Disclaimer: Star Trek is the property of Paramount/Viacom. This story is the property of and is copyright (c) 1981 by Kate Birkel. Originally published in Fermata, Karen Bates, editor. Rated PG.

Research Project

Kate Birkel

"Three! Nobody has a charisma of three!"

The dismayed yelp caught Spock's attention as he passed by the auxiliary bridge on his way back from the main computer room early one morning before the actual start of his duty shift. The third duty shift, which was based in the auxiliary bridge room, would not be turning the ship back over to the direct control of the main bridge and Captain Kirk for another thirty-four minutes. Puzzled, Spock stopped to listen just outside the door.

"Yeah, but just think -- you've got an eighteen for both strength and constitution." Spock recognized the second voice as belonging to Lt. Paulings, senior officer in charge of the third shift.

"And an intelligence of eight." The first voice did not sound as if Pauling's attempts to cheer him up had succeeded. "A retarded dwarf -- that's what I've got -- a retarded dwarf with terminal ugliness!"

"You probably stink, too," a third voice entered the discussion. Spock thought he detected a note of glee. "You never take a bath or use a deodorant!"

"At least you'll be damn near impossible to kill," Paulings said. "I can't be killed because no one will come near me!"

Curiosity finally got the best of Spock, and he entered the room to investigate. He found Paulings and the other four duty personnel gathered around the computer terminal. Each person had "a noteboard in front of him, except for Paulings, who was manning the computer. Close to Paulings's elbow lay the strangest collection of dice Spock had ever set eyes on. All activity ceased when Spock entered the room.

"Uh, can I help you, sir?" Paulings stood up.

Spock surveyed the group in silence for a few seconds before speaking. "Would you mind explaining the nature of the activity in which you are currently engaged?"

"Historical research, Mr. Spock," Ensign Jim Garver snapped back without missing a beat. Evidently, they had worked out their cover story in advance, anticipating such a demand for an explanation.

"Indeed?" Spock placed his hands behind his back, eyes never straying from the dice next to the computer terminal.

"Oh, we're not gambling, sir." Paulings caught the look and rushed in with an explanation. "It's an ancient Earth game one of the fellows down in Historical Research dug up a couple months back. We're just testing his research for him. It's called Dungeons and Dragons. I'm the Dungeonnmaster, and the others are just rolling up their characters for the game."

"You are employing the computer for this research?" There was heavy emphasis on the word 'research'.

Paulings shrugged apologetically. "Well, it makes life a lot easier for the Dungeonmaster, Mr. Spock. And besides, we thought, that since you use it to play chess, it wouldn't hurt to... " His voice trailed off under Spock's icy stare.

"The two situations are not the same, Mr. Paulings."

"But, Mr. Spock -- it's really a fantastic dungeon!" Garver spoke up in Paulings's defense. "Lt. Paulings spent an entire month constructing it!"

Paulings winced, then glared at his big mouthed friend, who suddenly looked as if he wished the floor would swallow him.

Spock thought for a moment. Despite the bloodthirsty talk he had overheard earlier in the corridor, the occupation seemed harmless enough -- just another human flight of fantasy. A quick glance around the auxiliary bridge showed him the other duties had not been neglected for this strange pastime, and Paulings had never been caught in dereliction of duty.

Paulings saw Spock's indecision. "The work is caught up, sir. All the reports are ready to be handed over to the Captain. We only work at it when there's nothing else to do."

The thought crossed Spock's mind that he never lacked for suitable occupation for his time, but then he dismissed it. These were humans, not Vulcans, and they certainly did not have the responsibilities he had.

"Jim, here, just finished rolling up his character," Paulings added. "It's a real winner."

Garver rolled his eyes. "Uggh!" he muttered. "A charisma of three and an intelligence of eight! I ask you!"

"A factor of three is the lowest that can be rolled." Paulings explained to the bemused Spock. "The highest is eighteen. We use three six sided dice."

Spock looked at the dice for another long minute, nodding as if he understood, his mind calculating the odds of rolling any combination of numbers. Then he jerked himself back into reality as he realized where his thoughts had been leading him. "You may proceed," he said in a clipped voice, then beat a hasty retreat before he got in any deeper.

