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"Ouch! You twit, I'll...I'll..."
The rest of the agonised cry was lost in soul-scorching cursing as Lt. Bob Mearns finally lost the fragile hold on his temper. A few yards away Uhura grinned and edged past a pile of bags reaching almost to the mail-room's ceiling.
"Something wrong, Bob?" she asked sweetly. The communications man blushed slightly, trying not to swear at the pain in his bruised shinbone.
"Um, I didn't realise you were there. Sorry..."
"It's all right," laughed Uhura. "I've heard worse. The Captain comes out with some real beauts when he thinks no-one can hear. What happened, or dare I ask?"
An anguished expression crossed Mearns' face. "That idiot Robinson dropped this blasted crate on my leg. Add to that the sack he christened me with earlier and the anti-grav unit he wrecked before that, and you will know why I'm swearing."
Uhura nodded sympathetically. "Yes, he is a little ham-handed. Whatever happened to the others who were detailed to help?"
There was a derisive snort. "They all slipped off, didn't they... Put down their names for leave and got away before the Chief spotted it. Right now they're probably enjoying the delights of the base's stripclubs."
"Aww, shame..." cooed Uhura. "Poor little Robert is left all alone to help me sort the mail."
"I might as well be for all the help Robinson is."
Uhura was about to return to her bag counting when the size of the aforementioned crate registered fully. She spun back, amazement in her eyes.
"What in all the universe is in there?"
Mearns lifted his eyes to the ceiling. "I hate to think. It's addressed to Sulu, so it could be anything from a ten-ton boulder to an Aldeberan winkle-cat. Either way, he can come collect it himself. No way am I transporting that up to deck four."
His companion smiled and dutifully returned to her work.
Every time the ship called at a Starbase, mail was dropped off to be forwarded and waiting bags were collected, resulting in a transport shuttle service neither communications nor security looked forward to. It was one huge headache for both departments, and the longer the Enterprise had been away, the larger the piles of mail. It was amazing, Uhura mused, just how many people still used the age-old method of pen and paper to keep in touch. True, Starfleet communication channels could not afford to be inundated with short endearments, but there were still voice tapes. It was also amazing how many people continued to address things wrongly and send parcels with inadequate wrappings. There would doubtless be the usual number of 'dead correspondence' in this load, and Uhura was not looking forward to hand-sorting the mail the computer could not make head nor tail of. She cursed the luck that had landed her this duty. Oh for a nice bridge crisis...
On the edge of her vision a burly red-shirted figure was apparent, and she knew who it was before she looked up. Scotty had been back and forth between engineering and the mailroom ever since the first bags arrived, an anxious look on his face. Uhura decided that look was becoming decidedly strained.
"I ken I've asked before," Scotty began defensively, "but is there anythin' for me? A parcel, maybe?"
Before Uhura could answer, a shout came from Mearns' direction. "Parcel coming over!"
Even as the communications officer realised what that meant, a large package sailed over the growing mound of bags, neatly missing her outstretched hands to crash noisily on the floor.
"0h shi- " began Mearns before he spotted Mr. Scott. " ...Shucks..." he finished lamely. "Hope there was nothing breakable in there, sir."
Scotty looked as if he had swallowed one of McCoy's most potent medicines.
He gulped convulsively, unable to believe his eyes. Slowly he sank to his knees, picking up a dripping, soggy parcel now full of broken glass. He gazed speechlessly at it as the unmistakable aroma of Saurian brandy replaced that of dry mailbags... Uhura and Mearns exchanged worried glances, the young man trying to decide what to say.
Scotty looked at him, looked at the parcel, gave a little moan and wandered from the room in an unbelieving daze. A stunned silence lasted until the corners of Uhura's mouth began to curl upwards, accompanied by an inevitable giggle. They looked at each other again and promptly doubled up with laughter
"I don't think I've ever seen him so shocked, even when the engines nearly blew up," spluttered Mearns.
Uhura giggled helplessly, dropping the clipboard in order to hold her middle against the laughter. It was some time before she found breath enough to speak.
"0h dear - I hate to see a grown engineer cry!"
"He can't complain - it wasn't marked fragile."
Uhura tried to look stern and reproving. "Even so, you really shouldn't throw parcels. Especially when I'm not ready for them. Let's just hope there are some technical journals in this lot to console Scotty."
