“Alice had got so much into the way of
expecting nothing but out-of-the-way things to happen, that it seemed quite dull and stupid for life to
go on in the common way.”
― Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland &
Through the Looking-Glass
The second evening of my new life, I was invited to join Jim and his staff in the officers’ lounge for dinner. This invitation was extended via the same disembodied female speaker-voice, piped into my room, where I was recovering, at Dr. McCoy’s orders, from the work he’d done on me earlier in the day. I thought I detected a twinge of something like awe in the youngish tones. I guessed maybe dinner with the Captain was impressive.
While the doctor couldn’t do the deep systemic detox he insisted was needed, he had, in short order, balanced my hormones and adjusted something in my inner ear to facilitate my adjustment to living on a constantly moving vessel. Turns out that the wave of nausea I’d felt, those first few moments standing on the bridge, seeing the stars sweeping past, wasn’t entirely the result of my sudden fear that I’d made a very bad mistake in coming here. According to the doc, it’s not so uncommon, this condition he laughingly called “starsickness”. Physiological disorientation. An odd psycho-physiological processing of some combination of the vastness of space, and the relative claustrophobia of being in an enclosed (and constantly moving) environment. The doctor told me cadets washed out of training sometimes if they were too prone to the effects, though he assured me I was going to be fine.
I wasn’t so sure, but, when it came to my physical well-being, anyway, it would turn out that Dr. McCoy always could read me like a book. Considering how much of my later life was spent, shall we say, in transit, it’s a good thing I was able to adapt. Though, to be honest, I’ll still take almost any decent planet over a spaceship any day, all things being equal.
They were all sharing a laugh when I entered the Officers’ Lounge to the sound of lively voices. Uhura and Dr. McCoy were, yes, lounging on one of the couches, which were low, comfy looking, covered in a warm red material. Jim stood chatting with an unfamiliar man, robust, ruddy-cheeked, with a genial smile. When he introduced himself as Chief Engineer Scott, or Scotty, I recognized the Scottish burr from earlier in the day, the one who’d given Marilyn permission to help me get some breakfast.
Uhura looked lovely and exotic in a flowing robe, with elaborate, elegant gold earrings. The men, too, wore what were obviously some kind of civvies, casual, but each with his own distinctive style. I felt a tad under-dressed in my non-descript tunic and pants. And even with the obviously informal tone, I found myself hanging back a little, trying to take my cue from the others, totally uncertain of my own place in the pecking order.
It quickly became clear that, whatever decorum was observed elsewhere, this was down time. Drinks were poured, and I took the safe choice of whiskey, which the doctor was drinking, while everyone else, save Mr. Spock, who apparently didn’t imbibe, drank stuff I’d never heard of, in various colors and quantities.
Jim was holding forth about our recent adventures, filling in Mr. Scott – Scotty – on how they’d pulled it off. Mr. Spock held his own in the conversation, although his contributions were all very logical, even scientific.
I felt the whiskey going to my head, too fast, flooding me with smart-ass thoughts, smart-ass being my default attitude when I was insecure or self-conscious. So I’m silently asking myself: if Mr. Scott was, with obvious affection, called Scotty, did anyone ever address Mr. Spock as, say, Spocky?
Get a grip, Hani, get a grip…
Just watching them, though, and listening, I felt a wave of warmth, replacing the terrible sinking feeling I’d had after arriving. Maybe there was a place for me here, after all? Maybe I could belong? At the least, I felt myself relaxing into the atmosphere of friendship. I took another sip of my drink and decided to let things play out, decided to stop worrying about where I was going from here. Right now, I was exactly where I was supposed to be. Yeah, little old me, partying it up, so many light years from home.
Scotty sat down beside me, and I couldn’t help but return his beaming smile. “So, lassie, how do you like her so far?”
The only other “her” in the room, Uhura, laughed and translated. “He means the Enterprise, Hani. She’s his baby.”
“Well, she’s… lovely,” I said. “Best starship I’ve ever seen.”
Okay, not my best comedic effort, but it got a laugh all around, and I relaxed a bit more. After being bombarded with new information at every turn, ever since I arrived, I’d developed a niggling fear that no matter how smart I’d been “back home” – and yeah, I considered myself pretty smart – I would never be anything more than some permanent remedial case here, a kind of poor relative destined to sit in the corner, permitted to attend the ball, but not quite able to dance.
So, the fact that I even got a few laughs bolstered me considerably. Still, the vibes I’d gotten earlier, the ones that hinted of a lot more going on than I’d been privy to, kept me mostly quiet. There was so much I needed to learn.
As I listened to them talk, casually referring to their experiences, I pieced together a sense of the organization they served, Starfleet, which I began to gather was part of something called the Federation of Planets, a kind of inter-galactic governmental body that had superseded smaller entities like the good ol’ U.S.A.
