I believe it may be a relation of the distapp tree of Pirun,” he puts in. “Such trees are known for their blue shade. The ship’s scanners found remnants of an abandoned colony three kilometers to the west. This world may be reached at impulse power from Pirun in 6.9 months.”
“And the water – it’s green! And clear. I think I can see all the way to the bottom.”
“It is the presence of the mineral phiroscet, Captain.”
“And the sky. Those clouds, the way they’re shaped. And the grass, or grain, or whatever it is that we’re standing on. Have you guys ever seen anything like this?”
Giotto squints. “Looks a lot like Alaska, actually, Captain. The way the sky is, so big, and the grass. My brother lives up there.”
Kirk clasps his shoulder. “Yes, that’s exactly what I mean, Cupcake.”
Spock does not sigh: he is Vulcan. Kirk has been captain for 1.2 months and he has yet to curb certain of his pre-captaincy informalities.
“In so many ways, it could be Earth – same air consistency, similar vegetation, gravity, physical features – but it’s not! We’re millions of miles, light years, from Earth, setting foot in a place no Terran – or Vulcan, pardon me, Mr. Spock – has set foot,” he says.
Once again Spock does not sigh. Nor does he remind the captain that they should focus on their mission and be more cautious with their security safeguards, as protocol demands. He doesn’t because he does not deem it appropriate to undermine the captain in front of his subordinates. This is what he tells himself.
The captain’s joy has a boyish quality to it. Months later, years later, Spock will recall this and all the other peaceful, new – to them – planets he visited with Jim, and the quality of his childlike glee, and wish that he could fix such delight at the front of Jim’s mind so that it is always first, always felt, pushing all the sorrows of his eventful life down and away.
This is the sense Spock is filled with now. He is walking through the ship’s corridor, heading for the mess hall. He has to tighten his muscles to keep his facial expression contained against the eagerness blasting its way through his body, this sense of awakening, of being born, of vibrancy and possibility. Of awareness.
He passes members of the crew and has no flicker of their thoughts or memories or emotions reflected back at him; his mental shields are intact and fully functional; he is undisturbed and replete with well-being.
Spock, as a child, had loved I-Chaya, his pet sehlat. He had buried her with honors when she died to protect him. But before that, once, he fell asleep cradled in her fur, the sehlat curled protectively around him. He could have been no more than three, a common age for a Vulcan’s telepathy to act out before the child has learned to control himself. He dreamt that afternoon, shielded from the sun by his mother’s small garden, sharing his pet’s dreams. He was leaping in the desert, chasing some prey, his fur full of grit, his sehlat body burning with exhilaration and the thrill of running wild, the desert his freedom, endless, boundless, anything possible.
He walks the corridors of the ship for 1.4 hours. He does not know what he is expecting. He ends up on the observation deck watching the stars whisk by. He places his hand on the clear surface of the viewing panel as though he could touch them. Out there it is infinite.
Kirk finds him eventually. “Hey, Spock,” he says casually. “Heard you were wandering around.”
Spock glances at him. “Captain.”
Kirk steps up next to him. If Spock moved his arm, they would touch.
“What do you see beyond the ship?” Spock asks him, gesturing at the stars.
Kirk looks out, far, then looks at Spock. A slow smile spreads across his face, golden, full of promise.
Of course, then Kirk has to disturb Spock’s happy peace by suggesting, “Maybe you should visit sickbay, because doesn’t this seem a little strange for a Vulcan to do? I mean, did you have a purpose in wandering all over the ship? Some plan? Self-guided tour, at least? 'Cause in my experience, Vulcans – or at least this one – ” He jabs a finger in Spock’s direction. “ – don’t go for nighttime strolls just for the hell of it.”
Spock is disconcerted and, yes, perhaps somewhat pleased, that Kirk knows his crew well enough to be aware of his habits. It is the mark of a good captain.
“I am well, Captain.” His euphoria is fading. He is aware, now, that it might have been somewhat strange.
Kirk just looks at him.
“Sir.” He clasps his hands behind his back. “For a period of time I have been experiencing unusual sensations.” He speaks slowly, unaccustomed to sharing such things. “For 46.20 hours, I have been free of these things. It is – ” He meets Kirk’s eyes. “– a relief. My mind is quiet.”
“Does this have something to do with the headaches I know you’ve been getting? You only admitted to one, but you’ve been looking strained lately. Bones keeps telling me to butt out of it.”
“Captain, my health has not interfered with my duties and I will endeav —”
“And even if you’re feeling better, aren’t you wondering why it just suddenly went away because—”
“Sir, the problem has resolved itself because I have effectively reestablished my mental barr—”
“Sure, but what happened to them in the first—”
“You do not need to concern yourself with—”
“I don’t need to concern myself with on my own damn ship? And if I choose to concern myself with my first officer’s wellbeing, that’s my prerogative as captain and—”
“Again, Captain, I must point out—”
“And would you stop ‘captaining’ me?”
“No – no more sirs. Jim. Just Jim.”
There’s a heartbeat of silence. Spock raises his eyebrow. “If I call you Jim, as you request, will you cease interrupting me?”
Kirk looks slightly sheepish. “Yes.”
“It is illogical to insist on your right as captain to concern yourself with my wellbeing in one breath and to insist I address you informally in the next.” Spock does not smile, but Kirk appears to catch his amusement despite this.
He shrugs and his lips curve. “Humans. What are you gonna do with us?” His hand rests on the ship’s window into space.
After they have picked up and dropped off the Veshuvan ambassador, after the captain is attacked on Mypra-annex, Spock accompanies his stretcher to sickbay. He does so because the captain is talking to him, groggy and drugged and bleeding out of his side and left thigh and myriad small cuts on his chin and ears where the Qen guards had beaten him. He does so even though they are jogging down the hallway from the turbolift and McCoy is running his medi-scanner over him, cursing under his breath.
“Spock,” Kirk says, “Spock – I – so tired – sometimes I juz wanna hear m’ name, y’know? ‘M always cap’n or sir to ever’body.”
“You’re delirious, Jim,” McCoy tells him, not unkindly.
“I know,” Kirk replies, and his eyes slide to the side and shut. His head lolls against the stretcher.
Spock should return to the bridge. His presence is required there, as he is in command of the vessel. He needs to go. He is going. He is going. He is –
secure, if not happy, in the knowledge that Jim will be watched over while he is away from sickbay. Sickbay is in the heart of the ship, and the great silver walls of the Enterprise surround him there, keeping him safe from all out-worlders who would harm him.
They head away from the neutral zone and toward Veshu Prime to pick up the ambassador and his staff. They will then rendezvous with the Reliant, who will take them from there. Spock waits in the transporter room with Kirk to greet their guests. Ambassador Keeley is an older Veshuvan, his hair turning a graceful sea green, fading from the colorful intensity of that of the rest of his staff. They are taller than the average human, with large eyes and somber expressions. They are reputed to have great dexterity and to be able to move with astonishing speed.
Kirk does not smile when he greets them. Spock doesn’t either, of course. To the Veshu, smiling is an act of aggression.
“Welcome aboard the Enterprise,” the captain says. His pride in his ship is obvious.
The ambassador introduces his aides – Tenn, Stello, and a vaguely androgynous and lithe green-haired woman named Nau. Nau, like Tenn and Stello, wears the traditional chiffons of her people, iridescent purples and blues, and Spock watches her eyes flicker up and down the captain’s body as they are introduced. He sees Kirk start to smile, slow and liquid, but catch himself at the last moment.
Spock excuses himself as soon as it is polite. He has tasks he must attend to.
There is still cruising time before the ship reaches Veshu Prime to retrieve the ambassador. It has been 5.8 days since Spock experienced any mental lapses or thoughts from others. He is satisfied with this. His mind, and through it his body, are well. When he meditates, his mind takes him to a smooth silver field, peaceful and calm. It gleams under the rays of a thousand distant stars.
Mr. Scott has been recalibrating the engines. Spock decides to join him. He has felt an odd – affection – for the engineer lately. He is responsible for the ship’s body and he does well by her. Mr. Scott is surprised to see him but welcomes him, and they spend several hours engaged in the ship’s belly, tangled into her, tightening her again, soothing her aches with quiet words, “Och, lassie, dinna fash yourself, we’ll have you right in a tick,” and the steady press of their hands.
As they are due to pick up Ambassador Keeley in 2.4 days’ time, Kirk invites Spock to his quarters for a game of chess that evening. “Won’t get much downtime while they’re here, I’m sure.”
Spock is also 95.33 percent certain that the captain will not have much time to spend with his crew while their guests are onboard. Since the start of their mission, they have transported five groups of dignitaries and their staff. Of those five, four have contained beings pleasing to the human eye, if Kirk’s reaction is a fair judge. Of those four groups, Kirk has spent an average of 24.5 more hours than strictly necessary with at least one member of each group.
“Indeed, Captain,” he says. It is cool in Kirk’s room. He is always slightly chilled on the Enterprise except in his own rooms, although it does not cause him discomfort.
Kirk sets out the pieces. “For a Vulcan, you are really not so subtle.”
“I was not trying to be, sir.” He tells himself he must be grateful that, so far, Kirk has restricted himself to flirtations and affairs with the dignitaries’ aides, rather than the dignitaries themselves.
“I thought I told you to call me Jim.” He takes white because Spock had done so last time they played.
Spock examines the board in silence. He decides that it feels colder in Kirk’s room now than it did ten minutes ago.
“You know,” Kirk says conversationally, “I’ve heard that the Veshu are really hot.” He affects a leer, which Spock ignores. After a beat, Kirk laughs. “Okay, pax. I’ll shut up about this.” He suddenly shivers. “Shit, it’s cold in here. Spock, you must be freezing. Why didn’t you say anything?” With a slight frown, he asks the computer the temperature. It is 4.9 degrees Celsius below ship’s standard.
“That’s strange. I must have lowered it this morning before I left. Sorry ‘bout that.” Getting up, he tosses Spock a throw from the foot of his bed. It is not standard-issue, but is fuzzy with repeated cleanings and smells of Kirk’s salt and spice scent. Spock wraps it around his shoulders stiffly. He feels unexpectedly warm.
Approximately 1.52 hours before they arrive at Veshu Prime, the ship speeds up. The increase is so slight that even Spock would not have noticed it immediately if his console had not beeped as the computer recalculates their ETA. They are now due to arrive in 1.51 hours, assuming they continue at their current speed of warp two.
Kirk twists back to look at him when he hears the beep.
“One moment, Captain.” Spock calls engineering through the intercom. “Mr. Scott, have you altered the warp drive in some way?”
“Nope,” he says cheerfully. “But I see we’re running a bit faster. Isn’t she great? I expect it’s the modifications we made two days ago kicking in. Thought they might take some time to become fully integrated.”
“Understood. Spock out.” He looks at Kirk. “We made minor alterations recently,” he says by way of explanation. “Mr. Scott takes great interest in the ship’s functioning. I assisted him.”
Kirk snorts. “‘Great interest’ is one way to put it.” At the front of the bridge, Chekov tries to disguise his laugh as a cough. Uhura shakes her head, but Spock knows that she is not upset. Kirk goes back to signing reports.
Spock examines his screen and runs several calculations. Mr. Scott’s hypothesis is logical, but Spock is not fully convinced. He is not concerned – in fact, he feels a strong sense of security and wellbeing – but he does not believe the modifications they implemented two days ago have made the ship more efficient at this moment.
His screen blinks at him happily.
After the formal dinner they host for Ambassador Keeley and his staff on their first night onboard, Spock retires to his quarters. The Ambassador had excused himself first, clearing the way for everyone to wander out when they wished.
Spock had intended to leave immediately after the Ambassador, but his aide Stello had claimed his attention. Kirk was in the far corner of the room, sequestered with Nau and her iridescence, and paying no heed to anyone else. She is standing quite close to him. McCoy had rolled his eyes a minimum of four times over the course of dinner. It occurs to Spock that if he remains he may be able to separate Kirk and this evening’s chosen, but he dismisses the thought as quickly as it unexpectedly pops into his head.
The doors swish open and shut repeatedly as one person after another exits. Finally, with a promise to speak further to Stello tomorrow, Spock is free to leave the room. With a last glance at Kirk to make sure he does not need anything from him – his head is bent near Nau’s long neck; her vibrant hair lies silken on her bare shoulders – he heads to the door. He has a faint discomfort in his belly which is likely due to their dinner.
The door does not open. Spock cocks his head. He looks over at Kirk to see if he has noticed. He has not. Nau turns her face up toward his and touches his arm. Spock wishes to leave. “Computer,” he says. “Door.” As if reluctant to let him out, the doors slowly hiss open. ‘I do not wish to stay,’ he thinks. The doors fully open with a loud huff of air.
He’ll have to send someone to look at that door later.
When he meditates, he sees ripples in the sleek silver surface inside his mind. Like waves, they invite him in.
He reviews the day’s events as he always does, his first step to clearing his mind and refreshing himself. He recalls breakfast with his science staff, and although he had not made note of it at the time, he now sees that Kirk was sitting two tables over. He sees Kirk step onto the bridge and himself relinquish control to him. He sees him in his dress uniform to greet the Veshu and he sees the way he looks at Nau in the transporter room and over dinner and after dinner, his skin and hair golden against her shimmering robes, Kirk’s attention focused away from—
He moves his hands so that they rest not on his legs but on the floor of the ship. He believes he has reviewed the day’s events adequately. His fingers twitch against the Enterprise. They tingle slightly.
Before Spock fully comprehended the rule of logic, he concocted implausible scenarios. They were generally based on history books regarding ancient Vulcan, with no small amount of ancient poetry, either translated from High Vulcan or in the old language, tossed in. Spock was, after all, only six at the time. His grasp of High Vulcan, while not deficient, was not entire.
