DISCLAIMER: The Star Trek characters are the property of Paramount Studios, Inc. The story contents are the creation and property of Kelthammer and is copyright (c) 2002 by Kelthammer. This story is Rated G.

The Chicken Riddle


Dear God in Heaven, but his feet hurt.

All the way to his neck.

Leonard H. McCoy decided his dignity could be put away for when he really needed it (Probably the very next time they beamed down to a planet populated with ethnocentric dungeon-keepers), and pulled his boots off halfway to his cabin.

By the time he staggered to 3F-127, his painful limp was under moderate control and the hapless techs in charge of Dress & Refit (down in the literal bowels of the Enterprise) were given only a slapdash cussout.

"Can go to warp 8 on our captain's willpower, but can't make a pair of boots to fit," he muttered to himself and tossed the footwear in the darkest corner.

There. Off with that and on with something more suited to human beings.

Still disgusted with the problems a three-quarter inch defect in an instep could cause to his lower back on down, the doctor changed to clothing more suitable to his four-day (halleluja!) weekend. Brown slacks. Loose brown shirt. And because he didn't want the hassle of shameless stares from the crew, he compromised: he put on footwear, but it was in the form of rawhide-soled boot moccasins (Navajo, low with a silver button at the ankle). Best conserve his reputation as eccentric. Depressing though it was, there were Earthers who never knew what grass felt like between their toes. Leonard had them lumped in his mental file of "people who don't know how pitiful they are".

Much better. Now he was fit for his limited vacation. And by God, he was going to enjoy it now because medical disasters respected no one's time off. He would thank Jim for giving him the extra long weekend. And he might even be able to enjoy all three days of it -- but he'd be an idiot to assume he could.

With a smile of relief, he turned to the mirror, and raked his fingers through his hair, deliberately messing up the military-tight lines. Much better. Humming "The Eagle's Whistle" under his breath, he strolled out the door in search for a certain redshirt who lived on Engineering Deck.

* * *

"You ... you wha? You ... gotta be kidding."

Montgomery Scott blinked, his large brown eyes conveying just enough wounded outrage with deadpan humor. It had to be a Highlander gene. Great-granny Roane was exactly the same way.

Of course, Leonard's great-grandmother also claimed to be a were-seal and complained bitterly whenever the family journeyed off the coast for any reason, but -- the doctor shook his head, driving reality back with a thud.

He was facing another Scot, and another hornswoggling. Time to stand firm.

"Another sauna?" the doctor repeated, aware his lips had gone numb from shock. "After what happened to us the last time we fired up the coals and went for a sweat in the teach an alais?"

"That was different," Scott protested.

"How?" McCoy was determined to fight over this.

"It was on Earth."

"Yeah, and remember what our beloved captain did to us when it was over?"

"Look, he overreacted a wee bit. He said so himself."

"Overreacted a wee bit? You call making us escort two Klingons and two Romulans around for a day a 'wee overreaction?' His voice was rising.

"But it had nothing to do with our takin' the sweat!" Scott protested. "He did it because we swam under the lake ice!"

"Mr. Scott," McCoy was pinching the bridge of his nose and keeping his eyes shut as he talked, "May I remind you that James T. Kirk did not assign us to Diplomatic Hades because we went on a merry lark under a frozen lake. He did it because our merry lark scared the bejeezes out of him and he doesn't like it when someone else does something stupid."

"Stupid?" Scott could be amazingly close-minded when it came to noticing a real issue. "We were perfectly safe!"

"I know that, and he knows that ... now. He didn't at the time and he just hates it when his crewmembers send his blood pressure up." The doctor sighed. "And you want to take another sauna?"

"It's healthy," Scott protested.

Yeah, but the side effects aren't always. McCoy gave him a level, level look from underneath his rooster tail eyebrows. "I'll agree with you. It is healthy, but if it's done anywhere near James T. Kirk it's not."

"Paranoid," Scott told him sadly.

