Title: T'Ria and the Rain Man
Contact: saavaant @ yahoo . com
Rating: [Moderate Content]
Summary: Spock discovers a new kind of alienness.
Author's Note: This is a story not just about Spock but, in a way, about fans of Spock, and about the connections that I suspect bring many of us to identify with him. It is also about one of the human species' most illogical characteristics: the inability to accept those who are different from oneself.
Disclaimer: I disclaim Star Trek characters. I disclaim having invented them. I disclaim to be profiting monetarily from writing about them. I am not Roddenberry. I am not Paramount/Viacom. I am Saavant. So There.
Acknowledgements: Many of you on ASCEM gave me constructive criticism on this piece--I have looked it over and made several adjustments inspired by your comments. It still has plotholes you could drive a shuttlecraft through, but thanks and hugs and chocolate and strings and strings of sandalwood beads to all of you for helping me improve it a little more.
T'RIA AND THE RAIN MAN
"It's your turn," said T'Ria for the fifth time.
Spock struggled to focus on the next move, but the chess board was reduced in his vision to a collection of shapes and outlines devoid of meaning. He leaned his head back for a moment, as though hoping that simple motion would restore his calm. The outlines moved and changed slightly with the shift in the location of his eyes, and it startled him.
*There are three dimensions,* he reminded himself.
But there were more than three... and the fourth was to him the most dangerous.
*Time is about to kill me.*
"Your turn," repeated T'Ria.
And the voice swept him back to the past.
* * *
To the past, to where time was no longer--or not yet--dangerous. To the day when the transporter beam had brought up the confused and bedraggled source of the distress call, moments before the last nuclear blast had sent the violent remnants of the Unity civilization to the only peace they had ever known.
The planet had been an experiment in a new form of government. "Why should we celebrate diversity?" said Martha Colette, the leader of the Social Unity movement, in her founding speech for the colony in 2263. "What we need to celebrate is those qualities that make us the same. That is the only way we can live together in peace."
And it was almost exactly ten years later that, for no reason known to the Federation, the colony of humans whose society was based on this seemingly logical insight went up in a blaze of sundered atoms, driven by their own hatred, that destroyed all the armies of haters and hated while simultaneously quenching every other sign of life on the tiny world of New Unity and sinking it deep into a nuclear winter that would render it unlivable for many years to come.
The only survivor was a brown-haired, Caucasian-looking woman, by Earth years in her early twenties, who materialized on the transporter pad clutching a small red suitcase and the makeshift electronic device she had used to send the single distress call that was all the Enterprise knew of the planet's sudden and unexpected death. The little beacon looked a hundred years old, judging by its technological advancement, and seemed to have been built in a hurry out of whatever could be found. The suitcase had been monogrammed with a green marker, in large, artistically drawn letters: "Maria Susanne Schmidt."
In some cases, the captain would have demanded in a harsh voice for the guest to identify itself, but a woman just beamed out of a nuclear war instants before her planet was destroyed was in little need of being further frightened. *Besides,* thought Spock from the science station across the bridge, *she is female, and he is James T. Kirk.*
"Welcome..." Kirk spoke gently, and then, glancing at the suitcase and hoping the name was hers, "...Maria Susanne?"
Yes, he could see that she was female, despite her muddy, torn clothes, her dirt-streaked face, the matted and oily masses of her dark brown hair.
"Bonehead," she answered, her eyes firmly focused on a small stain in the carpet.
"I beg your pardon?"
"I thought there might be someone in the galaxy who'd pronounce it right," she muttered. "But I suppose I must've been a little too hopeful. That's the curse in having a German name. You finally get a language with a clear set of phonetics, and terminology that sticks to it, and no, they go and base your stupid Standard on the one language in the galaxy where words sound the least like the way they're spelled. Let's start with 'Susanne.' Both S's are pronounced like Z's. The final E is *not* silent, you say it the way you say the upside-down E in the phonetic alphabet. And the A is pronounced 'aah,' not 'eahh.'" She retched the last syllable in a grotesque caricature of the American pronunciation. "Plus, you roll the R in 'Maria.' Not Spanish rolling with the tongue in the front of your mouth. Rolling a German R is like this." Maria opened her mouth wide and made a noise remarkably similar to gargling.
"Ah, I see," said the captain uncomfortably, looking at her with a certain curiosity. "May I simply call you Miss Schmidt?"
"As long as you pronounce the M. I've had people not pronounce that M, and it gets on my nerves. Name like mine, you really get to like the letter M."
There was some laughter on the bridge, but it was nervous. Except for the minimal motion of her lips for speaking, and an occasional twitch of her arms or neck, the new arrival had not moved at all since she had been beamed aboard. Even her eyes remained stuck to the floor, not shifting a centimeter.
* * *
Days later, in the mess hall, every table was filled except for one in the corner. That table's only occupant was a young human female, almost unrecognizable as the dirt-encrusted, tangle-haired being on the transporter pad a week ago. As soon as she had received guest quarters she had begun a schedule of regular bathing (apparently not a frequent opportunity on her previous war-torn world) which revealed the delicate, almost greenish tints of her skin and the flecks of gold in her brown hair.
All her attractive points contrasted sharply with her demeanor and sense of fashion, however. The red suitcase had apparently contained the only clothing she ever wore--today it was a close-fitting lacy red-orange tank top, obviously several sizes too small for her, with nothing underneath, and a pair of thick pink sweatpants stopping five centimeters over white tennis shoes fastened with something like Velcro. Her face had not touched makeup in all the time she'd been on the Enterprise, and her hair had alternated from tight braided pigtails to the thick frizzy waves that resulted when they were undone. Today it was in braids, and she was bent over her pasta, consuming it at a rapid rate and not seeming to care that she made conspicuous noises and that her face and shirt and the tips of her hair were gathering smears of Alfredo sauce rather quickly.
"Miss Schmidt," Spock said as he approached her table.
She looked up, not seeming embarrassed that she'd been caught eating like a wild animal. "Hi," she said brightly, then returned her attention to her pasta.
"May I seat myself here?" he asked mildly.
"Sure," said Maria Susanne, pausing with a noodle halfway in her mouth. Spock sat down in the chair directly across from her.
"Some members of the crew have asked me to speak with you."
Maria swallowed the last bite of her food and looked up at the Vulcan. Her eyes examined his bangs, the top of his head, and his eyebrows, then came to rest on his left ear, from which they did not move for several minutes. "Am I in trouble?"
