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A gen Kirk & Spock friendship story.

 

Originally published in December, 1985, in the print fanzine “Trekism at Length” # 5.

 

The honor guard, resplendent in full parade uniform, smartly saluted the couple and offered his arm to the lady. Cadet James T. Kirk surrendered his date to the guard for the ceremonial procession up the steps to the banquet hall and followed, feeling very pleased with himself in his own full Mess regalia.

He tried to keep his eyes straight and not on Ruth’s hips which swayed so enticingly going up the steps in front of him. She was dressed in something that flowed and hugged at the same time and looked lovely. It made Kirk almost wish for the banquet to draw to a quick close so he could have her all to himself, but he’d worked hard to earn the privilege to attend and he was going to enjoy it.

There would be little time to enjoy himself once he got to Cygni 2, where Starfleet Academy’s Command Staff College was located. The dine-out was in honor of the Academy graduates who had clawed their way into being accepted for command training, as well as the last batch of graduates from the Command College who were back on Earth to receive their assignments; in most cases, it would be their first deep space assignment. In two years, Kirk swore to himself, he’d be back to attend a similar banquet among the latter, and wearing ensign rank.

The procession slowed down at the entrance to the banquet hall as guests signed the attendance register. When their turn came the guard did an about face, saluted Kirk, and returned his date to him. They spoke simultaneously.

“Oh, Jim, it’s beautiful!”

“Oh, damn, a Grog Bowl!”

Kirk, eyeing the huge bowl sitting on a solitary table in the middle of the dance floor, wished he could just take one of the tables to the back—way, way back, preferably—but he wasn’t a casual guest and a central table was assigned to Command College students.

“A... what bowl?” Ruth asked.

“A Grog Bowl. And if you think the name is bad, you ought to taste what’s in it.” Having located their name cards, he motioned her to the correct place, then put a restraining hand on her arm when she started to pull her chair back. “Not yet. We can’t sit until the colors are posted and the head table is seated.”

“Oh. Can we talk at least?”

“Yes, if you whisper.” He stood, eyes ahead, at parade rest, and Ruth started to chuckle.

“Sssshh!” Kirk admonished.

“I’m sorry. Everyone looks so solemn, I can’t help it.”

“Ruth!”

“All right, all right.” She composed herself and found another topic. “What is a Grog Bowl?”

“A time-honored tradition, dating back to the British armies of the eighteenth century. They usually have one during dine-ins. A ‘dine-in’ is a banquet only active duty personnel are allowed to attend. The one you can bring a date to is a ‘dine-out’, like tonight. It’s rare to find a Grog Bowl at a dine-out.”

“So what is it?”

“They put that bowl there in the morning and everyone who passes by adds something to it. Everything alcoholic and other stuff, like hot sauce, pepper, garlic powder, salt... anything not illegal that a fiendish imagination can contrive.”

Ruth was looking at the vile-colored liquid with apprehension.

“Don’t worry; civilians are immune, but if anyone has it in for me, you may have to carry back a very sick and drunk date. Here,” he motioned at the little booklets that were gracing every table setting, “read all about it while we wait.”

Ruth skimmed over the protocol booklet which would inform her a President of the Mess would be ruling over the banquet. He could only be addressed though the Vice of the Mess who would be performing a function similar to a Master of Ceremonies. Microphones were placed at various locations through which one could make issues public and direct requests or questions to the head table. No one was even allowed to stand while the diners at the head table were seated except to go to the microphones; leaving the hall required permission from the President; the head table dictated the pace of the meal.

Ruth was stifling a yawn at the endless restrictions. Kirk spared a hand and tapped at the Grog Bowl entry. It might amuse her among all the strict rules and regulations, even if it stemmed directly from those strict rules. Divergence from regulations at the banquet, noticed by the President or brought to his attention by anyone, would be punished by making the guilty party partake of the concoction. Then the person would be required to march to the Bowl, salute the Bowl, fill a cup to the brim, execute an about face, salute the head table, verbally acknowledge the President, drain the liquid in one swallow, put the cup upside down on his/her head, salute the President, do another about face, salute the Bowl yet again, put the cup down and march back. Any faltering in following the procedure would require the poor soul to start all over again until the President announced himself satisfied.

