The lake reminded him of Tahoe. No conifers, of course, and this planet’s sun beat down too hot for snow to exist anywhere outside of the poles, but the resemblance was there all the same – that shimmering depth stretching out around the mountains. Sulu stared out across the water, soaking it in. He’d been stuck on the bridge holding a geosynchronous orbit for the last half dozen missions at least.
“So, explain to me again why this planet is interesting?”
Sulu sighed and turned around. Kirk was crouching on the ground, eyes tracking a line of pseudo-insects as they toiled through the dust. Looked as if he hoped they’d rise up and demand a fight to the death. A few sampling cases were ostentatiously scattered around him - all empty.
“Sir,” Sulu said, trying not to sound like he was rolling his eyes. “As the briefing from Sciences stated, initial scans turned up several irregularities in the biosphere here. A ‘different and fascinating series of evolutionary events’ from what has occurred on any of the planets the Federation has studied.”
Spock’s wording notwithstanding, most of Sciences had been shitting their collective pants – in a happy sort of way - at what the scans had turned up. If they could figure out the various anomalies, it’d be worth a paper or two in Nature or the Journal of the Vulcan Science Academy. Sulu was more interested bystander than anything else, but it was exciting stuff.
Kirk nodded at the answer, attention still on the insects. “Uh-huh. Do you think these ant-things are, um, special? From the fascinating evolutionary whatever? Maybe dangerous?” The hopeful lift in the question was clear.
Sulu didn’t bother trying to keep the eye roll out of his voice on that one. “No, sir. The oddest adaptations seem to be botanical.”
As if Spock would have let the captain near any harmless-looking-but-actually-dangerous fauna immediately after that mess on Omicron Persei. Not that Kirk was going to be much help on this planet of the flowers, but.
“Oh?” Kirk looked up, a faint smile on his face. “Tell me about the strange botanical adaptations, Lieutenant?”
Snagging one of Kirk’s abandoned cases, Sulu pulled out his trowel and started digging carefully around the Taraxacum lookalike. The plant’s blossoms glinted the exact same shade of gold as their command uniforms under the white star.
“Well,” Sulu started, “the oddest feature is the abundance of angiosperms – flowering plants – but no other seed-producing plants.” He rolled back onto his heels, waiting for the likely response.
Kirk’s eyes crinkled, but he held back the laughter in a clear effort of maturity. “Right. Angi-o-sperms only. God, I love botany.” He toyed with the stem of a flower – the pink blossoms looked almost identical to a Rhexia virginica. God save them both from McCoy’s wrath if it turned out Kirk was allergic. “And that’s why there aren’t any trees?”
“There should be trees,” Sulu said, frowning in concentration at the dandelion in front of him. Three days on the planet, and no one from labs had any clue yet. “Even if cycads or conifers – um, those are other types of plants that produce seeds – didn’t evolve, it’s not like there aren’t flowering trees.”
Out of the corner of his eye, he watched Kirk recline a few feet away - all semblance of working gone. Kirk absently licked his lips, and grinned a bit wider, eyes flickering between Sulu and the moon that dominated the horizon. “Of course. Apples and such.”
Sulu looked back down at the circle he was digging. This sample’s roots were spread out further than he had expected.
“All of the building blocks of arborescence are here. Developed root systems, the vascular cambium structure, your” – he threw a glance over to Kirk – “special ant-friends as potential pollinators.”
“Sounds like a frustrating problem,” Kirk murmured, eyes bright. He pulled off a pink petal from the flower he’d been fiddling with, letting it flutter away in the slight breeze. “That all of it?”
Circle dug, Sulu slowly started to leverage the plant out of the ground with his trowel. “No, there’s the lack of any sort of fern-analog, just a jump from spores to seeds without any of the simpler vascular plants you’d expect to see—“ The sample slipped as he lifted it from the ground, and suddenly Kirk’s hands were there, steadying the clump of soil and roots.
“Easy,” Kirk said as they gently moved the plant over to the sample container. “So, a big jump from fungi or whatever to spermatophytes…”
Sulu looked up sharply from maneuvering the plant to see Kirk’s easy grin a foot away. “I wouldn’t have expected you to be able to say that word with a straight face, Captain. I didn’t even mention the term, actually.”
The grin flared brighter. “I do read the damn mission briefings and status updates, Hikaru. Kinda part of the job of being captain. But watching you geek out about botany is–“ He waved a hand vaguely. “Cute.”
“And Omicron?” Sulu countered, eyes narrowed.
“Okay, look, no one’s perfect, right? And I swear, they looked exactly like fried shrimp –“
“Shut up, Jim,” Sulu said, kissing him lightly as they placed the plant in the sampling case.
“You’ve got a spot of dirt on your cheek,” Kirk said a few moments later, in what a neutral bystander might call a helpful tone. Sulu knew better.