"Not that we are aware of. It has merely been noticed that you seem to avoid interaction with the crew, and I was selected to... 'bring you out of your shell,' as Doctor Chapel put it."
The girl shifted slightly and picked up her fork, to which she transferred her gaze from the pointed ear she had been observing. "No offense, Spock," she said, in an expressionless voice that should have contained a tone of humor, "but... why you?"
"Others have attempted. I am the last resort."
Maria paused a moment in thought. "People have asked me questions," she murmured, as though thinking aloud. "Christine came up to me just a few hours ago and asked me some ridiculous question."
"Doctor Chapel," said Spock thoughtfully, "is capable of great illogic."
"She is. She is extremely annoying that way. I imagine that when she was in high school, she was a cheerleader." Maria examined the few drops of milk left in her glass and then lifted it to her mouth, sucking noisily at the rim until she was satisfied that she had emptied it completely. "She asked if I was 'finding enough to do, to keep me entertained.' I said yes, and then asked her why she wanted to know. I couldn't imagine what use that particular piece of information could have for her. As far as I know, she's in charge of medical treatment, not entertainment. When I said that, she went away almost immediately. I am no expert on body language, but I got the impression she felt insulted." The human didn't seem to notice Spock's raised eyebrow. "She didn't say anything about my being in a 'shell.' If she wanted to make me interact more with people, I am surprised she didn't just say so."
Spock looked at her curiously. She seemed, on the surface, nonchalant, uninterested... as if someone else were being discussed... but whether from his long study of human beings or through some unknown channel of telepathy, Spock detected an element of deep concern and bewilderment beneath her calm veneer. She cared, she just didn't know how to express it. "I would not expect them to have directly referred to your state of introversion," he said gently. "The traditional method of 'bringing someone out of her shell' involves discussing numerous subjects unrelated to the person's condition itself, in an attempt to bring her into a routine of casual conversation. The questions you were asked were probably not intended to gain information but to engage you in discussion as a form of entertainment. It is known among humans, I believe, as 'small talk.'"
"Wow," said Maria, toying with her fork. "You know a lot more about human behavior than I do." The brown eyes once more appraised his ear, the closest she had come to looking him in the eye. "Language was designed to get across information," she sighed, thinking aloud again. "Why is there only one person on this whole ship who uses it for that purpose? And the person, no less, that the crew considers a 'last resort.'" She ran the end of the fork down the back of her hand. "Small talk..."
"You were not previously aware of this phenomenon? Are you not a human?"
The girl paused again, her head tilted in contemplation. "You know, sometimes I think I'm not."
* * *
They had spent nearly an hour talking.
"Out of my shell," Maria mused. "*I'd* just been wondering what kind of a shell *they* were in. I've been ignored here almost as much as at home."
"Did you not say that people approached to ask you questions?"
"Yes... but when I answered them, they went away."
"I believe one is expected to respond with questions of one's own."
"But there was nothing I wanted to find out..." Maria's look of confusion gradually turned to one of comprehension. "Oh, yeah. Small talk." She had begun to break the tines off her plastic fork and stick them like little towers in the foam of her plate. "I'll have to remember that. It's really not that I don't want to be friends with people, Spock. It's just that they speak a language I don't understand. Small talk... Humor, too. It wasn't too long ago I found out about humor. We were expecting a bomb and I had to cramp myself into the shelter with three sisters, a brother and eight cousins..."
"That does not sound humorous."
"It wasn't, but it happened so often, people had to come up with funny things to do when we were there. Especially my brother Matt. And Lily--she's a cousin. This time I was talking about, Lily sneaked some of Matt's rations and Matt pointed his fork at her and said, 'I'm gonna kill you for that.' I noticed I'd seen people saying things like that a lot and it occurred to me that this was another of those secrets of human interaction that nobody'd bothered to tell me about. But when I tried it the next week, I got in trouble."
"Possibly you did not correctly select the body language, voice tone and context?"
"Probably not. I said it while jumping out from around a corner at Matt as he walked by. I yelled it pretty loud, and I used a steak knife instead of a fork."
"I see the source of the difficulty," said Spock. He watched her dismember her fork in silence for a few moments more. "By any chance, were you attempting humor when you instructed the captain on the pronunciation of your name?"
"Yeah," said Maria. "I mean, I didn't say anything that wasn't true, but I expected people to laugh."
"And I believe they had similar expectations from you. One usually smiles while one is making a joke. Even a humorous complaint should be accompanied by a half-smile or rolling of the eyes to differentiate it from serious anger. And..." he noticed that she was looking at him again, but this time shifting her focus between his hair and his right eyebrow. "...one makes much more eye contact, as a rule, than I have observed you doing."
Maria looked him straight in the eyes then, and the surprise of it... it must have been the surprise... sent a sudden shiver through him.
"Fascinating," said Maria Susanne.
Spock was sure she had never yet heard him use that word. And if she had, would she have been able to grasp the humorous implications of imitating him? It seemed quite likely that it was merely a favorite word of her own.
"Fascinating. For someone who's not a human, you sure know about them, Spock. How do you do it?"
"I have had years of practice," he answered her. "I am forty-one years old. By the biology of my species, I am approximately the same age you appear to be. But much of my life was spent among Vulcans whose behavior did not at all resemble that of humans. When I first came to the Enterprise, I found them as difficult to comprehend as you do. I still encounter numerous difficulties."
"But you've learned?"
"I have found them an interesting subject of study, and made considerable progress."
"Thank you, Spock." She was not smiling--perhaps she feared being interpreted as trying to make a joke--but the warmth was palpable. "You inspiration."
* * *
As they put their dishes into the recycler, Spock's attention was diverted by staff medical officer Christine Chapel, who seemed to have deliberately chosen to dispose of her dinnerware at the same moment he did for the purpose of engaging him in conversation.
"Mr. Spock, would you come with me for a moment?" she asked, concern evident in her every movement. "I've found something that may be of interest to you."
The walk to sickbay was uneventful; Chapel did not even speak as she led him down the corridor. Spock found himself rather grateful for that, and suspected that the physician refrained from casual conversation with him because she had perceived his distaste for it. As a nurse serving under McCoy so long ago, she had been duly ashamed at the advances she had made toward him under the influence of Psi 2000, and always afterward endeavored to control all outward signs of her attraction to him, but even when they contained no connection to Spock himself, her inane comments and effervescent expressions of emotion grated on him.
