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James Kirk intensely disliked the rare occasions when the Enterprise was used as a freighter. He accepted the necessity, of course - he had no choice; when an emergency arose, a Starship was the fastest vessel available - but to Spock and McCoy he grumbled about the waste and stupidity of using highly trained personnel as merchants. But his real reason - the one he could not bring himself to confide to anyone, even those two friends who knew him so well and would understand - was that he considered it a degradation of the lovely lady who - fickle and demanding as she was - was still the only woman he would ever truly love.
On this occasion the cargo was grain; a barley-like grain that was being taken to provide seed for the imminent planting on Craque, rodents having found their way into the seed store there and destroyed almost all of it. The planting season, because of climatic conditions, was fairly short; there was no time to waste.
Kirk, having watched in deepening gloom as the first ton of the stuff was beamed aboard, retired to his cabin to recover his equanimity, leaving Spock to check the cargo aboard.
The holds filled with containers, the stowage continued in the lower corridors, leaving only room for a man to pass, a pathway occasionally widening into double width where two men could pass each other, until every available inch of space was filled with containers of grain. Spock heaved an inner, silent sigh of relief as the stream of containers that was arriving trickled to a stop. He checked that everything was properly stowed, and punched an intercom button.
"Spock to Captain Kirk."
"Kirk here." The Human was aware that he sounded irritable; he tried to control his annoyance, knowing he shouldn't take it out on Spock, comforted in his failure to do so by the knowledge that Spock did understand and would not be hurt by his attitude.
"The cargo is all aboard, Captain."
"Take us out of orbit, Mr. Spock. Warp six."
Scotty looked gloomily at the couple of inches of whisky left in the bottle, sighed, and poured it carefully, evenly, between the two glasses. He pushed one over to McCoy.
"And that's the last," he said sadly.
"Huh? Scotty, what happened? I've never known you to run out before."
"Bad luck, laddie; nothing but bad luck. The chap I get it from back there had an accident; he'd just recently taken on a new assistant, and the man thought the order for whisky had to be a mistake, there's so little demand for good Scotch out here, so he didn't get it in. By the time the boss found out, it was too late to get it... He was very apologetic - " Scotty shrugged. "It wasna' his fault." He sighed again. "I'll just have to make do wi' brandy. But brandy - even Saurian brandy - ach, it's no' the same."
McCoy grinned. "There're other drinks on board as well as Saurian brandy," he suggested.
"Aye, and I've tried quite a few of them. They're no' the same," he repeated. "Oh, they're all right for a casual drink - but for a relaxing drink and a gossip with an old friend, there's nothing quite like Scotch whisky."
McCoy grinned again, secretly amused by his drinking partner's obstinacy. They drank companionably, in the comfortable silence only possible between good friends, making the drink last as long as possible.
At last, McCoy yawned. "I'll be glad to get to bed," he confessed. "It's been one of those days. Jim does try not to take it out on us when he's in a bad mood, but you know what he's like on these cargo-hauling jobs - edgy, irritable - and I'd to chase him up for his routine physical, which didn't help. Then I'd Spock to do after that, and you know what he's like about physicals... and it doesn't help that at heart I agree with him, that for him it's a waste of time. I just don't know what's normal for him - if two readings taken on successive weeks are different, I don't know which one's off - he doesn't follow Human physical patterns, but he doesn't strictly follow Vulcan ones either... and then I'd to recalibrate everything, of course... " He stood up. "Sorry, Scotty, I'm just taking my frustrations out on you. I'd better get to bed. Goodnight."
"Goodnight." Scotty's voice followed him out the door.
Scotty studied the empty bottle in unrelieved gloom for a little longer, then got up. He crossed to his bed, then hesitated. He wasn't really sleepy yet. He might as well check the night watch. Good for discipline, too - the odd, unexpected visit from the Chief Engineer did help keep all his staff, even the best of them, on their toes.
He walked out into the corridor, turning towards the elevator as he did so, and promptly bumped into one of the grain containers. Its edge was surprisingly sharp; it hurt. He muttered something inaudible but uncomplimentary about freighters incapable of travelling faster than warp two, resulting in Starships being cluttered up with cargo.