"Yeah," agreed Mearns. "How about some helpers for us, too - think you can magic them up?"
"I wish I could."
Bob Mearns looked dolefully at the mountain which was reaching Everest proportions. If only they could get some help, by hook or by crook...If necessary... The thought sparked an idea in his mind, an idea he liked the more he thought about it. A cunning glint entered his eye.
"Uhura, our worries are about to be solved for good. I am about to procure us some help, and there'll be no fear of them running off until this is done, either."
The Bantu woman looked unconvinced. "Unless you can make some clones, forget it, chum. No-one will give up their precious leave time gladly."
Ho waved a finger at her, grinning from ear to ear. "Don't ask, merely wait for my return. Within fifteen minutes I will have gathered a willing team to assist. Just rest those lovely legs of yours and I will return!"
Sadly shaking her head, Uhura sat upon the nearest bag to do as he suggested.
It was more than fifteen minutes before he returned, but Uhura didn't care about that. What took her attention was the line of six 'volunteers' following dolefully behind the exuberant communications officer.
"I give up," she said finally. "How did you do it?"
"I prevailed on their sense of duty and honour," was the smug reply.
"He threatened to shop us if we didn't help," Kyle translated sourly.
At Uhura's uncomprehending stare, Sulu explained further. "He said he would accidentally on purpose talk about a few things within the Captain's or Spock's hearing."
The blackmailer innocently ignored the accusing looks. "Can I help it if my security friend knows about certain overlooked and generally unknown incidents which have escaped the Captain's attention? Silence has a price, you know."
"If I find out who your security friend is, I'll..." began Kyle.
Uhura interrupted before bad feelings got out of hand. She smiled brightly, guiding the extra hands towards the pressing work. They would be a big help, but it would still be several days before everything was properly sorted and handed out.
Her eyes fell on an official-looking bag which prompted an inward groan. Nudging Mearns in the ribs, she wandered over to it. "I bet you ten to a hundred credits that is full of official forms and memos for the officers, and at least a quarter of it will be exclusively for our two commanding heroes. I predict bad moods for the next week or so."
"If you haven't seen the Captain after he gets his mail, then take my advice and vamoose from sight for a while. He detests paperwork, and he's going to be like a bull with a sore head until it is finished with."
There was a knowledgeable groan from Sulu's direction, so Mearns made a mental note of the warning.
"How long do you think this will take?" Sulu asked of Uhura.
"Years, sugar, years..."
The helmsman let out a hollow moan. "I can see it now... We'll grow old and die here - forever sorting mail in the afterlife..."
* * * * * * * *
Sulu's morbid prediction seemed to be coming true, for next day the mail mountain looked as high as before and the weary expressions grew worse with every bag emptied. Still, some of the mail was being slowly sorted into its appropriate piles, and while some heaps remained relatively small, others grew at an alarming rate.
Uhura gazed worriedly at the miniature mountain reserved for Kirk. "The Captain is not going to like this at all..."
"Never mind, this will cheer him up," said Sulu, waving a coloured envelope under her nose. Uhura took one end and breathed deeply. A lush, exotic perfume wafted past her nostrils.
"There's more where that came from. Different perfumes each time, too."
Uhura rolled her eyes. "How many?"
Sulu shrugged. "I lost count after a while."
"There can't be that many," Uhura said firmly, but they exchanged a knowing glance. Whatever was in those letters might just soften the Captain's mood enough to make life bearable.
"First class, Mr. Sulu?"
"What else, Ms. Uhura?"
Uhura turned to be met by an anxious young ensign nervously clutching a large bag as if his life depended on it. For a second she absently wondered what Mearns could possibly have blackmailed him with, then remembered it was Robinson. She assumed her best capable lieutenant expression.
"Can I help you, Ensign?"
Robinson blinked. Somehow an enquiry from the wondrous Lt. Uhura made his mouth dry in seconds. It took a while for his brain to begin functioning enough to produce words.
"Um... Lieutenant, sir, this bag is - ah - is full of holiday brochures. Should I give one to everybody, or..."
"Let's see," interrupted Uhura. She delved into the expansive bag, coming up with gaudily coloured magazines splattered with words which came close to making her lose her famed cool.
"What the... 'Holiday on Sunny Omicron Ceti III! Relax in pleasant surroundings, assured of perfect total peace and happiness throughout your vacation...' I'll bet! Sulu, Bob, come look at this!"
