Title: The Flavor of Laughter Part Two, Chapter Ten (22/36)
Series: Star Trek XI
Words: This Chapter ~5,100 Total so far, >100k
Summary: He is Starfleet’s youngest captain. But he is untried, and inexperienced. What kind of captain will James Tiberius Kirk become? A story in three parts. Slow-building, will eventually be K/S.
Part One, Chapter One
A/N: Happy Thanksgiving, to those who celebrate it!
And OMG I almost forgot!! Check out this post, HERE. I commissioned a RL friend to make me a cover for The Flavor of Laughter. I hope you enjoy :D
"This must be important sir," comes a voice from the direction of the briefing room door. "You don't usually pull me from the labs." For all intents and purposes, it appears as if the door opened by itself, and no one entered – the only clue otherwise is a pair of pink pigtails floating just above the level of the table.
There's the sound of small feet padding around as the pigtails bob in Kirk's direction, and then Moe comes into view. "It is important, Dr. Saunders," he says from the head of the table. Kirk watches as her eyes alight immediately on him, followed by the rest of his senior crew around him. "We have a situation on our hands, and we need your help."
She trots over, her hands wringing in an obvious sign of stress as her eyes get even larger. He watches as she tugs on one of her pigtails and asks, "What do you need?"
Kirk glances at Spock and nods at the Vulcan. Spock stands up and grasps the clear globe in the center of the table, which contains Uhura's tribble, and lowers it so Moe can see the creature clearly. "Are you familiar with this species?" Kirk asks, his eyes focused on the diminutive woman to gauge her reaction. Her obviously interested reaction, as all traces of stress disappear, and she almost skips forward in her eagerness.
Grasping the sides of the container in her tiny hands, she tilts it down so she can get a good view. Kirk can tell that Spock keeps a good grip on it, as it does not slip to the floor when one of her hands shifts away to poke at the clear polymer. "It's a tribble!" she giggles, as it emits its cooing noise.
At the sound, her eyes light up and she grins back at the creature. "I've always wanted one – my gran had one when I was little, and they're great pets if you take care of them properly." Then she pauses, glancing at Kirk in confusion. "But they're hardly seen off my planet. How'd it get onboard?"
"Aye, lassie, tis the problem," Scotty breaks in, his arms crossed over his chest. "The wee mite was brought in by a lass who didnae know how tae keep it properly, an' it bred, an' they've spread through the vent shafts." Despite the disgruntlement that is still radiating from Scotty, he has willingly given up all the information he knows about the creatures that are infesting their ship. Kirk hated having to admit he'd been wrong about anything – least of all harmless balls of fluff – and had felt reluctant to bring the engineer into the brain storming session. But he only hesitated for a moment before calling the Scotsman to the briefing room.
Her eyes widen in worry once again, her attention leaving the tribble immediately and focusing on Kirk. "How bad is it?"
"Judging by what Spock and I found on G-Deck, the situation is critical. The vent shafts in the area are so full of the furry things we couldn't push our way through them. And they've spread both up and down to the adjacent decks."
She gulps again, and there's a visible tremor in her fingers before she flexes them. "Okay. They breed exponentially. So we just need to know how long it's been since the first one came on the ship –"
"A week," Uhura murmurs, before Moe continues.
"Okay, a week." The pink pigtails bobble in a nod. "If they find enough food, each tribble can produce ten young via asexual reproduction twice daily."
Quickly performing the compound equation in his head, Kirk comes to a total that staggers him. "If they'd all been fed enough to procreate every twelve hours, there would be over seventy eight million of the things on board. Luckily, they've only had access to whatever snacks the crew kept in their quarters, otherwise the entire ship would be overrun – instead of just the vent shafts on a couple Decks."
"Captain – if you recall, the ship's stores are concentrated on C-Deck. If the lifeforms are allowed to reach that location, they will have enough sustenance to achieve those numbers." Spock's voice seems monotone, as always, but Kirk can pick up the slightest of hitches as the Vulcan shortens their working timeframe drastically. And he can understand – just the thought of that many millions of tribbles overrunning his ship makes him shiver.
