The Captain and the Comma
by Bersakhi (GET ADDRESS)Background: Many moons ago, Omega posted a great story called "The Captain and the Commander." Due to the length restrictions of my subject window in my mailbox, it came up only as "The Captain and the Comma". What a curious title, I thought, then realized upon opening that it of course had nothing to do with punctuation. However, the title stuck in my mind, and this is the result.
This story is dedicated to Omega, with a special nod to Sue who did the research to help me finish, and to all those punctuation sticklers out there!
Bet you're wonderin' how it all started.
Well, it wasn't long after the V'Ger thing. You've probably heard of it, at least the main story. Some of the details are classified, like what happened to Decker and Ilia... but I won't go into that. It was in the news for a week or so, then it died down as all things do. I don't know what the story is now, and Joanna doesn't write much anymore, not since I was hauled away from Earthly duties by "him". As if I had any choice.
Anyway, I was headin' to the mess one day, feelin' kinda good, maybe smug. Helluva reception in San Fran when we got there, and it was still ringing in my blood.
So I walked in, got my coffee, and over by the windows I saw Jim. Not at the captain's table like usual. Now that struck me a little odd, knowing how many butts got kicked to give him back that title. I figured he'd make sure everyone *knew* he was captain again, especially with so many new crewmembers on board. But there he was, all alone, and starin' off into... well, space.
Naturally, I couldn't resist. I know I'd pissed off Jim as much as I could've over the Decker thing, so there wasn't much else I could say now. But I did feel the need to reconnect, to get back under his skin, in a good way. He didn't even look up when I sat down, just said "Hi, Bones," like he was expectin' me.
I slipped in across from him and hi'd back. "So, Jimboy, what's on your mind?" I noticed that he'd been worryin' the edge of his cup, and seein' that there was still plenty left over, and not steaming, I figured he'd let it set awhile. I know he likes his coffee hot.
Seemed like a long time before he came back to me. Then he mumbled, "Nothing, Bones," as if I'd believe it. He might as well have been beggin' me to ask, he knew I wouldn't let it drop. So I played along.
"Seen Spock lately?"
I'd been a little worried about that Vulcan, cryin' in public and all, and it was an innocent enough question. I really was curious and figured Jim of all people would know. But I swear the moment I brought up that pointy eared hobgoblin those eyes came up at me all nervous like. Then Jim looked away and got all stiff, and in a kinda defensive voice said, "No. Should I have?"
I'm used to bein' snapped at by Jim, but that tone was full of indignance. I decided to stow that one for later. So I changed tack.
"You keepin' track of the newsvids?" Like I said, I really wanted to know.
But I also knew he wouldn't have, especially when it involved him. Funny how he is that way-- drawn to reveling in conflict where he can exact his own power, but shying away from glorification.
He tried to be nonchalant, which told me his next question meant more to him than he wanted me to believe. "Have you read the transcripts yet?"
I wasn't really playin' dumb when I asked him, "What transcripts?"
"The ones from the ship's logs," he went on, not lookin' at me, and playin' with his cup again. "During the V'Ger incident."
How mysterious! I was on the hunt. He had, after all, baited me, and I was out of so much practice tryin' to dissect Jim's character that I jumped in with relish.
"Well, now that you mention it," I said to him," I haven't had time. Have you?"
I watched him for another clue, but he just nodded, real quiet. Then he frowned and his mouth was workin' like he had somethin' to say but just couldn't get it out. "I'd like you to read it."
That's when I noticed the padd by his elbow, and he shoved it over to me. Intrigued, I put my own cup down and gave it a look over. It was cued to the time we were all in sickbay, after Spock was spit out by the V'Ger machine... intelligence... whatever. That blasted Vulcan sure had us worried. I was more worried about Jim, frankly, to have Spock returned and then maybe taken away again so quickly. Even if they were throwing barbs at each other most of the time.
Anyway, the scene looked weird in print. It's regulation to transcribe the conversations so that they can be correlated to the actual logs and tapes. Comes in pretty handy for kids at the academy too, where they can pick up a few pointers from the great ones like Jim. But to see only the spoken words made it really two dimensional.
I recalled the moment instantly and I started to smile. How could I forget? It made me warm all over just to relive it. I was wonderin' if maybe Jim was embarrassed now that all the universe was witness to that special moment. I read on, and this is what it said:
*Cmdr. Spock: V'Ger has knowledge that spans the universe. And yet, with all its pure logic, V'Ger is barren. Cold. No beauty. I should've... known (unclear)
Capt. Kirk: Known? Known what? Spock!
