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Black Sails, White Sails

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James Kirk sat at his table in the officer’s mess and frowned at the PADD in front of him.

Everyone on board the Enterprise always looked forward to mail call. He was no exception. He’d already gone through the mail from his family, and two official communiques that he had done the appropriate form-letter responses to. But the Enterprise had recently been sent a batch of letters from a school on Earth and the one that had reached him had asked him a deceptively complex question.

“You’ve got a frown fit to pull down a thunderstorm, Jim,” McCoy announced, dropping into the seat across from him without asking permission or offering any other form of greeting. “Starfleet Command ready to send us out to test a new computer again?”

“What?” Kirk replied. “No. Hopefully never.”

“I fail to understand how a facial expression could affect the weather,” Spock agreed, taking up the seat beside his captain, “but I would also like to inquire as to the source of your consternation.”

“Blast you both, it’s this letter,” Kirk replied.

“Bad news from home?” McCoy said, looking concerned.

“No, the one from the school.”

“Did the child ask about a member of Starfleet killed in action?” Spock inquired. It was—unsurprisingly—a logical assumption. That was not an uncommon inquiry from children who’d lost a father, or mother, or aunt, or older brother… Starfleet was many wonderful things, but it wasn’t always safe.

“No. That’d be worse to get, of course, but easier to answer,” Kirk sighed. Because it was easier. Starfleet had a number of pre-drafted responses for letters like that.

“All right, what’s the puzzle, then?” McCoy demanded.

Kirk smiled, held the PADD up, and began to read.

TO: USS ENTERPRISE—CAPT JAMES KIRK, C/O STRFLT COMMDIV
FROM: SARIKA CHAUDHURI, DARRABHAT ELEMENTARY SCHOOL, INDIA

Dear Captain Kirk,

We had a random drawing of who to write our letters to, so that your whole crew would get one, and I was really surprised when I got you! I hope you’re having a good time on your ship.

“That doesn’t sound so complicated,” McCoy put in.

“Please refrain from interruptions, Doctor,” Spock said.

Kirk ignored them both and continued.

I hope it’s okay for me to ask you a question, but I think you’d be someone who might know the answer. We learned about transporters in school a few weeks ago. Our teacher told us that when someone is transported, they are disassembled from the starting place and then the information about them is sent to the end place, and they are put back together using stuff from the end place, but not any of the same stuff from the start place.

I don’t think that makes much sense, because if I got cut into bits, that would kill me, and I don’t understand why it would be different if a computer did it. Is that really how transporters work? And if it is, does that mean that transporters kill people?

Thank you!

Sarika Chaudhuri

McCoy and Spock exchanged a puzzled glance and neither spoke for a few moments.

Spock finally took the plunge. “Captain, I fail to understand the source of your difficulty.”

“I may sprain something, but I have to agree with Spock. You have to at least remember what you wrote for your essay, even if you don’t actually have the essay anymore.”

Kirk sighed.

They were referring, of course, to a course at Starfleet Academy. PHIL 1225, with the innocuous title of “Basic Ethics.” What it actually consisted of was an exploration of the basic ethical problems Starfleet personnel were almost certain to encounter in their careers. Of all the core courses, it was one of the most difficult. The course was taught by a Vulcan for as long as there had been Vulcans in Starfleet, which meant that the cadets were not only required to have answers, but to defend them logically. In that course, there was a mandatory essay about transporter ethics. Nobody graduated the academy without passing Basic Ethics, and nobody passed Basic Ethics without writing that essay.

“I can’t tell her what I put in my essay,” Kirk told them.

The two exchanged another glance.

“Jim,” McCoy said, “what did you put in your essay?” He spoke slowly. Gently. As if he were afraid of frightening someone if he spoke too loudly.

Kirk buried his head in his hands. “I…don’t want to say.”

Spock raised a brow. “What could be so distressing about an academy essay?”

Kirk raised his face and glared at Spock. “You are ordered not to laugh.”

“I would not do such a thing.”

So Kirk told the story.

