One of the first things you learn, going into Linguistics: keep a reasonable professional circumspect distance between yourself and non-Terrans.
Customs vary so widely between peoples, human and non-human, that if you don't you can get yourself in a world of trouble even with humans from the far flung colonies, much less with genuine aliens. Look one directly in the eyes and you've suddenly advertised yourself as a loose woman. Smile and you've made a proposal of marriage.
I've heard all the horror stories.
But it can be hard for extroverts like me. We linguists are in general outgoing types. By nature of our chosen profession, we're eager to communicate with others.
But you have to keep your head, my intro instructors urged. Evaluate the situation. Make wise choices. Know who to open up to. Who to ward off.
I was always pretty careful. During all my fieldwork, my evaluators remarked on that. Even though I was still in training, I considered myself a good linguist.
Maybe that's why I hit the jackpot when I chose to break those professional rules.
I first saw Spock at the Linguistic Society of the Federation's Summer Linguistics Institute. The SLI was the crown jewel of the Society, its yearly gathering of the best minds in the Federation in that discipline. Where the greats came to be lionized and the novices came to put another notch on their curriculum vitaes and lobby for a graduate assistantship, a faculty position, a research grant. A job. That's partly why I was there. This year the SLI was being held at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.
There were other groups in summer residence at the campus to which a Vulcan could have belonged, though none as plausible as ours. But I knew he was attending our group for that most prosaic of reasons: he was wearing a windbreaker with the this year's SLI logo – a mixture of symbols including an Andorian affirmative, a Vulcan logical prime and a Klingon war blazon – splashed across its back. I couldn't help but recognize it. Not only was that icon splashed all over our summer program materials, but I was regrettably wearing a t-shirt and shorts with the same logo.
In normal circumstances, I had too much style to dress myself in what I disparagingly thought of as summer camp clothes. But the social whirl of the SLI had not resulted in normal circumstances. I'd been out late the last three or four – well seven nights. With hundreds of linguists from dozens of universities and worlds, with non-stop classes, seminars, lectures, homework, research, with all the greats in our field around to hobnob with, the inevitable partying and late night social scene after classes when we were set free, and with all of Hawaii to see, who in their right mind would waste time recycling laundry? It was hard enough even to do homework and study for the classes that were our ostensible reason for being there.
But the parties had a purpose too. They were a great way to make contacts for future employment. I considered them practically compulsory. With acceptance to a good post-doc school still looming before me, I couldn't afford to miss a one. Sheer accomplishment couldn't guarantee you everything. And though I was darn good, if I said so myself, I was from a small village without any other professional or personal ties to my field but my own concerted efforts. I had to make my name for myself. Get noticed on my own merits. And I had some pride in how I presented myself too, including personal appearance. Style was important to me. Anyway, no one but the lowest undergraduates rubes, and a few dippy faculty actually wore those camp clothes.
I had an outfit in reserve for today, the last before I had to recycle laundry, but my roommate Gaila had spilled something on herself at a party the previous night, had come back to our dorm, discovered she had nothing to wear for herself and had taken my last clean outfit, unbeknownst to me. That was why, scrambling through an empty closet, and then a basket of clothes in dire need of freshing, looking for anything suitable to wear to classes that morning, I had fallen back on our conference freebies and pulled out - in sheer desperation - the t-shirt and shorts that I was wearing. And blushed throughout a day's teasing from friends who knew exactly why I would wear such things. Fortunately, with my skin tones, a blush didn't show much.
The young Vulcan across from me looked far too sophisticated and mature to be wearing summer camp clothes either. But since I hadn't seen him at any of the party scenes, I suspected his reasons were based on logic: the windbreaker had a hood. And even a human certainly needed some sort of raincoat in this season in Hawaii. If you were from a desert world, as he was, then conceivably a raincoat hadn't been part of his wardrobe when he'd left the sands of Vulcan.
Even I hadn't expected that the tropical paradise of Hawaii would have a climate more like Washington D.C. at its muggiest. The sun shone, yes, but even when it was raining. You could watch it cook the steam right out of the earth, watch it rising visibly in the air.
The humidity played havoc with my hair, that I'd been wearing long and straight. Regardless of what method I used to tame it, by mid-afternoon it was frizzing again. The weather had been the one drawback to a nearly perfect summer session.
In spite of the rain, it was too hot for any human - including myself - to consider wearing even the light windbreaker that had also been part of the conference registration's goodie bag. Not that a raincoat would do anyone much good in this deluge. As the Vulcan had discovered. That was what brought us together. We'd ended up both sheltering under a building overhang.
