The Sense of Wonder
by Weird Little Stories
Captain's Personal Log, Stardate 5978.8 — Today we completed our mission to Deverra, yet I am troubled. We made first contact with the Deverrans, told them about the Federation, and found them eager to join us. Recruiting a new member for the Federation is a worthy achievement, and I should be proud and happy, and yet I find myself feeling bored.
The Deverrans look a lot like humans, have personalities a lot like those of Andorians, and have a government and culture much like Tellar's. All of this makes them an especially suitable addition to the Federation, and yet I feel as if I am just going through the motions because it's my duty; I feel no eagerness or excitement. Although this has been especially obvious during our mission to Deverra, I've been feeling the lack of excitement a lot lately. There are so many humanoid species, and I don't find them all that interesting anymore.
Have I become jaded? I've made first contact with a new alien species, and I find they aren't different enough for me to really be excited about meeting them. We've met some truly different alien species during our mission of exploration — the Horta and the Excalbians come to mind — but I've met so many humanoid species that are nearly identical to ourselves that I find myself longing for something that's truly new.
Doctor McCoy is coming to my quarters for a drink a few minutes from now; perhaps I will share my concerns with him and see if he has any insight into what has sapped my enthusiasm for the work I used to love.
Kirk finished his entry into his personal log, then began setting out glasses and drinks in preparation for McCoy's visit. He'd acquired a bottle of Live Oak Bourbon — distilled in McCoy's home state of Georgia — and Kirk looked forward to seeing McCoy's reaction to it.
Kirk was just about to sit down at his desk to read reports while he waited for McCoy when his annunciator chimed. "Come," he said, and the door swished open to reveal a smiling McCoy.
"Well," Kirk said, "YOU look in good spirits. What's the occasion?"
McCoy stepped into Kirk's cabin and let the door swish closed behind him. "I happened to mention to Ensign Patel that I was invited to the captain's quarters for a drink this evening, and he happened to mention that when he was delivering the mail last week, he brought you a package about a foot high that made sloshing sounds." McCoy rubbed his hands together. "So it sounds like we get to try something new."
Kirk smiled. "Actually, I'm pretty sure you've had this before." He brought out the bottle of bourbon and showed it to McCoy.
McCoy stared at the bottle in Kirk's hands. "Live Oak! How'd you get Georgia's finest whiskey way out here?"
Kirk looked sly. "They DO say that rank hath its privileges."
McCoy smiled. "Well, this is one privilege I'd be glad to share." He picked up a glass and held it out to Kirk. "Fill 'er up!"
Kirk smiled, happy to have surprised McCoy, and filled glasses for both of them. The men sat in chairs in front of Kirk's desk and sipped their bourbon.
McCoy smacked his lips. "Tastes just like I remember! Thanks, Jim." He looked shrewdly at his captain. "But I know you don't actually use your rank for personal gain. How'd you really get this?"
Kirk mock-sighed. "Caught me. The truth is that I knew my uncle Jack would be visiting Atlanta for a professional conference, so I asked him to pick up a bottle of this and ship it to me." He looked over at McCoy and smiled. "You've supplied booze and an ear when I've needed them more times than I can count, so I thought I'd surprise you with something you'd like."
McCoy raised his glass in a toast to his host. "I appreciate it, Jim!"
The two men sipped their drinks in companionable silence for a moment, and then McCoy asked, "So, how'd it go down there today? I hear the Deverrans signed a treaty to join the Federation?"
"Yeah," Kirk said. "Humanoid race number 337 joins the Federation."
McCoy gave him a shrewd glance. "You make it sound like meeting aliens and inviting them to join the Federation is same-old, same-old."
Kirk shook his head. "I know I shouldn't feel that way. This is vital work we're doing, and every planet we add to the Federation makes us all that much safer, that much more culturally enriched, that much grander and brighter."
McCoy hrumphed. "That's what your mind tells you you should feel, but that's not how you DO feel."
Kirk slumped in his chair. "You're right. I feel like I've already met hundreds of aliens, and they're all just like us." He stood up and walked over to the grill that separated his office from his bedroom and threaded his fingers through the loops. He turned halfway around and looked at McCoy. "But they're all as alike as the cells of this gridwork, all interchangeable."
McCoy looked at him thoughtfully. "Maybe you need a vacation."
