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Absence makes the heart grow fonder

Chapter Text

“That’s it, I quit!”

This statement crashed like a bomb into the hubbub of General Mess Room Three. Occurring at the same time as Dr McCoy stepped through the rooms opening doors, hoping to enjoy an evening meal with his friends. At the same time as Ensign Reid took her seat among her group of friends at a table near to where the announcement had come from and finally, although perhaps most significantly, as a Vulcan eyebrow rose in response to the uncharacteristically vehement words issued from his Captains lips. Those seated closest to the table paused, some even started in some alarm. For their Captain to voice such a comment was most alarming. Had the statement merely been a passing comment? Could it actually be meant? Where they in danger of losing the best Captain many of them had ever known? What dire events must have occurred, that they were currently ignorant of? McCoy caught all of this as he moved through the room towards his friends and commanding officers.

After Kirk had arrived, he had issued orders that General Mess Three was open to all crew members, regardless of rank and from the Captain on down, many officers frequented it regularly. There remained the formal but smaller Senior Officers Mess, usually kept for entertaining visiting dignitaries, a larger Officers Mess and two other General Mess. Which one you frequented was entirely up to personal choice. It was just one more reason for his crew to adore him. No ‘us’ and ‘them’, just ‘the crew’ in it all together.

“Evening, Jim. Spock.”

Glancing at the Vulcan seated opposite them and noticing the frozen aspect, McCoy took his usual seat beside his Captain and friend. McCoy turned to appraise his Captain. Kirk was still bristling with obviously suppressed anger, attacking the plate of food as if daring it to resist the stabbing of his knife and fork. A padd rested on the table between them, still active. McCoy shifted slightly in his seat to try and read its contents, in the hope that it would reveal the reason for this most unusual outburst. Kirk always maintained a positive disposition when amongst the crew, regardless of his personal feelings about anything and this was very unusual behaviour.

“So Jim, had a good day on the bridge?”

McCoy cringed inside, realising that was quite possibly the stupidest comment he had ever made, given the evidence to the contrary sitting in front of him. He glanced again at Spock, catching the fleeting expression of annoyance flashing in the Vulcan’s eyes. Kirk’s ridged body language showed he was clearly not happy and there was an occasional mumbled comment in between mouthfuls of food. Using this as an excuse, McCoy leaned closer, hoping to catch some indication of why the man was so annoyed. Surreptitiously, a finger reached out to nudge the nearest corner of the padd, turning it very slightly towards him.

“What’s that, Jim?”

After another small nudge of the padd, McCoy glanced about, noting that some crew members were still quite openly eavesdropping. A glare of his blue eyes made sure everyone hurriedly turned away. ‘No doubt,’ McCoy thought ‘this unusual outburst would spread through the ship like wild fire!’ Just as the final nudge of the padd made its contents readable but before McCoy could glance down, it was snatched away and placed between the Captain and First Officer. A stabbing finger turned it off.

“So, not a good day then!”

Easing back in his chair, McCoy again exchanged glances with Spock. The Vulcan was clearly aware of the events which had precipitated the comment but was at a loss on how to convey anything. Kirk had finished his meal, rose quickly, putting his empty plate and coffee mug on the tray.

“Sorry about cancelling our chess game, Spock. I’ll need to spend most of the evening reviewing these files.” A pause, then a brief nod in apology toward McCoy in acknowledgement of his poor attitude that evening. “Bones.”

Kirk pushed the padd under his arm, grabbed the tray and left, depositing the tray in the disposal chute with some force. Both watched his departure with concern.

“Okay, Spock. What’s going on?”

“I am not at liberty to reveal anything, Doctor.”

“So you do know something. Takes a lot to get under Jim’s skin like that.” He glanced around the room and leaned closer to the Vulcan. “It’s not good for crew moral to see their Captain so riled up, without a clear reason.”

“I believe all will be made clear at tomorrow mornings briefing. By then, I am also sure the Captain will have resolved his present difficulties.”

McCoy searched the Vulcan’s face, evidently satisfied with what he saw. It wasn’t just Kirk who had developed Spock watching skills over the past four years.

“Okay, I’ll give him until then.” He eased back in his seat, assuming a more relaxed posture. “So what’s good on the menu for tonight?”

****

McCoy entered the main Briefing room early, finding the Duty Yeoman still laying out the refreshments. He slipped into his usual seat and activated his own padd, reviewing the CMO report he had compiled. Kirk never tolerated an officer who was anything less than fully prepared. Within a few moments, the other officers arrived and took their accustomed places. Kirk and Spock had entered together, in perfect step. Kirk was talking quietly, hands typically gesticulating and Spock, head bent slightly towards him, was listening intently. They slipped into their chairs and Kirk called the meeting to order. Officers presented their reports, answered questions raised, confident their views and opinions would be heard and considered, making notes of their Captains subsequent orders.

There was still no clear reason for Kirk’s brief outburst the evening before and McCoy was beginning to wonder when he would get to it. All now appeared to be normal.

