At Starfleet Academy there were many brilliant young chemists, biologists and all manner of budding scientists, happily immersed in their preparations for life aboard space-faring vessels. Their world was a delightful one, full of the joy of discovery and invention. In the chemistry lab, diverse substances reacted together and brought forth heat or scent or brightly hued bubbles, or were held over flames and burned in every color of the rainbow. In the biology lab, fascinating creatures from all over the quadrant were carefully studied and observed, to learn all the myriad variations of the great circle of life. And in every class, the students formed a deep connection with their professors, born of the joyful experience of gaining new and exciting knowledge from a truly brilliant person-- for only brilliant people could teach at Starfleet Academy.
One of the cleverest young scientists was Spock, the son of the Vulcan ambassador. He had the highest computer rating in his class, he had already devised several very insightful biological and chemical theories of his own, he could do complicated math problems in his head in instants, and he never forgot a word he read or heard.
To top it off, he was very attractive in his own unusual way... shining dark hair, delicately pointed ears, angular features, and a remarkable deep voice that seemed somehow both rough and smooth at the same time. The other scientists admired his voice most of all, because it had given them so many fascinating presentations in class, and participated with them in so many lively discussions about the brilliant ideas that churned within that sleek dark head.
Scientists like Spock, however, were not the only students at Starfleet Academy. There were others in different areas of study, and they, somewhat more than the scientists, tended to go to football games and parties, and dance and drink and spend the nights with people they hardly knew. Mostly they were polite to the scientists, but they socialized more with each other, and every once in a long while, one of them would make a rude comment. Someone on command track had once called Spock a "little nerd."
Yet Spock was fascinated by this campus subculture as he was fascinated by all unfamiliar things, and finally, overcome by curiosity, he set out to study it.
There were many places on the Academy campus where students could rest or talk or study, but the Robert April Lounge was the most frequented by the people Spock was interested in observing. It had a pool table and several other games, and groups of students could often be seen there discussing sports and social events. When Spock entered that afternoon, several groups had already formed. Spock found a comfortable chair and settled in to watch.
No sooner had he begun his observations than a great swarm of lively students burst in, talking all at once. "So what does it feel like to be twenty-one?" giggled one voice. "What time is the big party tonight?" queried another. It was soon quite clear that one of the group was having a birthday.
Before long, Spock ascertained which it was. At the center of the crowd was a human who looked as if he were made out of pure vitality. He was not particularly tall, nor especially slender-- but his smiles and laughs and gestures illuminated his pink-and-gold skin and blond hair and hazel eyes until he shone like a small sun.
And something happened that Spock had made no plans for whatsoever.
He fell in love.
Unable to move, the young scientist sat gazing at the object of his sudden desire. His mind, almost as a reflex, continued to collect bits of data from the other students' ongoing comments: The young man's name was Jim. He was taking command track courses and hoped to be captain of a starship. He lived in the John Glenn dormitory building. He did not appear to have a current love interest, but he had had several before and was expected to have many more.
"Who are you taking to that big dance at the end of the semester?" one of his companions asked.
"I don't know. It's kind of far off to predict something like that, isn't it?" Jim said with a charming smile, setting his backpack down on a low table near Spock's chair. "Anything could happen."
"With you, yeah, just about anything," laughed another friend.
"I'm bored. How about a game of pool?" said another, starting to slide her credit chip into the slot in the billiard table.
Jim grinned. "Great idea. Just what I'd been thinking. Wait, I'll pay for it." He reached into his pocket for his own credit chip, and then let out a forceful curse.
"It's not here. I must have lost it."
"Lost your credit chip?"
"Oh, that sucks."
"What a crappy thing to have happen on your birthday."
"Where did you have it last?"
"I don't know. I paid for lunch with it just a few hours ago."
"What did you do after lunch?"
"Watched the game, over there." said Jim, gesturing to the holovid in the corner of the lounge.
"Where were you sitting?"
Jim pointed at the empty armchair beside Spock's. "I suppose it could have fallen out of my pocket there... but no, it's not there now."
"Do you suppose someone might have stolen it?"
"I don't know. Darn it!" Jim began to pace back and forth.
As Jim's friends clustered around him, offering advice and speculations, Spock leaned over and examined the chair beside him. Indeed, the credit chip was not on the seat, or on the floor nearby, or...
A speck of color caught the Vulcan's eye in between the cushion and the arm of the chair. Reaching for it, his suspicion was confirmed: what he pulled out of that hidden space was definitely a credit chip, labeled with the name "James T. Kirk" and a picture of the same young man's face.