What had Maria said? "I imagine that when she was in high school, she was a cheerleader." *An astute observation. Doctor Chapel is endowed with superb interpersonal skills where average humans are concerned, but with non-humans or humans somewhat outside the norm, she is socially handicapped.*
When they reached their destination, Chapel brought the Vulcan into a back office equipped with several computer terminals. "You see, Mr. Spock, I found something out about that girl we rescued a few days ago. I don't know, but I'd had a funny feeling about her." Chapel shivered in distaste. "She seemed... somehow... strange. Sneaky, sort of. Because, if you've noticed, she never looks at your eyes. And she's always alone, avoids people..."
"I had noticed, Miss Chapel."
"But anyway, I had a feeling she was... well... sort of familiar, in a way. I've seen a lot of sneaky people, but never one like her--except once." Christine turned on a monitor that Spock recognized as a general record database, deftly accessing a piece of information and gesturing for the first officer to look at it. "I was sure I'd seen someone once, a long time ago, who was sneaky in the same sort of way. I talked to Nyota and Janice, and I think Pavel, and they all said she seemed a little familiar to them too, though they only just realized it when I brought it up. She must've changed a lot since we last saw her. But we *did* recognize her, Mr. Spock, from *someplace*. And so I did a little research, and look what I came up with."
Spock bent over the computer. "Maria Susanne Schmidt, youngest cadet ever to serve on the Enterprise. Took an internship in 2267 from stardate 3372.0 through 3372.8, when she was fourteen years of age. She spent most of that time with Nyota Uhura, learning the basics of running the communications console, as she was a language major and interested in a job in that field; her parents, being wealthy and influential, made sure she studied with the most highly acclaimed professionals..."
"So you see," said Christine excitedly, "that we've got to figure out how she got from being a student of language at the Academy and aspiring communications officer to being twenty light-years away on a planet that was for some reason destroying itself with atomic war... *and* being the only one who sent us a distress call."
"There is no more information on her in the data banks?"
"None. It stops there. There's a brief mention of her under 'translators,' down here--seems she was a child prodigy with a gift for languages, and one of her parents was involved in building Federation ships' interpreting devices, and she was instrumental in some way at a very young age...eight through thirteen, I think. She apparently helped design some of the specific language translators that paved the way for the Universal ones. But nothing about her after she ended her cadet duties with us."
"Strange," remarked Spock. "I do not remember her as a cadet."
"You wouldn't," said Chapel, smiling.
Spock raised an eyebrow. "What brings you to that conclusion, doctor?"
"Never mind." Quickly she changed the subject. "Spock, do you have *any* insights on that girl? Have you learned *anything* about her?"
The first officer looked up abruptly. "I did have the discussion with her that you had suggested to me."
"Ah. Yes. Yes, Mr. Spock. What did she say?"
"I learned a great deal about her character. She is, like me, a singularly logical person..."
"Like you, of course." Chapel grinned.
"...but unlike me, she has had either a deficiency of opportunities for, or a disinterest in, learning the patterns in human illogic."
"You haven't had a disinterest in that, Mr. Spock?"
"I have not had a deficiency of opportunities for it, doctor."
"Yes. Mr. Spock." Chapel sat down at the computer. "But to get back to that Schmidt girl... While you were talking to her, did you notice any... well, any irregularities in her behavior that I've missed?"
"No irregularities, doctor. Her behavior appears to follow clear patterns of its own... perhaps more efficient patterns than those of most humans. I observed abnormalities... she failed to make eye contact, exhibited unusual table manners, and called me 'Spock' instead of 'Mr. Spock' or 'Sir'... abnormalities, as you would call them, but I suspect that for her, they are normalities."
"Well…" Christine looked dubious. "I'd better let you get back to whatever you were doing."
As Spock headed toward the door, a call from the human made him turn around.
"Spock, you seem to be on her side."
"I was not aware that our interactions with Miss Schmidt were a competition, doctor."
"You know what I mean."
"I do not."
"I said she looked sneaky."
"And I heard you."
"And you didn't seem to agree with me. In fact, you seemed distinctly fascinated by her, if not... I hesitate to say it about you, but... fond of her."
"Your perception is acute, doctor."
"You don't agree with me that she looks like she ought to have an eye kept on her?"
"If she does, it is for her own safety, and no one else's."
"What do you mean by that, Mr. Spock?"
But Spock was already gone.
* * *
From the bewildering chess board in the dangerous present, Spock looked back to the slightly less dangerous past.
* * *
They had had dinner together after that conversation with Christine. Maria made him promise to be quiet until they had finished eating.
"Or at least don't ask me questions," she had said. "I don't do dinner conversation. It doesn't make the least bit of sense. Two activities that involve the same orifice in your body ought to take place at different times. Illogical otherwise."
Spock raised a silent, admiring eyebrow. Apparently they had another favorite word in common.
When their eating/communication orifices were no longer occupied by the former, they turned to the latter.
"Tell me, Miss Schmidt," said Spock as he saw her wash down the last of her macaroni and cheese with a deep drink of milk, "about your planet."
Maria Susanne made a face that Spock supposed must be the equivalent, in her personal code of body language, to critically lowered brows and narrowed eyes. "Is this small talk?"
"Negative. I am genuinely interested. The entire crew is interested. We know nothing about the cause of the Unity nuclear wars, nothing about your past and that of your people. Your apparent antisocial tendencies are being perceived as a barrier to the acquisition of this important knowledge."
"Antisocial? I *told* you, Spock..."
"I know. But humans find it difficult to understand that one of their species would not automatically be equipped with instinctive understanding of their code of body language and social skills, and it is assumed that one who does not adhere to these customs does not wish to."
"Spock." Maria Susanne reached into the pocket of her sweatpants and pulled out a thick cylindrical bottle that looked as though it had been through as many years of hardship and violence as her clothes, her suitcase and her. "Do you know what this is?"
"It appears to be a medicine container of archaic design."
