“Dress uniforms…spit and polish,” McCoy tugged on the collar of his too-snug overcoat, “I don’t know how much longer I’m gonna be able to stand this. I feel like I’m being choked by a weak midget.”
James Kirk, youngest Captain of the Fleet glanced over his shoulder at his CMO, “The Vulcans are the last of the delegates we have to pick up. Once they’re settled in, we’ll be able to relax.” He checked the chronometer on his desk as he slipped his belt into place, tucking his phaser into the concealment pocket at the back of his waist. “C’mon,” he waved Bones from his perch on the arm of his couch, “Let’s get to the shuttle bay. They should be preparing to dock any minute.”
McCoy dislodged himself from the chair crankily, “Formal receptions…a hundred fourteen delegates for two damned weeks…thirty-two some-odd bickering Ambassadors all over this Coridan question….sure, sounds like a great way to kick back and enjoy some down time.”
Jim chuckled under his breath as they entered the corridor, and he spotted Spock just down the way about to board the turbolift. “Commander,” he called as the door opened, “hold the…” the door snapped shut, Spock’s stoic, expressionless frame behind them. “Son of a…” He turned, annoyed, toward the doctor. “I know he heard me. I took Xenobiology just like everyone else—he could hear a needle collide with a puff of cotton.”
McCoy turned sympathetic eyes in his direction, “Things not going so well on the befriend-Spock-front I take it?”
“It’s complicated,” Jim shook his head, clearing it of the negativity that had momentarily come to the forefront. “When we’re on duty, we’re the picture of synergy but the second the clock reads seventeen-oh-one it’s like the curtain falls and the act is over.”
“Well now, he’s a Vulcan, Jim,” Bones tried to be reassuring, “they’re not exactly known as throughout the universe as social butterflies.”
Kirk gave his friend a rueful smile, “Yeah, I get that. Except he seems to have taken Chekov under his wing, he dated Uhura for whoever knows how long, he plays chess with Keenser in the Senior rec room every Saturday afternoon and he’s the son of the Vulcan Ambassador to Earth, and so my suspension of disbelief is becoming narrower by the day. Whatever his older self showed me in the mind meld…at this point, I’m thinking it’s more of a fairytale than a prophecy.”
“Well focus on what you can control, right?” the doctor added some perk to his tone as they entered the lift, “like getting all these hot air balloons to Babel in time for the county fair.”
Jim felt some of the tension leave his shoulders as he threw back his head and laughed. By the time the lift doors opened to the hangar deck, he was the picture of Captainly confidence and professionalism. Perfectly timed, the comm unit next to the lift sounded as Kirk and McCoy entered the corridor, “Kirk here.”
Chekov’s bright, accented voice filled the immediate vicinity, “Shuttlecraft approaching with Ambassador Sarek’s party. Estimate arrival one minute, sir.”
“Bring them aboard Mr. Chekov,” the Captain replied before turning toward Spock, who had come to join them by the lift. “Glad you could deem it suitable to grace us with your presence before the Oh-nine-hundred hour this morning, Mister Spock,” he reprimanded quietly. “Next time I ask you to hold the lift, whether we’re officially on duty or not, I expect you to react accordingly.”
“Understood,” Spock intoned blankly, his mouth immediately pressing together into a tight line, a non-expression which Jim had come to recognize, over the past ten months of their service together, as a sign of admittance to fault. Jim took a minute to examine his First Officer closely; his anger—as it usually did—dissipating instantly as he reminded himself of all Spock must be coping with and how hard the Vulcan worked, how efficient he was and that even though he couldn’t call Spock friend, his presence as Jim’s First was invaluable. Maybe he had just needed a few seconds alone before starting shift, Jim tried to reason. Despite knowing it wasn't appreciated, he still worried.
As was his habit with any other member of his crew, Jim put a reassuring hand on Spock’s bicep and squeezed, “No harm done.” He pointedly ignored the way Bones rolled his eyes as he dropped his hand and turned toward the entrance of the shuttle bay. The doctor had been after Jim for months to sit down and ‘have it out’ with ‘the hobgoblin’ before the ship exploded from the unresolved angst.
