Lyrastar < lyrastarwatcher @ yahoo.com <
First Place TOS Slash Novel, First Place TOS Novel (two-way-tie), First Place Kirk/McCoy, Second Place Kirk/McCoy-Fest, Second Place McCoy/Other Female (Three-way tie)
Pairing: K/Mc, Mc/f
Warning: The people depicted herein have cracks and flaws. If you like your characters always heroic, unfailingly certain, and never ever stumbling along the way, then move along please, these aren't the 'droids you're looking for.
Contact: lyrastarwatcher at yahoo dot com or www.geocities.com/lyrastarwatcher
Disclaimer: All things Trek belong to Paramount; I'm just filling in some gaps.
Summary: For the KirkMcCoyfest: Write a story in which Kirk and McCoy are already together when McCoy's father dies.
Επι δηλησει δε και αδικιηι ειρξειν --Ιπποκρ'ατησ
It wasn't that I had anything against karaoke, I told myself as the opening notes of "Dream a Little Dream" came hissing down from the stage, Andorians just shouldn't try to sing Louis Armstrong; their vocal cords aren't designed for it. I drained the last of my virgin hurricane and, for about the two hundredth time, wondered what the hell I was doing here. Whatever it was, it sure wasn't having fun.
The rest of my tablemates didn't seem to mind; they cheered and sang right along. Waves of Mardi Gras beads glinted around their necks in the dim glow of simulated gaslight. It wasn't even 0100--Universal Time Coordinated, that is. The constantly shrinking world had made time zones too confusing, so UTC was now whole Earth standard. But it was a typical Saturday evening on Bourbon Street, and The Old Absinthe House was already packed.
That was practically a given; Bourbon Street hadn't seen a slow night since the Eugenics wars. Seven days a week, from afternoon to sunup, it was crawling with folks looking for good food, good music, a good party, a good drunk, or just to get lost in the anonymity. There was a time that I would have gladly taken all four, not necessarily in that order, and still come back for more, but that was then and this is now and this was no place for a married man.
I twiddled the wedding band on my fourth left. It was about the only proof that I could still claim that status, albeit if only by a technicality.
No, I had better things to do. The wooden chair scraped the slate tile of the floor as I pushed back and stood up. I was involved with four separate clinical trials and the pile of xenojournal chips on my desk just kept getting bigger and bigger. And that didn't include my active patient load. I was off from the hospital until Monday, but when was a doctor ever really off? I said my good-byes to my residency classmates--all younger than me, for the record--and shouldered my tote.
One quick stop before hitting the door. I looked around and spotted it in the back. Conveniently located next to the bar, of course, in the highly sensible and time-honored tradition of drinking establishments across the globe.
I squeezed behind the crowd and slid along the wall towards the Men's. The wall was covered from floor to ceiling with overlapping business idents of tourists from all over the quadrant. Through the centuries, the type and variety had changed, but the calling-card wall had been a signature of this place for over three hundred years.
Mars and Beyond: the only call you'll have to place for all your colonial real estate needs. Ketchew and Arryasyn, attorneys at law, Panfederation license. Rick's Wrecker Service: We'll pick you up when you need it. Thellwn Iolthyllian, Management Consulting, Andor Prime....
From the open floor-length windows, the rolling strains of JellyRoll Blues floated in from somewhere else. In the street, a living line of bodies pressed its way along, thick with beads and drinks and tacky souvenirs, reminding me acutely how out of place I was. Everyone else was having a damned good time-- or at least giving a damned good impression of it.
The men's room stank like always. Five hundred years since the Industrial Revolution, and we still couldn't change that? Only one other man was in there; he wore some sort of uniform, navy-ish. Or maybe a military school. He was just a kid really--not even old enough to grow hair on his face--finishing up at a urinal. Or was he? As I began to take care of business, I realized something odd. The kid was still standing there, holding himself--and watching me.
I shot a glance over to him, hoping he wouldn't notice, but there was no chance of that. He wasn't looking at my dick; he was looking straight at my eyes. The directness unnerved me, and I forgot my standard script of vaguely offended dignity and prickly distance. I groped for anything to say.
The kid shook his dick a couple times, could have been shaking it off, I suppose, except that it was one or two shakes too many. And his eyes were aimed right at me.
It was a pretty all-day-sucker of a dick. Cut and clean, rosy and plump at the tip, it was porcelain smooth and as silky as a baby's behind. Not that "baby" was the thought nearest to the front of my mind. A few loops of ginger hair curled around the base, just enough to say "man" instead of "child."
The kid knew he had captured my attention, and now he pulled out his balls. They were enormous. Big and pendulous, they looked heavy enough to be a pain to carry around. They swung back and forth across his crotch, as if asking for a dance. A smell of youthful potency rose up over the stale restroom air, and I felt myself begin to swell in my hand.
If there had been any doubt as to the language he was speaking, the kid winked and caressed himself. I heard the soft plop of skin against skin as he took his balls in his own hand, and my stomach flipped.
I said the first thing that came into my head. "Let me guess. You must be from San Francisco."
Taking care to look anywhere but at the kid's
package, I arranged myself back into my pants with some difficulty. Dammit, it
had been too long. Sailors in bathrooms?
When had I become a cliché?
The kid took a step closer, holding my eyes the whole time. They twinkled a couple different colors, more amused than discouraged it seemed.
"Yes, in fact, I am. How'd you guess?" He paused, "And--should I take that as a--'no thanks, not interested?'"
I looked him over: clean cut; nice hands--manicured, but not soft; toned muscles; broad shoulders; perfect teeth. And then there was that pretty dick. Dick wasn't my usual idea of a good time, but my usual ideas hadn't done too well for me recently, as my soon-to-be ex could attest to.
Oh, Joey, where are you now? I spun my wedding band with my thumb. After the last few months alone, a little meaningless physical release from everything--or should that be, from so much nothing?--sure sounded good.
"I didn't say that exactly." I reached over and took the kid's balls in my fingers, letting the heat of them sink into my palm. Pale little curls tickled my hand from above. With one finger, I stroked the silky underside and watched the skin of his scrotum quiver under my touch. I hefted the balls, weighing them, as if the result would somehow make the decision for me. They were sticky with his oils and sweat--that certain smell of sex which never completely washes away.
"Are you even legal?"
"I'm in here, aren't I?"
"Kids have been known to sneak into bars before, so I've heard." I realized I was still fondling his sac, and not at all in the standard professional fashion. The balls were the kind that filled your mouth from side to side and once inside there, made your tongue strain to find enough room to do its work. The pretty penis began to swell with a jerky motion, plumping and curving under my influence. My own pants grew unpleasantly tight.
"I'm twenty-one," the kid said, looking down to watch his body perform for the hands of a stranger. The heat of the kid's erection seared against my skin as fresh blood rushed in, eager to be of service.
"And I'll bet you're not much older." The kid's voice jolted my focus back.
"Maybe not in body, but in spirit is another matter," I said, not sparing much attention for my own words. I scraped the tip of my thumb along the sensitive underside of the kid's now-erect penis. He sucked in his breath.
The door swung open. I dropped my hand and hurried to the sink. The smell of the kid's package clung to my fingers and under my nails. I turned the hot water on full and scrubbed, but couldn't wash myself free of the craving that had started in my gut. Four thousand years of Human medical study and it still came back to men being led around by the balls, held helpless by their by their own testosterone. What a cosmic joke.
In the mirror I could see the newcomer at the urinal, his face to the wall, relieving himself. Moving as if he had all the time in the world, the kid tucked himself in and sauntered back over to me.
He moved up behind me, and well into my personal space. I tensed, expecting him to press himself against me or grab my ass, but no touch came. To my chagrin, my brain spat out more disappointment than relief.
"So?" He breathed too closely behind my neck. I smelt the obligatory local rum and fruit drink on his breath, and felt the steam waft across my skin. In the mirror, color began to fill my cheeks. The blush: the perpetual bane of the palefaced.
"Not here." Christ, not in a bathroom. I flicked my wrists once under the infradryer. "And wash your hands," I said, as I hurried through the door.
I waited just outside the entryway, taking in the sights and sounds of the evening. Beads were flung down from the balconies above as shirts were raised up from below to the standard ritual of hoots and hollers. Had I ever been that young?
I jumped. The kid was at my shoulder. Another cheer rose up, and a shower of beads rained down.
"So, where to?" the kid asked.
A little voice suspiciously like my mother's
warned me that this was cheap and degrading behavior unbecoming of a
gentleman--but what the hell? He was
the best looking thing on the street and he wanted me. Flattery: the universal lubricant. Or as P.T. Barnum once put it, there's a
sucker born every minute.
I turned around. Now I saw the Starfleet emblem on the front of the uniform. Terrific. I had myself the full sailor/bar/sleazy one-night-stand combo; at least if I was going to be a cliché, I was going to do it all the way.
"Don't you even want to know my name?" My voice didn't quite reach the level of rancor I wanted; it came out sounding much more like the nervous stall tactic that it was.
