1. Ritishaya - n. dislike
The room was noisy and inadequately lit.
Bodies were crushed around the edges, voices raised, and laughter grated through the air. Music pounded in an unvarying beat that reverberated through the soles of his boots, and in the centre of the room people danced, without form or any apparent coordination. Certainly without any grace. The air was pleasantly warm, but thick with human perspiration, and politeness, only, kept him from holding a hand over his nose.
Had Vulcan theology created a mythological Hell – a place of eternal suffering – Spock imagined that it would have resembled Cochrane's bar on a Saturday night.
A shoulder slammed into his back, causing him to take a step forward.
"Sorry, mate, I— Oh." The cadet – clearly intoxicated – made an effort to stand to attention. "Commander."
He held a glass bottle in one hand. Its content, having sloshed out over his hand, was now dripping onto the floor. Spock imagined that the rest was seeping into the back of his jacket. "I am looking for Captain Pike," he said, by way of an answer. "Is he here?"
"Pike?" The cadet blinked and squinted around the room. Then he waved the bottle toward the other side of the dancers. "Over there, Commander, near the bar."
Spock followed his direction and saw the Captain half hidden among a group of people on the far side of the room. He would have to make his way through the crowd in order to reach him. It was an unpleasant prospect, but because his unease was disproportionate to the challenge, Spock dismissed the irritation he felt toward Captain Pike and instead slid a glance toward the cadet. "Edwards, I look forward to receiving your paper on Normative Theory in Interspecies Ethics tomorrow morning."
Edwards' eyebrows shot up. "You're grading my paper?"
"I have taken over Captain Ife's class in his absence." He raised an eyebrow. "I trust that your grandmother has recovered – again – and that you will not exceed the substantial extension you were granted."
"Yes, sir," he stammered. "I mean, no, sir."
It was clear the paper had yet to be written, and Edwards, Spock suspected, would shortly be departing Starfleet Academy.
Turning away, he fixed his attention on Pike and began to force a path through the crowd. The tawdry displays of excitement, hedonism, and desire that humans barely seemed to notice were offensive to his Vulcan sensibilities, and he deliberately strengthened his mental barriers to keep from being buffeted by the undisciplined emotions that beat, louder than the music, against his mind.
Not for the first time, he silently cursed Captain Pike's peculiar sense of humor.
Despite his best endeavors, however, it was impossible to maneuver through the crowded bar without unwelcome proximity to the revelers; the animated flashes from their overheated minds left him tense and irritable by the time he eventually reached Christopher Pike's side.
"Captain," he said, and was forced to repeat himself, twice, before Pike turned around.
"Spock!" The captain grinned and slapped him on the arm. "You made it."
He lifted an eyebrow. "Self evidently."
"What are you drinking?"
"I am not—"
"Let me buy you a drink, man!" Pike pushed forward, leaning across the bar, and spoke into the barman's ear. A moment later he turned around and held out a glass containing a small amount of tawny liquid. "There, Scotch. One taste and you'll wonder how you ever lived without it."
Spock let his gaze drift around the room, across the alcohol-befuddled faces, then back to the drink in his hand. He sniffed, and couldn't help recoiling. "I hardly know how I've endured the deprivation."
"To the Enterprise!" Pike said, knocking his glass against Spock's. "And her new crew."
"The Enterprise." He lifted his glass, but did not let the liquid touch his lips before lowering it again.
Among the dancers a disturbance had broken out – one cadet, sweaty blond hair plastered to his head, was now shirtless and performing a lewd dance with an Orion female. Their cohort looked on, cheering and clapping and laughing.
This, Spock imagined, was everything his father despised about Starfleet Academy. And yet here he was, in the midst of it, and Sarek was powerless to call him away; the thought was more satisfying than it should have been, and his enjoyment of it was tinged with guilt. Nevertheless, enjoy it he did.
Pike nudged his arm to get his attention. "So, Spock, they've got you teaching for the last few months, huh? How's that going?"
Considering his answer, Spock glanced once more toward the dancers. "I had forgotten how frivolous cadets could be."
Pike laughed, swallowing it with his Scotch. "They're young and stupid. We all were."
Spock raised an eyebrow, but did not comment.
"Oh come on!" The captain's smile was wide, pupils slightly dilated; evidently this was not his first drink. "Surely you did something stupid back then."
He respected Christopher Pike, had served with him for a number of years, yet still the man failed to understand the most basic truth about him. "There are many," he said, with care, "who consider joining Starfleet to be my greatest act of stupidity."
Pike's face sobered. "You don't agree, I hope."
"I do not." He glanced again at the writhing dancers. "However, I believe my youthful rebellion was of a more significant nature than indulging in frequent intoxication and the subsequent acts of public lewdness."
"Public lewdness?" Pike shook his head. "Spock… There's a lot of talent here, some promising young officers. Look." He waved his drink toward a cluster of students at the end of a bar. "See that kid? With the curly hair? Chekol, Checkout— something. Seventeen years old. Seventeen! You should see him on the transporter consol." Pike waggled his fingers. "Like lightning. And over there," he lowered his voice, "look, sitting there just down the bar… See her?"
Spock looked. "Lieutenant Uhura?"
"That's right – tracking for communications officer and graduating this year. An amazing ear for language." He cast Spock a sidelong glance. "She speaks Vulcan like a native."
