Doctor Leonard McCoy stood in the middle of Sickbay twiddling furiously with the odd little object in his hands, pausing only to curse the clumsiness of his fingers. He did not notice his audience until Kirk spoke, practically in his ear.
"Bones, what are you doing?" The captains tone was light, amused. This was obviously a social call.
Hastily, and without much success, McCoy tried to conceal the object behind his back. "Oh, hi, Jim! What brings you all the way down here?" he asked, and tried not to sound guilty.
Kirk studied the falsely-bright smile plastered all over his chief-surgeons face. "All right, Bones, you might as well confess."
The doctor put on his best "who, lil of me?" expression, but he could see that Kirk wasnt buying it. Gamely, he tried again. "Why, whatever do you mean, Jim? Theres nothin goin on here."
He tried the smile on again. It froze on his lips as the cube popped out of his hands and practically flung itself at the captain.
"Uh-huh" Kirk snagged the thing in mid-air, examined it. "This has to be one of the strangest nothings I have ever seen. What is it?"
McCoy watched him give a section of the cube an experimental twirl. "Oh, just a little something I picked up on shore leave." The doctor grimaced, adding under his breath, "Last time, it was xenopolycythemiamy tastes sure havent improved any."
Kirk glanced up from his twiddling. "Exactly what is this thing?"
"Exactly? A pain in the" McCoy broke off with a sigh. "Well, the fellow who conned me into buying the damn thing said it was a replica of something found in one of those old Earth time-capsules theyre always tumin up. Said its called a Rubiks Cube."
Kirks expression said that this was all very interesting, and about as clear as the average mud-flow.
With another sigh, McCoy led the way into his office, motioning him to follow. Kirk settled into the nearest chair and waited, idly twisting a section of the garish cube.
The doctor slid into the other chair, leaned across the desk, and watched Kirks activity with a distinctly jaundiced eye. "Put that blasted thing down, and well talk."
Kirk glanced up, surprised by the note of exasperation in the doctors voice. Oddly reluctant, he complied. "All right, Bones. What is this all about?"
McCoy wore the look of a man who knows that he has only himself to blame for his predicamentand is desperately wondering how to go about changing all that. "It is," he said, "a puzzle. A toy, in fact, and not some devious new weapon invented by Klingon sadists to undermine the collective mental health of the Federation."
Seeing Kirks expression, he hastily added, "Okay! As you can see, its a plastic cube composed of thirty-six smaller cube-shaped units, in six different colors. It started out, I might add, with one color to a side."
He picked up the cube, grunted, and set it down, again, none too gently. "Now just look at the little monster" He slumped back in his chair. "I havent been able to do a damn thing with it."
"What are you supposed to do with it?" Kirk asked, still unclear on this point. The thing looked useless.
"You are supposed," echoed McCoy, laying the drawl on thick, "to get it back the way it started: a solid color to each side. All six ofem."
"Come on, Bonesits just a simple toy. It cant be that hard to figure out," Kirk said, ignoring the doctors rude snort.
"Oh? Fine." McCoy shoved the puzzle at him. "You take it then. See for yourself how simple it is! Take as long as you like. Or longer."
Kirk looked at the cube, intrigued despite McCoys sarcasm. What could be the harm in it? Besides, he could never resist a challenge. He picked up the cube.
"Just dont say I didnt warn you," McCoy said, trailing him to the door. "That rotating nightmare has very nearly driven me up the bulkheads."
Kirk grinned, confident that he would succeed where the doctor had failed. He was, after all, a starship captain. How could he possibly be defeated by something as simple as a toy?
McCoy followed him out into the corridor. "Sure," he said, recognizing the look on Kirks face for what it was. "Laugh while you still can, Captain."
The doctor turned on his heel and marched back into Sickbay, muttering something about conceited starship captains and just desserts.
The lift deposited Kirk on the bridge. He crossed to the center seat and settled in, then glanced thoughtfully around. Surely, no one would notice?
He set to work on the puzzle, twirling the sections slowly at first, then with increasing frenzy. Soon, he was twiddling furiously, totally immersed in the toy.
It wasnt long before all that mutteringand the creaking and clacking of stressed plasticcaught someones attention. That someone was Lieutenant Commander Sulu, who swiveled in his seat at the helm, trying to pinpoint the source of the unusual noises.
He peered curiously at the engrossed captain, (now quite oblivious to his surroundings and beginning to swear under his breath), then turned to exchange glances with Lieutenant Chekov, at the weapon station.
The two officers, via a complex series of facial tics, tried to convey to each other that: (a) if the captain wanted to sit and play with little colored boxes on the bridge, well... that was clearly none of their business, because (b) he was the captain, after all, and (c) if either of them so much as breathed wrong, they were both going to erupt into uncontrollable laughter and probably end up in the brig, which (d) was definitely their business.