*~*~*

Kirk stood at parade rest in Commodore Telin’s office, hands behind his back, eyes fixed straight ahead out the window. It was bright and sunny outside in San Francisco. The commodore held his transporter essay in front of him on the desk and was scanning through the PADD slowly. Finally, he set it down and fixed Kirk with a cool gaze.

“Do you believe the Federation to be guilty of mass murder?” the commodore asked blandly.

“That would be the logical conclusion, sir,” Kirk replied stiffly.

“I, myself, have participated in the transportation of numerous children and unconscious individuals. Do you believe me to be guilty of mass murder?” Commodore Telin pressed.

“I would never say so,” Kirk said, putting the slightest of stresses on the word “say.”

The commodore frowned deeply and looked back down to the essay.

The actual fact of it was that Kirk didn’t believe a thing he’d written. He’d never thought transporters killed people and made copies of them, nor would he make a genuine case that this was an acceptable state of affairs since those transported consented to the process. And he definitely wouldn’t suggest that the proxy consent of parents or caregivers was sufficient to allow this to be done to children or injured or unconscious individuals. He had made precisely that case in his essay, but it was all nonsense.

The commodore had, early in the class, used Kodos the Executioner as an example of utilitarian consequentialist ethics. Kirk had followed the argument he’d made. He even agreed it was correct as far as it went. He had drawn the line at agreeing that it justified anything Kodos had done, and it made him angry to hear the professor arguing that, even in the abstract as a theoretical example. He knew perfectly well that the man in front of him was not a mass murderer, nor a supporter of one, but he was too angry at Telin to care.

The commodore seemed to come to a decision. “Mister Kirk, this is, perhaps, one of the most morbid and dislikable essays I have ever had the displeasure of reading. However, I am unable to deny that your argument is logical and well-defended. Therefore, I must award it a passing grade. However, to be clear, if I had the slightest inclination to believe that this reflected your true thoughts on this matter, I would recommend you from dismissal from the Academy at once. There is no place in Starfleet for anyone who would justify murder on such a scale.”

Kirk flinched, looking directly at the commodore for the first time.

The professor gazed back, calm and unaffected as vulcans always were. But stern, which was a first in Kirk’s experience. He’d never shown even a small hint of anything but varying flavors of “bland” before.

“I must be blunt with you, Cadet. You demonstrate a great deal of talent and skill. And your grades are exemplary, with the exception of this course. You are, no doubt, destined for a fine career in Starfleet. I do not know what caused you to take me in dislike, nor do I require to know. My caution to you is this: do not let your emotions interfere with your duty. You may dislike me as much as you care to, but I must insist upon your best work in class.”

Kirk swallowed heavily. Maybe he had been a bit petty. Surely this career would be full of things that weren’t enjoyable. The commodore would not be the last person to say something unpleasant, or irritating.

Kirk nodded. “Yes, sir. I apologize for my conduct.”

The commodore nodded. “Very well, Cadet. Dismissed.”

And that had been that.

*~*~*

McCoy burst out laughing. “Jim, you can’t possibly have written that!”

“I ordered you not to laugh!” Kirk protested, though he didn’t truly look that hurt.

“I dislike contradicting you, sir, but your order was to me, not the Doctor,” Spock said, absolutely straight-faced.

“Telin was still a captain when I was in school, and a good one. I can’t believe you tormented that poor man,” McCoy laughed.

“I wrote him a better apology after our encounter with Kodos. Told him the whole story about me. Apparently, he was ‘pleased to hear from me.’ He’s retired now, living on Vulcan, got some grandkids, the whole works.” Kirk sighed. “Anyway, I can’t tell this girl that transporters really do kill people. That’d just be mean. Even if it is true.”

McCoy sobered. “Wait, Jim, you don’t actually think that’s true, do you?”

“I didn’t then. But every now and then, when I’m feeling less…sure of myself, I’m not so certain,” Kirk sighed. “Wait…you don’t think that’s true, Bones?”

“No, of course not, Jim,” McCoy returned. “Obviously, it can’t be.”

“But you dislike use of transporters,” Spock observed.

“That’s because it feels weird, and you can die if something goes wrong. Not because I think we all step merrily to our demise any time we beam off the ship,” McCoy shot back.

