“I screwed up.”
To her credit, April didn’t reply ‘So what is new?’, though she certainly could have.
Sometimes lieutenant Ekon Boma felt that his Starfleet career was an ongoing saga of screwups. Well, this one would probably be his last – with his record, there was no chance of salvaging his career past this.
April Winters gave him a sympathetic smile. The last couple of days had been a nightmare – seven crewmembers, including the ship’s First Officer, Chief Medical Officer and Chief Engineer (and more importantly to April, her best friend, one lieutenant Boma), lost in space.
They had had to actually give up the search, for all of Captain’s valiant efforts to prolong the search as long as he could. From what the ship’s Intranet Chat rooms reported, the captain nearly punched out Ambassador Ferris.
Uhura had summed up the situation best in her chat – “Ambassador Ferris is turning up on the Bridge regular as an alarm clock, the captain is just as regularly slapping down the snooze button.”
James Kirk would probably have searched just as intensely had the missing crew just been some random lieutenants and ensigns, but it no doubt helped that the missing crew included senior officers, including the second and third in the command chain, at least as far as justifications to the Fleet command went.
It had worked out in the end – but not for Latimer and Gaetano, whose bodies remained on the planet. Boma looked as if he expected to be buried too, pretty soon.
“There’s talk of insubordination charges…”April suggested.
. “ I know, okay? I’d deserve it too, I guess…But April..It was…The first idea was that we had to leave three people behind. And he said it so matter-of-factly! As if it didn’t matter at all!”
“He always says things matter-of-factly, Ekon! That’s just the way he is, the way Vulcans are. If he believed he was the one who ought to stay back, he would have said that in the same tone”
”I guess so. Should have known better, but… It was like having a flashback. That bastard Erikson…Gloria..”
April could now figure out just how badly things had gone on the surface. Gloria Freidman’s fate was the reason for Boma’s latest transfer. Gloria, xenobotanist, Boma’s long-time girlfriend and colleague aboard USS Yorktown, had perished in a landing party gone wrong.
From what April had gleaned from the official reports as well as subspace chatter (Boma had refused to talk about it for a long while) the landing party’s senior officer, Cmdr Erikson, was one of the (thankfully very few) senior officers who tended towards a bordering-on-callous disregard for the lives of junior officers.
It was never fully proven, but the consensus was that Erikson had recklessly ordered Gloria and accompanying security ensigns into a known danger zone. Boma had been disgusted and disillusioned, applying for a transfer almost as soon as he was back aboard. Which put him on Enterprise, and later, aboard the doomed Galileo.
“You lost your temper.”
“I blew up. Mouthed off. Oh, more than enough to bring insubordination charges. And that’s not the worst.”
“It gets worse?”
“It was Mr Spock I mouthed off to.”
For a moment, April doesn’t get it. in her opinion, if Ekon had to get in the bad books of a senior officer, better the scrupulously fair Vulcan than anyone else. Mr Spock would simply assign the appropriate disciplinary action, log it, and regard that issue as closed. No chance of his holding a grudge, or making things tough for an annoying subordinate in the thousand different ways an influential senior officer can.
Then it dawns on her.
“Ekon. What exactly did you say?”
“Stuff that could play out either way. Plain insubordination or xenophobia. It would all depend on how he – and the captain, of course – chooses to look at it.”
Bad. Really really really bad. Insubordination was one thing. With Boma’s record it would probably hold up his promotion for a long while (maybe forever), or get him transferred to some other, less prestigious ship. But an insubordination charge could be weathered. A xenophobia charge on the other hand…That was the one accusation that could nuke a Starfleet career completely. Interspecies diplomacy was complicated enough without some asshole deliberately messing it up. It would have been bad enough if the target of the alleged xenophobia had been an ordinary crewmember. When the target was
- the First Officer
- One of the best scientists in the Fleet
- The Captain’s best friend…
“Yeah. I’m done for.” Boma agreed numbly.
“Dr McCoy gets away with a lot worse. From what you said, it sounds like he was the worst of the lot down there, too.”
“So what? He’s the CMO, he’s the captain’s friend, he’s got a career record that soars into hyperspace. He can get away with a lot.” Boma stopped, hesitated. “Come to think of it, I don’t think he’s going to get away with it this time. The captain looked like he finally had had enough.”
