Title: Instinctive Logic
Series: Anthesis and Synthesis #1
Fandom: Star Trek AOS/The Sentinel fusion
Pairings/Characters: Jayme ‘Jim’ Kirk/Spock, Amanda Grayson/Sarek, Christopher Pike, Leonard ‘Bones’ McCoy, Nyota Uhura, other canon and original characters
Genre: Alternate Universe (Fusion, Rule 63/Always a Different Sex, Sentinels and Guides are Known), Drama, Romance, Science Fiction
Word Count: 27 561
Warnings: Canon-level violence (no planets were harmed in the making of this story, looking at you Abrams), mentions of racism/xenophobia/bigotry, sexual harassment.
Author’s Note: This was started as part of the July 2018 Little Black Dress Challenge on Rough Trade (The Sentinel trope being the little black dress of fandom). It wasn’t finished then because I have yet to complete a Star Trek story in a challenge environment. The sequel will be my project for April 2020 Rough Trade. The entire year will be Sentinel-focused on RT and April’s challenge is Pairs and involves established relationships.
All credit (credit, not blame!) to Keira Marcos for incepting me with Betazoid Jim Kirk. I know she credits someone else, but her Tangled Destinies, in addition to being one of my favourite Kirk/Spock works (I lean more to Kirk/Bones in the AOS fandom and I’m not sorry), is the first place I saw the idea and I’ve been in love with it ever since. I went with it here not only because Tangled Destinies deeply influenced my headcanon, but because the idea of an empathic and hybrid Kirk worked really well with the themes I want to explore in this story and the sequel.
Yes, I wrote another Rule 63 story. I also made a beloved slash pairing into a het romance. I’m not at all sorry about the first, and only a little sorry about the second. Please rest assured that I have read a great deal of hot gay sex with Jim and Spock in order to make up for my transgressions. I can’t even help myself, I just really love to expand the range and repertoire of female characters in my favourite fandoms. If anyone is concerned, though, I promise that Jayme and Spock don’t care about what’s in each other’s pants and would love each other just the same if they were both male, both female, or both another nonspecified gender.
Synopsis: In the 23rd century, humanity has spread across the quadrant, explored unknown worlds and helped build a federation of planets. The ancient legacy of sentinels and guides remains with them, even in an age defined by reaching for the furthest stars.
As children of two worlds, Jayme and Spock share that legacy. Sentinel and guide, primal guardians from Earth’s past, born to alien cultures. It is a legacy that will define them both.
Despite his initial misgivings, Spock quickly concluded he approved of being transported by a Federation ship rather than a Vulcan vessel.
His initial ambivalence stemmed not from a dislike of the Federation, of which his father was a diplomat and negotiator, but from the ship and crew being unlike any in his experience. Spock had been among non-Vulcans before, at his mother’s insistence, but only on his homeworld or local spaceport. He had travelled by ship, but only on Vulcan vessels. The Yorktown was a new experience, and while he had not been opposed, he did suffer some hesitation.
His parents, striving to encourage his intellect and offer a sense of normalcy despite the unusual circumstances, had assigned him several projects during their trip above and beyond his academic curriculum. His mother requested that he engage in conversations longer than five minutes with at least three individuals of two different species. His father advised him to observe and study those he encountered.
Spock felt more comfortable with his father’s assignment. He would endeavour to meet his mother’s request, but he did not believe the task would be pleasant. Hopefully, the educational benefit would outweigh any awkwardness.
He did not often travel with his parents. Sarek was in demand with both the High Council and the Federation and travelled with some frequency, but Spock and his mother usually remained behind. On the occasions Amanda accompanied his father, Spock stayed with a relative to avoid disruptions in his academic schedule. However, Spock’s usual routines had already suffered disruption due to a recent altercation between Spock and an older student, which was exacerbated rather than diffused by an instructor suffering a lapse of logic and violent impulses.
Unlike previous occasions when Sarek encouraged Spock to be an example of logic to his tormentors, his father had removed him from the institution until the issue was resolved to his satisfaction or another option was found. Until then, Spock continued his curriculum under the guidance of his parents and was free to travel with them.
He was not opposed to spending time with his parents instead of the cruel logic of his schoolmates and instructors, but he was confused. Perhaps it was the lingering emotional impact of the altercation, which Spock could not set aside even with meditation, which made it difficult for him to understand his father’s changed perspective. Spock had been in numerous fights, several that he instigated, and had suffered difficulties with teachers before. He had been made to bleed before though he had always done his best to defend himself as his father had taught him. His only conclusion on why this might be different was that the instigators were so much older than him, instead of within a solar year of his own age.
But this incident was different somehow, and he needed no further proof than his mother’s reaction. Instead of her usual sympathy on his behalf, Mother had demonstrated emotions so volatile it would have indicated a mental instability coming from a Vulcan. For the first time, Spock found himself in the position of seeking comfort from his father and being unable to understand his mother’s reaction.
Therefore, unusual situations had become commonplace for Spock as of late. He had been less surprised by the idea of travelling to Beta Antares IV with his parents than he was by their method of travel, but his mother had insisted that Spock’s emotional development should be placed above his academic growth for the time being.
Or, as she had told Sarek: “It is past time that our son learns there is more to the universe than the intellectually talented but intolerantly small-minded people of a society that habitually justifies bigotry with false logic.”
As his father could not offer a counterargument, Spock found himself aboard the Yorktown.
He found the ship to be fascinating, if odd.
Instead of a low-ranking crewman who could be spared more easily from their duties, as would happen on a Vulcan ship, Spock’s family was greeted in the shuttle bay by the captain himself. This provided Spock with an opportunity to begin his observations.
The captain, Christopher Pike, appeared younger than his mother and was fair in a way that was rare on Vulcan. He greeted Sarek respectfully, even refraining from the human gesture of shaking hands, but spoke to Amanda with familiarity despite it appearing that they had never met.
Spock looked to his father and observed that Sarek appeared as unperturbed and calm as he ever did. He studied his mother and found that she was different, more relaxed and at ease in a way she never was with strangers on Vulcan. She was also smiling and, instead of making an observation on her emotional response, Captain Pike not only matched her actions but complimented her.
These compliments seemed to serve no purpose but to make his mother smile. Perhaps that was their purpose. She was also quick to set aside formality. On Vulcan, his mother would never ask someone to call her Amanda instead of Lady Amanda or Dr. Grayson, likely because no one outside of their clan ever would. Captain Pike’s response was to invite her to call him Chris in return.
His mother laid a hand on Spock’s shoulder to draw him forward. Even through his robes, he could feel the buzz of her happiness. Spock decided that, regardless of anything else, he liked the Yorktown.
“This is my son, Spock. Spock, Captain Christopher Pike.”
Spock offered the captain a ta’al. “Peace and long life, sir.”
“You as well, Spock. I’m pleased to meet you.”
“How do you know that our acquaintance will be pleasant?” Spock asked.
Captain Pike smiled. “I see you’re just as literal as every Vulcan I’ve met. I don’t actually know, so I suppose it’s an expression of optimism rather than a statement of fact.”
“I am unsure of the logic of that statement.”
Mother laughed. “Spock.”
The captain attempted to hide a smile behind his hand. “Let’s try this — you know, logically, that simply wishing that I have a long and peaceful existence will not impact whether I do in any meaningful way, correct?”
Spock considered his question. He had never questioned the traditional Vulcan greetings before, only those of other species. As far as he knew, no one he knew had applied the same logic to the ta’al. He would have to meditate upon the thought. “Yes, sir.”
“Well, I can’t make our acquaintance a pleasant one, but I can control how I begin that acquaintance to the best of my ability. Hence, we both offer well wishes to get off on the right foot and because we have to say something in greeting.”
It became clear to Spock why his mother wished him to speak with a variety of people. Differing viewpoints offered intellectual vigour, which would allow for a more robust framework of logical reasoning.
“I will consider your words, Captain.”
“Come talk to me if you have any questions. Since you’ll be on the ship for the next three days.” The captain directed them out of the shuttle bay and into a corridor. “We won’t be going above warp four unless there’s an emergency. The fuel injectors were replaced two weeks ago, and we’re still putting the engines through their paces.”
“The new triple coil injectors?” Sarek asked. “I understand Starfleet approved them for use.”
“The Yorktown is the first,” the captain said, seeming pleased. “They were tested extensively, but no controlled test can compare to the strain a Constitution-class starship in the real world undergoes. Engineering is monitoring everything, and we’ll be ready to report to Starfleet by the end of the month.”
“I am not expected on Beta Antares IV for five days. There is no reason for you to disrupt your schedule, Captain Pike.”
“Well, I hope you enjoy your stay. We’ve put you in the diplomatic suite with your aides in the room next door. A yeoman is assigned to you, so if you have any problems or questions, just ask. He’ll be available to give you a tour. There are places on the ship that require an escort,” the captain added, looking over at Spock, “including engineering and the bridge. There are also a few off-limit places.”
Spock realized this warning was intended for him. “I understand, Captain, and will endeavour to obey the rules on your vessel.”
“I’m sure you will. How old are you, Spock?”
“I am fourteen years and sixty-two days by Federation reckoning.”
Captain Pike smiled again. Either he was naturally a happy man, or he found Spock amusing in some way. “My daughter turned eleven a couple of months ago. You two have a lot in common, so at least you’ll have someone to talk to at dinner.”
Spock was aware there would be several meals with the captain and senior officers. He was more prepared for the company of strange adults than a human child. Particularly a younger one. “I do not always have positive interactions with children, Captain.” He did not say that Vulcan children developed intellectually faster than their human counterparts and that Spock found Vulcans his own age unable to stand up to his intellect. It was true, but it might be construed as an insult.
The captain only smiled again. “Like I said, you two have a lot in common — she’s far too smart, as well. Besides, Jim is pretty easy to get along with. Except when she isn’t.”
Spock was uncertain what that meant, but his mother spared him the necessity of asking. “Oh?”
“My kid is smarter than most adults, hates being bored and despises being talked down to. And she hoards grudges like a Klingon.”
“And all that before puberty,” Mother said.
The captain rubbed a hand over his face. “Let’s not go there.”
‘Jim’ did not, in any way, resemble a Klingon. Spock might have been disappointing if he were not otherwise occupied by fascination and bafflement.
Captain Pike was discussing a recent Federation Council subcommittee hearings on the ethics of the Prime Directive and viability in its current form with his mother — both of the opinion that the directive would change but not without further resistance from conservative factions within the Federation’s governing body — when he was interrupted.
“Dad!” A small human approached them at a speed that indicated distress and assaulted the captain by means of throwing herself at his waist and holding him immobile. This gesture would later be explained to him as a ‘tackle-hug,’ two things Spock maintained did not belong paired together. “Hey, guess what?”
“Hey, kid.” The captain touched her hair in a gesture similar to the one Spock’s mother habitual performed, despite Spock having reached an age where touch was no longer needed for his development. Captain Pike then swiped a finger over her face. “I’m going to guess you were in Engineering instead of attending a lesson in Stellar Cartography. And, based on the plasma coolant you just transferred to my uniform, it involved breaking or repairing something.”
“Ugh, Stellar Cartography is boring, and I finished my assignment already.”
Jim eased her hold on the captain enough to make an illogical expression up at him. “I told you it’s boring and too easy. My teacher wants to talk to you, by the way.”
“She wants to advance you. I was hoping that the applied lessons would keep you occupied. I’m not comfortable with you completing your standard education any earlier, Jimmy, not when you’re already in line to finish before sixteen.”
This seemed illogical to Spock. Why would the captain not wish his daughter to advance academically as quickly as her intellect would permit?
“Sorry, Dad, but I don’t think I can get stupider.”
“Well, you can’t get any sassier. What were you doing in Engineering? And is my ship still working?”
“Oh, man, Dad, it was awesome! Commander Volk let me help ver replace the relay that keeps shorting out on Deck 9, but ve realized that it wasn’t shorting out, it was overloading from feedback in the system, and the problem would re-occur if it weren’t fixed. So ve let me map the relays, and I found the junction point it had to be coming from because if it were any further up the line, there would have been more systemic power outages. And ve agreed, so we went in the Jefferies tubes to check it out!”
“Still not sure why you’ve got coolant all over you, Jim.”
She blew out a breath, ruffling her pale bangs. “I’m getting there, Dad. You shouldn’t interrupt my report.”
“Is that what this is?” the captain laughed. “Well, then, please continue.”
“So, we opened up the panel and found a small leak in the plasma coolant keeping the main computer hub for Deck 9 cool. That wasn’t the problem, though, but it was a good thing we found it. But, the leak was caused by the same thing as the overload. Someone left a hyperspanner inside the panel! Every time it shifted, like when we change velocity or vector, the spanner would come into contact with something — like the coolant line. The problem was that the spanner occasionally created an arc between two relays, overloading them. That’s why the replicators on Deck 8-B and the sonic showers on Deck 7-A have been wonky.”
Spock was distracted from this elaborate recitation of facts by an unusual sensation, something brushing lightly against his shields. Moreover, the more ‘Jim’ spoke, the more the area around her seemed to fill with a presence that was akin to a telepathic one but was unlike a Vulcan. Without physical contact or lowering his shields, Spock was unable to discern the nature of that presence, only feel the pressure. And yet, humans were considered psi-null.
His father laid and hand on Spock’s shoulder, close enough to touch his fingers to the back of Mother’s hand where it already lay. Sarek’s formidable mental presence wrapped around Spock.
“So, we removed the spanner, replaced the relays just in case, and fixed the leak. And Volk sent me to clean up and report the issue was resolved, but really, ve wanted to yell at the last person in that junction without me there.”
“Why would Commander Volk yell at anyone?” Spock asked.
Jim faced him. Spock was surprised to see just how bright her blue eyes were. He had not seen the like on Vulcan. She also appeared surprised to see them. “Because whoever it was left a spanner inside a bulkhead and, when they realized it was missing, probably requisitioned a new one instead of retracing their steps. Like a dumbass.”
“How can any part of the anatomy but the brain be considered ‘dumb’?”
Jim snorted. “It’s an expression.”
“It is an illogical expression.”
“Most of them are. You’re Spock, right?”
“The captain has called you Jim and Jimmy, but neither of them appears to be your name.”
“Those are nicknames. I’m Jayme.”
“Are you aware that you are empathically projecting?”
When his father spoke, Jayme blinked up at him. “No.” She made a face indicating concentration. The remaining pressure eased and then vanished. “I’m sorry.”
“You have caused no harm or offered offence. Though I confess curiosity,” Sarek added, looking between Jayme and Captain Pike.
The captain put an arm around Jayme’s shoulders. “I didn’t notice, kid, but I’m used to getting your emotions all over me. Are you alright, or just excited?”
“Excited, I think. And I’ve had trouble sleeping and meditating for a couple of days.” She made another face. “I’ll do better.”
“Hey, we talked about this. As long as you’re okay, and you aren’t infringing on others’ mental privacy.”
“I didn’t even feel anything,” Mother said.
“The projection was not an attempt to reach any person mentally but instead filled the surrounding space,” Sarek explained. “It was not an imposition but an invitation, a technique used by several empathic species to share positive emotions.”
Spock heard the question his father hadn’t asked. So did Jayme. “I’m two-quarters Betazoid,” she said. “Did you know that empathy evolved before spoken language on Betazed? And that the language didn’t have words for specific emotions until we made contact with other worlds?”
“I was aware of the first but not the second,” Sarek said. “To share strong positive emotions is a natural impulse for the Betazoid people and your training is incomplete.”
“It’s normal for Betazoids, but it’s a little uncommon among humans, if permissible because I’m a kid. But I bet it’s pretty rude for Vulcans.”
“As you are not a Vulcan, I believe the point is moot.”
“He right,” Captain Pike said.
“I’m supposed to be culturally sensitive, especially towards visitors.”
“That doesn’t mean you have to change your species,” Mother said firmly. “As someone who lives with Vulcans, let me assure you that Sarek is not sparing your feelings. If you had caused offence, you would know it.”
Jayme studied Mother and then nodded. “Vulcans are even blunter than Betazoids. And my great-grandmother could teach classes on how to embarrass a room in as few words as possible.”
“No kidding,” Captain Pike sighed. “Admiral Chandra still hasn’t recovered, and Rel’oc retired from the trauma,” he told Sarek. “And there’s a dozen officers who probably hide under their desks at the thought of Jorgana Kirk of the Third House.”
“I will keep that in mind.”
“I’d like to meet her,” Mother said.
In the 87 hours he spent on the Yorktown, Spock learned a great deal. He was not sure it was all intellectually oriented, but it was satisfying in a way — like besting a challenge could be. His father appeared to find Spock’s new knowledge to be, if not beneficial, then without harm. His mother was irrationally pleased, especially after the first time Spock and Jayme had, as she said, ‘found trouble.’
He learned Jayme’s last name was Kirk, and her father’s name was George — yes, that George Kirk — and Captain Pike had adopted her. He learned Betazoids had no concept of guardianship outside of family ties, which meant that the Captain was, by means of becoming Jayme’s guardian, considered her legal parent and a citizen of Betazed.
He learned that Jayme had a sister, Jorga, who lived on Betazed with their relatives, and that Jayme did not fit in there, though he did not learn why. He learned Jayme’s mother had died from empathic shock after her daughter was born from the combination of feeling so many deaths and the severance of her bond with George Kirk. He learned what human tears smelled like — and realized how often his mother had cried where he could not see.
