A/N: Hello again! It's been six months since I updated this story, and surprise, surprise, I have not actually finished writing this third part. Life and all that, but I still want to say sorry about the long gap and lack of progress. I did try to make an effort to pre-write many parts, at least. :*) So, because I apparently need deadlines and pressure in order to be productive, I am going to start posting it. Unfortunately, that means, try though I might, an update schedule will probably start and then get interrupted. Also, just to give everyone a heads up, this will be approximately twenty chapters split into five parts, and from now on, author's notes will be at the end of the chapter.
This story is the third part in a series. In hindsight, I think this can be read as a standalone, given its departure from the two previous stories. For the fullest picture, you could skim the first two, but the story itself can be enjoyed independently.
This story takes place directly after Star Trek: Beyond and incorporates the movie with few changes.
U.S.S. Enterprise: A Linguist's Proposal
Between the acting of a dreadful thing
And the first motion, all the interim is
Like a phantasma or a hideous dream.
The genius and the mortal instruments
Are then in council, and the state of man,
Like to a little kingdom, suffers then
The nature of an insurrection.
-Shakespeare, Julius Caesar
The Captain needed to clean her office.
Nyota thought it a matter of safety because upon entering the room, she stumbled into a pile of civilian clothes and Starfleet uniforms. As her boots tangled in the cloth, her hands grasped at the open air, trying to hold onto something that wasn't there. She swayed forward, pushed her weight backwards on the heels of her feet, and then in the blink of an eye, steadied her body against the door frame. Never before had Nyota looked so ungraceful in front of a superior.
Sitting cross-legged and barefoot on the tabletop of her desk, Yorktown's newly instated First Officer, Mazia Eilum, raised both eyebrows at her.
"I usually make a better first impression," Nyota claimed with a quickness that sounded too much like a lie. A hand went back and ran through her ponytail. She halted the motion halfway, her hand falling defeated and awkward at her side.
Nyota could feel the weight of Eilum's gaze. "I'm sure you do, Lieutenant Uhura." Her speech was concise, but she drew out vowels in an almost hushed tone. If the black spots lining from her hairline down the sides of her face and neck hadn't been enough, Nyota could have identified her as Trill on speech pattern alone. Though not the first one to join Starfleet, Eilum couldn't have been more than one in a handful of her species currently in the ranks. She was also, Nyota had read in her Starfleet bio, the first to make Captain.
She really should have made a better first impression.
With her center of balance found once more, Nyota remembered to stand at attention and tried not to let the forming bruise on her ankle distract her. "It's a little late for that kind of formality, don't you think?" Eilum asked with a hint of amusement. Nyota nodded, took a quick look around, and supposed that it was.
Not yet unpacked, the Captain's office was a jumble of boxes, cords, and no small amount of oddities. A curvy mirror lay broken on the ground, glass fragments glittering under the light. A painting of the Andromeda Galaxy, its disk of stars rendered distorted, leaned against a box. A window on the right wall overlooked Central Plaza. And on the left, another peered beyond the forcefield into space. A slew of pinned up children's drawings flipped on the wall behind Eilum's head. Somehow, the gray, dull lines of a typical Starfleet office had come alive with character.
She had been silent too long. "Yes, Captain."
"I'm much more used to Commander," Eilum admitted. "This whole Captain nonsense strikes me as overkill, don't you think? What am I a Captain of exactly?"
Nyota thought it had been a rhetorical question. When the pause stretched onwards into awkwardness, Nyota answered. "A starbase." She let her arms relax down to her sides and observed Eilum closely.
She found Eilum to be around her own height, though it was hard to tell from her seated position. Her wispy, light blonde hair was long and plaited down her back. Her eyes were dark brown, almost indistinguishable from her pupils. Her feet were covered only by a pair of black socks, boots mysteriously absent.
"Next they'll make me an Admiral. As if being Captain of a starbase doesn't already sound pathetic enough. Do you want a drink?" Eilum leaned backwards, contorting her body in a way that would impress a gymnast and reached for something behind her desk. She came back up with a bottle of romulan ale.
Unfortunately, Nyota wasn't one to break the law, at least not before noon and never with a stranger.
"No, thank you, Captain," Nyota declined. Eilum shrugged and then gestured for her to walk further into the office, so Nyota complied, albeit far more carefully than the way in which she had entered. As she stepped over a long piece of black tubing, she spoke up again. "Captain?"
