The fact that it had come upon them slowly made it all the more valuable to Spock.
When he had first arrived at Starfleet Academy as a student, he had found the academic load to be easily within his capability, but it had become quickly apparent that he needed to learn something about human emotions, not just to handle day to day interactions, but to be able to succeed as an officer.
Spock preferred the sciences, and didn't really covet what the other cadets called "the big chair", but Starfleet was an organization that functioned on teamwork. Everything from his survival training to his mock research missions required the formation of a team and someone to lead or guide it. On Vulcan, most organizations were fairly hierarchical, in that one person led, parceled out assignments to the people best suited, and then expected things to be done. Other species, however, required something more. They needed their team leaders to acknowledge their contributions, to praise them, and to encourage them to take initiative. Sometimes, Spock had noted, these methods, if well executed, enabled the team to exceed its mission, something almost unheard of on Vulcan. So he studied human psychology, and he learned to practice good management by rote, creating rules for himself about how often to praise the people under his command, and how often to push them harder. He remembered the time when, as a fourth year student, he had convinced a terrified freshman to cross a deep river canyon using only a rope pulley system.
"Do not underestimate yourself, Cadet. You have the skills to execute this task," he had said. He remembered the look on the young man's face after his successful crossing. Spock had been…gratified to have enabled another person to have discovered something within himself.
After he graduated and begun teaching at the Academy, he had so impressed his superiors with his understanding of psychology that they had allowed him to program the Kobayashi Maru simulation. So even though Spock did his best to divorce himself from emotion, he knew, at least in an academic sense, that the kind that erupted quickly often ended quickly.
She had at first just been another student. Of course, Uhura was never just another student in anyone's class, and Spock's was no exception. He had taught a course on Protolinguistics, the structure of all languages. It was not enough for a Starfleet communications officer to speak many languages. One simply couldn't count on being able to become fluent in more than, say, twenty. More importantly, though, it was likely that a ship could come into contact with new civilizations, and new languages. It was necessary to have some kind of approach to those languages, and learning the innate structure of language was the starting point.
For his whole life, Spock had been fascinated by the unusual, the cases that didn't follow the rules, perhaps because he usually felt like something unusual that didn't follow the rules himself. In his Protolinguistics class for third years, he began with the two major types of Earth languages – those that used word order to establish their meanings, and those that declined. He moved on to some Denobulan languages, which altered their verb conjugations not just based on the subject of the sentence, but also on the physical location of the subject. Then, he began teaching them about the infinite variety of exceptions to all of these systems that they would encounter. He exposed them to African languages which incorporated clicks, taught them about sign and gestural languages, and brought in speakers of Irradian, who shot streams of water of varying lengths from their gills to indicate which tense they were using (He made a note to himself that the next time he taught that particular class, he should probably caution students against sitting in the first three rows.) Uhura had taken the most copious notes during the sessions.
Where she had really stood out though, was her ability to understand languages of beings whose brains were fundamentally wired differently than Terrans. She was unphased by the language of the El-Aurians, who didn't experience time in a linear fashion and whose language had many confusing tenses, like past-after-future and repeating-time-loop. He suspected her natural ear was better than his own. Every time Spock would give one of these examples, notes would be passed to Uhura, or little clusters would gather around her as she was leaving class, asking her to explain. Spock had considered encouraging group work in the class, as most teaching manuals suggested, but decided against it when it became clear to him who would end up doing the group's work.
Several times, she had come to his office hours with examples of languages that hadn't been included in his lectures.
"Professor Spock, I was wondering how we would classify the Prokofi of Denaris Five, who stack rocks of varying sizes on the table in front of them during speeches to indicate emphasis?"
"Indeed, I was unaware of this example. We might classify this language as partly gestural, as we might do with some Earth languages, like Italian," he said calmly, making a mental note to add the Prokofi of Denaris Five to next year's syllabus.
"It's made me wonder," she noted," As Communications Officers, our protocol is to establish audio, then visual contact, yet we lose a great deal with some cultures if we don't have visual."