What to do? Spock had to give the chip to its rightful owner, and soon; he could not bear the thought of James Kirk continuing to be unhappy. But he was altogether too shy, especially amid his newfound emotions, to cry out "I found it!" and draw all these people's attention to himself.
And there was Jim's backpack, on the table in front of him. As quickly as possible, Spock leaned forward and shoved the chip into a small outer pocket of the canvas bag, and then hastily returned to his original position, glancing around furtively to ascertain whether anyone had seen him.
At first he was sure that no one had... but then, startled by a movement, he turned around to look out the window that gave the lounge a view of the hallway. And out there, for a second, he was sure he saw a girl's face watching him.
He was not mistaken. Moments later, a pretty blonde entered the lounge, and dexterously worked her way into the conversation about the missing credit chip.
"Are you sure you didn't misplace it?" she said, batting her eyes at James Kirk. "Maybe you put it in your backpack or someplace without thinking. I know that's happened to me a few times."
"I'm *sure* I didn't," murmured Jim, but it seemed he wasn't absolutely certain, because he picked up his backpack from the table and began going through its pockets. "Not here... not here... not... Wait, here it is!"
The credit chip in his hand, he broke into a grateful smile. "Thank you so much! You're a genius. What's your name?"
"Ruth. And you're Jim; I've heard all about you." The look they exchanged made a very dark expression creep across Spock's face.
"I haven't met you before. What building do you live in?"
"I live off campus; I just come here for a few hours each day for classes. I'm majoring in communications. In fact--" She looked at her watch. "Darn it, I have to go. Class starts in a few minutes. I'll see you later, though, okay?" Dashing out the door, she smiled at Kirk again, and he watched her out of sight with an answering smile that made Spock turn his eyes away in jealousy.
Spock observed James T. Kirk as much as he could for the next few weeks, and he was reasonably sure that Jim and Ruth had not found another opportunity to meet yet. The girl seemed to be as busy as she claimed; days went by without Spock catching so much as a glimpse of her. But Jim often mentioned her wistfully to his friends, expressing admiration for her beauty and kindness, and wondering aloud when he would see her again. The big dance got closer and closer, and Jim was often heard to say that he wished he could take Ruth to it. The words made Spock's heart ache, and whenever he heard them, his hands clenched and his lips pressed tight until he could force himself to relax.
One day, as he sat in his usual armchair watching Jim leave the lounge, a dark-eyed girl with long earrings and heavy lipstick sidled up to him and sat down in the next chair. "Why don't you just ask him out?" she sneered.
"To whom are you referring?" said Spock icily, trying not to meet her eyes.
"You know dang well. Why don't you? It's not like he'd beat you up for asking. Everyone knows he's dated as many guys as girls. Quit being a chicken."
"I am not a 'chicken,'" Spock protested. "But I am both a Vulcan and a... a nerd. I have no experience interacting socially with people like him. He would find me, at best, laughable."
"Well, if you don't start somewhere, you'll never *learn,*" the girl said impatiently. "Tell you what. I've got a friend who can teach you everything. He can be really mean when he feels like it-- heck, he's a real witch sometimes-- but he knows *all* about social stuff. When you've had a few lessons from him, you'll know just how to dress, how to talk-- and how to pick up guys." The young woman gave him a crude grin. "His name's Mac. I'll introduce you to him if you like."
In a small downtown cafe, sitting across the table from an utterly disagreeable young man and barely hearing either of their voices over the pounding of the music, Spock wondered how he had gotten into this situation. An hour earlier, Mac had instructed him to put on jeans and a t-shirt so tight that he felt naked, and then had practically drowned him in hairspray and cologne. Even the shoes Mac had made him wear were uncomfortable, and he already had blisters from walking in them. Now he was receiving a lesson in social interaction, and that, in its own way, was even worse.
"And most of all, *quit talking.* Hot guys like Jim don't want to hear you go on for-freaking-ever about your new theory of parallel evolution on the planet Zorb, or whatever. If you want him to like you, what you have to do is listen to *him.* You only open your mouth to ask him little questions to look interested in what he says, or maybe give him a compliment once in a while."
At Spock's stunned look, Mac patted him on the shoulder and laughed condescendingly. "I mean it. Because as soon as he hears something nerdy out of you, he's gonna wonder why he started talking to you in the first place, and once you get started on one of your long science lectures, it's *over.* If he wanted to hear about the heat death of the universe for two hours, he'd enroll in Quantum Physics 399. You know what they say, it's better to keep your mouth shut and look stupid than to open it and remove all doubt."
