the_lesson.gif (2173 bytes)

Cathy German




We’re going to die, she thought. I’m going to die.

Her nose began to run. Her eyes sprang hot tears. No bodies to bury out here. She’d be burned to a crisp or she’d be a floating mummy for all eternity. They were all going to die. She began to hyperventilate.

She was unwillingly spellbound by the viewscreen and strange, waffling lasers shooting from a black triangular ship. There was a planet in the background. The trembling light came toward them. A hit. She went down on one knee.

In Sickbay, where she’d been mere minutes ago, the action had been hurried but deliberate and muted, with a dignified purpose. Set this arm, administer that hypo, secure that patient, ease this crewman’s pain. Here, in the raw nerve center of the ship, there was no protection, no opportunity for denial, no hiding. It was about survival, pure and simple; she could smell the pursuit of it, and it filled her with horror.

She also could smell hot metal and melting plastic and all manner of nasty odors that spoke of fused circuitry and damaged computers; and she blinked as the acrid smoke burned her eyes. This was all accompanied by a background wail of klaxons and photon torpedoes and shouted orders; to her, nothing more than one long, mouthless scream.

I shouldn’t be here, she thought, and turned to summon the turbolift, but as she raised her hand it opened and disgorged a half-dozen tech reps in fire-retardant gear. She was swept along the upper deck where she bounced into Uhura. Dark, intense eyes met hers, and Jude watched Uhura’s thoughts form there: Stranger. Intruder! Who? Oh, yeah. And then she was obviously mentally and emotionally dismissed, like a pin-prick on a sixth finger. The ship took another hit, and Jude fell into the communications panel. Something hissed ominously from near the deck.

Uhura grabbed her, nearly picked her up off the deck, moved her aside, and knelt down to tear into whatever had hissed at them. Jude had been unceremoniously dumped on Uhura’s other side, just that much further away from the turbolift doors. And Uhura was now in her way.

She stumbled back, gripped the railing, and looked around the bridge for some kind of salvation, some sort of assurance that everything was going to be all right. She was a Starfleet desk jockey, and nothing she’d done in the past ten years had readied her for this. She cursed Starfleet for sending her out so unprepared.

Spock, working the panels under the science station, was bleeding green on everything within a working radius. She’d never seen T’Preya bleed when they’d roomed together, so it shocked her to see it. She’d heard about head wounds and how much they could bleed. The amount and the color of it made her feel faint. She grabbed the railing.

He saw her then, and she saw the same litany pass through his dark eyes. Intruder! Who? Ah... And he looked back at what he was doing. But then he looked at her again, with something else in his eyes, something she couldn’t read, and he pulled himself up from the floor and came to her.

"Miss Gordon. I have need of your assistance."

She looked blankly up at him, watching the blood move steadily down his face and drip from his chin. She wondered stupidly if he was going to ask her to hold the gash on his temple together.

"Come with me." He turned, and she followed. He firmly sat her down at his feet, next to his chair. He handed her two wires which he had twisted together. "Hold these." She stopped sniffling and nodded.

With her back to the panels, behind the false safety of Spock’s legs, she observed the bridge.

Who are these people? she wondered, looking at the strong sets of their faces, watching their fingers coax and fix, listening to them calmly strategize. These were not the people she’d bunked with and studied for five weeks. They were not of this universe.

Sulu was managing to work the controls, his jaw a hard line. Chekov was beside him, directing a tech to damage on the underside of the board. Chief Engineer Scott’s voice was calling on the intercom. The captain moved over and punched the comm button on his chair.

He held his left arm tight to his side. If he felt pain, Jude could not see it in his face. That face was a study in concentration. He seemed to be aware of everything around him, and yet capable of zeroing in on a single task at hand. He was the center of their current chaotic universe, and there was a calmness at that center, a faith, a sureness that made her momentarily forget her terror.

She almost dropped the wires when the ship shuddered. She began to quietly weep again.

If she peered around Commander Spock’s legs, she could see a slice of the pretty blue planet on the viewscreen. She wanted nothing more than to be on that planet, with the sun on her head and the ground under her feet. What was she doing here? This tin thing they were riding in could split in two and pour them out into space, and there was nothing she could do about it.

Except hold the wires for Spock. That was a task that she could accomplish. That much she could do.

The next hit sent the side of her head into the sharp corner of a removed panel, and she began to bleed. Her legs were crossed, and red drips began hitting her knee. Then a green. Red. Two green. Spock peered down at her and looked—sorry? He saw her wound, looked at the wires, seemed to briefly consider something, and then stood back up.