"Maybe." McCoy refused offense.

"What could go wrong with a sauna on the ship?"

"You tell me."

"Look, the only reason why we swam under Loch Ben is because o' that remark he made about 'older crewmen,'" Scotty huffed and still managed to work a color in his cheeks over the thought. "I think he learned a little lesson, don't ye think?"

"I learned a little lesson too. It ties neatly in with an old southern proverb about choosing battles wisely, but I'm not going to waste my breath on you." McCoy rubbed his neck and sighed. "Okay. We'll go try out this new marvel of yours. And then we go eat, right?"

"Absolutely!" Scott beamed, his battle won. "Ye'll not regret walkin' in!"

"You're right there," McCoy grumbled as they journeyed down the hallway. "Because the regret has already started."

Scott nudged him in the ribs. "And they say my folk are dour. Either ye got an extra helping of gloam an' doam, or--"

"Look." McCoy held up his hands to forestall any more family tree divinings. "Scotty. Look. I just ... didn't expect a sweat to be part of the evening, okay? I have resigned myself to the fate of paying heavily for that poker game--"

"Just a decent meal and a drop at the end," Scott cut in. "Nae like I asked ye tae turn over yer firstborn!"

"OK, OK, OK." McCoy had, for all purposes, given up. Scott wanted to try out the new sauna before dinner, fine. They could do that, get it over with, and go on to the exorbitantly priced meal McCoy had arranged to pay for losing everything he owned to Scott with a bad hand of cards.

Vacations could be complicated.

* * *

Since Scotty was off for five consecutive days (he had the option of taking short mandatory leaves or face a penalty from Starfleet, a clause designed against overwork), the Engineer was also out of uniform. Which of course, naturally, meant a linen shirt and the family kilt. McCoy thought it was an indication of just how oddity-inured the crew was that they didn't get a single glance from anyone while they wended to the Rec Room.

"So why are you so excited about this anyway?" McCoy wondered.

Scott sighed. "I was just hopin' we could have a pleasant steaming in the teach an alais." He preferred the Gaelic word for sauna, which translated to "sweat-house."

McCoy sent an eyebrow sailing. "Thinking of the last time we went steaming, and how miserably it ended, huh?"

"Aye," Scott growled just a little bit. It was his way of sounding contrite, and he only wound up sounding like a baited bear.

"Well, okay. Put it that way..."

* * *

Several minutes later they were rinsed in the showers and lying on the wooden benches. Despite his grumbling, McCoy didn't really mind the sauna. It was an enjoyable experience -- or at least, it was supposed to be. They had learned the hard way not to do anything that might alarm Captain Kirk.

"How long you want to stay?"

"How long can ye hold out?"

Snort. "You think I'll be the first one out? Dream on."

"Scotsmen don't dream. Irishmen, maybe..."

"Go to hell, Scotty." McCoy said fondly, and laid himself out against the glowing bed of electronically heated coals.

By definition a sauna had to be dark. The door was glass for safety purposes, but there were no lights inside. Scott found himself in charge of the water bucket and occasionally roused himself to pour a scoop on the konnos, sending a cloud of steam to drive needles into their skin. It was peaceful, enhanced moreso by the usual chitter-chatter of crewmen in the exercise machines outside. From his vantage point, Scott could even see the captain and Spock on the dojo, going through several maneuvers that looked ill-advised for humans, and only nominally safe for Vulcans.

He said as much to McCoy, who never lifted the towel from his eyes. "Why do you think I've got myself blindfolded? Ignorance is bliss for me."

Several minutes passed as the heat gently worked out stiff muscles and bones. Scott sighed peacefully. This was really living, he thought. Who needed shore leave when they could come to this every night at the end of a hard day? Back in Scotland, they didn't have vacations like Starfleet insisted on. They had the biweekly three day weekend, and sick leave, and did their relaxing in the "teach" as was natural. Highlanders had been using the sweat for their physical, mental and emotional health since the Stone Age. It was high time somebody noticed. Scott often felt the captain was a bit unfair in enforcing him into shore leave when a) Jim Kirk wasn't famous for underwork either and b) didn't seem to understand that a good old technical journal was what he really looked forward to when he got tense and stressed out.