Ruth, probably visualizing Jim going through the described antics, started giggling again.

“Sssshh!” He hissed at her and she looked at him with amusement, but subsided.

Pipes blared and everyone came to attention. The high ranking officers which would make up the head table came in—no marching for them—and took position behind their seats. The music got louder and someone snapped orders. Parade costumed guards entered with United Federation Planets, Starfleet Armed Forces, Academy, and Command College flags to solemnly place them behind the VIPs. They marched out, the President pounded the gavel, declared the Mess open, and everyone was allowed to sit.

Not for long though; as soon as backsides touched chairs everyone was jumping up again and toast after toast was proposed for one purpose or another, for this dignitary and that big-wig—some not even in attendance—and they were repeatedly back on their feet, sipping wine along with everybody to the chorus of “Hear, Hear!”

Finally things settled down and waiters began placing salads on the tables. Ruth waited until the people at the head table had started eating. Kirk smiled at her appreciatively; she was getting the hang of it. He remembered the tablecloth extensions to the floor on the front side of the table and moved his leg so it was touching hers. She glanced up and discreetly winked. Then her hand moved off the table to her lap, promising further roving. Uh-uh, not advisable, Kirk decided, and hastily pulled his leg back.

Now that he was free to look around, Kirk started searched the crowd for familiar faces. The head table occupied one side of the dance floor behind the Grog Bowl, with two other long tables angled opposite the head table so the occupants were facing the command officers. At one sat the Academy graduates on their way to Command College; at the other, those lucky people who had already paid their dues at that college.

Kirk recognized some of his upperclassmen among them. There were a few older graduates, having won the right to attend Command College after some years of service. There was only one female in uniform at that table. It had obviously taken her a long time to convince Starfleet of her potential; she already wore the rank of a lieutenant commander.

There were a few aliens as well. One was a Taurean. The only reason Kirk knew he was an alien was because they were acquainted; he looked much like a short, stocky Human. There was only one Vulcan and one Andorian; neither was familiar to Kirk. He noticed an empty chair at that table and wondered why until he realized the Vulcan didn’t have a date with him. Vulcans did not indulge in the Human custom of “dating” and the men rarely appeared in public accompanied by a female unless married, but Starfleet operated on Human assumptions.

Kirk twisted around and scanned the other tables occupied by various Starfleet personnel and their guests. Some people smiled or waved at him. He smiled back, foregoing any waving; with a Grog Bowl in attendance he wasn’t about to make himself conspicuous by any expansive move. He knew the President of the Mess for the night; Commodore Barnes, who had a sense of humor which sometimes bordered on the sadistic—when he wasn’t being pompous.

The Inauguration of the Grog Bowl was not long in coming. A late-arriving lieutenant trying to sneak into one of the back seats was spied by the watchful commodore. “Mr. Vice!” he boomed.

“Yes, sir!” the ensign assigned to the ungrateful task for the night hastily gulped down his mouthful and snapped to attention.

"Are you lacking in vigilance, or don't you know being late to this gathering is a grave infraction?" 

“Uh... p..pardon me, Mr. President?” the ensign stammered, having missed the stealthy entrance of the tardy lieutenant.

“Mr. Vice, I’m disappointed in you. Remind me never to recommend you for an Intelligence Service posting. You will at once determine the identity of the person who was unwise enough to enter this hall after the head table has been seated, and bring him up for charges.”

A few helpful souls started to point out the culprit to the silently desperate ensign, but the lieutenant had already decided to take his own medicine and he marched to a microphone.

“Lieutenant Tershkova, Headquarters Communication,” he identified himself.

