Child's Play

By Linda

Rating: PG

Genres: general

Keywords:

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Note: This story was on Trip and T'Polers but was submitted to the Strange New Worlds contest and made the second read pile. I cleaned it up a little, but it is basically the same as on Trip and T'Polers. I decided to submit it based on an email response to my question if stories on the internet were considered published and therefore not eligible for the contest. The answer from Pocket Books was that stories on the internet were not considered published. Dean Wesley Smith added a handwritten note to his review sheet that it was a ‘fun story', so I am assuming this was the one he liked best of the five of my stories (out of ten submitted) that made the second read pile. The story had to be double spaced, so I returned it to single spacing for Triaxian Silk.

I have included only two of the stories I submitted to SNW, here on Triaxian Silk. The reason is, the story I thought was my best, Dean rated in the lowest category of the stories I submitted. It was "Vulcans Do Not Have Maple Trees". I thought it was better than this one. Guess it is true that writers are not good at judging their own work. So any comments on why this one was better than the other story would be appreciated.


Child's Play
By Linda


Sarah raised her head slowly so she could see over the toolbox. The warp engine was a huge humming tyrannosaur glowing in the night-set lighting of engineering. The engine room watch had done a walk through five minutes before, so she knew the muffled footfalls were probably Sivak's. Knowing his Vulcan hearing would pick up her slightest move, she froze and lowered her head. That smug Vulcan boy was not going to find her so easily this time. She relaxed her shoulders and waited, trying to decide on her next hiding place.

"Tag, you are found. I mean, you are IT."

"Damn!" Sarah practically jumped out of her skin as she turned to stare into a pair of very black eyes under slanted eyebrows. "How the heck? I was being SOOO quiet."

"Not quiet enough, little human girl. You were breathing loudly." Sivak's mouth was a smooth flat line but his eyes held an incipient smile. "Oh, I am supposed to touch you." He gave her a very light tap on the arm, withdrawing his hand quickly as if it had touched a hot stove.

Sarah was offended by that. She stared up at the older boy. "Hey, I don't have cooties. You don't have to touch me as if I was some slimy worm."

Sivak briefly inclined his head. "I apologize. Again."

But he doesn't look like he is sorry, thought Sarah as she copied his head nod in what she perceived to be a Vulcan-like acceptance of the apology.

Sivak was keeping track of the time in his head. "It is 10:55.40. We have four point six minutes to make it to the mess hall for cookies and milk before children's curfew." He timidly tendered his hand to help her up. Sarah took it, feeling its dry warmth and scrambled up off her knees, which hurt from the cold grillwork of the raised storage area.

"Thought you didn't like to touch humans."

He had released her hand as soon as he felt she was steady on her feet and started down the ladder to the engine room floor. But he turned to respond to her comment. "I do not like to touch other Vulcans, so it is only logical that I would not like to touch humans either. However, you were in need. If we are to join the others at the proper time, it was necessary for me help you regain your footing."

Sarah sighed and tried to keep up with the retreating form of the slender Vulcan as he paced across the floor toward the door to the companionway.

Chef was humming a human nursery rhyme as he slid the cookie sheet out of the oven. No replicated treats would be served as a bedtime snack for ‘his kids'. Peanut butter cookies made without butter. The Vulcan schoolmistress, T'Far, stood over him with stern countenance while glancing down the list of ingredients. He disliked tall women. He disliked Vulcans. But the Vulcan children were as cute as their human counterparts, even in their quieter, more serious way. So he tolerated in good humor this harridan who would be in charge of the Vulcan diplomat's offspring for their four-year stint on an alien world. And soy milk for the Vulcan kids, he reminded himself. Okay. For all of them actually, because heaven help him if a Vulcan kid told his parents he had accidentally consumed bovine breast juice. Chef swiftly lifted the cookies onto a plate, flipping the spatula with finesse. Must serve these warm.

