When Nyota heard her first utenzi, she had no idea what the story was about. The evening out was spur of the moment - Nyota remembered sitting on her grandmother’s hip while she argued with her mother about keeping her out too late, but her grandmother won and the two of them crossed town to the Cultural Center that was lit up brighter than Nyota had ever seen.
The drumbeat pulsed through the night, as heavy as the air, but joyful too as counter rhythms grew louder as they drew closer. The Center’s gates were thrown wide and the normal decorum had been cast aside. There were so many people, laughing, dancing their way inside, through the outer ring of buildings to the main courtyard. An impromptu party, thrown by the literature students at the University, and everyone was invited.
Nyota’s grandmother picked her up, set Nyota on her shoulders, and danced inside too. Flickering torches of real fire lit up the packed earth and the drummers on a raised platform. Dark skin, bright smiles, a smattering of other shades wended their way to the beat, like waves of the sea, always moving, never still but steady as a heartbeat. Up front on the stage, one young man was singing. Nyota recognized a word here and there from lessons in Swahili, but she’d never heard it like this. The awkward phrases from school learned by rote were transformed into something beautiful, bird-like and delicate but flying free.
The young man on the platform sang to the rhythm, he sang to the beat, short lines that melded together, that entranced Nyota till she felt wings grow out her shoulder blades. When he sang out and the crowd answered, it didn’t take her long to pick up what to say, the cadence and the syllables slipping off her tongue like honey, and it didn’t matter that she didn’t understand. Nyota wasn’t just Nyota anymore, she was part of this moment, part of this song, and she threw her arms in the air, high on her grandmother’s shoulders and shouted her heart to the sky.
“Hello, nice to meet you."
“Hello, how are you?”
“Hello, what’s your news?”
“Hello, my name is.”
Nyota’s head bobbed and she pounded a rhythm on either side of her padd as she studied. She didn’t notice her mother looking in on her with amusement, shaking her head. Everything was a song with Nyota these days. Swahili, Standard, math, science, history. It didn’t always work out to eight syllables a line, but there were always four lines in a stanza and they always rhymed correctly.
Nyota scowled when her brother made fun and glared at anyone who thought she didn’t know her lessons. Her mother knew when to leave well enough alone, and her grandmother laughed and asked,
“Child, do you even know what you’re singing?” She gathered Nyota up onto her lap. “Listen now, for there’s a story coming,” her grandmother sang softly in Swahili, secret and close. Nyota snuggled into her breast, and wrapped herself up in her grandmother’s voice.
In primary school, she came home with dirty feet from the Cultural Center where they danced folktales and dressed up as Ogre and Hare in the sunshine. But Nyota’s favorite was when they got to sketch the Rift Valley in the dust and sing along as the Gikuyu people struggled up to the highlands, or when they sang the white men down the River.
Most of the songs were translated to Standard or Swahili, but sometimes a guest to the University would come and teach them the right way to sing it, and Nyota loved that best of all.
Nyota’s third language was Modern Arabic overlapped by Classical Arabic because she wanted to understand the Utendi wa Tambuka, and where the Old Swahili twisted and turned was where it twined with the languages of Muhammad. Also, they were singing 20th century arab pop rock this month in chorus and it was gorgeous.
She tried explaining it to her best friend in secondary school once. The language on the table was Vulcan, their first offworld language offered for talented students with aspirations for Starfleet. Nyota didn’t know about that yet, she had three more years before she had to make a decision, but she’d already worked her way west and she thought a detour to an alien tongue would be just what she needed before tackling Chinese.
“It’s not like I’m fluent,” she said to Anisa. “I don’t know what half the words I’m saying are, but they sound right.”
“How come I know what every word I’m saying means but half of them sound wrong?”
“Because you’re not listening to the whole sentence. It’s not just the individual words - it’s like how any idiot can pluck a harp string, but you gotta understand the music to put it together. If you know the keywords, you simply fit the rest around them.”
Anisa looked at her skeptically. “Vulcan is nothing like harp music.”
Nyota gave her a teasing grin. “Not the way you speak it.”