“Thank you. You may return to your posts. Further orders will be provided via your Departmental Heads following this meeting. Would Dr McCoy, Mister Scott, Lt Cmdr Giotto, Lt’s Uhura and Sulu, please remain.”

As the junior officers filed out, McCoy pushed his padd to one side, noting that Spock had deactivated the standard recording. So something was definitely hush hush. Kirk leaned forward, hands clasped loosely on the briefing table. He appeared his usual calm and confident self.

“We have received new orders. The Enterprise will undertake a ten day scientific survey, researching a nebula on the edges of the Arvin/Ewat sector. Mister Spock will undertake command during this time.” All eyes had flicked towards Spock, who remained completely unmoved. “Once complete, the ship will then proceed to Arvin 3 for seven days shore leave rotation and ship repairs. Please compile a list of departmental repairs that may be undertaken in space dock during that time and present to Mister Spock for review. The facilities are not up to Starbase standards, so please limit your requests accordingly.”

McCoy sat forward, his suspicions aroused. “And where will you be Captain?”

Kirk showed no sign of the annoyance he had the previous evening and continued with the closed briefing in his usual manner.

“I have received personal orders from Admiral Nogura to assist the FI with a mission to Arvin 3. Enterprise will rendezvous with a representative at 15:00 hours and I will transfer to his ship.”

“The FI – Federation Intelligence?” McCoy could not control the concern which coloured his voice. “When have they needed a starship captain to help them?”

“Aye, Captain,” Scotty’s native burr in clear evidence. “No good comes from mixing with the likes of them!”

“Sir, could you not at least take one of my Security men with you?” Giotto offered. “I could have them briefed in no time?” The idea of his Captain going off, relatively alone, did not sit well with him.

“Gentlemen, ours is not to reason why. I go where Command sends me.”

McCoy sat back, crossing his arms in frustration but continuing to listen and taking in the briefing Kirk was providing. Deferring to Spock on the aspects of the scientific study requirements and ensuring his officers would act as required in his absence. The others filed out but McCoy made it quite clear he wasn’t budging and there would be a further ‘off –the-record’ discussion between the three men.

Kirk looked up from the padd he was making some notes on and assessed McCoy, not surprised to see him still sitting there. “Bones?”

“This is the reason you had half the crew in a tizz last night?”

“Hardly Doctor.” Spock stepped in to defend his Captain. “You must be well aware that past contact with Federation Intelligence has not always been of benefit to the Enterprise. It would hardly seem surprising that the Captain was displeased with these orders.”

“I’ll say.” McCoy searched Kirk’s face for signs of the friend, rather than the superior officer. “What are they having you do now, Jim? It can’t be without risk.”

A brief glance passed between Kirk and Spock and with a small smile, Kirk turned back to McCoy. “Bones, I’m there just to support the FI and ensure Starfleet has input to this mission.”

He raised a hand to silence the series of questions he knew McCoy would be relentless with, until he was satisfied he knew as much as was possible.

“It seems there has been a leak of information from within Starfleet HQ. Discrete investigations had begun but before Fleet Commander Gan’I’chad could be arrested, he disappeared: along with copies of a considerable number of highly classified documents and codes. Given that he had access to the Fleets defence plans and general ship security code systems, he has the potential to cause a lot of trouble. HQ is making changes as fast as possible, but it’s going to take time to figure out what else he might have compromised. The FI had agents out, tracing any information on him. That was 9 days ago but nothing had been heard until two days ago. An ex-fleet member contacted HQ, stating he had seen a Starfleet Officer meeting with a group on Arvin who has a less than stellar reputation. FI are leading on this now.”

“And Starfleet immediately decided to send their best Starship Captain into the fray?”

“Hardly, Bones. With Enterprise the nearest Starship to Arvin at the moment, Nogura has insisted on my participation. A mission with this much importance requires command level clearance.” A small smile appeared on Kirk’s lips as he continued. ”I’m only telling you what you need to know so that you don’t hound Spock to distraction during the survey.”

Captain and First Officer shared a quick glance of familiarity, both knowing McCoy’s past in this respect.

“Our cover?”

“Precisely. The Enterprise will conduct the survey and arrive at Arvin 3 in ten days. The paperwork is already being pushed through channels for authorised ship repairs and shore leave. Everything needs to look normal. I’ll be in touch twice every day, via long range FI secure voice communication. The FI agent and I will assume false identities as traders, with a ship in need of some basic repair. We can blend in at the Port, whilst searching for the missing officer. If we manage to find him, I’ll call in and Enterprise can be with us in 20hrs, at warp four.”

“You make it sound so easy but we both know nothing ever happens like that. Even I know Arvin is a free port. All sorts of low lives find a good living on the outer edges and in a free port, anything could happen to you.” McCoy turned to look at Spock. “I’m surprised you’re letting him go off like this?”

Before Spock could respond, Kirk stood, gathering his padd and other equipment “Spock has made me fully aware of his concerns.”