The mess hall was a noisy place most evenings now, with the diplomats' children playing board games and video games. Captain Archer peeked in for a few moments on his way to the bridge and decided to snatch a few of those delicious smelling cookies for the bridge crew. He was happy with this relatively uneventful assignment after his adventure in The Forge on Vulcan several months back. Ferrying Human and Vulcan diplomats and their families to a world which had finally decided to establish formal relations with both their worlds seemed almost like a vacation. It would be another two weeks before they arrived at the Lyratzan system. He nodded to Trip and T'Pol as he left. Assigning them supervision of the children's activities had turned out well.

Sivak waited for Sarah to catch up to him so they could enter the mess hall together. Almost brushing shoulders with the Captain, Sivak bowed respectfully, a practice engrained in the children of diplomats even more than in ordinary Vulcan children. He entered the doorway as close to Sarah as it was possible to be without touching. The girl fascinated him. There was an animated buzz as the children were gathering around tables for snack, Vulcans and Humans jostling each other as they sat down. This was a much different scene than that first day two weeks ago when they had their first bedtime snack together – two groups of children standing at opposite ends the mess hall eyeing each other suspiciously. Sivak spotted Troy and moved to occupy the seat next to him. He wanted to discuss some modifications to the tag game to make it more interesting to the Vulcans who were starting to get bored with it. As a polite afterthought, he turned to invite the annoying but intriguing Sarah to sit with them, but she had spotted T'Zil and Clara who were waving to her. She skipped off toward their table.

Two people were observing the interaction of the children from their post near the galley door. With his arms crossed over his chest, his back leaning against the wall, Trip nudged T'Pol with his elbow. "Told ya they would all get along."

T'Pol, hands clasped in front of her, stood straight but relaxed. She never leaned against walls. "The Vulcan children have adapted well."

"Do ya mean the human kids haven't?"

"I did not say that." She gave Trip a penetrating look. "I have instructed the Vulcan children in my group to imitate human behavior for the weeks they will be in close proximity to humans. I do not think it will be harmful to them."

Trip eyebrows shot up and his forehead creased. "Harmful? I don't see how a little interaction can be anything but helpful for…how did their teacher put it? Interspecies relationship training?"

"Yes. And I was surprised to hear that two human children have been accepted into the Vulcan school that will be opening for the diplomat children on Lyratzan B's central urban settlement. Of course, those two human children are from the group that I have carefully prepared for interaction with their Vulcan counterparts."

Trip turned so only the shoulder nearest T'Pol still touched the wall. "T'Pol, are you implyin' that I haven't prepared my group well?"

"You always read into my statements more than is there. But frankly, you have not prepared your charges as well as mine, Trip. It is no denigration of your efforts, just a careful observation that my group is better integrated."

"That is not my observation, sweetheart. I think they are equally…integrated. I think we should find a way to test this."

Chef had been eavesdropping on this exchange. He had an idea. "Why not let the children decide which group works better together. Let them vote."

T'Pol shifted her attention to Chef. "The children? Explain."

Chef took a step toward the pair. "Well," he said in a tentative way, suddenly realizing he had interrupted a conversation between two superior officers, "maybe on a scale of 1 to 10, they could vote on indicators of cooperation that you two come up with." Seeing the officers' faces gazing at him unsmiling, Chef tried to back off. "It was just a suggestion, since I have grown a bit fond of the little shits." Sensing he had said something untoward, Chef retreated to his galley.

Trip, aware of Chef's discomfort, raised his voice to overcome the kid noise and said to Chef's retreating back "Thanks for the idea, I think you might have somethin' there Chef."

For the next couple of days, people were seeing the two commanders huddled at a corner table in the mess hall over a questionnaire they were constructing. Some even wandered over out of curiosity and added their own opinion on the types of questions or their wording – ‘Do you feel you are playing nicely together?' – ‘How often have you felt frustrated with a child of the other species?'. On a scale of one to ten, integers only.

….

Supervising the children was extra work for both Trip and T'Pol. Fortunately the ships operations were only routine on this long but uneventful voyage. Still, when word of a contest between Trip and T'Pol became part of ship's scuttlebutt, Hoshi, out of curiosity, had volunteered to help. Seated at her station on the bridge, she entered the last question into a padd and smiled up from her console. "Commander, I have modified the questions so they state the same thing in Vulcan and English. Here, read over the English questions to see if they are a fair approximation of your request."