"Her Vulcan is technically correct," he conceded, "but she does not speak it like a native." He glanced at her. She was staring into the middle distance, as if watching the dancers, though her features seemed peculiarly rigid and intent. "Her manner of expression is overly emotional."
"Overly emotional?" Pike swallowed another mouthful of his drink.
"Imprecise," Spock said by way of explanation. "Almost… Romulan."
Uhura turned her face away, the movement sudden enough that he heard the soft clatter of the beads woven into her finely braided hair. It occurred to him that she may have overheard his comment, despite the music, but given that he had said nothing inaccurate he felt no regret. His critique was valid.
"You know what?" Pike said, draining his drink, "I'm glad I didn't have to pass any of your classes, Spock. I'd never have graduated."
"That is highly unlikely, I—" He stopped, distracted, as Uhura walked past them toward the dancers. There was a pleasant grace about her movement, but it was the expression on her face that caught his attention; her eyes glittered and her lips appeared to be fighting a smile.
She was laughing.
She was laughing at him.
She wove her way through the dancers, inserting herself between the sweating young man and the Orion girl, and murmured something in her ear. There was laughter, eyes darting in his direction and rapidly averted, then more laughter.
Spock's back stiffened, his fingers tightening about his glass. He was aware that he, in a position of authority, must occasionally suffer the displeasure of lower ranks. He was aware that his fierce surge of anger did not originate with the cadet's disrespect, but that it was rooted in a lifetime of scorn at the hands of those whose approval he had most wanted – and had never received. He was aware that to harbor resentment against her would be illogical.
Yet, as he watched the cadets' laughter, he could not help but hear other voices – mocking, teasing, dismissive voices – and he felt an anger he could not quell.
He decided that he did not like Lieutenant Uhura.
"Her Vulcan is technically accurate," Nyota mimicked as she slid into a chair around the crowded table, "but she does not speak it like a native."
Edwards snorted into his drink. "The pointy eared bastard – he fails everyone. You know what he said about my binary logic paper? 'On Vulcan, a child of ten would have a better grasp of the blah blah whatever'. Superior sonofabitch."
"It's a good job he doesn't teach Vulcan, then," Nyota sighed.
Gaila – always the peacemaker – said, "He probably didn't mean to be rude. I don't think Vulcans go in for flattery, you know? Stuff like that doesn't bother them – they don't get upset like we do." She cast a glance at Edwards. "And I know you were still writing that paper ten minutes before the deadline, so..."
Nyota glanced back toward the bar, toward Captain Pike. The commander was gone, but the damage had already been done and she felt a rising wave of despair. Letting her head sink down she banged it against the table. "Why did he have to be talking to Pike? Why?"
"Oh come on," Gaila put a hand on her back. "It's not going to have any effect on your commission. They're going to look at your academic record, not what some guy says in a bar!"
"You don't know that," Nyota sighed. "And, anyway, he's not 'some guy' – he's Pike's ExO. Of course he listens to him."
Gaila gave her an odd look. "You know a lot about him."
"I know a lot about everyone connected with the Enterprise. Life doesn't unfold by chance, Gaila – if there's something you want you have to make it happen."
"You're scary," Edwards said, draining his beer. "Freaky."
She cast him a hard look. "Don't you have a paper to write?"
"I've got, like, eight hours..."
Eight hours until class. Nyota glanced at her watch; it was time to go. She stood up. "I'm gonna turn in."
"The party's just starting!" Gaila protested. "Come on, first night back...?"
"Don't wake me up when you come in."
"The language labs are closed!" Gaila called after her as she made her way toward the door. "You can't practice your Vulcan!"
Nyota ignored her and pushed on through the crowd, glad to step out into the cool night. She paused there a moment, drew in a breath of clean air and let it fill her lungs. All around her the city raised its arms, reaching up to the stars. Only a few were visible amid so much light, but that didn't matter because the star she really wanted to see would be along any moment and was too bright to miss. Moving away from the bar and the noise spilling through its door, she crossed the quad and stood on the grass; it was dewy and the moisture seeped through her thin shoes and chilled her feet. She liked it, liked the feeling of being rooted as she gazed up and waited.
It appeared about thirty-five degrees above the horizon, blinking into existence, and travelled rapidly across the sky and over her head – the Fleet Yards, where Enterprise had docked two weeks earlier, awaiting her final outfitting. In six months she would make her maiden voyage, and Nyota Uhura intended to be on board. Whatever it took.
2. Pahutau – adj. agitate; disturb; to arouse interest by use of written or spoken word; debate
Commander Spock was well aware of the irony inherent in the ritual of his morning meditation. It had been a bone of contention during his childhood, his father insisting on the practice and Spock resisting, preferring instead to run out into the desert around Shi'Kahr and enjoy the meditative effect of physical exertion.
Yet, since joining Starfleet, he had observed that Vulcan rituals had come to hold more significance in his life; he was, he realized, defining himself as Vulcan because he could not define himself as human. Therein lay the irony – he felt more Vulcan on Earth than he had ever done on his home planet.
However, this morning, meditation eluded him.
The encounter in Cochrane's bar lingered, unsettling matters at the root of his psyche. Spock did not enjoy being mocked.
Flashes of memory escaped his control – the feel of his fist on another's face, the taste of blood, of vengeance. The shame of his failure remained, but so did the illicit joy he felt in shocking them, in snubbing them.
No Vulcan has ever turned down a place at this Academy.