"Seventy eight million?" Uhura breathes, her eyes huge as they are drawn to the innocent-seeming ball of fluff in its container.
"Sewenty eight million is with zhe original count being one," Chekov says, with a slow shake of his head. "We haf no idea how many zhere are at zhis moment, but zhey have a larger base zhen zhey began with. The numbers zhey could easily reach now are ewen worse."
Glancing back at the biologist, Kirk notices that she is staring at the tribble in its place on the table – a look of longing in her eyes. "Don't even think about keeping one, Moe." Kirk shoots her a look, knowing full well where that impulse leads.
She grins and returns her eyes to him, not even the least bit ashamed. "Only crossed my mind for a moment sir, promise!"
He shivers, not knowing quite how to respond. Then the intercom before him buzzes to life, saving him from having to come up with an answer.
"Kirk here," he says as soon as he presses the button.
"Captain," comes Commander Lebowitz's voice; Kirk doesn't know the beta-shift junior science officer very well, who is currently standing in for Spock at the Science Station and monitoring the tribbles' progress. "The creatures have now started to infiltrate E-deck."
Silence in the briefing room as everyone takes in this most recent development. They're spreading fast, now. "Okay, so how do we get rid of these things?" Kirk brings everyone's attention back to the present, and away from the fear that must surely be filling all of them. It's important that they keep thinking clearly, and problem solving. "Scotty, you said we can't isolate the shafts in the affected sections?"
"Nae w'out cutting off life support on the lower decks," the engineer replies, his forehead creased as he considers. "The vent shafts are a critical part of the system."
A whisper of movement from Uhura, as her fingers tense at her sides. "Is there any way to get rid of them without killing them? It's not their fault they were brought on board."
Kirk's first impulse is to reprimand her – she's the reason they are in this predicament, the reason his lady is in danger and he's not in the mood to be generous.
"That's why I called Moe here," he interrupts, keeping his tone professional. He's skeptical they'll be able to find a solution that doesn't involve killing the tribbles, but he's willing to try. "Her expertise with biology should give us some insight into collecting them instead of just killing them outright. We'll also need some place we can put them that's safe, and they can't hurt anything. If they spread this quickly, and we found a planet to house them, they'd decimate any ecosystem in a matter of weeks." He rubs the base of his neck, feeling all the stress and tension gathering there.
Then Moe bounces up to Kirk's side, tugging on his sleeve in her excitement. "We can put them on Servin VI! The whole planet is out of balance, and if it doesn't have some herbivores to bring the ecosystem back into whack soon it'll die. And tribbles are notoriously resistant to any kind of radiation, so they won't be bothered by the hole in the ozone layer. It's perfect!" she claps her hands, proud of herself, as his officers consider her idea.
"That seems…nice. For them," Uhura murmurs, as the rest nod their agreement. Her fingers finally relax the moment before they tense up again. "But how are we going to collect them without hurting them?"
"The tribbles on E-Deck will be retrievable by hand, as they have not had time to spread far into the ventilation shafts. The solution for the other Decks is not as simple," Spock answers her question as he steeples his fingers.
Silence once again, as each member of the brainstorming team tries to come up with a solution. Several ideas are offered, and quickly discarded. The difficulty is finding a solution to collecting each and every one of them – making sure not a single tribble is let behind to procreate on the ship.
After several long tense minutes have passed since the last suggestion is turned down, Kirk can't help but tangle his hands in his hair. He's frustrated, and the need to fix things is almost overwhelming. But no one knows how, and he can tell from his crew's little twitches that they are becoming as discouraged as he.
Then Chekov's face breaks into a joyous expression, his curls shifting slightly as he practically vibrates in his excitement. "I know! I know!" he cheers, his fist pumping. "In Russia, when we had animals in zhe walls zhat were not supposed to be zhere, and we wanted zhem to leave, we would use zhis thing. It looked like a box, yes?" The young genius demonstrates with excited hand motions. "Zhe box emitted zhis noise, and zhe animals did not like it. It did not hurt us or zhem, but it forced zhe animals to leave our homes!"
