DUST

Marcy < marciawc24936 @ yahoo.com >


Rating: R

Codes : K/Mc

Summary: In the Mirror-Universe Kirk finds out that his counterpart has a sexual relationship with McCoy. This makes him thinking things over.

Sequel to The Getting or the Having

The story is part of the KirkMcCoyFest at http://tostwins.slashcity.net/KMF.htm

 

 

 

Part 1


If Marlena hadn't disappeared, things would have gone very differently. But she did, and they didn't. The trouble was factoring in all the unknowns, which even a Vulcan of Spock's obsessive skill couldn't grasp.
 
The first reaction Kirk had was to search the ship. But no trace of her was discernible to even the smallest instruments. His next reaction was to make the ship a living hell for everyone that lived on it; things like this just didn't happen to the ENTERPRISE, and standard procedure considered this a breach of security. At least Sulu had been left thoroughly miserable from the extra work. And if Kirk had any say, Sulu would remain miserable for a very good long time to come. However this had happened, it had done so right under the noses of the Helmsman's Security System.
 
That night after the others filed out, Kirk stared about his much-larger quarters. Marlena hadn't lived in them, it was true, but she had spent her time there. Her quarters had adjoined his, and they'd had the same security locks. She'd left a bottle of perfume on the dresser. Special occasion. Her spare sash was tossed carelessly under his uniform hanging in the closet--she'd worn both of them in strategic ways for a little "private party" they'd had, and nothing else. Kirk felt a smile growing on his face as he remembered her whisking one, then the other off and flinging them with saucy abandon into the air as carelessly as an Andorian Price threw money to the peasantry. Then his smile died, remembering Marlena was no longer there.
 
McCoy's presence was silent at the table, the scritch-skip of his magnetic stylus on the Padd the only other sound besides their breathing. God only knew what the doctor was writing. Since Kirk had pulled him into his sphere of influence, he'd learned McCoy was a complusive note-taker, a person who liked to organize his thoughts and yank them out of his head and put them on "hard copy." He had a fascination for cells and swamp life, and Kirk had seen a lot of sketches of both in the months.
 
Kirk wandered slowly about the room, loking for glimpses of Marlena, and sliding an occasional look to McCoy. McCoy seemed to be working on some kind of bone-devouring micro-organism, taking it apart on paper before he attempted to do it in real life. Kirk wondered if McCoy ever stopped. So far, if the CMO wasn't eating, sleeping, at a briefing or in Sickbay, he was at his Padd, sketching or taking notes.
 
"She could be dead," he heard himself saying. His voice sounded empty in the room.
 
"I was wondering that myself." McCoy answered quietly. His voice was non-commital, and calm.
 
"It's a risk with being Captain's Woman. Someone could be wanting to take her place." His mouth grew hard. "She had to fight with enough of them."
 
"You sound like you didn't like it."
 
"I didn't." The hardness spread from Kirk's mouth to his voice to his backbone. "I chose Marlena. Anyone who thought they could take her place by killing her, will have an unpleasant surprise coming."
 
skrtiiitch. The stylus dragged slightly over the Padd. McCoy had finished the bone-parasite and was well into a diagram of a cluster of tiny circular things with feathery legs on the underside. Oddly, they were atop a rock with strange torus-markings in the stone.
 
"How did you choose Marlena?" McCoy looked up from his 2-D thinking long enough to look Kirk in the eye. Kirk looked at the flash of clear blue, the color of a perfect winter sky after the sunrise cleared the rooftops. Then the gaze was lowered; McCoy was back to the drawing. But he was listening and giving Kirk plenty of attention.
 
"She let me know she was interested." Kirk paced again. The cabin had gone from voluminous to enclosed. "She was my yeoman after Rand left. After I saw her work, I agreed."
 
Kirk felt certain he didn't imagine another, slight drag of the stylus on the Padd. McCoy appeared to be on the very edge of saying something, then Kirk saw the doctor stop, hold himself still, and physically swallow down the urge. He wondered what McCoy had wanted to say, that he would so strongly not say it. Ever since the impromptu leave on Memory Alpha, McCoy had not been his volitile self. There was a lot more to him that was guarded, and after a quarter-year, leery. Phaser-shy, maybe, or possibly even Booth-shy.
 
Kirk made a rule of never sending any of his partners to the Booth or executing them. If they were that close to him, they weren't stupid enough to make enough of an error to warrant such a measure. McCoy hadn't said or done a thing that deserved even a light disciplinary step. He functioned on an efficient level, but sometimes he had the demeanor of, well, a sleepwalker. 
 
Thinking back, McCoy hadn't been a "loose cannon" since transferring to the Enterprise.
 
Kirk still wondered why he'd asked for the man when to all logic, it would just be to give Dr. Piper another target for his poisoned hypos or treated daggers. But McCoy had mildly surprised them all by being the one to wind up wearing Piper's sash.
 
He never talked about what had happened in that quiet hour between night shifts in Sickbay, but then again, he didn't have to. Piper was dead, McCoy had held the hypo, and McCoy was now CMO and the ship didn't have to worry about vivisection at the hands of the doctor.
 
"All her things are here. She couldn't have left everything."
 
"Her uniform's missing," McCoy reminded him. "That's all."
 
Kirk breathed in, then out. He did it again. The Tantalus Device was untouched. Untampered with. Nothing else could convince him Marlena hadn't left of her own free will. If she would leave him, then surely she would have made the prudent maneuver of destroying the thing.
 
Tactically, Kirk felt a shameful relief. It had been a mistake to let her be privvy to it, even though they had both plundered the lab together. Kirk felt another smile form. They hadn't even been there for the Tantalus Device. Something else, under orders from the Praetorate. Some insignificant toy model on the latest Romulan Cloaking device.
 
Again, his smile faded. McCoy had no idea the thing existed. And he had learned his lesson. No one else would no. Not Spock, not McCoy, not anyone.
 
"Legally, this is a breach of security." Kirk pointed that out again, as if this was still a briefing.
 
"If you decide she ran AWOL, High Command will accept it, though." McCoy reminded him.
 
"What are you suggesting?" Kirk asked a little sharper than he'd meant to, but he was getting tired of not being able to predict McCoy.
 
McCoy let his stylus drop for the moment. "I'm not all that military," he drawled slowly, with that self-mocking gleam to his eye they were both familiar with. "But it does occurr to me that High Command would believe anything their Golden Boy tells them." His thick brown-black eyebrow quirked up, and stayed, hanging on the lines scored on his forehead. "If you tell them Marlena was killed or kidnapped, then that's a clear problem with security, and then you can legally ask for Sulu's head. On the other hand, Sulu might hate you as a hobby...but he's fully aware he owes you a lot of favors he can't cash in anywhere else."
 
"Don't remind me." Kirk snorted.
 
"It's up to you what you want to tell High Command. But Komack will probably see a report that says, "breach of security" as a show of weakness."
 
"I'm fully aware of that," Kirk knocked his arms across his chest, glaring. McCoy was headed somewhere with this, and Kirk was glad because he'd been too angry to really think for the past twelve hours. "So don't be a military man. Be a doctor. What's your prescription?"
 