He'd noted my mad dash for shelter with a raised brow and a sketchy nod, but then his attention was riveted back to the storm, clearly fascinated in spite of his discomfort. I warranted he probably had never seen the like of this where he'd come from.
"You'd think they'd have force covered walkways," I called, raising my voice louder than necessary to be heard over the thunder that accompanied the storm clouds rolling in from the sea. In the distance Diamondhead was rumbling too, and still smoking from its last eruption. I'd gone on a field trip there with a lot of other tourists/students. That had been exciting. Certainly it was exotic to be able to watch the long dormant volcano spit sparks into the air from the campus library balcony. I spent a lot of time in that library, from necessity. Besides being a clothes thief, my roommate had a distressing tendency to bring home one boy after another. I'd been forced to find alternate study areas. The balcony was a great, if you weren't too particular about the smell from the nauseous tree that bloomed just outside.
In spite of the roar of the thunder, combined with the muffled rumbles from Diamondhead, my fellow storm captive flinched just the barest trace at the pitch of my voice, so much his hood shifted, revealing delicate pointed ears. I probably could have whispered and been heard, given the rumors of Vulcans exceptional hearing. I'd forgotten that. "Sorry," I apologized, and then, even as I mentally chided myself for the faux paux, just to prove I wasn't entirely a neophyte in all things, I added the standard Vulcanir phrase asking for tolerance for a lapse in logic, and finished up with it in the ordinary Vulcanur dialect, used for everyday speech. I was curious to see how he'd respond. Knowing the language gave you a good start, but it didn't always mean you understood the people who used it. I'd had no personal experience with Vulcans outside of a very strict teacher/pupil classroom situation, just one of a myriad of students taking lessons with one Vulcan instructor. For professional reasons alone, this was a contact worth cultivating.
He flicked a brow, not entirely in surprise at my linguistic abilities - it was logical to expect a certain number of the attendees to be fluent in a variety of Federation languages, but in appreciation never-the-less. In turn, he answered my comment in perfectly unaccented Terran English. "The Hawaiians prefer to live in harmony with their environment, precluding such amenities."
"Tell me about it," I said ruefully. "My dorm is the one designed by I.M. Pei, around an open courtyard, with no screens. We have palmetto bugs as big as ocean liners, well, as big as rats, cruising up and down the corridors. And this morning when I woke up there was some kind of insect that looked like a large green pyramid with legs just over my bed. This going back to nature is all very well, but I prefer it in moderation."
His expression changed minutely. I couldn't tell whether in amusement or confusion. For a moment I wondered if he was going to further "tell me about" Hawaiian culture, or at least what he knew. Even though I had been trained to know better, I still had a bad habit of using colloquialisms in my speech, even with non Terrans. It was one thing I was continually cited for, in field evaluations. But it seemed he was familiar with the expression. Or at least didn't take my comment literally.
"Have you reported the infestation?"
"It got me nowhere. They tell you the bugs are necessary to feed these pale gelatinous lizards that hang upside down from every wall and ceiling. And you can't ask to get rid of the lizards, because they are considered good luck."
His lips twitched just a trifle at this. I was convinced it was definitely amusement. That, plus his linguistic abilities made him seem suddenly more approachable, almost human. Emboldening me to drop the reserve that all the textbooks recommend to normally practice around aliens and say, "This rain doesn't look like it is going to let up. Are you trying to get somewhere? Or coming away from something?"
"I had just presented the lecture on Computational Linguistics at Ililaleuki Hall," he answered.
"I wanted to go to that," I said, "but I was staffing at the morning Neurolinguistics panel."
He tilted his head in consideration, his lips slightly pursed. I could almost see him mentally reviewing the program. "You are one of Whitley's graduate students," he pronounced finally. "Uhura," he added, saying my name with a correct native pronunciation that stunned me, adding in Swahili, "I watched you translate the seminar on Tellurian psycholinguistics into Piscean clicker talk." He nodded his head in appreciation of what had been a singular achievement for me. "Most impressive."
"I am honored," I said, trying my best to get the Vulcanur pronunciation just right in turn.
He inclined his head gravely, and gave me the traditional Vulcan response, again in pure Swahili. Though he seemed rather amused at our various linguistic show and tell. I decided he was right and more was just showing off..
"I did it as a favor to my thesis advisor, Brillllll." I switched back to Federation Standard, except for where I had to give the trill in my instructor's name full justice. "He finds it hard to attend seminars held in conventional auditoriums. Really anyplace that can't accommodate a tank of water."