He smiled. It was not a good sign.
Resigning himself to failure, he rose to his feet and snuffed the lamp. "Reduce window opacity to five percent."
Sunlight flooded into his quarters, the sky a vivid alien blue. Outside, all was quiet and he felt a sudden longing for that peace. There was a path next to the waterfront where he had often run as an undergraduate, beating out the complexities of human interactions against the hard gray pavement and gazing out over the vast expanse of water that, even now, was disturbing to his Vulcan eyes. He would run there today, to quell with exertion those feelings that meditation could not resolve.
He would feel his blood burn, and use the heat to scour away his anger and restore him to calm.
They gymnasium only had sonic showers and Nyota hated them. It was typical of San Francisco – of the whole North American continent! They were obsessed with technology. The place was surrounded by water, it seemed to rain every day, and yet Starfleet insisted on the high-tec option even when low-tec was preferable. She sometimes wondered how long it would be before they dispensed with communication officers entirely, relying on a computer to interpret the subtleties of subspace communication and alien languages.
At least the computer would have the right accent.
She dressed quickly, still chewing over the insult of the previous night. The sonic shower had done nothing to cool her down after her workout, and that only fed her foul temper. How dare he critique her performance when he had never even taught her; how dare he critique it in front of Captain Pike!
"Arrogant bastard." He had no right.
Hoisting her gym bag over her shoulder, she went in search of breakfast. That didn't improve her mood; despite almost four years at the Academy she still wasn't used to the American penchant for cheese. On everything. What she wouldn't give for a mandaazi to go with her coffee – or a cup of chai to clear her head. She had to settle for a limp fruit salad and yogurt.
It being the first day of the semester, tutorial groups were being allocated and she checked the messages on her PADD as she ate. She'd completed the last of her compulsory classes the previous semester, and now only had to catch up on a couple of requirements – one of which was interspecies ethics. She was looking forward to it, but as she glanced down the list she almost choked on her yogurt.
Uhura, Nyota: group 7e – instructor, Commander Spock.
"Damn it." She threw her PADD down on the table, drawing a couple of curious stares from the other diners. Nyota ignored them.
This day was going from bad to worse.
It was an unfortunate coincidence, Spock decided as he read the list of the names in his tutorial group. However, he had endured more challenging situations in the past and refused to be affected by her inclusion in the group. According to her academic transcript she was an outstanding student, and would no doubt make an excellent contribution to the class. He did not dwell on the laughter in her eyes; there was no reason to suppose the insult would be repeated.
When he entered the room at two minutes to nine his supposition was confirmed. There was no laughter in Lieutenant Uhura's eyes; they were cold and distant and met him with defiance. He paused, taken aback, then turned to the rest of the group. "Good morning."
"Sir," they replied, standing and coming to attention.
"At ease," he said and took his seat at the head of the table. He glanced down at his PADD, running his eyes over their names. "Three tracking for command, two for science, and one for communications." He did not look at Uhura. "This class will be beneficial to you all..." He chose a name at random from the list. "Verdugo, define the single issue at the heart of interspecies ethics."
Verdugo, a serious-looking young man, frowned. "Moral relativism, sir?"
"Precisely. Please expand."
"Moral relativism is the degree to which we accept the actions of other species, despite the fact that they conflict with our own ideas of right and wrong."
"And the degree to which we don't." The interjection came from Uhura, and Spock was forced to turn his eye on her. There was no mistaking the challenge in her eyes. "Moral relativism can only go so far."
"So far?" He lifted an eyebrow. "That is an imprecise measure. How far is 'so far', Cadet? And, more importantly, who is to make that determination?"
"Not just humans – the Federation. There are rules of engagement, the rights of the individual are protected by law – we already have the legal framework." She folded her hands before her on the desk; he noticed tension in the way her fingers curled together. "We measure other species by that standard."
"You assert that the body of law enacted by the Federation is a moral absolute, furthermore you assert that it is our role – our right, perhaps – to judge other species against that absolute standard of morality." He turned in his chair, so he might observe her more closely. "You are in error."
"I dispute that, Commander."
"Logically, there can be no moral absolute; morality is always a subjective judgment."
She turned her eyes in his direction; there was no laughter, but they glittered nonetheless. "I believe that is a statement only a Vulcan would make, sir."
He found himself roused, as if for a fight, his pulse accelerating. "I infer from that statement that you believe moral judgment to be governed by an emotional response, in which case you undermine your own argument – it is, inherently, a subjective judgment and therefore cannot be an absolute principle."
Her eyes narrowed, lips pressing together. "Some things are simply wrong, that's all."
"Such as taking a life."
"It is likely, Lieutenant, that in your service to Starfleet you will be asked to take the life of another being. Is that wrong?"
"That—" She looked away. "It is wrong, but it can't be helped."
"Then there is no absolute prohibition on the taking of life?"
A muscle in her jaw tightened and her chin dipped, accentuating the elegance of her neck. "In most circumstances—"
"Most is not all," he felt a jab of satisfaction at his victory. "It cannot, therefore, be a moral absolute."
Uhura did not reply and a silence fell over the group. It was only then that Spock realized the discussion had excluded the rest of the class; he turned his head and felt a momentary surprise, as if waking from a dream, to see the other students staring at him. He cleared his throat, oddly discomposed. "McIntyre, how do you—?"