The kid shrugged. "If you want to tell me. But I've already seen what I want."
I felt the heat rising to my cheeks. "How romantic."
The kid snorted and shook his head. "That's not what I meant--although you do have a nice one. I meant your eyes. You have the most beautiful eyes. Did anyone ever tell you that? They're real, aren't they?"
"Yes, they have. And if I said 'no' to the second part?"
The kid grabbed my chin and pulled it out and up to the light. The motion startled me, and I jerked backwards, but his grip was strong and my head didn't budge.
The kid searched my face hard. Nobody paid us any mind; why should they? This was the heart of Bourbon Street. Tits and ass were everywhere. It would take a hell of a lot more than two guys not quite kissing on a corner to turn anyone's head.
"They're real." His verdict pronounced, the kid released his grip.
"You an ophthalmologist too, Popeye?" I rubbed my chin where his hand had lain, and shook myself mentally, my mind still replaying the feel of those earnest fingers on my face.
"Huh?" I refocused from where I had drifted away.
He repeated, "I said, I have to know who I can depend on--what people are really like. I'm good at reading people, and you're not the type to fake anything.
"So, where to, Blue Eyes? Your place or mine? Or would you prefer the alley?" His eyes twinkled as he motioned behind him with his head.
It was already too late when I realized I was supposed to laugh.
"Oh, my apartment's in Mississippi. About an hour away." I hesitated realizing that I wasn't sure when Jerry would be back.
"I can make you a better offer. I have a place here for the night." He took my hand. He felt my wedding band. He must have; there was no way around it, but he just rolled my fingers around in his, and pulled me a step closer to him. For a minute I thought he was going to kiss me right there on the street.
When he didn't, the unexpected depth of my disappointment and the tumult in my groin that must have shown in my face confused me. I was completely unprepared for its intensity. Cheap thrills had never been my thing, and you couldn't get anything cheaper than this at a weekend flea market
"Well, lead the way, Popeye, to your ship or whatever. I'm not getting any younger." If my diffident grumble fooled him, it didn't help me any.
He grinned and dropped my hand. "Great. But it's not a ship, just the Fairmont." He spun around and headed down Iberville at a brisk clip. "I don't get my own ship right away. It'll probably take a couple years, at least."
He shot off so fast that I couldn't tell whether the cocky little bastard meant it or not.
Whatever houses I may visit, I will come for the benefit of the sick, remaining free of all intentional injustice, of all mischief and in particular of sexual relations with both female and male persons, be they free or slaves.--From the Oath of Hippocrates
The "image preservation" of historical areas like the Vieux Carre, had been one of the more sensitive issues before the North American advisory board. Advances in transportation meant that tourism had outstripped land area, so many popular historical districts were being expanded by annexing neighboring territory. Buildings were then remodeled to fit the period. Now the French Quarter had been expanded well past Canal, swelling it to four times its original area. It had been a global joke that only North Americans could find a way to make new antiques--if there were enough money in it, that is.
We wove along the cobblestones and past the barred and shuttered windows. I wondered absently whether these houses were old or new, how one could tell the difference, and if it really mattered as long as the image was convincing.
Image doesn't mean squat I thought. Much like my own life. Four months ago I had been the ideal family man; look at me now.
I can't say I was completely sorry. The Joey who threw me out was nothing like the person I had married. I missed the company, the safe routine of our picket fence life. But most of all I felt like a failure. It was a man's job to make his family work, and that I hadn't done. When it came right down to it, that failure gnawed at me more than the breakup of my marriage. I had failed someone who trusted me, and that was hard to accept.
It would have been a lie to say I wanted Joey--Joanna, I corrected myself--back for my own sake. Mostly I was sorry that I couldn't make myself feel more sorry.
We had reached the main door on Baronne. The Fairmont was one of the few buildings in the Transformation zone that hadn't been razed but left in its original fading glory. The gilt trim glittered in the dying light and the brass revolving door turned slowly for each guest. The ceiling arched up--a ridiculous waste of space--and flowers, gigantic arrangements of real, fresh flowers, stood everywhere. I felt distinctly underdressed in my jeans and T, but the kid seemed right at home. He walked as if he owned the place straight through the lobby to the lifts.
How could a navy brat afford a place like this? The question popped into my head as he hit the 10th floor button. It wouldn't have been the first time I'd been hit on by a hustler, but it might well be the best. I turned to ask him what I should have thought of in the bar, but he moved before I could speak.
The kid cupped his hand over my jaw and cocked his head until our noses nested together neatly in the middle. Taking his time, the kid kissed me fully on the mouth. His tongue pried at my lips, wedging its way in until it found mine. He slid one arm around my waist and rocked his hips, rubbing the fullness in his crotch against my hip. He didn't ask, but moved himself where it suited him best. My body didn't wasn't raising any objections.
My breathing grew harder and I finally broke away, shifting from foot to foot to relieve some of the pressure in my pants. There was a pressure someplace else, someplace sweeter and deeper as well. After four months it was so nice not to be alone.
"Okay?" he said.
A fine bloody time to ask.
"Are you a hustler?"
He laughed with his eyes and repeated my words. "If I said 'yes', would that change everything?"
"Hey, wasn't that my line?"
The kid chuckled, "Relax. It's nothing like that. I'm just an average guy with a weekend pass and no one to share it with--and wishing that were different. And it's Jim, by the way. Jim Kirk."
The lift opened and we stepped out into the hall. The walls closed in on each other, making the hallway feel a little tight, but the décor was just as sumptuous as the lobby had been.
"Fleet benefits must be pretty good," I said.
Jim snorted. "As a cadet--hardly. My dad was killed. We got a settlement. And besides--this place isn't as pricey as you think. I get a Service rate."
We stopped in front of 1024. Jim pressed his fingerprint to the lock and the door slid open. I started to brush past. "I'm sure your dad would have been real proud of the way you're spending it."
Jim stopped me in the doorway and drilled his hazel eyes into me. "Yes, I think he would. We were a lot alike." Then he kissed me again. It was a long minute later that we made it all the way inside and allowed the door to close.
Inside the room, his hands reached under my shirt. At his touch on my nipple, I balked. I broke the kiss and dropped my bag on the table. "I guess I'll go clean up--unless you want to go first that is."
Jim shrugged and tossed himself onto the bed. "Go ahead. I'll wait."
The bath was compact but efficient. With one hand I tested the shower. It ran water, like everywhere in the Vieux Carre. As I waited for it to heat, I stripped and examined myself in the mirror. It had been ten years since I'd been naked with anyone besides Joey. I wanted to see what Jim would see.
Compared to Jim, my body no longer had that ineffable glow of youth, but it was still tight and not half bad. The last few months of involuntary bachelorhood had taken off the love handles that the complacency of marriage had attracted.
I turned to the side. Joey had always said that my butt was my best asset, but I don't know. I'd always preferred chests and abs myself. Still, for twenty-eight I was holding up pretty well in both arenas, if the opinion of the hospital nursing staff was to be believed. I flexed for the mirror. Yeah, you've still got it, baby.
With that thought, I hopped under the shower and soaped up.
Soaped, scrubbed and rinsed, I cinched a towel around my waist and ran the desiccator through my hair. I guess this was as good as it was going to get. Go get 'em Lenny. I turned the handle and stepped back into the main room.
The kid was stretched out on the bed, naked, flipping through the news stations. His body was toned and sculpted; it rippled when he moved. When he saw me, he turned off the screen.
"Jesus, you're beautiful," he said, uncannily echoing my thoughts. I felt my face flush. I had been told that often enough before, but it had been quite a while, and it had never been quite like this.
He raised a glass. Even from here I recognized that smell. My stomach pitched. Jack Daniels, my father's brand.
"Want a drink?" he asked.
"No thanks; I don't drink."
"Problem?" I didn't hear judgment, just curiosity, but the mere suggestion irked me anyway.
"No, and I plan to keep it that way." It came out sounding pretty testy, even for me.
I'm not sure when I realized that my father was an alcoholic. Probably before I had ever heard the word. Through most of my childhood the peculiar scent of that sourmash reeked from his skin and breath whenever he picked me up or held me close. I didn't know what it was back then; it was just my dad.
It had always been a part of him, even after he sobered up--oddly enough. When I had been young, it was sometimes fun and sometimes scary. I never knew what to expect. Sometimes he would roll and play in the yard with me and my friends, just like a kid. He'd fling us around until Mom ran out in her house-slippers screaming at him to stop. Sometimes he'd fall--or sling one of us too hard and then someone would cry. Then he'd get mad and Mom would be screaming again for him to leave us alone, but her voice would be all different then.
By the time he cleaned himself up, my mother was already dying. Although ten years of medical training stated that there was no relationship, the vestiges of tentative adolescent understanding whispered insistently that it was all his fault--that if he had been a better husband (and father), she would still be here.
Or maybe it was more projection. If I had been a better child--
But I don't like to think that way.