"Hmm?" Eilum was putting back the alcohol and had rolled onto her stomach to do so. Nyota ended up addressing the Captain's rear end as opposed to her face.
"May I ask why you've requested this meeting?" After Kirk's birthday party a few days ago, Nyota had received orders to report to Captain Eilum's office at the specified stardate and time. No explanation, no details. Even Kirk hadn't known anything when she'd asked him.
Of course, then they'd all been distracted by the news, so no one had any time to make inquiries.
Eilum crawled off the tabletop and into a cozy looking, but worn-out office chair. "Please, sit." Nyota did so in a low backed, less comfortable seat on the opposite side of the desk. Pushing herself forward, Eilum threaded her fingers together and laid her arms out in front of her. Nyota noticed a golden ring on her left hand. Married, and to a Human? "I called you here because I want you."
A beat of silence passed between them before Nyota prompted her with an, "Excuse me?"
"Here. On Yorktown," Eilum clarified, tucking back a strand of hair that had escaped from behind her ear. "I want to offer you a position on the starbase, as a liaison officer. I already laid the groundwork with Commodore Paris, so all you have to do is say yes." She beamed as though Nyota had already accepted the position.
Nyota had a thousand and one questions almost instantly, specifically: where was all this coming from? Before she could ask, she remembered that she wasn't looking for a new position. She was right where she belonged, probably.
Hands folded in her lap, Nyota nodded with resolve. "With all due respect, Captain, I'm content to remain in my current assignment."
"You haven't even heard the specifics." Eilum swiveled a little in her chair and almost pouted.
Nyota shook her head. "I don't need to." She moved to stand.
Eilum's posturing changed. Where once had been an eccentric officer, now sat a disciplined, stern Captain. "Sit down, Lieutenant." Once again, Nyota sat, somewhat startled. "You know, the Enterprise is not all there is to Starfleet. You do want to advance in your career?" What a condescending way, she thought, to phrase a job offer. Nyota's nerves sparked with irritation. Staring at the translucent material of the desk, she wondered how quickly she could get out of there. She turned her eyes back up to stare into Eilum's and made sure to keep her mouth in a neutral, straight line.
"Then listen to my proposal and don't dismiss it offhand out of a misplaced sense of loyalty. Kirk has his pick of officers, you understand. The Enterprise would not suffer greatly were you to leave. I mean on an operational level," Eilum expanded, " and I should probably mention that this position comes with a promotion to Lieutenant Commander. Would you like more details now, or were you looking to spend an eternity as a Lieutenant on the Bridge of Kirk's ship?" Before Nyota could get a word in, she overheard Eilum mutter, "Not that he currently has one."
Nyota bit her tongue and held back the urge to utter a 'neither do you.' "Please," she invited, foregoing the address of Captain and hoping with all her might that Eilum noticed.
With a pleased expression gracing her features, Eilum settled back in her chair. "Good choice." After staring at Nyota just a bit too long for comfort, Eilum abruptly got on the ground on her hands on knees. She tugged a box towards her, slid open its lid, and sat back on her heels. "Hold on one moment." Nyota stared down at the sight and thought that Eilum might be one of the strangest captains she had ever met, and she had served under Jim Kirk for almost five years. After Eilum had pulled out scores of apparently irrelevant objects, she made an 'Ah-ha!' noise from her lips. Something flew her way. Nyota caught it clumsily, not expecting it to be hurled at her.
The missing piece of the Abronath lay in her palm.
When the shock settled a few seconds later and she realized it was only a recreation, Nyota turned a quizzical frown at Eilum. With a quiet oomph, Eilum flopped back into her chair and smoothed out her uniform, ignoring the disapproval Nyota shot her way.
"That," Eilum stated, "is a problem."
The slim disk held in her hand had the same grooves, same texture. It had the same triangular shape in the center, three lines shooting out from it in three separate directions, and the same small pointed finish. It felt real. She placed it onto the desk, far, far away from her. "Please explain how this relates to the position of liaison officer."
Eilum swiped the disk into one of her own hands and held it up, elbow resting on the desk. "A biological weapon that drains the life from its targets is now in the possession of the Federation. How comfortable do you think our lovely friends outside this wonderful conglomeration of planets are currently feeling about that? I'll give you a hint, Nyota." She paused. "May I call you Nyota?"
