Title: The World Throws its Light
Character/Pairing(s): McCoy/Chapel, Spock/Uhura, Kirk, Janice Rand, Sulu, Gaila, OCs
Rating: PG-13
Word Count: 23,255
Warnings: Mild violence, mild language
Summary: Christine Chapel is doing her best to start a relationship with Leonard McCoy. But, when trouble starts on an ambassadorial visit to a small planet, she finds herself right in the middle of things. This is the last story in the Going to Georgia trilogy. However, it can be read on its own. This was written for the Star Trek Big Bang challenge, which is why I'm posting all of it in one go. I hope you enjoy!

Author's Notes: This would not be a fraction of what it is without the amazing help from my betas:fringedweller and aj. A massive Thank You to fringedweller for holding my hand, pointing out my grammar!fail and kindly reminding me from time to time that I should really be writing. A huge Thank You to aj for her last minute beta and fabulous suggestions. Honestly, I adore you both and cannot thank you enough.

Disclaimer: I do not own Star Trek. I make a passing mention of two episodes, one from the Original Series and one from the Animated Series. I don't own either of them. The title comes from the song Going to Georgiaby the Mountain Goats. I don't own that either.

Chapter One

The slowly rising water laps at her ankles. The smell of rotten, water-soaked rice irritates her nose and turns her stomach. The water is the color of rust. Tannin. The result of the decomposition of the leaves in the water.

She can see in her mind the chemical process of that breakdown. The image of a leaf disintegrating into chemicals and seeping into the water. She can see it so very clearly.

How she is going to escape from this natural prison they've thrust her in…

That she cannot see at all.

Christine Chapel stared at the letter on her PADD. She tilted her head and shifted in her chair at her desk in sickbay as the hour of re-typing her research notes caught up with her and the muscles in her back complained from having been still for so long.

The letter was an invitation, or maybe a not-so-gentle reminder, from Starfleet Medical informing her that she was only one year away from her doctorate in endocrinology and wasn't she eager to return and begin the process of submitting her thesis?

Define 'eager'. she thought. Because she was eager. She was eager to finish the degree she'd started six years ago. The degree she'd happily interrupted to serve on the Enterprise after being commissioned during the Narada incident.

However, she was also eager to continue the work she was involved with on the Enterprise. Heck, the very thought of leaving the Enterprise did horrible things to her stomach. Leaving space, being on Earth, away from her staff, her friends... Leonard.

"Chapel! Where the hell are those bacteria samples?"

Speak of the devil…

Christine yelled back, "Exactly where you left them, in the tray next to the centrifuge." She paused. Then said, "And stay away from my slides! Don't you dare disrupt my cell membrane analysis, doctor! If one slide is so much as breathed on, you'll have to find yourself a new head nurse!"

"You say that at least once a week," he said sticking his head around the door. "I've stopped listening." McCoy gave her an overly cheesy wink and Christine chuckled despite herself.

"Now, get in here, I think I'm onto something and I need you to check my math," he said before he disappeared into the lab.

A feeling of fond exasperation settled over her as she gave Starfleet Medical's letter another read before shutting down her inbox and going to help McCoy.

Two hours later, after checking and re-checking analyses and wishing she had Chekov's easy manner with higher mathematics, Christine left McCoy grumbling over his PADD for lunch.

"Don't take too long," she said. "You've got that meeting with the captain and Commander Spock in half an hour."

"Mmmm, still don't know why Starfleet wants us to go play ambassador," McCoy said.

"Perhaps they were impressed with the results of the last time?" Christine mused.

McCoy shot her a glare and Christine couldn't help a small grin. The last time the Enterprise had been asked to serve as ambassadors and mediate a situation on a planet called Ardana had gone less than well. The visit had ended with both Spock and Kirk entertaining a couple of seduction attempts, Kirk being abducted, then being poisoned by a gas and spending a fair amount of time doing hard labor in a mine. The state of the captain when he was finally beamed back to the Enterprise had been terrible, his mind and body ravaged from the effects of the poison and the back-breaking work in the mine.

"All I know is that this time, I suggested Jim wear a mask the whole time," McCoy said.

"Well, isn't the entire senior staff invited?" Christine asked. Off McCoy's nod, she said, "There you go. Safety in numbers." She tapped her chin thoughtfully. "Maybe we should impose a buddy system like they did when we were in elementary school?"

"Cute," McCoy said. "I'll be sure to mention that suggestion to Spock. I can just see him now holding hands with Uhura and glaring at all the other schoolkids for cutting in line."

Christine rolled her eyes.

"So, would you be my buddy or would that too much of a cliché for you? The doctor and the nurse?" he asked spinning around on his lab stool to look at her.

"Oh, terribly clichéd," she agreed adjusting her skirt and trying not to giggle like a teenager. "However, I'd just end up walking next to you talking about medicine."

McCoy stood up and stretched a little, Christine didn't bother to hide her glance at the way his shoulders moved. He smirked and sauntered over to her coming to stand right in front of her, leaving only a few inches between them.

"The only problem with being paired up with you would be the temptation to find dark corners to hide in," he said, his voice lowering and his drawl becoming more pronounced. His eyes raked over her face and focused on her lips as she licked them.

"In order to discuss your current analysis of Andorian mitochondria?" she asked, her head tilting up and her body beginning to tingle from the nearness of him.

"Of course," he said simply. "You know how even the mention of mitochondria gets me all hot and bothered."

Christine laughed and shook her head. "I always knew you were a cheap date, McCoy."

The doctor grinned. "Hey, I'm just a simple country doctor, I don't need any frills."

"You certainly don't," Christine murmured as his head began to lower to hers. His lips had just brushed against hers when the beep of the centrifuge interrupted them. McCoy groaned and Christine sighed. She gently pushed him away. "Go finish your analysis and don't be late to your meeting."

"Yes, ma'am," he said the corners of his lips turning down. Christine quickly kissed his cheek and left the lab. She felt him watching her as she left and it was entirely possible she added the slightest of a sway to her hips.

Christine was still smiling when she reached the corridor near the mess hall, where she heard her name called.


The nurse stopped and turned to smile at Uhura walking briskly down the hallway. "Hey, you. I thought you weren't going to make it."

Uhura gave her friend a relieved smile as she fell into step next to her. "So did I, but the transmission from Starfleet was delayed until after lunch."

"Is it true that we've been asked to be the voice of Starfleet again?" Christine asked.

Uhura made an irritated face. "Yes. After what happened the last time, I'm more than a little surprised."

"That's what I said." Christine shook her head. "You'd think we'd get better at this type of thing as opposed to worse."

"Well, to be fair," Uhura said as they lined up to get their food. "The situation is urgent and we're the closest Starfleet representative. I've always wanted to see Kalpharia. Did you know that their southeastern county has at least twenty-seven regional dialects? I've already been promised access to their national library's archives."

Christine and Uhura chatted about the upcoming visit to the planet as they walked their trays over to their usual table where Gaila and Janice Rand were already seated.

Christine could feel herself relaxing. She honestly loved their weekly lunches. Somehow, they always managed to find at least one day during the week in which they could all meet for a meal. She presumed it was just as much for relaxation purposes as it was anything else, but most of all, it was fun.

While Christine had become friends with Uhura and Gaila at the Academy, it hadn't taken long for Janice to be included in their small group. Especially after the ship had a run-in on planet Taurus-II in which the entire male contingency aboard the Enterprise was overcome by the 'siren song' of the planet's female population. Uhura, Christine and Janice made up part of an away team that eventually rescued the captain, Spock and Dr. McCoy. It made for an interesting mission and the women had bonded instantly.

"So, Janice," Gaila said. "How's Jim these days?"

"Unbearable," the yeoman said with a sigh that straddled the line of exasperation and affection. As Christine looked up from her lunch and studied her friend, she was pretty sure the affection was winning.

"Oh, dear," Christine said mildly, then took a slow bite of her salad.

"I know," Janice said. "He's been doing this thing lately, where he listens to me."

"I'm... sorry?" Uhura said with a confused look.

"Yeah, he listens," Janice said. She stabbed at a grape. "He really listens. He just stares at me and nods his head, then he asks informed questions and makes lists and suggestions."

"Umm, this is a problem?" Gaila asked.

"Yes!" Janice said loudly, startling the rest of the table. Janice sighed and offered an apologetic look before going back to fiddling with her fork and staring at the table. When she started talking again, her voice was quiet and very, very serious. "It is. Because it's just lulling me into the false belief that he's going to actually think before he blunders off and does his own thing; completely disregarding anything I may have told him about or any plans he may have made."

She frowned. "He's being considerate. And I wish he'd just go back to blowing me off."

Christine shared a pointed and somewhat sad look with Gaila and Uhura. All three of them were well versed in the relationship or lack-there-of between the Captain and his Yeoman.

"Do you really?" Christine asked.

"No," Janice said glumly. "I kind of like it when he pays undivided attention to me." She groaned and Gaila patted her back. "I'm hopeless."

"You're not hopeless," Uhura said. "He's hopeless. The situation's hopeless."

"Look at it this way," Gaila said. "He's definitely into you. I mean, he's clearly watching your mouth when you talk, which is a bright, flashing red sign that means he's attracted to you. Plus, if he's watching your mouth, he's watching your other bits and that means he really wants to have sex with you. This is Jim we're talking about, he's so got a thing for mouths. And he's attempting to be sensitive and respect your position, which is another form of regard. So, really, it's all good!"

"You're right," Janice said. "You're right. I know you're right. He is attracted, he does care, he respects me and his position. I'm just going to have to accept the fact that I'm going to die of sexual frustration." She looked up at Christine. "People have died from that, haven't they?"

"Not that I know of," Christine said fighting a smile. "But, there's a first time for everything."

"Crap," Janice said finally managing to stab the grape on her plate. She didn't eat it though.

"I've got some toys you can borrow if you want," Gaila offered helpfully.

"Thanks, sweetie," Janice said, smiling a little.

"Leave it to Jim to discover responsibility and actually stick to it," Uhura said.

"Yeah," Gaila said.

"Yeah," Christine said.

"Crap," Janice said. The pretty woman shook her head and fixed Christine with a look. "So, how's your relationship going?"

Christine swallowed her sip of juice and avoided looking anyone in the eyes. "What relationship?"

Uhura rolled her eyes and Gaila snickered.

"You and the good doctor," Janice said. "How's it going?"

"I'm not... We're not... I... it's..." Christine tried to speak, feeling awkward and not a little embarrassed of her love life suddenly being on the table.

"Have you ladies noticed how she starts to stutter when we ask her about McCoy?" Gaila asked conversationally.

"Oh yeah," Janice said smirking.

"I think it's cute," Uhura said.

Christine glared. Uhura just gave her a pointed and terribly knowing look.

"McCoy does it, too, whenever the Captain brings it up on the bridge," Uhura went on to say.

Christine's jaw dropped. "He brings it up on the bridge?" Her voice squeaked as she gave Janice a look that clearly said 'are you sure you want to have a crush on a man with the manners of a five year old?'

"He's really hot!" Janice dropped her face in her hands and sighed. "And he's really brilliant when he's not being a jackass! Although…" Janice popped her head back up and pinned her with a stare. One eerily reminiscent of the one their much-discussed commanding officer got right before he had one of those brilliant insightful moments people kept forgiving his other behavior for. "You're side tracking us. We - and by we I mean the entire ship – have come to the conclusion that you and McCoy are dating. Even if neither of you are aware of it."

"We're not! I mean, we... it really isn't..." Christine couldn't quite pin down what she was feeling, but flustered came pretty close.

"She's doing it again," Uhura said grinning.

"You know, if you were a piece of machinery I'd be rebooting you right about now," Gaila said her eyes slowly moving over Christine's body.

Christine glared at her 'friends' and said, "We're not dating. We're aware that – something – is there, and are attempting to - explore- the possibilities, but we haven't put a label on it yet."

"It's called dating," Uhura said, rolling her eyes once again.

Christine glared into her juice.

"Okay, let's just go over the list," Gaila said brightly. She flipped her curls over one shoulder and grabbed a PADD out of her satchel. The other ladies at the table groaned. "What? I don't know why you have such an aversion to lists. Especially you, Ny, you're the most organized person I know."

"I work with lists all day," Janice said. "I don't want to see them on my lunch hour."

"Hear, hear," Christine said.

"Exactly," Uhura said. "I like having an hour in which I don't have to tap a silicone-based surface."

"Well, too bad," the Orion said cheerfully. She tapped a brightly painted nail on the PADD and brought up a document. "Now, Christine, if you answer yes to more than two of these questions, you are dating McCoy."

"According to who?" Christine asked mortified.


"Oh, thank goodness. I thought for a minute you were consulting something with highly dubious content," Christine said inwardly praying for Klingons to attack so she could get out of this ridiculous situation.

"Well, she sure sounds like McCoy," Uhura said with a grin.

Christine threw a grape at her.

"Number one," Gaila said loudly. "Do you share meals?"

Christine sighed. "Yes, but we work late hours and are often still going over results when we eat."

"That's still a yes," Gaila said tapping the PADD. "Number two: Do you find yourself touching him more in a playful and casual manner?"

"Yes," the nurse said reluctantly remembering how she'd kissed his cheek on her way to lunch as she headed out of the sickbay.

"Number three: Does the gent in question touch you in a friendly and casual manner?"

"Yes," Christine said staring at her juice and wishing she was the type of person who didn't mind airing her love life in the middle of the mess hall.

"Number four: Are you currently wearing matching lingerie?"

"That is not on there!" Christine said. Gaila showed her the page. "Oh, for... Yes. I am."

"Oooh, what color?" Janice asked perking up..

"Pale blue with a floral pattern."