Either way, his drinking was one thing he couldn't make me emulate. He could saddle me with his name and his genes and even steer me into his career, but he couldn't push his poison down my throat.
The kid was off the bed and standing now, the glass of whiskey in his hand. I didn't remember seeing him get up.
"I said, 'Do you mind if I do?'"
"No, sure, go ahead. It's just not for me."
He took a sip, then set the glass down deliberately on the nightstand and swaggered over to me. He moved with an easy confidence, as if ever conscious of what his body could do. He tugged at my towel until it gave and whispered something to me, his lips brushing against my ear.
"So are you," I said, as he coated my neck with feather-light kisses. I felt the predictable response rising between our bodies, the twinned movements, one quickening at the feel of the other. It was a sense only two men could know--completely different from anything I had shared with my wife--and surprisingly easy and right in its simplicity.
I vaguely remembered some awkward teenage experimentation, but this kid--this man--was a brave new world. I closed my eyes--it might be easier that way--and let my body simply feel.
He reached around for my ass and pressed his tongue into my mouth, hard, not waiting for permission. The whiskey still soaked his mouth and I tasted the burn of its smoky-smooth caramel transfer from his mouth to mine. He raised his other arm and wrapped it around me, pulling me tightly against his body. His hair held the not-so-pleasant smells of the bar and the rest of a day spent god-knows where. From his underarm the strong odor of sweat and work reached my nose and I pulled away with some reluctance.
"You're next in the shower," I said. I moved to the bed and made preparations, turning down the sheets, folding my towel on the nightstand. Some might have called it nervous fidgeting--so what? Didn't I deserve a fidget or two? Ten years with the same person is a long time when you're twenty-eight.
He stood there a while, with his pretty pink dick pointing up and eager towards his belly. Maybe he was waiting to see if I was serious, or maybe he was just watching my ass--I don't know. "Sure. Sure, whatever you say," he said finally, and ran through a record-fast shower.
While he was in the bath, I rummaged through my bag. A tube of enteroscopic lubricant, that would do. Of course I had had all the standard vaccines, but if the kid was really Starfleet, what if he'd picked up some alien funk? Damn. I hadn't thought about barriers in ten years.
I checked the room-service program. Sure enough, a tube of Neotex spray-on could be ordered up easily enough, but that was such a nuisance to get off, and as high-schoolish as it sounded, it did spoil the feeling. Still, better safe than sorry, and a doctor should know better than to take chances.
I had crouched down to the room-service unit to plug in the code, when he walked up behind me and swatted me on the ass.
"Change your mind about that drink?"
"No, I was going to get some biobarrier."
He snorted. "Suit yourself, Blue Eyes, but Starfleet, gives us every immunization known to the Federation and a few experimental ones to boot. We go through decontam after every mission and routinely once a month just because. You've got less chance of catching anything from me than from that door handle." He nodded to the old fashioned knob on the bathroom door.
Looking at the intricate pattern of ridges on the crystal knob, my bet was that he was right. But you can always lose a bet; I stood up to spray on the Neotex coating.
Jim had paced over to the bed and picked up the tube. He read the label and turned it over in his hand. "You do travel prepared, don't you? You do this a lot?"
"Not hardly," I snorted. "It's medical; I'm a doctor, not a gigolo."
"Really?" Jim said, setting the tube down.
"Yeah. And it's Lenny, by the way," I added, joining him by the bed. He was warm and steamy all over. His wet hair clung in curls around his head and lower as well and I lost all interest in barriers.
"Lenny," Jim repeated with a soft smile. "I like that." Then he wrapped me in his arms and kissed me for all he was worth.
We made it onto the bed soon enough. It was the kissing that surprised me most. I hadn't expected that from a one-night-stand. And he was a good kisser too, firm, but slow and thorough, with feeling--more feeling than had stirred in me in a very long time.
We kissed until the kissing became torture. I tried to touch him, but he wouldn't let me. He rubbed our bodies together in the middle, hands caressing, mouths seeking, organs aching hard and unsatisfied. When I started to get anywhere close, Jim covered me with the weight of his body, and allowing only the smallest of movements, nipples to nipples, abs to abs, cock to cock, began the earnest kissing all over again.
I pressed myself into him, rocking back and forth against the crook of his leg. He was smooth and hot and it took little moisture to slide along his body. I felt the warning building in my balls and reached down to carry myself over the edge, but Jim had other ideas.
He pushed me over and onto my back, locked his knees around my legs, and held me down with his weight while he sucked one of my nipples. I gritted my teeth against the pleasure. "Goddammit, let me come!"
Jim pulled back and smiled. His chest heaved, yet still his voice was easy, his pose relaxed. There was no sign of him relinquishing one iota of control. "Sure Lenny, all you had to do was ask."
Jim reached for the lube and rolled me on my side, top leg pushed forward, opening me to his whims. Oh shit, Len, you had to go for something different, didn't you? I did my best to relax; it just didn't work that way--like trying not to be ticklish. Whoever figures out that one deserves a Nobel.
I heard Jim spreading the lube, warming it with his hands. I heard the smack of something slick and sticky coming from somewhere behind my line of sight, and a wave of anxiety knotted in my gut. My sphincter tensed and spasmed even further. Relax, Lenny. Relax, relax, relax.
Just relax, just relax. The bed moved as Jim switched positions, adjusted my legs and worked his way in between them. The word 'no' hovered somewhere in my throat, but I had been too close for too long; I needed release. I wanted his touch. I'd take anything he would give me for the sake of that orgasm. I closed my eyes and gritted my teeth, preparing for the jolt of pain. But what came after was not the iron spear of a sex, but the warm, wet roughness of a tongue.
"Jesus--" I tried to worm away in protest. That was disgusting, but oh, lord in heaven, it felt good! Jim had the mechanical advantage and easily held me in place. I felt Jim's lubed penis sliding over and against my bottom leg, but I couldn't be bothered with that. All that mattered was that tongue that never stopped moving over, around and within the sweet, sensitive places of my ass.
I grabbed my dick as my balls threatened to explode there and then on the bed. "Oh--Jim!" I was too far gone to do anything else; I'd never been so hard, and when I came, the first spurt shot up to and over my head.
Jim had his face pressed deep into my ass and his dick wedged between my leg and his hand. Somewhere through the haze, I realized he had come too. But he just lay there, taking in great lungfuls of breath from around my ass and gently stroking my thighs.
When I could move, I shifted a little and
reached for the towel. We'd made one
hell of a mess. Jim climbed over to
lie face to face with me. He moved in
for a kiss.
The unmistakable smell filled my nose. "Oh, geez, go wash your face and hands."
"Don't like to smell yourself?" Jim teased as he nuzzled around me.
Ugh. "Just go, okay?" I twisted my neck away.
"Alright, alright." Jim chuckled and headed off back to the bathroom.
By the time that Jim got back, I was almost asleep. The feel of a warm hand on my dick woke me back up. "Hey careful; that's still sensitive."
"Sorry," Jim said, and tested his hand against the length of my inner thigh. "Now can I have a kiss?" Jim smelt of soap and sunshine and hotel issue mouthwash; only the bed--and me, I supposed--still stank of our little diversion. I kissed him back with pleasure. Feeling the movement against my leg and up my thigh, I reached down and took Jim's cock in my hand. He was already rock-hard and more than ready. It must be nice to be twenty-one. I lubricated my hand and found a pattern, up and down, up and down, being careful to keep my fingers playing along the underside--the best part.
Jim slipped down my body, taking my hand with him. He chewed at my nipples, licking and nibbling, all the way. When the shudder shook my body, he grabbed my shoulders in his hands and held me until it passed. It had been too long since I had felt this good, this cared for, even if only for a single evening. My thighs parted as Jim's face dropped down onto my groin. Somewhere in all this, my hand had lost his dick.
He was gentle and patient, very patient, something else I never would have expected. The soft pull of his mouth and the rough scrape of his tongue worked together, eventually coaxing me into a respectable erection. I think he fondled himself a little, but he made no demands of me. I watched him work, relaxed and willing, bobbing up and down on my body. I reached down to stroke his hair, his scalp. It was still damp--soft and fine as it filtered through my fingers.
I felt my breathing break into the classic rhythm of sex, and I rocked my hips to fuck his face. He grabbed my ass and sucked me all the way back in his throat.
"Jim--" I couldn't manage anything else. My gut needed to come again, but my balls weren't cooperating. I pressed his head more firmly over me. He pulled on me twice, hard and I choked, but I couldn't get back to that edge. Jim pulled away, and I groaned in frustration.
"Hang on," Jim replied as he reached again for the lube.
Jim spread the lube over both his hands. He lay himself out on his side, bringing us face to face, and grasped both our dicks in his palms. "Hang on, Doc, we're going for a ride." As he stroked our cocks together, a rumbling noise rose from his throat. It grew louder and more ragged, and his whole body trembled, yet still he waited for me. I threw my arms around his neck and held on tight, feeling the wound-tight tension within his body.