"Failing to adhere to a moral absolute," Uhura interrupted, "doesn't imply that the ideal is imperfect – only that our behavior falls short of our own expectation." She smiled, a blinding flash of triumph. "Your point doesn't hold, Commander. Morality is absolute, it's humanity that's flawed."
He considered her point, finding it unusually difficult to concentrate with those eyes fixed on him as though he were a specimen laid out for examination. "I believe," he said at last, "that is a statement only a human would make."
His concession provoked another smile, and she folded her arms across her chest in a gesture that clearly spoke of victory. Nyota Uhura, he noted, was one of the most combative students of his acquaintance.
He found the challenge refreshing.
Captain Nula Healy's office was large, overlooking the green expanse of the campus and the glittering blue of San Francisco Bay. It was a place of calm and reflection, crammed with mementos of her travels and with a scent that reminded Nyota of home – warm, comforting. Sandalwood, perhaps. Or maybe it was the Captain herself who reminded Nyota of her mother's no-nonsense practicality, tinged with that bright flare for adventure that Nyota had inherited.
Whatever the reason, she loved being in her supervisor's office. She felt comfortable here, valued.
This afternoon, Captain Healy sat in one of the deep armchairs with a mug in one hand and the Nyota's dissertation in the other. She nodded as she sipped her tea, murmured the occasional commendation, and eventually looked up. There were wrinkles around her eyes and mouth, but somehow they did not make her look old – to Nyota's mind they were testament to a life well lived and she hoped that one day she would look exactly the same.
"This is excellent work," Healy said, lowering her PADD. "I'm extremely impressed, Nyota – even by your own standard, this is exceptional."
She beamed, and felt as though her face might split with the grin. "Thank you."
"Send me your final draft before you submit – you're advanced enough that you can afford the time, and I'd like to make some comments."
"I appreciate that, thank you." She hesitated a moment before plunging on. "Captain, there was something I wanted to ask you."
Healy took another sip of tea. "Go on."
"I was wondering… I'd really like to apply to present my thesis at the Multidisciplinary Graduate Conference this year."
"This year?" Healy didn't hide her surprise. "You're not a graduate yet, Nyota."
"I know, but I think my thesis is good enough and I really want—"
"—the Enterprise. Yes, I know." Healy's eyes crinkled as she smiled. "Well I can't fault your ambition, Nyota, but you have to know it's a long shot. There are some excellent candidates."
"I understand that," she said. "I just want to give it a shot."
Healy sighed. "And how can I say no to that?"
"Really?" Nyota beamed. "You'll let me try?"
"I'll forward your application along with the rest," she said, "but I'm warning you not to get your hopes up. We have some extremely able grad students."
Nyota nodded, but in truth let the warning sail past. If she could present at the MGC it would almost guarantee her a place on the Enterprise…
"However..." Healy continued, looking at her over the rim of her mug. "I'd like you to also consider another option."
There was no other option, but Nyota kept that thought to herself and said, "What do you mean?"
"I know you're not interested in teaching at the Academy, but there's no doubt that acting as a teaching assistant in your senior year would complement your record." She waved a hand toward her almost-complete dissertation and said, "You have the time, Nyota, and – I believe – the expertise."
"Teaching assistants are usually grad students..."
"As always, Nyota, you're the exception. And the class I have in mind..." She picked up a printout, handing it over. "I believe you're as qualified as any graduate to assist."
She glanced down at the paper and smiled. "Advanced Phonology."
"Your dissertation itself," Nula said, "would more than cover the class, and I think you would find the experience beneficial."
"Yes, I'd be very interested – thank you."
"Excellent." The captain stood, leaving her tea balanced on the arm of her chair, and moved over to her computer. "I'll advance your name to Commander Spock for his approval and—"
"Commander Spock?" The exclamation slipped out too fast to bite back.
Healy lifted her gaze, fixed it on Nyota. "He's taking the class this semester, after Commander Ife was transferred to the Endeavour. Is that a problem?"
"Nyota?" Healy straightened, brow furrowing.
"He's— I'm afraid we have something of a personality clash."
The captain's expression sharpened. "Starfleet officers don't have that luxury, Lieutenant."
The reprimand was mild, but there nonetheless. Nyota straightened. "Yes, sir."
With a sigh, Healy walked back around her desk and came to perch on the arm of her chair. "Commander Spock can appear somewhat distant, especially on first acquaintance. His manner is..."
"Condescending and superior?"
There was a twist to Healy's lips that looked almost like a smile being swallowed. "As a student of xenolinguistics, you should be well aware of the impact of cultural difference on the ability for different races to effectively communicate."
It was a fair point and Nyota felt herself chastened. "Yes, I know. It's just—"
"For all his similarities, remember that Commander Spock is living in an alien culture. If he occasionally missteps, it's our duty to forgive, as we'd expect to be forgiven on his home world."
She snorted a soft laugh. "Vulcans don't seem very forgiving."
"You'd better thicken your hide, Nyota," Nula said, returning to her computer. "You're going to encounter species a whole lot less forgiving – or comprehensible – than Vulcans." She tapped her screen. "I'm transferring your transcript to Commander Spock, with my recommendation. He'll contact you directly if he's interested in your application."
"Then I won't hold my breath."
"Goodness," Healy laughed. "What did he do to offend you, Nyota?"
"Nothing, I'm sorry." She rose to her feet. "Thank you, Captain, for this – I really appreciate your faith in me."