"Having come from a desert world," Spock said, his tone as dry as I imagined Vulcan's Forge would be, "I appreciate the difficulties in transplanting oneself to an essentially alien environment." He hunched further under his hood and raised an ironic, almost amused brow at the rain pouring off its brim in a steady stream, regardless of our attempt at sheltering. "Though perhaps on a day like today Brillllll," he gave the trill full justice too, "could dispense with his tank."
"I've never known a Vulcan to make a joke," I said in genuine astonishment and then had the grace to be embarrassed when he drew up a little in reaction. "Oh, what a provincial comment," I apologized, "Please excuse me."
"It is of no matter," he said, sounding as frostily Vulcan as any of my instructors. I mentally kicked myself. The one sure way of putting a halt to a mutually enlightening exchange was to point out to the participant how he had deviated from his cultural strictures. It set everything back to square one. And it put me squarely back in my place as a rube student.
"I really am sorry. I suppose you are going to say there are any number of Vulcans like you who do. But you see," I explained, "all those that I've studied with have been so…well, serious."
His face smoothed out to Vulcan stoicism except for flicking one of those classic Vulcan brows in an expression I knew Vulcans did permit. "Your Vulcanur is very good if you have only had experience with it in a classroom setting."
"The only Vulcans I've met have been my instructors."
"Until now," he said equably.
I smiled in relief that he was willing to make allowances for what had been a novice's mistake. "Until now, yes."
His shoulders had dropped a fraction in turn. "Vulcans do find some appreciation in humor, though the teacher/student relationship is considered to require a certain amount of due decorum," he said. "But, in point of fact, you may have some excuse for confusion," the corner of his mouth then quirked again as if at some private joke before he drew it back once more to strict Vulcan lines. "For there are not 'any number' of Vulcans like me."
That almost sounded like a challenge. And I couldn't help grinning in response to his humor. "Oh, really? A singular man, are you?"
"In some respects," he admitted, a bit smugly.
"How intriguing." I said in turn, responding directly to that teasing, and forgetting, once again, that this was, after all, a Vulcan. "I don't suppose you'd disclose them?"
Nothing but that amused quirk in reply and him drawing up a bit.
"A man of mystery. I think I like that." I tilted back my head, liking too that I had to look up at him. "Certainly it's a change from the stodgy professors and callow youths that I've met so far." In spite of his horrible windbreaker, and the fact that we were both turning into drowned rats, he was undeniably handsome. And Vulcan or not, he was the most eligible guy that I had met so far at the SLI.
His expression turned serious again. "You're displeased with the seminar attendees? To me it seems quite an eclectic and interesting group."
"Well, in some respects it has been a little dull." Again thinking less of him being Vulcan and more of the fact that I liked that little quirk of a smile that played around the corners of his mouth. I met his eyes meaningfully.
A raised brow back let me know he took in my full meaning. I felt a little shocked in spite of myself. What were we doing, half flirting, human and Vulcan and at a Linguistics conference to boot? We both knew this kind of discourse just wasn't professional. That flick of his brow had returned letting me know he didn't entirely approve. But he didn't seem too surprised, or too appalled. He seemed to have an almost human acceptance of my very human teasing, something I'd never expected in a Vulcan. It led me on but I was having too much fun, and was too distracted watching the extent to which his face revealed his thoughts to heed the internal warning that I had really crossed the lines, at least for a linguist, and needed to stop right now. But he had crossed them too. That alone both intrigued me and seemed to justify our interaction.
I'd studied Vulcan expressions as well as body language, along with Vulcan languages. To a true linguist, communication involved more than words. But he showed more expressiveness than I had ever seen in my study guides or with my tutors. And that almost human humor made him uniquely curious to me. Perhaps it was because he was so young. But before he could reply the wind shifted to a nearly horizontal course and blew a blast of rain directly against us. Even though it was a warm rain by tropical standards, I was immediately soaked through what little of my clothing had been spared before. We both flattened back against the building's overhang, but it had become useless as protection. "This is no good," I shouted over the wind. "We're going to have to move. Now even I'm freezing."
A line appeared between his brows. "My apologies. I don't tend to think of humans suffering from that particular problem."
Before I could say I found it intriguing that he would know any human at all in any personal way, and wanting to ask him who they were, he'd removed his garish jacket and threw it around my shoulders. Now I was 100% dressed in camp clothes. I winced at the picture I must have made, even as I clutched the jacket around me.
