Montgomery Scott believed that God’s noblest creation was warp core mechanics. In addition, it was true that he genuinely thought, in some very, very deep recessed part of himself that his engines were just as animate as some of his shipmates and rather more so than others. None of this meant that he wasn’t rather good company provided you got him out of Engineering and gave him a decent bottle of Scotch – or rather, allowed him to supply one since (at least during his time on the Enterprise) he had effectively cornered the market in whisky and certainly had particularly pronounced ideas about the best blends.
Scotty was, however, not necessarily typical of his colleagues, if you went with the flow in terms of stereotypical Chief Engineers. Dour, miserable and geeky was the general perception and Fleet scuttlebutt about one or two characters in particular was legend. Everyone knew the jokes about Chief Engineers; you could even get away with them in front of Scotty, because he’d spent too long in Starfleet not to have heard them all so many times that he’d become inured – and also because sometimes it was simply impossible to keep engineer jokes out of the conversation for long enough. And he’d been known to laugh helplessly about the one about the Chief Engineer of the Farragut and the Christmas tree.
All of which meant that when the latest political storm to hit Starfleet involved a Vulcan Chief Engineer, the resulting comments were, perhaps, rather predictable. An inevitable joke went around the junior rec room referencing Vulcans and their emotional and physical compatibility with inanimate features of mechanical engineering, but the crew was fiercely loyal to its Vulcan First Officer and the remark never came close to the senior officers. McCoy rolled his eyes and said “God help us, what a bunch of idiots” (not about the junior rec room) and Kirk said “Good to know your political acumen is still as sharp as ever, Bones” but, unusually for Kirk, he looked worried. And Spock made no comment on the situation at all.
They were on a routine mission transporting medical components to a settlement on Alpha Gemma, just beyond the quadrant border, with an ETA of two and a half days. Kirk had noted the news item about the Halcyon and flagged it up for the attention of Spock who had, of course, been already aware of it. It was noticeable to Kirk that, as news seeped around the bridge and low level comments bubbled up in between the performance of various duties, that Spock was unusually silent on the subject. The First Officer might be reserved and outwardly unemotional but he was not usually unforthcoming in conversation, especially on a topic where he could reasonably be viewed as having special knowledge. And Kirk’s own intuition, on which he had come to rely without question, was sending out an urgent, pulsating vibe that said the Halcyon affair had the potential for consequences rather more far-reaching than might at first blush seem the case.
Kirk let his thoughts circle round the problem until the end of the shift, and then said, abruptly, as Gamma shift personnel spilled from the turbolift and Spock imperceptibly straightened his back:
“Mr Spock – could you join me in my quarters in ten minutes, please?”
And Spock nodded, as if expecting the invitation, which of course he had been.
He didn’t bother to look up as the buzzer sounded, simply said “Come” and went over to retrieve a coffee for himself and a tea for Spock. The days when he would have tried to classify time with Spock as business or pleasure had long past. Originally, they had been strictly business and not remotely pleasurable – Spock’s austere formality, his rejection of Kirk’s overtures, Kirk’s tactile confidence, his assumption that the application of human warmth was the solution to all problems – all these elements had come together to ensure that early command team meetings on the Enterprise had not been events to which either participant had greatly looked forward.
Stage Two had been when Kirk had realised that at least half of what Spock had said was not a rejection but intelligent commentary and even ironic teasing and when Spock realised at exactly the same time that Kirk’s views about the application of human warmth were, in fact, correct. During Stage Two, Kirk had rapidly re-evaluated command team meetings and scheduled them considerably more often than previously, whilst hoping (to no avail whatsoever) that Spock would fail to notice either the previous infrequency or the sudden change.
During Stage Three, Kirk found himself constantly worrying that a meeting to discuss shore leave rosters or annual staff appraisals would occasionally get hopelessly mixed up in a chess game. Or that a scheduled review of a mission would evolve into a late night discussion of Vulcan philosophy over brandy and guava juice. He was unsure what Spock would make of the elision of the personal and the professional – uncertain also of his own views, given the emphasis in Fleet training at all levels and particularly in command stream classes about keeping the two strictly separate.