He learned that the most direct question was not always the kindest one, and that curiosity could have a price when focused on interpersonal relationships rather than academic subjects.
He learned what hero-worship looked like as he watched Jayme around his mother, attempting to emulate her and seeking out her attention in conversations. As a result, he learned to process the irritation that no one on Vulcan ever looked at Amanda in such a way.
He learned many more words like ‘dumbass.’ They did not enrich his vocabulary, but he pondered the reaction that would occur if he used them during altercations on Vulcan.
He learned the sight of his mother, out of Vulcan robes, in the company of other humans where she was not judged and found wanting for her humanity.
He learned the best places on a ship to observe space, the engines, and the crew. He conversed with more than three people of different species, though he contended that Jayme did, in fact, count twice by nature of her hybrid status. He learned the rhythm of a ship, devoid of planetary-based cues for day and night, learned that it was never quiet but often felt that way much as the desert could.
He learned what it was like to not be alone, torn between two conflicting natures. He learned that, perhaps, the answer was not to choose one or the other but to embrace the best of both.
He learned what it was to have a friend.
“You surprised me,” Jayme said on Spock’s last night on the ship. “I didn’t expect you to be so Vulcan.”
They were on Observation Deck Alpha, situated below the bridge. It was Jayme’s favourite place on the Yorktown and permitted a 270-degree view of space. Gamma shift had begun, and the ship was quiet. Spock had left his quarters to meet Jayme but refrained from ‘sneaking out’ as it was illogical to do so when his mother was happy to give him permission. He did not believe Jayme’s claims that breaking the rules was half the fun; anxiety was detrimental to enjoyment.
Jayme, he had learned, struggled to meditate and, in turn, sleep. Betazoid meditation revolved around processing and purging the foreign emotions they encountered, not maintaining walls or containing their empathy. Time here allowed her to settle her mind and therefore sleep better.
“I have endeavoured, perhaps incorrectly, to be as Vulcan as possible,” Spock offered in explanation. “I believed that being of two worlds required me to choose one over the other. I also harboured the hope that doing so would limit negative interactions on Vulcan, but no matter my efforts, I am always perceived as being too human.”
Jayme wrinkled her nose, an action he observed her doing an average of 7 times a day. “That seems subjective, you know. Who’s to say if someone is ‘too’ anything?”
“Holding one to a subjective standard is illogical,” Spock said.
“Vulcans strive to be logical at all times,” he reminded her.
“Strive doesn’t mean success. You strive to be completely Vulcan, but you’re half-human, so you can only be as Vulcan as is possible for you. Sounds like most Vulcans are as logical as they can be, but if they were perfectly logical all the time, then why would it take so much effort?”
There were times when, despite being almost exactly three years older than Jayme, Spock felt like the younger of the two of them. His mother said that human girls grew up faster than boys, and his father said that being aware of her own and others’ emotions required Jayme to reach emotional maturity early.
Jayme would claim that she was just awesome that way. Spock agreed.
“Your dad didn’t judge me on Vulcan standards because I’m not one,” Jayme continued. “Why should you be judged by a standard you can’t ever meet? That sounds cruel to me. Not to mention dumb.”
“Logic dictates —”
“Humans study logic, too, you know,” Jayme interrupted, “and part of logic is about identifying flaws and false assumptions. For example, assuming that since you’re part Vulcan, you should be completely Vulcan is a fallacy. Why, exactly, is being Vulcan superior to being human or a hybrid of the two? That’s subjective and kind of stupid. Who decided that Vulcan logic is superior to human logic in all circumstances? If a human and a Vulcan walk into a room full of crying children, who would be better equipped to manage the problem?”
“Vulcan children do not cry,” Spock said.
“Exactly. Absolute logic is possible in math but not by people because you can only act based on the information you have at the time. Like Sarek and Amanda,” Jayme added, shifting to face him instead of the passing stars. “You said that people on Vulcan think it was illogical for Sarek to marry her — I bet no one says the opposite, though.”
“She benefits from Vulcan logic as well as my father’s position,” Spock said. It was an argument he had heard often. Usually predicated by calling his mother a whore.
“So? She lives on a planet that isn’t hers, with people who think she’s beneath them, being criticized for her emotions even though she can’t change them. Her reasons must make sense to her for her to figure dealing with that every day is worth it. And Sarek has to deal with jerks questioning his logic, so he must have decided it’s worth it, too.”
“So why do they do so?”
“Because they love each other, dummy,” Jayme sighed, rolling her eyes at him. “The benefits they receive don’t weigh in other people’s calculations because they can’t feel what Sarek and Amanda do.”
“Love is not logical.”
“Neither is art, strictly speaking, but societies benefit from it. And people benefit from love.”
His father had once said that it was logical to marry his mother. He had not said he loved her, but he had not said he did not, either. Spock resolved to reiterate the question. “I believe there is a flaw in your logic, but I cannot find it at present.”
“Have fun with that,” Jayme said, turning back to space and leaning back on her hands. “And I’ll decimate your counter-argument when you come up with one. Because I’m that awesome.”
“You wish to continue our acquaintance by correspondence?” Spock was surprised. He had not calculated the odds, but Jayme often surprised him.
“It would be logical,” Jayme teased him. “The effort of maintaining our relationship is less than it took to cultivate it.”
“That sounds agreeable,” Spock agreed.
They sat in companionable silence, watching the stars until Captain Pike came to retrieve Jayme and inform Spock his parents wished him to return. When Jayme shifted to push herself upright, her hand brushed against Spock’s bare hand.
It was not unlike touching a spark of static electricity.
“I’m sorry, Spock,” Jayme cried, looking surprised. “I didn’t mean it.”
Spock shook his hand. The tingle had vanished, and he was experiencing no negative repercussions. “It was an accident. There is no need to apologize when there is no offence.”
“If catastrophe had been avoided,” the captain stated, placing an arm around Jayme, “then it’s time for all minors to return to their quarters. Bedtime, kid.”
“I hate being a kid. I want to be a grownup. No bedtimes.”
“No, just deadlines and taxes.”
Spock followed the bantering pair away from the observation deck, wholly unaware he had experienced a moment that would shape his life.
T’Pau’s fingertips left his meld points, taking the sense of otherness from his mind. Spock mentally recited the first suya of Surak to avoid showing any emotion or relief. Over the years, he had come to find it distasteful to share his mind with anyone outside of the light contact of his parents. While his mother’s mental presence — bright and fierce with love — and his father’s determined calm were a comfort, all others felt intrusive. Even alien.
From her position kneeling beside him, T’Pring betrayed a moment of nerves by fidgeting with the hem of her sleeve before regaining control of herself. Spock did not judge the one chosen to be his wife for her lapse; T’Pau was intimidating on the best of days. Today was not such a day.
“There is naught wrong in the bond between these children,” T’Pau stated in High Vulcan. She preferred it for formal occasions and many situations that were not, stating that her duty was to preserve the history and traditions of their people, and anyone who could not follow her conversation required the additional tutelage.
The sense of eyes upon him ended abruptly. Spock did not need to turn around to know that the various adults of T’Pring’s clan that had been glaring at the back of his head had redirected their gaze to T’Pau. Next to him, T’Pring frowned for a heartbeat before her face smoothed out.
“That is not possible,” Solen, T’Pring’s father, said. “The healer stated that my daughter’s psionic profile has changed. As there is no physiological or medical reason, the betrothal bond is the only explanation.”
That he believed Spock and his human heritage was the cause of any problem with the bond went unsaid. There was no reason to repeat what had already been stated.
“I will not tell the healer how to diagnose, and they will not speculate on things outside their purview or understanding,” T’Pau replied. Not even an eyelash flickered to betray any insult taken, but her tone was so dry that it put the Forge to shame. “I have said that there is no problem within the bond. A problem implies a flaw, failing, or something that necessitates a correction. There can be no such problem, as there is no bond.”
His mother made a surprised noise, but for once, Spock was too distracted by his own concerns to look to her. He remembered the ceremony that had bound him and T’Pring, ten years and one hundred thirty-seven days ago: the pressure of T’Pau’s presence in his mind and the lingering feeling of a foreign presence that marked T’Pring. He remembered feeling bruised inside his skull for weeks, a sensation that was wholly psychic and without physical cause. He remembered the way his sleep was disturbed for some time afterwards, causing his mother concern.
How could there be no bond?
Spock had no chance to ask as Solen’s wife said, coldly, “It was clearly too much to ask one of human blood to sustain a healthy bond. We were in error, taking your clan’s assurance of his telepathic strength —”
“I did not wish for the bond,” T’Pring cut in, interrupting her mother before T’Pau, whose eyes had narrowed, or Amanda, whose sharp inhale signalled the start of a passionate and logical deconstruction of someone’s intellect and character, could. “While I had no specific objections at the time, with age, I have come to understand myself in a way that makes a future marriage between Spock and myself unpalatable.” Her eyes cut to Spock’s. “Through no fault of his. My parents refused to speak to Ambassador Sarek and Lady Amanda about dissolution, and I found the prospect of waiting until the koon-ut-kal-if-fee to be disingenuous.”
“We have discussed this,” Solen said sharply enough that everyone turned to look at him. T’Pau raised a single brow. “Your reasoning is illogical and without merit.”
“I have meditated often on the possible methods of ending our betrothal bond,” T’Pring continued as if Solen had not spoken. “Though I was resigned to waiting until the age of majority and representing myself before your clan for a dissolution.”
“Unorthodox,” T’Pau said, which was something of an understatement. Thousands of years of tradition dictated that the ones betrothed by arrangement were the ones who had no part in the negotiations between families. Had she taken the action she proposed, T’Pring would have, in effect, declared herself orphaned from her parents.
“Perhaps so,” T’Pring acknowledged. Spock gave up all pretense and turned fully to look at the one who had been intended as his wife. “In my meditation, I have sought to isolate the bond within my mind. I have also made a personal connection with another, which included telepathic contact —” Solen said something particularly ugly under his breath. T’Pring did not react at all, but T’Pau sent him a sharp look and Spock’s father drew his mother two steps further away from Solen. “I believe that the failure of our bond is due to my actions and choices, and I find that I do not regret that.”
“We have discussed your unfortunate interests,” her mother, T’Aria, said.
“We discussed nothing,” T’Pring said cooly. “You and father lectured without offering a logical argument, and I disagreed.”
Spock was aware of a sense of regret. So many of his interactions with Vulcans his own age — and often above it — were so negative or illogical that he had never made an effort to seek out friendships. Even Jayme, his only true friend, had made all the overtures of friendship. Instead, he had relegated all his agemates to the same category as his tormentors, instead of seeing them as individuals. It had never occurred to him that his peers might chafe under expectations or question tradition as he did. He had never considered that T’Pring might be a friend or ally rather than an actor in Spock’s distant, nebulous future.
“There is no logical objection to T’Lara. Therefore your objection is illogical,” T’Pring finished.
Spock’s eyebrow lifted in surprise, nor was it the only one. T’Lara was a distinctly female name.
All eyes but T’Pring’s fell upon Solen and T’Aria. His mother glared at them both, making no pretense of hiding her feelings. “Prejudice is ugly and illogical, as is imposing it upon your children.”
“Your opinion is neither necessary or desired, human,” Solen said.
“Our people are not half so removed from the violence of our past that I would not find satisfaction in taking that insult to my wife out upon your person, Solen,” Sarek replied in a measured tone. Spock agreed with his father’s words and the implication of them. “Nor would I be reluctant to stand as your daughter’s advocate in this case. Unless you can offer a true objection to T’Pring’s preference of mate, my wife’s observation must stand as an explanation.”
“No member of T’Lara’s family has ever served on the High Council,” Solen replied.
“Nor has yours,” T’Pau observed. “Though one might expect a child of a union between Spock and T’Pring could be elevated to such a position with hard work and the support of our clan. A most logical consideration in arranging a betrothal for a child, but not for refusing a young woman a reasoned choice.”
“No member of the girl’s family has attended the VSA in ten generations,” Solen attempted to justify himself.
“The majority of the Vulcan population does not attend the VSA, or attaining entrance would not be a mark of intellectual vigour and dedication,” T’Pring replied. “And as I have no intention of applying, your argument holds no value.”
“What path do you intend to pursue?” Spock asked her before Solen, or his wife could let loose the temper they were no longer able to conceal. As far as Spock knew, their clan had worked in the agricultural and horticultural sciences for several centuries.
T’Pring studied him, perhaps assessing his sincerity, before lifting her chin in defiance. “I have applied to and been accepted by the artisan collective in ShanaiKahr, where I intend to pursue a study in various artistic forms before choosing a medium in which to seek mastery.”
“I see.” Spock tilted his head, considering. T’Pring’s choice certain explained her family’s discontent. Art remained a necessary aspect of Vulcan society as well as a valued export but was not a path many families encouraged. Surak had written of art as an exploration and expression of logic in visual form, and it was one of the twelve vital aspects of a logical society but, unlike music, which had a mathematical basis, art was often viewed warily. Artisans, unlike craftsmen, trod a far more fine line between logic and emotion than most. They often lived in their own communities, separated from other Vulcans, and were more likely to travel off-world in pursuit of new techniques or inspiration.
Still, he had little sympathy for T’Pring’s family, who had always acted as if they were doing Spock and his parents a favour by ignoring his hybrid status while pointing out that status at every turn. Besides, T’Pring had clearly put effort into her plan; the ShanaiKahr collective accepted only those students who showed both talent and dedication.
“You will do nothing of the kind,” Solen began to argue.
“Enough,” T’Pau stated. Used to vast meeting rooms and echoing monastery chambers, she had no trouble cutting through the small receiving room. “Your intimate family concerns are none of mine, nor that of my clan. You will cease arguing and in making unfounded accusations and uninformed statements. Solen, T’Aria, you sought an appointment for a purpose today, and that purpose has been met. You and your kinsmen will now leave this residence.”
One of the four adults that had come with T’Pring’s parents — to aid in arguing that any issues of the bond were Spock’s fault and necessitated financial reimbursement — spoke for the first time. “There is the matter of compensation.”
“There is not,” Sarek said. “The dissolution of a bond requires no financial exchange except when physical damage or expenses arise as a result. That is not the case here, and in any case, as T’Pring has claimed responsibility, any compensation would be on your parts, not ours.” He raised an eyebrow. “Do we continue this line of conversation, or will you go as Elder T’Pau has instructed?”
Under threat of losing instead of gaining financially and T’Pau’s stern glare, the visitors left. T’Pring was the last to leave, waiting until her elders were at the door before rising to her feet. She hesitated before leaving, stopping to nod to Sarek, T’Pau, and even his mother before meeting Spock’s gaze. “Peace and long life, Spock.”
“I wish you . . . ” Spock hesitated. Under the circumstances, the traditional words seemed illogical. “I wish you good luck in your endeavours, both artistic and romantic.”
Surprisingly, the corners of T’Pring’s mouth softened into something that might, in any other species, be the precursor to a smile. “Luck is a matter of mathematical probability.”
“Long life is influenced greatly by genetic predisposition, which is similarly a matter of probability.”
“Then I hope that, in matters not dictated by personal effort, mathematical probability works in both our favours.” T’Pring nodded to him and, her almost-smile vanishing, followed her kin from the room.
Being Vulcans, there was no explosion of sound or shouting in the hallway, only a low hush of voices. T’Pring was audible as she said, clearly, “Art is required for the enrichment of society and is a logical pursuit. Standing in another’s house, arguing, is not.” A moment later, the outer door closed heavily, and all was silent again.
His mother covered her mouth, laughing. “Well, then.”
T’Pau sighed. “I am growing too old to waste my time listening to foolish people and illogical arguments.” She lifted a hand and the two silent attendants standing at her shoulders vanished by way of the rear door.
“I believe that is what you spend much of your days doing, Elder.”
“Then I should consider retirement,” T’Pau told Sarek. “And a long sojourn to a monastery under a vow of silence. A decade should be enough. Spock, close the door.”
Trained to obey that tone, he did so and returned to his place in front of T’Pau. This time, his parents joined him.
“It is not possible to remove a bond by way of meditation and desire,” his father observed. “Not without a great deal of training or outside assistance. Or a prodigious talent.”
“While the child is very strong-minded, it is a matter of will rather than telepathically,” T’Pau said. “It suited her purpose to deny that Spock could have been at fault.”
“Then, T’Pring was untruthful. I am at fault for the failure of the bond.”
“Spock,” his mother said, touching his shoulder.
“‘Fault’ implies responsibility or error, S’chn T’gai Spock. You bear neither in this case, and the natural dissolution of your bond saved you both the effort and expense of having an adept sever it when T’Pring came of age.” T’Pau raised a brow. “These things happen, child. It is a necessary repercussion of our traditions. Our ancestors did not take into account the age we become aware of our orientations. It is fortunate that at your age, unmated Vulcans rarely seek or accept new arrangements.”
“In what regard, Elder?”
“No one will question your parents’ refusal of any offers. Any attempt to create a new betrothal bond will be unsuccessful and lead to scrutiny.” T’Pau folded her hands in her lap and studied him with ink-black eyes. “There is a part of your mind, Spock, that is wholly out of reach, from me or any other adept. A place guarded as fiercely as a sehlat protects its den. I do not believe that any artificially created or imposed bond can be made in your mind now that it has developed. I am somewhat surprised the original one took at all, but perhaps it was due to your age.”
