Jim took a deep breath, enjoying the feeling of warm air rushing into his lungs. No matter how long he spent on a starship, he would never get used to the artificial feel of the recycled air. There was simply nothing like good, fresh air. Grinning, he took another deep breath before turning his attention to the landing party around him.
There were two dozen of his people on the surface of this class M planet. They had been asked to analyze a particular strain of plant that Starfleet scientists predicted would be valuable to curing the plague that swept across Kirrian-3 every fifty years. Bones had leaped at the chance to be a part of a medical breakthrough, and the planet had been declared safe for humans—and half-Vulcans—to spend time on, so Jim had accepted the mission.
It was a gorgeous planet, although he had refrained from calling it a Garden of Eden, as the last time he had done so had ended poorly. They had landed on the shore of a lake that sparkled in the sunlight in a way that reminded Jim of Earth. The soil was a different color, an odd yellow that was caused by its chemical makeup. Spock had explained the specifics of the science to him before they had landed, but Jim had zoned out.
The plants, however, were what really set the planet apart. The one that his scientists had been studying was a deep red color, with petals as large as a dinner plate and a delicate emerald stem that held the flower three feet from the ground. The rest of the plants were just as stunning. His favorite was a vibrant purple vine that webbed it's way up the side of the large trees that surrounded the lake. The vine itself was thin, but it had many different offshoots, so it covered nearly the entire tree, spreading up into the branches and turning the treetop into a gorgeous mixture of green and purple. It was gorgeous, and Jim loved it.
They had been in orbit around the planet for almost three days, and Jim had made sure that he was on the planet at every opportunity. The first day, Bones had nearly hypo'd him because he had managed to get in the way of whatever experiments it was that he and the science team had been performing. Since then, he had learned his lesson and stayed on the outside edge of the landing party, out of the way but still able to communicate with and see all of the members.
As Jim watched, one of the science officers—Holar, if Jim remembered his name correctly—let out an exclamation of surprise, causing both Bones and Spock to rush over to him. Within a minute all three of them were hunched over the tricorder that Holar held, and although Jim wasn't close enough to hear their conversation, he could tell by Spock's raised eyebrow and Bones' weary expression that Spock had declared the finding to be fascinating.
The Vulcan had joined the landing party the second day. At first, he had stayed out of the party because his 'expertise was not in the medicinal effects of certain plants on the human body', but after Jim had come back and rambled about the planet that evening during their chess game, Spock had decided to see the planet for himself. It was good to see the Vulcan off of the ship. The crew had had a week long shore leave a month ago, and Jim wasn't sure that Spock had even left the Enterprise once during the entire trip.
Jim was broken from his thoughts by the sound of his communicator chirping. Detaching the device from his belt and flipped it open. "Kirk here," he said.
"Captain," Uhura's voice sounded from the communicator, "there's a message for you from Starfleet. Admiral Sharn insisted on speaking with you face to face."
"Very well. Make sure the conference room is ready. Does Sharn require the presence of any of the other officers?" Jim didn't want to disturb Spock or Bones if he didn't have to.
"No, sir. He only requested you."
Jim nodded, even though Uhura couldn't see him. "Alright. Tell Sharn I'll be there in a few minutes."
There was a click as Uhura broke off the communication. Jim swept one last wistful gaze over the beautiful planet he stood on before sighing and ordering the transporter room to beam him up.
Once he was on the Enterprise, recycled air in his lungs, Jim made his way to his usual conference room. Uhura met him outside the door and handed him a PADD with a quick summary of Sharn's Starfleet career. Jim took it and quickly skimmed the biography.
"So, he's a pencil-pusher," he summarized when he had finished, handing the PADD back to Uhura.
"Yes, captain," she responded, but instead of smiling as she usually did in response to his blunt statements, her lips were turned in a frown. "But be careful. His 'pencil-pushing' has helped prevent planetary wars. It's how he earned his position."
"Understood." Jim nodded and stepped through the door.
"Admiral Sharn," he greeted once he was inside. The man on the monitor was in his sixties, with greying hair and a slightly squashed face, as if someone had accidentally sat on it.
"Greetings, Captain Kirk. I trust your mission is going well," the man said in a soft voice that didn't seem to match his appearance or his admittedly impressive record.
"It is, Admiral. Both my chief science officer and my chief medical examiner have reported breakthroughs that they believe will be of great benefit to the people of Kirrian-3. However, I doubt this is a courtesy call," Jim said.
The man nodded. "You are correct. Starfleet needs your help, Kirk. In eight days, a treaty is supposed to be signed on Reskar that will begin a formal commercial relationship between the planet and the Federation. Unfortunately, the ambassador to the planet has fallen gravely ill and can no longer undergo the strain of travel. The signing cannot be rescheduled, as the Reskarians consider that to be a sign of uncertainty."
"So you need me and my crew to secure the treaty," Jim finished.
"Yes. You are the closest member of the fleet to the planet, and you have the most experience for settling these matters, aside from the ambassadors. Reskar is rich in many of the prime components needed for the construction of new starships, and its position on the edge of Federation space means that we need to secure the planet's loyalty before anyone else has the chance to. You will be sent a copy of Ambassador Silar's notes so that you and your officers may study it and become familiar with the culture."