Her fingers were getting numb.

Doctor McCoy came, generously dosing bridge crew with tri-ox, pain suppressers, and concern. The captain had approached the science station. He was gripping the handrail there when McCoy ran his scanner.

"Jim," he growled in dismay, "you busted those ribs again."

"So sue me," Kirk shot back, grimacing as McCoy pulled his tunic up. "Just give me something to get through this." As McCoy selected a hypo, Kirk continued with Spock in quiet conference.

"How’s your head?" McCoy boldly interrupted. "Sulu thought you were out for a minute."

Kirk ignored him. McCoy seemed to accept that.

It was then that Jude realized that this—this—was what she’d been sent here to do by the Five-Year-Mission Task Force: Observe just this kind of interaction. But she was too terrified, too concerned with her own survival to even pay attention.

Spock and the captain continued their discussion, glancing at the viewscreen. A supposition about their attackers was formed.

"I doubt it!" McCoy actually had the nerve to add to the debate as he pulled Kirk’s tunic down. Spock and the captain briefly hesitated and then included the doctor in the formation of hypotheses. In the middle of this, the bridge took a brutal hit, and Spock ended up next to her on the floor. The doctor came to him and knelt.

"As long as you’re down here, stay here and let me close that thing," he said, putting his hand on the Vulcan’s chest.

"Doctor, I don’t—"

"You’re no good to us if you’re passed out from blood loss!" the doctor responded testily, and then suddenly, he looked up and was aware of Jude’s presence. Intruder! Who? Oh. Jude. He glanced at her head wound and seemed to clinically dismiss it. Spock was trying to rise.

"Jim?" the doctor appealed.

"Spock," the captain responded, nodding his head at the deck.

The first officer sighed, fell back, and allowed McCoy to hurriedly do his work. The doctor looked around the blood-spattered station.

"You could probably use a liter or two when this is over," he said as he finished, and helped Spock up.

She thought she heard the shriek of stressed metal after the next blow that the ship took, and she wished, perversely, that it would just happen. That it would end. That the ship would blow and they could be done with this and be on to their after-death experiences, whatever they might be.

Spock, the captain and Uhura were at the command chair, talking to each other, and then they were communicating with them, those beings in the black ship, and they were speaking calmly but forcefully, pressing, taking turns, calling up data from what was left of the computer system.

And then, without fanfare, without warning, it seemed to be over. The ship was no longer buffeted, but sailed on calm seas. There were no cheers, no hurrahs, no happy laughter, only grim half-smiles as they slowly left their stations, kicked through the debris and made silent and meaningful eye contact.

She passed out then.

Later they told her in Sickbay that it had taken Spock two minutes to gently pry the wires out of her hands.

Six Weeks Ago

Jude Gordon could hardly believe her good fortune, although she could think of no one who deserved the assignment more than she. She’d gotten the Enterprise! This is what she had worked for, begged for; what she had plodded through a decade of drudgery to achieve. All those mind-numbing years on the Five-Year Mission Task Force had led to this. It was worth the wait.

There were clouds rolling into the Bay, she noticed, and the wind began batting little droplets of rain against the window of The Bay Brewery. She wanted to be outside in it, drinking in the salty air. She’d heard tales of the recirculated air in deep space. That part would take some getting used to, and she wanted to suck in her fill of the real stuff before she left.

They were toasting her with Klingon Drool Ale.

"To Jude," Bradley said, raising his glass. "You lucky bitch. The Enterprise." He shook his head ruefully, and they all drank. "Say, how is our Little Vulcan Miss these days?" Bradley asked, filling up her pint glass with ale. "Still as vivacious and charming as ever?"

"Oh, she’s okay, Brad," Jude replied with a wave of her hand, hoping they would tire of this subject quickly.

She had been rooming with T’Preya for nearly a year by then. She had shrugged off her friends’ ribbing about having a Vulcan for a roommate. T’Preya had been okay. She didn’t have a whole lot to say, but then neither did Jude once she got home and away from Starfleet Command. They had settled into a warily comfortable routine. T’Preya was there. Jude was there. Not much more to it than that.

Jude had to admit that T’Preya had some sensibilities that she appreciated. Jude had never been what she liked to derisively call a "girly-girl," and it was pretty clear from what Jude saw and heard that there weren’t any Vulcan girly-girls. Jude herself had been christened "Judy," but had dropped the dreaded "ie" sound as soon as she’d had the opportunity, so she appreciated a lack of curly-cue in any female, especially in a roommate.

