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Author's Chapter Notes:

1. Warning: This story mentions a subject that could be distressing or triggering to certain vulnerable people. Revealing what that subject is, however, could spoil the story. A full warning is given in the end notes, where you can choose to read it before the story or not, at your own discretion. (The story does NOT contain character death, non-consensual sexual contact, or graphic depictions of violence.)

2. Thanks so much to my beta, OrmondSacker, who graciously commented on a rough draft of this story and gave me the benefit of her insight. Any remaining infelicities in the story are, of course, my fault.


Strength Training

by Weird Little Stories


Spock was rushed to sickbay partway through beta shift.

Kirk had heard a crashing sound coming from his first officer's quarters and upon investigating, found Spock lying unconscious on the floor, struck on the head by a large statue that had fallen after the ship gave an unexpected lurch.

In sickbay, Kirk stood watching as orderlies deposited Spock on a diagnostic bed, then studied the arrows on the indicators as they rose to reflect the Vulcan's vital signs. Most of the readings were in the red, but then they usually were when Spock was in the bed, since his temperature and blood pressure were lower than a human's and his brain function readings typically higher. But the second indicator looked strange, even for Spock; it was much higher than usual, nearly as high as it had been when Spock had been attacked by the parasite on Deneva.

McCoy was only partway through his examination when the first officer opened his eyes. Spock blinked at McCoy, then looked at Kirk, raising a brow as he saw his captain standing quietly by the bed. "The ship is not in danger, then," he said.

Kirk shook his head. "No. I called DeSalle on the bridge, and he said that lurch was just Lieutenant Leslie falling over his own feet and landing on the helm console."

Spock looked slightly amused. "Regrettable, but not cause for disciplinary action."

Kirk smiled. "I agree, much as I might like to shake him up a bit for having made my first officer get conked on the head."

McCoy said, "Oh, his head's fine. That Vulcan skull is so dense you could use his head for a soccer ball, and you'd barely shake him up; that statue didn't stand a chance." He dropped the jocular tone and looked searchingly at Spock. "What I don't understand is the K3 indicator. It looks like you're in serious pain, Spock, but your head injury isn't severe enough to produce that kind of pain, and I didn't find any other injuries."

Spock sat up, then nodded at McCoy. "Do not concern yourself with the K3 indicator, Doctor; its reading is not connected with my injury, which was — as you yourself said — quite minor." He got out of the diagnostic bed and stood beside it.

McCoy was not to be shaken off so easily. "Well, what IS it connected with? If you're in serious pain, don't you think your physician should know why? Is it something I can help with?"

Spock stiffened. "It is ... a Vulcan matter, Doctor, and it will impair neither my health nor my functioning."

McCoy glared at Spock. "You know, your record of talking about 'Vulcan matters' isn't exactly stellar, Spock. You tell me what this is about, or I'm taking you off duty and giving you a thorough examination."

Spock looked at Kirk in appeal, and the captain shook his head slightly in silent answer. Kirk said, "I'm afraid I have to agree with McCoy. The last time something Vulcan was going on, you were ready to die rather than talk about it. I trust you with my ship, I trust you with my life ... but you've shown me I can't trust you with yours."

Spock inclined his head. "I understand your misgivings, but I assure you they are unnecessary. If I have concealed this aspect of Vulcan life from you, it is merely because I thought you would misunderstand it and would be unnecessarily distressed." He looked at his friends, neither of whom had relaxed in the slightest, and continued. "But I see that your minds have conjured fancies more distressing than the facts would be, so I will share those facts with you. Would you both accompany me to my quarters?"

Kirk and McCoy exchanged a glance, then the captain nodded, and the three men walked quickly to Spock's quarters. As they entered the red-draped room, Spock said, "Gentlemen, please make yourselves comfortable."

Kirk and McCoy each dragged a chair to the visitor's side of Spock's desk, then sat down. Spock seated himself behind the desk and looked at his two friends for a moment, considering how to explain this to humans, then he turned to the captain. "Jim, how do you maintain your musculature?"

Kirk blinked. This wasn't the opening he'd expected. "I lift weights ... as you well know, since you've seen me in the gym several hundred times since the mission started."