Trip set down his coffee and picked up the padd, passing the padd with the questions in Vulcan to T'Pol. "Looks fine to me. We on, T'Pol?"

T'Pol looked up from her padd. "I believe so. Shall we give these questions to the children at snack time the last day they are on board?"

"Sure. We're on then," said Trip.

Trip and T'Pol thanked Hoshi for her help and left the bridge discussing whether the sweet spot that Travis had shown the older children should be off limits to children under the age of six. Apparently some boy named Sivak had been teaching Vulcan self-defense techniques suitable for low G, to some of the human boys at that location in exchange for some late night tutoring in human card games. As long as the kids were not messing with any of the ship's systems, Trip was content to let them explore. T'Pol would have liked closer monitoring but did not wish to inhibit the spontaneity of the interaction.

Chef reported to the commanders that he had been noticing some very sleepy looking humans at breakfast lately and some very smug looking Vulcan boys. He thought he would check into this. But when he personally brought breakfast to a table of Vulcan parents, thinking they would be big on discipline, he discovered that they had not expected their offspring back in their quarters to sleep more than six hours out of every forty. Apparently they considered the curfew to be only for human children with less endurance than Vulcan children. And when questioned, both young human and young Vulcan faces turned to masks of studied innocence. It was only during some scheduled maintenance that a crewman had discovered a stash of several decks of cards in Shuttlepod 2.

….

Trip attached the blue flag to the short staff he had made out of an aluminum dowel found in engineering stores. Across the mess hall, T'Pol was testing the attachment of a red flag and handing it to the children.

"Now this game is to be confined to C deck from 18:00 to 20:00. We do not want any misadventures between gamers and the ship's crew or passengers. Excessive physicality will be cause for immediate cessation of the game." T'Pol scanned the eager faces before her. "Capture the Flag is an exercise in team work. Half the deck will be your territory and you are to hide your flag anywhere within it. Two people must bring the opposing team's flag over the line to your side of the deck. If either is caught by members of the other team, you must sit out the rest of the game and the flag will be returned to its hiding place."

The children agreed to the rules in an eager murmur of "Yes, Commander."

Trip was giving the same instructions on the other side of the mess hall. Malcolm was assisting with this game and he warned the kids, "Restraining someone of your own size is understandable. But I don't want to see younger children knocked about."

"Yes, Sir," a chorus of voices rang out.

"Capture the flag is a little too rough for these kids, don't you think," asked Chef as he laid out a pre-game snack.

Trip winked at Chef. "All the children have been feeling cooped up after four weeks on board. This game is not any more competitive or physical than what they've been doin' at the sweet spot."

T'Pol responded from across the room: "We have put both Vulcans and Humans on each team so that they are evenly matched in strength and speed. It will be a good test of cooperation under competitive conditions."

A few children opted not to play this game. Laura and her brother Matt were listening to T'Far read stories to the Vulcan children under seven years of age. They were able to follow along in the language because they had been studying for two years, since they were eight and ten respectively. Both of them had been accepted into the Vulcan Community School which T'Far would be opening in Lyratzan B's capital city.

Clara was listening too, enjoying the unusual lilt of the language but not understanding its content. She planned to finish knitting the scarf for her brother so he could wear it in their new home. Clara did not join T'Zil in the flag game because she was miffed at T'Zil's comment on her knitting. She could still hear the haughty Vulcan voice "It is illogical to knit this object by hand when Vulcan knitting machines could make it ten thousand times faster."

Clara had bent closer to her knitting and said "We have knitting machines on earth too you know. We are not THAT primitive. Probably your machines are faster than ours but I don't care. And even if they only could make this scarf one thousand times faster than I can, I would not buy one from our machines or yours. I want my brother to have something I made myself."

T'Zil knew she had made another interspecies blunder. Her parents told her this would happen and Humans would react emotionally. Although Vulcans were not used to the concept of apology, T'Zil was told to learn to do this to mollify human emotions. "I am sorry. No offense was meant. Can you teach me how to knit?"

"That's okay. Maybe later I can show you."

