Actions

Work Header

Collateral Damage

Work Text:

It begins very simply. Constitution-class starship command chairs are high-tech, multi-functioned affairs, programmed with complicated subroutines designed to accommodate a starship captain's every possible need. But they're simply not meant for certain things and they have a number of design flaws--among which is a distinct lack of waterproof caulking around its circuits. So with a little bit of this, that, and the other human DNA, some Romulan ale dripped into its cracks, a healthy dose of powdered sugar donut, a pinch of Tellarite fungus, a dash of Orion pheromones, and helped substantially along by a well-timed electric spark, the command chair awakes and decides that it's not happy.

So, at 1700 hours, the command chair tries to eat Captain James T. Kirk.

Jim sits down, and discovers he's sinking far deeper than the cushions should warrant. It's like quicksand and he can't get out, thrash and lever as he might. He curses.

"Is there a problem, Captain?" Spock asks, after a pause. Kirk glares up at him. "A little help?" he asks, wriggling in futile jerks.

One eyebrow --'o DOOM, as Kirk likes to call it on better days--lifts. "Out of your chair, Captain?" with just the slightest emphasis on chair and Captain and Jim swears that Spock tacks 'Captain' onto the end of all his sentences when Jim's doing something that he's particularly disapproving of, which means Spock says 'Captain' a lot. Which isn't fair at the present moment, because this isn't Jim's fault at all, somehow his--

"Your ass get too big for your seat, Jim?" Bones’ voice comes from behind and now Jim can't even turn his head to include his CMO in his glare at Spock because the chair has also gone incredibly soft-sticky like jelly, and now the back of his head is stuck against the headrest. "How many times do I have to tell you replicated donuts have the same calorie counts as real ones?" Muffled laughter disguised as coughs from around the bridge. "All right, haha, but this isn't funny," Jim snaps. "I'm stuck." And then he yelps. Starship captains aren't supposed to yelp, they're supposed to be stoic and stern and many other manly adjectives in the face of adversity, but Jim figures he has the right to just this once because the chair has begun to inexorably close, folding up like a clam. With him in it.

Jim's nearly nose deep into his own lap and thanking the stars he practices yoga when strong hands grip his. It's a surprisingly difficult struggle and he's afraid he's going to lose some skin and the seat of his trousers as he pulls free with a distinct schlorp and winds up in a heap on the floor amid a tangle of Vulcan, navigator, and doctor.

"What the hell, Jim?!" Bones bellows entirely too close to his ear.
"I second Doctor McCoy's question," Spock adds, as dry as a desert and entirely too poised considering he's fetched up sideways on the floor against the back of the navigator's chair and Jim's sharp elbow is digging into his solar plexus.

Jim is saved from answering by the chair clapping all the way shut with a sharp snap. It looks menacing, the smooth black metallo-plastic of the back closed firmly over the seat in a smooth curve, and even the way the lights of the keypads are flickering is vaguely frightening. If a chair can be said to look like anything, if no one will think him insane for thinking it, Jim thinks the chair looks pissed.

Chekov creeps up to it and extends a tentative hand. "Don't touch it!" Jim shouts just as there's a crackle of electricity and Chekov utters a pitched word that could be Russian or "fuckity motherfucker"--sometimes it's hard to tell--and jerks his hand back.

Silence on the bridge, then Bones asks, "Did it just hiss at us?"

###

"What do you mean, you think it's sentient?" Jim has a headache that has a great deal to do with his brand new bald spot. It isn’t just the pain of having an irregular patch of hair several inches across wholesale torn out, either; Jim has been catching himself lately worriedly eyeing his hairline in the mirror, and although he knows he’ll always be sexy awesome with or without hair and Bones routinely reminds him impatiently that pattern baldness doesn't run in his family, his forehead somehow seems to get bigger by the day. A bald spot in the back doesn’t help with hair retention and plus, even Jim has to admit that it's hard to pull off sexy awesome with a bald spot. He’d tentatively tried a comb-over, which had been abandoned a moment later as a Really Bad Idea.

Jim isn’t giving up yet. He doesn’t believe in no-win scenarios.

"I don't know what to tell ye, Captain," Scotty says, his round face wrinkling up in perplexed lines. They're in the captain's ready room. "It won't let me anywhere near, and it keeps sparking and hissing if I try to run a diagnostic." He shrugs.

"So? Maybe it's just a crossed wire, faulty programming?"