Spock's eyes crinkled slightly in the Vulcan's near-smile. "Bear with me. How does lifting weights make you stronger?"

Kirk ran a hand through his hair. "I'm not sure I know what happens at the cellular and biochemical levels. If you want the simple explanation, lifting weights that are too heavy for me to lift more than a dozen times sends messages to my body that it needs to be stronger."

Spock nodded. "Precisely."

McCoy spoke up. "What does this have to do with your pain levels?"

Spock turned to the doctor. "How do Vulcans develop and maintain their emotional control? Haven't you ever wondered?

McCoy nodded. "Of course I have. I figured your father shamed you for expressing emotion when you were a child, and you just gradually learned not to do that."

Spock shook his head. "Emotions are not so easily vanquished. You, yourself, find emotions so compelling that they sometimes lead you to say or do things that you regret later. While societal disapproval is indeed powerful, even it cannot completely eradicate something so potent as emotion, yet complete mastery is expected of every Vulcan."

Kirk shifted uneasily in his chair. "What, then? How DO Vulcans maintain their control?"

Again Spock began answering obliquely. "You are aware that my people have a savage history, one so bloody that only the strict control of all emotion saved us from total destruction. Clearly, then, we are not biologically or genetically devoid of emotion; in fact our natural emotions are stronger than those of humans. And yet our experience has shown us that control is essential, for Vulcan society as a whole, as well as for the individual."

Kirk nodded. "Yes, I think we're both aware of that history."

"Every single Vulcan learns to control himself or herself, and the attainment of perfect control takes a Vulcan's entire childhood. Once control has been attained, however, it is not self-sustaining, nor is it frozen in amber for all time. Much like your physical strength, Vulcan emotional control must be maintained through frequent exercises."

McCoy broke in. "I thought you used meditation for that."

Spock shook his head. "Meditation is the process by which emotions are identified and dismissed; it is the practice of control. The development of control is attained through separate means. I will not elaborate all of the disciplines used to foster control in Vulcans during childhood; such an explanation would take many hours. Suffice it to say that during adulthood, every Vulcan maintains his control through exercises that are akin to weight-lifting."

Kirk said, "I lift weights in order to make my muscles capable of handling more weight. Do you, then, create emotions in yourself in order to practice controlling them? That doesn't sound very Vulcan."

Spock's eyes showed his amusement. "Indeed, Jim, creating emotions is not very Vulcan, and that is not our practice. Instead of strengthening ourselves by purposely creating emotions, we strengthen our control by withstanding something similar to emotion but strictly physical. The exercise requires that we show no sign that the exercise is in progress, appearing exactly as usual. You could think of it as being akin to lifting weights while allowing no change in your breathing."

McCoy looked disbelievingly at Spock. "THAT'S what's causing your pain levels to skyrocket? You're deliberately hurting yourself so you can practice your control?"

Spock said, "'Hurt' is a rather vague verb, since it can mean either 'to cause pain' or 'to cause damage.'" Spock reached under his clothes for a moment, then withdrew his hand and held up a small metal object. "Since this device stimulates the pain receptors directly, it creates no damage; it produces only pain."

Kirk looked at his first officer in consternation. "How often do you use that thing?"

"How often do you lift weights?"

"Every other day. Lifting every day causes too much damage to the body, so it's counterproductive, but lifting less than that doesn't maintain strength as well."

Spock inclined his head. "And I, too, perform my strengthening exercises every other day."

McCoy said, "How long do you wear that thing for?"

"I never wear it on duty, so as to avoid any lessening of concentration on my assigned tasks. When the ship is in hostile areas or when there are complex experiments in the labs, I may have only thirty minutes in which to strengthen my control. When we are in a relatively calm area of space and when the experiments I'm supervising are purely routine, I wear it for three hours after I have finished bridge duty for the day."

McCoy looked both astonished and disgruntled. "Three HOURS? Your pain levels were almost as high as I saw them on Deneva, and you do that for three hours every other day? Spock, that's crazy! I can't believe you've been doing that since you left Vulcan."

Spock exhaled heavily. "I have not. During the first fifteen years of my adulthood, I wore it for no more than an hour at a time."

Kirk said, "What's changed, then?"