Spock could think of nothing to say. Fortunately, his father had the wit to ask what he could not. “Why?”
“I have only seen such a thing once before,” T’Pau said. “Years ago, when I melded with a guide.”
“But — Spock can’t be a guide,” his mother said firmly. “The full genome requires recessive alleles from two parents.”
“Correct, however, as he is the first surviving hybrid, there is no precedent for the interaction between guide and Vulcan genetics.”
“What does this mean?” Spock asked.
“Your guide nature will make any non-Sentinel bond impossible,” T’Pau said solemnly. “As we have already seen. And, without a full set of alleles, you will not present as a guide.”
Spock clenched his hands into fists on his knees before consciously relaxing them. He was unsure of what he was feeling, only that he was feeling. “Then, my options appear to be limited.”
T’Pau tipped her head. “I am aware.”
The exchange weighed heavily on Spock’s mind for many weeks. He meditated on this new knowledge, further proof that he was of two worlds and not wholly part of either. He contemplated his own assumptions of his peers, their internal motivations versus their public actions.
He downloaded everything written or translated into Federation Standard on sentinels and guides, from recent studies to vague mythical writing, and read every word. It was, in turn, alien, fascinating, contradictory, and confusing.
One thought that reoccurred often was: what now? What did his future hold now that he knew one of the most basic traditions of the Vulcan people was out of his reach? Without a bond, there would be no possibility of a Vulcan mate or family.
It also brought to question what would happen when he was faced with pon farr, but he preferred to leave thoughts of that for the future. The very distant future.
But, if one entire aspect of Vulcan life was beyond him . . . Did that mean he should try harder yet to achieve others? Or that he should look elsewhere? It had taken most of his life to date to accept that he would never be Vulcan enough for some but never once had he questioned, until now, that Vulcan might not be enough for him.
It was, perhaps, unfortunate that these were the questions he had been meditating on only hours before meeting the Vulcan Science Council to confirm his acceptance to the VSA.
Though, as Spock had always been sensitive to insult to his mother, it might not have made any difference. He explained this to Jayme after the incident occurred.
On the comm screen, Jayme bit her lip. “So. You lost your temper.”
“I am Vulcan.”
She made an affirming noise and propped her chin on her hand. Behind her head, there was a poster of a band he had never heard of. Or, possibly, an illustration of the world perceived through pharmacological assistance. It hung next to a window with an excellent view of the stark red Martian landscape, and the Utopia Colony habitation dome. “And?”
“As a Vulcan, I do not have a temper to lose.”
“Tell that to the Vulcan elder you told to go fuck himself.”
“I made no reference to self-pleasure,” Spock replied. He did not wish anything pleasurable, ever, for the disagreeable head minister. It was logical to forgive unintentional slights, but Spock was not feeling particularly logical at the moment.
“I bet that’s not how he heard it.”
“I am not responsible for his interpretation of reality, however flawed it may be.”
Jayme’s eyes widened. “Wow. He must have really pissed you off.”
Spock closed his eyes and inhaled, holding it for a long count of ten before exhaling slowly. He repeated the exercise twice more before opening his eyes. On-screen, Jayme watched him with concern.
Comfort was a physical sensation, not an emotion, but there was no other description for what Spock’s ongoing communication with Jayme brought him. Three years and fifty-six days after their first meeting, he could not recall a moment of regret about their friendship, even when maintaining it proved challenging. There had been times when only letters had been able to cover the vast distances between Vulcan and the Yorktown and others when the ship was entirely out of contact. Now that Jayme was studying at MITUC and no longer aboard a ship, subject to interrupted communications, they could regularly exchange comms as well as text messages.
Which did not preclude other breakdowns in communication. Different experiences and cultures left a few pitfalls for them both, not to mention Spock’s occasional inability to listen without offering advice. And then there had been a memorable time two years ago when Jayme exhibited regular and wild emotional outbursts. Spock’s advice that she seek medical assistance and engage in meditation to control her irrational emotions had resulted in tears, a cold shoulder, and a conversation with his mother about human reproduction and development as it pertained to adolescent girls.
It had been a trying month.
“I find the double-standard applied to myself and my mother to be difficult to accept,” Spock finally replied. “We are expected to understand and accept their prejudice and disdain as a matter of fact, while they act as if accommodating our perceived flaws is of equal weight. And somehow, their insult, when called out, is seen to be greater than our offence at being treated as lesser ever could or should be.”
“That’s because you live on a planet that institutionalizes cultural entitlement, Spock. It’s called privilege, and it’s a lot harder to eradicate than straight-up discrimination. Especially since you have to convince people that something they benefit from is a bad thing. It took a few hundred years and a global nuclear war to shake it loose from Earth.” Jayme smiled. “But if you tell everyone who treats you like a condescending dick to have ‘peace and long life’ as if you’re actually hoping they fuck off and die, you’ll get through to them eventually. Probably.”
“I can think of two hundred and seven things I would rather do.”
She shrugged. “Then do them. Regardless of what other people imply, their prejudice is not your problem or concern. It isn’t your job to educate people who choose ignorance, Spock, and if anyone tells you otherwise, ask them why they aren’t doing it.”
Contemplating her words, Spock turned to study the view of ShiKahr from his window. The burnished light of sunset illuminated the angular lines of Vulcan architecture, designed to be both mathematical and reflective of the harsh beauty of their world. The roads were evenly spaced and uniform in width, following a precise pattern calculated to maximize efficient traffic flow. Here, on the outskirts of the city, homes owned by the same clans for generations demonstrated their history not through size or grandeur but through the elaborateness of their gardens. In the distance, beyond the sharp edges of the towers of the central district, the Langon Mountains rose high above the city, shielding it from the worst of the Vulcan Forge.
“I will never truly fit here,” he said without thinking.
“Can I tell you a secret?” He turned to the screen. It was of excellent quality, Jayme’s blue eyes shining through with exceptional clarity. “No one fits in, not without effort. We aren’t the odd ones, Spock. Everyone feels like a square peg in a round hole, a piece that doesn’t quite slot into place. The difference is that we ask why, rather than accepting there’s something wrong with us. Most people carve away at themselves to fit in; some of us have no choice but to carve out a place out that’s the right size for us as we are.”
“I understand that your description is metaphorical, Jayme, but if you carve away at yourself, wouldn’t you then bleed to death? Or at least suffer secondary infections?”
She chuckled. “Yeah, actually. That’s why some people are dicks, Spock. It’s because they cut away pieces of themselves, maybe even without realizing it, and it makes them dissatisfied and unhappy. They bleed on the inside. Then they take it out on other people, trying to force them to fit into the same standards because, otherwise, they have to look at us and wonder why they couldn’t do the same.”
“There is a flaw in your logic, but I am unable to find it,” Spock told her. It was a phrase he spoke often.
As always, she laughed. “When you do, let me know. Do you know why I live with Dad instead of on Betazed with my sister?”
The apparent change of subject did not phase him; he was immune to Jayme’s leaps of thought by now. “Nothing specifically. You have, as you would say, dropped hints, but never explained in detail.”
“When my father died,” Jayme began, in the distant tone she always used when speaking of her biological parent, “my mother went into empathic shock from the severed bond and the loss of life around her. It was too much for her, coupled with labour and birth, and her mind shut down. She managed to shield me from the lost parental bond, so the doctor managed to keep me alive until rescue.
“The thing is that humans, as a species, are psi-null. But individuals can be psi-sensitive even if they aren’t a sentinel or guide.” Spock refrained from flinching. He had yet to come to terms with his circumstance and had said nothing to Jayme. “So when the Venture brought the shuttle on board, and a third-year cadet on a training cruise helped extract everyone, the doctors didn’t think anything of handing me over to him while they dealt with the injured.”
“Captain Pike,” Spock assumed.
Jayme grinned. “Well, lieutenant, junior grade, at the time of graduation. Which was a year away from then. Apparently, it took a while for him to live down nearly fainting under the impact of an infant mind latching onto his and forming an empathic bond. Two people caught him before he could drop me.” She laughed. “The jokes about being dropped on my head as a baby have a unique context in my family. That kind of thing that just happens among telepathic species, though it isn’t common, so my father’s parents, Jorga and Tiberius, took it in stride.”
“You have spoken of your grandparents in the past. I am aware they were your primary caretakers as a child.”
“Dad was only twenty-one at the time,” Jayme said. “There was no question custody would go to them. But they made Dad my godfather and guardian in case of an emergency. As far as the Betazed government was concerned, I legally had a third parent. Earth didn’t really have a line on the forms for ‘non-biological telepathic parental bond.’ Unfortunately.”
She said nothing for a moment, frowning into the distance until Spock said her name. “Jayme.”
“I’m here. I was . . . Five, I think, when my paternal grandparents died in a shuttle accident,” she continued. “Yeah, Jorga was eight, so I was five. Anyway, Dad was in his mid-twenties, a junior officer on a ship, and our mom’s mother was still alive and on Earth. So the courts awarded her and her second husband custody of us, despite the Betazoid government trying to weigh in. Blood trumps everything, and there was probably a little bit of Terran-first mentality there since Norah Davis and her husband were both humans. Our maternal grandfather, Jaymas, died when mom was a kid. I was named for him.
“Norah and Michael Davis had a son, our mom’s half-brother, Frank.”
There was something harsh in her voice when she said the name of her mother’s brother. “You do not like him,” Spock stated. Though he had heard bits and pieces of the years about Jayme’s grandparents and sister, this part was new to him.
“He nearly killed Jorga.”
Though Jayme had bared her teeth, Spock only inclined his head. “I see.”
Blue eyes with pupils blown wide, stared out at him challengingly for a moment before Jayme inhaled and looked away. “Sorry.”
“You have no need to apologize. Your sister lives on Betazed and you with your father, so the custody arrangement did not remain in place.”
“No.” Jayme breathed in and out slowly. “Frank was left in charge of us a lot. He was a bully, and he didn’t like us. He didn’t like that we got a lot of attention in a Starfleet town for our hero father, or that there was a shrine to our mom in the house. He didn’t like that we were already in gifted programs, and his sister went to Starfleet while he was a farm mechanic. He didn’t like that we were aliens. He really didn’t like being expected to take care of us instead of going out, doing stupid shit with equally lazy idiots.”
“And he took it out on you,” Spock stated. He was well aware of the mentality of a bully.
“Oh, yeah. Frank wasn’t stupid enough to hit us but, by the Fire, he was vicious. The kind of instinctive cruelty that cuts you to the quick and we were just kids. And Jorga — well, she’s the sensitive one of the two of us. And she remembered our parents, just a little, so anything about them was harder on her. I could shake it off, but she just couldn’t.
“One day, after going at us, over and over and over, not giving us a moment’s peace, he told Jorga that our parents died to get away from her because she was a freak of nature. They felt her empathy break open at the shipyard, nearly ten miles away.”
Spock drew a breath. That kind of psionic break was horrifying to contemplate, usually the result of severe trauma. For a child to exhibit it from nothing more than words demonstrated just how relentlessly Frank Davis had tortured the Kirk girls.
“And you, Jayme? What happened to you?” Because she would not have been left unaffected.
She smiled, and Spock refrained from reacting. Her expression was devoid of her usual humour and full of teeth. “I broke both his arms, two of his ribs, his ankle and his knee.”
He was lost for words. “I do not understand.”
“Neither did anyone else. Emergency response thought I had a psychotic break. Violence like that is unheard of in Betazoids.” She shrugged. “The thing is, I’m not half Betazoid. I’m two-quarters Betazoid, and two-quarters human, and that makes a difference.”
“Recessive genes. You can inherit recessive traits from both species.” It took Spock two point five seconds to come to a conclusion. His recent reading helped. “You are a sentinel.”
The feral expression on her face vanished in favour of surprise. “Yeah, actually. Latent-Emergent. Frank didn’t bring me online, not at that age, but Jorga’s empathic distress brought it to the surface. Instead of having an empathic event like she did, I had a feral episode.”
“I imagine that Frank Davis regretted his choices for the brief time between then and when you rendered him unconscious.”
“Sure. Then Frank woke up in the hospital and proceeded to blame me for everything, even though the police and SG authorities were investigating him for abuse. By then, the government of Betazed had come down like the wrath of the pissed-off matriarchs with no sense of privacy or tact that they are, taken physical and legal custody of us both, and removed us from the entire planet.” Jayme blew out a breath and rolled her shoulders. “Ugh, emotional bloodletting. Yuck.”
“Emotions do not possess a circulatory system.”
“You are the worst, why am I friends with you?”
“I am unsure of that myself.”
“Right, so, here’s the thing.” Jayme leaned forward towards the comm. “Betazed was great, Spock. The Kirk’s are part of the Seventh House, and we were pulled straight into their embrace. They spared no effort in terms of psychology, empathy, or even education, to get us squared away. The moment someone realized I needed to lean on the parental bond with Dad, they had Starfleet pull him from his duty post and on a transport inside three hours. They did everything necessary and plenty that wasn’t. Jorga recovered and thrived. But I didn’t fit there.
“People were kind. I enjoyed the planet, the food, learning how to use my empathy, everything. No one judged me for having a nature that is so fundamentally alien to Betazoid society that there aren’t words to describe the kind of violence I committed.
“Betazoids aren’t pacifistic out of choice or philosophy like Vulcans, Spock. They are fundamentally incapable of violence outside of extreme mental illness. Even violence in self-defence can cause empathic shock, which is potentially fatal. Four hundred years ago, Orions began raiding the Beta Veldonna system for slaves, and people volunteered to fight them off, knowing it would probably kill them — and it did. It’s called The Great Sacrifice because over two thousand Betazoids volunteered to die in defence of their people.”
“Whereas Vulcans must exert control to avoid violence,” Spock said.
Jayme inclined her head. “There are a rare few Betazoids capable of violence because of physiological flaws. Those that understand they can’t act on it are respected but still kept separate from society for everyone’s safety. Those who can and do commit violence? Who are empathically numb and have no feedback from others when they hurt them? Those are the source of Betazed horror stories, tales of ancient myth and nightmare.
“You represent something many Vulcans disdain or fear — emotion — and they treat you like you need to justify your existence. I represented a potential living nightmare to most Betazoids, Spock, and even though they couldn’t understand me, they still tried. And when they couldn’t, they didn’t take it out on me.”
“But you still left.”
She nodded. “Dad was posted to Betazed for a year. When he was reassigned to ship duty, I went with him. That was what was best for me. No one made me feel like I could stay as long as I did x, y, and z, and if not, I wasn’t worth their time.”
It was a sad story and put into context the close relationship he had witnessed between Jayme and Christopher Pike. Even now, the captain was posted to Sol system for a year while the Yorktown was at the Jupiter shipyard for retrofitting and repairs. That those repairs had coincided perfectly with Jayme’s last year of primary education and early enrollment at MITUC was suspicious. That Captain Pike was living on Mars for the duration, commuting to Jupiter Station and Earth was a surprise to no one.
“I will contemplate your words, Jayme,” Spock said. “How are your classes?”
“Changing the subject, Spock? Fine, I’ll humour you.” She rolled her eyes. “Remind me again why I decided to take warp mechanics?”
“Because it is a subject that interests you and that you excel at.”
She stuck her tongue out. “It’s different, being around so many strangers instead of the same crew I’ve known for years. Weirder still not to feel the ship under me. The environmental systems don’t have the same cadence or vibration as the warp core. Not to mention sitting in a class and following someone else’s schedule instead of doing things at my own pace.”
“You will adjust.”
“Of course I will, I’m awesome. Adapting on the fly is proof of intellectual vigour and biological robustness. Too bad the Vulcan elders haven’t figured that out. What will you do now?”
“I am . . . considering my options.”
As he signed off the comm, there was a knock on the door. It was the first disturbance since his return from the VSA some hours ago. “Enter.”
He rose as Amanda stepped inside and studied him silently. Spock said nothing, unsure of her opinion on the day’s event. Though it was not always avoidable, Spock refrained from disappointing his mother whenever possible.
“Oh, Spock,” she shook her head, smiling. “Just when I think you couldn’t be any more like your father — you prove me wrong.”
It was not what he expected her to say. “Father was disappointed in me.”
“Your father is a brilliant and talented man, a good husband and a well-meaning, if occasionally flawed, father.” Amanda sighed, cupping her elbows in either hand. “He’s also an idiot.”
“He is in the upper tenth percentile of Vulcan intelligence.”
“And? Intelligence and idiocy aren’t mutually exclusive. Sarek once told the High Command that their failure of logic was an embarrassment to Surak and the entire Vulcan people. He has no room to judge you for telling off one bigoted old man.”
Spock considered that. “I see. He has not spoken to me since we returned home.”
“Like I said, he’s an idiot.” She waved a hand as she sat in his vacated desk chair. “Leave your father to me, Spock. You need to worry about yourself. Let’s make a list.”
“Of your options, Spock. This is your future we’re discussing.” She picked up the PADD on his desk and engaged it. “Now, what have you considered? There’s the Daystrom Institute of Technology, of course,” Amanda typed away as she spoke. “And the Cochrane Institute for Advanced Physics — their quantum mechanics department is second to none.”