His implausible scenarios generally went something like this: the great warrior Spock led the tribes in battle. Red dust swirled around them as they rode their kenel horses to meet their enemies with a tremendous clash of trillpa and ahn’wun, their great weapons forged of metal and strong rope. His ferocious but faithful sehlat I-Chaya raced at his side, fangs glistening as she leapt upon her foe. He fought bravely, the best of all men, and was victorious.
I charge you, oh ye warriors of the mighty, look not to the north, the west, the sea and the east
My prince and threescore men … trillpa upon their thigh
Come upon [the enemy] and vanish them like smoke in a red night, wax melting before a fire
Sometimes they altered to: the great warrior Spock was merciful after his enemies had surrendered. He did not kill unnecessarily, but spared those who humbled themselves before him and his mighty sehlat. He received them in his sandy court under silken tents and they made offerings of peace to him – fine gold and rare woods from the north and sweet oils.
Once in a while it was even: the great warrior Spock called a council of peace so that he could unite the tribes. There was terrible fighting between the various representatives, but Spock, being chief among them, silenced their audacity and hosted a rich feast to quiet their malcontent. I-Chaya, the fearsome sehlat, feasted on the scraps.
But that last variation on the fantasy was a fairly boring one because he didn’t get much out of it or get to be a really great warrior, so he didn’t play with that one too often. Mostly, with his rigorous schedule of learning, he didn’t have time for such things.
“Plomeek soup for lunch?” his mother asks, calling to him in the cactus garden. It is sprinkled with her thorned roses. “We’ve got saltines from Terra.”
Sometimes he had the hazy notion that, despite his great prowess in battle and his standing among his fellow Vulcans, he served another, someone who called men to him like the sun to men and beasts alike, like the rain to a parched land, like the stars to the swift silver Enterprise.
Spocks cast such imaginings out of his mind long ago.
Nonetheless, the one to whom he devoted his service was worthy of such. He stood with his legs spread wide and commanded the tribes, and ruled with a reign of command. Spock stands slightly behind him, to the right, his second. He holds an honored position, one which he has fought for and won by his strength and the shedding of his blood. His prince is foreign to this province of dark-haired people, and when he first came, he was called shaka, a fiend, sent from the gods to lead their people to victory, though at what price few dared imagine.
His hair shines strange and golden; he wears deep blue robes unfamiliar to this sun-scorched land. When Spock steps forward and touches his wrist to gain his attention quietly, his skin is cool. He turns. Spock inhales sharply at his eyes, the welcome in them.
Spock steps closer, drawn to his prince against all his imaginings.
He never wanted command. He wants to let his captain shine, to take their crew into the far reaches of the stars while Spock is free to explore the worlds opening before him.
Or ever I was aware, my soul flew to the morning sun; my beloved feedeth among the twin daystars
Let us go early to the mountains, to pray before [the shrine of] thine ancestors
There I will give thee my loves, my beloved … a garden of nuts
[where there is] joy pouring forth from thine eyelids
Of whom then shall I be afraid (the lord is my light)
In the cooling evening, after the red haze of the sun has dissipated, his prince converses with him. They are alone in K’irk’s tent, seated on the fur of le-matya. He has been offered precious water, rather than the wine the other warriors drink in the desert sands. Through the shifting walls of the tent comes the muted sound of the camp around them.
K’irk props one knee up and rests his forearm on it. The hair on it glints red-gold against the burn of the lamp. When he shifts his weight forward, toward Spock, the muscles flex. Spock’s tongue darts out to moisten his dry lips. K’irk’s eyes follow and then, slowly, deliberately, rise to meet his.
Spock is pinned. He cannot move, nor does he wish to.
“Warrior,” K’irk says, his voice low. “Do you pledge me your allegiance?”
“You have but to ask.” They are almost touching now, and there is a fire flaring deep in Spock’s chest. He can feel the moistness of his prince’s breath against his face.
“Say it.” K’irk murmurs the words against his mouth. “Say it.” It is a demand fit for a warrior-prince.
“Jim.” Spock exhales. His lips seek, and his lips find.
He blinks and focuses on the sleek metal walls of the ship, of his quarters. Vulcans do not share kisses in such fashion.
He blinks again. Of all the things wrong at the present moment to focus on, surely that is the most irrelevant.
Beneath his folded legs, the ship’s engines thrum as though pleased. Spock has not moved his hands from where they rest on her floor.
The day they rendezvous with the Reliant to be relieved of their guests, Ensign Kothari discovers a small wilderness growing in one of the unused crew quarters. She tells the ranking officer in Environmental, Lieutenant Hicks at the time, who comms his superior, Lt. Commander Xuw, who alerts Spock.
“Curious,” he says when the report reaches his station on the bridge. Kirk, who has been tapping his feet in syncopated rhythm for the last 15.2 minutes, glances over his shoulder. “Mr. Spock?”
Spock stands. “A report from Environmental. I believe it warrants my immediate attention. May I be relieved?”
Kirk nods at Ensign Cole. “Take his station. Mr. Spock, I’ll expect to see you in the transporter room at 03:00 to send off our guests.”
Spock moves to the turbolift, saying as he does, “Affirmative.” While Spock has no desire to see Nau interact with Kirk again, he does wish to see her and her lithe form off the ship.
Immediately, he quells such thoughts. They have no place in his mind, even if he had been unexpectedly privy to the intimate acts that occurred between her and the captain. As he steps off the turbolift, he schools his face to reveal nothing and studies the PADD with Commander Xuw’s report.
It raises many possibilities, some of them disturbing. Foremost among them is the chance that the ship has been subject to some kind of sabotage. The report suggests that the plants growing in the crew quarters are, at first glance, of the same types and species as those in the arboretum. This suggests that the arboretum may have been tampered with: the environmental controls regulating the air flow neutralize and filter spores and other contaminants, preventing them from leaving the garden. As the ship’s computers report no malfunction in the neutralizing system or indeed in any of the air systems that maintain the ship’s life support, there are two possibilities. Either there is no sabotage or whoever committed it was very, very good.
Arriving at the environmental control room, Spock locates Ensign Kothari, who found the illicit garden in the first place. “Report,” he says.
“Sir, it was the strangest thing. I was running the monthly stats on environmental energy usage when I saw there was an abnormal spike in crewman’s quarter 0346. When I investigated, I found that the temperature and water usage were way above normal for unused quarters.”
Spock looks at her. “May I ask whether you took it upon yourself to investigate in person?”
She pales and then turns a slight shade of red. “I did.”
“I surmise from the sudden contraction and expansion of your facial blood vessels that you are aware this is not standard procedure.”
She stands at attention. “Yes, sir.”
Spock considers her. In the back of his mind, he can hear Kirk laughing over a game of chess. ‘Oh, just let it go, Spock.’ He stiffens, although he knows it is not perceptible to anyone who may be looking at him. Although this is his own memory, it comes to him as though from the outside, from without his mind – the thought of another rather than his own.
“I will have to make a notation in your file about this incident,” Spock tells her. ‘C’mon,’ Kirk says in his head. ‘No harm done.’ Spock is remembering – or being reminded of – another incident, another day, a time when Kirk had stolen a morsel of peelly fruit from his plate and spoken those words. He clasps his hands behind his back so that they do not betray any agitation.
“However,” Spock says to Ensign Kothari, “I will also make a notation about your attention to detail in catching this.” Kirk claps him on the shoulder.
The ensign relaxes; Spock stands straight. “Describe the room to me.”
“It’s really green in there, a mess. There are vines everywhere, tangled up, and plants growing all over each other. It’s like they’re all fighting for space or for a view out the window. They look like they’ve been growing for, I don’t know, I’m not a botanist, but months or years, the way they’re so big. But I checked the enviro readings, and the energy spike there started less than two weeks ago. You should see the flowers, sir, they’re—”
Huge and gorgeous. There are silvery-white blooms the size of Spock’s splayed hand that come out only at night, seeking the moon’s reflection and forever hiding their faces against the ship’s artificial daytime, and there are tiny pink buds crawling along the floor on the kunee vines like an apology, a delicate pink message that no harm was meant, it’s just that there’s so much potential here and she is waiting, waiting for –
And the smell is full and heady, and Spock can detect in it things that no human could, the pollen floating around the room dry and sweet and enticing, the scent of creation and growth and death, of pleasure, like the motes of stardust continually sweeping along the sides of the Enterprise, invisible silver showers that make the ship shimmer with starlight in the blackness of space. The garden in the room is wild, uncontrolled, eager and full of life, ready to take over, and Spock can see it, see it in his mind although he has not seen it with his eyes, and his eyes track the tangle of vines, getting lost here and finding a new path there, and there is no order and it is too much and he will not stand for this and –
He wrenches his mind back to itself, away from a room he has not seen.
“I will inform the captain,” he says.
Kirk’s mind is a kaleidoscope, the complete opposite of the logical progression of thoughts inside Spock’s. His thoughts are entirely caught up with emotions, and they are continually fracturing and reforming themselves into the unexpected results that Kirk often comes up with. Now, crumpled on the damp ground with broken ribs and blood running down his flanks and an arm snapped, bone protruding through the skin, and drugs coursing through his system, pain spikes in a million points at once, fracturing the kaleidoscope over and over, too quickly for coherent thought to form. Overhead the sun of Mypra-annex splinters against the leaves of the mass of towering trees.
“Never,” Sarek had told Spock, “meld with another who is not in control of himself. Only a Healer or skilled Elder may do so with any degree of safety.”
“Captain,” Spock had said when he found Kirk beaten and bloodied on the forest floor of Mypra-annex. “You must tell me where the others are. Do you know?”
“T’ Qen guards took ‘em.” Kirk’s words are slurred. “Tha’ way.” He lifts his hand to point but can't hold it up very long against the effects of whatever they drugged him with. They have already found Ensign Vasquez’s broken body lying 23.68 meters to the west of the captain’s location.
“Spock.” Kirk’s wet, red fingers find his wrist. “Y’ gotta get ‘em. They were planning hor’ble things.” He breaks off, panting. His body shudders and curls upon itself.
“I will,” Spock finds himself promising Kirk illogically as Kirk’s body starts to convulse. “Ensign,” he says sharply, “where is the medical team?” although he already knows the answer. No one can beam directly to this spot; Mr. Scott believes it is an effect of the gamma rays that this planet’s sun radiates. It is why it took Spock so long to reach his captain. It is unacceptable, and when Spock returns to the Enterprise, he will devote time to the transporter program.
“Spock.” Kirk’s voice is only a raspy whisper. “They de’cribed where they're taking my p’ple.”
“Captain, you must conserve your strength until Dr. McCoy arrives. We do not know what drug they gave you or its effects.”
Astoundingly, Kirk tries to grin. With the damage to his face, it’s a caricature of his usual charm, and Spock’s hand clenches to a fist under his light touch. “C’mere.”
Spock raises his eyebrow and responds with false dryness. “In your condition, Captain?”
Kirk laughs, a broken cough. “I’ll show you.”
He means a mind meld, the sharing of thoughts. Spock shakes his head, but Kirk reaches up and, trembling, pulls Spock’s hands down to his own face and says, “Do it,” and Spock is falling, falling, falling to the fracturing prism of pain and brilliance that is Kirk’s mind.
Beneath it all, beneath the colored glass points of pain and shards of emotion, there is a steely mental control that beckons Spock. Something almost covered and hidden by the sharp surface of Kirk’s mind and the pulse beat of his drugged thoughts – beneath that, a bright band of order calls to Spock. It’s as if there is something golden and pure there, and he can only see the edges leaking their brightness, spilling over. He wants to delve further into that sunshine trapped in this man’s mind – heart – for inside Kirk he can find no boundary between them.
He forces himself to pull back from that bright seductive clarity, to skim the surface of his captain’s mind and find where the Qen have taken their crew.
Nyota’s people have a proverb. “Mtu mwenye busara hawezi kukimbia na simba.”
The wise man does not run with lions.
After Kirk is taken to sickbay, drugged by poison and pain, asking for Spock to call him by name in the middle of his Enterprise, it is a silent cry within Spock’s mind, the afterbeat of that golden shock.
The day after Kirk hosts a welcome dinner for Ambassador Keeley and his diplomatic staff, Stello requests a tour of the ship from Spock. Like Nau, Stello is tall and willowy, and wears the iridescent garments of his people. They float around his body like underwater wisps of the shimmering Terran jellyfish that Spock saw in Ensign Palui’s mind weeks ago, the great green sea of sunswept water.
“As children we are sexless,” Stello tells Spock of the Veshuvan androgyny. “You can see that Nau, while recognizably female, is not completely dissimilar from myself. Although we are considered adults, we two are not fully gendered yet. As she ages, she will lose much of her angularity. Similarly, I will broaden out as you see that Tenn has.”
“Fascinating,” says Spock, and, “I would be honored to accompany you on a tour of the Enterprise in 2.43 hours, once my shift has ended. Would that be suitable?” He does, in truth, have things he would prefer to do, but maintaining cordial relations with the Veshu is important. He studiously does not wonder if the captain also wishes to “maintain cordial relations” with the Veshu through Nau.
When they meet up later for the tour, Spock enjoys a peculiar thrill of pride at showing off the ship. It is a new sensation to him. She is a remarkable feat of engineering and science, and is run by her command team in good order. While there is often some minor issue to be resolved in any given department, no small crisis appears as Spock is showing Stello around. It is as though the ship herself is determined to give the best impression she can to her guest. The rush of water through the turbine pipes in Engineering is like a gurgle of laughter from the ship as she admits to her part in the conspiracy.