Kirk let go of the grill, then leaned his back against it. "I've tried that. It's fun for a couple of days, but what I really want to do is be out here exploring, and yet the exploring doesn't quite satisfy, for some reason."
McCoy considered this. "Part of why you're so good at introducing new species to the Federation is because nobody really feels all that alien to you. If you can talk to them, and they're not trying to kill you, you feel a sense of connection with them. And that's great for doing your job, but it doesn't give you that thrill of discovering something that's really new."
Kirk ran a hand through his hair. "Am I just jaded? Are there not enough Hortas and Excalbians in my life for me to feel like a real explorer?
McCoy rocked back on the back legs of his chair. "I think you're too good at making common cause with people, so everybody feels like a friend but nobody feels new."
Kirk barked out a short, sharp laugh. "Too good at my job to enjoy it? I don't think there is such a thing."
McCoy shook his head. "It's good that you can turn on the ability to see any sentient creature as someone a lot like us, but maybe you'd enjoy the trip more if you could turn it off, too, if you could have the sense of wonder that comes from entirely new experiences."
Kirk sat back down and picked up his drink. "I'll have to think about that."
Three weeks later found them in orbit around Vulcan. It was rare that the Enterprise had cause to go to Vulcan. Deep-space exploration was her primary mission, and Vulcan had been thoroughly explored centuries ago. But when the Enterprise encountered a malevolent non-corporeal entity that took over the her computers, eradicating said entity had been the main consideration. Although their fight was successful, it left the ship's computers in a sorry state; every computer on the entire ship had been more or less destroyed. The Enterprise carried spares, of course, but no one had ever envisioned the necessity of replacing every single computer on the entire ship. The spare computers gave them enough computing capacity to limp home, but even the simplest mission would be beyond the flagship until all of her computers had been replaced.
Once the magnitude of the problem became clear, there was no question about which Federation world would be given the task. Vulcan's computer experts were justly renowned throughout the galaxy, and the flagship would be given nothing but the best.
Orbiting a Federation planet while the ship underwent repairs was a natural opportunity for shore leave, and most of the Enterprise's crew went down to Vulcan, to the air-conditioned facilities that catered to offworlders. While no one thought of Vulcan as a prime shore leave destination, it was a change of scene, a chance to get off the ship, a chance hear live music or go for a hike to take in the desert scenery.
There were even a few places for the crew to do the usual drinking and carousing. Vulcan was one of the Federation's more prominent members, after all, so it had an entire small city devoted to diplomacy, tourism, and cross-cultural sharing. McCoy had groused that the Vulcans put all of this in one place so as to limit the contamination of Vulcan by non-Vulcans, but even he wasn't really unhappy. The touristy sections of Vulcan were staffed by non-Vulcans who kept the indoor temperatures at Terran-comfortable levels, flirted and made small talk in a way no Vulcan would ever do, and poured drinks containing all the alcohol that Vulcans eschewed, so McCoy just grumbled for grumbling's sake.
Kirk was usually impatient and out of sorts when the ship put in for repairs or upgrades. He didn't take well to inactivity, nor would he willingly cede command to anyone but Spock or Scotty. Although he did enjoy shore leave, his few intimates were well aware that he usually threw himself into it with a wholeheartedness whose frenetic undertone suggested that he was trying to block out of his mind just how much he'd rather be on the Enterprise.
But Vulcan was different. Four years of serving with Spock had made Kirk eager to learn everything he could about Vulcan culture. Knowing Spock had given him a genuine appreciation for the culture that had shaped the man who was both his best officer and his best friend. But Spock was always so reticent and had adapted so well to serving with humans — regardless of what McCoy thought — that Kirk had gotten only small glimpses of Vulcan philosophy and culture. He wanted more, and now they were here, at the source. And there was someone he was pretty sure he could press into service as a native guide....
Kirk and Spock studied the map in the lobby of the ShiKahr Museum. They had spent the morning in Vulcan's largest museum and had not seen even a tenth of it, for the museum took up two city blocks and rose to a height of eleven stories. Kirk stretched, leaning backwards to ease the kink in his back, then pointed to a section of the map. "Sculpture. I don't think I've ever seen any of Vulcan's visual arts except for the ones in your quarters; I've only heard her music. Let's go there next."
Spock shook his head. "You could not appreciate Vulcan sculpture; I would advise you to select a different wing of the museum."
Kirk looked at his friend in surprise. "I can't appreciate Vulcan sculpture? Not that I wouldn't but that I couldn't? Spock, I thought you respected me."