Spock relaxed at her enthusiasm. Not all was lost. He had his mother’s support and Jayme’s encouragement. His father might not come around — although precedent showed Sarek nearly always gave way to his wife’s persuasion —Spock could not continue to seek approval in the ways he always had. It was time.
“Unless you’re considering the biological sciences. I’ve always thought you’d make a wonderful doctor, and there are countless research opportunities in xenobiology — Spock? What do you think? Do you have any ideas?”
“Starfleet.” He clasped his hands behind his back, studying the world he had been born on out the window. “I will go to Starfleet.”
Spock’s first week of teaching at the Academy was satisfying and frustrating in equal measure.
There was a great satisfaction to be found in attentive students and the successful completion of his duties. It was also found in the illogical but unavoidable pride Spock found in his work — few people, after all, went from attending their first year at the Academy to teaching there in six years. Moreover, Spock was the first Vulcan — or Vulcan hybrid — to attend the Academy or work as a full-time instructor. He considered a small amount of pride, under the circumstances, to be appropriate.
Having his previous academic advisor and current department head address him by his rank was particularly satisfying.
On the other side of the equation, teaching was filled with as many small annoyances as student life was, complicated by even greater redundancy. Instead of hearing similar introductions in every class at the start of a new term, he now gave them; Spock had recited the same speech verbatim nine times in four days. This annoyance was exacerbated by students bored into inattention, a plight he understood but had little sympathy for. After all, he was also bored by introductions but was required by manners and duty to give them his attention.
There was also the relatively minor yet irritating matter of interpersonal relations with his fellow instructors, many of whom had been his own teachers three years ago. While most seemed indifferent or positive about Spock joining them and attaining the rank of Lt. Commander in a relatively short space of time, some appeared to hold him in a negative light. Commander Parsson’s insistence on treating Spock as if he were still a cadet was particularly vexing, especially as their teacher-student relationship had been challenging. Spock had not been to blame for Parsson’s incorrect information and had only sought to help each time he corrected the commander’s calculations in class. Irrationally, Parsson continued to blame Spock for his own errors.
All in all, it had been, as his mother would say, a long week.
Still, Spock was pleased to be back at the Academy. Two years of shipboard duty had been challenging and had affirmed his chosen path was the correct one for him. The last year’s assignment to Rigel’s Daystrom Institute had been intellectually stimulating and provided great scope for his research and interpersonal development.
Earth, as much as Vulcan, had become home. No matter how irritating parts of it may be.
It came as no real surprise to Spock that meeting Jayme Kirk face-to-face for the first time in ten years and one hundred and seventy-four days, involved the same blending of annoyance outweighed by satisfaction.
As Spock exited the Archer Complex at the end of a day of classes, his eye was drawn by a splash of gold against the normal palette of greens, reds, grey and silver that made up the Academy. A cadet with a long fall of golden blonde hair lounged on a bench in the quad onto which several science buildings emptied.
She turned her head, revealing a profile Spock was intimately familiar with. He tightened his grip on his satchel, a gift from his mother, and approached.
Jayme shielded her eyes to look up at him and beamed. It was a description Spock had only found appropriate in regards to Jayme. “You can call me Doctor Kirk. Lt Commander Spock.”
Spock inclined his head. “Congratulations, again, on the successful defence of your thesis.”
“You said that when it happened. And sent a gift, even though you were stationed on the Farragut at the time.” She grinned. “And I’ve been informed that milking it is only acceptable for a year and that my expiry date has passed.”
“It remains a momentous achievement, regardless of when it was attained. Most would consider a doctoral degree to be the culmination of student life. You then enrolled in the Academy.”
“Starfleet was always in my plans.” Jayme moved from the end of the bench towards the centre. “Stop towering, Spock, and sit down. It didn’t take you long to find your way back to the classroom, if on the other side of the desk.”
“It has been a satisfactory endeavour overall, though further data is necessary for analysis.” He clasped his hands behind his back and eyed the seat Jayme offered. “We agreed to wait until the end of the second week to meet, to facilitate establishing our routines. Have I erred in not seeking you out despite that?”
Jayme laughed. “No, Spock, you didn’t. Anyway, you were the one to propose settling in without personal distractions, and I didn’t argue because you’re the one starting a new job. This is my second year, I’m pretty comfortable. I was honouring your request — this is a coincidence. I’m meeting Bones once his class on cross-species immunology gets out.” She made a face. “Sounds like a barrel of fun. Seriously, Spock, sit down.”
“If you insist.” He was aware of Bones — one Leonard McCoy — through his regular contact with Jayme. They had met several years earlier on Betazed while Jayme spent a semester at Cyndriel University, and Doctor McCoy did a residency at the attached teaching hospital. Jayme had not said it outright, but Spock was aware there had been a casual physical relationship between them that had been ended mutually when Jayme returned to Mars. The friendship had continued unabated. He was also aware that McCoy had suffered an unspecified personal problem resulting in an invitation to stay with Jayme and Captain Pike, ending in the doctor enlisting in Starfleet. Apparently, Jayme and her adopted father were inclined to take advantage when they deemed it was for someone’s own good.
He also knew, from unobtrusive and entirely ethical research, that Doctor McCoy was a respected doctor and surgeon despite his relative youth, and that he was not unattractive by human standards. The latter was entirely irrelevant knowledge.
Spock sat. It seemed prudent to give way before Jayme employed further persuasion techniques. Her pout was formidable.
In response, Jayme beamed. “Stubborn Vulcan.”
“It is a shared trait between us. Therefore it appears to be a human character rather than a Vulcan one.”
“I’m telling your mom you said that.”
Spock raised a brow. “My mother is the one I learned it from, a fact she readily confesses to. She states it is a necessary defence against Vulcan inflexibility.”
“I love your mom,” Jayme said, leaning back and draping her arms over the back of the bench. Spock could feel the warmth from her hand inches from his shoulder even through his insulated uniform. “She’s my favourite person after Dad, you and Jorga. And maybe Xiomara Th’lath,” she added, referencing an interplanetary actress whom Jamye had previously confessed admiration for. There had been mention of an ‘exceptions list,’ which had led to an explanation and ended only when Spock agreed that, should he engage in something as illogical as such a list, Ms. Th’lath would be a candidate.
“I am pleased to rank so highly among your estimations,” Spock said dryly. “As will my mother. You may tell her yourself; my parents will be visiting Earth in the next few months. You and my mother can discuss Xiomara Th’lath’s attractiveness.”
Jayme laughed. “You’re adorable.”
“Who’s adorable?” A male voice interjected. Spock’s xenolinguistics background picked up a regional accent unique to one of the southern regions of North America as well as markers for exhaustion and stress.
“Bones!” Jayme twisted around to great Dr. McCoy. “Come sit down. You can meet Spock and bore him with all the new and terrible ways space is trying to kill us instead of me.”
“You go ahead and laugh, Jim. I’ll worry about the likelihood that we’ll die bleeding from our mucous membranes as a result of first contact.” The human male sat on Jayme’s other side, letting his PADD case slide between his feet. “It’s a miracle any new encounter with another species doesn’t end in planet-wide plagues.”
“Spock, this soul of cheer is Bones — Leonard McCoy, my human best friend. Bones, this is Spock, my Vulcan bestie.” Jayme shifted, draping an arm against McCoy and leaning into him. “He’s adorably literal, and you’re adorably grumpy. My friends are adorable, which is further proof that I’m awesome.”
“Egotistical, maybe,” McCoy grumbled, eyeing Spock. He settled an arm around Jayme’s back.
“Adorably egotistical,” Jayme insisted, nudging him with her shoulder. She winked at Spock, who found himself unaccountably irritated.
“If you say so, brat. So, you’re Spock,” McCoy stated. “I guess I should call you commander. I was picturing a fourteen-year-old from Jayme’s descriptions.”
“I have not been fourteen in some ten years, Doctor. And, yes, Starfleet and Academy protocol dictates the use of rank in classroom, duty and formal situations when there is more than one degree of rank difference between individuals.”
“Huh. I’ll keep that in mind.”
Spock inclined his head. “Please do. Reprimands for failure to observe protocol courtesies are less serious than other regulation violations but can add up to serious consequences.”
“Spock, are you okay?”
Jayme’s question, asked with all sincerity from her current location pressed against Doctor McCoy, only increased his irritation. He was aware that the feeling, more than simply being an emotion, was irrational. Perhaps it was down to the stress of the first week of classes or acclimatizing to a familiar but different environment. The fact that his usual ability to suppress the feeling was ineffectual only irritated him more.
“I am well enough, Jayme. I believe I am merely overtired and have overestimated my ability to manage my current workload on the amount of sleep I was previously seeking.” He rose, somewhat abruptly. “I should retire and meditate.” He hesitated for a moment. “I will comm you when I am better rested. Jayme. Doctor McCoy.”
Before either could reply, Spock turned and strode away as quickly as he could manage.
Jayme frowned at Spock’s retreating back. “He must really be tired; he’s not stiff, usually.”
“Pretty sure ‘stiff’ is the only way Vulcans come, Jim.”
She shook her head and looked up at Bones. “That’s how they come across, sure, but Spock and his dad aren’t. Not when you give them a little room to feel comfortable. They’re just a lot more subtle than humans. You never really know how relaxed you’ve seen them until you get a chance to see them go formal on you. But I’ve never really seen Spock like than unless he’s talking about something that makes him angry.” She sighed. “The idiot must have really underestimated how much sleep he needs right now. ‘Vulcans require sixty-eight percent less rest for optimum efficiency than humans, Jayme’ my adorably egotistical ass.”
“Is that what you think that was?” Bones asked, one eyebrow raised. It was a very different gesture on him than Spock, who used his eyebrows like punctuation. Bones’ eyebrows were all about showing the degree to which he questioned your intelligence and his ability to tolerate it.
“You heard him — what else could it be?”
Bones shook his head. “You’re an empath and a Betazoid, Jim. You ought to be better at gaging emotions than that.” He picked up his case and stood, hauling her up with him. “I need coffee and food before I can tackle the case studies I was assigned. Why the hell did I sign up for this again?”
“Because Dad caught you at a weak moment and you can’t imagine letting me traipse around the galaxy, getting myself injured, sick and dead, without you there to patch me up and tell me off. Your words, not mine.” Jayme slotted herself under Bones’ shoulder, her habitual spot. It was warm, comforting, just the right height, and left her at the right distance for Bones to shake when he needed to make a point.
It was also just the amount of physical contact she needed to stop from getting bitchy or subconsciously letting her empathy leak in the search for feedback. Betazoids evolved to give and receive regular empathic contact, much the same way humans needed touch. Jayme, a hybrid, needed both, but physical contact made it hard to prevent her empathy from reaching out, and empathic contact only acerbated any sense of touch-starvation she had. Throw in a sentinel’s issues with touch — and how easily sensory problems could and did trigger empathic issues, and vice versa — and you had a recipe for disaster.
It was one of the reasons why, once her dad and primary source of human contact had been returned to space, Jayme had eventually needed to spend time on Betazed among people who could handle the unique combination. They just couldn’t handle the sentinel living under her skin, no matter how much they tried. And Jayme had come fully online by then. Fortunately, she had also found Bones.
“Besides,” she continued, “I’m only half Betazoid, remember? Two quarters make one half. And Betazoids are pacifists, too, and you spend enough time patching me up after combat classes, so I’m clearly not a very good Betazoid all around.”
“Seems alright from here,” Bones said, squeezing her shoulder. “Except for the crazy.” Amusement and affection rippled through the steady feel of him, his own shields forming a buffer and his emotional control a comfort. Only an empath — or a patient in dire need — would look at Leonard McCoy and see a deep well of emotions contained by fierce intellect and control, not when he was known for passionate rants and irritable nature.
But a surgeon needed control and focus; a doctor, empathy held in balance with detachment. Bones was both. He was also a carrier for the sentinel/guide gene — and an empath.
She didn’t want to say that she had made him one of her best friends because of all that, but the fact that he was a comfort and a balm to her, a sentinel without a guide and an empath with imperfect control, had certainly helped. Especially once they’d stopped sleeping together.
“You’re an aviophobe who enlisted in Starfleet, and I’m the crazy one?”
“I never said I wasn’t. The writing was on that wall when I got a look at all your crazy, and though, sure, that seems like it will end well.” He bumped her shoulder. “Neither of us is dead or in jail, so it’s working so far.”
“Give it time. What do you think is wrong with Spock?”
“Other than being a green-eyed hobgoblin?”
“Stop pretending to be a speciest curmudgeon,” Jayme laughed, pinching him. “You specialized in xenophysiology, you’re working on another degree in xenoimmunology, and you’re rapidly becoming an expert in general hybrid physiology. You also joined Starfleet.”
“That’s your fault. And Pike’s.”
“You’ve slept with more non-humans than humans,” Jayme said, delivering the final blow.
“You’ve got me there,” he conceded. “Humans are a mess, emotionally, at the best of times and sex is as messy as we can get. I’m still a curmudgeon, though.”
“I’ll give you that one,” Jayme agreed. With their usual banter and the comfort of the bio- and empathic feedback, she set the problem of Spock aside for later. He really did just need sleep. “Let’s skip the dining hall and scrounge a meal and beer off of Dad,” she suggested.
“Green-blooded,” she added. “You called Spock green-eyed. His eyes are brown. You meant green-blooded.”
“Did I?” Bones asked vaguely. She felt his amusement before it faded away into a general sense of hungry-tired-fine. “Oops.”
If Spock had been convinced that rest and meditation were all that was needed to mitigate the illogical feeling of irritation he felt in the presence of Dr McCoy, he was quickly proved incorrect. Though he grew better at controlling and suppressing the feeling, he could not prevent it. A fact that caused yet further irritation.
As did the way McCoy seemed well aware of his effect on Spock, and Jayme’s continued obliviousness. He was used to taking social cues from her, but now, when he needed assistance in understanding his emotions and how to deal with them, she continued to believe he was struggling to manage his schedule. Explaining the problem seemed . . . petty. He understood Jayme struggled, in her own way, as an outsider. Her primary support systems were her sister, father, McCoy and Spock himself. The potential conflict between the two of them would impact Jayme, something Spock strove to avoid. McCoy seemed to be in agreement, distracting her when she began to inquire into Spock’s well-being.
But did he have to use such illogical figures of speech? Spock was nearly certain the man chose the most ridiculous ones on purpose. Surely, no one human needed so many analogies and metaphors involving Terran equine, ursine and porcine creatures?
It was, then, fortunate Spock did have a full schedule, as both for distraction and a ready excuse. A full teaching schedule was manageable with diligence and time management, though Spock felt some strain. Less so than his first year as an academy student, which had been academically straightforward but full of social and cultural struggles. His time as a student and officer had at least given Spock a better grasp of humanity, though he was often left baffled its oddities.
He did understand social niceties well enough not to dismiss them all as illogical and superfluous, as many Vulcans did, but Spock was still surprised when they were directed at him.
“Please repeat your request, cadet.”
Cadet Nyota Uhura, a third-year student of prodigious linguistic aptitude, showed no annoyance at his request. The corners of her mouth curved upwards, and her eyes stayed steady on his.
“The xenolinguistics club is meeting for drinks on Saturday evening. We were hoping you’d consider attending.”
“I find the idea that all members of the club shared this hope.”
“No one raised any objection, reasonable or otherwise.”
“I do not believe that is the same thing.”
She smiled more widely. “Really? Because I believe that sometimes appearance is equivalent to actuality when in amounts to the same thing in practical terms.”
“Spoken like a diplomat, cadet.”
“As you know, Communications is about more than language.”
He did know, just as he knew that Uhura was the most promising of his xenolinguistics students for more than her aptitude with conversational Romulan. “And the entire club gave not only the appearance of consensus to this invitation but a belief that it would be accepted?”
“Not even a little bit. I volunteered to ask, not because I’ve spoken to you more often, but because most of the club was either afraid you’d be annoyed or offended.”
“I see.” Spock clasped his hands behind his back. His reputation appeared more formidable than he thought. No wonder his office hours were quiet. “But you are not.”
“I believe that even if you did take offence — which you won’t — you wouldn’t take it out on me in class, grading, or the future,” Uhura said firmly. “I also believe that, as you are scheduled to join the club as a faculty advisor next term, you’ll see the logic in interacting with us in an informal setting.” She rocked back lightly on her heels and raised her chin. “I also believe that you are the youngest and newest member of the staff and only a few years older than many of your students, and that is a lonely place to exist in.”
Prodigious indeed. Despite Uhura’s reasoning, Spock was inclined to decline; he required little social interaction in general and, currently, what he did have was a source of frustration to him. And while he would act as faculty advisor to the xenolinguistics club shortly, it did not require personal relationships with the members.
And, in truth, Spock was looking forward to the weekend off, and the additional meditation it would allow him.
Unfortunately, his department head chose that moment to seek him out. Commander Letho Iavarone entered his office, which remained open after Uhura had availed herself of his time, PADD in hand.
“She’s right, Mr. Spock.”
Ve waved off the sound objection Spock intended to raise. “You’re working too hard, Spock, and not only will it affect your own morale, it’s also bad for the rest of the department as well. You’re making the rest of us look like slackers.”
“I — apologize?”
