Officer Material


Pat Foley

originally published in Masiform D #14, 1984

"Is that it for today, Number One?" Pike asked, anticipating the end of his weekly staff meeting for senior officers.

Number One checked her agenda. "Except for the announcement of the cadet orientation, Captain."

"Oh, right." Pike smiled. "Once again, Starfleet has selected the Enterprise as a host ship for approximately twenty senior Academy cadets. They'll be with us for about two weeks, and I expect you senior officers to insure that your departments provide your respective cadets with the best orientation Starfleet can offer." He grinned at the moans, groans, and "Oh, not again!"s that circled the table. "Come, now. This is an honor, remember! Surely such seasoned Starfleet veterans as you can handle a motley group of raw kids." He straightened and glared significantly around the table. "At any rate, you'd better be able to. I expect these kids to leave the Enterprise with not only the conviction that she is the finest starship in the fleet ... which she is," he added ominously, "but also with the impression that her officers and crew are of equally high caliber. These kids are to be taught ... if they're capable of learning anything ... not teased or hazed, and you officers are responsible for seeing that this takes place. Understood?" The various glum faces assured him of their comprehension.

Pike nodded, satisfied. "Fine. Number One will be sending around a list of which cadets will be reporting to which departments. Engineering, Sciences, Security, Ship's Services: we've been given a pretty mixed group. Let's see what kind of cadets Starfleet is turning out these days."

Fortunately for him Pike mused, he did not have to pay much attention to the cadets. When they finally came on board, he gave a little pep talk, welcoming them and wishing them well, and then he handed them over, so to speak, to the appropriate senior officers, to be further parceled out to other, junior officers.

He had personally and rather surreptitiously reviewed the two pre-command academy cadets, who'd joined Starfleet in hopeful anticipation of someday rising to command level rank. Starfleet Academy had set up a program allowing such cadets to major in primarily command subjects but, in fact, any officer could be made post, i. e. rise to the rank of captain, whatever his initial field. All that was required was the completion of a course in command training, and only an officer of command rank could recommend a cadet or officer for that year of specialized study. Consequently, cadets competed endlessly with each other, trying to merit that recommendation. Of course an officer could be recommended for command training at any stage of his pre-post career, but cadets generally strove to get into the program immediately following graduation from the Academy. Not only did that bright mark on their records facilitate their rise through the ranks, but it gave their careers a big initial boost.

Command Training graduates were commissioned at the minimum rank of lieutenant, as opposed to the rank of ensign that was conferred upon mere graduates of Starfleet Academy. Making the jump from ensign to lieutenant might otherwise take several years. In addition, the chances of being recommended for Command Training lessened as time went by; an officer who hadn't been through the training within a few years following graduation from the Academy was labeled unfavorably.

Unfortunately, Pike found his two pre-command cadets a disappointment; their vociferous ambitions regarding command were out of proportion to their no more than average talent. The command and science cadets were more trouble to Pike than the rest of the lot, since they spent more time on the bridge, generally getting in the way and being tripped over. However, Pike settled for being polite, cordial, and distant, and gave Number One the unexciting task of shepherding the two command cadets. He was rather unimpressed with Starfleet's latest crop.

He still wanted the Enterprise to shine though, even in this marginal assignment, so he was pleased to see his science officer, Matt Nelson, patiently going over his station with a cadet, a young Vulcan that Pike had been careful to stay away from, since his curious interest in the cadet was purely due to the boy's race.

"Well, you've certainly got the hang of it," Nelson said cautiously after a while. "Why don't you give navigation the readings for a while?"

The cadet murmured assent and continued with the reports while Pike listened idly. They were on routine patrol, and the pedestrian nature of the reports, combined with the soothing timber of the cadet's voice, lulled Pike, delaying for a long time Pike's feeling that something was wrong with this routine procedure. He found the conviction creeping from the back of his mind to the forefront, until finally he sat up and turned around, concentrating solely on the cadet, trying to understand what was so out-of-place. Seeing his annoyance, the cadet hesitated, glancing uncertainly at Nelson, but his science officer motioned for the cadet to continue, and left his station. He came down to the well grinning in commiseration with Pike, shaking his head in amusement.

