Jim turned. "Good morning, Bones!"
"Doctor," Spock acknowledged.
"Where you two off to?" McCoy inquired.
"Transporter pad," Jim explained. "Diplomatic welcome for someone who... we... hope will help us the mining deal with the Arauricarians."
"Oh?" McCoy inquired. "A Federation negotiator?" he guessed. "Let's hope he's not as priggish as that Fox fella from the Eminiar mission. Or she. Wait--is it a woman?" His blue eyes twinkled as he planned to give her an old-fashioned chivalrous Southern welcome to the ship.
Kirk's face bloomed into a rosy grin. "In this case, I don't think it matters."
That was when McCoy noticed the dog biscuits Kirk was carrying. "Oh."
Spock cut in to explain. "On Arauricaria, the signing of a contract is accompanied by the gift of an animal from one party to the other. The health of the animal during the negotiation determines the viability of the contract. If the animal survives, the contract is sound."
"The Federation's spent a couple of weeks selecting the best animal for the job," Kirk said. "They finally decided on a pug, because of the resemblance to one of the Arauricarian deities."
"Appropriately, the one dealing with wealth and finance," added Spock.
McCoy nodded. "Sounds like an easy mission," he commented, "as long as the dog's happy."
Kirk waved the dog biscuits at him. "I had dogs as a kid. I know how to take care of them, play with them... Besides, it's a purebred, coming from a breeder. She's beaming up, too, so the dog will mainly be her responsibility."
"We can help out, too," McCoy volunteered. "Back home, I had just about everything when I was growin' up. And Spock here had that teddy bear thing his mama told us about." The eyes were twinkling again.
"Sehlats are very different from Terran dogs," Spock answered haughtily. "My duties--"
Kirk led them into the transporter room and cut off the budding argument with a wave of his hand. "They ready down there on Earth?" he asked Scotty.
The transporter beam shimmered gracefully and then gave way to reveal a dark-skinned woman in long African robes. In her arms she carried a leashed pug. His paws rested over her arms and his enormous liquid eyes regarded his new surroundings with discriminating curiosity.
Kirk stepped forward. "Dr. Oshodi? I'm Captain James T. Kirk. I'd... shake your hand, but you appear to be otherwise occupied."
Dr. Oshodi smiled. "Good morning, Captain. This is Benjamin. Say hello to your babysitters, little one!" She was speaking to the pug now.
Benjamin said hello by making his eyes even larger and meltier.
"Aww, he's a cute little feller," said McCoy under his breath.
"He's one of the finest pedigreed pugs on the planet," Dr. Oshodi told them. "He comes from my dog breeding program in Nigeria. I am very honored to have him represent the Federation in this transaction."
"And... we're.... glad to have you with us, as well," said Kirk graciously.
"Thank you," she replied. "I trust that you will take care of him on the way to Arauricaria. Admiral Komack has ensured me that you would personally see to his comfort on the voyage."
"Wait--you're not joining us?" Kirk said quickly.
"The Federation has only paid for the purchase of Benjamin," she explained. "They did not pay for my time beyond this afternoon. I have a farm to attend to."
She placed the animal on the deck and shook Kirk's hand finally. "I am glad to have met you. Everyone says good things about you and your crew."
I highly doubt that, Kirk thought to himself. She's spoken with Komack. Out loud, he replied, "I hope we have the pleasure of your presence at some later date."
Wtih a final nod, she was gone into the fizzle of another transporter beam.
"Damn Komack," Kirk exhaled when her molecules were out of earshot. "This is his way for getting back at me for evading his punishment after... after Altair." He edited his statement to avoid raking fingernails over Spock's painful memories.
Spock, however, had other concerns at the moment. Benjamin, his leash trailing behind him, had trotted his short little legs straight over to Spock's ankles and refused to leave his side.
"Ha ha!" McCoy guffawed. "He likes you! Always knew those purebreeds were short on brains."
"That was meaner than usual, Bones," Kirk commented. "Jealous?"
"Sorry, Spock," McCoy amended. "Can't figure it, though. Here you are with dog biscuits and full of smiles, and the little guy heads straight for our dour friend here."
"*I* think it shows he's a smart little rascal." Kirk lifted Benjamin into the air gently. "Aren't you? Aren't you?" he cooed.
Benjamin growled and struggled, but only mildly.
"Spock, would you mind coming back to my cabin with me while I get him situated? This might be easier, since he... seems to like you best."
The two of them left the room, an expression on Spock's face that only someone as close to him as Kirk could read as pleased and flattered.
Over the course of the following week, Kirk discovered that the pug's fascination with Spock had not been a passing fancy. He was an agitated little animal, only relaxing when Spock came over to visit for conversation or the occasional chess game. The rest of the time, he whined, scratched at the connecting door, and slept fitfully.
Finally, Kirk realized that something needed to be done. He was supposed to be keeping the pug healthy, but instead, it was growing more miserable by the day. Benjamin had even refused food today, except in Spock's presence. That didn't bode well for an animal whose health determined the fitness of a legal contract Kirk had been entrusted to protect.
As he and Spock were packing away their chess game for the night, he explained what had been going on. "He's chosen you as his new owner, if only temporarily," Kirk concluded. "He prefers you to me. I can't have him going on a hunger strike while pining for you. I need to deliver him to Arauricaria not only alive but healthy, and likely to stay that way."