“You’re too damned easy on him, Jim,” Bones would accurately accuse.
“I’ll talk to him about it,” Jim would promise, “I will.”
“It’s insubordination, whether you’re on duty or not! You’re the ship’s Captain and First Officer for Chrissake, you gotta at least pretend to like each other,” the doctor would lecture until he was blue in the face. “It’s bad for morale.”
“I do like, Spock,” Jim would counter.
“One-sided,” Bones would bite back, “ain’t enough.”
Jim was brought back to the present by the sight of the honor guard entering the corridor and lining up outside the shuttle bay, as was the procedure for welcoming delegates. “So, Doctor,” Jim smiled warmly at his friend, who had been attempting to glare at Spock over Kirk’s shoulder, “did you received the brief from Starfleet medical? Have the calibrations been programmed into the medical tricorders?”
McCoy let out an annoyed huff, “Of course, though I still don’t agree with it. If the scans have to be adjusted to account for abnormalities, that doesn’t mean that the subjects are ‘functioning within normal parameters.’ It’s more like changing the parameters.”
“We wouldn’t know anything about that, would we, Mister Spock,” Jim turned his head to grin teasingly at the Commander. For the barest of seconds, he could of swore he saw the faintest bit of amusement soften the corners of the Vulcan’s eyes but it was gone before it ever actually set in.
“Vulcans cannot lie, sir,” Spock deadpanned, and the sting from Spock's earlier cold shoulder was waylaid by the fact that his stoic First might have actually just made a joke. This was how it was between them.
Deciding to take advantage of Spock’s seemingly good mood Jim thought today might be a good time to try and engage him again. He thought carefully about how ask about the Vulcan’s supposed non-existent feelings, before making the actual attempt, “Are you prepared to receive your father and escort him to his guest quarters?”
“I have made all the necessary preparations, sir,” Spock reported. “I expect the Ambassador will be comfortable during his stay.”
Jim’s smile widened even further, and he pretended that McCoy wasn’t shaking his head, “You know, I didn’t really get to speak much to him last time he was aboard. I’d like to take some time during this mission to better acquaint myself with him; Does your father play chess at all?”
Spock arched a brow and tilted his head, “He is considered a grand master of the tri-dimensional variation of the game.”
“Is that so…?” Jim feigned ignorance. “I think I could take him.”
Spock’s right eyebrow rose to the meet the left, “I believe the human colloquialism, Captain, is that ‘I would pay a large sum of credits to witness your attempt to do so.’”
Bones laughed throatily beside them, drawing both the Captain and Commander’s gaze, “Close, hobgoblin, but not quite!” Once he’d gotten it out of his system he added, “Though you make a good point. If I were a bettin’ man, I’d put my money on the Ambassador.”
“You two might just get the opportunity, and if he does take me up on my offer of a game, I’ll make sure you’re both there to see it,” Jim grinned. “And I won’t charge a dime.”
‘Hangar deck repressurizing…’ the computer’s female cadence reported.
“Quick,” Bones urged under his breath, “Show me how to do that Vulcan hand thingy again.”
Later that evening, still stuffed into what Starfleet passed off as formal wear, McCoy made his second round of mingling at the welcoming banquet in the ship’s as yet rarely used reception hall. Tensions were high, but everyone seemed to be, at the very least, tolerating one another. His eyes scanned the heads, looking for a familiar shock of blonde. He didn’t immediately spot Kirk, but he did manage to spot Ambassador Sarek over by the punch bowl.
“Mister Ambassador, I understand you had retired before this conference was called,” McCoy stated, sidling up to Sarek’s side, intent on getting a little information, “Forgive my curiosity, but as a doctor, I'm interested in Vulcan physiology. Isn't it unusual for a Vulcan to retire at your age? After all, you're only ninety-two.”
“Ninety-two point four three seven precisely, Doctor, measured in your years. I had other concerns,” Sarek succinctly replied.