* * *

Several months passed before Spock had occasion to walk in on the 'researchers' again. He had, just to satisfy his own curiosity, asked the library computer for information on the game and had been told it was a fantasy role-playing war game originating from a period of Terra's history when such games were common. It mentioned several other such games -- Snit's Revenge, War of the Roses, Railroad Baron and Rommel's African Campaign.

He was also told Dungeons and Dragons was the most prevalent and most imaginative of the games, and that a minor industry had sprung up to support it. Feeling he had gotten almost too much information, Spock cut off the computer at that point.

But now, he was making one of his periodic night rounds, after having completed work for the night on his own research project -- an article dealing with a mathematical problem he had been asked to author by the Vulcan Academy of Science. There were few in the corridors as Spock made his rounds; mainly ship's services personnel whose cleaning and repairing duties were most efficiently accomplished during the quiet hours of the third duty shift. Spock greeted all he met with a quiet nod, but did not pause to visit with any of them. They were all sufficiently accustomed to both his and the Captain's habit of wandering the ship at night for them not to question his presence. He made the auxiliary bridge his last stop, where he found the personnel once more crowded around Lt. Paulings and the main computer console.

When Spock entered the room, Paulings got to his feet. "Uh -- can help you, sir?"

As unobtrusively as possible, the others in the room sidled back to their own particular stations and busied themselves. Spock frowned at them for a moment before turning his attention back to Paulings.

"I trust nothing has gone amiss to cause this conference, Mr. Paulings."

"Oh, no, sir!" Paulings denied vigorously. "We were just -- ah -- checking out some research."

"Indeed." Spock picked up one of the abandoned noteboards on the table next to the console and quickly skimmed it. He looked back up at Paulings. "Glog the Unwashed?" he asked in an unbelieving tone.

Paulings winced, and Ensign Jim Garver grimaced. Spock placed the noteboard back down on the table, then took a cursory check of all the instruments in the auxiliary bridge room as the other personnel held their breath. Finally, he returned to stand near the main console again.

"I must commend you on your persistence in this historical research."

Nothing in his voice or demeanor indicated more than a polite interest in the interrupted proceedings. "If I am not mistaken, you have been pursuing this particular topic for seven months."

His words effected a relaxation of the tense expectancy in the room, and several conspiratorial glances were exchanged among the "researchers". Third shift usually lived up to its nickname of the graveyard shift, and it had become almost traditional that the unfortunate souls trapped on it find some method of alleviating the tedium. It had also become traditional the Captain close his eyes to whatever shenanigans occurred as long as the job was properly done and it was not forcibly brought to his attention as a disciplinary problem. Since Spock's night visits rarely coincided with one of their 'hobbies', they simply had not known what his personal views on the subject were.

"Thank you, sir." Paulings's eyes twinkled with suppressed mirth although his face was properly solemn. "Glog the Unwashed has proven to be an interesting subject to study. We've gotten to a ninth level of endeavor with him."

"He still stinks." A small voice drifted from behind Spock's back. Spock stifled a sigh. Whatever they were attempting to prove, they were very proud of themselves. If they actually did produce a document of some sort from this project, it might or might not be worth reading. He glanced around the room one last time as if seeking the answer to what could sustain one game for such a period of time, then decided he really did not want the answer. "Carry on."

"Yes, sir," Paulings said crisply.

* * *

The bridge was dark and silent, except for the muted sounds of the consoles and instruments humming to themselves in the dimness when Spock walked out of the turbo lift some weeks after his encounter in the auxiliary bridge. All bridge functions during this period of the night were routed through the auxiliary bridge, and there would be no one to disturb him. Spock often sought the peace of this spot during the nights when he did not sleep, pursuing his own off duty occupations. Needing no more light than was already present, Spock crossed the carpeted bridge on silent feet. As he passed by the command chair, though, he thought he saw an odd green flash slither around the chair, but then dismissed it as the product of an overactive imagination.