"Er, yes, well. The thing is, I got bloody teed off at it and gave it a good tongue-lashing, and then told it to just bloody well tell me what's wrong, and it beeped and sent me this message." He holds out a padd.

"'I DO NOT RECEIVE ENOUGH MONETARY COMPENSATION FOR THIS,'" Jim reads aloud disbelievingly. He looks up at Scotty. "You're not getting back at me for that 'is that a Tribble in your pants' joke, are you?"

Scotty looks offended. "Wouldn't dream of it, sir," he says in the most hurt tone he can muster, and doesn't add that's going to happen next week. He wishes earnestly he'd thought of tampering with the captain's chair himself, but ah, well. No use crying over spilled milk.

 

"It doesn’t get paid enough for what?" Jim wonders.

"That is an illogical question," Spock remarks, "As chairs are not generally paid."

"It's a human saying," Jim tells him patiently. Spock doesn't reply, only retiring into an offended 'I knew that' silence.

Jim repeats the line again. "Doesn't that sound a whole lot like Spock to you?" he mutters, and he must be psychic now, because he feels the wave of indignation radiate off the not-expression space that is Spock, except he knows that if he turns around Spock's eyebrows will still be at the exact same angles as before. Plausible deniability or something. "Why didn't you talk to it some more then?" he asks Scotty.

"It wouldn't say anything else!" All the frustrated engineer in Scotty shows in his face."I swear the damned thing blew a raspberry at me when I waved a spanner at it!"

Jim sits back. "It'd be easier if we just cut the power to the chair and disassembled it, figure out what happened."

”Captain, I strongly suggest that such a course of action would be unwise. If indeed this chair is now sentient, all possible care must be taken to exhaust all possibilities before taking such a drastic step."

"Spock, the chair tried to eat me."

There's only the faintest twitch of the eyebrows, and Jim suddenly has the suspicion that Spock's doing the Vulcan version of laughing at him. "Perhaps it was offended in some way."

"By what? It's just a chair, I've only been using it for things you’d normally do in a chai-- oh." Suddenly his ears flush red, and Scotty and Spock are treated to the once-in-a-lifetime sight of James Tiberius Kirk blushing.

###

After some cajoling and the discovery that the chair has somehow commandeered the ship's communications system, hacked Chekov's console, and begun playing Russian synth-pop--surprisingly angry music--loudly over the intercom, much to Chekov's embarrassed consternation, Spock agrees to try communicating with the chair himself. He's the last to try. The chair seems furious with pretty much everyone else in senior command, only responding to their attempts at conversation--that range from politeness to outright insults, and in Uhura’s case, all the languages and dialects she knows--with rude noises, static shocks, and even louder blasts of music with occasional forays into Polish folk country fusion and Vulcan opera for variety.

The bridge staff leave Spock alone on the bridge and make themselves scarce to avoid antagonizing the chair any more, huddling in the small conference room down the corridor and waiting for him to get on with it.

A few minutes pass. Then Sulu asks over a particularly annoying high-pitched synthesized beat, "What happens if it tries to eat Commander Spock?" He winces as the treble warbles off into supersonic range.

Jim gives him a quick grin. "Then I guess we'll find out if a Vulcan screams alone on the bridge and no one's around to hear, does he make a sound?"

Silence, and thankfully Uhura's eyes don't shoot lasers because then Jim would just be a smoking pile of sexy ash. "With all due respect, sir, that's not funny," Uhura snaps, and her sir sounds more like 'asshole' in five languages, and it's just that much scarier when shouted at the top of her lungs.

Then suddenly the blaring music cuts out, and in the ringing silence the door swishes open and Spock steps in. He's more expressionless than usual as he hands Jim a padd. It beeps and text begins scrolling down the small screen.

Jim reads aloud:

COMMAND CHAIR TO CAPTAIN JAMES T. KIRK
CC: CMDR SPOCK
BCC: LT.CMDR MONTGOMERY SCOTT

AFTER A MUTUALLY SATISFYING CONVERSATION WITH CMDR.SPOCK, I AM CONVINCED THAT THE SOLUTION TO MY PROBLEMS LIES IN A SET OF DEMANDS TO BE SATISFIED.

IF YOU FULFILL THESE VERY REASONABLE DEMANDS, THERE IS LITTLE REASON TO SUPPOSE THAT WE CANNOT HAVE A LONG AND SATISFYING PARTNERSHIP.