"Come for me. Come for me," he chanted into my ear.
"I--can't--get--close enough," I choked back, thrusting myself into his hands.
He held us in his left hand, but took away his right. Before I knew what was happening, he rammed a finger up my ass and pressed it solidly against my gland. I came so hard, my toes curled in spasm. His hand ceased its movements, and he went slack in my arms. When I opened my eyes again, he was propped up one elbow, watching me with a smile. He wiped his hand on the towel. I thought about making him go wash, but I couldn't be bothered with details like that right then.
Afterwards we lay together, not feeling, not thinking, just content to be warm and satisfied and not alone. Jim fondled my hands absently between the fingers, until he came to the wedding band.
"So where is--she?"
"With our daughter, in the house we had."
"She said I worked too much, was never there. But hell, it was all for them."
"It's hard growing up not knowing your father," Jim said. "I'm not sure it's an even trade. And she couldn't have liked being alone."
I had a sudden vision of Joey in college, walking halfway across the campus just to meet me for lunch. We had been inseparable. No, she had never liked it at all. We would have married right away, except for her parents' insistence that she get her degree first.
"No, she never did." I twisted the ring around on my finger. It didn't fit as snugly as it used to, and I wondered how much weight I had lost. Some people eat more when depressed; I don't.
"Neither did my mother," said Jim. "It was bad enough with Dad gone but she was tough. When he died, it tore her apart. She was content enough knowing that he was out there in space, happy--but to know that he was gone forever--" Jim shook his head.
"I worry about my daughter growing up and never knowing me." The words spilled out by themselves. I don't know where they came from. It was the one thought I was desperately keeping from myself.
Jim's arms wrapped tighter around me, arresting the knots in my shoulders before they could reform. His hands moved in rhythm--an almost hypnotic effect. Then his voice joined in softly. "It doesn't have to be like that, you know. I only saw my father a couple times a year, but he called all the time. He sent holos, vids; he was always in the news. Everyone else only saw clips, but he was my dad and I was prouder than anything to be his son. I just missed him very much."
I hugged him once, hard. There were no words to tell him how much that meant, but I felt something big brewing deep inside my chest. Oh, no, I would not do that here. I cleared my throat and changed the subject.
"So, what about you?" I cleared my throat again, and this time my voice was pretty close to normal. "I can't imagine that you have to take a hotel room for one--unless you want to."
Jim grinned. "Bullseye. I came down with my buddy, Gary. To cheer him up. I guess it worked. Last I saw him he was receiving all the cheer one man can stand from a table full of college girls."
"Won't he be coming back here?" I eyed the door.
"Nope. I never got around to telling him where we were staying."
"You just left him?"
Jim snorted. "It's terrible, isn't it? Left alone and abandoned in a mass of lonely, fun-loving women? Trust me, Gary's okay. In fact, he owes me big for this."
"So you picked up the first guy that walked in to the bathroom. Sweet."
"Not hardly. I'd been watching you. I saw where you were going--and ambushed you when I got you alone." Jim winked.
"Don't be so sure," said Jim, and kissed me again.
"So, are you really in Starfleet?" I asked, after he finally let me go.
"Yep. Fifth year cadet. Why? You think I just run around in the uniform to pick up beautiful men?" Jim winked again and peppered my ear with little kisses.
"You never know." It was getting hard to think. "Why space? After what you saw your parents go through?"
"I don't suppose I had much of a choice. It's in my blood. Even growing up without him, we're exactly alike. We were really close--closer than most of my friends were to their live-in fathers. It's not about physical distance."
You sure got that right kid. Having family close sure as hell don't mean you're going to be close to them.
"So, are you really a doctor?"
Times three. I was on my third residency. "Uh, yeah, still a resident, but fully licensed. Why?"
Jim shrugged and twirled his fingers in the few hairs my chest. "Just doesn't seem like you. Germs and all."
"What do you know about me? Nothing!" I hadn't meant it to sound like that. I drew back and pulled away on the bed. He did have a point about the germs, though. I should wash.
Jim took his hands back. "I know. I thought I was trying to change that."
I rolled to a sit. "Sorry, I shouldn'tve snapped. I didn't have much of a choice either--sort of a family tradition."
"You like it?"
"Yeah. You might be right about the 'in the blood' thing. It seems like what I was meant to do. And I'm good."
"You're telling me." He rubbed my thigh--and higher too.
I chuckled. "Keep that up and you'll be late for roll call.
"I'm gonna go wash up." I grabbed my bag and went back into the shower, leaving the door ajar this time. If there was an "I told you so," coming about the germs crack, I didn't hear it. I did hear something else instead.
"Will you stay the night?"
"What?" I turned the water off. Then I heard the gentle beeping from my bag. My comm unit.
"I've got the room until noon. I'd like it if you'd stay the night."
I punched a button and a vidmessage began to play. Shirley, my stepmother. The news wasn't good.
"Relax. Just for fun--no ties. But it's your call, of course."
I scrambled into my clothes and came back out with my comm still open. "No, that's not it, I just got a message--a family emergency. I have to go."
Jim eyed my wedding band. "I see."
"No, not that. I really am separated; this is different. But I do have to go."
"Okay, okay." Jim got up, naked, and took me by the shoulders. "Can I at least walk you to the station?"
"No. I've got to run." I picked up my bag.
"Can I call you?" Jim asked as I opened the door.
"Sure, why not?" The door clicked closed behind me. Too late I realized that I hadn't offered him either my full name or my comm code.
To hold him who has taught me this art as equal to my parents and to live my life in partnership with him --From the Oath of Hippocrates
Back at my hovercar, things went from bad to worse. I turned the ignition switch and heard a series of ominous clicks in response. I turned it again. More clicks. And again. Now they were getting weaker.
Shit. Why was Joey always right? She said that my old clunker was unreliable and beneath a doctor's image; I refused to replace it. There was something soothing about the old one, like the easy familiarity of a friend whose quirks I knew so well. I had even named him--Hoopdy. And like a true friend, it had never let me down before. Until now. Why did it have to be now?
Oh, Joey, why is it always at the very worst times?
I opened the drive access panel with visions of playing mechanic as my father took his last breath. It would be just like the old man to go ahead and die before I got there out of sheer orneriness. One last morsel of failure to toss on his son. Yeah, Dad would like that all right.
The fact that he had let Shirley call did not bode well at all. David H. McCoy never trusted anyone else with anything that he could do himself. I'd never cared for his new wife, but I did feel a certain bond with her. Neither of us could ever do anything meet his expectations, but she didn't seem to mind. That's where we differed.
I'd never learned to like Shirley, but in a way I admired the way she let the old man's crap roll off her back. And she'd been good for him, no doubt. She was the reason he was still alive and still sober.
Damn! I popped my burnt finger into my mouth and realized I was fooling myself. Dad had never let me work with machines. He said a surgeon's hands were too valuable. I didn't have a clue what I was doing or a hope in hell of getting this up and running.
How about Captain Courageous? Starfleet has to teach kids the way around an engine, right? I mean, what if your spaceship stalls in a black hole or something and you can't call the motor pool to get you out? I closed the panel and headed back to the hotel.
He came to the door, still stark naked, with a smile of greeting, not surprise.
"You're back," he said like he had been expecting it all along. I don't suppose the kid got walked out on much; I bet it was usually the other way around. News for him: neither do I. Or, did I. I hope I was a little less cocky about it though.
"Car won't start."
He nodded very seriously. "Mmm--let me guess. ...and you need a place to stay for the night?"
"No. I was hoping you could help. The emergency is real."
His demeanor changed to all business. "Give me a minute." He reached for his shorts. It didn't take anywhere close to the whole minute. Captain Courageous had some experience getting in and out of his clothes.
Apparently Starfleet had taught him a few more useful things as well. He said something about a kritanoline augmentation periloid, adjusted a few things under the access panel, and Hoopdy fired right up.
He closed the panel and looked for someplace to wipe his hands. "That should do it for a couple hundred kilometers, at least. How far are you going? Mississippi?"
I handed him a scrub shirt out of the back seat. "Georgia. Atlanta."
"I'm not sure it'll hold that long. I could show you what to do--"
"I'm a doctor, not a pit-crew leader" I grumbled. "It better hold." No, old Dad wasn't going to let me off the hook that easily. If I stalled over Lake Martin and drowned on the way to his funeral, would they ever find the wreck or would it be his little, private joke?
"I'll come with you." It sounded more like an order than an offer.
"I suppose you'll want to pilot?"
The sarcasm was lost on him. "Nope." He had already slid into the passenger side and tossed the shirt backwards back into the rest of the mess. "I have people do that for me. A captain has to be free to supervise."
This arrogant little bastard was going to be in for a helluva shock one day.
But beggars can't be choosers. I took the controls and lifted off. Dad, the things I do for you.
