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[personal profile] kcscribbler
 Title: Open Books and Closed Doors

Fandom: ST:AOS
Characters: Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Uhura, various
Word Count: about 4000 each chapter
Rating: T for movie-level language and violence
Warnings/Spoilers: Spoilers for all AOS movies and various TOS episodes, any specifics notated in each section. This chapter, vague spoilers for Into Darkness and a couple TOS episodes, Conscience of the King and Trouble with Tribbles - though this really can't be categorized as a reboot of either.
Summary: Five times Jim Kirk epically failed to keep a secret from his command crew, and one time his command crew kept it for him

A/N: Obviously the few skeletal elements you recognize from Trouble with Tribbles are not mine. Regarding Conscience of the King elements: rather than embellishing upon the way over-used Tarsus angle, I chose to keep it background here, especially since we have zero indications in screen AOS canon as to whether or not it even occurred in the AOS timeline. So take that speculation how you will.


Chapter One | Chapter Two | Chapter Three | Chapter Four
 


II.

In retrospect, it's sort of funny.

Until it isn't.

Okay, it's still funny, even if at the time it caused a major freak-out in Medical and scared Bones half to death and nearly dropped them dead in space and jacked up every system on board before they managed to get it under control and then laid bare a portion of his life he didn't want anyone finding out about to everyone in his command staff and oh hey, did he mention the freaking out?

But it was still pretty damn funny.

Because, like, who else in the entire 'Fleet can say their ship's been hijacked by an army of mutant zombie tribbles?


It starts, abruptly enough, one day while he's making inspection rounds on the lower decks, a habit he hasn't broken throughout many years. Shipwalks keep him connected to his crew, and keep those boundaries lowered enough that they remain far more close-knitted than other crews he knows. Others might call the lack of formality too familiar, but the results speak for themselves and no psychologist in the Fleet would argue with the unusually high-scoring psych profiles of the Enterprise officers, both ranking and lower decks.

But on this memorable morning, he's summoned to Bio-Medical Lab Two by one of Spock's Xenobio technicians, an anomaly in itself. He rarely inspects those labs simply because he drives Spock (and his equally obsessive people) nuts when he does, and it's a rare occurrence for him to be directly requested to oversee something so outside his usual arena. The fact that the tech sounded stressed isn't overly unusual, but there was something alarming in the tone that produces an instinctual feeling of unease which hastens his steps on Deck Fifteen until he hurries into the lab, glancing around for the cause of the controlled chaos he sees going on around him.

Not a good sign, both his XOs are bent over an examination table on the far side of the room, engrossed in deep discussion, and a harried-looking medical tech points him that direction with what looks like a laser scalpel, then scurries away after snatching a clipboard and set of medical-grade bio-containers from a nearby cabinet.

Ooookay.

There's no blue lights flashing, meaning no biocontaminent alert, and besides even he would have been summoned had there been a Blue Alert sounded this morning; but something's obviously happened – something alarming enough for both branches of his Sciences to have their head officers working in sync without so much as a raised voice to be heard. They both glance up at his approach, and the look that flickers between them tells him more than their awkward silence.

Then he sees the table behind them, and it doesn't take a PhD in Xenobiology or Psychology to make the leap of logic they obviously have.

Seriously, as a ship they should win an award for being the living mechanical embodiment of Murphy's Law or something.


"I said, I don't know yet! All the tests indicate there's nothing wrong with its platelet count, plasma readings, biometric tags, all other indicators we used when coming up with that damn serum those years ago – there's no reason it should be dead!"

He sighs, leans back in his chair, tells himself the headache he feels coming on is entirely normal and not at all a phantom pain indicating organ failure. "Bones, sit down before you have an aneurism, will you? I feel fine."

"So did that tribble, until this morning!"

"Well, I'm not going to just drop dead on you so stop freaking out your staff and start acting like my Lieuteunant-Commander of Medical for a minute!" He inhales slowly, releases the fear lurking at the back of his mind at the unknown. Surely, there would have been warning signs by now? "Look, you and Spock are already doing everything you can to figure out if whatever happened is going to translate on a larger scale so you have to chill. Seriously. Until those tests are complete you can't do anything else."