Anyway, she’d just been looking for someone to share expenses with, not her life. She didn’t have a lot of space for friends. It made life so unnecessarily messy.

"I.D.I.C," Brad solemnly intoned, holding his fingers in place for a wobbly Vulcan salute. "I Don’t Ingest Carrion."

Hildy burst out laughing. "That’s one I hadn’t heard yet! How about I Don’t Initiate Copulation? Or I Detest Intimate Contact?"

The whole group threw back their heads and laughed. Curious patrons glanced at their table, including, Jude noted uneasily, a Vulcan couple in the back of the room with a table of Terrans.

"Guys..." she said weakly.

Derek stood stiffly. "I’m Dour. I’m Cold."

Brenda stood next to him. "I Doubt I’ll Cry."

"Okay, okay," Jude laughed nervously, motioning for them to sit down.

"Geez, Jude," Bradley said, shaking his head and pouring. "Don’t get all self-righteous!" He leered at her. "Have you two got something going?"

"Oh, Christ, Bradley! Give me a break! She’s my roommate."

"Did she ever do a mind-melt on you?"

"Brad, you idiot," Brenda snorted in her pint glass as she took a drink. "It’s a mind-meld. A mind-melt sounds like something you order for lunch."

"Could I have some lettuce on that mind-melt, please?" Derek sweetly asked an imaginary waitress.

"Oh, yeah," Jude growled impatiently after much too long a drink of ale. "She’s after me every night. She’s like a vampire! She’s insatiable. She just can’t get enough of my gray matter."

Bradley pushed himself back from the table, studying her face. "What is with you? Lighten up!" He leaned back in and grabbed his pint. "But aren’t you curious, Jude? About Vulcans and what goes on up there?" he asked, poking himself in the temple. "I’m not embarrassed to tell you that I’m dying of curiosity."

Jude took another long swig. "Sure I am," she said, looking down at the table. "I just respect her privacy, and she respects mine."

"Jude, I never took you for a prude," Hildy laughed.

"Jude the Prude," Derek added with an emphatic nod.

The evening had deteriorated from there. Her tablemates hounded her mercilessly, and by the time she rolled into her shared apartment, she was foggily irritated at her fate. T’Preya’s bedroom door was, as usual, closed. And, as usual, Jude could see from the light under the door that she was still awake. What does she do in there by herself, anyway? Jude hiccupped as she pictured T’Preya in front of her mirror, trying on the latest bootlegged Omega lip burnishments.

Yeah. Right.

The door cracked open.

"Jude?" T’Preya said with a cock of her head. In the half-light spilling from the room, she looked like the devil incarnate. Maybe the guys at the brewery had been right.

"What?" she rasped in return.

"Are you all right?" She crossed her arms across her spare chest, head still cocked, eyebrow rising.

"I didn’t know you cared," Jude slurred, heading for her club chair. T’Preya followed.

"Ingesting ethanol at The Bay Brewery again?" she asked, planting herself in front of the windows, blocking Jude’s precious view. "I will never understand—"

"—and you never will." Jude watched as a barely-there smile disappeared. T’Preya nodded, turned, and headed for her room. "Hey!" Jude called after her. "I’m curious."

T’Preya hesitated, her small back tensing. She turned. "Yes?"

Jude rose and deliberately entered T’Preya’s personal space—closer than a meter—something that she rarely did, and squinted at her. "A mind-meld. Have you ever done one?" T’Preya’s thin lips parted. Her eyes widened. "With a Human, I mean?" T’Preya’s throat muscles were working, but no noise was coming out. "Is it a big secret or something?"

T’Preya took a step back and attempted to turn away. Jude snatched her wrist. Now she was really curious. And she was drunk enough to be reckless and fearless. "Do one on me," she said, dying to experience it. "Come on!"

With a strength that amazed Jude and literally put her on her butt on the polished hardwood floor, T’Preya twisted free and headed for her room.

"Come on, T’P! You can experience being hammered without ingesting ethanol. A vicarious drunk!" Jude called, awkwardly wheeling herself up off the floor. The door to T’Preya’s room slammed. Jude forged into the hallway and put her ear up to the door. "T’P! Geez! Come on!"

After a moment, the door opened and she nearly fell in. T’Preya had a small bag packed.