Before Nyota could say absolutely not, Eilum continued. "They don't like it. Starfleet still wants to study it, learn how it works, how it was created. The Federation is on the fence about allowing this, and everyone else in the quadrant is currently issuing statements that amount to 'Hell no'. Commodore Paris wants someone to deal with all of that messy communication stuff for her."
Nyota raised her eyebrows. "Why?"
"Neither of us like talking to idiots, and believe it or not, the universe is full of them. Other governments are full of them, our civilian government is full of them, and Starfleet Command is full of them. You're smart, but you were also trained with the capacity to communicate with annoying people. So, Nyota," Nyota winced at the use of her first name, "that's why we want you. You get to do what you love, which apparently is talking, and I get to do what I love, which is reading very succinct, very short reports about what everyone else said." Nyota thought Eilum might be finished, but apparently not. "I have better things to do than coordinate every action and decision the Commodore makes with Starfleet, or talk with Federation council members, or mingle with Romulan ambassadors. People can be so needy," Eilum sighed.
"And you think this is supposed to be a tempting offer?"
Eilum smiled and leaned forward, the disk resting on her cheek. It disturbed Nyota to see something so horrible in the hands of someone, as far as she could tell, so unpredictable. "I think you find it fascinating." That was, unfortunately, true.
"I'm sorry, Captain, but I simply can't accept."
"Why not?" Eilum seemed genuinely confused. "You've logged your time on the infamous Enterprise. Try something new, live somewhere new, meet new people. I'm offering you something any career officer would kill for. A real opportunity to make a difference."
Frowning, Nyota said, "I already have that."
"You had that," Eilum corrected with the past tense.
"The new ship will be ready in only a few weeks." Give or take a month, Nyota internally corrected. "It's still the flagship. I live somewhere new everyday."
Something flickered in the depths of Eilum's eyes, and for all her training, Nyota couldn't place it. "But you don't stay, Nyota. You can have that here."
"I don't need that," Nyota insisted.
Eilum's eyes bore into her own. "You're too young to know what you need. You only know what you want, and what you want is to stay with your merry band of friends on Kirk's ship for all of eternity." The two officers stared each other down at that declaration. "Your generation of officers has this mindset of doing before thinking, that being a Starfleet officer means always being on the front lines because that's where the action is. Because that's where you make the difference. And the events of the five years since Vulcan's destruction have only reinforced that."
The neutrality Nyota had been so careful to maintain began to slip, and the anger and grief from their last mission seeped through into her voice.
"You presume too much, Captain."
The way Eilum's lips tightened took Nyota aback, though really, it should not have. "I presume enough. You've latched onto the Enterprise like its a life preserver, as your peers have latched onto their own assignments, but Nyota, you aren't soldiers. There isn't a war, and Starfleet's primary function is not to serve as a military. Your duty is not solely to obey a commander or patrol a border, but to explore the areas in which you excel in order to further universal understanding and cooperation." She was pretty sure Eilum had just quoted a cadet manual, but the exact edition evaded her.
Nyota had a feeling that Eilum had given this speech before. "I know that."
"Then why," Eilum asked with a pointed glance around the space, "would you not take this job?"
"I believe that my current assignment is the right one for me."
Eilum rested her cheek in her hand, and Nyota saw pity in her eyes. "Maybe you are lying to yourself."
A bit more venom than she intended sunk into Nyota's words. "Maybe you should review the work my ship has done these past few years, and afterwards, consider asking someone else to be liaison officer."
Eilum began to laugh the sound of a ringing bell. Tears formed in the corners of her eyes. Her face flushed. Nyota didn't know if she should be offended or amused, but she was leaning towards the former. What could possibly be so funny about what she had just said? "Stay at Yorktown," Eilum requested, still giggling a little.
Eyebrows raised and nearly forgetting everything about command structure, Nyota bit out, "Do you understand what the word 'no' means?"
Eilum grinned. "No." The tension in the room evaporated as quickly as it had appeared. Nyota relaxed her shoulders and successfully fought the urge to smile in exasperation.
To be fair, she really had set herself up for that one.
Voices, Nyota decided as she listened to Spock's the next day, were like footsteps.
He sounded upset. Instead of a small wobble or an elevation in volume, Spock tended to vocally express his displeasure by using increasingly precise pronunciations, all short t's and s's and clipped phrases. Occasionally, all this might be accompanied by an ever so slight upward pitch. Today, there had been both.