"It's my job to do something! You do understand we're a good three-week warp journey from any even backspace medical facility, Jim? If you keel over on me with some blood-degeneration disease that I can't fix in a lab you're a dead man!"

"I'm telling you, I feel fine! Look, tribbles don't live as long as humans anyway, do they? So it probably just died of old age!"

"Actually, they live a lot longer." Well, crap. "Yeah. I'm scared, Jim. I dunno what happened to it but if that serum is starting to break down..."

"But why would it break down now? And even if it does, it's not like irradiation just like magically reverses itself. I should be fine."

"In theory, no, the effects of irradiation shouldn't reverse themselves – but if the serum is breaking down it could leave inert matter in your blood and that can cause blood clots, fevers, severe infection, organ failure – all kinds of complications I can't just magically fix. You weren't healthy even before that all went down, and God knows how your body could react if something this big goes haywire inside it. We're talking cancer of the blood big, Jim."

That's cheerful.

He runs an uneasy hand through his hair, wondering idly if this nervous habit was the reason he decided years ago to grow it out slightly. If it starts graying prematurely (a very real possibility, on this ship) he's dead sure not keeping it like this. "You're sure you didn't just like, accidentally starve it to death? You don't ever feed the poor thing."

"You do know what happens if you feed a tribble more than once a week, right?"

"I'm just asking!" He glances over at the desk-comm when it whistles. "You gonna get that? It's probably Spock. And if he's acting like you then Uhura's probably about to choke him out in his sleep."

"Gimme a minute." Bones slams down the glass he'd been about to pour – totally against regulation since they're both on duty but it's not like Jim's going to report him, not right now – and moves to the unit, depressing the switch with a sigh. His head hangs low between his shoulders as he leans with both hands on the desk. "McCoy here."

"Doctor, we have a…problem." Spock's voice, and the hesitation, make them both look at each other in confused alertness.

"Specify, Mr. Spock." McCoy reaches for his data-padd. "What kind of problem?"

A long pause. "It would appear that this animal is…not entirely deceased."

"It what."

Jim reaches over his semi-frozen CMO to depress the comm-switch himself. "Spock, I saw the readings myself, what are you talking about?"

"Captain." The title is enough, after all these years, to indicate Spock's slight surprise (and annoyance) to find him unexpectedly on the other end of the communications. "I…regret to inform you that the…animal, appears to have…"

He raises an eyebrow at the connection. "You gonna spit that out sometime today, Commander?"

"The animal has apparently escaped its confines in Science Lab Two, sir."

"It WHAT." Bones apparently is only capable of repeating those two words for now. Jim motions for him to go ahead and leave the office and he hightails it out, already scribbling notes on his padd. A trio of nurses scatter nervously in his wake before the doors to the office close again, hiding the outer ward from Jim's view.

"Bones is heading your direction, Spock. What the heck are you talking about, it escaped? I saw the readings myself, the thing had no life functions. Don't tell me you and three of your techs have faulty equipment; we are already over our requisition requests for the month and HQ will have my head if it's not something a software patch can fix."

"Captain, I have no logical explanation for the event at the moment other than the simple fact that the animal is no longer within the containment unit in which it was placed twenty-four hours ago by none other than myself. And I can personally attest to the fact that it was, indeed, at that time deceased."

Great. "So you're saying we have a runaway zombie tribble loose on board my ship, Mr. Spock?"

A very long, very pointed pause. "I said nothing of the kind. Sir. I merely stated –"

"Never mind, Spock, never mind. Get with Bones and report to me when you actually have something. Kirk out." He sighs, and flops back into Bones's chair, starts bringing up the ship's sensor banks and tying them into the medical mainframe so they can be accessed remotely from the Science labs.

He personally thinks the zombie tribble theory has more merit than Spock is giving him credit for, but maybe he's just overreacting.

And on this ship? It's very rarely, overreacting.


He still has Bridge duty, beta shift today, regardless of whether or not Bones thinks he should be pulling his full shift due to unknown potential factors here, and so he goes about that as if nothing abnormal has happened or is possibly happening below decks, offering the excuse of a special project in the labs for Spock's absence on the Bridge.

