Wednesday, October 31, 2012

A Pinch of Nerve

"I look so cool," the boy thought, as he checked out his image in the bathroom mirror.

Black shoes, black slacks; turquoise shirt with silver braid glued around the cuffs. The key piece, and the item he was most proud of, was the Starfleet badge he had fashioned from cardboard and masking tape, and covered in gold paint. His hair was plastered down with the black hairspray his mom had picked up at the costume shop - the sole item he had needed to purchase to make his costume complete. Except for the ears. No one in Arizona sold pointed ears; at least not that a seventh grader could afford for a mere Halloween costume.

Taking one last, long, admiring look, he wiped the smile from his face, and arched his eyebrow and froze his expression into a cool, appraising blankness. The boy was gone, and Mr. Spock stepped out of the bathroom.

Spock strode to the boy's desk, and picked up his tricorder (which said "Panasonic" on the side, and held a cassette of pre-recorded sound effects lovingly recorded off the three inch speaker of the small TV set in the boy's room). He clipped his phaser (Legos, wrapped in masking tape, and painted) to his belt, and beamed himself downstairs to the waiting Datsun shuttle in the garage.

The pilot and other passenger - the boy's mother and sister - chattered excitedly about the Halloween party at the school. Spock answered them with a crisp "Yes," "No," or "Fascinating" as the social situation required, but otherwise gazed analytically out the window. He breathed deeply, and used ancient Vulcan meditation techniques to control his emotions - Anticipation! Excitement! - that threatened to surge and break his carefully cultivated character.

The shuttle docked in the front lot, and the landing party approached the entrance to the carnival. Mom - the pilot, rather - bought tickets for the games and divided them between Spock and Snow White, and he thanked her briskly before turning on his heel and striding off to observe the local population's harvest rites.

He noted the knotted clusters of friends - females clinging and giggling in groups of five or six; males lurking and sulking in smaller groups. The costumes chosen seemed to follow a theme, again along gender lines: girls varied between younger pastel princesses and older rock goddesses and vamps while boys favored gore-spattered corpses or maybe occasional movie characters.

A fat boy, painted green and wearing a cardboard box on his back, broke off from one of the small clusters and approached Spock. "What are you s'posed to be?" he demanded.

"I am Commander Spock of the Federation Starship Enterprise," Spock replied. He arched his eyebrow. "May I inquire as to your identity?"

"I'm Michaelangelo," the fat boy said, brandishing a pair of plastic nun-chuks. "Kevin was supposed to be Donatello, but he decided it was too gay for both of us to be Ninja Turtles." He gestured toward a boy who seemed to be dressed normally, except for eye-makeup and uncomfortable looking plastic fangs. "Wanna check out the cakewalk?"

"I will merely observe," Spock said.

The fat boy - whose name was actually Leonard - won the cake. He, Spock, and Kevin began wandering past the music building toward the area set aside for rides. Spock excused himself to use the sanitation facility. When he came back out, his companions were nowhere to be found.

The boy - no, Spock - forced down the panicky emotions and assessed the situation coolly. There was no need to feel abandoned, as he was here to learn the native customs and evaluate these people for membership in the Federation. He would continue his investigation alone.

Not quite alone. A voluptuous animal with long, furry ears and an adorable little nose mask (adorned with whiskers that only accentuated the sprinkle of freckles across her nose) hopped in front of him. A brown leotard with a fluffy tail pinned to the back completed the bunny costume of Loree VanDorn. Spock nearly melted away completely, leaving the boy to gibber self-consciously on the sidewalk, but he resisted the red haze of the Pon Fahr long enough to take another deep breath.

"Hello, Loree," he said. The bunny grinned back at him.

"So, what are you supposed to be? Dr. Spock?" she chirped.

He sighed. "No, actually. Dr. Spock is the child-rearing expert. I am *Commander* Spock, of the Starship Enterprise."

