Mister Spock, seated at his science station on the Enterprise bridge, sighed inaudibly. By his unquestionably accurate count, that was the four hundred and thirty-first time he had heard that sound today.
"Damn!" Captain James T. Kirk muttered as he pulled the remains of the four hundred and thirty-second bubble off his face. He had been chewing bubblegum almost non-stop for three days and was rather proud of some of the mammoth bubbles he had produced. Yet, it still irritated him immensely when the bubble would pop and leave a sticky green mess on his face.
He rolled the stringy gum into a ball and placed it on his tongue, starting to chew furiously once more.
Kirk glanced up in surprise, unaware that the Vulcan had crept up beside him. "Spock?" he enquired, wondering what had brought his first officer to his side.
"The shift is over, sir," Spock replied placidly.
"It is?" Kirk peered at the chronometer display, faintly astonished that so many hours had passed without his notice.
"Yes, Captain," said Spock, his tone vaguely annoyed. It was not often his time-keeping skills were brought into question.
"Well, it must be time for dinner then. Coming, Spock?" The captain rubbed his empty stomach in gluttonous anticipation.
The Vulcan hesitated for a second, fidgeting uncharacteristically with his fingers behind his back. "Yes, Captain," he replied at last, somewhat reluctantly, his face turning a slightly greyer shade of green as he contemplated the nauseating ordeal of dinner with his commanding officer.
Kirk headed for the turbolift, the Vulcan a couple of steps behind, following the sound of popping gum.
A small number of Enterprise personnel sat in the mess hall, already thoroughly engaged in the consumption of their evening meals. A few of them looked up as their command team entered, eyeing Kirk warily and then speaking in hushed whispers to their companions. Kirk and Spock ordered their meals from the food synthesiser and sat at a table near the back corner. The captain seemed oblivious to the fact that his crew had quickly vacated the tables closest to him and were all now huddled at a table on the opposite side of the room.
Realising he hadn't disposed of his gum, Kirk pulled the green lump out of his mouth and, while Spock was away getting their drinks, stuck it to the underside of the table, intending to retrieve it after his meal. The Vulcan returned to the table, handing a cup of coffee to his captain, and placed a glass of water in front of his own seat. Kirk glanced at Spock's simple salad dish and the plain water.
"You know, Spock, you really ought to try this. It's delicious and, what's more, it's good for me. Bones says I've lost twelve pounds since I've started eating it. Of course, you don't need to lose weight, but I'm sure you'd love it." With that statement, the captain dug his fork into a bright, lime green portion of Elderran frongelweed, twisting the strands around the fork like noodles, and shoving a huge, pungent mouthful between his lips.
Spock tried not to cringe as the awful aroma wafted in his direction, overwhelming his sensitive nasal passages. The smell of Kirk's latest favourite food infused itself in the first officer's salad, making his own meal nearly unpalatable.
The Vulcan gazed up as the door swished open, admitting Doctor McCoy to the room. The chief medical officer, spying Kirk's meal, a dish he had described – using his own, special brand of subtlety – as smelling like "something that came out of the back end of a cow", dialled up his own meal and joined the group in the corner far away from the captain and science officer. He smirked at the Vulcan, knowing that he had left Spock to suffer alone. Spock glared at him in return.
The Vulcan ate quickly, trying to finish his meal while it still had a faint salad flavour. With a slight sense of guilt, he planned to make his excuses and leave before the nausea overcame him. He had opened his mouth to speak when the ship suddenly, violently tilted to one side, causing people to grab onto whatever they could reach to maintain their balance.
Unfortunately, as Spock reached for the table, his hand found the exact spot underneath where Kirk had left his bubblegum. The sticky wad found its way between his fingers, creating a webbed-fingered effect, like a frog.
All of a sudden, the ship righted itself, tipping everything back the opposite way. Tables and chairs toppled over and skidded across the room. The contents of their particular table – namely, Kirk's smelly dish – danced right off the skating table to spill down Spock's shirt and land in his lap.
While the first officer sat sprawled on the floor, his powerful Vulcan senses assaulted with the combined effects of the sticky mint gum on his hand and the appalling smelly green mess down his front, Kirk stood by the comm switch on the wall, asking for answers from the bridge.
"Ah, it was a sudden ion storm, sir," reported Lieutenant Kyle from the helm console.
