"Midshipman Second Class Spock reporting as ordered."
"As you were," the lieutenant pronounced with barely a glance his direction. "Have a seat; Ill inform the Commandant youre here."
The tall, dark-haired deuce folded himself into a chair as the assistant activated the intercom. He punched in a text message, and the half-Vulcans sensitive ears heard the mechanisms hail from the inner office. There was not an immediate reply.
It was not an everyday occurrence to receive a summons from the Commandant of Starfleet Academy. His roommate had razzed him that the Vulcan must be in big trouble to receive such an order. Spock could not conceiive, however, of any of his recent actions meriting the attention of the senior-most officer overseeing the academy, in either a positive or a negative way. There was, of course, that altercation between himself and James Kirk, and then the pranks they pulled on Darian Ross and his buddies. But that all had occurred a year ago and Spock was under the impression that Commander Rodriguez had handled everything "in house," without anything going on his record. The only other possibility that occurred to him was that there might be negative news from his family.
A female commander looked at him briefly as she breezed into the office to drop off a report of some nature to the assistant. Spock rose to attention, but she waved him down as though the constant displays of respect had grown tiresome.
The two officers chatted familiarly as Spocks active mind returned to homework computations for Advanced Astrophysics.
Nearly fifteen minutes had passed when a hail came from the intercom. The lieutenant signaled towards the door to the inner office. "You can go in now, Midshipman."
Spock nodded his acknowledgment as he rose. He took a deep breath and walked to the door.
The inner office seemed spacious, much larger than that of any of his professors. Commodore Erik Von Steuben studied him stonily as he entered. His square jaw was set as though in a permanent frown. Of German ethnicity, the Commandant radiated an authoritarian and stoic persona reminiscent of his own Vulcan home culture.
The junior presented himself again at attention before the officers desk. "Midshipman Second Class Spock reporting as ordered, sir."
Von Steuben squinted up at him silently. He didnt give him permission to relax; he didnt offer him a chair. He didnt say anything. He just stared. Finally, he pushed the computer screen towards the cadet. "Midshipman, do you know this woman?" he asked in a deep, thick accent.
Spock turned to look at the face on the proffered screen and his lips parted several centimeters.
"Midshipman?" the commandant prompted.
"Y-yes...sir," Spock replied, returning to attention.
"A relative of yours, I presume?"
"She is my great aunt, sir."
"Mmm-huh. And is it true that you have received communications from her since your arrival here at Starfleet Academy in...2250?" The commandant glanced briefly at the record at his disposal.
"That is correct, sir."
"Is your comm unit in proper working order?"
"Is there some reason it would be dangerous or unhealthy to make contact with this individual?"
"Then reply to your aunt, Midshipman. That is an order. The message doesnt have to be very long, or great literature, or even spelled right. Just tell the woman you are alive and have not fallen off the face of the Earth...at least not yet."
"An order?" the cadet began.
"If you need help composing an appropriate message, there is reference material at the library. Hell, your computer will write the thing for you and you just sign your name to it. If there are family issues, weve got trained counselors and chaplains..."
"Thank you...Commodore. That will not be necessary," Spock interjected softly.
"It is not uncommon for midshipmen to neglect writing to their families, but it is unusual for family members to be contacting the Academy infirmary and the morgue to see if their loved one is dying or dead. And it is highly unusual for family members to contact their Federation representative to complain about Starfleet Academy Communication Services. She will no longer have cause to be making any more of these inquiries, will she, Midshipman." Clearly, it was not a question.
"Have your reply written within seventy-two hours. Send a blind copy to my assistant. It will not be read, but is to comfirm compliance. That is all. Dismissed."
As the young Vulcan cadet left his office, the Commandant smiled at last. His assistant kept reminding him that he could easily delegate such frivolous duties, but Von Steuben never did. He had few enough opportunities to interact directly with the cadets, and reserved these amusing incidents for himself. He looked again at the fireball of a woman who had assumed her great nephew must surely be dead or injured, or there be a fault in Academy Comm protocols, since he had not replied. The commodore wished all of his Academy problems were so delightful and so easily handled.
The blank computer screen stood mutely before him. Spock checked the chronograph again, although he neednt have. He already knew that all but forty-five of the Earth-minutes had elapsed of the seventy-two hours since he had been given the order from the commandant to write a message to his Aunt Roberta Grayson.
For almost three days he had tried to mentally compose the message, but he was still struggling with what to say. Now he was down to the deadline and, by good chance, his roommate was studying in the library this evening. Spock wrestled alone with the computer which was usually his friend.
He flicked again the recorder and cleared his throat. "I-Im sorry" he began haltingly, stopped and cleared and began again, trying to gaze more confidently at the camera. "This is Spock. I apologize for not replying sooner..." He paused and replayed the beginning of the message. Still detecting a hint of a stutter, and viewing his overall lack of composure, made him very uncomfortable. Clear. The blank screen stood unblinking once again.
In desperation, Spock went to the index of letter templates. Indeed, the computer would write for him, but none of the letter forms that he browsed through came anywhere near the thoughts he wished to convey. Of course, how could it? How could a machine understand what it was like for himself to be living on Earth among strangers? How could it understand the freedom of being away from constant reminders that he was only half-Vulcan, not really...not fully Vulcan?
And how could he explain to a proudly Human aunt that she was such an obvious reminder of the Human part of his heritage? Especially, how could he explain his avoidance to this aunt who had been so kind to him in years past? His Vulcan training argued that he should ignore the sentimental feelings of others and speak the plain truth. Nevertheless, some other instinct warred against the advice.
He glanced once more at the chronograph. Five minutes left. A strange mixture of anger and panic suddenly welled up. How had so much time elapsed and he not notice? He coldly willed the hated emotions away. Very well. This was a problem, an equation, as any other. He would deal with it as such. He had to write something. Anything. He reset the parameters on his comm unit, turning off the visual and audio, creating only a text message. He flicked on the recorder, set now for dictation.
"Aunt Roberta. I hope that you are currently in good health. I am well. Starfleet Academy is...an illuminating experience. It is often challenging, but not unduly so. Spock".
The deuce glanced back over the message now displayed on the screen. His hand hovered over Send, when he thought of a post script. Robertas great-nephew added, "Are you still in the habit of making...popcorn?"
The order was fulfilled with a minute and a half to spare.
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