There's no sense in inciting panic about possibilities that may not even happen, and his controlled fear does not need to be spread to anyone else aboard. They will remain condition normal, and he will not give in to the panic he feels as the hours tick by with no update from Medical or Science or either of the two people he trusts most in charge of those two divisions of his ship.

But he shouldn't have bothered with the facade, because gossip spreads fast on a starship.

And apparently, even that doesn't spread as fast as a procreating zombie tribble.

Beta shift is only half over when the ship's auto-computer emergency-drops them out of warp straight into an ion storm, and between malfunctioning systems all over the ship and his First Officer being below decks when it happens he's seriously handicapped on the Bridge trying to maneuver them out of danger on whatever power a panicked Scotty can salvage from the engine shutdown.

He's only just managed to calm down the freaked ensign at the Engineering console, who had at first thought he'd somehow bumped a button that flung them out of warp, when an ominous sparking noise draws his attention to the Environmental Control console next to them. The screen is fritzing in a manner he has never seen before, and there's a weird tingling sensation almost building in the very air, making his hair stand on end.

He shoves the young Fellustarian engineer up the steps and then hauls the frowning EC lieutenant out of her chair just before the console explodes in their faces. Stars pinwheel in his vision as his head impacts his own chair way too hard, and then he hits the deck with enough force that he can't breathe for a second, staring up at what is undoubtedly a rapidly-cracking durasteel ceiling and they are really, really in trouble if they can't get some shielding up against this ion storm. The viewscreen is screeching dangerously under the pressure buildup, or maybe that's just his head, but either way it's got to stop.

Above the ringing in his ears, he can hear Chekov's high-pitched shrilling of directions from the Science station, and even as two techs help him to his feet he can see that Sulu's already in the central chair and snapping out orders for them to haul ass out of the storm with all available speed. Two other yellow-shirted personnel have already slid into place at the helm and he can feel the floor shuddering underneath them as Scotty's magic is somehow worked in engineering. They begin to move again.

"- a medical team up here now, the captain's down. And I said full reverse power, Mr. Nowitz!"

"Aye, sir!" A strained rumble underneath them.

"Chekov, where am I at on those thrusters?"

"One more moment, they had to reboot when that surge went through!"

"Fire them all in reverse as soon as they're booted up, we have to get out of this thing before it pulls the ship apart."

"Already done."

"Mr. Scott, I need those deflector shields modified for maximum dispersal and make sure they stay on. And get that core back online or get us moving on full impulse, now."

"We're already running on half impulse, laddie, and I canna perform a cold-core start on the core without a formula we dinna have time to come up with right now. If I try to give ye full impulse I run the risk of another power surge up there."

"I don't care if you have to shut off power to everything except navigation and life support up here, get us out of this now, Mr. Scott, before something else explodes in our faces or we lose a nacelle! Sir, are you hurt?"

He shakes his head, nods a thank-you to the worried crewmen who had helped him up. They give him only a cursory nod before diving back to the library and secondary communications station as alarms start wailing across the Bridge. The EC ensign – Tamura, he now remembers, now that his brain's slowly bouncing back where it's supposed to be – looks pale as death but she hops back to the remains of the still-smoking console like the officer she is and begins inspecting the damage. The power flickers briefly on the Bridge, then comes back on.

"I'm fine, just got the wind knocked out of me." He raises his voice briefly, glancing around the Bridge. "All of you switch to auxiliary systems, though. That ion storm is wrecking our circuits." Shaking the film out of his vision, he grabs the arm of his chair and finally finds his footing firm again as the shaking levels out – they're on the edges of the storm now. It's been probably two years since they had to ride out a storm like that, and he remembers now why he usually takes the long way around; even a constitution-class starship isn't equipped for that kind of turbulence, and especially one that's already having mechanical failures due to factors unknown.

"What did we hit, sir?"

"I have no idea," he sighs, resuming his seat as Sulu vacates it, sliding back into place at the helm. "That was the computer that dropped us out of warp, not someone in Engineering; I can feel the difference when that happens. Some security protocol had to have shut us down."

"How's it looking up there, Bridge?" Scott's voice crackles through his armrest.