By the time Nyota sat her entrance exams to the Academy, she had half a dozen passable Earth languages and two offworld languages to her credit in addition to Standard, Swahili, and Arabic. Her Andoran, on the other hand, wasn’t what she’d call proficient but that was because declining six genders of nouns put her to sleep, and Nyota had been distracted that year by catching up on a century’s worth of manga in their original Japanese.
But that was also the year she knew for sure that she wanted Starfleet.
“Don’t forget about us back here now that you’re going to the big city.” Nyota’s mother smoothed down the lapels on her jacket, brushing up over her shoulders and down her arms. Nyota had manners enough not to point out that she had grown up in a big city.
“I’ll call you every day,” said Nyota as she passed from her mother to her father. He kissed her on her forehead.
“Call every week. You will be very busy,” he told her. His eyes were bright and his smile wide.
“But don’t forget to take some time to yourself,” said her grandmother. “And when you’re sick with missing us, remember, the same stars shine here as there.”
“And then call us,” her mother repeated.
Nyota swallowed the frog in her throat when she finally had to step away, the boarding announcement called over their heads. They were all smiling, blinking back tears, so proud of her. Nyota smiled back, standing tall, then went to find her shuttle.
Nyota took to the communications program like a duck to water. The Xeno-Language series was harder than anything she had done before. She tested out of First Level Vulcan and Tellurite but that still left four languages on her first year schedule. The hours she spent in the language labs bled into one another as she drilled Arcadian and finally nailed Andoran by bringing in techno punk from the Post WWIII era and playing it in the background.
Xenolinguistics was more complicated. The First Level courses covered different aspects of morphology and phonology by surveying a dozen languages and breaking them down to teach the cadets how to analyze and learn the unknown quickly. It was a struggle, especially the exercises where context was withheld and all they had for help was the Universal Translator, which, it turned out, was only as helpful as the communications officer who calibrated it.
Frustrated by one such section on dialectic drift in Phonology, Nyota raised her hand and asked, “Sir, would it be possible to listen to a musical example?”
“Music often distorts pronunciation,” said Commander Parkson, but he tilted his head to indicate that she should elaborate.
“Music also highlights the relationships between phonetic groupings and meaning that compensates for the lack of visual cues.”
“You are making the assumption that music is produced in the language that you wish to analyze, and further that it is produced in a manner similar to music on Earth.”
They argued for the last ten minutes of class, very properly of course, and Parkson won when Nyota failed to demonstrate the universal existence of music.
“Which is ridiculous when the majority of the languages that we are studying have known cultural histories that have some form of music or storytelling!” Nyota was still miffed as she recounted the sorry episode to Gaila over dinner that evening. “If we can identify the language group of a derivation, we can almost guarantee that we know something about their cultural history, including the forms of oral preservation. And that can tell us a lot about their current language.”
“Is this related to why you make all your homework rhyme?”
Nyota felt her cheeks heat. She tried not to be too loud when Gaila was in the room. “No. That’s just how I study.”
On the final, there was an audio excerpt in the form of a two-tonal chant accompanied by a stringed instrument. Nyota set the curve and suffered her classmates’ ire with a smug smile.
Joining the Xenolinguistics Club at the beginning of the year didn’t take a second thought, but it took her grandmother nagging to change her mind about not having enough time for the Academy Chorus. Only after her first rehearsal did Nyota realize how much she missed singing.
It became two hours a week where she turned her brain off and didn’t worry about Starfleet protocols and wrapping her tongue around Saurian verb conjugations. Balm to the soul, as her grandmother would say - and did the next time Nyota spoke to her.
With more non-human species as members, the sound was different from any group she’d sung with before, eclectic and oddly harmonious, but sometimes with an edge that didn’t quite sit right. Those nights, Nyota went back to her dorm and dug out her music files, missing the jubilant beat of drums and the pound of dancing feet. She would lie on her bed, close her eyes, and imagine the heat on her skin and the smell of curry in the air as she listened to the heartbeat of home.
The first piece of truly alien music that Nyota fell in love with she heard for the first time at a Xenolinguistics Club meeting. Every week one member of the club presented something from their homeworld to better know and understand each other before they moved on to other topics.