"You are suggesting I take the animal."
"Would you? I'm sorry for the inconvenience, but I don't see any other way out of this." For a moment, Kirk's own dark eyes grew as large and liquid as Benjamin's. The parallelism amused Spock in some way he could not explain.
"I see we have no other alternative," Spock replied. "I shall take him with me tonight."
Benjamin, perhaps understanding via Vulcan touch telepathy (he was flopped on top of Spock's feet), began to wag his tail ferociously.
The difference in the pug's behavior was like night and day. Ever after, he was never known to be anything but the most cheerful dog any of the crew had yet seen. Kirk, grown slightly apprehensive of the pug's health after the miniature hunger strike, even let Spock bring Benjamin on the bridge. It was a good test of the crew's ability to work with distraction, and he was pleased to note that they all passed.
Benjamin was a good little boy as he trotted around alongside Spock all day. He wasn't allowed in the science lab, of course, but he would sleep outside the doorway and make little wuffling noises until Spock emerged. Spock walked him in the conservatory whenever it was necessary, and disposed of the waste with the ship's human waste.
Kirk began to wonder what would happen once they reached Arauricaria. Would Benjamin behave badly once Spock was no longer with him?
With this in mind, he called for Spock to accompany him as he, Benjamin, and a security guard beamed down to sign the contract. Better put off the inevitable farewell as long as possible.
Resplendent in jewels, the Prime Minister of Arauricaria and his two beautiful daughters met the landing party on the planet's surface. "Greetings, Starship Enterprise!" said the PM.
The princesses bowed.
Kirk introduced himself, Spock, the guard, and finally, the pug. "His name is Benjamin," he added.
"This alien beast of yours is a fine animal," said the PM. "He is made in the image of our god Lycopersicon. This pleases me."
They sat down to discuss the terms of the mining contract. It was a simple deal--the planet would be paid a portion of the dilithium's wealth in cash, since they lacked the resources to mine it themselves. Benjamin dozed happily in Spock's lap while Kirk and the PM talked. The princesses were mostly silent, listening to the transaction and smiling at the animal.
After the contract was drawn up, the PM explained that the pug would remain on the planet for a short while, as per local custom, before he would actually sign it. Kirk said he understood, but that he needed to return to his ship for a few hours to take care of other things.
"I shall join you momentarily, Captain," Spock informed him, not quite ready to part with the pug.
Kirk grinned to himself as he and the security guard beamed back to the ship.
It was a few hours later when he finally heard from the PM. "I am ready to sign the contract!"
"Wonderful! Glad to hear it." Kirk dashed for the transporter pad and was planetside in a matter of minutes. Cups of wine were hurriedly poured, and the contract was signed with happiness on both sides.
The ink was already on the paper when the PM commented, as an afterthought, "It will be good to have Commander Spock here. He shall be quite beneficial to my daughters' education."
"Your daughters'--what? Spock can't stay here. He has a commitment to Starfleet." If Komack has anything to do with this... Kirk grumbled inwardly.
"But he must!" the PM insisted. "See? He belongs to Benjamin." He held out his hand, where Spock and the pug were playing in the other side of the room as the princesses looked on from the sofa.
Spock probably hadn't roughhoused with an animal like that since I-Chaya died. Kirk's heart would have been warmed by the image if he wasn't dealing with the quagmire in question. "No, he doesn't. Benjamin is only a dog. He isn't sentient! And there was nothing in the contract about Spock having to stay here."
"Benjamin is not only a dog," replied the PM. "He is a son of Lycopersicon, and he clearly knows that Spock is his pet."
"Benjamin can't have him because he belongs to me," Kirk found himself saying. "You can negotiate any treaty you want with the Federation and their property, but you haven't signed any contracts with *me*. And neither has Benjamin. Spock belongs to me, and I say he's coming back to the ship."
He hurried over to Spock, the Federation's copy of the contract fluttering in his hand. "Come on, Spock. We'd better get out of here before they put a leash on you."
Spock scooped Benjamin up into his arms and walked across the room to the sofa. "Live long and prosper," he told the princesses as he deposited the dog between them.
"Thank you! We shall do our best," said one.
"Oh, he likes me!" said the other, as Benjamin crawled into her lap and made big liquid eyes at her. "Look, sister, he likes me!"
Kirk breathed an enormous sigh of relief as he opened his communicator. "Energize."
"Well, looks like Benjamin will be very happy in his new home," Kirk commented as they stepped off the transporter pad back home. Together, they headed for the bridge.
"Thank you for negotiating my release," said Spock.
"Are you kidding? I couldn't let the Prime Minister pull something like that. He almost tried to kidnap you!"
"Actually, it was the dog who attempted the abduction. Benjamin twisted his leash around my legs and wouldn't free me until I commenced playing with him once again."
Kirk's eyes widened. "Smart dog."
"Smart captain. It is fortunate that you were able to outwit the Prime Minister."
"Yes.... it's a good thing he didn't ask you if I was telling the truth. What with... Vulcans not being able to lie."
"It would not have been a lie," Spock answered simply. There was a sincerity in his eyes that touched Jim even more than if they had been big and liquid.
The doors of the turbolift opened, revealing the bridge, and with his heart unexpectedly warmed and all right with the universe, Kirk took his place in the captain's chair.