"Okay," she sighed, rolling her eyes. "Did you want to go to the cafeteria? They're having a dance in there..."

Spock's vision blurred at the prospect of dancing with Playboy Bunny Loree VanDorn, but before he could reply, there was a commotion behind the music building. Shrieks of indignation and loud, whooping laughter preceded a ninja turtle, a vampire, and a hail of flying chunks of cake. They ran up to Spock and nearly collapsed in hysterics.

"Omigod, omigod, omigod! Julie Hunt was back there..." one began.

"...with Bobby Sweet, and they were..." the other continued.

"...going to do IT!"

"No, they weren't! They were just kissing!"

"She had her costume off!"

"Just the mask!"

"No, they were gonna go all the way!"

"But she wouldn't..."

"She would to... she's a total flooze..."

"No, way! She's so tight she squeaks..."

"Well, if you hadn't thrown the cake at 'em..."

Loree's face had turned hard and cold. "Julie's my friend, you jerks." She cast a baleful glare at Spock, and turned to go find Julie. Spock watched her go, mouth hanging slightly open. He had been so close...

" shoulda seen her face!" Leonard was saying. "It was so FUNNY!"

"I need to go," Spock said, and turned to follow the huffy rabbit...

...and ran straight into an angry wall of cake-covered football jersey. He looked up into the red, sweating face of Bobby Sweet - known in gym class as Bobby Sweat. Bobby glared down at him, and took note of the cowering pair behind him. Leonard and Kevin were already poised for flight, and took off headlong when Bobby grabbed Spock's arm.

The pain in his arm focused his attention away from his emotions, and Spock spoke to the seething adolescent in front of him: "Your anger is not logical. It was not I who covered you with pastry."

"Stuff it, Geek-boy," growled the angry boy in the soiled Roger Staubach jersey. "You're their friend, so you're going down, too!" His voice broke awkwardly, but that stole none of the menace from his threat. Spock snaked his free arm upward, and reached for that point where the spinal column joins the skull. His fingers pressed into solid, ungiving steel.

"Shoulder pads?" Spock asked, re-thinking the use of the Vulcan nerve pinch.

"Nope," said Bobby, drawing back his fist.

Spock's mind raced. There was no logical counter-argument to the bully's rage. He knew, intellectually, that there were species that did not share his distaste for violence, and times when it was most prudent to perform a surgical strike and evacuate. This situation required the unexpected. Spock bowed his head, and let the boy inside him take over.

The boy looked the bully dead in the eye, a small grin playing on his face. He lowered his hand from its futile grip on the bull-like neck, and with his fingers still forming the painful Vulcan Death Grip, he asked about another standard piece of football equipment: "Cup?"

Bobby's eyes gave him the answer by widening in surprise and pain. The grip on the boy's arm loosened, and he dove out of reach and started running, leaving logic behind on the wind, along with a peal of triumphant laughter.

He stopped when he felt he was safely away, and turned to make sure he wasn't being pursued. He wasn't. Bobby was coiled around the pain in the center of his being, and Julie had appeared from somewhere to console him. Loree was by Julie's side, and glaring photon torpedoes at back at him. The passing crowd was either staring at him with shock, or ignoring him completely. No one seemed impressed with his handling of the situation.

He spotted his friends-by-default, the ninja turtle and vampire, and headed their way to seek camaraderie, and perhaps their thanks for his quick thinking.

"Nice grab," they sneered. "Jealous of Julie?" They howled with laughter, heaping more abuse on him as they collapsed against each other with mirth, both denigrating his combat prowess and questioning his sexual orientation. He felt his face flush, and the heat of building tears pressed against his eyes; but then Spock returned, slowly.

He mustered what remained of his dignity, straightened his posture, and clasped his hands behind his back. "You," he said, "are HIGHLY illogical!"

And with that, Mr. Spock turned his back on the crowd, and stalked off; the only one surprised at the unrepentant fickleness of middle-schoolers.

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