"Unsettling, isn't it?" Nelson chuckled, sotto voce. "I couldn't believe it myself when I first saw it. I'm still not sure exactly how he does it."

Pike frowned. Nelson apparently knew the reason for his discomfort. Pike generally appreciated his crew's assumption that their captain was omnipotent and omniscient, but now he didn't care if that illusion was momentarily shattered. "What is it?" he asked, equally softly.

"Can't you tell?" Nelson asked in open astonishment. At Pike's set look he capitulated. "He's translating the computer's spurious output signals -- those lights and beeps -- directly, without waiting for the computer to make a verbal translation. I've never seen anything like it." Consolingly, he added, "It took me half an hour to catch on to what he was doing myself."

Pike's eyes widened as the realization dawned. "That's it. I haven't been hearing the computer all afternoon. I knew something was off, but I couldn't put my finger on it. You don't know how he does it?"

"I haven't asked him yet." From the twinkle in Nelson's eye, Pike assumed, correctly, that he'd been set up for this, and returned Nelson's "Do you want to?" with a mock-glare.

He stepped up to the library computer, followed by Nelson and trailed by Number One, who had unabashedly been listening in. Seeing the three most senior officers of the Enterprise converging on him, the cadet stopped working and waited, a touch of worry in his dark eyes. Pike took pity on the young Vulcan, who was clearly expecting a reprimand of some sort, and took care to make his voice especially reassuring.

"I've just realized that you don't need to have the computer provide a standard readout. Where did you learn to understand the output directly? Who taught that to you?"

"No one, sir," the cadet said with caution.

"No one?" Pike asked skeptically.

"The computer's initial response is in code, sir. Like all codes, it can be deciphered."

"And you deciphered if yourself?" Pike asked dubiously. "Are you sure that you're accurate?"

The cadet looked at Pike, his eyes widening slightly. "Yes, sir." Apparently, his accuracy was seldom questioned.

"That's true enough, Captain." Nelson stepped in. "I've checked his responses thoroughly, and his interpretation is correct, though it does seem impossible."

Pike mulled that over, frowning a bit as he considered the implications of this revelation.

"If the captain finds it undesirable, I can offer the reports in the conventional manner," the cadet ventured.

"What?" Pike said, breaking out of his reverie. He realized he'd been frowning at the cadet for a good minute and a half, which was undoubtedly unnerving, even for a Vulcan. "Heavens, no. It certainly is faster, and if you're sure that it's accurate," he gave Nelson a meaningful look, "then I don't see why not. If it can be taught, it could save time in crucial situations when a few seconds can count." He smiled at the cadet, whose wariness had not left his dark eyes. "Good work, Cadet ... Spock, isn't it?"

"Yes, sir," the young Vulcan said quietly, pulling back both mentally and emotionally from Pike's projected warmth.

Pike frowned a trifle at the response and said, "Carry on, Cadet." Over the boy's head, he said to Matt, "Mr. Nelson, can I have a word with you?"

Nelson trailed Pike off the bridge. "Deck Five," Pike said to the turbo controls. "Matt, are you sure that this isn't some sort of elaborate gag?"

"I doubt that, sir, but I don't think that you'll have much luck teaching it."

Pike frowned. "You mean it's just some sort of fluke ability ... like lightning calculation or eidetic memory?"

"Vulcans come by eidetic memory naturally," Nelson reminded him, "and for all I know, they may be natural lightning calculators too. But I don't think it's a fluke talent, if that's what you mean. If you want me to pin it down, I think the kid's a flaming genius."

"Matt, come on ... one unusual ability hardly makes a genius."

"No, it's more than that. I've been talking to him for the past three days. For every question I've asked him, he's known the answers, and I've asked some real bone crunchers. In fact, there's been several times he's known more answers than I have questions for." He chuckled. "However, Captain, in the interests of preserving the honor of your command, I have skillfully hidden my ignorance behind my stripes."