With what sounded suspiciously like suppressed snickers, helmsman and security chief turned hastily back to their respective consoles, and tried desperately to concentrate on flying the starship and performing a routine weapons check.
Commander Spock, on the other hand, suffered no such dilemmas. His keen hearing had picked up the first faint sounds of Kirks activity, and he had been the first to notice the captains odd behavior. It had simply taken this long for his curiosity to overwhelm his natural reticence.
Several minutes passed before Kirk became aware of his first officers scrutiny. "Oh," he said, mildly annoyed at the distraction. "Yes, Spock?"
"Might I ask what you are doing, Captain?" inquired the Vulcan, one eyebrow lifted slightly.
Spock resisted the urge to sigh. And they say Vulcan are too literal-minded. "Very well. What are you doing?"
"Solvingdamn it!a puzzle."
"Indeed." Spocks reply was a tad dry, as the captain did not appear to be solving anything. He deemed it unwise, however, to comment to that effect. "And what, precisely, is the nature of this puzzle which you are attempting to solve?" the Vulcan asked instead.
Kirk dropped the cube into his lap, finding it impossible to converse and twiddle with any degree of accuracy. He knew Spock well enough to know that the Vulcan would not let him get away with anything less than a full disclosure. Fingers twitching, Kirk repeated McCoys story.
"So the purpose is recreational," Spock deduced, after a moments thought. "And the object of the puzzle, itself?"
"To properly align the smaller cubes so that there is a single color on each side." Unwittingly, he echoed McCoys earlier sentiment when he added wearily, "All six of them."
"Ah," said Spock. "A simple exercise in logic."
Kirk shot his first officer a searching look. That had sounded remarkably like sarcasm.
Doctor McCoy chose that moment to put in an appearance on the bridge. He sauntered over to the captain, noting with undisguised satisfaction the still unsolved cube in Kirks lap. "Well, Jim?" His grin was smug, looking like a Chesshire cat whod swallowed a tribble.
Kirk could almost feel his blood pressure rising. "Not very," he muttered, standing abruptly. "If you gentlemen will excuse me, I think Ill retire to my quarters. Mister Spock, you have the conn."
Kirk headed for the lift, not giving either of them the opportunity to reply.
Captain James Tiberius Kirk, commander of the United Starship Enterprise, pride of Starfleet, spent his entire sleep period twiddling with his cube.
The starships present mission was one of those rare episodes of routine duty with none of the surprises for which the Enterprise was famous (or infamous, depending on your affiliations).
Or, as Leonard McCoy had put it, just before deciding to try out that weird little gadget hed picked up on shoreleave, "This trips been so down right dull, Id almost rather have a few Klingons breathing down our nacelles, just for the variety."
Right now, Kirk thought, I could use a few Klingons. Or Romulans. Anything to get my mind off this cube. Every time he closed his eyes, he was pursued by thousands of tiny Rubiks Cubes, dancing amid mad swirls of mismatched color...and all imbued with the mocking voice of Leonard McCoy.
Even starship captains know when to give up.
Kirk staggered onto the bridge looking only slightly worse than warmed-over death. There were deep purple circles under his eyes. His shoulders slumped beneath his rumpled tunic. He looked as if he had been in a fight to the death and lost. Badly.
He collected a number of concerned glances from around the bridge as he made his way over to the center seat and fell into it. He was still clutching the cube. His fingers, nerveless from hours of exhaustive twiddling, made pathetic little twitching motions.
The worst of it was, Kirk was beginning to suspect that the doctor had been right all along. He was never going to solve that cube! The fact that he had done no better than McCoy was doing nothing to improve his disposition.
The good doctor, with an infallible sense of timing, appeared beside him. "So...How many times have you solved it, Captain?" he asked, with that tribble-eating grin.
Kirk favored him with a look that would have sent a lesser man scurrying for the nearest bomb shelter.
Spock, a querulous brow lifted, appeared at Kirks other elbow. "Is something wrong, Captain? You seem somewhat...distressed."
McCoy answered for him. "Nothings wrong, Spock. Nothing...but our intrepid captain has finally met his match."
Kirk sat very still and glared at the universe in general, and McCoy in particular. "I dont see you leaping to take up the challenge, Doctor"
"Now, Jim," chided McCoy. "Theres no need to get nasty about it. After all, its just a simple toy."
Spock interrupted, sensing the need for a distraction before something requiring a court martial happened. He extended a hand for the object in question. "May I?"
Kirk almost threw it at him. "Be my guest," he said, enunciating through clenched teeth.
