Placing my tray under the food replicator in the Enterprise’s cafeteria, I state clearly, "Steak, medium rare."
There is an unhappy chirp and a simulated female voice cuts off my request before I can order the side dishes. "There are ten thousand, four hundred and eighty-three varieties of steak in the database. Please specify type."
I grind my teeth at the sound of the voice, mainly because I often forget how many cultures Starfleet programmed into the infernal computer, but mostly because she sounds like my goddamn ex-wife.
"Nebraska cornfed beefsteak, Porterhouse cut, medium rare. Baked potato with the works."
The computer chirp pissily once more. "Unspecific term. Please elaborate on ‘the works’."
Stupid piece of crap computer. They program it with over one hundred thousand culinary choices from the known inhabited galaxies and they don’t tell it what ‘the works’ means on a baked potato? "You know, the works."
"Unspecific term," the serene voice states yet again. "Please elaborate."
Before I can answer, my communicator twitters. "Dr. McCoy," another female voice calls, this one completely human, "please respond."
I tap the badge on my chest with a sigh. "Go ahead, Nurse Chapel."
"Doctor, Ensign Bixley is in the infirmary again. He is adamant that you see him."
This is the third time in as many days that the kid has been in convinced he’s dying of some alien virus he read about in the ship’s database. "What is it this time?" I demand. "Bandarian Heart Worms? Glaxian Toe Fungus? What?"
"Invalid request," the computer tells me. "This unit is for food and beverage replication only."
"Not you," I snap at the infernal machine.
"I’m afraid the ensign is convinced he is suffering from Preengely Hives," I’m told by my nurse, who is just as flustered by this jackass as I am. There hasn’t been a confirmed case of Preengely Hives on record in almost forty years.
"Dear God, who’s idiotic idea was it to let these hypochondriacs have access to the medical database?" I grump before directing, "Administer a hyposyringe of dalosacaine until I can get there."
Christine seems genuinely confused by my order. "Dalosacaine, Doctor?"
So does the replicator. "Invalid request. This unit is for food and beverage replication only."
"I heard you the first time."
I’ve never understood why this stupid contraption has such a calm and soothing voice. It’s as if Starfleet decided the sound of a tranquil tone would stop a food riot from occurring or keep someone from losing it all together and smashing it into tiny bits with the nearest blunt object when the steak they were craving wasn’t one of the ten thousand, four hundred and eighty-three that are programmed into the system. Unfortunately, right now, it’s that damn voice that has me longing to wrap my hands around the chair at the closest table at hurl it at the replicator before me.
"Doctor McCoy?" Chapel asks again to regain my attention.
"And you heard me the first time," I grump. "Dalosacaine, maybe even a double dose."
"For Preengely Hives?"
She has good reason to question my treatment regime because sedating a patient with an outbreak gains him absolutely nothing. It can, however, gain the attending physician a little peace and quiet.
"No, for my lunch break," I explain. "I’ll be back before he wakes up. Maybe. McCoy out." My medical ethics gets the best of me and I call back. "Administer half a dose and call me if there are any problems."
"Yes, Doctor." I can almost hear the grin in Chapel’s voice.
Now that I have Bixley under control, I turn my attention back to more important matters… lunch.
"The works, my dear facsimile of a woman, includes sour cream, butter, bacon bits, and chives. And don’t skimp on the bacon."
A few seconds later, my food appears magically on my plate, and I retrieve it with a hungry smile of anticipation. Turning, I survey the cafeteria for my choices of a place to sit. In the far corner, Commander Spock is dining with Lieutenant Uhura.
That’s an unconventional pairing to say the least, and who would believe a Vulcan could bag one of the hottest women at the Academy? It probably has a lot to do with the fact that she’s also one of the smartest. Vulcans on whole are an odd lot… were an odd lot considering the recent fate of their planet… but the ones that remain are very much like the one I’ve gotten to know best. Creatures of control, slaves to logic, with a supposed firestorm of emotions reigned in tightly behind a cold mask of detachment honed by a lifetime of meditation and indoctrination. On the one hand, it kind of blows my theory about Spock being a sociopath and we just hadn’t found where he was hiding the body parts, unless the entire damn race has a genetic predisposition for a hereto unnamed social development disorder. On the other, if he’s simply being a dick, it just makes it even funnier that Jim lost the girl to that pointy-eared son of a bitch.