The two men hurried across, unable to think what could be wrong. Uhura thrust a brochure at each of them. "Read that!"
Looks of puzzlement turned to disbelief and then anger as they each read the bright promises.
"Who the hell wrote this?" cried Sulu.
Uhura was studying the inside and back covers. "I don't know, but whoever it is has some cheek..." She trailed off, jaw hanging open. "Sulu, you'll never believe this. Remember Cyrano Jones?"
"I have heard, yes," murmured Sulu, who had been temporarily off the ship during that unfortunate incident. "You don't mean he - "
"Uhuh. I think the Captain had better see these. How they ever got here is beyond me."
"Then I don't give every crewmember one?" Robinson asked blandly.
Uhura eyed him suspiciously, decided he was not trying to be funny. "No, Ensign, you do not," she said coldly. "Now, if you would be so kind as to pick that up, we are going to see Captain Kirk..."
Mearns watched them go, then looked around him. "Well, looks like we're getting on pretty well, huh?"
Sulu, who was determined to remain gloomy until his enforced duty was done, shrugged. "You wait. Spock might carry out one of his efficiency checks for something to do."
"Is that bad?" Mearns asked. "I've always been off duty when he's checked communications."
Sulu whistled. "Then you are one lucky man. If you think Spock is super-efficient normally, you wait until he really gets started. If you're not on the ball then..." He rolled his eyes expressively, making Mearns glance worriedly at the door. Maybe he had better clear the floor of empty bags and torn labels, just to be on the safe side, of course.
* * * * * * * *
Kirk squinted through one eye for a second, then did the same with his other eye. He followed that by peering through his spread fingers, but it made no difference at all. It was no use, the mound on his desk looked just as formidable and horrible whichever way he looked at it. A hollow groan expressed his feelings exactly, and he could only watch numbly as a tendril of packets slowly slid from their precarious perch to join another small heap on the floor.
In the silence a small gurgling sound insistently reminded him of his stomach's needs. Kirk gritted his teeth, knowing full well that if he left it now he would find himself various important things to do until he could honestly tell himself he was too tired for paperwork. Still, a medium rare steak would go down rather well...
Visions of the varied menus the computer could provide danced before his eyes, dissolving his half-hearted determination to carry on working.
"Weakling," he muttered, but it didn't stop him from pushing back the chair and averting his eyes from the pile. Unfortunately, it was not his night. The door buzzer went just as he rose. Kirk sat down again with a slight feeling of panic.
It was Spock who entered, his expression at its blandest yet. In his hand was a bundle of letters - mostly pink, Kirk noted. The Vulcan looked over the overflowing mound as if it was a normal sight in the Captain's office. In some ways it was, the only difference being the all over size.
"A number of letters addressed to you seem to have been mistakenly included with my correspondence, Captain," he explained, holding out the bundle.
Kirk reached for it, frowning at the aura of perfume about it. He glanced at the very feminine envelopes with an expression of absolute dread. Oh no, not again...
"It is fortunate I noticed them," Spock continued, savouring Kirk's face. "They may be important."
"What, these? Oh no, not very important really," Kirk said with forced joviality. "They can wait... Thanks for bringing them along, just the same, Spock."
As he hurriedly secreted the offending letters in a drawer he caught a glimpse of a barely raised eyebrow, but it was down again by the time he lifted his head. He coughed politely, determined to change the subject.
"Ah... I got the usual mountain of mail again, as you can see. I hate to think how long it'll take to get it sorted."
"Approximately three point nine weeks, I should say," Spock said helpfully, eyeing the mail.
Kirk wondered sourly if that was a Spock-type joke or not. He sincerely hoped it was. Like Mearns before him, his momentary depression was brightened by the glimmerings of an idea. His voice took on an air of courageous dejection, which he linked to a hang-dog expression. It really would not be fair, but if Spock fell for it...
"Yes. I had to cut my shore leave short for this lot. Pity," sighed the down-trodden Captain. "I'm not complaining, of course - all part of the job, after all - but it would be nice to get away from it for a while, even a few hours. If only I had someone to sort it out..."
He resisted the impulse to sigh again and glanced sideways at Spock. Maybe he had laid it on a bit thick. Was that a look of pity in the Vulcan's eye? He waited hopefully as Spock nodded with complete understanding and sympathy.