"You earned it." Healy sat behind her desk. "And try opening your mind a little, Nyota – you never know what you might learn, hmm?"
She made no answer, save coming to attention.
"Get out of here." The captain waved a lazy hand. "See you in three weeks."
And she was gone.
3. Paikaya – n. a state of agitation, confusion, or excitement
The rising sun was lost behind the city's buildings, its light flat and pale, but the sea was still dark and the far horizon clung to the stars. The air was cool, though promising warmth, and the footpath was empty.
His body had long been used to Earth's light gravity, but his muscles were shaped for Vulcan's fierce pull and when he ran, he made them remember. He ran fast, until his breath came in swift gasps and his legs began to burn. He ran until his mind was blank, fixed on nothing but the way ahead and the need for oxygen.
Then, when he could run no more, he slowed to a ground-eating lope and let his pulse drop, his breathing even out – let the world encroach upon his thoughts once more.
His calm evaporated like morning mist.
The request had come the previous day, waiting for him upon his return to his quarters, and it had disturbed his equilibrium more than it should.
Nyota Uhura. Again.
He respected Captain Healy, and there was no doubt that Uhura's mind was sharp; her academic transcript would have spoken for itself, even without his previous observations. She was an excellent candidate for the position of his assistant, and yet he found himself hesitating.
He slowed to a halt, stretching his muscles. The air blew cool across his face, and he realized he had broken a sweat. His instinct was to wipe it away, but he refused to indulge the desire. On Vulcan this manifestation of his hybrid physiology had been shameful, had granted lethal ammunition to those who reviled him, but on Earth it went unnoticed – it was normal. To view it as anything less was to internalize the abhorrent views that he had rejected in his father's people.
So he did not wipe the sweat from his face, instead he drew in a deep breath and turned around, casting his eye over the Academy buildings in the far distance. He did not wish to return, for his mind was not yet clear, so he set off at a walk.
It was time to consider the matter in hand, and to reach a conclusion regarding Nyota Uhura.
There was no logical reason to reject her as his teaching assistant, so it followed that the reason he hesitated was illogical. The implication, therefore, was that its root was an emotional response, requiring further examination.
She had laughed at him, among her friends. This had touched upon memories of his childhood, when he had been similarly mocked by his peers, triggering feelings of anger and isolation. That much he knew and, having rationalized it, those feelings could be easily controlled; it would be highly irrational to refuse to work with her because she had inadvertently reminded him of an unpleasant aspect of his childhood. And yet…
He well remembered her countenance as they debated in class, the flash of challenge in her eyes and the defiant set of her jaw. It had felt like sparring in the gymnasium, exhilarating if occasionally painful, and he wasn't sure if she had been laughing at him still.
Nyota Uhura made him uncomfortable in ways he could not adequately explain. It was profoundly disturbing.
The greeting came from a red-faced cadet pounding along in the opposite direction, and Spock answered with a nod. There were more people around now, and because he had no desire for conversation he broke into an easy run. But the rhythm seemed to tap out her name in his head and he knew that serenity would elude him unless he made a decision.
Nyota Uhura. Nyota Uhura…
He would speak with her, assess her suitability and interest. If she proved satisfactory, he would offer her the position.
There, it was done.
He drew in a deep breath and ran on, her name pounding in his ears.
Nyota examined herself in the mirror, determined to be perfect. Her hair was pulled back into an efficient pony tail, her uniform pressed and spotless.
"Who are you out to impress?" Gaila was lounging in bed, making the most of Saturday morning.
Nyota cast her a look. "Commander Spock."
"You're kidding." She yawned and shook her mass of tangled hair. "Why?"
Despite everything, Nyota couldn't suppress a little pride as she said, "I'm interviewing to be his TA in the Advanced Phonology class."
Gaila's eyes went wide. "No way! How come?"
"Captain Healy recommended me; it'll look fantastic on my transcript. It's that kind of added responsibility that helps, you know?"
"Do you get extra points for working with Mr. Hypercritical?"
Nyota smiled. "For interspecies cooperation, perhaps?"
"Hey, I'm all for that, but this is above and beyond." Gaila climbed out of bed and ambled to the window, looking down into the quad. "Is there anything you wouldn't do to get posted to the Enterprise?"
"Not a lot," Nyota acknowledged, picking up her bag. She glanced back at Gaila, still staring out the window. "I'm heading to the library after, so won't be back 'til late."
A slow smiled slipped onto her friend's face, but her eyes were all innocence when she turned around. "Okay. Have fun."
"You going to tell me who this guy is?"
Gaila shook her head. "You wouldn't approve."
"Naturally." She sighed. "Just— Be careful, okay? Don't let yourself get dragged into another whole…thing, not with finals coming up."
Gaila pressed her hands together, an Orion promise. "Get going. You'll be late."
The campus was empty this early on a Saturday, and Nyota made herself walk at an unhurried pace across the quad toward the computer science department; she was determined to retain her composure in the face of so much Vulcan inscrutability.
The Schickard building gleamed white, bright against the grey city beyond. The first time she'd entered its cool hallways had been the day of her interview for a place at the Academy, and, as she reached its sweeping steps, she felt that same nervous fist clenched in the pit of her stomach.
Despite Captain Healy's confidence, Nyota hadn't really believed the commander would consider her for the position – there had to be qualified grad students who Spock knew better. If, that was, he really knew anyone at all. Stand-offish didn't begin to cover it. Maybe no one else wanted the post?