Distracted, I hit an air pocket and the car jumped. My phaser slid out from under the seat and into the kid's foot.
He picked it up. "You shoot?"
"If I have to. Everyone in the south does. My grandmother taught me."
My mother's mother--Nanny Whitsen--had been three-quarters Cherokee and proud of it. She wore her hair long and straight and jet-black. On her eightieth birthday Dad had asked her why she bothered to dye it. She'd snapped, "I'll have you know that this is my natural color." Go Nanny, I'd thought at the time. It wasn't until much later, after she'd died, that I realized it hadn't been an answer at all. "Go Nanny," was still what I thought.
She'd been quite a woman, afraid of nothing and nobody. On a whim she'd moved from the Boston Mountains of Eastern Oklahoma to the high desert outside of Truth or Consequences, New Mexico. She'd bought a cattle ranch and ran it by herself up until the year before she died. When I was seven, I had gone to stay with her for the summer. She gave me my first phaser lessons. But what I remember most was the flowers.
Georgia was always in bloom and the sparse beauty of the desert was lost on my seven-year-old eyes. When I told her I was homesick for the flowers, she said we'd plant some. She asked me what I wanted.
"Impatience," I said, recalling the blossoms cascading under the windows of my school. "Impatience" was what the teacher had called them, and the name fit them perfectly--bursting out rampant in huge billows of color and life.
"I can do that," Nanny said. "They're easy to grow if I plant them under the eaves, but'll take a lot of water. That takes commitment. Can you remember to water them every day?"
When she came home and planted them, I'd burst into tears. Each plant was only a decimeter high or so. "I didn't want those kind; I wanted the big bushy ones."
She broke out laughing. "Lenny, they're plants; they grow."
Oh. I hadn't thought of that. I wiped my nose.
"Just wait and see what they turn into with the proper time and care."
At first she had done the fertilizing and watering, morning and night. Over time, as they grew into the wild colors I remembered, I took over gladly. By the time I left, they had grown into a hedge that stood over a meter tall, wrapping all around the front of the house.
I called Nanny one day in the fall and asked her how my flowers were. She said the New Mexico nights had killed them, but that was okay, they were annuals, that's the way it was supposed to be. They die every year. I could come back in the spring and plant more and they would grow to be just as tall and beautiful as ever.
Nanny died when I was in medschool. She never got to see what I would grow into. I wonder if, like the impatience, she already knew how I would come out. If so, I wish to hell she'd told me.
"Huh?" I broke away from in the past.
"I said, 'I thought doctors didn't believe in firearms.' That thou shalt not take a life business."
"We don't. It's for animals."
"Some people are animals," Jim said.
Yes, they are. My mother had given me that phaser in the eleventh grade after my classmate Tonja had gone missing. Tall, blonde and vivacious, she'd been last seen leaving a high school basketball game.
She never got home. Eight months later when the gas in the rotting tissue brought her body to the surface of the Chattahoochee, she was finally found. There was still enough forensic evidence to reveal three different kinds of assault, but her attacker was never found. My mother gave me the phaser and told me not to tell my father.
"Yes, they are," I said.
Jim clicked the setting control. "Not a bad piece, for a civvy. Can you hit anything?"
Actually, I'm pretty damn good. Nanny saw to that. There are a few hundred, snakes, squirrels, possums, rats and nutria that could testify to that. If they weren't already dead that is. "If I have to."
"Hm. D'jyou ever consider Starfleet medical?"
"Now why would I do that?"
"You get to play with big guns, for one thing. And you'd look good in a uniform." He stroked the inside of my thigh.
I blushed at the suggestions in his tone. "Ah, and to think I had this silly idea about saving lives."
He smiled. "That too. It's a big universe out there. How many people are on earth? Six billion? That's just the tip of the iceberg; think of the chances to save--lives we haven't even discovered exist yet. Space is where we need to be. Exploring. Growing. Sharing--who we are and what we know."
Damn, but the kid could make a speech.
"I've got plans." Okay, maybe not exactly, but I sure as hell hadn't planned on spending the rest of my days space sick.
"Sure." He settled back in his seat. "But think about it; there's so much more to life than this." He gestured down at West Allenton, Alabama. No arguing with that logic.
Hoopdy broke down three times on the way, none of which were over water. Jim got us up and running in under five minutes each time. Say what you like about the politics, but Starfleet has its uses.
Stops and all, we still made Atlanta in about an hour. Hoopdy could have done better, but transonic flight over populated areas is banned. I pulled into the Emory medical complex and parked. Jim still hadn't asked me where I was going or why.
He got out.
"Hey, how'll you get home?"
He cocked his head. "Last week I led a stranded landing party 80 kilometers across the badlands of Hyperis VI and back to the ship. Of course, it was only a simulation in South Dakota, but still, I think I can figure out how to get between two major Earth cities without any trouble. I have good friends in many places. " He patted his communicator.
"Oh. Well, I guess this is good-bye then." I shuffled some stuff in my bag around and looked up at the main hospital. I'd raced to get here, and now the last thing I wanted to do was go into that damn building.
"You never know, Blue Eyes. It's a big universe all right, but not that big." He kissed me on the cheek before I realized it was coming. "You need anything?"
"No." Damn my Irish ancestors' coloring; every blush shows. "No."
"I'll see you around then.
"Cadet Kirk to Starfleet transport. One to beam to coordinates being fed in." He punched a few buttons, twisted a dial, shimmered and was gone.
Through the support beams of the parking complex, I looked up again. I imagined my father up on the top floor peering down at me still in judgment. Even the damned transporter had more appeal than going in that building.
Parking in the visitor's lot had me disoriented. I felt odd and out of place. Out of habit, I looked to the physician's entrance in the back, but this wasn't my sandbox and that wasn't my door. I turned toward the front and followed the rest of the visitors to the main entrance.
I didn't quite make it there. By coincidence, or possibly not, Shirley was out in the front courtyard. She looked thinner than ever. One hand worried at patch of graying hair; with the other she sucked fiercely on a caffeine stick as she paced. Probably trying to hide it from the old man.
"Hollis." She came towards me, but sensibly stopped short of an embrace. She was my father's wife, not family.
"Shirley. Why didn't you call me earlier?"
"He wouldn't let me. You know how he is. Said you were a doctor now and much too busy to be called home for sick folks."
That sounded like Dad, all right. Somewhere in the middle of the booze and mom's illness, he had surrendered his clinical practice and had taken a research only position. Since then he had claimed that that was what real doctors do. The big picture was what mattered. People came after the science. Clinicians were detail men, making one tiny difference at a time. Research could cure the galaxy.
The irony was that I had chosen medicine because of the physician my father had been at one time. Up until high school I could hardly go anywhere in the county without hearing someone sing dad's praises. I would have given anything to inspire that kind of respect--from the community, and especially from him.
He encouraged me every step of my education, he pushed me, not always so gently, to follow in his footsteps. I went willingly, for I couldn't imagine anything better than being the man that others saw in my father.
By the time I entered medical school, he was already publishing groundbreaking work on prion manipulation, and regular country doctors who cared for patients were no longer good enough for him. He said that he was very proud of me, and had I ever thought of bioresearch?
Even in my youngest full memory of my father, I had been a disappointment. It was at the beach. Dad was drinking, I suppose--he always was when away from the hospital--while I played in the sand, far away from the scary waves. All of a sudden, Dad decided I was too old for that. He picked me up and tossed me over his shoulder, and carried me into the surf. I could smell the sourmash oozing through the sweat.
I remember kicking and screaming, eyes closed, beating at his back with my hands, but he just laughed like it was a great big joke. "Hold on, Hollis. Here comes a big one!" I heard the roar even over my screams and felt the change of pace as Dad was dragged backwards. There was a slap of water and then the sudden silence, the turning and tumbling, floating weightless and free. The salt stung as it drowned my eyes and nose, but then there was a great sense of peace. I rolled over and over, no longer scared or trying to fight. My back scraped along the bottom. That hurt a little and I wished it would stop and I could go back to floating in the sea.
And then a hand plucked me out, by the arm, pulling me into the wind and spray. I was sad to leave that place and my arm hurt at the joint. Only when I gagged and choked on my own breath did the fear return. The scrapes on my back stung and I retched while my father hauled me in disgust. He left me on the sand with my plastic toys and told me not to be such a baby or mother would whip me when she got back. I hated my toys and I hated him.
But his patients swore he walked on water.
"Huh?" Shirley had said something.
"I said, it doesn't matter. You couldn't have done anything anyway."
Of course not. I'm only his closest living relative, and a doctor. Thanks, Dad. It's nice to know that you still think as much of me as you ever did.
"Do they know what it is?" I asked.
She shook her head and took a long drag on the caffeine stick. "I don't know. He talks to his doctors in medical terms. But it's neurological, it's bad, and he's getting worse fast." She popped the remnants of the stick into her mouth and crunched it hard.
"Okay. I know something about neuroscience. I'm going to talk to the pathologists and see what they know." I adjusted my shoulder tote, and turned for the door.