“Hmmm,” the President studied the man. “Promptness is a virtue all Starfleet officers are expected to know; if they don’t know it, they’ll be taught.”

“Yes, sir, Mr. President. I apologize. My aircar–”

“Now my ears must be deceiving me! Are you attempting to offer an excuse? Before one was so much as asked of you? You’ve just compounded your offense. Do you know what your punishment is?”

“Yes, sir. I’m afraid so, sir.”

A most satisfying laughter was rippling through the audience. Barnes started to warm up to his subject. “Oh, my. You do, eh? Mr. Vice, remind this ill-advised person of his manners.”

The ensign faltered and seemed to make a wild guess. “Lieutenant, you’re presuming by indicating you know what your sentence is before the President has verbalized it.”

“That’s right, Mister,” the commodore nodded solemnly. “A good officer never usurps a superior’s authority. You will now partake of the Grog Bowl. And you, Mr. Vice,” he added, and the relieved grin on the ensign’s face faded, “will accompany him to learn to keep your eyes open. Every good officer must know the meaning of vigilance. What will this proceeding come to if its guardians are not on their toes?”

The laughter became uproarious as the two officers marched to the Grog Bowl and were given endless hell for failing to follow procedures in perfect orchestration, and had to dip into the bowl twice before they got it right.

“Hey, this isn’t as straight-laced as I thought,” Ruth said to Kirk. “I think I’m going to enjoy myself.”

“Yeah. As long as I’m not the one downing that disgusting stuff, it’s all right.”

Soon more hapless souls trudged to the Bowl for a multitude of sins. One was caught yawning and Barnes made much of the implied insult to the dignitaries, the gathering, all the way to the honor of the Fleet. Someone dropped a knife, committing the unthinkable crime of implying that Starfleet officers were not perfectly coordinated. Another hadn’t aligned his medals just right. It went on and on. Kirk, safe himself so far, was enjoying the spectacle thoroughly. It seemed the commodore had made his way up the ranks and was now intent on bedeviling the high command officers over whom his title of President of the Mess gave him authority for the night.

Ruth looked surprised that admirals with enough brass to be considered overweight cargo on spaceships would allow themselves to be so abused until Kirk explained it was accepted as good PR. Grace and humor were a must.

They were in the middle of the main course, hilarity at its highest, when a Command College graduate marched to a microphone. “Mr. Vice, Ensign Wallace. A point of order, please?” The Vice asked the President if he would care to recognize Ensign Wallace, which the commodore graciously did.

“Sir, isn’t the ability to follow orders to the letter the mark of a good officer?”

“It certainly is, Ensign.”

The man held up an invitation card to the banquet. “Mr. President, these invitations carry the official Starfleet seal and are signed by the Commanding Admiral. As far as I can determine, that makes them orders. Would the President agree?”

“The President never agrees until he knows exactly what he’s agreeing to, Ensign. I’ll hold judgment while you make your point.”

“Sir, these invitations are for two people. The officer it is addressed to and ‘party.’ Seems to me the officer in question is under orders to be accompanied.”

 “Hmmm. Let’s say he is. Go on.”

“There is an officer of the Fleet here tonight who has blatantly disregarded a direct order from the Admiralty and is attending this dine-out alone. He is being insubordinate to the concept of a dine-out.”

All eyes were on the Vulcan who was so obviously the point of contention; the empty chair at one of the main tables made an obvious gap.

“I see what you mean, Ensign. Point well taken, I’d say. The accused will rise and identify himself.”

The Vulcan had been staring straight ahead. Now he rose, went to the microphone and complied the way Vulcans did everything—calmly and with precision. “Ensign Spock, Command Staff College graduate, as yet to be assigned to a functional unit.”

“Are you alone at this dine-out, Ensign?” Barnes asked.

“No, sir.”

That brought the President up short. “Oh? Is she invisible then? Explain yourself, Ensign.”

