Chapter 1 -What Do You Do with a Drunken Captain?
The captain had been adamant, in a smiling, cajoling way. That was the reason Lt. Commander Spock beamed down to Kepler 395-2. He had pinpointed the location of the captain's communicator in close vicinity of the communicators of several other Enterprise officers in a maze-like commercial area just below the spaceport. The shiny wet streets of the Bowrey were hemmed in by high cliffs, dark against the glow of the spaceport up top. Spock lowered his tricorder before an establishment labeled Ye Dog's Breakfast. A lighted sign hung above the door in the shape of a dog with a flapping dragon in its mouth.
Inside, the air was warm but uncomfortably damp. The Enterprise officers were at booths on the left, fewer than expected, but it was rather late. Despite the lightwire and glow panels adorning every table, a great iron candelabra hung suspended over the small room, sputtering out a petroleum odor.
Lt. Commander Mitchell's voice came over the din. "Do you remember that lab instructor second year, the one that couldn't stop talking about the Martian Colonies? I wanted to make her so I did a week of reading up. Turned out she'd never been there."
His laughter bounced around the small space. Spock stepped back behind the teetering stacks of beer crates that formed a hollow partition between the door and the tables.
Mitchell had his arms around two woman. He leaned across one of them to say something to a third. The captain sat with a drink in his hand, smiling without the usual feeling to it. CMO Piper sat crushed in on the small bench beside the captain. He fixed his glass with a blurry-eyed look of affection. Chief Engineer Scott stood up from the next table and drew Lt. Riley and Lt. Sulu up with him.
"Beggin' your pardon, Captain. We're going to find a place with a wee bit more music."
Kirk waved him over and spoke to him regarding the ship. While his head was turned Mitchell poured half the contents of his own drink into Kirk's.
"Have a good time, Scotty," Kirk said, as Mr. Scott stood straight.
What was it with the human penchant for nicknaming fellow humans, equipment, and even lab samples?
Faced with the approaching chief engineer, Spock retreated to the street.
Spock's footsteps made a slapping, grinding noise distinct to rain soaked concrete, and wholly an off-world experience for a Vulcan. He listened to it echo as he made his way toward the center city. It was a companion to his walk between blaring music, thrumming drums, and the fermented scent of spilled beverage.
Spock replayed the invitation in his memory, analyzing it. It hadn't technically been a command. The new captain on his first leave had perfectly logical aspirations to socially bond with his officers. Spock had not intended to bend to the invitation. He had managed to avoid similar ones the previous ten years, three months and twenty days, having learned a lesson about such events in his first year on the ship.
Spock had projects on board to work on in excess of his available time. But he understood the captain's motivation, so therefore, logically, he had yielded and beamed down. That the captain had employed a strangely compelling smile full of charm and acceptance hadn't factored into it at all.
The stone door of the Planetary Capital Museum of Geology stood propped open. The museum, like all starport attractions in the galaxy, never closed, but the staff of which he could ask questions likely would not be present at this time of night.
He stepped away from the door and swung his tricorder around for a general scan to orient himself. On the device's screen, the city reflected sharp angles, the cliffs organic angles. He tuned the frequency. Life form blips came up as blurry glows then faded out as he continued adjusting. The glass windows showed as black pixels, openings on absorptive rooms within. He turned it back the other way, revealing building superstructure. When the dial came to a stop there was nothing but the hazy glow of cosmic radiation. He switched it off.
He continued walking. There was logic in temporarily experiencing no overhead except the gradually diminishing atmosphere and a scattering of stars.
Spock reached the residential area of the port town. The cliffs were wide apart here, embracing the entire city. The houses spread to the edge of yet another cliff overlooking a slate black world. Spock used his tricorder again. A many-stranded river covered most of the alluvial plain below, invisible by starlight, even to Vulcan eyes.
He refused to feel uneasy.
It was merely uncertainty. Logically he had beamed down to collect data about the new captain. He had grown accustomed to Captain Pike to a degree that any variance from that norm was unsettling. Pike had been a careful commander. Captain Kirk seemed overconfident in person and, based on his records, prone to recklessness.
Some kind of flying creature fluttered by. An imported bat from earth, brought to cope with the imported insects. It dashed in and out of the darkness, wings pattering against the air.
Spock had informed Starfleet Command that he would remain with the Enterprise. As the longest serving officer on board, Command had been keen to keep him in place.
Kepler 395-2 was the last spaceport for provisioning. Then the Enterprise would begin her new mission in earnest, two weeks after replacing her top two officers and forty seven other crewmembers. It wasn't Captain Kirk, precisely, that made Spock rethink what had been an obvious decision; it was Lt. Commander Mitchell, and only by proxy Captain Kirk, who records indicated had specifically requested Mitchell.
