A Little Adventure Of Kirk And The Crew Keeping It Cool Whatever The Idoits Do To Then.
After four weeks in space with nothing more exciting to do than bet on which of Sulu's Ceracean sword-plants would attack an unsuspecting crewman in the arboretum (leaving the poor fellow with a quite literal pain in the posterior), the crew of the Enterprise was slightly stir-crazy.
Leonard McCoy had, three days before, threatened to go on strike if he were forced to give one more Ensign sleeping pills or prescribe one more diet to a slightly pudgy Yeoman. When the Captain's sole response was that he couldn't care less and more power to the woman for not eating the rabbit-food McCoy prescribed, the ensuing explosion did more to lighten the mood of the Officers' Mess than if Scotty had passed around a bottle of the stuff that came from the still everyone except the Captain (and maybe even he) knew existed behind a panel in Engineering.
Mr. Spock remained at the side of his captain, more to ensure that the argument did not degenerate into a food-fight than out of loyalty to the cause, while the physician ranted in high form about crews and their commanding officers growing soft without activity or healthy eating habits.
When Kirk had finally exploded with the demand of how the heck the CMO expected him to keep the crew in a good mood while out in the middle of the most uncharted area of the galaxy – should he randomly fire upon the first ship that passed, friend or foe? – the First Officer's helpful observation that such an act would at least cause enough crew injuries to keep McCoy busy enough to shut him up for the time being was received with a howl of laughter from the bravest of the crewmen who had edged closer, wagering on the outcome of the argument.
McCoy's reply to that had been unrepeatable in any known language save old-fashioned Georgia cussing, and Kirk knew vengeance would be the ticked-off CMO at some point.
In fact, he now reflected ruefully as he wrung out a sopping shirt, he wouldn't be at all surprised to find that the physician had purposely bribed the new Transporter Operator into dropping him and Spock in the middle of a smallish lake, and placing McCoy himself snugly on dry land.
CHAPTER 2 Unexpected
Incertus II was an unexplored planet orbiting a blue star; the only one of nearly two hundred planets or satellites in the system capable of sustaining humanoid life (one reason the voyage for the last four weeks had been so incredibly boring). When it had popped up on the scanners earlier in the day the entire crew had pounced upon the idea of a shore leave, though McCoy had done more grousing about the extra injuries and illnesses and insects and God-knew-what-else that awaited them on the surface.
Partially because it was indeed unexplored and uncharted (though no human life-forms were in evidence on scans), and partly because Spock glared him into it in one of those you-are-getting-to-be-more-irritable-than-McCoy looks, the Captain had agreed to beam down before the crew to prevent a repeat performance of what had happened the last time they had stopped for shore leave. They all still had nightmares about giant white rabbits hopping around with chorus girls and renegade tigers.
McCoy had been dragged, protesting vigorously, against his will to the Transporter as well. They had instructed the new Security man – recently promoted from Ship's Stores – to beam them down to any open area.
Granted, part of that open area evidently held a small, but very cold, lake.
Kirk had just time to yelp before the transporter effect dissipated and dropped him the remaining two feet into the water.
He came up spluttering, to the accompaniment of his CMO's unrestrained snickering and a sudden expulsion of breath from a yard away, where a dark head had surfaced soon after his.
The water was not deep, barely over his chin, extremely clear, and not as cold as some streams he had played in as a child – and the sun was shining merrily overhead – but it was the principle of the thing, and he satisfied himself with splashing his completely dry Medical Officer's boots and uniform pants.
McCoy yowled and moved away warily as he struggled out of the water right after his bedraggled First Officer.
"Y' look like a drowned cat, Spock," the physician needled pleasantly.
Dripping and even more morose than usual, the Vulcan looked completely miserable. Vulcans disliked water in its natural state, which was to them quite unnatural – similar to how most Terrans felt about deserts. Swimming was a required course at the Academy, and Spock had occasionally joined his Captain in underwater exercises aboard the Enterprise, but he hated water and being wet with every fiber of his soul.
Actually, he did look rather like an elegant black cat having been dunked into a sink for a bath. And like all of that species, he had claws.