Spock narrowed his eyes. He had already given up his comfortable clothes and shoes; assaulted his senses with offensive-smelling cosmetic chemicals... and now his voice was to be taken from him as well?
Then he gave a sigh of resignation. If what it brought him was Jim, any price was worth paying.
"Go on," said Mac, pushing Spock toward the door of Jim's room, behind which the sounds of a party could be distinctly heard. "Just knock on the door. He won't kick you out; it's not like you have to have a printed invitation for a thing like this. Just remember everything I told you. Listen to him. Ask him questions. Give him compliments. And if he really likes you, he'll ask you to the dance next week. If he goes with someone else, it means you're not his type, and you might as well go back to being a nerd. But believe me, it's worth a try."
Spock stepped forward, his lungs fighting to breathe amid the stench of his cologne and hair spray, blisters sending shooting pain through his feet inside the uncomfortable shoes. He gathered all his courage together, and knocked.
A moment passed, and then another. Then, finally, the door opened, and the young scientist was looking into the face of the man he loved.
There was a heartbeat of tense silence, and then Jim's face broke into a glowing smile. "Hi! Wow, you look nice. Do I know you? Never mind, come on in. Everyone's welcome. What's your name?"
Entering the room, Spock introduced himself in as few words as possible, as he had been taught, and quickly turned the conversation to Jim. The young command track student talked happily about his memories of the past, his plans for the future, and the current events of his life at Starfleet Academy. Spock's small questions encouraged his engaging monologue, and the Vulcan found he was enjoying listening to Jim in spite of himself.
"But I've been talking too much," the human finally said with a laugh. "Tell me about you."
"There is not much to tell," Spock said, quietly controlling the urge to bring up any of the subjects he enjoyed discussing. "You are a far more interesting conversationalist than I am."
"Oh, come on. You must have lots of great things to talk about."
"Nothing that would interest you," Spock murmured, and Jim could not make him say any more.
The party went well-- at least, Spock did not think he made any social mistakes that would completely alienate Jim Kirk, and when he finally became tired and went back to his dorm, Jim bade him goodbye with a friendly handshake and an invitation to go out for dinner the next night with a group of his friends.
For the next several days, Jim and Spock got together frequently. They went out to dinner; went out dancing at nightclubs; went to movies. Jim taught Spock to play pool and various card games. Spock taught Jim some of the Vulcan language, and volunteered an occasional bit of information about his homeworld, but whenever he was pressed to say more about himself, he changed the subject.
He was sure that the only thing that made him attractive to Kirk was the fashionable appearance Mac had given him, so whenever he went to meet his new friend, he was sure to cover himself in cologne, slick his hair back and spray it, and wear the tight clothes and the horrible shoes Mac had made him buy.
When he walked beside Jim on the way to a restaurant, or danced beside him in a discotheque, sharp arrows of pain shot through his feet constantly, as if he were walking on knife-blades. But he endured it, using every Vulcan pain control method he knew, and forcing his face not to betray his discomfort.
Nevertheless, just being with Jim was enough to keep him happy. When he felt overcome by the wish to discuss a new scientific discovery he had made, he reminded himself that it would make Jim reject him, and remaining silent suddenly seemed like heaven. When he felt tempted to curse the uncomfortable things he was wearing, he told himself that they were keeping Jim by his side, and the thought filled him with gratitude. His greatest wish now was for Jim to ask him to the dance, which was now within a few days.
But one cloudy afternoon, his worst fear came to pass.
He and Jim had met in a cafe for lunch, and the human was sunnier and more golden than ever, laughing and grinning at every opportunity. At first, Spock was simply content to bask in that radiance, but soon curiosity overcame his happiness.
"Jim," he commented, "you seem unusually cheerful today."
"I am," laughed Jim. "My dream's come true, Spock. Ruth said she'd go to the dance with me!"
Heat and cold lanced through the scientist's body, and he bowed his head and forced all his control techniques upon himself. "Congratulations," he finally managed to say.
"She'd been really busy for a few weeks, but now she's finally gotten her big project done for Communications 202, and she showed up at the party in Armstrong Hall last night. We talked for hours, Spock. We found so many things to say. She told me all about the trip she took to Risa last year, and the interplanetary exchange students who stayed with her family when she was a freshman, and... oh, she's such a great conversationalist. You'll love her, Spock. I'll have to introduce you to her."
"I am happy for you," Spock mumbled, still looking down at the table, realizing that Jim was too excited about his new love interest to notice that Spock was not at all happy.