Rethinking a major decision without sufficient data was illogical. Spock dropped the tricorder onto its strap and turned back toward the port services district. Above it, the spaceport lights sent beams through a dusty haze. The city was well placed to be out of the direct blast line of an explosion at the port. A small consolation to Spock's evening.
Spock almost called for a beam up from where he was. But the captain's communicator signal was still in place, with no others around it. Curious, Spock walked toward the yellow and white spaceport strobe and the narrowing cliffs below it.
Only a handful of small ships arrived over the course of his walk back and many departed. The Bowrey was quiet as a result.
The captain was indeed alone. Although there were two groups of cargo haulers drinking sullenly in the far corners.
Kirk looked up as Spock approached and his face transformed into one of unmistakable appreciation.
"Mr. Spock, you made it down." He waved sloppily at the bench set at a right angle to his. "Have a seat."
Spock accepted, curious where the others had gone, but asking would reveal that he had came and went earlier. Kirk's flushed face quirked into a smile that could have been labeled sly, but he wore it too often for that to be likely.
"I hope. I hope you're excited about the mission," Kirk said, slurring the multi-syllable words.
"Excited is a human emotion, Captain. But crossing the galactic barrier will be a unique research opportunity."
Kirk started to sip his drink, stopped, set it down, then picked it up and took a swallow from it anyway.
"You want something?" Kirk asked, glancing around for the bartender. "You should have something." He leaned closer, red shot eyes narrowed. "Does alcohol even work on you?"
"Only moderately, Captain."
"That. That's a shame," Kirk said. "Really?"
"Romulan Ale, if it is authentic, can have a deleterious effect on my faculties."
Kirk laughed. "We wouldn't want that. But I can ask if they have some. I'm buying."
"It would likely be counterfeit and, in any event, I will pass."
Kirk waved his glass around to swirl the drops of brown liquid in the bottom of it. His head wasn't remaining upright particularly well.
Kirk said, "I either need another or I need to call it a night. What time is it, Science Officer?"
"It is oh three hundred and three planetside, but it is oh five hundred fifty two ship time."
Kirk glanced at Spock's hands, then back up at his face. "You didn't look at anything."
Kirk puzzled that. "It's late." He stared off into space, sighed theatrically, and shook his head. "He took the women. All three."
"Lt. Commander Mitchell, I assume?"
Kirk's narrow gaze was suspicious. He leaned toward Spock and continued to lean more, but caught himself with the tabletop, which was fortunately anchored to the floor. "How did you know?"
"You are in his presence sixty eight point one three percent of the time when you are off duty during waking hours. I deemed it likely to be true on leave as well."
Kirk held up one bent finger. "You aren't wasting mind power knowing that sort of thing?"
"I did not know it until I computed it just now."
Kirk looked away while rolling his glass in his hand. "One might think, first leave with a captain's braid, I'd have better luck. What's the point otherwise?"
Spock drew himself up but could not find a response to what must be a satirical or hyperbolic question. "Indeed, Captain," he said, doing what Doctor Piper had advised in these situations: 'playing along noncommittally'.
Kirk dropped the glass and it knocked on the table, hard. He righted it and leaned his chin on one hand as if his head had grown unnaturally heavy.
"But the mission." Kirk rose from his stupor. "I want to know what happened to the Valiant. Command's not sending us for that, however. They're sending us because of you and your unit. You're the best." Kirk raised his empty glass in an unsteady toast and drank the few drops within.
"I'm curious. Did Command tell you that, Captain?"
"They did, in so many words. You didn't know you were the best science officer in the fleet?" Kirk hiccuped. "You couldn't compute that?"
"I have never attempted to do so."
"Pike said you were unexpectedly humble." Kirk waved at the bartender. "You know what else he said?"
Spock was starkly reminded of Pike's permanent absence. He masked the emotional reaction that resulted. "I don't know, sir."
"He left me summaries." Kirk peered at Spock with unexpectedly acute focus, as though seeing beyond the mask he'd just erected. "I'm curious what you thought . . . think he recorded."
"What I believe he should have recorded or what I expect he actually did record?"
Kirk grinned and tossed his chin, a gesture Spock had never seen someone use regularly. It remind Spock of a spirited horse on a tight rein.
"Either one is fine," Kirk said.
"I expect he mentioned I require little sleep."
"He didn't happen to mention that."