The grin on Chekov's face is huge, and Kirk distractedly notices that the whiz kid turns to the helmsman for Sulu's approval. For his part, Sulu returns the grin with one of his own.
"That just might work, lad," Scotty murmurs, rubbing his chin where a sprinkling of stubble is visible. "Ah have summat we ken use to spread the noise. If'n we use 'em to herd the tribbles afore us, we might be able to get them all in a cargo bay an' get 'em off the ship. We just have t' find out what noise t' use."
Uhura's eyes flash as she snaps her fingers. "I know! I was studying some language recordings in my quarters. And when I was playing some of the Klingon history-chants, my –" she pauses, then corrects herself, "the tribble I had kept twitching and trying to escape."
His eyebrow rises in surprise, and with a start Kirk realizes he's mimicking Spock's customary expression. Quickly, he lowers the eyebrow before anyone else can notice.
"Fascinating," comes the deep voice on his right. "I am curious if this is the result of the noise itself emitted as sound waves on a certain frequency, or an aversion to something beyond that simple solution." There's an intense look in the Vulcan's eyes that clearly indicates, at least to Kirk, that he is filing the information away for further research.
A slight smile appears on Uhura's face as her eyes rest on Spock. "I thought the reaction was odd, and was going to find out why it'd happened – but I haven't had time to. I don't think it matters now, just that it should work."
Clapping his hands together, Scotty interrupts their discourse before it can evolve into a deep discussion. "Alright, lads an' lassies, we ken do this. Ah have a plan…."
Kirk's not quite sure how it happened, but it did. He is inside the vent shafts, crawling along behind Archie as the beagle searches out tribbles. They are behind the line of his crew, picking up stragglers. The people with emitters started at the very edges of the ship, and are slowly inching forward – driving the tribbles before them. Their destination is a series of cargo containers hurriedly erected in the shuttle bay, and the crew waiting anxiously to herd the tribbles inside.
"It appears as if your canine is aware of their locations." Spock's voice crackles over the communicator at Kirk's side, the sound causing Archie to wag his tail. The Vulcan is at his station on the Bridge, coordinating all their movements with the flow of tribbles on his monitor. It appeared, at first, that the difficult part was finding the pace the crew holding their emitters should walk with – too fast and they would leave tribbles behind them, too slow and the creatures would get comfortable again and stop moving.
At this point, everyone has the pace more or less down, and the process is moving much more smoothly. But there are still some tribbles that are safely behind several layers of metal – and therefore aren't affected by the noise – or are in twisting sections of the tubes and can't go where they're supposed to. That's when Kirk thought of his dog, and his remarkable nose. Archie is capable of finding those stragglers so Kirk can gather them, and get them in the shuttle bay with the rest of their kind.
"I'm glad it's working," Kirk replies, tapping the huge duffel he's dragging behind himself. It's already half full. "If it wasn't, I'd have to grab one of those emitters and follow everyone else. And that would just be cruel and unusual punishment – for me, and the dog." He'd already heard the noises coming from the emitters when Archie had led him close to several of the air vents on their journey through the shafts, and he did not like what he heard. It wasn't going to hurt anyone, but it could never be categorized as "enjoyable." And if it hurt Kirk's ears, it wasn't good for Archie to be exposed to it for an extended period of time.
A pause for a moment, that on anyone else would have been a chuckle. "Indeed. The Klingon SuvwI'bom require a trained ear for appreciation to the fullest extent."
"Uh-huh," Kirk lets the sarcasm color his voice, knowing Spock will be able to pick it up. "I'd rather listen to two cats proclaiming their lust for one another."
Silence from Spock, and Kirk sighs. He doesn't believe the Vulcan is ignoring him, or his comment – his attention was probably just called somewhere else to coordinate the group's movement.
"Well, Archie," he begins, talking to the dog. "It looks like it's just you and me now." The beagle turns his head, ears perked and tail wagging slightly to see if his instructions have changed. His long tail whacks Kirk in the temple, and he grabs it with a chuckle. "No, no – search, boy."
Reassured that he's doing what he's supposed to, the dog wags his freed tail once more, then continues forward. He's intent, and focused – there must be another tribble somewhere along this route.
