"It has been most satisfying negotiating with you," the Kedzian ambassador said from the viewscreen.
Jim bowed slightly. "I couldn't agree more."
"I leave you a parting gift, in the manner of my people," she said, and with one final enigmatic smile, she was gone.
"That is a beautiful, beautiful woman," Jim said. His entire crew turned around to glare at him. "What? I'm just stating a fact."
"I wonder what her 'gift' is," Uhura said, and Jim had just turned to her to be offended when the air above his lap began to shimmer.
Jim froze. "Shields up!" he called.
"They are up, sir!" Chekov said.
Something took shape just in front of him; a cylinder, maybe two and a half feet tall and almost as wide. It looked like steel, and was covered in the elegant curves of the Kedzian language.
It started to tip and fall as it solidified, and Jim reached out to grab it. Its top was clear, and as he looked down into it—
—well, who knew blood actually could run cold.
"Jim to Sickbay," he said, his voice higher than usual even to his own ears. "Bones, I need you on the bridge now."
"Is there an emergency?" McCoy asked. "Because I have a patient I'm with now, and—"
"It's a baby," Jim said.
There was dead silence on both the bridge and the comm link.
"I'll be right up," Bones said. "For the love of God, don't drop it."
Jim clutched the cylinder closer. "Uhura," he said suddenly, "hail the Kedzians back—"
"I tried as soon as they started beaming," she said. "No response."
"I find no trace of them on our scanners," Spock said.
"Maybe they are cloaked?" Chekov suggested.
Sulu looked over his shoulder at Jim. "Maybe they dropped a baby in our laps and took off like a bat out of hell."
Jim barely heard them as he stared town into the container. The baby was turned just enough that he could see it sucking its thumb. "When my mom said I'd get into trouble in space, I don't think she meant this," he said.
"Well, congratulations, Jim," Bones drawled an hour and a half of testing later. "It's a girl."
"The question is, whose girl?" Jim asked. "Possession is not nine-tenths of the law when it comes to babies, Doctor. She has biological parents out there. Who knows what they think happened to her?"
Bones rubbed the heel of his hand over one eye. "I'm only asking this because no one else on the ship will, to your face anyway," he said. "We don't know how fast fetuses mature for the Kedzians. Is there any chance—"
"No," Jim said. "No, no, and in conclusion, no. And thanks for having faith in me."
"You had dinner with her—"
"—as part of the negotiations—"
"—alone on her ship—"
"—as a show of faith—"
"—and didn't come back for five hours."
"Damn it, Bones!" Jim forced himself to take a deep breath. "I spent the entire time negotiating her down that last half-credit on the grain. Contrary to popular opinion, I am not actually interested in dropping my pants for any halfway-attractive alien that looks twice at me."
They stood there, glaring at each other over the exam table.
Lt. Chapel chose that moment to walk in. "Dr. McCoy, I--" She looked between Bones and Jim, then Bones, then Jim again. "I'll come back later," she said, and backed out.
The baby girl was completely healthy, humanoid enough to cause Bones few problems, a few days from full term, and—of course—not Jim's biological daughter.
"What a shocker," he said.
"I had to check," Bones said.
Jim gave him a cranky look across the conference table. The rest of the senior staff pretended not to notice.
"I was able to translate the bulk of the writing on the canister," Uhura said. She tapped her PADD, and the wall screen flickered and displayed the Kedzian writing, with the translation next to it. "The ambassador was not kidding about 'the manner of her people,' sir. Apparently the gift of a child is how agreements are ratified in their culture. Something about bringing a bond to life."
Sulu made a choking sound that Jim chose to believe was a cough.
"So what happens if we, uh, return the child to sender?"
Uhura shook her head. "There are no parents to return the baby to, Jim. They're grown in these—these vats, specifically for diplomatic occasions such as this."
"Starfleet and I are going to have words," Jim said.
"I believe Starfleet will tell you that situations like this are part and parcel of the first contact experience," Spock said. "I believe my father was once offered a husband as part of a delicate negotiation."
"Before or after he married your mother? Wait, don't answer that," Jim said. "I don't actually want to know. What I want to know is, what do we do with a baby?"
Bones's communicator beeped three times. He stood up. "Well, first of all, we deliver it," he said. "Excuse me, folks, but I have a canister in labor."
Jim was first out the door after him.
Given that the entire medical staff was crammed into Sickbay, plus Scotty and a couple of his engineers ("A machine's a machine, Doc, even if it's a baby-making machine"), and of course the ship's captain—given all that, the "birth" was ridiculously easy. The canister glowed a series of colors over the course of about forty-five minutes, and then the top broke in two. Bones pushed the pieces away, plunged his hands in, and out came a baby, covered in something slimy and screaming like a banshee.