Spock said, "You are well aware that I respect you greatly. I was not forming a value judgment of your worth but speaking the exact literal truth. Vulcan statuary has a telepathic component, and since you are not telepathic, you are, in fact, incapable of appreciating Vulcan sculpture."
Kirk blinked. "A telepathic component! That's ... I didn't even know that was possible. A sculpture is just a hunk of rock or metal or plaster, isn't it? How does it have a telepathic component?"
"The exterior of the sculpture is 'just rock,' but inside every Vulcan sculpture is a shad'kov. Shad'kov is an artificial substance that has some of the properties of inanimate matter and some of the properties of animate matter; this dual nature allows it to absorb and retain telepathic impressions, in the same way that sound can be recorded on a suitable medium. The name translates literally as 'brain rock,' and it revolutionized Vulcan art when it was invented 2300 years ago."
Kirk thought for a second. "That was before the time of Surak, wasn't it?"
Kirk whistled his amazement. "Then you can hear the thoughts of Vulcans who lived before Surak revolutionized Vulcan society and changed it forever!"
Spock raised a disapproving brow. "That is true, although doing so is ... discouraged, except for professional historians."
Kirk grinned slyly at his first officer, knowing the answer to the question he was about to ask. "Does that mean you've never done it?"
Spock exhaled heavily. "It does not. During my adolescence, while I was searching for the appropriate balance between my human and Vulcan heritages, I sought out several pre-Surakian sculptures, to see if perhaps pre-Surakian Vulcans had an equilibrium that I lacked."
Spock turned and looked squarely at Kirk. "But Jim, they did not. Their passions contained no wisdom; their emotions were more disturbing than enlightening, and contact with pre-Surakian sculpture helped to confirm my decision to follow a purely Vulcan path."
Kirk's face took on a yearning look. "I wish I could experience one of those sculptures, even one of the post-Surakian ones. I've never seen art that had a telepathic component; it sounds ... well, Spock, it sounds fascinating."
Spock inclined his head. "The telepathic component does add considerably to the experience of Vulcan art, in much the same way that sound adds considerably to the experience of watching a holo program. But I sense that you are romanticizing the experience, because it is unfamiliar to you, rather than seeing it simply as another sense, one that is quite similar to sound."
Kirk smiled. "Maybe so, but I'd still like to see how it feels. Can you ... can you meld with me and experience a sculpture at the same time? Can you show me what it's like to perceive the telepathic component of a sculpture by taking me inside your mind, deeply enough that I see the sculpture through your eyes?"
Spock raised an eyebrow. "I can, the question is whether I should. This would be a very different experience than the much more limited melds that we have shared in the course of our duties. Rather than my entering your mind in a very focused way, to accomplish a single purpose, you would be entering mine and experiencing a far broader portion of it than heretofore. The experience could be rather disorienting."
Kirk shrugged this off. "Exploring new worlds is what I live for, Spock; a little disorientation comes with the territory, and it doesn't faze me." He stopped and looked carefully at Spock's face, trying to glean what he could from the small cues the Vulcan allowed himself to display. "But if what you really mean is that it would be too great an imposition on you, too much of a breach of your privacy, then I withdraw the request."
Spock looked stern. "Sharing one's mind is a very intimate experience, one that I have done repeatedly in the line of duty because I must, but it is not done lightly or recreationally. In ordinary Vulcan life, one melds only with one's true intimates, and only with reverence for the experience. I would meld with you because of all that has been between us, because of the esteem in which I hold you, but I must ask that you honor the experience and the attachment between us that it symbolizes."
Kirk swallowed. He'd asked for a meld as a lark, because he was greedy for experience, and now he found that he was being offered the most personal contact possible with this most private of all beings. He hadn't quite realized just what he'd been asking for, but Spock had ensured that he understood, and he realized that Spock's offering a meld under these circumstances was a measure of the depth of their friendship and the importance Spock accorded it.
Kirk looked seriously at Spock, abandoning the light-hearted tone he'd been using and adopting an air of gravity that matched Spock's. "I ... hadn't realized just what I was asking for, and I'm glad you made me aware of it. Given what you've just said, I do still want that meld, but not to experience the sculpture; I want it to experience you. I think I know you better than any man alive, but there's a lot about you that's still a mystery to me." He looked searchingly at the austere face, the face that he read so well, for all that it seemed a mystery to others. "Show yourself to me, at the level that matters most to Vulcans. Show me your mind."
