One week later, Spock was at Starfleet Medial waiting for Jim outside Doctor McCoy’s office. He looked up in anticipation as the door opened. It dimmed however, as had the light in Jim’s eyes, apparently. He looked awful. There were noticeably dark circles under his eyes. Equally noticeable were the slump in his shoulders and the drag in his step. His eyes fell on Spock, and he smiled tiredly. It seemed rather forced.
“Are you well?” Asked Spock, concerned, as they began to walk out as usual.
“Sure.” Said Jim, even sounding weary. “That stupid baby doll has cried every few hours for the last week. I usually have to get sleep while Sam and Aury are at work, since it doesn’t cry then.” He must have seen the confusion on Spock’s face, because he added, “It’s programmed only to cry while they’re home. A real baby would be with a sitter, or have one parent with it at all times. Since I’m not the one raising the kid, I don’t have to take this portion of the class. Still,” he muttered, “it’s been a real pain getting used to sleeping during the day instead of at night.”
“Adjusting to such a change in schedule must be difficult.” Remarked Spock.'
“Yeah, but it’s only for one more week. We actually had it that week you came over for dinner, but it was off for the moment. Sam and Aury have it way worse. They’re the ones who have to come home after a long day of work and wake up every three hours to figure out what it needs.” Jim shook his head. “I’m pretty tired; I can only imagine what they’re going through.”
Spock realized that if Jim was awake at night, then he was probably more tired than he let on.
“Perhaps we should forego a visit to the park. We can most likely find something else to do here.” Jim was clearly trying to hide his relief at Spock’s words.
“If that’s okay with you. I didn’t want to snap at you like I did the last time I was too tired to go.”
“I believe it is understandable, given what you’re body is being put though.” They exited the building, and Spock automatically began walking toward the classroom buildings. “Perhaps you would like to see some of the experiments that I and my fellow cadets are working on.” Jim looked intrigued.
“That sounds interesting. Is it…safe?” One of his hands rose to rest on his stomach. Spock realized he was worried about what effects some of those experiments might have on his nephew’s health. It was a good concern to have.
“I do not believe any of the experiments will have an adverse effect on your pregnancy. As I am a first year cadet and only have limited access, we will not be near anything that would be considered deadly by any means.” Jim nodded.
“Okay then, let’s go!”
They spent a good two and a half hours looking over everything. They studied each experiment, and afterward, Jim would ask questions or make comments, inviting Spock to answer or reply. Jim seemed particularly impressed by Spock’s own experiments, especially one having to do with a possible energy source that had recently been introduced to the Federation as a gift from a race hoping to gain entry.
“The ones you’re working on seem awfully advanced for a first year cadet.” He remarked as they were leaving.
“As my father was expecting me to one day enter the Vulcan Science Academy, I was well versed in most of the theories and laws that I have been taught here. Though,” he added in a more subdued tone, “I believe that many of my classmates resent me for it. Some of them sometimes accuse me of trying to ‘upstage’ them, of showing off and making them look bad in comparison. I am not trying to do the things they say; I simply do not know how to do any better than my best. It is what I have been expected to do all my life.” Jim looked sympathetic.
“Yeah, but you have to understand, a lot of them have had those expectations from themselves and others for most of their lives too. Some of them are probably used to being the overachievers. They come here to learn and compete against people in their league. Then you come along and leave them all in the dust with only a fraction of the effort they use. That can’t be a very good feeling.”
“Why would they come here to compete with each other?” Asked Spock, confused. “It is the point of the Federation to exist in harmony with other life forms, and Starfleet exists to help protect that harmony. Competition could very likely lead to infighting, and that could eventually lead to serious problems for the entire organization.” Jim shrugged.
“You’re right about all the harmony and protection stuff, but there are a lot fewer command positions than there are subordinate ones. Everyone starts off at the bottom, as a cadet. Everyone has to rise through the ranks over time in order to achieve the one that they dream of having someday. In order to do that, they have to prove that they are the most deserving of the job, that they’re the best qualified, the best and brightest. There’s always going to be some kind of competitive element wherever there’s a possibility for advancement. If I was a cadet, I think I’d avoid being too friendly with others in my focus, or at least ones with obvious ambition and drive. I bet a lot of friendships around here get broken up because friends decided to exploit each other’s weaknesses or go behind their backs to try and gain advancement.”