"Pretty. You should really try the new line recently released from Paris Five. The silk is amazing and-"

"Ahem!" Gaila interrupted, looking sternly at Janice. "Number five: Do you find yourself inventing excuses to remain in his company?"

"Yes," Christine said putting her head in her hands.

Janice reached over and patted her back. Uhura sniggered into her herbal tea.

"Number six: In the last week, how many times has he stayed with you in sickbay instead of going drinking with Monty?"

"How on earth is that in Cosmo?" Christine asked raising her head.

"We're allowed to make up our own questions," Gaila said. "Now answer."

"Well, I think he went with Mr. Scott on Monday," Christine said her brow furrowing in confusion. "But, that may have been it. Huh."

"Mmm hmm. Last one: and this is specific to you: Christine Chapel, have you cooked for him?"

Christine opened her mouth to say 'no' but she recalled last week specifically cooking jambalaya the way he said his mother always had, with thick slices of tomatoes and red beans. She closed her mouth.

She slumped in her chair and looked around at her girlfriends who all had amused and rather triumphant looks on their faces.

Christine sat up straight and mustered up all the eloquence she possessed and said firmly, "Ya'll suck."

Christine walked back into the sickbay with only one thought going through her head. She and McCoy were dating. They were dating. And yet, they hadn't actually been on a date. Ugh. Typical.

Heaven forbid they actually do anything normally. Heaven forbid the man actually ask her out on a date or to one of the socials Kirk threw.

No, they had to eat dinner in the lab, surrounded by blood samples and centrifuges. Or in his office with paperwork.

Damn it. She nodded to one of the nurses on staff and picked up the duty roster. Her mind still puzzling out her 'relationship'.

The thing was, it wasn't like she minded how things were. She liked the late night eating while they discussed their day and their cases. She liked sitting in his office while she went over his reports and he went over hers. She loved that he often took the time to ask after her own independent research as she tried to stay on track with her doctoral thesis. She highly valued his input and opinions, and was grateful that he never pulled his academic punches.

On more than one occasion, a well-placed eyebrow and dry "Really?" had pushed her further than test data, crabby advisors, and her own perfectionism ever could. And it wasn't like she never punched back. Christine smirked over a PADD as several, rather heated episodes flashed through her mind. No, he didn't mind criticism, as long as it wasn't misplaced

And all this was just the intellectual side of them. She didn't dare consider the actual attraction that hummed like a live wire in her whenever he was near. Her body would actually thrum and pulse when he stood close to her. It was like nothing she'd ever experienced before with her other boyfriends or even her fiancé. And the way he sometimes looked at her... It was warm and inviting and then could quickly become heated. Like he was so close to throwing her on his desk and just taking her.

Christine snorted out loud. She sounded like one of those trashy romance novels Gaila and Janice traded back and forth.

Work, she thought. That's what you need to do. So get to work, woman.

She froze. Oh for... She did sound like McCoy.

Chapter Two

Her wrists are stinging. She's doing her best to not think about the handcuff's quality of metal. The possibility of her dying of an infection is pretty secondary to her current situation. She is thankful for her small wrists otherwise the metal would be cutting off her circulation, the slight gap that is there gives her a certain range of motion.

But not much.

The pipe the cuffs are looped around comes straight down the embankment to feed into the holding pond. She'd simply slip the cuffs down and off, if not for the large metal bracket holding the pipe in place obstructing her path. She looks up. The side of the pond is hard-packed earth and is very muddy. And slippery. She might be able to slide the cuffs up the pipe, but she can see another metal piece obstructing the way.

She's already tried pulling her hand through the handcuffs and that only made gouges in her hand. The mud beneath her feet gives as she tries to straighten her body.

She stops, takes a breath, and assesses the situation.

The water will rise. She's tried screaming but the sound of the water rushing out of the pipes nearby is loud and she doubts anyone is near enough to hear her. She cannot get the handcuffs off. She has no idea if anyone knows she is missing. If anyone () will come for her.

Her only hope is to spontaneously grow gills and breathe underwater.

She hangs her head in defeat for only a moment.

Then she straightens up and starts to climb.

McCoy made another notation on his PADD regarding the atmospheric conditions of the planet they were due to be in orbit of in less than three hours while keeping one ear open to Spock's assessment of the planet at the senior staff meeting.

"The planet itself is similar to Earth with highly arable soil and stable weather conditions, which has aided their research into the growing of kyan oryza sativa," Spock said.

"Or in layman's terms, rice," McCoy said.

"In more accurate layman's terms," Spock countered. "Blue rice. The rice is able to be grown more rapidly and stays fresh for much longer than any of the other variants. It has also shown great resistance to several diseases. The first crop has already been harvested and is ready for transport."

"So, what's the problem?" McCoy asked Kirk. "Why are we being dragged into this?" Off Spock's raised brow, McCoy rolled his eyes. "I mean, offering our extensive and renowned mediation services."

"Easy on the sarcasm, Bones," Kirk said with a grin. "I can only take so much this early in the day. The reason Starfleet is interested is because they would like to commission some of the crop and use it on some of the less developed planets. The reason we've been asked to go is due to the fact that the research and development team have received threats and there have been at least two attempts at sabotage."

"Who are the suspects?" McCoy asked.

"They believe it's one of the local sects," Spock said. "They have been very vocal in their belief that the genome for the rice be maintained solely on Kalpharia and not released to other nations. They also want sole rights to grow and harvest the rights."

"I see," McCoy said. "Have they always been this against the research?"

"That's the other reason we've been called in," Kirk said. "Because, no, they haven't. It's only been in the last few months."

"Let me guess, after the genome's success was announced?" McCoy said.

"Give the man a prize," Kirk said pointing his finger at McCoy.

Spock cocked his head to the right. "For what, captain? It was a logical conclusion at which to arrive. Although, I must admit to being pleased that our CMO came to it so quickly. What type of prize would you suggest, captain?"

Kirk snorted while McCoy glared. "You are aware that your sense of humor is lacking something, aren't you Spock?"

"What is it lacking, doctor?"


"All right, enough you two," Kirk said chuckling. "So, the bottom line is we land, we suss out who's doing what and stop them from doing more and make sure the genome is safely shared with prospective growers. Am I missing anything, Spock?"

"I believe that is the, if somewhat oversimplified, plan."

"What happens after the genome goes public?" McCoy asked. "Will Kalpharia have to change their own policies?"

"The goal is to set up similar rice fields all over the quadrants," Kirk said. "As far as I know the Federation has no plans to interfere with the Kalpharian's way of life."

"That sounds remarkably reasonable," McCoy said.

"Which is why I'm anxious to see just what's going on down there," Kirk said. "As we are going down in an ambassadorial capacity first and foremost, I want the heads of the departments to come along. I also want at least one team from security. We are due to meet with the Kalpharian ambassador along with the Starfleet research team at 1000 tomorrow. We'll shuttle down at-"

"Whoa, wait," McCoy said, he arched a brow. "We're taking a shuttle?"

Kirk didn't bother to hide his smirk. "Didn't you hear Scotty's announcement earlier this morning? Transporters are malfunctioning. They'll be down for the next 90 hours at least."

"Will this be a problem, doctor?" Spock asked. "I'm sure you could find a suitable sedative in your sickbay, should you require one."

McCoy glared at both the other men and ground his teeth.

"God damn transporters," McCoy groused, slouching in the chair behind his desk. Christine hid her grin from her position in the chair opposite.

"You do know Mr. Scott didn't deliberately cause a malfunction just so that you'd have to suffer through a shuttle ride?" she asked.

"I wouldn't put it past the man," McCoy said. "I cleaned him out at the last poker game. He still owes me two bottles of whiskey. The good stuff, not that synth'd crap."

"So, I hear I do get to go," Christine said.

"Yep, all heads of departments and at least one extra," he said. He smiled. "You get to be my one extra."

"I'm flattered," she said demurely while reading through her messages on her PADD.

"You should be," McCoy said scanning his own notes. "I hear the planet is actually quite lovely."

"I've always wanted to see the rice terraces," she said opening a message from Starfleet Medical. It was another reminder about her thesis. She frowned. This one was supplemental to the earlier notice she'd received. This message was more explicit and was stating that she would need to return to the campus for an entire year while proving her thesis and presenting it to the board and other committees. Immediately.

A year? An entire year? Wasn't that a bit excessive? Could she honestly leave the Enterprise for a whole year? She felt her stomach churn.

"Bad news?"

"Hmm? What?" she asked raising her head and meeting McCoy's concerned eyes.

He nodded to her PADD. "Bad news?" he repeated looking a little concerned.

"Oh, no," she said closing the message. "It's nothing really."

"Right," he said. He threw his PADD on the table and rubbed at his eyes. "Feel like dinner? I'm starving."

"Sure," she said absently feeling odd for not just telling him about the message. "Len?"


"What are we doing?" she asked and then instantly wishing she could take the question back.

"Well, I'm planning on getting something in the mess hall," he said standing up and walking around his desk to perch on the corner closest to her. "I hear it's Orion stew tonight."

"No," she said. "I meant..." She shook her head. This was not the time to question their relationship. Not while she was feeling so off-kilter about her possible impending departure. "Never mind. Stew sounds good." Christine stood up and started to leave the office. She was stopped by McCoy's warm hand on her arm.

"Hey, what's going on?" he asked standing up and pulling her close. "Are you okay?"

"Yes, yes, of course," she said shrugging and feeling frustrated with herself. "I... I..."

She studied his face. His furrowed brow and dark eyes. The way his hands slowly rubbed her arms. The corners of his lips were downturned and Christine knew it was because of her. So she leaned in and kissed him. He made only the slightest sound of surprise before sliding his arms around her waist and kissing her back.

His hands spanned her lower back as his mouth moved slowly over hers. One of her hands rested on his chest, the other cupped the back of his neck. The kiss took over her senses and she melted into him, relishing the way he held her, how warm his body was, how his mouth on hers always made the world disappear.

Christine pulled away to catch her breath and McCoy took the opportunity to kiss the column of her throat. She gasped as his mouth moved over her skin.

"Do you have any idea how much I want you?" he murmured into the juncture of her neck and shoulder. He punctuated his statement with a soft nip of his teeth.

Oh, yeah. She had some idea. The idea that maybe they could skip dinner and try out his desk flashed through her mind as a flash of heat surged through her body.

This might be one of the last times you get to be held like this, a little voice in her head said. For an entire year.

The thought startled her and she pulled away.

"I've got to go," she said quickly. Her body screamed at her to shut up and go back to kissing him. Her mind said to get out and go think. Think a lot.

"What?" he asked his lips swollen and his eyes glazed over with want.

"Yeah, I've got to be somewhere," she said feeling like a moron, but knowing she needed to think about things and that was not going to happen with him on top of her. "I'm meeting, ah, Janice. On deck fourteen. Just remembered. I've got to go. See you in the morning."

"What?" McCoy just asked again. The glaze disappeared from his eyes and bewilderment along with frustration settled in. "What the hell is with you?"

"Nothing! Just got to go. Ah, bye!" She leaned up and pressed a quick kiss to his open mouth and walked quickly out of the office.

It wasn't until she was by herself in the turbolift that she let her PADD clatter to the floor as she slumped against the wall, covering her face with her hands. She groaned when she realized the scent of him still lingered on her skin. She breathed slowly, trying to will her body out of its lust-filled state. It wasn't going well.

"You are a first class idiot, Christine Chapel," she said out loud. "Leave it to you to really fall for the guy the minute you've got to leave for a year."

She thudded her head against the wall and then kicked her heel against it for good measure.

It wasn't as if she didn't want him. Sweet merciful heavens, she wanted him. They'd certainly danced around each other for years and the tension between was strung so tight, she was surprised they hadn't spontaneously combusted.

But she had to finish her thesis. She wanted to be a research scientist so badly she could taste it. But going away for a year? Wasn't that tempting the fates? She couldn't ask McCoy to wait for her. Look at how she'd reacted when Roger asked her to wait for him? She'd enlisted in Starfleet the day he left. Why should she wait on something that may or may not actually have a future?

Christine's mind instantly remembered the outraged indignation that had come over her when Roger had given his ultimatum. Her hands clenched just thinking about that man's, her fiancee's patronizing tone and dismissive attitude.

The turbolift came to a stop on deck fourteen. She stared blankly into the hallway as the doors slid open. Christine sighed as she realized that she'd totally made up her meeting with Janice and that the yeoman was not actually on deck fourteen. Christine pressed the button for her the floor where her room was.

The doors slid shut as she thudded her head once again against the wall.

Chapter Three

The dim light from the dawning sun only helps to accentuate how dire her situation is. The water is so very cold from having run down from the side of the mountain and she shivers every time the water touches a new inch of her skin.

She groans as the mud slides beneath her and yet she still moves upwards.

She's pretty sure she's not going to win this.

But she's not going to give up.

The region of Taphan steadily came into view as the shuttle made its way from the Enterprise to the planet of Kalpharia. The shuttle flew over the Kallapan Sea before reaching land. Christine shook her head in wonder at the sight of the famous rice terraces. Massive steps carved out of the mountains held the deep green rice grasses and the steps meandered and curved their way down to the valley where they eventually met the sea. The brilliant green of the fields dazzled the eye.

The shuttle soared along the edge of one of the steps and everyone on board craned their neck to look up at the steps that continued on to the tops of the mountains.

"They say they were built by hand thousands of years ago," Uhura said quietly from her seat next to Christine. "They still prefer to maintain them using ancient methods."

"Beautiful," Christine murmured. "They just go on and on."

A stone structure came into view just ahead and Sulu piloted the shuttle towards the capital city of Kalphan. The city was a mix of ancient and new. The main research facility was metal and white, while the government offices appeared to be made from a sandwashed stone. Sulu circled the landing pad and slowly set the shuttle down.