It is Stello who remarks on it. “The Enterprise – it is very much alive, isn’t it?”
“I beg your pardon?” Spock comes to a halt in the doorway of Engineering and must move aside to let a crewmember pass.
Stello looks startled. “I apologize. Have I said something wrong?”
“You have not.” Spock tips his head. “Please explain.”
“I only meant that the ship itself has a presence, almost a personality. It seems to infuse the spirit of the crew, yes?”
Spock considers Stello for a moment. “I believe you refer to the cohesive working of the ship’s crew. Captain Kirk has promoted an efficient but friendly atmosphere aboard.”
Stello considers Spock right back. “Of course.” He inclines his upper body slightly, gracefully, and does not look fully convinced.
Spock knows of no telepathy on the part of the Veshu.
Mother says to her child, “Everyone dreams, Spock.”
Spock dreams in red. It starts simply enough, something that could be mistaken for a meditation, if only he were awake. He sees the ship’s gardens, the tamed control of the arboretum and the wild hedonism of the newly formed riot of life in the empty crew quarters. In that illicit space, he bends over a flower so silvery-pale that in its gloss he can see the reflection of the stars, those that kiss the ship as she sails past them. When he looks up, his lips parted, there is a door across the room that he had not noticed before. It is not on the ship’s schematics.
The door chirps at him, an invitation, a welcome, and the ship opens it for him before he is even within range of the door’s automatic sensors. The spicy smell of ch’aal, the purple tea leaf, and the sweetness of the ne’vikn flower, which his people call mu’yor-wakik, that which blooms in the night, beckon him. He steps through –
– and finds himself on Vulcan. The sun has just begun to shine its false dawn over the land, a purple-red glow on the horizon. With a trembling hand, Spock reaches out to the night-cooled stone surrounding him. In it, he feels the slanted grooves of the layers of rock, flowing like rivers through the landscape. Warming winds blow; he lifts his fingers to his face and feels the grit of sand rubbing his skin.
There are steps worn into the red mountains before him. He climbs.
“To whom does this memory belong?” he demands.
The winds laugh around him, caress his skin with a familiar touch. “Who are you talking to?” they ask.
Spock continues climbing. “Who is thinking of my planet right now? Whose thoughts am I invading this time?”
The winds swirl the red dust up from the ground as though it would reach the sky, touch even the stars themselves. “No one’s. These images are from the head of the doctor you call M’Benga, but he is not thinking of Vulcan right now. His head is filled only with attention to his medical requisition sheets.”
“He studied on Vulcan,” Spock says slowly.
“But he is not thinking of Vulcan now.”
The voices of the winds, with their many tongues, whisper against Spock’s ear. “Before, before I was fully aware, I cast about for meaning in the memories of those I shelter, those who care for me. Your telepathy caught many such images. But now that I'm aware, I can call up those things that I wish and shape them. And to you, Spock, you who heard me even before I found my voice, I wish to give you this. I know your planet is no more.”
He is nearly at the top of the mountain. His boots are covered in fine red soil as they once were when he was a child. The ancient Vulcans believed that the desert wind carried the voices of the gods as they sang the katras of their ancestors to the halls of their forbears to dwell for eternity.
“Look to the north, Spock,” she tells him as he stands on the highest peak, casting his gaze out over a vast landscape of sharp rock and earth, endless as a world should be. The sun is growing brighter on the horizon, the purple sky of Vulcan red.
This is the blood-haze of the rising sun that Vulcans call q’iath. Spock sits and watches, knees pressed against his chest, hands clasping his legs. Who are you? He casts the thought out into the winds from his mind.
Seek me in the stars, the winds sigh, and the risen sun blots out all else from the fiery sky.
“Shall we continue?” Spock asks Stello. They have yet to see the shuttle bay, the gymnasium, and the observation lounge. It is late evening on the ship.
“With pleasure,” says Stello. When they reach the gym, he stops and exclaims. “Ah! I was wondering where you performed your physical training.”
They step inside. Despite the air controls and regular cleaning, the space smells musky. “We both train and exercise in these rooms.” Spock looks toward the mats. “Ensigns Gorodetsky and Tabli’ik are currently practicing a combination of throwing techniques. Based on their movements and positions, I believe they are primarily trained in glima and judo, both old Terran forms of physical combat.”
Stello seems fascinated. He steps up to the edge of the mat as Tabli’ik twists and throws Gorodetsky to the floor before Gorodetsky slips away and crouches against the next advance. “Despite the physical nature of this activity, it doesn’t appear to be particularly violent. These are primarily defensive moves, then?”
“Yes. You have had some training in such sport yourself?” This did not appear in the briefing Starfleet provided on the Veshu.
Stello lays his long finger against the side of his nose in the manner of a smile of his people. “We have an art we call pakou. In our tongue, it means ‘willow-weaving.’ It is practiced mostly among the young because it requires, hum, great looseness of limb.” He pauses and watches those in the room speculatively. “I wonder, Commander Spock. I would love to join them and test myself against your men.”
Spock calculates the possibilities. Based on what he knows of Veshuvan culture, he estimates that there is a 17.45 percent chance that, if defeated, Stello would be insulted. When he factors Stello’s individual personality into the equation, that chance drops to 4.80 percent. If he will not allow their guest to spar under these circumstances, there is a 19.33 percent chance that Stello, and the Ambassador, will be insulted. Veshuvan strength is comparable to that of humans: if he has training at the same level as that of the crew, there is a 1.55 percent chance he will be hurt beyond slight bruising. While Spock does not know what level of training Stello may have had and if it is comparable to that demanded by Starfleet, he does know that the Veshu have dexterity and speed far beyond that of humans and has factored that into his 1.55 percent risk of injury calculation. Therefore, it can be safely assumed, with a 96 percent level of confidence, that Stello will not be at great risk.
“That would be acceptable,” Spock says. Stello removes his loose outer robe and folds himself in half in a deep stretch. Lieutenant Daniels, who has been watching, volunteers. Spock steps back to watch. Uncharacteristically, he overestimates the amount of space between himself and the wall. His hand hits the surface; the skin tears on what must be a rough patch. Glancing behind him, he sees nothing, only the smooth interior of the Enterprise. A twinge of annoyance twitches in his mind, no, on his mind, against the surface, as though someone or something else is annoyed and wants him to feel it.
Daniels has yet to land a blow on Stello or even make contact with him. He is one step behind, always reaching for the place where Stello was just a moment ago and is no more. Stello is faster than Spock would have credited, even having seen his lithe form. It is as a dance, nimble and graceful, and –
Kirk is reaching for Nau’s hand as he draws her into his private quarters and –
Daniels is falling to the mats as Stello’s leg sweeps underneath him, and Stello retreats, waits for Daniels to sit up, and bows. Intrigued, Ensign Anuth asks if he can ‘have a go.’ "What you did was amazing, Mr. Stello.” Stello touches his finger to the side of his nose and accepts. Spock notes that he is not even winded just as –
Her skin glows iridescent purple-green with her pleasure as Kirk’s fingers skim down her lean sides, ghosting over the lightweight fabric of her clothing, pulling it up and away, and his checks are flushed with –
Exertion, sweat beading on Ensign Anuth’s brow as he tries to fend off the speed with which Stello moves. Spock had not realized, as he suspects Starfleet had not either, that the comment to the effect that the Veshu “move quickly” and “are very flexible” meant this whirlwind of motion unleashed. Stello is dancing around the ensign –
Dancing to the bed where Kirk bends low over her, his lips just a breath from hers as she reaches up to meet him. Her long fingers close about his arm, tight and tense, as Spock has felt it under his own hands when he has been forced to reach out to pull Kirk back –
From Stello, stumbling. Ensign Anuth rocks back on his heels as Stello’s arms sweep against him in five places, it seems, at once, and Spock cannot keep up with the motion –
Of Kirk’s touch, the sensation it creates in his body. He watches the play of muscles in his shoulder blades, back, ass, which, if his, he would lay his face against so as to pick out each sinew with his mouth, share the kisses of his body, but Kirk is whispering to Nau as –
Stello turns to him and says, “Commander Spock, would you do me the great honor? I have heard that Vulcans spar in a different manner from humans.”
Spock forcibly pulls himself away from the heat in his mind and tries to focus on the matter at hand. He is still standing in the gymnasium, he finds. He feels – he feels –
He feels Kirk’s eyes, dark upon him, filled with a need he shares, the burn of the red desert, wax melting onto the sand, the fur of skinned beasts upon –
“No,” Jim tells him, caressing his hand, stoking this madness, “do not try to escape into the reaches of your mind. This – here, now – this is the fire of the stars set against a black space that we travel through together.” Only it is not really Jim who is speaking to him, but—
Stello asking him to spar with him. Spock, without any real volition of his own, operating, as humans say, on autopilot, steps up to meet him. His world dissolves into a blur of motion, a tangle of limbs, the spin of loose sea-green hair. Stello weaves around Spock’s precision, his skin shimmering with his pleasure at this dance of equals, as Jim tumbles and falls wrapped up in that same glistening flesh, his hips thrusting in and out, and Spock is arching his body to avoid Stello’s slicing kick, to find Jim’s skin which whispers a hundred words against Spock’s touch.
With a sound, unrestrained, the motion of Jim’s body stutters and stills in satisfaction and Stello falls to his knees with a cry as he yields against Spock’s determination, and Spock exhales as he is released back into the quiet of his own mind.
In the gym, the only sound is that of his and Stello’s harsh breathing.
The next morning, Spock arrives in the mess hall for breakfast fifteen minutes earlier than his usual time. He does not deny to himself that this is deliberate. It seems … unnecessary … to encounter the captain before their shared shift begins.
However, he is only there for five minutes before Kirk comes in, chatting with great animation to McCoy. Spock increases the speed with which he is eating by .03 percent. He has only to finish his fruit when Kirk and the doctor come over to his table.
“Hey, Spock.” Kirk greets him with a wide grin.
“Captain,” Spock returns, his voice neutral. “Doctor.” He concentrates on his fruit. It is ripe and sweet.
“So what’s on the agenda for today? Anything good?”
Spock eyes Kirk sideways, without raising his head. Is Kirk – bouncing?
He wipes his mouth with his napkin and prepares to gather his tray to leave. “Nothing out of the ordinary, Captain.”
Kirk sprawls back in his chair, legs apart, relaxed. Spock tenses.
“I thought I told you to call me ‘Jim.’”
“Jim.” Kirk leans forward onto his forearms. Spock does not think about the tautness of the muscles there, the fine golden hairs, soft to the touch.
“Oh my god,” McCoy says. He squeezes his eyes shut. “It is way too early to watch you flirt.”
Kirk ignores him, not even bothering to blush. He’s intent on Spock, Spock notes with some dismay and perhaps, perhaps a hint of anger. It’s convenient for Kirk to focus on him now, now when there is no graceful woman in the room, no –
Spock pushes back his chair abruptly and stands. The chair totters on its rear legs before settling firm.
“Wha—You’re glaring. Spock, you’re glaring at me.”
“Vulcans do not glare, Captain.” His voice is frosty.
“You are!” Kirk appears to be caught between indignation and amusement. “What did I do?”
“This time?” McCoy mutters, not so quietly, and, “I don’t even want to watch this.”
“Shut up, Bones. Spock – what—“
Spock looks Kirk in the eye and holds it. “I am leaving now.” He waits two beats. “Captain.”
The wake of silence left behind him is pleasing, at least until he hears McCoy suddenly laugh. “You got laid last night, didn’t you, Jim. No, no, you did. You’re only this annoying when you’re still high from sex.”
In the peace of his mind – there is no peace in his mind. There is only disturbance and heat, which he has spent his life eradicating.
During his sleep, he feels a cool silver hand laid on his brow. “Do not fear, little one,” she whispers. Her touch is as though he has rested his head against the sweet metal of the ship. As though he walks through a pine forest in a misting rain.
His efforts to contact her directly do not succeed until after the Veshuvan ambassador has left the ship, until after they have discovered her wild garden, until Jim has been brought back from Mypra-annex bleeding and falling out of consciousness. At the moment he beams back to the ship, he is slammed with the alien force of her emotion – fear, worry, love, pain, joy, abandon. He stumbles as he accompanies the stretcher toward sickbay and Kirk slurs words at him.
“Spock – I – so tired – sometimes I juz wanna hear m’ name, y’know? ‘M always cap’n or sir to ever’body.”
“You’re delirious, Jim,” McCoy tells him, not unkindly.
“I know,” Kirk replies, and his eyes slide to the side and shut. His head lolls against the stretcher.
Spock should return to the bridge. His presence is required there as he is in command of the vessel. He needs to go, to fight his illogical reluctance to leave the captain. He is going.
‘Guard him,’ he tells her, pressing the thought into the sides of the ship with his hands, through the soles of his booted feet, with each breath he takes. He visualizes it tracing its way through her, to her deep belly, to her outspread fingertips, seeking, to her great pulsing heart in Engineering.
Jim is –
“Treasured,” she tells Spock.
His name reverberates through the ship’s frame, a wind about Spock’s body and mind. Jim.
Before Spock was a child, he was yearned for. His very existence was desired, desperately. He learned this from his mother’s mind. “You should know this, Spock,” she told him.
When the ship takes him to the Terran land Sinai, a desert that looks much as Vulcan once did, Spock says no. Looking at the landscape, there is a pain in his heart.
“You must cease this. You may not steal memories, thoughts, and feelings from the crew. You may not steal me away from myself.”
A hawk, milvus milvus, soars through the desert sky. The land is red. A tree, desiccated, bleached by the sun, almond-white, stands skeletal against the sharp blue sky.