"Thank you, Spock. You're a great friend, you know that? You're always there to listen to me." He paused suddenly, as if remembering something. "Listen, I have to go. I've got a study date with Ruth in an hour. See you later, okay?"
"What's wrong, Spock?"
The young Vulcan looked up from the chemistry book he'd been sightlessly staring at. The lounge of the science building was almost empty at this time of night, but apparently his old friend Monty had decided to "pull an all-nighter" with his technical journals.
"Come on, lad, what is it? You look miserable," Monty pressed. "What's happened? Did something go wrong with that Jim of yours?"
Spock tossed the book onto a coffee table. "He is going to the dance with someone named Ruth. He first became interested in her because she helped him find something. Even that interest was misplaced. He does not know that I was more responsible for it than she."
A concerned but confused expression crossed Monty's face. "Say again?"
And Spock told him all about the day when he had found Jim's credit chip. When he finished, his friend gave him a thoughtful look.
"Seems to me," he said, "that you have something you can use against her. By all appearances, she was quite aware that you were the one Jim should've been thanking-- she saw you put the thing in his knapsack, and she used that to make him like her instead of you. She played a dirty trick on the both of you. Seems to me that if you told Jim she did that, he'd not like her any more."
Spock pondered for a moment, wide-eyed. Was it possible? Could he go and tell Jim everything that had happened that first day... would his friend then leave Ruth, and finally make his connection with Spock into something more than friendship?
Hope rose up for a moment within him, and then sank. No, it would not work. Jim would probably not believe him. If he did, it would only make him angry-- angry at Ruth and angry at Spock for spoiling his new love.
And even if it made him leave Ruth for Spock... would that truly be better for Jim, or worse? After all, Jim had said he loved to listen to Ruth talk about her life... that it was her skill in conversation that truly attracted him.
Suddenly, it was clear to Spock that he was no mate for Jim. Jim not only loved to talk, he loved to listen. He could not be happy with someone who did not make his own fair share of the conversation. And if Spock were to talk about his life and the things that interested him, Jim would realize that Spock was a hopeless nerd, and simply laugh at him. It must be true; Mac had said so, and Mac knew all about social life.
Spock looked at Monty, and slowly shook his head.
And when Jim went with Ruth to the dance that weekend, Spock was there with his most sincere-sounding congratulations.
"But the story had a happy ending, after all," said Jim, smiling across the chessboard at the man who was now his first officer and bondmate. "We were both such little idiots. All I ever had to do was notice that you were in love with me, and all you ever had to do was be yourself... but it never occurred to us, did it? Thank goodness we wound up on the same starship."
"Indeed." Spock's eyes sparkled with controlled laughter. "The position of science officer has been most conducive to 'being myself.' I could not very well be expected to show up at the science station dressed in that excruciating outfit."
Jim burst out laughing. "I can just imagine you... no, I'd rather not. But I was such an imbecile to fall for Ruth. You know, I had only known her a couple months before I realized she'd never make a decent communications officer. Great at making conversation, but not a bit of sense in her head. I wonder what became of her."
Spock raised an eyebrow.
Kirk responded with his brightest smile. "But I've been talking too much. Tell me about yourself."
And as Spock's fingers settled onto Jim's face in the intimacy of bonded melding, no words were needed.
In Hans Christian Andersen's story "The Little Mermaid," the title character fell in love with a human prince when she went for the first time to see the world above the surface of the ocean. When the prince's ship sank, she rescued him and brought him to shore, where he was found later by another woman whom he saw only briefly before she left for parts unknown. Thinking that woman had saved him, he devoted his life to trying to find her so that he could marry her.
Meanwhile, under the ocean, the mermaid was so desperate with love for the prince that she went to a sea witch for help. The witch cast a spell that allowed the mermaid to have a human body, although her feet would hurt almost unbearably whenever she walked on land. In exchange for this, she had to give up her voice. And if the prince married someone else instead of her, the spell would break and the mermaid would turn into sea foam.
She agreed to all this and went to live on land, where the prince found her and took her in. She lived with the prince for a long time, and won his friendship, but not his love. Eventually he found the woman he thought had rescued him, and they were married.
The mermaid's sisters came to shore and called to her, saying that they had made a bargain with the sea witch: if the little mermaid would kill the prince and his new wife, she could become a mermaid again instead of turning into sea foam. But she loved the prince too much to do that, so she turned into sea foam anyway. As a reward for this, her soul was given the chance to go to heaven.
I think heaven, for Spock, is being on the Enterprise with Jim.