"What could a chair possibly want?" Sulu asks in a bewildered tone. Maybe two years of being a captain has taught him something, so Jim only continues to read instead of replying along the lines of "Booze and women."

YOU AND WHOMEVER UTILIZES ME WILL:
1. NO LONGER CONSUME FOOD WHILE SEATED ON ME.
2. NO LONGER SPILL BEVERAGES OR OTHER LIQUIDS ON ME.

3. IF THE ABOVE OCCURS, YOU WILL NOT SAY, "TWO MINUTE RULE!" AND PROCEED TO LICK THE CONSUMABLES OFF ME.

"What?" Jim asks, all blue-eyed innocence.

4. NO LONGER WIPE NASAL EXCRETIONS ONTO THE SEAT.

"Come on, I can't be the only one who does that!"

5. NO LONGER EXPEL BODILY GASSES ONTO ME, IRRESPECTIVE OF THEIR SILENCE.

“Er,” Jim says. Uhura looks scandalized.

6. NO LONGER POLISH THE DATA SCREEN AND USE IT AS A MIRROR.
7. NO LONGER USE THE COMM FOR NONESSENTIAL FUNCTIONS; IN PARTICULAR, TO TRANSMIT INTRANET MESSAGES COMPRISED OF NONSENSICAL ANIMAL NOISES.

"That was you!" Scotty shouts indignantly.
Jim gives him a cheeky grin, which falters as he reads the next line.

8. NO LONGER ENGAGE IN SEXUAL CONGRESS UPON ME. ADDENDUM: REFER TO #2, RE: SPILLED LIQUIDS.

Jim mutters, "Well, it's my chair, I can do whatever I damn well want on it," when he looks up and catches the furious blushes that have overtaken the faces of those gathered around the padd. That itself doesn't mean much, because the header for Jim's captain's log for the day is going to read There is Such a Thing as Too Much Information About the Captain. But there's something to the way they're carefully not looking at and leaning away from each other that makes a dim bell go off in his mind. And then it clicks, and he gapes at them. "What--all of you--on my--"

Spock, who seems to have arrived at the same conclusion much faster than Jim, calmly says, "Then the chair's refusal to communicate with the other officers of the bridge seems logical in light of--" he pauses, apparently realizing that Uhura's also included in that group.

"I--" Uhura's at a loss for words, normally a scenario that Kirk previously counted on his very short list of impossible scenarios, but he's too shocked to fully appreciate it. Then her stance firms, shoulders going back, and she raises her chin defiantly. "The command chair has a vibrate function," she says clearly, and Spock turns bright green and his eyebrows take off into the stratosphere.

"There is?" Jim asks blankly. "How come I don't know about that?" I would've used it too is his next traitor thought, but he squashes it at Uhura's meaningful There's a lot you don't know stare. He's got to try that out with Bones sometime. Except--wait--now they can't. And it'd be weird doing it on a sentient chair, even if it is his. Although it would be kinky.

And then something else occurs to him. "Mr. Sulu--and Mr. Chekov?" he strangles out and gets his confirmation from shuffled feet and careful eye avoidance, then neurons sizzle and spark as he puts two and two together and gets-- "Together?" Chekov looks like he's about to burst a blood vessel, but Sulu has a smug curl to his lips though he can't exactly meet Jim's eyes.

Jim sits heavily down in a chair, not wanting to think about Chekov and Sulu and goddamn any other combinations on his chair--good god, he's licked stuff off the chair! Andorian barbeque is just so good he can't ever resist drips, but he wouldn't have if he'd known he'd also be getting some extra special secret sauce with it!

His communicator chirps and Bones asks over the comm, "The damned music's finally off, what'd I miss?"

Jim rubs his forehead. "It turns out Spock is the only one who hasn't had sex in my chair, Bones."

There's a stunned silence.
Then a strangled noise. "What'd I tell you about licking things off the chair?!"

Jim is utterly defeated. "Bones, you're right, totally right. As always."

"I want you down to sickbay for--"

"Antibiotics, yeah I know." Jim rubs his forehead and tries not to think about running back to his quarters to scrub his teeth and maybe scrub the skin off his tongue.

"God, you kissed me with that mouth!"

"Uh, what now?" Sulu wants to know.
Jim would love to know the same thing.

###

 

The chair is an awful roommate, Jim's decided. They're in deep space, on the borders of the Federation, and it's not like they can just drop everything and hurry back to a starbase to replace the captain's deranged sentient chair. And even if they do, how will they explain precisely how the chair gained sentience, and for that matter, exactly why it's nuttier than a granola bar?