T’Preya’s delicate features were as pale as the unadorned walls of her room. "I will fetch the rest of my things tomorrow while you are at work."

"Fetch?" Jude laughed after a stunned moment. "Nobody says ‘fetch’ anymore."

T’Preya turned and shut the door and looked at Jude with a rock-hard sureness and solidity that made Jude’s insides shrink. "But I just did, did I not?" she responded. "And I am somebody." And just like that, she was gone.

Jude had stood swaying in the hallway for a good minute, looking at the closed door, conflicting emotions rolling through her like waves. Finally, she breathed out loudly through her lips.

"Fuck her if she can’t take a joke," she’d said to the closed door. Then she’d gone to bed.

Five Weeks Ago

She caught the Enterprise at Starbase 12. Captain James T. Kirk and Doctor Leonard McCoy met her at the airlock. The introductions were perfunctory and polite. A quick howdy, ma’am; howdy, sir kind of thing, Jude thought later as she sat in her tiny guest cabin.

The captain had been much smaller than she’d expected. She’d heard he had an ego. She’d heard that he had an eye for the ladies. She’d heard that his crew would follow him to the gates of hell. With his reputation preceding him, she’d expected to be clobbered with a charismatic aura from about ten meters away, but she hadn’t felt a thing. She’d been more impressed by him in a diorama of the Enterprise bridge that she’d seen once at Fishermen’s Wharf. He was gone down the corridor before she’d even had a chance to form a full working opinion about him.

The doctor, however, was another matter. A cockeyed let’s not take this or ourselves too seriously smile greeted her, and after a couple of acerbic non-sequiturs thrown out of the side of his mouth in an unidentifiable drawl on the way to her quarters, she believed that she had met her match in wit and cynicism. She was glad that the doctor would be her primary contact while she was aboard.

There would be no welcoming dinner for her, no party thrown in her honor. The idea was to blend in. To become a part of the crew. And once she became a part of the crew, she was to dissect it. What did the Enterprise have that the other starships did not? It was there, somewhere, and her superiors knew it. They just didn’t know precisely what it was. That was her mission: Find it. Report back on it.

She considered briefly the other eleven chosen by the 5YM Task Force, now stationed on the other starships. What had they been charged with? Finding out what was missing?

Three and a Half Hours Ago

After five numbing weeks she decided that it might, in fact, be easier to identify something that was missing than something that was not.

These people are nothing special, she thought wearily as she sat at a table in the rec room, her chin in her hand. They had seen no action since she’d come aboard, and each new day was a plodding, creeping bore. They mapped, they ate, they slept, they mapped, they played, they mapped some more.

She’d checked various Starfleet intelligence and proficiency test ratings before she’d left. The Enterprise crew, as a group, score higher than others, but she certainly couldn’t tell that by watching them. As she sat there, Chekov was baiting a tablemate—how surly he always seemed!—while Sulu sat at his side with his persistent, insipid grin.

Uhura entered and crossed the room to sit with Christine Chapel. Uhura had proven to be the most open and friendly of the command crew. After one week, Jude had decided that the communications officer might be the key to learning about the collective crew psyche. But that had not been the case.

Oh, Chekov’s not that bad, she’d said. That’s just his dark Russian intensity.

No, Sulu isn’t always that cheerful. He has his days.

The captain and his ego? Under the circumstances, a healthy one is a good idea, isn’t it?

Oh, I don’t think Christine is too intense. I think she just takes her job seriously.

But it was when she’d mentioned the constant, irritating sniping between Doctor McCoy and Spock that she’d wondered, seeing the blank look on Uhura’s face, if she hadn’t somehow landed in a parallel universe. Oh, you don’t take those seriously, do you? she’d asked, all innocence.

She’d complained to Doctor McCoy.

"There seems to be this wall," she’d admitted angrily. "And I can’t get through it."

"You’re trying too hard, Jude," he responded calmly. "Relax."

She looked away. "Maybe Mister Spock is the key," she said, bored and hoping that McCoy would rise to the lure and amuse her for a while. "Boy, I’d love to try to get inside his head."

"Don’t." It came out quickly, seriously.

What was that? she wondered, looking back at him. He’d not been that terse with her before. Was he protecting the first officer? After the way she’d heard him berate him on a daily basis? He grinned at her crookedly.

"He’s not half as interesting as you think," he’d drawled, and changed the subject.

So she was stymied. In the rec room, she shifted in her chair and sighed. How was she supposed to accomplish her task? How was she supposed to see what made them the best if there was nothing for her to watch?

