Disclaimer: Star Trek is the property of Paramount/Viacom. This story is the property of Marcia and is copyright 2006 by Marcia. Rated G.





There just aren't words to justify emotions sometimes.

Spock was staring with both eyebrows up, tricorder still poised at chest-level, although that particular source of data had ceased to hold his attention over 31.6 minutes ago -- the time it had taken to walk out of the thickness of Appalachian Cove Forest and into the shocking, shifting expanse of shale barrens.

Jim looked down. Again. He was still trapped.

Behind and next to Spock -- he was claiming the Vulcan made a better target, being marginally taller -- McCoy was still sitting on the same rock and staring in a manner Jim's mother would label "silent scolding."

"Jim," McCoy said it first. They knew he'd start the conversation; he always did. Spock said it was because the doctor couldn't bear silence. Jim said it was because the doctor couldn't bear a silence stretched past its length; Spock always reiterated that if that were so, then the doctor had a very non-elastic concept of time. "What the blazes are you doing there?"

Jim opened his mouth. He sighed, giving up. "I'm not doing anything, Bones. I'm inside a big ring of cactus."

"Cacti, Jim. They're cacti." McCoy swept a jaundiced gaze over the stuff. They were about knee high and clustered from six to twelve feet wide. "The plural to cactus is cacti."

"Whatever it is, it's in my way." Jim was over his initial how-do-I-say-I'm-stuck embarrassment. "And I'd like to get out of it."

"How'd you get in there, anyway?" McCoy persisted. He had an unerring ability to find exactly the question Jim didn't want to answer.

"I ... used the transporter." Jim prided himself on his calm. "It put me down here, Bones."

"Down here? In the middle of a cactus bed?" McCoy made a point of staring again. And Spock, Jim noticed with a growing fume, was apparently amnesic about earlier observations about McCoy's ability to fill silence with talking. The emerging-Brutus Vulcan was letting the doctor monopolize this conversation.

"Jim, wouldn't the heat sensors've picked up heat-radiant plants and beamed you down on the nearest flat slope?" McCoy was totally suspicious now, and Jim, who had ancestors who fought The Little Big Horn on both sides, was still waiting for him to give up.

"Where's your communicator?" McCoy twisted his head from side to side. "Why didn't you just call Scotty and have him re-assemble your molecules over here?" McCoy's face abruptly froze and the delusional thread of hope in Jim evaporated. "What're you even doing here? I thought you had to be at that fancy awards banquet all day!"

"I thought you just said cacti was plural of cactus," Jim snarled. "Whatever it is, just get me out of here."

McCoy blinked and whatever naivety on his face was dead and buried. Suspicion ruled, and with it, annoyance that the captain was out complicating the life of a CMO yet again.

"Cactus is singular when you refer to it as a body, Jim," McCoy snarled back. "Cactus bed is proper English. Although if I were gonna be more accurate in describin' things, I'd say that's one heckuva moat you got yourself trapped in."

"The mourning doves seem to dislike your being in it," Spock finally spoke, and naturally, Jim took it as criticism. "Perhaps you are in their nesting grounds."

"Didn't I tell you?" McCoy turned -- to Jim's relief -- back to Spock. "They're not very fierce birds, Spock, they have to have something to protect their babies from predators." McCoy blinked back to Jim. "And the occasional big-footed lout."

"Just what did I interrupt, gentlemen? A nature walk?" Jim's humor was being raked up from the very depths. He hoped if he could turn this stupidity into a joke, they'd soon forget this and get him out -- not necessarily in that order.

"Noooo," McCoy responded snide for snide. "It just so happens, Spock needs the bios on Terran Rock Doves for the collation project on Antares. Remember Antares, Jim? That's where we're headed once you're done with that fancy awards banquet. Or are you done with it early today?"

Jim pondered again the irony of his words when McCoy's application came to the Enterprise desk. "Oh, McCoy? I know him. He can get right to the heart of a problem. A little annoying if you don't know his ways."

"The Antarean Rock Dove is the main food supply for four indigenous tribes and a large supplementary to the royal caste," Spock chimed in helpfully. "Unfortunately, they are falling prey to a respiratory contagion similar to that which exists in Terra."

"Match the bugs with a known strain and hope, that's what they say," McCoy reminded him. "And since you were kind enough to ask me to help Spock--"

"I was not aware the captain asked you to assist me." Spock's eyebrow had gone up again.

"Oh, yeah, that's right. He didn't. He kicked me out of my own sickbay, where I was happily involved with my RNA thesis, told me to get some fresh air, I looked peaked, and then had Mr. Scott fuse my office doors shut, not to be opened for so much as a hangnail, until Mr. Kyle reported me beamed off the planet!"

"I just wanted you to enjoy yourself," Jim barked.