She climbed the steps and entered the building, consulting the floor plan to locate his office on the third floor. She was ten minutes early, so decided to take the stairs to kill some time.
The stairs opened up onto a corridor with windows along one wall and offices along the other. All the doors were closed, bar one. Her nerves returned, pulse rate jumping. Suddenly she realized how much she wanted this post, wanted to see it on the transcript that would soon be under Captain Pike's nose. And she wasn't oblivious to the fact that earning Spock's good opinion might definitely count in her favor. He might be arrogant and condescending, but she'd wring an endorsement out of him if it killed her.
With purposeful strides, she approached his office and, since the door was open, stepped inside.
It was empty, and surprisingly cluttered.
She turned around and went back out into the corridor just in time to see the elevator door open and Commander Spock himself step out. Cursing herself, she waited for him to approach. There was something predatory in his long-limbed stride, and he stopped some distance away and regarded her for a moment before saying, "I was unaware you were acquainted with Commander Harper."
Nyota blinked. "I'm sorry, sir, who?"
"Commander Harper." He made a slight gesture with his head toward the office. "You were in his office."
Teeth gritted, she felt the heat rise to her face. "I thought— My apologies, I thought it was your office, sir."
There was a pause, a brief glint of something in his eyes. "Individual offices are distinguished by a simple numerical sequence, Cadet." He turned and placed his hand on the identification pad on his door. "Mine is number thirty-one."
She bit her tongue and walked toward him. "I wasn't paying attention."
Swallowing a retort she followed him into his office. It was as spartan as she'd expected. "I apologize for my tardiness," he said, taking a seat behind his empty desk. "I was…delayed this morning."
Nyota remained standing. "I believe I was early."
"Please sit down, Lieutenant." He tapped his screen, studied it, then said, "I reviewed your dissertation last night."
She paused, half way to perching on the edge of the chair opposite him. "You read the whole thing last night?"
"Your speculation on the use of phonotactics in the interpretive translation of new languages was fascinating."
"Thank you," she said, sitting down and failing to hide her surprised smile.
"But the section on prosody was given too much weight in the overall thesis; the over reliance on prosody is, naturally, a very human bias."
Her surprise faded, replaced by irritation. "Whereas your bias is clearly very Vulcan." He glanced up and she added a belated, "Sir."
"It is my endeavor to avoid any such bias," he said, coolly. "However I can only offer my opinion – it will be down to others to judge the overall merit of your work."
She said nothing, afraid that her temper might get the better of her. She'd not asked for his opinion and she didn't want it. He wasn't even a linguist! He was a science officer, filling in for Commander Ife. And if Nula Healy – Professor of Linguistics – said her dissertation was excellent, then her dissertation was excellent. She didn't need his approbation.
The commander leaned back in his chair and regarded her; it was a difficult gaze to endure, incisive and critical. She struggled not to look away and in the end it was Spock who broke the contact. He rose, turning to gaze out of the window with his hands clasped behind his back. "May I ask a personal query?"
"I have worked with many humans during my time at the Academy, and I have observed that some find my Vulcan nature difficult to accept." He paused, and she watched his fingers clench in a manner that suggested more emotion than his cold voice betrayed. "If you are such a person, assuming a role as my teaching assistant would prove unsatisfactory to us both."
The suggestion was outrageous and insulting. "I can assure you, sir, that I have no problem with your Vulcan nature."
"And yet you have, twice, accused me of exhibiting a Vulcan bias in my reasoning."
"Because you've accused me of human bias!" Her exclamation echoed in the silent office and she winced; the interview was sliding out of control like a runner sprinting downhill. Drawing in a breath, she collected herself and said, "Prosody is discouraged in Vulcan. Too much tonality in spoken Vulcan is considered…crass. If one were being unkind, one might even say it sounded Romulan."
His back stiffened, it was a subtle gesture – a tightening of his shoulders – but Nyota was as skilled in reading body language as any other form of communication; she had surprised him. "You are referring to my comment to Captain Pike last week, that you apparently overheard in Cochrane's bar." He turned, fixing her with a penetrating look. "That is the root of your antagonism toward me."
"I don't— That's not—" Damn him! The denial wouldn't come. As soon as he'd said the words, she'd known that they were true. Feeling ridiculous, she stared out the window and into the bright blue morning. "I felt your assessment was unjust, sir."
There was an ironic curve of his lips as he returned to his desk and sat down. "The human ego," he said, "is a fragile thing."
"Whereas the Vulcan ego is far more robust. I imagine it can rarely be dented."
There was an irritated flare in his eyes – a remarkably human expression – and it seemed that he was going to respond in kind, but at the last moment he turned away and studied his computer. After a pause, he said, "If you wish to perfect your spoken Vulcan, I am willing to offer my assistance." When he looked at her again his expression was entirely neutral. In Vulcan he said, "We can converse, thus, as we collaborate on the phonology class."
She stared. "You're offering me the post?"
"Wow, I don't know what— Nemaiyo. Thank you."
He inclined his head. "I shall begin preparation for this week's class tomorrow morning."
"I'll be here." Taking the cue to leave she got to her feet. "Nine o'clock?"
He too rose. "That would be acceptable."
There was a silence, not exactly awkward and not entirely comfortable, and lasting several heartbeats too long. Then he said, "Moi loma, Lieutenant Uhura."
