Conquering The Cube
by Sandy Adams
No copyright infringement is intended.
CONQUERING THE CUBE
by Sandy Adams
copyright 1983 - 1999
Doctor Leonard McCoy stood in the middle of Sickbay, twiddling furiously with the odd little object in his hands, pausing only to curse the clumsiness of his fingers. He did not notice his audience until Kirk spoke, practically in his ear.
"Bones, what are you doing?" The captain's tone was light, amused. This was obviously a social call.
Hastily, and without much success, McCoy tried to conceal the object behind his back.
"Oh, hi, Jim! What brings you all the way down here?" he asked and tried not to sound guilty.
Kirk studied the falsely-bright smile plastered all over his Chief Surgeon's face. "All right, Bones -- you might as well confess."
The doctor put on his best "who-li'l-ol'-me?" expression, but he could see Kirk wasn't buying it. Gamely, he tried again.
"Why, whatever do you mean, Jim? There's nothin' goin' on here." He tried the smile on again. It froze on his lips as the cube popped out of his hands and practically flung itself at the captain.
"Uh-huh." Kirk snagged the thing mid-air and examined it. "This has to be one of the strangest nothings I have ever seen. What is it?"
McCoy watched him give a section of the cube an experimental twirl.
"Oh, just a little something I picked up on shore leave." The doctor grimaced, then added under his breath, "Last time it was an incurable disease -- my tastes sure haven't improved any."
Kirk glanced up from his twiddling. "Exactly what is this thing?"
"Exactly? A pain in the..." McCoy broke off with a sigh. "Well, the fellow who conned me into buying the damn thing said it was a replica of something found in one of those old Earth time capsules they're always turnin' up. Said it's called a Rubik's Cube."
Kirk's expression said that this was all very interesting -- and about as clear as mud.
With another sigh, McCoy led the way into his office, motioning him to follow.
Kirk settled into the nearest chair and waited, idly twisting a section of the garishly-colored cube. The doctor slid into the other chair, leaned across the desk, and watched Kirk's activity with a distinctly jaundiced eye.
"Put that blasted thing down, and we'll talk." Kirk glanced up, surprised by the note of exasperation in the doctor' voice.
Oddly reluctant, he complied. "All right, Bones. What is this all about?"
McCoy wore the look of a man who knows that he has only himself to blame for his predicament -- and is desperately wondering how to go about changing all that.
"It is," he said, "a puzzle. A toy, in fact, and not some devious new weapon invented by Klingon sadists to undermine the collective mental health of the Federation, starting with me."
Seeing Kirk's expression, he hastily added, "Okay! As you can see, it's a plastic cube composed of 36 smaller cubes, in six different colors. It started out, I might add, with one color to a side."
He picked up the cube, grunted, and set it down again, none too gently. "Now just look at the little monster..." He slumped back in his chair. "I haven't been able to do a damn thing with it."
"What are you supposed to do with it?" Kirk asked, still unclear on this point. The thing looked useless. And, despite McCoy's grumblings, harmless.
"You are supposed," McCoy echoed, laying the drawl on thick, "to get it back the way it started. A solid color to each side...all six of 'em..."
"Come on, Bones...it's just a simple toy. It can't be that hard to figure out," Kirk said, ignorning the doctor's rude snort.
"Oh? Fine." McCoy shoved the puzzle at him. "You take it, then. See for yourself how simple it is! Take as long as you like...or longer."
Kirk looked at the cube, intrigued despite McCoy's sarcasm -- or maybe because of it. What could be the harm in it? Besides, he never could resist a challenge. He picked up the cube.
"Just don't say I didn't warn you," McCoy said, trailing him to the door. "That rotating nightmare has very nearly driven me up the bulkheads."
Kirk grinned, confident that he would succeed where the doctor had failed. He was, after all, a Starship Captain. How could he possibly be defeated by something as simple as a toy?
McCoy followed him out into the corridor. "Sure," he said, recognizing the look on Kirk's face for what it was. "Laugh while you still can, Captain."
He turned smartly on his heel and marched back into Sickbay, muttering something about conceited starship captains and just desserts.
* * * *
The lift deposited Kirk on the bridge. He crossed to the center seat and settled in, then glanced thoughtfully around. Surely, no one would notice?
He set to work with the puzzle, twirling the sections slowly at first, then with increasing frenzy. Soon, he was twiddling furiously, totally immersed in the toy.
It wasn't long before all that muttering, and the creaking and clacking of stressed plastic caught someone's attention. That someone was Mr. Sulu, who swiveled in his seat at the helm, trying to pinpoint the source of the unusual noises.
He peered curiously at the engrossed captain (now quite oblivious to his surroundings and beginning to swear under his breath), then turned to exchange glances with Mr. Chekov at the navigator's station.