He took two more strides - and stopped. He looked at the continuous line of containers marching in file along the corridor - and a half smile dawned as the beginnings of an idea began to take shape. He examined a container carefully, glancing up and down the corridor to make sure no-one was coming, then unerringly unfastened the lid and removed it.
The grain didn't quite fill the container - the top inch or so was empty. The smile broadened. He put the lid back on again, checked that it was secure, and headed on towards Engineering.
The grain was duly off-loaded and the Enterprise headed back towards Starbase 11. Everyone aboard seemed more cheerful, from the Captain down; even the Enterprise herself seemed almost to prance as she sped through space - even though she was now travelling at Warp one instead of Warp six.
They were twenty-four hours at Starbase 11, then, with new orders, they were on their way again - on another of Kirk's pet hates, a diplomatic mission. At least Ambassador Fox was an old acquaintance who had learned quite a lot from a previous trip on the Enterprise; Kirk no longer had to worry about him or his reactions towards the crew. In fact, Fox made quite a congenial addition to the group that often formed in the rec. room, consisting of Kirk himself, Spock, McCoy, and often Scotty, Sulu or Uhura as well, when, by common consent, the one subject that was avoided was ship's business.
They reached the planet where Fox's mission was to try to reconcile the completely divergent views of two warring groups, both trying to grasp power. On the surface, all was at least relatively peaceful; and after consultation with Fox, Kirk decided to grant the crew shore leave while they waited for the Ambassador to complete his mission. Apart from anything else, the presence of Federation uniforms should remind the two warring parties that the Federation, while quite willing to accept whatever settlement the disputing factors reached, did insist that it should be a peaceful solution, not one gained by force of arms.
The first third of the crew beamed down for forty-eight hours leave. There was no trouble, not that Kirk had really expected any. Although one or two of the men did have a tendency to drink too much on leave, the most intoxicating liquor here was only about one percent proof. It wasn't impossible to got drunk - if a man were determined enough - but it was unlikely that any would. The second group beamed down.
Six hours later, Kirk got a frantic call from Fox. Some of the men - a group of five - had managed to get roaring drunk and were threatening to undo a great deal of his work.
It took twelve security guards to overpower them - and only then by using phasers to stun them.
McCoy checked them as a matter of course - and promptly found himself in the middle of a medical emergency, as all needed treatment for acute alcoholic poisoning. It was three days before he was sure that all would recover.
Kirk made inquiries immediately. They had obviously found somewhere that sold real rot-gut; he intended to put the place off limits. He would have cancelled all leave, except that no-one else had found the place - not one of the first group had, nor any other of the second; clearly it wasn't easy to find. But he warned the entire crew that he would throw the book at anyone else who got fighting drunk, although he promised to overlook it if anyone would come forward who would admit to finding the place - wherever it was. No-one could help him. The five had been together the whole time, no-one else with them. They had gone into one bar where some of their crewmates were gathered; had one drink - over a dozen of their crewmates testified to that - and promptly went berserk. The drink was the innocuous local brew that passed itself off as being alcoholic.
"The logical conclusion is that they drank something else before they entered the bar," Spock commented.
"They weren't seen in any other bar," Kirk objected.
"Therefore they found someplace that no-one else did."
"That's what I've been trying to find out, dammit!" Kirk snapped.
"If no-one else found it, no-one could tell you where it was," Spock pointed out in the reasonable way that sometimes became frustratingly irritable.
"Come off it, Spock," McCoy protested, temporarily raising his head from the results he was trying to process in his attempts to discover just what had been in the stuff that had poisoned the men. "You don't really believe that out of two-thirds of the crew, only five found the den that sold... whatever it was?"
"Bones is right, Spock," Kirk said. "This is a good crew, the best, but even so there are several that I'd guarantee to find the lowest drinking den possible when they're on leave. Only they didn't. No-one else got drunk, let alone fighting drunk. I want to know how they did it!"