"Moi loma, Commander." With half a smile, she turned to leave and was almost out the door when he said,
She turned. "Sir?"
And there was that sardonic tilt to his lips again. "The number of my office is thirty-one, should you find yourself lost again."
She was almost certain it was a joke.
It being out of office hours and a Sunday, Spock decided not to wear his uniform. This had the advantage of allowing him to wear a sweater to compensate for the perennially cold offices and the chill in the morning air. His body had adapted to Earth's gravity and atmosphere, but stubbornly refused to adapt to the cold. His father, during his postings to Earth, and described the discomfort as 'bracing' – Spock simply found it unpleasant. So, when the opportunity presented to keep warm, he took it without hesitation.
He had risen early and had been working for an hour before Uhura appeared in his doorway.
"Shacha!" she said, mangling the word with her smile. "Oh, I'm glad you're not in uniform. I wasn't sure."
Uhura was dressed colorfully, in wide trousers of a fabric thin enough to make him shiver, and a top that revealed slender brown arms. Her hair was mostly hidden by a wide patterned band. The effect was pleasing, though he found himself missing the regulation skirt…
He cleared his throat. "Shacha," he corrected, flattening the tone appropriately.
Uhura cocked her head. "Shacha."
"Better." He rose. "I trust you are well this morning?"
"I'm good, how are you?"
"Also…good." He picked up a PADD and handed it over. "I thought it would be appropriate to begin this week's class with an exercise in prosodic structure."
She smiled, a knowing smile that pleased him; she had understood the reference to her own problems with spoken Vulcan, yet had not been offended. Taking the PADD she sat down, dropping her bag at her feet as she read. "This is a good start," she nodded, then looked up. "Might I suggest some changes?"
"I think we definitely have to include a diagramming model of pitch contour," she said, and he was about to reply when he realized she was simply talking out loud and required no response.
Leaving her to continue, he resumed his own work.
After almost two hours, Uhura stood up. "I think I've got it," she said, stretching. "It shouldn't take more than half an hour to complete, but none of them will get it right because I've—" Her stomach growled and she laughed, pressing a hand against it. Spock couldn't help but notice the flash of bare skin revealed by the gesture; it was quite transfixing. "Sorry, I skipped breakfast."
"You are hungry."
"By 'fine' you mean that you are able to continue, despite your hunger?"
She smiled. "Yeah. I'm not about to faint or anything."
He looked away, back at his screen. The sunshine, filtered through polarized windows, reflected in the corner like an invitation. They had made good progress; the lesson plan was complete and his notes assembled. It would not be inappropriate... He touched the screen, saving his work, and closed it down.
"I find that I am also hungry," he said. "Perhaps we could review the exercise you have devised in the cafeteria?"
She was surprised, that much was evident. "Sure. But—" She made a face. "Would you mind if we went off-campus? I can't stand the cafeteria food."
"On that subject, we are in agreement."
"Really?" She bent and picked up her bag, slipping the PADD inside and slinging it over her shoulder.
"It suffers from an…overabundance of cheese."
"An overabundance of cheese!" She laughed, and it provoked a warm sensation in the pit of his stomach. "You're so right, they put it on everything." She waited for him as he picked up his jacket and closed the door. "So, where do you like to eat?"
He hesitated. "I rarely eat off campus."
There was a silence, she looked away and he couldn't tell what she was thinking, but then she gave a quick smile and turned to walk down the corridor. "Well, in that case I know a fantastic place, Commander. And no cheese, I swear."
Because it was still early, they got a seat outside on the veranda overlooking the bay. Mubin's was one of Nyota's favorite places in San Francisco – it was the only place she could get decent chai – and she'd spent many happy hours there with her friends, and sometimes alone. Yet it felt strange today, sitting beneath the colorful umbrella opposite Commander Spock – he looked out of place here, his high-necked sweater strange against the glittering sea and the summer sun, his alien features unreadable.
The waiter had taken their order and the silence between them ran long. Ice cubes clattered in his water glass as he lifted it to his lips and then set it carefully back on the table.
"I like this place," Nyota said, grasping at anything to break the silence, "it reminds me of home."
"You do not feel at home here – at the Academy?" As he spoke, he pressed his fingertips onto the napkin on the table, drying the condensation; it was an oddly fastidious gesture. "Is your home city very different?"
"Yeah," she said, looking up. "In some ways."
He lifted an eyebrow. "On Vulcan, there are few regional differences. Our culture has been largely homogenous for millennia."
"That's hard to imagine, a whole planet sharing one culture..." She glanced out over the bay, toward the sky scraping buildings not so different from those in Mombasa, or Nairobi, or Paris, or anywhere else. She sighed. "Still, I suppose it'll be the same here, eventually."
"You do not approve?"
"No, not really. We've already lost a lot – religions, cuisines, philosophies, languages." She smiled. "My mother has a favorite saying: one language is not enough."
"She refers to the adoption of Standard as the universal Terran language?"
They were interrupted by the arrival of their food, laid out in several dishes between them.
"So," she said, pulling a napkin into her lap and reaching for the mug of steaming chai, "let me explain. This is kachumbari, kind of a salad – zingy, this is kunde, basically a bean stew, and this – chapatti na sukuma wiki – is my favorite, although this isn't as good as my mother makes it."