Christine could hear McCoy's sigh of relief from his seat behind her. She fought the urge to turn around and smile at him. As it was, she hadn't spoken to him since her abrupt exit from his office the evening before. She still wasn't quite sure what she was going to say to him when he inevitably questioned her later.

The crew exited the shuttle and was greeted by the Kalpharian governor and his staff along with two of the Starfleet research scientists. The governor and his staff were easily identifiable from the lightly colored tunics that they wore and their distinctive violet eyes.

"We are most happy to greet you, Captain Kirk," the governor said solemnly. "I am Xanphar and this is our ambassador, Ruthan. Welcome to Kalpharia."

"We are delighted to be here, governor," Kirk said with a formal bow. "We are in awe of the beauty of your planet already."

The governor smiled. "Thank you. We have prepared some refreshments for you and your crew. We also have scheduled some tours of the terraces and the research facilities for later today." Here the governor and the ambassador exchanged glances. "We would also be grateful for a private audience with you as well."

"On behalf of myself and my crew," Kirk said, "we would be pleased to see more of your planet and I assure you, I am at your disposal."

"Then if you will follow us?" The ambassador gestured to the arch at the edge of the landing. The group headed in that direction; the governor and the captain talking quietly. Christine felt McCoy's presence right behind her and she bit her lip when he brushed past her to speak to Commander Spock.

The juice and food given to the crew was light and sweet and everyone made polite small talk after being shown a small presentation was given showing the progress of the rice genome experimentation.

Eventually Ambassador Ruthan stood and cleared his throat. "I would suggest splitting into two groups for the tours. Captain, would you and your commanding officers like to join the governor while the others see the terraces?"

"Sounds agreeable to me." Kirk made eye contact with Spock and McCoy. The gentlemen headed out one door, while the rest of the crew followed another representative of the Kalpharian government.

As Kirk and the others entered a small antechamber, two of the Starfleet scientists in residence on the plant followed. The shorter male scientist approached them

"We appreciate you coming all this way, captain," he said, his brown eyes crinkling as he smiled. "I'm Dr. Charles Owen, the science team leader and this is my second in command, Dr. Rhona Hall. I've got to say, it's been a heck of a long week."

"Have there been any other incidents?" Spock asked.

"Well, actually, there was something last night," Owen said. The man scrubbed a hand over his round face, the shadows under his eyes betrayed his exhaustion. "I still don't understand why this is happening."

"Perhaps you should start from the beginning," Kirk said with a friendly smile as they took their seats around a large table in the center of the room. McCoy hid a smirk as he recognized the early signs of Kirk playing detective. Especially when the captain leaned back in his chair and angled himself to get the best view of everyone in the room.

"It started about two months ago," Dr. Hall said. She shrugged her shoulders, her dark hair bouncing with the motion. "Small things really. Slides out of order, unlocked doors, nothing any of us really took any notice of…until later"

"We only noticed when it started to escalate," Dr. Owen said. "One morning we came into the lab and someone had broken every single beaker. There was glass everywhere. No one was injured and none of the research was damaged, but it took almost a day to get the lab back in working order."

"The next incident involved some severe tampering with the seedlings." Dr. Hall shook her head. "It wasn't critical, but an entire flat of seeds was destroyed."

"How was it not 'critical', doctor?" Spock asked.

"Well, that's actually what's so odd, commander," Dr. Hall said. "These incidents have been worrying and time-consuming, but they haven't actually destroyed anything terribly valuable." She spread her hands. "You'd think that if the intent was to sabotage the research, they actually destroy something crucial."

"You said there was another incident last night?" Kirk asked tapping a finger on the table and looking thoughtful.

"The latest thing to happen was, well, a bit more intimidating," Dr. Hall said, shooting her colleagues a sad look.

Dr. Owen sighed and said, "Last night, I came into the lab to do some work and when I got here, my office had been ransacked. All of my PADDs were on the floor, some had clearly been accessed."

"What were they looking for?" McCoy asked.

"This, I imagine," Dr. Owen said holding up a smaller PADD. "On here is the final genome sequence for kyan oryza sativa. We plan to release it to the public two days time." He chuckled. "You know, I always carry this with me. Always. Everyone called me paranoid."

"Now, we're calling him sensible," Dr. Hall said with a grin.

Kirk and McCoy smiled while Spock merely inclined his head.

"And you suspect who? Someone local?" Kirk asked.

The two scientists looked down and then over at the governor and ambassador. The governor sighed.

"We don't want to," Dr. Hall said at long last. "But the beakers were smashed with a very specific type of tool. A type of spade used solely by the rice farmers."

"Traces of soil found only in the fields was found on some of the large pieces," Dr. Owen said.

Ambassador Ruthan frowned. "It isn't conclusive. Anyone could have found a tool and used it. Thereby implicating a Kalpharian."

"There is also another angle to be considered," Spock said. Everyone looked over at him. "I understand that the science facility has security fields in place at the end of every corridor. Is this correct?"

"Yes, it is," Dr. Hall said.

"And everyone who wishes to enter must have a code and pass?"


"Then it stands to reason that whoever, whether they are part of the Starfleet expedition or a Kalpharian, would have to had pass codes to enter," Spock said. "Or had the means to distribute them."

An uneasy silence filled the room.

Dr. Owen broke it. "I don't like the idea that one of my team would be aiding and abetting this kind of behavior."

"As I do not like the idea that one of my people would be involved," Governor Xanphar said. The two men eyed each other. Not with distrust or dislike, McCoy noticed, but with simple tension.

"Has there been any indication that any of your people would be involved?" Kirk asked, eyeing Xanphar.

"There are always those who wish for our planet to remain apart from the rest of the universe," the governor said. "I myself had my misgivings all those years ago when we first made contact, would we be losing our own culture at the expense of being part of something larger?" He shook his head and smiled. "I have had no cause to regret our alliance with the Federation. But, I know there are those that want to distance ourselves."

Here the governor looked at Kirk. "So, to answer your question... Yes, I do believe it is possible for members of our community to be involved."

Chapter Four

She grits her teeth as she slides down the embankment, the mud underneath her feet giving way. Her hands scrabble for purchase on the pipe and eventually she stops.

Looking down, she can see the water has risen at least another two feet since she started her climb.

She starts to climb again.

"If you look below, you can see the current crop of traditional rice halfway through its growth cycle," Annha, the Kalpharian tour guide said as she walked alongside the Enterprise's crew. Her smile was bright and she gave her tour with enthusiasm and interesting facts about the country. Christine liked her immediately and listened carefully.

Christine peered over the stone guardrail at the steps of rice bays beneath them. The large steps jutted out from the mountainside all the way down to the sea. The bays contained only a few inches of water and the closest one to the viewing platform was filled with bright shoots of green.

"How often is it harvested?" Sulu asked tapping notes into his PADD.

"It depends on the variation of rice," Annha said. "Kalpharia indica sativa is harvested on average three times a year."

She pointed to the side of one of the bays where the stone was shaped like a gutter. "When the rice has germinated, the water is drained using the conduits located at the edge of the bays. The water is piped down to a basin where it is collected. That water is then sent through a sanitation process and is reused in another section."

"And the new rice the scientists have discovered?" Sulu asked again.

"Oh, yes, the kyan oryza sativa, it has the potential to be harvested every month, if the conditions are suitable," Annha said. "In fact, when we finish with this section of the tour, I'll show you a batch of seedlings that has been planted in the latest prototype of terrace."

"Have you ever seen anything like this?" Uhura murmured to Christine.

"Never," Christine said. "Have you noticed how quiet it is?"

The two women watched below as a terrace several steps down had the water drained from the bed. The stone conduit filled with water which steadily disappeared from sight. Shortly afterwards the sound of water falling into the basin far below was heard.

"This has always been my favorite spot," Annha said as she joined them as they looked out over the terraces, her cheerful smile turning nostalgic and thoughtful. "My family brought me and my brothers here for a holiday when I was ten and I knew then that I had to come back. Luckily, there are always jobs in the industry."

"It's an incredible place," Christine said. "What do you think of the new variant?"

"I think it will be an amazing asset to new colonies," she said, tucking a lock of dark hair behind her ear, her violet eyes thoughtful. "It can grow so quickly, in diverse environments. It will revolutionize the industry."

"And what do you think it will do for Kalpharia?" Uhura asked.

Annha's face flushed and she looked away. "I think it will draw a lot of attention to our planet. Some good, some bad." She shrugged. "I think it will be good."

"Are there others that think differently?" Christine asked.

The guide looked at her sharply. "You're referring to the incidents at the lab? I hope it's nothing more than juveniles acting foolishly. Besides, anyone who believes that the galaxy is limited to this one planet is limited in their own minds."

"Well said," Sulu said with a grin.

Annha smiled at him and with a gesture indicated the group should head back towards the science facilities.

Kirk, McCoy and Spock followed the two scientists along with the governor and ambassador to the research labs. Dr. Hall entered in the codes to gain access to the building and they all went inside.

McCoy looked around at the crisp, white halls and thick glass windows that displayed people hard at work. It wasn't dissimilar to some of the facilities back on Earth. He could see touches of wear and tear but was impressed by the some of the equipment he could see.

"As you can see," Dr. Owen said. "We do have more than one research project going on at once. The folks to your right are working with soil enhancers and the ones over there in the back focus primarily on water treatments."

McCoy was impressed by the diligence at which the scientists carried on, and felt his fingers twitch slightly in anticipation of reading the resulting analyses. If Vulcans twitched, he imagined Spock was feeling the same amount of anticipation.

Absently he reminded himself to talk to Chapel about trying to requisition a new neuroimaging machine. The newer model looked rather nice.

As his thoughts touched on Christine, it also occurred to him that he really would have enjoyed touring the terraces with her, watching her eyes as they calmly took in the scenery, her mouth curving into that slow, sweet smile that meant she'd seen something she wanted to show him. She'd then lightly touch his wrist and his pulse would race like a teenager and he'd have to hold himself back from twining his hand with hers.

He shook his head. He was here to help Jim, not to moon after his head nurse. Especially since she had unexpectedly freaked out on him last night, leaving him alone with his confusion and, bless her, a raging hard-on.

McCoy felt an elbow in his side and scowled at Jim who was looking both worried and amused.

"Something on your mind, Bones?" Jim asked.

"Nothing that concerns you, captain," McCoy said hoping his glare was enough to get Jim to drop it. It was. For now. Jim turned back to his perusal of the labs, but the smirk he gave McCoy before turning his head promised an interrogation later.

Dr. Hall entered in a code for another lab and the group entered. There were three people seated at a bank of computers while another three were stationed at various counters clearly involved in ongoing experiments.

"This is the kyan oryza sativa laboratory," Dr. Hall said with a smile.

"Or as we like to call it, the Blue Rice Bowl," a man with a full beard seated at the bank of computers said over his shoulder. It must have been a long-standing joke, because it was met with both chuckles
and a groan from one of the women standing in front of a microscope.

"Just don't offer them any of your house special egg fried rice, Dave," a blond man seated two down from the bearded gentleman said.

"And just what is wrong with my fried rice, Paul?" Dave asked over the head of the short man in between them, who was scrunched down in his seat, his face in a state of perpetual resignation in regards to the antics of his co-workers.

"Aside from the lack of egg and the fact that 'house special' really means waaay too much pepper?" Paul retorted.
"There's just no accounting for taste," Dave said loftily.

"Ahem!" Dr. Owen said trying to hide a grin. "As Dr. Hall was saying, this is the team devoted to the kyan oryza sativa genome project."

"The gentlemen at the computers are our gene sequencers, Drs. David Saller," the maker of the no-egg fried rice gave a wave, "Travis Burkett," the short man nodded his head silently, barely tearing his eyes away from the screen, "and Paul Rankin." Dr. Rankin gave a cheerful salute.

"Do they all work on the entire genome at one time?" Spock asked.

"It's too complex," Dr. Burkett said loudly, still not looking away from his screen. "We only have access to sections. The entire thing is on Dr. Owen's PADD." He finally turned to them fully. His eyes are sharp and accusatory. "But, I bet you guys already knew that."

"Simmer down, Travis," Rankin muttered.

"We've been told about the importance of Dr. Owen's personal PADD, yes," Spock said.

There was silence in the laboratory as it seemed to finally strike home the significance of the presence of the Enterprise's officers. McCoy did his best to appear nonchalant, but one look at Kirk's face told him that his friend's sharp gaze was missing nothing.

Dr. Hall cleared her throat. "Let me show you where the first incidents took place."

She led them into over to the counters where a petite young woman was carefully tending to a small bed of seedlings. "This is Dr. Beatriz Carrera, our resident greenthumb."

"You're just saying that because you can barely keep a cactus alive," Dr. Carrera said with a smile. "It's a pleasure. The shards were all over this counter, embedded in the sample trays. They'd even taken bits of the glass and hacked at the stems. It was a regular massacre." She frowned and looked down at the tiny green shoots. "The poor things."

"And Dr. Owen's office?" Kirk asked. "Where is that?"

"Just down the hall, follow me," Dr. Hall said. She gave Dr. Carrera a pat on the shoulder.

The lab was silent as the officers left. Any good humor had vanished quickly. They headed down the hall.

Kirk clasped his hands behind his back and McCoy thought, And there he is. James T. Kirk, Detective Extraordinaire. I should find him a magnifying glass for his birthday. Maybe even a pipe.

"We left it the way it was," Dr. Owen said as Kirk and Spock stepped gingerly into the room. The captain narrowed his eyes and scanned the area. McCoy was positive Kirk missed nothing, but did his own study of the office. There were no windows, just a regularly sized desk with a monitor on top. PADDs were strewn haphazardly over the desk and the floor. A shelf that contained various trays of soil samples were smashed on the floor.