Pike considered that. Matt was a fine science officer, so good that he inevitably expected to lose him to promotion in the near future. If Matt thought that well of the cadet, then that recommendation was good enough for Pike. "Still, he doesn't seem that exceptional," Pike said, remembering the cadet's subdued manner so different from the other cadets' open competitiveness.

"No," Matt agreed, "he's a hidden menace. Check his record if you don't believe me. Remember, though, before you give my job away to that kid, my invalid wife and seven hungry children."

"Matt..." Pike shook his head in amusement at his very exceptional and very single officer, and headed for his quarters.

It was later in the day before Pike remembered to check the academy records of the Vulcan cadet. Though he had always expected and demanded excellence from his subordinates, so much so that it was becoming commonplace to him, the reserved young Vulcan had made a definite impression, especially with Matt's backing. He watched the records swim into focus on his screen, and after a few moments, began to agree with his science officer's evaluation.

According to the records, Spock had graduated from the Vulcan Science Academy and subsequently refused an instructorship and research position in favor of joining Starfleet. From what little Pike knew of the VSA, that in itself spoke strongly for the cadet. His Starfleet record was a curiosity. All of his science work was exceptional; both the grades and the instructors' recommendations were uniformly meritorious. However, the non-science courses displayed an interesting variance, one that seemed to have a direct relation to his Vulcan background.

"Not aggressive enough," one hand-to-hand combat instructor had commented tersely, in seeming contradiction to the accompanying high grade. "While the cadet has undoubtedly mastered the techniques in class, his reluctance to use force would be a significant deterrence in a non-simulated battle situation."

Pike wondered idly how the instructor could have tested that fact, since Starfleet PT sessions were all simulated combat. He thought of his two precommand cadets. They were certainly aggressive enough. If their constant sparring for his attention was any factor, they would cheerfully and willingly beat the hell out of each other at a single word from Pike, merely to get his reconrmendation for the Command Academy. Were those the kind of officers that Starfleet wanted?

The Military Tactics instructor was more fair, but still withheld his approval. "While the cadet obviously understands military tactics from a theoretical standpoint, I believe his application of them in a battle situation would be adversely affected by his adherence to Vulcan philosophy."

The Strategics instructor gave a similar appraisal in more concise language. "... brilliant mind, but not Starfleet material."

Pike shook his head at that. Starfleet was, after all, an instrument of the Federation. It was admittedly and controversially human dominated. Pike could see why, since the Academy seemed to use human standards as the yardstick by which performance was evaluated and success rewarded. This one record was testimony to that sad fact.

He smiled grimly when he saw the instructor's comment for the course in Federation sociology. "While this student has made a remarkable effort to understand human standards, his evaluation of alien civilizations is still affected by his own cultural upbringing." Pike wondered grimly who had decided that alien cultures were better evaluated by humans, and shook his head in despair. He hadn't fully realized Starfleet's ethnocentricity until he saw it displayed here with a vengeance.

Still, he noted, the marks were all uniformly high; they couldn't fudge the kid's grades, so apparently they let all their animosity out in the evaluations. And they were damning enough. If he had been forced to evaluate the cadet, sight unseen, as a potential crew member for the Enterprise, on the basis of these records, he might very well have chosen another candidate with less controversial references. Apparently, mediocrity had a place even in his own books, and without his knowing it up to now.

He considered the record before him with great care. Matt's lighthearted comment about 'giving away his job' had made Pike very aware that he would, in fact, be in the market for a new science officer. Matt was up for promotion in less than a year, and Pike fully expected that between Matt's good record and his own clout, Matt would finally receive the coveted promotion to first officer -- which would mean a transfer, as Number One had not nearly enough seniority for a career move yet. He went over the cadet's record again, and after a moment's thought, he pressed the intercom button.

"Bridge, Lieutenant Otawa here."

"Lieutenant, get me the Director of Starfleet Academy."

"The Director; yes, sir."

With the usual Enterprise efficiency, he was soon patched in.

"Chris, how are you?"