During Stage Four, where they now found themselves, Kirk had entirely given up either classifying meetings or caring very much and found himself (when he bothered to think about it) suffused by an extraordinary warmth as a result of the knowledge that his Vulcan First Officer felt the same – was able, now, simply to walk into his quarters, retrieve the proffered cup of tea, and say “Thank you, Captain” without so much as a single comment about the Terran custom of accompanying all strategic conversations with the consumption of food or alcohol or both. He was James T Kirk and Spock was his First Officer and together they were the command team of the Enterprise (and, incidentally, the best command team in Starfleet) and the fact that Spock was actually a part of him and he of Spock was some of the reason for that and inseparable from it and hence the current shape of Enterprise command meetings.
Kirk lifted his own glass to Spock in companionable rather than professional salute, kicked off his boots and waved Spock to a seat opposite him.
“All in order, First Officer?”
“Nothing untoward to report, Captain,” Spock returned, politely. “Would you prefer a detailed summary of the current position?”
“No, Spock – thanks all the same, but it can wait till the next scheduled update. What I would like, though, are your views on the Halcyon. And on your compatriot, Saredin .”
Spock said, quietly
“I fear, Jim, that the handling of this situation by Starfleet has not been wise.”
Kirk knew that. Spock’s views, however, combined with using his first name – which, though less infrequent at Stage Four than Stages Two and Three (it had at no point taken place during Stage One), was never insignificant within the context of an official discussion – only served to deepen his concern.
“I’m not going to debate you there, First Officer. Tell me about Saredin.”
Spock steepled his fingers.
“He is an interesting individual, for one reason and one reason only. There are many Vulcans, as you know, Captain, who are uncompromising in their adherence to the teachings of the Masters and to the philosophy of Surak. This is all well known and not worthy of comment. There are others who have, over the years, in contrast, engaged with other cultures and deliberately chosen to live among members of other species.”
“Thank God for that,” put in Kirk. He caught Spock’s eye, smothered a grin and waved an encouraging hand. “Forgive me for interrupting, Commander, you were saying?”
“Simply put,” Spock continued, ignoring the interruption, “Saredin is remarkable for the fact that he resides in both camps, to employ a Terran idiom. He is fiercely protective of Vulcan tradition, yet chose a career in Starfleet – on the basis, as I understand, of feeling that there were numerous areas in which Starfleet could learn from Vulcan.”
“Nothing wrong with that,” observed Kirk, “on the condition that it takes place within a two-way street. But I take it that he was less interested in learning. Spock –“ he asked, carefully, departing from the Halcyon briefly as a thought occurred, and walking around it tentatively, “if that is the case, if that was his motivation in taking the posting on the Halcyon, what about you? It’s not as though he’s the first opportunity that’s been presented to Starfleet to learn about Vulcans.”
A look of total impassivity crossed Spock’s face fleetingly, and Kirk cursed himself for raising the point.
“Captain – Saredin would not consider that Starfleet had much to learn about Vulcans from me.”
Kirk briefly considered either adopting McCoy’s earlier language “He’s an idiot”, or using rather stronger language or giving a short discourse on his views on Spock’s embodiment of the Vulcan and human ideals and what he had to offer Starfleet. Knowing that Spock was perfectly well aware of all of this, he apologised for the clumsiness of his question instead by reaching out and briefly touching Spock’s nearest arm, with a grimace which said, in fact, “He’s an idiot” in the knowledge that Spock would read the thought. And Spock met his eyes with an expression that actually said nothing at all but which Kirk understood entirely.
“Have you actually met him – do you know him?” Kirk asked, carefully. He had no wish to hurt Spock further, but he did want to know more about Saredin.
“I have, in fact, met him,” Spock said, “though I would not go so far as to say that I know him. Despite what you read and despite what you think of his politics, he is not an unpleasant individual. You might describe him as fanatical – perhaps I would not go that far. He is certainly politically motivated but he is intelligent and interesting.”