"You wanted me to come down here, knowing full well you-know-who is back!" McCoy practically roared; a flock of mourning doves took off, cooing faintly.

"You-know-who used to be fairly important to you, you know!" Jim roared back.

There. It was out.

"If I wanted to be anywhere near you-know-who, d'you think I'da signed my life up to Starfleet?" McCoy's turn to roar. Spock didn't know who to turn the tricorder on.

"You're not wanting to share a whole planet -- a decently sized, respectably populated planet, with someone you used to know, is a mark of extremes!" Jim's turn. Spock opted out and went back to pretending to read the screen.

"Not all of us are like you, Jim!" McCoy wasn't bothering to stand up and shout, which meant he was conserving his strength. Jim was (for the first time) glad a cactus wall surrounded them. "Sometimes somebody just falls in love, commits for the long haul, and then when it doesn't work out, there's a vale of tears, split property, angry relatives on both sides, and a burial plot I can't get rid of!"

"Are you going to get me out of here or not?!" Jim knew that, since he had foolishly opened the door to McCoy's divorce (normally a soundproofed durasteel vault with a hundred padlocks and atomic chains wrapped around the frame), he could easily stand yelling in the hot sun all day, while McCoy, who was perfectly comfortable in that intolerable humid steambath he called Appalachia in August, could yell back all day without getting tired. No, he'd just improve on his tan while Jim's arches slowly gave out in these wrongly-sized boots.

McCoy stopped. Quieted. Got a look Jim didn't like. Spock was still watching both of them.

"Where's your communicator, Jim?" he asked calmly. Quietly. Sweetly, even.

"Can we just forget about the communicator and get me out of here?" Jim asked through his teeth.

"No, I'm just wonderin' seein as how I got quite a lecture about leaving my communicator on Beta Niobe ... a lecture I deserved, incidentally."

"Actually, Doctor," Spock chose the sublime moment to chip in, "the odds are more in favor that your communicator was 'lifted' to use the colloquialism, by a juvenile malefactor."

"The point is, I didn't come back with it and I had to pay for it out of my funds, which are always low at this time of the quarter because most of my funds are paying for my daughter's college education, because her mother isn't paying one red dime!"

"What color is she paying?"

"It means she's not paying at all! Didn't want her daughter to be a nurse so she's lashing out!"

"An extreme and negative funnel for emotions.

"You're telling me? I don't know what she's complainin' about. Joanna's got the best of us -- my choice of career and her good looks."

"GENTLEMEN." Jim managed to be noticed again.

"Captain, do you wish us to hail the ship?" Spock asked.

"That would be wonderful."

"Hold on," McCoy directed. "We'll all beam up together. That way I can go back to my thesis, right, Jim?" McCoy's question was innocence itself, but Jim knew the doctor was extending a promise to spread word of this back to his mother if he didn't agree.

"That's ... fine, Bones." Jim got it out.

"Great." McCoy turned his back on Jim and spread his hands outward. "OK, what you got here, is your typical Mourning Dove colony for the Appalachians--"

"What are you doing?" Jim yelled.

McCoy turned back around, as if surprised. "Oh, we weren't finished when you showed up -- or we found you. Don't worry, its almost done." The doctor again turned his back on the increasingly claustrophobic captain. "This is a typical shale barrens ecosystem, which is fairly dangerous for its shifting, non-organic soil, extreme temperatures, and the only native cactus species to the east, the Eastern Prickly Pear. But kids play on the barrens all the time. Lots of great fossils. I found a brachiopod the size of my hand once in a cactus knot like this. Plus you can usually count on a lot of snakes when the sun warms up the shale. Rattlesnakes mostly, they know there are a lot of eggs in the dove nests. But the blacksnakes know the rattlers are there and they go for either one. Copperheads aren't common, but if you smell a cucumber in those cactus pads, Jim, you let us know, okay?"

Jim had been about to sit down. He stopped.

"What you gotta know is, prickly pears kinda found another solution to the problem of adaptation; they don't need thorns. A lot of the big critters around here could care less. So what they did do was develop glochida, stinging hairs -- think of the Prickly Pear as a stingingg needle cactus, because the usual tube of glue won't pull those things out..."

McCoy went on a bit further, mentioning that the fresh fruits tasted enough like a fresh fig that the settlers quickly dubbed it the "Indian Fig" but Jim didn't notice. He was hoping Spock, desert native-genius that he was, could figure out how to get his communicator out from underneath the largest, half-rotted and slimy cactus pad in the patch. He already knew about the snakes; he'd dropped the communicator while trying to avoid one, but that was his own fault.

He would do whatever it took, as long as Spock -- and McCoy, especially McCoy -- never knew how he'd gotten in the cactus ring in the first place.

The End