Uhura turned her face, attempting to hide a wide smile. Iavarone rolled vis eyes. “A joke, Spock. It’s not your fault that you’re young and eager. But the harder you work, the more work people give you, especially if you make it look effortless. The last thing you, or I, want is for you to burn out from taking on too much. And it won’t kill you to get out for an evening with some people near your own age. Many of whom may be future colleagues,” ve added pointedly.
“I promise it won’t hurt, Commander,” Uhura said solemnly.
“That’s a joke, too,” Iavarone said when Spock frowned. “Which is another reason you should go. There’s a difference between being serious and being humourless.”
“Not on Vulcan,” Spock replied, resigned to an awkward evening. Though, perhaps, there would be benefits that outweigh the difficulties.
But when Spock entered Dilithium, precisely at the time indicated, he realized he had not factored in all the equation. He had neglected to remember that Jayme had joined the xenolinguistics club.
The bar was busy but not crowded and, fortunately, did not boast the wild lights and thunderous music that many popular establishments did. Dilithium was nearly as popular with officers as with cadets, which made it unusual in the Academy district where most recreational businesses catered to one or the other.
Uhura was watching for his arrival and waved him over to a group of tables arranged together. There were several other cadets, most of whom he recognized from his classes and empty chairs with bags, jackets and drinks set in front of them.
Everyone was in civilian clothes, which made Spock reconsider his decision to wear his instructor’s greys.
“We saved you a seat, Commander,” Uhura said, gesturing. “Nearly everyone is off ordering drinks or food. You might want to wait a few minutes since there will be a wait at the bar anyway.”
There was a small crowd at the bar, but Spock had no real intention of imbibing. Alcohol had no real effect on Vulcans, not in amounts legal for sale in a reputable establishment, and ingesting chocolate in front of his students sounded like a truly terrible idea. “Did I misjudge the time?”
“No, we just all seemed to show up a little early,” Uhura assured him. “And the tables were free, so there was no wait for seating. And, of course, Kirk and McCoy were already here,” she looked over her shoulder towards a set of pool tables.
“No surprise there,” a cadet named Arleth Byrn laughed. “They practically live here Friday and Saturday nights. I’m surprised they aren’t too busy hustling pool to stop and drink with us.”
“That explains why Kirk suggested this place,” Uhura sighed, rolling her eyes.
As Spock watched, Jayme straightened from the pool table with a laugh. A civilian male shrugged and offered a credit chip, which she took before handing off the pool cue to another civilian. McCoy left his place at the same table, hip cocked and arms crossed, to bump shoulders with her. Both their mouths moved; Jayme tilted her head to the bar, and McCoy nodded. They parted, Jayme, in the direction of her gesture and McCoy to the table.
“I apologize, I did not hear your question,” Spock said, realizing he had missed Uhura speaking. “Please repeat it?”
“I asked if you’ve met Kirk since she doesn’t actually take any xenolinguistics classes this term,” Uhura said. “But it looks like you have.”
McCoy dropped into a seat near Spock and picked up a glass of amber liquid. “They met when they were kids,” he drawled. “Not terribly surprising since Jayme’s daddy is a captain and Spock’s is a diplomat for the Fed. Ain’t that right, Commander?”
“Effectively,” Spock replied coolly. “Though I would not, perhaps phrase it in that way.”
“I just bet,” McCoy said into his drink. “Surprised you could drag yourself away from work long enough to show up. Or did hell — and the Academy grounds — freeze over?”
Uhura watched them intently, but it was not enough for Spock to reign in the faint edge of — temper? irritation? frustration? — that McCoy inspired in him. “You may believe in the enduring exothermic reactions of a mythological place reserved for individuals who have acted by some subjective definition of sin, but I do not. I was unaware of any interest in xenolinguistics on your part, Doctor.”
McCoy raised a brow and offered a perfectly spoken Andorian greeting that was, depending on the context, used as either a polite hello or an invitation to fight.
Andorians were contradictory people.
Uhura chuckled while Byrn’s jaw dropped. Spock inclined his head and studied McCoy clinically. “Fascinating. And yet, your grasp of the nuances of your own language is slippery at best.”
“Oh, I’ve got a good grasp of how to offer a compliment, how to offer an insult and when to do either — or neither,” McCoy said. “Not my fault you find perfectly good, descriptive idioms distasteful.”
“If they fight,” Byrn said to another cadet, “I bet 50 credits on McCoy.”
“Dumbass. Vulcans are four times stronger than humans.”
“Yeah, but McCoy is just plain mean.”
“You’ll find out how mean I am next time you come into the student clinic if you keep betting on me,” McCoy said, not looking away from Spock. “Besides, anyone gets in a fight, and either Uhura will end it, or Jayme will win. They’re meaner and more ornery than any of us.”
Uhura propped her chin in one hand, studying Spock and McCoy with sharp eyes. “Thank you, Len.”
“Don’t thank me for the truth. Besides, I know who to get behind when the fighting starts.”
“Who’s fighting?” Jayme asked as she approached, four drinks in hand. “You’re supposed to heal people, Bones, not break them.”
“No one’s fighting, darlin’.” Spock felt a slight twitch in his jaw and suppressed it; Uhura turned her head to stare directly at him. “Just a hypothetical.”
“Sure, Bones.” She took the empty seat between McCoy and himself and passed the doctor a fresh glass. “But if there is a fight, I’ll swing, and you stand by with the hypos, deal? Here, Spock,” she pushed a full glass of something pale green in colour in his direction. “Betazoid herbal liqueur. It should give you a faint telepathic buzz without affecting your mental control.”
“Thank you, Jayme, but I do not —”
“ — require refreshment at this blah, blah, blah. Take the drink, Spock. Enjoy the drink. You survived your first month as an instructor at the academy.”
“I was not aware there was a significant risk of death involved.”
“Only of sanity,” McCoy said.
“Perhaps in your case,” Spock replied.
“Neither one of you are bastions of sanity,” Jayme laughed. “We let ourselves be stuffed in high-tech boats and shot into a vacuum on the off chance we find something new and interesting.”
Spock was oddly satisfied to see McCoy blanch a little. “Thanks for that, Jayme.”
She grinned. “You’re welcome.” The second last glass was slid over towards Uhura. “This one’s free,” she said in Vulcan. “Next one costs you.”
Uhura accepted the glass and replied, in Romulan, something so insulting that Spock lost all control of his facial expression. His jaw dropped open.
Jayme laughed and replied in Klingon. Her response was equally insulting.
McCoy sighed. “The pair of you are worse than a cat and a dog in the same wet sack. Relax, Spock, they aren’t going to stab each other. Have you ever heard of frenemies?”
“I have not,” he said, still eyeing the women. “It sounds illogical.”
“For once, you aren’t wrong.”
“But it is entertaining,” Byrn said. “Where’s my drink, Kirk?”
“Out in the Bay, Byrn. Start swimming, and I’m sure you’ll find it.”
Uhura smiled at the insulted spluttering, then frowned when her gaze focused behind Jayme. “Incoming, Kirk.”
An arm appeared over Jayme’s shoulders, and she immediately stiffened, as did Spock at the proximity of the body attached, pressing between their chairs and entirely too close for his comfort. McCoy’s glass hit the table loudly.
“Buy you a drink, Kirk?”
“I’ve got one, Hendorff,” Jayme said from between her teeth. “Get your hand off of me.”
“Come on, Kirk,” the broad-chested cadet said, ignoring the multiple disdainful looks directed at him, Spock’s included. “We’re going to have a few drinks and then start hitting the clubs when they start hopping. You can join us, have some real fun, or keep hiding out with the Ice Queen, Doctor Downer, a walking computer and the rest of these word nerds.”
“Pig,” Uhura snapped, flicking her hair over her shoulder. “Oh, wait, that didn’t have the right impact. Let me try again.” She proceeded to repeat the insult in ten languages — including one even Spock did not recognize.
“Keep on giving security cadets a rep for being ignorant meatheads, Hendorff,” Byrn said. “I’d be impressed if you weren’t a walking cliché.”
“Whatever, loser.” Cadet Hendorff shrugged off the insults and leaned even closer into Jayme; Spock saw McCoy stiffen and felt in accord with the doctor for the first time. “Come on, Kirk, have some fun.”
“I’m having plenty of fun with people who can not only keep up with me intellectually, Hendorff, but are smart enough to keep their hands to themselves.” Jayme turned a fierce glare on the cadet, looking deliberately at hand he had on her shoulder. “Last warning. Move your hand — and the rest of you — away from me, or I’ll make you.”
The cadet removed his arm and stepped back, expressing nerves in his body language and anger in his facial expression. It was a fascinating dichotomy that Spock was uninterested in exploring at this moment. “You’re way too hot to be this boring, Kirk.”
“Uhura can order drinks in thirty languages and start a fight in twice as many. She’s the opposite of boring. Also, you moron, Spock is an instructor. I know you stick to classes where you get to hit things instead of books, but are you certain he’ll never be one of yours? Because you’ve made a great impression on him.”
“Indeed,” Spock said flatly. “Additionally, cadet, referring to someone of Vulcan descent as a walking computer is inappropriate. And unwise.”
Hendorff mumbled something that, though intended as either an apology or a deflection, even Spock could not make sense of. “And McCoy?”
“McCoy has a laser scalpel and perfect recall of human anatomy,” the doctor snapped. “Including the most efficient method of amputating a hand at the wrist. Watch yourself, kid.”
Jayme leaned towards Hendorff and smiled widely. “Bones is very, very good with his hands.” She straightened and retrieved her own glass of alcohol. “Get lost, Hendorff. You’re sucking all the oxygen out of the room with the vacuum in between your ears.”
Hendorff glared and opened his mouth to speak, but Spock had observed enough to know that Jayme would not be offended by help in removing the cadet. Spock was also strongly reminded of the tormentors of his own childhood. “Cadet, you have been asked to leave by Doctor Kirk more than once. A further argument, or unwanted physical contact, may put you in violation of the Starfleet Code of Conduct. Please leave at once.”
“We aren’t in uniform or on campus,” he said. “I’m not required to follow your orders. Sir.”
“You’re still subject to the code, dumbass,” Byrn said. “Tale a walk, Hendorff.”
“Do you really want to start something with me in a bar, again?” Jayme asked. “Because, as I recall, that didn’t go so well for you last time.” She looked back at the cadet over her shoulder, a very smug grin on her face. “Did it? Cupcake.”
Uhura answered while directing a superior smile of her own at the cadet. “Winter break last year — she kicked his ass. Literally.”
“Along with three of his friends,” McCoy chuckled. “Would those geniuses be the friends waiting for you at the bar, Hendorff? Because they might be less inclined to back you in a fight against Jim a second time around.”
“They were sore over losing out the top spots in hand-to-hand combat and tactical simulations to someone outside of the security track,” Jayme explained. “Also, having a hot girl knock them on their ass every class bruised their egos a little. So, when we ran into each other in a club, all half-lit, they tried to soothe their egos and make a point.”
“Betazoids are supposed to be pacifists,” Hendorff grunted. To Spock’s ear, it sounded petulant.
“Well, unfortunately for you, Hendorff, I’m only half Betazoid.” Jayme stood and stepped into the cadet’s space. “I am, however, wholly able to kick your ass across this room. And will, if you don’t fuck off and leave.” Hendorff inhaled, trying to make himself appear larger and more of a threat; Jayme raised a brow. “Now.”
The cadet finally left, turning on one heel and walking away from a little too quick to pull off the saunter he affected. Jayme rolled her eyes and dropped back in her seat. “Moron.”
“That was distasteful,” Spock said. “I do not believe that cadet is a good representation of Starfleet ideals.”
“Unfortunately, he’s a great example of how ideals and reality don’t always meet,” McCoy said. “And of what happens when babies are dropped on their heads repeatedly.”
Jayme snorted and turned to Uhura, who was staring over at the bar where the cadet had retreated. “Are you doing that thing again?”
“Lip-reading is a legitimate and valuable tool in linguistics, Kirk. Just because you can read their minds doesn’t mean knowing what someone is saying is useless.”
“Yeah, yeah — like there’s anything to read in their heads anyway. What’s he saying?”
Uhura huffed and turned away from the bar. “What do you think?”
Spock raised a brow, confused. “Please explain.”
McCoy sighed and gave him a pitying look. “She turned him down, so now he’s telling his friends that she’s a bitch who isn’t worth his time.”
“That seems illogical.”
“Not to an asshole.”
Uhura shrugged and sipped her drink, looking resigned. “You can advance a species into the twenty-third century —”
“But you can’t take the previous twenty-two centuries of gender inequality and socialized stupidity out of the species,” Jayme finished, raising her glass towards Uhura. “Cheers.”
Four weeks and two days after the incident at Dilithium, Spock received an unexpected visit from the head of Starfleet Academy, Admiral Barnett.
“At ease, Commander,” the admiral said when Spock rose immediately to his feet. Barnett waved him back into his desk chair. “This is your office, no need to stand on protocol when I’m interrupting.”
Spock sat back, reluctantly, but remained attentive despite his seat. “Sir, I am not certain rank protocol works that way.”
Barnett smiled, just a little. “Really? Because I’m the rank in the room, and I say it does. Joking, Commander,” he added when Spock frowned. “I’m teasing you.”
“I apologize, Admiral,” Barnett closed the door behind him and took the chair across from Spock’s desk with a sigh. “The nuance of human jokes often elude me.”
“Not your fault, humans don’t always get the nuance of our own humour. At ease, Commander.”
Spock’s shoulder relaxed from their rigid posture at the order. “Yes, sir.”
Barnett eyed him and shook his head. As he was smiling still, Spock inferred he was not unhappy. “This isn’t normally something I’d do, but these are unique circumstances. And Captain Pike isn’t the best person to have this conversation, especially considering how amusing he finds it.”
“Are you aware you’re the subject of several rumours going around the Academy, Mr. Spock?”
He suppressed a frown. “I have been subject to one rumour or another my whole life, sir, I see no reason why now would be different.”
Barnett looked surprised. “I would have thought Vulcans would consider gossip illogical.”
“They do. Rumours are often ill-founded and more sensation that fact; Vulcans do not partake in it.” Spock folded his hands together on his desk with deliberation. “However, they do form hypothetical suppositions to explain any behaviour or reasoning outside of the standard based upon their own perceptions. They also test those hypotheses by way of direct, probing questions, with minimal or no allowance for privacy in their pursuit of answers.”
“So,” Barnett said, “they suppose and impose reasons for other people’s actions, discuss them as if they’re the truth, and ask rude, prying questions.”
“Yes,” Spoke said flatly. “I assume these rumours do not involve my mother or methods of my procreation and, therefore, have no reason to be concerned by them.”
“No, they don’t,” the admiral agreed sympathetically. “And to be honest, most rumours are just cadets blowing off steam or instructors not guarding their tongues outside of staff areas. But since there can be grains of truth in gossip, I tend to keep an ear out, as do the rest of the Academy command. I’ve disciplined, and even court marshalled, more than one person for conduct unbecoming or illegal actions due to rumours giving rise to the truth.”
Spock inclined his head. “Admiral, I can recall no actions I have taken that would result in such actions on your part, much less any that might be subject to a rumour.”
“Neither am I. But, apparently, you really dislike Leonard McCoy and aren’t afraid to show it.” Barnett leaned back in his chair, watching Spock intently. “I believe the current story implies verbal — or even physical — blows.”
A lifetime of emotional suppression kept Spock’s feelings from his face and body. Primary was an annoyance that McCoy, once again, could impact his control.
The secondary was a sense of shame. Spock should have better control than to display his feelings before others. Though McCoy was older, Spock was the senior officer and in a position of authority.
His mother had not raised him to treat others badly. No matter how much their presence grated on him.
He showed nothing to Barnett, unaware that his utter lack of reaction revealed a great deal to the senior officer watching him. “I am unaware of expressing dislike of any cadet in their presence except when they have failed to complete an assignment in a timely manner.”
It was not a lie. At no time had Spock told McCoy he disliked him. He had demonstrated behaviours that could be interpreted as dislike, but he had not expressed such explicitly.
“I believe you. Of course, both Captain Pike — chief recruitment officer and a faculty advisor — and I have both witnessed you be quite short with him.”
“Did you witness his response as well?”
Barnett smiled. “Yes, in fact, and no one can deny he can hold his own in a verbal smackdown.
McCoy was certainly good at eliciting and exacerbating an argument. “I am not required to like all of my colleagues, only act with professionalism.”
Barnett nodded. “True.”
“As Dr McCoy is not a student or in any way under my authority except that which is implied by the rank structure of Starfleet, I do not believe I have acted in a manner that could construe as unprofessional.”
“Oh, you’re always professional, Commander,” Barnett said wryly.
“But this rumour concerns you, Admiral. Please, if you could explain?”
“I’m not concerned, Spock. But it needs to be addressed.” Barnett rose to stand by the window. Spock, as a junior instructor, had a small office on the third floor, but modern design and understanding of psychology and workplace productivity ensured that he had a window overlooking a quad and the east side of the campus. “Starfleet is not supposed to be a monolith, you know. The whole is meant to be greater than the sum of its parts, but the parts are what make that whole worthy of the dedication and demand Starfleet places on its officers. That’s not to say anyone is irreplaceable, not as long as there are more willing to join our ranks, but the individual is important.”