Spock inclined his head gravely. "I will do so. But if the sculpture is superfluous in this endeavor, I will not meld with you here. Shall we return to the ship?"
Kirk smiled. "Sure, let's go home."
The two men beamed aboard, then headed for Spock's quarters. They needed no discussion; both men assumed that Spock's cabin was the right place for the meld to take place, and once there they went to the bedroom alcove — also without discussion — as the most Vulcan part of Spock's quarters.
Spock added incense to the depression in his firepot and lighted it, perfuming the air with a peculiarly Vulcan scent. He gestured to the bed and said, "Please be seated. With a meld this deep, it is possible to lose track of the physical body, so such melds are always performed in a seated position.
Kirk sat on the edge of Spock's neatly made bed, and Spock settled beside him. Spock raised a hand to Kirk's face, then paused and said, "I will monitor your mind for any distress, but if you wish to end the meld, simply focus as firmly as possible on your desire to end it, and I will perceive that and cease the meld at once."
Kirk smiled and spoke teasingly. "I'll keep that in mind, though I think I'm more likely to beg you to continue than to beg you to stop."
Spock stared at him, and Kirk sobered. "I'm sorry. It's not that I'm not taking this seriously — I am — it's just that there's a certain tension that we humans tend to defuse with humor."
Spock inclined his head. "I am aware of this, and your humor does not offend me. But for a very deep meld, it will be easier to align our minds if you put yourself into the most Vulcan frame of mind you can manage."
Kirk composed himself, calling on the command training that allowed him to rein in his own emotions when necessary, putting himself into the cool and focused frame of mind that his training had instilled in him.
Spock pressed his fingers to Kirk's face, and at first their minds made a tenuous, delicate connection. Kirk could feel a sense of Spockness in the back of his mind, and as the meld continued, that sense of Spockness became stronger and came to the forefront of his mind. Gradually the feeling grew in size and intensity until it seemed as if Spock's mind had swallowed him, and he was just one more facet of Spock's large and complex mind.
The sense of being swallowed up by Spock was overwhelming, and Kirk panicked for a moment, wrestling for control of the meld and control over his own mind. Spock sent him waves of safety and respect, and after just a moment, Kirk was able to get the sudden panic under control. This was Spock, whom he trusted without limit, Spock, to whom he willingly yielded command when necessary, Spock, who had found him deep in Janice Lester's brain and who had put his life and career on the line to return Kirk to his.
Mentally, Kirk took a deep breath, then yielded his very self in the same way that he sometimes yielded command of his ship, allowing Spock to take control. Spock placed Kirk's consciousness into a slot in the Vulcan's mind that seemed to have been prepared for Jim, then gradually allowed more and more of his own mind to impinge upon Kirk.
Kirk looked out through Spock's eyes and saw the room around them as Spock saw it, and he was stunned at what he saw. He knew that Spock saw further into the infrared than a human did, but knowing that intellectually and seeing colors that he'd never seen before was another matter. He saw that his own body had a reddish glow around it and realized that Spock was seeing it as a heat source, in addition to seeing the surface of his body. Spock turned his head and looked at the firepot, and again, he saw the fierce, lionlike sculpture that Kirk saw, but overlaid with that was a reddish glow where the lit incense added its heat to the room.
The moment of disorientation passed quickly, and Kirk found himself delighting in looking around Spock's quarters using Spock's Vulcan senses. The red wall hangings that looked uniformly red to his own eyes turned out to be several different shades of red to Vulcan eyes, with a subtle pattern. He saw that the hangings had a le-matya on them in a deeper red than the background color, plus some Vulcan script in a lighter red.
Spock snapped his fingers to make a sound, and hearing with Spock's ears, Kirk heard not just the snapping sound that he would have heard with his own ears but also a higher-pitched harmonic that he'd been unaware was part of any finger snap.
Once Kirk had gotten used to Vulcan senses, Spock gradually opened up more and more of his mind to Kirk's perusal. Although Kirk was aware that Vulcans could compartmentalize their minds and could think about several things at once in a way that humans could not, he was still amazed to witness that ability in action — amazed to hear one part of Spock's mind writing a report about the alien entity that had destroyed their computers, even as another part of his mind planned the crew schedule for the week after shore leave, and a third part of his mind designed an experiment that he planned to conduct in the biology lab next week.
