Chapter 5: Academy Years, Part I
Through a small dusty window, the darkness before dawn was beginning to lift. Jim stared at his small pile of knickknacks on an equally dusty bed, refusing to think about how he hadn't slept all night and in just a few hours he'd be heading out to keep an agreement he'd been entirely too drunk and beaten to make in all seriousness.
Except that he had.
Jim dislodged one object amidst a stack of other slate-colored PADDs. He gently removed it from the pile, fingers barely brushing over worn finish and a cracked screen fraught with memories. Digits danced in a steady sequence and a soft glow spread over the screen, which filled with writing and diagrams looked over and painstakingly memorized more times than Jim cared to count.
As a child, Jim had gotten into the habit of stealing whatever Jake happened to have in his bag when he came to visit, studying it, and stealthily returning it the next time his favorite adult visited. In this manner, Jim learned about architecture, Vulcan poetry, xenobiology, and finer points of Dante's journey through Hell, never suspecting at the time that Jake watched him out of the corner of his eye with a secretive smile. The last PADD he'd snitched from the man's bag had been part textbook, part Dr. Ono's medical journal, but he'd forgotten it in the excitement of receiving his projector glasses…then he'd never had a chance to give it back.
All-too-familiar writing scrolled across the screen, burning and blurring in Jim's eyes. Jacob Ono had been both a pain and inspiration, motivating Jim to study medicine in order to help others and make as much difference in their lives as the doctor had in Jim's. But he'd been cut off – if someone told James Tiberius Kirk that he didn't have the determination or compassion it took to become a good doctor, he would have proven them wrong – but someone told Jim that he didn't have the ability to communicate or listen. They hit him where his tiny kernel of weakness resided, crushing his resolve in one fell blow.
Jim sighed, turning the gadget off and stuffing it in a small knapsack, followed by the small pile on the bed. This time, there would be nothing to stand in Jim's way.
He was going to prove them all wrong.
Captain Christopher Pike blames his enthusiasm on being punch-drunk. He was not so excitable because he was redirecting anger at the cadets for sneaking off to a bar against regulations, and definitely not because he was riding a high from – at last – finding George Kirk's elusive son. He was just over-tired, that was all.
But Chris was never one to go back on his word, and he genuinely wanted to see what the son George had died for was worth… and he wanted to be the first to give Jim a chance at a real life. Already he had ideas sparking off in his brain. He'd seen the glint of keen intelligence in Kirk's eye, and if he could just pull a few strings at the academy that would feed that intelligence…well.
'Shake up the universe,' indeed.
Fighting back a smirk, Christopher stilled his tapping toe and continued to watch the shuttle preparations under the rising Iowa sun.
Jim swung off the bike that roared so wonderfully, tossing the keycard to the first maintenance guy who gave the bike what he deemed was a suitably appreciative look. "It's yours," he said to the man's shock, turning away and hefting the sack of things he just couldn't leave behind over his shoulder. It was very light.
As he half-expected, Pike was waiting for him by the shuttle's entrance. "You're early." The man's raised eyebrows displayed surprise even as the words filtered into sight via Jim's contacts.
"What, you expected me to get here late? I'm hurt, Captain Pike," flowed with an easy grin. Already there was a strange familiarity between them that belied their first meeting the night before. The banter felt…comfortable, even if Jim had to take care forming his words.
"I expected you to arrive by the skin of your teeth," Pike returned the smile, his gaze sweeping over Jim's rather drab clothing. "I see you cleaned yourself up."
Jim shrugged, "Just 'cause blood stained my clothes doesn't mean I shouldn't get it off my face."
"Yes, because God forbid blood should mar your looks – I think the bruises do that job well enough," Pike smirked, rolling his eyes. "Get on the shuttle, Kirk. We'll be taking off soon." Jim nodded, turning to go up the steps when the man stopped him with a light touch on the shoulder. "Come straight to my office when we land."
The younger paused, staring into serious blue eyes, and nodded. Pike let him go and James Kirk took the first step towards his destiny…
His destiny was full of red-clad fidgeting people. Jim turned, trying to find an open seat, and very nearly smacked his head into a low metal beam. Not an auspicious start… Jim walked gingerly after that, trying not to trip over anyone's feet. He passed the woman from last night, Uhura, his tired mind supplied. Surprise was written all over her face, but Jim felt something warm inside his chest when she graced him with a barely-there smile.
Jim sank into one of the few empty seats with a sigh and tucked his rucksack securely between his feet. The shuttle already bore the faint scent of tightly-packed bodies on top of oil and steel. A few minutes later, a commotion started as a stern woman in red pulled a ragged-looking man out of the shuttle toilet. She practically shoved him into the only free chair nearby – conveniently next to Jim – and stalked off. The man fumbled with the harnesses for a moment, and Jim caught a strong waft of cheap brandy when he turned to face him.
For a human steeped in liquor, his eyes were surprisingly sharp, though surrounded by deep rings and three-day old beard. He slurred so badly, Jim wouldn't have been able to understand without the aid of his transmitter.
"I may throw up on you."
Sleep deprived, hung over and troubled as he was, Jim smiled back. He understood all about drowning sorrows in alcohol.