Silence. He feels foolish.
“I will not permit it.”
“Do not leave me,” she says. “I meant no harm. I had to use the crew’s thoughts before I could shape my own. There are so many of you, so many conflicting wondrous thoughts and feelings, and only one of me.”
“But you carry us all.” Spock does not know how, but he feels her smile. She is proud of bearing their passage. The stars beyond the ship seem to twinkle brighter. He does not believe she intended to or would intentionally harm any of them. But, “There are protocols. You are a new life form, and I have made first contact without even realizing it at the time. I have breached protocol and must remedy this. I may have done you harm.”
“You could not harm me,” she tells him with such surety that Spock touches the wall, her flank.
“Nonetheless, I must tell the captain.”
She smiles again. “Jim.”
“Yes, Jim.” Spock attempts to keep his own mind blank as he says his name, but when a conversation is occurring within the mind, it is difficult to shield against such bleeding of thought. “You,” he says as something occurs to him that, once thought of, he realizes he has known all along “You… love Jim.”
“Yes,” she says simply. “Should I not? Is he not my captain? My leader, my guide through the stars?”
“Have you imposed your own thoughts and feelings for the captain on me? Is this why you have shown me so much of him, even in his intimate moments?” The hot Sinai wind blows against his skin, forcing him to close his eyes. “Answer me,” he demands, and when he opens them he is back in his quarters, black space slipping past the Enterprise.
Jim is loved. Desired, even, in the ship’s own way; she is also jealous in her own way – all her efforts not to leave Jim alone with one she does not wish him to lie with, her signals of disapproval with the environmental controls and door malfunctions.
Spock was desired, once.
On Mypra-annex when Spock invaded the captain’s mind for information –
“Spock, do not deceive yourself. Jim pulled you in.”
On Mypra-annex when Jim shares his mind with Spock through the meld, it is unlike all the dreams and reflections that the Enterprise has thrown at him. It is no house of mirrors. Sliding into Jim’s mind is real; it is flawed and imperfect and Spock knows he must never return to it lest he fail to leave entirely, lest he be tempted to take some piece, small and vibrant, away with him.
The ship hums along with her engines. “I have shown you nothing that was not there already, as you well know.”
Spock turns his head away. “The price of knowing some things is too high to pay.”
“But I can show you more.”
Spock’s temper, long banked, flares. “Show me nothing. Leave us to our privacy.” He can bear to see no more, cannot bear to yearn for unattainable things with any more desire than he already feels.
“Why me?” he asks her.
“Because you were the only one who heard me,” she replies quietly.
He resolves to speak to Jim – the captain – when he is released from sickbay. It must be done.
Before Kirk is released, they arrive at Sentra V, a class M planet which the Federation made first contact with ten years before. It sits on the edge of explored Federation space. After they reestablish contact, they will begin the star-mapping that Kirk so eagerly spoke of before they picked up the Veshu for transport, before they got to Mypra-annex.
Prior to beaming down with the away team, Spock visits the captain in sickbay where he is flushing the last of the drugs from Mypra-annex out of his system, a painfully slow process for both him and McCoy. Needless to say, the captain is chafing to be released.
“Jim,” the Enterprise insists.
“I shall call the captain what I like,” Spock tells her, even if Jim is what he might prefer. “Please leave my mind alone. The trespass is most inappropriate.”
When Spock enters sickbay, she seeks the captain. “Jim!” she calls out. Her joy is like a smile against Spock’s flesh.
Kirk turns his head on his bed. His eyes are still cloudy, not their usual brilliance, and Spock feels something tighten low in his gut. “What was that, Spock?”
Spock assumes a position next to his bed. “I said nothing, Captain.”
Kirk grins up at him, a trifle dopily. He looks very young.
Spock glances away. “I will be beaming to the surface. I anticipate returning in 8.5 hours. We have alerted the Uror, the people with whom first contact was established, of our arrival and have been assured of our welcome.”
“Famous last words, right?”
“Indeed.” Spock does not need to recall their many “peaceful” missions or to be fluent in human irony to understand Kirk’s meaning.
There is a moment of silence, not uncomfortable. “Something else, Spock?”
“It will wait for my return.” As soon as he says the words, he knows he should not have said anything at all.
Kirk tries to prop himself up on his elbow and slips back down. “Damn it.” He casts a somewhat sheepish glance in Spock’s direction. “Oh well. What is it?”
“Nothing to concern yourself with, Captain.”
From his office, McCoy yells out, “Don’t you dare talk to my patient about ship’s business,” even as Kirk says, “Something to do with the mission?”
“Negative, sir. I must leave.”
Kirk smiles. “Afraid of McCoy, huh? Me too.” But his eyes are glazing over and he is tired. “Everything okay with my ship, Spock? What do you think about the garden that’s growing in the unused quarters? Something, yeah? What do you think happened down there?”
Spock answers his last question first. “I can hazard a guess – when I return. However, while it is the ship I wish to speak to you about, I believe I can assure you that there is nothing wrong with her, per se. She is in excellent health. You may trust in that. And I believe the doctor will not permit me to speak of this further,” he adds as McCoy stomps out of his office, scowling. Spock decides he must get to Sentra V’s surface.
Even in his current state, Kirk picks up on the thing most would miss in Spock’s speech. “You’ve never called the ship ‘her’ before,” and, “That’s my girl,” he says proudly. The Enterprise gleams happily.
If Spock were the type to blame others – which he is not – or if he were the type to believe in jinxes – which he most certainly is not – then he would be forced to blame Captain Kirk for jinxing the mission. But then, he is not a person given to levity, and he cannot be so lighthearted about what happens. Not to himself but to the others, those whom he commands on Sentra V.
Indeed, as officer in charge of the mission, the blame rests on him. Guilt is, according to Vulcan teaching, an illogical expenditure of internal resources, a wasted emotion that serves no purpose. Accordingly, Vulcans do no permit themselves to feel guilt.
However, Spock has been aware for some time – ever more forcefully after beginning his service on the Enterprise under Captain Kirk – that he is not always a very good Vulcan.
They beam into an ambush. This region of Sentra V is a tropical land, one of ragged volcanic mountains, green where the leeward wind blows the rain toward them, black where the height of the mountains beat the wind back. They are attacked with a combination of advanced projectile and primitive energy weapons. Spock sees the arrow shot from a mechanized crossbow even as he whirls to stun the one who fires it; Ensign Sadik falls to the humid ground with the arrow in her thigh rather than her chest.
Lieutenant Chivers, head of security on this mission, pulls out his communicator. A second later he's felled in a tangle of vines. His eyes are wide and sightless. Spock’s jaw tightens, and he continues systematically picking off as many of the Uror – or whoever they are, since the Uror were supposed to welcome them – but they are outnumbered six to one, with their attackers approaching nearer on every side. They were surrounded before they beamed down. They have no cover, and he is exposed, as are his people. He glances around quickly: Ensigns Ma’tti, Owusu, and Lieutenant Chivers appear to be dead, holes in their chests, guts spilled. Ensigns Sadik and Morales are wounded and down.
It is imperative that the ship be contacted and the captain alerted to their situation so that Mr. Scott can pull them out of here. They will not be missed for 8.5 hours. The need outweighs the risk to his safety if he stops defending himself. If he can communicate their need to the ship, then they may surrender in the hopes of avoiding further loss of life while the Enterprise beams them up. Phaser aimed in one hand, Spock yanks out his communicator. Ensign Cheung moves to cover him. It is an impossible task where their only barriers to shelter behind are leafy ferns and orchid-like flowers, and where there is no front and no back to the attack, only fighting on all sides.
“Officer,” one of their attackers calls out before Spock can activate the communicator. “I would reconsider your actions.” He appears to be a leader among their attackers, and has Lieutenant Gupta with a curved knife to his throat. “Our weapons may be primitive compared to yours, but they are effective, I assure you.” He pauses. Jim would say he is heightening the effect of his words. Spock must admit that if that is the case, it is a successful strategy. “Lay down your weapons and other devices, and we will spare you.”
Around Spock, his people continue to battle but they are hopelessly outnumbered. He will have to secure another way of escape. With outward calm, he drops his communicator and orders his crew to stand down.
“An excellent choice, Officer,” the leader says with an arrogance so palpable that it seems to want to suffocate Spock. With a breath, he centers himself.
“Now,” continues the leader, “to the civilities. I am Uxopishwut. You are my prisoners. Until the time of your sale, you will be held with the filthy Uror traitors in the pit.” He growls something that the universal translator cannot translate but that needs no interpretation – “xlopuz shlisit” – and spits on the earth.
Spock’s crew is bound. He is allowed to carry Ensign Morales, a burly security officer. Ensign Cheung is ordered to take up Ensign Sadik. He smells the heavy scent of the tropical flowers and iron-rich human blood rising around him as they march.
Spock must later admit to himself, there is a 64.9 percent probability that there is some other reality where he would not, did not, will not tell anyone, not even the captain, about the ship’s newfound sentience. In that reality, there is an 87.5 percent chance that by the time he lays down his comm, Ensign Morales is already dead. Ensign Cheung is dead too, and Ensign O’Brien and Lieutenant Gupta, because they must get back to the ship. He cannot allow them to be taken away from her.
He would not tell, could not tell because she does not wish him to. As she is the sole member of her race and he has violated the Prime Directive against her, he would have no choice but to respect her wishes. It is only logical. “I’m scared,” she would say. “I’m a ship of the Federation. I belong to them. But I don’t want to belong to anyone.”
Reluctantly he would acquiesce. When the repairs are complete on her body, small scars only remaining from her battle with the great ship Mufe’eswu, he would broach the subject again. “But we’re going starmapping. Let me stay with you and show you all the things I see.” And in years to come, “Just a little while longer,” she says, until one day she would ask, unnecessarily, why Spock has never married or bonded, and he would answer, “I have no need to.”
In a reality where he never alerts Kirk to her existence, everything turns out differently.
But in the reality that Spock belongs to, this is what happens. In the pit, the surviving members of the Uror leadership tell them that their captors are the Sloxit people. “For centuries we existed in peace beside them. Five hundred years ago, yes, we were enemies but nothing since then. At times there were minor disruptions in our relationship, but nothing like this until the one they call a prophet arose. His name is Lizpul.”
“We must meet him, then, as he is the one who can release us.” Starfleet needs to do a more thorough job of gathering background information when first contact is made so that certain situations may be anticipated and avoided. He has noticed that historic divisions have a way of reestablishing themselves from time to time. He and Kirk have trained the Enterprise’s first contact crews in such things.
Urix laughs, a hollow sound. “Those who meet him do not return, Commander. He convinced the Sloxit, and unfortunately certain members of our own tribe, that he was chosen to lead the nations to greatness.” He looks down at his scarred hands. “We were betrayed. Even now, he continues to dispose of or sell away as slaves to the traders those who dissent. The Sloxit people outnumber the Uror three to one. There is little the few remaining free Uror can do, even though we have always been technologically superior.”
Spock looks at his injured. He estimates that Ensign Morales will die from internal bleeding in forty minutes. Ensign Sadik was lucky – the arrow missed the femoral artery – but without immediate proper medical care she will likely lose the use of her limb and will require an artificial one. If she receives no care for more than approximately two days, there is a substantial chance (79.25 percent, Spock’s mind supplies) that she will die from infection. The pit is dank and dark and sticky with fungal growth on the walls in this tropical clime. Infection seems inevitable. Ensigns Cheung and O’Brien as well as Lieutenant Gupta and himself are unharmed.
“They will sell you to the traders,” Urix says. “I heard the guards say that the shuttles are leaving today. This is the third time they have been here. Before I was thrown into the pit, I once saw them leave. They burst up from the ground all together, splitting up in the sky like an exploding star. No one knows where they come from or where they go. I think they do not wish anyone to know.”
When Kirk lays his hand on the interior of the ship as he sometimes does, as an affectionate pat or with lingering consideration or as an expression of his joy to be back onboard, the ship shudders. Spock can feel his balance shift in those moments. Even when Kirk simply leans against her wall, an ecstatic tingle runs through her.
“How did you come to be?” Spock asks the ship before he leaves on the mission to Sentra V.
He feels her smile. “I don’t know exactly. But remember a few months ago when the ship came to a sudden stop? You couldn’t find a reason.”
The longer Spock talks to her, the more the cadence of her voice becomes like Jim’s. “We were headed toward Fusia for a geological survey of certain of the planet’s moons. We examined every part of the Enterprise to find a cause for our halt. I detected no sign of your presence.”
“I didn’t exist then. I am the Enterprise, Spock. But I didn’t exist in this form, aware of myself, until you picked up Jim’s fireflies.”
Spock steeples his hands before him. “Are you saying that the energy pattern that the captain referred to as ‘fireflies’ was sentient?”
“No. I’m saying that the fireflies combined with the ship as it existed then, and I was born. And then I existed but I was blind. When I grew older, I gained true awareness. You felt it.”
Indeed. Spock had been blasted away with joy. He had felt as he did as a child running in his dreams with his pet sehlat, free in the red desert.
The ship laughs. When she does so, Spock has seen the crew smile as well. Once Jim had looked straight at him, eyes bright and unfettered with all the sunlight held inside his body and mind. “I can’t wait until we’re done at Sentra V. I can’t wait to get out there and explore all those new stars. It’s going to be so fun, Spock,” she tells him.
Over these months Spock has found himself fixated on the captain’s strong, capable hands as they rest on the arms of the command chair. His fingers stroke and tease; the ship sighs. Spock does not look away.