Spock tilted his head to one side and regarded Kirk with amusement. "I developed a friendship so intimate and intense that it threatened all of my emotional controls, and I was forced to drastically increase my control exercises in order to maintain a properly Vulcan demeanor."

Kirk's jaw dropped and he sat staring at Spock, his mind racing as he thought through the implications of Spock's revelation.

McCoy looked at Spock in horror. "You mean all those times when Jim was kidnapped or missing or presumed dead, and I got on your case for acting like you didn't care, all that time you'd been torturing yourself extra hard because you cared so much?"

"It is not torture, Doctor; it is merely a control-strengthening exercise."

"I'm a Georgia boy, Spock, and we call a spade a 'spade,' not a 'manual dirt-moving implement.'"

Kirk had finally found his voice, which was low and intense. "Our friendship costs you this much? Our closeness forces you to do this?"

"Jim, do you find it distasteful to lift weights?"

"No, actually," Kirk said. "Some people hate it, but I've always enjoyed it. It's partly that I enjoy the challenge of it, pitting my strength against bars of metal and winning. It's also true that exercising makes me conscious of my body and of my strength; exerting myself to the fullest makes me feel alive."

Spock inclined his head. "And once again, we are much alike. I feel my mind commanding every process in my body to obey, and I become conscious of my mind's strength and reminded of Vulcan traditions of control back to the time of Surak. I force myself to control against the highest levels this device can produce, and each time, I prevail."

Kirk looked at him in wonder. "You don't mind doing this. You pit yourself against the exercise, and that lets you feel your mind's strength, just as I feel my body's. And when you face this challenge and emerge victorious, that gives you the confidence to face other challenges and know you'll win."

Spock nodded. "Precisely."

McCoy shook his head. "Crazy, the pair of you."

Kirk chuckled. "Sane people stay home, Bones. Professional explorers have always been slightly mad."

McCoy looked at Spock, noticed the slight slumping that meant the Vulcan was tired, and said, "Well, now that we know what's going on with the K3 indicator, I think we can leave Spock alone. Spock, regardless of how impervious you like to think you are, you've just suffered a head injury, so you should get some sleep."

Spock inclined his head. "I will do so."

McCoy stood up and said, "Come on, Jim," and the two men left the Vulcan's room.

Kirk felt even closer to Spock after these revelations, and McCoy — now aware of both the depth of Vulcan emotions and the cost of Spock's control — picked at him noticeably less. And Spock sighed ... and increased his next practice session to four hours. He would not give up his Vulcan control, nor would he give up his friends. If having both came with a cost, then he would pay it. In truth, he would pay twice the cost and count it trivial, for both friendship and Vulcan control had become essential to him. He would not be Vulcan without his control, but he would not be human without his friends, and his tenure on the Enterprise had shown him that having the best of both worlds was his birthright, high though the price of that birthright would always be.



Author's Notes (Because I needed the End Notes for the warning, the usual author's notes are given here):

1. We don't really know how Vulcans are trained to control their emotions, what they're trained to do with them, how they learn this as children, and what they do to maintain this as adults. It has to be pretty damned hard, though.

And Spock isn't living a quiet little life working in a lab on Vulcan; he's first officer on a starship, and he or his best friend (or the ship or someone he's responsible for) is in terrible danger pretty much every week. His life hands him situations — losing his sight, declaring his best friend dead, aging 50 years in a couple of days — that would tend to provoke strong emotions quite frequently, whereas those sorts of situations would be once-in-a-lifetime events for someone who led a quieter life. So Spock's ability to exercise emotional control must be larger than that of the average Vulcan — probably much, MUCH larger — because Spock's situation is so very different, so full of strange and emotion-provoking events. Spock must be the freaking Grandmaster of emotional control, given how eventful his life is compared to the majority of Vulcans.

2.  I'm not sure that Kirk caught it, but Spock's admission that he's had to TRIPLE his control-strengthening time because of his relationship with Kirk sounds an awful lot like a declaration of love to me.  Of course, it's a Vulcan-style declaration, but that's who Spock is. ;-)

3.  The sense I get when I look at Spock is that it costs him a lot to BE Spock. Most of that is because he's a half-breed in a world that wants him to be one thing or the other, but it occurred to me that it might be fun or interesting to dramatize that general sense that it costs Spock a lot just to exist as a Vulcan through giving him some more concrete or external kind of cost than just the "two halves conflicting" thing.