Bones alternated brisk orders to his staff with what Jim could only describe as cooing to the baby.
"Chapel, looks like we have a cord here. Let's take care of that. It's okay, darling, none of this will hurt. You're nice and safe now, promise." His accent thickened when he talked to the baby. Jim couldn't help but smile.
Bones caught the smile, and he glared at Jim before heading his way with the blanket-wrapped bundle. "Here."
"Sorry?" Jim stared at him.
"Here." Bones held the baby out to him, a clear challenge in his eyes.
Jim just shot him a Vulcan-like eyebrow and took the baby from him, batting three sets of hands away as they tried to "help." "I'm good, people."
"I'll be damned, you are. Who let you go around holding their baby?"
Jim rolled his eyes. "No swearing around the children, Doctor."
He looked down at the baby in his arms. She was swaddled up in her blankets, her mouth crooked in a cranky little O. She reminded him of Bones before he'd had his coffee.
"Hello, sunshine," he said softly. "I guess getting born out of a jar is just as much fun as getting born out of a person, hm? Don't worry. It gets better from here."
He lifted his head. The entire med staff, Scotty, his engineers, et al, were all staring at him. "Don't you people have jobs?" he asked.
There was an instant rush to disperse, except for Scotty, who as usual watched as though everything was a grand play, and Bones, who had a determinedly neutral face. He was making Jim nervous, in fact.
"She needs a name, at least until Starfleet decides what to do with her."
"She won't need a name after that?"
"You know what I mean, Jim."
Jim relaxed a bit at the crankiness. A cranky Bones was a familiar Bones.
"Georgia Anne Kirk," he said. "Guardian of record, James T. Kirk." Bones had pokered up again. "At least until Starfleet decides what to do with her."
Scotty was looking back and forth between Bones and Jim at record speed.
"I'll note it in the log," Bones said after a long pause. "In the meantime, I need her back for more testing—and a feeding, eventually."
Jim reluctantly handed her back over.
"Georgia, hm?" Bones muttered as he took her. "After your dad, I suppose."
"I hear it's a lovely state, too," Jim replied sunnily, then turned on his heel before Bones could say anything else. "I'll be back after my bridge shift."
Georgia Anne had dark brown eyes, olive skin, and hair so black it had blue highlights in it. She also had a surprising accessory—a starship captain.
"Dammit, Jim," Bones said, "you have a bed. Go sleep in it."
Jim blinked up at him from where he'd fallen asleep next to the crib Scotty had rigged for Georgia. "She was awake a minute ago," he said. "I think. Besides, sickbay chairs are just as comfortable as a bed."
"No, they're not."
"Practically." Jim rubbed his eyes. "Did you need something? I don't go back on shift for another five hours, and if we were being attacked, you probably wouldn't be telling me to go to bed."
Bones put his hands on his hips. "I have a staff of thirteen, all of whom had to be trained in infant and child care before they could graduate Starfleet Medical. You don't have to hover like she's in constant danger."
Jim laughed. "I'm not questioning your staff's competence, all right?"
"Then why am I tripping over you every time I turn around?"
"Don't turn around in this corner, then," Jim said, and raised a finger when Bones sucked in a breath. "You'll wake her up if you tell me what you really think of me. Put it in a memo."
"Oh, I have plenty of memos, believe you me," Bones said. "When are we going to get word from Starfleet, anyway? Even out in the middle of nowhere, they should have had plenty of time to get your message and send orders back."
"Maybe, like some other people I know, they have bigger priorities than a baby out of a jar," Jim said. He ran a finger down Georgia's little arm and stood up. "I'm going to get a shower and catch up on paperwork before shift."
"Wait a second," Bones said as Jim left Sickbay, but he said it quietly enough that Jim could pretend not to hear it.
Bones stormed out of the turbolift a few days later, barely waiting to clear the door before he started in on Jim. "You never called them, did you?"
Everyone else on the bridge jerked around to stare at Bones; Jim pretended to finish the document he was reading on his PADD and turned, his face neutral. "Can I help you, Doctor?"
"Don't you even try that innocent look on me. I'm immune to it. You haven't bothered to notify Starfleet Command about the baby yet."
"That's completely untrue," Jim said, switching gears from neutral to wounded. "Ask Uhura. Lieutenant, didn't I send a message to Starfleet the day after the baby was born?"
Uhura turned back to her console and scanned through the logs. "That's correct, Captain."
Jim was just starting to relax when she shot him a suspicious look and continued. "You did mark it lowest priority and bundle it with the updates on the replicator software."
