Cadet Spock followed his classmates through the sunny marsh, busily noting down on an electronic pad everything the teacher said. This was the first of many field trips for the General Ecology class, assisted by the Starfleet Academy transporter and a little extra funding kicked in by Starfleet. It was important to them that their cadets have real field experience with unfamiliar environments before they embarked on interplanetary missions. Seeing each habitat they studied in person helped make the information processed in the class much more relevant than just reading about it or watching vids, and the field trips were absolutely mandatory, no matter what.
Spock valued the opportunity for its undeniable educational benefits, and as a born scientist he was eager and curious to see these alien landscapes--a wetland, a forest, a beach--but the visits also made his latent loneliness more obvious.
It was more energy efficient to beam down to the local transporter station in Orlando and travel by shuttle to the wetlands they were observing than to beam directly, powered by the faraway Starfleet transporter, to the several points of interest. As a result, the intercalary travel time between sites was heavily used as social time by the other cadets, most of whom were grateful for the imposed hiatus on academics. They chatted about their other classes and their social lives, and shared stories about their home backgrounds and reasons for joining Starfleet
Spock had almost no social life to speak of, and his reasons for joining the 'Fleet were too close to his heart and painful to discuss with these virtual strangers. It would be inappropriate. While the other students laughed and joked and bonded, passing around a bottle of beer disguised as soda, Spock simply looked over his notes, and counted the minutes until the next stop.
Now he stood with the rest of the class in a circle around the professor, ankle-deep in the soft, spongy wet grass of the marsh. Coming from a desert world, where water was a luxury and highly regulated, Spock was deeply moved by this land of comparative bounty.
"If you'll notice, the elderberry and water hemlock look very similar," the teacher was saying, "so please refrain from sampling any berries you might find. We have a lot of material to cover and I don't want to waste this field trip tracking down a doctor."
The students were given the opportunity to explore the marsh on their own for a bit--photographing, sketching, taking notes. Spock ran his hand down the stalk of a thickly growing Typha, which the teacher had called a 'cattail'. He contemplated for a moment his kinship with the plant. It did not have a sentience, at least to the best of the knowledge of contemporary science. But it was green, like him, in a world ruled by the red-blooded. It was not swayed by emotion, only the dispassionate, innocent chaos of weather patterns.
This train of thought was illogical. But it was also an interesting intellectual exercise, to classify the cosmos under different criteria than usual.
He continued to caress the plant curiously, studying its papery stem. Suddenly, his hand nudged something soft, pliable, and slightly wet.
A tiny green shape sprang from the stalk and landed on another marsh plant. It had been camouflaged against the cattail, a clever adaptation to avoid predation. Spock, careful not to disturb the little animal again, observed without moving. His eyes were sharp enough to discern its morphology even at a distance--powerful back limbs, splayed fingers, a rapidly oscillating throat. The eyes of the creature struck him as exceptionally deep and shining for such a small being. They seemed almost rimmed in gold speckles, but he couldn't be sure if the sun was causing his eyes to perceive what was not there.
Spock took out his lab manual and used the dichotomous key to look up the animal for identification. Dichotomous keys were a favorite toy of his. He loved their logical layout, which helped identify not only the organism in question but also showed its relationship to its closest relatives and the rest of the web of life, at least one planet or ecosystem at a time.
Within minutes the key led him to the amphibian section, and then frogs. "Hyla cinerea," the book proclaimed in electronic certainty. The Green Tree Frog. Spock looked back to the frog, his interest piqued. Its little throat billowed in and out quickly as it breathed.
Hyla. The name of the frog reminded him of a Vulcan word, but he quickly dismissed the possibility that the concepts could be connected. The word from his home was T'hy'la, It was one of the most beautiful ideas Vulcan had ever produced, but it was an archaic concept and Spock did not know anyone who used it in their daily speech. He certainly did not know how to translate it into anything he was familiar with in human dialects.
T'hy'la. An individual, separate being, but one whose soul was willingly joined with yours. Spock found the human term "best friend" grossly inadequate. He could find no logical reason to translate it directly as "brother". In truth, he could barely even justify to himself his own fascination with the word--there had never been another sentient with whom he felt that kind of connection. Cast aside by his peers at home for his ancestry, he'd poured his mind into the sciences he loved. Home held no sweetness for him, so he joined Starfleet to best serve those sciences as they served and pleased him.
He was learning much of biology, physics, chemistry, and all the other fields they taught at the Academy. But he was still alone, once again cast aside for being different. There were a few other aliens, but it was especially hard for the Terran mind to understand a Vulcan's stoicism.
Spock continued to watch the frog as it began to climb up its cattail stalk. Frogs belonged to a class of animals called "amphibians", which meant "two lives". They were spawned and born in an aquatic environment, but lived their adult years on the land. And even though they were truly land animals once reaching adulthood, losing gills in favor of little lungs, they could not live far from the water. They never completely lost their ties to home.
Spock easily found the parallels to his own life history. He now moved in a vastly different world than the one that spawned him--Vulcan, instead of a pond, of course--and although he had left home indefinitely, his lifestyle was still greatly affected by that first world. But he also knew that he was not a true "amphibian"--he was not truly at home in either of his two lives. The frog needed both to survive, but it thrived on the dichotomy rather than being limited by it.
Spock suddenly wished very much to communicate with the frog, even become friends. This was foolish and illogical. Its tiny brain could never be sentient. But he wanted someone to show him how it was done...
Someone was approaching the cattail stand. The frog's instinct of fear propelled it into the air again, and Spock watched it land, safely caught in the palm of a human hand. "I had one of these when I was a little kid. I fed it mealworms and trained it to sit on my nose. We had a pond behind my house and I had a bunch of books about the animals that lived there."
Spock recognized the voice of a young man from the class, but was surprised that he had spoken to him or that he seemed so interested in science. He had always seemed so socially active. He looked up and squinted into the sunlight that glinted from a smiling face.
The human held out his hand, offering the frog to Spock. "I'm James Kirk. You can call me Jim."