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Author's Note: Written for waxbean for the Trek Exchange.
The Size of His Dream
Leonard McCoy was not what Christopher Pike expected.
Since being posted Earth-side, Pike had taken his new duties as recruiting officer for Starfleet Academy very seriously. He'd toured university campuses on Earth and Alpha Centauri, looking for the best and the brightest, and trying to appeal to whatever he thought might cinch the deal. He'd learned how to take the measure of a man by the size of his dream, and convincing them there was a place for them in Federation Starfleet.
He was good at it. Better than he thought he'd be, when Komack and Barnett had first pitch the job at him when Enterprise was still little more than gleam in her designers eyes. He'd traded in his uniform for the ubiquitous and anonymous high-necked Academy instructor's uniform, but when he spoke before filled auditoriums of kids, they still saw the gold command tunic. Scratch the surface, and Pike would bleed gold, was the joke among the admiralty.
In addition to kids, they poached professionals, scientists, anyone the Command thought they could use out there on the final frontiers. Hospitals were a regular part of his beat, and he'd had many a long dinner with Sarah April and Phil Boyce, refining his pitch while they offered jeers and encouragement by turns. Starfleet needed medics, nurses, and doctors who were quick on their feet, flexible, and most of all, able to adapt their practices to as many races as the Federation offered. Surgeons were Command's top priority, whereas the Academy tended to push for researchers. Pike did his best to serve both masters, and while maybe the thrill of luring a graduate research assistant away from an archaeological medical programme at Northwestern wasn't the same as setting foot on a new world, or defending a colony from Klingon birds of prey, it was still a challenge.
He had two dozen cadets with him for this leg of the recruiting tour of the Midwest, and against his better judgement he gives them liberty at Shipyard 2-1A because he was thinking, well... it's Iowa. What possible trouble can they get into in Iowa?
When his communicator chirped while he was in the middle of a steak and a beer at a local restaurant, he assumed it was the quartermaster at the Shipyard to tell him his quarters aboard Enterprise were ready. The rest of the kids had been billeted at a local dive motel, but he'd wanted to spend the night aboard Enterprise, to get a feel for her while she was still coming together.
The last thing he expected was for it to be dockmaster telling him there was a man outside the shipyard gates with a duffel at his feet and cursing a blue streak, demanding to see the recruiting officer.
Pike met him in the quartermaster's office, giving him the once over while he pulled the standard paperwork out of his valise. "Scruffy" would have been kind. The man's clothes were wrinkled as if he'd slept in them, and he was sporting at least three days growth of beard. And there was a not exactly subtle smell of alcohol on his breath, Pike assumed from the small flask he'd tucked into his pocket just as he'd walked in.
"Captain Christopher Pike," he said, offering his hand.
"Leonard McCoy." His grip was firm and Pike noted that despite his unkempt appearance his hands were clean. Not even a spec of dirt under his nails.
Pike gestured to the plastic chair in the dockmaster's office and as he folded himself into it, Chris realised he was taller than he seemed. He passed an ident chit over to Pike, who dropped into the reader and the screen came to life and the Federation database pulls up everything from employment history to academic transcripts. Pike scanned to the bottom of the file, and thankfully the law enforcement portion was blank. The recruit hadn't even had so much as a speeding ticket in the last ten years, which actually put him ahead of 2/3rds of the kids Pike had processed in the last week. His aptitude tests were strong, but his medical credentials were what Chris stopped to read thoroughly.
"So you're a doctor?" Pike says, scanning the references, his eyes flicking back to the man in the chair. According to his chit he's not yet thirty, but the way he holds himself he seems a lifetime away from the kids in reds Pike escorted out here to the middle of nowhere where his lady's being born one deckplate at a time.
"Yes, sir." McCoy's voice was touched with a drawl that Pike couldn't identify beyond a general "Old South". Despite his rumpled appearance, he seemed earnest and respectful. Then again, judging from the accent, the polite please, thank you, sir could have just been hardcoded in his DNA.
"Graduated from University of Mississippi in '44, and got my doctorate from JHU in '53. I did my residency at Emory and I've spent the last two years there as a trauma surgeon."
When he spoke, he leaned forward in the chair, forearms resting on his thighs, and a lock of dark hair flopped forward over eyes that could be blue or hazel, depending on the light. Pike didn't need to him explain it, as it was there on the screen in front of him, but he could tell the pride the man took in his accomplishments. That meant something. But what it didn't explain was why McCoy was in Riverside, looking like hell and blustering his way into a Starfleet shipyard at ten o'clock at night.