"We lost the Environmental Control console and you cracked my viewscreen, Scotty. You know what happens to people who break my ship."

"Your ship! Sir, it was your precious ship that decided to drop us out of warp smack in the middle of a bloody ion storm. Take it up with her!"

He chuckles, and ignores the incredulous looks from the less experienced beta crew. "Any idea why we dropped, Scotty?"

"Not yet, sir. I only just got her up an' running again. Give me an hour an' I'll have a better idea."

"You've got thirty minutes, then I want a full report."

"Aye, sir. Engineering out."

Barely has that channel closed when Medical is on the other line, and he can tell from the strain in the tone that they've obviously been monitoring the comms. Uhura is watch officer for gamma shift tonight, so she wasn't on duty here today. He could have used her clear head just now to field communications and Bones could have used her reassurance.

"Bridge, it's McCoy. Talk to me."

"Cancel that call, Doctor. I'm fine, just had a little incident. Stay down there and don't tie up the turbolifts until we're out of this storm. Last thing we need is another malfunction due to an unnecessary power surge."

"If you're lyin' to me, Jim –"

"Do I sound like I'm lying? Go bug Spock, I haven't even heard from him. Bridge out."

Honestly, this ship. He is going to gray before his time. Not cool.

"Uh…sir? Captain Kirk?"

He swivels the chair back toward the ruined console, and sees his crewman scrambling to her feet, looking disturbed. "Something wrong, Lieutenant?"

Tamura frowns. "Sir, I have no idea how, but…well. You might want to see this."

He raises an eyebrow, and then moves slowly across the expanse between them. Crouches down beside the remains of the console, and peers inside the wreckage where she's pointing, wide-eyed.

Well, that's not good.

He sits on his backside with a thump, dragging the heels of his hands slowly down his face. "Lieutenant, get Mr. Scott back and tell him I'm pretty sure I know why the computer dropped us out of warp." He sighs, and then stands, moving toward the turbolift. This really isn't funny. "Tell him to meet me in Science Lab Two."

"Aye, sir."

"Sulu, you have the conn."

"…Yes, Captain."

The doors haven't quite closed behind him when he hears one of the beta crewmen sniff curiously and ask if anyone else smells fried chicken.

Okay, it's a little funny.


It's considerably less funny when he doesn't even make it to Lab Two before he finds a honest-to-God hole in the wall of Deck Fifteen: like a real, three-foot crater just basically gaping around the opening of a wall ventilation shaft. Like a giant mouse went at it or something.

A maintenance red-shirt, armed with a basic protolaser and thermal sealant, is standing in front of it staring in disbelief.

"Captain!" The man slams to attention as he passes, as if afraid Jim will think he's responsible. "Sir, I have no idea what could cause this!"

"Yeah, at ease, Ensign," he sighs, waving a hand over one shoulder.

This is bad.

If they get into the replicating systems…

He pushes down a flare of panic at the idea of being adrift in uncharted space for weeks without the ability to replicate food and water, and pulls himself together before he walks into Science Lab Two.

Someone has hell to pay for letting this thing loose, and at this point he doesn't care which one of them is to blame.

Both of his XOs take one look at him and promptly glance at each other like guilty children. Jim is not at all unaware of the fact that the rest of the Science techs have suddenly decided they have very pressing duties elsewhere and have thrown their superiors under the proverbial shuttlecraft without a moment's hesitation.

"Gentlemen, I have a nest of dead tribbles in what's left of one of my Bridge consoles. Which, I may add, just exploded in my face and could have killed both me and one of your Science lieutenants on her first week of Bridge duty, Mr. Spock," he snaps, and the rare anger in his voice is enough to make Spock at least straighten into clear attention. Bones is still staring at him in disbelief, and a little concern.

"One of you had better have a really good explanation as to how we now apparently have an infestation problem, and the other one had better have a plan on how to get rid of them before they destroy every system on this ship. Or so help me, I will boot you both back to ensigns aboard the next waste recycling scow we come across, understood?"

"Quite clearly, Captain. We have made a grave miscalculation in this matter, though the initial quandary was not due to carelessness on the part of myself or Dr. McCoy."