"Do you mean to tell me no one saw it coming, Mister Cowl?" The captain was more than a little annoyed that his dinner had been interrupted and then lost.
"It's Kyle, sir. Ah, no, sir. The sensors didn’t read it until we were in it. Then we were through it as fast as we'd hit it."
Kirk scowled. "Well, keep a look out for any more 'sudden ion storms', Mister. I just lost my dinner. Kirk out." The captain walked back to his table and reached for Spock's hand – the un-gummed one, lifting him to his feet. With a quick glance at the huge stain down the Vulcan's shirt, he commented humorously, "Well, Mister Spock, it appears you had a taste of Elderran frongelweed after all." Bending to pick up dropped trays and plates, he started to giggle at his own joke.
The Vulcan returned hastily to his quarters, planning to have his soiled uniform either fumigated or destroyed.
Kirk sat in his quarters waiting for Spock to arrive for their regular evening chess game. He had been particularly grumpy after losing his much-anticipated dinner earlier that evening and had been looking forward to a relaxing evening with his friend. Realising that the gum in his mouth was beginning to lose both its taste and its bubble blowing capacity, he took the wet clump out of his mouth and threw it in the direction of the waste bin beside his desk, while simultaneously reaching for a new piece from the packet. What he didn't know was that the discarded blob had missed the bin by a good thirteen centimetres.
By the time the Vulcan had arrived, Kirk had chewed his new piece of bubblegum into a highly pliable, bubble-blowable, soft mass. Spock entered his captain's cabin at exactly twenty-one hundred hours and was greeted with an enthusiastic series of popping bubbles.
Spock, initially glad that his friend had opted to chew mint-flavoured gum to cover the smell of the revolting frongelweed, soon became distracted by the noise of exploding bubbles. He had had a most tiresome day – firstly with the constant, irregular sound of Kirk's bubble popping and later, his ordeal in the mess hall at dinner. He'd had to dispose of his uniform and it took so much rubbing to get the gum off his hand that his skin was now raw. Even a Vulcan's patience and equanimity had its limits and Spock was close to admitting that he was nearing his.
"Is something wrong, Spock? You seem quite distracted tonight." Kirk stopped chewing long enough to allow his genuine concern for his friend to filter through his features.
"I find that I am unable to concentrate on the game, Jim. Perhaps it would be wise for me to meditate for a time." He glanced apologetically at Kirk. "Forgive me for cutting our game short."
"Not at all. You will tell me if there is something I can help you with, won't you?" He smiled warmly, his eyes still reflecting a slight sense of worry.
Spock found himself smiling softly in return. "Do not concern yourself, Jim. I am simply in need of rest." He stood to leave.
Kirk reached out and grabbed the Vulcan's arm gently, causing Spock to step closer to him. "Goodnight, Spock. Sleep well."
"Goodnight, Jim." The science officer turned to leave and found that his right shoe was stuck to the floor. His eyebrow lifted in surprise as he peered down to investigate.
The human, wondering why Spock hadn't yet left, looked down too. "What is it, Spock?"
Spock lifted his booted foot experimentally, discovering as he did so that a sticky green mass concertinaed up and down between his sole and the deck. "I appear to have stepped in a small amount of... bubblegum," he said with a frustrated frown. Kneeling on his opposite knee, he bent down for a closer look.
"Here, let me see," said Kirk, leaning over Spock.
Just then, the ship was buffeted again, the two men in the captain's quarters losing their balance and ending up in a tangle of limbs beneath the desk. Kirk stood up as soon as he was able and banged the comm switch forcefully.
"Don't tell me that was another 'sudden ion storm', Mister Cowl!" he yelled.
An apologetic voice answered. "Um, sorry, sir. I'm afraid it was. And it's Kyle, sir."
The captain closed the link angrily. He looked down to find Spock still sitting on the floor, a piece of gum stuck to the bottom of his boot and another piece glued to his shiny black fringe. Running his tongue around his mouth, he realised it was indeed empty; obviously, the gum had fallen out when the ship was rocked and had landed in... Spock's hair.
The Vulcan looked bewildered, both eyebrows disappearing behind the gum-filled hair.
Kirk, at first, was speechless. A pink blush spread all over his face as he reflected with embarrassment on the indignities he had inflicted on his friend that day. He once more lowered a hand and lifted the Vulcan from the deck, directing him to a chair.
