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"Recording ship's arrival, dear."
Kirk cut his look of annoyance short and jabbed the intercom again. "Starfleet Control. Repeating message. The Enterprise is home. Kirk out."
He snapped off the intercom and smiled over his shoulder at Spock. "Home... lovely word, isn't it?"
Spock eyed him in blank incomprehension. "It is a word, sir, like any other."
"But doesn't it conjure up warm slippers, cosy armchair...?" Kirk broke off. "No, I guess it doesn't, not for a Vulcan." He slid out of the command chair smothering a smile. "Three weeks at a Starbase, I think you said, Mr Spock? 'To fix that over-affectionate, velvet-tongued siren that used to be a ship's computer'."
Spock joined him at the entrance to the turbolift. "A minimum of three weeks, Captain," he corrected.
"In that case..." Kirk set his hand to the control. "Deck 5... In that case prepare for a good, long shore leave, Mr Spock. I'm not living with an over-sexed mechanical brain any longer."
Spock's eyebrows flared. "The computer is perfectly functional, Captain. Do you think it is possible to justify a delay of three weeks or more before we go on to our next assignment?"
Kirk rubbed his chin ruminatively. "It's not going to be easy," he admitted.
Since they were in the privacy of the turbolift, Spock permitted a slightly sardonic expression to cross his face. "I have no doubt that you will think of something, Captain," he said with deadly politeness.
Kirk eyed his friend with amusement. "That almost sounds like a challenge."
Spock shook his head. "Merely a show of faith in the deviousness of your mind, sir."
Kirk was still laughing when he entered his quarters. He settled to routine paper work, giving one part of his mind over to the problem. There must be some fool-proof way to convince Starfleet Command of the absolute necessity of returning the ship's computer to its normal functioning. He must find one... or forfeit his First Officer's respect! It was certainly irritating to receive sultrily seductive replies to the simplest questions, but could it actually be described as dangerous?
To his way of thinking, it could. A ship's Captain had enough worries at the best of times without any extra irritations being added to his daily lot. And since his 'daily lot' for the next day or two would consist of coping with Commodore Burn, the Portmaster of Starbase 9, he could well do without any other irritations.
Burn was guaranteed to raise any Captain's blood pressure alarmingly - indeed, it was at his insistence that the work on the computer had been done on Cygnet XIV in the first place. He had an unreasonably high estimation of his own scientific judgement, and an acute reluctance to listen to any opinion other than his own. It was Kirk's private bet that after their recent brush with the black star, and their trip into Earth's past, Burn would be beside himself with pompous self-importance over the opportunity to display his scientific expertise to an admiring world.
He paused suddenly, his stylus poised over the report he was about to sign. Wasn't it on Starbase 9 that the Vulcan Science Academy had just opened a new research department? Just the people to be interested in their recent, 'fascinating' trip into history. The whole situation could hardly be bettered. He snapped on the intercom.
"Mr Spock, come to my quarters a moment, if you please."
* * * * * * * *
Spock covered his surprise well. "I have no doubt that Sular and his staff would be interested in the data, yes, sir."
"Good." Kirk smiled. "We'll invite Commodore Burn and Sular to dinner tonight."
"Commodore Burn?" Spock eyed him oddly. "I seem to recall that on the last occasion you entertained the Commodore, you stated somewhat intemperately that it would be the last time you did so without a direct order from Starfleet."
Kirk managed to look shocked. "I said that? No, no, I'm sure you must be mistaken. The Commodore may be a little lacking in the social graces..."
"You described him as an over-bearing, pompous, self-opinionated, inefficient younger son of a Taurean gant-herder," Spock said with ruthless accuracy.
Kirk winced. "Sometimes your memory is too good, Mr Spock. Please be so kind as to forget you ever heard such a preposterous statement."
"After all," Kirk said airily, "a man with such a superb scientific background must be the logical choice to interpret the data for Mr Sular." He watched the dawning comprehension on the inexpressive face and smiled. Really (if one did not know better, of course) one could swear the Vulcan was beginning to look apprehensive.
Kirk had decided it would be politic to limit his guest list, and there were only six persons gathered round the table. Commodore Burn, Mr Sular, Dr McCoy, Mr Scott, Mr Spock and himself. The Commodore had already expressed avuncular disappointment over the absence of 'your delectable Communications Officer, Captain', in patronising tones which made Kirk extremely glad Uhura was not there to hear.
Dinner had been impeccably prepared and served to accommodate both Human and Vulcan tastes, and they had reached the coffee and brandy stage before Kirk gently began to steer the conversation in the direction he wanted it to take. Having earlier expertly ducked a direct answer to a question concerning their somewhat dramatic arrival at Starbase 9, he now made an indirect reference to it in his conversation with Sular. He saw Burn prick his ears and relaxed in his chair. From now on it should be all too easy.