Cadet Tann was Chassan, one of six at the Academy, all of whom are in the Chorus. Their language was tonal like Chinese, made complicated by having twice the vocal range as humans.
“Old Chassan is even worse than modern,” said Tann in Standard. “The vocabulary was not as developed into discrete phones as the modern language is, and instead, meaning is layered into tones independent from the phones. To share, I brought the oldest recording we have in Old Chassan. It is one segment of history of the people in Layann Province. I will first play without the Universal Translator, and then play with so you may understand.”
The recording started softly with a single vocalist. Nyota couldn’t discern any words; it sounded instead like instrumental music with a woodwind timbre. A second voice joined the first and slowly themes emerged, repeating notes and variations as the voices twined together. It was beautiful, unhurried and haunting.
When they listened with the Translator, the story that emerged was more than a dry history, but carried the weight of the Layann people as they struggled through drought and fire under the guidance of Kiy and her sons who faced off against the Spirits on behalf of their people. It was poetry in music, unlike anything she had ever heard before and at the end, the silence lingered over all of them as the last notes faded away.
Nyota had hesitated over sending the request, so when Commander Spock replied requesting she meet him during his office hours she didn’t know what to expect. Her only interaction with him had been when he guest lectured for her Advanced Vulcan I class in the fall semester.
He was as unreadable as he had been then when she entered his open office door. He set aside his padd and gestured for her to sit.
“Cadet Uhura. I was intrigued by your request,” he stated straight to the point, “I must confess I do not understand why you are interested in pre-Surak poetry.”
Nyota took a breath and told herself she had nothing to be intimidated by. “In my research into Vulcan poetry, I only found a few references to pre-Surak poetry, most often in a secondary context that merely describes the narrative tradition but with very few examples of the poetry itself,” she said. Modern Vulcan poetry she had found plenty of, but it was based on logical precepts that, frankly, made it read like a lilting textbook.
“The series we have in mind would showcase the oral traditions of as many cultures as we can find people to perform. The members of the Xenolinguistics Club will cover most of the major species in the Federation, but we do not have a representative for Vulcan.”
“So the purpose is a pan-cultural exploration of poetry as an art form.” His tone was as even as before but with a questioning tilt to his head.
“It’s a pan-cultural exploration of poetry as mythic history.”
“Mythic history is a contradiction.” Commander Spock raised one long finger. “History is the factual recounting of past events and describing it as myth equates it with fantasy which often obscures the true events that took place.”
Nyota thought of the history she had chased through poetry since she was a girl, her throat closing up. She swallowed hard and the moment passed. Rather than start an argument she wasn’t certain she could win without bringing up emotional ties to God and country, she raised her chin and said, “As the resident Vulcan on campus I thought I should ask you first if you would like to participate.”
Commander Spock hesitated, then said, “While I commend your efforts in this endeavor, I must respectfully decline. I do not feel I would be a suitable participant.”
“Would you mind a non-Vulcan participant if I can find someone else to do it?”
Again Spock hesitated. “Vulcans do not look kindly on our days of barbarism. It is a past that most Vulcans look on as an object lesson for the necessity of Surak’s teachings.” He stopped there and didn’t continue. Nyota wasn’t sure whether to take it as a yes or not.
“Understood, sir,” she said.
Nyota didn’t find anyone else. She also abandoned the idea of showcasing a pre-Surak epic poem when she couldn’t find anything further in the library. Instead, she worked twice as hard in Advanced Vulcan II and downloaded A Comprehensive History of Vulcan in the Time of Surak and The Complete Teachings of Surak both in translation and in the original High Vulcan.
A week before the Xenolinguistic Club presented its Series on Oral Tradition - fifteen performances in their original languages with on-stage translation by a second participant - she sent Commander Spock an invitation to attend before she could talk herself out of it.
When Nyota took the stage, the lights were too bright to see the audience properly. She counted it a good thing against her nerves as she stood motionless in the middle of the stage. She wore a simple Vulcan robe and her only prop was a replica of an ancient Vulcan shield.
“The Great Awakening began when Surak said, “We destroy ourselves.””
Nyota kept her voice even, letting the cadence she’d so painstakingly worked out guide her words. High Vulcan was similar in tonal structure to Modern Vulcan, but the syntax and morphology had drifted far over the last eighteen hundred years.