Nyota, I would like to resume our relationship as it was approximately two weeks prior to this date. Is this acceptable?
He used the words 'approximately two weeks' as opposed to listing it down to the millisecond. It was a sweet gesture. Still, twenty words at the tail end of an awkward discussion that had consisted of vague pleasantries and a sharing of news wasn't exactly a pronouncement of his undying love for her.
They sat together in a small park on the most northwestern section of the starbase, and the only other visitors were a Tellerite woman and her young son, playing on the grass. His giggles echoed over to their pale, metal bench, and if Nyota had not been under such pressure, she might have smiled at the noise.
Laughter had always been one of her favorites.
Spock never laughed. Well, not really, though sometimes if he found something particularly amusing, he would fight a smile and make a quick, quiet snorting noise through his nose. It was probably sad how much she lived for moments like that.
It was probably sad how unsure her answer would be.
Her gaze moved from the grass and spindly trees to Spock. He had taken to wearing his Bridge uniform once more as he and Kirk had begun to micromanage the final construction of the ship that would now be called Enterprise-A. His blue shirt and black pants were pressed to perfection, his boots shined, his hair combed, and his eyes were like staring into the dark of space, black and empty, but every now and again, a flash of light, the most beautiful, mysterious kind of light, would swim in the depths.
She had never stood a chance six years ago, and if she ever told anyone that falling in love with Spock had been the easiest thing in the universe, Nyota didn't think they would believe her. Falling in love with him hadn't been the hard part, not at all, but staying together had never been simple. Only six months in, his world fell apart, and she had been the one to pick up the pieces. Then another year later, Admiral Pike had died, and Jim Kirk had died, and once again, Nyota bore the brunt of it.
Almost three years into their mission, and all the ups and downs that had accompanied it, Nyota wondered just how six years could change love into something different. Nyota was still in love with Spock, but he hurt her, and not in any way that could easily be fixed. She didn't know what it was exactly, the feelings Spock stirred up in her now, but they weren't the same as before, and it bothered her.
It was unclear if that love would be enough to carry them through. It certainly hadn't been for him 'two weeks prior'. The thought made her want to curl into a ball and cry for the rest of the week, but Nyota didn't indulge in such acts. They were for people that let their love blind them from the truth.
Nyota wasn't like that. She just wasn't.
Her necklace made its presence known, sliding against the skin beneath her top, as she finally spoke. "Can I have some time to think it over?" She shifted so that her torso faced him more fully, and she laid her elbow on the back of the bench.
The starlight that had been gleaming in his irises dulled.
Spock breathed out all the air in his lungs and inclined his head. "For how long?"
"I'm not sure," Nyota said. She could tell the imprecise nature of her answer irritated him.
"Very well." They stared at each other.
What she wouldn't give to just say 'Yes, Spock, I would like to turn back the clock two weeks', but they were beings that lived in three dimensions, not four, and traveling back to the people they had been two weeks ago was impossible, the people who had existed before Spock had made that stupid declaration over dinner in their quarters. Because somehow that had been the optimal time to tell her what he intended to do. That he was leaving her.
He had hurt her when he had chosen his duty to his people over their duty to each other, no matter how logical the decision had been.
Nyota believed she was more understanding than most human partners might be, and she had never asked more of Spock than what he could give her, but she deserved better than to be left behind while her boyfriend went off to have children with some other person who wouldn't love him the way she did.
He still hadn't really apologized for it.
Nyota realized she had no expectation for him to do so, and that, more than anything else, caused her to nod at Spock with resolve.
"Good." Nyota smiled softly and uttered a question that invited a departure. "I think you and Jim were meeting soon?"
Spock didn't blink. "Correct. However, it is not for another forty six minutes," he left out the seconds, she noted with warmth, "and I find your company preferable to solitude." The resolve started to melt, but only minutely.
"Okay." She settled back against the bench, the sleeves of their shirts barely touching. A sidelong glance through her eyelashes revealed that Spock was pleased. His posture had relaxed, and he hadn't even bothered to fix the way a slight breeze had mused his hair in the back. If the situation were different, Nyota would have smoothed it down for him.
It ached to not do so, but Nyota hadn't decided on anything yet. Instead, she rested her head on his shoulder and watched holographic clouds race across the domed sky.