“Well, sure, the new colony one among many I would wager,” Bones kindly admitted, then, “but whom of your people’s survivors are more qualified for the role of Ambassador to Earth than you, sir?” He was pushing his luck, and he knew it, but there was no good reason for adjusting his tricorders to pre-determined calibrations in order to account for ‘acceptable’ abnormalities in the Vulcans’ readings. He wanted to be certain the Vulcan delegates were actually inside the margins of what Starfleet medical regulation deemed physically acceptable for active duty.
These delegates may not be Starfleet officers, but it was no secret that as a telepathic race, the Vulcans had suffered several physical and mental complications as a result of losing their planet and almost all of its inhabitants in one shot. If Starfleet was risking the health of some of the most important members of the remaining Vulcan population, he wanted to know about it and try to circumvent or, at the very least, prepare for any unseen medical emergencies associated with their involvement.
Sarek regarded him with a hard expression, “By all means, speak plainly, Doctor.”
Damn, but Spock's father was one imposing son of a bitch, he thought with slight admiration. Bones smiled, chuckling nervously, “I thought we already were.”
Kirk chose that moment to come to his rescue and McCoy flashed him a grateful smile, “Ambassador,” the Captain greeted cheerily.
Before Sarek could respond, however, they were approached by another Ambassador from one of the other parties of delegates, “Sarek of Vulcan,” Ambassador Gav barked loudly, drawing the attention of everyone in the room, “do you vote to admit Coridan to the Federation?”
Bones narrowed his eyes as he observed what looked suspiciously like annoyance darken the Ambassador’s eyes before delivering his inflectionless reply, “The vote will not be taken here, Ambassador Gav. My government’s instructions will be heard in the council chamber on Babel.”
Gav snarled disgustingly, causing McCoy to instinctively back up a step, “No! You! How do you vote, Sarek of Vulcan?”
Shras, Bones was pretty sure that was the Andorian Ambassador’s name, chimed, “Why must you know, Tellarite?”
McCoy noted that Spock had magically appeared at Jim’s side and breathed a sigh of relief, because Sarek’s next words were pretty much the equivalent of a Vulcan cheap shot.
“Tellarites do not argue for reasons,” Sarek intoned, eyes not faltering from that of Gav’s for a second, “they simply argue.”
“No,” Gav barked again, “You—”
Just as McCoy was taking another small step backward, Jim was placing his drink on the table and taking two steps forward, “Gentlemen, Ambassador Sarek is quite correct when he points out that this is not the council chamber of Babel. Now, I understand that the issue of Coridan’s admittance to the Federation is a subject of great debate, but I assure you, it won’t be solved here.”
“You are correct, Captain,” Sarek appraised Kirk for a lingering moment. “Quite logical.”
Bones didn’t miss the momentary crack in Spock’s façade, the impressed gaze he gave Jim, before quickly recovering. He grinned to himself. Maybe this whole annoying endeavor would serve a greater purpose after all—like bringing the ship’s two biggest idiots to some sort of common ground.
“Excuse me, Captain,” Sarek begged pardon once the Tellarite Ambassador and Shras had departed. “But I believe I will also retire. There is much preparation I must tend to over the course of our journey to Babel.”
“Certainly,” Jim nodded politely, “but before you go, Spock informed me that you hold the title of Grand Master for tri-dimensional chess.”
“Indeed?” Sarek regarded his son, looking pleased—for a Vulcan, anyway.
“That’s right,” Kirk continued. “I’ve also earned the title. I thought we might find time to play a game while you’re onboard.”
Sarek arched an intimidating brow, “I confess it has been some time since my last match. It would be logical to take advantage of an opportunity to reassess my skill.”
“Perfect,” the Captain beamed. “We can set up a match after your tour of the ship tomorrow, if you like.”
“That would be acceptable,” Sarek nodded, then turned to bid farewell to McCoy, “Doctor. I believe our conversation will have to continue at a later time.”
“Of course, Ambassador,” McCoy dutifully replied, but he knew the older Vulcan could tell he didn’t believe him for a second.
“If you prefer, Ambassador,” Spock addressed his father, “I will escort you back to your quarters.”
“That would be well, Commander,” he agreed, and they left the room together, McCoy and Jim shaking their heads behind them.
“Vulcans,” Bones grunted. “Could you imagine being married to one?”