The rest of the tuning process went pretty much as I had anticipated, and the balance of my allotted time went to training VSA personnel in the care and feeding of a Warp 7 engine. I noted with pleasure that Spock at attended at least a few of my initial classes, but he was conspicuously absent the last week. I hadn’t thought much about his sudden absence until I walked into the Dean’s office before the Starship Ticonderoga would take me back to Earth.
Dean Tonór broached the issue with no ceremony attached, practically as I walked into his office. "Have you had any conversations with Applicant Spock regarding his pending attendance of the Vulcan Science Academy?"
This was not the conversation I had planned on having at this point, but I managed to answer without much if any emotional content. "No, we've had no conversations on that matter at all. We've talked at length about the warp drive, but that has been the extent of our interaction."
“Are you aware that Applicant Spock has announced his intention not to attend the Vulcan Science Academy?”
Lovely, layer one surprise with another! “No, I was not aware of that,” I responded (and other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?!?). This wasn’t just news but shocking news, knowing the tradition represented by the Academy as I did.
“Spock has notified his father, Sarek, and the applications committee that he is applying to Starfleet Academy!” One could think that Spock was giving up his fortune to become a hobo, the way Tonór laid it out. He might not have wanted to admit it, but Vulcans do emote when they converse, but it is subtle, disguised, and the ear and eye must be trained to perceive it. Seventeen weeks on this planet had given my hearing and understanding of Vulcan facial language a thorough schooling. Tonór would never have admitted it, but he was royally pissed.
Still, I wasn’t about to hide how I felt. “I’m pleased to hear it. He would be among the first Vulcans to apply to the Academy, and based upon what I know of him to this point, I have little doubt but that he’d be accepted.”
“You are aware,” Tonór continued, “that it is tradition that Vulcans who wish to pursue careers in science and engineering are expected to complete their educations at the Vulcan Science Academy?”
“I was aware of that,” I responded. “I was not aware that they did so with a gun to their heads.”
That all but snapped Tonór’s head up from his desk and clearly focused it a touch better on me. “You will not hear me disparage the Vulcan Science Academy, Dean Tonór, but the fact is, it is no longer the sole source of education at this level. Starfleet wanted to create such an institution practically since its inception, and having done so, I believe it has created one which, while different from your academy, is every last bit its equal. We were interested in creating a means of taking what we’ve learned in our early forays of interstellar exploration and making it available to others, as well as furthering that exploration. It is also an eclectic organization, with participants from Earth, Tellar, Andoria and Vulcan, and we hope to add far more as this effort evolves.
“Now where Spock goes for his further education is of no concern to me. I am merely pointing out that he has more than one option and that both options have their own advantages. Further, I can tell you that I would not be offended were Spock to pursue his future at the Vulcan Science Academy. I hope you can be as magnanimous if indeed, he opts for Starfleet.
“As for the Warp Seven engine, the work on it is finished, and checkouts and testing complete with no major incidents to report. Your personnel have been trained on the elements of the drive with particular attention to the innovations which I believe set it apart from previous drives. If they require further support, I can be reached through Starfleet Engineering.
“If there is nothing further Dean Tonór, I have a shuttle to catch.”
I’d swear there was the slightest hesitation before Tonór stopped me. “Merced, a moment, please.”
“Were you aware that Applicant Spock is not of pure Vulcan blood, that his mother is … human?”
All at once Bill’s comment about the Vulcan’s skin tone registered afresh in my mind. “No, I was not.”
“Then you may not be aware of the compounded controversy [he pronounced it British-style, emphasis on the second syllable] of his ancestry added to his departure from tradition in not continuing his education at the Vulcan Science Academy. Those combined actions are creating a stir among our populace, a stir we are unused to.”
“And why is that my problem, Dean? My interactions with Spock have been wholly on a professional level. He asked questions and either my team or I answered them. In one case, he provided a very valuable observation which saved me at least two to four weeks of rework time, and I gladly thanked him for that assistance. Beyond that, there has been no substantial interplay between Spock and any of my team.”
The break in rhythm was palpable before Tonór answered: “It was thought that it was the nature of your team’s interaction with Spock which influenced his decision.”
Oh, man, I thought, there it was! By his human heritage, Spock was seen by his fellows to be an outsider, as surely as I was. Worse, Spock had to grow up, live, and attempt to define himself in a culture which would no doubt accord him the same disdain my team and I had experienced virtually from the outset of this project. Amazing that Vulcans were so devoted to logic, yet so utterly myopic about an issue such as this. Very well, Tonór had dropped his left; I was obliged to answer with a right cross!
“Dean Tonór, as I have said before, I am unconcerned where Spock chooses to apply himself for his secondary education. However, he is hardly to be blamed for wishing to absent himself from an environment which, while logical and orderly on the surface, demonstrates a level of bigotry which I suspect would be intolerable on Earth. I anticipated this treatment before we came here. My grandfather was on the team that designed the Warp Four engine flown by the NX-01 Enterprise. Believe me when I tell you, he told story after story about how his team’s innovations were minimized, disparaged and in some cases, all but sabotaged by the supposed ‘guiding hand’ of the Vulcan advisors assigned to the project. You will also notice that the Warp Seven project was handled entirely by Starfleet in this instance, but that’s beside the point here.
“I’ve seen first-hand the attitude that too many Vulcans have toward Terrans. That you have managed to rise above that does not excuse others on the faculty here who seem to take a rather illogical pleasure in attempting to skewer members of my team, myself included. It makes me wonder, then, how Vulcan society treats someone of less than pure Vulcan blood!”
There was no mistaking Tonór’s reaction, masked and subtle though it was. I had cut to the heart of the problem both with Spock half-blood heritage and his opting for Starfleet instead of the VSA. Without a doubt, they wanted to keep him here, supervise not just his education but his passage into adulthood, insuring that there was no chance of any emergence of his human self, even insisting on Kohlinar, if necessary. I had heard stories about how Earth had been three centuries ago regarding race, skin color, and they had revolted me to my core. To see such an advanced race as the Vulcans supposedly were behave in such a fashion threatened to raise my blood pressure to unheralded levels. Still, I knew this argument wasn’t going to be won with emotion, and I’d be damned if I’d give Tonór or any other Vulcan the satisfaction.
“Dean, I would argue this point to a conclusion which would satisfy me, but I haven’t the time. As it is, I will tell you this: I have friends on the Admissions Committee for Starfleet Academy. If I hear that there is even the slightest hint of pressure from any Vulcan channel in an effort to prevent Spock from being accepted, I will exercise any and all influence I can to insure his entry, including disclosing this conversation and my teams’ experience here if necessary. You may depend on my action in that regard, sir!”
Somehow, though exactly how, I wasn’t certain, my voice had maintained a level tone throughout my statement, including that last threat. In the brief time of this meeting, the business with Spock had now become personal to me, a product of my experience, my grandfather’s and now this young Vulcan whose only fault was his desire to free himself from the pernicious sub-rosa discrimination which he had doubtless lived with all his life. I watched the Vulcan Science Academy dean as he processed what I had told him. It was with an abruptness that nearly took me off guard that he stood.
“My apologies for keeping you here so long, Merced. As you said, you have a shuttle to catch.” Lovely, I thought; he has no retort, so his only option is to dismiss me. I suppose I can let him have the last word … but I’ll be the one defining it for him!
I nodded in response, then raised my hand in the familiar Vulcan salute. “Peace and long life, Tonór of Vulcan.”
Tonór raised his hand in response, and I’d swear there was something in his eyes, something that looked extraordinarily like resignation as he answered:
“Live long and prosper, Merced of Earth.”