The two junior officers, via a complex series of facial tics, tried to convey to each other that: a) if the captain wanted to sit and play with little colored boxes on the bridge, well...that was clearly none of their business, because b) he was the captain, after all, and c) if either of them so much as breathed wrong, they were both going to erupt into uncontrollable laughter and probably end up in the brig, which d) definitely was their business.
With what sounded suspiciously like suppressed snickers, pilot and navigator turned hastily back to their respective consoles and tried desperately to concentrate on flying the ship.
Mr. Spock, on the other hand, suffered no such qualms. His keen hearing had picked up the first faint sounds of Kirk's activity, and he had been the first to notice the captain's odd behavior. It had simply taken this long for his curiosity to overwhelm his natural reticence.
Several minutes passed before Kirk became aware of his First Officer's scrutiny.
"Oh," he said, mildly annoyed at the distraction. "Yes, Spock?"
"Might I ask what you are doing, Captain?" inquired the Vulcan, one eyebrow lifted ever-so-slightly.
Spock resisted the urge to sigh. And they said Vulcans were literal. "Very well...what are you doing?"
"Indeed?" Spock's reply was a tad dry, as the captain did not appear to be solving anything. He deemed it unwise, however, to comment to that effect.
"And what, precisely, is the nature of this puzzle which you are attempting to solve?" he said instead. (Tact, thy name is Vulcan...)
Kirk dropped the cube into his lap, finding it impossible to converse and twiddle with any degree of accuracy. He knew Spock well enough to know that the Vulcan would not let him get away with anything less than a full disclosure. Fingers twitching, Kirk repeated McCoy's story.
"So the purpose is recreational," Spock said after a moment's thought. "And the object of the puzzle itself?"
"To properly align the smaller cubes so that there is a single color to each side." Unwittingly, he echoed McCoy's earlier sentiment when he added wearily, "All six of them."
"Ah," said Spock. "A simple exercise in logic."
Kirk shot his First Officer a searching look. That had sounded remarkably like sarcasm.
Doctor McCoy chose that moment to put in an appearance on the bridge. He sauntered over to the captain, noting with undisguised satisfaction the still-unsolved cube in Kirk's lap.
"Well, Jim?" His grin was smug...like he'd swallowed a tribble.
Kirk could almost feel his blood pressure rising.
"Not very," he muttered, standing abruptly. "If you gentlemen will excuse me, I think I'll retire to my quarters. Mr. Spock, you have he conn."
Kirk headed for the lift, not giving either of them the opportunity to reply.
* * * *
Captain James Tiberius Kirk, commander of the UFP Starship Enterprise, pride of Starfleet, spent his entire sleep period twiddling with his cube.
The starship's present mission was one of those rare episodes of routine duty with none of the surprises for which the Enterprise was famous (or infamous, depending on your affiliations).
Or, as Leonard McCoy had put it, just before deciding to try out that weird little gadget he'd picked up on shore leave, "This trip's been so downright dull, I'd almost rather have a few Klingons breathing down our nacelles, just for the variety."
Right now, Kirk thought, he could use a few Klingons. Or Romulans. Or anything to get his mind off that cube.
Every time he closed his eyes, he was pursued by thousands of tiny Rubik's Cubes, dancing amid mad swirls of mismatched color...and all imbued with the mocking voice of Leonard McCoy.
Even starship captains know when to give up.
Kirk staggered onto the bridge, looking only slightly worse than warmed-over death. There were deep purple circles under his eyes. His shoulders slumped beneath his rumpled tunic. He looked as if he had been in a fight to the death and lost...possibly twice. Badly.
He collected a number of concerned glances from around the bridge as he made his way over to the center seat and fell into it. He was still clutching the cube. His fingers, nerveless from hours of exhaustive twiddling, made pathetic little twitching motions.
The worst of it was, Kirk was beginning to suspect that Bones had been right all along. He was never going to solve that cube! The fact that he had done no better than McCoy was doing nothing to improve his disposition.
The good doctor, with an infallible sense of timing, appeared beside him.
"So...how many times have you solved it, Captain?" he said, with that tribble-eating grin.
Kirk favored him with a look that would have sent a lesser man scurrying for the nearest bomb shelter.
Spock, a querulous brow lifted, appeared at Kirk's other elbow. "Is something wrong, Captain? You seem somewhat...distressed."
Which was a polite way of saying that the captain was turning an intriguing shade of red right before their eyes and giving the general impression of a warp drive about to go critical.
McCoy answered for him. "Nothing's wrong, Spock. Nothing but our intrepid captain finally meeting his match."
Kirk sat very still and glared at the universe in general, and McCoy in particular. "I don't see you leaping to take up the challenge, Doctor..."
"Now, Jim," chided McCoy. "There's no need to get nasty about it. After all, it's just a simple toy."
Spock interrupted, sensing the need for a distraction before something requiring a court martial happened. He extended a hand for the object in question. "May I?"