“Well, what did you put, Bones?” the captain demanded.

McCoy shrugged. “My essay drew on personal experience. The fleet medical program has a slightly different track than everyone else, you know?”

“You are required to obtain a medical certification prior to applying to Starfleet Medical, are you not?” Spock said.

“Completed medical school, and minimum two years experience at a certified hospital or medical care facility, or a recommendation from a qualified Starfleet medical officer,” McCoy rattled off. "Then Starfleet Academy core curriculum, followed by qualifications in comparative xenobiology and basic xenobiological research. Plus whatever requirements are in your specialty, of course."

Kirk stared in shock, and even Spock raised an eyebrow.

"You didn't think I figured out how to keep your green-blooded jigsaw puzzle functioning the way it should by guessing, did you?" McCoy replied.

"I…knew there was a great deal of study involved…," Spock began slowly.

McCoy rolled his eyes. "Let that be a lesson to you, ya' pointy-eared menace." He pointed with his fork for emphasis. "Now then, the transporter essay."

*~*~*

Leonard snatched another pad out of his bag on the ground, blood and cold making his hands clumsy. The andorian he was working on was still alive, but unless he stopped bleeding, that wouldn’t be true long enough for him to get to a surgeon.

The transport that had crashed into this field—covered in frost since they were pretty far into the northern latitudes of this planet—had obligingly come down in the field right next to the hospital. So far, they had managed to keep the fatalities to a zero, but with a few of the wounded it was going to be close. Leonard was doing triage on the wounded, so he couldn’t spend much time on this man. But he had long enough to do this.

Leonard used the pad to soak up as much of the blue blood as he could so that he could see the source of the trouble. An artery in the andorian’s arm, close to the surface and leaking.

“I feel…” the dazed patient said.

“Fine,” Leonard snapped, “and you’re going to stay that way. Doctor’s orders.” He fished a small device out of his bag and aimed it straight at the hole in the andorian's artery. The machine hummed, fizzled, and then died.

"Blasted, whirly-gig piece of junk!" Leonard snarled. "Fine. We'll do it the old-fashioned way."

Grafting tape was an old-style technique, adopted as stitches and sutures began to be obsolete. It was only in the med-kits as a back-up these days. The tape was based on the membrane within a chicken's egg and could be applied to minor cuts and abrasions. It was generally for external use, but it would do for something like this in a pinch. Leonard put the patch on the artery and frowned.

It would need to be corrected in surgery. This was a patch job, not a fix. Damn regenerator dying on him right when he needed it. Still, it was enough to hold him until he got to the OR.

“What’s the priority on this one?” asked the medtech, who was following behind Leonard.

“He needs surgery. Immediately,” Leonard replied.

“The hospital doesn’t have any free ORs,” the tech said in a worried voice after consulting a PADD.

“Then have that Starfleet ship beam him up to their surgery!” Leonard snapped. “What’s the point of them if they don’t help?”

The tech started fumbling his way through a call to the ship in orbit and Leonard stood and snatched the communicator out of his hand.

“Hey! You in the ship up there! This man needs surgery immediately. You beam him up there, right now!”

“Understood. Notifying transporter room now. There are three people at your location. The patient is the one prone, is that correct?”

“That’s the one,” Leonard said, a little less sharply since the officer clearly didn’t need anything to motivate them to action. "Make sure the surgeon knows to replace that patch on his arm with a real repair job."

"Acknowledged." About three seconds passed, and then the andorian disappeared.

The tech looked a little shaken. “I’m sorry, Doctor.”

“Don’t apologize, everybody was new at this once. But don’t apologize for giving orders if that’s what you’re supposed to be doing, either. Let’s get the next one.”

It was later, hours later, when Leonard got a call on his personal communicator. An offer to transport him to the ship to speak with the surgeon. He’d never been on a Starfleet ship before, so he was a little curious.

He was beamed up to a little transporter room, where a smiling man with a hospital badge on his uniform was waiting to meet him.

“So you’re the man who slapped that patch on my andorian,” the man said.

“How’s our mutual friend doing?” Leonard asked, stepping forward to shake hands.