Clara was still being emotional about this, thought T'Zil. "If you will teach me to knit, I will teach you to meditate."

Clara gave her a thin smile. "Okay. Deal."

….

Captain Archer knew he was supposed to leave Deck C to the children these two hours, but Porthos had run down here following something of interest known only to dogs. The companionway seemed deserted until he heard a deep hound bay, then the click of nails on deck plating. Porthos raced around the corner and barreled toward him, another small furry object in hot pursuit. Archer was knelling down, balancing uneasily on his toes in order to gather his dog into his arms, when the furry object leaped, bowling over both dog and man. Rounding the corner to see the pile up was the Vulcan couple who owned the rare and expensive miniature sehlat. V'Tais's face showed some very un-Vulcan concern, while her mate stood behind her, his hair disheveled, a cowlick sticking up over one ear, directionally at odds with an ear tip. He was hastily trying to fasten his robe, which seemed to be covering nothing more than what he had been born wearing.

"Good evening Ambassador," said Archer flat on his back and looking up at her from under the two pets sitting on his chest.

"Good evening yourself, Captain. I do hope you are unharmed by this unfortunate incident. Whoever is the owner of this unsavory beast our Teetee has been chasing should be reprimanded for not keeping it under control."

"Yes, of course, Ambassador, I will make a note of that," said Archer as he gently removed the sehlat's claws from his uniform and set it on the deck, keeping a tight grip on Porthos. The sehlat crouched on the deck, raising her posterior and lifting her tail. She began a series of soft whimpers and stared at Porthos, who tried to hide his head under Archer's arm.

"Oh. I thought…she?…was trying to bite…" a little color was climbing the Captain's cheeks.

"Oh, no, all the aggressiveness has been bred out of miniature sehlats, much more so than with our larger pet sehlats. She is harmless. It is only her time. She ran out our cabin door when Simark opened it to retrieve the lunch tray which chef so kindly delivers to us. We were not expecting this…condition…to affect her for another few weeks, but this creature seems to have stimulated her. I cannot think of any other source of stimulation."

The Ambassador's husband was shaking his head and looking at his wife in alarm. Her skin was still flushed from her enjoyment of what had begun as his attempt to relax her with his skills at neuropressure. Simark stepped forward and picked up the sehlat, bowed, and turning sharply, retreating back down the companionway, disappearing around the corner.

Ambassador V'Tais waited until the captain stood up before repeating her apology. She was about to follow her husband when her ears picked up the sound of running feet. "By the way, Captain, I did wish to speak to you about the noise level outside our quarters. There are feet bounding by all the time, usually at a run. Could you speak to the Human parents about controlling their offspring, at least while we are on board? It is difficult to meditate under such circumstances. Vulcan children know not to run in hallways."

Archer was about to answer when he also heard running and turned because it sounded as if it was heading in their direction. It was. Sivak burst around the opposite corner, a blue flag held high in one hand, half dragging his teammate, Troy Brady, with the other. He did not see the captain. So, for the second time in five minutes, Archer found himself on his back.

Sivak lifted himself off the captain and his dog, peeled the flag off Archer's face and began to check the captain for injuries. "My sincerest apologies, Captain."

"Mine too," said Troy pushing himself to a sitting position and straightening his shirt which had ripped where Sivak had been towing it.

"Greetings, Mother," said Sivak, noticing the ambassador.

The ambassador was not amused. "Sivak, return to our quarters as soon as you have graciously escorted our more than patient host to wherever he was going." Without waiting for the Captain to regain his footing yet again, she turned crisply on her heal and walked away.

….

The next morning there was a diplomatic conference in the Captain's ready room between the Vulcan and Terran ambassadors concerning the activities of the children. Trip and T'Pol were called in to defend their supervision of the children's activities, which they were able to do quite successfully. It was discovered that Vulcans do have a sense of humor and that humans sometimes have logical reasons for their actions. And it was decided that the commanders' supervision had not included pets. The winner of Capture the Flag was never determined as the blue flag was not brought over the territorial line and the red flag was never found by the other team.