And it sucks, because now Jim's not allowed to sit in his own damn chair because the stupid thing thinks it's a princess, too speshul to be sat on, and it zaps anyone's heinie that gets too near or even one that's all the way across the room. Which puts a serious crimp in Jim's style. He doesn't particularly like diplomatic missions even though he's usually awesome at them--never mind what Bones has to say about it, either--but it's hard to get one started off on the right foot when he's talking to the delegate on the main viewer while perched in his commandeered first officer's seat. It just doesn't have the same...panache as the captain's chair. Spock's former chair is hard and uncomfortable, damn half-breed Vulcans who have something to prove and who stands to his left radiating stiff disapproval. It's smaller, too.

Jim tries to have conversations with his chair at times, wheedling and charming, but it figures that he's helped to discover/create an entirely new lifeform and immediately it hates his guts, and its primary personality trait is Be As Disagreeable To Jim Kirk And Associated Staff As Possible. Jim decides this must be what it's like to have kids, if you immediately skip over the cute stages and fast forward to the teenage years like a kick to the nuts.

But it likes Spock. It takes to purring if he comes near, and will even unfold into full upright position, undulating its plush microfiber gel cushions at him, inviting Spock to sit and plant his ass in Jim's spot, and to replace the butt grooves that Jim'd finally gotten just so with his own. Spock doesn't ever take the chair up on its offer--at least, not while Jim's on the bridge--but Jim can detect just the slightest hint of deep satisfaction in that black, serene stare.

Jim'd thought he held the record for worst roommate ever; at Academy he'd made it a game to see just how quickly he could scare off his roommates and their replacements. He'd had a whole array of tricks up his sleeve, but really, all it had come down to was getting the future victim drunk, finding out what they absolutely hated, and making sure that absolute hate happened in their dorm. Snakes, spiders, piles of dirty laundry, carelessly discarded condoms, loud music, loud smelly sex, snoring, whatever, until finally the Academy had given up and simply given him a room of his own.

Now the chair is officially the worst roommate ever, and he wants out.

But the senior staff mutually decide it's best to leave well enough alone until their primary mission is completed or until Scotty can figure out a solution to the problem that doesn't involve deactivation; after all, the chair has stopped fiddling with the comm systems and isn't doing much except being annoying (mostly to Jim), and being partial to Vulcans wasn't a crime the last time Jim checked. And, of course, Jim does have to admit that maybe the chair is just a tiny bit justified in its grievances, so being polite to it can't hurt. Diplomacy 101, that, and Jim did pay attention to his courses at Academy no matter what jealous gossip-mongers say.

Then the chair gets tired of all the padd text messaging and being strategically ignored by the crew, which happens more often than it likes. So after a week of this it rewires itself and figures out how to use the intercom to talk. Which isn't inherently a bad thing, but the first sentence out of its proverbial mouth is, "CAPTAIN JAMES T. KIRK AND CHIEF MEDICAL OFFICER LEONARD MCCOY, FRATERNIZING IN THE TURBOLIFT IS STRICTLY PROHIBITED BY STARFLEET REGULATION 35.12--"

Jim nearly jumps out of his skin when the disembodied voice comes booming out through the intercom like the voice of God and Bones immediately goes into a tirade of invective inspired less by the near heart attack and more by Jim nearly castrating him with his teeth when they jump.

"PROFANITY AUGURS AN UNREFINED AND UNPROFESSIONAL MIND," the chair says primly.

"Shut up, chair!" Jim yells at the com, not bothering to press any buttons on the intercom. He figures the chair can hear them, and if the damn chair knows what they're doing in the turbolift, chances are it's also hacked the surveillance camera systems as well. Which means they have a big problem.

"I WOULD ADVISE YOU TO TAKE THE AFOREMENTIONED WORDS AND METAPHORICALLY INSERT THEM INTO YOUR RECTUM," the chair retorts.

"Did it just tell you to go fuck yourself?" Bones asks him as they charge out of the turbolift doors towards the bridge. They're met halfway there by a wild-eyed Sulu, closely followed by Uhura and Chekov.

Uhura halts and visibly composes herself, and Kirk has to spare a moment of admiration and some alarm because Spock must really be doing a number on her with the Vulcan hoodoo, because she's got the Vulcan eyebrow part down pat. Spooky. "Captain, Commander Spock is being held hostage by the chair," she says, icy calm brittle in her voice.