He relaxes slightly. Spock always knows the minimum number of words to say in order to put out the fire of his anger immediately. (Spock also knows how few words it takes to add shuttle fuel to that fire, but that's a different matter entirely.) "I'm glad to hear that, at least. So what exactly was it due to, then? How do I have little zombie tribbles running around my ship."

Bones snorts. "They're not zombie tribbles, Jim, for gods' sake. They're perfectly healthy, living tribbles. A little…mutated, we think, but they're alive."

"Then what happened to the one – we only had one, right!? – that died?"

"We were able to determine that the cause of death was apparently poison, Captain." Spock looks more heartbroken than anything else, and that's a little adorable, because Jim knows while the thing literally did nothing but sit there and purr Spock's always had a soft spot for it because, well. It did play a role in his so-called resurrection those years ago. "Ensign D'ameron has admitted to leaving the contents of his mid-shift meal unguarded while on assignment here during gamma shift two nights previously. Among them was the dessert item you humans I believe call a brownie."

"Chocolate's deadly to most small furry animals, Jim. The poor thing ate its body weight in it, and, well…yeah. Totally unrelated to the blood-serum." Bones looks both relieved and sad, and while one weight is lifted off Jim's mind immediately – he's not dying, woo! – another one sinks even deeper, because that means…

"Wait, that means it ate enough to reproduce in like, twelve hours," he says, sinking feeling growing stronger.

"Uh-huh." Bones shifts uncomfortably. "From what we know about the things, they're basically born starving. Soooooo…"

He swallows, and grimaces at the mental picture. "Guess we know what happened to mama. So there's no zombie tribbles running around, just…cannibal baby tribbles."

"Don't be crude, Jim. It's just survival instinct, their natural order. I think."

"You think!"

"Well, it's not in their natural order to eat metal, but they've apparently evolved to doing that. So something's not quite right. Maybe because of the poison or something, I got no idea right now."

That's what he was afraid of. "Is this accurate, Spock?"

Spock looks resignedly at the computer monitor next to them, and flicks up a series of diagrams. "Unfortunately, it appears to be. Either by evolution or by choice, the…creatures, seem to be ingesting non-organic materials now, including vital parts of ship systems. This includes circuitry and even physical components of non-essential systems, as seen in the somewhat…ventilated appearance of certain corridors in the Enterprise."

"They're literally eating my ship, is what you're saying."

"In essence, Captain…that is correct."

"We have an army of mutant tribbles eating my ship. What the hell!"

Bones cringes. "Jim, look, I'm sure there's a reasonable explanation for –"

"I don't freaking care about the explanation, you better have an idea to get them off my ship ASAP! Short of bathing the Enterprise in gamma ray bursts or something, which would damage the ship's computer banks something serious, I have no idea!"

"Captain, they are now considered a new subspecies of creature and therefore an entirely new type of animal intelligence; we cannot simply destroy them."

"Spock, if they turn this ship into a floating whack-a-mole game none of us will be in a position to do anything!"

"Cool it, both of you," Bones says, typing in the computer. "We have probably twelve hours before they eat through the replicating systems' insulation or the wiring around the force-fields that protect the central computer core. Looks like according to the report Scotty just filed, they've only gotten into the ventilation units, some non-essential circuitry, and the systems controlling the safety sensors and firewalls, which is why we dropped out of warp; they screwed up the autopilot. Anything else we can live with, and so we have twelve hours to figure out how to get rid of them."

"I cannot believe this," he mutters, pacing around the lab. Spock appears to take pity on him and goes to the other computer terminal, likely to ascertain more facts. "What if they get tired of chewing through the ventilation system and decide a crewman would be a nice change of pace!"

"Pretty sure any crewman on this ship is capable of drop-kicking a furball, teeth or no teeth." Bones doesn't even look up from the computer, frowning at a diagram. "We got a little time before your precious ship turns into a night of the living dead tribble, Jim."

"This is not funny!"

Bones cackles at him over top of the computer screen. Spock looks totally lost, and simply shakes his head before returning to the screen before him. Good, at least if they think he's afraid of the stupid hairballs it means he's concealing the panic better than he thought.

Wait a minute.

He whirls on one heel in alarm. "Wait, Scotty said they're in the security systems?"