A rare humor lit McCoy's face at the joke--which was in truth completely unlike Kirk. "My prescription," he smiled with the right side of his mouth, quirked as wryly as his eyebrow, "is to let word get out that you killed her. That way, High Command will "accept" your story of her going AWOL, and Komack will think you got rid of one of your enemies, because God knows, you aren't known for killing your friends."
 
Kirk muttered an affirmative. "And what do you think, Commander? Do you think she left?"
 
It was McCoy's turn to pass a blank look. "She did leave. One way or another."
 
Kirk stared at him.  "You pick the damndest times to be literal," he said.
 
McCoy slightly shrugged, and picked up the stylus again.
 
Kirk slowly spun on the heel of his boot, aware of tension, a simmering nervous energy, and no place to put it.
 
He used to go to the Observation Deck, but hadn't in months.  It was a dangerous place for a captain, even with a phalanx of guards fore and after.  Too easy to take out with one of the ship's phaser banks.  Kirk knew he was being a coward, and hated himself for it.  But the cold purity of space had lost its old wonder.  He felt tired, small, and exposed.
 
Something soft and stiff was under his boot.  He looked down.  He was stepping on Marlena's Sash.
 

Part 2

 

McCoy sat for a long time in the privacy of his thoughts.  His hand continued to move, creating a living pneu on the Padd.  Behind him he heard the sounds of Jim Kirk in the shower, which meant he would be alone with his thoughts for a long time.
 
He didn't really want to be alone with his thoughts.  He didn't really want to be in the company of the captain either.  Right now he was existing in a state that had a lot to do wtih resignation.  He was feeling numb--emotionally, not physically.  That numbness had started about three Standard months ago, under circumstances he usually tried not to think about.
 
James Kirk was undoubtedly one of the most brilliant stars in the Fleet.  He was capable of great things, and McCoy had suspected for a long time that his success stemmed from a strong personal self-discipline.
 
Great leaders always took from the people who were there to help them.  It was a sad fact of life.
 
He didn't want to accept Jim Kirk into his life.  He'd seen the unguarded look on that young face in the dark room on that blasted night in Memory Alpha.  Kirk was desperately lonely and reaching out to something...something that was between them in that strange, alternative universe but couldn't possibly exist here.
 
Kirk was desperate enough to settle for a warped copy of the close relationship they had over there.  McCoy's temples throbbed back then as now, as he considered every angle.
 
Now that's desperate.
 
No, he didn't want a relationship with Kirk.  He knew it meant a largely one-sided relationship, with probably 5% of it reciprocal.
 
But he knew, with a sinking cold knowledge as the artificial dawn settled in the manufactured moon of Memory Alpha, that he would accept.  That he had to get close to Kirk, and while it was insane to suggest he could make that tortured man happy, he could at least provide some stability in a very unstable life.  And perhaps, that small amount of stability could prevent some awful tragedy in the future.
 
He felt like Hitler's psychologist, who admittedly abused his medical oath with his patient in order to save lives.

 
 
The shower burned pleasantly.  Kirk stood beneath the spray with his eyes closed, imagining the scum of the day blasted off his skin.  It soothed him, put him in a mental place of peace and safety.  McCoy had muttered something about "living" in showers, but he went to the saunas with Scott when he needed to get grounded.  Kirk had been in those things a few times, and couldn't tolerate the sensation of water poured onto the glowing hot rocks of the konnos; the water would mist into stinging vapor on contact, like a cloud of biting insects.  He had to agree the rush that followed was pleasant; he just couldn't get the analogy of being bitten out of his mind.
 
"I can understand the need to scald yourself in a cold climate," Kirk admitted.  "But the way the steam hits...its too much like an attacking swarm of mosquitos.  Don't tell me you've never dealt with that."
 
"Not really."  McCoy admitted.
 
"You have got to be joking.  You're from the heart of swampland."
 
"Gnats."
 
"What?"
 
"Gnats more than mosquitos.  They're supposed to drain you dry and then drop you in the Okeefenokee Swamp to drown."  McCoy paused, just slightly.  "Trillium leaves are great repellents."
 
Kirk stared at him.  "And you're going to Rigel, where the gnat family can get as big as hummingbirds."
 
"Bigger than that, I think."
 
"All that to avoid the shipping taxes on lab equipment?"
 
"I didn't make that decision.  H-Q did."  McCoy protested.
 
"You're barely complaining.  Are you sure you're feeling all right?"
 
McCoy rolled his eyes with a chuff that could have felled a plowhorse.
 
"Rigel's a cold planet," Kirk pressed against McCoy's warmer body. "All that glacial ice. Hard to believe the population stays crammed in that tiny, miniscule miniature continent where the tropical weather rules. The soil's poor, the industry poisons the people, and the jungle flora is the source for half the psychotropic drugs on the black and legal markets."
 
"There were northern inhabitants at one time," McCoy surprised Kirk. "They hunted and fished on those glaciers. Made a good living, from what I studied."
 
"Oh?" Kirk was interested despite himself. "What happened to them?"
 
McCoy's blue gaze, blue as the glaciers they were talking of, settled gently on his captain. "They were conquered by the tropical castes. Everyone was yanked down to the Heart Continent so they could be enslaved in convenience."
 
"Sensible." Kirk admitted.
 
"And miserable for all." McCoy pointed out, his drawl sounding like his long-ago acerbic self.
 
Kirk considered, and realized nearly all of McCoy's "volunteered" comments had something to do (indirectly or directly) with slavery and/or really bad bargains.
 
Interesting. He considered their relationship as a blend of agape (brotherly) and eros (hormonal). He might have come on strong in the beginning, but McCoy hadn't ran away from him either and that to Kirk's mind meant he hadn't been disinterested. It was possible he wasn't spending enough attention with him.
 
To be honest (and Kirk was as honest with himself as he knew how; McCoy knew the man was as aware of his blind spots as any blind man), Kirk liked the fact that McCoy was never completely passive. There was an edge they kept in bed that reminded him that McCoy would break away from the entire relationship if he could find a way. Kirk's solution then was to keep the leash long, but he was still on a leash.
 
Kirk had, thanks to the environment of his mostly-normal upbringing in an Imperial creche, had achieved the ideal of kalos k'agathos--beautiful and noble. He had always been aware of the variations around him--male, female, concubine, slave, hetairai. The last was more to his heart when it came to women; his mother had been one of the "accomplished artists" that could mingle freely with the upper classes without fear.
 
But nothing could quite replace the chemistry that went on between men who had learned to work together, risked together, and bled together. Kirk really had nothing against women. They tended to be smaller, softer, and the overwhelming majority smelled better...but they weren't on his mental plane. They didn't have the same problems men did, and they thought differently.  Usually that was a relief.  Marlena's differences had complemented his.  That was one reason why he had liked her.  But she couldn't think like he did.
 
McCoy was lying on the bed, shirtless, eyes closed. A thin silver chain glittered around his neck. It was his only ornamentation next to his ring, and seemed to be the same wrought. Kirk studied him, not surprised the man was asleep. He was saving his strength for the troubles ahead. He let the hot water dry on his back; the evaporation cooled him gradually as he walked to the opposite wall.  The Tantalus Device rested on the other side of the innocuous piece of art. 
 
