DISCLAIMER: The Star Trek characters are the property of Paramount Studios, Inc. The story contents are the creation and property of Joanne K. Seward and is copyright (c) 1991 by Joanne K. Seward. This story is Rated PG. Originally printed in Edge of Forever #3.
Joanne K. Seward
It was ship's night, but Jim Kirk was having trouble sleeping. Although he would never deliberately seek out dangerous situations, he knew himself well enough to realize that they were the conditions under which he thrived. The mundane ferrying and delivery duty the Enterprise had been involved in for the last months in no way suited his mercurial temperament.
He turned over again, trying to find a comfortable position. "Ouch!" He sat up and rummaged under the light blanket on his bed to find whatever was stabbing him. A small but attractive rock had apparently been the culprit. It was one of a collection Spock had been showing him earlier, in an attempt to find something to catch the captain's interest.
Jim put the specimen on the table next to his bed. "Wonder how that got there?" He couldn't have been any more awake if he had taken one of the stimulant injections McCoy occasionally permitted when things got rough and the Captain needed to stay awake. He checked the time once again and swore softly. "Damn." He had to put in a full shift tomorrow, even though they were just dropping off some supplies at the colony on Procyon IV, and he knew he wasn't going to get any sleep at this rate. He reached for his pants and pulled them on, slid his feet into a pair of athletic shoes and pulled a light sweatshirt over his head. "If I don't get out of this cabin, I'll go nuts! As it is, I'm talking to myself!"
After a short tour of the ship, Jim found himself at the doors to the arboretum. It's been too long since I've spent any time in here, he thought as the doors slid open with a whisper. He entered, then stopped to breathe the warm, moist air. "Mmmm." It smelled almost like springtime on Earth. Too bad we can't somehow disperse this scent through the whole ship, he thought.
Jim wandered through the arboretum until he reached the rose bushes. For a while he walked from plant to plant, touching the smooth petals and inhaling the sweet scent. These were his favorites, the quintessential Terran flower.
Sitting down on a bench beneath a sprawling tree with long feathery fronds, a native of one of the worlds of Mimos, he leaned back, imagining himself in a park on Earth. He could pick out a variety of floral scents, some tangy, some sweet, and one that reminded him of cinnamon. He felt himself relaxing, the tension leaving his neck and shoulders. Kirk sighed and closed his eyes in utter contentment.
* * *
Lieutenant Uhura was having trouble sleeping, too. With the milk runs the Enterprise had been performing for the last three months, there was simply nothing to tire her out. She'd already overhauled the entire communications system, pushing her comm people and the engineering techs she'd borrowed from Scotty to their limits. The results were a comm system with some interesting innovations she was trying out, that was at least twelve percent above the standard set by Starfleet. The side effect was an irritated, exhausted communications department. Yet it had not quelled her frustration. Not that she was the only one who was feeling frustrated; the entire ship's complement was showing the strain and there was no let up in sight.
After failing at every technique she knew for getting to sleep, Uhura threw back the hand-crocheted afghan (learning to crochet had been one of her attempts at alleviating boredom) and got out of bed. She pulled on one of the flowing gowns she favored for off-duty hours and picking up her Vulcan lyre headed for the arboretum. At least there she could smell some real growing things, not the recycled air of the Enterprise.
* * *
Reclining on the stone bench, Kirk must have dozed off, because he found himself dreaming of scantily-clad women dancing in a glade, accompanied by soft music playing in the background.
Jim's arm slid off the bench and he woke with a start. He groaned; stone benches had never been intended as substitutes for beds. His back was killing him, his neck was stiff. He groaned again, then stood, undecided as to whether the small of his back or the nape of his neck was more in need of rubbing. As he stood there, he realized the music he had heard in his dream had followed him back to his waking self.
Intrigued, Jim decided to find the source of the gentle sound. He walked quietly through the arboretum, going from one section to the next, finally arriving at an area that resembled a savannah. He paused at the edge of the grassy area, peering through the semi-darkness at the form seated on the turf.
"Uhura?" He walked to where she sat, her lyre cradled in her arms.
"Oh! Captain, you startled me."
"I didn't mean to. I'm sorry." He sat down next to her. "What are you doing?"