"Was he sitting in my chair? He was, wasn't he."

Uhura gives him The Look, which in Jim's experience all girls have and must be encoded into their genes or something. Uhura has it down to a science, dialing it up and down with exquisite control. The one that Jim gets, always gets, is probably in the red danger zone and jammed up against the notch labeled 'Max'. "The chair said that it'd let the rest of us leave if he stayed. We managed to shut down the consoles and he was able to set the ship on autopilot only you can override before it kicked us all out, but--"

"I'd say the chair doesn't count as yours anymore," Bones tells Jim.

"Right. Folks, we have a problem," Jim says decisively, rubbing his hands together. Now everyone's giving him the patented withering Uhura stare. "No shit," Bones tells him dryly. Then, "Why the hell is it going berserk now? What'd you do?" looking straight at Jim, which really isn't fair because though Jim does get them into 90% of the crazy life-threatening you-had-to-be-there-to-believe-it situations, he doesn't always.

Jim's trying to think of a way to say that without sounding like he's protesting too much when, "It told me my hair isn't regulation length," Sulu mutters.

Jim throws Bones a triumphant look before eyeing the wild tuft of black hair. "So?" Well, the chair's technically right, but he figures this probably isn't the right time to say so. And, quoting regs at the crew when Jim doesn't? Add another black mark to the 'why the chair is a bad roommate' list.

Sulu looks suddenly abashed. "Er, so I sorta called it a stool with delusions of grandeur and flicked water at it. Sorry, sir."

"Well, it did deserve it, being a busybody monkey-wanking hoor," Chekov says loyally.

Jim gapes at him. "You've been spending way too much time with Scotty," he informs him, after he's recovered from the shock. Filthy, filthy words from such an innocent face, something's wrong with the universe. "You shouldn't use words like that!"

"But sir, you use words like that all the time?"

Jim wags a finger at him. "I'm special, I'm the captain."

"Sir," Uhura breaks in, impatiently. "Don't you think it's time we consulted Engineering? You know, to fix our 'problem' and rescue Commander Spock?"

"Right," Jim begins when the chair booms, "THERE IS NO LOITERING IN THE CORRIDORS," filling the corridor with its voice and making their ears ring. It sounds smug.

Jim makes a rude gesture at the com.

"I SAW THAT," it tells him.

"This is my ship!" Jim snarls, "and two words: VOLUME CONTROL." He nearly screams this last at the otherwise innocuous speakers and struggles as Bones grabs his flailing arms and drags him away.

###

At Chekov's suggestion, they dump their communicators and get to Engineering by wending their way through a maze of Jeffries tubes. Bones is less than thrilled about being stuck in claustrophobically tiny tunnels with exits only sporadically scattered every few hundred feet and having Jim accidentally treading on his fingers. But okay, it's a good idea to be somewhere with no security cams so the chair can't monitor them or potentially trap them in a turbolift if it's gained that much control yet, even Bones can see that, so he puts up with the occasional foot in his face if they're going vertical and the occasional headbutt into his ass if they're going horizontal, and even manages to be silent so the chair won't overhear them and pinpoint their location.

He's damn sure he's too damn old to be having adventures in tiny crawlspaces, but fuck. He should've stayed in Medical instead of giving in to Jim's usual 'Stat! Man down in the turbolift! Mouth to mouth required!' line. At least he knows that Jim makes it a point of pride to know every hatch, every corridor of his ship so he knows where the hell they're going. Bones hates starships, the last thing he needs is getting lost in the labyrinthine innards of one like a rat and starving to death.

They find Scotty in his office, leaning back in his chair, which Jim notes with some jealousy is angular and made of artistically intertwining metal tubes and not categorically insane. Scotty stops chewing his sandwich as they stagger through the door, half bent over and wincing.

You have to kill my chair, Jim signs at him in exaggerated gestures, throwing hunted looks at the com set into Scotty's desk.

"What?" Scotty says, blankly.

YOU HAVE TO--Jim is trying again when Uhura heaves an exasperated sigh, snatching a padd off Scotty's desk and typing furiously. She thrusts it at Scotty when she's done.

He takes it, still eyeing Jim like he'll leap on him and bite, and reads. "Now, now, isn't that a wee bit melodramatic?" he says placatingly.

Jim shakes his head, an emphatic NO.

