In the early afternoon of a bright chilly day in late October, a young boy trudged with determination down the worn sidewalk of a small town in Middle America, his school backpack heavy on his shoulders. The pale sun's valiant attempt at warmth alternated with snatching flurries of a frigid wind.
The sidewalk was hard under his sneaker-clad feet and his jeans and sweatshirt did little to keep out the cold wind. His corn-colored hair, which would not have suffered from a visit to the barber, blew into eyes of a startling green-gold, eyes alert and bright, even brighter now with tears from the cold and wind and the golden strands. And possibly from something else, but he would never have admitted it.
Abruptly he dragged one arm across his eyes and sniffed loudly. The amazing eyes slitted and a frown marred the smooth forehead. The youngster began to mutter, low-voiced; from his actions and demeanor, it was obvious that something was disturbing him.
Perhaps it was his preoccupation, or the--windblown--tears, but he missed a step as the toe of his sneaker met the raised edge of a sidewalk slab, pushed up by the growth of a wayward tree trunk, and he tripped, falling heavily on his knees and hands on the rough concrete.
For a moment the breath was knocked out of him; he lay on his stomach and forearms, his shaggy blond head hanging. Then, more angry than shocked, he muttered "Darn!" and began to try to get up. This, however, was not an easy endeavour, as knees and hands were skinned and sore and he couldn't seem to turn enough to sit, blocked by the padd-filled schoolbag, which slipped across his back in just the perfect way to keep him from making the movements he needed to.
"Are you unharmed?" asked a small voice. The boy started violently; ha had had no idea that anyone was anywhere near. He tried to turn but found himself still impeded by the spiteful schoolbag.
He screwed up his face and said,"Darn!!" a shade louder. "Who's there? Where did you come from?"
A pair of small soft boots entered his visual field, then a pair of legs bent and he could see knees in a dark material and two hands, settle on the sidewalk; and, sideways, a small oval face with very dark eyes and hair.
"I can't get up," he said. "My hands are skinned and my knees hurt and my backpack keeps trying to slide off and if I crack one of the screens on my padds my stepdad will tan my hide."
The other boy blinked solemnly at him, once, but forebore to comment on the idiom. Then he pronounced, "I believe I can aid you in resolving your predicament."
"Huh?" But the face, hands, and knees had already disappeared; then the feet also, and a moment later the fallen child heard the "snick" and slide of release of the pack's straps and felt the weight of the schoolbag lift from his back. He took a deep breath of purely physical relief-the bag was overheavy even for his sturdy frame. Then he pushed up on his forearms and wrists and easily turned around to a sitting position.
Looking up at his rescuer, he noticed that the boy was indeed smaller than himself physically, but had lifted the heavy backpack with apparent ease, so he must be fairly strong. The dark hair had fallen back into a perfect cap with perfect bangs. But over the dark eyes...were upcurved brows; the kid's skin was pale and slightly...green. And his ears...were pointed.
"Hey! You're...a Vulcan!" was the delighted exclamation.
The pale boy knelt again and sat on his heels on the sidewalk in front of the blond kid.
"I am Spock."
"Is that your name?"
"Well...I'm Jim Kirk." He tried to absorb all this new input without seeming gauche. A Vulcan kid here, in Riverside, Iowa? Named-"Spock".
"I'd offer to shake your hand but mine are pretty banged up-and hey, yeah, I remember-Vulcans don't shake hands, do they?"
Spock inclined his head, a sort of slow-motion mono-nod, a tiny bit to the side. "Indeed. We prefer not to, in most cases."
Jim couldn't resist. "Indeed!" He grinned.
"Spock?" a light, musical voice called from the direction of a house nearby.
Spock rose and went to the gate of a white fence surrounding the house. "Mother, I am here."
A petite, pretty woman came through the gate, putting one hand on Spock's shoulder. "Who is your friend, Spock?"
"This is Jim Kirk, Mother. He tripped and fell 8.6 minutes ago."
"Well, Honey, what on earth are you too still doing out here?" the pretty lady laughed. "Jim, let's get you up and in out of this wind. I'm Amanda, by the way."
She avoided asking him why he was wearing only a sweatshirt against the cold, and went towards him pulling up her sleeves.
"Mother, allow me," Spock interjected, circling behind Jim and slipping his hands under Jim's arms, and with no evidence of effort, pulling him smoothly to his feet.
Jim was amazed. "How did you do that?"
Spock gazed at him, then raised one eyebrow. "To what are you referring, Jim?"
The expression was so comical that Jim had to fake a cough. "Ah-I just meant...you're strong for your size."
"Vulcans are approximately 33.3% stronger than humans; naturally, one must consider individually factors such as age, height, weight-"
"Spock, dear, it's getting pretty chilly out here," Amanda interrupted diplomatically. "Shall we go inside?" She put an arm around the shoulders of both boys and led the way into the house.