Uhura is talking animatedly and Spock has a look of attentiveness that is much too serious for what must be the recitation of a humorous anecdote given the grin on Uhura’s face. Her eyes dance and the high ponytail swings as she shakes her head with a laugh at the memory, and that’s when the stonewall cracks, and the slightest hint of a smile curves the corners of Spock’s mouth. I’m not the only one who sees it, because Uhura softens, seems suddenly bashful, as if even she can’t believe she’s garnered an emotional reaction from that stoic bastard. Spock follows suit, his eyes dropping to the food on his plate, and the two of them sneak glances at one another like a couple of lovesick teenagers who have never experience the real world, before they’ve had their hearts ripped from their chests, sliced and diced, and served up like the stir fried vegetables on their trays while the divorce lawyers sprinkle on the soy sauce. It’s as sickening as it is charming, especially considering the two making goo-goo faces framed by angled eyebrows at one another.
With a roll of my eyes, I leave the love birds to their flirting and go in search of better dining companions.
On the opposite side of the cafeteria, our new chief engineer Montgomery Scott is talking with Lieutenant Sulu. Scotty. He wants to be called Scotty. Personally, I’m surprised he didn’t go with the less blatantly obvious but just as ridiculously trite Monty, but to each his own. Scotty was apparently, at least in Jim’s thinking, a natural choice to assume the role of chief engineer following the demise of our last chief thanks to the man having more bravery than brains; something I’ve accused Jim of on more than one occasion. At least when it came to opening his parachute following jumping from a goddamn spacecraft in low orbit around his intended landing zone, Jim Kirk’s meager survival instinct actually did come through and took control. Proof positive that wonders will never cease. The same, however, cannot be said for Chief Engineer Olson− deceased. And by the conversation I overhear, I’m not so sure we’ll have Chief Engineer Scott around long enough to settle into any nicknames.
"Picture it if you can," the low brogue challenges as the speaker leans forward across his lunch tray. "There I was, freezing my bum off in the blistering cold snow, trying to reorient the transponder, when I spotted it through the blinding snow as it came crashing across the frozen tundra with me in her sights… a snow lizard, twenty meters long if she was a centimeter."
Sulu’s intent face drops into a disbelieving frown.
Scotty, however, raises a hand to stop our helmsman before he can protest the supposed facts of the tale. "As I live and breath, ‘tis true."
Still not convinced, Sulu asks, "So, what did you do?"
Scotty doesn’t pass up his chance to continue his saga. "I only had seconds before she would be on me, a minute at the most, so I knew I had to work fast. It was an impossible situation, to say the least. One snap of her giant maw brimming with razor sharp teeth would be the end of me." Scotty’s hands act as the deadly mouth as his face screws up to mimic the snarl on the monster. "And all I had was my phaser, the transponder, and what was to be my saving grace…. a field of perfectly clear ice crystals."
Personally, I have no clue what a man faced with a giant, man-eating lizard would do with those three things other than hope the lizard slipped on the ice and impaled itself on the transponder post, or if that didn’t happen, hope when he pissed his pants the hypothermia would take him before the lizard did.
Sulu, however, quickly catches on to what Scotty is suggesting; although he doesn’t seem to believe it anymore than the yarn being spun out at the table. "You don’t mean to tell me you routed your phaser through the transponder and then refracted it through the ice crystals?"
Scotty beams proudly with an enthusiastic nod of his head. "In essence creating a phaser mine field that fired from dozens of different directions at once." When Sulu rolls his eyes, the engineer raises his hand solemnly. "As God as my witness, every word of it is truth." He taps earnestly at the table. "And, after the beast was down, I boosted the juice a wee bit and hit her again, this time cooking the meat all the way through."