“You are valued by Starfleet, Mr. Spock,” Barnett told him calmly. “Not enough to allow the violation of the rules that govern us, and not because you represent an underrepresented group. But you’re a brilliant young officer who has pursued multiple academic paths. You’re driven and dedicated, and that is what Starfleet demands because it is what we need to endure and advance.”
Spock exhaled slightly. He was not used to receiving praise from anyone other than his mother unless it was specific and academic in nature. It also explained the admiral’s point. “Dr McCoy is also valued.”
“In his own right? Absolutely. He’s a truly brilliant doctor. You weren’t here when he signed up, but Starfleet Medical was thrilled when he did.” Barnett turned back to Spock. “I understand he was already gaining an impressive reputation in his fields, and he, too, is still very young. He has years ahead of him. But medical has any number of brilliant researchers and scientists, many of whom are at their best in a lab. McCoy’s greatest value is that he’s calm in a crisis and truly shines in triage and emergency situations.”
“He is a surgeon,” Spock stated. “I believe that is a requirement.”
Barnett nodded. “Absolutely. But not all doctors could ever be surgeons or want to. And fewer surgeons join Starfleet than those seeking research opportunities.”
It was a wholly logical position to take. A good doctor could and would save the lives of many other officers, benefitting both individuals as well as the greater fleet. Still: “He has a . . . difficult personality.”
“He’s an ornery bastard, Commander, and he makes no bones about it,” Barnett said. “But medical is often apart from the chain of command due to the demands of their oaths and profession. A good CMO is as valuable for their perspective and ability to speak their mind as for their management of a sickbay. McCoy has all the makings of a CMO, so no one wants to lose him — though,” Barnett added, looking pointedly at Spock, “leeway wouldn’t be extended to a toxic workplace or abuse. Fortunately, McCoy is rigidly moral.”
Oddly, Spock didn’t feel any of the frustrated aggression McCoy so often inspired at this recitation of the man’s value to Starfleet. Perhaps it was the lack of his actual presence, or the simple fact that everything said was honest and logical. McCoy was, by all accounts, an excellent doctor. Moreover, it was not hubris for Spock to acknowledge his own abilities and intelligence and their benefit to Starfleet.
But before he could inform the admiral that he understood and would adopt a more neutral mien with McCoy — largely, he knew, by avoiding him — Barnett continued.
“He’s also important to Kirk.”
And there was the low-grade burn of annoyance.
“They are often in each other’s company.”
Barnett returned to his seat, looking amused. “Hmm. So they are.”
Spock’s hands tightened where they were still clasped before him. He quickly placed them in his lap. “Kirk is also of value to the fleet.” He exhaled, realization coming with sudden clarity. “There are few sentinels in Starfleet.”
Barnett looked faintly surprised but nodded. “Yes, less than a dozen all told. Most who are online don’t join, and of those who are in service when they come online, the majority leave within a year unless we can find the posts on their home planets or wherever they identify as their territory. Usually, that’s the world they were born on, lived on longest, or came online on.”
“Jayme was born in space,” Spock concluded. “And has lived on Starfleet ships or bases most of her life. Only Betazed has a real chance of being her home territory.” But it was unlikely, not with the way Jayme felt out of place there, thanks to those very Sentinel gifts.
He realized Barnett was staring at him and explained. “Cadet Kirk and I have been friends for some years, sir.”
“No wonder Chris was laughing,” Barnett muttered, looking amused. “You aren’t wrong. Kirk is the first fully online sentinel we’ve had who can serve shipboard in over a decade. She identifies Starfleet, and the Federation as her territory — and that kind of expansive territorial claim is the mark of a fully-fledged alpha.”
“I understand.” He understood the admiral’s reasoning. He did not understand the sense of — grief? anger? loss? — he felt. “McCoy is potentially her guide.”
The relief was profound; Spock suppressed everything he felt as if he were in the presence of his childhood tormentors. “Then, I do not understand.”
“I can only tell you this because it’s a matter of general record,” Barnett warned him, looking oddly sympathetic. “McCoy is a carrier of the sentinel/guide genome. He’ll never be online, but he has nearly a full expression of the gene. His Esper scores are as high or higher than latent and online guides. And he’s adept at shielding himself, which not only allows him to function as a doctor, it makes him a preferred one for empathic individuals.”
“Like Betazoids. Even ones that are also sentinels.”
“Even more so. Kirk is an online sentinel who is also an empath due to a dual heritage.” Barnett shook his head. “She’s the only online hybrid sentinel in Federation record. And while sentinels can, and occasionally do, have some empathic sensitivity, they aren’t empaths. Kirk’s primary trigger for sensory issues isn’t physical but psionic because an empathic incident can and does triggers sensory issues, along with the reverse.
“Moreover, McCoy has shown an ability to keep Kirk levelled out, beyond anything a temporary guide has managed. Only Pike is better, and that’s not due to empathy. Kirk trusts McCoy, and that makes her both possessive and protective of him — and that brings us to the real point of all this,” Barnett sighed. “The fact that you’re friends with Kirk mitigates it somewhat. No one wants to see any of our three best and brightest leave because of tense interpersonal relations. All three of you are unique and uniquely skilled. Captain Pike has already claimed you for the Enterprise when he takes command of it, Spock, and he also wants McCoy and Kirk. Despite the family connection, I’m inclined to let him get his way. But only,” he finished, sternly, “if you can all work together. Without anyone causing a violent reaction in a protective sentinel.”
“Doctor McCoy,” Spock said, approaching the man as he was bent over a PADD. The small office he had been directed to by the Academy clinic receptionist was cramped, with only enough room for a desk, chair, cot and several shelves of reference materials. “It has been brought to my attention that there is a rumour going around the campus that I dislike you.”
McCoy looked up, blinked at him once and then sighed. He dropped the PADD, rolled his shoulders, and leaned back in the desk chair. “This is likely to be more interesting than updating patient records. So. There’s a rumour that you dislike me. Seriously?”
“I should say several rumours, and they differ only in the extent of that dislike and the form it takes. These rumours have reached the Academy command,” he added, attempting to convey the seriousness of the situation.
McCoy shrugged. “I’m sure Command is amused by them. Gives them something to do other than place ever-larger bets in the pool and play poker on Friday nights.” Spock frowned. “Hey, Pike said it, not me. Do any of these rumours specify why you dislike me?”
“They do not appear to, though there is a supposition of intolerable insults and cultural misunderstandings.”
“Nice to know my general estimation of people’s intelligence is correct,” McCoy muttered, rubbing at an eye.
“Excuse me?” Spock said, confused. Why did the reason speculate about in these rumours matter? When McCoy just waved his free hand, Spock frowned and tried to swallow his annoyance. “In any matter, I have come to inform you that I do not dislike you and, as the senior officer, I am responsible for —”
“I overestimated yours, though.”
“Excuse me?” Spock asked flatly.
“Well, more like I underestimated how low your emotional intelligence is. You might have an IQ of 250, Spock, but your EQ is sitting at about negative twelve. And spare me the apology, man. I don’t want one, and you’re only doing it because someone tripped your guilt button.” McCoy looked him over and snorted. “Or you just decided you’ve felt, and expressed, something as illogical as an emotion.”
“I do not hate you.”
“You sure as hell don’t like me, Spock, which is understandable. I and my country charm annoy and offend your sense of precision.” McCoy smirked. “And your pedantic logic annoys me, so I amp it up in your presence.”
“You have been deliberately using impenetrable colloquialisms,” Spock realized. “Why?”
“Because your face is priceless when you try to work them out, and I’m a perverse asshole when people treat me like a hick.” Spock glared, and McCoy shrugged. “It’s a little petty of me to fuck with you, but I’m not a saint, and I never claimed otherwise.”
“Your behaviour is illogical.”
McCoy snorted again. “So’s yours, and you know it. And don’t logic at me, Spock. I spend my days balancing the scales between endurance and suffering, intervention and quality of life. I put my hands inside people’s bodies, hold their organs and feel their blood pump under my hands and have to decide at what point to stop trying to force their body to keep going. And I have to be able to justify that balance of resources against lives to myself, others and goddamned bean counters.” McCoy glowered up at him. “So, when I leave work, only to find you rationalizing this and logicking that and making nonsense statements like ‘frustration is an illogical exhibit of lack of control over your surroundings’ — I get a little testy.”
Spock opened his mouth to respond and then closed it. As a child, he had witnessed his mother shout at his father once. Amanda had been upset — about what he did not know — and Sarek had informed her, logically, that she should meditate and purge her upset rather than dwell upon it. He thought, perhaps, that this was what she meant when shouting at Sarek about condescension masked as logic.
“Your idioms are contradictory at best and often unfathomable,” he finally said.
“Sure. That’s what makes things interesting. Besides,” McCoy shrugged, “that’s not the real issue. Jayme is.”
“Jayme is not an issue, she is my best friend.”
“Mine, too. There,” McCoy pointed at Spock. “Right there. That’s the problem. What you felt just then? Jealousy.”
“Jealousy is an emotion —”
“That everyone feels, go sell your Vulcan lack of emotion to a psi-null and stop lying to us both.” He huffed and picked up his PADD. “You’re like a kid who never had to share and doesn’t understand why everyone expects him to. You knew you weren’t the only friend in her life, but the long-distance thing meant you didn’t have to face the reality of it. Since you’re so keen on meditating your emotions away, you might spend a little time meditating on what you feel and why you feel it.”
“Jayme has not brought any of this to my attention,” Spock said.
McCoy worked on his PADD without looking up. “Jayme’s as dumb as you in this case. She might be an empath, but she’s restrained from using her talents the way most Betazoids do because her senses and empathy interact oddly without a guide to stabilize them.”
Spock felt another bright flare of the same feeling usually reserved for McCoy. The doctor glanced at him, brows raised. “You cannot do more to help her? You act as a guide for her, do you not?”
“I act as a friend. The fact that I have empathy and can ground Jayme doesn’t mean I can play guide for her. I’m not one.”
“She needs a guide,” Spock said, that dark emotion McCoy said was jealousy churning inside him.
“I need a million bars of gold-pressed latinum, but I’ll survive without it, and so will Jayme. Listen, Spock, I’ve got a patient in ten minutes and records to finish, so let me sum this up. I love Jayme — she’s my best friend. In another reality, without sentinels and guides, we might be more than former lovers turned best friends and honourary family.” McCoy shrugged. “But this is this reality and Jayme is a sentinel, and I’ll never be everything she needs. No one but a guide can be, and you need to know that. Now take your illogical emotional angst out of my space so I can finish the goddamned paperwork. I’m a doctor, not a therapist.”
Both conversations gave Spock a great deal to think about but little understanding; he felt as if he had been given parts of an equation but could not connect them, much less solve the actual problem. It was immensely frustrating, and Spock spent a great deal of time attempting to meditate that frustration away.
But mediation, he found, was becoming a struggle. Whether he tried to focus on his current interpersonal difficulties or set them aside, neither worked well. In response, his body demanded more sleep, but that was also proving difficult.
As meditation and rest became harder to find, his emotional control suffered. Despite needing less sleep than a human, he did need sleep; without it, small irritations became difficult to ignore, and the regular suppression of emotions took greater than normal effort. Uhura said nothing as his temper grew noticeable while his students went to great effort to avoid drawing his gaze. Classroom efficiency increased as did the timeliness of all assignments being returned.
McCoy, of course, seemed more amused than anything, though he did suggest Spock have a physical. Jayme asked him if Vulcans got PMS.
They did not, of which he informed Jayme — her response was laughter threaded with concern and mention that he might want to lessen his class load — but her question did raise a point of concern. As a precaution, Spock scanned himself but found none of the precursor signs of pon farr, which was a relief on one level, though it would have explained his current state. His hormone levels were all normal though his psilosynine levels were elevated, most likely due to unsuccessful mediation. He resolved to make a greater effort.
He believed he was doing better, or at least hiding his lack of control better — his students were less visibly wary, at least — when his parents’ arrival on Earth demonstrated his error.
Fall had taken over San Francisco, the cold and damp resulting in Spock affecting several additional layers of thermal garments and a winter-weight uniform under his weather-proof coat. Years of acclimation to climates other than Vulcan left him largely unperturbed by the November chill even in his current state; annoyance at the weather was so supremely illogical as to be impossible. The commuters at the transport station, on the other hand, with their loud voices and incessant chatter and complaints and obliviousness while walking, gaze on personal data devices rather than on the path in front of them —
— Spock inhaled and exhaled slowly, reciting a suya to guide his breathing pattern. Other people and their behaviour were not his to control, only his own emotions and actions.
His parents arrived, the crowd parting around Sarek as he moved with confidence that no one would dare enter his personal space. His mother, just behind his right shoulder, was enveloped in that protective sphere.
It had been one standard year and 67 days since he had seen either of them in person. The emotions he normally associated with his parents surged, and Spock had to fight to keep them off his face to suppress them.
“Spock!” His mother beamed at him, leaving his father’s side to approach him. When she reached him, her smile faded into a frown. “Spock? What’s wrong?”
“Nothing is the wrong, Mother,” he assured her, bending down so she would not have to reach up to touch two fingers to his cheek, as she had since he grew too old for more casual touches.
The warmth of her fingertips, cooler than his skin but warmer than the damp air was comforting; the gentle wash of her emotions — love, pride, affection and happiness — was familiar. His own filial emotions surged, and he felt his throat tighten in a physical response to his emotional state. Spock caught her wrist gently and removed her touch much sooner than normal.
“Spock,” Sarek said, frowning.
“It is nothing.”
“Don’t lie to your mother, Spock,” Amanda said firmly. “There is something wrong — you haven’t looked this tired since you returned from your kahs-wan and that involved ten days in the Vulcan Forge without supplies.”
Under the combined weight of parental authority and concern, Spock felt an illogical urge to cross his arms and glare. “I do not wish to discuss this in public,” he said instead.
“Very well,” Amanda conceded. Sarek said nothing at all, merely watched Spock.
73 minutes later, after navigating traffic and the Vulcan Embassy security procedures, the door closed upon his parents’ rooms, and Amanda turned to him expectantly. “Well, Spock?”
“Mother, I am an adult.”
She waved that off, reaching up to remove her headscarf. “Yes, of course, you are, but that doesn’t negate you being my son. Now, what’s wrong?”
Resigned, Spock sighed. He had never been able to hide anything from his mother. “Meditation has been difficult of late. I am correcting the situation.”
Amanda studied him carefully while his father spoke. “Have you consulted the Embassy healers?”
“I will should I find it necessary.”
“Are you sure it is not so now?”
“Starfleet has some of the finest doctors in the Federation,” Spock said, barely containing his irritation.
Sarek nodded. “Perhaps, but they are not versed in Vulcan physiological and psionic concerns.”
“That is due to Vulcan prejudice, not a fault on their part.”
For the first time in years, Spock had the pleasure of seeing his father look surprised. Sarek blinked, once, at Spock’s response and turned to his wife. “Amanda?”
“Spock,” she said, reaching out and taking his arms in her hands. “What’s wrong?”
“I am merely tired,” he tried to explain. “Lack of meditation is impacting my sleeping habits, and that, combined with my current workload, is somewhat more stressful than I might have anticipated.”
“No, Spock, what’s wrong?”
“I —” Spock exhaled and closed his eyes, seeking control. “It is only an emotional and interpersonal issue. I am attempting to resolve it.”
His mother blew out a breath. “Oh, Spock.”
“For obvious reasons, I do not believe the healers will be able to assist me in this.” He straightened his back, trying to give the appearance of confidence. “I will be well.”
“I’m your mother,” she sighed. “It is my occupation to worry about you.”
“I do not believe you receive suitable compensation or benefits for your efforts, nor does there appear to be an effective retirement program.”
Amanda laughed. “Oh, Spock, Starfleet might be bad for your rest schedule, but it has done wonders for your sense of humour.” She patted his arm. “Fine, I will stop nagging at you. As long as you take care of yourself.” She gave Sarek and pointed look and swept past them both towards the bedroom.
“Have you considered —” Sarek began.
“Yes, and it is not a present concern.”
“Are you certain?”
“Yes,” Spock said sharply. “I am certain.”
Sarek frowned but let the subject drop.
Later, over dinner at a restaurant of Amanda’s choosing — modern Asian-African fusion with numerous vegan options — Spock’s comm sounded while he explained the difficulty of teaching cadets the difference between pragmatics and semantics in non-Federation languages. Though rude by Vulcan standards, Spock took the call. He was an officer and, though it was coming from a private rather than official channel, ignoring a hail had been trained out of him.
“Jayme.” Aware of his parent’s gazes, he rose and left for the vestibule. “Pardon the wait, I am at dinner with my parents.”
“Are they here? I thought that was — no, wait, I lost track of a couple days prepping for the Advanced Tactical sims. They just arrived, right?”
“This afternoon, yes.”
“Then I won’t keep you long. I just wanted to invite you to a party Dad is hosting. A kind of holiday-slash-end-of-term gig. It will be full of the brass, but it’s well catered, and even admirals cut loose with enough booze in them.”
“My parents —”
“Pfft, Spock, your diplomat parents will fit right in, bring them, too. They’re here for what, six weeks? I can’t imagine the Vulcan embassy will have many holiday parties, and even your dad needs a break from all the politicking he’ll be doing at the Federation conference.”
“I will confer with them as to their schedule and wishes. Send me the details.”