"Jim!" Bones took a deep breath and opened his mouth for a new blast just as Sulu stage-whispered to Chekov, "I hate it when Mommy and Daddy fight."
Bones choked, and Jim's crisis management skills finally kicked in. "Zip it, Sulu, or you'll be piloting a desk in Supply for a few shifts. Uhura, thank you for far too much information. Spock, con; Bones, lift."
He could almost hear the gossip spreading through the walls of the turbolift. "Sickbay," he said wearily. "Bones, remember when you used to fake respect for me in front of the crew?"
"No," Bones said baldly. "Seriously, Jim, what the hell?"
"I know what I'm doing." Bones raised an eyebrow. "Stop Spocking me, I do."
Bones dropped a hand on Jim's shoulder, and Jim was suddenly aware of how close they were, even in the tight space of the turbolift, and how Bones looked genuinely concerned, not irritated.
What the hell was he doing, anyway?
The lift doors opened. "Goodbye, Bones," Jim said, and stared him out the doors. He waited until they closed and dropped his head against the wall. "Fuck," he said.
The computer beeped. "Not in directory. Please clarify destination."
"Fuck you too," he told it, and when it beeped again, he said, "Belay that. Bridge."
By the time the doors opened on the bridge—and the sudden, not at all suspicious silence—Jim was mostly himself again.
"Jim," Bones said wearily from the door of Georgia's sickbay cubby. "Please stop singing."
"There's nothing wrong with my singing voice," Jim said. "Georgia likes it, don't you, sunshine?"
The light from the main exam room was blocked further as Bones leaned against the doorframe. "I'm sure she does. But Orion drinking songs are not appropriate for lullabies."
"Oh, come on. She doesn't know the words."
"Uncle Leonard is a stick in the mud," Jim told Georgia solemnly. She gurgled and waved her hand until it bumped his nose.
"Funny, that's what happened to you the last time you sang that song."
"Who—oh yeah, my second-year Engineering lab partner," Jim said. He told Georgia, "He was a stick in the mud too. And his five-space math skills were barely adequate. I don't even know why I tried."
"My point being—"
"Sing us a lullaby, then."
Bones stared at Jim. "What?"
"I don't know any lullabies. Teach us one."
"I'm a little concerned by this 'we' business. Jim, you know it's a bad idea to start treating yourselves as part of a unit—"
"Sing, you coward," Jim said. "Stop psychoanalyzing me for five minutes and sing the baby a song. Or did you raise Joanna on a steady diet of surgical manuals and antebellum slang dictionaries?"
Bones sighed and started singing with adjoining breaths, sliding smoothly into something Jim barely recognized from old movies he'd watched as a kid. Bones had the perfect lullaby voice, low-pitched and low-voiced, with a stronger accent than usual. Georgia bumped her fist into Jim's chin in approval, yawned, and drifted off to sleep. Jim didn't stop Bones, though.
"How long has that baby been asleep, anyway?" Bones stopped mid-verse to ask, his face falling back into familiar scowl lines.
"A while," Jim said. "So?"
"So are we friends again?" Georgia shifted in Jim's arms, and he risked looking away to glance down at her.
When he looked back up, Bones was pinching the bridge of his nose. Not a great sign.
"I'm trying to be your friend, jackass," Bones said.
Jim blinked. "I think I'm missing something here."
"Jim." Bones appropriated the chair next to them, reaching out to smooth his hand over the top of Georgia's head. "You can't keep her."
Jim went hot, then cold all over. "Of course not!" he said, too loudly. "I'm not—we're on a starship, for the love of God. I know—I know what life's like in space."
"That's what—" Bones stopped and looked more closely at Jim. Jim had the same itchy too-close feeling from the turbolift. "What's it like in space, actually?"
"Didn't I tell you not to analyze me?"
Bones' hand dropped from Georgia's head to Jim's arm. "Jim."
"You know how dangerous it is. I don't—you wouldn't have Joanna up here."
Bones stiffened but didn't pull away. "Dammit. Don't make this—"
"Well, would you?"
"Not until they add phasers to the escape pods," Bones said.
Jim shrugged, ignoring the heat behind his eyes. "Well, then."
"Jim, I worry about you and this baby. I worry about you with this baby."
"Don't worry." Jim looked at the hand on his arm. "I know better than to get close to anyone in space."
Bones pulled his hand back so fast it jostled Georgia. Jim bent his head to her.
Bones stood up. "Of course that's the lesson you learned," he said to the top of Jim's head, since Jim was pretending to look at Georgia. "You don't even need me for this, then. Keep doing what you're doing."
Jim looked up to watch Bones leave.