“The Great Awakening began when Surak said, “We have let our emotions rule our society.”
The Great Awakening began when Surak said, “We must change our ways.””
The words were spare, taken from the history and Surak’s own writing, but interwoven by Nyota into three-line stanzas that undulated around her tongue. She had no accompaniment, the words were not sung but they rang out nonetheless.
Two hundred and twelve lines later, the lights dimmed on her as she took her bow. Commander Spock sat near the front and off to the side. When their eyes met, he raised an eyebrow, his normal calm ever-so-slightly ruffled.
Nyota took it as a compliment.
The hardest thing about learning a new language was parsing the thought patterns that lent themselves to the grammar and syntax. Most sentient species in the Alpha quadrant had similar evolutionary drives that were unifying on the broader level - strength, reproduction, selfish advancement - but in the details lay a thousand traps to fall into. Forgiveness and compassion were not so universal, it turned out.
Nyota threw herself into Advanced Romulan for this very reason which she took concurrent with the Language and Diplomacy series her third year because this was where mistakes could cost lives. Between the two sets of classes, they studied transmissions from past conflicts and recordings of negotiations because there was little else to work with.
She approached the challenge with the respect it deserved and disciplined hours in the language lab. The tedium was broken by her last two Engineering Core classes required for the Operations Track. It was surprisingly fun when they built their own simplified Universal Translators. Nyota programed hers to speak back to her in Romulan instead of Standard and drilled with it when she went running.
Once she took it with her when Gaila dragged her out to the City from club to club. Her little translator did its best with the pop rock sung by local bands too loud to hear properly, spitting out hard consonants and glottal stops. It produced no musicality of course, but it made Nyota curious about what Romulan music was like. If they had any at all.
While doing research for one of her Pre-Fed History papers, she took a ten minute break to scan some of the intercepted transmissions from the Earth-Romulan War to see if there was anything interesting there. Her boolean search pulled up more than the just the Romulan files and her ten minutes stretched into thirty into an hour into two as she listened to the messages sent from Commander Kathryn Galya, first officer on Earth Starship Flemming, to her daughter in Chicago.
Hey, Sweetie. Guess what? We’re in a solar system with a blue sun. It’s blue because it is burning really hot, hotter than our sun. Just imagine living on a planet where everything was tinted blue.
Hey, Sweetheart. Don’t mind my face, okay? We just had a little electrical problem with lots of sparks. Didn’t even see any Romulans.
Hey, Baby. Grandma says your not sleeping so well. You want me to sing to you? Just close your eyes and pretend I’m there, okay?
Hey, Sweetie. Don’t believe anything you hear on the news, okay? The Flemming is just fine. We’re little scratched up but fine. Nothing to worry about. We’re going to get patched up just fine.
Hey, Sally. I finally got your last message. You’re so beautiful. My beautiful baby girl. I . . . I’m going to be getting home later than I told you, okay? Don’t be scared. We’ve just had a bad run . . . a bad run recently. We’re getting to port. Soon. I love you. I love you so much.
Commander Galya sent the last message smiling through her tears. Nyota’s own cheeks were wet as she read the archivist entry at the end of the collection. The Flemming never made it to space dock, dead in the water when her life support system failed after the Battle of Ardana.
Nyota read the released logs of the first Enterprise by Captain Jonathan Archer a few nights later. Then she cued up the logs from the ships mentioned. The rest of the fledgeling fleet whose ships could only maintain warp one for short periods of time, armed with atomic weapons against the onslaught of the Romulan Birds of Prey in what sometimes seemed like an unwinnable war to the officers who crewed them.
In all her schooling, including her Academy History classes, she hadn’t heard stories of war quite like this. Accounts of battles, yes, but not stories of the lost friends. The personal toll on the officers of the United Earth Starfleet, the lines on their faces, the fear mixed with resolve in their eyes as they crewed ships sometimes held together with no more than a prayer.
Nyota found herself whispering, May God grant you peace, in Arabic for each ship lost. She wondered if she would face such a fate with their dignity and courage.