She spooned some of the kale onto her plate, picked up a chapatti and folded it in half. "You eat it like this," she said, scooping the sukuma wiki into the chapatti and taking a bite. "It's really good."
"The aroma is enticing," Spock said, though he looked uncertain, glanced up and signaled the waiter over. "I require a knife and fork."
Nyota paused with her food halfway to her mouth. "It really is better this way," she said, taking another bite.
"I would prefer..." The waiter returned, unfazed, and set down the silverware with a smile. Spock gave a brief nod of thanks, then in a lower voice said, "I would prefer to use a knife and fork."
Nyota bridled at the implicit insult. "When in Rome, Commander."
He lifted a chapatti onto his plate with the fork, added some kunde, and began to cut his food. His hands were long-fingered and slender, dexterous; it was a strange thing to notice, she thought, given the situation. "Were I to visit Rome," he said, glancing up at her, "I should endeavor to live as the Romans live."
She was tempted to point out the exact meaning of the phrase, and just why it was rude for outsiders to reject local customs. But she remembered her objective – his recommendation to Captain Pike – and wisely kept her affront to herself.
The silence returned and she was determined to let him break it this time. Consequently, she'd almost finished her meal before either of them spoke. But at last Spock said, "You were telling me about your mother."
"Oh. Yes, I was."
"She does not approve of the use of Federation Standard?"
Nyota mopped up the last of the kunde with her chapatti. "She didn't even let me begin learning it until I started school."
"Then your first language is...?"
"Fascinating." He lifted his mug of chai, sniffed it, then took a sip. His features twisted in a very un-Vulcan grimace.
She narrowed her eyes. "You don't like it?"
"It is very sweet."
He put the mug down and returned to his food. "I am unfamiliar with Kiswahili, I would like to hear it spoken."
Nyota considered a moment, then said, "Kuleni hivi vitu vizuri sana, Commander Spock." She held out the kachumbari. "Jaribu?"
He looked at her so intently she had the feeling he was trying to translate simply by will alone, and then he said, "It is a lyrical language, I can see why the flat tones of spoken Vulcan elude you."
She forced a smile and made herself ignore yet another dig at her pronunciation. "Kiswahili is a beautiful language," she said, "but so many languages are being lost – so much culture." She shrugged and sat back in her chair, cradling the mug in her hands. "There's a price to pay for homogeneity."
"But the prize is peace," he said. "Prior to the Time of Awakening, Vulcan society was very diverse – but very destructive. Unity was our salvation. Your planet's history is not dissimilar."
"Don't get me wrong, I'm all for peace and unity. But…" She smiled. "Ah, I sound like my mother! The thing is, when it's your culture – your language, religion, customs – that are being subsumed, it's hard to be so sanguine about the common good."
With a precise movement he lifted his fork to his mouth. He chewed for a moment, then said, "I am often surprised by the cultural diversity of your planet in comparison to my own, and to many others, so your views are surprising."
Nyota took a sip of chai and considered how to explain herself – it wasn't a subject she often discussed with her friends. "Look at Starfleet," she said. "To join you have to be fluent in Standard. Well, they call it Standard now, but it's really American English – that's the origin, way back in the days of super powers and world wars."
The commander gave her an arch look. "I might remind you that it is also the standard language of the United Federation of Planets – even Vulcans must learn it. Besides, a lingua franca is a logical necessity."
"Agreed, but it's more than just a language. There's a whole lot of baggage that goes with it. You have to look at the history – what you call 'Terran' culture is predominantly North American, and the more ubiquitous Standard becomes, the harder it is for other languages and cultures to survive. A lot of my school friends only ever learned Standard, and all over the world languages are dying out, or they're only spoken in pockets – preserved, like in a museum."
"And language is essential to the preservation of culture."
"I understand your point." He set his fork down, thinking. "If this is your opinion, then I wonder why you joined Starfleet. It is the primary force for uniformity in Terran society."
Nyota smiled down into her tea, blowing the steam from its surface. "Rumbled." She glanced up, saw his slight frown. "It means, you've found me out – I confess, I'm a little schizophrenic when it comes to Starfleet." She gave a wry shrug. "I understand my mother's opinions, and I share them to a certain extent, but I can't live the life she wanted for me. I just want to be out there, on the frontier. I want to see the stars." She shook her head, suddenly embarrassed. "That must sound ridiculously romantic to you."
"No, not really. It is a desire I share." His gaze held hers for a moment, then slid over her shoulder, as if he were watching the waiter moving around behind them. When he spoke, his voice was pitched subtly lower. "I believe," he said, "that your mother and my father would have much in common."
"Really?" Until that moment, she'd never even pictured him having a father – let alone a disapproving one. "He wasn't happy you joined Starfleet?"
"That would significantly understate the level of his displeasure."
"Ouch." Instinctively, she reached out and squeezed his hand. "He's proud of you now, I'm sure."
There was a long pause, then he withdrew his hand from hers and clasped it with his own. "We should return to work."
Nyota fell silent for a beat. She felt like she should apologize, although she didn't know why, or for what, and that made her defensive; the man was as prickly as a porcupine. She got to her feet, embarrassed and eager to be gone, and slapped a few credits on the table. "On me," she said, and turned to leave.
"That would be inappropriate," he said, putting down half the cost himself and returning the rest to her, "given our professional relationship."
"Right," she said, snatching up the credits and stuffing them in her pocket. "Fine."
They left the restaurant in silence; it was going to be a long afternoon.