"And look what's inside it." She poured out into her palm a seemingly endless series of small tablets and capsules, reciting their names as she did so. "Mellaril. Paxil. Tegretol. Prozac. Clonidine. Klonipin. Haldol. Rispradol. Dexedrine. Et cetera. Et cetera. Ad infinitum. Day after day. Six of them in the morning. Eight in the evening. Do you know how much this costs? Do you know how many neurons it takes to remember how many I take, and when? Do you know how hard it is to *swallow* all of these?" She poured half the heap of pills in her mouth and downed them with another gulp of milk. "Do you think I'd still be carrying around this archaic medicine container full of archaic medicine if I didn't *desperately* hope someday to be able to get along with my species?"
Spock looked on in fascination He had never seen so much medicine in any form other than the hypospray, and recognized only a few of the names, and those from records of near-ancient medical history. "What purpose do these medications serve?"
"What I have," said Maria Susanne, pouring the pills out onto the table, "among several other things, is Asperger's Syndrome--mild autism, you know. We're not like most autistics, we're more verbal, we pass for normal more easily, but we lack social skills almost completely. There's no medication for Asperger's per se; they have to treat my symptoms individually. As well as those of my other disorders." She began to divide her medicine into small piles. "These are for Tourette tics. These are for depression. These are for hyperactivity. These are for ADD..."
"Who prescribes these for you? Who buys them?"
"My psychiatrist and my aunt. Respectively. As part of their Unity celebration of the qualities that make us the same. Sure they help--the pills, I mean--but they're not really for my sake. An abnormal child is a shame on the family. Of course, now that the planet's been blown up, I'll have to buy them myself." She continued categorizing tablets. "These are for obsessive compulsions. These are for other compulsions. Which you don't want to know about."
"Which I do not want to know about?"
Maria Susanne sighed. "I am the only person on New Unity who acts as if she's on drugs only when she is *not* ." She paused, then revised. "I mean, I *was* . Now, of course, New Unity is gone, and I can be the only such person on the Enterprise."
Again, the nonchalant disinterestedness. Spock could sense little hidden concern this time. "You seem surprisingly calm about the destruction of your planet, Miss Schmidt."
"It isn't my planet. It's a planet I was forced to move to, in a conspiracy to make me normal."
Spock raised an eyebrow.
"I was never normal. I never understood normal people. So what do my parents do? They say, 'Let's move to a planet where people who aren't normal get ATOMIC BOMBS DROPPED ON THEM!'"
There was a stunned silence. Spock realized he was on the verge of discovering New Unity's violent fate, and he knew now that there were discoveries it was more comfortable not to make.
"I thought that the Unity society was dedicated to the proposition that the universal similarities in human beings were to be celebrated."
"Exactly. And that's where they messed up. Because they didn't reckon with one thing." Maria Susanne toyed with a Dexedrine capsule, pausing a moment. "*There are no universal similarities in human beings* ."
The Vulcan eyebrows rose once more.
"Oh, of course there are some. The most basic physical structure and such. But it doesn't sound inspirational to say, 'Let's celebrate the fact that each human is composed of cells containing nucleic acids with the blueprints for his whole body!' Oh, no, you have to say, 'Let's celebrate the fact that everyone has a heart to feel love and friendship!'"
"And that is not true of all humans?"
"Not all. Not of me." Maria Susanne tried arranging some pills on the table in a smiley face, then scattered them angrily. "I have never, for example, felt love. Either familial love or sexual love. I am not heterosexual, you know."
Spock barely concealed his surprise at such a personal statement being made so casually. He *hadn't* known...
"But I'm not homosexual either. I'm sort of... non-sexual. I have simply never experienced that kind of attraction. Or any other kind. I never loved my family. Probably because they never loved me. I was a kind of trophy to them... a six-year-old who wrote sonnets, an eight-year-old who drew like an artist, an eleven-year-old who'd taught herself to speak five languages fluently and invented two more. They showed me off. I was a trophy. A tool as well. Dad's got the credit for five translating machines that *I* invented."
"You are mentioned in the data banks."
"Excellent. I'd like to look through those sometime and see how far they managed to get from the truth." Maria Susanne began, slowly, methodically, to sort her pills once more, this time by color. "But being a prodigy wasn't enough. I had to be normal as well. Finishing my last year at the Academy, this close to graduation, and I do something or say something that it turned out wasn't the thing I was expected to do or say or whatever, and they say, 'Let's go to New Unity. They'll teach you to be normal there.'"
"And it did not meet with your expectations?"
"Can't say it didn't. I expected it to be horrible and it was."
"Horrible in what way?"
Maria Susanne paused, coming closer to showing emotion than Spock had ever seen her. "They treated me beastly on Earth, of course. My family, at least. Absolutely beastly. But this was beastly to the eighteenth power. Do you know what 'celebrate the things that make all humans the same' really means? It means, set up a planet where only humans are allowed--because even the most idiotic of normal people can figure out there's no way to come up with anything all 'sentient beings' have in common, or even to *define* a sentient being, for that matter--and treat all those humans with equal love and respect... *except* the humans who happen *not* to have anything in common with anyone else. We become the outcasts. It was high school, on a government level. Martha Colette's founding speech became their Bible. 'Everyone knows what it is like to feel love and friendship'--I've never liked anyone and no one's ever liked me. 'Everyone grieves when a family member is lost'--my parents died in the first bombing and I didn't care. 'A smile means friendship to everyone'--I was twelve years old before I'd figured out body language that far. So I was ruled, by unspoken social decree, not to be human. Special Ed, social workers... you probably don't know anything about them, it's been decades since Earth progressed beyond treating people like me that way, but stuff like that sprang up on New Unity almost as soon as the colony got founded. The way they talked to me, you'd never imagine they weren't talking to their dog or something. I was simply not one of their species."
Shocked as he was at this torrent of revelations, one word among them caught Spock's attention enough to distract him from the thought of the life Maria was describing.
"You mentioned a bombing?"
"There were several before war was finally declared."
The war. He was finally getting to the bottom of this. "Yes?" Spock encouraged.
"I think it took that long because we refused at first to take the enemy seriously. By all the laws of our great society, they didn't even exist. Oh, in a few years they got taken seriously, all right. But first it was them bombing us, and us bombing them, and expecting the problem to go away, and then they bomb us again, and vice versa, and so on. I think each side had dropped half a dozen bombs before there was an official war."
"Who was the enemy?"
Maria Susanne began building a little tower of Clonidine. It was eight tablets high before she spoke again.