Kirk was surprised at the remarkable restraint, however, that the Vulcan showed. He merely reached out, appropriated McCoy's communicator, and flipped it open, glaring daggers at the smirking physician.
"Ensign Roisel," he enunciated crisply, "are you aware that you have not only endangered the safety of the Captain and myself, but you have also quite effectively drowned my tricorder?"
Kirk wrung water out of one sleeve (while the 'Fleet uniforms were supposed to be water-resistant, that quality appeared to be greatly over-rated) and choked on a laugh as the hapless youth stuttered into the communicator, obviously scared petrified of the severity of the accusation.
"Spock, calm down," he chuckled, taking the communicator from the dripping Vulcan. "Ensign, inform Mr. Scott that I should prefer you spend two weeks' time under his private instruction before again attempting a beam-down, is that understood?"
"Aye, sir," came the breathless, but obviously relieved reply. "I'm very sorry, sir; I should have studied the ionic distortions in the planet's atmosphere more carefully; I see now where they masked the presence of the lake –"
"Explanations are moot at this point, Ensign," Kirk replied dryly. "Inform Mr. Scott of our status and stand by to beam down an exploratory science team. Kirk out." He handed the communicator back to the disgruntled First Officer, who was now attempting to preen his drenched hair back into immaculate place, and tried not to laugh.
"At least the sun is shinin' bright enough to dry you off soon," McCoy interjected obligingly.
"Soon, Doctor, is a relative term, and your observation is as irrelevant and unhelpful as all the rest of your conversation thus far today," came the reply, accompanied by a mournful squish of water being methodically drained from the hem of the blue tunic.
"Now, now, no need to get cranky on us, Mr. Spock," he replied, smirking.
"'Crankiness,' as you call it, Doctor, is a human emotion."
"Okay, so your human half is cranky…Jim, what're you doing?"
"Getting out of the crossfire," the captain called back with a grin, as he climbed to the top of the next rise and stood in the sun, looking out over the landscape. "You two going to start scanning the place or just stand there going at each other's throats?"
"Since yours is fried, d'you wanna use mine?" the physician asked, offering his tricorder with atypical generosity.
"'Fried', Doctor, is somewhat an absurd choice of words, since the element used to destroy its capabilities was aquatic rather than pyretic in nature and composition. However, I should be pleased to accept the instrument and leave you to the task of preventing the Captain from getting into any…trouble, I believe is the word you would use."
"What makes you think he's goin' to?"
An eloquent eyebrow inclined half-way. "This is an unexplored planet, and he is the Captain, Doctor."
"Yeah, I see your point…"
CHAPTER 3 Starlight
Contrary to the original misgivings, the mishap in the lake seemed to be the only 'trouble' that threatened any of them, and they had lost no time in beaming down several science teams, with an assurance to the restless crew that if the planet remained harmless then there was a promise of shore leave in the near future.
Scans of the planet revealed no more life than an abundance of plants and flowers – no trees, oddly enough, as far as they could see – and one primary insectoid species whose sole purpose seemed to be to pollinate the flora.
For the most part, these latter were quite large – some larger than a dinner plate, and none smaller than six inches in wingspan – and graceful creatures of four or eight legs, with three sets of varying, multi-coloured wings that gave an ethereal, almost fairy-like appearance when they flew between the blue star's light overhead and the visitors' eyes. More like multi-winged, shimmering butterflies than anything else, their appearance captivated the Enterprise crew, who watched in fascinated silence as a nearly eighteen-inch-long specimen of the creatures fluttered by in kaleidoscopic splendor.
"If I hear Spock say it's only fascinating, I'll pin his pointed ears back," McCoy breathed finally in an undertone, and the Captain laughed, feeling the tension of the last few weeks dissipating rapidly.