She shrugged. "Playing my lyre."
"But why here, and why at this time of night? It must be 0300 hours."
"I couldn't sleep, so..." She shrugged again. "What are you doing here, Captain?"
"I couldn't sleep either. At least not in my quarters. Believe it or not, I fell asleep on the bench in the rose garden, and now I have a stiff neck like you wouldn't believe."
"That stone bench! I just bet you do. Would you like a massage?" She didn't wait for a reply, but crawled over to kneel behind him and began working on the muscles in his neck.
They were silent for a few minutes, then with a final brisk rub, she asked, "There. How's that?"
"Marvelous, Uhura." He'd almost been asleep again. "Thank you. You know, if it smelled like this in my cabin, I don't think I'd have any trouble sleeping."
"Mmm, I know what you mean." She stifled a yawn.
"Why, Lieutenant, am I putting you to sleep?"
"If you are, Captain, then let me say thank you. I thought I was going to toss and turn all night."
"In that case, you're welcome. But perhaps we should try to get some rest." Jim stood and held out his hand. "May I escort you back to your cabin?"
"I'd be honored, sir." Uhura accepted his out-stretched hand, let him pull her to her feet then picked up her forgotten instrument. Kirk tucked her hand in the crook of his arm and in an old-fashioned manner they strolled out of the silent arboretum.
* * *
Morning came much too quickly as far as Kirk was concerned. He'd finally fallen asleep and then didn't feel like getting up. He felt the way he had as a child on a rainy morning when he just didn't want to go to school. He forced himself out of bed, promising himself a danish for breakfast as a reward for his efforts. "Great, Jim," he scolded himself. "Bones is always after you about your weight and here you are giving yourself fattening rewards just for getting up in the morning." What the neck, he rationalized, sometimes you just have to pamper yourself.
Kirk showered quickly, hoping to get down to the officer's mess before McCoy. He might feel like having that danish, but he certainly didn't feel like listening to McCoy's lecture on proper eating habits. He left his cabin feeling better than he had, but the thought of spending the next eight hours sitting on the bridge while they delivered supplies to Procyon IV was certainly lacking in stimulation. He strode toward the turbolift, his mind already savoring hot coffee and pastry.
"Jim! Wait up!" McCoy hurried down the corridor after him.
Damn. Well, tough, I'm going to have that danish anyway. He held the turbolift doors. "Morning, Bones," he responded grumpily.
"Oh! Right. Good morning. Jim, I want to talk to you about some disturbing statistics I'm getting down in sickbay."
"Can't it wait, Bones? I haven't even had breakfast yet and I'm already late for my shift."
"No, it can't, Jim. I'll talk while we eat."
The turbolift decanted them onto the recreation deck and they entered the officer's mess hall. Jim strode to the food dispenser and programmed in his order, then waited for McCoy's diatribe. He wasn't disappointed.
"Jim, if that's what you're eating for breakfast nowadays, no wonder you're having such a problem with your weight."
"Doctor, lay off, okay? It's not what I have every day and you know it. Today, I just feel like having a treat." Jim picked up his danish and coffee, then walked toward a vacant table.
"It's gotten to you, too, huh?" McCoy followed him with his own breakfast tray.
"What do you mean?"
"I mean that I've had too many people down in sickbay with minor infections and injuries; too many people putting on weight, or in a few cases losing weight; too many people stopping by for stimulants or sleeping pills. In short, the inactivity on this ship is driving us crazy."
"What would you like me to do, Bones? Drum up some Klingons to have a battle with, or fire our phasers at some planet that just happens to be there so that we can go in and do a little rescue work to relieve the boredom?"
"Captain," McCoy drawled. "Sarcasm doesn't suit you. That's more my style."
"Sorry, Bones. You're right. This mission is getting to me just like everyone else, but I don't see anything I can do about it. Starfleet has promised me they will replace the freight shuttle as quickly as possible, freeing us from this sector run. I guess they just don't understand what it's doing to my crew." He stopped then admitted, "Last night I couldn't even get to sleep. I tossed and turned for the longest time."
"Why didn't you come down to sickbay, Jim? I could have given you something mild, just to help you relax."
"I thought about it, but instead I took a walk."