"I'm fine, thanks, Commodore Ellingsly."

"And our cadets? I hope that they're not giving you any trouble?''

"Not at all, sir. In fact, I'd like to recommend one of them for command training."

The commodore beamed. "That's fine, Chris. Glad to hear it. Is it Williamson or Cary?"

After a blank moment, Pike realized that those were the names of his two pre-command cadets. "Neither of them, sir. I had someone else in mind."

The commodore frowned. "Who might that be? You don't have any other precommand cadets."

"No, sir, this one's in sciences I was referring to Cadet Spock."

"Spock?" The commodore looked at Pike with disbelief. "You can't be serious."

"I and my senior officers have been most impressed with the cadet."

The commodore's look hardened. "Well, I'd advise against it, Captain. I'd most seriously advise against it. Such an action, however well-intentioned, would be a mistake, not at all in the best interests of Starfleet."

Pike was intrigued. "May I ask why, sir?"

"It's not something that I'd care to go into over open channels, Captain. But I will say this -- that cadet is a troublemaker, and not worth the effort. You've got two worthy applicants to Command Academy on your ship. Recommend one of them; recommend any of the other cadets, if you like, but forget about Spock."

"I don't understand, sir. I've seen nothing in his manner or in his records to support such a damning claim. Can you be more specific?"

"I've already said, Captain," Ellingsly stressed the title pointedly, "that this is an open channel, and I don't care to go into it any further."

"I'm afraid you must, sir," Pike said coldly. "You've just implied that I'm carrying a potential security risk on my ship, a threat so serious that you apparently cannot broach it over an unsecured channel. If I don't receive more information, I will be forced to confine the cadet to the brig, and return the Enterprise to Base to surrender him to the authorities." Pike delivered the bluff as coolly as if he seriously intended to undertake the action.

"You wouldn't..." the commodore challenged.

"What kind of trouble, Commodore?"

The commodore's face set. "Very well, Captain, since you insist. Political trouble. All kinds of political trouble."

"Political?" Pike wondered if the cadet were part of some radical insurrection group, unlikely though it seemed.

"He just happens to be from the most politically powerful clan on Vulcan, Captain, and they most emphatically do not want him in Starfleet. They've nearly created an interstellar incident with both Starfleet and the Federation because of him. Unfortunately, he was accepted into the Academy before we were aware of the family's wishes, and since he was of age, barely, by both Federation and Vulcan standards, legally, we couldn't withdraw his acceptance. We haven't found any reason to expel him, either. And no matter what we've tried, he won't withdraw."

"What have you tried, Commodore?" Pike asked, his voice sharpening. He suddenly could see a reason for the wariness in those dark eyes, and the cadet's tight control.

"I've said all I'm going to," Ellingsly replied, with an expression of distaste. "I can't stop you from recommending him for command training. Unfortunately, that's a captain's prerogative. But you would be wise to reconsider. The boy has no business being in Starfleet. From what I've been given to understand, he has obligations on Vulcan, and his interest in Starfleet is nothing more than a childish, adolescent rebellion against his clan's wishes. And believe me, he won't be in Starfleet long."

"Apparently not, if you have anything to do with it."

"I've done nothing improper, Captain. I was referring to the fact that once the boy matures, if he ever does, and stops being such a willful, stubborn brat, he'll resign and go back to Vulcan where he belongs. You'd be wise not to involve yourself further. You're too fine an officer to make yourself an accomplice to some adolescent's childish pranks."

"And Starfleet would like nothing better than to keep aliens out of the service anyway. Right, Commodore?"

"Watch your step, Captain. Or you'll regret it."

"Is that a threat, Commodore?" Pike asked. "Because if it is, I'll remind you that on a starship, all official communications are recorded. And there's been enough said here to make a nice case of discrimination against Starfleet. Though it would be interesting to see if it would hold up in our human dominated courts."

"Do as you please, Captain. It is, as I said, your command privilege." Ellingsly cut the channel, and his image faded from the screen.