"We must seek a better shelter," he said.
"You don't have to –" I protested. "Look, you're the one whose lips have gone green!" I looked around but I wasn't sure where to go. I wasn't that familiar with the campus. But it was no use trying to get into the building we were sheltering under. During this part of the summer session, the university catered mostly to teachers wanting a cheap vacation while they filled their certification requirements. Except for the SLI seminar and a few other specialized buildings hosting the other groups, the campus was deserted. The graduate education and Linguistics buildings and the dorms were full. The rest of the buildings were largely shut down, shuttered, and locked to save on energy and for security purposes.
"Naturally," he said, with a twitch of those same lips, but before I could call him on it, his arm was urging me forward. And then we were running across the campus through the rain, splashing through puddles and soaking our feet.
My dorm was a mile away. I didn't know anywhere else near by. I followed his lead through the rain-laden air. By the time we pounded through the entranceway of a building we were both completely drenched, our clothes plastered to our skin. I coughed and choked just inside the entranceway, amazed that I seemed almost to be breathing in water. "Is it possible to drown in a rainstorm?"
"Perhaps here." His voice was still amused but he was already striding down the corridor as if he knew exactly where he was going. I recognized the building as one reserved for graduate housing. "This way," he said.
For a moment, I hesitated. But the fact was that my dorm was still half a mile away. And I hadn't forgotten what those open corridors would be like in a rainstorm like this – it would almost be as wet inside as outside, with a river of rain rushing down the corridors and stairwells. Once I actually got in the dorm room itself I could get dry, but the room still leaked around window frames and air vents. And what waited for me there but a basket of dirty laundry and a bunch of insects and unwelcome fauna? With any other stranger I might not have risked it, but he was Vulcan. I knew enough of them to know they had a highly enough evolved system of ethics. Given that, it wasn't too risky a proposition to follow a strange Vulcan male back to his room, even if no one else had a clue where I was and whom I was with. Neither, I realized, did I. So far, we hadn't even exchanged names.
These corridors were typical bland university housing, but they were of new construction, clean and dry, and amazingly insect and animal life free, which made me envious. The Vulcan opened the door to a small apartment rather than a room. And a nice one, that looked out onto a tiny terraced garden, complete with a miniature solar powered fountain, trickling among a rock garden now being pelted with raindrops the size of hailstones. I was impressed at the niceness of the room, even more so that the garden outside stayed outside and the air within was the first I had breathed in a week that wasn't laden with moisture. It was deliciously warm and dry, reminding me of my distant home. And even the window frames didn't leak. That he rated a suite like this certified to me that he must have some sort of status above mere instructor. The luminaries of the conference stayed in faculty houses dotting the university, or in private rented homes. Presenters and researchers had taken over the best graduate housing. This tiny garden apartment was one of the nicer on-campus residences I had so far seen. It made me more acutely conscious of my own ancient and comfortless dorm and that I was still only a grad student, without even a university instructorship yet to my name.
The Vulcan disappeared for a moment and came back with an armful of towels. I took one and began to mop my face, but it was pretty obvious that my soaked clothes needed more than a few towels. He regarded my attempts to dry myself doubtfully, and then came back with a terry robe, and pointed me to a door. "The fresher is there."
I took the robe gratefully, kicked off my squelching wet shoes, lest I track water all over his floors and followed his pointing finger. I still managed to leave wet footprints and trickles of water in my wake. If I had any qualms about changing into a robe in a strange Vulcan's apartment, the sight of me as a drowned rat changed my horrified mind. I had never looked less presentable. I swiftly stripped off the clothes pasted to my skin and dove into the robe. At least the room wasn't frigid with air conditioning. Any other time the hot dry environmental conditions would have been a bit stifling. Now they were more than pleasant. I had dug into my soaked bag for comb and cosmetics and was trying to do something with my hair when there was a tap at the door. I gathered the too big robe around me and peeked out.
He must have been digging through his wardrobe for something I could wear.
"If you care to try this, you might find them suitable." He seemed rather doubtful about the offering himself, but I took them and closed the door. Investigating, I discovered it was his allotment of camp clothes, still in their original packaging – a unisex, unisize t-shirt liked the soaked one I had just removed and the matching shorts and sweatpants, as well as a sweatshirt. It wasn't much of a choice, the option to once again be a walking advertisement for the LSI summer program or wearing some stranger's robe, but in my circumstances I couldn't afford to be too proud. I scrambled into them. Given a choice between wet drawers and going commando, I decided on the latter.
