Jim was in his element at functions like this; his smile practically sparkled as he charmed the ambassador from Turileh as well as their hosts, the council members of the planet Ka’almo. Their trade negotiations had concluded earlier that day as a resounding success, due in large part to Captain Kirk’s persuasiveness and skill in finding equitable solutions. Bones was as proud of him as he had ever been. He deserves this recognition, he told himself, refusing to give an iota of space to the feeling gnawing inside him that the ambassador’s daughter was a beautiful young woman he would like to ask for a dance — if she weren’t already glued to Jim’s side. Bones could not and would not blame her; Jim was younger, handsomer, and the captain of a starship. Bones knew he was past his prime and that he had never been as interesting a man as his friend. Taking another fluted glass from an attendant’s tray, he sipped at the alien beverage, thankful for its strong alcohol content as he moved silently along the edge of the room.
The center of the grand hall was filled with dancing couples of all shapes, sizes, and ages. The Ka’almans had invited a number of respected diplomats from their other trading partners to come to the party, making it a festive occasion indeed, and their native music was lilting and lent itself to graceful interpretations. Bones smiled a little to see Spock’s distinctive head in the middle of the small orchestra. Their hosts had discovered his talent for playing the Vulcan lyre over the course of the two-week negotiations and had asked him to join their musicians. Bones was somewhat surprised that Spock had agreed, but then again, it must have seemed like a better way to occupy himself during the party than milling about making small talk. Bones himself was not fond of small talk despite being rather adept at it. Tonight, since he had not been a part of the negotiations and so had not met many of the local people, he was spared from having to make pointless conversation — or at least, that was what he tried to tell himself. The truth was, he was feeling rather lonely with nobody to talk to. He would have liked to ask one of the women to dance but none of them seemed unattached or available. With a small sigh he stepped out onto the terrace, where the noise of the party was muted and only the higher notes of the music could be heard.
The city lay at the foothills of a mountain range, its warm lights dotting the flat plain and washing up against the mountains like a glittering wave against a rocky shoreline. Above the thick, jagged darkness of the mountains, the stars echoed the lights below. Due to the particles in the Ka’alman atmosphere, even the stars seemed to shine with an orange-yellow glow. Bones looked up at the unfamiliar constellations in awe. He never ceased to be amazed at the sheer number of stars — distant suns, each one immeasurably powerful — in the universe. Some things will never lose their wonder, regardless of how much science advances and can explain away, he thought appreciatively. He finished his drink, then wondered if it were too soon to leave the party. He was certain that nobody would miss him; he’d only been invited as a courtesy, after all, and he could contact the Enterprise to be beamed up directly from here. No one would even know he had left…..
The ache in his chest left him breathless for a moment. He chided himself for letting it surprise him — he knew he was lonely; he had been for a long time now. But it only seemed to get worse and he had no way to remedy it. Ironic, he thought sardonically, that I have the best known medical technology available at my fingertips, but I still have nothing to cure something so common or simple as loneliness.
He set his empty glass on a ledge where he hoped someone would find it later, then walked along the perimeter of the terrace to the spot closest to the mountains. He pulled out his communicator and was just about to contact the ship when a sudden streak of light caught his attention — a shooting star, blazing across the sky from one side to the other, dimming all the other stars by comparison.
“Beautiful,” he breathed, delighted by the sight. That would be Jim… bright, brilliant, a joy to behold.
The thought did not pain him. Rather, it made him appreciate the fact that he was able to observe from a close distance what one charismatic and charitable man could do. His friend had saved countless lives over the years, and in that moment Bones felt himself privileged to have played a small part in assisting those efforts.
Another star streaked across the sky, then another. Bones gazed open-mouthed as a whole host of meteorites bombarded the planet’s mesosphere, putting on a light display like he had never seen before. He was the only one on the terrace to see it, and in a way he felt special; if he had found a dance partner inside, he would have missed this spectacular light show. He watched, mesmerized, leaning against the terrace wall. It was a balmy spring night on Ka’almo, comfortable enough that he did not need a jacket over his dress uniform. He lost all track of time as the shooting stars continued to fall.
He started at the sound, then turned to see Spock’s familiar profile approaching from behind.
“Spock! Take a look at this,” Bones said, gesturing to the heavens. “Have you ever seen anything so beautiful?”
Spock paused for a moment before replying, “Beauty is a very subjective thing… however, I confess I have never seen so many meteors at one time.”
“It’s amazing! I wonder if any of the locals know about it?”
“Actually, Doctor, this is a nightly and daily occurrence. The collision of two of Ka’almo’s neighboring moons a few centuries ago has left this planet’s entire orbit littered with debris, resulting in a constant shower of meteorites. Though they are not as visible during the day, they occur continually.”
“Oh.” Bones suddenly felt a little less beatific. “I suppose that’s why nobody’s out here watching, then… it’s old hat to them.”
