- PART I -
The Enterprise is still idling at Bajor's foremost port, Jalanda, in lieu of the latest temporal emergency that has stranded them, perhaps unsurprisingly, in a dubiously peaceful stalemate with yet another planet of religious extremists. Extremism of one sort or another has been the prevailing theme of every 'first contact' scenario that the Enterprise has ever engaged in, and the Bajorans, as Spock had already predicted upon Nyota's translation of their very first message, are no exception. Any greeting that features godheads, warheads or maidenheads increases the chances of native extremism by sixty point seven percent; this has been a long-standing personal theory of Spock's, and he fully intends to expound upon it in his next paper at the Interplanetary Relations Conference. Of course, the mere mention of cultural profiling will once again have him labeled a speciesist, but for a half-Vulcan, the accusation is patently illogical, if not outright incongruous.
The Bajorans, as Spock has discovered, prefer godheads. They stand united behind a democratically-elected religious leader, who is awarded the the title of 'Kai', and who, it is said, can prophesy the future and repair the past. Spock has no such faith, superstitious or otherwise, in the Kai's restorative abilities - for after hours of fruitless negotation, Kai Paninka still insists, with voluble enthusiasm, that what her Orb of Time has done to the Enterprise is a gift.
A gift from the Prophets.
"So," says the sixteen-year-old James Kirk, sitting 'reverse cowboy' (as he calls it) on the captain's chair. "What do you do around here?''
"Today, it is my duty to accompany you, as Doctor McCoy and Nurse Chapel have done on days prior."
"No, no." Kirk waves his hand. "I mean, what's your job?"
"I am First Officer," Spock replies.
"Neat. Hey, wait. That means you work for me? Like, directly under me?"
"In a manner of speaking," Spock says, "although at the moment, you are incapacitated and are no longer in command."
"Yeah, ain't heard of no tween captains." Kirk squints up at the overhead lights. "Like a goddamn surgical theater in here. You know how I got my knee operated on, last year?" He pauses. "Or, uh, ten years ago?"
Spock scans backwards through his newly-minted mental file on Kirk's adolescent life, which is surprisingly eventful, given that it spans less than a decade. Spock reflects on the statistical anomaly that is James Tiberius Kirk's survival into adulthood. "I was unaware that you were conscious during the procedure."
"Local anesthetic. Wasn't that big of a deal. And Mbeq was a witch doctor, anyway."
This is not in the file. ('Minor vehicular altercation resulting in severe knee injury.') The appearance of a witch doctor in Iowa seems unlikely, at any rate. "You are lying," he hazards, and Kirk's golden eyebrows arch upwards.
"It's called 'embellishing', man. Don't tell me you haven't heard of it. You're Starfleet." There is considerable derision and resentment in that emphasized word. And a surprising perspicacity - but then, this is Captain Kirk, albeit significantly de-aged.
"Vulcans do not 'embellish'," Spock says.
"Huh. Must get pretty boring."
"I assure you, the truth is far more dangerous, variable and unpredictable than a lie."
"And you like danger?" Kirk's eyes gleam.
"I do not harbor a marked preference for dangerous situations, or, indeed, for any other stimuli."
"Any other stimuli?" Kirk's voice is playful; Spock does not understand the significance of the query, nor of its implied humor, so he assumes that the question is rhetorical and proceeds with his original answer.
"I do not find danger undesirable, either. At times, it is unavoidable; generally, it is useful. The kernel of the most useful truth is invariably shrouded in veils of duplicity and danger."
"Like a Rue Star in an acid nebula?"
An intriguing analogy. "Precisely."
"I can see why I made you my First Officer," Kirk says, and hops off the chair. "You rock."
Spock has never before been compared to an igneous deposit, but he detects in the tone of Kirk's voice a certain youthful admiration, and thus chooses to file the metaphor under his internal list of ineffable, and oftentimes surreal, Human compliments. "Thank you."
"Heh. You're welcome." The gleam in his eyes becomes more pronounced. "To me, too, you know."
There is a silence of two point three seconds, after which Spock feels obliged to say, "I am sorry. I have failed to parse that semantic puzzle."
Kirk laughs. "You're hilarious. Oh, man." He rubs a hand across his face, and his expression warms, although Spock is unused to according something as arbitrary as a relative temperature to facial expressions. Perhaps it is a lingering effect of his erstwhile relationship with Nyota; it may have had a 'Humanizing' effect on him. "Show me to the mess? I'm starving."