4. Spock tries to find a balance point, where he gets to be a Vulcan and think of himself as a Vulcan and pride himself on being a Vulcan, even as he does things that no other Vulcan does. His disowned humanity is all too clear in his relationship with Jim Kirk; whether one sees that relationship as friendly or romantic, it's clear that the two of them are very close, in a way that Vulcans … aren't. So maintaining his Vulcanity in the face of his close, all-important relationship with Kirk will be difficult, and I wanted to dramatize that somehow, to give us a concrete, external sense of that price.

5. I like these ideas, and I wish a better writer than I had written a story about them. But I can only give what I have. :-)

6. Whenever I mention Vulcan body temperature, it seems to excite more passion in my readers than anything else. (I find it interesting what strong feelings people have about this.) Most people assume that Vulcans have a higher body temperature than humans, since Vulcan is such a hot planet. However, there are two sources of information in TOS that suggest that Spock's body temperature is, in fact, lower than that of humans.

a. One is McCoy's comment in "The Paradise Syndrome," where he says, "Well, your Vulcan metabolism is so low it can hardly be measured, and as for the pressure, that green ice water you call blood..." Given that McCoy so often speaks emotionally and figuratively, I don't take that as definitive evidence for lower body temperature, since McCoy could well mean "ice water" figuratively. Or he could be speaking the exact literal truth; it's hard to tell with McCoy. :-)

b. The other is the biobed readouts in "The Naked Time." If you recall that episode, when Joe Tormolen and Spock get back from the planet, McCoy checks them both out. A screenshot of the biobed monitor shows that the temperature reading for Tormolen is significantly higher than it is for Spock. If TOS were being made today, I'd take this as definitive evidence that Vulcan body temperature is lower than that of humans. But in 1966, most people didn't have the ability to record television shows and pore over them frame-by-frame, the way fanatics do now. Whoever made the biobed readings for Spock in "The Naked Time" may not have expected viewers to look at and remember the readings, so I take those readouts as suggestive but not definitive.

I've taken screenshots of the monitor in both cases.

Comparison of Vulcan and Human Body Temperatures photo ProofthatVulcanbodytemperatureisLOWERthanthatofhumans_zps49ed4168.jpg

c. Of course, in your own stories, you can write Spock with a higher body temperature if you want to; you can do nearly anything you want in fan fiction. I'm just explaining why I said what I did, so people don't leave me indignant comments telling me that "everybody knows" that Vulcan body temperature is higher. :-)

6. Someone (on another site) worried that McCoy was committing medical malpractice by telling Spock to sleep, since "you should never sleep after a head injury." This is widely believed, but actually, it's a myth. Here's the straight scoop:

Although it was common practice in the past to awaken a head-injury patient every two hours, this is NOT because sleep is dangerous for such patients. Rather, it was often difficult to determine the extent of a head injury, since regular X-rays only show the skull, not the brain inside the skull. In order to check on the injury, it was necessary to give a neurological exam, and it was the giving of this exam that necessitated waking people up. Somehow, this got translated into a general perception that it's dangerous for head-injury patients to sleep, which is NOT true. Sleep is necessary for healing, no matter which part of the body you injure. :-)

Even today, we know more about head injuries than they did a few decades ago, because CT scans and MRI's DO show the brain, so the extent of the injury can be determined through such methods, and multiple neurological exams aren't as necessary as they used to be. I figured by the time the 23rd century rolls around, medical personnel would have even more definitive knowledge about just how injured someone was, so McCoy wouldn't need to awaken Spock to perform neurological exams. And Dr. McCoy told us that Vulcan bones are unusually dense, so Spock is not very injured. :-)

7. Thanks for reading!



Chapter End Notes:


The warning, short form: This story could be triggering to those who engage in self-harm.

The warning, long form: In this story, Spock uses physical pain to practice and strengthen his emotional control. Although he uses a device to produce this pain that causes no physical damage whatsoever, this story could be triggering to those who engage in self-harm, and such people might wish to reconsider reading it.

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