“There are twenty-eight people, minus myself, at my table and we have been informed that 327 in total are attending the banquet without counting the honor guards, the musicians and the waiters. I am certainly not alone at this dine-out.”

More laughter followed, but this time the commodore knew it was at his own expense. “Are you dithering with me, Ensign?”

“You have asked an imprecise question that I have answered as accurately as possible within its context. I fail to see why I should be asked if I am dithering.”

Kirk leaned back to get a good look at the Vulcan, the first of Barnes’ victims who seemed able to give as good as he got.

Barnes was not amused; control was no longer firmly in his hands. ‘Very well, Ensign. Are you personally accompanying a spouse, a date, or a colleague—who is here under your escort and not out of duty—of female persuasion?”

“No, sir, I am not.”

“And why is that, Ensign?”

“In order, sir; I do not have a spouse, much less one who is presently on Terra. I do not personally know a female on Earth well enough to ask for a date even if it were established practice in my culture. My colleagues at the Academy have been assigned elsewhere while I have been at the Command Staff College. The only female graduate of that school present at the moment is accompanied by her own fiancé.”

The commodore foundered; the tone was turning serious and that wasn’t acceptable, especially when he was at the losing end of the exchange. “Oh, that won’t do. It won’t do at all. Tell the ensign why it won’t do, Mr. Vice.”

The Vice flushed at finding himself in the limelight again. “Well, Mr. President, Ensign Spock’s arguments sound plausible, but we can’t discount the precedent set by two of his colleagues. Representatives of two other races are honoring us at the Command College graduates’ table tonight. Their situation is similar to the ensign’s, yet both of them seem to have found charming companions on our planet to accompany them.”

“Very true, Mr. Vice.” Barnes quickly appropriated control again now that he had been given an idea. “Sometimes our perseverance and ingenuity are called for to follow orders, Ensign. You have failed to display the necessary determination to live up to the letter of your invitation. You will now follow the Grog Bowl procedure.”

Kirk thought he saw a minute hesitation in the Vulcan, but he marched to the table without further ado; once the president passed sentence, there was no way to appeal. He went through the steps with precision and laughter ran unchecked. Kirk laughed along with the rest; it had been a valiant fight but doomed to failure, and the picture of a Vulcan with a cup upside down on his head was too hilarious a sight to resist.

The Vulcan was halfway back to his table when Barnes’ voice interrupted. “Ensign, that cup didn’t look quite full to me. Come back and do it right this time.”

Kirk saw the Vulcan tense for a brief instant before he turned to comply once again. When the commodore interfered yet another time to ask the ritual be repeated because the ensign had paused halfway through drinking and had to drain the cup in two swallows, Kirk lost all desire to laugh. The rest of the guests were rolling with mirth. He felt better when the Vulcan was allowed to return to his table unmolested after the third time. After a while, he leaned forward to look at the alien ensign. The Vulcan was pushing at his food, eyes fixed somewhere on the table over his plate. Vulcans weren’t drinkers —if that vile concoction could be called a drink. He was probably feeling queasy.

Ruth touched his arm and Kirk gave his attention to her. She wanted to discuss the week-long trip they would be taking before Kirk had to leave Earth.

After the main course, a speech was given by the Commandant of the Academy and each Command College-bound graduate was recognized and commended. Dessert was passed around.

“Mr. Vice?” Somebody was at the microphone again. “Ensign Carducci, Headquarters Finance and Accounting Division. May I be recognized by the Chair?” After the commodore saw fit to give him the go-ahead, the ensign continued, “Mr. President, may I be excused?”

“Excused? What infraction of what regulation have you committed for which you wish to be excused?” The speech had put a damper on the mood and Barnes had apparently decided it was time to liven thing up a bit.

“None that I’m aware of, sir. I wish to be excused from the banquet hall for a short while, with the President’s permission, in accordance to the governing of this gathering.”