"Have your security feeds shown anything?" Spock asked.

"Funnily enough, there seems to be a block of time in which the feed goes dark," Dr. Hall said, her mouth pursed.

McCoy frowned and Kirk and Spock exchanged glances. The commander finally said, "That would be more evidence of someone with internal knowledge knowing how to switch off the feed." He looked at the ransacked office, PADDs strewn over the floor and drawers overturned. "However, the state of this room suggests a lack of discipline; as if they were not completely sure of what they were looking for."

His remarks were met with stony silence and the stiffening of spines from both the scientists and the Kalpharians.

Dr. Hall's timepiece beeped. "We are scheduled to meet the rest of your crew at the new planting prototype. If you would follow me, please."

Chapter Five

Her nails dig into the mud and she pulls herself up. Dirt is smeared all over the front of her dress and down her legs. The sting of the cuts on her wrists pales in comparison to the burn of her muscles.

She tries to distract herself by naming bones in the human body, starting at the skull. It helps to keep her mind focused and not descend into panic.

Small regrets pepper her recitation.

…frontal, sphenoid, ethmoid...

I never got my doctorate.

...temporal, zygomatic, lacrimal...

I should have called home more often.

...palatine, maxilla, mandible...

I never went to Paris.

...vomer, nasal, parietal...

I never made love with Leonard McCoy.

Her hands freeze and she feels a sob burn her throat.

But she shakes her head and starts again. It's not over yet.

...occipital, mastoid process, mental foramen...

The prototype was impressive. Or at least based on Sulu's reaction it was. The man had grinned widely and started making notes on his PADD muttering about trying something like it in the hydroponics greenhouse.

It was located just outside the science facility in a fenced-in area and was very large, at least ten feet wide and twelve feet long. It was a simple design and not unlike the terraces, except instead of stone the bay was constructed out of a sturdy white material in the shape of a rectangle. There was a small channel along the edges where the water would drain into.

Christine's group was gathered at the side of the structure waiting for the captain and the others to join them.

"Will they all be like this?" Sulu asked. "One by itself?"

"Oh, no," Annha replied. "They are designed to stack one on top of the other. We just keep this one on its own to illustrate the draining mechanism. When the others arrive, I'll show you the underside where the pipes will flow."

Footsteps and light murmurs were heard coming down the path.

"Oh, here they are," Annha said.

Christine turned to see the group which had started out companionably mingling had separated into three distinct groups. The captain, McCoy and Spock walked together just behind the Kalpharian governor and ambassador. The two Starfleet scientists followed behind.

Things must not have gone all that smoothly, Christine thought. Oh dear.

"Not a cheerful bunch, are they?" Uhura murmured.

"Not really," Christine said. "Get the feeling we may be here awhile?"

"Oh, yeah."

McCoy met Christine's eyes briefly and she could see the beginnings of a smile on his face when he saw her. But it was replaced with a frown as he looked away. Christine swallowed her sigh. She really had to fix things before they got worse.

Suck it up, Chapel, and just tell him what's bothering you, she told herself.

"Well, now that we are all here," Annha said, her eyes troubled as she looked over the segregated group. "I'd like to show you the rice bay we have created. This bay is easily transportable and can
sustain a fair amount of damage caused by various types of weather and wear."

Annha was obviously trying to maintain a cheerful atmosphere but from the way she clasped her hands tightly together, Christine wondered how much stress the recent events had been affecting everyone.

The group walked around the front of the bay looking in to see the layer of sandy soil with the tiniest of hint of green shooting up through the top layer.

"The water will be drained when the initial growing phase is completed," Annha continued. "If you'll follow me, I'll take you underneath the bay to show how the piping system will work."

She directed them towards a path going around the other side of the bay leading to a hollow space where the pipes were located.

Annha led the way with Sulu by her side asking questions. Christine saw the Kalpharian ambassador say something to the governor, who waved his hand dismissively.

The underside of the prototype was dim and the support struts were visible as they jutted diagonally
from the wall to hold up the bay itself.

"As you can see," Dr. Owen said as he stepped directly beneath a beam. "The pipes will come down and can be connected to any body of water or even connected to another bay."

Christine looked up and cringed at the sight of the large white base above them. As the scientist continued to speak, her eyes roamed over the structure and could have sworn she heard something beeping. She frowned.

"Excuse me, doctor," Spock said. "But is that beeping sound normal?"

"I'm sorry?" Dr. Owen said.

"I hear it, too," Uhura said as did others.

Spock cocked his head to the side and stared intently at a support beam. He strode forward and inspected the beam. He turned his head to look at the section where the beam was attached to the bay.

He blinked and then sharply turned to face the group.

"There is an explosive attached to this beam," he said. "Evacuate the area, now!"

Christine grabbed Uhura's arm and started to quickly usher other crew members towards the opening.
She saw Sulu pull Annha in their direction.

Then there was a short high-pitched sound.

Then the device detonated.

It was a small blast and only served to break the one beam it was attached to. Christine watched with Uhura as Spock grabbed Dr. Owen as the beam began to fall and pulled him towards the exit. A shard of metal fell down the length of the scientist's leg and he shouted in pain.

The bay above their heads creaked loudly and started to sag.

"Damn it!" McCoy shouted as he made to run back in. Kirk beat him to it and hurriedly threw Dr. Owen's arm over his shoulder. Spock and Kirk easily lifted the scientist off his feet and out into the open.

"Jim! Over here!" McCoy ordered.

Christine joined them whipping out her tricorder as they lay Dr. Owen down on the ground a safe distance from the slowly collapsing bay. The scientist let out a pained groan.

"We need a support crew over to the prototype yard now!" Annha yelled into her comm unit.

"Charles!" Dr. Hall said coming over but stopping when Kirk held her back.

"Chapel, what does it read?" McCoy asked as she ran her tricorder over the scientist's leg that was bleeding steadily. He pressed his bare hand to the gash to stem the flow of blood.

"Superficial piercing until it reaches his knee," Christine said, "where it looks like it nicked the biceps femoris."

She held the tricorder so that McCoy could check the reading without letting go of Dr. Owen. He redirected the pressure with his hand to the critical part of the wound. "He needs several passes with an autosuture and I don't know how many with a dermal regenerator. Damn it, how long does it take to get a stretcher over here?"

Christine was about to help him get Dr. Owen into a better position on the ground, when the sound of the support crew arriving interrupted them. Two young men ran over and McCoy directed them as they loaded Dr. Owen into the back.

"We'll take him straight to the infirmary," a technician said.

"Jim," McCoy said to the captain who nodded in understanding.

"You and Nurse Chapel go with him, take Dr. Hall as well," Kirk said. He gave McCoy a significant look that Christine recognized. It usually meant 'watch your back', in this case she suspected it meant 'watch everyone's back'. Then the captain turned back to the prototype and Spock joined him.

Christine popped open the medi-kit the technician handed to her. She pulled out some thick gauze, then took over from McCoy on the transport stretcher and pressed against the gash in Dr. Owen's leg.

He moaned through his gritted teeth and Dr. Hall took his hand.

As they rounded a corner, a loud whine and splintering sound made them all turn and look. Christine bit her lip as they watched the prototype bay collapse entirely.

Chapter Six

She can't go any further.

The pipe is obstructed by a thin metal strut and she can't pull her handcuffs past it.

She's determined not to cry, but as she takes a breath a sob escapes. She rests her head against the cold metal pipe and looks down at the water rising to just above her ankles.

McCoy sighed as he walked out into the corridor. Kirk straightened up, as did the governor. Kirk's eyes were keen and betrayed none of the tension McCoy knew he must be feeling.

"Dr. Owen? How is he?" Xanphar asked anxiously.

"Considering what could have happened if Spock and the captain hadn't acted when they did? Extremely lucky," McCoy said. "He'll actually be up and walking shortly. With a slight limp, of course. The wound was deep enough to cause serious pain, but not deep enough to damage any ligaments."

The governor sighed in relief. "I am very glad to hear this."

Spock entered through a door at the other end of the hallway and walked towards the group. "Captain. I have investigated the debris and was able to recover this."

He held out a small black mass of material. McCoy frowned. "Small, isn't it?"

"Indeed, it is, doctor," Spock said. "I believe that the explosion was manufactured to remain small and directed to one specific area."

"The support beam?" Kirk offered cocking his head to the side.

"Precisely," Spock said with a nod. "If you will recall, it was the beam directly over the spot Dr. Owen would have to stand to show the workings of the bay." Here, the commander hesitated.

"Meaning," Ambassador Ruthan said. "The saboteur would have had to have previous knowledge of Dr. Owen's movements."

"That doesn't exactly narrow things down," McCoy said. "How many times has Dr. Owen done this tour? The prototype is outside the building, anyone could have made an educated guess." He chanced a look at Kirk and could practically see the man moving the pieces of the puzzle around in his mind.

"This is accurate," Spock said. "However, the bomb was also triggered remotely. Someone was watching."

"Honestly, Rhona, I'm fine, stop fussing so," Dr. Owen said to his colleague. Christine hid a smile at the warmth underlying the scientist's words.

"Considering you just underwent a traumatic experience," Dr. Hall said from her place beside the biobed. "I would greatly appreciate it if you indulged me."

Dr. Owen smiled. "Don't I always?"

Christine turned away when she noticed the blush on Dr. Hall's' cheek. Well, that was something she hadn't noticed earlier. Dr. Hall looked over at her and rolled her eyes.

"Is it true that males are the worst patients?" she asked.

"Oh, yes, by far," Christine said adjusting the readout on the bed. "I also find that the more degrees they have, the worse they are. You should see what happens when Dr. McCoy gets injured."

Dr. Hall chuckled and shook her head.

"But," Christine went on to say, gently. "Dr. Owen was very lucky and should be up and around later today. Provided he doesn't push it."

"Hand on my heart, I won't," Dr. Owen said, placing a hand on the right side of his chest.

"Charles, that's the wrong side," Dr. Hall said moving his hand to above his heart.

He clasped her hand in his and smiled. "So it is."

Christine caught the eye of the infirmary nurse and they both moved away from the area, leaving the two scientists together.

"Funny, that," the Kalpharian nurse, Grenna, said. "It always takes something dramatic to bring some people together, doesn't it?"

"That it does," Christine said thoughtfully. "I hadn't realized they were together."

"I hadn't either, to be honest," Grenna said. "But, it's been known to happen. People working together, being close. Well..."

"Yes, well," Christine said feeling a little uncomfortable and she really hoped her cheeks weren't flushing.

"It is a shame about what happened though," Grenna said shaking her head. "Terrible to think someone would want to cause so much damage."

"Do you have any ideas as to who it could be?" Christine asked.

The other woman shook her head. "No, I really don't. It just doesn't make sense."

"It may not be the best time to mention this," Ambassador Ruthan said as the group outside the infirmary pondered the idea that they had all been watched and the bomb had certainly been intended to hurt Dr. Owen. "But, there is a dinner planned for this evening. Invitations have been extended to several members of the government as well as all those working in the research facility. Should we cancel?"

McCoy cringed inwardly. He hated those glad-handling types of things, but had a feeling he'd be attending this one.

"I see no reason to do so," Spock said. "Doctor, you said Dr. Owen would regain his mobility soon?"

"Yes," McCoy said. "He just needs to rest and let the repairs to his leg settle."

"Then I propose the day continue as planned," Spock said. The governor nodded, looking relieved.

"It would be a wise choice to show that work is still ongoing and this has only been a minor setback," Xanphar said. He looked over at his ambassador. "We should meet with the other members of the cabinet to discuss the events of today. Gentlemen? If you will excuse us?"

Kirk nodded and the Starfleet officers watched the other men leave. McCoy sighed again.

"You're planning on using Dr. Owen as bait, aren't you?" he asked Kirk, who had cupped his chin in his hand and was looking thoughtful. McCoy could just hear the gears grinding.

"It's not a bad idea, Bones," Kirk said. "After all, it's what the governor is doing. We'll make sure we've got plenty of security in place and wait to see what happens. Whoever is doing this has a deadline, remember? The genome goes public day after tomorrow. They must be getting anxious by now. And what does anxiety cause?"

McCoy snorted and knew exactly where Kirk was going. "It causes mistakes."

Kirk smiled and crossed his arms over his chest smugly. "Exactly."

The room where the 'dinner' was being held was massive. In fact it resembled the inside of a cathedral more than a room. Its high-vaulted ceilings had intricate carvings and tiled mosaics that weaved in and out of each other creating an effect that attracted and mesmerized the eye.

The food on the long tables looked fresh and colorful with a large variety of fruits and savory hors d'oeuvres.

Christine walked in with Uhura behind the captain and Spock. The other members of the crew were just behind them.

"Nice place," Uhura said. "Very, ah..."

"Tall?" Christine said, amused.

"That's the word. I feel like we should break into a song. The acoustics must be marvelous."

Because the evening was formal, everyone had been given outfits in the traditional Kalpharian style. The men were dressed in simple loose trousers made out of a soft material that felt like a cross between silk and cotton. A brightly colored tunic was layered over a simple white or beige button down shirt. The captain was clad in a gold tunic while Spock wore blue and McCoy wore a deep forest green.

Christine noted that the tunic really brought out his eyes and made a mental note to find more reasons for him to wear green.

The women wore long sleeveless tunic dresses in a similar cut to the men's, however delicately embroidered flowers and stars lined the hems and arms. Uhura wore a deep blue that complimented Spock's tunic, while Christine wore a pale green that complimented McCoy's. When they had met in the courtyard outside their temporary living quarters, Christine had flashed Uhura a look that clearly said, 'I see what you did there'. Uhura had simply smiled.