"Your arrival was late, Captain," Burn said severely, "and I understand from my staff that you were out of radio contact for over half-an-hour. I trust you are going to provide us with an excellent explanation for such remissness."
Kirk smiled sweetly. If Burn was prepared to issue reprimands publicly on a social occasion, he would have no qualms about his own questionable behaviour. "Our lateness was unintentional, I assure you, Commodore. We began attempting to control our passage some fifty years out - we were a little concerned in case we overshot considerably and did not arrive for another fifty years."
Sular's eyebrows rose fractionally at this extraordinary statement. Kirk turned to him.
"Are you familiar with the problems concerning the utilisation of gravitational fields to produce velocity/time displacement?"
The stony Vulcan face displayed what amounted in effect to a dropped jaw. "You have recently been involved in something of the sort, Captain Kirk? It is a fascinating theory."
"Not only a theory now, Mr Sular," Kirk assured him. "We encountered a hitherto uncharted black dwarf on our passage here, and were thrown back some years, to July 13th, 1969, to be precise."
"5.30 p.m. Old USA Eastern Standard Time," Spock added, meticulously exact as ever.
"And you were able to navigate back sufficiently accurately to return only half-an-hour after you encountered the black star?"
"Thanks to Mr Spock's excellent computer work, yes."
Burn was spluttering away gently like a simmering kettle beside Kirk. In mercy, he turned his attention to him.
"Why was I not told of this?" Burn demanded angrily.
"Our full report is already in your office," Kirk said placidly. "I am surprised you have not seen it."
He was well aware of Burn's lofty disregard for the day-to-day trivia of reports, expecting subordinates to bring important details to his notice. Kirk's report had been deliberately low-key and dry, factually correct in every way, but designed to be... overlooked. Its arrival in Burn's office had also been timed to perfection. It would be there on his desk awaiting him when he took the trouble to check.
"This field is somewhat of an interest of mine," Burn said stiffly. "I should like to have the fullest details."
"I, too, would find the data interesting," Sular nodded.
"May I suggest," Kirk eyed Vulcan and Human guest in turn, "that you both come back tomorrow morning and study the data directly with the on-board computer. Since the Enterprise is assigned to star-mapping in the Deltan sector, we will have to be on our way within two days. Working on board here you can both have the advantage of Mr Spock's advice and assistance. After all, the original theory and computations were his."
"The on-board computer..." Scott began in tones of dismay.
"Some more brandy, if you please, Mr Scott," Spock said firmly, indicating his empty glass.
Diverted, Scott passed him the decanter, openly giving an astonished stare over it first at Spock and then at McCoy.
Kirk hid a grin and drank a silent toast to his Vulcan friend.
* * * * * * * *
Early next day the computer section received its expected influx of guests. Spock had obviously done his Captain proud, and convinced Sular to bring two of his senior staff with him. Burn fussed about importantly, assigning stations, moving people around, and generally directing operations.
At last he had everyone organised to his satisfaction, and held up a fat little hand. The already-quiet Vulcans lapsed into complete silence. Kirk leaned back in his chair with a glow of satisfaction. So far he'd not had to make a single move to help things along. Burn had begun to dig his own yawning pit with the hand of a master. He composed his face to the required gravity, and turned politely to the Commodore.
"Now that I have your attention," Burn puffed, "we can begin to study this fascinating experience. On the whole, the Enterprise seems to have coped with it admirably... yes, I think I can say admirably, but perhaps we scientists will be able to extract some small items of value which these busy officers in the field may have overlooked." He beamed round at them all impartially, and added with anxious importance, "Computer."
Kirk held his breath.
Kirk looked down at his feet. It was remarkable how much seductive innuendo that mechanical vamp managed to put into two quite ordinary words.
Burn looked faintly surprised, but covered it well. "Relay all the data concerning the theory of velocity/time displacement," he instructed pompously.
"How terribly boring, darling," the computer purred, "but if you absolutely insist... ducky..."
Three pairs of Vulcan eyebrows were definitely on the rise. Kirk looked away again sharply, re-asserting his own self-control with determination.
"Computer off," Burn ordered curtly. He rounded on Kirk. "Why did you not inform me your computer is faulty, Captain?"
Kirk raised his brows. "It is not, Commodore," he said blankly. "It has only recently been completely overhauled by the technicians on Cygnet XIV in compliance with your own orders. It has developed no faults since then, has it, Mr Spock?"
"Indeed no, sir," Spock replied at once, "It is in precisely the same condition it was when their experts completed the work." Only Kirk saw the flicker which added, "Unfortunately."
Burns suspended his disbelief temporarily and tried again. "Computer."
