McCoy shifted uncomfortably on the bed. "Don't you Vulcans have photographic memory?" he grumbled, feeling self-conscious about his lack of clothing for the first time since the beginning of the relationship.
"No, Leonard, we do not." Whatever pains it took Spock to admit that Vulcans were deficient in something seemed to be more than compensated for by the pleasure of contradiction.
McCoy looked down at his naked body. "You really find this scrawny thing beautiful?"
"I would have not said so, were it not the case." Spock toyed with the buttons on his still-vid camera, then held it at arm's length aimed at McCoy. He continued to adjust the scope of the frame.
McCoy smiled in spite of himself. "That's mighty flattering." He sighed. "I guess I'm just nervous about these pictures fallin' into the wrong hands."
Spock looked up from his camera to meet McCoy's eyes indignantly. "The files will never leave my personal data chip. I am quite capable of protecting my private data."
McCoy grumbled incoherently, but he moved into a more comfortable position anyway. "Anyone sees these, and I'm gonna wring your neck like a chicken." But then his eyes twinkled into the flash of the first shot.
"...so, ladies and gentlemen, you see the difficult nature of our problem." Captain Kirk switched off the viewscreen in the center of the briefing-room conference table. "If the Hamamelis refuse to inoculate themselves against Sapindus Disease, even for religious reasons, the Federation will have no choice but to quarantine the planet."
"I see no logic in a belief system that perpetuates mistrust of provable, scientific fact," said--of course--Mr. Spock.
"Doesn't have anythin' to do with logic, Spock," said Dr. McCoy.
"He's right," said Kirk. "The faith a man is raised in can have a powerful effect on his ability to look at the world with a clear head."
"You all know I'm usually the first to defend matters of faith and belief here," said McCoy, "but as a doctor, I have to say that this type of belief drives me up a wall. We've got 'em on Earth, too--Christian Scientists was the name for them, at one point. Whole buncha court cases--they'd refuse medical care for their children, and the children would die of completely curable ailments!" His face began to turn slightly red.
"This time there's more at stake than just isolated cases of sick children, Doctor," said Kirk. "If that virus is allowed to spread the Federation would be hit with a health catastrophe unlike any this quadrant has ever known."
"And quarantining the planet would be a political nightmare," Spock chimed in.
"That's why they sent you first, Jim," McCoy pointed out. "You've got a reputation for havin' a way with alien diplomats. You've even talked a coupla computers to death."
"Well." Kirk smiled, flattered. "There's not always as much as this riding on it."
"Oh, don't give me that." McCoy gulped his glass of sweet tea. "So when do we meet with them?"
"This evening we give our presentation," said Kirk, "and in the morning, the dignitaries offered to show us around the capital city, as a social gesture. If the presentation is ineffective, that extra time could make or break us."
"You'll be able to pull it off, Jim," McCoy reassured him. "You could convince Spock he was a pregnant possum if you put your mind to it."
Spock turned to him with eyes of liquid nitrogen, but McCoy's face had disappeared behind the glass once more.
"Thank for the vote of confidence, Bones," said Kirk. "I've looked at the facts--they're pretty convincing. Hopefully the Hamamelis will agree with us, once we explain what's at stake. Spock's preparing a presentation with information about epidemics across the galaxy, even going back as far as the Black Death in second millennium Europe."
"I intend to present extensive evidence," Spock said, steepling his fingers. "If Jim's considerable interpersonal skills are not sufficient to elicit their understanding, at least my data is unimpeachable."
But the three of them worried, all the same.
It was evening, and the Enterprise's highest ranking officers had showered and changed into their dress uniforms. They had each been inoculated with the vaccine against the potential epidemic--even though the cases were isolated and few at present, they had been well-documented and everybody knew their potential to multiply.
Spock was rushing around in the science lab, busily making sure everything for his presentation was in order. The overhead lights glinted from the shiny blue surface of his shirt.
When he was sure he had gathered everything he needed, including the data chip containing his visual displays and references, he walked briskly out of the room and joined Kirk and the others on the transporter pad.
In the lab, Technician Conrad watched him go, and felt rather pleased with herself. She had noticed that Spock had apparently neglected or forgotten to move some of the files from his personal chip onto the display chip, and had taken it upon herself to finish copying his files for him. Poor, overworked Mr. Spock! Good thing there were energetic humans around to help him keep his brains in order.
She returned to scrubbing glassware.
"Welcome, Captain Kirk," said the beaming man who greeted them. He was a large man with a shiny head, which was decorated with the five remaining strands of hair he still possessed. "I am Corwill, president of the southern continent. I hope you will enjoy your time here on Hamamel."
"Thank you," said Kirk, shaking the man's hand. He held his hand out to his crew. "This is my first officer, Mr. Spock, my chief medical officer, Dr. Leonard McCoy, and this is Yeoman Mears."
"Hello and welcome to you all," said Corwill. He introduced the tall, pale woman at his side as Beckary, president of the northern continent. A small furry animal with large eyes was wrapped around her neck like a scarf, and it peered at the Enterprise crewmembers with great curiosity.
The entourage walked toward the Great Hall where the presentation was to take place. Inside, twenty or thirty dignitaries from around the planet were gathered in their finest, sipping a clear orange beverage from triangular glasses.
Corwill addressed the room in a great, booming voice. He explained that the Federation had sent representatives to inform them of a disease that had been monitored on their planet, and that the outsiders were recommending certain unfamiliar measures be taken. He sounded receptive to the idea himself, but as he spoke, Kirk and his crew could definitely tell that the room was Not Amused, especially Beckary, who gritted her teeth at Corwill's words. The pet around her neck seemed to pick up on her negative vibes, and bared a tiny set of fangs towards the humans.