Theoretical Engineering. Architectural Design. Computer logistics and -- and the list went on. Numbers and diagrams and physical geometry sang for Scott, the way a string of Mozart bars sang to Nyota, or a new plant lit up Hikaru's world. But no, he happened to like things that meant work and exhaustion to most of his race, so of course, he was the one with the problem...

"Pour some more water on, Scotty." Leonard's drawl broke him out of his ruminations.


Clouds of steam boiled up, and promptly slapped against the glassine tempered door, rendering the world briefly foggy. Two figures in gymnasium scarlet paused on their way to the adjoining changing room.

"Whew, that looks hot," Jim Kirk commented. "Did you ever go into one of those?"

"I prefer the dry sauna, Captain," Spock reminded him.

"Of course." Jim chuckled. Water rippled as the activated the wall showers. "But anyway, it's considered an important question."

"Captain, I am unsure why there would be a bulk of philosophy built up on a common domestic barnfowl ... especially one that is not known for its intelligence."

"I'll tell you what." Jim was chuckling. "We'll ask Bones tonight at dinner. He should be able to tell you."

McCoy made no move to that statement, save a glowering frown of suspicion.

Spock sounded dubious. "Why would Dr. McCoy be able to explain the problem?"

"Well, I doubt he can," Kirk admitted. There was a swooshing sound as a towel was draped over a dripping back. "But it should be ... informative.."

Informative, Scott thought. Translation: Entertaining to the captain. He wasn't sure he liked what he was hearing. It was well known that Spock and McCoy staged their fights for the benefit of the crew -- morale boosting, if you will, but that didn't mean someone should start throwing peanuts and demand a performance.

During the overheard exchange, Scott kept flicking his eyes from the prone physician to the shadows on the wall where the other officers were. McCoy had been listening with a half-dozing expression, not unlike that of a sleeping cat, but only a turnbrained fool would construe a harmless meaning from that picture. Leonard wasn't just Irish. He was a conglomeration of various stubborn, hard-headed peoples who had never once been renowned in world history for their ability to back down from a fight.

Scott would need most of a day just to list the reasons why people shouldn't think about getting on the doctor's bad side. But it was a lot simpler to say, "Trust me, don't do it."

He watched uneasily as the shadows of the captain and first officer passed the door.

McCoy popped one eye open, and it glinted.

"So I'm gonna be informative tonight, huh," he drawled softly, once Spock was out of Pointed Hearing Range..

Scott shrugged helplessly. "Ah have no idea what that means," he confessed.

"I think I do." McCoy was still drawling. "A few days ago I asked Spock why the chicken crossed the road. Spock didn't understand the question, to put it quite mildly. I guess he asked Jim for insight, and Jim thinks that Spock might get ... the maximum amount of comprehension if he asks the question back at me."

Scott heaved a sigh -- carefully, in the now dust-dry air. "Well," he began, and then realized he was at a loss for words.

"What time did ya want to go for dinner?" McCoy was still drawling.

Scott shook his head. "Whenever you're ready," he said uneasily.

"Good. I'll call ahead and tell the stewards to bring the tray to our table."

"You won't tell me what it is we're eating, are you?" Scott sighed.

"Hey, I promised you a real meal. And I wouldn't foist grits, cornbread and pintos off on somebody who didn't have the palate to appreciate it."

Even so, Scott was a little uneasy about dinner. He didn't want to be witness to a big fight among the senior officers, and McCoy was mercurial enough to do exactly that. Not that Scott could honestly blame him. If he knew someone was setting him up for a fashing, he'd be snarly too.

