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Kirk surveyed his laden plate gloomily and picked up a reluctant fork. "Not even a spot of dressing, Bones?" he grumbled.
"Salad is good for you," McCoy told him heartlessly.
"It was good for me yesterday as well," he complained, listlessly spearing a runaway radish.
"Yesterday it was Arcturian ice-plant," the Doctor reminded him.
"It's still salad. Bones, a man can't work on this little food!"
"The safety of the ship depends on the health of her Captain."
"Hungry is healthy for you at the moment. Jim, it's not my fault your weight is up again."
"Was I picking on you? Sorry. But salad is salad is salad... and I'm beginning to long for something hot and filling. Dieting may be good for my weight, but it's boring the hell outa my tastebuds!"
"O.K." The Doctor's face held sympathy. "So you're finding it boring. Tomorrow night I'll get dietetics to order you up something hot and filling. Will that keep you quiet?"
"At least it'll give me something to look forward to. Formal dinners for touchy Ambassadors are not my favourite form of entertainment."
"He's heavy going," McCoy agreed.
* * * * * * * *
It was the longest passage between Benecia and Rigel that Kirk had ever known. Almost, he could have wished for another 'Gothos' to appear suddenly out of nowhere. Almost.
Ambassador Kirswell was a dignified gentleman of the old school, the very old school. He had objected to most things since he'd come aboard: to the yeoman assigned to service his quarters; to the smallness of those quarters; to the lack of an adjacent cabin for his aide (at least the aide had been suitably grateful); to the heat of his sleeping quarters, the coldness of his day cabin; to the quality of the wine offered; to... At least enumerating the manifold deficiencies the Ambassador had audibly noted would keep him occupied till end of watch and beyond. Job security. He leaned back in the command chair, closing his eyes.
Uhura shot him a sympathetic look. If she had to endure one more fatherly pat, she'd shock that pompous, self-opinionated bore out of his Ambassadorial socks!
The crew of the Enterprise were all grittily setting their teeth.
No, all but one.
Spock was at work in the laboratory when McCoy approached him. "Busy?"
The Vulcan eyed him starkly.
McCoy smiled cheerily. "Spock, I... uh... wanted to consult you about your favourite food."
The eyebrows hit an all-time high. "Really, Doctor, I am in the middle of urgent calculations. This is hardly the moment for social enquiries about my eating habits."
"Social enquiries my left foot." McCoy was indignant. "You're not the only one who engages in a little research in the course of his work, you walking multitronic unit!"
"Why, thank you, Doctor." The voice was more than ordinarily bland. "And now, if you could come to the point with reasonable alacrity, perhaps we could both be getting on with our work instead of only one of us doing so."
McCoy snorted, but decided to ignore him. "I want a list of the most highly thought-of delicacies Vulcan cuisine has to offer," he said. "In order of your own personal preference."
If it was possible, Spock appeared annoyed. "Surely such a trivial matter..."
"Trivial? Do you consider the health and well-being of your Captain trivial?"
"I do not see how there can be any connection between my personal pref..."
"Who's wasting time now?" McCoy said nastily.
"There is no correlation..."
"Spock!" McCoy held out a threatening finger. "Just give me the list!"
A patient sigh. "Kroyberries soaked in hilva. Dried pokel-nuts. Plomik soup. Shabash. Tronka-tree seeds dipped in thusha sauce. Collordons in verblese. Magyana fruit..."
"Slow down, slow down." McCoy was scribbling furiously. "Mag...yan...a f.r.u.i.t... Yes, go on, go on!"
"You asked me to slow down."
"Really, Doctor, you should be more specific."
"I am being specific. Anything else?"
"Polyandron leaves, lightly boiled, not baked. Stuffed oolanji. Doctor, you are looking distressingly green."
"I'm in good company. Keep going."
Spock looked confused. "I am not leaving."
"Well, if you can't suggest anything else, I am." He ran a hurried finger down the list and smirked. "That should do very nicely. Get back to your work."
Spock rose from the console, spinning the chair slightly.
"Where are you off to? I thought you said you weren't leaving?"
"Even a Vulcan may change his mind, Doctor. I find I have left something I require in the chemistry lab." He went through the connecting door.
McCoy shrugged. Not like the Vulcan to go out of a room almost at a trot. The main door slid open. The imposing figure of Ambassador Kirswell filled the vacant space.