Kirk propped his head on his hand, relaxed and sleepy, but attentive. He was in uniform but completely out of professional form. He was attempting to use the same non-verbal communication on Spock that he used on others. Pike had always utilized a special reserved attitude for Spock, a sort of non-human interface. It had allowed Spock to relax his guard. This man did nothing of the sort, quite the opposite.
"Tough question," Kirk said in a distinctly teasing tone.
"I expect he skipped including anything that was not obvious or could be learned from other sources. That would be illogical."
Spock had another realization, that he was being tested. A human in Kirk's state was an unsuitable judge. Spock suppressed a sense of insult. Almost. And his words might have been motivated by his reaction.
"It is possible he informed you that I never lose at chess."
"He didn't. But that's not true anyway." Kirk wore a yet another smile now. A new one that despite his tired eyes had a definite predatory edge to it.
"I do not understand your meaning, Captain."
"I'm saying that you are going to lose at chess, Mr. Spock. So that's not true. Want to try again?"
Spock had sat straighter at this challenge, but let it pass.
Kirk's smile shifted to one of entertained. How many different smiles could one human have?
"Not going to argue with your drunk captain?" Kirk asked.
"You must admit that would be unproductive."
"I admit nothing." Kirk accepted the fresh blue drink the bartender brought. He traced the table with it by dragging the full glass over the surface. "But I want to hear at least one more guess."
There it was again. That non-command command. Spock was unaccustomed to this strange, personable ambiguity underlying instructions not strictly related to his official duties.
Spock had to look away from Kirk to let his thoughts come together. He did want to be correct at least once. After so many years, how could he not know exactly what Pike would record?
"I am willing to argue with my superior officer long after I should."
Kirk sat back and took a swig of his drink. "Very good, Mr. Spock. Want to try for two in a row?"
In that instant, Spock knew the next one must be on there. "I am not particularly adept at command."
"Not how he phrased it, but essentially correct." He scrunched his face in disappointment. "I was learning more about you when you were guessing wrong."
Kirk stared at his drink, stretched his neck from side to side.
Spock said, "May I inquire, Captain, what else was in the summary?"
Kirk's words sounded like they required extra effort. "He said I never need worry about you. Because you always take care of yourself. He said also." Kirk paused, seeming grim. "Something I'm a little curious about. But I don't. Don't want to make you uncomfortable this soon. We don't know each other."
Spock raised a brow.
Kirk's speech was slurring more. "He said if you got angry enough you'd snap. And everyone better get out of the way given how strong you are." He took another swallow of his drink. "I thought dropping that on me, then not telling me what would set you off was a cruel turn on Chris's part."
Kirk's blurry eyes looked Spock over. Spock did not discount Kirk's perception this time, no matter how inebriated he was getting.
Kirk sounded strangely casual as he said, "So what could set you off that badly?"
"Excessive personal insult, perhaps."
Kirk sniffled. He had slouched down, turning his half full glass in his outstretched hands.
"That would go along with you being epically, his word, proud, which was another thing he said."
Kirk closed his eyes and put a shaky hand to his brow. "Proud but humble. How's that work?" He pushed the drink to the tips of his fingers, out of reach. "This one's making me feel. Odd. I was sobering up, but this isn't it. Isn't taking care of it."
Spock swung his tricorder around.
"You take that down on leave?" Kirk asked.
It was the pet phrase Spock had heard from nearly every human who had ever seen him planetside off duty.
Kirk said softly, "Sorry. Apparently you do."
Spock looked up from the tricorder display. He had given no indication of his annoyance, he was certain. He went back to the readout.
"You have significant alcohol in your system, but also synthahol and garenahol. Which do not mix well in the human nervous system."
Kirk looked into his glass. "I wasn't mixing anything."
Spock, having intimated that he was not here earlier could not report on what he'd observed of Lt. Commander Mitchell's actions regarding the drinks. This was why even misleading statements were illogical to make, even if they were not lies.
"Perhaps you should return to the ship, Captain."
"It wasn't my time for leave anyway, given I've been on duty fifteen whole days. The rest of the crew was due. I suppose. Lt. Sulu could pilot the shuttle back."
"You brought the shuttle down?"
"I like flying the shuttle."
Kirk stared off across the bar, perhaps taking a self-inventory. "I have a room at the towers. And twenty six more hours of leave. The weird feeling is passing."
"I could contact ship's medical."
Kirk looked around the bar. "Piper is down here, somewhere sleeping his own off."
"There are any number of other personnel who could administer alcohol absorbtive medicinals, Captain."
"But I want to be drunk. And I don't want to call for help. Understood?"
This was a command. Spock was certain this time.