The house was small and cozy, of a style that had disappeared many years ago. The furniture was actually unpholstered and much of it seemed made of real wood. Jim knew this to be impossible, as wood had been a protected material since the end of the 21st century, along with most other "natural" materials.
"Sit down for a moment, boys. Jim, if you'll give me your parents' number, I'll call and tell them you're here." Amanda to a small, super-technological comm. unit.
Spock and Jim sat down side by side on the sofa. "Ah-Ma'am-"
"Please, Jim, call me Amanda. Is there a problem?" She smiled at Jim warmly, reassuringly.
"Okay-Amanda. My Mom is off-planet. She works for Starfleet. My stepdad is home but sometimes...he--he doesn't hear the comm. He might be...outside or something. We-ah-it's a farm."
"Well, let's try anyway, alright?"
"Yes, Ma-Amanda." Jim gave Amanda the code numbers for the farm, then sat back and bit at his lower lip, thinking of his stepfather and of the fact that he was probably flat-out drunk in his favourite armchair in front of the fire.
Surprisingly enough, he answered. All Jim could hear from their side was the blaring nasal tone of Frank's unpleasant voice, but he could follow the conversation listening to Amanda.
"Hello, is this the Kirk residence? Oh, good evening. Jim's stepfather? Excellent. My name is Amanda Grayson Shin T'Gai Sarek. Yes, it is a mouthful, I'm afraid. I'm the wife of the Vulcan Ambassador to Earth. We're in your lovely town for a few days as we are trying to show our son some of the beautiful countryside of Earth while we're on planet. My husband has a series of closed meetings this week and a colleague of his offered us his house in Riverside. Your son-yes, sorry, stepson, was passing in front of our house on his way home-in quite a hurry--and a huge overgrown tree trunk managed to trip him up. He's quite all right but it's such a coincidence, his passing by just at this time-would you mind if he stays to dinner? We'll bring him home at whatever time you say...oh, no, too kind of you-" she trilled a slightly artificial "social" laugh-"I do have one of my own, as I said! Well, thank you very much then. Good evening."
She cut the comm. with an odd expression.
"Sorry I took advantage, Jim. I should have asked you first if you'd like to stay for dinner-I just took a guess, and I'm sure Spock would enjoy it-and your stepfather seemed...in a bit of a hurry." She bent a still-quizzical glance on the comm..
"Amanda, I'd love to stay-thank you very much." Jim was moved that someone he had just met would do so much for him, and someone that, moreover, knew nothing about him. He observed her expression. "Is anything wrong?"
"No, dear, of course not," she replied, and seemed to gather her thoughts. "Let's take a look at your knees and hands."
She showed him into the bathroom, Spock following along silently. Jim wondered if he were shy; he sure didn't talk much. Jim held his hands over the washbasin as Amanda gently bathed the scratches and swabbed them lightly with a non-stinging antiseptic. Then she helped him to lower his jeans, in such a matter-of-fact, motherly manner that he felt absolutely no embarrassment; and as he sat on the antique toilet cover, she cleaned and medicated his knees, which had been skinned even through the material.
It was as she applied a second skin plaster (also quite high-tech, Jim noticed), that Jim said, "Did he tell you you could keep me?"
Amanda's jaw dropped and her eyes widened. "How did you-oh."
"Yes, he tells everybody that. I guess he hopes somebody'll take him up on it sooner or later."
"But that's-" Amanda was at a loss for something "diplomatic" to say. As an ambassador's wife, she had daily practice in navigating iffy conversational waters and diffusing potentially sticky verbal situations. But with adults.
"It's okay, I'm used to it." Jim said, wishing he could ease Amanda's embarrassment. Then he saw the tears in her eyes and realized that she felt real sadness for him. He was saved from revealing his own emotion by her enfolding him in a tight, warm hug.
"Well!" she exclaimed, getting to her feet. They both sniffed and pretended the other hadn't. "You two could go to Spock's room, if you like, and get more acquainted. Dinner will be ready in half an hour, if the I programmed the kitchenbot right."
Jim looked surprised. Amanda laughed. "This house is full of surprises, Jim. It looks quite old-well, it is, but well-built-but almost everything has been carefully replicated, using high-tech materials and with modern technology hidden just about everywhere."
Spock said, "This way, Jim," and led him to his room, where Jim soon discovered that Spock was hardly as shy as he had seemed before. It seemed Vulcan children were taught to be as silent as possible in the presence of adults. But once queried on school subjects, things scientific, or his native planet, Spock proved to be a mine of information-which he imparted in a manner so articulate as to be almost professorial. That also, like the raised eyebrow, was comical, in an oddly endearing way.
Actually, Jim had no problem with Spock's intellectuality, as, despite his colloquial speech and casual manner, he was gifted with a genius-level intelligence and an immense vocabulary-which he tried to keep hidden, having enough problems with a chronically absent mother and a drunken, abusive stepfather, without creating grief for himself at school.