Kirk’s tone was far colder than McCoy had heard before. He wasn’t all that surprised. Leonard McCoy may be a lot of things, but he was no fool.
No, he wasn’t surprised at Kirk’s tone, or the steely glare he received from his captain and friend. It still hurt, though, mostly because he knew this time he had certainly earned it.
He made no move to sit down, simply handed the PADD in his hand to the Captain. (The young man before him was all Captain now, little trace of Jim there – probably because Jim would love to strangle him.) Kirk frowned.
“I’ve already received your report, doctor-“He got a good look at the PADD and stopped. “What’s this supposed to mean?”
There was a long moment of silence. Kirk looked at the PADD again, then at his CMO.
“I am mad at you, but not that mad.”
“It’s not that.”
“Of course, if Spock filed a complaint, there’s enough evidence for a court martial…and probably a Dishonorable Discharge.”
“But we both know he won’t file that complaint, don’t we? Heaven knows why.”
Maybe because he’s used to it, Jim wanted to yell. Maybe, when you are born of two worlds and belong wholly to neither, you get used to being the outsider, being the target.
Jim knew that at least part of his anger was directed at himself.
You are one to talk, James T. Remember what happened on the Bridge? “You're not going to admit that for the first time in your life, you committed a purely human emotional act? “ Joke about it, get them to laugh at him, why not? That’s what the cool kids do – get the others to laugh at the outsider, right? 23rd century and we still aren’t past that schoolyard crap.
I wouldn’t have, though, if I knew what had happened down there.
Maybe, maybe not, but why crack that joke, anyway? It wasn’t an emotional act really, was it? It was the only option. Only logical option. There was only a minuscule chance of the flare being seen, but a minuscule chance was better than zero, wasn’t it? And if it didn’t work, at least their deaths would be swift and comparatively painless, unlike what any other choice at the point would have resulted in.
No, not a human act, because for a human the instinct would be to postpone death as long as possible, even if doing so wasn’t logical.
Spock could have argued that point, maybe would have on any other day. Not this time though. This day he had had enough of trying to get humans to see reason.
McCoy continued grimly, “It isn’t what he would or wouldn’t do. It’s about me.”
He paused, as if steeling himself. “I don’t belong out here, Jim, and what happened down there today – that just proves it. I should have figured that out way earlier, but better late than never.”
Now it’s a little less Captain, a little more Jim.
“When did you decide to join the Fleet, Jim?”
Kirk looked a bit taken aback by this sudden swerve, but something in the doctor’s expression made him answer.
“Decide… My father was in the Fleet. Captain of USS Kelvin for a long while, retired at Commodore rank. I can’t remember a time when I wanted anything less than the stars.”
“Yeah…If you ask the rest of the crew, several would say the same thing. The rest would say they made the choice by the time they were in high school. This is the life you dreamed of, the life you trained for. Me.. You lot were racing for the stars. I was fleeing Earth. Fleeing my life down there.”
He paused, then managed to continue. He owed Jim an explanation.
“You know about my divorce. It was a damn mess. Worst of all, I didn’t have a clue. I thought it was all fine, happy family, steady income, safe and stable. Till I came home to find the house empty and a stick-it note telling me to call her lawyer. I had to get away from there. From her, from that life. And you can’t run away faster than at warp speed.”
“The psych scans for Med staff is a bit less strict than for Command staff, but even then, if those were your only reasons for joining, you’d have been filtered out.”
“Maybe. But the point is…Whatever my reason..I wasn’t prepared for this. I didn’t attend the Academy, you know. Only a five month crash course. They don’t put trained med staff through the academy again – it’s a waste of time and credits. Usually that doesn’t matter – because most people join right after pre med. They can get trained in the medical wing of the Academy. Me, I just wrote the exams, got through a couple of interviews and scans, and then I was in.”
He chuckled without much humor.
“I was scared out of my wits, Jim. Nothing planetside, nothing in that crash course, prepares one for what you find out here. I don’t think you can understand…You belong out here. I didn’t, and I was – or felt I was – in too deep to back out. So I went for the easiest coping mechanism – anger. It’s easy to hide fear, from others and from yourself, if you are or act angry enough. If you can keep being grumpy, sarcastic, mocking.”