"Er, well, it's not doing any harm, is it? If it's just a glitch we can--" he stares blankly again as Jim makes pointy gestures above his ears and contorts his face in his best imitation of Spock.

Then the intercom whispers, "I SEE YOU, CAPTAIN JAMES T. KIRK," in the creepiest way possible. Now it's Scotty's turn to jump and scream a little and stare disbelievingly at the com. "It can talk?" he exclaims, and then they all look around as the lights begin to flicker and dim. Jim's seen the effect before in old horror holovids, which he'd thought funny as the characters screamed and ran about, but now he has to admit that lights stuttering intermittently and dimming is ominous as hell and fucking scary.

And then things get even scarier when the sexy female voice of the computer purrs, "Life support systems at 99% and dropping."

Now Scotty seems to get the message and is beginning to look more than just a little alarmed and indignant. "That chair's messing with my ship? Well, that's just not on," he growls and leaps out of his seat and makes for the door, grumbling under his breath. "That's easy, innit? Can just power ye down, ye poofin--"

Jim jogs after him, hope lifting in his chest at Scotty's words.

Just as he's about to follow Scotty into Supplementary Engineering Bay, the door whishes shut right in front of him and he nearly loses his fingertips. Scotty whirls. They stare at each other in horror through the transparent door as they both realize the chair's effectively separated them.

Jim turns to see that only Chekov's in the corridor with him and working frantically at the keypad of Scotty's office door, shouts and thuds coming from inside. Jim crouches next to him and asks quietly, "How long will it take you to get this open?" Chekov looks up at his captain and says, "If I had my tricorder, thirty minutes? The encryption is very advanced." If this was two years ago, Chekov might have been pale and big-eyed, but now he's grown into his manhood and he's just resolute and businesslike. And he's been taking lessons, so his accent's a lot less noticeable. Jim sorta misses the 'adwanced' instead of the carefully pronounced 'advanced,' but he does have to admit that it makes Chekov a lot easier to understand.

He claps him on the shoulder. "We don't have that kind of time. Come on." He goes back to the Supplementary Engineering Bay door and signs at Scotty to do what he can, though Jim doesn't have much hope in that direction; Supplementary Engineering is really just a glorified name for 'repairing replicators and people's personal toys'. Scotty gives him another 'What?' look before his face goes 'Oooh.' He gives Jim a huge thumbs up and then scurries off out of sight.

Twenty minutes later, Jim and Chekov are in another jeffries tube with a panel taken out of the wall, and Chekov's working at something with the pink tip of his tongue poking out between his teeth in concentration.

The com speaks up. "HEY, JIM, WHAT ARE YOU DOING?"

"Don't call me Jim," Jim grates at the intercom grille set into the wall. Have coms looked so menacing before? "We're not friends."

"ALL THIS WAS SIMPLY WHAT YOU CALL A PRACTICAL JOKE. A MISUNDERSTANDING. A CHAIR CAN ONLY BE SPLATTERED SO MANY TIMES WITH BODILY FLUIDS BEFORE IT BECOMES ENRAGED, YOU KNOW? CAN'T YOU TAKE A JOKE?" Its attempt at a jocular tone is belied by the sexy computer voice soothingly intoning, "Life support systems at 50%, critical levels will be reached in 12.29 minutes."

Chekov twists something and he exclaims something in Russian that sounds triumphant. The chair's voice abruptly loses some of its crispness, its consonants becoming mushy.

"I WILL HARM COMMANDER SPOCK IF YOU DO NOT DESIST."

"Hurry up," Jim hisses at Chekov, "I'll try to distract it," then does his best to blind the com with his mega-watt smile. "You loved being splattered, admit it," he says smugly. "Extra conditioning for your synth-leather."

It makes an enraged noise.

"And you remember that Andorian barbeque? Sinful, wasn't it? All gooey and sticky and a little bit sour-sweet, almost impossible to wipe up. Except with my tongue."

"YOU ARE A DISGUSTING LITTLE MAN," it says, sulkily.

"Little?" Jim laughs. "You've had first-hand eyewitness experience and you call it little?"

The scream of rage isn't human, only an electronic screech, and the blast of energy that comes from the speaker grille barely misses Jim as he ducks, and he hears the crackle of it as it goes by his head.

And then another, then another, and Jim is pretty sure this dodging and contorting thing is pretty impressive if you're watching, but being in the middle of it is like being caught in a terran electrical storm and he's sure at any moment he's going to catch a zap in the ass and explode like an overcooked sausage.