"You know, Starfleet Medical has an induction centre in Chicago..."
"I know. Showed up there first. They said they couldn't take me 'til next week, so I rented a groundcar. Been driving for the last four hours. I got a little turned around, when I got to Iowa City," he admits, chagrined. Pike couldn't blame him. Riverside still has a population of less than two thousand year-round inhabitants. The towers of the shipyards, and the adjacent barracks and bars were more than a bit incongruous among the empty hills and bluffs.
"Something wrong with that?"
"You have heard of transporters? Flitters?"
The man shuddered. "Don't like 'em."
"I see." On a hunch, Pike scrolled back up McCoy's record. "You've never been off-planet."
"No, sir, I have not."
"Any particular reason for that?" Pike asked, surprised. By their teens, most kids had at the very least been to Tranquillity, or done a semester abroad on Alpha Centauri. A man McCoy's age would have travelled for business, or pleasure. Yet his ident chit didn't note a single extraterrestrial passage.
"I was six years old when the Kelvin was destroyed," McCoy said, looking Pike straight in the eye. "They played that damned footage on the vid every day for a week. My mama says I had nightmares for a year. Stuck with me, I guess." He shrugged.
"So, why specialise in Exobiology and Xenonuerology?"
"There's all kinds of folks from off-world right here on Earth, who need doctors. Need 'em more, sometimes, if one of their own doctors are too far away when they suffer a trauma and need immediate care."
"You are aware that, for the most part, Starfleet operates in space?"
"You co-authored a paper with Janet Mickiewicz on the cross-species grafting of neural tissue in the cerebral cortex to treat acute axonal degeneration—and believe em when I tell you I have no idea what that actually means. But from the press coverage, it seems to have been a pretty big deal. Yet you turned down the an offer to go with her to Dramia II, to continue your work."
"Yes, sir. I like Mickey well enough—hell, she's one of the best I've ever worked with. Wish I could have kept on working with her. But I—I had responsibilities back home."
"And yet two months later, according to your employment history, you did six months at Yokosuka... Took a pay cut, working under people with nowhere near your qualifications."
"Needed to get away for a while."
McCoy's jaw tightened. "Need to get further away."
"Doctor... We're not the Foreign Legion. If you're on the run, I'm not sure Starfleet is really—what's so funny?"
The man had actually started laughing. A low chuckle that started in his chest and came out only the tiniest bit hysterical.
"I'm not on the run. I mean, I am on the run. But it's not what you think."
"Really? I was thinking gambling debts."
"Divorce, Ink's barely dry. System probably hasn't updated yet," McCoy said, and Pike instantly reformed his mental picture of the man in front of him.
"I know there's a longstanding tradition in the service of enlisting after a three-day bender," Pike watched McCoy's face to see how closely he was hitting to the mark, "but are you sure you want to do this? Your file says you have a daughter—"
"Six years old and the light of my life," he said, his voice thick with bitterness, and Pike almost flinched at what he saw in the man's eyes. Almost.
"Why do you want to join Starfleet, McCoy?"
It was almost always the last question he asked in these sessions, and he usually knew what he was going to get from that first casual glance at a potential recruit.
Most of the time, kids gave him some fanciful speech about duty and the desire to serve. A few—the few whose names he tended to memorise on the spot—cited a desire to explore, see for themselves what was out there. And then there were the careerists who simply wanted to rise to the top of their fields, and recognised that the Fleet would give them access to equipment, research, and opportunities they'd never get planetside. Most of them washed out at the Academy. The ones who remained either stuck it out for a single tour before they went to prestigious jobs in the private sector, or they went on to become career officers who never left the service. Which was actually part of what Chris saw as a problem with Command. But he had to hope eventually, the pendulum would swing back the other way.
And then there were those rare few—only a handful in his brief career thus far—who offered him the plain, unvarnished truth.
"I have got nowhere else to go."
Pike pulled out the ident chit, and dropped it back onto the quartermaster's desk in front of him.
"The shuttle leaves tomorrow, 0800. You got a place to spend the night?"
McCoy blanched. "Shuttle?"
Pike smiled. He couldn't help it. "Still the quickest way to get three dozen recruits from here to there." He watched him closely as he spoke, and if anything the waxy pallor and shakes got worse. "That going to be a problem for you, Dr McCoy?"
McCoy closed his eyes, composing himself. "No. No problem, sir."
Pike stood, and offered him his hand again.
"Welcome to Starfleet."