Passing McCoy, he rested a hand on the older man’s shoulder, a small smile playing across Kirk’s face but not reaching the hazel eyes. “There’s nothing we can do, Bones. Complaints have been lodged overnight with both Starfleet and the FI. They are ‘reviewing’ their decision, but we both know it’s merely a delaying tactic.”

“Yeah,” McCoy harrumphed. “No doubt they’ll make their decision two hours after you’re either the conquering hero, or a dead man!”

Kirk squeezed the tight shoulder under his hand but nothing more could be said. He glanced towards his Vulcan First Officer, whole conversations passing between them in one glance and then departed the room.

McCoy turned back to the Vulcan. “I don’t like this, Spock. Alarm bells are going off like crazy!”

Spock’s whole body tensed, listening attentively for noise in the room. “I fail to hear these bells, Dr McCoy.” But before McCoy could express any further annoyance, Spock continued. “I must therefore assume these personal bells are purely an indication of your concern for Captain Kirk and his participation in this mission. For once, we would appear to be in total accord. Perhaps you now understand the Captains outburst last evening. He has been presented with no options. Starfleet is insisting on his participation in this mission under the command of an FI representative and past experience does not indicate they will have the same care for the Captain as does his crew.”

“I’m amazed you’re not insisting on going with him? I’d offer, but I know I’d probably be more of a danger to him than a help in these circumstances.”

“There were lengthy discussions between us yesterday evening, on just that subject. Unfortunately, nothing can be done. We all follow orders.” Spock rose and gathered together his padd and record discs. “The best we can do is to provide support and ensure his ship is ready when he calls.”

****

A metallic silver and dark blue cargo ship was hanging idle at the designated rendezvous point. In comparison to Enterprise’s swan like silvery white gracefulness, the cargo ship more resembled a squatting toad. It was about 45 metres in length; its main cargo bay was oblong and took up most of its entire length, with a small curved forward command/crew deck. The arched design of the rear dark blue cargo bay doors were reminiscent of the Enterprises own shuttlecraft bay doors.

Its triple engine nacelles were mounted in a triangular formation around the main cargo bay section and with two dark blue fixed landing sledges underneath. Its’ somewhat battered appearance not instilling much confidence in the Science Officer who gazed at it via the monitor in the Captains quarters. Whilst it was no doubt a perfectly engined design for a cargo ship, Spock could only hope that appearances were very much deceiving as he catalogued the assorted dents, replacement hull plates welded on and the black re-entry scorch marks on its leading edges and sledges. The name ‘Galaxy Hopper’ was emblazoned in silver down either side of the forward hulls. Each individual letter was infused with tiny mirror like flecks, which sparkled in the lights of the far distant twin suns.

In the bedroom, Kirk was packing a small case and had already changed into civilian clothes. Snapping the catches shut, he moved back into the office area of his cabin, leaving the case by the door. McCoy had left them moments before, stating he would meet them in the transporter room with a personal transponder and medical kit.

The intercom sprang to life with Lt Uhura’s distinctive voice. “The ship is hailing us, Captain.”

“On speaker please, Uhura.”

“Galaxy Hopper to Enterprise?”

“Enterprise, Kirk here.”

“Hi, the name’s Radcliffe. You ready to beam over? Time’s a wasting.”

“I shall be with you in ten minutes.”

“Hopper out.”

Spock reached for the suitcase, his grip on it making it perfectly clear he would be carrying this and would brook no comment. With a small shrug, Kirk stepped through the doors and they travelled to the transporter room in a companionable silence. They were barely in the room when McCoy stepped forward, waving a hypo in front of Kirk’s face. “Sleeve up please, Jim.”

The transponder was implanted under the skin of Kirk’s forearm with a small hiss. He rubbed at the slight stinging sensation it left and to ease the bump under his skin. “Ouch!”

“Oh come on you big baby. That barely hurt.”

McCoy turned, indicating the case Spock was carrying. He reached over to the top of the transporter console and handed over to Spock the small black tricorder sized basic medical kit. “Put that in there, Spock.”

Turning back to Kirk, McCoy appraised him carefully. “Hopefully, you won’t need it Jim but given your past history on things like this, there’s the usual basic medical equipment. I’ve also put in a full spectrum antibiotic and pain killer hypos. Some mild sedatives you might need for our friend. The scanner will only work close up, nothing too fancy but should do the job in a pinch.”

“Thanks, Bones.”

“Best I could do.” McCoy reached out and briefly clasped Kirk’s shoulders, locking gazes. “You take care now, ya hear. Don’t think you can afford my fees these days.”

Kirk rested a hand on McCoy’s arm in reassurance. ”I’ll bare that in mind, Bones.”

He then moved to the transporter platform on which Spock had placed his small case. Mister Scott stood behind the controls, ready on his captains’ command to send him away from his beloved ship.

“Energise.”

Spock and Kirk locked gazes as the sparkles began to break up the so familiar figure and in moments, only the empty space remained. McCoy came to stand beside the Vulcan, offering support in the only way he knew Spock would accept.

“So now we wait.”

****