"Hollis!" She extended her hand, as if to reach out to me, but of course she was too far away.
"Don't you want to go see him first?"
I twisted my foot, feeling the concrete walkway grind beneath my feet. "I'll be up in a little bit." The big doors closed behind me.
...to teach them this art - if they desire to learn it - without fee and covenant; ...to pupils who have signed the covenant and have taken an oath according to the medical law, but no one else.
Funny how some kinds of places are all set up the same, spaceports and hospitals for instance. You seen one, you seen 'em all. I took a lift to the basement and wandered around until I found the big double doors with the sign, "Keep Out."
I went in.
On the walls of the hallway, pictures of teachers and residents lined the wall. Krista Paulssen, third year resident. We'd had an elective together in the Martian refugee station. Several of the names were familiar from publications, but that was the only one I knew personally.
"Help you?" a trim little Brekkian asked. He wore civvies. Probably a clerk.
"I'm Doctor McCoy. I'm looking for Doctor Paulssen."
"She's not here this month. On a
rotation on Andor Prime, I think."
"Well, maybe someone else can help me with a case. A neuropath mystery."
"Ah, you want Doctor Landry, then. You're in luck. She's working late again. Let me comm her for you."
Shortly, a heavy-set woman with dancing eyes chugged in, her rumpled lab coat sagging below her knees. "Someone commed?"
"Doctor Landry, this doctor needs to speak with you about a case."
"Of course, happy to." She pumped my hand several times. "I don't get to meet with the living much. Come into my office, Doctor--"
"Leonard McCoy," I said, as I followed her in the door.
"And which case do you want to
"David Hollis McCoy."
She stopped. "And you are--?"
"I see. Are you really a doctor?"
Right now, I wonder that myself, dear. "A few times over. I'm on my third residency now--in microsurgery--but you're right. I'm not assigned to this case. I'm asking personally."
She looked me over critically, as if balancing something in her mind. "Third residency. Didn't find what you liked in the first two?"
"Just the opposite, in fact. Found too much I liked. And too much I wanted to know. I got hooked.
"So, will you let me in on the case, or not?"
Whatever it was apparently settled to her satisfaction, she nodded. She called up some specimens on her computer. "The old joke is that pathologists have all the answers, only too late. In this case, I don't know. I don't have the answers yet. There's massive demyelination of the neurons, almost like ascending paralysis, but there's no immunologic response at all. And it's progressing into the motor centers of the central nervous system as well."
"ALS?" ALS--Lou Gehrig's--disease wasn't likely. That was an easy diagnosis to make.
She shook her head. "It has some features, but there's no sclerosis in the anterior horn cells." She cued up a slide to demonstrate, "only massive axonal demyelination."
"Do you have a tissue sample you can spare?"
She gave me a questioning look.
"I've done some research in neuropathology and treatment. I'd like to run it by some of the docs at home, maybe run some assays myself."
Bristled would be too strong a word, but I could see her defenses shoot up before my eyes. " I have a legion of techs and computers working on it 'round the clock. I promise you, we're doing everything we can."
There were a couple of options here. I chose honesty. "I know that. It's just that I'm his son, and I'm supposed to be a healer, and I'd like to feel that I'm doing everything that I can."
She nodded. "I can understand that; I'll have one of the dieners get it for you. And I'll give you a 'chip with what we've found so far."
"Thank you," I said, letting the very real gratitude seep into my voice.
She called up the pertinent files and reached to insert a portable datachip. "Have you seen him yet?" she asked, her voice not quite casual.
"No. I wanted to find out more about it first." Politely, she chose not to mention it how absurd that must have sounded.
"Then--there's something else atypical that you should know about the process. It involves the sensory system as well."
My heart thumped. "How so?"
"According to the clinical information submitted, there's pain. Intense pain, mostly of central origin and not responsive to anything other than general anesthesia. It has something to do with the demyelination in the basal ganglia and depolarization of the periaqueductal gray matter. The whole system is supersensitized and unresponsive to any pain relievers. Whenever he's awake, he's in great pain."
"My god." No, the other way. That would be a pretty fair version of hell. We all die, but not like that.
"You have a theory?" I asked.
She handed me the chip. " It could be a variant of ALS, I suppose, with central nervous system involvement as well. Or, it could be a toxic effect. He's been working with bisantrium 374. There's a lot we don't know about it. So far he's not been willing to disclose the extent of his experiments, even to his doctors. Perhaps you could convince him?"
"I doubt it. My father and I haven't been close."
She called up a graph that scooped upward and off the screen and pointed to it. "You might want to change that. Looking at the rate of myelin sheath loss, he doesn't have much time left."
I will apply dietetic measures for the benefit of the sick according to my ability and judgment; I will keep them from harm and injustice.--From the Oath of Hippocrates
It was the eighty-fourth floor, the VIP suite of course. Dad would have seen to that. The name on the door read "David Hollis McCoy." Mostly when I had seen it written out, it was followed by the "MD" tag; it looked naked and vulnerable without it.
Below the name the, medalert panel glowed with blue letters, "BBP." Biobed Precautions. I'd seen this many times before, sometimes on my orders, sometimes not. It was a-two-edged sword and an important tool of our trade. Like any other tool, it was only as useful or harmful as its applications.
Biobeds had been developed after multiple failures in cryogenic preservation. Li and Bronsen won the 2251 Nobel Prize in Medicine for its development. Micromagnetic harmonic distortion was used to replicate, augment and sustain autonomic nervous system function--and therefore, the life of the body--after the failure of many organ systems.
But there was a catch. Science wasn't perfect--not by a long shot--and the loss of brain cells under Biobed control was enormous. It was a stopgap measure only. It could be used to sustain the body until transportation to better medical facilities, or to give an extra few days for antibiotics and other medications to take effect, but the maximum recommended time on it was three months.
Once, when I had just finished my medical residency, I had ordered a Bed for a young mother. Joanna had just been born and fatherhood was the most amazing thing I had ever known; it was like life had just become real to me. I couldn't bear the thought of this woman never hearing her children's voices again--never again being able to hold them against her heart--so I kept her alive with a Bed until all her tissue had been regenerated.
It took eight months. When she was weaned from the Bed, she was paralyzed everywhere except her left arm. She was deaf and could still see out of one eye, but couldn't focus.
She was alive; I'd saved her all right.
I never exceeded the three-month recommendation again.
I hadn't thought about her in years. Time heals all wounds, or maybe it just scabs them over to hard crusts.
The blue letters held my attention, and I realized something else. The Biobed needed the nervous system infrastructure in order to work, and that was exactly what was failing, according to Dr. Landry. However long he had, it wouldn't be three months.
For the first time, it hit me that this was it--soon I would be an orphan. Even at twenty-eight, that was how it felt. My father was dying. Actively dying. Here. Now. There would be no more time to hope that he would change--no next year or next month, maybe not even next week. If it was ever going to get any better between us, it would have to be now. And knowing dad, the first move would have to come from me.
I pushed the door open and went in.
When I entered the room, the first thing that caught my eye was not my father, but the Atlanta skyline in the big, round window behind his bed. He had brought me to the city many times as a kid and every time I had gaped at the skyscrapers shooting up around me, so different from the orchards around Weston, where we'd lived. It was no different now. I was all grown up, but here in my father's presence, I was small again and the towering skyline still made me stare.
"Hollis." My father's voice tore me away from the window.
"Dad." The word echoed around the room, punctuated by the beeping of the Bed. It sounded as strained to me now as the use of my middle name did applied to me.
For five generations there had been a Hollis McCoy. The first had been a leader in the reconstruction of North America after the third world war. For the 150 years since that time, each Hollis McCoy had made the planet a better place. It was a heavy burden for a kid, and my father reminded me of it at every opportunity.
I'd been named Hollis after him. For him. Because I was a newer version of him. Better not mess it up.
When our daughter LJ--Joanna, first called Little Joey then shortened to LJ to save confusion-- was born, Dad had wanted us to name her Hollis too. Only Mom was able to talk some sense into him. Wait for a boy, she'd said. It wasn't what she meant, but it didn't matter; it had worked.
It might not have, if she hadn't died before LJ was born. But she did, and dad never brought up the subject after that.
Once upon a time Joey had pushed me to have another one, but I'd been too busy; I told her we had enough in our lives as it was.
Then she has stopped pushing, or even mentioning it.
Then she had left.
Now it looked like there might never be a Hollis VI. Or if there were, that dad wouldn't be alive to know it. I was it; I would be all he had.
"Dad." The word echoed around the room.
"What're you doing here? Has Shirley been telling you stories?" Thin white hairs fringed the pinched wrinkles of his face. His skin sunk sallow and his voice was thin and brittle, nothing like the authority that I remembered. I wondered if I had even imagined that stentorian voice of my childhood.
He struggled to sit. "Damn.
I could move my feet this morning."
I didn't know how to answer that.