Ten Minutes Ago

Jude was sitting in McCoy’s office in Sickbay, waiting for him to finish his requisitions list so they could talk, when the ship blew sideways with enough force to send her off her chair and onto the deck, hard. The doctor managed somehow to keep his seat with no visible effort. She shot a terrified look up at his face. He had been through this kind of thing many times before. His face showed no fear. Just resignation.

"We’d better get ready," he said, putting out a call to all medical personnel as he rose from his chair. Another violent shift sent him staggering sideways. Jude had yet to find her feet. He put out a hand. "Stay in Sickbay," he ordered, pulling her up. "You’ll be out from under anybody’s feet, and you may be useful. And," he added, noting her ashen face, "it’s the safest place on the ship."

If that was meant to give Jude some peace of mind, it failed. Doctor McCoy sped off, leaving her at the door to his office, confused and trembling, fear gnawing at her insides.

She had expected broken bones. Her inconsequential tumble from the chair had left her aching, so she could guess what a fall from a Jefferies tube would do.

And so they came: From engineering, from the shuttlebay, from the recreation room, supported by sympathetic crewmates, arms out of whack, ankles at ugly, impossible angles. And there were things she didn’t expect: Burns from lab specimens that had been under scrutiny at the first hit, a self-inflicted stab wound on a hapless diner, more burns from this corrosive thing exploding or that acidic thing riving in two.

Lieutenant Sulu arrived on his own, clearly in pain, holding his hands in front of him. More burns. McCoy spotted him and pulled him aside, close to his office door.

"Bridge?" he asked simply as he shot Sulu with a pain killer.

"Not too bad, Doc, except for these," he said, wincing down at his blistering hands. "My side of the controls blew. Chekov’s okay. The captain was standing and went down pretty hard. I think he was out for a second." McCoy briefly shut his eyes, his lips tight. "Mister Spock’s bleeding from a head wound. But they said to keep the med techs down here, where they’re needed," he said, nodding into Sickbay. Another jolt sent Sulu flying into Jude in spite of McCoy’s support, and several wounded crewmembers crashed to the floor.

"Secure the injured! Let’s keep the unbroken bones unbroken!" McCoy called into the controlled chaos. The doctor began to apply plastiskin to Sulu’s hands.

"Doc, I need to get back up there."

"No you don’t. You said the controls blew."

"I can work them!" he insisted. "I know I can!"

"Your second-shift replacement—"

"Has almost zero battle experience," Sulu whispered earnestly, his dark eyes snapping. The doctor finished with his ministrations, looked up at him, and sighed.

"All right. But the plastiskin is still wet. Let’s get somebody to help you with the turbolift controls so it’ll have a chance to set." He looked around Sickbay at the rush and crush of occupied personnel. His eyes finally rested on Jude.

Oh, please no, she thought.

She steadied herself in the door as the ship took another hit.

"Come on!" Sulu said, nudging her with his elbow. "Let’s go!" And he was off, assuming that she was behind him. And amazingly, she was, her cold, leaden feet dutifully following him out into the corridor.

When Sulu blew through the doors to get to his station, he inadvertently shoved her out of the turbolift and onto the upper deck of the bridge.

She was immediately frozen to the deck in terror.

Four Days Later

It took seven full shifts of mending and repair and rest before anyone realized that Jude Gordon hadn’t been seen since she’d left Sickbay after being brought there from the bridge.

As for Jude, she was enormously grateful that she had a private cabin. For hours she alternated between shaking violently, weeping, making fitful attempts to sleep, and dry heaving what she assumed must be stomach lining, since she hadn’t eaten in days.

When McCoy was made aware of the fact that she was absent without explanation, he called her in her cabin. She made an attempt to respond, but found after pushing the comm button that all she could do was breathe. At least he’d know that she was still alive.

With trembling, mistaken-laden fingers, she was typing her request for transfer back to Command—the sooner the better—when someone asked for permission to enter.

It was Uhura, and she was such a vision when she entered the cabin that Jude temporarily forgot her concerns. She was wearing a flowing black caftan covered with geometric shapes in muted bronzes and golds. Unruly raven curls tumbled over her forehead and graced the back of her delicate neck, and long, glistening earrings actually chimed as she moved. Uhura sat at the other side of the desk.

"How are you?" she asked, tilting her head, earrings swaying and singing.