"Very true, Cadet," he said, pleased that she had grasped one of the key lessons of the semester, "yet, sometimes, visual communication must be sacrificed to strategic objectives. If the bridge of a Starfleet vessel is damaged in some way, it might be unwise to give that information away to an unknown group. A strategic tradeoff that must always be weighed. Indeed," he continued, "perhaps you could try to use audio communication to better effect. In the case of the Prokofi, one might try to use the sounds of the rocks being stacked to gauge the size and depth of the stack." She had smiled broadly at that, and he had been a bit confused as to why.
After she outpaced the other students by what Captain Pike called "a country mile" on his final, he had written a recommendation letter for her file that was, for him, quite glowing. It was only natural that she was chosen as one of the fourth year students entrusted to monitor the Starfleet Communications Array. Spock saw her there once a week or so. As a junior faculty member, he was often stuck with an overnight shift as Senior Science Officer, reviewing the incoming communications on scientific matters ranging from new nebulae to plagues. It was up to him to recommend dispatching aid or scientific survey teams. It was always a relief when Uhura was on duty with him. Most cadets just sent him file after file that he had to sort through, and they ate something called pepperoni pizza that left a disagreeable odor in the close quarters of the communications array galley. Uhura coded each file either for him, the strategy officer, or the cultural officer, she ranked them in terms of importance, and she brewed fragrant teas. She also ate a lot of chocolate.
"I think you'll like it, Commander. Most people do."
"Where does it come from?"
"The cocoa bean, grown in the Southern Hemisphere of Earth."
Spock had decided to try some. From then on, there was a third reason to enjoy Cadet Uhura's presence.
There was a fourth, though, that he didn't really admit to himself, not then, anyway. He found her presence restful, with her quiet efficiency, the way she politely asked about his mother and, equally politely, never mentioned his father, and her annotations on communications that were interesting linguistically. These annotations were written, he knew, for his benefit.
Just before the beginning of Uhura's last semester, and his as well, as he was being rotated back to active duty, he had been summoned one evening to the office of the Academy Superintendent. There, he had found, along with the Superintendent, Admiral Waite, a man known for his appetite and his enthusiasm.
"Well, well, here we are, Spock. We have a new project that's right up your alley."
Spock was confused. While there was indeed an alley next to his building in faculty housing, it was mostly used for access by the sanitation services.
"We have a new, experimental communications array coming online. Very deep space stuff. It will be able to receive communications going from location to location in the Beta Quadrant. Naturally, it can't pick up everything, so it will just be snippets, my boy, mere snippets. That's where you come in. You've been very Johnny-on-the spot with your shifts at the Communications Array, eh?"
Spock didn't believe anyone named Johnny was currently among the Communications Array staff, but he was beginning to see where the Admiral was going with this. The Beta Quadrant was home to the Romulans. This was perhaps an intelligence gathering venture of some kind. The Superintendent quickly chimed in.
"It won't just be Romulan communication. You'll be hearing communications from new worlds that the Federation hasn't yet encountered. Of course, we might wish to know which are allied with the Romulans, but we'd also like to catalog as many of these new worlds as we can."
The Admiral jumped back in,
"You pick your team, of course. You'll monitor the new array, and report anything of strategic and scientific significance to those of us at the top, what, what?"
Spock was again confused. Was the Admiral asking him to repeat himself, despite the fact that he had said nothing? Spock decided to let that go.
"I will carry out this task. I see no reason that my present duties cannot accommodate this project, since I am teaching only two classes this semester." The Admiral and Superintendent said nothing about the fact that two classes was a full load. They were merely relieved that Spock hadn't asked to be let out of teaching.
Spock had selected Uhura for this new assignment as a matter of course. He had been unsure if he should monopolize her time like this, but she assured him that she had only her senior project left, and that all of her remaining credit hours would have come from her practical assignment at the Communications Array anyway. He told himself that it was logical to assign her to the 8 p.m. to 4 a.m. shift along with himself, so that they could together review the work of the other four cadets, Uhura for errors in translation, and he for strategic importance.