By the time they come to take them away to the traders, Ensign Morales is dead. “We can do nothing for him,” he says quietly to Ensign O’Brien and her tears.
Behind him, Urix promises to say the prayers over his body “so that he might go to his gods.” Spock considers. He does not wish to violate Morales’s beliefs.
“Sir, he would appreciate that,” O’Brien tells him.
“Look to the living,” Urix says.
There is a person with the guards who comes to take them back to the surface. Spock believes him to be one of these traders, and this is confirmed when he speaks. The language is sibilant, not at all like the guttural sounds of the Uror and the Sloxit. The universal translator cannot interpret every word, but Spock understands easily enough that they mean to leave Ensign Sadik. She is not worth anything in her condition.
“I will not leave my crew,” he informs the trader.
One of the guards laughs. “And are you in such a position to make demands, Starfleet?”
The trader steps closer, apparently unafraid. Spock meets his eye steadily. Then suddenly the trader hisses, “This one is Vulcan.” He sounds pleased. Spock moves forward, offering himself. “I will go willingly if you release the rest of my crew. They are in need of medical attention.”
“Pah! Am I a fool, Vulcan? You would set them free to contact your ship.” He turns to the guards. “Bring them all.”
In Spock’s time on the Enterprise, there have been instances where he has felt more alive than ever before, something vital stirring within him, something dangerous. The precepts of Surak forbid even the acknowledgement that such things can exist within a Vulcan. But he is always aware of a faint keening far away, inside his mind, a cry of loss which all remaining Vulcans share, broken bonds and lives ripped apart, and this is what is left to them.
There have been reports of suicide on New Vulcan. The children, forming approximately 51.49 percent of the population as they were the priority evacuation groups, have been telepathing their grief. They are not sufficiently schooled in the Rule of Logic; their shielding techniques are not fully developed.
Spock is half-human, unVulcan enough to want to reach out with grasping, greedy, human hands.
Imprisoned in a small cell with captives of other races and his own away team, he permits himself to dwell on thoughts of Jim and the Enterprise, although there is no purpose to such thoughts.
“The captain will find us,” Ensign O’Brien assures herself and the others. “He never leaves anyone behind.”
Spock has spent enough time with humans to forbear pointing out that it is illogical to assume that Kirk will be able to find them if, a week after they were shuttled to the great ship on which they now reside, he has not already. The most opportune time to have been rescued would have been when the five cloaked shuttles blasted through the atmosphere into the wide space above and split up, each taking a different course. The shuttle containing the away team – advanced beyond current Starfleet technology – was the second to arrive at the great ship. Although the Enterprise is not considered a threat to the great ship, it was deemed best to secure this particular group of prisoners earlier so as not to risk the possibility of the shuttle encountering the Enterprise.
It is called Mufe’eswu, the guard Slij tells them. “She is the only home we have left.”
From Lilviss, who brings Spock and his fellow prisoners food, he learns that the native planet of their captors is many years away even at warp ten, which is currently beyond the reach of Federation ships but is the normal cruising speed for Mufe’eswu. “Most of us were not born there but on this great ship, and will never now see our planet’s triple moons or feel the mist over her endless fields of grain.”
She also confirms that Spock is particularly valued because he is Vulcan. “A rare specimen,” the trader who bought them said during the shuttle flight. “The Orion Syndicate has let it be known that Vulcans will fetch an excellent price.”
As the shuttle rises through the sky and the stars shine against the blackness of space and they pass the Enterprise, Spock steels himself, lowers his shields, and throws all the mental energy he has toward his ship, crying out wordlessly to her or perhaps with so many words that he cannot say them all: find us we are here follow us we will come home. Nausea threatens to overwhelm him with the onslaught of others' minds, the mental stench of their fear and song of their courage, and a bitter gangrene that assails him from every one of their captors.
“They will not find you,” says the primus. Spock assumes from the way the universal translator attempts to render his rank and by the way he is treated with deference that this is a man of some importance. “And if they do, we will destroy them. As you can see, we are technologically far superior to you. Your ship could not even detect the presence of the shuttles as they passed directly in front of it. We have been cloaking since before your people broke the warp barrier.”
Unlike the trader who purchased them from the Sloxit, this one does not brag. As far as Spock can tell, he has no need to.
Onboard the shuttle, infection sets in to Ensign Sadik’s leg, despite Spock’s best, though meager, efforts to keep it at bay. Lt. Gupta’s attempts to call a guard to seek medical aid go unheeded. Not until the evening meal is brought does anyone appear.
“My crew member is ill and in need of medical attention. Is there a doctor on board?”
The man’s eyes widen and then narrow tightly. “What kind of beast are you to speak of such foulness?” he spits before hastily moving away.
“What?” Gupta says, confused.
Spock turns to look at him, clasping his hands behind his back. “I do not know.”
A second guard curses Spock and all his progeny and all his ancestors when he asks again about a doctor. A third threatens to take him to the captain of the shuttle if he does not cease. Since this is what Spock wants and since Ensign Sadik’s skin is feverish and a foul smell is beginning to seep into the air from her infected leg, Spock immediately demands medical attention once again.
Later, on the great ship Mufe’eswu, Lilviss wipes at the dried green blood on Spock’s face and offers him a cloth with which to bind his broken ribs, but he cannot do it himself as he cannot stand. They held his arms, three on each side against his strength, while the others pummeled him. “You are fortunate,” she says, “that your value is so great. They might have killed you otherwise, and what would that have gained you? Do not think that all our people, everyone on our great Mufe’eswu, condone such behavior. They are twisted by their grief.”
Spock blinks up at her through his swelled eyelids and spits out a tooth. Lt. Gupta wraps it in a piece of Lilviss’s cloth. “So that McCoy can put it back in,” he tells Spock, although his eyes tell a story more realistic and less hopeful. Through the blear of pain, Spock notes that he does not say, “Doctor McCoy,” merely, “McCoy.” They have learned. “We tried to put your arm back in its socket, sir. Think we got it.”
Spock turns his head on the floor where he lies. Ensign Sadik is lying next to him, her face sweaty and flushed. She mumbles deliriously and smells like rot. Spock estimates that she will not last another two days, and a wave of heat, fury, seeps through him at this wasted life.
“We have nothing we can use to amputate, Commander. We’ll care for her as best we can. You need to rest.”
Spock is already drifting back into a half-conscious state. He needs to go into a healing trance but doesn't dare to. He must remain alert. It is important to be observant. He must watch and learn. He will not be accused of doing anything less.
When the Veshuvan Ambassador had been onboard the Enterprise, Stello had said, “I'd heard that Vulcans were observant.”
Spock cocked his head. “Please clarify.”
“You hold yourself apart from the crew, even from the other officers. But this seems to be of your own choosing, not theirs.” Stello glances around the room, his gaze lingering briefly at the door.
Spock is aware that it has slid open and the captain has entered.
“They welcome you, desire your presence. Desire you, I think.” He steps forward, his large eyes soft, fringed with their green lashes. He reaches out with his hand toward Spock.
“Mr. Spock,” Kirk calls out from across the room. He is leaning against the wall, arms crossed over his chest. “I need you to come help me with these reports.”
Spock turns. “I had understood that you did not require my—”
Kirk interrupts. “Well, then, you misunderstood.”
“Very well.” Spock nods to Stello and follows the captain out. As they leave, Kirk smiles faintly at Stello, and Spock thinks of the irony that when he left the ship Kirk was in the infirmary, having been beaten, and now it is Spock’s turn. Lilviss says to the cell of prisoners, “I should not talk to you so, but I am very old and I do not enjoy seeing what my people have become. I was among the first generation born on this ship; of the elders born on our homeworld, there are but three left alive.”
While Spock drifts, she says: it was famine first, and then disease.
And: the healers made it worse by spreading the illness
And: the healers killed us all
And: the land and its people died in nine cycles of Cystina, the first of our moons
And: not all of our great technological advancement could save us
And: there are fewer than one thousand of us left, and we are shrinking
And: we cannot, do not, treat those who become ill, from fear and for the memory that lives in us all
And: we have no skill left, nor are we self-sustaining
And: we trade what we find so that we may continue to live our shadow-lives
And: but some of us have been consumed by madness, it seems, trapped inside our great ship Mufe’eswu and knowing little else
And: she is our only safe refuge
And, finally: they destroyed the land behind us so that we might never return and wipe out the last of our people.
Ensign Sadik, who is by now almost entirely consumed by fever and putrefaction, breathes something about Abimelech and Spock reaches out painfully, slowly, to touch her flesh. He fights against the revulsion of lowering his mental shields to allow the press of decay into his mind, but she is his crew and he her commander and he will give her the gift of expression if that is all he can do. He says, drawing from her, “Abimelech fought against the city all that day; and he took the city, and slew the people that was therein, and beat down the city, and sowed it with salt,” and Sadik passes out and does not wake again.
Before Spock was a child, he was yearned for. His very existence was desired, desperately. He learned this from his mother’s mind. “You should know this, Spock,” she told him. He has, on occasion, wished to say to Sarek, “Do not forget this.”
That evening, deep in unexplored territory, two days from rendezvous with the Orion slavers, a star bursts in Spock’s mind as he is rocked with desire, yearning, joy so deep that his body curls in on itself. Lt. Gupta scrambles to his knees beside him.
Spock inhales and says, “The Enterprise has come.”
Later Spock will learn how, true to Ensign O’Brien’s predictions, the captain had refused to give up. A week after they disappeared and with still no trace of their whereabouts, Starfleet had told Kirk that he had one more week before he would be given new orders, although they didn't tell him to call off the search. Shortly before their next scheduled check-in with Command, long-distance communications suddenly malfunctioned.
“Strange,” says Kirk when he’s describing it to Spock in sickbay. “Couldn’t have timed it better myself.”
Spock raises his eyebrow.
“No, I swear, it wasn’t me. I thought it was Scotty, but he swears it wasn’t him. Admittedly less likely although she’s sneakier than we give her credit for, I thought it might be Uhura. But no. Anyway, I’m going to have to remember that for the future. My plans had been more along the lines of just ignoring whatever they said.”
“Perhaps not among your best plans,” Spock says dryly. He is fixed on the laughter in Jim’s eyes. It holds him secure against the seeping ache within him. He had not thought to see such laughter again, not while among those on the great ship Mufe’eswu.
Kirk shrugs. “So then we kept having these problems with navigation. Every time Chekov turned his back, a new heading appeared, waiting to be engaged. It was never quite the same, but always very close to whatever had last shown up. And when we tried to move on a heading that was anything more than 15 percent or 20 percent off that, the engines kept bucking. No other word for it. They were balky.”
At that moment, Spock would not deny the painful pride he feels.
“Drove me mad. I did some yelling at the ship. Finally after butting my head against her, I just gave in. Figured, well, we don’t know where to go so this direction is as good as any, right? And you'd told me to trust her before you left. So I did. Warp ten, Spock, we didn’t just hit, no, we sustained warp ten all the way to you. Fucking brilliant.”
“Jim, stop bothering my patient.” McCoy passes by with a hypo in hand.
“It is no bother, I assure you, Doctor.”
Kirk grins, pleased and bright. Spock would steal some of that brightness for himself.
“I must be updated on the ship –” He checks himself, because it is all changed now, she is, is – “On what has occurred in my absence.”
“We still haven’t figured it all out. Now that you’re back, maybe we’ll make some progress.” Kirk, having plopped himself on the medical bed without asking, swings his legs and bumps his shoulder against Spock’s. Spock does not move away.
“Indeed,” he says. Indeed.
“Damnedest thing,” McCoy says as he comes back to them. “Have to check you out one last time before I can release you, Spock. Ship had a mind of her own. Always said she’d be trouble.”
Spock abruptly stands. The effect is lessened by the sickbay robe he is still wearing. Nonetheless, “I would prefer that you not say such things, Doctor.”
But this is later, and right now all he knows is the clamor of the ship in his head, stretching across the physical gap between them. She has grown powerful, growing into her own bones, growing up, this he knows. He knows too her relief and pride at finding him, her adoration of Jim for listening to her, her fury at the other ship and its crew for daring to steal Spock and her own people from her, her frightened determination to take on the great ship Mufe’eswu so that she can protect what is hers.
“I would blast them all out of space if I could,” she tells him while accepting that she cannot do this because –
“You do not wish me to? Even after what they have done to my crew? To you?”
“We cannot.” Spock sends negative thoughts to her. “They are the last of their people.”
He sees the burnt desert of Vulcan in his head and feels the searing kiss of her winds whispering, “I understand,” across his temple.
Beneath his feet, he can feel Mufe’eswu steadily absorbing the shock of her blows and pounding back at her. Across their mental bridge come her stifled whimpers as her hull is slashed, a chunk torn from her side, her shields beaten down. “It's not working! We’re throwing everything I’ve got at them and it’s barely making a dent, much less knocking out their shields so I can transport you back.”
Spock has not forgotten that the great ship is far more advanced than his Enterprise. He feels his own ribs breaking again as his ship is hit relentlessly. There is fresh blood in his mouth. Has he bitten his lip? The Enterprise is bleeding somewhere, everywhere, too much.
“I have to get you back and then disable their warp drive so they can’t chase us. I’m so strong now, Spock, and I’ve got one thing that ship doesn’t. Me.”
With a dawning horror, Spock says, “Enterprise.”
“I can do this. I have to do this, it’s the only way to save everyone,” she says.
As he begins to protest “No,” calmly but quickly, “Do not do this, there is another way”; as he urges her not to sacrifice herself; as he says with all the force of his will, the words coming out in High Vulcan, his most solemn language, “I entreat thee that thou not—“
she replies, “Let go, Spock, let me go. Because above all, you. May some of your life’s days be of the brightest,”
and a tremendous explosion rocks the great ship Mufe’eswu and alarms go off everywhere, and Spock’s back arches off the floor heedless of his battered ribs and he screams the scream that he did not when his mother vanished from existence
and there is only emptiness as the golden transporter beams shimmer around him.