Jude looked back down at the keyboard. "Fine," she croaked. She hadn’t spoken to anyone since she’d left Sickbay, and her voice came out old and cracked.

Uhura gazed at the far bulkhead as her long, graceful fingers played with the folds of her caftan. "Jude," she said quietly, "this is not the life for everyone. There’s no shame in that."

Jude wanted to reply: You live your life in a tin can with the cold blackness of death always there, on the other side of a thin wall. You never quite know what’s out there. Beings that don’t look like you want to kill you. The vacuum of space alone wants you dead. How can you stand it? But instead, she said aloud, making eye contact: "I know. This is not a good place for me."

Uhura held her gaze. "I’d bet that no more than sixty beings on this ship have been on the bridge under battle conditions," she said. "And I’d also bet you that the three hundred plus who haven’t would react no differently than you."

Jude seriously doubted that any veteran Enterprise crewmembers would be likely to spend two-plus days of tortuous self-exile in their cabins, experiencing what she had under any circumstances, but she appreciated the effort that Uhura was making and managed to give her a feeble smile.

"Mister Spock was quite complimentary of you in our post-incident briefings," Uhura offered as she rose. Jude looked up at her. Was she kidding? "He said that your assistance on the bridge was invaluable." Uhura grinned. "You may not know it, but that’s high praise on this ship." She lifted her caftan and headed for the door.

"What was it that I was holding?" Jude asked, curious.

Uhura turned, frowning slightly. "You know, it’s odd. I asked a tech working on the panels what had been so critical, and he said he couldn’t find anything that would have needed to be held like that." She paused, looking at Jude, her face concerned. "It’s not like Mister Spock to make a mistake like that. Or make any mistake, for that matter." Then after a moment’s contemplation, a light came to her eyes and a small smile formed on her lips. "But what does it matter?" she asked as Jude quizzically searched her face. Uhura’s smile warmed and widened. "You did what was necessary, just as we do. You did what you had to do."

Jude suddenly knew the truth and felt her color rise. And with a rich swish of material and the sweet toll of her earrings, Lieutenant Uhura was gone.

A Week Later

Her transfer came in quickly. Although she generally didn’t think too highly of the cognitive abilities of the Five-Year Task Force powers-that-be, it had probably been only too easy for them to read of the incident with the black ship, and then receive her request for a speedy transfer, and know that they had an employee walking on the edge of severe space-looniness. The Enterprise would be back at Starbase 12 within three Standard days, and she would disembark there.

Jude finally left the confines of her cabin two days before their arrival and weakly wandered the corridors, looking for some kind of physical contact and emotional comfort, knowing that she needed it, but finding it impossible to seek it or take it. She studiously avoided eye contact with crewmembers and ducked into handy corridors and rooms when she heard people approaching.

Finally, she found her way to Sickbay, to Doctor McCoy, and she stood in his office door.

"Have you eaten today?" he asked after a look of appraisal. She shook her head. "Have you slept okay?" Another shake. "We can fix those things right now. Sit down," he said, preparing a hypo and giving her a quick shot. He called for a tray of sandwiches, fruit, and juice.

"I’m sorry I sent you up there," he said, leaning back in his chair as she picked unenthusiastically at her food. "I thought you’d just be dropping Sulu off at the bridge doors."

She shrugged.

"Spock said some pretty nice things about you in—"

"I know," Jude interrupted angrily, feeling her face flush, wondering if anyone on board other than Uhura had come to understand Spock’s ruse.

McCoy raised his eyebrows. "That’s a pretty big deal, you know, praise from Mister Spock."

She shrugged again and tried to avoid his concerned gaze. He slowly leaned forward and keyed something up on the computer. "I’m going to send you the name of someone on Starbase Twelve that I think you should see," he said paternally, typing as he spoke. "She’s a therapist, and her specialty—"

Jude stood abruptly, spilling sandwich and juice on the deck. "Just because I can’t handle the life that you choose to live out here doesn’t mean that I need help!" she cried, her arms at her sides, her fists clenched. "You people are crazy! Do you think this life you live is normal? You’re the ones who need help!" Doctor McCoy stopped typing and slowly looked up at her. She knelt down to pick up fruit pieces and sandwich makings.

The doctor said nothing, but reached out and put his hand on her head and left it there until she started to cry great rivers of tears, her body shaking with the release of them. She plopped cross-legged on the remains of a ham sandwich, wailing like a frightened and hurt toddler, and the good doctor put his other hand on her shoulder, and they stayed that way for a half an hour, wordless, until she was spent.