Near the end of the semester, Nyota found a Miscellaneous folder among the intercepted Romulan transmissions. In it was an audio file of a male voice singing. The translation wasn’t complete and the decryption interfered with the feed, but Nyota picked out the words for soft winds and precious family.
She whispered, May God grant you peace.
She was at the top of her class for all three Romulan dialects by the end of both semesters, top student in years, according to Commander Vostok when he asked her if she would be interested in being his TA for the next fall.
He also noticed her interest in non-official transmissions and recommended two elective classes from the Anthropology program that she might enjoy.
“My schedule’s full, but I’ll keep them in mind,” said Nyota. “I’m starting the Bridge Officer Certification sequence at the beginning of next year.
Nyota wasn’t the only cadet from the Operations Track in the class, but she still felt out of her element. She was familiar with some of the material - her console, regular procedures - from her Officer Training classes, but that only got her through the first week of class. It was the switching positions that worried her.
In a fit of nerves before their first Emergency Sim, Nyota stayed up later than she should have with The Ballad of Mulan. She set her padd on audio and let the music carry her to sleep.
She goes ten thousand miles on the business of war,
She crosses passes and mountains like flying.
Jim Kirk winked at her from the helm when she took her place at communications. Somehow he’d managed to do the first two years of Command Track coursework in one, putting him in her year, which had only gone to his head, brains notwithstanding. His was a language she had no problems interpreting and more than a little fun shooting down.
She straightened her shoulders and raised an eyebrow at him worthy of Commander Spock.
She had been seeing more of him lately. He was guest lecturing for Vostok and joined them at their planning meetings for a few weeks.
“I read your final paper on secondary tonal differences between the three primary Romulan dialects,” said Commander Spock as they were gathering up their padds, the fourth week of class. “I believe your analysis could be applied in a similar manner to variations in Vulcan on both regional and temporal scales.”
Nyota smiled, surprised. Part of the inspiration for the research paper had been her experience with the subtle shifts from High to Modern Vulcan that accounted for small but important changes in the language.
“I would like to revisit the Vulcan language now that I have experience with Romulan,” she said.
“I believe that would be a valuable course to pursue. Have you given thought to the topic of your thesis?”
“I have a few topics in mind.” Truthfully, Nyota was behind because she barely had time to make a short list between her classes, extra time in the bridge simulator, and her TA duties.
“Is poetry still among your interests?”
“It is.” She said calmly. She concentrated on ignoring his even, unblinking gaze.
“I was quite impressed with your presentation of epic poetry the spring before last and have since educated myself in the oral traditions of human cultures. In contrast, Vulcan poetry, like Vulcan art, tends to be austere. Are you familiar with it?”
“Not as familiar as I would like,” said Nyota. “When I first began learning Vulcan, the poetry was often too complex for our understanding of the language, and it wasn’t exactly what I was looking for the last time I went through the library files. I’m more familiar with Vulcan music.”
Spock‘s head tilted in interest, something sparkling in his eyes. “I have found that most non-Vulcan races relate to our musical tradition better than to other forms of art. I myself am proficient at playing the lute. Perhaps this is a topic you would care to discuss at greater length?”
At first Nyota wasn’t sure she heard him correctly. Then she wasn’t sure if he knew how it sounded. “I would like that.”
Discussing Vulcan music with Spock turned into learning how to play the lute over the course of the semester. Spock’s proficiency turned out to mean pretty damn good, and Nyota often found herself singing harmonies while he played.
The first time it happened, she didn’t even realize it at first. Years of choral training led to joining in uninvited.
Nyota stopped immediately when she noticed herself humming. Spock kept playing, but gave her a look that Nyota wasn’t sure how to interpret until she noticed that he’d branched off into the line she had given voice to. When she took it up again, he didn’t smile, but it felt like he had.
They talked about poetry of course - Spock surprised Nyota with his knowledge of 19th and 20th century English poets - delving into what even Nyota recognized as obscure analysis of caesurae in Deltic post-modern pursuit poetry or the extended metaphors of East Asian human colonists in response to the multiple lunar cycles of their new home.