"They called themselves the New Lazarus society. Something about 'lazar' being an early word for 'leper.' We called them the Nerds. They called us the Jocks, or sometimes the Cheerleaders. *I* called them..." Maria showed no reaction as her Clonidine tower toppled with the sixteenth pill. "...I called them the people who had only one thing in common: that they had nothing in common with us."
"You do not identify yourself with them?" Spock mentally rebuked himself for the question. When had the personal opinions of this young outcast become a more important subject to him than the Unity war? The reaction was illogical, but he was not as surprised at the final revelation of the identities of the warring parties as he was at Maria Susanne's use of the words "they" and "we."
"I couldn't. My family guarded me with an iron fist. I wasn't allowed to speak to them. They weren't allowed to speak to me. My sister Billie managed to run away and join them when I was about nineteen. I remember her saying that it was the last straw..."
"Being drafted. There was never much of a supply of people who liked dealing with electronics. Before the war, they were all forced to go into the most vital computer engineering fields--regulating the water supply, the energy, the transportation. When the war became more important than that, they had to design missiles. Billie refused. Before she ran away, she built me a beacon. I didn't tell you this, but contacting anyone off-planet was illegal, and the plans for hailing devices had all been destroyed. She had to come up with the design on her own. Invent it all over again. I remember the last thing she said to me. Almost verbatim."
The veneer of nonchalance was as thin as Spock had seen it. "What did she say?"
"She said, 'Look, Maria, I know we've never been close. You're a language nerd and I'm a computer nerd. But we both belong with people like New Lazarus, and if you've got any right to that 143-point IQ of yours, you'll run away first chance you get. I'm staying here to fight to the finish, but the best place for you is off-planet. When this thing tells you a Federation ship is coming by, you call them, and best of luck to you."
"So it was your sister who was responsible for your distress call."
"Yes. In effect, she saved my life." The emotional shield was up again--not a shield like Spock's, put in place to hide feelings, but a mere absence of the knowledge of emotional expression, through which the emotions could be felt only by their sheer intensity within. It was up--meaning the emotions were no longer strong enough to show through as clearly--but her next words, if they had been spoken with the voice tone that they clearly deserved, would have been as expressive as any tears.
"I wish she'd let me know earlier that she was the closest thing to a friend I ever had."
Spock studied her curiously for a moment, his own emotions stirring uncomfortably. "You never felt... sexual attraction... you never felt love for your family... and you never felt friendship either?"
"How could I, when no one ever felt any of those for me?" Maria Susanne began loading her pills back into their container. "Do you know what adolescence is like, for someone with autism? Do you know what it's like for someone with Tourette's? For someone with OCD? With ADD? It was all of that for me, and then some. Do you know what it's like to be sixteen years old and have a social worker--one, mind you, who spells 'its' with an apostrophe in the possessive, 'a lot' as one word and 'there' in whichever way it *isn't* supposed to be spelled at the moment--come up to you and criticize you for shutting your locker too loudly?" Maria's tone had never sounded more as though there ought to be emotion in it. "Now before you answer, add this to the scenario: She doesn't say, 'Maria, you shut your locker too loudly.' She says..." and the human affected a high-pitched, baby-talk voice. "'*Now how do we shut our lockers, Maria*?'"
Spock raised the eyebrow again, hoping this version of his one facial expression got across a sufficient amount of sympathy.
"It was like that all through school on New Unity. Tourette's and everything else aside, when autism alone gets on the record, the student instantly loses her identity. Do you know the 20th century? Movies they made back then? You heard of Rain Man? That's what happens when they know you have autism. You become Rain Man. Or worse, the 'mentally disabled child' stereotype. You can be eighteen and they assume you have the mind of a three-year-old. They ignore all evidence to the contrary. You can have an IQ of 143, you can create languages and write books and sonnets and draw pictures people mistake for photographs, it's all the same. I corrected my teachers' grammar in high school. Do you know what they did? They *yelled* at me. They sent a referral to my parents. I never missed a class, or a test, or a homework assignment my whole freshman year of college. Do you know what they did? Every time they saw me come in with my homework done? They said, '*Good choice, Maria*!'"
" 'Good *choice* '?"
"That's Special Ed's idea of praise. They thought they had to hammer it into our heads that we made 'choices' and they had 'consequences'--that's what punishments were called, too, by the way, 'consequences'--so everything we did was described as a 'choice.' Correcting the teacher is a 'bad choice.' Do you know what I told them, in junior high? I said, 'Every event in the space-time continuum is affected by every previous event and affects every subsequent event, and is the product of a chain of events leading back to the beginning of the universe, and if the universe began all over again with all the same matter in the same places, history would be identical; our actions are a result of physical processes in our brains determined by the physical effects of outside forces and the physical construction of our brains themselves, both of which result from similar chains of events, therefore, the choices we make are inevitable.'"
"You said that?"
"I said that. And do you know what they said that was?"
"A... bad choice?"
Maria Susanne nodded. "A bad choice."
Spock picked up his tray, realizing that his dinner hour was nearly at an end and the next duty shift would begin soon. "And this was life on New Unity for you?"
"A small slice of it, but representative of the whole."
"And your childhood...?"
"Wasn't much better, as I said. But in between, there was one thing that made my life worth living." She began gathering up the remains of her meal, shoving the pill bottle back in her pocket. It made an asymmetrical lump on one hip of her ugly pink pants.
"My time as a cadet on the Enterprise."
He finally caught her gaze, and once more, the rare moment of eye contact was electric.
"I am glad that you enjoyed it," he murmured.
"You will never know how much, Spock. For nine days I had a taste of the life I wanted. It didn't matter then, that my life up till then had been horrible, and I didn't know then, where I was going to spend the rest of it. I was *happy*. I was learning how to use the communications systems, I was showing off my talents and people were admiring me... and Nyota was so nice, so kind to me. She was the first to introduce me to Christine. I even managed to get along with Christine pretty well ... except once she was really worked up about something... snapped at me and made me go synthesize a whole package of plomeek soup ingredients..."
If Maria Susanne was watching him, training all her limited skills on gauging his reaction to what she said, Spock did not notice.
Because now he realized what the doctor had meant when she said Spock could not have been expected, at the time, to notice a new cadet...
And he realized for the first time how long it had been since then...
And for the first time he realized that time was dangerous.