When I stepped out, carrying my sodden clothes, the Vulcan had changed as well into an elegant all black slacks and tunic. He had toweled dry his dripping hair. Though it was still damp, it was neatly brushed back into gleaming smoothness. He at least looked presentable and professional.
And he was pouring steaming tea into a pair of mugs. Having lived at the mercy of a communal dining hall a fifteen minute walk from my dorm, I eyed the preparations gratefully and a bit greedily.
"You're so lucky to have a kitchen," I said. For me the prospect of something hot to drink would have had to wait until the dining hall opened three hours hence.
"I don't believe luck had much to do with it," he said absently putting down the pot. "All the presenters' apartments have them," he took up one of the cups. "Do you take anything in your tea?"
"Lemon," I said, seeing slices on a plate. He added one to my saucer and handed it to me.
"If you like, I will put your wet things in the recycler.
"All right." I handed them over. "You're quite domesticated," I commented, watching him as he did so and make his easy way around the Terran room.
"Living on one's own requires one to be minimally functional in basic tasks," he said, turning from the device. "This is not an efficient model. It will take it twenty minutes to finish cycling."
"Then as I'm going to be your guest that long, I guess introductions are in order. Nyota Uhura," I said, nodding over my teacup, prescient enough not to offer him my hand.
"Spock," he answered with a grave incline of his head in turn.
"A trifle less of a mystery man now," I teased.
Again that trace of amusement crossed his expression. Either I was better at my chosen profession than I had ever suspected, or he was a much easier to read than normal Vulcan. Probably both. I drank my tea.
"If you are no longer chilled, I will set the environmental controls to reduce the ambient temperature," he offered.
I easily translated this Vulcanspeak to mean he was offering to turn down the heat.
That brow raised in surprise again. "Most humans find this temperature uncomfortable."
"You don't have it that warm. In fact, it's not too different from where I grew up. It's the humidity that gets to me here in Hawaii, not the heat."
"I also find that more discomforting than the actual temperature," he said.
"I was serious, you know, about being interested in your lecture."
He gestured me to a seat in the small living area, then went to get me a facsimile of the text. I went to make some more tea. I saw with some amusement that the kettle in this furnished apartment was a stylized version of a tiki bird from a popular amusement park exhibit. Without thinking about it, I began to hum and then softly sing the catchy tune featured by the "birds" in the show.
It wasn't until I lifted the kettle off the element that I realized Spock had returned. He had the facsimile of his paper in his hand, but he was standing in the doorway, staring fixedly at me.
He shook his head slightly. "Forgive me," he said. "I have not heard—"
"What? Oh, my singing. Forgive me. It's just a silly habit. I tend to sing absently all the time when I'm doing careless chores."
"Yes," he said gravely, an odd expression on his face. "There is no need for apologies. I'm familiar with the habit."
"You're—" I was puzzled but he held out the facsimile.
"Here is the paper."
I took it from him, while he took over finishing the tea. The concepts were impressive, but I frowned over a few points, tapping the fax with a fingernail. "You really think a skewed dimensional randomnality is sufficient to simulate spontaneity?"
"Not entirely. As I suggest, only within the context of given parameteral cues."
"That might serve for Vulcans. I think you are selling humans a little short."
"You have been working with the Pisceans and other Delphinidae," he said dismissively "They are more emotional than humans."
"But if your model is to be truly encompassing," I argued, "you'll need a full range."
"There must be a balance, or it would not be inclusive of the less emotive species."
He flicked a brow in concurrence.
"You don't think you might be erring on the side of ...familiarity?" I suggested. "Conservativism?"
He raised that brow again at that challenge. I was beginning to realize I could read him pretty well.
"Or perhaps," I suggested, "skewing the end result to what you think might be best for the more emotive species? A little less emotion, a little more logic? A cultural bias?"
Both brows now, in full astonishment. "That was not my intention," he said. "Nor has anyone else suggested that."
I drew a breath, wondering if he were going to get huffy now. I might have overstepped myself, but it tended to be a habit of mine, good or bad, when I got deeply involved in some argument. More than a few at his level had taken offense on being challenged by a student when I forgot myself.
"But it is entirely possible," he admitted finally, after a long time in a brown study made me wonder if I was going to be shown the door, rain or not. "One's culture does tend to be an undue influence."
"You could parameterize this function," I suggested, tapping the screen. "Then it could be customized for subsets groupings, or gatherings. The number of truly inter-Federation events where the logic parameter needed to be maximized would be few."
"Do you really think so?" he asked, giving me an odd look. "It would seem to me the reverse."