“Indeed. Since it has become a commonplace event, it seems to have lost its luster, as it were. Nevertheless, it is… beautiful.”
Glad that he had gotten Spock to finally agree to something, Bones leaned against the wall again to continue watching. Spock stood beside him, arms clasped behind his back in his usual stance, also observing the skies. The silence between them was comfortable for a change — so comfortable that several minutes passed before Bones wondered what had brought Spock out to the terrace.
“Are you done playing for the night?” he asked at last.
“The event has been over for two hours, Doctor,” Spock answered. “I had returned to the Enterprise with the rest of our delegation — minus the Captain, of course — only to realize you had not left the surface earlier as I had surmised. I had seen you leave the hall to come out here, so I came to ensure that you were not in any distress.”
“Oh,” Bones said, startled to know that Spock had noticed him exiting. It was especially surprising since Spock had been playing in the orchestra at the time. “Well, as you can see, I’m not in any distress. I was just… caught up watching all this.”
“I can understand why. Though the phenomenon is easily explainable, the results are certainly… fascinating.”
“I suppose that’s one word for it,” Bones commented, a smile curling his lips.
“What modifiers would you use to describe it?”
Spock sounded as though he truly wanted to know, so Bones considered his answer before saying, “Spectacular. Amazing. Breathtaking. Magical.”
Even in the dark, Bones could see Spock’s eyebrow rise.
“It’s more than the sum total of its scientific parts, Spock. It instills a feeling of awe, of magic. So yes, ‘magical’ and ‘mysterious’ and ‘awe-inspiring’ too.”
Spock nodded. “If it is as they say, ‘Beauty is in the eye of the beholder,’ then those very feelings of awe and amazement are products of your own mind, Doctor.”
“Not my mind, Spock — my heart,” Bones corrected. “That’s what it means to be Human. In the distant past, humans thought the powerful forces of nature that they couldn’t explain were the manifestations of higher powers, of beings that were like gods to them. They even used to say that if you made a wish on a shooting star, your wish would be granted.”
Spock’s tone was dry as he replied, “I doubt many such wishes ever came true; it is improbable that falling space debris would be cognizant of, let alone have the capacity to fulfill, any Human desires.”
“That’s not the point, Spock,” Bones countered, although he was feeling too mellow to be seriously irritated at the Vulcan. “The point is that our species has always had a sense of wonder, of appreciating even what they couldn’t understand, and ascribing value to them — maybe more than was warranted, but it would be a sad day when we looked out at the stars and saw only balls of combusting gases. If we fail to see the beauty in nature, what would be the point of living at all?”
Spock mulled this over before quoting, “Beauty is truth, truth beauty — that is all ye know on Earth, and all ye need to know.”
“Keats,” Bones said in surprise.
“Yes,” Spock agreed simply.
They continued to watch the meteor shower for a while, until Bones took a deep breath and pulled himself away from the wall.
“I suppose I should go back to the ship and get some sleep. I could stare at this for hours, but… duty calls in the morning.”
Spock inclined his head and pulled out his communicator. “Spock to transporter room: two to beam up.”
As the swirling lights enveloped them, a particularly large shooting star blazed across the sky. Bones was smiling when they materialized.
“Well, that sure was a dazzling display. I hope we have an opportunity to come back here again sometime,” he remarked. Spock fell into step beside him as they left the transporter room.
“Indeed. The Ka’almans are a peaceful and gracious people. It was a pleasure to play their music,” Spock said. “Perhaps now that regular trade has been established with Federation planets, there will be occasions for us to visit again.”
“That would be nice.”
They entered the turbolift to go to deck 5 where their quarters were.
“Doctor,” Spock began, seeming somewhat hesitant, “the captain had mentioned that you are quite accomplished in social dancing. I had hoped you might grace us with a demonstration this evening.”
Bones blushed and swallowed, grateful for the distraction when the turbolift doors opened. “Uh, well… Jim was being kind… I’m not really… that is… well, I didn’t know anybody at the event tonight, and I couldn’t find anybody who looked available.”
A few steps further, they arrived in front of Bones’ door, so he turned to bid Spock goodnight. The word died on his lips, however, when he looked up and noticed that Spock’s skin had an unusually green cast to it.
“Doctor… if I may be so bold,” Spock said, standing rather stiffly at attention, “the next time we have the opportunity to attend a social function where dancing is an optional activity, I would like to request your partnership for one or more tunes.”
Bones gaped at him, stunned. His mouth had gone dry, making it difficult to form a reply, but he managed to stutter, “I, uh… um… I would be… honored, and uh… delighted, Spock.”
The green tint increased even more in the Vulcan’s cheeks as he inclined his head and responded, “Thank you, Doctor. Goodnight.”
“Goodnight… Spock,” Bones mumbled at the retreating figure before entering his quarters and collapsing on his bed. A moment later he was seized with a fit of giggles. He fell asleep to dream of shooting stars and music.