Spock slid into his seat at the Science station, fingers instinctively reaching for the toggles that would instruct the library computer to summarize any information that had entered the ship's sensors since his last check. As one part of his mind absorbed the chittering bleeps and flashing light patterns on the print out screens, his hands traveled across the banks of relay switches, making sure nothing had been left out of order by the second shift. He did find one switch on, the one that connected the main bridge to the auxiliary bridge console, and turned it off, making a note to remind his assistant not to do so in the future unless really necessary. After he had done his routine checks, Spock turned the computer over to another purpose -- that of constructing the elegantly beautiful model of the math problem he was using to illustrate the article for the Vulcan Science Academy Journal. Soon, however, he caught a discrepancy in the pattern. Almost irritated by the irregularity, Spock erased the last segment of the problem and set the computer to finding out why the error had appeared. The answer did not please him. The night shift officers in the auxiliary bridge were playing that archaic game again, and had inadvertently trespassed on the circuits Spock had reserved for his own personal use.

Spock reached for the intercom to call the auxiliary bridge, but stopped. Someone or something, unknown, had brushed against his boot in the area of his ankle. He tensed. Certainly, no one had been on the bridge when he'd entered it, and since then, no one had come onto it. He remembered the odd green flash he had seen and cursed his own stupidity for not investigating it. Again there was movement by his ankle, only this time it felt as if a deliberate tug on his pant cuff had been made.

"Who is there?" he asked in a quiet voice.

"Me!" a high pitched, surly voice replied belligerently.

In a slow motion, Spock swivelled his head slightly to the side, then looked down toward the floor by his foot. His eyes registered the peculiar green image of a computer readout standing there, but his mind informed him there was no computer screen at that spot.

"Who are you?"

"I am Glog the Unwashed!" The little green image stepped back, affording Spock a clearer view of itself. It seemed to be a two dimensional line drawing of a caricature. It was small, barely nine inches tall, broad and squat. dressed in baggy pants, a ragged, ill-fitting shirt, with a cape thrown over all. A sword hung freely at one side, and it held a dagger in one hand. The face that peered out of the tarnished helm was arresting. Broad, high cheeked, it had definite slanting eyebrows and pointed ears. "Who are you?"

"I am Commander Spock, First Officer," Spock explained in a half apologetic tone. "Where have you come from?" Spock was reasonably certain he didn't want to hear the answer, but morbid curiosity prompted him to ask the question anyway. The name 'Glog the Unwashed' had certain connotations in his mind that boded no good.

"I am from the land of Gnarith. I am a ninth level fighter, and am unsurpassed among my comrades!" The hand with the dagger flashed through the air with a flourish.

"Indeed," Spock nodded wisely, feeling rather foolish inside. "How does it come about that you are on the bridge?"

Glog's ears seemed to droop for a second. "I was separated from my companions in the great dungeon of Gollum's End. I went ahead to find the way past a room full of Medusa dragons, but there was a spell binder, a lich, in the entryway waiting for me. In the course of the fight, I took a wrong turning." Glog straightened. "When I return, I shall render that miserable lich from limb to limb, and wear his head for a necklace!"

"A most worthy revenge," Spock agreed.

The dagger lashed out and poked Spock just above the ankle. "You betcha, Spock!" Glog cackled. "That lich'll never get me again! I am Glog the Unwashed, ninth level fighter -- warrior unsurpassed!"

"Your modesty is also unsurpassed," Spock commented drily.

"I have no need of modesty! A fighter of my standing needs only to fight!" Glog boasted. He drew his familiar looking eyebrows into a frown. "What are you doing in my territory anyway? Tell me why I should not instantly send you on to join your ancestors?"

"I do not believe this is your territory," Spock explained. "This is the main bridge of the USS Enterprise. I am the First Officer and Chief Science Officer. It is my duty to be here."

"The USS Enterprise? Hmmm -- a strange name for a dungeon." Glog stepped back and turned sideways. All Spock could see was one faintly luminous line, straight up and down. "Where are the dragons? Where are the balrogs, the trolls, the ores, the wizards?"

"You and I are the only two beings here at this moment." Spock watched as Glog turned again, and once more became a full drawn apparition.