Kirk looked dubious.
“I don’t think he’s going on my Christmas card list. I gather the fuss was that he refused to shake the hand of a Faltonian dignitary. I understand why – I mean, I know about Vulcans and touch telepathy, of course, but when placed in a difficult position you have always been accommodating. Don’t give me his views on your inadequacies, Spock, I don’t believe you’re alone in this.”
“No, Captain. I am not alone in making compromises in order to live among humans. It would not be at all unusual, however, to find someone of Saredin’s views living on Vulcan. It is, as I said earlier, the fact of him living in Starfleet with those views which has caused the difficulty.”
“Difficulty? He disobeyed a direct order and caused a minor diplomatic shouting match. The only good thing about it, as far as I can make out, is that we weren’t there. It is exactly the sort of situation I would loathe, and at some point I would have made what you would have called an infelicitous comment and you would have had to rescue the situation and after successfully preventing interstellar Armageddon you would then have enjoyed the meagre compensation of explaining to me in private that being a starship captain doesn’t unfortunately negate my shortcomings as an illogical and irrational human being and that I should learn to avoid giving rein to my emotional instincts.”
Spock said, “In fact, any infelicitous comment you might have made would have been intentional and for a specific and significant purpose and the Faltonians would have conceded on all points with every diplomatic obstacle successfully overcome within approximately thirty minutes of meeting you and you are aware of that. Your suggestion of remedial action on my part is yet another example of your frequent strategy of distraction through apparent self-denigration and its familiarity does not assist me in attempting to understand your objective in deploying it at this particular moment and in this particular context.”
Kirk, who was aware that Spock knew perfectly well what his objective had been, gave his First Officer his warmest halogen smile and pulled the conversation back, having successfully diffused the slight tension over his faux pas about Saredin. “What will the Vulcan Council do?”
“I suspect they will take a very strong line, Captain,” Spock said. Vulcans do not experience worry and Spock’s face was as impassive as ever but neither of these facts stopped him looking worried. “They may or may not have views about Saredin (and others) serving in Starfleet, they may even have views about Saredin’s handling of this particular situation but there is a political difficulty about the disciplinary proceedings instigated by Starfleet in this situation which make it very difficult to avoid diplomatic consequences. A court martial, even if requested by the Faltonians as was apparently the case, is an excessively heavy handed method to address a situation which should never have arisen, given that although Saredin was disobeying a direct order, touch telepaths do have exemption from being ordered within direct contact with other species. The attitude of the Council will, in addition, be influenced by the loss of the Intrepid. Concerns about the vulnerability of Vulcans in Starfleet were always previously ameliorated by the existence of a ship crewed entirely by Vulcans, who were thus able to access postings where there was a guarantee of respect for their cultural requirements. That comfort is now gone, and the support for Vulcans in Starfleet is now under minute scrutiny by the Council, in particular with regard to the constant need to reassure the Vulcan civilian population of the wisdom of partnership with a military force.”
“The handling of this situation by Starfleet has not been wise.”
Kirk swallowed back the faintest sense of unease –of wondering whether the lack of wisdom on Starfleet’s part was something which might end up affecting him personally – worse, might have some impact which Spock and he might see differently from each other. He looked at in thoughtful silence for a few moments at the Vulcan officer who had come to mean more to him than any human and then decided unceremoniously to drop the topic of the Halcyon for now, not least because he suspected that before long he would have had a surfeit of the subject. Slightly cautiously, he suggested a game of chess and a brandy and was disproportionately relieved when Spock accepted both invitations.
