Ignoring the cheery Christmas music from the wall-mounted speakers Jim stared at the PADD in front of him. For the fourth time he sighed and returned to the beginning of the sentence.
“The time-dependent flux and polarization signatures are generally dominated by the relation between the synchrotron cooling and the light crossing time scale, which is largely independent of the exact model parameters…. Future high-energy polarimeters may be able to distinguish such signatures from the lower and more rapidly variable polarization signatures expected in leptonic models .”
Of course. Sure thing. Jim glanced around to make sure the store was still empty, and then kept reading in the hopes that the next sentence would make sense.
“Our current code is limited to parameter regimes in which the hadronic γ -ray output is dominated by proton synchrotron emission, neglecting pion production .”
Jim’s own understanding was limited to simple regimes where the output was dominated by sighs of frustration, neglecting intelligence production. Jim grunted. Come to think of it, what were leptonic models again? Jim placed a digital bookmark on the page he was on and clicked on the underlined work “leptonic”. His eyes moved rapidly as he read on, mumbling to himself.
“In both leptonic and hadronic models one can take into consideration the temporary equilibrium between particle injection,” someone explained suddenly. “More simply, leptons are primary particles, while hadrons are strongly interactive composite particles.”
The sudden interruption took Jim by surprise. He threw the PADD away and flashed an apologetic smile to the stern-faced woman standing by the desk. The U from the book store’s name, which was painted on the large window behind Jim, cast a dim shadow over her face.
“Welcome to Universal Science,” said Jim and stood up from the high stool he had been sitting on. With one look Jim took in the woman’s red-and-black uniform. Starfleet personnel were not an uncommon sight in Universal Science - after all, the store had almost all of the material used in the most common courses in the nearby Starfleet Academy.
“A bookstore clerk reading up on recent studies in astrophysics,” mused the woman and smiled faintly. Her hair was put up in a tight bun, and it reminded Jim of his old teacher. Instinctively he stood up a bit straighter and wished he had worn his better trousers that day. He eyed at the woman’s insignia hungrily and with a tad of envy. He was merely a bookshop clerk, but one day he aimed to wear that uniform too.
“Yes well, it is a… a hobby of mine, captain.” Jim ran his fingers through his hair. “And thank you for the explanation regarding the.. Uhm.. Lipton models.”
“Leptonic,” said the captain while eyeing Jim up and down. In a few seconds she nodded almost imperceptibly as if she had made up her mind on something. “I did not come here to teach you about the differences of particles. Instead I’d like to buy something related to alien cultures.”
Happy for the change of subject Jim walked briskly around the sales desk and started towards the correct section in the small store. Many books and boxes for memory disks were unpacked and stacked in the aisles after the recent expansion, but the cultural section was almost done. The smell of paper and ink hung in the air, mixing with the smell of plastic and old dust. Some old posters in the walls made Jim cringe as he passed them by. In one a human and a strange, green gooey slimeball were hugging each other, and a slogan below them said “Hugs are a universal language.” Jim could bet his left arm that the designer had never hugged a Borg. “All different, all equal” said another poster, which showed a group of Kazon and Orion. Jim and the Captain winced in unison. Equal was not a common word in the Orion vocabulary.
In a few seconds Jim and the captain arrived to a corner full of fully stacked bookshelves and screens for reviewing the electronic journals. Jim halted.
“Here it is, ma’am, all alphabetically ordered. Andorians, humans, klingons... What are you looking for?”
“The ocampa. Do you have anything on the ocampa? About their... Social customs? Relationships between ocampan females?”
Jim’s smile brightened. Hurriedly he dug out a thick book printed on recycled paper, wiped off the dust and offered it to the Captain. “The relationships and social customs of the ocampa” was typed in big, bold letters on the cover of the brick-thick book. It had lain on the shelf for ages. No one wanted a relationship with species that lived only for nine years, so the book had not been precisely a top seller. In addition, most of the ocampa were living in seclusion, so finding one to practice social customs with was next to impossible. Getting rid of this book would certainly earn Jim some extra appreciation from the store owner.
“This one is a true treasure, ma’am. It has everything about their relationships, intimate habi-”
“I’ll take it,” said the woman hastily. A slight blush rose on her cheeks. “It will do fine, I’m sure. Good work.”
