TITLE: The Speed of Sound

AUTHOR: Kyra Cullinan (kyrac@sympatico.ca)

RATING: PG

CODES: P/C, Beverly

DISCLAIMER: I step in where Paramount stops.

ARCHIVE: ASC okay, others ask.

FEEDBACK: Rocks my world, in all forms.

SUMMARY: "She wants something that genuine and unfamiliar ..."



How strange it is, she sometimes thinks, that they can conduct entire love affairs without ever speaking the same language. Odan spoke Standard, as an ambassador, but John had not, and it had seemed so unfathomable that everything which passed between them was filtered through electrons and biogel packs, carefully selecting the best way to translate idioms, convey emotion. What was the word for love, in his language, she wonders. How would one talk of the first time you kissed someone? Did they have words for poetry, for morning breath, for the kind of ache which comes from being alone when you least want to be?

Jean-Luc speaks Standard perfectly, with the faded, distant accent of Western Europe. Words are his weapons, his tools, his lifeblood. When he is negotiating, they flow from him with a joyous ease she can only imagine, dissolving wars and soothing angry minds with a command of language which seems to underlie all the other things he commands. When he reads Shakespeare, 800 year old words splayed

across thin, antiquated pages, his eyes dance.

She wonders who he is when he speaks French. She never learned it, but Walker had studied a year or two when he was young, and he used to goad Jean-Luc into speaking it, teasing him until he gave in and rich, thick syllables rolled off his tongue, ridiculous nonsense sentences which made Walker dissolve into fits of laughter. In these moments, even then, she would look at him and think of his mind leaping skillfully, mysteriously through regions so completely closed to her.

Her own words rise quickly within her, warring with decorum, and she fights them denies the boisterous, unflattering witticisms which have set her so at odds with the world around her, and her tongue stays bitten and stilled within her mouth. When she dances, air flows over her skin the way she imagines words would over her tongue, if she knew their secret. What she uses now are the precise, antiseptic terms of medicine, the dry, colorless words of Starfleet paperwork. She wonders sometimes when these replaced the lullabies she sang Wesley when he was very small and soft, the letters she used to write Jack when he was away, which made him laugh and cry all at once.

Sometimes she wonders if he would speak French while he made love to her, whispering words as soft and dark as rose petals against the skin of her stomach. She wants something that genuine and unfamiliar,

to pull her into a world where perhaps the words would seep into her throat and teach her how to understand him, and herself, and all the unsaid things lying stale and dormant inside her. At night, the weight of so many years of beds and rooms empty of speech presses on her in a way she could never explain to Deanna, fifteen years and a lifetime of self-confidence and expression away from her.

Perhaps with a new language, she could leave behind this strange half-life she's forgotten how she fell into, find the words to finish the sentences she begins and can never end, because how do you put twenty-five years of friendship and silences and love and hate into any of the feeble words she knows?

When they talk, the words span the air between them at 300 meters a second, without translators to tell each other what they mean, but she sometimes thinks they might as well try to speak across the vacuum of all the parsecs the ship can travel, contained and solitary and silent in the blackness of space.