: In TranslationRating
: Bizarre writing styleCharacters
: Spock, KirkSummary
: Spock struggles with living and working with people whose foundations lie
within the realm of emotion. Jim helps.Notes
: I don't even know what to say with this one. Pretty sure I've gone off the deep end.
Spock’s is a life lived in translation. He hovers in the space between the precision of Vulcan, with its rigid structure, a framework as sure and steady as the principles of Surak, and the loose-limbed cadence of Federation Standard, with all its nuance and polysemy, that tugs at something deep within his blood as he tries to parse a system of principles, predicated on emotion, that feels foreign and heavy on his tongue, like the sharp smell of oncoming rain. In mind, he is a desert creature, but in heart, he finds the onset of a thunderstorm exhilarating.
The ground shifts beneath him when he steps into the world of Federation Standard. He steps into a foreign geometry, not unnavigable nor without logic, but the axioms in this world are different, and his typical approach cannot fully not apply. He wonders, for the first time, how his mother coped.
At times he feels as if Standard was a language made for obfuscation, since no one seems to fully understand what they are saying to one another. He hears gossip, snippets of conversation so mutated they bear little resemblance to their source material, drift throughout the ship, evolving like a pathogen. It is a cascade of emotions, laughter, outrage, malicious amusement, that sweeps the ship like a wave. He feels the press of a ship full of people around him, their heads bent together, their reactions falling like a cascade of bells – they all make sound, but they are each of them different. He does not understand the music, nor its provocation, but he reads the notes and puts them aside in his mind.
He has never been a relativist; Vulcan is a fundamentally constructivist culture. Logic, after all, is a construction, not an essential, with which their minds are ordered. He embraces the comfort of a system wherein the rules are made explicit. Logic is not the body of Vulcan, it is only the skeleton. It is not static; it facilitates movement, and articulation of thought and expression. The acceptance of basic truths is essential to the formulation of any theorem, as it is essential to the conduct of his own life, and his interactions with others. But Federation Standard, and its people, make him begin to give greater thought to linguistic relativity. It is not illogical to do so, but it leaves him standing in a chasm he is uncertain he can cross.
It is a misunderstanding, and a bafflingly frequent one, that he deals solely in absolutes. Despite the comparisons to a computer, a logical mind requires more than a sequence of if/then statements and a database. The principles of Surak are considered by most to be truths, but there is a space between the words themselves and their reading that must be walked alone, and remains, like himself, unique. He was taught them as a child; he has learnt them as an adult. Surakian logic does not prohibit wants or desires. He desired to join Starfleet, and did so, though his father’s logic would have lead him to the halls of the Vulcan Science Academy. They are, neither of them, wrong, the simply have different proofs.
He feels – but brushes aside – a great many things in the face of human obstinate refusal to accept basic truths. At times he begins to wonder if they have no truths at all, that he is applying the shape of his mind – the shape of his mother tongue – upon a foreign world and holding them to the rules of a grammar they do not know. But he sees patterns in the things they do. He notes them all, and he begins to form a grammar of emotion, and it reminds him of his first forays beyond Euclidian geometry.
It is not a world without logic. It is a necessary truth that emotions are not mutually exclusive from logical action. He would not insult his father by calling him ‘happy’, but he is gratified in his parentage, and he thinks no less of his father for his mother. His father is a supremely rational man, whose mind is a paragon to Spock’s, and his mother’s presence in their lives was driven by emotion, but it was not aberrant. It is logical to fulfil one’s own desires.
Reason has its own wants, and they are not immune from weakness. Even the philosophers in the Parable of the Cave are prey toit, when they return to again watch in the darkness. It is a truth that serving the needs of the many over the needs of the one will give, quantifiably, the best result. But, in watching Jim, Spock begins to understand what it means to want – to want so badly – to fulfil the needs of the one, over the needs of the many. And he feels within himself akrasia, that in doing what he knows logically to be right, he goes against his better judgement.
