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"Maintaining standard orbit, sir."
"Very well, Mr Sulu. Lt Uhura, pass the word to Kyle to start beaming down supplies as soon as they are ready. I'll be in my quarters if anyone wants to apply for shore leave. You have the con, Mr Sulu."
As the helmsman took the command chair Chekov snorted derisively, "Shore leave - here?"
"Well, we shall be here for fifty-six hours should anyone want to take the opportunity for a little R & R." Uhura's tone was bland.
"Shall we go?" Sulu grinned at her over his shoulder. She grinned back. "Some other time, Mr Sulu."
"It's not the time that's wrong," Chekov said gloomily. "It's the place!"
Kirk did not seriously expect anyone to apply for shore leave under a pressurised dome manned by scientists; when those scientists were exclusively Vulcan no-one on board would be crazy enough to consider a visit relaxing.
His door buzzer sounded. "Come. Bones! I hope this is purely a social visit. I'm looking forward to a day or two's peace."
"Not entirely social." The doctor seemed ill-at-ease, his normal sarcasm for once abandoned. "Jim, I'd like to apply for shore leave for a couple of days."
"You'd - what?"
McCoy acted annoyed. At least, Kirk thought it was acting. "Is there any reason I shouldn't apply?" he asked truculently. "I get tired the same as everyone else."
"Yes, but... "
"Well, do I get shore leave or not, Captain?"
"Quit pushing, Bones. Sure you can have shore leave if you want it."
"Good. I may be gone the full forty-eight hours." He turned to go.
"Bones!" Kirk shot out of his chair and round the desk. "Why?"
"Is there anything in the regulations that states I have to give a reason? This isn't a prohibited area, is it?"
"No, of course not. But you, of all people, to apply for leave here - you must have a reason."
"Is this for the record?"
"No, and I shan't hear what you say."
McCoy nodded. "Good. I haven't said anything."
The doors had hardly closed before Kirk's bemused eyes when the buzzer sounded again. This certainly wasn't a social call.
"What can I do for you, Mr Spock?"
"I should like to apply for forty-eight hours' shore leave, sir."
"Taking McCoy on a Vulcan pub crawl?" Kirk grinned.
Spook's expression was glacial. "I fail to understand why I should encourage the ship's Chief Medical Officer to attempt a pergrination on the ginglymus joints to find an inn of a type that is unknown in my culture."
Kirk knew when he was defeated, but before he could say so the door buzzer called his attention for the third time in ten minutes.
"Permission granted, Mr Spock. Come in, Nurse Chapel. What can I do for you?"
The nurse shot one reddened glance at Spock and stammered uncharacteristically. "Nothing, Captain, that is - yes - I mean - may I have forty-eight hours' shore leave, sir?"
Kirk glared round at Spock, but the doors were already closing behind the Vulcan.
"Shore leave, Nurse?"
"I understood it was in order, sir."
"Yes, it's in order, Nurse. I'm just surprised." He paused, giving her time for an explanation. The silence lengthened until the nurse's embarrassment almost became audible. "You'd better get going, you don't want to cut your leave short. We're not going to be here for long."
She mumbled something incoherently, and practically ran.
Kirk rumpled his hair pensively. Were they all going together? He could think of few more unlikely trios. He left his cabin abruptly. After all, a good Captain has to make regular checks on all departments.
All three of them were in the transporter room. As the doors opened McCoy swung round - guiltily? - and stumbled up the step. He hurriedly thrust the bundle he was carrying into Christine Chapel's arms.
"Are we all ready? Energise, Scotty."
As the beams flickered, one round, pale pink sphere wobbled from its precarious position on top of Christine's armful. It rolled clear of the pad and down the steps, rattling as it did so, and came to rest at Kirk's feet as the landing party disappeared.
Kirk bent and picked it up by its twisted plastic handle; he shook it tentatively - it gave a brief surge of musical notes. A second movement produced a soft trilling sound. Scott came round the console and inspected it. Kirk obligingly shook it; a peal of tiny bells rang out. Scott nodded. "I see, sir. A random selection of sounds produced by oscillation. What is it, sir?"
Kirk cocked an eyebrow at him. "A baby's rattle, Mr Scott." They surveyed it blankly.
Curiosity killed the cat, Kirk mused, it has been known to put a Vulcan I know into danger, but it's driving me to drink. He poured Scott another Scotch. For once the Engineer had abandoned his technical journals and joined Kirk in the rec room. Kirk endeavoured to maintain a lofty indifference. "Is the supply transfer going well?" he enquired.
"Aye, sir." Scotty studied his glass reverently and drank. "All going according to plan. Unfortunately! No problems here."
A wild idea hit Kirk. "Any their end?"
Scott lowered his glass just far enough to see Kirk's face. "None they haven't been able to handle," he said regretfully.
"Scotty, you haven't...?"