“And you chose Spock as the target because…”
“Because he was the safest target. He outranks me, already has a rock-solid reputation as one of the best scientists in the Fleet, has a hell of a lot of powerful connections especially for a guy that introverted… There was no way my attitude could hurt him professionally. He’s supposed to be emotionless, so I couldn’t hurt him emotionally either, I guessed. Figured if the only way I could stop from freaking out was by sniping at someone, I may as well choose the one guy aboard who wouldn’t be hurt by it.”
“It was getting better – I was getting used to this. You can get used to almost anything if you really have to. But today…I freaked out big time. And screwed up big time too.”
“Amen to that.”
“What I don’t get is..They followed my lead! They sided with me. With absolutely no reason. I haven’t got command training. I’m no engineer. I didn’t have the least clue how to get us out of there. They had no business following my lead, but they did. Why? Please don’t tell me that’s just because I am human and he isn’t.”
Jim shook his head.
“No. I don’t think any of us are that bad at this. They wouldn’t have followed just anyone’s lead against Spock. Someone else would have been ignored, or told to shut up. But you have the one necessary talent that Spock lacks – charisma.”
McCoy let out a startled laugh.
“Charisma? Me, Jim?”
“Not the type of charisma I employ, the type of charisma they teach us in command school. something simpler, gentler. You have the sort of face and manner that wins confidence automatically. That’s part of the reason you are so good at your job. You can get people – even total strangers – to trust you. Spock can’t.”
“Can’t? You know his science department people. They’ll march right into hell if he told them to, and they’d do it convinced that he could bring them back out, safe and sound.”
Kirk smiled a little.
“Aye. Those who have known him, worked with him, for a couple of weeks or more. Those whose trust he has had time to earn. Anyone who knows Spock would trust him with their lives, but a stranger, a newcomer…No. He can’t win people’s trust so fast. Down there… No matter how much we like to pretend otherwise, it takes a great deal of ability at dealing out plain bullshit to command properly. In a crisis situation, it isn’t enough to have the right solutions. You’ve got to convince everyone else that you and only you have the right solution. You’ve got to play to the crowd, play the right tune. Spock won’t, or maybe can’t, do that. It’s tough enough to do it with your own species, forget with a group that thinks on a completely different wavelength.”
“And I had to go and make it worse.”
“Everyone in the Galileo crew except you, Spock and Scotty, was a newcomer. “
Their training would have held them loyal, though. But there had been a more obviously trustworthy figure, one who evidently regarded the stranger, the alien, as untrustworthy. As dangerous, perhaps. For a long moment, McCoy didn’t reply, then he got to his feet with a sigh.
“I guess I’d better go start making my preparations. We’re stopping by Starbase Seven next week, right? You’ll be able to pick up the replacement CMO there-“
Kirk handed the PADD back to him.
“I refuse to accept your resignation. For now, at least.”
‘Jim, did you hear me? I-“
“You said you are beginning to get over that fear of yours. You have nearly gotten used to this, Bones.”
“An extreme situation. Now that you have seen the potential fallout, I don’t think you’ll make that call again.”
“There’s another issue, as well. Spock is the first officer. He is the one who’ll be in charge if I get taken out of action one way or the other. He’ll have to play the right tune then. And if he can’t, someone else must play it for him.”
“And you nominate me for the role?”
“You’ll do better than most others I can think of. If both of you can play on the same side, that is.”
McCoy just stared at him
. “Think it over, Bones. If, after two weeks, you haven’t changed your mind, I’ll consider the resignation. But not today. Not now.”
The doctor almost argued, but Kirk’s expression convinced him. Not up for debate now.
“And the disciplinary action, then? If I am staying for the time being…”
“Begin with a public apology to Spock. Then a private explanation. Tell him what you told me. We will make a joint decision on the disciplinary action. He should have a say, considering he is the aggrieved party here.”
McCoy nodded. The apology and explanation would take considerable effort. He wasn’t too worried about the disciplinary action – if Spock was going to have a say in it, it probably would be milder than what Jim would think up alone.