"Oh, Spock. I'm really sorry about that. Let me see if I can get that out for you." He busied himself with finding tools for removing gum while Spock remained in the chair, absolutely dumbfounded.
Half an hour later, having found that the removal of bubblegum from one's hair was an exercise in futility, Spock sat peering at the newly cut gap in his fringe. He had sat patiently while Kirk, as a last resort, had chopped the gummed hair away, apologising profusely and reminding the Vulcan that it would grow back. The human had managed to remove the gum from the sole of Spock's boot with a greater deal of ease than the hair and the first officer was now completely de-gummed.
Spock somehow, illogically, wished his hair would grow back before McCoy saw it.
It was late in the ship's artificial night; the number of on-duty crew was at its lowest point. Spock, using his customary measured stride, walked briskly and efficiently through the curved corridors. He entered the computer room housing the inner workings of the food synthesisers, a computer technician on his staff greeting him respectfully before exiting.
It had come to this final act of desperation, and the Vulcan in him balked at the subterfuge involved. The human half, having long since lost patience and good humour, had no such qualms whatsoever. The two halves worked together flawlessly on their appointed task.
The next day, Spock went about his duty with a rather un-Vulcanly sense of anticipation and relief, despite having to listen to his captain's constant bubble-popping all morning. His sense of calm did not go unnoticed by Kirk.
"You seem much more relaxed this morning, Spock," he said quietly, for the Vulcan's ears only. "I take it you were able to sort out your little problem last night." He smiled widely with affection, pleased to see his friend back to his usual self – if one was able to ignore the missing patch of glossy hair.
"Indeed, Captain. I believe I was able to resolve the situation most satisfactorily." The corners of his mouth slid upwards slightly. If Kirk didn't know better, he might have called it a mischievous smile, almost secretive.
"Good. I'm glad" Kirk returned to the centre chair, unable to keep an answering smile from spreading broadly across his features.
Spock approached his captain to accompany him to dinner. His hesitancy of the previous day was gone and both captain and first officer walked eagerly to the mess hall. They arrived at the door at the same time as Doctor McCoy.
"Greetings, Doctor," Spock said conversationally. "You will of course join Captain Kirk and myself for dinner." His eyes virtually twinkled.
Kirk looked expectantly at the doctor. For some reason he had not had McCoy's company at dinner for several days.
"Well, uh…sure," he murmured as the three approached the food synthesisers. He glowered at Spock behind Kirk's back.
"That's funny," Kirk said, turning around, his face quite surprised. "I dialled up my usual frongelweed and I got a Vulcan salad instead." He shoved the tray at Spock. "Here. You have this and I'll try again." He tried using a different foot slot and, once more, a dish of Vulcan vegetables appeared on a plate, identical to the one Spock was now holding. "What's going on?" The captain could feel his anger rising. He had already been denied his frongelweed once. "Spock, have a look at it, will you?"
The captain stepped aside, making way for the science officer. Spock punched buttons rapidly, his fingers moving in a blur of motion. He turned back to his captain, his face expressionless. "The frongelweed recipe is not stored in the food synthesiser files, Captain. It has been irretrievably lost."
"Lost! What am I supposed to have for my dinner?" Kirk looked like a child who had lost a much-loved toy.
Spock pointed to the Vulcan salad in Kirk's hands. "Might I suggest you try the t'ch'lah salad, Captain? It is a favourite of my mother's on Vulcan. Quite edible for humans."
Kirk eyed the assortment of coloured vegetables on his plate, deciding that, if it was good enough for the Lady Amanda, it was good enough for him.
Ten minutes later, he was ordering a second helping.
McCoy looked suspiciously at the Vulcan while Kirk had left the table. "You sneaky little Vulcan. You messed with the synthesiser memory banks and deleted that awful frongelweed stuff, didn't you?"
"I, Doctor?" Spock looked more innocent than a two-year-old.
McCoy was given no chance to think of a rejoinder as Kirk returned to the table with an extra large helping of his new favourite food. "Spock, why didn't you introduce me to this before? It tastes delicious and it doesn't smell nearly so bad as the frongelweed." He looked thoughtful for a few moments before adding, "I guess I won't be needing the bubblegum anymore."
Neither human noticed the Vulcan breathe a quiet sigh of relief.
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