McCoy nudged Kirks shoulder, leaning down to observe. "He wont be able to do it, either, Jim."
A gleeful grin lit the doctors features. "I can hardly wait to see the look on his Vulcan face when he" McCoy broke oft a choking sound issuing from deep in his throat.
Spock handed Kirk the completed puzzle and, without so much as flicker of smugness, said, "As you said, Captaina simple exercise in logic, involving a reduce-and-simplify algorithm."
The captains face turned several lovely shades of red. Every officer on the bridge suddenly became very interested in their instruments. The silence on the bridge was deafening.
Kirks jaw worked, as if he had begun to speak and then thought the better of it.
McCoys jaw hung open, in imminent danger of colliding with his kneecaps.
They looked at each other. They looked at the solved cube in Kirks hand. They looked at Spock. Without a word, Kirk rose. As one man, he and McCoy headed for the turbolift.
Spocks other eyebrow slowly ascended into his hairline. Was it something I said? Fascinating...
Kirk didnt slow down until he had reached the transporter room, with McCoy hot on his heels.
"How do you like that?" the doctor was grumbling. "Just like that smug, pointy-eared, green-blooded know-it-all. Simple, he says! Simple like advanced warp-theory! Not that he finds that difficult, either, come to think of it"
Kirk spared him a distracted glance, too caught up in the simple beauty of his plan to point out that it was very often the Vulcans lack of smugness that made such things so hard to take.
Instead, he went directly to the transporter alcove and planted the cube firmly on one of the transport disks. A faintly manic gleam had driven the fatigue from his eyes.
Chief Rand joined the doctor in looking bemused. "Uh, can I help you, sir?" Kyle said, a bit more diffidently than usual. The captain had a strange look in his eye...
"Ill handle this one, myself," Kirk said, displacing the transporter chief from behind the console. He took great satisfaction in programming the coordinates, and an even greater relish in activating the mechanism.
"Energize," he hissed. It was perhaps just as well for the continued peace of mind of his crew that Kirks voice was not audible above the whine of the transporter.
When the sparkles had faded, the cube was gone.
"Butwhere did you send it?" asked McCoy, shuddering inwardly at the thought of some innocent culture doomed to an early extinction by the introduction of that miserable lump of plastic. It was a miracle his own had survived itmaybe it explained a lot about his ancestors, whod always seemed to be hovering on the brink of self-destruction.
"Nowhere," Kirk said, drawing him back to the present.
McCoy stared at the captain with the look of a man uncertain whether he is witness to madness or genius. "You mean...You set the beam for maximum dispersion"
"And spread its atoms from here to the Neutral Zone," James Tiberius Kirk said with a wolfish grin that would have done his Roman namesake proud.
Kyle looked rather as if he were considering the wisdom of calling for Security to deal with his superiors, both of whom were apparently warping on something less than a full load of dilithium.
McCoy was positively beaming. "Jim," he said, clapping a companionable hand on the captains shoulder. "Lets head on down to my office. Ive got nearly a full liter of Romulan Alekept strictly for medicinal purposes, you understandand I have the feeling its just what the doctor ordered."
Former animosity forgotten in the glow of victory, Kirk started to agreeand was promptly interrupted by the wail of an alert klaxon.
Uhuras voice came over the ship-wide system. "Red Alert ! This is not a drill. Repeat: this is not a drill! Captain Kirk to the bridge."
Kirk hit the turbolift at a run, snapped a command to the computer, and allowed himself to sag momentarily against the wall. What exactly have I done to offend the universe, anyway?
The doors opened. Kirk stepped onto the bridge, firmly avoided the instinct to flinch, and snapped out an order in his best command tone. "Report!"
"Romulan warbirds, sir," responded Lieutenant Commander Sulu. Despite the crispness of his reply, the helmsman seemed distracted. "Lots of them."
"And Klingon ktinga cruisers, Kyptin," added Lieutenant j.g. Chekov, sounding as if, all things being equal, hed rather be in Cleveland rather than at the weapons console.
Kirk followed their tense gazes to the main viewer. A tactical plot displayed the Enterprises current position roughly that of a lone wagon in Apache country. They were surrounded by all the Romulans and Klingons he had so ardently wished for earlier. Kirk counted his blessings that the "or anything" hadnt turned up, as well.
There wasnt a Rubiks Cube in sight.
An enormous weight lifted from his shoulders. He settled himself firmly in the command chair, feeling better than he had in days. "Open hailing frequencies," he said, a familiar gleam bedeviling those hazel eyes. "And arm all weapons."
After what he had just been through, a few Klingons and Romulans didnt stand a chance.
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