"Certainly," Spock accedes, and they bid farewell to Ensigns Chekov ('oh, hey, you're practically my age,' Kirk says) and Sulu, who, all this while, have been gaping at Kirk as though he is an even greater statistical anomaly than Spock estimates him to be. Sulu seems to have solved Kirk's verbal puzzle, given the look of uncomfortable epiphany on his face, and Spock is - chagrined that he himself has failed to solve it. Chagrin is an illogical emotion; Spock will meditate on it later tonight. He sets it aside.
They meet Nyota on the way to the mess hall, and she grins and ruffles Kirk's hair. Kirk goes red, then pink.
"How're you settling in?" Nyota asks Kirk.
"Uh. Just great, thanks. The whole ship is amazing. I can't believe she's mine." His mouth snaps shut, then opens again, hesitantly. "I mean, will be mine."
Nyota's smile is kind. The shape of her mouth possesses that particular variety of softness that had so comforted Spock in his time of need, although he prefers not to recall that time, for several reasons, not least of which is the memory of his mother's death, which, if dwelt upon, will inevitably become detrimental to his work. Yet another matter to meditate upon; he sets it aside.
"You do think I'll grow back, don't you?" It is a peculiar phrasing; Kirk speaks of himself as though he is an amputated limb, or the tail of a Cardassian lizard.
"Sure you will. Doctor McCoy should have your next shot ready for you, after dinner."
Kirk makes a face. "He's gonna jab me in the neck, isn't he?"
Nyota chuckles. "He tends to do that. But it'll boost your growth, just like the last time. That was worth it, wasn't it?"
"It sucked being fourteen," Kirk agrees. "Bad year."
Spock scans through his mental file, again; he recalls no major incidents being mentioned during that year of Kirk's life, save for the departure of his brother, Sam, for another city, and the donation of a large statue of then Mayor Schumer to Kirk's high school, a statue that was promptly vandalized and the vandal never caught, although Kirk had been implicated in the crime by a series of increasingly colorful rumors involving Kirk, Kirk's apparent oral skills and certain sexual feats he may or may not have performed upon the 'de-pantsed' statue of the mayor. None of the above strike Spock as potentially traumatizing incidents, especially given Captain Kirk's often-admitted fondness for journeys, pornography and practical jokes.
"Uh oh," says Nyota, and both she and Kirk turn to consider him. "Spock's feedbacking."
"I do not have feedback loops," Spock says. "I am not an android."
"No," says Nyota, gently and, perhaps, apologetically. "You're not."
Kirk looks back and forth between them. "Huh," he says, which could mean anything. Spock does not comprehend the Human tendency to utter random verbal noises that are not meaningful words, and yet are somehow intended to convey meaning, nonetheless. It was often - difficult - to decipher the adult Kirk's vocalizations, and the child Kirk is no different.
At least Kirk has now stopped saying 'supercali-fragilistic-expiali-docious' approximately every fifteen point eight seconds, as he had done two days ago, at the age of six. (Spock had found it unusually difficult to clear his mind for meditation that evening, instead finding himself dwelling on the ludicrous word and its multiple possible spellings, meanings and etymological permutations.)
Coping with Kirk's developmental changes at every hypospray-induced age-boost has been largely tolerable, and occasionally even pleasant; it is only Kirk's nonsensical non-words that make Spock, as Mr. Scott has observed, want to 'climb the walls'. It is a Human idiom that Spock has only truly come to understand after serving with - and for - Captain James T. Kirk.
"She's hot," Kirk says, after Nyota departs; Spock is by now accustomed to interpreting that word as an assessment of an entity's sexual attractiveness, rather than its thermal or epidermal state. "It sort of cheeses me off, though, the way she talks to me - patronizes me, I guess? Sure, I totally played the baby-blues card, but still."
"She was perfectly polite," Spock upbraids him - and then realizes that his urge to 'upbraid' is illogical, and likely a defensive, perhaps even instinctive psychological mechanism that is yet another remnant of his relationship with Nyota. He still does not wish to hear others speak ill of her.
Kirk rolls his eyes. "Yeah, whatever, ex-boyfriend."