"I'm afraid you're going to have to wait till they come round, and then ask them," McCoy said.
As the men regained their senses - all with incapacitating hangovers that no pills seemed able to alleviate - McCoy tried gently questioning them.
"Oh, my head... never again... "
"What were you drinking? It must have been some hooch."
"... odd. I don' remember."
The reply was consistent. The men all recovered with an amnesia that covered not only the entire six hours of their leave, but several hours before it as well.
McCoy joined Scotty that night for a quiet drink from the Engineer's store, finally replenished at Starbase 11 - the first night he had been able to do so since the emergency. It immediately struck him that Scotty was looking rather depressed.
"What's wrong, Scotty?"
"Oh - nothing, really... Are those lads all right - the ones you've been seeing to?"
"Yes, they'll be O.K. now. They've lost nine or ten hours - can't remember a thing that happened, and the computer concurs, they are telling the truth, not just covering up. They honestly can't remember what they were drinking - or where."
Scotty nodded. He looked subtly more cheerful - but still rather unhappy.
"Any special reason for asking?" McCoy went on.
"Oh - no."
It was too forced. "Come on, Scotty. Tell me."
"I get it!" McCoy exclaimed. "You know where they got the hooch?"
There was a short silence.
"Well, come on, don't leave me in suspense... Oh, I see. You don't want Jim to know? Scotty, you know I don't betray confidences. What he doesn't know won't hurt him - even if it does leave him with an unsolved mystery to worry about. Give him - and Spock - something to think about."
Reluctantly, Scotty began, "... Mind that cargo of grain we took to Craque?"
"Hard to forget it," McCoy grinned.
"Well, it struck me that I might try making my own whisky. There was all that grain... "
"You mean you took some of it?"
"Aye. No much! A handful each from some of the containers. Just barely enough to try it out. I thought, if it worked, I could easily get some proper barley and keep on making it. We couldna drink it right away, of course, it'd need some time to mature... Anyway, it was easy enough rigging up a still - a few extra lengths of piping in the engine room, even of copper, wouldna' mean anything to anyone... and there are areas we're no meant to go in while the ship's under way, but you can get away with it if you know what you're doing, and that gave me somewhere to germinate the grain where no-one would notice the smell. I did most of the work at night. I'd to watch none of the juniors saw me, right enough, but it was easy to fool them... I didna' get much spirit, just about enough to fill two bottles. I'd a wee wooden cask I'd saved - one of those fancy presentation containers you sometimes get. It was perfect to mature the stuff, about the right size for the quantity I had..."
"And?" McCoy prompted, as the silence lengthened and it began to look as if Scotty wasn't going to say any more.
"Maybe I should have kept the cask where I germinated the grain, but I didna' really fancy going in again so soon, and I didna' want to have it in my room because I'd noplace really to keep it out of sight, so I put it in one of the unused storerooms in the lower levels, well tucked away. But they must have found it, for the cask's gone, wherever they drank it. And it was pure alcohol, raw as the devil. Hadn't had a chance to mature. Maybe that particular grain doesn't make good liquor; maybe the radiation when it was germinating affected it; or maybe it just wouldna' mix with anything, even the soda-pop they call liquor down there. But whatever it was, it was my fault. I should have made certain it was hidden where no-one could possibly find it. At least I've learned a lesson - I'll no' try again, in case I really do manage to poison someone else."
McCoy chuckled. "No, you'd better not try it that way again. But why don't we see if we could use sickbay facilities. The smell of some of my stuff would disguise the smell of the spirit, and - "
"We'd have to find somewhere else to germinate the grain," Scotty reminded him. "You canna have that lying around on the sickbay floor."
"No, but I could lock one of the smaller wards... "
Scotty began to look quite enthusiastic. "If you think we would get away with it... We'll have to wait till we can get the proper barley, of course - I'm no trying it again with anything else - but the first chance we get... "
"And this time, we'll make sure that no-one can find it before we're ready to drink it."
Scotty raised his glass. "I'm looking forward to it already."