Even I shake my head at that one. Scotty, however, leans back with a smug and reminiscent exhalation of breath. "It was the best meal I ate the entire time I was stuck on that hell hole of a frozen wasteland. Tender to the bone, that one; tender to her murderous yet succulent bones."
Honestly, I’m not sure if the gloating in the man is because of his supposed accomplishment on the icy planet or that he has managed to keep a straight face while feeding Sulu that load of horseshit.
Scotty looks up, spots me, and his face breaks into a wide, eager smile at the potential of luring in another victim. "Doctor! Come join us. I was just telling the Lieutenant about one of many adventures on…"
I ignore the enthusiastic pat to the seat next to him and cut him off. "Thanks, but I can’t… regrettably." I try to put as much remorse as possible into my voice, sure that I come across as believable as Scotty’s load of bull he’s just fed to Sulu. "I have an important lunch meeting. No time to chat."
"With whom?" Scotty looks around the nearly empty cafeteria in genuine curiosity.
I’m saved from being caught in my lie and bolting from the cafeteria and having to eat my steak beside a highly sedated Ensign Bixley by the arrival of Jim.
"Why, with the Captain, of course," I state loudly enough that Jim pauses and actually looks behind him with a frown of confusion, as if some other captain was also onboard the ship since no such meeting has been planned. Although, given the rather bizarre circumstances associated with how Jim came to command the ship, I’m tempted to look for the real captain myself. Instead, I force myself to motion to an empty table toward the center of the room. "Jim, I’ll be waiting over here."
With a less than certain bob of his head in acknowledgement of our nonexistent appointment, Jim retrieves a beverage from the replicator and comes to sit at the table where I’m already carving into my steak. I have to give credit where credit it due; as big a pain in the ass as the replicators can be, they can pop out some mighty tasty meat.
Jim eyes the meal then me, both with the same wariness. "Were we supposed to meet for lunch or something?"
"You don’t remember?" I ask innocently around a large piece of replicated beef. "Is the stress of command getting to you? I have something that might help with that. Stop by the infirmary…"
"NO!" His hand goes instinctively to cover the side of his neck. "No, I’m good. There’s just, apparently, a lot to remember when you’re captain of a Starfleet vessel."
I glance around the room to take in most of his senior staff members. "Like maybe leaving someone on deck to fly the ship?"
"Oh, I left Chekov with the bridge," he dismisses easily.
"Chekov?" I demand, actually stopping the cut through my baked potato. "You left Chekov in command?"
He frowns at my outburst. "Yeah, is that a problem?"
"The kid is what… twelve? And you left him to run the entire ship?"
"He’s not twelve." Jim snorts at the idea. "He’s an Academy graduate, same as you and me."
"He needs a note from his mother to stay out past second watch and a booster seat to see over the helm for God’s sake, and you left him with all of our lives in his hands?" I shake my head in wonder that after all these years Jim can still amaze me with his idiocy.
"He’s not as young as he looks, and you know it considering you have all his medical files."
"Birth certificates can be forged," I inform him, using my steak knife to accentuate the point.
"He was old enough to save my life."
Jim is speaking of the space diving incident where young Chekov, using his admittedly impressive transporter skills, was able to successfully lock onto the life signs of Kirk and Sulu in order to beam them safely back onboard the Enterprise.
"Is that how you plan to dole out promotions from now on? By someone saving your life?" I roll my eyes and go back to eating my lunch. "Given enough time and your proclivity for nearly getting yourself killed, everyone on this damn ship with be able to lay claim to that honor eventually." I jam a large piece of steak in my mouth and chew. "Hell, I’ve done it three or four times already."
Jim scowls at my assertion. "I don’t remember that many."
"It’s in the medical logs, I’m sure." And if it’s not, it will be by the time he stops by the infirmary again.