Spock stiffens in genuine surprise. Kirk has always had this startling ability to intuit things, secret things and kept things, that is almost on par with telepathy. Spock had thought it the result of rigorous training, but it is, obviously, an in-born trait. A talent. Perhaps some Humans are empaths, albeit less powerful than Betazoids. "Was this... insight of yours the meaning of your earlier utterance, the onomatopoeic palindrome, 'huh'?"
It is Kirk's turn to stare at him. "Are you serious? Um, no, that's - never mind. Of course you're serious. You're always serious. You're made of serious."
Spock refrains from correcting Kirk's grammatical error. Instead, he merely inclines his head, impatient (illogically so) to hear Kirk's explanation.
"Yeah, yes, that was the meaning of my... palindromic utterance. Sheesh." A smile twitches to life at the corner of Kirk's lips. "And I didn't say I didn't like her. Just that I was kind of hoping she'd flirt back. Instead of, you know. Pre-emptively pulling rank on me."
"I do not believe she cited superiority of rank."
"Dude, come on. She was all ickle-cutie this and goo-ga that."
"...You are incomprehensible."
Kirk laughs again - full-throated, astonishingly musical - and sags back against the wall. "Y'see, this is how I like being talked to. Not that you're catching half of what I want you to, either, but at least you're not ignoring it. You're just not getting it. Which is hella fun, just sayin'."
Spock does not appreciate the implication that he is ignorant. That does, in turn, imply the presence of an illogical pride, but Spock is disinclined to set it aside. His jaw has grown firm; his brows have lowered. "You will explain yourself - fully, clearly and without irrelevant colloquialisms."
"I am not your - "
"Okay, yeah, let's not go there." Kirk shudders. "Sorry. I mean, me of all people - "
"Jim," Spock interrupts, and Kirk is evidently as startled as Spock himself is at the use of the name, because he gapes.
"Oh. Oh. Does he do this with you, too?"
Strangely enough, Spock does not need to ask of whom Kirk speaks. "If you mean deliberately harassing me with unexplained verbiage, then yes," Spock replies, and immediately wishes to retract the statement, because it reveals far too much of an emotion - indignation - and far too little of what is Vulcan - discipline.
"He would've," nods Kirk, although he appears somewhat displeased. "Bummer. So I haven't just plucked your, I dunno, inappropriateness cherry. Or something."
Climb. The. Walls, Spock thinks, and abruptly veers off towards his quarters.
"Ensign Sulu," he grits into his combadge, "kindly escort Ca - James Kirk to the mess hall. He is waiting for you on E Deck, opposite the turbolift."
"Look, I'm sorry!" Kirk calls out after him him. "'Rank' means 'adulthood', okay? That's what I - hey! Where're you going?"
To my quarters, Spock does not say. To meditate.
Hikaru is in the process of not freaking out about talking to his apparently bisexual de-aged captain. His de-aged captain having a bizarre, reverse-pederastic crush on his First Officer, who is currently acting captain because, hey, de-aged captain.
"Goddamn," says the ca - the young Jim Kirk. "I must've pushed his red button."
"Try not to push all of 'em at once," Scotty advises. "You're good at doing that, lad, but you've probably forgotten the, erm. Consequences. The last time you did that - "
" - he totally punk-assed me and nearly choked me to death on the bridge, I know."
"Wait - you - how'd you access the ship's records?" Hikaru's voice cracks. "You haven't got clearance!"
Jim whistles, and twirls the appallingly waxy spaghetti on his fork.
"Mensa," Pavel whispers in Hikaru's ear, way too loudly. "I checked."
Great. They have two genius hackers on the ship, now. At least one of them isn't Russian.
"Russians," says Scotty, obviously thinking along the same lines - but then Hikaru notices his expression, and hell, no. That's Scotty's let's-remember-my-favorite-red-headed-East-European-porn-actresses expression. Hikaru has vaguely traumatizing memories of an antique twentieth-century wall calendar. In the Engine Room. On an overhanging tangle of pipes that look like Fallopian tubes.
"Vot I do not understand," Pavel continues, this time speaking directly to Jim, "is vye you need to be escorted to the mess hall, ven you have hacked into and perused, in detail, the ship's internal maps, specifications and veapons capabilities."
"He what?" Hikaru is distantly aware that his voice has gone beyond 'cracked' and right into 'parched'.