McCoy reminded him of Gary in so many ways.  Little ways, but they added up.  The part of hair, basic coloring, their eyes.  Gary had been quicker to laugh, happier.  He wore his good spirits like a defiant weapon, just as McCoy wore his temper the same way.  Gary had been his conscience.
 
A commander needed one.  Gary's interest in power was similar to Jim's, but they had been a team too long to give up what was working.  Gary had been promised his own ship, a courser, at the end of the mission.  To seal the bargain, Jim had paid for half of Gary's commission.
 
But that hadn't protected Gary from the higher circles of power.  When they'd beamed aboard the Enterprise for the first time, Kirk had been aware of the whispers on Pike's degenerating state.  And Piper's, for that matter.  McCoy had no idea that Kirk was thinking of his transfer even back then.
 
Pike had been interested in Kirk from the beginning, but had made it clear he thought Mitchell was "interesting" too.  Given the choice, Kirk decided Gary would never know.  He'd permitted himself to enter Pike's influence, said all the right words, did all the right things, and kept silence in all the right places.  He even borrowed time to research (illegally) Pike and Piper's bizarre come-and-go mental states, which certainly seemed to be biological in origin, most likely after the exposure to Berthold Rays, but because there was no current proof of Berthold's affect on the human mind, there was no medical grounds for dismissal.
 
That left the other option, the permanent kind of dismissal.
 
Pike was suddenly dead, and Kirk was relieved.  Gary had no idea what Jim had done for him, but then the issue soon became moot.
 
We were friends, Jim Kirk thought again, aware of the despair lurking behind that thought.
 
And then they'd gone into the Barrier.
 
Kirk could forgive a lot of things because they were neccessary.  But he could not forget the cool, emotionless Vulcan demanding Gary's death.  Jim knew he would have made the order of his own will...eventually.  When he'd exhausted all possibilities first.  Spock hadn't allowed him the time.
 
Spock hadn't considered Pike a threat to the ship, but he had Gary.
 
A small voice, the tactician, pointed out that wasn't entirely fair.  Pike hadn't been a threat to the safety of the ship.  His indulgences had been kept off the Bridge.  Perhaps in time, things would have gotten bad enough that Spock would have admitted Pike needed killing.  Kirk hadn't been about to wait.
 
His hands were clenched.  Thinking about those days always did that.  He relaxed his hands, but his lips tightened to replace the tension.
 

Part 3

 

 

 Kirk rolled off the bed in one smooth motion.  Minutes later he was hovering over his computer, stuffing tape after tape in it, yanking it back out when it became clear it held nothing he needed.
 
Gods above and below, McCoy wearily prayed there wouldn't be another repeat of Kirk's oddball queries.  Without seeming to move, he managed to bury himself deeper into the covers and resolutely shut his eyes.  Having Kirk in his personal life meant complications enough.  The fact that he was also an insomniac, an adrenaline-addict, and showed signs of rampant bipolar mood swings just added to the brew.  Eye of newt, toe of frog...
 
He must have slept, because the next thing he knew Kirk was sitting on the edge of the bed and the computer screen glowed idle next to a towering stack of tapes that hadn't been there earlier.  He was pouring a dark-colored drink into a slim glass.
 
"Care for a drink?"  Kirk asked pleasantly.
 
McCoy knew better than to say no.  He groggily sat up and tried to keep his eyes from falling back down into his skull.  "What is it?"
 
"More of that home-made Lexorin juice."
 
McCoy smelled the now-familiar bouquet.  It made him think of calycanthus, or a burgandy wine on a hot day.  He took a sip and hoped he could put on a semblance of consciousness.  Kirk was brimming with silent energy, which meant he'd either found what he'd been looking for...or he'd lucked out onto something useful.  Frankly, McCoy liked him better when he wasn't in a good mood.  Jim Kirk in a bad mood was at least open to input, searching for possibly useful information.  A happy Jim Kirk was a Kirk who made up his mind, knew what he was going to do, and was about to go get it, no objections or questions brooked.
 
OK, I might as well get the no over with...
 
"You seem to be in a good mood."
 
"That's because I am."  Kirk was actually cocky.  That kind of smile would make you padlock the cookie jar.  "I found out why we're headed to Outpost 12."
 
"That shouldn't be a mystery."  McCoy put the empty glass on the floor, flopped back on his back and put his hand over his eyes.  "My God, its clear as day Praetor Giim hates you."
 
"I mean besides that."
 
"There's a besides that?"  McCoy couldn't keep the skepticism out of his voice.  Four times out of seven (according to Spock), every ugly mission the ISS ENTERPRISE was sent on, was by the hand of Praetor Giim--a humorless (and rumor had it soulless) example of Centaurean nobility that hated the fact Kirk had gotten the captaincy over his own chosen protege, some Andorian named Thelev who made Spock look like a bouncy gradeschooler in comparison.
 
Just the thought of Spock and Thelev serving on the same ship curdled the blood, and woke McCoy up further.
 
Kirk was chuckling as he rose.  The loose fabric of his ship's fatigues stretched against his skin.  No doubt about it, he'd found something useful, and that meant a game won.  Nothing got Kirk stirred up like success.
 
"No, Bones, Giim's trying to kill me, and the ship as well.  That doesn't mean I can't take advantage of it."  The captain pivoted on his heel, a feral tint in his smile.  "He sends us on 'dangerous yet profitable' missions.  So profitable, the rest of the Praetorate can't say no.  So far, I've won every single challenge he's sent down to this ship...He can't be too obvious, you know.  Nogura knows what he's up to.  It's not like he's sending us on Close-Approach Nova Patrol."
 
"Dodging planetestimals searching for one particular strain of nanobacteria isn't as dangerous?"  McCoy closed his eyes.
 
"Now, Bones,"  McCoy heard the rustle as Kirk sat down next to him.  The other man's hand slipped behind his neck, massaging the tense muscles.  McCoy had seen that same hand break necks with a very slight difference in motion, and invoked supreme willpower in relaxing.  "As a medical man you ought to see the benefits of discovering lost nanobacti.  Think of the hostile microbes it could erase from the body."
 
McCoy took a deep breath.  "Most of those nanobacti were lost in the labs during WW3.  It would be cheaper to go searching in the caverns where they were first discovered."  He opened his eyes but kept his voice and body language calm.  "But, the medical patents on the strains discovered on-planet are still in effect.  But if you find the same strain out in space, the patent doesn't apply.  You can sell that for top price."
 
"And we get a cut."  Kirk pointed out.
 
McCoy couldn't keep the pain from flitting across his face.  He stilled it.  "For what it's worth."
 
"It's worth a lot,"  Kirk's stroking continued.
 
McCoy felt his jaw tighten.  Again, he stifled the reflex.  "I want more than a cut."  He surprised himself by saying.
 
Kirk paused, intrigued at this new turn of events.  "That's not something you usually ask for."
 
"I'm entitled."  He pointed out.  "Three years on this ship, and no private cut."
 