Her hastiness did not escape Jim, who held on to the book a moment longer. “It has pictures,” he said with deliberately neutral tone. The captain huffed. Grinning to himself Jim carried the book back to the desk, packed it neatly and offered it to the captain. It bode well for his future career that the Starfleet captains could still stay… active… while in duty.
“If you find any more,” said the captain just before she left, “let me know. Send a message to the Academy addressed to K. Janeway. Be it a book, journal or a comic book, I want it if it has anything about the ocampa.” She stopped for a moment as if to think, then continues. “Even without pictures.”
There was no need for Jim to stifle his chuckle; the door was already closed by the time Janeway stopped speaking. Jim glanced at the chronometer on the wall and noted happily that it was almost closing time. He settled back on his chair to study. The captain had already vanished from his mind.
“ For the leptonic model, a temporary equilibrium between particle injection/acceleration, radiative cooling, and escape from a spherical emission region is evaluated … For the hadronic model, a temporary equilibrium between particle injection/acceleration, radiative and adiabatic cooling-”
Ding, went the electrical doorbell. Jim could barely hear it over the old classic “Jingle bells”, which annoyed him as much now as it had done years ago. All the faked happiness, meaningless Merry Christmas -wishes and forced smiles in the world seemed to condense in that one piece of music. How many hundred years ago was it anyway when people dashed through snow in a sleigh ?
“We’re closed,” murmured Jim to his PADD.
“… radiative and adiabatic cooling-”
“It is four minutes and 56 seconds to six o’clock Earth time,” a velvety voice informed Jim. “I require data. May I dictate the topics to you?”
Jim blinked and looked up. He found himself facing a Vulcan man, roughly the same age as Jim himself, but dressed in that funny bathrobe the Vulcans liked so much. Jim stifled a grin and instinctively craned his neck to check if the man was also wearing slippers.
“If you have now adequately inspected me, perhaps you will tell me where the cultural section is?”
This made more sense to Jim’s physics-addled brain than dictating subjects. Without any shame for being caught staring he simply lead the man back to the corner he had just been in and inquired if the Vulcan needed any more help. In place of a response Jim got a level look, complete with an arched eyebrow.
Jim Kirk harrumphed. Not that he especially wanted to go out of his way to help this handsome Vulcan… But it was almost closing time, and he had no interest in staying in late because of one customer. His evening shift was done! Why would the Vulcan be so interested in other cultures anyway? Weren’t Vulcans the pinnacle of evolution, the masters of every art and every scientific discipline?
The man started to methodically go through the names of the books and journals in the shelf. The Vulcan had jet black hair that shone under the bright lights like polished onyx. Not a strand of hair was out of place. The robe the man wore hung elegantly from his strong shoulders and gathered at his feet like a pond of blue satin. The Vulcan sat down on his haunches with ease and elegance. His fingers caressed the backs of the books and the journal lists. His eyes, which Jim could see only partly, were flashing as he studied the available materials.
Jim leaned back and watched. He knew he was behind in his study schedule - he had planned to finish another 20 pages at least before going home, and the entrance exams to Starfleet Academy creeped closer every second - but it was as if something was keeping him in place. There was something hypnotic about the other man… It was not just that he was handsome and obviously smart (a bookstore specializing in scientific material did not generally attract the less intelligent customers), or that he had a fantastic body, but … Jim could not take his eyes off of him.
Studies. He had to study. And eat, and it was probably closing time too. He should really send the customer away and go to the flat he called his home here in San Francisco. He should also take a shower, actually. Still Jim stood and stared. The cheery music had died down when the playlist ended, but Jim never noticed it.
A steady hum of the air conditioning in the store went suddenly quiet, and Jim shivered. How late was it? The slim fingers of the Vulcan started on yet another row of books.
“Look, I don’t know what you need, but maybe I could help you tomorrow,” Jim suggested finally. The sky outside had grown dark. It would be late by the time he was home!
Gracefully, like a panther, the Vulcan got up. “I do not need anything, and you do not have what I seek,” the man answered bluntly. ”Thank you,” he added then as an afterthought, nodded slightly and walked out into the darkening night leaving Jim alone in the empty bookstore.
The next days were hectic for Jim. He studied for the upcoming Starfleet entrance exams, served the increasing amount of customers in Universal Science and in the meanwhile tried to find time to eat and sleep. A steady stream of invitations to various Christmas events filled his email and mobile messages, but Jim had interest in none. To add to his misery the owner of the store had fallen ill (Jim suspected he just faked it), so setting up the tacky Christmas decorations was left on the shoulders of the young Kirk. In addition, his right fist was still hurting after the little misunderstanding he had had during the last weekend. It was not like he wanted to go back to that pub anyway.