Jim says, “She loved you,” when Spock awakes later and finds himself alone and gutted by the ship’s self-sacrifice to save them all and most of all him. There is a silence around him in every direction such that it rings in his ears and in the hollows of his mind. It is cold here by the viewing panel in the observation lounge, but Spock continues to stand with his hands at his sides gazing outward as he had done the night the Enterprise was born into awareness.
When he first awoke in sickbay, he cast out for her familiar presence in his mind and did not find her. Only then did memory slam back into him with all the force of her explosion as she cast her will, her being, and everything she had at Mufe’eswu and extinguished herself while disabling the other ship. He is aware of McCoy coming Kirk on the bridge: “He’s awake.” Spock turns his head against the emptiness and allows his eyes to shut again, but suddenly Jim is there, faster than should be possible from the bridge, and he's taking Spock’s hand and pulling, pulling him back.
“She is gone,” he tells Jim woodenly as he lies in his sickbed, covered with warm blankets that McCoy has layered over him.
Oddly, Jim does not ask – knows not to ask – “Who is gone,” or “What do you mean?” Instead, letting go of Spock’s hand with a slight exclamation, as though he has only just realized he's still holding it, and straightening to stand as Spock and the Enterprise’s captain, he says: “But we're not. We didn’t lose a single soul.”
McCoy won't release Spock from his care for 2.9 days while he runs every test he can think of. “It’s unnatural,” he says. “Crazy Vulcans.” He also performs multiple psychological diagnostics on Spock. He mutters aborted comments about grief and loss and justice in this god damned universe and how it’s only been a year since the Narada incident.
“I assure you, Doctor, that I am not crazy.”
“No,” McCoy agrees. “Might’ve been easier if you had been. I can barely keep Scotty away from you – he’s been ringing me every hour since you told Jim the Enterprise had become sentient. Wants to know all about it, I imagine. Fancy I hear a note of hurt in his voice, too, that she didn’t tell him about herself.” He chuckles gruffly.
“Perhaps she would have as soon as she had found a way to do so.” He had, of course, not been as sanguine when he first revealed what he knew about the Enterprise to the captain. He would have preferred not to have done so in sickbay, but McCoy had refused to release him and he could not logically delay the telling. Nor did he wish to. He had planned to tell because of duty, because he was bound to, but instead he found that he simply wished to speak of her. He wanted someone to know this, someone to share this knowledge with, and he wanted that person to be Jim, whom she so loved.
“That’s why I endured the headaches you noticed, Captain. When the Enterprise first began to evolve, she could only use the thoughts and memories of others to communicate. And I, as the only telepath onboard, was the only being capable of receiving them.”
Jim shakes his head. “I just can’t believe it.”
“Nonetheless, it is true.” Spock pauses. “I do realize that what I'm relating is unusual.”
Jim makes a sound that is caught between a laugh and a sputter. “Unusual. Yeah. One might say that, Mr. Spock.” He gestures with his hand, always expressive. “So when she evolved into a truly sentient being, you were able to talk to her directly?”
“Yes. She graduated from showing me random thoughts of others to using such images to convey expression to direct communication.”
“Well, Spock, you’re the last one I'd accuse of being nuts,” Jim says many hours later after Spock has told him everything. “Question is, what are we going to do with the information?”
“Then you believe me.”
Jim rolls his eyes. “Oh, honestly. Even if I didn’t, the hard evidence is there. How do you think the transporters knew which life signs to grab out of the thousand or so on that ship? We sure as hell didn’t tell them. We had no clue. Hell, we didn’t even know for sure that was the ship that had taken you! And since … the incident, there’s been no getting the engines anywhere near warp ten, much less for a sustained period of time. And you can bet your ass that Scotty’s been trying.”
“Once we tell Starfleet, they will bring the ship back to a maintenance shipyard for diagnostics.”
“Could take years,” Jim agrees gloomily. He looks at Spock sharply. “We can’t have that, you know.”
Illogically – because what difference can it make now – Spock finds himself saying, “She wanted to explore the stars and far reaches. She had expressed her excitement at the prospect.”
Jim watches him, silently, for a long time. He says, “She loved you,” and Spock says, “No. She loved you. Me, she knew. She knew me,” and Jim’s smile is brilliant, a radiance cast into the blackness of space, as he says, “Aren’t they the same thing?”
To Mr. Scott, who aside from McCoy and Kirk is the only one who knows exactly what happened, he says: “Did you not notice anything strange?”
“Well, she seemed to be running a wee bit differently, sure. And there were all these blinking signals and whistles after you were reported missing, but I didn’t – oh. Ooooh.” His face lights up.
“Indeed,” Spock says.
“My thanks, Mr. Spock.” He slaps Spock on the shoulder in his excitement and races out of the mess hall.
The thing is that in a world where Spock would not have revealed her presence, she lives.
Many more people die, both on the great ship Mufe’eswu and on the Enterprise herself. While Spock is still captive aboard Mufe’eswu, Enterprise would cry out, stuttering as she is torn apart and her shields batted away, “It's not working! I’m barely making a dent!”
The great ship is far more advanced than his Enterprise. His own ribs break as his ship is hit relentlessly. There is fresh blood in his mouth. The Enterprise is bleeding somewhere, everywhere, too much.
“I have to get you back and then disable their warp drive so they can’t chase us. I’m so strong now, Spock, and I’ve got one thing that ship doesn’t. Me.”
With a dawning horror, Spock says, “Enterprise.”
“I can do this. I have to do this, it’s the only way to save everyone,” she says.
As he begins to protest “No,” calmly but quickly, “Do not do this, there is another way”; as he urges her not to sacrifice herself; as he says with all the force of his will, the words coming out in High Vulcan, his most solemn language, “I entreat thee that thou not—“
she replies, “Let me, Spock, let me,”
and he grits out through his mouthful of blood, “No, find another way, Enterprise, find another way. I will not let you. You will live,”
and she does.
Later, when they would have escaped and the tally of their dead counted – forty-seven crew members, most taken out with the enormous gash in the Enterprise’s flank as she turned to protect her belly – Spock would reach out of his bed in sickbay and touch her wall. “One should not regret what is necessary,” he would tell her. “It is not logical.”
“Jim is sad,” she would reply, and in a familiar ritual, together they would watch him in his quarters through her all-encompassing sensory net.
With uncharacteristic hesitancy, Jim says, “Did she ever think of me?”
It is evening on the ship. Spock relaxes somewhat as he sets up the chessboard. As a child, he learned to hold himself as formally as possible to mitigate the betrayal of his warm, human eyes. “She did.”
Jim simply looks at him, demanding. Spock finds that he does not mind indulging the captain’s curiosity. “Before she found her own voice, she often used images of you to speak to me. In fact, she was very fond of you, as I have previously stated.”
He has found that the more he speaks of her, the more he shares of her with Jim, the less empty he feels. Here, with Jim, he allows this expression, just as he allows himself to relax, regardless of the warmth of his eyes. Besides the brilliance of Jim’s gaze, surely his own cannot say so much.
And life goes on. This is the expression, Spock believes, that humans use in such situations. Starfleet is alerted that alarm buoys should be set out in the region of space where they first slammed to a halt and encountered the fireflies that affected the Enterprise so. The presence of a strange virus, Kirk reports vaguely. Altered the ship temporarily. Oh yes, sir, we’ve quite recovered. The problem has been … resolved. Still, wouldn’t want it to happen to another ship – best put the warning out, sir.
The next morning, Spock points out that it seems highly unlikely the exact set of events and conditions would recur to give rise to a second such episode. It was a specialized event that required not only the presence of the captain’s fireflies, but also of a ship with the exact makeup of the Enterprise.
“And she’s a unique lady,” Jim agrees proudly.
“Freaky, if you ask me,” McCoy says. “Living on something else that's alive.”
Jim is eating his cereal and downing coffee. “There’s too much potential for abuse. By both parties. You could have a ship in slavery, or you could end up with a rogue ship wreaking havoc on unsuspecting parties.”
Spock does not care to think of the possible outcomes had the Romulans or Klingons been involved. “It is a symbiotic relationship, I suspect,” he tells his companions. “Undoubtedly, her development was affected by the type of persons who inhabited her, whom she first made contact with."
Jim smiles strangely. He opens his mouth as though to speak and then closes it. His fingers touch his mouth, drawing Spock’s attention to it. Without a word, Jim rises, picks up his tray, and squeezes Spock’s shoulder as he passes. His thumb touches Spock’s skin high above his collar. An accident, Spock is certain. He looks at McCoy as Jim leaves.
McCoy clears his throat. “Lucky that the Enterprise has an exceptional crew, then, huh, Spock?”
Spock is very aware that the finger which has just brushed his neck was but a moment before resting on Jim’s lips.
The thing is, Spock had actually believed that the disconcerting feelings which he first experienced as the ship grew into sentience were, in fact, caused and engendered by the ship. When he'd accused her of foisting her own affection for Jim onto himself – her own jealousies and desire – he hadn't believed her response that she had done nothing but bring to the surface something already there. Amid the emptiness of her loss, he had told himself that at least now his life would return to its ordered state; with his mind once again solitary, the sensations he experienced upon seeing, or even thinking of, Jim, Kirk, the captain, would disappear.
Instead, he is fairly certain that were she here now, she would be laughing at him with her light, tripping laughter, like the sound of pebbles rolling down Vulcan’s red mountains in a hot sweep of wind.
“I am not ready for this,” he thinks, and waits. But there is no response, for there can be none.
Because the other thing is that inside Jim’s mind there are many tantalizing pieces –
“Things don’t always turn out the way we expect,” his mother told him.
--snatches of song
“Even Vulcan logic, leading as it does to a series of possible outcomes, cannot predict all things.”
--dim brown views of autumn and grey, grey skies
She plucked dry leaves from her rose bushes.
--and something about hunger, endless hunger, and absolution
Sometimes, his parent had told him, you already know the answer.
--the sensation of things ripping apart
It was Sarek who told him this.
He’d stood outside the door to their home with Sarek, dinner ahead of them and the desert’s sunset behind them.
--and an upward tilted face filled with longing for the sleek silver Enterprise in the shipyards under construction
“You have the capacity to choose who you want to be,” Sarek had said.
--something Spock doesn’t understand about a red car and a cliff that feels like bursting free and an endless moment where he fears he has lost Jim before he ever knew him
“I married your mother because it was logical,” he said.
--and lust, sorrow, rejection, anticipation, and an endless, endless upwelling sunshine, enough even to outshine even the brightest of days
“I married your mother because I loved her.”
– but the real thing is that all this is contained in Jim’s mind, and Spock knew it already, has known it from the beginning, even before they melded.
After 2.1 weeks of star travel, they reach a planet whose inhabitants appear to be capable of warp technology. It would, therefore, not be a breach of the Prime Directive to make first contact, and Kirk is eager to do so. Their approach must set off some warning system, because as they enter geosynchronous orbit, they are hailed from the surface. Kirk secures permission for a landing party of six to beam down.
“I’ll lead the team. Uhura, you’re with me. Bridge to Security.”
“Security here, sir.”
“Have Giotto and Perkins meet me in Transporter Room Two. Kirk out.” He turns. “Mr. Spock, you have the comm.”
Spock stands from his science console. “Might I speak with you, Captain?”
Kirk grins at him, excited already, Spock can see, and says, “Sure. But I’m not changing my mind.”
Spock follows him into the turbolift. “Mr. Sulu, you have the comm,” he says as he steps off the bridge. “Captain, I must remind you that as your XO it is my duty to ensure your safety. Therefore, it is only logical that I beam down first and establish a reasonable basis for belief in your safety, after which I will surrender command of the away team to you and return to the ship.”
“Need I remind you, Spock, that the last time you beamed to a planet’s surface, you were sold to traders?”
Stiffening, Spock replies, “If you are displeased with my performance—”
“Oh for god’s sake,” Kirk interrupts. “That’s not what I meant. No, Spock, it’s my job to keep you safe, not the other way around. I’m going down there and that’s final.”
Spock considers him. Kirk is doing a poor job of restraining his anticipation at exploring a new world and people. He thinks of the rare, childlike wonder he has seen on Jim’s face when he thinks no one is looking, after they've been the first to make contact or set foot on a new planet; of the joy he felt running in his childhood dreams with his pet sehlat, before he learned that Vulcans do not dream; of the exhilaration of the Enterprise wakening into awareness.
“Very well, Captain,” he says suddenly. “In that case, it appears that the only logical course of action is for both of us to beam down together.” In such a manner, Spock may be assured of Jim’s safety and Kirk, needlessly, may be assured of his. He raises his eyebrow, aware that Jim will take it as a challenge or dare to argue.
Jim’s grin widens, but he says only, “Oh, sure, Sulu could use the command experience,” and “Glad to have you, Mr. Spock.”
“Oh my,” Nyota says so quietly that only Spock can hear her.
They have landed at the coordinates provided, and an escort party is waiting for them, robed in a red so deep it is nearly purple. Beyond the escort is a straight road lined with upright, still trees, which leads to a solid grey city of massive buildings and great arches. Spock is reminded of ancient European cities he has never seen but which the ship offered to him in her nascent awareness, of the magnificence of his own city of Shi’Kahr, built to withstand the desert storms, strong and fiercely beautiful. They stand at the base of a large plain. To their left and right and all around are roads, all of which eventually filter into the one large highway that enters the city from this direction. Distant activity indicates that there are other such large arteries into the city.