The next staff meeting began badly; Jim had a collection of baby pictures on the wall screen when Bones walked in. He winced and twitched a hand towards his console, but the damage was already done, and he didn't need to the rest of his staff to start giving him odd looks and avoiding him.
"What's the word back from Starfleet?" Sulu asked.
Jim let Uhura take it. "They're looking into appropriate care," she said. "I believe she and the canister will spend some time at Starfleet Medical being examined."
"I've examined her," Bones said.
"And I've examined the canister six ways from Sunday," Scotty said, bristling. "Do they think they'll do any better? I've already got a prototype in progress—" He broke off when everyone's eyes widened. "Ah, just for theoretical purposes, you understand."
"Wow," Sulu and Chekov said in unison.
Spock, meanwhile, had the tight forehead crease that meant something was bothering him. "I am not sure being under constant medical observation is necessary, given her progress here. And I do not believe it to be a positive formative experience for a human infant."
"Noted and logged," Jim said, carefully neutral. "We have a month until the Valiant can rendezvous with us to tran—transport her back to Earth, anyway." He minimized the photos. "Next agenda item?"
In the middle of an extended debate between Uhura and Spock about a linguistic upgrade to the comm computers, conducted partly in Vulcan for some reason, Jim sat straight up in his seat and reached for his PADD and stylus. He scribbled frantically for a few minutes, then lifted his head. "Agreed, then," he said. Everyone looked startled except Uhura, who had just scored a particularly good point and looked gratified.
Jim ignored them all. "And we're done," he said. "Scotty, stick around, will you?"
Bones lingered on his way out, but Jim was too keyed up to do anything but wave him off. "Computer: door secured, record off."
"Oh, this is going to be grand," Scotty said.
Jim grinned at him, or tried. "I hope so."
Two weeks later, Jim handed a suitably tired-out Georgia over to Lt. Chapel. "Changed, fed, played with, and read to," he said. "She should crash in about—"
"Now," Chapel said, rocking Georgia gently. "Do you want me to let you know when she wakes up?"
"Always," Jim said. He took a deep breath. "And—can I borrow your boss?"
"Only if you don't bring him back," she said with an eyeroll. "Then I can get something done around here."
Jim stuck his head in Bones' office, which was even more cluttered than usual. A stack of PADDs teetered on one side of the desk, and empty glasses clustered at the other side.
"Doctor," Jim said.
Bones looked up from the holo of a skeleton he'd been examining. "Captain," he said with equal formality.
"Walk with me." Jim turned before Bones got it in his head to argue with him.
The lift took them down to the outer edge of the ship, to the level above the shuttle deck. There was a clear safety door with the Engineering symbol on it blocking the hallway just as they exited. Jim used the palm pad on the wall to disengage it and led the way through.
"There's not supposed to be any major work going on," Bones said. "It hasn't been in any of the staff meetings or ship communications."
"I know it hasn't," Jim said. He stepped through an open door.
"What. The hell," Bones said behind him.
The seams in the walls were the only indications that four rooms had been turned into one. Secure berths fit into recesses on three of the walls, including a group that were clearly for smaller figures—nonhuman spaces, perhaps. Or perhaps infants and small children.
The fourth wall, against the hull, had an outline marked in the same shape as the viewscreen on the bridge. Beneath it sat the bare bones of a pair of consoles.
"Navigation and communications," Jim said, gesturing. "Comm will have access to all emergency frequencies, standard and subspace. Nav will have—well, the phaser specs are still problematic, but Scotty has it in hand. Or so he says."
"You put phasers on an escape pod," Bones said faintly. "How long have you been working on this? Starfleet approval—"
Jim just laughed.
"Oh," Bones said.
Jim made himself turn around. "Look, it's not perfect. Perfect is no danger, no risk, and that will never be life on the Enterprise. And I know getting permission to have any family here, especially an alien baby from a jar--but I have to try." He took a step forward into that too-close space between them. "I have to try, you get that, right?"
"You put phasers on an escape pod," Bones said again.
Jim's heart was in double-time. "Yeah, well, Scotty says this is just the beginning," he babbled. "He wants to make the whole section with the living quarters removable, if you can believe it. I'm not sure even—"
Bones kissed him.
"Oh, God, you do understand," Jim said drunkenly a few minutes later. But Bones was pulling him down to the floor, and Jim abandoned all conversation for later.
Not long after that, Scotty walked through the door and stopped dead. A broad smile crossed his face and he shifted his tool case so he could clap his hands together. "I love it when Mum and Dad make up!"
A uniform shoe winged its way at him; Scotty ducked, still beaming. "I'll see myself out," he said, and disappeared from sight, laughing.