Leonard McCoy wasn't a loner by nature. For him, getting close to people and loving them wasn't an aberration, but keeping them certainly was. People could see the weakness in him, the need to be accepted above all else, and exploit it to their whims.
McCoy was quick to snap, often mired in his work as guilt drove him onward, every being under his hands morphing into the father he couldn't save. Guilt made him brittle on the inside until he crumbled under Jocelyn's pressure like a tilting sandcastle. She ended up with full custody and the estate, leaving behind a shattered man and everyone who met him wondering what he'd done that was so terrible to end up like this.
Starfleet was a last effort to make something out of the shell his life had become. Practicing medicine was hard, but the only thing he knew how to do. Leonard needed to rediscover his purpose for doing. This didn't mean, however, that he wanted to make friends. I've had more than enough screwing over, thank you.
"I think these things're pretty safe," the kid next to him said. Stupid, ignorant- He really didn't want to spend the next decade of his life surrounded by optimistic asshats like these.
"Don't pander to me, kid: one tiny crack in the hull and our blood boils in thirteen seconds – solar flare might crop up, cook us in our seats. Hell, some of the damn passengers are blue." The kid looked like he was going to say something, but McCoy didn't give him a chance. "And wait'll you're sitting pretty with a case of Andorian shingles, see if you're still so relaxed when your eyeballs are bleeding! Space is disease and danger, wrapped in darkness and silence."
All was quiet for a long moment. Leonard's rant had some passengers staring, and one guy across the aisle looked a little green. The blond kid was still, calm as you please.
Then he busted out laughing. "I'm sorry," he said between snickers, "it's just, there's no good way to explain the irony…" When he finally sobered, he stuck out a hand. "Jim Kirk. I've a feeling we're going to get along great."
McCoy shook it, trying to quell a sudden desperate need to guzzle all the brandy left in his bottle.
By the time the shuttle arrived in San Francisco, Jim had made a new friend. Of course, he used the term friend lightly, since Bones was so irritable Jim considered his mere exasperated patience a win. Pike caught his eyes as the cadets and new recruits unloaded. Jim nodded back and made to follow when Bones caught his arm.
"Where are you going? We have to register at the administration building-" the older man started. Jim slipped from his grip with a grin.
"I have an appointment. See ya later, Bones!" With that, he turned to catch up with Pike's retreating back. After a beat, a few words filtered across his contact projectors as Bones called after him:
"…Don't call me that!"
Pike's office had enough room for a desk and three chairs – the rest of the space was taken up by bookshelves packed with antiquated paper books. The smell of vanillin wafting from the decomposing paper had Jim itching to take them down and read through them, much as he had run off with Jake's PADDs so many years ago. He had to sit on his hands to control their twitching as Pike settled on the other side of the desk. Neither man spoke for a long moment until the elder leaned forward, lacing his fingers together, and spoke. "I've arranged for your admissions test later today. I need to know if you'll have any trouble with the oral portion, because I can arrange an alternative method."
A little taken aback by this show of concern, Jim shook his head. "I should be fine. I've got a lifetime's practice at lip-reading." That, and he didn't really feel like explaining the intricacies of his transmitter to a man he barely knew, however sympathetic he may be to Jim's plight.
"Well then, since we both know you'll pass your exams with flying colors," here he fixed Jim with a look, as if the younger might purposely fail just to spite him, "let's work on your academic over the next four years. Unless you choose to change, I will be your advisor for the command track. Any questions?"
"Well…" Jim started.
"Command and medicine? You're not just stupid, you're a lunatic!" Bones said later when Jim ran into him and told him about the meeting (and by "running into" him Jim meant "after he hunted him down." There was no way he was going to lose track of the first friend he'd made in this godforsaken place). He shrugged. That was pretty much Pike's initial reaction, too.
"I've got plenty of time and motivation. It's not like I'm trying to graduate in three years, or anything."
Bones shook his head. "Kid, do you have any idea how many hours of clinic duty alone are required to graduate? Also, the Medical Academy and Command are completely different schools – how are you going to schedule with so many conflicting classes?"
Jim shrugged again. "I've got an in on the scheduling thing. A lot of the command classes are mostly readings and response writing, so I only really have to show up for tests. It's not a big deal; I'll just be really busy. How about you? I thought you already had your M.D."
"It's all those damn xenobio requisites – Georgia doesn't get much by way of alien traffic. And unless I take at least three years on diplomacy and space-based procedure, there's no way to get placed where I want. Maybe I'll be stuck on some shipping freighter between here and the M-26 quadrant. At least there there's less chance of being shot down, though there's no accounting for hull ruptures and the like. Not to mention all those blasted alien diseases contracted during space exploration missions-" Bones continued to gripe, which Jim was quickly learning was the man's favorite activity after drinking. He neither remembered his incredulity over Jim's life choices, nor noticed when Jim's ever-present grin tightened at the corners.
As far as roommates went, Kevin Riley wasn't a bad match. Like most Starfleet recruits, he was several years younger than Jim, recruited fresh out of high school and ready to take on the galaxy through sheer gall. The first thing he said after they introduced themselves and shook hands was:
"You remind me of someone." Jim cocked an eyebrow in question, but Riley shook his head. "I don't remember who, you just seem really familiar."