But Kirk knew he had a job to do, so he presented the room with a calm, warm smile and spoke to them honestly.
He told them that which they already knew, that lethal cases of Sapindus Disease had been documented in various cities across the planet. He told them that which they had feared, that the Federation was threatening to quarantine the planet if they did not consent to mass inoculation. He told them that which they did not believe, that the inoculation was completely safe and foolproof, and that the alternative was as undesirable to the Federation as it was to their own people.
Even as his speech was unfinished, he could tell it wasn't having its usual effect. The coldness in the room battled his warm disposition and taxed his optimism. He cast a look to Spock, hoping that where his diplomatic skill was failing, Spock's undeniable facts could succeed.
"You must understand," said Beckary when Kirk had finished, "that we have been lied to before. For centuries we were enslaved by another planet's dominant race. They used their ways of science to keep us docile and brainwashed. We have only been independent for sixty cycles around the sun, and we do not trust our health to that which we do not understand. This planet has saved us from their evil. The herbs that the planet has given us are sufficient to protect us from this new evil of which you speak." The beast around her neck yawned and licked its chops.
"I'm sorry about what's happened to your people," Kirk replied. "It's... perfectly understandable why you'd be wary, as a society, of unknown medicines or treatments. I hope that Mr. Spock's presentation will help you to understand the inoculation technique more thoroughly so that you'll consider trusting us. We're here to help. All I can do is promise that--I can only beg you to accept my word as true."
Spock prepared to give his presentation, and Kirk fell back to stand with McCoy and Mears. "This'll work," he whispered to McCoy confidently. "If tonight doesn't work, we've still got tomorrow morning."
"I just hope Spock doesn't talk over their heads," McCoy whispered back grimly. "That could be more damaging than anything else."
Spock began his lecture, and Kirk and the others gratefully accepted glasses of the strange orange liquid. They sipped it as the Vulcan began to speak.
He had prepared a remarkably thorough argument, examining the 'epidemic' phenomenon throughout the history of many sentient races. With animated diagrams and graphs, he attempted to elucidate the process through which a virus infects a cell, and then the process through which a vaccine prevents such infection. It was a great presentation. He would have won awards at a teaching conference.
Unfortunately, the room seemed as chilly as before. The emotion-oblivious Vulcan didn't pick up on it, though, and he droned on and on until Kirk and company were on their third glass of liquid.
Then Spock clicked the button on his pointer again, as he had done at least sixty-two other times during his talk. "As you see, the reaction of the Martian colonists..." His voice trailed away. Something was definitely--off.
Even a Vulcan like him could tell that the room had suddenly flushed with energy. A low murmur began among the dignitaries and escalated to a loud hubbub. Spock looked toward his shipmates with confusion.
Yeoman Mears had turned around and was covering her eyes with her hand. Kirk's hand covered nearly his entire face, except for one clearly astonished hazel eyeball. And McCoy--
McCoy's blue eyes blazed like the flame of a gas jet from his red and extremely angry-looking face. On the floor, his triangular glass was in several pieces, the orange liquid seeping across the white tile. His arms were crossed tightly, and his hands were balled into fists.
Spock hesitantly turned around to look at his projector screen.
It took a good deal of Vulcan training and control to restrain all that which he felt upon viewing what had somehow inadvertently slipped into the middle of his graphs and slides. No wonder McCoy looked so angry.
Spock rotated again to face his audience. "Excuse me. That is my bondmate." His face was devoid of expression. Then he noticed McCoy stalking out of the room furiously. Kirk winced. Mears was biting her nails.
With a last look at the traitorous projector screen, Spock followed McCoy out of the room and into the courtyard.
The human was pacing agitatedly around a circular fountain. "That--" he growled when he saw Spock approaching, "was not my idea of privacy."
"I apologize, Leonard," said Spock calmly. "I know I did not move the file onto that data chip."
"Then how'd it get there!?" McCoy exploded, throwing up his hands. "D'ye think it *walked*?"
"I only know that I am not responsible," Spock repeated.
"You sure as hell are responsible," McCoy retorted, "you TOOK the damn pictures!"
"They were intended for my personal enjoyment only."
"That doesn't really matter right now, does it?" McCoy covered his forehead with one hand. "How can I go back in there, now?"
"There is nothing to be ashamed of. It is only a naked body. You are being irrational."
"Well, I don't see YOU going in there and taking off all your--"
"Gentlemen." Both men jumped at the sound of Kirk's voice. "I have to admit that was a bit unconventional, but your accidental, uh, display seems to have worked wonders."
"Excuse me, Captain?"
Kirk smiled. A new drink was in his hand for each of them. "The anthropologists didn't tell us everything about this place, so it seems," he explained. "Turns out their superstitions don't end at medicine. They have a very strong cultural belief that the only way you can truly trust a person's words is if they remove their clothing. The idea is that they're showing you their inner honesty, or something to that effect."
"You mean--" McCoy's jaw dropped.
"They agreed to it." Kirk grinned. "The inoculation, the public education--everything."
Spock blinked. "Fascinating."
"They'll be able to wipe out the plague and continue their normal existence--all thanks to you, Bones." Kirk smiled and clapped McCoy on the back proudly. "I... only wish I'd known about this earlier! I would have just met with them myself, without my uniform."
"Sounds like it'd be right up your alley," McCoy smirked. He rocked back and forward on the balls of his feet.
"You're the big hero, Bones. Think you can bear to show your face in there? Dinner's waiting." Kirk led them back into the chamber. McCoy looked proud, but Spock looked even prouder--although he knew that everything that had occurred had been a preposterous accident. He still had no idea how the picture had been saved to the data chip... but he decided not to look a gift lematya in the mouth.