"Where to? Did you find anyplace that helped?"
"Well, I wandered around the ship for a while, until I finally ended up in the arboretum. Bones, if you could bottle the wonderful smell of that place, I bet nobody would have trouble sleeping."
"Mmmm," McCoy closed his eyes. "I know what you mean. Come to think of it, I haven't been down there in a while myself. So, what happened? Did you finally fall asleep?"
"Y'know, I did. Right there on that stone bench in the rose garden."
"Ouch." McCoy grimaced.
"Yeah, that's what Uhura said when I told her."
"When did you see Uhura?"
"When I woke up. She couldn't sleep either. She must have come in while I was sleeping and started playing her harp. I thought I was dreaming the music - plus a few other things."
"Hmmm. The captain and one of the senior bridge crew spent the night wandering around the arboretum together," he rolled his eyes. "You two could start some rumors with that kind of behavior..."
"Bones!" Kirk's protest was loud enough to turn heads of crew members at the next table.
McCoy went on inexorably. "Hey, I'm being serious. Another officer showed up in sickbay asking for sleeping pills. And for what it's worth, Spock is one of the people who's weight is dropping. He, of all people," said McCoy, eyeing his companion's waistline, "can't afford to lose it."
"I've put the Enterprise in for shore leave detail, Bones, but I don't expect it to happen any time soon."
"Well, I'll have to go through my old psych texts, see if I can find any fresh concepts for alleviating this boredom in there. If we don't put a stop to it, we're going to have the most lethargic crew in space. And I hope you enjoyed your danish," said McCoy, standing and picking up his tray. "It'll be your last one for a while, 'cause I'm puttin' you on a diet."
* * *
The day passed in predictable monotony. They arrived at Procyon IV and made their delivery. The governor of the colony offered the crew the hospitality of the planet, which Jim was glad to accept, although there were few diversions to be had. At least the crew could take picnic lunches, get some fresh air and a chance to walk on real grass. Jim made the announcement then stood up and walked over to Spock.
"I'm going to get something to eat. Want to come along?" Now that he looked at his first officer, he wondered how he could have missed the weight loss. Spock was looking positively gaunt.
"Very well, Captain." He turned off his scanner and stood up. They walked to the turbolift side by side, Kirk pausing to turn the bridge over to Sulu.
"Damn it, Spock, I'm beginning to think I should stay off the bridge, just to give the senior officers a chance to do something different for a change."
"That would not really alter anything, Jim. Under our present conditions, yours is probably the most tedious job of all."
Kirk laughed ruefully. "I couldn't agree with you more. I just didn't think it was so obvious."
In the mess, Kirk pumped up the complete menu screen, gazing longingly in an attempt to find something different to eat. In a moment, the dispenser had identified him by voice print and delivered the lunch that McCoy had programmed in for him.
"Damn!" Kirk's tray contained a salad and a glass of bluish-looking milk.
Spock was less vocal, but his expression was no less dismayed at the sight of the overflowing tray of food McCoy had designated for him.
"I hate it when Bones treats us like children," Kirk whined.
"Indeed," replied Spock, inspecting a plate heaped with a mound of herbed pasta.
"Spock." Jim's face wore a crooked grin. "We could trade lunches..."
"Captain, to do so would be to verify the god doctor's opinion of our immaturity."
"I suppose, but I'm so hungry. I hardly had any breakfast..."
Spock looked at the captain with a raised brow.
"...all I had was a cheese danish and coffee."
"I see." Spock pursed his lips. "Caffeine, empty calories from refined sucrose, white flour, and a large helping of animal fat."
"Ugh!" Kirk grimaced. "It tastes a hell of a lot better than it sounds."
When they returned to the bridge, Jim still felt dissatisfied. The salad was filling, but perhaps, he thought, I'm craving something other than food. The insight hadn't changed anything, though. He still wanted to eat.
Spock, on the other hand, was looking rather miserable; he had attempted to finish what the doctor had ordered and now had indigestion as a result.
Soon, they were en route to their next destination, another colony, which did not have a resident doctor. McCoy and his staff would be overworked doing routine physicals and administering vaccinations while the rest of the crew waited. Kirk gave the order that as many crew members as were certified EMT's should report to McCoy to assist in the medicals. That would ease the medical staff's burden as well as give another group a chance to get off the ship for a short period of time.