"Shirley says they don't know what it is or what to do," I said. "I know something of neurology. I might be able to help. Anyway, I wanted to be here."
"The best minds on the continent are here. There's nothing you can do.
"Did you bring my granddaughter?"
I guess that was going to be all the tender reunion I would get. "She's with Jocelyn. I'll call them in the morning--get her down. Shirley said you told her to call."
"Mm. Shirley." He shifted using his palms for leverage, and pulled himself up a little further. "Son, I need you to help your mother."
She's not my mother. "What?"
"She's not strong. She doesn't understand like we do. She insisted on the damned Bed." He gestured down to the mattress. "But you and I know better, don't we?"
"I don't know anything dad. You can refuse it. Doctor Landry says you're in pain, and it won't get better." I moved a little closer to his side.
"I know. Your mother, she doesn't understand--she can't accept less than trying, but you and I know death, don't we, Hollis? We know it when we see it. It's just another part of life, and you and I aren't afraid. So I need you to do for he--for us--what she can't do. Biobeds don't always work, do they? Especially in neuro cases. I need you to be strong and make this right."
To my memory, this was the first time he had ever said that he needed something from me. "I can't do that, dad. I'm a doctor."
"Of course you can. You know how foolish this is."
"I've done some research on axonal loss. I think I can help."
"I know you can, help Hollis. I'm trying to show you how."
He always knew best. When I was fourteen I had entered a science fair. "The Relationship Between Cytokines and Histocompatability in Non-Autologous Transplantation." I'd poured my heart and soul into the project. The morning of the fair I'd gone over my presentation and found that the analysis had been altered. Dad. He wanted to show me a better way. I placed first in the medicine division and never worked on that project again.
"I'm trying to show you how. I need your help."
Now he needs my help. Ain't that a trip?
"We're alike, Hollis. You and me. I need you, son."
What I may see or hear in the course of the treatment or even outside of the treatment in regard to the life of men, which on no account one must spread abroad, I will keep to myself, holding such things shameful to be spoken about.--from the Oath of Hippocrates
I called Shirley's automotive service company from the lobby. They came out, did whatever they had to, and charged me a fortune, but Hoopdy made it back to Jackson just fine. Jackson is where I had gone through medical school. I came back again for a third residency; they had one of the best microsurgical departments in the country.
Or maybe it was some urge within me to go back to a simpler, happier time.
Joey had tried to talk me out of it; she said that she saw little enough of me as it was, and that the commute would suck up the little free time I had. But microsurgery was where the future of medicine was. Dad agreed. I had gone and fallen in love with the new techniques--things that could relieve so much suffering.
Joey filed for divorce three months later.
That fixed the problem of the commute. I had taken half of an apartment with an intern, Jerry, and only went back home for scheduled visitation. Jerry was quiet and we got along fine, for the brief periods that we were both there.
First, I stopped by the lab and set up the tissue assays. I would have liked to review the case with someone else, but it wasn't even daybreak yet, and no one else was in. I thought about looking through the data that Dr. Landry had already compiled, but my eyes wouldn't stay focused long enough to make sense of it; I hadn't slept in over a day. Giving up, I headed back to the apartment--to my so-called home.
"Surprise," said Jim Kirk, from his seat on my overstuffed couch.
I prided myself that I didn't jump. "How'd you get in here?"
"Your roomie let me in."
"Just like that?" Jerry was not the trusting type.
Jim gestured, palms up. "I have a way with people."
"So I see." I slung my bag down on the table. "But how'd you even find me?"
He shrugged. "Starfleet has the best compsystem ever built. Finding one almost-a-doctor with a Georgia accent in school in Mississippi wasn't much trouble."
"And they let smart-mouthed cadets have free reign over it? That's comforting."
"Who said anything about 'let'?" He raised his eyebrows in the manner of the guilty who aren't particularly concerned about appearing otherwise.
"And I am a doctor; I'm just getting more education."
Jim stood up and prowled toward me. "Sure. Completed one medical residency, and a general surgical one as well. Now studying microsurgery."
"Can you also tell me where I put my good chronometer? I haven't seen it in weeks."
"No. But I might be able to take your mind off of time for a while." Jim took another step forward. "Don't I get a kiss?"
I brushed him off and looked toward Jerry's bedroom. "Knock it off. I'm in the middle of a divorce with custody issues. I can't afford to be seen like this."
"Whoring around with a guy?"
"Playing around with anyone--while I'm still officially married."
"What're you doing here anyway? And don't tell me you couldn't get me off your mind."
"No." Jim reached into a pocket and
extracted a datachip. "You left
this in my room. I thought it might be
important, so I came by to return it on my way home."
"Last I looked, San Francisco was the other direction." I took the chip from him and checked the label.
"I've got time. And I'd sort of lost interest in New Orleans," said Jim.
"Oh, and by the way, your roommate isn't here. He left about an hour ago for hospital rounds."
I processed that vaguely, while examining the chip; it wasn't mine. I told him so and passed it back.
"Are you sure? I found it underneath the table, below where you bag was."
"Positive. I label mine by hand." I stuck the chip in my bicorder, and pulled it up onscreen to confirm. It was an update on Klingon weaponry.
"Oops. Guess you're right. How silly of me," Jim said as he sprawled back on the couch with an easy smile. He flung his arms over the back of the sofa in apparent invitation.
I was too tired for this. "Why'd you really come here, Jim? A guy like you could pick up all the tricks he wanted; why follow me?" It came out sounding harsher than I'd intended, but Jim barely reacted.
"Sure, but it's not often I meet someone I have so much in common with outside of the fleet. I was--intrigued. It makes me think--wonder what else I could have done with my life. And," he added, "I'm not used to having people run away from my bed. I got--worried. I wondered if I could help." He patted the empty spot on the sofa beside him.
"Trust me; you don't want my life." I took a seat--by myself--in one of the straight backed dinette chairs.
"Oh, don't get me wrong. I'd never have chosen anything other than Starfleet; it's called me since I was a kid. But sometimes I wonder how else things might have been. Don't you?"
I twisted my wedding band around on my finger. "You think we have a lot in common? I don't see it."
"You know what it's like to be responsible for other lives. The rest of the cadets--even the ones who've been there--don't talk about it. They don't talk about what that does to you--and sometimes I feel like I just have to let it out. Last night was nice. And not just in the obvious way."
Jim continued, "So I thought maybe we
could--talk some more. We both gave up
our families for the job--"
"I didn't give up my family." It came out as a snap. "My wife left me."
True--sort of. She'd said I'd worked too much and that our marriage had turned into a farce. She said she'd given me enough chances.
"I can change," I'd told her.
It had surprised me that there had been no malice in her voice. He voice was still as soft and sweet as it had been under the July honeysuckle vines when we had made our plans. "I know you can. You've always amazed me in the way that you can do absolutely anything at all--but you don't want to, and that's a much bigger problem, don't you see?"
Even in college, I'd always had the uneasy feeling that Joey was innately smarter than me.
Jim looked pointedly around the bachelor pad. "Oh, I see. My mistake."
His voice grew hard and he pushed off the sofa to pace my floor. I had been drifting again and I struggled to focus on his words.
"Both my parents are dead. I haven't seen my brother in over three years. I have two nephews I've never met. And you know what? Since our own father was never home, none of us even think that's strange--or even sad.
"So when you said you had a problem, I wondered if you had anyone to turn to. I wouldn't have. I've got fleet buddies who'd kill and die for me, but no one to go to with something important. No one I can talk to.
"But that's me, not you." Jim waited.
"My father's dying." There. I'd said it. "It's going to be slow and miserable and it looks like there's not a damned thing I can do about it. I just got back from the hospital, and I'm beat."
Jim sat back down and motioned with one hand.
This time I did join him on the couch. I sagged into the soft Pletherhide and Jim dropped an arm around my shoulders. It was warm and real and solid. The clinical part of my brain whispered terms like 'cognitive dissonance', 'denial', and 'transference', but the rest was just plain grateful for the comfort.
"I've never felt so helpless," I said.
Two fingers stroked my shoulder. His voice was strong and calm; it inspired trust itself. "In the final year, there's a command simulation test that no one's ever won. Candidates lose marks for comportment, ethics, for strategy--but not for losing lives. The instructors say failing to attain the impossible doesn't make an officer any less capable."
"You're saying it's not my fault. I know that. But it doesn't make it any easier."
He shook his head. "Uh-uh. That's not it. I'm telling you I'm going to keep taking that same damn test
until I get it right. I don't believe
anything's impossible, but you can't win if you don't try."
Despite myself, I chuckled. The kid had balls all right.
Jim squeezed my shoulders. "But that's a scenario. In life, you don't get repeats. You have to do your best--and you live with whatever happens. In our worlds, that means people die. How many people have to live with that kind of guilt?"
In my internship I had a patient die of Vegan choriomeningitis. I didn't recognize the signs in time. I'd always thought that if I had just been a little smarter, a little faster... It didn't matter that my supervising physician didn't spot it either; I'd told the man I was his doctor, that I'd take care of him--and he'd died.