Bones jerks a thumb at Spock's terminal. "Read the report for yourself, I'm tied into the Medical mainframe right now. One thing at a time."

"Spock, are we talking about a huge security breach here?"

"I was attempting to ascertain those particulars, Captain." His First doesn't look too alarmed yet, only uneasy, as he scrolls through lines of corrupted code. Jim leans down to look over his shoulder. "I have scanned eighty-two-point-six percent of the Enterprise's Level One and Two encrypted files and they have not been accessed or corrupted."

"That only means the things haven't gotten into the databanks, not the processors. If they knock out certain firewalls or corrupt high-security subroutines we could dump classified information right into the mainstream, so to speak. Starfleet will have my head if that happens."

"I am aware, Captain."

He can feel a migraine coming on. "There's no way to isolate the processors better than they are already, is there?"

"Short of erecting a modified force-field around the central processing core itself, Captain, I know of no such method. And judging from the rapidity with which the animals managed to adapt and bypass the force-field protecting the autopilot processor, that would be a stop-gap measure only."

"Time better spent in finding out how to eliminate them, in other words."

"Indeed." Spock shifts uneasily. "Given the risk to both the ship and to Starfleet security, I would classify this as a priority one threat."

"You think!"

"That is my primary function aboard this ship. Sir."

"Did you just sass me, Spock?"

A red alert siren interrupts what promises to be the closest thing they've had to a legit fight in probably months, drowning out whatever ineffective response his First was about to offer in his own defense.

Something tells him this is going to be a very long day.


Make that a long week.

He's only slightly vindicated by the fact that he can make his two executive officers report this lovely little incident to the Admiralty, and he gets to just sit back and watch Cartwright's face gradually increase in color by shades, running the gambit from the light pink of incredulity to the dark magenta of seriously pissed-off.

Honestly, it's just the fact that Jim has gotten really good at this managing stress thing in recent years that he's not approaching that state himself. That, and the fact that he finally broke down three days ago and started taking the mild anti-anxiety meds Bones had suggested for him long ago, in those early days when he had no freaking idea what he was doing and the idiocy to imagine it was a sign of weakness to accept artificial aid when he felt like he was going to shatter to pieces at a moment's notice.

Frankly, under the circumstances, he thinks he's entitled to a minor breakdown at the least, but there's no way in hell he's going to have one in front of his crew, and given the fact that they are all basically in each others' business these days trying to fix this out-of-control problem, that's a non-negotiable.

So, anti-anxiety hypos it is. Bones knows better than to grill him about the request, thank goodness, because the man's not an idiot, and only warns him they aren't meant for long-term use and for gods' sakes come to him if he needs to, don't try and be a hero because this isn't something to joke about, Jim.

Right now, though, it is pretty funny, watching a Vulcan try to patiently explain to a board of Admirals that the reason why the Enterprise is currently drifting through uncharted space, badly damaged and in need of assistance, is because it's been overrun by an army of metal-eating furballs.

"Captain Kirk, if you please," Admiral Cartwright finally says in exasperation, and Jim sets down his coffee cup with a sigh. This is his last one for probably two weeks, and he wanted to enjoy it – no such luck, apparently.

"Yes, Admiral."

"Would you please be so good as to clarify whatever…this, is?"

"I believe my Science Officer clarified the matter most succinctly, Admiral. On which point would you like elaboration?"

At the other end of the table, Admiral Nogura inhales the contents of his water glass and coughs vigorously, while the rest don't even bother hiding their eye-rolls.

"Captain, the Enterprise is the foremost starship in her class. You are telling us that a ship of this size, with this amount of manpower and technology, has been unable to withstand a…rodent infestation? And that is the cause of your distress call?"

"Technically, Admirals, the tribble is not a subspecies of the order rodentia, but rather –"

"Mr. Spock, seriously, nobody cares. We did finally get rid of them, Admiral, by beaming them all into one of our escape shuttles and setting its autopilot for a Class M planet in the next system," he replies calmly. "But it took much longer than anticipated. They'd eaten enough of the ship's materials at that point that it took more time than my Chief Engineer thought it would to modify a transporter beam; our damaged technology was having a very hard time distinguishing tribble from ship."