But she didn’t care because talking with Spock as the conversations wended into the issues of translation and more detailed deconstruction of the original languages was more than interesting. It was fun, time that she looked forward to. The more she spoke with Spock, the more she found hidden beneath the cultured facade of his Vulcan heritage. The more she wanted to know.
Spock was at the Academy while he waited for the ship of his next deep space assignment to be completed. A Science Officer, he was currently in the Computer Systems department teaching Computational Logic and was helping out with the Advanced Vulcan and Romulan classes because he had the time.
“I prefer to limit my time with students who lack proficiency. The Academy has an excellent language faculty who are as able as I to guide them.”
“Are you saying,” Nyota felt a smile edge out as she parsed what was under his words. Six weeks of lute lessons and poetic discourse and she was getting the hang of Spock’s own style of speech. “That listening to baby cadets mangle your native language hurts your ears?”
“I have never experienced physical pain in the presence of novice pronunciation,” said Spock, arching an eyebrow, but Nyota just grinned.
“Not physical pain,” she emphasized and could have sworn Spock’s lips twitched.
Emergency Sims came with advance packets, commonly called death notices, and in the last half of the semester there were as many sims where one person was taken out by a smoke and mirrors explosion as all but one. An unofficial betting pool had sprung up for who was going to be the sole survivor any given week. Nyota didn’t participate but she had a feeling that her turn was next.
“Engineering report,” she snapped when the simulator stopped shaking and it was just her and five prone bodies in the blinking red light.
“Warp and Impulse engines offline,” came the smooth voice over the comm. As the Chief Engineer reported the damage, including a freeze on the turbolifts, Nyota set the comm to voice control and moved to the tactical console, grateful she wasn’t cut off completely.
“Your first priority is shields,” she told him. They had been knocked out with the last hit. She reset and got a meager twenty-two percent back to life.
Don your armor before you look around,
Spear ready before you hail, ran through her head as she briskly strode to the long and short range sensor panels.
The ship that attacked was just fading under a cloak. She scanned for the common residuals and didn’t let out a sigh of relief when she found one. Nyota quickly set the console to auto-report and jumped down the steps and over one of her fellow cadets to tactical to see what they had left to defend with. She didn’t have time now to check on them. “Bridge to Engineering.”
Ready your men to defend the ship,
Retreat does not mean fail.
But the engines were still offline. Shields were up to thirty-eight percent and they still had phasors at three-fourth’s power as one of the phasor banks had been damaged in the attack.
The computer reported the new trajectory of the enemy. Shields went up another two percent.
“Attention all hands: Brace for impact.”
Nyota stood at tactical, her heart pounding. She kept her thoughts to the next task, the next moment. It was a sim now but one day it might be real.
The enemy ship fired, the light of the phasor fire appearing from the black sky. Nyota adjusted the shield distribution. She whispered, “With your shield or on it,” and returned fire.
The sim didn’t end when the attack did. Her ship was in one piece, but Nyota’s hands were shaking as she watched the enemy limp away. She got lucky and winged it, literally, and even though it was a sim - and she knew it was a sim, she’d been through a dozen at this point - she couldn’t help the feeling of shock that she got through it. On her own.
She took a deep breath to collect herself but her mind remained stupidly blank. The next step was damage assessment and she couldn’t think where to start. Be logical, her brain chided as she looked around and saw her fellow cadets diligently playing dead. Ship safe, it was time to take care of her crew.
The lights changed when she helped them up, signifying the end as she accepted her classmates handshakes and pats on the back. The urgency of the sim faded, pride taking its place. Kirk, of course, tried to ruin it by commenting on how hot she was in command, but there was a glimmer of respect there too that made Nyota grin, fierce and dangerous.
“You bet your ass I am.”
Spock stood in conversation with another instructor in the hallway outside the bridge simulator. He worked in the building, but the way he turned when Nyota stepped out was suspect, as was the way his eyes followed her when she passed on her way back to the classroom for the debrief.
Her final semester at the Academy began with watching Kirk fail his second try at the Kobayashi Maru, followed by what she was pretty sure was a date with Spock.
She asked over the very date-like dinner he’d invited her to, and he stated that he found her “conversation and company stimulating.” He was either blushing or about to throw up so Nyota refrained from asking how stimulating and instead smiled, warmth spreading through her.