“Beautifully. Came through like a charm. He’s sleeping it off in sickbay, but he’s doing just fine.”

“And my little patch job came through on the transport?”

“Of course. It moves things right down to the molecules.”

Leonard turned to look at the pad behind him. “That’s something else.”

*~*~*

“I made the case in my paper that injuries, and the individual experiences of them, are so unique that empirical observation tells us that the person at the beginning of a transport is the same one as at the end,” McCoy finished. He shrugged, over casually. “Incidentally, that was also when I decided to join Starfleet.”

"I bet that little tidbit got you an A," Kirk mused with a grin.

McCoy gave them a smug grin. "You know, I think it did."

Spock ignored the byplay. "I am quite taken aback, Doctor. You presented a very logical argument."

"Oh, don't give me that vulcan superiority," McCoy laughed. "Your essay was probably the same.”

"In some respects."

"Some?"

Kirk looked up. "All right, Spock, let's have it."

"Have what, sir?" Spock asked, appearing for all the world as if he was genuinely confused.

"Come on, Spock, tell him the answer. We all know you've had it this whole time," McCoy said, clearly unconvinced by Spock’s too-innocent face.

Spock looked at both men in turn and said, "As you wish. My essay also drew on personal experiences."

*~*~*

Spock had never been overly pleased to be in the company of T’Sel. She was a full-blooded vulcan—and she always made sure he knew it. She was from a highly placed house—and she always made sure he knew it. Her family had served on the High Council for as long as there had been a High Council—and she always made sure he knew it.

In sum, she was arrogant. An unbecoming trait in anyone. But in a vulcan, it was indicative of a failure to correctly practice the Disciplines. Even Mother had remarked, in private and never very loudly, that T’Sel had never struck her as overly logical.

Spock would have needed less control to interact with her if she were less skilled, but T’Sel demonstrated an inordinate amount of competence across multiple disciplines. Spock, himself an excellent student, was continually thrown into her presence. Her mother's place on the Council, and Spock's father's as an ambassador, also had the effect of often bringing Spock and T'Sel into one another's company.

It was displeasing.

At the moment, however, his dislike of her company was little in his mind. His father and her mother had come to a planet named Masupan—a Vulcan colony near the border of Klingon space. The planet was as different from Vulcan as any planet could reasonably be, which was why it had been selected. Its colonists had wished to pursue various studies involving water, and had chosen a planet with a great deal of it for their home. The planet was rainy, stormy, had less land than water on the surface, held deep oceans, and had abundant underwater fauna.

It was also—at the moment—under attack.

Apparently the Klingon Empire felt that this colony was too close to its border and they had sent several ships to inform them so. When the planetary administration had replied, logically, that there was no need to dispute this planet as it was of no value except the scientific, the klingons had deemed this an insufficient justification the colony’s existence and had begun attacking. Apparently there had been words exchanged where the klingons swore off intentionally attacking while a governmental delegation was on the planet while simultaneously non-verbally indicating that they were perfectly aware of the timing and absolutely had chosen it deliberately.

The planet was defended, of course. Any colony near the Klingon border had to be. Starfleet had engaged the attacking ships immediately, and people were being evacuated off the planet.

Spock had never had much use for being an ambassador’s son. Mother had once likened them all to terran fish in a glass aquarium. On display for all to see, set pieces more than people. The comparison was fanciful—as most human metaphors were—but Spock could see a certain logic to it. The travel was constant and exhausting, although Spock could not deny the advantages of being exposed to so many different cultures and worlds.

And sometimes—like now—it was dangerous.

He and Father stood on either side of Mother, who was maintaining an admirable calm—for a human. Beside them were T’Plana and her husband Sirot and their daughter, the unfortunate T’Sel. Spock would have preferred different company, but he was more concerned with ensuring they escaped the battle safely.

The transport to the ship they traveled in was quick and routine. No different from the countless other transporters through which Spock or his parents had been beamed during the course of his life. As soon as they arrived, Spock turned to follow his parents to the suite of rooms they were using when T’Sel announced in a carrying voice how pleasant it was to be spared the human trait of emotionalism during a crisis, given the human tendency to panic.