“Done and done, Spock. I’ve got an exam tomorrow, so I’m going to pretend to study something I memorized weeks ago. Lunch tomorrow?”
“I will be available from 12:45 to 2:15.”
“Deal. If your parents aren’t busy, pick a place off-campus, and we can meet up with them.”
“I will inquire. Goodnight, Jayme.”
“Night, Spock! Kirk out.”
He returned to the table and found himself under his mother’s gaze. “Yes, Mother?”
Amanda smiled, looking amused and a little sad. It was an expression he was uncomfortably familiar with. “Never mind, Spock.”
The house Jayme shared with Captain Pike was a restored post-Contact townhouse near the Fleet District with a narrow footprint and four floors. Jayme lived off-campus, occupying the top floor, converted by a previous owner into an apartment. Dorms were problematic for both empaths and sentinels.
The house, usually quiet with only the captain and Jayme, was over full of people and noise. Light from the two lower floors spilled out of every window into the night.
Spock stared at the door as if it might offer insight on Wang’s Second Postulate. Beside him, Sarek folded his hands behind his back. They both exhaled.
Amanda laughed. “Socialization is not punishment.”
Sarek raised a brow at her. “Anything can be punitive under the correct circumstances. I recall a family function of yours when we first began interacting socially.”
“Never mind,” Amanda cut in quickly. “Do not take a date to a family reunion,” she told Spock. “It won’t end well.”
“I will bear that in mind, should either circumstance occur simultaneously.”
“Do that. And ring the bell, Spock, before someone decides we’re creepers and calls the police. Or turns on the fire suppression system.”
Trained by years of positive reinforcement and his own inclination to obey his mother, Spock pressed the door chime despite his reluctance.
A young Trill dressed all in black let them in, checked their names against her PADD, and took their outer garments. Amanda led the way towards the sounds of the party-goers, Sarek and Spock, following in her wake. As usual.
The main room, an open concept space that took up much of the first floor, was full of people representing a full range of genders across seven species that Spock could see. Visible by way of the open central stairway, the second floor appeared equally crowded. Though there were several Starfleet officers he recognized, no one was in uniform. Spock was grateful for his mother’s counsel in wearing a formal robe instead of his grays.
“Spock!” Jayme parted from a cluster of people and approached them. A server with a tray of drinks wove through the crowd in the same direction. Unfortunately, so did Doctor McCoy. “Ambassador Sarek, Lady Amanda. It’s great to see you again.”
“It is agreeable to see you as well, Doctor Kirk.”
Jayme grinned. “You haven’t changed, sir. Neither have you,” she said to Amanda.
Who shook her head. “Sweet, lying girl. The years have been far more kind to you than me — look at you!” Amanda indicated Jayme’s height and general appearance. Spock’s knowledge of human female fashion was limited, but he did recognize Jayme’s cerulean dress was far more flattering in cut and colour than her cadet uniform. It also managed to reveal even more skin. “Where’s the little girl with plasma coolant on her face?”
“She still shows up occasionally, but there are fewer opportunities to crawl through Jefferies tubes at the Academy.”
“Not that it stops her,” Doctor McCoy said from Jayme’s shoulder.
“I’m irrepressible, Bones.”
“And who is this?” Amanda asked.
“Doctor Leonard McCoy — Ambassador Sarek and Lady Amanda Grayson. Bones manages to keep me out of trouble some of the time and provides colourful commentary the rest of it.”
“Brat,” McCoy said.
Jayme rolled her eyes. “See?”
Spock chose to ignore the byplay — and Dr McCoy’s gaze — as he preferred not to exhibit any behaviour that would show him in a poor light to his mother. Sarek inclined his head in greeting, showing no emotion.
Amanda studied Jayme and McCoy before turning her head to look at Spock. “Yes, I do see.”
McCoy smiled at his mother; Spock frowned. “I bet you do, ma’am. Do you ever feel like you’re surrounded by smart people, but somehow, you’re the only one with a clue?”
Amanda gestured to both Spock and his father. “All the time.”
While Spock wrestled with his irritation — once again, Doctor McCoy seemed to get along far too well with someone whom Spock valued — Sarek lifted a brow. “Are you implying I am deficient as a mate, wife?”
“Of course not. I’m saying you are frequently an idiot.” Amanda smiled beatifically when Sarek frowned at her. “Tell me, husband, would you be half as functional, socially aware, or content without me?”
Sarek tilted his head. “Vulcans do not lie.”
She pointed her finger at him. “That’s what I thought.” Spock looked away from the brief finger touch they exchanged. Their persistence in engaging in intimate and embarrassing acts in front of him was less distressing than in his adolescence, but still a challenge to Spock’s emotional control.
“That’s adorable,” Jayme said.
McCoy turned to look at Spock. “This explains so much about you.” Spock stared blankly at the doctor, refusing to rise to the man’s bait.
Jayme smacked McCoy’s shoulder. “Stop making trouble and go find Dad.”
“Bossy.” McCoy set his empty glass on the tray of a passing server. “Ambassador, Commander. Nice to meet you, Lady Amanda.”
“We’ll talk later, Doctor.” Amanda watched McCoy walk towards the staircase and hummed. “He’s attractive.”
She waved off both Spock and Sarek. “I’m married, not blind.”
Jayme laughed and linked arms with Amanda. “He is hot, and he knows it. He’ll send Dad down once he pries him away from the rehashing of the Federation-Klingon War taking place upstairs. Let me introduce you around.”
Spock studied the room and its occupants. “Must you?”
Both Jayme and his mother laughed at him and headed into the fray.
His time on Earth, among humans and other social species, had given Spock a better understanding of social rituals. Small talk seemed irrational, but there was a logic to it within the social interactions of a group that one could learn through observation. Spock understood the purpose of small talk. He could even engage in it, briefly, with minimal awkwardness. But he did not have to enjoy it.
At least it was easier to converse socially with other Starfleet officers than strangers.
“Good job with the Kobayashi Maru simulation, Commander,” Admiral Lui said. She was on the Academy Board and oversaw the computer science division. “The simulation has never looked more realistic.”
“Thank you, Admiral. I was gratified to be included in the reprogramming project.” It had been an appreciated distraction in the weeks leading up to the start of term.
“Included?” Admiral Lui shook her head. “Mr. Spock, you wrote over half the lines of code. Considering there were five other people on the project, you were instrumental in seeing it completed in time for use this term.”
“Not that the command cadets who failed it would thank you for your quick work,” Commodore Komack said. “Better keep that part quiet.”
Jayme stepped up to his left elbow, drink in hand. “Secret’s safe with me. I saw a group of seniors crying in their drinks about it at Dilithium last week. No one’s found the right subroutine, yet, have they?”
Komack frowned. “The Kobayashi is unbeatable.”
Jayme waved a hand. “Yes, that’s what everyone says. The power of urban legend, right? The fact that no one has beaten isn’t the same thing as being unbeatable.”
Lui shook her head. “No, cadet, the simulation is unbeatable. There is no path to victory in the code. The original premise of the simulation was to introduce command cadets to failure in a controlled environment. The update was to incorporate new technology and coding to create a more realistic simulation. Not to change the premise.”
Jayme lowered her glass without drinking and stared at Lui, then looked at each nearby officer. In addition to Lui and Komack, Barnett and Pike were nearby along with Spock’s mother and father. McCoy must have seen or sensed something because he left the buffet table and made a straight line for Jayme.
“You know that’s insane, right?” Jayme looked at Captain Pike. “The Maru has been around, what? Twenty years? Where are the studies on command effectiveness before and after? Because without hard data, you aren’t going to convince me that teaching the cadets who will one day command starships that, hey, some things are unwinnable, is good for Starfleet.”
Komack scowled. “That’s none of your business, Cadet.” Everyone appeared to ignore him.
“The Kobayashi Maru is about fear,” Spock told Jayme. “About challenging cadets who will one day have command in difficult situations to work through fear in the face of the impossible.”
“That,” McCoy said, “is the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard. And I’ve done ER rotations on Friday nights.”
“I was unaware you have an expertise in command management,” Spock told him flatly.
“I’m a damned empath,” McCoy snapped, “and I’m telling a Vulcan and a group of psi-null humans that fear doesn’t work that way. You can’t simulate fear of death in a one-hour command simulation.”
“As the other empath here,” Jayme raised a hand and waved it,” I’m seconding that. No one fears the Kobayashi Maru. They fear failing the simulation. They fear looking bad in front of their classmates and instructors. They fear the impact it will have on their marks. They don’t fear the Kobayashi and the fact that year after year, everyone fails and still graduates, mitigates even those fears. If you want to make the sim about real fear, you need to have an empath projecting it at cadets while they take it. Fear, confusion, anger — the things that can really cloud reasoned thinking in a real-world situation. The brain responds to projected emotions in physiological ways, so it would even impact biochemistry. But as the Kobayashi stands? All it does is teach people to accept defeat as an inevitable outcome.”
Spock tilted his head, considering. He saw Lui frown pensively while Sarek studied Jayme without a word or indication of his thoughts. Spock’s mother smiled into her drink.
Komack frowned at Jayme. “No-win scenarios are a reality, Cadet Kirk. You should know that better than most.”
Jayme froze and stared at Komack as several people inhaled audibly.
McCoy straightened, looking furious. Spock found himself in accord with the doctor. “You —”
Captain Pike cut in before Doctor McCoy could say something that, while undoubtedly true, would result in demerits. “Commodore, you should rethink your line of conversation. And apologize. This is my home, and I won’t hesitate to kick you out of it if you attack my kid again.”
“Whatever the Betazed matriarchs say, Pike, she’s not your daughter,” Komack said. “And just because she’s George Kirk’s kid, it doesn’t give her the right to question Fleet practice. It’s worked for years without a pair of smartassed cadets around to try and poke holes in how we do things.”
“Slavery worked pretty well, too, unless you were the slave,” McCoy snapped. “Lord save us from the almighty status quo, the patron saint of lazy bureaucrats and narrow-minded fools.”
Lui took the drink from Komack’s hand. “I believe you have had enough, James.”
Admiral Barnett joined them. Perhaps rumours of his ability to anticipate trouble before it occurred had a basis in fact. “Agreed. Really, Komack?”
The commodore glared at Jayme rather than respond to his superior. “Your duty is to accept and obey commands, cadet. You won’t get far if you forget that,” Komack said.
Jayme lifted her chin in a gesture Spock recognized. He exchanged a look with McCoy, who smirked. He, too, must recognize Jayme at her most intractable. “Commodore, my duty as a Starfleet officer and a Federation citizen is to the integrity of both institutions. Obeying commands is the least and most simplistic of an officer’s duty. Besides, sir,” Jayme said, in a tone implying she was substituting the word ‘sir’ for a less diplomatic one, “I am to accept and obey lawful orders, those which are in line with the Starfleet charter and within its purview, and which do not compromise the Fleet or the Federation.
“As a thinking being with both rights and privileges within the Federation, I am obligated to question flawed orders, unjust laws, and immoral actions by my government and superiors, to hold both accountable. Teaching people to follow orders without question, rather than to accept commands and consider their ramifications, violates all common sense, decency, and centuries of historical evidence.”
“Top of her class in situational ethics and command theory,” Pike told Amanda proudly. “And in Starfleet and Federation history.” Amanda tapped her glass against Pike’s.
“Despite his poor choice of argument and appeal to logical fallacies,” Sarek said, “Commodore Komack is not incorrect to point out that some things cannot be overcome with the resources at hand.”
“So, our response should be to sit back in our seats and die?” Jayme demanded. Without waiting for a response — none was forthcoming, as his father’s purpose had been to reorient the conversation and provide a counterpoint — Jayme turned to her own father and gestured with her drink. McCoy took the glass from her when the brightly coloured alcohol sloshed threateningly. “You taught me a captain has a duty to their ship and crew, not just legally but morally. That if a captain was to ask a single member of their crew to risk their lives, they owe the same to every member of that crew in turn, until their last breath. How is accepting inevitable defeat before trying every conceivable option a fulfillment of that duty?”
She turned to Spock and McCoy and demanded, “If you shipped out tomorrow with a captain who shrugged and said it was a no-win scenario when confronted with a Kobayashi Maru situation. would you accept that? No,” she answered her own question before Spock could offer one, “you’d enter charges of dereliction of duty into the log and take command.”
“I’d cite lack of fitness for medical reasons,” McCoy corrected.
“Before or after you hyposprayed them unconscious and dragged them out of the command chair? Nevermind,” Jayme waved that off. “You’d take command, as any of us would and damned well should, and die trying to save as many people as you could. So, how does a simulation that everyone knows is unbeatable, that’s scheduled and graded, teach people to conquer fear instead of accept failure?”
There was a moment of silence while everyone contemplated Jayme’s argument. Even Commodore Komack remained quiet, despite the mulish expression he wore. Spock was aware everyone in hearing range was observing their group but did not dwell on it any more than he did the laughter and conversation that continued upstairs. He was too focused on dissecting Jayme’s passionate argument. Her points were persuasive — as was the fierce expression she wore.
“What would you do, kid?”
Captain Pike’s question broke the still tableau and drew everyone’s attention. Pike paid attention to only his adopted daughter.
“No, really, Jimmy — what would you do with the Maru? Pretend we’re doing a thought exercise — like we used to do with your history homework,” Pike said. “You found a tactical flaw. How do you fix or exploit it?”
“That’s how you studied Federation history? Explains a lot,” McCoy muttered.
“I got bored easily, and Dad couldn’t exactly send me outside to play when I was underfoot,” Jayme explained. “You did autopsies on roadkill, Bones, don’t judge me.”
“I never said I was a shining example of normality. I bet you solved mathematical proofs in the cradle,” McCoy said to Spock.
“I did not.” Spock had learned to walk before he was introduced to logical structures and mathematical proofs. Amanda chuckled.
“Go on, kid,” Pike said. “Lay it out.”
“I . . . “Jayme hesitated and looked around. Lui was watching, curious. Komack continued to frown. Barnett was nearly a match to Spock’s father in his lack of expression. Spock could see the moment Jayme threw aside caution in the way her shoulders straightened and went back. “I’d make the simulation spontaneous,” she said. “The Maru is scheduled — you know when and where it’s coming. Your name comes up, everyone tells you it can’t be beaten. You study and find nothing to counter that belief, further creating the expectation of failure.
“So, I’d make it random. You go into the simulator expecting a standard tactical or bridge procedural drill and find yourself in a spontaneous command exam. I’d even have it start as the expected simulation and evolve into the Maru,” Jayme mused aloud. “I’d add scenarios and update the sim at random to prevent it from becoming too familiar and reducing the pressure people feel. And I make it nearly unbearable, almost impossible, with specific subroutines that can be activated by the subject, allowing for possible victory. But at a price.
“So, you go into the simulation knowing you might, just might win, but maybe only a few of the crew survive, or you might have to die for the best outcome,” she continued solemnly. Captain Pike laid a hand on her shoulder as the name of George Kirk lingered, unspoken, between them. “Instead of expecting failure, you work twice as hard to find an option, any option, other than absolute defeat. You fight to win — for yourself, for the bragging rights, and to prove it can be done. And once a particular subroutine is discovered, I alter it so no one can use the same method twice because no two captains make the same decisions, and no two situations are the same.”
“That is . . .” Spock stared at Jayme and gathered his thoughts. “I had not considered such an option.”
Komack huffed. Spock found himself irritated by the commodore’s interruption of his admiration of Jayme’s thought process. “Very clever, Cadet — except for the amount of work, effort, and expense your fantasy simulation would require.”
“Less effort than hauling entire classes of cadets to Mars for survival training,” Pike stated. He did not look at Komack at all, but continue to watch Jayme with an expression Spock recognized as pride. “Or the work that goes into coordinating the third year training cruises, to say nothing of the Advanced Tactical course, which is the most expensive to run on a per-student basis. But we continue all of them because they are vital to training command and security officers.”
Barnett spoke before Komack could offer a counterargument. “We are talking about training the people who will command our starships, bases, and crews. A little effort is the least price we can pay for the future of Starfleet.” Barnett lifted his glass in Jayme’s direction. “Congratulations, Cadet Kirk, you just successfully challenged the command curriculum.”
“I did what now?” Jayme demanded, then corrected herself. “I mean — excuse me, sir?”
The observing officers — minus Komack, whose colour appeared unhealthy for a human of his age and relative health — smiled in response. McCoy snorted. “Of course, you did, and without knowing.”
“Come one, Richard, this is hardly the correct setting,” Komack said, gesturing to the room, or perhaps the party itself. Or maybe he meant a private residence; the commodore was not particularly specific in his objection. “A real curriculum challenge is by appointment and accompanied by paper submission, not a drink. Besides, Kirk hasn’t even taken the program yet.”
“While all of that is the norm, it isn’t required. All that’s necessary to issue a challenge to a curriculum course is a sound and reasoned argument before three members of the faculty, one of whom must be on the Academy Board, and a defender.” Lui patted Komack’s arm. “You served admirably in that regard, James.”
Spock was forced to repress the urge to laugh at the look on Komack’s face. His colour darkened further, and he appeared, in Terran colloquial phrasing, to have swallowed something unpleasant.
Sarek spoke. “It would be highly illogical to waste resources by repeating this process purely to do so in a formal academic setting.”
Spock was almost certain he saw his father’s mouth twitch.