The officer in question, now only slightly damp thanks to the cheerful blue sun overhead, was deep in scientific discussion with the resident botany expert; Sulu had practically begged to be allowed down on the first science team despite being assigned to Tactical for the moment, and at the Vulcan's recommendation had been permitted to leave the bridge in his replacement's capable hands. He'd been accompanied by Ensign Chekov and Lieutenants Johnston and DeMarton; the former Mr. Spock's unofficial protégé, Johnston being the most qualified entomologist on board, and the latter a sharp-eyed, capable young woman from the Xenobotany department.
None of them, thankfully, had been dumped in the nearby lake on transport.
"No sign that any of the plants are poisonous or even irritants to human life, Captain," the First Officer reported as the Captain moved toward the small group.
"Excellent, Mr. Spock. Well, Sulu, what do you think of the place?"
"It's beautiful, Captain," the young man declared in awe, as an enormous butterfly flitted by on aqua-hued wings, hovering over them for a moment before deciding they were not worth further attention. "Most of these species of plants I've never even read about before, much less seen."
"No other life within scans, sir – not even other kinds of bugs," Chekov reported, looking up from his tricorder. "Just the butterflies."
"They can't really be butterflies, though," Johnston remarked thoughtfully. "I wonder what they really are…"
Kirk watched the creature lazily flutter away. "If you think of a name, Lieutenant, I'll need it for my log. Until then…spread out and enjoy yourselves." The corners of his eyes crinkled. "And stay away from any plants that look like they're about to shoot spores or something at you, okay?"
Faint chuckles broke out among the crew members within earshot, remembering the multiple times an apparently harmless plant had proven otherwise.
"Aye, sir," Sulu grinned, taking his specimen containers with the intent of discovering new flower species that could possibly grow in artificial blue sunlight in the Enterprise's arboretum.
"Stay in pairs, at least, and check back every two hours," Kirk directed. Seeing that McCoy was chatting up a rather attractive Ensign from Science Lab Four, he grinned and turned to his patiently-waiting First. "Well, Mr. Spock, shall we do some exploring?"
The Vulcan's eyebrows inclined precariously as his captain blithely bounced off into the nearest patch of bushes, chasing a pink-and-yellow-tinted 'butterfly' about eight inches in wingspan. Allowing a rather human sigh to escape his lips, he slung McCoy's borrowed tricorder over his shoulder and followed with an air of patient resignation.
CHAPTER 4 Back to Base
"Computer, continue recording. Thirty-nine differing species of flowering plants, twenty-seven of which reproduce by cross-pollination, five of which by self-pollination, and seven of which we have no idea how they reproduce." The Captain stifled a yawn so the sound would not be picked up by the computer. "Pause recording. Sulu, how many of those species can be kept aboard the Enterprise for experimental purposes?"
"Only four that I could discover, Captain; recreating the blue star's light and the appropriate germination conditions, along with hand-pollinating them in future, is not at all practical," the young man replied, disappointed that no more of the gorgeously-hued blossoming plants could be cultivated despite all their technology and care.
"Computer, continue recording. Four species of plants retained aboard the Enterprise for experimental breeding purposes. Full report will be added by Mr. Sulu at the conclusion of this entry. Pause recording. Mr. Spock, what did we get on those butterfly-creatures?"
"Their structure is quite similar to those of Earth butterflies, Captain, though their life expectancy appears to be limitless as there are no natural predators on this world. They are not insects, as we know the life form, due to the number of legs in increments of four rather than the standard insectoid six, nor are they any strict species that we can identify due to the triplicate wing-sets. Non-sentient, but intelligent life-forms. They apparently grow larger with age, and exist solely for the purpose of pollinating the flora growing on the surface. The ecology of the planet is obviously perfectly-balanced; quite suitable for Federation colonization save for its very distant proximity to any other civilization."
Kirk really, really hated this part of any mission; the tedious wrap-up/survey summary/making sure the log entries were detailed enough to weary even the Fleet's pencil-pushers/bore-them-all-to-tears bit. "All information fed to this computer terminal for the report?"
"Of course, Captain." A slightly affronted look. "As well as Mr. Johnston's official report. He made the very original suggestion that we call them 'giant butterflies,' sir," the Vulcan added with a completely expressionless look across the table.