Spock and Sarek turned at once. It was impossible the words had not been directed to Spock or Amanda or both. Spock didn’t speak, however, he just stood and waited to see if T’Sel would say anything further. He had no intention of giving her the satisfaction of displaying emotion.

Sarek clearly was preparing to speak, and most likely would have delivered one of the brief and pointed remarks upon which he built his career when Amanda laid a hand on his arm.

“It is a very small mind who needs to behave so mannerlessly to that which it does not understand,” Amanda said in a calm voice. An almost vulcan-like calm, which—by some counter-intuitive manner that Spock had never sufficiently understood—made it all the more clearly angry and disdainful.

The pronouncement itself caused both Spock and Sarek to raise a brow. It was a very strong reproof in vulcan culture as Amanda well knew.

Spots of color appeared on T’Sel’s cheeks, much to Spock’s surprise and she opened her mouth to speak.

Mother held up her hand. “I am human. I make no apologies for my emotions. But where I express my emotions, you allow yours to rule over you. Even in a human, that would be a deep character flaw. Until you are capable of Disciplining yourself better, you will refrain from interacting with anyone in my family. I make this statement as t'sai, Twelfth in the House of Surak.”

And now Spock raised both brows. Mother rarely invoked her place in the clan under any circumstances, but Vulcan was matriarchal for a reason. The pon farr was too severe for it to be otherwise. And even though her method was unusual, Amanda had always been proud of her humanity and protective of her family. The strong rebuke was entirely in keeping with her character.

The rankings within a clan were very complex, and mother would be much higher but that she had married Sarek clan-less. Even so, both Sarek and Spock were outranked by her. They could not countermand her wishes. And Spock did not much care to.

T'Sel's clan was highly placed. But not so highly placed as the House of Surak. No one was so highly placed as the House of Surak.

T'Sel blinked, and for a moment, a flicker of anger crossed her face. It was an incredible loss of control. But she had to surrender. To do otherwise would be to admit she was less than a vulcan, and that was an indignity she would never be able to bear.

"T'sai," was all she finally said, and then she quit the room.

T'Plana and Sirot, who had said nothing during the whole scene, left quietly, their eyes hard. And Spock found himself pitying T'Sel for the first time in his life. Her parents had made no move whatsoever to defend her, and however wrong she had been, he saw now that they were difficult to please.

He was human enough that he could, silently and unvoiced, count himself fortunate to have a mother who cared for him so fiercely. And a father that, however distant he often was, had never denied Spock or been less than correct in acknowledging his accomplishments.

Yes. Human enough to acknowledge that, though only to himself. Regardless of how far away from home any of them ever traveled.

*~*~*

Kirk looked at him curiously. "That's quite a story, Spock, but…what does it have to do with the transporters?"

Spock frowned. "My instructor at the academy expressed similar confusion. The point is the logical consequence of the experience."

McCoy shook his head. "It may be, Spock, but in a formal essay, you have to actually state the point, even when it is obvious."

"Yes, the instructor said this too," Spock said.

"Spock, I'll pull rank on you in a minute if you don't get to the goods," Kirk threatened.

Spock glanced at him, managing to look unaffected and amused simultaneously, and said, "A person who utilizes a transporter is observably and demonstrably the same person before and after doing so, which I was able to note in both my parents and T'Sel over the course of many transportations. Since that person's raw physical components are different ones at the end of the process from the beginning, the only logical conclusion is that there is something else—not physical, though it is inextricably anchored to it—that makes us who we are. And that this component of our self is unaltered and undamaged by transportation."

McCoy and Kirk stared at him.

"You argued that transporters provide indirect proof of the soul?" Kirk asked in surprise.

"I didn't know you had it in you," McCoy added.

"I would not so name it," Spock said. After a moment, he added, "However, within the defined parameters of our discussion, I believe such a thing might be so named."

Kirk blinked. "Huh. Well, that is definitely an answer I can write to our friend Sarika."

"It is a much more pleasing hypothesis than your own, Captain," Spock agreed.

Kirk laughed. "Gentlemen, I have a letter to write. Enjoy your dinner."

THE END