Kirk's interest was growing.  He even stopped stroking.  "What are you aiming for?"
 
"We find that damn microbe he wants.  I want the rights to the first unknown microbe we find."
 
"Sounds like you're playing the lottery, Bones."
 
"Just saving time."  McCoy told him.  "If I've got all legal rights to something, then I don't have to approve every research angle through a committee first."
 
"What if your...microbe has no use to mankind?"
 
"It's a risk I'll have to take."
 
"Then it's yours."  Kirk resumed stroking, his focus narrowing.  McCoy knew the deal: he had what he wanted, and now Kirk would get what he wanted.  He closed his eyes slightly, dropping his head back.  His lips parted and Kirk found them. 
 
 
 
 
McCoy was ready to go off-duty, and he planned to do it with Scott.  Kirk approved of the relationship between the two--neither man gave a damn for loyalty; their first concerns were what pertained to the ship's well-being.  Scott could be trusted to keep the ship going, no matter what--and McCoy could be trusted to keep the crew going, no matter what.
 
McCoy rarely dressed civilian.  Kirk watched lazily as he donned the same charcoal suit as he had with the alien birth all those months ago.  Just remembering the experience made Kirk grateful anew that he didn't have kids.  McCoy was frowning to himself as he tugged his sleeves and cuffs in place, shutting down the computer first by voice, then by manual fingerprint and retinal scan.
 
"So what do the three stripes mean, Bones?"  Kirk asked casually, leaned back in an overstuffed corner-chair that was made all of triangles and managed to be comfortable anyway.
 
McCoy looked up, blinking once.  He was completely puzzled by his captain's question.  In slow motion, awareness dawned and confusion cleared.
 
"Oh."  He said.  "Ollamh rank."
 
"Celtic?"
 
"Just like Mr. Scott's."  McCoy went back to his retinal scope, and effectively shut him out.  The air hung with the unspoken accusation:  That if Kirk had really cared, a tidbit of research on the computer would have told him all he wanted, plus he hadn't noticed Scott's civilian dress had the same marks.
 
Kirk considered himself properly slapped-down.  He chuckled.
 


***

 
That evening McCoy went through the gauntlet of salutes and finally made it to Scott's cabin.  The Engineer was off-duty for 36 hours and dressed for it:  He met the doctor in the doorway dressed in a white woven shirt and what Highlanders called the "smallcoat" but what everyone else wrongly called a kilt.
 
"You're never going to wear the Clan, are you."  Scott accused.
 
"Probably not."
 
Scott humphed and let him in.  "Some Scotsman."  Because the McCoy's were in origin, MacKays, and MacKays were from the Scottish Isles.
 
"Some Scott," McCoy shot back, because the Scott surname was actually from Ireland and came from Scotti, which meant Irish.
 
"It's not like I'm going to make you eat shortbread."  Scotty pointed out, and yanked out a tray of steaming bourbon chicken to prove it.
 
McCoy sank back and sighed.  "Smells wonderful.  What are you planning this weekend?"
 
"Not too damn much."
 
McCoy cast a doubtful look to the open screen of technical journals, remembered who he was talking to, and let it slide.  "I was wondering if you could tell me something."
 
"Aye?"  Scotty busied himself with heaping two bowls.
 
"Do you remember Gary Mitchell?"
 
Scott permitted a look of distaste to settle over his face.  "Aye.  Not someone you could forget...though ye might want to."
 
"Unsavory?"  McCoy wondered.
 
Scott thought it over.  "Smug," he admitted.  "Like he knew he was better than someone else...more often than not, he proved it...but there was a coldness to him...a coldness that he didnae reflect upon his friend Kirk."  Scott scratched his ear uncomfortably.  "Rumors were, he had an unfair advantage over people."
 
"What kind of unfair advantage?"
 
Scott wordlessly tapped the center of his forehead with the flat of his palm--an almost universal gesture for mental contact among humanoid peoples.
 
The wheels raced through McCoy's head at the revelation.  "No wonder he didn't get along with Spock."
 
"Puttin' it mildly.  They had words wi'out words, if ye know what I mean."
 
McCoy knew.  He could easily imagine Spock mentally slapping down a mental intruder.  "You saw this?"
 
Scott nodded once.  "Not many of us did--Mitchell wanted to keep it quiet.  But the way those two circled each other when they had to share the Bridge...it was territorial."
 
McCoy blew out his breath, comprehending the complexity of the problem before him.  "On another subject entirely, did the package get home safely?"
 
"Perfect."  Scott assured him.  "Ye're daughter will have a whole crate o'books and geegaws arrive by--"  He glanced at his chrono.  "--4am, EST."
 
McCoy smiled.  "Thanks.  Those 'geegaws' were awfully fragile."
 
"I've shipped electronics before," Scott told him loftily.  "Are ye ready to eat?"
 
"I'm always ready to eat."
 
Scott popped the cork off the wine bottle, and with a deft twist normally used in delicate electronic procedure, let dark red wine slip into the glasses.
 
They ate in thoughtful silence--one of the strengths of their friendship was neither man needed to talk.
 
McCoy cleared his throat as Scott gave a few drops of the wine to the spirit plate between them.  "I may need a favor from you in the future," he said quietly.
 
"o'leannan MacAodh,"  Montgomery looked the doctor in the eye, dead serious.  When he used his full name like that, he was weighing every word like gold.  "As they said of my mother's folk whom I was named for," Scotty said carefully, "Hazard yet forward."
 
McCoy laughed very softly.  "Remember the family motto of my mother's family."  He said.
 
Scott winced.  "Action not words."
 
"And if you ever tell Spock that, I'll kill you."
 
"That's fair."
 

 

Part 4

 

 

Spock paused and his bodyguards put themselves at post by the Sickbay doors.  He strode in, analyzing the confines of the room before the doors finished their seal.  It was, as usual, controlled chaos in McCoy's domain--something Spock considered apropos. 
 
Since their uneasy truce, the two men had been civil and co-operative but wary of each other.  McCoy barely looked up from his desk.  "Be with you in a minute," and with that hardly-true sentence, went back to frowning at his screen.  Spock pondered the scattered tapes along the shelf.  Assured that McCoy wasn't looking, he deliberately picked one up and moved it to the side by two centimeters.  He then sat down in one of the chairs and began working on his personal Padd.
 
McCoy had noticed the moved tape.  Spock watched from the corner of his eye as the doctor's frown deepened, then refused to openly acknowledge Spock had tampered with his possessions.  A personal theory had been confirmed:  McCoy's disorder was perfect sense to himself.  If one had an excellent memory, it was simple to see of someone was tampering with their belongings by making everything appear disordered.
 
Spock had a feeling McCoy would put the tape back in its original position after he had left.  He was now wondering if the doctor was worried about M'Benga.  The AMO was the logical suspect for someone trying to take over McCoy's department, but hardly a threat compared to the rapacious interests of industrial spies.
 
"I read your report on Interstellar Geo/Survey," McCoy began as he set his stylus aside--Spock put his own down, ready to speak.  "But I'm not sure why you need some of my biochemists along for the trip."
 