The two women chatted while keeping their eyes on their commanding officers. Christine noted the various security personnel from the Enterprise that Kirk had requested. Wearing similar garb to the rest of the room, they blended in well with everyone present.

"I'm so glad you all are here," a kind voice came from behind them. Christine turned and smiled at Annha who looked lovely in a lavender tunic dress.

"It's a stunning building," Uhura said. "We were talking about how it seems perfect for music."

"Oh, it is," the guide said with a friendly smile. "You should be here during the autumn harvest time. We always hold week-long recitals." She bit her lip. "I'm happy to know that Dr. Owen will be able to join us this evening. People have been talking of nothing else other than what happened earlier."

"Are people worried?" Christine asked taking a glass from the dark-eyed server who had just approached the women.

"No," Annha said quickly, her eyes darting away when the server stared at her. "I mean, yes. But, it's only natural."

Christine opened her mouth to ask another question and noticed the server was still glaring at Annha. The crowd quieted at a slight movement at the door to the hall.

Dr. Owen entered with Dr. Hall at his side. His steps were tentative and slower than usual and he walked with the aid of a cane. McCoy walked over to see if he needed to lend a hand. The scientist looked at the crowd and smiled.

"And I had planned on dancing with all the ladies this evening," he said dryly. "I'm truly devastated."

Laughter filled the hall and people went back to their conversations. Dr. Owen joined the captain and Mr. Spock. Christine looked around for Annha, but the guide had disappeared. She shrugged and followed Uhura over to the group.

"Do you have your PADD with you?" Kirk asked Dr. Owen around a sip of his drink.

"I took all your advice, captain," he said patting his pocket. "Do you honestly think someone would be audacious enough to attempt something in this setting?"

"If I've learned anything over the years, doctor," Kirk said. "People are capable of doing quite a lot."

Christine caught McCoy's eyes and could see how difficult it was for him not to roll his eyes. She smiled at him. He quirked his lips and raised a brow. She nodded surreptitiously, feeling relieved that he was initiating contact with her.

Yeah. They needed to talk.

The evening passed in relative peace and quiet. Christine noticed that Annha had returned and was talking with some of the scientists. The guide looked unsure and slightly nervous, but Christine couldn't tell if it was from something on her mind or the fact that the short scientist with the glasses looked like he was trying too hard to impress her with his stories of genetics.

Christine looked around at those present. The presence of a jovial Dr. Owen had cast a relaxed feel over the crowd. Groups were mingling a bit more than they had. Several Kalpharians were interspersed with members of the research team.

Governor Xanphar finally stood up on a dais at the end of the hall. All the groups quieted down. Only the wait staff continued to move about silently serving drinks. However, the same dark-eyed server from before was standing next to the entrance and was staring at the governor, but every now and then his gaze would switch over to Annha standing with the geneticists. Christine frowned wondering what that was all about. Something in both the server and Annha's manner bothered her.

"I am very aware that it has been a trying and stressful day for many of us," Xanphar said in his quiet voice. "But, I am also aware that the work being done here on this planet has the potential to be beneficial to many across the quadrant. To know that our little planet has aided so many, has helped so many, brings a warmth to my heart."

A quick movement caught Christine's eyes as the server she'd been watching left the room, his stride angry and controlled. She looked over at Annha who was once again biting her lip.

"What's wrong?" McCoy's voice broke into her thoughts from his position directly behind her. And darn it, he should not make her skin tingle with the simple sound of his voice and make her want to turn around and thread her hands through his hair and crap, he'd asked her something hadn't he?

"Nothing," she said turning her head a bit to meet his eyes. "At least I don't think so."

"Good," he said, "Because you and I need to talk."

Christine nodded. "I know. After dinner?"

"It's a date," he said seriously.

Then he turned his face back to the governor who was still talking. Christine turned back to listen to the speech, and felt disappointed that he seemed to be acting so seriously. She wondered if she'd really screwed things up and her stomach churned nervously. Then she felt his knuckles graze her back as he lifted his glass to take a drink. Deliberately graze her back. Christine shivered.

Damn him.

The governor finished speaking and there was polite applause before everyone went back to their drinks and continued their conversations. Christine soon found herself in a group with Uhura and two other women who specialized in Kalpharian history. They quickly fell into a conversation about Kalpharia's first contact.

Dr. Owen appeared to be flagging after another hour passed and McCoy nodded to Kirk who glanced at one of the security officers. The gentleman nodded back and headed out the door.

"Spock says they're setting up security all around Dr. Owen's room," Uhura said to Christine quietly. "They might try again and the captain wants to be ready."

"Oh, the almighty they," Christine said. "Poor Dr. Owen. And Dr. Hall."

"Well, they've got to stay safe until the day after tomorrow," Uhura said. "After they share that genome, it's out of everyone's hands."

Dr. Owen started to say his good-byes and stopped for a moment to chat with his geneticists. The one with the beard laughed loudly and clapped him on the shoulder, making the scientist stumble a bit.

Christine overheard the shorter geneticist say, "Be a little more gentle, Saller, if you can."

"Oh, well, we don't all have your social skills, Burkett," Saller said giving Annha a significant look. The guide looked embarrassed and excused herself. Burkett flushed angrily his chances with the guide obviously blown.

Dr. Owen just shook his head and Dr. Hall helped him out of the hall, McCoy walking close nearby.

Saller continued to grin at Burkett who glared at him and then left the hall in a huff.

"Goodness," Uhura said mildly.

"Looks like the day after tomorrow can't come fast enough," Christine said, finishing her drink.

McCoy walked with the scientists to their rooms and once inside ran his tricorder over the back of Dr. Owen's leg. "Looks good. Remember to keep it as still as you can. While the regenerator did most of the work, your skin still needs to heal on its own."

Dr. Owen nodded but Dr. Hall asked, "Where are the security guards? Captain Kirk said there would be security."

"Oh, they're around," McCoy said. "If we can see them, then so can the bad guys. But, don't worry, they're there."

Dr. Hall nodded.

"Rhona," Dr. Owen said. "It will be fine. The genome is safe. It's all working as they wanted."

"I just don't like it," Dr. Hall said. "This waiting."

Tell me about it, McCoy thought.

He reassured the two once again and stayed for a few minutes with Dr. Owen while Dr. Hall left to go to her own quarters. Then McCoy said good night and gave instructions to use the comm Kirk had given Owen if he felt anything was out of place.

As McCoy walked back towards the wing the crew from the Enterprise had been given, he unbuttoned the top of the Kalpharian tunic. He wondered if he should just go to Christine's room and ask to talk to her? Even if that meant encountering Uhura and her all-knowing looks that McCoy was positive she'd gotten from Spock from some sort of Vulcan osmosis. Or did he go somewhere and wait like a damned teenager? Maybe lurk in a corner under her window. Hell, maybe he could even throw pebbles at it and hope she came down to talk to him or maybe...

Or maybe he needed to just calm down because there she was, waiting just outside the building where their quarters were.

Of course she was. She always was at least two steps ahead of him.

She was leaning against the wall, still clad in her dress from the dinner; the green one that skimmed her form and left her arms bare. The one he had nearly swallowed his tongue over when she'd appeared earlier that evening. Currently she seemed to be studying the tips of her feet and McCoy wanted nothing more than to stride over there, press her against the wall and kiss her and kiss her and kiss her until they couldn't breathe.

Easy, man, he thought slowing his steps that had automatically quickened. You are talking. Don't get your damn hopes up.

At his approach, she looked up and smiled, her mouth quirked in a way that was only ever meant for him. Something flared up inside of him and took over. Damn it, he hadn't been able to touch her in what felt like days. His pace quickened again and he did exactly what he'd told himself not to do.

He walked up to her and framed her face and pressed his body against hers and kissed her fiercely. She made a surprised sound, but caught on fast and dug her hands into his hair and kissed him back.

"I thought we were going to talk," she said shakily when his mouth travelled down the length of her neck.

"We are," he said into her skin as his hand skimmed down her thigh. "This is me talking."

She made a noise in the back of her throat and threaded her hands through his hair and with a sharp tug, pulled him back so she could kiss his mouth. He cupped the back of her thigh and she raised it to hook on his hip and rolled her hips.

"Oh, darlin'," he said as he pressed his lower body to hers. His hand came up to trail down the skin of her throat, then skimmed the length of her collarbone just above the neckline of her uniform. He replaced his finger with his mouth and tongue. One of her hands pressed the back of his head while the other grasped at his tunic. He moved back up to kiss her mouth and as he rocked hard against her, she gasped into his mouth. McCoy growled and hitched her leg up higher on his thigh. She was driving him insane. The taste of her in his mouth, the warmth of her body next to his and each roll of her hips made him want to take her up to his room and put his tongue on every single inch of her.

As he continued to kiss her, a voice in his head started to protest. Saying that they had some unfinished business from the day before and didn't he want to know what made her so upset that she had to run out on him?

No, he thought as she sucked on his earlobe and his hand found her ass. As long as she keeps touching me, I don't give a god damn what that was all about.

The voice asked dryly, Really? You sure about that?

He gritted his teeth in frustration and forced himself to pull back. He nearly groaned at the look in her eyes and her mussed hair, but got the words out, "What the hell was with you the other night?"

The lust vanished from her eyes so quickly he was taken aback. She looked down. "Can we just chalk it up to me being weird?"

"Sure," he said telling himself to not freak out and to stay calm at her odd behaviour. "But you aren't weird, Christine. You always have reasons and plans and schedules to keep."

She closed her eyes and it occurred to him that her thigh was still hitched over his hip. He let go and she let her leg slide down. Her hands came up to rest on his chest.

"Len," she said. The look in her eyes was so lost and confused he wanted to just hold her, but there was something she wasn't telling him and he couldn't let it go. "I just don't know."

"Don't know what, honey?" he asked.

She swallowed hard and her lip actually trembled. "I don't know if I can do this."

"Do what? Be with me?" he asked his stomach turning and his head spinning.

"No! Not that! I want you," Christine said shaking her head and putting her hand on his cheek. "I want you so much, Len. I just..."

Again, she seemed to struggle with the words. McCoy opened his mouth to ask her to just say it, whatever it was, when his comm chimed.

"Oh, goddamn it to hell," he said loudly, frustrated beyond the telling. He ripped the comm out of his pocket, eyes still pinned to hers. "What?"

"Bones, we need you up here," Kirk's voice said over the comm. "Spock is going over some of the evidence and we could use another set of eyes."

"Fine. In a minute," McCoy bit out. He shut the comm off just as Kirk tried to say something else.

Christine was standing against the wall and was trying to look calm, but he could see whatever it was she was worried about flashing in her eyes. He looked away.

"I want you Christine Chapel," he said. "More than I've wanted anyone in a very long time. But I'm not going to force the issue. You have stuff to figure out, fine. I can respect that." He finally looked at her, hoping he was saying the right thing. "Just know that I'll still be here. Waiting."

"You will?" she asked softly as though she couldn't believe it. And somehow McCoy knew this was what she'd needed to hear. He still had no idea why, and the lack of that particular piece of information was galling, to say the least. But reassurances? That he could give her.

"Yeah," he said meeting her eyes. "I will."

He leaned in and slowly kissed her forehead. Then McCoy turned and walked inside.


Leonard Horatio McCoy really knew how to throw a girl for a loop.

Christine pressed her fingers to her lips and let out a deep breath. She started to walk (rather unsteadily, one could say) away from the sleeping quarters, needing to get some air and get the blood circulating in her body.

Not to mention that she was still riding high on McCoy's kisses and sleep was the furthest thing from her mind.

Well, he said he'd wait. But, she hadn't exactly explained how long that wait might be. She started to mentally list the things she knew she wanted.

One) She wanted Leonard McCoy. Obviously. The fact that she'd just made out with the man in the middle of a courtyard where anyone could see them was a big clue.

Two) She wanted that doctorate. She'd worked too hard and too long to let it slide by the wayside. She'd earned it.

And (and this was the one that really made her chest hurt) Three) She didn't want to lose him as a result of going after something else she wanted.

Once again, the image of Roger's supercilious face asking, no, telling her to wait for him flashed through her mind. He hadn't respected her enough to even phrase it as a question or cared enough to ask her to come with him. She was not going to put Len through the same thing.

Christine continued to walk through the complex, enjoying the night air and hearing the ambient sounds of a city falling asleep, the continuous sound of falling water from the terraces a calming hum in the background of it all. Her body began to approach its normal state of being, her heart resumed it's steady pace and the flush in her cheeks softened.

She realized that she had wandered quite a ways when the buildings around her started to look unfamiliar and she rolled her eyes in exasperation. It dawned on her that she should probably let Uhura know where she was. Although the other woman had just smirked at her earlier when Christine said she was going out to meet McCoy. However, as she patted her side, she realized that this particular dress had no pockets and therefore, she had no comm on her.

"Oh, hell," she said flatly. She looked around and decided her best bet would be to turn around and try to retrace her steps.

But, as she came up to a corner she started to hear voices just ahead of her. She walked a little faster, thinking she could ask for directions. When she rounded the corner, she froze at the sight of Annha talking loudly and gesturing at the man who had been serving drinks earlier at the dinner. Three other men stood nearby.

"You can't do this, Atro! I won't let you!" Annha said, her eyes wide and her voice pleading.

"Too late," the server said, his face pinched and hard. "They're already in place and the timer is counting down."

Christine felt her stomach clench and she took a tentative step back into the shadows.

"But it will destroy the whole building," Annha said.

Damn it, Christine thought. This is why you always have a comm on you.