He has had desires. He desires exploration. To stand from the fire and leave the cave, and know the sun. It is rational to want to understand, to catalogue and categorise, the universe one lives in. He understands this desire, and he fulfils it. It is the deep-seated needs he finds discomposing. The desires that erase his ability to quantify results and to act for a greater good. He feels them, when his captain’s life lies on the line, and for a flickering moment – a moment he does not ever forget – he advocates the extinction of a species for the sake of one of a race of billions.
He begins to understand the logic of emotion. It is a world, and a language, of extremes, and he watches in fascination as it tugs mercilessly at his shipmates. It pours from their mouths in curse words, in sweet nothings, in puns, in invective. Vulcan has nothing analogous to these – they live in the strange gulf in his mind, unindexed and outside the rules of the structure of his thoughts.
He learns their purpose; he catalogues them all in turn. He knows that Jim will make a joke when he is anxious and requires emotional release, or when he is relaxed in a social setting. It is the same behaviour, at two opposing extremes. He watches Jim use sweet nothings to charm information out of women, coldly calculating even within the confines of a warm embrace. But he sees those same sweet nothings become sweet somethings in the space between Jim and Edith Keeler, and he knows that here it is suffused with warmth.
Standard is a language of contradictions, where meaning is dependent on an emotional context that Spock cannot parse. It is a language he cannot read until he can speak it himself. To read, he must accept the necessity of feeling.
In Jim, he sees a bridge across the chasm. Jim, who laughs and needles him, like a child confronted with a new animal, poking it to see what it will do. Jim teases him about emotion, trying to draw it out, like a cactus pulling water from the desert. But Jim too, speaks some Vulcan. Like Spock, he watches the patterns of his grammar, learning the logic of Spock’s mind, calling upon it like a translator.
The first time Jim beats him at chess, Spock programs a computer simulation to help him model the game, and understand Jim’s strategy. It is precisely the wrong approach. Jim plays chess like it’s a dance, darting forward and back, pulling Spock’s pieces into corners and whisking them off the board with a flourish. It is a game without numbers, without probabilities. It is a strategy that is occasionally disastrous – because there are quantifiable best moves, and Spock takes them. Jim needles him with his chess pieces the same way he needles him on the bridge, looking for an in and then striking while he has the advantage. It is the only logical way to win against Spock, whose familiarity with the game is superior. Spock knows it is logical, but he does not understand it at all.
But he does learn to win. He learns to play Jim, whose haphazard strategy has a consistency bred of the workings of Jim’s mind. The human mind does not excel at being truly random or unpredictable, and Spock excels at finding patterns. He wonders, as he examines Jim’s fallen king, if this is what he needs to truly speak Standard. To learn each conversation in turn, to pick apart the things unsaid and implied, and to understand why one person responds to a given set of circumstances with humour, and another with tears. It is inefficient and frustrating, and, if he is honest, he finds the volatility and unpredictability of his shipmates alarming, as he is never absolutely certain that his comment will not provoke an unwanted emotional response.
But he still has glimpses, more and more often now, of a world of fractal-like feeling. It imbues everything with a cadence and colour Spock has not before seen. There is something vicariously pleasant about laughter, and camaraderie. Though he feels ungainly often when he joins in, he basks in the residual warmth of it, and feels himself drawing that much closer to the sun. He is astounded by the depth of it – bared bold and raw before him, in grief so palpable he feels it on his tongue and it thickens the air so the whole ship seems to move more slowly until it has passed, or in joy that rises like an inarticulate clamour, something primal that tugs at his animal nature, a feral, naked cry of pure pleasure, composed of hundreds of individual notes all singing a different song. And always he hears Jim’s voice, standing out from all the rest, and he wonders if Jim hears his silence too. He wonders if it is something fundamental to being human, to be so drawn to individuals in a crowd, and see for once only the trees instead of the forest.
It only occurs to him, 1.32 years after their first meeting – a disquietly long time –, that all along, Jim has been teaching him how to speak. And, slowly, he learns.