Jim stifled the urge to groan. He was a starship captain, for stars' sake! He was meant to be commanding a ship, not negotiating treaties with planets at the edge of Federation space. Still, an order was an order, and this was one that he had no true reason to disobey. "Very well, my crew and I will leave for Reskar tomorrow morning."
"No, captain. You will leave within the hour. Reskar is too important to risk wasting any time."
"All due respect, Admiral, but the research that my team is doing here is important, too. The plague could return to Kirrian-3 any time within the next two years. If my team doesn't collect the information that the Starfleet scientists need, millions of people could die," Kirk argued, crossing his arms in front of him. "The Enterprise is a science vessel."
"I am well aware of both the situation on Kirrian-3 and your ship's designation. However, this is an urgent matter. Your team will send what data they have to Starfleet, and if it is insufficient another team will be sent."
"But the nearest ship is the Gandhi, and it's three weeks from this location!"
The admiral raised an eyebrow. "You have your orders, captain. The Enterprise will leave for Reskar within the hour. Is that clear?"
Jim could see the determination in the man's gaze, and he knew that this was one fight he wouldn't be able to win. Sighing, he let his arms fall to his side. "Very well. We will contact you once again once we are orbiting Reskar."
Sharn nodded once and then the monitor went dark. Letting out another sigh, Kirk pushed a button on the computer next to him. "Uhura here, captain."
"Uhura, tell the transporter to get ready to beam up the landing party," Jim ordered. "We're leaving the planet. Tell Mr. Spock and McCoy to meet me on the bridge once they're on board."
Another click and the communication ended. For a few moments, Jim simply stood there. Then, he squared his shoulders and left the conference room. He had his orders.
. . .
Spock stepped from the transporter, his senses quickly adjusting to the dimmer light of the Enterprise in comparison to the sunlight on the planet below. Next to him, McCoy did the same, grumbling under his breath as he did so.
"Mr. Spock," the ensign who worked the transporter said, "you and the doctor are requested on the bridge." Spock nodded and quickly left the room, confident that his science team would be able to handle transportation of the various samples and equipment that they had beamed up with them. McCoy followed behind.
"What do you think it is, Spock?" McCoy asked as they stepped into the turbo lift. "Why'd Jim make us pack up so quickly?"
"I do not like to make assertions without knowing all of the facts first, doctor," Spock replied.
"So make a guess."
Spock thought about arguing, but he decided that it wasn't worth the effort. The doctor had a habit of persisting in his questions until they were answered, regardless of Spock's own protests. "If I were to 'guess' I would say that the captain has received new orders from Starfleet command that supersedes our current orders and requires us to leave the planet quickly."
"What supersedes this? We're trying to cure a plague!" the doctor protested.
"Indeed, but there are others who are capable of doing the same work." Spock pointed out as the doors to the lift opened and they stepped out onto the bridge. McCoy didn't reply, but Spock knew that the doctor was far from satisfied with his explanation.
Together, they stepped down to where Jim sat, taking their places on either side of his chair. the captain nodded to them, acknowledging their presence before turning to look past them. "Uhura," he called, "is everyone on board?"
"Yes, captain. The scientists are securing the last of the samples in lab four right now. We should be ready to leave orbit within five minutes."
"Thank you. Mr. Sulu, plot a course to Reskar and prepare to depart, Warp 6."
"Aye, aye, captain."
Once the orders were given, the captain relaxed slightly in his chair and turned his attention Spock and the doctor. "I apologize for interrupting your research, gentlemen," he said. "Orders came in from Starfleet; we are to report to the planet Reskar and ensure the signing of a trade agreement between the Reskarians and the Federation."
Spock raised an eyebrow, but before he could comment, McCoy spoke, frustration evident in his voice. "A trade agreement? How is that more important than the work we were doing here? We're trying to cure a plague! Can't Starfleet find someone else to play politician?"
"Although that is not how I would have put it, I find myself agreeing with the doctor. Why were we chosen for this mission, captain?" Spock asked.
"The signing is set to occur in eight days, and the ambassador is too sick to travel. We are the only other vessel within range. As it is, the trip will take us seven days."
"Can't they reschedule? Surely the Reskarians would prefer to deal with someone they are familiar with."
Kirk shook his head. "If the Federation reschedules, the Reskarians will take that as a sign that we aren't committed to the deal," Jim said, and Spock could tell that the captain had already argued with someone, likely the Starfleet representative, about this. "The Gandhi will take over our research if what you've already collected isn't enough for Starfleet." McCoy frowned as if he wanted to argue further, but the doctor stayed silent.
"Reskar is a planet on the edge of Federation space," Spock said. "Contact was made with the planet ten years ago, but I was unaware that they had been appointed an ambassador. What do we know about the culture?"
"Not much, but apparently the ambassador was compiling a file before he got sick," the captain answered. "I've had his notes sent to both of your PADDs as well as Lieutenant Uhura's. I want the three of you to join me on the landing party."
"I'm a doctor, Jim, not an ambassador. What do you want me there for?" McCoy asked.
