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Everyone loves a good party, and in the depths of space, far from family and home, starship crews are no different. Once embarked upon a lengthy mission, one's crew become one's family, and amid the chaos of starship life, friendships and trusts are forged in record time due to circumstance.

They had been becalmed in what their captain always ruefully called 'a milk run' for nearly three months now, awaiting the completion of Kirk's ritual transformation before they could be cleared to resume a potentially hazardous mission. While the months had not been uneventful (Spock's successful First Contact with the Bat'hua and a nasty altercation on an uncharted planet being two such events), they had been for the most part rather boring - and so the opportunity to lay aside duty for an evening of pleasure was well-received and much anticipated among the antsy crew.

However, like so many missions for their seemingly ill-lucked ship, it was not to be.

The party was well underway by 1900 hours of ship's evening, the time when Nurse Chapel, accompanied by their teenaged captain, was trying to all but forcibly drag a growling Dr. McCoy out of Sickbay to attend.

"Do you know how many of those young idiots are going to be in here within four hours askin' for a hangover remedy or muscle relaxant, Nurse?" the CMO yowled.

"And it doesn't take someone of your qualifications to prescribe one, Doctor," Chapel retorted. "Now go enjoy yourself!"

"C'mon, Bones," Jim coaxed with a grin. "Don't you want to see if you can track down Yeoman Barrows before you get too old to -" He was cut off by a hefty swat to the back of the head. "Ow!"

"James Tiberius, I can and will restrict your meal card to nothin' but celery and carrot sticks when you get back to your proper age, and don't you forget it!"

Jim chuckled as he split from the older man near the turbolifts. "I'm going up to the Bridge to pick up Sulu and Chekov, I'll meet you there," he called, waving a hand as he disappeared around a corner at top speed.

McCoy shook his head at the kid's energy levels, but could only be grateful he wasn't buried in his cabin with his nose stuck in a book.

Now, the only mystery left would be to see if Jim could succeed in the ultimate test of skill: namely, convincing their acting captain to leave the autopiloted Bridge in care of a subordinate and attend this little shindig (he suspected Spock's adamant refusal had much to do with his Head Nurse offering to cover the primary duties in Sickbay during the party's heaviest traffic hours).

As it turned out, however, Jim didn't get the chance.

"Gentlemen, you need not remain on the Bridge with the ship's navigation and piloting computers currently on autopilot, as we will be stationary for the next forty-eight hours in this region of space. Any alterations necessary will be completed by the appropriate programming."

"Aye, sir," Chekov said absently, finishing up a report and attaching his signature as unofficial Acting Science Officer. Spock's padd beeped a moment later, indicating its safe arrival, and the young Russian stretched lazily in his chair. "Finished?" he asked his console-mate.

Sulu nodded. "Just did. Are you certain you wouldn't prefer me to take the Bridge, sir?" he asked once more, swiveling in his chair. "At least for part of the time?"

"Unnecessary, Mr. Sulu," Spock replied dryly. "I have no desire to participate in the melee below decks. Feel quite free to keep that dubious pleasure entirely to and amongst yourselves."

Chekov and Sulu, the last ones to leave the Bridge (she was running on a skeleton crew due to the party, and the others had already set their consoles to auto and left), grinned at each other. They had gotten to see another side of their Vulcan First Officer these last several weeks, and it had granted the primary Bridge crew a new understanding of their command chain's devotion to each other. Sulu had the suspicion that the Regenratron ritual wasn't just geared to teach its subject some lessons, but rather everyone around the subject as well.

The doors to the Bridge opened to admit one Jim Kirk, dressed in a green button-down shirt and dark jeans (he had gleefully agreed with Spock's reluctant permission to waive the mandatory uniform code for the event). Chekov saw Spock's eyebrows incline a full inch at the sight of the young man's elaborately-spiked sandy hair, though it was obvious that Spock had decided he was picking his battles carefully and this was not one of them.

"Hey, guys!"

"Hey, kid," Sulu answered with a grin that took away any condescension from the term, as he elbowed his young captain playfully. "Ready to party the night away?"

"Yup!" The young man beamed at them. "You coming, Chekov?"

"Coming, sir," Chekov answered absently, only vaguely registering the snicker from Sulu at the fact that he'd reflexively addressed the young man as sir. "Meester Spock, I am not certain about this report from Engineering about the fuel output for today. I believe our resting consumption should be -"

"Mr. Chekov," the Vulcan interrupted with gentle finesse. "You have performed your work admirably; cease to second-guess yourself and your tasks. I believe Lieutenant Sulu and Mr. Kirk are waiting for you."

Chekov blushed lightly. "Aye, sir."

"You sure you aren't coming, Spock?" Jim asked.

"Only to perform the musical composition our Communications Chief requested. Even with the ship on autopilot, at least one crewman of command rank must remain on the Bridge at all times. You know this, Jim." Spock's eyes twinkled for an instant with amusement at the young man's petulant pout. "I shall be along much later this evening, during the hours allotted to the gamma shift crew." The party was set to go in three four-hours shifts, rotating out the crewmen from different shifts so that all had a chance to go once they had left their posts.

"'S your funeral," Jim said with a shrug.

Spock raised an eyebrow at the expression, but was prevented from responding when the Science console suddenly began beeping, an alarm flashing red on the control panel.

Chekov, only halfway across the Bridge, turned and bent over the console.

"What the - Meester Spock!"

Spock straightened in his chair, swiveling it toward the Science station. "What is it, Ensign?"

"Something is registering on our sensors, closing fast - but look!" he pointed at the viewscreen. "Nothing is there, sir."

Spock darted to the navigation and piloting console, running a quick diagnostic. "A sensor malfunction? Phantom after-image?" he stepped up the deck and stood beside Chekov, peering at the scrolling lines of code.

"Neither, sir. But whatever it is, it is quite large if the sensor indicator is correct."

Sulu had returned to his console and was pulling up a magnified viewscreen. "If I didn't know we were in neutral space, I'd say it was a cloaked ship of some kind, sir," he called over his shoulder, and the two at the Science station looked up. "See there, in section A-4, the starfield is somewhat distorted."

"That's probably why the sensor alert went off, Spock; we're star-mapping and that would have thrown off the computer script," Jim spoke up suddenly from behind them.

Chekov flicked him an approving glance. "Precisely. There is most likely something there, sir," he trailed off uneasily, looking again at the slightly-blurred area of the viewscreen. "But we are thousands of kilometers away from any declared battle zone, and there is no peaceful reason for a cloaked ship to be shadowing us..."

Spock stood up for a moment, looking at the viewscreen, a line of tension beginning to form between his brows. "Reverse engines," he finally said. "Put as much distance between it and the Enterprise as possible. We are unprepared for any type of engagement at the present time." Sulu nodded and began to release the helm's autopilot.

"It has done nothing to indicate it is hostile, at least," Chekov observed hopefully.

The distortion shimmered, shuddered, and then disappeared, morphing into not one but three Romulan warbirds.

"You were saying?" Sulu yelled over the klaxon that began to wail as their shields snapped up.