Jim let it go. With his luck, the kid had seen some holos of his Dad in history class and was going to freak out or something once he realized just whose son he was. He hoped to put off that particular moment as long as possible. Though from Pike's reaction and the way he spoke about Dad's accomplishments, it was likely he was going to get that response from someone sooner rather than later.
Still, as Jim figured out places for his meager belongings and a stack of newly-issued cadet uniforms, he caught Riley glancing at him across the dorm room once or twice, brown eyes dark to the point of haunted.
Jim didn't know what to expect of Doctor Jabilo Geoffrey M'Benga. He only knew that Pike had sent him an email a day after arrival telling him to report to the doctor at Starfleet Medical. The office building was actually adjacent and connected to the hospital, so he didn't have problems following the many signs posted around for those drunk or desperate for medical attention to follow.
"Enter." Assessing eyes set in a dark face met him as he walked through the door of M'Benga's office. Admittedly, Jim had only been half-expecting a human doctor based on first and last name alone – the middle name should have tipped him off. "Please, sit," M'Benga gestured to a chair with his free hand, a PADD in the other. Jim sank into the ergonomic chair as the man across the desk turned his attention back to the device in his hand. A long minute passed, then two. Unlike most people, Jim had no definition for "awkward silence," but sitting still was a pain in the ass.
When the third minute ticked by, Jim broke. "So…" M'Benga cut him off with one finger, and then finally looked up.
"Cadet Kirk, Captain Pike sent me the results of your tests and physical this morning, along with a short summary of what you've discussed with him, but none of this contains the most relevant information."
Jim sat up. "What is that, sir?"
"Call me M'Benga, or Doctor. What's so glaringly absent from these files is the reason you, with no previous formal study, wish to complete a double track medical and command. There is precedent for it, but no previous cadet has completed such in a six year span, let alone the four you're projecting. I understand Pike recruited you solely for the command track, so explain to me why you are so determined to take the medical route."
"Pike didn't tell you?" Jim had already exhausted this avenue the other day – his tongue felt heavy even thinking about how much talking he'd been forced into. The captain just wasn't sufficient enough in SSL to understand him otherwise.
"Captain Pike apparently thought it best for explanations to be given in person." Such heavy emphasis was on Pike's title that the letters appeared in all capitals on Jim's projector. He took it for the reprimand it was and moved on to answer.
"There was a doctor when I was a kid – a really good guy, he was on the Kelvin, there when I was born. He was the one who found…" Jim made a gesture toward his ear, and M'Benga nodded. "Jake was basically a dad to me and my br- well, he was around when Mom wasn't. Taught me to read, found a speech therapist, and brought a different textbook every visit. I'd snatch them when he wasn't looking – most were related to medicine. When he died…I still had his field journal, all his research and the notes he took on my condition. Even when I was too young to understand them I studied them and expanded out from there." Jim never broke the man's steady gaze as he spoke. "He never figured out what caused my condition, or why Kelvin's CMO never caught it. I want to go into space and find out, so no other kids have to deal with what I've experienced."
"Very well," M'Benga was watching him, elbows on the desk and fingers laced together. "Kirk, there are currently two non-hearing species allied with the Federation, and five addition species that hear higher or lower than human perception, two of those non-carbon based sentient life forms. You are the first deaf human admitted to the Academy, but not the first deaf species, even to Starfleet Medical. From what Captain Pike has told me you were discouraged from pursuing medical studies previously, but based on your grasp of spoken Standard and oral assessments, you should have no problems. You've already tested out of the majority of theory on human biology and anatomy, as well as base xenobio. I expect you will be an excellent addition to Medical, but I'm curious on the last point Pike mentioned to me." He tapped the PADD, now dark on the desk, "Why do you want Starfleet faculty to remain uninformed about your unique circumstances?"
Unique circumstances. Never heard it put that delicately before. "I don't want to be coddled," Jim said aloud.
M'Benga frowned. "You doubt the ability of the faculty to remain professional in the face of your circumstances?"
Jim released a sound not unlike a snort. "A different species is one thing, but a human who can't hear? You bet I doubt." And from the faculty to the students, until it's like high school all over again. The doctor's frown deepened and he contemplated that in silence for a moment. Jim was relieved when he finally nodded in acceptance.
"You do have a point. Your application to Starfleet Medical is approved, with the note that, should your performance slip at any point, you will be removed from the program to focus solely on Command. Is that acceptable?"
Jim nodded, trying not to seem too eager.
"Right. I'll be your advisor and eventually supervising physician when you get to practical over the next four years. Pleasure to make your acquaintance, Cadet Kirk, and good luck. You'll need it."
They shook hands, and something in Jim's chest that had coiled up on Jake's death seemed to loosen and sigh.
A/N: I live! Sorry for the short chapter. Studying abroad in Japan atm.
Lots of canon characters entering the mix. I moved up M'Benga's timeline so he could serve as a mentor. Next chapter will have Uhura, Spock, missed connections and most of the Academy years.