Several more seemingly endless days passed in that fashion. Jim was no longer hungry at meal time. In fact, he had stopped noticing what he was eating. Emergency trips to sickbay had increased to the point where McCoy hadn't even had the time to pay attention to the captain's and first officer's eating habits, or indeed his own. When he finally did meet up with Jim at lunch one day, he was too tired to even notice whether Kirk was eating or not.
That night found Jim once again pacing the halls of the Enterprise, not only apathetic, but hungry once more. On the deck where the arboretum was located, he remembered the peace he'd found there before. He turned his steps in that direction.
The doors slid open and he walked in, breathing the scent of life around him. He paused, enjoying the warmth and smell of growing things. Soft chords caught his ear. The memory of that other night was so strong, he could almost hear Uhura's lyre.
Jim laughed then, realizing that he truly was hearing music. He walked toward the grassy area where he'd discovered the comm officer before.
"Uhura?" Talk about deja vu. She was sitting in the same spot, strumming the instrument.
"Captain." She smiled weakly, her normally luminous eyes darkly shadowed.
"Have you been here long?"
"Jim, remember? We're off duty."
"Habit, Jim." Her smile broadened.
"I know what you mean, Nyota," he said, sitting down beside her. "Nyota. Such a beautiful sound - like your music. Would you play some more?"
"I'd love to, Jim. Couldn't sleep again?" She sounded sympathetic.
"Yes. You, too?"
"That's right." She shook her head. "I just can't seem to relax when I go to bed. This is the only place I've been able to stop my brain from going around and around. My mother used to say everyone's head needed an off switch, and now I'm beginning to see what she means."
"I know. I've been trying to get as many people as possible off the ship for an hour or two, but it isn't enough. McCoy is very worried about the increase in minor complaints. He feels they're directly caused by boredom." He shook his own head in amazement. "Did you ever imagine deep space duty might be boring? Today I thought McCoy was going to explode when Kyle got his hand stuck in the food dispenser."
Uhura chuckled. "I heard about that one. How on earth did it happen?" She gazed at him curiously.
"I'm not sure I got the whole story, but I got enough. Apparently someone ordered something and it got stuck. Instead of calling maintenance, Kyle thought he'd play repairman and fix it himself. He tried to hove his hand in there and release the mechanism manually. Instead, his hand got stuck too."
"Well, I guess that must have caused some excitement, at least for a few minutes." She plucked a string on the harp, then pressed her hand against it to stop the vibration. "I might be out of line, but since I'm the one who makes the roster announcements, I've noticed that one person in particular hasn't enjoyed R&R on any of the planets we've stopped at, Jim."
"Who is that, Nyota? I've been attempting to get everyone off the ship for a break. I thought I'd done a pretty good job, even if I did have to send Spock down for some contraband food to get rid of him. At least it tasted good."
"I'm talking about the Captain. You remember him, don't you? You haven't been planetside, Jim."
"No, I haven't had a chance to go down. All those deliveries and shuttling this here and that there makes for a lot of extra paperwork."
"All work and no play makes Jim a dull boy." She said it without innuendo, but Kirk grinned at her all the same.
"Maybe we could do something about that, Nyota."
"Maybe we could, Jim, if this didn't get in the way." She lightly touched the gold braid on his sleeve.
"Thanks for reminding me." He sounded disgruntled, but he smiled at her anyway. "There's no law against enjoying each other's company all the same." He lay back on the soft turf, propping himself up on one elbow. "You know what this place is missing?" The captain didn't wait for an answer. "Stars."
"Jim, in case you hadn't noticed, there are more stars outside the ship than it's possible to count."
"No, I mean the arboretum. In the daytime, there's 'sunlight,' so how about some starlight or moonlight at night?"
"I'll tell you what I wouldn't mind," she stretched languidly. "Some weather. I haven't felt rain in so long, I've practically forgotten what it feels like."
"I got more than enough rain on my last landing party, but I know what you mean. A nice April shower ... or how about a brisk, bracing windstorm? When I was a child, I used to stand on this hill above a neighbor's wheat field. You know, you could see that wind sweep across..."
