In some Star Trek stories, Spock has been missing in action or presumed dead. He has been sent on dangerous top-secret missions. He has actually died. These stories are intense and suspenseful. Kirk was never meant to work alone. Kirk needs Spock. In V.E. Mitchell’s Enemy Unseen, Spock goes on leave to attend a scientific conference and Kirk faces a routine diplomatic mission without him. Without Spock, however planned and temporary his absence may be, Kirk is bereft. He spends a lot of this book stress eating. While Kirk mopes his way through the story, Mitchell expands my favorite part of the Star Trek universe. Everything interesting that happens in this story happens because of a woman.
Kirk’s vicious evil ex is undercover for the mob spying on the routine diplomatic mission. She engineers a horrible variable-gravity gymnastics accident and a near-fatal poisoning. Her daughter, who she attacks, is working in the science department and takes a major personal risk to catch the murderer who is haunting the ship. The murderer is a shape-shifting nationalist from a previously unknown species who has somehow managed to teach herself Federation Standard without revealing to the Federation that her planet is inhabited by intelligent life. Meanwhile, Kirk’s attempts to date an attractive diplomatic staffer are undermined by his ex before being completely destroyed by his accidental marriage. I could wish that Kirk’s three wives were more complex characters and had more agency, but only if I wasn’t REALLY BUSY being amazed by their cooking skills. It’s easy to be unimpressed by characters who spend most of their time on stereotypical domestic chores, until you realize that not only are they producing huge, delicious meals for our Captain (who seems to have developed an eating disorder), but they are doing this in Kirk’s cabin, where cooking equipment is limited to Kirk’s desk and, possibly, an illicit hot plate he’s been hiding in his desk drawer.
The awesomeness of these women is highlighted by the abject failure of Spock’s attempts to provide a substitute for himself. He leaves behind an experimental computer designed to assist with emergency decision-making on small vessels in deep space. He urges Kirk to test it for him. He hasn’t put much programming time into it yet, and consequently it only has the intelligence of a very young human. Very young humans don’t have a lot of insight into the problems caused by abusive parents, Mafia spies, or shape-shifting Bakuninists.
Obviously, when Spock is on leave, the Enterprise needs a First Officer and a Science Officer. In Enemy Unseen, one of Kirk’s buddies from Starfleet Academy fills in as XO as part of a First Officer training program. Kirk is glad to see his friend, but the man is no Spock, and his reputation as a practical joker undermines the trust that Kirk needs in a productive working relationship. The Science Officer is Deltan, which initially seems exciting—supposedly Deltans are dead sexy. There is an interesting budding romance in this story, but Mitchell focuses on the complications. Deltans have to tightly control their emotions lest their pheromones overwhelm the ship’s ventilation systems and send the entire crew into a sexual frenzy. I imagine that Deltans’ early forays into Starfleet service on multi-species crews must have been . . . fraught? Hazardous? Extremely awkward the next morning? In any case, our Deltan refuses to speculate in the absence of evidence, which leaves Kirk feeling adrift and isolated. Leonard McCoy should be of some assistance, but he turns out to be the kind of jerk who makes insensitive jokes when you suddenly find you’ve been saddled with three more wives then you thought you would be bringing home from your dinner party in the Ambassador’s quarters. Kirk needs better friends than this.
In the most revealing character moment of the novel, Kirk wonders what Sherlock Holmes or Hercule Poirot would do. He needs his Watson, his Captain Hastings—someone on whom he can thoroughly rely. I feel bad for him. He’s having a rough month. While Kirk pines for his sidekick, Mitchell explores the lives of the Enterprise’s equivalents of Scully, Vane, and Marple. Enemy Unseen is a rare and fabulous opportunity to have way more fun than Captain Kirk.
Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer teaches history and reads a lot.