She couldn’t stop smiling for the rest of the meal. Even when she schooled her features and they talked about the similarities between the Vulcan and Romulan subjunctive, the corners of her mouth wouldn’t stay down.
She thought it was distracting Spock because he kept looking at her lips, but she wasn’t certain until she suggested dancing after dessert and he agreed.
They didn’t stay long. Vulcans don’t dance, and feeling his eyes on her while she did was not an incentive to stay.
He let her take his hand when they left.
Her new social life strained her already stressed schedule. With her thesis due in three months, Nyota skipped Xenolinguistic Club. She went to Chorus rehearsal, however, with religious dedication.
She swore it was the only reason she was sane by the times midterms hit.
“It’s my form of meditation,” she told Spock as she once again rearranged her sensor lab time to accommodate the revised concert date. “What?” she asked off his look that was . . . amused, she decided.
“I have not seen anyone approach meditation with the same passion with which you approach singing.”
“That’s because it’s a calm form of rejuvenation.”
“And expending energy does more to restore your reserves?”
Nyota thought about that for a second, setting her padd on the table between them. “Singing in the chorus makes me feel connected. To the people I’m singing with, to the world, even the galaxy sometimes. I’m one voice among many.”
“And you like this anonymity?”
“It’s not anonymity. It’s being one member of the group while we sing about something important to us. Well, to someone. There’s some pieces that I cannot stand. But it’s that connection that matters. Songs are like stories - sometimes the music is the story - and being part of telling that story makes me feel alive.”
“I see,” said Spock, this time with a look that Nyota recognized from when he had just resolved a puzzle and was feeling pleased with himself. Nyota raised her eyebrow in response.
“I believe I understand another reason for your fascination with mythic poetry.”
““We are the stories we sing,”” she quoted her grandmother. “Don’t forget to put April 30th on your calendar.”
On April 27th, Kirk took the Kobayashi Maru for the third time and shocked just about everyone by passing. Then he surprised no one when Spock accused him of cheating.
Then the call came from Vulcan and Nyota was on the bridge of the Enterprise in a situation that no simulation could have prepared her for.
But she was prepared. Four years and she knew her job.
Then Vulcan died and the universe fell silent.
Nyota couldn’t process it, staring at the blank space where a planet once lived. Billions of voices silenced forever. May God grant them peace. Too horrific for any prayer.
They lived through everything. The Earth was still there, the Narada destroyed and Kirk, of all people, had pulled about five miracles out of them all to do it. The Enterprise limped slowly back to Earth. Someone established a shift rotation and the quartermaster assigned the crew quarters. Nyota found hers as soon as she came off duty and fell asleep.
When she woke up she was unsurprised to see Spock’s silhouette sitting at the desk in the corner, watching her sleep. She held out a hand for him to come join her. He hesitated but then slid beneath the blanket leaving a space between them as they faced each other. This close she could see everything in his human eyes.
”I grieve with thee,” she whispered in Vulcan. He traced the curve of her cheek with his fingers.
“Vulcan is gone,” he said, softly, all his pain laid bare before her. His mother was gone.
“Vulcan will be remembered.” Nyota inched her head across the pillow until their foreheads were touching.
“Will they sing of this day? Make it into a line of a song?”
“Yes,” she answered seriously, knowing it deep in her bones. “To honor the dead. To keep their memory alive.” Before he could speak again, his grief pressing through the air around them, she started humming one of the songs he’d taught her on the lute, Chassan phrasing slipping in, telling him, We are here. We remember.
The ceremonies lasted a week. Nyota was wrung out by the end, bereft of tears, wanting no more than to crawl into her childhood bed and hide under the covers. She called her parents and almost couldn’t speak for missing them. They were proud of her and relieved she was alive.
Nyota didn’t sing with the remainder of the Academy Chorus. She stood with her crew, heart battered, and honored her fallen friends in silence.
A month later, she was Lieutenant Uhura, Chief Communications Officer of the Federation Starship Enterprise.
When Captain Kirk stepped onto the bridge, and Commander Spock arrived just before they embarked for uncharted space, she had a feeling that they would sing of this too.