Kirk practically threw it at him.
"Be. my. guest," he said, enunciating each word through tightly clenched teeth.
McCoy nudged Kirk's shoulder, leaning down to observe conspiratorily, "He won't be able to do it either, Jim."
A gleeful grin lit the Doctor's features. "I can hardly wait to see the look on his Vulcan face when he..."
McCoy broke off, a choking sound issuing from deep in his throat.
Spock handed Kirk the completed puzzle and, without so much as a flicker of smugness, said, "As I said, Captain...a simple exercise in logic."
If Kirk had been a warp core, the engineers would be racing to eject him in order to save the ship. His face turned several lovely shades of red, including one the exact shade of Chief Engineer Scott's uniform tunic. Scotty, and every other officer on the bridge, suddenly became extremely interested in their respective instruments. The silence was deafening.
Kirk's jaw worked, as if he had begun to speak and then thought better of it.
McCoy's jaw hung open, in imminent danger of colliding with his kneecaps.
They looked at each other. They looked at the solved cube in Kirk's hand. They looked at Spock.
Without a word, Kirk rose. As one man, he and McCoy headed for the turbolift.
Spock's other eyebrow slowly ascended into his hairline.
Was it something he had said?
* * * *
Kirk didn't slow down until he had reached the transporter room, with McCoy hot on his heels.
"How do you like that?" the doctor was grumbling. "Just like that smug, pointy-eared, green-blooded know-it-all. Simple, he says! Simple like advanced warp theory! Not that he finds that difficult, either..."
Kirk spared him a distracted glance, too caught up in the simple beauty of his plan to point out that it was very often the Vulcan's lack of smugness that made such things so hard to take.
Instead, he went directly to the transporter alcove and planted the cube firmly on one of the transport disks. A faintly manic gleam had driven the fatigue from his eyes.
Chief Kyle joined the doctor in looking bemused. "Uh, can I help you, sir?" Kyle said, a bit more diffidently than usual. The captain had a strange look in his eye...
"I'll handle this one myself," Kirk said, displacing the transporter chief from behind the console. He took great satisfaction in programming the coordinates, and an even greater relish in activating the mechanism.
"Energize," he hissed. It was perhaps just as well for the continued peace of mind of his crew that Kirk's voice was not audible above the whine of the transporter.
When the sparkles had faded, the cube was gone.
"But...where did you send it?" asked McCoy, shuddering inwardly at the thought of some innocent culture doomed to an early extinction by the introduction of that miserable lump of plastic. It was a miracle his own had survived it. Maybe it explained a lot about his ancestors, who'd always seemed to be hovering on the brink of self-destruction.
"Nowhere," Kirk said, drawing him back to the present.
McCoy stared at the Captain with the look of a man uncertain whether he was witness to madness or genius. "You mean...you set the beam for maximum dispersion..."
"...and spread its atoms from here to the Neutral Zone," Kirk said, with a great deal of satisfaction.
Kyle looked rather as if he were considering the wisdom of calling for Security to deal with his superiors, both of whom were apparently warping on something less than a full load of dilithium.
McCoy was positively beaming. "Jim," he said, clapping a companionable hand on the captain's shoulder. "Let's head on down to my office. I've got nearly a full litre of Romulan Ale...kept strictly for medicinal purposes, you understand...and I have the feeling it's just what the doctor ordered."
Former animosity forgotten in the glow of victory, Kirk started to agree...and was promptly interrupted by the wail of an alert klaxon. Uhura's voice came over the shipwide public address system. "Red Alert! This is not a drill. Repeat...this is not a drill! Captain Kirk to the bridge!"
Kirk hit the turbolift at a run, snapped a command to the computer, and allowed himself to sag momentarily against the wall. What exactly had he done to offend the universe, anyway?
The doors opened. Kirk stepped onto the bridge, avoided the newly-acquired instinct to flinch, and snapped out an order in his best command tone. "Report!"
"Romulan warbirds, sir," responded Sulu. Despite the crispness of his reply, the helmsman seemed distracted. "...lots of them..."
"And Klingon D-7 cruisers, Keptin," added Chekov, sounding as if, all things being equal, he'd rather be in Cleveland.
Kirk followed their tense gazes to the main viewer. A tactical plot displayed the Enterprise's current position...roughly that of a lone wagon in Apache country. They were surrounded by all the Romulans and Klingons he had so ardently wished for earlier. Kirk counted his blessings that the 'or anythings' hadn't turned up as well.
But there wasn't a Rubik's Cube in sight.
An enormous weight lifted from his shoulders. He settled himself firmly in the command chair, feeling better than he had in days.
"Open hailing frequencies," he said, a familiar gleam bedeviling his hazel eyes. After what he had just been through, a few Klingons and Romulans...and even the 'or anythings', should they join the party... didn't stand a chance.
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