They cleaned up and redressed, McCoy detouring to his cabin on the way to the Mess Rec for a bottle of brandy to hie them over and call in over his prearranged dining plans. Both men were feeling very relaxed and ready for whatever the evening would bring.

And for two hundred year old aged bourbon, Scott was willing to relax in a Klingon campground.

"Careful with this stuff," McCoy warned as the first jiggers filled the other's glass. "You've got enough hair on your chest without adding any more."

"Surely you're exaggerating a bit?" Scott chuckled, then allowed a reverent look to slide over his face at the first sip.

"Well?" McCoy demanded as Scott remained glassy eyed and silent.

"I've got to win more card games off ye."

"Dream on! The other night was a fluke. I been shuffling cards since I was a toddler! My daddy taught me my numbers on a 52-deck! I knew Queen Catherine as the Queen of Hearts long before I realized she was a real historical figure! I -- hell's bells."

Scott turned his head. Sure enough, Kirk and Spock were strolling their way.

"Good evening, gentlemen," Jim began pleasantly.

"Good evening." Scott smiled with all appropriate charm.

"Mph." There were advantages to cultivating the reputation for Ship's Curmudgeon. Being perpetually surly was one.

Spock, to his credit, was just looking puzzled. Not that he could be faulted for that -- he'd been in the figurative dark ever since McCoy asked him about the damn chicken.

"Doctor, could we ask you for a moment of your time?" Jim Kirk. Perfectly charming, perfectly innocuous, perfectly dreadfully untrustworthy. McCoy smiled pleasantly, nodding at the steward and accepting the silver-covered tray in his hands.

"Sure. We're about to have dinner. Care to join us?"

"No, no thanks, Bones." McCoy's carnivorous habits made him a definite 'out' with Vulcan dining companions. "Just wanted to ask you a little question."

"Sure thing, Jim," McCoy drawled, and butter wouldn't even soften on his tongue at that moment. "Go ahead."

"It's the question of the chicken." Jim beamed. Scott could have sworn at that moment, McCoy's face had flickered over an emotion: elation. But just as fast as it had appeared, it had vanished and Scott was wondering if he'd imagined it. In place of the wariness was something resembling borderline smug.

Och. Scott thought. He knew that look. Did he ever.

"What about the chicken?" McCoy suddenly stopped and yawned to the limits.

"You know, Bones. The question of the chicken. The Capon Conundrum."

"Huh?" McCoy affected a blank look of inbred ignorance. "What question?"

Jim sighed, patiently exasperated. "You know: Why did the chicken cross the road?"

"The chicken didn't cross the road," McCoy told him.

Jim paused. His mouth had been open to say something else. He didn't say it.

Spock's eyebrows went up. Jim's eyebrows went down.

"It ... didn't cross the road, Bones?"

"No, that's just a myth," McCoy told him. "A lotta people think it did, but it really didn't."

Jim blinked. Scott calculated it would take the captain less than five seconds to recover and attack at a new angle.

"Bones, I'm talking about the age-old question, why did the chicken cross the road?"

"So?" McCoy blinked. Scott was suitably impressed at the transformation.

"So, what?"

"So what about the question?"

Jim was getting just a shade exasperated. "So why did the chicken cross the road?"

"It didn't. That's what I'm trying to tell you," McCoy insisted.

Spock was looking from Jim, to Bones, to Scott. Scott lifted his shoulders in a "don't look at me" shrug.

"Bones, that's not the right answer!"

"What is the answer?" Spock asked, sotto voce, to Scott.

"Please, dinnae get me involved in this."

"Huh? Jim, what the hell are you talking about?"

"I'm talking about why the chicken crossed the road!"

"It didn't!"

"Yes, it did! That's why they ask, why did the chicken cross the road!"

"Oh, like they also say, 'which weighs more; a pound of feathers or a pound of gold?' -- I'm telling you, that's just a myth! It never got to the other side of the road!" The doctor then lifted the cover off his dinner tray. One lemon pepper broiler inside a boat of garlic roasted vegetables. "BECAUSE I GOT TO IT FIRST!"