Pike let out a breath, and sat back in his chair. He was beginning to wonder if it was worth all this trouble to recruit a science officer. While he wasn't worried about Ellingsly's threats -- the commodore was well out-of-line on this issue -- he was concerned about whether any of the commodore's allegations were true. He frowned at the record and after a moment, hit the intercom button. "Pike to Bridge."

"Bridge, Otawa here."

"Lieutenant, my compliments to Mr. Nelson, and ask him if he would send Cadet Spock to my quarters."

"Yes, sir."

In a few minutes, the expected buzz came, and Pike hit the door release."Come in, Cadet."

"You wished to see me, sir?"

"Yes." Pike studied the cadet's dark eyes. They were indeed guarded, but there was a chink open in the boy's guard; he seemed willing enough to try to please, if he was given half a chance. "Tell me, Spock, why did you join Starfleet?"

The cadet dropped his eyes, but not before Pike saw the walls leap into place, and tension replace control in the slender frame. So, Pike thought quietly, no trespassing ... well, too late for that. But he did regret the question; it wasn't a strictly proper one by Starfleet's etiquette. Too many people joined the service for personal reasons better left unexplored. But before he could withdraw it the cadet was gathering himself to answer. Pike admired how the boy obviously brought himself back together, forcing the tension back to control again, stolidly preparing himself to reply to a question that obviously distressed him.

"My area of interest has always been astrophysics, sir. I believed that a position as science officer on a starship engaged in exploration would present more varied opportunities for research than a comparative position at the Vulcan Science Academy."

A fair answer, Pike realized, and probably true. It couldn't be very exciting to be done and settled at seventeen, which apparently had been the boy's other option. He had been bitten with the wanderlust himself, and could understand. If the cadet remained in and survived Starfleet long enough to reach the required retirement age, which, regardless of race, was still 70 years, he would be just beginning an adult Vulcan's prime. Plenty of time left to sit around in an ivory tower and run numbers through a computer. And in the meantime there was a galaxy to explore--

But that was obviously not all of it. The boy's reaction to the question implied that there were other reasons -- painful ones. Pike hated to pry, but Elingsly's accusations nagged at him. "And do you plan to make a career of Starfleet, Cadet?"

"That is my intention, sir. I hope to be able to undertake it."

"And your family -- are they in agreement with your goals -- do you have their support, and encouragement?"

The cadet hesitated, and then answered reluctantly. "Such factors have no bearing on my actions."

"Oh? I understood that you might have obligations on Vulcan that would conflict with a career in Starfleet."

"That is impossible. I do not know how you came by such information, but it is inaccurate."

"In what way?"

The cadet said stolidly, "I have no family, and therefore no obligations on or to Vulcan."

"But your records ... " Pike said, surprised that the Vulcan would try such a transparent lie.

"No family legally," the boy said, looking pushed. At Pike's set look he capitulated. "When I joined Starfleet, I was formally disowned and disinherited by my clan. There is nothing for me on Vulcan."

Pike's eyes were wide with astonishment, but he held back any comment. The cadet's eyes were downcast, and the rigidity in every line of his body made it obvious that the conversation had descended to painfully personal levels, in spite of the boy's attempt to be stoic about it. Pike tried to coordinate Spock's statements with Ellingsly's comments that the young Vulcan's family was still trying to force him from the Academy. He couldn't see the sense in that if they had cut all ties to the boy. Unless, Pike frowned bitterly, if they did succeed in forcing him out of Starfleet, and he tried to return home, they intended to really make him crawl. It didn't seem very Vulcan ... but then none of this did. It was regrettable that the boy's family disagreed with his choice of career, but Pike couldn't see any substance to Ellingsly's claims that the cadet was insincere in his interest in Starfleet.

Pike studied the cadet, who had recovered some of his poise, and saw the hidden pain overlain by the stubborn determination in the dark eyes, the tense control hiding the vulnerability just underneath, and in that instance he decided that Ellingsly and the boy's clan could both go to hell. Whether the cadet realized it or not, he'd just acquired a champion in Pike.