"Dr McCoy?" The booming voice was disapproving. "I would have expected to find you in your sickbay, not in the science section. In my opinion, a Doctor's place is with his patients."
"Ambassador." McCoy bowed gracefully. "My work takes me all over this ship - you'd be surprised. And what are you doing in the science section?"
"I am looking for the First Officer. Your Captain informs me that Mr Spock is better qualified than he is to explain the failure of the M5 computer. In my opinion, the Captain of a Starship should be better informed, but let that be. It is not my place to make criticisms. I was also informed that Mr Spock was in this laboratory. He seems a strangely elusive person; I have been searching for him since yesterday."
Bless those sharp, pointed ears, McCoy thought. Shall I give him away? His darker self prevailed. He pointed to the inner door.
"He's just gone in there."
* * * * * * * *
His breakfast coffee was nectar. Kirk sipped it slowly, savouring every black drop. What he'd do if coffee was fattening... He whipped the depressing thought away.
"Don't look so hearty, Bones. I'm already feeling peaky."
"You don't look it. Blooming health describes you this fine morning. Bright eyed and bushy-tailed. No coating on the tongue. No lingering fumes of illicit Saurian brandy..."
"No. And I'll thank you to keep your hands out of my cupboard."
"Tch. Tch. Tch. All for your own good. In my opin..."
Kirk winced. "Don't say that, Bones. If Kirswell gives me his opinion one more time, I'll... I'll get Riley to sing 'I'll take you home again Kathleen' at tonight's concert!"
McCoy winced, too. "There's no need for us all to suffer, Jim. Brace up! The day does have a silver lining. Tomorrow we get to Rigel 4."
"We've got to get through today first. Where the devil is Spock? I haven't seen him around, except on watch, for days."
"Well." McCoy spread expressive hands. "He's safe on the bridge. You've seen to that, at least."
"From your friendly Ambassador. He was chasing him all over the ship yesterday. Caught him, too. In the chem lab." He chuckled, savouring the memory.
"I regret you are mistaken in your information, Doctor." Spock paused by his chair. "I have not yet had the opportunity for any conversation with Ambassador Kirswell."
"But I sent him into the chem lab right after you left!" McCoy exclaimed, abandoning discretion.
"It was unfortunate, then, that I missed him."
"But you..." McCoy blinked. "You can't have missed him. There's no other way out."
Spock's eyebrows crept upwards infinitesimally. "I did not see the Ambassador, Doctor. You must have been mistaken in your belief that you knew my location." He changed the subject. "Captain, I received your message. When you have finished your meal, I shall be ready with the report you requested."
"0h, yes." Kirk took another, lingering, sip of the coffee. "One more cup and I'll be right with you, Spock."
"That's your fourth already."
"Coffee isn't fattening."
"Too much caffeine..."
"Bones! Lay off. Leave me one simple pleasure. Carry on, Spock. I'll see you in... say a quarter of an hour." He looked across at McCoy. "Something bothering you, Bones?"
"I know he was in the chem lab," McCoy said, glaring at the retreating Vulcan. "Where did he...? By jiminy, the apparatus locker!"
"What apparatus locker?" Really, it was too early in the day for this oblique conversation.
"He must have hidden in it."
"When the Ambassador missed him." McCoy grinned suddenly. "I'd give six months' pay to have seen him. I thought Spock was the only one who didn't seem to be getting all up-tight on this trip. He must have been dodging him for days. Now, Jim, don't you wish you had over-active, pointed ears and were skinny enough to hide in lockers?"
Kirk ignored the innuendo. "I must be on my way, Bones. Urgent ship's business with Spock. I'll be in my quarters, and I'm not to be disturbed for anything less than a yellow alert."
Urgent ship's business! Well, it wasn't a bad excuse. Maybe he'd start the physicals this morning...
* * * * * * * *
The bridge crew were doing a subtly efficient job at passing the Ambassador over to each other as swiftly as possible. Uhura slipped neatly behind Christine Chapel.
"Don't hide behind me! I've done my turn this evening," Christine informed her firmly.
"Did he pat your...?"
"Certainly not!" Christine said, outraged.
"Well," Uhura said darkly, "he's patted mine once too often already. I'm staying where I am."
It was quite a relief to begin dinner.