Jim stared at the table. He then stared at McCoy, searching his face for signs of betrayal.

He was wasting his time. When properly motivated, McCoy could stonewall a dead dilithum.

Spock broke the silence.

"Perhaps there should have been another question, Captain."

"No, nothing was wrong with the question," Jim snapped. "Bones, I'll grant you points for originality, but I'm not talking about your chicken. I'm talking about the chicken of the age-old riddle!"

"Big-dixie-deal. Why doesn't my chicken count?"

Jim took a deep breath. He held it in, just for a moment. "Because your chicken is of the here-and-now. The chicken I'm talking about is of the ancient question."

"Oh, that's just semantics." McCoy airily waved that off. "The riddle doesn't specify which chicken, does it? No. It just asks, "Why did the" -- so it can be my chicken, if I want it to be. And as you're asking me, it is."

"But, Bones! You can't apply concrete terms to an age-old question!"

"Why not? Jim, I think you need to check your circuits. You of all people should know that its plain foolishness to keep an issue in a theoretical algorithm." He warmed to his subject as Kirk's face grew increasingly incredulous. "After all, theory is supposed to mentally prepare us for the concrete."

Kirk opened his mouth. He looked at Spock, who was still wearing his mildly curious expression.

"He does have a point," Spock told him.

"Spock, aren't you going to say something to this debate?"

"I was under the impression this was your debate, captain."

Jim had by then caught the stupefied stares of the crewmates at mess.

"Later." And he spun on his heel with a loud exhale. "Spock, are you coming?"

"Good luck with the lesson," McCoy called after Spock.

Spock paused at the doorway long enough to give the Vulcan equivalent of a bewildered shrug: He soared both eyebrows to his hairline.

Scott glared at McCoy, who was snickering as he began carving the bird up. "Ye're crazier than a gooney-bird, Leonard. If you think what he did to us over Loch Ben was punishment, just wait und see what he does to ye after this."

McCoy smiled. "Doesn't matter. I still won, and he knows it. That was definitely 'informative' wouldn't you agree? You like the dark meat?"

"Lad, I'll eat any part of a real chicken. Well, almost any." Scott pushed his plate forward. "But now, ye got to appreciate the irony of a situation."

The doctor paused while forking a chunk of steaming breastmeat on the Engineer's plate. "What irony?"

"Every time the captain says something he shouldna, we wind up payin' for it."

McCoy considered that while steam rose up and played about his face. "Hey, you're right. And here I thought it was just our Celtic lot in life to suffer."

"Well, maybe we should get an algorithm together over that. Should be revealing."

"It's gotta be more scientific than Chekov hooking up the lie detector to Sulu's ouija board." McCoy agreed and divvied the vegetables up. "And you'd better enjoy this. It cost an uncle's fortune to get the materials shipped up here."

"Och, I am." Scott took a forkful of perfectly roasted carrot and chewed in bliss. The reverent silence stretched that way for several minutes while the glances their way devolved from envy to outright resentment.

"Ye think th'captain will find out 'twas ourselves who were in the sauna?"

"I doubt it." McCoy was supremely confident. "But you're right about one thing. He'll think of some way to get even. Unless Spock really humiliates me on the Bridge tomorrow over some fascist moral issue." The chuckle that followed that statement was decidedly evil.

Scott opened his eyes and chewed on a potato. "So thot's the game plan? Poke at Spock until he swarps the deck with ye verbally?"

McCoy's return look was pure trickster. "Spock can win his arguments with me. Anybody else, they gotta work for the honor."

Scott gnawed his lips down on a laugh. "Yer a real fiddlehead, McCoy."

"Same to you, oh Tone Deaf Bearer of Pipes." They clicked their glasses together in a toast. "Now what's next on the vacation agenda?"