"Praetor Giim's search for nanobacteria is no secret," Spock pointed out.  "A biochemist is ideal for such a party."
 
"Biochemists are and they aren't."  McCoy leveled at him.  "You're talkin' nanobacteria.   Lithotropic life forms, which, if I recall from my Basic Imperial Latin, means, "rock-eating."
 
"You must be correct,"  Spock's voice was dry as sharp-sand, "For I recall that lesson as well."
 
"Lithobacteria fall under three fields: Geology, Chemistry, and Biology (subcatergory Ecology).  Moreau was the top-qualified chemist and well-trained biol/geo on the ship before she disappeared.  The next one is Chapel, and I'm not willing to sacrifice her on something with this many potential hazards.  Most of those hazards just happen to be professional jealousy on part of her peers."  He let the silence drag for a heartbeat, while Spock absorbed the news that there were politics among his people he was not aware of. 
 
"Plus," McCoy added,  "Chapel's got other skills that I can't spare.  When it comes down to it, I'm a better choice for your team."
 
Spock lifted his eyebrow.  "And your reasoning is?"
 
"I grew up around the nanobacteria of caverns, Mr. Spock.  Appalachian limestone carbonic ecosystems are perfect farms for that kind of bacti.  Giim's looking for something in particular, and I think it has something to do with the known bacti in Earth and Centaurean caverns.  I know both pretty well, and I've got my tricorder trained for recognizing parallels."  He lifted his own eyebrows.  "Plus, I get a full cut if we find a previously unknown strain."
 
Spock's eyebrows popped up at that.  "Interesting."  If anything could convince him McCoy was sleeping with Kirk, this was it. He refused the urge to make the snide comment McCoy was expecting.  "Assuming you discover something useful, the possibilities for profit are considerable."
 
"Believe it or not, I'm not looking for profit so much as I'm looking for the unknown."  McCoy said it in a way that convinced Spock it was the truth, however odd that statement was.  He mentally filed that away for later analysis.  "Anyway, that's all besides the point.  I want to go down on that team.  And I can assure you--"  He lifted his free hand up--"I am not claustrophobic, prone to alarm at isolation, total silence or shifting geology."
 
Spock was getting more interested by the minute.  "I see no arguments if you wish to be a valid part of the team.  If the captain has no objections--"  Hypothesis confirmed; McCoy surrendered to a very minute twitch-- "then you may prepare your kit."
 
"Prepared."  McCoy told him.  "What Praetor Giim's searching for requires a complete and total absence of any light, moderate water vapor, and the presence of pure calcite in the form of aragonite, or, naturally refines salts of calcium.  Has Geo found anything like that?"
 
"Not so far."  Spock admitted.  "There is a possibility we may have to beam directly inside a sealed cavern for our work."
 
"Figures."  McCoy said, without rancor.  Spock realized McCoy wanted to search badly enough that he was willing to sacrifice his usual phobias. 
 
It took more time to prepare for a mineral search than it did to actually search.  The environmental suits were still slightly bulky no matter what technology was invovled, and back-up force field belts added to the weight around the waist.  Spock was the most concerned about the equipment, which was hard enough to replace, and if his junior officers could follow orders as well as take initiative.
 
The planetestimal was clearly a relic of a once-viable body that had collapsed under the strain of force--gravity from another planet, perhaps, or a collision with something denser than itself.  From long-range, the floating matter looked like a large section of volcanic pumice with its many open cavities.
 
The former planet had managed to live long enough to create these cavitites--once caverns.  Inside the caverns the researchers found minute bands of glittering calcite underneath the blackened iron-rich soil.
 
McCoy frowmed when he was summoned to sample.  "It could be what we need, but its not dense enough."  He admitted.  "Ideally, we need a layer of calcite banded with aragonite.  The opposing densities can help host the bacterial life that ride in through the porous crystals."
 
Spock nodded to Brun and Yamamoto, two of his more trustworthy scientists.  "Continue," he ordered.  It was all they needed to hear.
 
McCoy hummed under his breath as he dug up a few soil samples anyway.
 
Spock decided that, now they were alone, it was a perfect time to ask a pertinent question.  "Do you have any idea what Giim is looking for?"
 
McCoy was a moment in replying, caught up in reading his data:  "I'd be very foolish to wager a guess at this point, Mr. Spock.  Mostly, however," he paused and slipped a fresh wafer in, "his people are looking for anti-cancerous agents."
 
Spock's eyebrow went up.  "Cancer is preventable."
 
"Very.  But the bottom line is clean living.  If you or I drink water with fluoride or chlorine in it, I daresay we'd be at a high risk for tumors before long."  McCoy leaned back until he was perched on a rock, still reading data.  "The nobility class doesn't do much work, you know.  That's up to the peons.  And they get exposed to all kinds of godawful things while mining, smelting, and manufacturing the toys needed for a higher standard of life."  McCoy looked up, his face dry and impassive.  "Imagine how grateful the peons would be, if an affordable pill that cures cancer would be given to them.  Why, they'd be able to work twice as long." 
 
Spock nodded, aware of the possibilities.  There was really little to say.
 
They worked (mostly in silence) for several more hours.  Before the planetary body had been blown apart, it had formed several useful passages for scientific exploration.  Since there was time, Spock permitted himself to be swayed by a seam of finely deposited ocean calcite, and took large samples of the snow-white mineral.  Fossils of long-extinct mollusks were layered atop each other "like a layer cake" as McCoy commented, and there were peculiar forms of a brachiopod-like shell that had an aberrant tusk.  He wondered what environmental requirements had formed this seeming incongruity, and delayed his own beamup to collect a few more samples.  His own operative were in charge of the transporter; he had no worry of sabotage.
 
His communicator chirruped, and without breaking stride in sealing labeled boxed, he snatched it up left-handed.  "Spock here."
 
"Mr, Spock, we'll have to delay yours and McCoy's beamup."  Kirk's voice was its usual crisp command; Spock could easily imagine him sitting in his command chair, hands on the rests and glittering at the screen.  "I'm not liking the look of these iron readings on the meteor showers.  They're unusually high for derelicts."
 
"Could they be part of the original planet?"  Spock wondered.
 
"That's what I'm thinking.  Anyway,  Mr. Scott feels confident of beamup in  a little under twenty to thirty minutes."
 
"Understood, Captain."
 
"Kirk Out."
 
Spock closed his communicator with a very dissatisfied air.  Around them was the dead, still silence of the planetestimal's cavern and a rather large stack of rock samples.
 
He said what his companion already heard:  "We must wait until the Enterprise is clear with the meteorite shower first.  The unusual iron levels have interferred with Kyle's ability to safely transport ourselves as well as the delicate samples." 
 
"Guess we wait, then."
 
McCoy was quiet and calm.  Spock decided the doctor had been telling the truth about his lack of irrational fears of caverns--then again, many of the same conditions were identical to that of space.
 
Spock settled back on a rock that was a convenient height.  Even though their beam-up was a guarantee, it was illogical to take it for granted.  There was no practical reason in squandering air.
 
"We need to talk."  McCoy said suddenly.
 