“And I’m certain Cadet Kirk will submit her arguments in writing before the start of the new term,” Lui added.
Captain Pike settled his arm over Jayme’s shoulders and drew her against his side. “Not bad, kid. I’ve been campaigning to get that simulation changed for ages.”
Jayme blew out a breath and leaned into her father. “Always happy to show you up, old man. Maybe a little warning, next time?”
“I thought spontaneity was important in testing command responses?” Pike teased.
“Hoist by my own petard,” Jayme complained.
“Age before beauty, kid. I might be old, but I can still keep up with you.”
“Touché, Dad.” Jayme huffed. “I need a drink.”
McCoy returned the glass he’d taken from her earlier. “Nice job, Jim. You clearly learned everything you know from your dad — too bad he didn’t teach you everything he knows.”
“Kiss ass,” Jayme said. The group laughed and broke up — Komack appeared to head straight to the bar while Lui and Barnett approached Jayme for a quiet conversation. Spock was too busy considering ways to implement the kind of changes Jayme had outlined, and repressing an inappropriate response, to mutter the energy to feel and repress his usual annoyance when McCoy approached him.
Until the doctor spoke. Then the annoyance presented itself to full effect.
“Is it true that intellectual debate is foreplay on Vulcan?”
Spock exhaled sharply and examined his vicinity to ensure no one — particularly his parents and most especially his mother — was close enough to overhear McCoy’s question. Fortunately, everyone had broken away to discuss Jayme’s achievement. And the doctor, despite his inappropriate question and apparent amusement, had the decency to speak quietly.
“Vulcans do not partake in public erotic acts,” Spock said — quietly.
McCoy rolled his eyes. “For a second, I thought you were going to say Vulcan’s don’t engage in foreplay. Which would be sad, though it might explain a few things. So, demonstrating superior intelligence and logic isn’t considered an attractive quality in a mate?” McCoy sipped at his drink, eyeing Spock with a raised brow. “Debate and discussion on shared intellectual interests aren’t part of the courtship process?”
Though many Vulcans never engaged in romantic relationships, due to the tradition of childhood betrothal, there were formalized courting rituals based in pre-Reformation culture. Enough Vulcans sought mates outside of betrothal bonds for those rituals to be part of modern society. However, Spock was not expecting McCoy to accurately describe any aspect of Vulcan relationships.
“Your assessment is not inaccurate, Doctor, though I am confused by how you came by such information. And why you think it is pertinent.”
“Your mother is a charming woman,” McCoy said. Spock reflexively looked to where Amanda was speaking with his father and the captain of the Exeter. She saw him looking at her and smiled warmly. “And she and I both agree that such information is highly applicable to the current situation.”
“I do not understand your implication.”
“Bullshit, Spock, you understand me just fine. You’re just refusing to acknowledge it, even to yourself.” McCoy rolled his eyes. “Whatever, it’s not my job to help you figure out your issues. You might want to think or meditate on the question. Or brood, whatever lets you maintain your stoic demeanour. Regardless, you might want to figure it out because I don’t think your mama is one to sit back and say nothing when a kick in the ass would solve something.”
“She certainly has never held back in that regard,” Spock conceded.
McCoy grinned. “Like I said, a charming woman. I’d rather insult a Klingon than cross her.”
It was the most logical statement Doctor McCoy had made to Spock’s knowledge. “You are not alone in that sentiment, doctor.” Perhaps there was hope for the man, after all.
* * *
Five weeks and three days after Jayme accidentally and successfully challenged the Kobayashi Maru, Spock became the second human hybrid — and first Vulcan — to ever come online. It was entirely Jayme’s fault.
“You know,” Jayme said from beneath a computer console, “I didn’t mean to increase your workload.”
“You did not intend to add to either of our assignments,” Spock said, observing the new lines of code Jayme had been writing for the Kobayashi Maru. There were errors — she was an engineer, not a computer scientist, and this was, in her words, a down and dirty draft — but he could see her vision taking shape. The changes she was making to his programming were subtle and frequently counterintuitive. Spock would not have conceived of most of them, but they were brilliant.
Jayme Kirk had not yet graduated from the Academy, and an entire generation of cadets would be shaped by her vision of command.
“That’s true,” Jayme muttered. There was a clank. “Damned relay chip — fucking Starfleet and their low-bid dreck — ow!” Another clank, followed by a thump. “Fucker! Ha!” and a click. With a thrum of energy, a second console powered up. By the time Jayme crawled out from beneath the console, more lines of code were scrolling across the screen. The coding Spock was studying began to process faster.
“Your language is deplorable,” Spock observed.
“Good thing there’s no senior officer around to hear it.” Spock raised a brow, and Jayme laughed. “Seriously, Spock —”
“I am always serious.”
“Getting you to read those books was the best thing I’ve ever done.”
“That is doubtful,” Spock replied, “as you are extremely gifted, and the books were highly illogical.”
“Still haven’t forgiven me for not warning you about book five, have you?” Jayme asked.
No force in the universe, not even his mother and Jayme in combined disapproval, would compel him to admit the level of emotional and intellectual distress a series of fictional books for human children, written by someone long dead, had caused him. It had been a frustrating and enlightening experience with human culture as well as Spock’s first introduction to the concept of ‘rage quitting.’
“That would be illogical. However, I would have been forced to terminate our friendship, at least on a temporary basis, if you had not thought to warn me about the ending.”
“High up on my list of things to do if I ever make a time machine is going back to the 21st century and asking Rowling what she was thinking when she wrote that,” Jayme agreed. “Yes, it would be a waste of resources. Fantasy bucket lists are supposed to be. Stop distracting me,” she added, pointing a finger in his direction. “As adorable as your fanboy look is, I’m trying to be real, here. I know how busy you are, and this term is already looking to be worse than the last. I feel guilty you’re stuck supervising me.”
“Your apology is unnecessary, Jayme, as is your guilt. You did not make the assignment, nor do I find it bothersome. As I am only observing your efforts, not conducting the programming itself, it requires minimal effort on my part. And when you reach a point where greater effort is required to test and implement your programming, a full team will be assigned to do the work.”
“Spock.” Jayme blew a strand of hair out of her face. Her usual bun was in some disarray from her rewiring efforts. “It’s a Saturday evening, and you’ve spent the last six hours in an empty computer lab, watching me make mistakes in coding you could do blindfolded. How is that not a burden to your schedule?”
He inclined his head, watching the lock of hair slide back over her forehead. “It has been 5.4 hours, and I am here not due to my supervisory position but because I enjoy your company. Additionally, I have completed all the marking required for five of my six classes. Multitasking is within my capabilities.”
She smiled and shook her head. “Of course, it is. I love you, too, Spock.” She got to her feet and brushed off her uniform. “Pass me my PADD, would you?”
His hand closed over the device on reflex even as Spock processed her words. With near-perfect recall, he examined their various encounters, their friendship, and Spock’s recent difficulty in managing his emotional responses in light of her words and the immediate impact they had upon him. Spock was aware Jayme meant the words ‘I love you’ in a lighthearted and friendly way, but he also knew that she did, in fact, mean them, and that made her the second being in the universe to have ever said those particular words to him.
Vulcans did not give weight to emotional and overused expressions — but Spock was only half-Vulcan.
All of Doctor McCoy’s veiled implications made a great deal of sense in light of Spock’s current epiphany.
Within seconds — 4.2 — of realizing he was in love with his oldest and closest friend, Spock remembered that Jayme was an online sentinel and an empath. And Spock was a hybrid of Vulcan emotional repression and unrealized guide potential.
It did not seem like a logical combination.
“Spock?” While he struggled with his thoughts and emotions, Jayme had noticed his delay and had approached him in apparent concern. “Are you okay?”
He could see her nares flare and wondered if his troubled thoughts and changing emotional state was impacting his scent profile. Vulcans had sensitive olfactory senses — females more so than males — but even a low-level sentinel far outpaced that. Much to the consternation of many Vulcans who subscribed to species superiority.
“I am not unwell, merely thinking,” Spock managed to say in a normal tone.
“You’re always thinking, but you don’t usually look like someone hit you in the face with an Edosian suckerfish while you do it.” Jayme took her PADD from his hand and set it aside. “Spock — have you seen a healer, or a doctor lately?”
It was fortunate that Spock’s mental shielding had not suffered as his emotional state had, and that Jayme was too well-mannered to read him without a very good reason. “I have not,” he said, causing Jayme to frown. “My health is within acceptable parameters, though I have been struggling to meditate effectively. However, I believe I have discovered the reason for the difficulty and can begin to correct it.”
“You would tell me if there was something wrong, right?”
“I would,” Spock agreed. There was nothing wrong with being in love with Jayme. That nothing seemed possible to come of it was regrettable, but did not make it wrong. “And I am confident that, if I failed to do so, you would do your best to persuade me.”
“I’d probably just tell your mom and let her guilt it out of you,” Jayme admitted. She exhaled sharply, causing the same strand of hair to move. “Okay, but I’m going to insist you go and meditate. And get some sleep.”
“Your suggestion is logical.” Spock retrieved his own PADD, grateful for his ability to suppress his emotions and responses to them or his hands might have shaken. He stood, aware of how close Jayme was to him, and how closely she was watching. “I will retire to do so now. Jayme —”
She tipped her head back to meet his gaze. “Yes?”
“Your approach to programming the Kobayashi Maru simulation is far superior to anything I could have created,” Spock said, offering praise instead of the illogical and emotional confession that first came to mind. He required a great deal of meditation before he could safely be in Jayme’s presence without embarrassing himself. “Regardless of any small, easily correctable coding errors.”
Jayme smiled warmly. “Thank you, Spock.”
Spock could only blame his emotionally compromised state for the breach of control that came next. Instead of leaving to mediate and suppress his feelings, he took a moment to enjoy Jayme’s smile. The loose strand of hair fluttered minutely when she exhaled, and Spock reached out to remove the troublesome strand, tucking it behind her ear.
The sensitive pad of his thumb brushed across one of the qui’lari on her face, beneath her eye — both of which were wide and intensely blue as her pupil contracted. The accidental contact between his psi-sensitive hand and her bioelectric focal point should have been a brief telepathic contact — one that Spock, both as a human and a Vulcan, craved in his current emotional state.
In his own mind, the restless feelings and uncontrolled urges he had been fighting to suppress for months broke open. Rather than the violent impulses of his ancestors he’d expected, the emotions that were unleashed were strong and insistent, washing over him in a wave. More followed, emotions Spock could not identify and awareness of others nearby, their minds and emotions, pulled at him like the tide despite his shields being fully intact.
He could feel Jayme, not her mind but every part of her mental landscape and emotions, in a way he’d never felt before — not even with a full mind-meld. He wasn’t even aware a Vulcan telepath could register such depth of emotion.
Spock observed all of this absently while staring into Jayme’s eyes, observing with fascination the way the black of her pupil expanded to swallow the blue of her irises. If not for the narrow band of remaining blue, it gave her the appearance of being fully Betazoid.
Her voice seemed to come from a distance. It was curious, Spock had not experienced anything that would impact his hearing recently.
His thumb, he realized, was still touching Jayme’s qui’lari. That was inappropriate. Spock tried to offer an apology but could not locate his voice. Which was odd, as a voice was sound resulting from physiological structures, and his vocal cords should be where he had last left them.
A silver ripple crossed his mindscape. It felt as Jayme’s laughter sounded. Spock realized it was Jayme’s laughter.
Shields enfolded Spock, surrounding his own. The all-encompassing awareness of his surroundings faded, and his physical senses reasserted themselves.
Jayme gripped his hand. Spock was nearly as ashamed of the pleasure the sensation brought him as he was of his lack of control. To project telepathically in such a way was evidence that, clearly, Spock was suffering from some unknown physical or mental illness.
“All that guilt and self-recrimination could give a girl a headache, Spock.”
“Jayme.” Spock tried to withdraw his hand.
“Don’t,” Jayme begged. “Please, Spock —” Her mind clung to his as tightly as her hand. “Let me in.”
He was confused for only a heartbeat. It was a shocking request, the kind of intimacy Vulcans were socialized to shun, even between mates, outside of the most extreme situations. A mind-meld was already more intimate than most Vulcans could allow themselves, and what Jayme was asking for was beyond even that. But Spock was only half Vulcan, and he’d already exposed himself to Jayme in an unforgivable way. If this was what she needed from him, Spock was willing to do whatever she asked to make up for his inappropriate actions.
Inhaling, he lowered his shields and opened his mind to Jayme.
She swept in, a fierce presence, adamantium-strong will and normally guarded emotions laid bare. Her presence in his mind was a rainstorm in the desert, sweeping through and bringing change in its wake. His shields buckled under the mental pressure, then strengthened and rippled as if the harmonic resonance had been adjusted.
The distant pressure of alien emotions grew more remote, even as his awareness of Jayme’s emotions crystallized. The empathic shielding she’d wrapped around him aligned with Spock’s own telepathic shields, settling into his metal scape as if he’d built them there himself.
—Oh— Spock thought.
More amusement swept through his mind. —So slow, for a genius—
—In my defence…—
“Guide,” Jayme said out loud. “Spock, you’re a guide. My guide.”
Spock raised his free hand and offered Jayme two fingers in the traditional ozh’esta gesture. The heat that moved through him when she returned the gesture was only partly sexual. With Jayme’s fingers against his and her shields aligned with his, Spock had not felt so enfolded in another’s acceptance of him since he was a small child in his mother’s embrace.
Jayme gripped the front of his uniform shirt and crowded him back against the wall. “Mine,” she snarled, pressing against him.
It was shockingly attractive to be so maneuvered by Jayme, despite the differences in their strength. Though, with her sentinel abilities, Spock judged he was only 1.5 times her strength.
“If that is your wish,” Spock said, and pressed three fingers against her face in a meld.
—Of course, it’s my wish, Spock— Jayme said within his mind. —I’m not a moron. Oh, my god, Bones will never let us live this down—
“Must you?” Spock said. He stood in a desert with unusual blue colouring. If not for the lighting, he would think he was on Vulcan.
Jayme stood in front of a small desert oasis. The plants, even in the blue light, appeared to be a combination of Earth and Betazed flora. Jayme was in a pair of jeans and a tee-shirt with Starfleet’s insignia above her heart. Spock was wearing his uniform with an open Vulcan robe over it.
“We’re going to have a conversation about jealousy, not to mention the difference between processing emotions versus suppressing them for empaths.”
“I believe my schedule will become unaccountably full for some time to come.” Jayme laughed at his blatant attempt at avoidance. “I am unfamiliar with this mental construction. Is this the psionic plane?”
“Yup. The blue haze is usually a clue. So are they,” Jayme said as two creatures emerged from the undergrowth. The first Spock recognized as an onovren, a cat-like creature from Betazed that was one of the few apex predators of that world. It circled Jayme and rubbed against her legs, wings flaring open when Jayme bent to rub its head.
The second animal, a large sehlat, stalked towards Spock and butted its broad head against Spock’s chest hard enough to rock him back on his heels. It growled at him.
“I do not believe I have done anything to warrant your aggression,” Spock informed the creature he inferred was his spirit guide. “Considering the lack of resources and understanding I laboured under, I believe I have done relatively well. You might have made yourself known to me if the wait was intolerable.”
The sehlat head-butted him again, circled him once — taking the time to shove him from behind — and then returned to Jayme. Spock noted the creature was far more passive in her vicinity, rumbling playfully, and lay down at her feet to roll on his back.
Spock understood the impulse.
“Suck-up,” Jayme told the sehlat. Her own spirit guide pounced on the sehlat’s exposed belly and began rubbing against it. The sehlat rolled onto his side and trapped the smaller animal with one leg, and began to groom it. “Though this explains why he’s been showing up when I meditate on this plane lately. Maybe he got tired of trying to get through your Vulcan stoicism?”
Spock thought the animal merely preferred Jayme to himself. He didn’t blame the sehlat. “Perhaps.”
Jayme laughed. “No lying here, Spock, so don’t even try.” She brushed her hands over her thighs and stepped up to him. “Remind me to kick your ass for suffering in silence all these months.”
“I was unaware of the specifics of my condition.”
She rolled her eyes. “I meant the emotions part, not the coming online without any help part.”
“As I said.”
“Sorry, Spock, you’re a guide now. You’ll have to get a little more in touch with emotions than that.” Jayme offered her hand, two fingers extended.
Spock considered that. “I believe I will leave the emotional aspects of our bonding to you and focus on verbally and logically obliterating all those who show inappropriate attention to that bond.” Spock touched his own fingers to hers and then caught her hand in his, drawing it against his chest along with the rest of her.
Jayme came willingly, lifting her face to his and smiling at him. “We’ll talk about the division of labour later. I’m willing to negotiate. I’m going to have to insist on a kiss, now, Spock.”
He bent to touch his mouth to hers. Around them, the mental plane flooded with light and their spirit animals merged in a bright flash.
In a computer simulation lab on the Starfleet Academy campus, Spock and Jayme kissed for the first time as a bond flared to life between them. Much as a desert plant emerged after a rainfall, the small seed that had been planted in both their minds as children, in places no healer or family member had ever touched, bloomed into a fully-formed and mature bond in moments.
—Imzadi— Jayme said into his mind as they sank to their knees together. —Guide—
“Thy’la,” Spock breathed against Jayme’s lips.