The Next Day

She passed the captain in a corridor. She could tell by his glance up and then back down at this feet and then back up again that he was unsure who she was. Small wonder. She’d seen him four or five times in total, and one time had been on the bridge during battle, where he didn’t so much look at her as look through her. As they came parallel to each other, he obviously remembered, and spoke.

"Ms. Gordon."

"Sir?" She turned.

"I understand that orders came through and we’re to drop you off at Starbase 12 while we’re in for repairs." He smiled. "I hope you found what you were looking for."

His comment was so esoteric to her, so central to her thoughts these past days, that she could only widen her eyes and part her lips in response. The captain, seeing this, appeared to weigh his comment and tried again.

"I hope that you found...the information," he said quickly, "that you were sent to obtain. For Starfleet. About command crews—"

"Oh! Oh, yes, Captain," she replied, understanding his question, mortified that she’d mis-read it. "I did."

He smiled again, this time including his hazel eyes in it. "Good," he said, turning away. "Have a safe trip home."

"Thank you, Captain," she said, watching him walk away. And as she observed him moving through the corridor, greeting his crew, he took on a luminous immensity in her eyes, and it seemed to her that the air felt electrified and energized where he had passed.

Four Days Later

Their trip to Starbase 12 was uneventful. When they docked, she packed, said her tearless and hurried good-byes to Uhura and McCoy, and headed for the airlock. She was anxious to escape the emotional and physical closeness of the Enterprise, but when she arrived at the airlock, Spock was waiting there. She mentally winced.

"Miss Gordon," he nodded.

"Mister Spock."

"We have not seen much evidence of you recently, Miss Gordon. I trust you have recovered from your first battle experience."

She looked into his dark brown, almost black eyes. They were not unkind. He seemed to be genuinely concerned and curious. She measured the depth of that kindness before she spoke.

"Mister Spock. About that thing with the wires on the bridge..."

He said nothing, but raised his eyebrows and cocked his head slightly.


"The process was integral to our operation," he replied smoothly, revealing nothing in the admission. Vulcans don’t lie, she thought looking up at him, but they sure do some interesting things with the truth. "And your mission for Starfleet," he continued, "to collect and disseminate information regarding the behavior and capabilities of our command crew, was well served by your being there."

That, at least, was true. And she’d only briefly considered it when she’d sat in a terrified, quaking mass at his feet.

"I remember why I was sent here, Mister Spock, and the incident did give me the opportunity to observe all of you...." She paused, considering leaving all of the rest unsaid. She was a mere three meters from the airlock. All she had to do was walk away. She knew the Vulcan would understand. She and T’Preya had communicated like that all the time. He cocked his head again, waiting. She cleared her throat.

"Mister Spock, I know that it wasn’t necessary for me to be on that bridge. I know now that I could have been holding two dead wires together." His expression did not change. "Were you teaching me a lesson?" Something briefly flicked through his eyes.

"Miss Gordon," he said quietly, leaning slightly toward her, looking into her eyes, "life itself, on an hourly basis, presents us with invaluable lessons. If we are fortuitous, we recognize them as such and learn from them." He straightened and nodded. "Live long and prosper, Lieutenant." Before she could respond, he turned on his heel and was gone. She stood in the corridor and watched him, the scene reminding her of T’Preya and her exit from the apartment months before. Again, surprisingly, she felt her throat tighten.

Spock, striding away, also was thinking of his cousin T’Preya, whom he had helped to gain entrance to Starfleet. They corresponded as regularly as possible, and he knew of Jude, and of their unfortunate confrontation, and of Jude’s ambition and intelligence and poor choice of friends. T’Preya had expected him to be righteously incensed by Jude’s behavior when she wrote of it. Spock’s return correspondence had been sympathetic to a point, but he cautioned his cousin to be patient with Humans, to attempt to understand them better, and certainly not to take seriously anything they said or did while under the influence of ethanol. He had made these same mistakes himself at first, he admitted to her. But do not, he admonished, take Humans lightly when it comes to their wit, their fierce sense of independence, their passions. There could be, he admitted to her, great value in the balance between that passion and Vulcan logic if one had Humans for friends.

The Next Week

Jude hardly spoke to anyone on the trip home. She had the bad luck to draw as a seatmate an incredibly chatty female ensign. A card-carrying girly-girl, she thought morosely. In truth, the tendency of her temporary bosom buddy to fill all empty spaces with sound made it possible to be alone with her thoughts, unless the ensign was looking for some kind of verbal response from her, which thankfully only occurred every thousand words or so.

