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The landing party’s barely been gone for five minutes before M’Ress purrs, “Call from the planet’s surrrface, Captain.”

Jim glances over his shoulder, not bothering to swivel his chair around, because if the matter were serious, her voice would be tenser, her ears perked and her tail bristling. Besides, there shouldn’t be anything on the surface to provide any problems—according to Spock’s readings, it’s a peaceful class M planet with a breathable atmosphere and no advanced life forms. Still, there’s always a chance of carnivorous wildlife, dangerous foliage, and, of course, the unknown.

Jim responds, “Let’s hear it, Lieutenant.” She flicks a switch, rerouting the transmission to the captain’s chair, and he’s able to play the message for himself.

Spock’s calm voice fills the bridge: “Captain. We have... interesting... findings to report.”

Jim almost calls for his image on the viewer out of sheer habit, only to remember Scotty’s complicated explanation of why the planet’s unusually dense atmosphere blocks their visual signals. Instead, Jim says, “Let’s hear it.”

There’s a short pause, then: “I believe it would be easier to convey if you were to beam down and see it for yourself”

Even though Spock’s not around to see, Jim lifts an eyebrow. His curiosity’s officially piqued, but Spock doesn’t say anything more. Trust Spock to be a tease. Then Bones’ familiar voice cuts in, “Jim, you’ve gotta see this!”

“You’ve convinced me, gentleman.” He flips the switch on his armrest, cutting communications. He interpreted Spock’s voice the same as M’Ress—hardly under strain. The surface must be as peaceful as they expected with at least one curious exceptoin. So he makes the executive decision to excuse himself. He was hoping to stretch his legs anyway. It seems just about right that the one time he let Spock talk him into not sending both captain and first officer down at once, the universe delivered his wish to him anyway. As he ducks into the turbolift, he calls, “Scotty, you have the bridge.”

“Aye, Captain.”

The doors slide shut. Jim has a quiet ride down to the transporter room, where the corridors are mostly empty—it’s right in the middle of alpha shift, and everyone is at their post. Jim steps onto the pad, and with a flick of his hand, Kyle’s beaming him down.

He coalesces in the middle of a bright green clearing amongst a smattering of tall, thin purple trees. The grass about their feet is dotted with brightly coloured flowers, and two of those blossoms have already made their way into Yeoman Rand’s thickly braided yellow hair.

His entire landing party’s there, looking just as he left them—Spock, Bones, Uhura, Sulu, and Rand. There was no need for security officers, and perhaps he shouldn’t have made that gamble, but clearly he wasn’t proven wrong. Everyone seems perfectly fine. He turns first to Spock and asks, “Now, what is this mysterious thing I have to see to believe?”

“Observe,” Spock answers, his long face typically stoic. “As I am speaking to you, I appear normally, just as I would aboard the Enterprise or any known Federation worlds.”

Jim blinks, prompted to give Spock a quick once over. He agrees. “Yes, you look normal enough to me.”

“Now Dr. McCoy.” Spock glances sideways, and Bones pulls to attention.

“It’s bizarre, Jim. I’ve been over them with the tricorder a dozen times, and I can’t find any reason for it.”

“Them?” Jim asks, only for Spock to move on.

“Mr. Sulu, if you would speak, please.”

“Uh... hi?”

Spock lifts a brow, but Sulu doesn’t seem to know what he’s supposed to say. He settles on, “It’s true, Captain.”

“I would appreciate it if someone would tell me what’s true.”

Spock turns towards Uhura. “Now, the women.”

Rand looks at Uhura, who says, “I can’t explain it either, Captain. It just sort of... happens...”

Jim stares at her. He doesn’t fully understand yet—it’s not something he can easily put in words—but he definitely senses something off. For a brief moment, while Uhura was speaking, she appeared softer, almost blurry around the edges, and Jim could’ve sworn he heard the faint, lilting sound of old fashioned orchestral music.

Rand joins in, “I can see it too, Captain, and they say they can see it when I talk.” Jim can. Yeoman Janice Rand is suddenly cast in a whole new light. It’s as though Jim’s seeing her through a filtered lens. “Although... when you spoke, I thought...” She trails off, squinting, except it doesn’t look like squinting; it looks like some adorable, almost coquettish confusion. Jim feels dazed.

He snaps out of it when Spock asks, “Captain, would you please say something?” Spock is perfectly clear, regularly sharp, vivid, with no background music.

Jim dazedly mutters, “What do you want me to say?”

“Oh,” Uhura gasps, “I saw it too! It’s almost like the rest of him is in shadow, but there’s a beam of light across his eyes...

Bones lifts his medical tricorder and begins running it over Jim, while Spock muses, “Most fascinating...”

Rand asks, “What does it mean, Sir?”

Evidently giving up, Bones snaps his tricorder off, straightens up, and answers, “It means this place is weird. And I, for one, suggest we go back.”

“But, Captain...” Rand murmurs, brows drawn up, sweet face pulled into a pleading look, as though she’s just dying to run through the flowers and it would be horribly cruel for any man to stop her. For one dizzying moment, Jim almost agrees.

Then he realizes the planet is weird, too weird, and he fishes out his communicator to order in his own personal special lighting effect, “Beam me up, Scotty.”