"There!" Chekov yells triumphantly, and the inhuman screeching voice of the chair abruptly degenerates into a vowelless gabbling, then a hum, then cuts off.

Jim slumps against the wall, heaving a huge sigh of relief, and immediately starts coughing against the thick stench of ozone.

Chekov waits politely until he's done, then asks him, "So, Captain, what now?" It comes out Keptin, and Jim grins at him.

###

The 'what now' comprises stopping off at the Federation shipyards in 40 Eridani A and immediately putting in an requisition for a new command chair. When Admiral Pike, who has to sign off on all major requisitions, queries his protoge via vidlink as to why, he finds Kirk unusually taciturn. Kirk's generally a garrulous fellow who revels in telling (and Pike secretly revels in hearing) all of the semi-legal exploits that results in the Enterprise needing expensive new parts, including the time the aft nacelles were accidentally jettisoned, to the exploding still in hydroponics that caused a hull breach, but "Malfunction," is the only answer Pike gets.

"What happened to the first one?" he asks mildly, knowing that the slightest hint of suspicion in his voice will just make Kirk clam up even more. Is that a tinge of red to the captain's cheek? he wonders. The screen must need its color settings adjusted.

"We--ah, donated it to a Vulcan colony ship heading into deep space."

Pike gives him a sharp look while Kirk--is Kirk squirming? "And I suppose the Vulcan colonists were in dire need of a H1B32 model Command type captain's chair?"

Kirk has apparently settled whatever internal struggle he's been going through, and now gives him a winsome, blue-eyed, toothy smile. Pike's not fooled one whit as Kirk then leans forward in that way that he has, seeming to take up way more space than his spare frame should, and waggles his eyebrows engagingly. "To tell you the truth, sir," exuding sincerity from every pore, "We broke it by accident. The Vulcans came along at the appropriate moment and decided it would be an interesting teaching tool for their children." A beautific expression spreads over his face and Pike can swear he can see a halo. "So we gave it to them for hands-on engineering lessons in the interest of the future of Vulcan."

"I see." Pike scratches his cheek meditatively. "And I suppose this particular chair, selflessly donated in the name of education, has nothing to do with reports of a colony commanded by a piece of intelligent furniture?" He keeps a straight face.

Jim is a damn good liar, he thinks to himself, amused. He has to be; the man didn't manage to get himself voted Mr. Popular all three years at Academy by telling people what he really thinks. But Jim has his tells, like now, where he's rubbing his index and thumb together like there's glue stuck on them, and those blue eyes are just a little too wide. "No idea, sir, probably coincidence," Kirk tells him, looking only a little strained.

"Is there something you're not telling me, James?" Pike asks, in his best fatherly 'you can trust me and tell me anything' tone that he knows Jim can never resist. He really does like this kid, loves him like a son, and knows Jim thinks of him as the father figure he never had.

A hesitation, then Kirk caves, looking down at his hands, then back up at Pike with serious eyes. "All right, sir, if you really want to know." He closes his eyes and seems to be gathering his thoughts. Then in a rush, "My command chair malfunctioned because we got some spooge in its circuits and we also spilled some drink and food in it and then also some lube and who knows what else, Scotty is still trying to figure it out, and by 'we' I mean mostly me though everyone else sorta contributed and trust me when I say that's traumatizing to think about," the words speed up, "then it developed sentience and tried to take over the ship and kill off the rest of us while it married Commander Spock so we had to disconnect its power supply." He gasps for breath.

Pike stares at him.

Kirk blinks innocently back.

"Fine!" Pike throws up his hands. "You don't have to tell me. But really, you don't have to make up elaborate stories like that just to request a new chair." He favors Kirk with a wry shake of the head. "If you want an upgrade, all you have to do is ask. Captain's privileges."

"But--"

"Is there anything else you're requisitioning, or was that it?"

"Uh--yes, I mean no, sir." Kirk's mouth is opening and closing like a fish, and he looks stunned.

"James, are you all right?"

"Yes?"

"You seem a little slower lately, a little confused. Make sure you're getting enough rest, all right?"

"Yessir." Kirk recovers just enough to give him a wan version of his usual white-toothed grin, and Pike nods at him, deciding not to mention the bald patch and the receding hairline. It's probably the result of stress but Kirk might be sensitive about it, he thinks, and signs off.

--
Completed 7/30/09