T'Pol had a series of quiet discussions with the Vulcan parents and they agreed to continue with integrated play periods. After the debacle of Capture the Flag, it was decided the last nights on board would be spent in quiet table games. This mollified parents and children alike. T'Pol hung the red team flag above the bunk in her quarters, assuring herself that all was well with both the integration experiment and with her contest with Trip.

The blue team flag also hung in someone's quarters. Trip sat under it at his desk shuffling a deck of cards that had been found in Shuttlepod 2. He had an idea…

….

It was the last evening on board. Children were saying farewells and exchanging computer contact codes and even Lyratzan residence addresses if they already knew them. Sivak invited Sarah to be his guest at a Vulcan embassy reception that was coming up soon. Clara gave T'Zin her extra needles and two skeins of yarn. Their mothers had already been planning home visit exchanges for the two girls on school holidays. Matt and Laura received a padd from T'Far containing Vulcan children's tales which illustrated sayings of Surak, so they could keep up with their language study until the Vulcan school opened. Chef shared his well guarded peanut butter cookie recipe with T'Far and she gave him a copy of Surak's teachings in English before they prepared together, the last snack for the waiting children.

The children were finishing up their questionnaires while waiting for their snack. A half hour later, a willowy Vulcan girl gathered up the votes from all the Vulcan children and solemnly deposited them in the ballot box. Sarah smiled at her as she deposited the human votes. The only sound was the quiet munching of cookies as Chef upended the ballot box on a table so he and T'Far could tabulate the vote. After fifteen minutes they looked up and scanned the eager faces. Chef nodded to T'Far and she announced the result. "Blue Group has the highest integration score, 160 out of 200, to Red Group's 140 out of 200. I consider this a victory for both teams."

"Fascinating," said Trip, grinning from ear to ear, "indeed".

"Unaccountable," said T'Pol, "How?"

Sivak spoke for the Vulcan children. "It was the last set of games. Otherwise we thought the groups equally integrated. The Human children behaved so like Vulcans in that last game of Commander Tucker's. They showed absolutely no emotion either with body language or verbal expression. Their faces were devoid of muscle movement. They employed intense concentration and played with a finesse we did not know they possessed."

T'Pol was baffled. In what game would Humans show such control? She turned to Trip with her arms crossed defensively over her chest and raised one very elegant eyebrow in silent inquiry.

Trip leaned back against the wall and crossed his own arms, maintaining his grin. He only said one word: "poker".


Comments:

Brandyjane

I love the part with Porthos and the miniature sehlat. I want one!  My favorite part was the end:

"The Human children behaved so like Vulcans in that last game of Commander Tucker's. They showed absolutely no emotion either with body language or verbal expression. Their faces were devoid of muscle movement. They employed intense concentration and played with a finesse we did not know they possessed."

T'Pol was baffled. In what game would Humans show such control? She turned to Trip with her arms crossed defensively over her chest and raised one very elegant eyebrow in silent inquiry.

Trip leaned back against the wall and crossed his own arms, maintaining his grin. He only said one word: "poker".

Awesome!

Copperhead

Linda:

Loved this story.  Read it years ago on TripTpolers, and rediscovered it here.  Having the kids play together is so right - kids are kids, the universe over.  There's an innocence about them that hasn't been quashed by growing up (at least for me, recalling my own childhood).

And I loved Trip teaching his group poker (or was that not confined to his group?).

What's Vulcan lore to filling an inside straight?

As an aside -- Remember the TOS episode "The Corbomite Maneuver"? with the Enterprise head-to-head with an alien ship, and the Enterprise's destruction by said alien ship counting down?  Kirk asked Spock for advise, and Spock said in chess, when no moves are possible, the game is over.  Then Kirk brightened and said, "Not chess, Mr. Spock -- poker."  He then bluffed his way out of the situation.

Afterwards, Spock's comment was "Interesting game, this poker."  And McCoy said "I'd love to teach it to you sometime."

And by STNG, in "Below Decks", you had a group of junior officers -- Human, Bajoran, and Vulcan -- playing poker.  How's that for evolving interspecies relationships?

Jeff

Linda

One of my best stories and no comments. :(   Well, actually there were some before the system went down.  Sigh, well at least I got to read them before the system went down!  :D

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