Spock inwardly sighed.  McCoy was often--quite often--tiresome to his thinking, and he was not in a mood to humor him.  "Unless you speak of matters that involve the ship--"
 
"It does."  McCoy said flatly.  He turned, plastic whispering, to look at Spock.  Spock could not fathom the blue eyes.
 
"You had problems with Mitchell."  McCoy began.  "Not unusual.  A lot of people did.  I'm sure he would have hated me.  Empaths with null-esper abilities must be very infuriating to his kind of creature."  A slight smile twisted McCoy's mouth.  It wasn't a nice smile.  "He's the reason why there's a gap in the trust between you and the captain."
 
Spock's eyes narrowed.  McCoy's ability to find the most incongruous topics was a never-empty well.  "You assume then, that what is past involves the present to a significant extent.  He paused and went for the kill.  "I am not interested in whatever unique insights your new relationship with the captain has afforded."
 
"Don't assume, Mr. Spock.  That's not very logical."  The blue eyes glittered like zirconium.  "Anybody with a two-lick pass at charisma has to deal with what I'm dealing with right now.  It's been an off and on problem most of my life--just like it's been your problem."
 
Spock felt himself freeze.  "Now it is you who assume."  He said icily.
 
"You forget.  I know Mitchell's type.  There was a big reason why he declared war on you.  And why you knew one of you had to die."  McCoy was angry--a cold, burning angry that was determined to speak once and never again.  "I made choices, Mr. Spock.  Years ago I chose to be Jim Kirk's friend.  A friend who wouldn't lie to him.  Now he's decided he wants more than friendship.  Well, I chose that too.  I'll be what he wants me to be--I've decided that.  And I'm secure in that.  I don't need the condemnation or approval of a hypocrite like you."
 
Spock's arm shot out, faster than a striking boa.  Even through the padded sleeve, his grip was painful.  "If you are going to accuse someone," he hissed, "at least try to make sense."
 
"Who do you think you're lying to?"  McCoy snarled.  Their faces were scant inches away--they would have been breathing each others' vapor if the shields weren't in place.  "Besides yourself?  It's all about give or take here, Mr. Spock."  Only McCoy could make his name an insult.  "Mitchell wanted you for the same reason why you want to take home something exotic and rare and fascinatin'.  You had the great good sense not to have anything to do with him--I don't blame you.  He was rabid.  But the two of you didn't actually agree to go to war until you realized Jim Kirk was in the picture."  The grip on his arm tightened; he'd lost feeling some time ago but kept on.  Spock hadn't knocked him unconscious yet, which meant he still had the advantage of shock.   
 
"You made a Vulcan mistake, Spock."  He suddenly switched to a new angle of attack.  "You didn't think of the emotional environment.  Mitchell couldn't stand knowing his friend was beginning to trust you.  That was worse than if he'd chosen you instead of me.  He hated you because you'd beaten him in a war you didn't even know you were fighting.  That's when he started pushing on your mind, wasn't it."
 
Spock had become as much of a stone as the cavern around them.  At least he wasn't digging his fingers in anymore.
 
"Jim Kirk never knew, because neither of you were going to tell him.  You because of your obstinate privacy, and Mitchell because he was afraid Jim would take your side."
 
"Preposterous."  Spock had recovered enough to return his squeezing.
 
"No?  When given a choice, Mr. Spock, what has our captain always done?  He's gone against the instigator--that would have been Mitchell."  McCoy shook his head.  "I'd like to think that Mitchell would have wound up dead, but that option was taken from you when the ship hit the Barrier.  Mitchell had to die at the hands of his best friend, and that friend, whom you don't dare tell the whole truth to, has never forgiven you for saying Mitchell had to die."  McCoy's free hand lifted in an exaggerated gesture of drama.
 
"A Vulcan does not speak of private matters."  Spock said icily.  "And mental war is a private matter."
 
"Even when it could endanger the ship?"
 
"It had not reached that point until the Barrier."
 
"And by then, it was too late.  After all, what would that have looked like?"  McCoy put his eyebrow up in imitation of Spock.  "'He has these logical reasons to die--His psychopathic tendencies will grow worse with his telepathic abilities, and yes, I know he has psychopathic tendencies, captain, because he's inflicted them on me while your back was turned?'  Nah, that would have gone down about as easy as a chunk of chalk." 
 
McCoy's eyes were losing some of their angry fire, slowly.  His gaze measured the Vulcan.  "You've been letting time go to waste, Spock.  It's been three years since the Barrier.  The captain still wants to be your friend, you know.  He wants you to be his."
 
"Are you now speaking for him?"  Spock's tone of voice said that the only reason why McCoy was alive and in one piece was because the Vulcan had better manners than the rude human.
 
"No.  I'm tired of seeing you dance around each other."
 
Spock was a long moment in his reply.  "I will have to think of new pejoratives for you."  His words put a tiny spark of life back in the tired eyes.
 
"You can call me a whore if you want--the word's an old slang term for a low-value coin people would throw to prostitutes."  The unpleasant smile was back.  "It's not like I can deny it."
 
"Perhaps.  You are paying a higher price than I would.  A higher price than the captain demands of you."  Spock let his eyebrow slowly float down.  "I very much doubt he asked you to devote your being to him."
 
"He didn't."  McCoy said softly.  He stared, slightly blankly,  at the darkness behind Spock.
 
"Then why do you?  There is an emotional cost to yourself.  A cost I doubt you can afford."
 
The answer was tired and defeated, and Spock knew he would have to think about it:
 
"He didn't ask for it, but it's what he wants...and it's what he needs."

 

 

Part 5


"Huh.  You think you had problems...Giim called and wanted to know why the bacterials weren't on their way to him."
 
McCoy paused in the middle of the bathroom doorway, frozen in the act of towelling his hair dry.  "Impatient little carcinoma, isn't he?  What did you tell him?"
 
Kirk sighed.  He put his hands on his hips as McCoy very carefully leaned back into the nearest chair.  "I told him we had to run checks to make sure there wasn't any threatening, dormant life."
 
"Standard procedure."  McCoy didn't understand.
 
"It isn't to a Centaurean of nobiliy.  They're used to obedience, Bones.  If they crack the whip, you're insubordinate if you ask them how high they want you to jump."
 
McCoy considered that.  "Ugh."  He very slowly leaned to the side and began methodically shaking his boots upside down in search of stray dreck.
 
"Wouldn't it be perfect if the missing bacteria was trapped in your heel."  Kirk commented.
 
"Would have mutated by now."
 
"You're in a new kind of mood today, Bones."
 
McCoy didn't blink.  "I was led to believe we're in a mutual kind of agreement."  He couldn't bring himself to say 'relationship.'
 
Kirk chuckled.  "So we are."
 
God, why did he have to look so young?  When they were alone some of that mask dropped like a crust of baked clay.  Part of it, McCoy mused, was that that expression, free of some murky emotion, was new on that face.
 