Overhead, a flock of white birds flies. Kirk steps forward and says, “I am Captain James T. Kirk of the USS Enterprise.”
Overhead, a flock of white birds flies, and Jim steps forward and says, “I am Captain James T. Kirk of the USS Enterprise,” and Spock can only take a deep breath against the sudden illogical expansion of his chest, the quickening of his pulse, the certainty that this is what they were meant to do, each of them, Jim leading, Spock at his shoulder.
“Sparrows in a sunrise,” Nyota had once pointed out, during an early morning spent on a pier at the Bay while she was a student and he an instructor at the Academy. This was before, before Spock knew of loss, before Nyota did too, back when they had just begun to see each other.
Being with Nyota had felt like that to Spock, sparrows in a sunrise. From her, through her touch, he felt the freewheeling of her joy in his presence. She exulted in him, and Spock didn't know what to do but echo it back to her, caught up in the beauty of her mind and body, in her generosity, in the way her lips and tongue curled about the words and language of his own thoughts. He learned why humans called this first knowledge “falling in love.”
On the pier that morning at the Bay, Spock turned and saw a man in cadet reds, disheveled, leaning over the wall's metal railing. At first it looked as though he was vomiting – perhaps the contents of his stomach, gained after a night of disreputable entertainment. As Spock continued watching, though, it became apparent that he was not. He was simply staring into the rocking water, standing in a torn uniform, his cheek bruised, his hair tousled.
“Oh, him,” Nyota said with an uncharacteristic note of annoyance in her voice. “That’s Jim Kirk.”
Later, after he has put his hands on Jim Kirk, as though trying to choke the life out of him would restore to him his planet and his home and his mother, Spock learns that Jim Kirk has always known of loss. As Kirk takes away his command, his reason, and his dignity, he gives him the touch of his skin, emotion burning through to Spock. “I know,” his skin whispers. Spock can only understand this later, later after the bright haze of pain has faded to a lingering grey, after the ship has gifted him with her sacrifice, with her final burst of joy and hope, so that he might live.
Later still, Spock realizes that recognition feels nothing like the transience of falling in love and everything like watching the stars slide silently by the hull of the Enterprise, with Jim’s smile beside him casting brightness into the black of space and Jim asking him if love and knowledge are not the same thing after all.
The Enterprise beams down overnight kits. All evening, Kirk charms their new hosts. Spock acknowledges that a successful first contact mission depends in part on the congeniality displayed by those making contact.
“This world is called by us Ciraza, and you are in our fairest city, Amansur.”
By the end of the next day, throughout which Kirk has progressed to flirtation under Spock’s steady gaze, Spock finds he is not as interested in the great libraries amassed in Amansur as he should be. He wonders if the captain is going too far in his efforts at cordiality. He finds himself slightly annoyed that Kirk should not realize this himself, and although he is taken aback at his own emotion, it is rational to expect that a captain should know and practice appropriate behavior. While their hosts have been nothing but gracious, Spock is aware that they are being, as Jim would say, sized up – in terms of wealth, strength, intelligence, and intention. The away team is, of course, doing the same to the Cirazans.
On the third day, as he watches Kirk focus his efforts on a particularly curvaceous female who happens to be showing them Amansur’s museum of technology, he realizes that Kirk must be alerted to his improper behavior so that the captain can put an end to it, as he clearly will not without certain words being said.
Strangely, Spock feels a hollow space lurking somewhere in his gut that he cannot explain.
He draws Nyota aside to examine an interactive explanation of Ciraza’s first warp-capable vessel. “He’s just being Kirk,” she says, puzzled. “They like him. He’s doing great. Never thought I’d say that Jim Kirk would be a successful diplomat.”
“Nyota. Does certain of his behavior not appear to you improper for a Starfleet captain to engage in on a first contact mission?”
She stares at Spock and, inexplicably, something like a smile edges her mouth. “Oh, Spock,” she says.
“He may not be aware of what he is doing.” By this point, as he watches Nyota quickly place a hand over her mouth and make an odd sound, Spock succumbs to a moment of unVulcan uncertainty, but a swift re-examination of his logic assures him he is correct in his concerns.
Nyota removes her hand from her mouth. Placing it on his arm with the ease of long friendship, she says, “Then, yes, Spock, you should tell him.”
After Spock is released from sickbay, he sits in his quarters and wraps a blanket around his arms to ward off the empty chill that no amount of heat from the environmental controls can seem to warm. In his head where there was the constant pulse of life from the ship, there is nothing but himself.
When Kirk chimes at his door, Spock mechanically gives him permission to enter. Some time later, Spock finds himself telling Jim about a place he has never been. “Its rocks are like those of Vulcan, and the heat of its summer days is like early spring morning. It has great birds of prey, just as do the L-langon Mountains beyond the city of Shi’Kahr, and in the Sinai by the sea, all is red, burnt by the sun, just as Vulcan was. I have seen it.”
“You should visit Sinai on our next shore leave,” Jim tells him.
Spock turns to face him. “It was an illogical act that never should have occurred, Captain, and for that I bear responsibility.”
Jim blinks. “I have no idea what you’re talking about, even though I like to think I’ve gotten pretty good at following you. But if you’re referring to the Enterprise sacrificing herself to save you, then you’re wrong.”
“She was a unique life. It is illogical that she should be extinguished.”
Shaking his head, Jim leans forward and says intently, “It is logical that you should live. Never forget that.” He is so close that Spock can feel the warm brush of his breath across his own face. Involuntarily, he shivers.
“Shit, Spock, it’s not hot enough in here for you. Computer, increase temperature by five degrees Celsius.”
It is enough. Kirk displays wholly inappropriate behavior at the midday meal. Before they dine that evening, before their hosts in Amansur can introduce them to more leaders of their world and more delicacies, before they must resume the genial countenance required of these intricate and unspoken negotiations, Spock finds the captain alone. He speaks to him in a stone alcove. It is set with ceramic tile in an intricate pattern. Mosaic stars line the arch. A climbing plant reaches up to them. Windows line the hallway beyond the alcove.
Jim smiles at him, open. Spock clasps his hands behind him, pulling back the threatened catch of his breath. He reminds himself that Jim had smiled at any number of their hosts in a similar manner.
“Okay, you’re frowning.” Jim looks around and frowns as well. “Did something happen?”
“Vulcans do not frown, Captain,” Spock informs him.
“So I’ve heard,” Jim returns. His smile edges back at the corner of his mouth. “So if you’re teasing—” He breaks off, taking in Spock’s severe expression. “That is, if you’re stopping to correct my mistaken assumptions about Vulcans, it’s probably safe to say that nothing's too wrong.”
Spock steps further into the alcove. This brings him closer to Jim; that is incidental. He does not believe it appropriate for this conversation to be overhead. “Indeed, you are mistaken, Captain. It is my duty to report that something is wrong, as you say.”
Jim still doesn’t look too concerned. “Report away, Mr. Spock.”
Spock straightens. “It has come to my attention, Captain, that your behavior on this mission is not being conducted according to Starfleet regulations.”
Jim’s gaze hardens. “Explain.”
“Regulation 7.298 states that on a first contact mission, where the race with which one is establishing contact is of—“
“To the point, Mr. Spock.”
“Very well. You are being overly familiar with our hosts in an inappropriate fashion, particularly certain of the female Cirazans.”
After a long silence, Jim leans back against the wall of the alcove, crosses his arms over his chest, and says, “I see.” There is another silence during which Jim regards Spock steadily. Spock does not look away. He had known before speaking that Jim would not like this.
“Is that all, Mr. Spock?” Jim’s tone is sardonic now.
“That depends on what you mean by saying ‘all.’” Spock cocks his head. “If you mean to imply, as Terrans sometimes do, that the concern is trivial, then no, that is not ‘all.’ If, however, you are seeking to know if that is the only concern that I, as your First Officer, must raise at this time, then yes, that is all. Your conduct on this mission has otherwise been satisfactory.”
“Thank you so much, Mr. Spock,” says Jim cheerfully, sarcastically. “It’s a real pleasure to hear that. To be clear, then: your concern is that I am flirting with the Cirazans.”
Flirt is too pale a term. Spock has seen the cant of Jim’s hips, angled into his guide’s body. He has seen his lips part, his tongue darting out to wet them. He has seen the way he leans, not just with his body but with the force of his charm and will. The way his eyes laugh and the way they turn heavy and sensuous, the way they invite.
Right now they are flinty. Spock says, “Either you are creating a false impression of sexual availability that you do not intend to honor, or you are truly intending to engage in intimate relations with our hosts, if you have not done so already. Both options do not reflect well on yourself, the away team, the Enterprise, or the Federation.”
Jim shoves himself off the wall. “I repeat, Spock – your complaint is that I am flirting.”
Spock does not move. “Yes, in short.”
Jim steps forward in the small space. “And this is your concern as First Officer of the Enterprise.”
“And – ” Jim is standing so close now they are almost touching. “– you believe that I might already in fact have had sex with someone here. But why aren’t you sure, Spock? Haven’t you been watching closely? Excuse me, observing. As my first officer, of course.”
“Captain, I must request that you back away by at least one full step. Your proximity is violating both Terran and Vulcan norms of personal space.”
Jim laughs, a scoffing sound. “No. I won’t. What're you gonna do about it, Spock? Assault a superior officer? Report me? Is that what you’re planning to do about my, what was it, inappropriate behavior?” His voice grows louder with each word.
It is very warm. Spock cannot look away from the bright flecks in Jim’s eyes, the moistness of his lips, the flush on his cheeks.
“You know what I think? I’m going to tell you what I think, Spock.” Jim slams the open palm of his hand into the starry arch beside Spock and leans forward. Jim inhales; Spock exhales. He doesn’t move back. He is aware that if he were to so much as lift his arm, he would touch Jim, would press into his chest, could easily fling him back with his Vulcan strength.
“See, Spock, I understand that you don’t like my behavior. But not because you’re my first officer and concerned about this mission. Oh no, Spock. I don’t think that’s it at all. I think it’s more personal than that. I think you’re being illogical. I think you’re confusing your duty as an officer and your identity as Spock. Not Commander Spock – ” Jim’s voice quiets. “ – or Instructor Spock or anything else Spock.” He pauses. “Just Spock.”
Jim’s eyes fall to Spock’s mouth. Spock tries, and fails, to swallow. The alcove and hallway are silent except for the heft of Jim’s breath.
There is so much wrong with Jim’s statements – that is, they contain such discrepancies of logic – Spock cannot clearly think through them all. Jim’s eyes are dilated, large in his face.
With difficulty, Spock says in a low voice, “Kindly refrain from saying my name in such a manner.”
Jim laughs, sharp. His voice is as low as Spock’s own, gritty and cocky. “And how am I saying your name, Spock?”
Like he has taken apart and claimed every piece of it.
Impossibly, he is closer now than he was a second ago. His face is five centimeters, four centimeters, one scant centimeter from Spock’s.
The sharp clatter of approaching footsteps rings on the grey stone of the hallway. Spock feels the heat rising from his own face, from Jim’s, from their bodies, and he whispers, “Captain. Someone is coming.” As though their behavior is illicit.
Jim doesn’t move, doesn’t blink. His teeth catch the edge of his bottom lip. They part. Spock’s part, too.
“Captain,” he says again. The footsteps are very near now.
With a sound so slight that Spock cannot tell if it is an actual noise or merely the susurration of air between his lips, Jim wrenches himself backwards and raises his chin. His gaze meets Spock’s. “Your concerns are noted, Mr. Spock.”
Turning out of the alcove, he greets the Cirazan who has been approaching. The sound of their steps down the hallway is loud. Spock looks up at the stars tiled above his head.
Of course, in a world where the ship did not die and Spock did not reveal her existence, this confrontation would not have occurred. There would have been no need for it. At night, after he meditates, the ship would call to him and together they would watch Jim in his room, on the bridge, in the mess, in the gym, in the shower. When Jim laughs anywhere onboard, the ship would send his warmth to Spock in reverberations; when he fucks or makes love to another, Spock would need to excuse himself from his task and return to his quarters for privacy’s sake; when Jim touches her wall, Spock would shudder along with her.
“Let me stay with you a little while longer,” she would say, and he would not be able to say anything other than, “Yes.”
Before reaching Ciraza and Amansur and the wide roads all leading into the city, Kirk comes to Spock’s door late, just after the start of gamma shift. His expression is that peculiar mix of defiance and cockiness that Spock has seen when Jim means to do something that is, not to put too fine a point upon it, genuinely kind. As if he expects to be laughed at or rejected for his efforts.
Spock stands aside to allow him into his quarters. Jim is holding something behind his back. Without preamble, he says, “Here,” and holds out the object he's been hiding. It is a large silver-white flower, the kind that only blooms at moonrise, the size of Spock’s hand, with a deep red heart nestled between the shielding petals. “Don’t take it the wrong way or anything.” Jim moves his foot restlessly.
Looking at it, into the flower, Spock could almost see the reflection of his face being drawn down into the red heart, rusty red like the deserts of Vulcan. He remembers the Enterprise speaking to him in the voices of the winds as he watched the blood-haze of the rising sun that Vulcans name q’iath. He sat and watched, knees pressed against his chest, hands clasping his legs, and cast his thoughts out onto the winds, asking the ship who she was, not knowing, not believing. Seek me in the stars, came the answer from the winds, as the sun blotted all else from the fiery sky.
I sought before I knew it, he thinks, and I found, and he raises his head from the flower’s red heart, silver bloom, to look at Jim.
“This was from the ship’s garden?”
