McCoy was beginning to look dishevelled, and not in a roguishly charming sort of way either. He'd been sleeping in his temporary hotel room for two months. The computer panel buzzed because it had been improperly installed, and there was a sign across the street made from Denobulan neon. Funny thing McCoy had learned about Denobulan neon - it never had to be shut off. For awhile in the morning, everything he looked at had a sort of bright pink quality to it. He'd been to lawyers and accountants and back to lawyers trying to sort out the shambles of his life. Jillian wanted everything. Including Joanna.

It had occurred to him to fight the good fight. Argue that she was the one having the affair, that he was a respectable member of the medical community. But he couldn't do that. He couldn't take a child away from her mother, even if that child obviously preferred him and her mother was Jillian. Besides, he didn't know what direction things were going in. He didn't even have a place to live yet. And he'd increased his hours at the clinic to merit more legal vouchers from the government. Oh, no. Nobody used money on Earth anymore…

He'd tried drinking. And it was a good, honest try that took him a whole weekend. But he couldn't maintain the pace. He had patients who relied on him. He capped off the day with a shot of bourbon most nights, but rarely did he make it two. If there was an emergency at three in the morning, and somebody needed to have their appendix out, McCoy didn't want to be the drunken fool who couldn't help.

As he walked into the clinic, the new receptionist - Kimmy or Candy or something - gave him a smile that dripped with holier-than-thou pity. It was probably all she could do to keep from clucking her tongue. She did shake her head, though.

"Good morning, Doctor." She said.

McCoy grunted and shuffled into his office. His first patient wasn't for twenty minutes yet. He went up to the replicator, pressed down the order button and yawned deeply.

"Unable to process request." The machine beeped.

He tried again.

"Coffee. Black."

A small white cup appeared in the slot. McCoy pulled the small glass door up and took it. Nice and hot. He sipped on it awhile, thinking about his life. It appeared to suck. The com system beeped and Kimmy-Candy's voice spoke:

"Dr. McCoy, your nine-thirty is early. Shall I send her in?"

"Fine." McCoy sighed and knocked back the rest of his coffee. It burned the back of his mouth. Such was his luck.

His first patient of the day was an old patient, in two senses. Gladys Smart was well over eighty years old, and she had been going to the clinic since before McCoy's time there. She'd lived in Atlanta her whole life, and she was everything a sweet old Southern lady ought to be. She even still wore her Sunday best to visit the doctor. And all things considered, she was in remarkable shape.

"You're lookin' a little piquey, Leonard." She observed, walking to the examination table.

"Divorce does that to a man. Or so they tell me." McCoy answered, beginning a basic tricorder scan. Mrs. Smart observed the device with her usual disdain. She figured it couldn't tell her anything about her health that she didn't already know, and she felt just fine.

"Divorce, huh? That's a shame. Some women are just fools." The old lady flashed him a jokingly flirtatious smile. He couldn't help but chuckle.

"Then again," She continued, "It's better to get out while the gettins good. I was married twenty-eight years. Only enjoyed about four of them. Best thing you get is the kids."

"Now that's the truth." McCoy nodded.

"I didn't know you had children, Doctor!"

"Just the one little girl. Joanna. She's ten."

"Oh, I bet you spoil her something rotten," Mrs. Smart scolded, "Is she gonna become a doctor like her Daddy? The world could sure use a few more."

"Well, right now she wants to join Starfleet…" McCoy smiled, and looked up from his readings at his patient's face. It had fallen into a deeply unhappy expression.

"My boys joined Starfleet. All three of them. Ain't a one of them coming home now, either," She sighed, catching McCoy off guard, "My eldest, Charlie, the Klingons got him. Blew a whole ship clean to pieces. Nothing left even to turn over to me in one of those horrible little black boxes. But I got myself two of those later, you see. How many doctors do you think it would take to treat three hundred people dying of phaser burns?"

"Off-hand, you'd need about twelve. If the burns are real bad." McCoy answered softly. He'd heard her talk about her boys, but he hadn't known they'd died.

"On the Daphne, that was Arnie's ship, they had four of 'em and a handful of nurses. They had to get the science officers in there, trying to sedate folks. You've probably seen a nasty phaser burn or two, you know how that would be. Killing a boy of twenty-four."

McCoy nodded. He knew how that would be.

"Well, you see, they just don't have the doctors. I guess it takes a certain type to join Starfleet. All my boys were adventurers, you know. Danny, he tried to build his own starship when he was twelve. Didn't do half bad, either. But they couldn't study hard enough to go through medical school, I can tell you that…"

"There's gotta be some good doctors on those ships?"

"Oh! There are. One or two. And a kid gets lucky if they land themselves on one of those ships. But it's not enough," Mrs. Smart shook her head, "You tell your little girl not to join Starfleet. She oughtta be a doctor, like her daddy."

"I'm going to give you a hypo with your blood pressure medication in it," McCoy let her know, and gently pressed the device against the base of her neck, "And that's it. You're in fine health, Mrs. Smart."


They gave him a brochure, but he didn't read it. He'd just signed his name and left his information. In a week, he'd be on his way to San Francisco. And after that, he'd go where he was needed.