The new Deep Space Array was housed on the third floor of a building on campus that contained mostly long term research facilities. Many of the labs required security clearance for admission, but the Academy hadn't wanted to call too much attention to the building, so there was only one security desk. There was a small cafeteria, but it closed at 6 p.m. and there was just a small lounge with a rudimentary food sequencer. The room that housed the array was quite small, and while it had some small storage facilities, the equipment took up a lot of room, and they couldn't really store food there, which made their midnight meal breaks rather dismal.
"Spock, may I ask you something slightly personal?" He looked up, as if her question was quite unexpected. He found though, that he was willing to tell her anything she wished to know.
"Yes, you may."
"That's the eighth time in eight days you've had salad for dinner. I don't mean to pry, but that doesn't seem like much protein." Getting enough protein was the bane of Spock's existence as a vegetarian. It usually wasn't a problem in San Francisco, a culinarily diverse city, but the institutional food at the Academy, particularly here in the restricted lab, had few options for him other than salad that didn't contain meat, and when Spock ate on campus, as he usually did, he often found himself having to eat protein supplements back in his quarters. He even kept a large supply in his office.
"You are correct, Cadet. I usually try to make time to get protein supplements at other times of the day."
Uhura had looked dissatisfied at this response. The next night, she put a hand on his forearm as he was about to go downstairs to the lounge for his ninth salad and her fourth turkey sandwich.
"Tonight we take the full meal hour, and we get real food," she stated decisively. He nodded, looking at her hand on his arm.
She led him two blocks off campus to a small Greek restaurant. The attached bar meant that it was open late. She pointed out a number of entrees with white beans and chickpeas. She also ordered an appetizer called hummous, which Spock found to be delicious. The owner, a fatherly man in his sixties, came over and embraced Uhura, and they conversed for a moment in what Spock supposed was Greek. She introduced Spock. Mr. Katsidis slapped him on the back and said that any friend of Nyota's was always welcome here. Spock nodded uncertainly, but for a moment was reminded of a dinner he had had with Captain Pike's family, where everyone had seemed very comfortable and at home. Mrs. Katsidis had even come out at the end of the meal with a large bag of something called baklava and presented it to him with murmurings about Starfleet "not feeding these youngsters properly, they are skin and bones."
"Thank you for a very agreeable meal, Cadet," Spock had said on the way back.
"I'm glad you liked it, Commander," she said. For some reason, Spock noted, she did not look him directly in the eye when she spoke to him as she usually did. He continued,
"Mrs. Katsidis did not have a high opinion of the Starfleet Academy cuisine."
"Neither do I," she said, turning to look at him.
"Nor I," he said, returning her look
This created an unspoken pact between them, and every Friday from then on, they went out for a decent meal during the meal break. Spock was able to try curried chickpeas, tofu with vegetables, and bagels and cream cheese. He told himself he was celebrating infinite diversity in infinite combination. He was also finding himself growing accustomed to the idea that someone other than his mother cared about whether he was eating well, whether he was leading a satisfying life.
Just as satisfying, though, was the work they were doing. They had intercepted quite a few Romulan communiqués. They were, as the Admiral had promised, just snippets, but Spock had pieced together some of the random fragments, enough that he had been able to report a possible incursion against some of the outposts at the edge of the neutral zone. He could not know for sure whether he had been right, as any military action taken on the basis of this kind of intelligence would be on a need-to-know basis only, but the Superintendent had dropped various hints that their work "was appreciated at the highest levels."
Uhura had identified over 100 new languages in five weeks. More importantly, she had identified a number of them as members of the same proto-linguistic family, indicating that they were languages from the same planet. She and Spock had deduced that ten languages belonged to a planet allied with the Romulans militarily, and five to a planet that had some kind of trading arrangement with them. Their time had been very productive.
Later, Spock would see this as the point at which he had become too complacent.
Two months after they began operations, on a Thursday night, or, technically, Friday morning, just after 2:00 a.m., Spock heard faint shouting. It sounded as if it were coming from the first floor. Spock opened the door to put his head out in the hallway, and heard the security guard's voice saying angrily, "You can't go in there." Then he heard phaser fire. He closed the door.