When she got to San Francisco, she headed straight for home and opened up her stuffy apartment as she listened to her messages. They were all from her cohorts. They’d heard that she’d seen action. They were jealous. They were "Vulcan green with envy," according to Brenda. They wanted to hear all about it. They wanted to meet for drinks. Bradley had sent her an e-mail. It was one line: "Did you get your mind-melt?"

The cheery, insistent messages left her with a quiet despair, an aching emptiness. She sat in the club chair in the dark and looked out at what should have been comforting, familiar sights: a setting sun, a horizon, clouds boiling in an atmosphere that a Human could breathe. The phone rang. She didn’t answer. More messages left. They knew she was there.

Day Two at home was no better.

She walked into her first debriefing with all manner of keen and valuable insights and observations at the ready. She’d seen it, what they were looking for. She understood it now. She’d seen the thing work the way it was supposed to work. All she had to do was tell them.

But when she sat down and looked at her aging debriefers, mentally ticking off their number of years at Starfleet versus the number of years of deep space experience, she went numb. These people had been desk-bound for years. How could she explain? How could she make them know? Her mouth dried.

The questions began. They were maddening, simplistic.

"The captain and the C.M.O. are friends. Is that critical?"

"Well, yes and no. They have a different kind of relationship, and it’s not based on protection. The doctor speaks his mind—"

"We’ve heard," one of them said, concerned. "In front of the crew."

"But that’s all right!" she replied. "If you could see it, you’d know that it’s not as bad as it sounds."

They scanned their data and formed questions around it. Male to female ratio. Terran to off-worlder ratio. Age. Race.

"The Vulcan. Is that an important thing?"

"Well, it’s not that he’s Vulcan," she replied. "It has more to do with the fact that he is who he is...." She finished feebly, watching them turn back to their data and call up more. "His race is not important," she said hoarsely to the tops of their heads.

She thought of Spock. She thought of T’Preya. She flashed briefly on her friends that night at The Bay Brewery, the night when they’d had such fun with the Vulcan maxim—Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations—and she felt her throat tighten and her face flush.

She also thought, looking at their impassive faces: This isn’t working.

She began answering in monosyllables. No. Yes. Yes. No. It didn’t really matter what she answered. They were speaking an alien language, one couched in great piles of numbers and statistics, one that she had mastered long ago but now found herself incapable of calling up and using to her advantage. She knew what they wanted from her, and she could no longer give it. She knew that they were not happy with her. She could see it in the sets of their faces; and for the first time in her career, she didn’t give a damn.

I almost died out there with them, she thought. You will never know what I know now. You will never know what they know.

When the debriefings were over, she left the building and walked into the evening air. She was exhausted, but somehow she felt lighter than she had in years, almost giddy with weightlessness. Something had changed in her, she knew. She wasn’t sure yet of the depth of it and what it meant to her in the long run, but she had changed. And then she did something she’d always wanted to do but had never taken the time to do before: She plopped on the grass in the commons and lay down, her entwined fingers a pillow beneath her head.

She thought of her future—such as it now must be—at Starfleet. She thought about transferring off-planet. She thought about T’Preya and of taking her accrued leave and hitching a ride to Vulcan to ask for her forgiveness. It made her emotionally cringe to consider the possibility of making the trip and being rebuffed. But time had become an enemy, and she now felt a sense of urgency—unattached to her career—that she couldn’t shake. And her pride and self-control and self-inflicted emotional solitude did not seem as precious or worthy of protection as they had in the past.

And gazing up at the stars with terra firma at her back, she thought for a long time about the Enterprise. She wondered: Would she ever be lucky enough to be part of a group like that? Would she ever have a shared life and work experience that raw and terrifying, but so tight and so sure? She longed for the safe haven of a group of beings like that, and suddenly she was aware of her isolation and loneliness in a way that she’d never been before.

She closed her eyes as a gentle breeze blew across the commons.

And then—sitting up because it was easier to accomplish that way, and mindful but uncaring of the concerned looks from Starfleet personnel walking by on a sidewalk not four meters away—she wept.

main.gif (11611 bytes)

Free counters provided by Andale.
banner.gif (1761 bytes)

Return to the index of ORION ARCHIVES -- 2266-2270 The First Mission
Return to the index of ORION ARCHIVES On-Line Fiction
Click Here to Return to the Orion Press Website