He brought his attention back to the cadet and recognized the shuttered look in the young Vulcan's eyes. Obviously the boy equated him with any typical curiosity seeker -- and why not, he had asked the typical question --"what's a Vulcan doing in Starfleet?" Probably the kid had been forced to answer it every day for the last four years. But somehow he had to coax the cadet back out from his shell.

"I was pleased with your performance on the bridge today."

"I studied navigational survey very thoroughly with Doctor Samuel Haufman, sir."

"Really?" Pike said with deceptively casual interest. "Tell me Doctor Haufman's views regarding the warp inertia controversy."

Pike noted with satisfaction that the cadet replied without a trace of hesitancy. Matt had been right; once on his own ground, the cadet was unshakably confident. He tested the cadet with question after question, trying to find a level or area where the cadet was unsure, but soon got in over his own head. He decided to flat-out contradict the cadet on an answer that he was certain was correct, to see if the young Vulcan would back down. The boy's tone remained respectful and polite, his confidence never wavered, and he quoted verbatim unhesitatingly from a number of sources, both renowned and obscure, until Pike capitulated and conceded his error.

Pike's interest was real. In breadth and depth of knowledge alone, the cadet clearly had outflanked Matt, and Pike considered Matt one of the best. Of course, the cadet had no experience, but that would come in time. What was important was that he defended what he did know, and was open to instruction on what he did not. He was polite, but he didn't knuckle under even to a captain's pressure. Clearly, the cadet would make a fine officer, with a little help.

With a touch of curiosity, he asked, "How old are you, Cadet?"

The young Vulcan's eyes widened a trifle, but he answered evenly, "Nearly twenty-two, sir, in standard years."

"I thought all Vulcans answered questions like that to at least three decimal points," Pike said easily, puzzled at the cadet's sudden tension and lapse from the precision that he'd been demonstrating since he'd entered the cabin.

The cadet flushed a trifle and said, "I have been informed that most humans do not desire a precise answer to questions of that particular nature."

Pike frowned with anger. I'll just bet you were, he thought. He wondered who had given the cadet grief about that particular Vulcan idiosyncrasy, and replied, "Well, I certainly have nothing against precision. I rather prefer it myself." The boy didn't comment, merely watched Pike, and again he had the sensation of being studied like a specimen, with more than the usual senses. Vulcans are telepaths, he remembered, no -- touch telepaths; well, that could be useful too. In an effort to relax the cadet, he said, "Well, you certainly seem to have made a good start in preparing for your career."

"I have endeavored to retain a basic competency in most subjects of a scientific nature."

"Not to mention that you're quite a whiz with computers," Pike mentioned casually.

"A whiz, sir?" the cadet inquired cautiously.

Pike grinned a little sheepishly. "Exceptionally competent, so to speak."

"Any scientific endeavor requires competence in computers, since they are every scientist's basic tool," the boy said with complete indifference.

"And did you find the Academy to be all that you expected?"

The chink in the young Vulcan's armor opened again, and he regarded Pike measuringly. Apparently, this was not a question that he was often asked.

"I have found many aspects of my Starfleet training worthwhile," the cadet answered with caution.

So in spite of Ellingsly's games, Pike mused, he must have found a few teachers worth the title. "And has this cruise given you any insight on your anticipated career?"

Again Pike had the feeling of being a specimen under the 'scope. "I believe that the position of science officer on a starship does have the potential of being a personally fulfilling occupation," the cadet responded.

And you also believe it could be holy hell on the wrong ship, Pike thought, hearing the unspoken qualification in the boy's tone, which may have been what our commodore has in mind. Assign you to a captain who dislikes Vulcans, or just aliens in general ... there are still plenty of those around. ... Well, not if I can help it.

"I'm pleased to hear that," Pike said calmly, "because I intend to recommend you for command training." He waited expectantly for the boy's reply, fully anticipating gratitude, even excitement ... anything but the actual response.

"That is ... most considerate of you, sir," the cadet said slowly. "But have no desire to command."