"Cultural bias again," I suggested. "From your personal experience, yes. But any event you would attend that would require such a tool would necessarily be a more...encompassing one."
"I think you are biased now," he said, with that raised brow that told me he was partially amused.
"Are you calling me provincial?" I asked, mock outraged.
"Have you not done the same to me? And, if the shoe fits," he said, with an amused glance at my notably still bare feet.
"Where in all of your world did you learn an expression like that?" I asked in astonishment, while I tucked them on the couch underneath me, partly embarrassed. Colloquialisms are so species specific and context-driven that the popular linguistic view is that they risk misunderstandings more than they add to discourse. The result is that all hypno-tutors and most modern language learning programs give them a wide berth. And he looked too young to have had much practical experience with pure Terran English, which differed in those respects from Federation Standard.
"As you seem to be intrigued by mysteries..." he said, "It would be unkind of me to enlighten you."
"Oh, that's unfair. You are wicked, Spock." I said, mock crossly.
"Wicked," he repeated. A faraway look appeared in his eyes.
I was smug at having caught him out with an unfamiliar expression, one I was sure that the Vulcan-Federation Standard language programs would not have bothered to include as a colloquial reference. "In this context it means-"
"I understand the context and the meaning," he said slowly. "My mother uses it similarly. And in that regard, your characterization is perfectly accurate. A fact of which my father would disapprove. He shook his head slightly in a purely human mannerism that surprised me again, and he met my eyes ruefully. "My mother would also chide me for the fact that I am being… somewhat disingenuous with you. I suspect she would also concur with your analysis of my program. I will ask her, when next I message her. I have little doubt she will confirm your suppositions...on all fronts," he added. "Including that of behavior. My apologies."
I was a little confused, searching my memory for any Vulcan linguist I knew who would have that kind of command of English colloquialisms and the ability to see outside of cultural perspectives. "She's a linguist?" I asked. "Obviously." I answered myself. "Is she teaching at this seminar? I don't recall any other Vulcans except Skalar." I didn't have to add that he was a traditionalist who would have skewed Spock's program completely in the opposite direction.
"No. An ethologist," he corrected. "And she is not here – or I would not have to message her to contact her."
"Yes, of course," I said, though I was still running names through my head.
He must have taken pity on my obvious confusion for he added, with an almost discernable trace of self-conscious embarrassment, "My mother is Amanda Grayson."
I managed to keep my jaw from dropping to the floor, but I must still have looked stunned. "Amanda - Dr. Grayson. Of course. I didn't realize- You're that Spock."
"There is no other." He was regarding me narrowly, his shoulders a little tense.
"Well that explains a lot!" I said, with some relief. "I was thinking I must have seriously missed something! I'd hate to think I was that clueless in my own field. It's been a particular study of mine."
"In what respect?" he asked, looking even more guarded.
"I've been wracking my brain trying to figure out what educational program you could have used that would have given you such a command of colloquial Terran English expressions," I explained. "That's my major. That I couldn't identify one just galled me. So far as I knew, there weren't any."
"You are correct."
"Amanda Grayson," I repeated, sitting back in my chair. "Wow. I've read her books, you know." I met his eyes, self-conscious in turn at the skeptical brow he raised in response to that and I shrugged. "Well, I've read some of them. The ones written for a more popular audience. I tried one or two of her academic monographs, because I love her theories. But I'll confess I could never get much past the introduction. Once she got into hypermodels, they went whoop," I sketched a hand above me in a careless gesture, "right over my head."
"It can be a rather esoteric field," he said, sitting back in turn. His shoulders had dropped a fraction and he was regarding me curiously.
"That's one heck of an advantage," I added, regarding him admiringly.
"An advantage?" he asked, a puzzled line between his brows.
"To being an interstellar linguist. Cross-culturally, that's a pretty major bridge."
His brows flew up in apparent astonishment. "I have never had anyone express that opinion before." He regarded me. "But in fact, I am not a linguist. Nor an ethologist. My primary field is astrophysics."
"Astro – What in the world are you doing here at the SLI, then?"
"My secondary specialty is computers. I had written this paper for a post doctoral course in compulinguistics and submitted the paper for review to a journal. The editors suggested I submit it to the conference. And it seemed a useful way to accomplish multiple goals in one action."
"To see Hawaii? Even though this is my field and I would have come anyway, I have to confess that was a real plus to this summer session. I love to travel."
He went to pour me more tea. "It's a fascinating culture, but no. I am also here for recruiting purposes."