"Can you not effect repairs?"

"Not in this case, Admiral." He keeps his voice calm, matter-of-fact. "They unfortunately were able to gain access to our replication and recycling systems before we were able to beam them off the ship. All but one of our replicators and nearly all of our waste recycling systems have been damaged beyond our ability to repair without proper replacements."

"Which cannot be manufactured aboard ship without said replication systems," Spock adds unnecessarily.

Cartwright's exasperation morphs into genuine alarm. "Kirk, your last report indicated you are at least two weeks from any 'Fleet Starbase!"

"That would be why we sent out a distress call, Admiral," he answers dryly.

The board of aging officials glance at each other, and their end of the connection is obviously muted as a discussion takes place, padds brought out and compared.

"What are we going to do if there's no ship in the quadrant, Captain?" Uhura asks quietly, voicing the opinion that is no doubt on the rest of his staff's minds.

"You ever been camping before, Lieutenant?"

She makes a face, and he grins.

"I hate you. Sir."

"Yeah, well, I hate roughing it, so we'll be in good company." He glances over at Chekov, who has been bouncing back and forth uneasily in his chair. "Mr. Chekov, your teams have already started scanning for planets that have a breathable atmosphere and water supply, correct?"

"Correct, sir. We should have preliminary results in six hours." He does not mention, and Jim does not call him out on the fact, that their previous stellar cartography scans already showed no planets within a seven-day journey of them at full warp speed, and they do not have full warp speed right now.

Cartwright wheels back toward the viewscreen and unmutes the connection. "This is alarming news, Kirk," he says, unnecessarily.

Duh. "I entirely agree, Admiral." He refrains, with effort, from rolling his eyes. "We are making all efforts to implement emergency protocols but we are in need of immediate assistance."

"We will do what we can, Captain, but the nearest ship we can reroute to you will take eight standard days to reach you at top warp speed. The Pegasus is returning from a trade summit on Gamma Hydra VI and will divert to your location via the coordinates we are sending your communications chief now."

Relief swamps him in a cooling wave, and he leans over to check as Uhura nods, tilting her padd to show the coordinates have arrived safely. She's already messaging the helm to command a course change.

"I would recommend you adjust your course to intercept at whatever speed is available to you."

"Agreed."

"If any further aid or a better solution presents itself then we will of course be in contact, Kirk. That is, I'm afraid, the best that we can do. You were aware of the risks when you chose to accept this mission into uncharted space."

"That's helpful," he hears McCoy mutter under his breath. A sharp elbow shuts him up for the time being, because they do not need to be pissing off the only people who are able to pull strings at this distance.

"We were aware. We appreciate the assistance, Admiral." He sighs, prepares to sign off.

"And Kirk," Cartwright says sharply, just before his hand hits the comm-switch.

"Yes, sir?"

"I don't need to remind you, of all people, what kind of panic can result from a confined population who believes themselves in danger of running out of rations." He can fairly feel the blood drain from his face as the aging admiral gives him a pointed look through the viewscreen. "I presume we can trust you to ensure a repeat of…past events, does not occur aboard the Enterprise."

His hands clench so hard he can feel bones grinding, thankfully out of sight under the briefing table. "You presume correctly, Admiral."

Wow, his voice actually didn't shake at all – that's impressive.

Cartwright cuts the connection without saying anything else, even more impressive, given that the man is renowned in the 'Fleet for his exquisite lack of tact.

For three whole seconds, you could hear a stylus drop in his briefing room.

Then –

"Gentlemen, you are dismissed," Spock's voice snaps over the room like lightning, and while it's amusing seeing Sulu and Chekov and even Scotty fairly climbing over each other to get out, they deserve a little more than that. He has to love Spock a little for trying, though.

"Hang on a minute," he says, laughing despite himself. "Sit back down, guys. It's fine, Spock." A slanted eyebrow clearly says I beg to differ, you idiot human, but his First subsides in deference, as usual.

Bones has been weirdly, creepily silent, just watching him – waiting for the inevitable, and probably hoping he doesn't have to pick up pieces when he's done.

"So. You have questions."

