Running at full tilt, a much disheveled Captain Kirk burst into the supply room where his executive officer was taking a final inventory of items to be loaded aboard the Enterprise.
“Spock, you’ve got to hide me.”
Glancing up from his work, Spock raised an eyebrow slightly as he replied, “I fail to understand why such action would be desirable.”
“They’re after me.” Kirk’s eyes darted wildly back and forth.
From all appearances, Spock had to conclude that his captain was suffering from a temporary psychosis found occasionally in humans. Kirk had probably been in space too long without sufficient shore leave. Fortunately, excellent psychiatric treatment was available at the medical facilities here on Mars. It would simply be a matter of persuading Kirk, through calm reasoning, of the need to seek help.
“Just who,” Spock inquired, “are after you?”
“The Hortas.” Kirk lowered his voice to a furtive whisper as he crouched behind a stack of crates. “When we landed at Utopia Planitia for a refit, I had no idea that the shipyard would turn out to be full of Hortas. You’ve got to find a way to hide me from them, Spock.”
“They were recently hired as construction laborers for the new expansion project. I’m told the Hortas are very efficient in all respects.” Observing his captain’s twitching shudder, Spock suspected that Kirk’s psychosis might be more serious than he had originally thought. Attempting to apply his sketchy knowledge of human counseling methods, Spock proceeded to ask, “Why do you believe that you need to hide from the Hortas?”
The captain somehow managed to squeeze even farther behind the crates and, after a long pause, answered in a voice so low that even Vulcan ears could barely hear it. “Last year, in a bar, I was sexually assaulted by a Horta.”
Spock’s eyebrow shot up so high that it disappeared into his hair. For once, he could think of absolutely nothing to say.
“And then she told all her sisters what a good time she had with me,” Kirk continued miserably. “As you know, Hortas hatch by the thousands. When they’re full-grown, which takes about two years, the females start gossiping with one another constantly, almost always about their favorite males. They’re worse than teenage girls with a crush on a movie star, Spock. Far worse.”
“Worse than . . .” Spock’s total perplexity was apparent.
“Never mind. Worse than anything you can imagine. At first it wasn’t so bad, when all they did was send adoring messages to the Enterprise praising the rock-like qualities of my — well, again, never mind. I gave Uhura instructions to immediately delete anything received from a female Horta and swore her to secrecy. They overloaded our communications system a few times, but Uhura always managed to come up with a plausible explanation.”
Spock began to hear a distant and hideously unpleasant sound that, although he couldn’t quite identify it, bore a definite resemblance to fingernails scraping across slate.
“And then I noticed Hortas stalking me on several planets . . .”
Kirk stopped abruptly as he, too, became aware of the peculiar noise. Blanching in abject terror, he curled into a fetal position behind the crates and whimpered, “It’s them, Spock. It’s the Hortas coming for me. I tried to hide in a vault, but they ate through solid duranium and chased me halfway across the shipyard. There’s no escape from them.”
Although Spock had never known his captain to hallucinate, that story was so preposterous that every part of his logical Vulcan mind balked at accepting it. “What we are hearing may be some sort of malfunctioning machinery,” he suggested.
“No. I’ve heard them before.” Kirk shivered in horror. “That’s what they sound like when they giggle. It’s worse than death, Spock. Do we have any weapons in here?”
Considering how unstable his captain had become, Spock was by now convinced that all weapons had better be kept away from him for quite some time. “We have none. These supplies are all personal comfort and hygiene items.”
“That doesn’t include peach bubble bath, I assume?” Kirk sat up straighter, his eyes narrowing. “You remember what happened when it got into the ship’s systems. If anything like that happens again, I’m holding you responsible, mister. All personnel are required to use the sonic showers. No exceptions.”
Spock looked sheepish. “Some of the crew prefer . . .”
“Et tu, Brute?”
“The scent reminds me of a certain type of Vulcan meditation candle. It’s very soothing.”
“I don’t want to hear another word.”
The screeching cacophony was right outside the room now. Spock considered opening the door to investigate, on the theory that he might then be able to persuade the captain there were no sex-mad Hortas in the corridor, but that might upset Kirk beyond all reason. Perhaps it would be more prudent just to wait until whatever it was went away.
“With all this cargo, isn’t there anything in here that could be used as a weapon?” Kirk demanded.
Spock gave that some thought. “Perhaps Yeoman Rand’s new sex toys could be adapted for offensive purposes.”
“Anything that involves Yeoman Rand and sex is sufficiently offensive already. Come on, Spock, we’ve got to think of something. Use that big Vulcan brain of yours. They’ll be bursting through the door any moment now.”
The captain’s dementia was definitely worsening. Spock silently calculated the relative probabilities of various methods that he could employ to distract Kirk long enough to get medical help. With a resigned sigh, the first officer confessed, “The peach bubble bath is in that crate over there.”
“Aha!” Kirk made a beeline for the crate and tore it open, shrieking maniacally as he seized a bottle and brandished it. “Hortas, prepare to die!”
This absurd nonsense had to be stopped. Right away. For lack of a better idea, Spock opened the door, saying soothingly to the captain, “You see, there are no . . .”
Before he could finish the sentence, Spock found himself shoved abruptly backward by something that resembled a huge rockslide, except for the ghastly giggling. Several Hortas immediately knocked him flat and held him down with their tentacles. The others pursued Kirk into a corner of the supply room.
Taking up a heroic posture atop a stack of crates, Kirk made his last stand with the bottle of peach bubble bath. He splashed it all over the nearest Hortas, howling, “Die! Die! Die!”
Unfortunately, Kirk had misjudged his enemy. As the fragrance wafted through the supply room, the Hortas paused for a few seconds, making soft sounds like tinkling crystal that could only indicate pleasure. Then they began moving toward Kirk again, climbing over one another like giant tortoises on a crowded beach. Although the bubbles made the floor extremely slippery, the Hortas didn’t seem to mind their occasional thunderous collisions.
Spock, expertly pinned and quite unable to move, began to realize his own precarious situation when one of the Hortas slid a tentacle down his pants and began exploring his equipment. Very thoroughly. Summoning his firmest and most commanding tone, Spock announced, “Ladies, this behavior is COMPLETELY UNACCEPTABLE!”
The Horta’s tentacle withdrew slowly, and she whispered something to her sisters in a voice like shifting sand. Then the atrocious giggling resumed, much louder.
Before Spock realized what was happening, the Hortas had pulled up his shirt and started tickling him. To his horror, he found that despite his usual Vulcan ability to resist succumbing to physical torture, all those rough-textured little tentacles were having their intended effect. Possibly the exposure to near-toxic levels of peach bubble bath had lowered his resistance. A chuckle, entirely beyond his control, escaped his lips.
As the Hortas dragged Kirk across the bubble-slick floor, his toupee was torn off, and several Hortas immediately fought over it until there was nothing left but unidentifiable shreds. One last despairing cry escaped the captain’s lips.
“Spo-o-ock . . .”
But the first officer’s loud, raucous laughter was the last sound Kirk heard before he met his unthinkable fate.