Dr. McCoy: Captain... .
Capt. Kirk: Bones!*
I kinda winced at that, rememberin' how sharp and panicked his look was, one of desperation. I hadn't seen that look in years and it kinda shook me. I read on.
*Capt. Kirk: Spock, what should you have known? What should you have known?
Spock: Jim. This simple feeling is beyond V'Ger's comprehension. No meaning, no hope. And Jim, no answers. It's asking questions.
Capt. Kirk: What questions?
Cmdr. Spock: Is this all that I am? Is there nothing more?*
It went on for pages more until the end, when Jim left sickbay and the action resumed on the bridge. I looked up at him and saw him watchin' me expectantly.
"Yeah? What about it?" I said.
Jim was squirmin', I swear. Finally he asked me if it had been transcribed correctly, if that was how I'd remembered it. "Sure it is," I said, wonderin' where this was goin'.
He said, "I guess I remembered it differently. Or maybe I heard it differently... ."
"No way," I said, feelin' suddenly like I was defendin' him. I thought back to his buddy Finney and how he'd messed with Jim's head all those years ago.
"You were at 100% capacity like you always are in a crisis, Jim. Why are you so worried about it? It's not like you're givin' away any secrets." Now that I think of it, I remember feelin' kinda mischievous and a little naughty for makin' Jim suffer, but hell! I mean what could he be referrin' to?
He could've changed subjects then and I'da been happy, having had the last word on the subject. But it really musta been buggin' Jim, cause he didn't let it go. It's been years since he confided in me, and frankly I was glad he'd forgiven me for bawlin' him out for takin' that damn desk job. Sometimes that boy just doesn't listen.
"The way I understand it," Jim started to explain to me, "is that Spock is referring to V'Ger's inability to... feel."
I still didn't get it then, and I musta looked kinda stupid, waitin' for him to get to the point.
"You know, to feel... physically." He leaned forward, and up close I could see he looked a little tired around the eyes. I couldn't help it, I smiled like he was a moron.
Then Jim's so open face closed up and I regretted whatever I'd done to let him think I didn't understand. But I did! "Jim," I said quietly, cause I knew we were in a public place and I really didn't want him to bolt out on me.
"Jim," I said, "you don't need to be embarrassed about it. We all know."
Well. You should've seen the look on his face, first all pale like a sheet, then bright red. And his eyes got this fearful look, made him look very un-captainlike, I'll tell you!
"Know what?" he whispered, and I could see him backpedallin', like he'd said too much. Me, I'm wonderin' what *has* he said?
"About you and--" and I never even got the other one's name out before Jim leaned forward again and hissed at me to shut up.
Then he grabbed my hand. It kinda startled me, to tell the truth. He was just goin' on about how I and all of Starfleet may have misinterpreted the great sickbay declaration between the captain and XO of the Enterprise, and there he is grabbin' *my* hand?
"This, Bones. Simple feeling. Contact." He was squeezin' with each word. I pulled away and found refuge in my mug.
"So what's your point again, Jim?" I asked.
"*That's* what Spock was sayin then, McCoy. V'Ger was a sentient being with no physical sensation. No feeling." His eyes were wide, wild. Like he was tryin' to convince himself more than me.
I had to set him straight, of course. He was as dense as Spock! "Bullshit," I told him. "He was talkin' about emotion, Jim! About you! That's why he touched you, and not me, or Christine!" Hearin' myself tellin' him this, seein' his face, made me realize that he really didn't believe it, and I began to wonder if *we* were the ones really offbase.
"This, simple feeling," he repeated. "That's what Spock said."
By now I was gettin' exasperated. "What's the difference?" I almost yelled.
Jim snatched the padd away from the table and punched at a few buttons. He seemed almost angry. Then he shoved it back at me.
"What's this?" I asked him.
"What really happened."
You mean your version, I thought, but didn't dare say it. I could only shrug and read the words. They were keyed to the exact same scene.
Cmdr. Spock: V'Ger has knowledge that spans the universe. And yet, with all its pure logic, V'Ger is barren. Cold. No beauty. I should've... known
Capt. Kirk: Known? Known what? Spock!
Dr. McCoy: Captain... .
Capt. Kirk: Bones! Spock, what should you have known? What should you have known?
Spock: Jim. This, simple feeling, is beyond V'Ger's comprehension. No meaning, no hope. And Jim, no answers. It's asking questions.
Capt. Kirk: What questions?
Cmdr. Spock: Is this all that I am? Is there nothing more?
It read the same to me the second time around. ‘Cept I finally saw Jim's point.