But even finding a tribble every several minutes, traveling through the vent shafts is monotonous. He's trapped in an endless loop of forward motion, they can't stop searching until all of the tribbles are found, and there's no one to talk to. Except Archie. Kirk's used to having one-sided conversations with his dog, and this one begins with random comments about the state of the tube – remarkably dust-free considering so few people get in here – and then moves on to a commentary about the foods he wishes the replicator would create.
His rambling continues for a good ten minutes before there's a soft interruption.
"You are aware, Jim, that you left the channel open between us, and I am privy to everything that you have been saying?" Spock murmurs quietly, causing Kirk to blush beet red from his neck to the tips of his ears. He's just glad he hasn't said anything too embarrassing – and that by the tone of Spock's voice, most of the Vulcan's attention has been occupied with watching the team's progress.
He shrugs, even though Spock isn't there to see it, and decides to brush his embarrassment off. "It doesn't matter. I was just trying to keep myself company."
"I see," Spock says. "I would be willing to offer my assistance in filling the intervening minutes with dialogue. The majority of my attention is no longer required to coordinate the effort; my presence now is simply to monitor, and make minor adjustments to pace if necessary."
A huge grin spreads across Kirk's face at the offer, and he is grateful once again that Spock is not physically present to witness him with such an expression. Or anyone else, for that matter – silly moon-eyes of adoration are definitely not under the heading of "awesome" that he uses to categorize himself now.
"I'd like that, Spock," he admits easily, surprised at the Vulcan's offer. Kirk feels inordinately pleased that Spock is willing to spend additional time with him. The rest of his time in the shafts passes swiftly, as the warm sound of Spock's voice keeps him company. Before he even realizes it, Archie is scratching at a grate with a whine. It looks different than the ones they've passed before, and a quick glance through the slats confirms – they've arrived at the shuttle bay.
"Good boy," Kirk says with a loving pat for the dog, grinning down at the trusting eyes looking to him for guidance. Feeling around the edges of the grate, he locates the latch and watches as it swings downward on well-oiled hinges. The beagle hops out after it's open, shaking himself and trotting through the hastily erected fencing and towards the commotion taking place near the transport containers.
Doing a quick head count, Kirk confirms that all the crewmembers that were given emitters are in the shuttle bay. It looks like he's the last one to arrive; and, if Archie was willing to leave the vents, it should mean that all the tribbles are out of the ship.
As he watches, the engineers manning the containers – including Ensign Olivarez, whom Kirk recognizes from his earlier walk with Scotty – close the huge doors, locking them firmly in place – all but one, where the crew is looking at him expectantly. Kirk hurriedly makes his way over, handing over the duffel containing the last group of tribbles he'd gathered on their way to the shuttle bay.
Ignoring his crew for the moment, as he can feel their eyes on him waiting for further instructions, he unhooks his communicator from his belt and holds it before him. The channel between Spock and him should still be open. "Mr. Spock, looks like we're done. Carry out a complete scan of the ship to make sure that apart from the cargo deck, there are absolutely no more left anywhere else."
"Aye, Captain." Then long minutes as the results compile, tense silence reigning in the shuttle bay before Spock continues. "Multiple scans reveal the same results, Captain. There are no anomalous life-signs on the Enterprise – all the tribbles have been contained."
Finally, he allows the muscles in his shoulders and neck to relax, letting the tension ebb away. They're enroute to Servin VI, and soon the little nuisances will no longer be a threat.
He lets his biggest grin split his face, he opens a channel to the Bridge to make sure all of his officers are able to hear. Turning to include every crew member in his congratulations, he shouts to be heard by all. "Great job, everyone! I've got the best crew any captain could ever ask for!"
Cheers erupt around him, as the work teams clap each other soundly on the shoulder. Kirk joins in, giving the lieutenant next to him a high five.
"Jim? Are you unwell?"
Blinking, Kirk shifts his eyes so they focus on Spock. The Vulcan is across the tiny table from him, his hand of cards held carefully in his long fingers as he prepares his move.