"The point is," Jim continues, "Chekov is perfectly capable of running this ship. Anyone is given what we’ve come up against so far." The last is spoken in a glum mumble.
We’ve been out of dock for a little over a week, and things have been quiet, much quieter than the last time we took the Enterprise out for a spin. Much quieter than someone like James T. Kirk can stand.
"Are you… bored?" I ask in amazement.
"No, I’m not bored," he argues, although his tone is that of a sullen teenager. "I just thought… as captain of a ship like Enterprise… things would be a little more…. you know… exciting."
I can’t believe my ears. He’s actually bored. Oh, hell, who am I kidding? Of course I believe it. After all, this is Jim Kirk we’re talking about.
"Exciting like getting your ass spanked and handed to you on a silver platter by every Romulan you laid eyes on, not to mention a temperamental Vulcan who was your shipmate?"
"No, of course not. I don’t mean we have to save the Federation every day, but it would be nice to see a little action now and again."
I force my best sympathetic face; the one I save for whiny little bastards who come in my infirmary and complain about having to receive their vaccines before heading into space and then complain even more when they catch something.
"Awww. Jim doesn’t have anyone to play with. Poor widdle fella." Jim’s rolled eyes only spur me on. "Hey, maybe you can start a bar brawl like you did in the good old days. You know, walk up to someone and make up an excuse to sock them in the nose." I demonstrate with a bit of shadow boxing where I sit before I look around the room in mock excitement at the idea, scouting prospects. "I’d avoid Spock if I was you; we already know you don’t stand a chance against him. And Uhura… she’d make mincemeat of you and not even have to throw a punch. Although, you might enjoy that a little too much. Do you think she has experience with whips?"
Jim seems to be considering the possibility, and given the sly and slightly dreamy expression that flashes across his face, I was right on the mark about his reaction to that possibility.
Moving my attention to the other table, I observe, "Sulu’s an option. Keep in mind he has a butter knife on his tray. Considering how good you told me he was with retractable swords, even a piece of dull cutlery could be a deadly weapon in his hands."
Jim shakes his head at my narrow-eyed warning as he sits back and crosses his arms to wait me out.
"Hey, there’s Scotty," I offer cheerfully, before amending with a conspiratorial grimace, "although I think he may be a little unstable, and definitely wily; best to steer clear of those types. He would, however, have a very rousing and potentially amusing tale to tell afterwards." I snap my fingers. "I know! Chekov! Surely you can take the kid. Then again, punching a minor could get you into serious trouble with Starfleet."
"Bones, you are such an ass." Jim slumps lower in his seat in a funk. "I’m a Starfleet captain now. I have to set the tone for this ship with my actions."
"God help us, we’ll be known as the party starship far and wide. Do you plan to make this a clothing optional mission?"
"I’m serious," he insists, and I can see that he is.
It’s a funny thing to see a friend you knew as little more than a punk-ass kid mature into a man, to see him start to cast aside those bad boy traits he wore as armor against the world for so long, and see the man you always knew was hiding under that façade start to reveal himself. Not that Jim Kirk has completed that journey just yet, not by a long shot…but he’s getting there.
A lot of winners stumble on their way out of the starting gate, but once they find their stride, they’re almost unstoppable. The entire crew of this ship was forced to hit the ground running thanks to Nero. There were plenty of mistakes made, plenty of heroics, and plenty of dumb luck that got us to the finish line. Now we get to start again, fresh and rested and with a plan, and I think that may actually be harder for a guy like Jim than being thrown feet first into the fire. It’s almost as if he needs to stumble and loose his footing now and again just so that he can come from behind and prove all the naysayers wrong.
Spock approaches our table, pausing a few steps back, as if measuring in his mind exactly what is the appropriate distance to maintain. Jim is his captain now, his commanding officer, and while even Spock would agree that is the most logical arrangement, I know it still sticks in his craw that he’s not the one in charge. It’s the same way I know Jim feels about Spock getting Uhura, both of them like car-chasing dogs that wouldn’t know what to do with the damn thing they supposedly want most if they had it.