Kirk one-eyed him over the rim of his coffee cup. "Um…right," he decided to ignore it as he could never tell with Spock whether or not his First was employing that odd Vulcan dry-humor or would be offended that he even thought so. "Visuals for the higher-ups?"
The Vulcan looked pointedly at Sulu and Chekov, who had been entrusted with the visual and video identification of the creatures. "All my recordings of their flight patterns have been transferred to your terminal, Keptin," the young Russian said hurriedly, flicking a quick glance over at the other man.
"I…had a hard time capturing very clear images of the creatures, Captain," Sulu began awkwardly, fiddling with the data-chip that contained the images, "due to their rapid flight. Only…only a couple of the images are perfectly clear."
"Then let's see them, Lieutenant, so we can all go about our business," Kirk replied dryly, gesturing toward the table viewer.
The two younger of the officers glanced at each other warily. "Um…Captain…" Sulu began again, casting a dubious glance at the impassive Vulcan across the table, "I'm not sure you'll want these images for the official log."
"I vould be happy to take a team down to re-capture the images, Keptin," Chekov volunteered immediately, and Sulu nodded with emphasis.
"Gentlemen," Kirk drew the word out, breathing a slow and measured sigh of impatience. "What exactly is wrong with the images? This is not a classified or even very interesting mission; this should not be such a…"
"Prolonged deliberation?" Spock interjected smoothly.
Kirk's eyebrow mirrored his First's. "…Yes, basically."
"Sir, I only meant that –"
"Mr. Sulu," the Vulcan intoned severely, "your refusal to share the images captured of this creature, however alluring it was to you personally and whatever your reasons for not cooperating are, is highly illogical. Such a lack of cooperation is both unbecoming and irrational in a Starfleet officer."
Obviously stung by the rebuke, the young lieutenant glanced at his Russian friend and shrugged in an okay-but-remember-you-asked-for-it gesture. "Well, Captain," he muttered finally, shoving the disc into the reader, "the reason, like I said, was that the thing flew too fast to get clear images…I only could get a couple when it finally stopped…just once, while I think you were off talking to Mr. Scott on your communicator..."
Chekov had found something very, very intriguing on his PADD to consider as the image appeared on the three-way screen, but unfortunately the Captain had been mid-drink when it flicked into view. He promptly choked on the lukewarm coffee and came in danger of drenching the computer with it, trying desperately not to burst into howls of laughter or asphyxiate himself at the same time.
Mr. Spock's eyebrows defied about four laws of gravitational pull and disappeared under his hair.
On the small viewer was a vivid, crystal-clear image of a magnificent twelve-inch butterfly-creature, all six cerulean wings shimmering mid-flutter and antennae waving against the pearly cobalt sky.
And it was resting motionless on the head of the Enterprise's First Officer.
The Vulcan's eyes were nearly rolled up in his skull and slightly crossed, as if trying desperately to see what in the universe was up there, and while no visible expression of annoyance or otherwise was visible on his features, it was still broke every law of Vulcan dignity that existed in the known universe (and half the parallel ones too).
"It is a wery clear picture, sir," Chekov ventured helpfully after a deafening silence.
A weary expulsion of air through the nose – not a sigh, but its Vulcan equivalent – sounded in the fragile stillness that followed. The First Officer folded his arms and waited, face unreadable except for a frown line between his eyebrows.
"Mr. Sulu, Mr. Chekov," Kirk's voice finally strangled from somewhere behind his sleeve, "take a team down to the planet and get me a picture of that thing in its natural habitat, if you please?"
The lieutenant's face, flushed uncomfortably with suppressed laughter and the very real desire to not die painfully via ancient Vulcan methods of execution, creased into lines of sheer relief. "Aye, sir!"
The Captain rose as the two younger members of his Bridge crew did, and walked to the briefing room exit with them. He cast a precautionary look back at the not-peeved-because-he-was-of-course-Vulcan still sitting patiently at the table, and then dropped his voice to a whisper as the doors swished open.
"And, Mr. Sulu," he asked, grinning wickedly, "do you think you can get a copy of that image to the computer terminal in my quarters?"