It took them nine days to get to Servin VI, and along the way Kirk had contacted Starfleet and explained the details of what had occurred, and their plan for getting the tribbles off the ship. They'd had to debate amongst themselves, then he'd gotten the go-ahead via Pike. As soon as they arrived at Servin VI, there was a flurry of activity that culminated in the tribbles being transported safely to the planet, and the ship leaving everything behind them. This happened at the very end of Kirk's shift, and Spock had agreed to come to his quarters to collaborate on their reports of the incident. After finally finishing the stack of paperwork that was required to properly document the situation and its outcome, Kirk hadn't been in the mood for something as intense as a chess game with Spock. He'd suggested Rummy as an alternative – in the hope that it would be more relaxing.
"I'm fine," he answers, but it came out too quickly and he cringes internally.
"I requested clarification on the rules for this particular version of the game," Spock says, his eyes still on the cards. "You specified what I should be searching for to match the cards in my hand, but you did not detail what is required to declare a winning hand."
"Sorry, um." Shaking himself, Kirk gives a grunt. "Once all ten cards in your hand are part of a run of at least three or more, then you win."
With a nod, Spock leans forward and takes the top card off the deck. Kirk shivers, as the Vulcan's long tapered fingers are momentarily superimposed by an image of a hand with delicate veins and pale pink skin.
"No," he says, the word coming out even before he realizes it. Suddenly self-conscious, he runs a hand through his hair as he focuses on not-looking at Spock and his raised eyebrow.
"Jim?" The simple word, his name said in that deep voice crumbles whatever concentration he had left, and he lays his cards on the table face down. Sighing, he rests his chin on a hand and fiddles with one of the cards before him.
"I don't know," he mumbles, more to himself than the Vulcan. His heel starts tap-tapping on the floor. "Do you ever think that maybe you're crazy to consider something?"
Silence for a moment, and then an answer. "As you are aware, we have strict control over our emotions. What Humans refer to as 'crazy' – a descriptor for one who is of unsound mind – is unknown to us, except by those few afflicted with Bendii Syndrome."
Shaking his head, he stands. With a sigh, Kirk begins to pace in the familiar path he's wearing in the carpet. He's unsurprised when Archie, who had been lying at Spock's feet, starts following behind him. "I mean…Have you ever found yourself evaluating your opinion of someone?" A pause, but he continues. "Someone you thought you knew, had dismissed as not worthy of your time, and realized that maybe you didn't know them at all?"
"Of course, Jim." The answer comes immediately, and with ease from the Vulcan. "When I first accepted my position as your second in command, it was with the expectation that my presence would be required to salvage the Enterprise and the remains of her crew from the destruction your ego would eventually lead us to. Since then, I have watched you display a degree of care and consideration of which I did not previously consider you capable."
Kirk half-smiles at the words, the somehow expected distrust of his abilities at the beginning, and then gives a snort. "It must run in my family, then."
"It is common for personality traits to follow genetic lines. Therefore there is a high probability that your family members are similar in their complexity."
He glances back at the table, at the stacks of cards placed upon it – and the memories the game had brought up. "Mom stayed away as much as possible. I always thought it was my fault, that –" he swallows. "That I reminded her of my dad, and that watching me grow up was too much for her to handle."
Blinking, he clears his eyes – turns away, so his back is to the table. He tries to stop the images, tries to stop seeing his mom smiling and laughing as she teaches him an old game with a tattered deck of cards. "But lately, I've been remembering things. And thinking about them differently. Like, whenever she was home she'd spend as much time with us as she could. How even though she would be gone all the time – she seemed sad when she was leaving the house.
"How after my brother left, it was me who refused to speak to her. She tried. She reached out to me but by that point I'd had enough and I didn't give a damn anymore." He sighs, flexing his hand to ease the tension. "And I'm starting to think that maybe, she had her own reasons for what she did. Things I couldn't understand when I was a kid, that I might be able to understand a bit more now."
There are eyes on him, and he can feel the curiosity virtually emanating from Spock, but the Vulcan doesn't say a word. Kirk turns back towards his friend – his brother – and the smile that stretches his lips doesn't hold any humor in it. "And I'm starting to get curious as to what those reasons were."