"That's the point!" he shouted. "If all the equipment is gone, they have no choice! They will not ruin
this planet for their own gains!"

"You could kill someone! You nearly did!" she cried pressing her hands to his chest. "Dr. Owen has never been anything but kind and that blast could have killed him."

"Just how do you know that was me?" he asked almost teasingly.

"I know! It was you who vandalized their offices. It was always you," Annha said. "You have always despised the idea that there is more to this universe than Kalpharia. But to do so much damage? Why Atro? Why?"

"Because all the Federation wants is for us to comply and turn a blind eye while they steal our land and our technology," Atro said. "And our government does nothing. I know they will turn Kalpharia into nothing more than a food-producing factory ignoring all of our customs and destroy everything that is ours."

"What? Who told you that?" Annha asked, shaking her head. "That's not true. I've seen the agreements-"

"They will destroy this planet!" Atro yelled, finally losing his temper and towering over Annha, leaning over her, his face contorting as he shouted. "They will raze us to the ground and laugh while doing so!"

Annha looked horrified, her mouth fell open and she took a step backwards. "I don't… Atro… My brother. I don't recognize this person. Who are you?"

"The person who will save this planet," he said trying to regain his calm. "Stay out of my way, little sister. Go home."

"No," she said shaking her head. "No, I won't." She turned and pulled her comm unit out and made to speak into it.

"No! Foolish woman!" One of Antro's men knocked her hand and her comm clattered to the ground.

He grabbed her and she cried out while Atro looked on impassively.

Christine would later be able to say that during her life, she had at least five moments of extreme boneheadedness. Number five was the time she let her sister cut her hair when they were twelve and ten, respectively.

Number one was what she did next.

"Hey! Let her go!" she shouted coming out of the shadows.

As five heads turned to face her, four of them in varying degrees of anger, one absolutely petrified, Christine wondered at her own timing and intelligence.Not good, Chapel. Not good at all, she thought. Crap.

"Get out of here," Atro said in a low voice. "This doesn't concern you."

"That grip your friend over there has on your sister concerns me," Christine said taking a small step forward, still wondering at her own recklessness. "As does the fact that you were responsible for an explosion today that seriously injured one person and threatened the lives of many."

"Christine," Annha said, her eyes pleading with Christine. To either run away or to help, Christine was completely certain which one.

"Oh, you know this woman?" Atro asked raising his eyebrows. Annha bit her lip. "Wait. Let me guess. Obviously a foreigner, likes to stick her nose in other's business and look how high she holds her head." Atro grinned and walked towards her coming to a stop just in front of her. "You must be Starfleet."

"Let Annha go," Christine said with far more confidence than she actually felt. "And tell me what you've planned before this gets out of your hands and more people get hurt."

"And exactly who is going to stop me?" he asked. "You?"

Christine gave Annha a look and the other woman immediately dug her elbow into the stomach of the man holding her. He grunted and loosened his grip, letting her go. Christine slammed the flat of her palm into Atro's nose and heard it crack. He groaned and his hands cradled his face. Christine darted forward, towards Annha. One of Atro's men made to grab her, but she twisted away. However, another managed to get a hold of her arm and pulled her towards him.

"Annha! Run!" Christine shouted as she struggled in the man's grasp. Annha hesitated and then grabbed her comm unit off the ground and ran away towards the center of the complex. Christine did her best to fight against the men and she dug her nails into the forearm of the man holding her. He cried out, but tightened his grip, while another man moved to hold down both her arms. She tried to inflict as much damage as she could, but she was outnumbered.

Finally, as two men gripped her arms as she continued to struggle, her hair in wisps around her face and her dress torn, Atro walked up to her, his nose bleeding sluggishly.

They stared at each other. Christine's eyes narrowed and she swallowed hard.

He looked in the direction that Annha had run and then back at Christine.

"Little sister might be able to stop the bombs. This time. But, no one's going to be able to help you," Atro said nonchalantly. Christine steeled her spine and stared him down, her heart beating fast.

He looked at the men.

"Take her to the basin."

Chapter Seven

The basin was filling quickly and the water had risen to her waist. Her fingers were numb from holding onto the pipe, blood trickled down from where the handcuffs dug into her wrists. She watched the red drip into the murky water.

Not like this, she thought. Not like this.

Then she saw a reed drifting towards her.

McCoy did his best to hide his yawn, but knew Spock caught it by the way he raised his eyebrow.

"Are we boring you, Bones?" Kirk asked not looking up from the roster of research scientists.

"Oh, no," McCoy said. "I often stay awake all night looking at random people's biographies in the hopes that one of them will say, 'Hey! I'm a sociopath who enjoys using remote detonated bombs and has a serious issue with rice stemming from a terrible incident in my childhood with a bowl of rice pudding.'"

Despite himself, Kirk chuckled. "So I did interrupt something earlier when I commed you?"

McCoy ground his teeth together and kept silent. Kirk just grinned and went back to the profile he was reading.

Spock merely tilted his head and said, "Have you and Lieutenant Chapel not resolved your current disagreement?"

McCoy choked on a breath and Kirk snorted.

"What the hell do you know about it?" McCoy asked Spock.

"I simply know what Lieutenant Uhura has said," Spock replied. "Namely that you and Nurse Chapel have had difficulty communicating. If there is anything I can do to be of assistance, doctor-"

"I will personally inject myself with Antarian measles, thank you, Spock," McCoy said quickly.

"I fail to see how that would help you doctor, but you are most welcome," Spock said.

Kirk covered his mouth to hide his grin.

The three continued to read the data they had requested from Dr. Hall on all the employees on the research team.

McCoy rubbed his eyes and wondered if they could even come close to determining someone's guilt from a curriculum vitae. Still, it was something to do while they waited for the worst to happen. At least he'd been able to change out of his attire from earlier and into his standard uniform.

"Hmmm," Kirk said his brow furrowing.

"Find something?" McCoy asked.

"Maybe," he said. "Maybe nothing. Why does the outpost Torpus Beta sound familiar?"

"I believe that was where Starfleet found evidence of the Syndicate's influence on the local culture," Spock said. "However, they had moved on by the time Starfleet was made aware of the threat."

"Interesting," Kirk said. "Which brings me to my next question: why—" Kirk's comm unit chimed and he answered absently, "Kirk, here."

"Captain! This is Ambassador Ruthan. You must come to the science facility immediately!"

"Slow down, ambassador," Kirk said rising to his feet, McCoy looking up from his PADD and Spock straightening. "What's going on?"

"There is a bomb in the facility!" Ruthan said his voice tight with tension. "We have no idea where. We've already started the evacuation procedure. But we must find it."

"Calm down. I'll get the Enterprise to scan for explosive devices," Kirk said as he headed to the door, McCoy and Spock following, Spock already speaking to the Enterprise to get them to initiate a scan of the building.

"Do you have engineers who can deal with it once it's found?" Kirk asked the ambassador.

"Yes, we do. They're in place," Ruthan said.

"Excellent," Kirk said. The men hurried down the stairs of their quarters and out into the courtyard. "Ambassador, how did you hear about this?"

"One of the guides," he said. "She came forward and told us. I have a team searching for the men responsible now."

"I see," Kirk said.

"Captain," Spock said. "The Enterprise has located the explosives. They are on the second and fourth floors. I have their exact locations."

"Ambassador, we've found them," Kirk said. "We'll be right there."

The next hour was filled with quiet orders, furrowed brows and clenched fists. The Enterprise's scans helped the Kalpharian unit find the bombs one by one. They were all connected to explode at the simultaneously, so the teams had to split up and disable each one at the exact same time.

Spock coordinated the effort and when everyone was in place, he gave the go ahead.


Everyone held their breath. Then sighs of relief were heard over comm units all over the building.

"It's off."

"Disabled, commander."


"All clear."

The small crowd outside smiled and patted each other on the back. Kirk walked over to McCoy and grinned.

"Well, that was fun," he said.

"You really should re-evaluate your definition of that word," McCoy said shaking his head.

"You're such a mood killer," Kirk said.

Drs. Hall and Owen came from the other side of the complex where they had been asked to remain until the danger had passed. Dr. Owen still had a trace of a limp in his leg from the incident earlier in the day, but his eyes were keen and focused.

"Captain, doctor," he said as he drew near. "This is becoming intolerable. We cannot continue this way."

"I believe that was the saboteur's intention, doctor," Kirk said.

Spock approached them. "The bombs have all been diffused, captain. I think we should speak to the person who alerted the ambassador."

"I agree," the captain said. He hesitated and then stepped close to Dr. Owen and spoke in a soft voice to the scientist. McCoy frowned as the scientist at first looked concerned and then looked resigned. Dr. Owen nodded and motioned for Dr. Hall. He whispered something in her ear that made her eyes widen. She sighed and placed a hand on Dr. Hall's arm. Then talking into her comm, she walked away quickly.

Kirk nodded at a security officer who inclined her head and joined Dr. Hall.

Kirk rejoined McCoy and Spock and along with Dr. Owen they headed towards the Kalpharians.

"Care to share with the rest of the class?" McCoy asked.

"All in good time, Bones," Kirk said.

"You and your flair for the dramatics," McCoy said shaking his head.

They walked over to where Ambassador Ruthan was standing with the governor and a group of officials.
The governor's face was still pale and showed the stress of the situation, but he attempted to be genial as the Starfleet officers approached.

"Thank you, captain, for the aid you provided," Governor Xanphar said. "It was only through your scans we were able to find the bombs so quickly."

"You are very welcome," Kirk said.

"You might also be pleased to hear that we have the persons responsible in custody," Ruthan said.

"Then I think we should have a word with them. Don't you think?" Kirk asked.

"Now, captain?" Ruthan asked frowning.

"Now, ambassador," Dr. Owen said, his voice quiet and strong.

Chapter Eight

The reed works. She can blow air in and out of it and she spares a second to be grateful. But, she also knows that the water level will extend several feet above the reach of the reed.

She's only bought herself minutes.

The water is up to her shoulders.

She breathes in slowly and deeply.

The water is up to her neck. Chills wrack her body and she does her best to calm herself, but her lip trembles and she calls out for help one last futile time.

She puts the reed in her mouth and breathes in and out. She tilts her head back and grips the pipe with her bound hands, her knees resting on the mud wall. She's going to have to maintain her grip otherwise if she slips, water will fill the reed and she'll choke and then…

The water is tickling her ears and jaw.

She closes her eyes, tightens her grip and aims the reed directly upwards with her mouth.

The water closes in over her head.

"We were unsure of the guide's role in all of this, so we put her in another room," Ruthan said as they approached one of the meeting rooms in the main complex hall. "However, we were able to find the men she described and brought them here. We've been questioning them and while they have admitted to placing the bombs, they refuse to say any more about the entire set-up or if anyone was helping them from the inside, as it were."

The ambassador nodded to the two guards outside the room. One of the men opened the door. Kirk said something quietly to the other guard. He looked taken aback, but nodded and said, "Yes, sir."

McCoy followed Kirk and Spock into the room and eyed the four men positioned with their backs against the wall. Three of them looked nervous and stiff and their eyes kept darting around the room. The leader, Atro, was standing tall, his eyes focused on the door and the people who walked in. He smirked when he saw the Starfleet uniforms and seemed to laugh a little. Then he looked away. There was severe discoloration around his nose, McCoy noticed.

Someone decked him a good one, McCoy thought.

"You gentlemen are in very serious trouble," Ruthan said. "I hope you are aware of this."

Three men nodded. Atro did not and merely continued to look smug, his eyes narrowed and his posture relaxed.

Kirk watched him quietly and then walked over to him and stood directly in front of him. McCoy tensed in anticipation, as did Spock.

"Let me guess," Kirk said in a casual tone as if he was discussing the weather. "You were promised a lot of money and recognition in return for doing a bit of damage to the project. You were given codes and times when the facility would be empty. Then you were told to go wild and smash the place up. Of course, it's not like you actually knew what you were looking for, you weren't exactly trusted that far."

Kirk tilted his head. "And I bet it never occurred to you to ask exactly why you were being asked to sabotage this project. You just – followed orders. It's not like this was all your idea, am I right?"

Atro met Kirk's eyes and leaned into the other man's face. "Wrong."

"Am I?" Kirk asked his eyes going comically wide. "Well, it certainly wouldn't be the first time. What exactly am I wrong about?"

"This was my idea," Atro said proudly. "All mine."

"Really?" Kirk said, cupping his chin and looking thoughtful. "See, I wouldn't have guessed that. How'd you get the codes to get into the facility?"

Atro remained silent and looked away. McCoy raised an eyebrow and watched as Kirk geared up for what would probably be a big reveal.

"Okay. Let me run something past you," Kirk said moving away. "Someone did give you the codes to get in because he or she thought that the fact you had so much, oh, let's call it, community spirit, which was so inspiring and all they wanted to do was help. Am I getting close?"

"He said we would be held up as examples to our planet," one of the other men said. He flinched back when Atro glared at him.

"Oh, did he?" Kirk said. He moved in close to Atro once again and stared him down. "Here's what I don't know. What exactly did he say to get you all riled up? Hmm? That it was a mistake to trust Starfleet? What? He must have sweetened the deal somehow?"

"He only told us the truth," Atro said at last, his lip curling. "That once the genome was released Kalpharia would be forgotten. That the Federation only uses and when they're done using, our planet would have nothing left that was ours."

"And you believed him?" McCoy asked incredulously.

Atro didn't reply, simply straightened his posture and lifted his chin.

"Who?" Dr. Owen asked quietly. "Who gave you the codes, Atro?"

A knock at the door forestalled any response Atro might have given. Ruthan nodded to the guard who opened the door. Dr. Hall entered followed by the three geneticists, Drs. Rankin, Burkett and Saller.
The Enterprise's security officer was right behind the men and closed the door.