* * *
Not as dangerous as it was now, with T'Ria looking at him over the chessboard expecting him to make a move that his hands did not know how to make... when there was only one thing his body could do, for which the desire was raging so violently that the shreds of his mind that remained could hardly hold it back... and he knew he must not allow himself the release toward which his instincts drove him, even if it meant that he would die when the chess game ended, die slowly, painfully, and alone...
Even three months ago, with the threat of destruction and with Maria Susanne's insanity claiming her as his even now was claiming him, time could never have been this dangerous...
And once more, memory of the past enveloped him in its deceptive illusion of security, and three months dropped away as if they had never been there.
* * *
To the past again, to the day he had discovered the feeling. Discovered the woman who was now at his chessboard. Discovered understanding.
It had been half a year since the distress call. For half a year Maria's relocation to a new home had been postponed and postponed again, Spock somehow always being the one to find an excuse for it. He studied her and he was fascinated by her, too fascinated to relinquish his new-found experiment. For she was an engrossing experiment, turning up in every conversation a new set of clues to his studies of the human psyche--and just as many new questions.
Half a year spent in silent dinners with Maria, eating and watching her eat... in hours of conversation afterwards, reading her poetry and her invented languages and mentoring her on human behavior... and in solitary anguish in his quarters, trying to discover some means of protection against the danger of time. His forty-second birthday had come and gone. It was as he was leaving for another of the silent dinners he had come to enjoy that Uhura alerted the bridge crew to the incoming communication.
They had just had a skirmish with a Klingon ship, some renegades afraid of some distant prospect of alliance and going around stirring up trouble between the Federation and the Empire. It had taken out their shields and damaged the hull considerably, but they had retaliated with a disabling shot at its weapons before it could take further advantage of their vulnerability. Understandably, however, there was tension when the communications officer announced, "Being hailed by an unknown vessel, sir."
Spock turned around and reentered the bridge as Kirk announced, "On screen."
The creature that flickered into view was humanoid, and despite the blue skin, snow-white hair and antennae, could be identified as an elderly male (or the closest thing in the complicated Andorian gender system). The ship, however, was recognizable as a Federation one--either this was one of the few Andorians who had left their homeworld to join Starfleet, or the ship rightfully belonged to someone else.
"I am Captain Lai'i of the Federation starship Etland," said the image. "I recognize you, Captain James T. Kirk. My starbase has given me a missile which I am under orders to fire through the hull of your beautiful ship."
There was a stunned silence.
Finally the captain broke it, saying in a faltering voice, "What is the reason for this?"
"Dear sir, I have no idea. I was simply the only vessel between here and the base that was going your way--and that, I believe, is why I was chosen. I am not at all sure what the missile is for. I was only asked to fire it at you."
"We have done nothing to incite that kind of reaction in anyone," said Kirk in bewilderment, "let alone the Federation."
"I believe it was decided as a result of your recent conflict with the Klingon ship."
"They attacked us first. We were fighting back. And we didn't even hurt them. We just took out their phasers."
"But they damaged your vessel, I understand, which I believe is why it was decided that you should receive the missile at this time. You are very vulnerable to weapons at the moment. Please, sir, I must fire it into your vessel. I have things of my own to do, you know."
"Can we negotiate, at least?"
"We can negotiate the time," acceded the Andorian, his good-natured look not shifting a millimeter, "but according to my orders, the missile must be fired today."
Kirk turned and paced for a while, and finally said: "Then give me an hour to inform my crew."
"Certainly, Captain Kirk," said the smiling Lai'i, and the viewscreen was shut off as Kirk moved to confer hastily with his officers.
"The Federation would never order anyone to shoot us!" objected Chekov.
"Precisely. This is ridiculous. What do you think, Sulu?"
"Well, the Andorians describe themselves as a violent race, captain, and though they don't seem like that type at first glance, I've heard stories. Their culture's said to regard dangerous conflict as an everyday issue, to be treated quite casually. I wouldn't be completely surprised if one decided to lob a missile at us just for fun."
"I mean, what are your ideas for a course of action?"
"Captain, I think the only choice is to fire and disable his weapons before he gets the chance. With our shields out, plus the damage we just sustained, I don't think we can handle another fight."
"But what if we miss? I don't even think I know where the phaser banks are on a ship like that one."
A communication from the area of the mess hall interrupted before Spock could voice his own opinion.
"Chapel to bridge. Passenger Maria Susanne Schmidt is experiencing severe behavior problems. Is Commander Spock terribly busy at the moment? I know how familiar he is with her and I was thinking maybe she might calm down if--"
And Spock did something very illogical.
For no sufficient reason, following no rational thought process, he abandoned the bridge crew in a dangerous confrontation with an alien ship...
...to make sure Maria was all right.
* * *
He found her standing on top of the table at which she usually ate, surrounded by a crowd of crewmembers and passengers.
"I'm going to jump," she called, through fits of laughter. "I'm serious, I'm going to jump. Don't think I won't do it, 'cause I will."
Spock appraised the distance between her and the floor. It was little more than a meter. He turned to Chapel, who was looking with concern at Maria Susanne. "Doctor, what is the matter?"
"Well, you can see for yourself, Mr. Spock..."
"I meant, what is the probable cause of this lapse?" Spock could not believe how harshly he was speaking, how fast his heart was beating...
"I think she forgot her medication, Mr. Spock. She refuses to come down and take it. She says about once a minute that she wants to be calm, that she will be calm, and then starts laughing hysterically again."
"I didn't take my meds," said Maria Susanne in a high sing-song voice. "I'm going crazy. Dammit, Spock, help me, I'm going crazy." She didn't seem to notice that Spock was there... seemed only to be calling to him hypothetically in her own insanity.
And Spock ran to her side to catch her as she fell laughing convulsively from the table.
His first impulse was merely to take her away, to remove her from the sight of all the crewmembers who didn't understand. Irrational anger flared up... they could not see her like this, she would not want them to. Seeing her dead would be better! Or unconscious... a nerve pinch? Somehow he recoiled from the idea; it would be too much like restraint, like something a social worker would do. He was painfully aware of how ridiculous they both looked as they stood there, almost in each other's arms, Spock breathing heavily in near-panic, Maria laughing like a maniac.
Gently he moved his hands to the meld points of her face. The chaos of her unmedicated mind struck him unpleasantly as they met. *Maria. Calm. Please. *
His mind touch sobered her considerably. *Oh, Spock, what did I do? Oh, no... everyone's looking at me, Spock, get me away from here. *
And all he could do was soothe her confusion, smooth down the remaining madness as best he could. When it began to dissipate, he was startled by the order and clarity of this mind he had never touched before. He ached to explore it further...