Spock opened up yet another compartment of his mind to Kirk's awareness, and Kirk saw that Spock was visualizing an equation in four dimensions, in a way that gave Jim vertigo.
Witnessing several parts of Spock's mind work on several different tasks simultaneously, seeing colors that his own eyes were incapable of seeing, and watching a four-dimensional visualization that he was afraid would break his brain, even at this remove, Kirk was overwhelmed with the realization that no matter who Spock's mother was, he was NOT human. In a burst of wonder, Kirk found himself realizing that Spock was truly an alien.
He'd always known this intellectually, of course; Kirk could say, "Spock's a Vulcan" while asleep or drunk or otherwise impaired. He'd thought he knew in his bones that Spock was Vulcan, but confronted with the totality of Spock's mind, he found to his chagrin that he'd been thinking of Vulcan as just another of Earth's nationalities. Chekov spoke Russian, Uhura spoke Swahili, and Spock spoke Vulcan. He'd even been feeling a bit impatient with how many times Spock chose to remind them all that he was Vulcan, feeling annoyed that Spock kept harping on something that was so obvious.
But for all that it was obvious, it wasn't until this moment that he truly grasped at the emotional level that Spock was alien, was not human, was other. Realizing this at the emotional level gave Kirk a burst of joy. He'd been seeking out new life and new civilizations for all of his adult life, and he'd made first contact with innumerable new species. But while his sense of all sentient creatures as "us" rather than "them" did make him uniquely suited to welcome new species to the Federation with open arms, it also meant that the sense of wonder that he'd hoped to gain from meeting new species was not as strong as he'd hoped it would be.
Spock was "us" if anybody was — his brother from another star, his friend so close as to be practically his other self — and yet this very deep meld showed him that Spock was also "them," was also alien in a way that Kirk had never allowed himself to appreciate before. Balancing the "us" that made Spock close and dear with the "them" that made Spock appreciated as the alien he truly was, gave Kirk a sense of wonder that produced a deep and heartfelt joy.
Spock allowed Kirk to see and feel his own reaction to this. Spock was relieved to finally be seen as the non-human he knew himself to be, grateful that Kirk's spirit was large enough to still claim him as a brother — even as Jim finally assimilated his alienness — and proud of Kirk for exemplifying all that was best in the human spirit.
Their spirits intertwined, one to the other, sharing all that they were on the mental and emotional level, and they spent some time basking in the closeness and knowledge of one another this gave them.
But for all that Kirk was one of the most flexible humans known, spending time being an alien was taxing, and Spock began the process of separating their minds. He withdrew the four-dimensional visualization, to Kirk's relief, then closed off each of the busy compartments that were working on various things. He gradually moved Kirk's awareness out of Spock's mind and back into Kirk's own, until once again Spock was only a dim sense of Spockness in the back of Kirk's mind. Finally even that went away, and Kirk was entirely alone in his own mind. He felt as tired as if he'd just run ten miles and as exhilarated as the day he'd been given command of the Enterprise — worn out but supremely happy.
On coming back to himself, Kirk realized that his eyes were closed, and he opened them and looked around the room. Once again the wall hanging appeared to be a uniform shade of red, and the firepot's heat was not visible to his eyes. But his first officer ... he felt as if he were seeing his first officer for the first time, seeing not an unusually calm, pointy-eared human but an alien, a Vulcan, a person from another star. The meld had ended, but his joy remained, and he reached out and grasped Spock's arms, one hand around each bicep as he looked into Spock's eyes.
"Spock!" Kirk said, still overcome enough by his realizations in the meld to have only that one word available to him.
"Jim," the deep voice replied. "You have seen me as I am, perhaps for the first time."
Kirk smiled. "Seeing you as you are, realizing what you really are, was one of the high points of my life."
Spock inclined his head. "You see why I said that this was an extremely intimate thing and one that Vulcans did only with due reverence for the experience."
Kirk blew out a breath. "I think I have as much reverence for it right now as any Vulcan."
Spock raised a brow. "Perhaps because you have been a Vulcan, for a brief time, and in a limited way."
Kirk smiled. "I like being human, and I don't think I could ever walk your path ... and yet being you for a short time is the kind of thing I joined Starfleet to experience."
Their adventures continued, and they experienced much, and yet the alien at the science station continued to be one of the most interesting things that a lifelong career in Starfleet would ever show him.