Jim had all but forgotten the Vulcan until during one especially busy day. Jim was typing a message for Janeway about the “Mating Rituals of the Universe, species M-P” which had just arrived when a christmas bell jingled cheerily to announce yet another new customer. A surprised smile played on Jim’s lips as he watched the Vulcan making his way to the section about mathematical modelling. Janeway and his own stress forgotten, Jim marched directly past the queue of impatient customers and sat easily on his haunches next to the kneeling man. The slender Vulcan hands ran over the backs of the books and boxes in a way that made Jim’s loins tingle.
“Welcome back,” Jim said as casually as he could. Remembering his earlier problem in addressing the man he tried a more subtle approach: “What are you looking for?”
At the sound of Kirk’s voice the Vulcan turned his head. His dark, velvety brown eyes met Jim’s own, and Jim had to stifle a gasp. The man had a noble face and a stern look, but his eyes held nothing but calm wisdom. There was no sign of the pride and superiority Jim had expected - or feared.
“I look for a formula to calculate the appropriate value of a Christmas present. According to the cultural and historical documents, the value is based on several attributes, but I am not able to find a comprehensive guide on it. ”
Jim stared. The Vulcan stared back, his dark eyes unblinking. Somewhere, in another galaxy, the line of customers waiting for Jim started to shuffle impatiently.
“A formula,”, Jim said levelly. Vulcans were not known for their sense of humor, but no one would seriously ask… The man cocked his head a fraction of an inch, and the chocolate-colored eyes caught the light of the lamps above.
Tell you what,” Jim said suddenly and a tad breathlessly. “We’ll go look for a gift together. Are you free tonight, after one hour or so?“
It was the Vulcan’s turn to stare. Jim smiled almost pleadingly, batting his long eyelashes and trying to calm his suddenly racing heart.
“-”, the Vulcan began, but a gigawatt smile from Jim cut him short.
“Excellent!”, smiled Jim. “See you in an hour!”
The flame of the curved meditation lamp flickered restlessly as if mimicking the mental state of its owner. Thinking back on the previous day Spock felt like staring at a puzzle: the pieces were all there, they fit, but the picture did not make sense - and yet he felt like something had been accomplished. The lamp was the only source of light in the small room which served as Spock’s temporary apartment, but it was not enough to illuminate his troubled thoughts. The echoes of christmas bells and cheery songs played in the apartment next to his reverberated in the barren room.
The sense of accomplishment did not seem related to the materials Spock had studied for he Starfleet entrance exams. Since his arrival to Earth from Vulcan he had been studying both the materials and ´human behavior. Now it seemed like he had was facing a problem beyond anything the materials had covered.
Spock drew a long breath.
He had been in a local book store. The human male employed at the premises, James, had shown signs of agitation upon seeing Spock for the first time 15 Earth days ago. James’s pupils had dilated 23 %, his breathing had quickened and the hue of his complexion had grown brighter due to increased blood flow to his facial capillaries. Considering the need of human males to show their prowess it was only logical to assume James had felt inferior when faced with a Vulcan.
Spock breathed out. The flame burned steadily.
14 days later Spock had visited the store again. This time his appearance caused even more dramatic changes. James had ignored his assigned duties, shown disregard towards the customers and despite his clear anxiety he had expressed interest in proving himself useful for Spock. The human had wanted to spend time with Spock outside his working premises. What was the reason for this behavior? Spock had to learn to understand if he was to succeed in Starfleet. Perhaps James wished to impress females by being seen in the company of a stronger male? Or perhaps he needed to assess if Spock was a risk, a possible intruder in his territory?
A muffled sound of a female singing about a reindeer with a red-tinted discoloration in his rhinarium, colloquially called a ”nose”, went unnoticed by Spock. He breathed in.
Both explanations for James’s behavior were logical. However, neither explained why Spock had agreed to his suggestion. Nothing explained why he had paced aimlessly around the city for an hour, and returned to Universal Science 7 minutes before the designated meeting time. Why had his own pulse risen at the sight of that golden hair and hazel eyes? Why had his reflection on the window had such anxious eyes and twitching ears?