"So, what's this all about?" Dr. Burkett asked, the shorter man crossing his arms over his chest.

"Just wanted to ask you a couple of questions," Kirk said nonchalantly. "Or see if there was anything you wanted to tell us."

There was a long silence while Kirk just stared at each of the geneticists and they stared back blankly.

"About what?" Dr. Saller finally asked. "Or do we have to guess?"

"No need to guess, I asked for you gentlemen to come here because I suspect one of you has been handing out the codes to the facility to these other gentlemen here so that they could sabotage the work on the blue rice genome," Kirk said.

McCoy swallowed a laugh that threatened to escape and Spock raised an eyebrow at the captain's blunt statement.

Here it comes, McCoy thought. You knew who did it the second we walked in the door, didn't you, captain? Well, amaze us. Lay it on them, Jim.

The geneticists all looked confused and then displayed various expressions of outrage.

"That's preposterous," Dr. Rankin said looking offended and confused. "We've done so much work on the genome, why would we want to destroy it?"

"This is ridiculous," Dr. Burkett said. "Why would we do something like this?"

"Because you were tired of only being a part of the whole," Kirk said. "One of you went against the rest of the team and told these men here some kind of story that was intended to appeal to their sense of national pride and get them to do your dirty work for you.

"You did all this because, and honestly I can't believe how clichéd this is," Kirk shook his head, "you did it for the money."

Dr. Saller looked horrified. "What money? We don't even use money."

"Perhaps you don't, but one of you does," Kirk said. "One of you most certainly does. In fact, you are in so much debt that you were going to sell the last three years of hard work for an amount that is far, far beneath what it's actually worth."

He looked at the Kalpharian men. "You were used, gentlemen. And not only that, your patriotism was bought and sold for a very, very low price."

One of the men glared at the geneticists. "You said you agreed with us!"

Burkett frowned and Saller blinked. However, Dr. Rankin was far more dramatic. He shoved Burkett towards Dr. Hall and broke for the door. He'd almost made it , but Spock and a security officer was on his heels in a second and each grabbed an arm. The geneticist struggled, wrenching from side to side, trying to loosen the grip on him. It grew apparent to him that he wasn't going to let go and finally slumped over, his head hanging down and his mouth in a grimace.

"How could you?" Dr. Saller whispered. "Paul, how…"

"Oh, how could I not, David?" Rankin spat. "All our work. All this time spent on this backwater planet and for what? To just give it over?"

"It's for the good of…"

"Oh, don't give me that old rubbish," Rankin said turning to Dr. Owen who had spoken. "This was going be quite the feather in your cap, wasn't it? Unlimited possibilities would await you all over the universe. Well, forgive me for wanting to advance a little."

"Advance?" Kirk asked quickly. "How exactly? By waiting until food production hits an all-time low and then bargain your way to gaining power? Or was it to help pay off your buddies with the Syndicate?"
Rankin's face froze. Kirk leaned forward. "What? You thought you could go and spend your shore leave on a place like Torpus Beta and no one would wonder why? Not smart, doctor, not smart at all."

"You liar!" Atro yelled leaping forward, startling everyone in the room. A guard quickly restrained him.

"You lied to us!"

"Of course I lied to you!" Rankin said spitefully. "How dense do you have to be to not have seen that?"

"Liar!" Atro struggled with the guard and another came in to grab his arms.

"Yes!" Xanphar broke in. "You were lied to, Atro! The community stood to gain a great deal from this partnership. As part of our agreement with the Federation, our land wasn't going to be touched."

The young man's face went white and his jaw clenched.

"What have we done?" one of his men whispered, sounding defeated.

"Sounds like you've made a mistake listening to Dr. Rankin," Kirk said rocking back on his heels. McCoy shook his head.

A guard stuck his head into the room. "Ambassador!"

"Yes, officer?"

"We searched the area where we picked the men up, we've found no trace of the other woman," the guard said.

"What other woman?" Kirk asked with a frown.

"When the guide reported that her brother and his friends were responsible for the sabotage, she also told us that they had abducted a woman earlier this evening." Ruthan said eyeing Atro and his men with distaste. "I've had a team out looking for her. The guide was quite insistent we find her."

"You won't find her," Atro said spitefully as he glared at Kirk. "And even if you do? It'll be too late."

"Who is she?" McCoy asked.

"What have we done?" the same young man asked again.

All eyes in the room turned to him, while he stared at Atro.

"You promised us... You said this would work! You said this was right! For the good of Kalpharia! We were never supposed to-" The younger man broke off when Atro glared at him. His eyes darted about the room frantically.

"Marcev? What is it?" Ruthan asked.

Atro and Marcev stared at each other. Finally the younger man shook his head and said, "The girl overheard us. We- We had to do something. We didn't know!"

"Who was she?" Ruthan asked. "Was she one of your friends?"

"No! Not one of our friends. She was Starfleet! The blonde one," Marcev said. "She was there when Atro confessed to Annha. She heard everything."

McCoy felt his stomach churn and his heart thudded loudly in his temples. "Christine. Where is she?"

The young man wiped the back of his hand over his mouth while Atro looked away in disgust. McCoy leaped forward and grabbed the front of Marcev's tunic.

McCoy slammed him against the wall as he shouted, "Where is she?"

"Bones," Kirk said sharply.

The young man shuddered and didn't answer; his mouth slack in the face of McCoy's anger. McCoy leaned in so that he was only an inch away from the boy's face. When he spoke it was soft and low and menacing:

"Let me clue you in to something, son. I am a doctor. I can take you apart and put you back together and I can make every second of it hurt like nothing in this universe. Now where. Is. She?"

Kirk's put his hand on McCoy's shoulder and squeezed, but McCoy ignored the warning.

"In the basin! We put her in the basin!" Marcev shouted. One of the guards holding Atro sucked in a breath.

"The what?" Kirk asked looking over at the ambassador.

"Oh, Marcev," Ruthan said shocked.

"Traitor!" Atro shouted as he twisted in the guard's grasp, a trickle of blood from his nose making it's way down his face.

"Silence, Atro!" Xanphar said. "Guards, get him out of here and into a cell!"

"Someone tell me what the hell the basin is!" McCoy's grip tightened on Marcev's front, his fingernails breaking through the fabric.

"It's the collecting pond at the bottom of the terraces," Ruthan said quickly. "The water drains down to be collected, when it reaches a certain level, it drains out."

"Where did you put her?" McCoy asked jostling Marcev roughly.

"Basin Thirteen. At the bottom," he whispered, his face pale and drawn. "It's too late, though. It won't drain until mid-day."

McCoy couldn't feel his legs, just the feel of the fabric in his hands and the cold seeping into his bones and the terror in his heart. This wasn't right. It wasn't Christine. Not her and not like this.

"Bones, let him go," Kirk said, his tone flat and even. McCoy obeyed mechanically, his hands clenching into fists. "Show us. Now."

Chapter Nine

The water is so very, very cold and her hands are going numb. Her grip starts to falter…

They raced along in the ground transport vehicle towards Basin Thirteen. McCoy did his best to just think about what to do when they found her (when not if). He checked the medikits, made sure there were blankets and absently took the re-breather Kirk handed to him. She'd be cold, she'd be wet, she'd be...

Oh, she had better be alive.

If she was otherwise, the things he was going to do... He stopped organizing and bent his head down, desperately trying to regulate his breathing and not think.

As if reading his thoughts, Jim reached over and placed a hand on his arm and Spock said, "One of the things that has always impressed me about Nurse Chapel is her ability to find solutions in the face of great tension. She is imminently capable of handling situations that are beyond most people."

McCoy raised his head and stared at the Vulcan. Then the corner of his mouth quirked and he said, "Thanks, Spock."

"She's going to be fine, Bones," Jim said.

"Yeah, fine," he said as he nodded. She'd be fine. His hands gripped the hand rails of the transport and he deliberately did not think about how her eyes shined when she was proving him wrong. Or how hearing her laugh was the best part of his day. How kissing her felt like coming home and how much he wanted to just lie in a bed with her and touch every part of her body. How much it would destroy him if she wasn't alive at the end of all this.

The transport pulled up to the rail of the basin. A large sign proclaimed a warning in Kalpharian and Standard. No one was to play near or around the basin as the risk of drowning was high. McCoy shuddered.

"Over here is the ladder," a worker said as he ran over to the panel that would deploy the ladder. "It retracts automatically when the basin begins to fill."

They hurried over to the rail and looked down. At first all McCoy could see was the murky, brown water and the stink was cloying. Then his eyes caught sight of blonde.

Oh, god. Oh, god, no.

Kirk sucked in a breath.

McCoy leaned over the rail. His hands tightened on the metal and everything inside him called for him to yell out in anger and pain.

Directly beneath them, several feet down was Christine Chapel. She was tucked against the wall and fully submerged. Her green dress fanned out around her as did her blonde hair. The rising sun glinted off the strands and McCoy felt his heart stop and his chest started to burn.

He was too late. They were too late and this was it. He couldn't breathe and there was a dull roar starting up in his head.

Then, her eyes opened. And they widened. And she moved.

Really moved. She strained her body upwards as far as she could and blinked at them.

"Jim! She's alive! Son of a bitch!" McCoy shouted.

"The ladder!"

The ladder lowered and hit the water with a splash. Kirk, Spock and McCoy immediately descended and McCoy was the first to dive into the water. He reached Christine's side and realized her situation.

She was handcuffed to the pipe and had been using a, was that a god damn reed, to breathe. The tip of the reed was just above the surface of the water and the pipe not too far away was still pumping water into the basin. The idea of what they might have found if they had arrived a few minutes later made him feel sick to his stomach. He made a motion with his hand and she nodded slightly. She sucked in a deep breath through the reed and then held it. He removed the reed from her mouth and pressed the re-breather to her lips. She let out the air she'd been holding and breathed in.

He nodded and yelled, "Jim, get these things off her!"

McCoy moved to situate himself right behind Christine and held her body up as best he could while treading water himself.

Kirk swam to Christine and then putting a re-breather in his mouth, he sank beneath the surface of the water and activated a small laser blade. McCoy started to feel the strain of trying to hold Christine up while maintaining a steady, smooth kick with his legs and wondered, not for the first time at the fortitude of this woman.

When the laser cut through the handcuffs and she started to sink in relief. He quickly raised her up and Spock grabbed at her waist. Kirk surfaced and pulled his re-breather out. McCoy hurriedly raised her up out of the water and she spat the re-breather out and sucked in deep, gasping breaths.

"Easy," McCoy said into her ear. "Easy, Chapel. Slow and easy. You know how to breathe."

She nodded and calmed down. He pulled her closer and her head lolled back to rest on his chest. She looked up at him and said, "I think I've seen enough of the rice terraces, thank you."

McCoy pressed a kiss to her forehead.

They swam over to the stairs, Christine in between him and Spock. They helped her climb up the ladder, her limbs stiff with cold and McCoy could see her begin to shiver. Hands reached for them once they reached the top and they were ushered to the ground transport. She sank onto the seat in the back. McCoy pulled a blanket out of the backseat and draped it around Christine's shoulders and started to rub her arms briskly. She winced.

"It's just the blood circulating," he said.

"I know," she said huddling under the blanket. "Still hurts."

"Well, you do know that they've got a public swimming pool?" Kirk said as he stood nearby dripping. "You didn't have to come all the way out here for a dip."

"You know me, captain," Christine said hoarsely. "I prefer to get close to nature."

"Do you know who brought you here?" he asked his attitude quickly becoming business-like.

"I think his name was Atro," she said letting McCoy give her a hypospray of antibiotics. "He's Annha, our tour guide's, brother. I came across them last night." She sat up and the blanket fell off her shoulders. "There's a bomb!"

"It's okay, we know," McCoy said pulling the blanket back up. "We found them and they've been disarmed."

"We also have Atro and his partners in custody," Ruthan said coming over. "If I could ask you some questions-"

"No," McCoy said angrily, glaring at the ambassador. "That's enough. We know the rest of this story. She's going straight to get clean and then dry. You can question her later if you have to." His voice was tight with anger and his hands clenched.

"Len, Doctor McCoy," Christine said though her teeth were chattering. "I'm fine."

"No, the doctor is right," Ruthan said, obviously trying to be accomodating and falling back on diplomacy. "And he is quite correct. We do know how this particular story ended. Please rest and warm yourself. On behalf of myself and my planet, I am so very sorry."

Christine nodded. "Thank you, ambassador. I hope you will be fair in your dealing with Annha. I believe she was honestly surprised to discover her brother was at the root of all this."

"I give you my word, we will be absolutely fair in our questioning," Ruthan said, giving her a slight bow.

"Come on, Chapel," McCoy said wrapping his hand around her wrist.

She nodded again. She settled in her seat and leaned against McCoy as they headed towards their living quarters. Christine closed her eyes and was asleep in seconds.

She was woken a short time later when they arrived at their destination. Uhura was waiting outside looking calm and in control; her only giveaway to her troubled mind was the tightness of the skin around her eyes.

She stepped forward and helped Christine out of the transport. "Easy, girl. How good does a warm shower sound?"

"Like bliss," Christine said, her legs a little wobbly. McCoy came around to her other side and put his arm around her waist.

"Let's get you inside then," he said. "My room."

Christine felt too tired to argue the point and the three walked inside and headed up to McCoy's room.

"Christine, I am so sorry," Uhura said when they reached his room. "I should have realized you hadn't come back."

"Oh, hush, you," Christine said. "I'm a grown woman and I should have taken my comm with me. A lot went wrong last night, but none of it was your fault." She took her friend's hand and squeezed it tightly.