“I had not thought of it that way.” Said Spock thoughtfully. “I suppose it is understandable that they would feel threatened by someone who easily does better than them, at least it is when you put it like that.” They observed and discussed some more experiments before leaving the building.
As they left, Jim’s eyes focused on something in front of them and lit up with excitement. Spock followed his gaze to see that he was staring at the chess tables set up on the edge of the outdoor recreation area. He looked back to Jim.
“Do you play?” Jim looked at him.
“Yeah, but I haven’t had a real opponent in a long time. I played against classmates when I was a kid and just go against the computer nowadays. Do you play?”
“Yes, my mother taught me. I too have not had much opportunity to play against a real opponent. Most Vulcans only play Vulcan games.” Jim glanced at his watch.
“Well, I’ve gotta be getting back. I need to fix dinner, and maybe catch a nap before Sam and Aury get home and the doll starts going off again. Do you maybe want to play a bit next week after my appointment?”
“That would be agreeable.” Said Spock, trying to hide his excitement. He knew chess was a game of strategy and intelligence. He was looking forward to seeing what kind of strategy Jim would use.
He walked Jim to the shuttle station and saw him off. After returning to his quarters, he began mentally brushing up on his technique. He did not wish to appear out of practice. And, in all honesty, he was hoping to use the opportunity to show off to Jim a bit.
When Spock arrived at Starfleet Medical the next weekend, he did not even have time to sit as Jim came rushing though the door.
“Hey!” He said with a grin. “You ready to go play?” Spock opened his mouth to reply when he noticed the few people waiting in the room with them were staring at them in confusion. Jim looked around as well and saw what Spock had. “Uh, we’re just playing chess.” Some of them continued to stare at them, so they just walked out.
“Well, that was awkward.” Remarked Jim.
“Indeed.” Replied Spock. “I do not know what they may have thought when you suggested we ‘go play’.” Jim’s face grew pinker than was typical.
“Uh, no idea.” When they reached the tables, they chose one farthest from the athletic fields and took their seats.
“Do you want black or white?” Asked Jim.
“As I am Vulcan and possess superior intellect, I believe it would be most beneficial to you to take white.” Said Spock, graciously. Jim shrugged.
“You may regret that.” He remarked as he rotated the board until the white pieces were on his side. Spock realized he had inferred that Jim was of lesser intelligence and would need an advantage to beat him. He had spoken bluntly and without thought, something he knew humans did not always care for in Vulcans.
“I did not mean to insinuate that you are lacking in intelligence; I simply…” He trailed off, not knowing how to finish the sentence. Jim was already grinning and shaking his head.
“I know you didn’t mean any insult, Vulcan’s are smarter than humans. That’s just the plain truth. I said what I did because I happen to consider myself pretty good at this game and who knows, I just might beat you. Then you’ll regret giving me any kind of advantage.” He focused on the board, preparing to make his first move. Spock felt a familiar sensation building inside him. It was the kind of feeling he got when he was about to begin a new study or experiment. It was the feeling of anticipation for the challenge ahead.
Jim did win the round, a little over an hour after they’d started playing. Spock was dumbfounded. Jim’s strategy had been, essentially, to have none. He’d baffled Spock for nearly half of the game with illogical moves. Eventually, Spock had tried to settle on one strategy, which Jim promptly countered. Jim seemed amused by his gaze affixed on the chess board.
“You’re staring at it like you’re expecting the pieces to start talking to you.” He remarked with a grin. Spock snapped his gaze back up.
“I do not expect anything impossible. I was simply trying to determine where I erred, allowing you to beat me.”
“You really want to know?” Asked Jim. At Spock’s nod, he leaned forward almost conspiratorially. “You messed up because I made you. I didn’t follow any pattern, and as a result, you didn’t know how to respond.” Spock almost frowned.
“I gathered as much. I still do not understand how you could beat me by mixing your strategy so. Why not settle on one strategy? Surely the risk of losing outweighs the possibility of victory.” Jim just smiled.
“Why does it matter? It’s just a game.” Spock nodded.