“Why didn’t you say so in the first place, Ensign? There are those of us who are enamored of accuracy in this hall. What is the reason for asking my permission?”

“Sir... It’s personal, sir.”

“Insufficient answer, Ensign,” Barnes pushed, knowing full well why the man wanted to be excused. So did everyone else; amusement seemed to be on the rise. “You know you need a good justification to leave the hall while the head table is still being served.”

“Sir, the food was good, the drinks plentiful. Surely the President recognizes the... uh...natural order of things.”

“I see, input and output. Tell me, Ensign, has the ‘natural order of things’ taken a turn for emergency?”

By this time laughter was running rampant and the ensign seemed to decide he might as well contribute to it. “It is fast getting there, Sir.”

“Well, we certainly have to do something about that. But we can’t arbitrarily give our permission on the say-so of one individual. The accuracy of data has to be confirmed. Let’s see, who’s the best person...? Oh, yes. Ensign Spock, present yourself.”

Here goes, Kirk thought. Commodore Barnes was known for not letting go once he got his teeth into someone. The Vulcan obeyed.

“What is your field, Ensign?” Barnes questioned, knowing the answer; Vulcans were predictable.

“Science and technology.”

“Good. Then you can appreciate the need for accurate data. Provide escort service to Ensign Carducci and confirm the emergency aspects of the situation. We’ll wait for your report, after the fact though it will necessarily have to be.”

The Vulcan froze. The rest of the guests also seemed to be holding their breath, waiting for his reaction.

“Sir, I refuse.”

Kirk wanted to cheer. Of course the Vulcan was going to get stomped on but, by the galaxy, he was going to go down fighting.

“You’re refusing a direct order from the President of this Mess?”

“Affirmative.”

“I see. Ensign Carducci, you’re excused. Mr. Spock, what am I going to do with you? A good officer has to learn to obey commands. Do you know the penalty for not having learned your lesson?”

“You will no doubt inform me momentarily, Sir.”

“To the Grog Bowl, Mister, and get it right this time.”

Kirk busied himself with his food, not wanting to watch.

Ruth noticed his withdrawal. "Jim?"

“It isn’t funny, Ruth.”

“I thought you said this was all accepted in good humor?”

“Yes, but not him. He’s Vulcan. And not like this. It’s turning into a vendetta and he has so few choices.”

“Do you know him?”

“No. He must have graduated before I entered the Academy. He’s probably served a few years before he made it to Command College.” Apprehensively, Kirk waited for Barnes to pounce on the Vulcan to keep him at the bowl, but someone had claimed the microphone and the commodore’s attention. The Vulcan escaped further torture for the moment.

“Lieutenant Commander Thackeray, Foreign Affairs Liaison,” the man said in a smooth British accent; Kirk recognized the suave protocol officer. “Sir, I would like to beg the chair’s indulgence and request the President to issue a blanket permission for the ladies who are guests to leave the room at their own discretion, should they so desire.”

“Bless him!” Ruth whispered fervently, making Kirk smile.

“Why didn’t you tell me you were uncomfortable?”

“If I don’t want to ask permission for myself, I certainly don’t want you asking permission for me.”

Commodore Barnes saw another opportunity to milk for all its worth. “Lieutenant Commander, are you a self-proclaimed advocate of women’s rights, or are you a throwback to the days of inequality?”

“Neither, Mr. President. I am an officer and a gentleman.”

“Touché, Mr. Thackeray,” Barnes laughed. “That is a time-honored response I respect. By all means, all civilian ladies are free to leave without asking permission.

Kirk made a bet with himself and started counting. Sure enough, a female voice issued from the speakers before he reached ten.

“Doctor McConnell, Surgeon General’s staff. On a point of order. Will the President define for us the difference of civilian versus military bladders?”

The commodore was stumped. “Mr. Vice. Is there such a difference?”

This time the beleaguered Vice couldn’t come through either. “Uh... not that I know of, Sir.”