"I didn't think you'd be mapping my whole life out for me."  The doctor spoke tiredly.  Boots cleared of foreign life forms and foreign bodies; he began easing out of the robe with the intention of a very clean, very dry, soft uniform.  He was exhausted from his battle with Spock--if 'battle' was an apt way to describe a chain reaction of hydrogen bombs in an oxygen-rich atmosphere.  He wasn't certain if he'd gotten through to the thick Vulcan or not--well, he had.  He knew he'd struck home runs, but would Spock do anything about it?  Would he continue to stay in his shell or actually crawl out?
 
Puzzled, Jim Kirk was shaking his head as he filled up a glass of white wine.  "How am I mapping your life out?"
 
Oh, Lord.  Why did he always choose the worst times for this kind of thing?  Things always seemed more lucid when hot water was soaking his brain.
 
Kirk whistled.  Puzzled, McCoy followed his gaze.  Kirk was staring at his arm.  McCoy looked down to see the throb in his arm had turned into a pattern of purples.  "What happened?"
 
"I tripped.  Spock caught me."  He injected the right amount of contempt in his voice.  "Superior Vulcan forgot puny humans don't have the bone-density he does."  At Kirk's look he adopted a defensive expression:  "OK, I might have fallen off a ledge if he hadn't grabbed me, but it was just ten feet."
 
Kirk laughed, shaking his head from side to side.  "The two of you...can't you ever agree on anything?"
 
"Yes.  That we'll never agree."  Inwardly, McCoy sighed relief.  Kirk had bought it.
 
Kirk rose, finishing the wine in a swallow.  "Can you speak with him peacefully on anything?"
 
McCoy tried to remember, as strong fingers began digging in his shoulders.  "I think we did one time," he answered in rather unconvincing tones.
 
"Oh, really.  What about?"
 
McCoy tried to remember.  He frowned with the effort.  "Damn it, I know we agreed on something..." 
Kirk was snickering.  "You think that's funny?"
 
"No, no not at all...keep thinking?"
 
"I'm not thinking very well right now."
 
"Because of your day, or because of this?"  Kirk moved deeper into a muscle that definitely hadn't been getting any attention in far too long.  McCoy sighed and relaxed.
 
"Sinkholes."  He said finally.
 
"I beg your pardon?"  Kirk was almost surprised out of the massage.
 
"We were talking about sinkholes."  McCoy closed his eyes, thoroughly relaxed now that he had the memory.
 
"Sinkholes."
 
"Yeah.  How they entrap soil and water nutrients and completely change the ecology of otherwise inhospitable worlds...so long as the planet is primarily of a calcium-based geology, anyway."
 
"Bones,"  Kirk began, "if you have to talk about sinkholes in order to talk amicably, you need to do it more often."
 
"I think we talked sinkholes out."
 
"Something related to sinkholes."
 
McCoy wasn't sure if that was a joke.  "Is that an order?"  He wondered.
 
Kirk snorted.  "I mean it.  The two of you need to publicly get along."
 
"Why?"  This had never occurred to McCoy.
 
"Why?  Because it would throw a fear into Sulu."
 
"You move your chair three inches to the left and it'd scare him."  McCoy snorted.  "He looks for haikus that aren't there."
 
"You really let your teeth grow while you were down there," Jim marveled.  A tsk sound followed.  "You missed a few places, Bones.  I think you need some help..."
 
McCoy said nothing as strong hands worked deep into all-too willing skin and muscle.  Jim Kirk knew his targets, and he knew his.  The lack of someone in his life had been a gaping sore spot.  With all the instincts of a predator, Kirk had found that emptiness, and filled it.
 
It was one of the most basic ways to gain control of someone.  And in the doctor's case, he couldn't resist it.  He closed his eyes to the familiar pattern of water droplets on his face and shoulders, felt the deep-digging hands probing into muscles that hadn't been touched in a very long time.  It galled him, but Kirk was right.  He hadn't been choosy, he'd been celibate.  That lonliness had left him vulnerable to a strong personality like Jim's.
 
He gasped as the hands slipped lower, the hardness pressing against his hand.  He moved it without thinking, felt the massage slip and slide all over his back.
 
Spock had once accused him of being a sensualist.  Well, it wasn't far off the mark.  He was tired of things that led to pain or inaction.  He could understand Jim Kirk to that extent.
 
Wet warm water, wet skin, and lots of slippery soap.  Jim was shorter but McCoy never cared to test their strength.  Not only did Jim have the bulk on him, he still had a younger man's desire to show it off.  So he leaned against the other man and let skilled hands work.
 
Someone had once said, being seen sexually was the strongest aphrodisiac on the market.  McCoy still wasn't convinced that was completely true, but the focused gleam in Jim's eyes was impossible to ignore.  He breathed out as the strong hands guided him out of the shower and into the warm air.  Although McCoy had never thought it possible, Jim managed to make drying with a rough towel suggestive.  
 
It was getting easier to give Jim what he wanted. 
 
Jim was smiling; McCoy read it in the way his lips pressed against his body.  He closed his eyes and let himself relax back on the bed, feeling those hands roam without pause.  Every night Jim acted like he'd never known this body before.  That was an aphrodisiac too.
 
 

Part 7

 

"There is something really fishy here."
 
Chapel looked up from her own 'scope at McCoy's words.  "You're in primitive fossils; wouldn't that be bony fishes?"
 
"Hah. ha."  McCoy muttered.  He poked his slide with a micro-stylus.  "I'm not getting any readings of interest.  Giim can't possibly be wanting these things..."
 
"Would the samples still be active?"
 
"That's the thing.  We should be able to revive something, but they didn't live very long."  He pointed to the light-shield surrounding the slide.  "No oxygen, no light of any kind, and to all purposes this imitates exactly the environment we so cruelly yanked it out of.  Why is it dead?"
 
"Is it hibernating perhaps?"  Chapel got up to give McCoy's slide a peek; his was a lot more interesting.
 
"I don't think so.  If it is, its readings are under the chart."
 
Both studied the unresponsive little nannobacti in silence for several minutes.
 
Muttering softly under his breath--the thoughtful kind of muttering--McCoy went to the wall comm and punched it.
 
"Spock here."  Answered a very under-interested voice.
 
"Spock, we have a contraidiction in the lab.  Do you have the atmospheric bars from the plentestimal caverns?"
 
There was a tiny pause.  "On your way."
 
"Thanks."  He clicked off to find Chapel staring at him.  "What?"
 
"You were actually having a conversation with Spock."
 
"I have lots of conversations with Spock."
 
"Civil ones?"
 
"Thirteen words encompassed the core of my request and confirmation.  There wasn't much ground for me to work with."
 
"I'm disappointed in you."  Chapel shook her head.
 
McCoy chuckled and went back to his computer.  Spock's readings were already up and glowing.  "Hmmn...nothing out of the ordinary so far...usual levels of calcium and uranium...Migod, look at that."
 
"Radon?"  Chapel frowned.  "And far above the 4 pCi/L levels?  And why isn't it on your sample?"
 
"That's what we're about to find out."
 
 
***
The image on the screen was of the derelict cavern the scientists had recently vacated.  The temperature graph at the bottom showed it was a balmy 47-F; the next image of rock and soil showed the temperature at 34-F.  The next image showed a yet-lower temperature, but still nothing out of the ordinary.
 