"It is unfortunate," Spock murmured. He paused for a second then continued, "However, there is a saying that the sooner something is tackled, the sooner it is finished. Which reminds me of my own mail. If you will excuse me, sir..."
Kirk ground his teeth together. Spock had known from the start what he was up to! That Vulcan was getting too good at reading Humans! As the door closed, he glared glumly at the small mountain, wondering for the umpteenth time who had invented letters and important packets. Whoever it was, if a certain Starship captain ever got hold of him...
* * * * * * * *
A chorus of hearty guffaws and wolf whistles attracted Uhura's attention, and her ears pricked as she heard Chekov's name mentioned. She glanced up to where the men had gathered in a small group, the taller ones peering over shoulders at something Bob Mearns held. Uhura put down her clipboard and wandered slowly over to satisfy her curiosity.
"Where did he get hold of that?" asked Kyle.
Mearns raised his eyebrows. "I wish I knew... He refuses to give me the address, either."
"Dirty old man..."
Sulu craned his neck, squinting past Kyle's ear. "Hey, I didn't see that page properly; flick it back. Hmmm. Uh, on second thoughts, never mind that page. I don't think I'm old enough..."
Uhura moved quickly up, standing on tiptoe to see past them. "Can I have a look?"
There was a flurry of pages as Mearns hastily closed the magazine. The other seven looked suitably embarrassed and abashed, and Uhura noted Robinson had turned an interesting shade of pink.
Undeterred by the air of confusion and with characteristic determination, Uhura edged closer, glancing curiously at Mearns. "Come on, give me a look too. Why should you lot have all the fun? Tell me what it is, at least."
Varying tones of red and pink had begun to colour Mearns' neck and cheeks, and for some reason he had developed a close interest in the floor. He carefully held the magazine just out of Uhura's reach.
"It's nothing much really, Uhura. Just some magazines on - ah - " He glanced desperately at the others for inspiration.
"Biology," blurted Sulu anxiously. "A parcel came untied; we were just putting it back together..." he finished uncertainly, knowing full well Uhura didn't believe a word of it.
She smiled sweetly, aware of what aspect of 'biology' it was. The imp in her prompted her to ask, "Biology? Human or alien? Is it both sexes, or just one?"
She waited expectantly while Mearns spluttered nonsense and the helpers exchanged glances. As Bob came to the end of his hurried answer Uhura took pity on them.
"Idiots!" she laughed. "I know perfectly well it's a 'men-only' type magazine! Nothing to be embarrassed about - I am past my innocent days, you know. Now, would one of you kind gentlemen help me with these personal message tapes, or I'll never get them sorted out..."
* * * * * * * *
Gradually, with the help of the 'volunteers', the mail room was cleared of its bags and boxes, the eagerly awaited mail duly delivered to the impatient customers. Overnight the rec room was filled with engrossed letter-readers, some already composing replies which might take as long again to reach their destinations.
Finally Uhura and Bob Mearns ceremoniously folded and laid down the last empty mail bag, both heaving a heart-felt sigh of relief.
"Thank God that's finished."
"Seconded," murmured Uhura. "Poof... There was a lot, but at least no wrongly-labelled bags meant for other ships turned up. I remember the time we got half of the Hood's mail - hoo boy!"
Meams shut his eyes and stretched luxuriously. "Ah well, now I can relax. Uhura, would you care to join me in - "
Through the door a harassed figure came hurrying in, a large, full bag grasped in each hand. Both lieutenants stared at Robinson and then at the bags in growing horror.
"Look what I found next door," began Robinson, "I thought they were those brochures, but they're really for Captain Stevens of the Columbus..."
Uhura and Mearns looked silently at each other, then moved as one. Without a murmur, they lifted a bag, carefully emptying it over Robinson's head. Letters cascaded downwards, a parcel bouncing off the confused Ensign's shoulder. The other bag followed suit, then Lt. Mearns bowed to Uhura.
"Ms. Uhura, would you do me the honour of joining me in the rec room for a celebration drink?"
The Bantu woman curtsied delightfully, placing her hand on Mearns' readied arm. "Sir, I would be honoured to do so."
With careful dignity, they departed, leaving Robinson to gaze worriedly after them. He looked down at Captain Stevens' mail and slowly picked himself out of the middle of it.
"Oh dear," he murmured. "Uh, Lieutenant, sir..."
Copyright Lorraine Goodison