"So you added a coupla commas. Big deal. What're you gonna do, send them your re-write? If they accept that, then they shoulda been happy with Ben Finney's version of what happened between you two."
I could tell by the look he gave me that I'd surprised him, maybe crossed the line. I held my breath, wonderin' if that was the end of it all and I'd be dismissed for pissing him off. But then he smiled and looked down at his cup. I have to tell you that look made it all worthwhile-- humility and charm and coyness all wrapped up in one. Made my heart thump for a beat, and I suddenly understood the expression "swell with pride". I hope Jim knows how much I cherish our friendship. How much I cherish him.
But he sure can be one stubborn son of a bitch! Sittin' there next to me was the biggest case of denial I'd ever seen.
"Jim" I said, and decided he'd accept a friendly pat on the arm, "It's OK. Have you talked to him about it?"
He whispered no real quiet, and the next look on his face made my heart break. I squeezed his arm and told him he could count on me if he needed an ear or a shoulder.
He was shakin' his head, like he was tryin' to clear it. When he looked back up at me his eyes were kinda scared. Maybe haunted would've been a better word.
"What, Jim? What are you afraid of?" I asked him. It never occurred to me that he'd be this way about it, that he'd react like this after all they've been through. We've been through. For a moment I thought maybe I--we--were wrong, that we'd skewed the situation to fit our own interpretation. I know things happened during that first five years where I assumed they were... you know. I went a little cold thinkin' that I mighta been wrong.
Then he said to me, "Bones, we've never... ."
And I was stunned. Honestly. Fortunately I had the presence of mind not to let it show, at least too much. I thought very carefully about what I'd say to him next. I bet you already know what it was.
"Do you want to, Jim?"
Now I'm prayin' no emergency or page comes through to interrupt this delicate moment. Then he said it.
"No. Yes. I don't know."
Not the most inspiring words of a man who lives to make life or death decisions, right?
It was time to push a little.
"Well, Jim, if you're open to suggestions, I'd say it's time to find out. If you want to, that is. I think *he* made his intentions pretty clear," What I didn't say was how clear they'd been to everyone else, including me.
"What if... ." I tried to remember another time he seemed so insecure and couldn't. Yes, I could. When he'd been split into two, one evil, one good. This was like the "good" Kirk sittin' in front of me. "What if... ." And it was like I could read his mind, watching all the scenarios pass before his eyes. What if we were wrong and Spock *was* still delirious then? What if we all heard the emphasis the way we wanted to and Jim was right? Or what if they had decided to go for it, but now won't because it's out there in the open ‘fleet files? Jim's a very private man, so's Spock. What if they don't, just because everybody thinks they have? Or because they don't want to? Now that would've been a cryin' shame as far I was concerned. If I were Jim, I'd go for broke. So that's just what I told him.
He nodded vaguely, smiled at me, then got up slowly, like he was reluctant to leave. I'm used to seein' the nervous energy, jumpin' up and boltin' through doors. Bein' decisive and captainly.
I watched him go, watched how he flirted with his crew as they noticed him passing. Males and females seem to have the same reaction. It made me smile. Wonder what took Spock long. Son of a gun.
After that day, I never saw that moody face again. From my perspective, tryin' to be as objective as I could of course, things seemed to be just as normal as before. On the surface, that is. They never fell over each other, mind you, least not in public. But when Jim looked at me, I knew what was behind that smile. Spock'd just raise that damned eyebrow, lookin' all smug. I figured they'd worked somethin' out.
As for the transcript, Jim left it the way it was, without the commas. I guess he figured drawin' more attention to it would backfire.
So here's Jim's last word on the subject. It's not classified, and anyone can find it in ‘fleet records. Now you know the real truth, so don't think Jim was still in denial or anythin', just bein' very protective. But you know what they say about protesting too much. Who'da thought that Jim and Spock would've found happiness together on account of a little punctuation? It boggles the mind.
*At the request of Starfleet Records, I include this statement as an addendum to Enterprise Log Stardate 7412.6-7505.2.
I was never aware of this lovers rumor, although I have been told that Spock encountered it several times. Apparently he had always dismissed it with his characteristic lifting of his right eyebrow which usually connotated some combination of surprise, disbelief, and/or annoyance. As for myself, although I have no moral objections to physical love in any of its many Earthly, alien, and mixed forms, I have always found my best gratification in that creature *woman*. Also, I would dislike being thought of as so foolish that I would select a love partner who came into sexual heat only once every seven years.
Admiral James T. Kirk*
Sure Jim, whatever.