"Still..." Uhura said.

"No. Not going to hear it," Christine said with a smile and letting her friend hug her. "No apologies, okay?"

"Okay," she said. "Now, go get warm." Uhura gave her a meaningful look and if Christine had been more alert, she might have blushed.

But as she walked into McCoy's room all she felt was tired and cold. He was puttering about with a medikit and she let herself lean against the wall next to the closed door. Her head fell forward as the tension began to drift from her frame.


She looked up and realized that he must have been calling her name for some time. His eyes were worried and he kept moving his tricorder from one hand to the other. Christine gave him a small smile.

"Okay, scan me, doctor," she said.

The corner of his lip quirked up and he said, "Thanks. Just hold still and then you can have that shower."

Christine stood still as he ran the tricorder over her body, every now and then shivering. She looked down at her ruined and still wet dress and cringed. It was no longer a lovely pale green, but was instead brown with mud and dirty water. There were several ragged rips and a long tear that went all the way from the hem to her thigh. McCoy finished his scan.

"Only a slight case of exposure and your body temperature is a little low, but the shower will soon fix that," he said. "I'm not registering any infections, but let's get those scratches on your wrists seen to."

He led her over to a chair next to a small table and she sank down onto it, letting out a small sigh of relief. She laid her hands on the table and McCoy brought over his medikit.

"You really never do go anywhere without one of those," she said.

"Well, you have met our captain, haven't you?" he said running the dermal regenerator over her wrists. "Besides, I know full well you've got one of your own in your room."

She shrugged. "Caught me."

McCoy finished healing her cuts and put the regenerator back into the kit. He picked up her hand and kissed the back of it. His face thoughtful and sad.

"Len?" she asked quietly.

He shook his head and kissed her hand once more, his lips warm on her cold skin. He seemed to come out of his thoughts and his expression turned gentle. "It's okay. Go get clean."

The warm water was at first too hot on her chilled skin, but it quickly became bearable and Christine bowed her head under the spray, letting the water run over her head and down her back.

She started when she heard the door open and she held her breath.

"Christine?" McCoy called. She let out a gusty breath of relief. "Uhura brought some clothes for you to change into."

"Thanks," she called out. "I'll be out in a minute."

"Take your time," he said. She heard the door close.

Christine picked up the soap and began to scrub at her skin. She stopped when her skin turned a bright shade of pink.

Next she washed her hair. Then she washed it again. Then another two times to make sure all there was absolutely no trace of the sour smell of rotten rice.

Finally, she turned the shower off and grabbed a thick towel. Christine buried her face in the towel for a moment and breathed in the scent of freshly washed material. Then she got out of the shower and briskly dried herself off.

She pulled on the underwear Uhura had given McCoy and the shorts she normally slept in. However, she discarded her usual top in favor of a large shirt that had been left in the bathroom. One that was clearly McCoy's. She pulled it over her head and breathed in the smell of him still present in the fabric. The scent immediately calmed her.

After finding a hair drying unit, she dried her hair and used McCoy's comb to brush her hair flat. Then she exited the bathroom.

McCoy looked up from where he was seated at the table where he'd fixed her wrists earlier. He had changed into dry clothes, soft looking trousers and a tunic that was open to halfway down his chest. He looked sexy and tired and so, so beautiful, she thought.

"You're wearing my shirt," he said, his voice tight and almost hoarse.

"It's very comfortable," she said.

He nodded and swallowed hard. "Okay." He stood up and his hands hung loosely at his sides.

Christine bit her lip.

"I- You-," he tried to say. He lifted his hands to emphasize whatever point he was trying to make, but then he let them just fall back to his sides. Christine had never seen him look so helpless. "Damn it, Christine. I almost lost you today."

"I know," she said her voice catching. Her heart hammered in her chest as she remembered the terror of being in that water, alone and cold. Damn everything else, all she really wanted was to feel him.

They stared at each other.

Finally McCoy said again, "You're wearing my shirt."


Then they were crashing into one another in the middle of the room. One of his hands cupped the back of her neck, both of hers tightly fisted his shirt and their mouths pressed against each other. She opened her mouth under his instantly and he wasted no time and matched her fervor with his own. Christine thought she'd catch on fire from the heat that was flaring up between them.

His hand pressed her lower body to his and then moved up under her recently appropriated shirt. She gasped into his mouth at the feel of his warm palm on her back.

"I want you," she said harshly against his mouth. "I want you, I want you, I want you."

McCoy pulled his head back and met her eyes. "Damn it, woman, don't you know you have me?"

Christine smiled for the first time that night and felt the last remnants of cold evaporate from her body and mind.

"I want to go to bed, McCoy," she said firmly.

"Only if you take me with you," he growled. His mouth descended onto hers and she pressed her body closer to him, drinking him in. Her hands clutched at his hair as his slipped down to curl under her thighs and she gave a slight hop as he pulled her up. Her legs automatically wrapped around his hips as she continued to kiss him.

He took three unsteady steps and they fell onto the bed in a tangle of limbs, breathless and wanting more and more and more.

It wasn't long until Christine was warmed completely from head to toe.

"Right there."


"Mmm hmm."

"That is pretty tight."

"Told you. Ow!"

"What? Sorry. Damn it, Chapel. How is it that your feet are this filled with knots?"

"It's where all my tension goes."

Christine looked at McCoy from her reclined position against the headboard. She was wonderfully naked as was he, with the soft duvet covering them both. He was propped up at the foot of the bed with her right foot in his hands while he slowly massaged it. His forehead was creased in the way it tended to be when he was faced with a problem and he was determined to fix it. She sighed. She really didn't care if it meant he was going to slowly massage away the tension that resided in her feet.

His thumb found a persistent knot on the ball of her foot and she winced at the initial ache and then relaxed as it was soothed out and away with firm, determined strokes.

She studied his face and marveled at the way the sex had only served to relax them both. She'd want him again shortly, she was sure of it. The hum of her body had died down from the fever pitch his hands and mouth had brought her to again and again. But it was still there. On a low frequency, but still very, very much there.

"So," he said.


"How are you feeling?"

"Pretty god damn spectacular, doctor," she said raising her arms above her head and stretching. "How about you?"

He chuckled and didn't hide his appreciative look at the way her body moved. "I'm feeling pretty god damn spectacular myself."

Christine grinned, feeling sexy and languid. McCoy looked up at her and matched her grin. She closed her eyes and focused on the sensation of his firm hands on her foot. She was actually close to dozing when he asked, "Are we still not talking about what the heck was up the other night?"

Oh. Right. That. Christine opened her eyes and bit her lip. Talk about killing a mood, but she had to tell him about returning to Earth. She opened her mouth to speak, but he beat her to it.

"It wouldn't, by any chance, have anything to do with Starfleet Medical bugging you about returning to finish your doctorate?" McCoy asked.

Christine whipped her head up so fast her vision swam. "How on earth do you know about that?"

"Well, contrary to popular opinion, I am your commanding officer," he said rubbing at a stubborn knot in her instep. "Starfleet is obligated to tell me about my head nurse needing to return to Earth for a sustained period of time."

Christine blinked and said nothing. How utterly typical. All that worry and he already knew? She was torn between feeling relieved and annoyed.

He stopped rubbing her foot and frowned. "Was that seriously it? That's what freaked you out? The fact that you're about to finish your doctorate?"

"It's not the fact that I'm about to finish my doctorate, Len," she said. "It's the fact that I'll have to go back. For a year. At least."

"Oh," he said. He pursed his lips thoughtfully.

"Oh," she echoed. He resumed massaging her foot. "That one's good. Do this one." She offered up her left foot.


"You love it."

"I do," he said looking her in the eyes. "I really, really do."

Oh. Well. That changed… absolutely nothing and everything.

Christine held his gaze for awhile and then smiled as she sank back into the pillows, feeling giddy. He chuckled and focused on her foot.

"Why didn't you want to tell me?" he asked.

"It's not that I didn't want to tell you," she said. "I just didn't want to tell you."

He gave her another look. "Right. You're speaking Standard, but I have no idea what you're saying."

Christine sighed and covered her face with her hands. "Roger asked me to wait. He was going off on his big quest and he asked me to wait. It was unfair and presumed far too much and I headed straight to enlist with Starfleet the day after. I didn't want to have to do that to you. Make you wait."

McCoy stopped her by enfolding her foot in both of his hands and pressing it to his chest, right above his heart.

"Christine Chapel, am I Roger Korby?" he asked, his voice stern and his brow furrowed.

"No," she said.

"Do you want your doctorate?"


"Do you plan to come back to work on the Enterprise when you've finished?"


"Do you love me?"

Christine bit her lip and then said, "So much that it makes me crazy."

McCoy's cheeks flushed a little but he went on. "Do you believe that I love you?"


"Good. Let's double check this," he said. He held up her left foot and started to list items using her toes. "One – I am not Roger Korby. Two – you want your doctorate. Three – You want to come back to the Enterprise. Four – You love me. Five – I love you."

She fought the urge to giggle and lost. "Okay. So what does all this add up to then, Doctor McCoy?" She wiggled her toes and he pressed a kiss to her arch.

"That I am not some asshole who only wants you to make him look good while he takes all the credit," he said, his eyes dark and his voice strong and certain. "That I want you to go back and get that doctorate and work in my sickbay and challenge me in every way possible. That I love you more than I can say and I know that we are going to fight this every step of the way, but god damn it, Christine, this is going to be worth it."

Christine felt like she was underwater again. But this time the water was warm and inviting and made her body hum in all the right places.

"Okay," she said.

He arched a brow. "Okay? I pour myself out to you and all I get is an 'okay'?"

She smirked. "No. You get more than an 'okay'." She withdrew her foot from his oh, so capable hands and sat up, the duvet falling away to reveal her naked chest. To his credit his eyes stayed fixed on hers. Christine bent forward and then slowly crawled across the duvet to him. She put a hand on his chest and pushed gently. He lay down on his back and she straddled his hips. His hands came to her waist as he gazed up at her.

"You get all of me, McCoy," she said before leaning down and covering his mouth with hers.


The kyan oryza sativa was well received throughout the quadrant. It immediately improved negotiations between outposts and filled a large gap in many rural areas. The Kalpharians were generously rewarded for their assistance and included in all trade negotiations.

It was, however, made quite clear that the planet was not going to be turned into a rice producing factory. The rest of the world was welcome to use the new prototype of planting, the Kalpharians would stick with their traditional ways.

No one saw any reason to argue the point.

Once back on the Enterprise, Christine did three things. One) She scheduled her first appointment with the resident psychologist, Dr. Noel, to discuss what had happened to her on the planet. Two) She pressed send on her message to Starfleet Medical stating her intention to return to finish her doctorate. And three) she made love to Leonard H. McCoy as often as they could both stand it.

Turned out, they could stand quite a bit of it.

Inevitably, she suffered from nightmares. Dreams in which water flowed all around her and covered her face while her hands were useless at her sides. On the nights when McCoy was there, he'd pull her close and murmur in her ear, slowly waking her from the terror. She'd go through the exercises that Dr. Noel had taught her, calming her heart rate and evening her breaths. Then she'd turn in his arms and press her face to his neck while his hands rubbed her back.

The nights he wasn't there, she often wished he was.

Six months after the visit to Kalpharia, Christine finished her sessions with Dr. Noel and three weeks after that she was on her way back to Earth.

Going back to San Francisco and Starfleet Medical was an exercise in surrealism. She recognized faces from her Academy days and the diner over on King Street still served the best Andorian clam chowder this side of the quadrant. But, it was the small things that got to her.

And of course, she was perfectly aware it was all in her head, but it took her forever to fall asleep without the steady hum of engines or to walk down a hallway and not see Janice or Uhura or Gaila grinning about something.

Sleeping alone was not at all pleasurable either.

By her fifth day back, after she'd seen her family that had flown over for a quick visit, she was determined to finish this thing once and for all and get the hell back into the sky.

Her thesis was good. She knew it was. The questioning and trials went well. She'd spent enough time listening in on negotiations on away missions to be able to spot a trick question in a heartbeat, so there were no surprises.

She'd been told it would take at least a year for her to finish and go through the final doctoral processes.

Christine did it in eight months.

Which brought her to her current position of exiting a shuttle that had just arrived on Station Omega IV. The Enterprise was due to dock at the station for repairs any minute, so Christine started walking towards the bar where she was going to meet McCoy. Her step quickened at the thought of actually being able to touch him. Vidscreens were wonderful inventions (and she really owed Uhura big for making sure all those private comm messages stayed private), but not exactly a suitable replacement for the real thing.

Christine really wanted the real thing.

In every way possible.

She fought the urge to skip.

After all, she was an actual MD now and they did not skip.

Her pace picked up anyway.

However, just as she saw the sign for the bar, an explosion rocked the north tower. The floor trembled beneath her feet and without hesitation she took off towards the cries for help.

She rounded a corner near the blast and could see injured people in the midst of dust and debris. She started to call for all available medi-kits and extra dermal regenerators when a wonderfully familiar voice yelled behind her, "God damn it, Chapel! It is so typical of you to be right in the middle of a crisis."

"Well, it's god damn typical of you, McCoy, to bring chaos to a perfectly calm space station." She turned her head and met his eyes. "You always have known how to show a girl a good time."

His eyes sparkled as he rushed to assist a medic with a man with a broken arm. "Let's hope Jim figures out what the hell is going on and then I'll show you just how good a time, Doctor Chapel."

She turned away to assist a young woman with a bleeding forehead and thought that the sound of his voice calling her 'doctor' was probably the nicest thing she'd ever heard.

the world throws its light underneath your hair
forty miles from atlanta, this is no where
going to georgia

-the end-