“I see. Your point noted, Doctor. Permission is now issued for all ladies in the hall.”

The doctor wasn’t through. “Sir, a correlation, if I may? Will the President now be good enough to define the difference between male and female bladders? Or are we expected to assume the President is implying women have less control over their bodily functions?”

Kirk felt his second urge to cheer. He didn’t care if male and female bladders were as different as a red giant and a blue dwarf; if Barnes touched that one, he was a fool.

The commodore frowned, clearly aware that his popularity was plunging. The crowd was roaring with laughter and the major contributors were the women. He'd probably do what bullies always did, shift attention and make someone else the butt of the joke. And there was always a patsy, someone different and not very endearing by virtue of that difference.

“Doctor, I’m no physician. I don’t know if there are in fact any differences.”

“I am, Sir, and I can tell you–”

“Now, now. As a doctor you must appreciate the necessity of a second opinion. This is a biological issue as well as a procedural one. Let’s have the opinion of an impartial observer. Ensign Spock, where are you?”

Kirk cursed silently as the Vulcan once again became the center of attention. There was an unhealthy color to his skin and Kirk wondered if he was sick, then remembered a tinge of green meant a Vulcan was flushed. It was probably the continual humiliation as well as the effects of the unaccustomed alcohol.

“Son-of-a-bitch,” Kirk mumbled. Ruth, realizing his outrage, gave his hand a supportive squeeze.

“Aha, Mr. Scientist. Give us your opinion on the subject in question.”

The Vulcan squared his shoulders. “Sir, I am neither a physician nor biologically Human. I do not know the answer to the question. But I do sympathize with the doctor’s sentiments and find her point a relevant one under the circumstances.”

“Anything for equality, then, with or without accurate data?”

“I would not presume to make such a generalized statement. But the concept of equality certainly deserves all the consideration we can give it. Without, if possible, making a joke of it.”

Kirk realized the hilarity level was dropping like a meteoroid caught in a gravity well. Not surprising, considering half the room’s population was female. Some men were glancing at their partners, suddenly finding it inadvisable to laugh.

Barnes noticed it, too. From the shuttered expression of his wife, he must also be feeling a decided chill emanating from his right side, but he was too stubborn to give up without trying for the last word. “I agree, Ensign. If you’ll prove your willingness to support equality to the best of your ability by making another trip to the Grog Bowl, I will declare all the bladders in this room equal and ready to be indulged at the owner’s discretion.”

“The reasoning behind your imposed condition escapes me, sir, and I do believe my abilities could be better utilized. However, as long as there is a cause acceptable to me, I will, for a change, willingly conform to your requirement.”

Kirk was on his feet and at the microphone before he was aware of having moved. His abrupt approach startled the Vulcan who took a step back.

“Cadet Kirk, Academy graduate. Mr. President,” he said, ignoring the procedures and bypassing the Vice. “As I am in total agreement with Mr. Spock’s views on equality, and partaking of the Grog Bowl seems to be the proof of support, I’d like to ask permission to accompany him.”

Commodore Barnes realized he had totally lost control. All he could do was to wave his permission toward the middle of the hall, which was now totally silent.

As soon as they had passed out of microphone range, Kirk whispered, “Skim the top of the liquid; the vile stuff tends to settle to the bottom. Taking quick breaths through your mouth afterwards helps a bit, too.”

They followed the steps carefully, and Kirk sensed that his advice made it slightly more bearable for Spock. After they replaced their cups and as the Vulcan waited for him to march back in step, Kirk proceeded to fill two more cups, plunging the ladle deeply into the concoction this time. Spock looked apprehensive; it probably wouldn't be a novel experience for him to have someone demonstrate good will only to turn around and practice some more so-called humor at his expense. Kirk picked up both cups and faced the head table, seeing out of the corner of his eye Spock turning with him. Not that he could've done anything else.