"M.I.T. already turns away more applicants in a day than most universities get applications in a year." I took back the cup he handed me. "Why would they need anyone to recruit for them?"
"For Starfleet. I'm presently on detached duty while I do some postdoctoral work at M.I.T. But I have agreed to do recruiting when I can."
I nearly dropped the cup, and I was hard-pressed not to drop my jaw again. "Starfleet? But you're-" I closed my mouth over saying that as a Vulcan he was an odd choice for that institution. And fastened on something less insulting to both him and me, "You seem a bit young for a recruiter. Aren't they all officers?"
"I am a Lieutenant Commander," he said with grave amusement.
I shook my head. Gauche or not, I had to say it. "I still don't understand why someone like you would be interested in Starfleet."
"Someone like me?" he asked, drawing back a bit, regarding me again with that narrowed look.
"You must have been a shoe-in for the VSA." I bit my lip, realizing I'd used another colloquialism and drawing a belated breath to explain.
But again, it didn't seem to phase him. Instead, his shoulders dropped and he relaxed perceptively. "In point of fact, I took two advanced degrees at the VSA before I entered Starfleet. And was offered an instructorship there."
My eyes widened. "You gave up the VSA for Starfleet?"
"My father was similarly appalled," he said, seemingly still amused.
"Your father is-"
"Ambassador Sarek," he and I said together. I mean, even I couldn't forget that name.
"Though of course, he controlled his reaction better." Spock said.
"I can imagine," I said weakly. "I mean, no offense, but just to even attend the VSA is such an honor. And Starfleet- well, it seems more like a military institution, rather than a research one."
"Starfleet encompasses many disciplines. And of course," he added, with a flick of that classic brow, "travel is an intrinsic part of a service career. Since you seem enamored of travel, you might consider it."
"You have another offer?" He raised a brow.
"Well…no. Not yet. But I've still got another year to go before I finish my advanced degree."
"I hope for a professorship. Hopefully at some alien, multi-cultural world. Memory Prime. Maybe even the VSA, if I can get into it. It's very competitive," I said wistfully, "but still, they have an extensive off-worlder exchange student program. They're more liberal than most," I told him.
"I know," he said with grave irony.
"I imagine you do," I said.
"You must realize they take very few Terran humans, however," Spock said. "They are intent in maintaining a certain diversity in their exchange program."
"It's just something to dream about," I said absently. I was still struggling to take in his surprising confessions. "Wow. Amanda Grayson. Ambassador Sarek. And Starfleet. I would never have guessed that, in trying to place you."
He tilted his head in amusement, and sipped his own tea. "So, I am somewhat less a man of mystery? How disappointing. I apologize if I have cheated you out of your speculations."
I smiled. "On the contrary, you've added to them, immeasurably. And I confess, I am more than a little envious. I wish I had half your advantages."
"My advantages," he repeated, somewhat dubiously.
"There's always a lot of contention for the interstellar posts. And whether they admit it or not, humans are somewhat at a disadvantage in being considered for them on alien worlds. There are so many of us. You are lucky. You've got the best of both."
His brows had risen to his bangs again, as if I had said something astonishing, but then he looked at me speculatively. "If you are truly interested in alien interactions, you should seriously consider a Starfleet career. Why limit yourself to one world, or a limited number of species, when in Starfleet you will have access to multitudes? There are many advantages to such a career: groundbreaking fieldwork, the best of equipment and the breadth of exposure to the whole of Federation discourse."
"I never thought seriously of Starfleet, but you may be right… except that I don't really see myself as a soldier."
"Nor do I," he said simply.
"Or myself in a Starfleet uniform," I added, making a face.
"Indeed," he said, and gave a pointed look to my "summer camp" t-shirt – his, of course, but he clearly hadn't forgotten my own drenched one tumbling right now in his clothes fresher. "Naturally, it does not bear comparison to the inestimable style evident in your choice of garments."
"I only wore that because," I began hotly, and then saw the barely evident twitch at the corners of his mouth. "You're teasing me!"
"You forget, I have seen you present at other sessions in more …personable…attire."
I huffed out a breath, mock outraged, but soon gave it up to smile in return. "I think this is the most interesting experience I've had at this conference."
"Indeed? I'm honored." He poured himself more tea before added, wickedly, "I think."
I choked on my own tea. "Could you warn me ahead of time before you make a joke? At least when I'm in the act of swallowing."
"I'll consider it."
"You are incorrigible," I said.
"So my mother has often said." I could see that he wasn't in the least daunted by my pronouncement.