A small thought of his ventured into the corridors of her psyche, a disorganized thought, something about her, something about him, something about time... something also about the situation on the bridge, which must be getting desperate by now, and which he'd better go check on before anything more went wrong.
Her mind explored his confused communication, caught out the part about the bridge, which she examined with interest.
*You left that to check on me, Spock?*
*I was worried.*
*You were illogical. It happens a lot. It won't kill me.*
*I am sorry I could not help you earlier. Before people saw you like this. *
*Spock, go back there. Now. And take this. You'll need it. *
Her mind shoved into his mind a tiny string of knowledge, wrapped up neatly. *Language, it's a mess. If only everyone could talk like this. Go, Spock. Go on! Now!*
That was when Spock seemed for the first time to come to his senses. *Forgive me. You have been logical, and I have not. Your mind is fascinating, Maria. Fascinating. Remember that.*
And his thoughts were disconnected from hers, his hands from her face, and she was standing there as calm as ever, watching him rush away to where he was needed.
* * *
"Has the matter been decided, Captain?"
"We've decided Sulu's right. Either way, the maniac is going to shoot us, and if we get in the first shot, we've at least got a chance at hitting his weapons."
The memory of the Andorian on the viewscreen surfaced in Spock's mind. Maniac was the word for him... and yet he didn't seem like a maniac at all, in his look and mannerisms... a kind old man, excessively polite perhaps...
The bundle of thoughts from Maria began to unfold itself. It opened with rapid speed... the knowledge blared out at him, presented itself in a blaze in front of his eyes...
"On screen!" called Spock suddenly.
The Andorian appeared, the same polite smile on his face. "Yes, officer? Are you ready for our missile?"
"Quite ready, Captain Lai'i. Fire it immediately."
* * *
Minutes later the confusion had cleared, the engineers were installing the new replacement part that would restore the function of the shields, and Spock was in the hall with Maria Susanne, walking her from the mess to her quarters. When they passed the bridge, Maria paused to catch what the captain was saying to Uhura as he walked out.
"...And send a communication as soon as possible to the translator company, Lieutenant, and tell them it's all right if a language has the same word for *some* things, but that a distinction between the Andorian for 'a missile' and 'a delivery,' not to mention 'to beam' and 'to fire,' would be a useful upgrade."
Maria laughed softly in satisfaction and walked on.
"I trust, Miss Schmidt, that this was not one of the translators that you designed."
"Spock, I was *eight years old*. How was I supposed to know--"
Kirk came up behind them at that moment, a grateful smile on his face. "Spock, I can't believe what you just stopped me from doing. We can always rely on the infinite stores of information between those pointy ears to save us in a crisis, can't we?"
"Well, actually, it was..." began Spock, but Maria seized his hand in an iron grip, sending a clear message: *this is your moment, Spock. You deserve it. *
*I do not,* his mind replied through the touch. *You are responsible. *
But then he realized her implied meaning: *Do not discuss it. Do not discuss the time when I gave you that information. Do not discuss what was happening to me. It is a state of mind I do not like to think about.*
And Spock understood, all too well.
* * *
At her door, he took his leave of her. "You have been most helpful today, Miss Schmidt. I am grateful to you on behalf of the entire crew."
"And I'm grateful to you, Spock. About what you did for me in the mess hall. You'll never know how embarrassed I get, after something like that happens. Okay, I admit it, I do wish you'd gotten there earlier."
"Did you receive sufficient nourishment during dinner?"
"I'm still a little hungry. But I think I can hold out till breakfast. How long is it till then?"
"Till your customary morning mealtime? Eight point three six five hours."
"Rain Man," she teased.
And then he realized just how well he understood her.
Because the words "Rain Man" had completed the connection.
* * *
*The shield of not knowing how to express...*
*The shield put up to control the expression...*
*No one liked me... I was ruled by unspoken social decree not to be human...*
*Running home crying from children in ShiKhar... You are not a true Vulcan...*
*It's not that I don't want to be friends with people, it's just that they speak a language I don't understand...*
*Human behavior is illogical...*
*I didn't take my meds... Oh, no... everyone's looking at me, Spock, get me away from here...*
*Captain, lock me away. I do not wish to be seen...*
*Seems she was a prodigy...*
*Eight point three six five hours... Rain Man...*
Could any understanding, between any two beings, ever have been so great?
And he knew that it was 2274 and he knew how many years it was since 2267 and he knew that there was only one person whose help he would willingly accept.
And that she could from that moment no longer be Miss Schmidt, or Maria, or Maria Susanne, but that his mind was even then giving her a secret name that she could never hear, but that would be whispered to her so often in his dreams...
* * *
And he didn't know, three months later as he sat across from her at the chessboard in his quarters with time becoming more dangerous by the minute, how she had talked him into a game of chess at a time like this... his memory, like his control, was fast failing, and all that remained in his mind of his agreement to the game was a vaguely recalled desperation to be near her, even over a chessboard, even when that nearness was torture. He only knew that he had no right to what he wanted from her. That she would never understand what it was to be a social creature, of any species; that she had no idea of the commitment she would be making. That he must let her leave after the game was over, and die with her secret name on his lips.
"YOUR TURN, SPOCK!"
Blindly, and with incredible effort, he reached out a hand, pushing the first piece his fingers came in contact with, hoping the direction in which he pushed it would turn out, by pure chance, to be a valid move. Only to get the game over with, to be alone, to be freed from this torment, this agonizing temptation!
A moment, a small motion, incomprehensible to his eyes, on the chessboard.
"I can't believe this, Spock," said T'Ria. "Check."
Spock stared straight ahead, his coordination capable of accomplishing only one goal, and a forbidden one... the idea of moving another chess piece at all, let alone getting his king out of danger, was ludicrous...
"Check," repeated T'Ria. "Check... and... *mate*."
And that undid him.
There was no more control and Spock was pulling her across the chessboard into his arms, scattering the remains of their game all over the table, her knight and his king falling across each other on the space they now shared... and through the sudden contact his mind cried out to her, using the secret name without thinking.
*Run away and leave me, T'Ria, before it is too late...*
*I want this.*
*I shall hurt you...*
*I want this*.