Scotty pushes a glass of recycled water towards him.
"Um, are you okay?" Jim blinks at Hikaru. "You kind of look like you're in the middle of having a nervous breakdown."
"You are masterful at inducing them," Pavel observes, almost admiringly.
"I was supposed to be inducing a date," Jim stabs his spaghetti vengefully, Hikaru's welfare seemingly forgotten, "with Commander Sexy." He frowns. "Or is it Commander Oblivious? Commander Sexy-but-Oblivious? Commander Oblivisexy?"
"Are you sure he's Mensa?" Hikaru whispers back to Pavel, a lot more subtly.
"Yes," Pavel answers, and brushes his arm against Hikaru's. "Hush. And drink your vater."
Two decks below, in the safety of his quarters, Spock opens his eyes.
The subcutaneous itch he had experienced in the corridor near the mess hall has not entirely dissipated, and even though he knows that it is a psychosomatic hallucination with no bearing in reality, he is unable to remove it from his consciousness. Intensive meditation in the joint-hand position has proved unsuccessful, and that in itself is an event rare enough to require more intensive meditation.
The adolescent Kirk - his lilting laughter - the exact duration of his glance between Nyota and Spock - the curve of his impudent, knowing mouth - are all crowding the seconds between one breath and the next, seconds better spent clearing his mind than recalling the contempt of his own youthful peers during his education on Vulcan.
Jim was - Kirk was - not exhibiting contempt. What he was exhibiting was... something that Spock can neither recognize nor comprehend, and the lack of his own comprehension recalls to him yet another one of his unwanted emotions this day, that of chagrin at Ensign Sulu's understanding in the face of Spock's ignorance, and the awareness galls, as does his inability to purge it.
Too Human, abjures his father's voice, disembodied in his mind. Not Human enough, answers his mother.
Spock clenches his fists.
And his combadge chooses that very moment, of course, to go off.
"Time for mini-Kirk's anti-youth vaccination," says McCoy, somewhat jaggedly, and Spock realizes that the doctor has neglected to sleep for the past two nights, working instead to improve the Kai's offered medication - a glittering, saline liquid that she refers to as the Shadow of Tears. "Should take him up a few months, this time. Fingers crossed."
"Limb deformities are to be avoided at all costs," says Spock, surfacing quickly from his meditative state. The prospect of having Jim suddenly and involuntarily inflicted with injuries is - unpleasant.
"I didn't mean - hell, whatever. Just get the kid up here, will ya?" And with that, the communicator disconnects.
The doctor is, undoubtedly, still under the impression that Spock has behaved honorably and not abandoned his youthful charge at the first instance of innocent misbehavior. Yet another emotion - shame - makes itself known in Spock's psyche.
"Ensign Sulu," he says into his badge, and stands. "Is James Kirk still in the mess hall?"
"Agh," says Sulu, and Spock overhears what sounds like a boy's muted giggle, followed by the clink of cutlery. "Um. Yes? Sir. Yes, he is."
The sound of that giggle starts another itch under Spock's skin. He tells himself, firmly, that it is illusory. "Keep him there."
"I, um. I don't think anyone can keep him anywhere, sir."
That is an excellent point. One can hardly keep oneself in Kirk's vicinity; it is no wonder that Kirk himself cannot be kept. "Use force, if necessary." He lowers his voice strategically. "Or pornography."
"Po - por - "
"It has proven to be an effective tactic, with the adult captain, in order to maintain his interest during awards ceremonies or lengthy formal events."
"Sir, I did not need to know that."
"Yes, you did. I will arrive shortly, to escort him to sick bay."
Sulu coughs. "Yes, sir. Um. Scotty, do you still have that - c-calendar - "
Spock disconnects his communicator, straightens his uniform, and abandons pointless ruminations on illogic and dishonor.
His captain is incapacitated, and Spock still - always - has a duty to perform.
click below to read the next chapter.
It might seem strange that Spock automatically assumes that a 'rock' is an igneous deposit, rather than, say, a sedimentary one. However, despite being logical, he is also logically and predictably biased in favor of thinking of rocks as inherently igneous formations, no doubt as a result of his childhood on Vulcan, a planet which is overwhelmingly, er, volcanic.
This is a weird note, right? It's weird. The weird, it has aplenty.