"I think I like the sound of your mother."
"I believe she would like you," he returned.
A soft ping announced my clothes were dry and ready for me. He rose to get them. I looked down, blushing a little at the sight of my panties and bra in his hands, but he was so matter of fact about it, I was glad I didn't show a blush too well. His hands, brushing against mine as he passed them over, felt strong and warm. I thought of his arm behind me, urging me through the rain as we ran across the campus. The amusement in his eyes, the quirk of his mouth. What had come to me, along with that little ping, was that the reason for this unusual encounter was over. Outside the traitorous sun was peeking through the cloudburst, steaming the ground again. No reason for me to stay longer. Except I didn't want to leave.
"I haven't seen you," I said slowly, "at any of the after-session parties."
He flicked a brow. "I have been working on my presentation up till now."
"But now that's over," I pointed out.
"And I have not been invited."
Naturally. No one would think to invite a Vulcan to a party. I looked up at him. "There's one tonight."
He looked down at me. For a long breathless moment I got lost in those eyes. My hands, taking the bundle of clothes from him, fumbled and let the clothes go. They fell down around our feet, but neither of us noticed. His hands moved to take mine. I drew a breath and then I did something completely human, completely against all my training. I leaned up and brought my mouth just up to his. And then stopped short.
He drew a little breath, just for a moment, and then, he tilted his head just a little and brought his mouth down on mine. That first kiss was very gentle, just our lips meeting, very lightly, and our hands still entwined. After the first brief kiss he lifted his head a fraction and his eyes met mine. And then, by mutual consent, I rose up and he lowered his head again, and we kissed again, this time stepping into each other's arms. I could feel his breath against mine, the rise and fall of his chest, the warmth of his arms encircling me. And time, as far as I was concerned, could stop. I didn't want to move.
But he drew back again, grave and calm, and raised a brow. "Were you about to invite me to a party?"
I drew a shuddering breath. "Was I?"
"I believe that you were."
"They would be great for recruiting," I said absently.
"That had occurred to me."
"It might actually keep us out of bed," I said.
He paused for a long beat, while I wondered if I had gone too far. "Perhaps for a while," he allowed slowly.
I looked up at him and took another step into his arms. "Do we really want to risk that?"
That minute quirk of his mouth. "I calculate the odds that it will not be that much of a risk."
I wasn't appeased. Anything could happen. "Why take any risk at all?" I wondered.
For a moment, he looked down at me. There was a rumble of thunder. Or perhaps it was just Diamondhead bellowing again, rattling the windows. He glanced at the rain drenched garden outside. "It is storming once more."
"We could wash away in all this rain," I said. "Or that volcano could erupt again. We've only got six weeks left to the institute before you have to go back to Starfleet and I have to go back to my university." I looked up at him. "Let's not waste what time we have."
He was very still for a moment, his eyes locked on mine. Considering. "It's very…unprofessional."
"I know," I said. "It goes against all my training too. I'm really a much better linguist than this."
"I believe you," he said. "It's obvious you have exemplary communication skills."
I looked up at him, half challengingly. "And how are you as a physicist? Can you make the earth move?"
He knew that colloquialism too. He set his mouth determinedly against his amusement, but he failed entirely to keep from a smile. "You will have to tell me."
And then our mouths were too busy to care who was smiling.
We did make it to that party, merely fashionably late. Though I never did make it back to my dorm. I had to endure the teasing of my friends at my camp clothes. I didn't tell them whose they were. And I didn't have to tell him anything about making the earth, or the heavens, for that matter, move. He knew how.
I could see that I wasn't going to spend much time in my overpopulated dorm room in the next six weeks. Gaila was happy, since it left our room largely free for her, though I had to endure some teasing from her on the fact that I had given her a hard time about her amorous activities but I was the one who was now spending every night away.
And as for Spock – well we made the rounds of all the parties. His recruiting attempts were successful with a number of students. Including me. Gaila too.
So you see that I started off that summer as a pretty good linguist. And became an even better one.
Minus one lapse that I've never regretted.
There's a time to break every rule. When I told that to Spock, he didn't disagree. He told me he came by it naturally.
I may never make it to the Vulcan Science Academy. But I'm going to make it to Vulcan – to meet his parents at the very least. Who must have broken a few rules of their own in their day.
So we're starting off already in good company. One way or another, linguists or not, we all speak the same language.
It's called love.
see also in this series Hello, Again, Guess Who is Coming to Dinner, The Last Unicorn and What it's Like
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