"Me, sir?" The Engineer was outraged. "Nothing they've been able to trace," he expanded, confidentially.
"Thank God for that." Kirk relaxed. All the same, it would have been good to find some reason to beam down and find out just what was going on. He straightened. "Scotty, has that - Nurse Chapel's - er - hand luggage, has it been sent down to her?"
"I don't think so, sir. I'll find out."
"Oh no you won't." Kirk got up. "Rank has its privileges, Mr Scott. I'll handle this one."
Dignity, he reflected as he waited fot the viewscreen to light. Dignity and decorum when addressing a Vulcan. No good trying the 'all pals together' approach. He brought his hand up smartly in the Vulcan salute. Thank goodness he'd practised it until it no longer took a measurable time for his fingers to acquire the correct outline.
"Dr Sanek. We have discovered a piece of equipment left behind by Nurse Chapel. Have I your permission to beam down and hand it to her personally?"
"You may do so, Captain. We shall welcome the opportunity to meet you."
The tall, greying Vulcan awaited him at the arrival booth. "We are grateful to you, Captain, for allowing your Doctor and Nurse to attend T'Pela. I imagine the equipment Nurse Chapel omitted to bring was not vital to this mission."
"I imagine not." What the hell was their mission? At least he knew now they hadn't come down for a bust. Not that he'd ever seriously imagined they had. Not here. And not with Spock. "However, I thought it best to bring it down. May I see her now?"
"I believe so." Sanek paused before a closed door. Unless Kirk was suffering from an auditory hallucination, the thin wail of a very young baby was coming from behind it. It slid open.
"Come in, Dr Sanek." McCoy's voice was formal. "Come in, Captain."
As Kirk followed behind the Vulcan, McCoy gave him an unholy grin, instantly checking his features to solemnity as the Vulcan turned.
"Ah, Dr McCoy - er - I thought you might need this." Kirk fumbled at his belt and brought out the rattle. "Nurse Chapel dropped... " He ran out of voice. Christine had entered from an inner room, carrying a tiny, protesting form.
"Healthy lungs," McCoy commented, watching Kirk's face.
"Er - yes." The kid was certainly cute. Those upswept ears emphasised the elfin quality and the likeness to Spock was astounding.
"Isn't she just adorable?" Christine was all mother. "Have you ever seen anything so sweet?"
Sanek's eyebrows lifted imperceptibly. "I will leave you with your crew, Captain. Please stay as long as you wish."
McCoy shook his head at Christine. "I keep telling you not to coo over that baby in front of Sanek, Nurse. He's a scientist, not one of the medical staff. He doesn't understand the necessity."
"Stop giving me that wide-eyed innocence. Why are you having a busman's holiday?"
McCoy's control slipped again. "I told you he'd get down here somehow, didn't I, Nurse?"
"Whose is that baby?"
"Don't look at me," McCoy protested, "and don't raise your voice; you'll frighten the child. Even a Vulcan baby doesn't like loud noises and this one has Human characteristics."
"Whose is it?" It was a good phrase for hissing, Kirk discovered.
"Perhaps we may return my cousin to her mother now," a calm voice interpolated. "The child is hungry and should be fed."
"Spock!" Kirk whirled round. "Your cousin?" Well, it accounted for the likeness and was a more likely, if less satisfying, explanation than the theories he had been extrapolating.
"To be more precise, sir, her mother is my second cousin. Her father was Human but unfortunately died soon after the marriage. As the Enterprise was due for a visit here, T'Pela asked me if I would stand in his place at the birth ceremony."
"I see. But why didn't you tell me?"
The eyebrows rose fractionally. "It did not occur to me that you would be interested, sir."
"Interested!" He rounded on McCoy. "That was your doing, Bones. You made the whole thing into a cloak and dagger affair!"
McCoy was frankly grinning. "Thought it might give you something to think about, Jim. Well, I've work to do, haven't time to socialise. See you back on board tomorrow."
Kirk finally cornered him in his office. McCoy noted his expression and decided to come clean.
"Spock told me their medical team would like a little advice on the handling of Human babies," he explained. "T'Prill has different needs from a fully Vulcan child and she has no father to help supply them. Christine and I went to demonstrate Human mothering techniques, that's all."
"Well, why didn't you say so?"
"It was worth it," McCoy told him. "If you could've seen your face when Christine walked in - I couldn't believe my luck when I saw how like Spock that baby is - poor little mite!"
Kirk frowned. "You shouldn't have done it, Bones. It might have harmed his position with the crew."
McCoy's eyes opened in an innocent stare. "Might have made him seem more Human, Jim. In any case, no-one knows anything about it except Scotty - and Uhura, of course."
McCoy chuckled. "She is Communications Officer, Jim. She gets to know most things; and she knows when not to communicate as well." He sighed. "Oh well, back to routine. Where are we due next?"