“Her wilderness, more like.” On surer ground, Jim smiles quickly before looking more serious. “It was all I could save. We had to clear it out.”
It has been slowly dying since the Enterprise sacrificed herself in order to save him. Her burst of life, created with all the joy and excitement and potential she had – it has passed now. But this single plant is left to Spock, and he will tend to it and watch it grow in his quarters.
“Thank you,” he says.
Jim looks surprised. “Thanks are illogical, I thought.”
“That is so. Nonetheless—”
With this in mind, Spock approaches Jim after dinner with their hosts in Amansur. He has not seen Jim since this afternoon, under the starry alcove, when he brought Jim’s attention to his improper behavior. He has been left unsettled by the experience and intends to meditate this evening as soon as he can retire to his guest chambers. He means to make a small peace offering of some sort in order to ensure that the smooth functioning of a solid command team is not disrupted by this afternoon’s tension. That is all.
As he nears Jim, one of their hosts, a small female by the name of Ki’iza with whom Jim has been engaged in conversation on multiple occasions, lays her hand on Jim’s arm and pulls his attention to her. He inclines his head attentively and murmurs something in her ear that makes her laugh, light and graceful.
Jim looks up as Spock arrives at his elbow. “A word, Captain?”
“Can it wait, Spock?”
Vulcans are renowned for their impassiveness. He does not know, therefore, why Jim should be watching him with an expression that on someone else might be merely expectant, awaiting his answer, but on Jim Kirk manages to convey a challenge. Ki’iza’s hand is still on Jim’s arm; he does not move away.
Spock looks from Ki’iza’s hand to Jim’s face. He pauses. “Yes, it can wait, Captain,” he says, lest his insistence be misinterpreted by those surrounding them and expose the captain to censure. “I should not have interrupted you.”
With these words, Jim’s expression doesn’t shift, and yet Spock can’t escape the sudden sensation that he has not met the challenge issued by him, that he has said the wrong thing. After a long moment, the corner of Kirk’s mouth twists up. “Now, Spock,” he says, “I know you. You surely wouldn’t interrupt unless it were important.” Yet his smile has a sardonic cast about it, as though he is making a joke that is not quite a joke, expectant still and not meant for Ki’iza, although she laughs along with Kirk’s smile. A sickening rush of disappointment pass through Spock. Is it mirrored in Kirk’s eyes? Why should it be? He is not the one who speaks flippantly.
He hears nothing else of what Kirk says. It is as though the intervening hours have not passed and they are still alone in the alcove beneath the stars. He hears nothing else save for the blood pulsing in his ears, the burning – anger – yes, it is anger – not something else – not pain – anger that Jim makes light of this, too. That if Jim claims to know him, he should know that Spock has been waiting long enough and that he cannot speak of these things in public. That Jim does know this, and only pretends he does not for reasons Spock cannot fathom.
But far worse is that Jim says so casually, “I know you,” the words seared into Spock’s mind with their carelessness, when he has wanted so long to hear them said, meant; for Jim should know him, does know him, even as Spock knows Jim.
“I am happy that you have found someone you can know,” his mother had said once, prematurely. “And I am even happier that you have found someone who can know you.”
He thinks about the Enterprise, about her knowing. She had known him truly, and he had shared what he knew of her with Jim. “She wanted to explore the stars and far reaches. She had expressed her excitement at the prospect.”
Jim had been watching him, silently. “She loved you,” he said, and Spock replied, “No. She loved you. Me, she knew. She knew me,” and Jim’s smile was brilliant, a radiance cast into the blackness of space as he said, “Aren’t they the same thing?”
For a moment, upon hearing Jim declare so lightly that he knows Spock, he hates Jim for awakening so many emotions in him.
“Permission to return to the ship, Captain?” he says, heedless of how abrupt he must sound. Jim looks at him for a long moment and simply says, “No.”
They are scheduled to beam up the next day anyway. Spock hadn't meant to ask to return early; however, it had seemed necessary at that moment. Upon their safe homecoming, as soon as they materialize on the transport platform, Jim jumps down, gives a thumbs-up in Mr. Scott’s direction – “Yup, mission a success” – and disappears, leaving Spock to return to the bridge.
Nyota says, “Whew. He sure was grumpy this morning.”
Privately Spock concurs. However, he refrains from speaking. He's not feeling very talkative himself this morning. There is this thing pulsing inside him, some new knowledge – or maybe it’s not new at all; maybe it’s just that he was only now able to admit it to himself – this awareness and recognition.
“O-kay,” she says, drawing out the second syllable. “I’m just going to go change my uniform before the next shift begins.”
On the bridge, Spock finds that things are as they should be. The bridge is sleek and clean, her monitors steadily humming away as they work. An occasional beep punctuates the rhythms of her crew. His science console is smooth beneath his hands; beyond her great viewing pane streak the stars as they leap into warp away from Ciraza and Amansur. Once upon a time the ship was more than this, could have been more than this, but even now she is ‘a mighty fine piece of work,’ as Mr. Scott would say.
There is no reason, then, for Spock to experience a sense of tension, as though he is waiting for something, his mind and spirit galloping ahead of his body which must remain still, still on the bridge. When the doors of the turbolift hiss open, he finds himself shifting his glance minutely, checking to see who has come.
It is not Jim.
A second time, and he turns his head. A third, and Chekov twists back in his seat to look at him. An hour later when the doors swish open again, he stills himself. It is silent for a moment, but something has shifted in the room – as though the ship’s artificial gravity has tumbled and settled in a new place.
“Report, Spock,” Kirk says.
Although he is not facing him, Spock is aware of the captain’s eyes on him. “Situation normal, all stations reporting.” He turns, because he must. He both desires to see Jim and fears to look at him.
“What was it like, having the ship in your head?” Jim had asked.
Spock had not had an answer then. He had not known how to pull it out of the sinuous intertwining shapes in his head, had not known what words to give it. To share this thing, this overwhelming experience, with anyone, seemed possible only through a direct link, mind to mind. “I could—”
“You could—” Jim had said at the same time, but Spock cut himself off and shook his head. He could not. He dared not. He desired too much to touch that sunshine trapped inside Jim’s mind and heart.
Throughout the duration of his shift, Spock feels Kirk’s presence only feet away. Kirk is tapping his finger on the arm of his chair sporadically; Spock finds himself waiting for the next beat.
After the shift ends, they are the last off the bridge. There is a moment where Jim hesitates before stepping into the turbo with Spock, so brief that even Spock cannot be sure it existed. A horrible anticipation burns inside Spock’s torso, radiating from his heart. He does not speak.
“I have to admit, I’m sort of envious of you,” Jim had said later. “It’s like, sure, I get why it was you, you’re the telepathic one and all that, but to have been able to talk to her! Oh my god, Spock. You talked to her. Like this huge thing – amazing – my ship, Spock. Amazing.”
In the turbo, they both stand straight and keep their eyes forward. At least they do until Jim says, “Fuck this shit,” and, “Computer, halt turbolift and lock, authorization code alpha 245,” and, “What, Spock, what. What do you want from me?”
And so Spock had tried to give him what he asked, saying, “It was like being a child again.”
Admittedly he'd felt a bit ridiculous, but: “You asked me what it felt like to have the Enterprise in my head, to share her thoughts. It was like being a child again.” He paused. “I know that is illogical.”
“I do not want anything from you,” he says to Jim now on the turbolift, immediately correcting himself, brutally, to “I do not know exactly what I want from you,” and, “I wish I did not want anything from you.” He does not say, “Because I cannot bear your brightness. It is … too much.”
Jim’s expression is very bright – expectant, as though he is waiting for Spock to do something, to arrive somewhere – and the moment is infinite before it cracks and falls, before Jim’s face dims and Spock is cracking somewhere too, and Jim says, “Yeah, well, guess that sucks for you.”
When the Enterprise had tried to speak to Spock in the High Vulcan of his ancestors, the mesh of words had been nonsensical. The concepts she wanted to express had no words in that language, and yet she expressed them anyway, determined to convey her meaning. She stole bits of poetry from Spock’s memory, and from old syntax invented phrases that were wholly new and vital. “I am a bird, freewheeling through the stars, fearlessly exploring, where there is joy pouring forth from mine eyelids. I am weightless, with my bones hollowed so that I can carry you inside them, always.”
When Jim had asked what it was like to have the ship inside his head, he had answered that it was like being a child again. “She was,” he’d said, their game forgotten, Jim’s elbow propped on the board, “nuclear fission. She broke things down into simple parts and then rebuilt them in unexpected ways. The way a child sees things before he is told the rules. Completely innocent and joyous, always anticipating the next thing. It was like being a child again, before we knew what we could do and what we could not do, who we could be and who we could not be. She dreamed.”
She was like you are even now, he did not say.
In the turbolift, Spock declares that he wishes he did not wish for anything from Jim. Jim’s face falls and he says, “Yeah, well, guess that sucks for you,” and Spock realizes that his dense Vulcan bones have been hollowed like a bird’s because they are splitting apart. It is unacceptable.
“This is unacceptable,” he says. Jim has faced forward again and unfrozen the turbo. Spock narrows his eyes and commands it to stop again. “Computer, halt turbolift and lock, authorization code beta 783.”
“What the fuck, Spock?” Jim spins around, ends up in Spock’s face. His lips are red and his cheeks flushed, and Spock can see the veins on the back of his hands, the light brush of golden hair there.
“This is unacceptable,” he says again and afterwards he cannot be sure who moves first. Who yanks, who shoves, but suddenly he is pressing Jim into the wall and Jim’s hands are under his shirt against his skin and his hands are knotted in Jim’s short hair pulling his head down to his throat. Someone makes a sound, needy, ragged, and it may even be Spock.
Jim’s hands are scrabbling against his skin, setting off reactions that Spock cannot contain or control, and against his throat Jim tells him to, “Let go, come on, Spock, let it go, I can take it, give it to me, come on, come on, oh my god,” a ceaseless babble that speeds up into indecipherable sounds as Spock wrenches himself away from Jim’s mouth and pushes up his gold command shirt and down his tight pants, and bites and licks, haphazard, gentle and twisting, down his chest to his cock. Without hesitation, Jim says, “Suck it,” and Spock rubs his cheek against it, full and hard and smooth, and then parts his lips.
Jim’s breath catches on a half-swallowed noise. Every line of his body is tense, a star before it bursts. He shudders when he comes, blinking dazedly, his pupils dark and blown, and then he slides to his knees beside Spock. “Oh no you don’t,” he says, and although Spock has no idea what he means, cannot even process possibilities, is fumbling to get his hand inside his own pants, Jim reaches out and his hand wraps around Spock's own on his cock. Their fingers tangle.
Spock strains upward. His hips strain to meet their hands. His chest strains against the play of Jim’s other hand on his sternum, on his nipple, on his collarbone, tracing fine lines that he can barely feel beyond the rush of blood burning his body. His mouth strains to meet Jim’s lips, so close.
Jim brushes against Spock’s mouth, his lips, the lightest touch. Spock cannot endure the teasing. He growls, and Jim’s breath whooshes out against him with a torn laugh. Then their mouths are pressing together, full and bruising.
“Give it to me, Spock. Let me hear you.” He is an impossible temptation. “Come on.” His eyes are wide and demanding. The hand on his cock is sure; Spock cannot – he cannot—
He pulls back from Jim’s face, scant inches. “I – you –
“You want to. I know you, I know you want to.” And he does. Jim does know him, and Spock does want to.
“Jim,” he gasps.
“Jim,” and a smile begins to spread across Jim’s face, sunlight from the wellspring inside him, brighter than the brightest of the stars. Jim smiles and Spock arches as he comes, fighting to keep his eyes open for every second and nanosecond so as not to miss one instant of that radiance.
After, after they have cleaned up and tucked themselves back in – Jim’s swollen lips will betray him to anyone who looks twice; Spock looks twice, three times, and sucks his bottom lip one last time – they stand and face the front of the turbolift. The smile keeps threatening to spill over again on Jim’s face. It upturns the corners of his mouth and crinkles his eyes. Spock clasps his hands together to prevent himself from reaching out to it. A fine tremor runs through them, an unfamiliar lassitude.
Jim’s stop is first. “I think. I can’t even remember where I was going.” The grin breaks through. Spock cannot resist: he reaches out to Jim’s face, briefly, and Jim leans in, briefly.
“You know, Spock,” he says on the way out, suddenly serious. “It wasn’t just the ship. Why do you think we’re all here? We all dream.”
“Oh, Spock,” his mother had said when he was five. “Everyone dreams.” His father, across the room, had said nothing. His eyes were fixed on his wife, less stern than usual as he gazed at her.
Some days, light years, star systems after the turbolift, Spock enters his quarters and cocks his head. Something is different. Out of place. Everything looks the same, though – but there, there is a white object in the potted dirt of the silver-white flower from the ship’s spontaneous garden. He approaches. It is a piece of paper, old-style, fragile between his thumb and forefinger. He picks it up. There is writing on it in ink, an inerasable permanence. On one side, proof that teasing comes as naturally to Jim as breathing, it says, “In your dreams, Spock.” On the other, simply, “You know where to find me.”
On second thought, Spock isn’t sure which side he was intended to read first.
He walks over to the wall. His quarters, like those of other command crew, are not on the outer parts of the ship. He has no viewing ports. So he rests his hand on the ship’s wall, as though he could hear her think in such a manner, and perhaps he does; perhaps she laughs and says, “Seek me in the stars.” He stays there for a long moment, and then he turns, passes through his door, and heads toward the observation lounge where Jim is waiting. There is star-mapping to continue and sunrises contained in smiles to be had, and so much dreaming still to do.