"Captain," Spock greets with a slight incline of his head, and I have to give the man credit that he didn’t grind out the rank between gritted teeth. In fact, his expression is calm, almost serene, and I wonder absently if he’s been picking up pointers from the ship’s computer voice simulator.
"Spock," Jim returns amicably. "Good lunch?"
Spock glances back at where Jim is watching Lieutenant Uhura finish her meal. "It was quite enjoyable."
In many ways, Spock is as the opposite end of the spectrum from Kirk. Whereas Jim shines brightest in chaotic situations, Spock excels when he’s in control, conceiving a plan and executing it with razor sharp precision. He leaves the gate strong and steady and doesn’t ease up until the race is won. They could each learn something from the other, and given time, I think they will. There’s the possibility that there could be more between these two men someday… admiration, respect, even friendship. Right now, though, they’re still working out the kinks, feeling each other out. There’s a certain oil and water chemistry between them now; they may not blend into a cohesive unit just yet, but the juncture point between them ebbs and flows seamlessly together.
The slightly satisfied curve of Spock’s mouth at the way Jim frowns at the fact he wasn’t the one dining with Uhura just proves my point. "I was wondering if you would like for me to go relieve Ensign Chekov on the bridge."
Before Jim can respond, I answer for him. "Oh, God, yes. Take the wheel from Junior before he flies us straight into a star cluster and does something worse than scratch the paint job."
Spock raises one slanted eyebrow at my reaction, but waits for his captain’s orders.
Jim shoots me a dirty look that I ignore as I scoop a bite of baked potato with the works from my plate, then he tells his first officer, "Take your time going back to the bridge; the experience will do Mr. Chekov some good."
"As your own vast experience at command has served you so well, Captain." The small angle at the corner of the Vulcan’s mouth is the only sign that what he said wasn’t absolutely sincere.
Damn, I’m starting to like this pointy-eared bastard more and more.
"What? You mean in comparison to your time as captain of the Enterprise?" Now it’s Jim’s turn to give a cocky lift of his eyebrows. But I know Jim Kirk better than most, and there’s no heat behind the dig, in fact, I think he’s actually enjoying this new give and take.
Spock’s head tilts minutely to the side in a silent acknowledgment of touché. "I will call you if there are any problems, Captain."
"Please," Jim requests almost desperately to Spock’s retreating back.
He shakes his head as he turns back around. "Can you believe that there is an old version of me out there somewhere who was best friends with a prick like that?"
He’s speaking, of course, about what he learned of the other timeline from the older Spock, the one who was being pursued by the Romulans who killed Jim’s own father. Fate is a fickle mistress, to paraphrase the poets of old. In reality, she’s a coldhearted bitch. How else do you explain how in one timeline, the Vulcans lived long and prospered, and in this one, they are all but extinct as a race? It makes you stop and wonder about other things that might have been different. Did Jim Kirk grow up with a father in the other timeline if his dad hadn’t found himself facing down Nero’s ship? Did that Jim Kirk have siblings and learn from an early age to trust others instead of hiding behind a defiant solo bravado? Did he have confidence instilled in him by a family at his back instead of facing the world as if his back was always against the wall? If the Kelvin hadn’t been destroyed by a ship that never should have been here, would Jim Kirk be a different man today as a result? Would he be more in line with what the old Spock would consider a friend?
How does fate decide which man lives and which race of people is wiped from the cosmos? Does it find it ironic that a people who have devoted their lives to controlling their emotions would be decimated by a psychopath filled with hate and hell bent on revenge? Is it fair that a good man, a brave and honest man, like George Kirk has to die on the Kelvin and leave his son fatherless moments after he was born while a soul sucking harpy like my ex-wife lives on to torment humanity? Like I said, fate is a coldhearted bitch… and so is the she-devil who still gets an alimony check every godforsaken month from me.