Since about half way through Stage Three, Kirk had categorised meetings with Spock under four headings, depending on whether Spock accepted a drink at all; whether he accepted a tea; whether he accepted a guava juice; or whether he accepted a brandy. He had found that Spock’s decisions around drinking to be an infallible weather vane of mood, which corresponded to the following:
Category One: “I do not wish to have a drink. I have no feelings and I do not, in fact, wish to be with you at this precise moment. However, I recognise that the requirements of command oblige me to spend time with you in pursuit of my duties and the needs of the ship. I would prefer this to last as little time as possible and to confuse none of it with the guise of emotional interaction.” Category One meetings included every single meeting in Stage One of their relationship but were vanishingly rare ever since. Thank God.
Category Two: “I am prepared to recognise that, although I am a Vulcan and our interaction is alien to my nature, nevertheless our working partnership is enhanced by our personal relationship and, while I myself do not suffer from the physical craving for a drink as frequently as does your species, I understand the significance of and am prepared to indulge you in the shared consumption of a beverage at this time.” This had been the bottom line for almost all meetings from Stage Two onwards, that Spock would at least agree to have a tea once the business part of the meeting had been covered . Kirk remembered some exceptions – conversations with Spock shortly before his pon farr; occasions when Spock had been particularly (and, to Kirk’s mind, rather endearingly) focused on a laboratory experiment; urgent briefings when there had been no time for niceties - but he also knew that the Vulcan would often prefer to engage in an illogical Terran custom and accept a drink he might not actually want in order to reassure Kirk and to engage in their shared space of mutual tease and counter-tease.
Category Three: “I recognise, in accepting this particular drink, that you are prepared to go to exceptional lengths in accommodating my preferences and whilst I am not prepared to acknowledge this to you verbally, my imbibing of this drink is token of my appreciation of what you do and the fact that you are unique in my life.” Guava drink occasions were instances of the closest working partnership Kirk had ever known and increasingly the staple of Kirk’s personal life. He knew that, while Spock would never acknowledge the illogical preference of one taste over another, the Vulcan particularly enjoyed fresh guava juice and Kirk would have engineered a fresh infestation of tribbles aboard the Enterprise rather than allow Spock to discover the lengths and expense to which he regularly went to ensure an adequate supply.
Category Four: “You are my commanding officer but you are also my friend and while it may or may not be illogical, this is where I want to be.” Kirk knew exactly what the acceptance of a brandy meant and how hard won it had been. It didn’t happen until well into Stage Three and the first time Spock ever agreed to have a brandy with him, Kirk felt as though God had personally leaned down and given him the Nobel Peace Prize.
It was a good game. Kirk thought he had it under control but was caught out by a surprise move by Spock’s rook which pleased both players. Kirk laughed out loud and went back over his strategy and where it had failed, working out aloud as he went along what Spock’s parallel intentions had been, in the manner of one who finds the thought patterns of his opponent about as familiar as his own. And Spock looked at the golden command figure through the golden liquid in his glass and allowed himself the rare self indulgence of feeling again the echoes both of the touch of Kirk’s hand on his arm and of the private comfort of “He is an idiot”.
“Spock,” his captain said, suddenly, as Spock was half way to the door at the end of the evening, and the Vulcan turned and raised an eyebrow. Kirk was not entirely aware of why he felt the need to say something, and he was very sure that nothing he had to say would come to Spock as any surprise, but the need was there after the faint chill of his earlier premonition and Kirk listened to instinct on these matters, particularly when it came to his First Officer.
“There is absolutely nothing of any value to Starfleet or, to that matter, to Vulcan on any matter of any relevance whatsoever that cannot be learned to optimal effect from you,” he said. The words fell between them, and Spock made the tiniest of movements in his shoulders, as though he were picking them up or as though he were straightening himself in recognition of a public honour or resettling himself after a minor level of tension, and he looked back at Kirk with a warmth in his eyes which told the captain he had been right to follow his instincts.
“Goodnight, Jim,” the Vulcan said quietly, and Kirk nodded as he stepped through the door.
The next day, Vulcan announced that the Vulcan Science Academy would be manning its own starship, within the umbrella of the Federation but in a separate division from Starfleet, and that all Vulcan personnel currently serving in Starfleet would be offered postings on it with immediate effect.