"Uh. Well –"

A high-heeled boot clearly makes contact with Sulu's foot, whereupon his young helmsman shuts his mouth with a yelp and glares across the table at Uhura's look of imminent death. "Not unless you have answers you want to tell, sir," he says primly.

Jim leans back in his chair, folds his arms across his midsection to hide the fact that they aren't as steady as he'd like. "There's not much to tell, Lieutenant. Frankly, with the firewalls as patchy as they are from the tribbles right now, I'm surprised the files haven't just leaked past the classified section in my records into public knowledge."

Spock shifts, just ever so slightly, in his chair, but it's a tell.

Jim's eyes narrow.

"About that, Jim…" Bones clears his throat uneasily. "You know how when some things are flagged with key words in the data banks they just generate automated reports that get forwarded to certain places, certain people aboard ship…"

He stares first at his two executive officers, then around the table in consternation. "Are you freaking kidding me."

"Look, it's not like anybody went looking for it, Jim! I tried to delete 'em but your precious Vulcan got to 'em first and about beat my door down over it –"

"I did nothing of the kind, Doctor –"

"You did, you flipped the heck out, Spock. Left right in the middle of our one and only dinner date the entire week, too, Captain. Just so you know."

"…Sorry?"

"And 'twas a bit of an accident but Security always gets CC'd on anything that has to do with the captain, given the number of times, beggin' your pardon, sir, that ye've nearly gotten yourself killed on an away mission; we didn't exactly know until we were readin' that they were files which shouldna have gotten un-classified, so to speak."

"Never mind. Just – never mind." He massages the skin around his eyes with both hands, mind reeling. "Anybody else have skeletons in their closet they want to drag out while we're at it here?"

"Chekov lied about his age so he could get into a club on Risa during our first shore leave there six years ago," Sulu volunteers brightly.

Their young navigator turns a bright red, and Jim rolls his eyes. "Anything relevant to the crisis at hand, Mr. Sulu?"

"Ah. No, sir."

"Nyet, Captain."

"We got this, Captain," Uhura says quietly, and he half turns to see her give him a pointed look. "Timetables, ration schedules, possible repair schematics, it's all been seen to. Reaching the Pegasus within eight days will only help take the pressure off."

He blinks, and looks over her shoulder at his First Officer. "That what you were working on this morning at breakfast?"

"That, and tryin' ta figure out how we can jury-rig the replicating units in Officers' Mess to reproduce machinery instead of food if need be," Scott interjects, waving a padd in the air. "It'll take a bit of reprogramming but it can be done, and if we can run them non-stop on auxiliary power re-routed through the wall charging conduits then we might just be able to repair two of the main replication units even before we reach the Pegasus."

He raises an eyebrow, impressed. "Won't we need those units for water recycling?"

Spock half-turns from where he is typing into the nearest computer terminal, obviously pulling up diagrams of some kind. "Bio-labs Fourteen and Fifteen are undertaking that problem at my direction, Captain, and have compiled a list of possible solutions for you to examine at your convenience."

"Huh." He shrugs, relaxes in the chair for the first time all morning. "Damn, you guys are good."

"Obviously." Spock's dead-pan from behind the computer screen triggers a round of nervous laughter.

"Well…okay, then." He stands, stretches, and for the first time doesn't feel the lurking sense of panic that's followed him around for the last few days like a ghostly specter.

"I took care of re-flagging and classifying those files, by the way, Jim," Bones says, matter-of-factly, and Jim claps his shoulder in gratitude as he moves toward the door.

"Thanks. Not really something I want making its way into the public library banks."

"Mm-hm, you have enough dramatic backstory for one dark hero, don't you think, Captain?"

The doors open behind him and he turns, hands outstretched in an easy shrug as he backs out of the room. "What can I say, Lieutenant, I am just that awesome."

A couple of unimpressed snorts follow the closing of the doors behind him. He leans against them for a second and closes his eyes in a surprisingly strong mix of gratitude and affection that almost takes him to his knees.

That affection dims just a bit when Spock goes to leave and triggers the motion sensor for the sliding door, depositing him neatly inside the room again flat on his back.

Well, another lesson in humility never hurt anyone.

And after all – it is a little funny.

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