Apparently my thoughts show a little too clearly on my face, or maybe it’s the way I saw viciously into my steak. Whatever the reason, it has Jim asking in a little worry, "Doc?"
"Never mind." I shake my head. "Nothing to concern yourself with," I assure.
"Yeah, that seems to be the consensus around here," he mumbles.
Fed up with the attitude I tell him, "Jim, you’re the goddamn captain on the premiere starship in the fleet. This is space we’re talking about; it’s the final frontier. And now we’re one week into a five year mission and you’re already bored. That is not only the most ludicrous thing I’ve ever heard, it is quite honestly one of the more pathetic, as well."
"I just thought there’d be… more to it."
"Look," I offer, "we’re supposed to be exploring new worlds. Surely a few of them will be filled with bad ass unfriendly types that will be more than willing to knock you around a few times."
He snorts. "It’s not that I’m looking for trouble."
"You’ll be seeking out new life and new civilizations. What could be more exciting than that?"
He shrugs with an unimpressed, "Eh."
"You’ll be boldly going where no man has gone before," I try one last time.
That has him leaning forward with a prideful and slightly predatory grin. "Actually, I did that the night before we shipped out."
"Let me guess," I interrupt, pretty sure of where he’s heading with this. "You deflowered a virgin?"
"Curious lesbians," he corrects my assumption, a waggle of eyebrows accentuating the smirk on his face.
My fork stops halfway to my mouth. "Lesbians plural? Lesbians with an S at the end?"
He traces the s-shape in the air before leaning back in his seat again, the smirk still firmly glued to his damn face.
I set my knife and fork down, fold my hands, and look him straight in his twinkling eyes. "Jim, having known you for several years now, and having heard of your myriad sexual conquests and failures over that same time period, I can say with unequivocal certainty that you, my friend, are a slut."
If anything, his gloating just grows. "You’re just jealous."
I roll my eyes at the accusation and take up my silverware again. "I swear to God, I don’t know whether I should be jealous or if I should have you removed from duty for what is obviously a psychological disorder of mind-boggling proportions."
The smile fades. "Wait, you can actually do that? Have me removed from duty for something like that?"
"You may be captain, but I’m the chief medical officer on this ship." Now it’s my turn to shoot him a wicked grin as I cut another piece of meat. "Don’t fool yourself into thinking you’re the one who wields the real power around here."
"A chief medical officer who eats a meal that can clog every artery in his body," he scoffs.
"It’s replicated," I remind. "That takes all the dangerous levels of fat and cholesterol out of it and leaves behind a pretty damn good imitation of a Porterhouse steak."
"A Porterhouse?" Jim parrots in amazement. "For lunch?"
"There are ten thousand, four hundred and eighty-three varieties of steak in the database," I tell him matter-of-factly as I chew the meat in satisfaction. "A man has to start somewhere."
Before he can say anything else about my meal choice, his communicator chirps. "Captain," Spock calls, "we are receiving a distress signal from an Orion freighter."
"Now we’re talking," Jim mumbles happily to me, already standing as that proverbial starting gate opens before him. He taps the communicator on his shirt. "Set an intercept course, Mr. Spock; I’m on my way back to the bridge."
And… they’re off!
The other crew members in the cafeteria hear the report and are already heading for their assigned duty stations. Me? I don’t stop eating. If this little side trip ends up being the trouble Jim’s been craving, it’ll do me good to have a square meal under my belt.
Instead, I chew on a bacon bit covered in sour cream and call encouragingly, "I’ve got my fingers crossed for you that it’s a trap, Jim."
His middle finger isn’t crossed as he flips me off behind his back without turning around and without breaking stride as he starts back to his rightful place on the bridge. So far, not a stumble in sight.
I raise my voice to be heard as he passes through the cafeteria door. "Maybe a Romulan ambush, or at the very least, malicious space pirates."
Yes, there are ten thousand, four hundred and eighty-three varieties of steak in the database of this ship, but only one captain, and in this particular universe, only one James Tiberius Kirk …
God help us all if there were any more.
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