Kirk glanced at Spock, who traded a glance of puzzlement of his own.  McCoy had something in mind; he was holding in an appreciable amount of glee.
 
The next slide was almost at freezing point; Kirk was almost certain he could see a lightening in the dark cave; the image following that one, at -20-F confirmed his suspicion.  A phosphorous glow was softly emanating from the bare rock above the soil floor.  Kirk realized night was settling into the tiny cave as the planetstimal rolled to the other side of the small sun. 
 
Still the temperature lowered; the glow turned brilliant yellow.
 
"Radon gas," Spock lifted one eyebrow.  "One of the heaviest gases in the Galaxy."
 
"Exactly."  McCoy's next image was a glowing orange as the temperature slipped to that of liquid oxygen.  "When it gets cold, it gets cold.  Next images are shown in half-hour increments.  Watch closely."
 
After a few minues, Jim finally spoke up.  "It looks like the radon is dissipating, but your temperature graph says its still too cold to become colorless.  What's going on?"
 
"That," McCoy smiled and leaned back in his chair, "is the whole reason for this Brief."  He lifted a tiny petri slide in the air.
 
"Radon gas is a common down-side to an atmosphere rich in limestone, and a byproduct of uranium which exists on all known planets.  This gas was once a leading cause of lung cancer, primarily in homes that had dwelling-grade basements and subterranean-induced structures.  Odorless, colorless, and to all purposes, undetectable without a basic chemistry kit."  McCoy cleared his throat.  "There's an interesting little bug on that planetestimal that looks an awful lot like the aragonite-salted nannobacti Giim was looking for."  He paused.  "The gas wasn't dissipating, captain.  It was being eaten.  This nanobe eats radon."
 
"That's a neat trick,"  Kirk stared. Spock stared too.  "Are you going to take your cut out of that one?"
 
McCoy's smile boded ill for someone.  "That's the plan.  I triple-checked all references, and there's nothing out there that's been published already."
 
"Congratulations."  Kirk meant it.  McCoy had found something very unusual indeed.  "But you found Giim's bacti?"
 
Again that unnerving smile.  "Yes.  I submitted everything and just got a confirmation."
 
When they were alone, Kirk pushed his plate to the side.  "All right, what's the full story?  You got something over Giim, didn't you?"
 
"I gave him exactly what he requested.  An analysis and bacterial makeup of every nanobe that thrives in a salt-of-calcium cavern environment without light."
 
"Do you think he was looking for that radon-devouring thing?"
 
"Probably."  McCoy said comfortably.  He selected a bite of genuine potato with open relish.  "But he didn't specifically ask for it, and the radophage, as we named it, isn't precisely in the environment he was requesting we study.  It seems to need a degree of atmospheric vapor, and that was not what he required.  That's what you get for wanting someone else to do your job and you want to take the credit for it."  McCoy chewed, pondering.  "He should still be happy at the nitro-nanobes I found; he can patent them and use them to his heart's content, breaking down poisonous organic wastes and converting them to a low-toxic form.  The planet ought to benefit, too."
 
"How so?"
 
"Well, they have to dispose of it sensibly, or nitro-broken waste will burst into flames when you least expect it."
 
Kirk poked his own potato.  "He's going to be furious about losing that radon-eating thing."
 
"You bet he is."  McCoy drank his watered wine and sighed, content with the end of a very long day.  "Frankly, the psychologist in me is betting on it."
 
Kirk stopped chewing.  "Why?"  He demanded.
 
"Have you ever met a Centaurean who didn't turn irrational when they decided they really hated you?"
 
Kirk thought about it.  "No."
 
"Culturally, they have to match turn for turn.  He's goin' to be mad enough to chew charcoal, and he'll lump this ship into his anger at me.  He'll tip his hand for sure, so long as we're careful... I know you kinda enjoy his assignments, but they're starting to annoy me."
 
Kirk snorted through his nose.  "What are you going to do with the procedes for your patent?"
 
"That," the doctor said as he lifted his wineglass, "Is what's really going to burn his jets."
 
"Are you going to keep me in suspense?"
 
"Well, 85% of Giim's homeworld is still technologically in the late 20th-century--might as well call it the Dark Ages.  The "drone" class that does all the work, tends to have a very high death rate due to radon.   About 21,000 deaths per geographically-delinated country.  That's more than the body count for driving under the influence."
 
"Giim couldn't possibly be wanting altruistic reasons for finding this stuff."
 
"You're right.  If the dwellings are salted with this bacteria, it could very well devour all the radon and keep their lungs barely above the functioning level on top of their damage from heavy factoring.  But it would keep the work force operating."
 
"It's a good thing, though, isn't it?"
 
"Yes and no."
 
"What's the no part?"
 
"These nanobes are very closely related to what Giim wants, which are lithotropics that can get in your blood and form kidneystones.  Lots of them.  Fast.  In thirteen years you'll have enough calculii to pin up as jewelry.  Not that calcite's an unattractive mineral; I think it's quite aesthetic.  But the treatment is just as bad as the disease in this case."
 
Kirk slowly considered that rather unpleasant possibility.  "Your nanobe needs moisture, Bones.  Won't that be a problem?  I mean, you can't salt Centaurean homes with your nanobe; what government would allow improperly sealed houses?"
 
"It happens all the time on Centaurus."  McCoy was grinning now.  "The only preventative is to enforce a seal on the concrete and other calcium-based formations that are used to build low-income homes.  It's wonderful.  If the government does its duty by its people and actually seals the foundations, radon can't leak in.  If they won't do it, then suddenly there's a radon-devouring nanobe available that can soak into the house and eat up that ugly carcinogenic.  Either way, the citizens win."
 
"You're such a Republican."
 
"Bite your tongue."  McCoy threw a napkin at him.  Kirk ducked easily, surprised into a light laugh.  McCoy thought again how young the captain looked when he did laugh...no wonder he didn't do it enough.
 
All right.  I'm the Captain's perogative.  I can live with it.  I'm not the first one, and I sure as hell won't be the last.
 
At least the captain in question was as human as he was; that meant he'd probably lose interest in him in a few months, maybe even a few years.  Hell, his own marriage hadn't lasted more than seven, and they'd both been working to make it good.
 
And thank God he isn't one of Praetor Giim's people, he added as he strolled down the dark corridor for his own quarters.  Centaureans were not only of long-lasting libidos, they were aggressive about pursuing it...
 
McCoy almost missed a step at that last thought, and he wondered if Giim's antagonism towards Kirk was wholly angry in nature.
 
Wouldn't be surprised, he thought to himself as he keyed the door open.  His own quarters, small, cramped, dark and comfortable, soothed his slightly wine-enhanced sensibilities.  With a tug he yanked his boots off and tossed his Officer's Dagger to the shelf by his head.  No, he wouldn't be surprised, what with the Universe designed along the lines of pursue or be pursued, or pusue while being pursued...talk about lively...
 
TBC...

 


TBC

31. In the Mirror-Universe Kirk finds out that his counterpart has a sexual relationship with McCoy. This makes him thinking things over.