With that understanding (which I was mostly picking up from the indirect commentary), I made a note of how they were more or less on a first-name basis, at least in this setting. Here, tonight, it was definitely “Jim” and “Bones” (Dr. McCoy) and “Scotty”. Uhura seemed to have only the one name, as did Mr. Spock, kind of like Sting, or Madonna.
Oops. More cultural references I was going to have to dump.
I made a decision to take the civilian route and go with first names.
I swore I would never, ever, address the Vulcan as “Spocky”.
Apparently, Jim had a long and uneasy relationship to Starfleet, that vague “them” somewhere out there. I’d already been corrected by someone earlier when I referred to the ship as a military vessel. Starfleet was not military, I was informed, but a force for peacekeeping, exploration and diplomacy. Still, as far as I could tell, things operated with military precision and regulation. Though, from what little I knew of Jim Kirk, he was not a standard issue kind of guy, by any measure.
According to the way they told the story that night, both for Scotty’s entertainment, and to catch me up to speed, “we” had saved Earth from total devastation, saved it from the rapidly accumulating effects of Lester Worsham’s planetary-level evils. I noted with some surprise the natural way Jim and Dr. McCoy – Bones – warmly included me in that communal “we”. My expectations of men actually sharing credit with women were, I confess, pretty low, based on much of my own previous experience in the world. I was still feeling these people out, but it wasn’t a bad sign.
However, Jim had also defied Starfleet command, broken any number of regulations, and had only the evidence of a displaced 21st century person to show for it, a fact in itself that would necessitate reams of paperwork (or its paperless equivalent), and, eventually, no doubt, hearings back at Command Headquarters. Apparently, too, being called in for hearings wasn’t new to Jim, nor did it seem to bother him much. If anything, he seemed to take a kind of perverse delight in the idea.
In the meantime, though, Starfleet apparently got the last laugh, assigning the Enterprise and her crew – and her wayward commander – to what was essentially a bureaucratic drudgery job, overseeing the establishment of a new colony.
Parts of this assignment might be interesting to people like Scotty, whose eyes gleamed at the challenge of setting up power grids, housing, sanitation and water systems, but everyone seemed to agree that once the colonists themselves began to arrive, it was likely to be all about petty politics and endless power plays. I smiled to think bureaucrats hadn’t changed much in the last few centuries.
The conversation meandered over a long dinner that included vegetables grown in the ship’s arboretum, and something that tasted like chicken but …wasn’t. I’d had enough of the “new” for now. I didn’t ask. After a while, I stopped trying to follow all the conversational references and as the drinks and talk flowed, and for the most part, no one thought to stop and clue me in. In a way, this, too, was comforting, this feeling that I didn’t stick out so much they felt like I had to be conspicuously brought along in the conversation. So I listened, enjoying the warmth and ease of the interactions swirling around me. As I did, I gathered the universe or galaxy or whatever (forgive my impreciseness. I only reflect my conceptual framework of the time) was a pretty active place, good guys, bad guys, peace treaties, wars, interplanetary monkey business, the whole thing. If Earth had apparently solved a lot of its own problems in many years ago, I gathered that karma was still playing out full force for both good and evil across the starry, starry night.
It was the doctor who wound up walking me back to my room at the end of the evening, though not before Mr. Spock made a point of informing me that he had designed a course of training to assimilate me into my new time. He would expect me in the science lab at 0900 hours, if that met with my satisfaction.
What could I say but yes?
Dr. McCoy – Bones – and I strolled amiably through the hallways together. I decided I liked the nickname. It suited him, and I noted the affectionate way Jim used it. Bones was a little smashed, I think, but then again, so was I. I’d only had two short whiskeys, but it felt like drinking at altitude, hitting me with an unexpected punch. Or maybe I was still time-lagged. Century-lagged.
I noted the hallway seemed less bright than before, thinking maybe it was the booze, but he explained to me that the ship was synchronized to a 24-hour bio-clock, so that lighting throughout the ship simulated the solar cycles of an Earth day. When we got to my room, he stepped in for a moment, curious, checking it out with a nod, asking again if I had everything I needed. For a moment I wondered if he was trying to put some drunken moves on me, but no, he was apparently just being…friendly.
I did have some questions, but nothing I felt comfortable asking him about. I’d already decided to ask Uhura about a few of the more personal aspects of life for women in space. So I said no, thanking him. He took my hand in both of his, smiled a very courtly, mellow smile. “Welcome aboard,” he said. “We’re delighted you’re here.” He lifted my hand and kissed it, gallantly, and said good night.
I went to sleep with a smile on my face.