Too many questions. Breathe out. Gather data, state the facts and apply logic to find the answer.
Fact. Spock and James, who wished to be called Jim, had walked to a department store. During the walk James had relaxed, which was evident by his less rigid posture and steadier voice. Spock, on the other hand, had not experienced similar changes in his physiology.
Fact. After 1 hour 3 minutes James had required “something” to drink. Despite the vague statement the human seemed to have known exactly what he required: a cappuccino with whipped, semi-skimmed cream, a half teaspoon of sugar and a touch of cinnamon. They had sat face to face. He thought of the way Jim had taken off his dark-green jacket with light-blue satin lining. His white collared shirt had smelled of laundry softener. When looking through the steam rising from the cup Jim’s hair had seemed to shimmer faintly.
Fact. Spock had no recollection of what he had seen in the department store or who else had been in the cafe.
Temporary amnesia. Easily explained by my fatigue of still trying to accommodate to the climate and customs of Earth. No reason for concern. State the facts and apply logic to find the answer.
The flame flickered and danced as if it was trying to shake itself loose from the lamp. Lights from the cars driving by shone through the window illuminating the room in brief flashes. Spock’s brow furrowed.
Fact. Jim’s full name was James Tiberius Kirk. He was studying for the Starfleet entrance exams just like Spock. He lived in a shared apartment with two other young men, he enjoyed watching old movies, he had high social skills and his favorite color was jade green.
Spock did not remember what he had drank in the cafe.
Fact. With a smile Jim had leaned over his cappuccino and asked if Spock was going to get the gift for “a special lady”. Spock had confirmed that assumption. Jim had leaned back, his shoulders had slumped and he had soon made a hasty departure after recommending that Spock bought her “something nice.”
Breathe. Gather data, state the fact---
Spock’s eyes opened. That was it! He did not have enough data to solve this problem. Logic dictated that he needed to gather more information. Logic also dictated that since second-hand information was always prone to mistakes, he should dismiss books and journals as data sources and gather the information himself!
Feeling confident and pleased with himself Spock blew out the meditation lamp. To ensure the success of his mission he would need help, and he knew exactly who to ask for. He checked the chronometer: 02.30 AM, too early to make the call. There was however no need to waste the time waiting. Spock picked up a PADD and started to read “Essential Engineering vol 3: Re-aligning the EPS Conduit” until the night would turn to day and he could call his chosen accomplice.
A knock on the window woke Jim up from the half-sleep he had fallen. He sat amidst the Christmas decorations and edited the list of new arrivals in the Anthropology section. He had set several titles apart for Janeway, who had visited again the previous day and demanded to know if there was anything about the marriage rituals of the Ocampa. There wasn’t. No one wanted to marry an Ocampa. They were probably very annoying and logical, all Ocampans, and Jim didn’t want anything to do with any of them. Or anyone else for that matter.
The keyboard shuddered as Jim banged the corrections in. ‘Flower arranging on pre-Surakian Vulcan, vol. 1’ was turned briefly into ‘Dead Sticks in a Vase’ and then back again. Vulcans were… they were stupid . Yes. Oh sure they were handsome and smart and intelligent, and they stared at you and made you feel interesting, and then they went home to their girlfriends. They weren’t after Jim’s (rather athletic and handsome) body like some men. They weren’t after someone to pay their bills. No, Vulcans only wanted to get one’s hopes up so they can then piss on them.
Knock! Knock knock!
With a grunt Jim got up, dragged himself to the door and unlocked the electrical and mechanical locks. His tiredness was swept away in a second as he recognized the face behind the door.
“I would like to invite you to a Christmas dinner,” said the man who looked like Spock, sounded like Spock, smelled like Spock, but who could not have been Spock because Spock did not greet people with “I would like to invite you to a Christmas dinner”.
“Good morning,” replied Jim and turned the sign on the door from ‘Closed’ to ‘Open’. The alien, who had taken on the appearance of Spock, remained quiet.
“I assume your ladyfriend will be home too?” he asked acidly.
Spock blinked once, then twice. Jim sighed.
“Your special lady? You wanted to get her a present of exactly the right value, remember? The woman who loves the nature on Earth and who is most curious about the Vulcan culture and customs? Who paints with watercolors?”
“A correct if insufficient description of my mother. Yes, she will be present.”
Jim put on a longsuffering smile. “Okay, thank you for the invitation but I’m busy. No can do. Sor- wait? What did you say? Your mother ?”