“Mr. President, much has been said tonight about what constitutes a good officer,” Kirk said, raising his voice since he didn’t have the benefit of a microphone. If he was going to make an enemy, he was going to make it as publicly as possible. “Some had to learn their lessons at this Grog Bowl. Those of us who are going to Command College also wonder what ultimately constitutes a good commander. Among many other things, we have repeatedly been told that the mark of a good commander is his willingness to go where he sends his men.”

He raised one of the cups. “Mr. President, I’m drinking to the health of a good commander.” He drained his cup, marched to the head table, placed the second cup in front of the commodore, came to attention and waited.

Barnes couldn't even indulge himself by eyeing the disgusting liquid and other things swirling in the cup. He had no choice but to ingest the repulsive thing. He stood up to lift the cup.“Mr. Kirk, to the success of all future commanders in this hall.” While the dangerously sparkling eyes promised: In your case, not if I can help it.

Try it, bastard, Kirk replied in kind, just try it and show everyone you can dish it out but can’t take it.

Barnes successfully drained the fiery liquid, managed not to grimace, and saluted the cadets in front of him. Applause broke out in the hall. Kirk returned the salute and marched back, Spock falling in step with him, then each separating to go to their respective tables.

“Oh, Jim, was it bad?” Ruth questioned with concern.

“It was horrible. And it was worth every goddamned, stinking, nauseating drop!”

An admiral from the Judge Advocate’s office requested the President of the Mess to kindly order the Grog Bowl to be taken away. It had been fun for a while, but everything had a limit, and the limits of humor and good taste had been reached and breached. The President, looking rather eager to be rid of the thing himself by then, so ordered.

Coffee and after dinner drinks were served. There was another speech by the Deputy Commandant of the Command College. A few more toasts were proposed. Accompanied by music, the honor guards retired the colors, the head table filed out and everyone could relax, mingle, or dance to the band that immediately began setting up. The lights were dimmed and the glass partitions separating the room from the patio were thrown open.

Peering around various friends who approached to talk to him, Kirk tried to get a glimpse of the Vulcan. His own stomach was protesting and he had drunk only two cups of the stuff. The Vulcan had persevered so far, but Kirk had looked over at him a few times and had seen he could no longer touch or even look at a morsel of food or drop of liquid. The ensign seemed to be holding himself together by sheer will power. When he tried to get up after his body had time to brew that stuff awhile, he might find it out of the question. Kirk finally caught a glimpse of him going toward a hallway where the restrooms were located, and decided he was steady enough.

Some of Kirk’s friends came over to pat him on the back and congratulate him for various things, not the least of which was victory over Commodore Barnes. Some solemnly told him that while it had been fun, he had been ill advised to make a powerful man his enemy. Some just slobbered over Ruth.

Kirk decided to dance while nausea could still be held at bay and pulled Ruth to the dance floor. His once proudly worn uniform was feeling too tight and too hot; he’d be glad to divest himself of it at first opportunity. Anticipating that occasion, he pulled Ruth closer, maneuvering her to the dark edges of the dance floor.

He was about to lead her out to a deserted portion of the patio when he spied a now-familiar figure leaning against the railing, the tall, thin form outlined by the diffused moonlight. “Ruth, do you mind going to the table for a while? I’ll be right back.” She followed his gaze and nodded. “Don’t let my so-called friends get too chummy,” he jokingly called after her.

The Vulcan, hearing someone approach, pulled himself straight, but seemed to feel easy enough to lean into the railing again upon recognizing him.

“Are you all right?” Kirk asked, feeling a little self-conscious. He knew enough about the culture to know one did not usually ask such things of a Vulcan, thereby implying he might not be all right. But the ensign was now definitely pale and the dark circles under the eyes had nothing to do with night shadow.

Spock started to nod and stopped as if moving his head was painful. “Yes,” he answered, sparing little breath. Kirk knew the rest of the air was being used to keep his stomach in place.

“I’m sorry,” Kirk said.