"Oh, yes, that would be so great! Or how about..."
"How about gettin' some sleep, Captain?" McCoy's voice came like a bucket of cold water.
"Bones?" Kirk struggled into a sitting position. "Is that you?"
"Of course it's me. Ouch! How the hell do you see where you're going in here?"
"Well, for starters, you wait until your night vision develops."
"If you don't mind, I could do with a seeing-eye dog, and you could do with some sleep. I reckon the same could be said about you, Uhura. It's 0245 in the morning. Next think I'll have both of you down in sickbay with some foolish injury due to fatigue. Oww! Damn roots!" he cursed.
"Sounds like you're the one who's getting injured, but I guess it is time we turned in. Okay, Bones. We're coming; stay where you are before you kill yourself." Jim stood, then helped Uhura to her feet. "What are you doing up anyway, Doctor?"
"I just finished patching up Ensign Larson's head. He walked into the edge of a console down in the laundry recycler room."
"What was he doing down there in the first place? It's supposed to be completely automated." They had reached McCoy and were heading for the door, Kirk in the lead.
"Maybe so," McCoy responded, "but a number of folks are complaining about losing clothing and getting back strange items from the laundry."
"Bones," Kirk remarked sarcastically, "you've certainly got your finger on the pulse of this ship, don't you?"
"Someone has to while you're down here smellin' the flowers. Anyway," McCoy continued, "a favorite shirt of Larson's had apparently disappeared and he was determined to get it back." The door slid open and they stepped into the corridor.
"Was he seriously hurt?" Kirk inquired.
"Minor concussion. Worst thing is, I had to remove the hair from that area of his head. You'd think by the way he carried on that I was trying to kill him instead of close up in inch-long scalp wound."
They had reached the turbolift. The doors opened immediately. At this hour of the night, there wasn't much traffic. Kirk gave the destination and then turned back to McCoy. "All kidding aside, I agree with you. This ennui, this inactivity is beginning to have some dangerous consequences."
"And it has got to stop before something critical happens. Why I even had your communications officer down in sickbay this morning." He gave Uhura a pointed look. "Are you feeling any better now?"
Kirk turned to her. "What was the problem?"
"It was just a headache, Captain. It seems crazy to say, but just spending time under the trees helped."
"Jim," McCoy said gravely. "We've got to attack the cause, not treat the effects. There's no other alternative."
"I'll see what I can do, Doctor, but I'm not making any promises." The lift doors whooshed open. "Night, Lieutenant."
"Good night, Captain, Doctor McCoy." She gave them a tired smile as she left them.
"You gonna be able to sleep now, Jim?" They were outside Kirk's cabin.
"I think so, thanks. Maybe inspiration will come to me in the night." Kirk shrugged.
"See you tomorrow."
* * *
Kirk pondered his dilemma for a long time that night. Essentially what his crew had was a morale problem caused by a lack of productive activity. It was showing up in a variety of different ways: short tempers, arguments between crew members, insomnia, oversleeping, weight gain or loss, dangerous horseplay, inattention to detail. Even Spock had snapped at him, an occurrence which was so rare, Jim could count on one hand each incident that had taken place since they had met with perfect clarity. Never had it been for so little cause.
He recalled from a number of old texts that he'd read, that mutinies were most likely to take place when a sailing ship was caught in the doldrums. This endless delivery and ferrying around must be the modern equivalent of that deadline location on earth's equator. Not that there was any danger of mutiny, he thought, but the circumstances were definitely ripe.
He thought again of the enjoyment he'd had with Uhura talking about the weather. Talking about the weather! And yet, every day was exactly the same on a starship. But what can I do with this? he wondered. There's something here, but I can't quite put my finger on it.
* * *
For the first time in weeks, Captain Kirk woke up refreshed. Inspiration had visited him in the night. He awoke with an idea and the energy to begin putting it into action. There was a new spring in his step as he reported to the bridge.