"I was afraid you'd lost interest in little old me," the computer said sultrily. How a disembodied voice could pout Kirk didn't know, but it managed it. "I'm all ready and waiting for you, sugar-daddy."
There was a moment or two of stunned silence broken only by an incoherent gobbling sound from Burn.
Sular ignored the unfortunate term. It was possible of course that it was a colloquialism outside his experience. He eyed Burn impassively, waiting for him. His two subordinates exchanged stony-faced glances, and then looked at the quivering Human also.
Burn took a deep breath to steady himself, and began yet again. "Correlate all references to time/velocity displacement and relay the data to the screen," he said sharply.
"Working... sweetie; but a girl does like to hear you say 'please'," the computer sulked.
Burn turned his glazing eyes on Kirk. "Cygnet XIV, you said, Captain? The Matriarchy?"
"Yes. They thought the computer lacked personality," Kirk explained indifferently.
Burn gulped, nodded, turned back to ensure that everything was going well. The Vulcans were pointedly ignoring the unfortunate circumstances, busily absorbing data and exchanging views and opinions. Deciding they could safely be left to themselves for a while, Burn signalled to Kirk and took him on one side. "Captain, does the computer always behave like this now?" he asked.
"Its present personality is quite well-defined," Kirk told him cheerfully. "She's quite a girl, isn't she?"
"Have you made no attempt to alter it? It's... it's outrageous."
"Oh yes," Kirk assured him. "Mr Spock finds its tendency to giggle rather distressing, and has made several attempts to eradicate it, but the system is too well integrated to alter one part on its own."
"Giggle!" Burn looked horrified. "Computers do not giggle."
"This one does," Kirk said brightly. "Rather attractively... a throaty quality to it... "
Burn threw him a repressive look and drew himself up. "I shall not encourage it to giggle at me," he said decidedly.
Kirk bowed his head in apparent shame, inwardly alight with laughter. The one thing guaranteed to induce the ship's siren into demonstrating its full potential as a female seductress was to become authoritative with it. It was the one sure way to annoy the Matriarchs of Cygnet XIV too, of course, which Burn ought to have remembered, but had clearly forgotten.
His eyes steely with determination, Burn returned to the main arena. "Well, gentlemen, if we are ready to move on...?"
There were general nods of assent, and Burn instructed the computer to play back the data received during the encounter with the black star. It emitted a gusty sigh at which even the imperturbable Vulcans looked up in surprise.
"Working, but you really must watch your manners, darling, and in any case it's more fun to be a little... personal."
"Personal!" Burn almost exploded with affronted dignity. "I have no intention of exchanging personal remarks with... with..."
There was a low husky chuckle. "Naughty, naughty! Now who's being personal? Don't call a lady names. Data on screen, my handsome little plaything."
Burn gave the computer an apoplectic exclamation of disgust and commanded the computer to be silent in a voice that shook.
"There's no need to get angry," the computer said perkily. "But you're very cute when you're angry."
"Computer," Kirk said swiftly. "Please... be quiet, there's a dear."
Burn's face bore a look of relief mingled with offended rage, but he said with annoyance, "There's no need to beg like that, Captain. It is only a computer."
"I beg your pardon, Commodore, but the Captain acted in the only manner the computer reacts to nowadays," Spock interrupted quietly.
Sular recomposed his face and got to his feet. "We find it exceedingly difficult to work under these conditions," he said firmly. "May I request that the relevant data is transferred to the Science Academy computer so that we can make our own studies? From the little I have seen, and the discussions I have had with Commander Spock, this is a valuable field of study, but not under present conditions." He walked quietly to the door.
The other Vulcans politely rose and filed out after him, ignoring Burn's fussy attempts to make conciliatory noises. By the time the room was empty he was almost sobbing with frustration.
"Your assignment to the Deltan sector will have to be postponed, Captain," he stuttered. "We really cannot have important scientific work held up in this way. The Enterprise will have her computer system adjusted as a matter of priority."
"If you say so, Commodore," Kirk said doubtfully. "It really does work adequately."
"I find your attitude extraordinary," Burn said angrily. "I will brook no argument. Your next assignment is postponed for a month. Kindly do not make any protest, it will not be listened to. You and your crew must resign yourselves to a month's inactivity."
"Very well, Commodore," Kirk said politely. "We will get the work put in hand straight away."
He accompanied him to the transporter room, uttering soothing noises the while, maintaining his gravity with difficulty until the sparkle finally dissolved. He turned to the door and found Spock waiting by it.
"Break out the camping gear, Spock," he said happily. "Your faith has been rewarded."
"I never doubted that it would be otherwise," Spock said in mild surprise. "I made all the necessary arrangements with Stores yesterday. We leave in twenty minutes."
Copyright Meg Wright