Kirk looked at the table appreciatively. Trust Yeoman Landis to make the best use of her not-inconsiderable talent for table decoration. At least there shouldn't be any complaint about that. And the food certainly smelled delicious. He sighed. Only another couple of pounds.
An enormous tureen was set in front of him. "Your special order, Captain."
"Special order?" Kirswell boomed disapprovingly. "In my opinion, Kirk, a good Captain eats what his crew eats and doesn't pander to personal whims."
Kirk cut off the glare at its birth. "I'd be happy to share this with you, Ambassador. Yeoman, serve the Ambassador some."
"No, no. I do not set my tastes above those of your officers. What they eat is good enough for me."
"Why, sir," McCoy put in. "I certainly recommend you try it. One of the greatest Vulcan delicacies..."
Suspicion shot through Kirk's mind. McCoy wouldn't... He watched Travers lift the lid. Yes, he would. The smell was unmistakable. Plomik soup.
Choking down a desire to order McCoy to the brig, he smiled appreciatively. "Delicious." He was not going to suffer alone. He beckoned Travers. "You must try this, Ambassador. An experience not to be missed."
Travers handed out the two plates, and Kirk lifted a determined spoon. He'd drink it, every drop, and smile through every mouthful, and if Kirswell didn't finish his as well, he had some pleasantly cutting things already floating into his mind. He swallowed the first mouthful, bravely calculating how many more there were to go before he'd finish. Kirswell drank his own first mouthful. A strange expression crossed his face.
"Not to your taste, Ambassador?" Kirk enquired sweetly. "I am surprised. In my opinion, all personnel in privileged positions such as ours should learn to eat and enjoy the favoured dishes of our associate races. Provided, naturally, that they are not poisonous to the Human race."
And just which hare-brained idiot decided this wasn't? He drank another mouthful.
The over-powering odour had caused other heads to lift now, and startled glances were being passed along the table with the pepper. They'd all begged Spock not to eat another bowlful save in the privacy of his own quarters.
"I knew you would both enjoy it," McCoy said jovially. "Mr Spock spared me a little of his precious time to suggest what he thought the best that Vulcan had to offer. I picked the highest on his list that the Enterprise could provide."
Spock! He'd manage to avoid a second helping!
"Yeoman, serve Mr Spock some of this delicious soup," he said. "It would be unkind of us to drink it all, and not leave any for him."
There was a stifled giggle on his left, hastily smothered. He drank another spoonful. Heavens, the stuff would be getting cold if he lingered any longer. Another, hastier one. The giggle was on his right now. He glared down the table, smoothing his features into a bland smile.
Spock was taking the plate, and lifting a bemused eyebrow at Uhura, hastily applying a scented tissue to her nose.
"Enjoying your treat, Mr Spock?"
The Vulcan looked up from his plate. "It is most pleasant, Captain. And excellently made."
How could he tell?
A giggle welled up in Kirk, and he thrust it down again quickly. Only a few more mouthfuls now, and it would all be gone. Kirswell was slower, but catching up gamely.
A sudden snort of laughter came from the other side of the table. Chekov - of course.
"Something amusing, Mr Chekov?" Kirk didn't see why he should suffer alone. "Please share the joke with us."
There, it was finished. He laid the spoon down, tidily. The flustered Chekov was stammering unhappily.
"Pavel was just telling me about his Aunt Marushka's pet rabbit," Scott said kindly. "Ye'll have heard the tale, Captain, I daresay, but it wis new tae me. I've never heard o' a rabbit that liked vodka before... Now, if it was scotch, of course..." The table collapsed into grateful laughter.
Kirk caught the look of blank non-comprehension on Spock's face. It nearly finished him. Steadying himself, he rose to his feet.
"Ladies and gentlemen, I'm sure you would all want to join me in wishing Ambassador Kirswell a satisfactory spell of duty on Rigel 4." He took up his glass. "Ambassador Kirswell."
Under control again, the Enterprise crew joined in the toast.
* * * * * * * *
He caught McCoy on his way to bed. "If you ever do that again..."
The blue eyes opened innocently. "You said you wanted something hot and filling, Jim."
"I'll give you something hot and filling," he threatened. "Something lingering, with boiling oil in it."
McCoy grinned. "Despots like the Mikado often get their just deserts, Jim. Next time you grumble about your diet, I may just make it stuffed oolanji!"
Kirk dived for his bathroom.
Copyright Meg Wright