The Enterprise was scheduled to transport a large group of Federation diplomats and politicians to a conference at Babel. With the present condition on the ship, this trip could only be worse than the last Babel conference. Kirk had been dreading the consequences, but now he felt that his idea could alleviate the stress which could have led to an unpleasant situation. The captain switched on the intercom from the arm of his chair, requesting Mr. Scott, Ms. Jenkins of botany, Mr. Vishnu of environmental, and Mr. Ito of the recreation department to meet with him in the small briefing room. By rights, Spock should have been included also, but Jim decided the Vulcan could use a surprise as much as the rest of the crew. After a moment's thought, he called McCoy and requested his presence as well.
The five officers were closeted with the captain for well over an hour. When they finally exited, they were more excited than Jim had seen any of them for months. McCoy lingered, turning to face Kirk.
"Do you really think this will work, Jim?"
"I don't know, Bones," he rubbed his hands together, "but I sure hope so. We're scheduled to pick up the first of the Babel delegates in six days and I certainly wasn't looking forward to it with the crew in this condition."
"Me, neither. I don't think I could take much more."
"You've had your hands full, I know." Jim looked at his chronometer. "But in just a few moments ... in fact, right about now..." As he spoke the red alert signal began to flash. The captain nodded sharply. "That's it, Scotty. Put them through their paces." Kirk headed out the door for the bridge in a run.
* * *
For the next three days, the crew was kept hopping with an unending series of drills, inspections, and thorough checks of every system aboard the Enterprise. They ended their shifts so tired that very few had the energy to complain about the closing of all but one small dining section of the recreation deck. Even fewer noticed the abnormal amount of activity taking place behind the partitioned-off areas.
On the fourth day, the entire recreation deck reopened with little fanfare. When the first shift began sifting in for breakfast, there were admiring comments on the new look which the deck had been given. Botany had brought up numerous plants that were sturdy enough to stand a little neglect, several of which were thick with sweet-smelling blossoms. This effectively transformed the seating section and the area around the swimming pool into tropical glades. Little open-sided tents had been erected around the perimeter of the pool. The dining area had been transformed into outdoor patios, complete with colorful umbrellas to ward off the stronger, more natural light which Scotty had arranged. It wasn't until the off duty third shift crowded in though, that the full extent of the renovations was experienced.
As the noisy, tired, hungry crew members took places at the food dispensers and tables, a slow change came over the "sky". At first, no one seemed to notice, but as the lighting grew darker and grayer, people began to look up through the foliage.
Without warning, lightning flashed and a crack of thunder was heard. The "skies" opened and a downpour commenced. Shocked, but laughing, crew members scurried for what cover they could find under the umbrellas and tents. A few were so startled that they simply stayed put, causing a lot of good-humored teasing about people who didn't know enough to come in out of the rain.
After a few minutes, the "storm" ended. The rain tapered off and the sky began to lighten. Finally the "sun" peeked out from behind a "cloud" and "birds" began to chirp. The occupants of the recreation deck cheered and applauded.
A very soggy Vulcan looked at his grinning captain where he lolled under one of the umbrellas, neat and dry.
"Most impressive, Captain," the first officer said, wringing out a sleeve.
* * *
For the next two days, the rain storms continued to occur with no warning. There were also light breezes which could turn into brisk at times. Everyone's favorite seemed to be the stars that appeared at night.
When the delegates began to board the Enterprise, they were warned of the possibility of sudden squalls on the recreation deck and outfitted with umbrellas which Scotty programmed the replicators to supply. Incidents of insomnia and snappishness tapered off as the crew took to visiting recreation at all hours to enjoy the uncertainty of the weather. A few notes were found in the ship's computerized suggestion box, hinting that snow and hail would be strongly appreciated. Scotty simply shook his head when he was told, replying, "Ach, I'll do my best."
The night before the Enterprise delivered the delegates to Babel, there was a concert on the recreation deck, accompanied by an old-fashioned laser show. Afterwards, Jim strolled with Uhura through one of the glades, complimenting her for giving him the idea of the rec-deck makeover. Their nights in the arboretum had been well spent.
Kirk listened to his new orders from Starfleet. The Enterprise was instructed to make haste in delivering the delegates and proceed to the planet Signuron. An agricultural plague had broken out and Federation assistance was needed. Jim Kirk sat back in his seat with a sigh of mixed emotions. While the situation on Signuron was not something he would have desired, helping those in distress was the real purpose for ships like his.
The Enterprise was back on track.