"Are you a spell binder?" Glog poked Spock in the leg again, and Spock felt the point prick through his skin just above his boot top.

"I have never heard of a spell binder." Discreetly, Spock tucked his foot back under his chair, safely out of his antagonistic visitor's reach. "If you would describe one to me, perhaps I might be of more help,"

"Pah!" Glog snorted. "Boy, are you an ignoramus!"

"I beg your pardon." Spock was taken aback by the charge.

"I said you were stupid!" Glog chortled with nasty glee again.

"My intelligence rating hardly bears that observation out." Spock glared huffily down at the fighter.

"I have an intelligence of eight." Glog puffed out his grease stained shirt bosom. "What's yours, dummy?"

"My intelligence rating is of no concern to you." Spock was rapidly becoming annoyed with his unsought companion.

"A three!" Glog jeered.

Stung, Spock threw back, "eighteen!"

"Four -- tops!" Glog retorted.

"Eighteen," Spock insisted through clenched teeth.

"Four." Glog pointed his dagger at Spock. "I grow tired of you and your stupid talk. Lift me up!"

"I shall do no such thing."

"I'll tear you to shreds!" Glog threatened. "Now lift me up so I can return to my proper dungeon -- not this half-assed one!"

Spock stared down at the green figure for a long moment, then shrugged. It would do no harm to acquiesce to the fighter's request, and he had already wasted far too much time in this senseless bickering. He bent over and scooped the feather-light form up in one hand, keeping a close eye on the dagger, and brought him up off the floor.

"Where do you wish me to place you?"

Glog pointed an imperious hand at the main console. "There. I came out of there."

Spock obediently set Glog down on the console. Glog drew himself up to his full height of nine inches, and glared balefully at the Vulcan.

"This is the lousiest dungeon I have ever found myself in. No one to fight. An idiot who doesn't even know what a spell binder is. Then to top it off, someone pirated my eyebrows and my ears and put them on you! I'm going back to my own dungeon. At least things are normal in there!"

Glog flourished the dagger one last time dangerously near Spock's nose, then wrapped the cloak tightly around himself. He stomped over the relay board, kicking at a couple of toggles as he passed them. Spock cringed slightly as the library computer began spitting out random bits of inforrmation. Finally, the diminutive fighter reached the top tier of the library computer system and stopped. As Spock watched, he seemed to sink down into the panel.

For many long minutes, Spock continued to stare at Glog's point of disappearance, a bemused look on his face. The intercom roused him from his reverie.

"Bridge, Spock."

"Paulings, auxiliary bridge," a voice said crisply. "Sorry to bother you, sir, but we just noticed a confidential relay on the bridge had been activated. I just.wanted to check."

"Very good, Mr. Paulings. It was a slight error on my part. I shall finish here in a few moments." Spock detected a murmur of conversation floating over Paulings' voice.

"What do you mean Glog missed again?" a voice was wailing.

"Glog the Unwashed just became Glog the Late Lamented."

"You can't kill Glog! He's a ninth level character!"

"He's dead, Jim."

"Have a nice evening, Mr. Spock," Paulings said.

"Thank you, Mr. Paulings. Spock out."

Very carefu'lly, Spock lifted his finger from the intercom button. He looked up at the screen where his mathematical problem was waiting to be dealt with, then shook his head. No -- no more tonight. He was over tired, and it would profit him more to return to his cabin and sleep the few hours left before morning.

* * *

By the time he reached Deck Five, Spock had rationalized the incident into its proper perspective. He had been working very hard these past few weeks -- extra duty shifts, long hours on the article for the Journal. He was overwrought and fanciful. Sarek had often reproved a much younger Spock for that particular failing. A good night's sleep, a nourishing breakfast, perhaps a few extra hours of meditation. That was what he needed.

He entered his cabin and sat down on the chair near the bed to take his boots off. As he bent over to put them in their place, he snatched a quick look at the area near his pant cuff. There was a small puncture wound and a trickle of dried blood. Spock closed his eyes and carefully straightened up. It is not there, he told himself firmly. Go to bed.