For a moment, Pike only stared at the cadet, too astonished to reply, and the Vulcan continued with more certainty, "I appreciate your interest, sir, but I am sure that the training would be better expended on someone who intended to specialize in a command career."

Pike finally found his voice. "Is that so? Tell me," his voice sharpened, "do you realize that your career will dead-end in another two steps if you don't take command training? Or don't they teach those little facts in Sciences?"

The cadet ducked his head. "I did not wish to offend, sir."

Pike sighed, and gathered his temper. "Command training is not inappropriate in your case. Science officers are bridge officers. In many instances a science officer will have command of the ship, however briefly. And who do you think leads a science survey team? If a science officer with command training isn't available, then a command officer has to go along to babysit. And any good science officer can eventually make commander, and from there it's entirely possible to make the jump to first officer, and from there perhaps even to captain. I expect my current science officer to do all that. And you might be able to as well -- but only with command training. I can't believe that you would turn down that opportunity."

"I had not considered those aspects, sir," the cadet said quietly.

"I'll be frank, Cadet. My current science officer will be leaving the Enterprise within a year -- promoted, I hope, to first officer; that's confidential, by the way. I'm prepared, based on your record, and my science officer's recommendation, to consider you as a strong candidate for his replacement. But I insist that all of my bridge officers have command training. I could take you as an ensign when you graduate, but even if I promoted you to science officer when the time came, that would still leave me a command officer short. And I don't like to be short of command officers." He studied the cadet's thoughtful face. "Now, I can understand your reluctance to go back to the classroom when you're so close to getting out of it -- especially after this taste of space. I'd rather be on a starship myself ... " He grinned suddenly, "even as an ensign. But is that enough incentive to make you want to go back to school for another year?"

The cadet hesitated, as if tempted, and then, flushing slightly, said, "In all honesty, sir, I must point out that several of my command instructors found my performance in certain areas to be less than meritorious."

Pike was surprised at such candidness. Usually cadets did not go to such lengths as to point out their flaws. "I've read your record. I was disappointed -- at the lack of tolerance in your Academy instructors. I think you'll find the CT instructors a little more intelligent. I doubt that you'll have any trouble."

"I am honored by your confidence, sir."

Pike found himself smiling at the solemn tone. "Then you agree to my proposal?"

The cadet raised his eyes, meeting Pike's and studying them as if be were trying to read the soul inside. Pike couldn't evaluate the expression in the opaque gaze, but after a moment the young Vulcan said quietly, "I would be honored to serve with you, sir."

Pike was struck by the conviction in the boy's voice. While the phrase was familiar, almost a cliche, hearing it now made him realize how long it had been since he had heard it spoken as more than just a conventional platitude. Irrationally he felt as if he had just been paid a great tribute. He struggled for an appropriate response. "Thank you ... um ... thank you." The cadet regarded him steadily, and Pike moved hastily to another subject. "I'll get in touch with some of the CT instructors, let them know to keep an eye out for you," he added, remembering the cadet's troubles at the Academy.

"I would rather not receive any preferential treatment, sir," the cadet protested.

Pike frowned in mock anger. "If you're going to be an Enterprise officer, Cadet, you'd better learn to accept your captain's orders, whether you like them or not."

The young Vulcan's eyes met his with a sort of confused trepidation. "I didn't intend to contradict your orders, sir."

So this was the commodore's dangerous troublemaker, Pike thought, and chuckled in amusement. "Very well, Cadet. I understand. You may go back to the Bridge now. I'm sure you'd like to spend as much time there as you can. Sort of tide you over for the next year."

"Yes, sir." Halfway to the door, the cadet turned back, hesitating visibly before saying, "Thank you, sir."

"My pleasure." Pike smiled. "I expect to be well-rewarded -- if you turn out to be half the officer I think you will be. Dismissed, Cadet."

Pike sat down at his desk, feeling oddly pleased with himself, as if he had just done a good day's work. He glanced sideways at the screen, where the cadet's record was still displayed, and shaking his head ruefully, flicked the screen off and headed for the bridge too, without a backwards look.