A smile crossed the captain's face. "And I'm a starship captain. You're there for emotional support, Bones, and to help me fake an illness if it comes to that." McCoy shook his head and grumbled under his breath, but his lips were pulled up ever so slightly in a smile.
In another captain, a willingness to lie in order to get out of an uncomfortable situation and possibly jeopardize their mission would have suggested to Spock an amoral disposition, but in his captain it seemed a sign of adaptability and innovation.
"Fine, Jim. But if I cause a diplomatic incident, I'm blaming it on you."
"I wouldn't expect anything else. Now go finish up that research, Bones," the captain ordered, still smiling. McCoy rolled his eyes before turning and leaving the bridge.
"Captain, lab four reports that all samples are secure. We are ready for departure," Uhura reported as the turbo lift doors closed behind McCoy.
"Thank you. Mr. Sulu, when you're ready, take us out of orbit, warp speed."
"Aye, aye, captain."
A few moments later, a jolt ran through the ship as they left orbit. Stars began to fly across the viewscreen at increasing speeds as they achieved warp speed. After a moment, Spock spoke. "Captain, I request permission to leave the bridge to study the information that was gathered on the planet's surface."
The captain turned to him with a grin. "Permission granted, Mr. Spock." Before Spock could turn to leave, the captain grabbed him by the arm, causing Spock to turn back around and raise an eyebrow. The captain usually refrained from physical contact with him, but the man was frequently very tactile with other members of the crew. His expression didn't indicate anything was wrong, so Spock decided that the action was merely instinctive. His theory was confirmed when the captain asked, "Are we still on for chess tonight?"
Spock nodded an affirmative. "Yes, captain. I will see you at 21:00." The captain smiled brightly at him.
"Good! I'll see you tonight, Mr. Spock." Spock nodded before turning away and stepping into the turbo lift. He had several experiments he wanted to run on the Illisgat flower before he filled out his report for Starfleet command.
. . .
At 21:07, Jim began to get worried. He was sitting in his quarters, chessboard neatly set up, waiting for Spock. And he had been for nearly a quarter of an hour. Spock had never been late to their nightly meeting before; in fact, he was usually five to ten minutes early. Jim began to wonder if he had done something to offend his friend. He thought back, but he couldn't recall anything that would cause Spock to skip their appointment without notifying him. He knew he had grabbed Spock's arm to get his attention when they had been on the bridge, but Spock had always forgiven him for his minor slips in etiquette in the past.
The beep of the door monitor drew Jim from his thoughts. "Come in," he called almost absently. The door slid open, and Spock stepped in. To anyone else, his expression would have seemed cold and calm, but Jim could tell that there was something off. It was almost as if the Vulcan was...embarrassed.
"Captain," Spock greeted, not moving from his spot just over the threshold. "I apologize for the tardy nature of my arrival. If you would prefer to reschedule-"
"Nonsense, Spock. It's not like I found something better to do in the seven minutes I've been waiting for you," Jim said with a grin before waving to the chair across from him where the Vulcan usually sat. "Sit down." Spock obeyed, and if Jim didn't know better he would have said that he looked relieved. "Now, I believe it is your turn to play white."
"No, captain, it is yours. I remember quite clearly."
Jim raised an eyebrow. "Oh? Well, I will always trust your superior memory, my friend," he said, moving one of his pawns forward. "Although tonight it seems that I am the one with the better memory. I didn't think you would forget our plans."
The Vulcan looked down, apparently to study the chessboard and plan his move, but the tips of his ears flushed, giving away his embarrassment. "I did not forget, Captain-"
"Please, Spock, we're off-duty. It's Jim," Jim said, secretly enjoying the Vulcan's slight discomfort. It was strange to see Spock acting in a way that was almost human.
"Very well. I did not forget, Jim. I merely lost track of time," Spock explained, moving a pawn of his own.
"You, lose track of time? I didn't know that was possible. What captured your attention?" Jim laughed as he spoke, moving one of his pieces forward in a move he knew Spock would consider illogical.
"My tests with the Illisgat," Spock replied before frowning ever so slightly—his lips barely moved a millimeter—at the board and moving a piece of his own. "I believe I may have isolated the organic compound that will be the most useful for combating the effects of the plague. Our labs do not have equipment advanced enough for me to be entirely certain, but I included it in my report to the Starfleet medical officers. If I am correct, there is a ninety-three percent chance that they will be able to synthesize a full-strength vaccine from the compound before the next outbreak."
Jim moved his own piece, his knight this time, before responding. "So, you're telling me that even though we had to leave the planet almost three days before we intended, you and McCoy were able to gather enough information?"
"Indeed, capt-Jim. The Gandhi should not be forced to make the three-week trip after all."
"That's good to hear, Spock."
The rest of the game passed in their usual manner. After the first few minutes, they fell silent, all attention devoted to the board before them. After a little over an hour of play, Spock declared checkmate with a subtle smile, and Jim happily conceded the game. They talked for a few minutes more before Spock left for his quarters next door. Jim stayed up for another hour, studying the manual about Reskar before falling asleep with his PADD still on.