"Do you intend to contact her?"
It's one simple question, but it's the heart of the matter. With a heavy thud, Kirk sits back on his chair, considering. The anger is still there, a living thing in his belly that protests the thought of him calling her. But underneath it, and growing, is curiosity, the desire to try and understand why she thought leaving them behind was the right thing to do.
He shakes his head, resisting the urge to grind his teeth together. "No," he says, the bitterness coming out because he makes no pretense at hiding it. "I'm not willing to give that to her. I'm still angry at her, and what she let happen to us. But…I'm not as angry as I was before."
And he is; he can feel the difference as he picks up his cards and reorganizes them.
"I will," he murmurs, mostly to himself even though he knows the Vulcan's keen hearing will pick it up. He reaches out with a tentative hand, brushing his fingertips against the elbow so close to his own in silent thanks. "When I'm ready to."
The expected, and welcome, sound of the door to the observation deck opening behind him causes him to turn. Kirk had been hoping the doctor would stop by to check on him, knowing with that sixth sense he always seems to have that Kirk is having trouble sleeping. "Hey Bones, I –" he begins, then freezes when he sees the arrival.
Uhura stands, looking uncomfortable in the soft half-light of the deck. Lifting her chin, she takes another step forward. "He told me I'd be able to find you here."
Grunting, Kirk turns back to watching the simulated starfield on the other side of the barrier – as he was doing, prior to the interruption. He's not in the mood to think about Uhura, and the problems that have existed in their friendship recently. Everything that was brought up in his earlier conversation with Spock is still there, and Kirk feels raw and exposed – and angry.
"What do you want, Uhura?" he asks, as it's obvious she must have come for a reason.
She walks up, leaning against the banister beside him. Uninvited, and unwanted – he tenses at her presence before he can help himself. "I wanted to thank you for what you said in the report."
The tension gathers at the base of his neck and between his shoulder blades, and he forces his muscles to start to relax with a sigh. He knows what she's referring to, and is unsurprised that she read it before sending it off. In his report for the tribble incident, he downplayed the fact that she had been the one to bring the tribble on board – and tried to highlight the integral role she'd played in getting all the furballs off the ship.
"I didn't do it for you, Uhura. I did it for the best Communications Officer in Starfleet, who I need," he answers truthfully, tapping his fingers on the railing. The report won't stop her from getting a formal reprimand for not following procedure, but he does hope it keeps her from being grounded. He tried his hardest to show the great qualities of all his crew, to keep them out of the fire at least. There's no way for him to tell how severe his own reprimand is going to be – for ignoring procedure and allowing Uhura to bring the tribble on the ship to begin with, and not heeding Scotty's warning when it was given. At this point, it can range anywhere from a verbal tongue-lashing from Pike for not following the rules, to the Enterprise being taken from him before his year is out.
"I know," she says, folding her arms and staring at the starlight before them. "I still appreciate it – I was an idiot, and you didn't have to."
He snorts, waving her thanks away with the hand that was tapping on the rail. "I should have made sure the thing went through the proper processes, too, before letting you take it on board. If it'd gone to Moe in the first place we wouldn't have gotten into this mess."
She nods slowly in agreement. "But we both know the reason why you weren't thinking clearly enough to order me to bring it to Biology first." She takes a breath, and then sighs. "That's the other reason I came up. I've been thinking about the way I've been acting towards you, and I'm sorry."
The tension between his shoulder blades spreads in a heartbeat, and he stiffens beside her. He was expecting this direction to come, but he's not ready for it and not in the mood. Glancing to the side, he sees Uhura looking at him intently. She catches him looking, and places a hand on his arm, just below his elbow. "I've been jealous, Kirk….Because Spock has been giving you something he couldn't give me.
"And I wanted to tell you that it won't happen anymore," she says, giving his arm an awkward pat before she removes her hand. With a nod, she turns to go – and he can hear the tap of her heels on the flooring before the door whooshes closed behind her. He's left alone with his thoughts, to wonder exactly what she was referring to with that cryptic statement.Part Two, Chapter Eleven