Spock needed to get used to the idea that the ship's captain himself and other senior officers were now routinely assigned to landing party duty; this had rarely happened under Captain Pike in later years. Young Captain Kirk seemed inordinately fond of landing parties himself.
This particular one could be described, if Spock had ever admitted such an emotion, as boring. The landscape they saw was uninhabited and sparsely populated even by plants and animals. It conformed perfectly to the preliminary sensor survey. There were no unusual mineral deposits or other geological events. It was almost indistinguishable from hundreds of planets Spock had seen; thousands he would see. Except for one thing.
It was snowing. The air was very chill to Spock though, at perhaps -2 or -3 degrees Centigrade, it was not cold for a snowfall. He had of course understood the process of crystal formation longer than he could remember; he knew the freezing temperature of water; but as it happened he had not personally experienced snow before.
It was aesthetically pleasing, he had to admit. "Beautiful," Kirk had enthused, when he had stepped away from their transporter positions. Clumps of crystals, falling so slowly that the movement seemed almost chosen, almost sentient, wafted between them. Spock saw that the snowflakes rested lightly on the captain's hair but disappeared instantly on contact with his skin or uniform. "Gar, look!" the captain turned to his friend and first officer--away from Spock. "It's beautiful."
"It's snow," Mitchell shrugged. "Jim, you've been working too hard if you're getting this beamed up over snow."
"Closest to shore leave I've had for ... how long?" Kirk agreed.
"Longer'n me," Mitchell grinned. "You missed that ...."
"Never mind," Kirk said. "Work."
"Yeah. Fan out, everyone, double-check those readings. First one to find the diamonds can have them." The landing party scattered, most of them grinning. Mitchell patted the right buttock of a female crew member as she passed.
"*Mis*ter Mitchell," Kirk said.
"Captain?" Eyes wide, Mitchell turned back to Kirk, who snorted.
Spock made his way through some close-standing rocks, wondering about the byplay he had seen. Humans seemed to communicate a great deal by something other than speech, for all they were such poor telepaths. Mitchell, with the highest esper rating on the ship, could barely touch thoughts. He seemed in fact to have only flashes of empathic contact, which were not so very different from the mental events Kirk called 'hunches'. Spock could not understand how pretending *not* to comprehend the captain's reprimand could signify that Mitchell had in fact accepted it, but by Kirk's reaction, that was the case.
Spock glanced at his tricorder and saw, as he expected, nothing of note. He looked up again at how the snow, catching at the horizontal surfaces of rock and soil and leaf, glittered there in the undiminished sunshine. Judging from what he could see of his own lashes and bangs, the flakes were not sticking to him as they had to the captain ... and the other humans, of course. Spock had not observed the snow on the others' hair or lashes, but it must have been there.
He looked up. The rock stretched above his head and framed a portion of sky that was only slightly overcast even while spots of white continued to descend, in steady formation that gave Spock the illogical impression that he and the rock were moving and the snowflakes were still.
He shivered and returned to his tricorder survey. Perhaps the landing party's stay here would be brief.
He could hear the air moving remotely between the rocks, the calls and footsteps of the humans around him. The fascinating thing about the snow was its silence. In crystalline form, water had no surface large enough to sustain an audible impact. Spock leaned closer to one of the rocks to look at the snow that rested there. Yes, he could see the lacy patterns the crystals created as they stuck to one another, an order perhaps more beautiful than art because it was innate. The scale entranced him. He breathed carefully, angling the air away from the tiny, delicate structures, and went on looking.
A scuffling sound broke his concentration. Boots against soil; cloth against stone. Respiration, quicker than the movement would account for.
"Jim." The breathy syllable was almost too low to be identifiable, yet Spock knew instantly that it was Mitchell's voice.
"Gary, this is stupid." Kirk's voice was as quiet, perhaps quieter.
Then Spock guessed, without looking, without having ever before consciously considered the nature of the relationship between the other two men, what caused the silence between Kirk's statement and Mitchell's reply.
"Is it?" That smug tone was in Mitchell's voice too often, Spock thought.
"Damn--" The end of Kirk's word was oddly muffled, and was followed by another pause, only shifting cloth to be heard, then a few sounds Spock didn't recognize except as ... wet.
"Where'd--" Mitchell again, speaking in fits and stops-- "you get such--long--lashes--like a girl's--longer. Huh? Snow just--clumps there."
Kirk chucked. "We used to drink--meltwater. In Iowa."
"Mmm." More wet sounds. "Shut up."
Spock was immobile, leaning close to the stone, hands flat against it. He had raised his head and the snow he had been observing was gone. Burned away by his breath. He was shivering again.
"Stop," Kirk said, and the cold, clear note of command was like the puff of wind that moved across Spock's back. "We need to stop. That's enough, Gar."
And after a moment, "Later, then," Mitchell said, and Spock heard him step, heard Kirk's feet too.
"Maybe. Depends on the reports."
"From this rock?" Their voices were moving away. "Won't take more than a minute to initial them and file them--click--gone. No discoveries here."
"And you promised them diamonds," said Kirk, amused.
And they were gone.
And the snow fell.
Hard. Bright. Cold. Clear.
Spock knew now why Earth poets likened water crystals to diamond.