“That is true, but I am still rather curious. You could have easily lost if you had randomly chosen the wrong strategy.” Jim seemed to think for a moment.
“It’s true that that’s a risky strategy. But a lot of times, battles are won because people do the exact opposite of what their enemies expect. I think it was a guy named Heraclitus who said, ‘If you do not expect the unexpected, you will not find it; for it is hard to be sought out, and difficult’.
Oscar Wiled sort of re-quoted it as, ‘To expect the unexpected shows a thoroughly modern intellect.’ Nowadays, a lot of people just have it shortened it down to, ‘expect the unexpected’. Try to think what your opponents won’t do. Take the more illogical possibilities into consideration, and sometimes, just be illogical. It’s the last thing anyone would expect from someone like you, who relies on logic for every decision. It just might save your life one day.” Spock, seeing the seriousness in Jim’s eyes, realized that Jim was talking about more than chess games or any other competition. He was talking about the very real dangers he could encounter as a result of being a Starfleet officer. He nodded slowly.
“I will endeavor to remember that.” Jim nodded as well.
“Good. Now, how about a rematch?”
They played again twice, taking roughly the same amount of time as with the first game. Spock managed to win the second round, but lost again on the third.
“I will have to study your technique more for the future.” Spock remarked as he and Jim got up to leave after the last game. He assumed/hoped that there would be other games. Jim grinned almost mockingly.
“You’re free to try.” Spock was about to try to make a clever retort when another mocking voice cut him off. This one, however, was far from friendly.
“Well well well. If it isn’t the poster couple for freaks.” Sneered Gary Mitchell. “The half-breed and the she-male. You planning on popping one out for him next, Kirk?” Spock started to open his mouth, either to tell Mitchell that the term she-male was incorrect as it applied to transsexual women, which Jim was not, or to simply tell him to leave. He wasn’t sure which. Before he could say anything, however, Jim spoke up loudly.
“Oh, fuck off Mitchell! Go bother someone who’s actually willing to put up with your shit. Last I checked, that kind of conduct from a Starfleet Cadet is worthy of a demerit or two. I wonder how many strikes you can take before they bounce you out of here, especially ones for harassment of a non-human or a civilian.” Mitchell just stared at Jim, his mouth working silently as his face grew red. Finally, he stormed off toward the dorms, cursing under his breath. Spock looked at Jim, surprised.
“I did not expect you to threaten him, or even speak to him like that.” Jim shrugged.
“Did you think I’d start crying again? My hormones are a little more under control now. Besides, I had a fun time and I wasn’t about to let him ruin it by being such an ass.” Spock nodded approvingly.
“That is a positive outlook to have.” Jim checked his watch.
“I’d better get going. This was great though. I’d love to do it again sometime.” Spock did not reply, but he acknowledged the feeling of relief he always felt after hearing that Jim wanted to see him again.
As usual, he walked with Jim to the shuttle station. Before he boarded, Jim turned back to Spock, looking a little nervous.
“I guess you know that next weekend is Christmas.” After Spock nodded, he continued. “I realize you probably don’t celebrate or anything. I was just thinking, if you don’t have anywhere to, if you’re not going home for break, you could come over to our place for dinner or something. Saturday or Sunday. Or both. Whatever you want. The doll will be gone by then and Sam and Aury would be happy to have you back. After that is New Year’s and there’s going to be this party for whoever’s here then. I’m going, and I bet you’d have fun.” He paused. “You don’t have to or anything. I just thought if you weren’t doing anything…” he trailed off. Spock nodded, unable to find the right words at first.
“I would be honored to be a guest of your family for Christmas.” He said quietly. Jim’s nervousness disappeared and he smiled brightly.
“Great!” I’ll send you a message about the time. I guess I’ll see you then.” With a last wave, he boarded the shuttle.
Later that evening, Spock realized that he had no idea if he was expected to bring a gift to the Kirk home for Christmas. He knew such gift giving was typically done among close friends and family. He knew Jim considered him a friend, but did he consider him a good enough friend to get a gift for? Then, he had an idea.
Intending to work out the rest of his plan later, Spock began to ready himself for bed. He had a full week to accomplish what he needed to do. He had little else with most of his assignments done and many of his classmates gone for the holidays. He believed he could find something suitable. He would meditate on it later.