“You do not have a girlfriend?”
“Your assumption is correct.”
Not a muscle on Spock’s face betrayed his emotions, but Jim thought the dark eyes seemed to glitter with amusement. He stared at Spock, glinting his eyes as the morning sun shone its golden light on the two men chatting at the doorway to Universal Science. No one looked at them twice. A steady stream of people walked by, many carrying bags loaded with gift-wrapped presents, but Jim and Spock seemed to have a private area of space-time continuum just for them. Jim had an overwhelming feeling that something very important was happening. The tenseness of Spock’s posture hinted that he just might be feeling the same.
A proud Vulcan, Jim thought. Proud but not arrogant. Strong but not violent. Smart but not cocky. What was Jim going to do about him?
The first time Spock had suffered through Jim’s staring easily. This time he seemed to grow anxious despite his near-impenetrable calm. “It would be … fascinating... to spend more time with you. I have been advised that my initial assessment of you and your motives to speak with me may have been … incorrect. Assumptions were based on insufficient data,” he explained.
Jim had the self-confidence to hear the compliment. He leaned towards Spock. “If you tried to say you like me, then the feeling is mutual,” Jim confessed Jim with a boyish grin.
Spock flinched for a fraction of a second. “A very human way to put it,” he said finally, but did not deny the claim either.
Jim beamed. “I’m ready to face off one mother to spend some time with you. Be warned: I’ll charm you out of your senses, so at the Starfleet entrance exams you will be no competition to me.” He stomped his feet and rubbed his palms together; the cold winter air was biting through his clothes.
Spock raised a beautifully curved eyebrow. “Challenge accepted.”
Jim slouched on the comfortable couch. He leaned his head back, closed his eyes and tried to listen to the crackling of the fireplace while enjoying the sweet warmth it provided. Spock had sat next to him for a moment; Jim imagined he could still sense the scent of the Vulcan.
He had eaten like a horse. Amanda, Spock’s human mother, had prepared real ham and a vegetarian alternative, three different salads, delicious potatoes, peas she had plucked herself from her garden the previous summer, self-made bread and real, genuine butter. After two helpings Jim had been about to explode. And then Amanda had brought in the desserts…
After the food they had exchanged presents. Jim had bought a small glass bird to Amanda, who in turn gave Jim thick woollen socks. Spock had received an old Vulcan statuette from his mother. After the dinner the men had retreated to the small room with the fireplace. They had talked - or Jim had, while Spock listened and fired away question after question. Why did Jim’s pupils dilate when he saw Spock? Did Jim consider Spock an intruder in his territory? Jim had been unable to stop laughing as Spock’s interrogation went on and on as if he had been researching an alien species. But the fact was that Jim could have sat there for hours, for days even, looking at Spock and listening to his voice.
It was so warm, so quiet.. And for the first time in a long, long while James Kirk felt at ease and safe. He felt like he had as child, when the magic of Christmas had sparkled in his eyes and his small feet had tapped impatiently while waiting for Santa. He felt at home .
Some minutes later Spock entered the room, drying his hands after helping his mother with the dishes. He saw James Kirk sitting on the couch with his eyes closed, his chest rising and falling in the slow rhythm of peaceful sleep. Amanda’s words rang in his ears: “Listen to your human blood, Spock. Listen, feel and see what is really there.”
He listened. He heard Jim breathing. He looked, and saw the light of the fireplace dancing on the man’s hair, bringing out his handsome features and his calm face. And just like earlier in the cafe, he saw or heard nothing else. Spock stepped forward, reached out his hand, and carefully touched Jim’s cheeks with his fingertips. He breathed out, closed his eyes, open his mind and felt ….
In the adjacent room Amanda Grayson set a warm pillow behind her back. She smiled. She had recognized the look on Spock’s face. What made her smile even warmer was the memory of Jim’s eyes mirroring the look in Spock’s. Despite the Christmas songs playing in the background she hummed to herself:
“The look of love is in your eyes, a look your smile can’t deny...”
Scientific quotes from
“Radiation and polarization signatures of the 3D multizone time-dependent hadronic blazar model” by Zhang, H., Diltz, C. and Böttcher, M. 2016.
“Leptonic and Hadronic Modeling of Fermi-Detected Blazars”. Böttcher, M., Reimer, A., Sweeney, K. and Prakash, A. 2013.