The Vulcan studied him briefly, taking a deep breath. “You have done nothing to apologize for. In fact, I would like to express my gratitude for your support and concern.”

Kirk blushed a little. “You’re welcome. And that was a general apology. Also an inadequate one. That,” he motioned in the direction of the banquet hall, “was inexcusable.” Spock was quiet. “It must be trying to be a Vulcan among Humans.”

“No worse than being a Human among Vulcans.”

“I suppose so.” Kirk detected a strange—almost pained—tone in the utterance, but he could only take the statement at face value. One did not pry with Vulcans.

“And there are,” Spock continued, his voice once again well modulated, “times when the compensations outweigh the adversities.”

Kirk wasn’t sure if he had been complimented. “I’m glad. Say, do you need a lift...” he couldn’t very well say ‘home;’ the alien was light years away from his real home, “...to your lodgings? I have an aircar.”

“Unnecessary. I’m staying at the Starfleet complex.”

“When you’re ready to leave...if you...” How did one ask a Vulcan whether or not he needed the steadying arm of an escort? “Uh...want company...?”

“Do not be concerned.” Kirk wondered if that was actually the ghost of a smile on his lips or a trick of the dim lighting. “The air has helped. I feel much better now.”

The conversation seemed to be at an end but something kept Kirk in place. “The assignment lists will be up tomorrow. I hope you get what you want.”

“I will not be assigned for another month. I’m entering the starship qualification tests next week.”

Kirk’s eyes lightened at the mention of a starship. The eliminations were rumored to be the equivalent of a meat grinder but that’s where his hopes and dreams rested as well. “Really? What class are you aiming for?”

“One of the heavy cruisers, if possible.”

“You must have finished your deep space training.” Kirk felt a surge of jealousy that this man had already spent considerable time in space, and not trapped in a solar system, either.

“I had a two-year tour of scout ship duty after the Academy before I was offered command training.”

“That must have been a tough choice.” It had been for him, too; he was itching to get into space, and it had been awfully hard to delay yet another two years for Command College. Leaving space must have been doubly hard.

“It is illogical to turn down further training in one’s chosen field.”

“I heard the College was a challenge, to put it mildly.”

“It did require much work, concentration, and perseverance. But overall, I would say that it was... a learning experience.”

Was that a joke? Nah, Kirk decided. It couldn’t be. Vulcan’s weren’t supposed to have a sense of humor. “Rumor has it that Cygni 2 is totally dull for, er, recreational purposes.” He cursed himself; what meant recreation to him would not be what the Vulcan would call it. “I suppose there wouldn’t be time anyway.”

“Very little. I did find some opportunities to rest or play chess,” he seemed unsure how those would be classified by a human, and added, “recreational, for me.”

“Oh, you play chess. Now I wish I weren't leaving so soon. I’ve never played with a–” He cut off abruptly, suddenly uncomfortable with generalizations which had come so easily before while referring to aliens. “I’d have liked to play you,” he finished.

“It would have been a welcome change from the computer.”

The computer? Didn’t anybody even bother to play a game of chess with him? “You must be one hell of a player. Well, the offer still stands next time we meet. I can’t resist a challenge.”

“Yes,” Spock said, his direct gaze on Kirk's face. “This is becoming obvious.” He leaned a little more heavily into the support of hands on the railing and Kirk guiltily remembered he was detaining a pretty sick man with his chatter.

“I’d better get back to my date. Good luck, Mr. Spock, and... give ‘em hell.”

“I don’t particularly know what you mean by that, but I...wish you... good luck, too. And I’m sure you’ll manage to, as you say, ‘give ‘em hell’ yourself.”

Kirk laughed. “Who knows? Maybe one day we’ll have an assignment where we can give ‘em hell together.”

“That... might be something to look forward to.”

Kirk went back to the banquet hall, thinking that it would indeed be nice to run into Spock again someday. He wasn’t what friends were made of, of course, but there was something... interesting... about him.

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