Naturally, some hint of his lively brain showed through at times, but he was clever at confounding issues and pretending any brilliance was simply...a brilliant flash in the pan.
He never studied-he didn't need to-and gave just enough right answers to get by; whereas Spock studied for the pleasure of it, always hungrily searching out new knowledge with which to feed his mind, stores of information for his eidetic memory.
Spock woke up doing equations and went to sleep-when he did sleep-with calculus churning along his neurons.
Jim had no objection to math but greatly enjoyed literature as well, especially seafaring stories, better still if they had pirates in them.
Spock considered fiction illogical but was not averse to scientific experiments aimed at proving or disproving even the most outlandish of theories, such as those regarding superbeings, from "simple" spirits all the way to God.
So in truth, Jim and Spock got along famously, their very differences fueling their common interests, and were still animatedly discussing pirate ghost ships, the Flying Dutchman, meteorology, and the Antikythera meccanism, when Amanda called them to dinner.
It had been, in fact, more an hour than the postulated half hour, but the kitchenbot had performed admirably. The three sat down to pumpkin soup and plomeek soup, yellow squash and onions, a huge salad of Vulcan mixed greens, and an enormous platter of mixed Terran and Vulcan fruits. Jim tasted for the first time a sweet, blue-colored fruit called pla-savas.
All during dinner Amanda and Spock both told Jim about Vulcan food and eating
habits, and Jim described local crops and dishes.
"You certainly eat a lot of corn here," observed Amanda.
"Well, it grows well here," Jim replied, "and it's a good autumn food. Lots of ways to cook it, and it's filling. We eat a lot of it around Halloween and Thanksgiving."
"Oh, that's right!" exclaimed Amanda. "My husband's colleague mentioned Halloween-it's in these days, isn't it?"
"Actually," Jim grinned, "it's tonight."
"It's been so long since I've been on-planet for Halloween, I totally forgot the date. The thirty-first."
"Yes," put in Spock. "The ancient pagan feast of Samhain, during which the wood-creature, the Pooka, comes to dance around the bonefires with humans."
"I see you've researched it Spock," said his mother. "What a pity-I would have liked for you to have seen it!"
"Ma'am-Amanda," Jim began to have an idea, "There's no real ‘seeing' to it. No parade or anything, at least not here. You just dress up as something and go out-then everybody ‘sees' each other in their costumes. That's part of the fun-and, of course, going from house to house trick-or-treating-that's asking for candy and stuff, or else you play a trick on your neighbors," he explained to Spock.
"Vulcans do not eat sugar," Spock intoned solemnly, as if it were one of the tenets of the Vulcan Rules. "And we do not ‘play tricks'."
"I'll take any ‘sugar' off your hands if you like," laughed Jim. "And nobody here plays tricks, it's just an expression."
"I see. But why would I have sugar ‘on my hands'?"
"That's just an expression too, dear, I'll explain later. Do you still do that here, trick-or-treating?" Amanda enquired. "I seem to remember there being some troubles a long time ago, and people stopped doing the neighbourhood rounds."
"Yeah, right, nobody does it much anymore in bigger towns, not to mention cities. But here we all know each other," Jim assured her. "And usually a grownup goes with a group of kids."
"It sounds like fun-but neither of us has a costume." Amanda was dubious.
"You can invent one. That's part of the fun, too. A sheet to be a ghost. A long dress and a scarf to be a gypsy. A box for a robot. Spock could even be a Pooka-they have pointed ears."
"They also possess hooves," remarked Spock. "And fur."
"Well, yeah, that might take a little longer...."
"Jim, will you stepdad have a problem with your coming out with us for Halloween? Queried Amanda. He did say there was no specific time you had to be home."
Jim grinned impishly. "You mean he said he doesn't give a-doesn't care. And don't worry. He's probably...asleep already."
And so it was that Amanda went into her wardrobe and found a white shirt which she cut off, a short (long on Jim) fleece-lined black jacket with metal buttons, a striped headscarf, and a 3-cornered black hat (she stripped off the veiling), all of which made Jim into a most excellent pirate.
And Spock? He opted for the simplest costume of all-a replicated sheet with eye-holes cut out. He insisted that he preferred to observe, and that his particular costume would give him an inside look at a ghost's point of view, as he was still conducting theoretical experiments on corporeal magnetic fields and their duration post-mortem.
Amanda hoped he would stick with the theoretical.
She herself donned a long, elegant, light-blue dress and took a stylus from a padd, and said she was the Blue Fairy.
"So! There you are, a dashing pirate captain and a very scary ghost." She smiled fondly at the two boys. "Let's go, Captain Kirk, sir," she swept him a curtsy. "And-and-what's a good ghost name?"
"Oh, that's easy," said Captain Kirk. "Spook!"