*Our minds will have to bond...*
*I want this.*
*T'Ria, you do not know the...*
*If you say the 'consequences' of my 'choice,' it is quite possible that I shall scream.*
There was a glance between their souls, a mind's eye contact.
*I know what I am doing and I have wanted it for a very long time, Spock.*
*I thought you were non-sexual, Maria.*
*Call me T'Ria. I like it. *
*T'Ria. I thought you did not feel love.*
*I never felt sexual attraction. I never felt love for a family member. I never felt friendship. But I have felt something that was all three. There was one person whose career I'd followed since I was a little kid... one person I finally met for a short time, long ago... one person I felt could be a friend, and a brother, and a lover. *
A smoke-wisp of confusion in the midst of the fire.
*One person in the whole galaxy I finally had something in common with.*
Clouds of bewilderment, flickering wordless questions at her.
*Spock, do you know how many centuries I have waited for this?*
*Point zero seven.*
The eye contact of her mind was as thrilling as that of the eyes of her face.
*That's seven years.*
Then the confusion caught fire from an understanding spark.
*Do you have any idea how long that is? Seven years, Spock. Two of them on Earth, studying day and night trying to qualify for being a real officer on the Enterprise. Then another two on Unity, wishing my parents were dead, until the war started and they were. Then two more, hiding in bomb shelters every week and wondering how the human species had made it this far when they were such lunatics. Then finally a year with that damnable hailing device, trying to keep myself from smashing it against a rock every time it told me a ship was coming over but it wasn't a Federation one. All the time hoping you'd at least have the sense to get bonded before you'd need it, even if it wasn't to me. Frankly, I didn't think I had much chance. But I waited. Seven damn long years.*
*To the day. This is the septennial anniversary of you pasting Christine with the soup she made out of the ingredients I synthesized, and when I heard about that I would have laughed my butt off if I hadn't known you had a bondmate waiting for you down at Koon-ut-kal-i-fee that I was even more jealous of. Can you blame me for quitting my internship early? How could I live with you, knowing you were hers? If I had to identify the happiest day of my life, there wouldn't be much competition, but I'd have to place it about a week ago, when I was finally sure that if she hadn't divorced you seven years ago you'd already be on Vulcan.*
His mind flinched, and she realized she'd said something wrong.
*Oh, Spock, I'm sorry. I'm an autistic bitch with no social skills. You had to kill someone, didn't you?*
*The story is complicated. I will tell you someday. But she is no longer my bondmate.*
Dimly at first, them with growing clarity, he became aware of the fusing of their minds. Like memories forgotten and then suddenly brought back by some unexpected stimulus, cloudy long-ago occurrences were beginning to surface. A slammed locker, a bomb shelter, a communications console... events from a lonely childhood, a terrifying young adulthood, a bright and then rapidly darkening handful of days in between. Memories he knew were Maria's, but were now branding themselves into him so deeply that they were his too.
*You are my bondmate. We are joining. I cannot control it. *
*If you tried, I'd hit you.*
*I must know that you truly want this.*
*You can read my mind, can't you?*
He explored her mind, the incredible mind that was now his mind too, and found the thought, the burning desire, that was as urgent, in its own way, as his.
*I want it as much as you do. And I know you do, Spock. You want to be bonded to me. You want to know what I'm thinking all the time. Because my mind is fascinating. You said so.*
*Stay with me. Please. Will you stay with me forever?*
*Of course. How can I not? We'll be bonded. I may leave the Enterprise, of course. I may go to the other end of the galaxy. I may become the captain of another ship. I may defect to the Romulans for all I know. Or I may go to Earth and stay there for a decade or so. Which in fact I consider a serious option at the moment. *
*Go to Earth?*
*I've been a translator since I was eight--helping communicate ideas between the cultures of different planets. Now I think I'll try helping one species communicate with itself. There are people like me all over Earth, people who were born on the wrong planet. Half-human-half-Vulcans trapped in full-human bodies. With their Vulcan and human halves constantly struggling inside them, a desire and its goal stuck in every one of those heads with a wall between them, the side that needs to interact with the rest of the world fighting to push past the side that doesn't know how. And they need someone to teach them the... patterns of human illogic.*
*Do you consider yourself prepared for the task?*
*I learned from an expert. No--don't raise your eyebrow at me, Spock. You're an expert on illogic. And no, that doesn't mean you're illogical. Illogical people are never experts on illogic. You've got to be an outsider to study something right. And you've got to be an insider to relate to someone enough to really teach them what you've studied. I'm an outsider to more than ninety per cent of the human race. I'm an insider to a tiny minority--autistic, nerd, whatever. They need me. And I'll help them. I'll teach them about the patterns in human illogic. I'll teach the other humans about our patterns, and get it through their thick heads that we're people too. I'll invent a new kind of translating! But Spock, I'll stay with you anyway, no matter how far away from you I go. If I remember correctly, the phrase to describe our present condition translates most accurately as "never and always touching."*
*Never and always...*
*I've waited seven years for this. To bond. To be never and always touching you, parted and never parted, less than married, more than betrothed, yours for ever and ever. And if that isn't a clear expression of emotion, I don't know if I'm capable of one.*
*Seven years... how did you know? How did you know it, seven years ago? Everyone promised not to tell...*
*And no one broke his promise. I recognized the symptoms.*
He could no longer tell where they were, or what they were doing. His body must have lost control completely, he realized, but strangely he was not shocked by thoughts of himself and T'Ria convulsing violently together on his bed or floor, their clothes lying in shreds around them, table and chairs and chessboard smashed and strewn about in their madness. The physical universe outside of their joined minds suddenly held no importance for him... the thoughts in that inner universe held him captivated.
*T'Pau's archives on bonding rituals tell everything, Spock.*
The blue flame was clearing to a golden blaze of comprehension.
*A language interpreting device has to have at least some words about marriage in it...*
Now he understood in blinding sunlight.
*But if you read up on them, if you go paging through Vulcan literature figuring out from context the best translations for things like "never and always touching," you run across stuff in between them that your parents might not want you to see...*
The fire of understanding was brightening like the rays of 40 Eridani for the two spirits between whom it could most brightly blaze in all the galaxy. And time was no longer dangerous.
*I know about this, Spock. I know every 'choice' I am making. There were words they didn't let me put in the first Vulcan/Standard translator, you know. *
*Which you designed, T'Ria?*
*When I was eight point five years old, Rain Man.*
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