I'd tried to talk to my advisor about my guilt. "These things happen, Lenny. Patients will die no matter how good you are. Get used to it, and get back to the ones who still need your help," he'd said.
I said to Jim, "You're right. I don't really have anyone, and I am glad you're here."
Jim leaned over and kissed me. The kiss stretched out and out--
"Well, that's not very flattering." Jim's eyes twinkled at me.
I jolted and realized I had been snoring--just a little. "I'm sorry; it's not you. I'm beat."
Jim stood up and extended a hand down to
me. "Come on."
"The bedroom, of course."
"I'm too tired."
"Come on. Get undressed and lie down. I'm going to make you feel better."
Working patiently with his hands and his mouth, Jim proved to be as good as his word. It was as if all the repressed fear and regret shot out of me with that orgasm, and I finally thought I could sleep without dreams.
I reached for Jim's dick to reciprocate, but he moved my hand away.
He was still rock-hard and as he kissed me, I felt the tension of hunger unassuaged coiled beneath his skin. He wrapped me in his arms and hugged me close, like a child might a favorite toy, yet he made no move towards satisfaction.
His kisses ebbed gradually to a gentle patter against my skin. He shifted to fit our bodies more closely together. He wrapped one leg around mine, pressing the full hot weight his dick against me as he did, but he made no other demands. As sleep closed in, I made one last, lazy try for him. He fended me off easily.
"Uh, uh. Get some rest. This way you'll owe me a favor later. "
Later. I wanted to say something about how we mistakenly take 'later' for granted, but my mouth wouldn't work and soon I was asleep.
Some unknown time in the night, I woke up. The room was pitch black and my right arm was cramping under the weight of someone's head. I pulled it back.
"Blue Eyes, you awake?"
"I am now." He was no longer touching me. In the dark, for all I knew, I could have been quite alone. Was this is how schizophrenics feel--talking to unseen voices, then waiting, feeling a little ridiculous at themselves, for an answer?
The bed creaked as he rolled over on his side. A warm hand found my chest. "I know what you mean," he said softly.
"About your patient. I know what you mean. I killed a man once. I can understand."
"No. A man under my command. Friendly fire is what they call it. We were on a training survey and were ambushed by Orions. I was survey leader. Terry trusted me, and I killed him. And no one understands. The fleet gave me a ribbon for it--for extracting the rest of the team--but when I close my eyes, I hear him scream every night."
I rolled up on my side and reached back for him. "Service means risks and dangers. Every enlistee must know that. As long as we have enemies, soldiers will die--"
He jerked away and upright. "Not mine. They put their trust me--their lives in my hands. I have to be better than that. I have to. I don't want to hear any more screaming. I can't stand any more screams."
I found his body in the dark. I pulled him in and rocked him gently against my chest. To my surprise, he let me.
It was more of an armful than I was used to, but otherwise not much different. I wondered if those sign-waving members of the religious right had ever tried holding a friend in need.
"You can't bring him back. That's the problem with asking to be a hero. No one bats 1000. If you want to play for big stakes, you have to live with the losses," I said.
My mouth went dry and I swallowed hard. "I've had patients die who shouldn't have. If I'd only been smarter, faster, better. You just have to--"
Jim snapped, "You didn't hear me. He didn't die. I killed him. There's a difference." His body was stiff as a board, and his heart thumped under my hand.
I stroked his back and felt him relax marginally under my fingers. "I heard you. But that's the difference between you and me. I just want to be a doctor, not a goddamned hero. If you're going to fight wars, your people are going to die sometimes. Live with it."
Now, where had I heard that before?
"How do you?" Jim asked.
"By focusing on the good I've done, and trying my damnedest to do more than enough to make up for the mistakes I've made."
"But you still have to live with the mistakes."
"Yeah." I kneaded his back.
I searched for what to say to that, but everything seemed like meaningless platitudes. He fell asleep while I was still thinking.
I swear by Apollo Physician and Asclepius and Hygieia and Panaceia and all the gods and goddesses, making them my witnesses, that I will fulfill according to my ability and judgment this oath and this covenant: --From the Oath of Hippocrates
Altogether, I was in bed less than five hours. When my alarm chimed, I reeled, momentarily disoriented by the naked man in my bed. Then it all came back--including my little debt. I woke Jim up, planning to pay him back for last night, but our session came out a draw. Jim said since I still owed him something, I'd have to meet him once more to pay him back. I told him I could live with that.
When I came out of the shower, he was gone.
My shower was too short. As soon as I turned off the sonics, reality closed back in. The tissue assays would need at least two more hours to produce a degeneration curve, but there was one thing I could do right now. I pulled on a clean shirt and ran a comb through my hair before I sat down at the terminal.
Unless her work schedule had changed, Joey--Jocelyn, I reminded myself--should be at home. Of course, it was an open question whether or not she would take the call once she recognized my code.
But she was, and she did, although she kept her face guarded. "Len. What do you want?" Nine years and one child together, and those were her first thoughts of me.
She still looked as beautiful as she had in college. I'd noticed her around campus, a waterfall of straight brown hair streaming down her back. But it was the not until second semester and we had multivariate calculus together, that I fell hopelessly in love. She'd walked in and sat beside me demurely dressed with the air around her tasting like every girl in my wet dreams and my body went wild.
Then she had raised her hand, uncrossed her long legs under her short skirt and stood to demonstrate a proof of Helgini's Theorem. When she leaned over her terminal, a glimpse of bosom appeared in the V of her neckline, and her hair fell forward around her face and shoulders. As she pushed it back, an endless task, she twisted her head just a little and shot a rueful smile just to me, then she punched up the rest of the proof. I had never seen anyone like her, and I decided on the spot that I would marry that girl.
She'd had no objection.
There was a time when her face would have lit up just to hear my voice. No longer. I would have given anything at that moment to see her smile for me again.
Her hair was now cut short, sacrificed to the demands of motherhood, but otherwise she looked just like the girl who had murmured into my chest that she would love me forever. I watched the screen and some deluded part of me waited for her to break out into that tinselly laughter and say it was all a terrible practical joke; please come home.
But of course, that wasn't going to happen.
"What do you want, Len?" The beautiful voice I remembered was now hard with impatience.
"Hi, Jocelyn. It's about LJ."
"Oh, Lenny," her tone dropped to the infinitely weary. "We've been over this and over it. If you think you have something new, tell it to my lawyer." She reached for the toggle.
LJ was three, almost four now. I never knew a person could love anything so much until the day that she was born. And she loved me purely and absolutely--an exhilarating thrill and responsibility.
Custody was the only issue in the divorce. I wouldn't try to hold Joey if she didn't want to stay. Asset redistribution statutes were pretty clear these days, not that it mattered much. With all the time I spent at the hospital, I had no use for most of the stuff we'd accumulated. But she'd been firm on one thing. She wanted sole custody of LJ. She said I was too enmeshed in my work to be any kind of husband, or even a part-time father, and she wouldn't have her daughter growing up like that.
The fair and rational part of my brain agreed that Joey was right. But our daughter was the only part of her that still loved me. How could I give that up?
"No! Joey--Jocelyn, it's not that. Can you bring her over? Tomorrow--or today would even be better."
"It's not your weekend."
"I know. It's not for me. I don't
even have to be here, if you don't want.
It's Dad. He's dying. I mean, actively dying. I'm not sure he'll be here next weekend. So, please, will you bring her up?"
"What is it?" Her eyes widened in real concern.
"We don't know yet. But it's not contagious, if that's what you mean. Something neurological and degenerative."
"Three residencies and you can't tell what's wrong with your own father?" Joey would have made quite a surgeon; She always knew exactly where to stick the knife.
"They think it's toxic. Something to do with an exposure during his research. Whatever it is, it's progressing rapidly. He's partially paralyzed already. When it reaches his chest, he'll need life support. I'd like--he'd like to see LJ, before then."
"Oh, Lenny, I'm so sorry. There's no treatment?"
"Not without a diagnosis. They're--we're--working on it. Maybe in a couple of months, but that's a long time to be on support. Between the damage from the disease and the accelerated cell loss on support systems, I'm afraid that even if he does come off of it, the brain damage will be too much."
"Lenny, I really am sorry." Her face was soft and her eyes searched mine in a way I hadn't seen in months. Maybe years. If this is what it took to get some feeling back from her, it was a shame I was fresh out of dying relatives.
"Did you ever work things out with
him?" she said.
My defenses shot up. "Work what out? We don't have a problem. I just don't care for his wife."
"Yeah, right, I forgot. You're perfectly fine. You don't have the problems; it's everyone else."
I opened my mouth, but I don't think she wanted to fight any more than I did. She changed the subject.
"I'll bring her up in a few hours. Where is he?"
"Doctor Kildare? Of course, he does. He probably knows more about it than his doctors do. He might even be holding back information just to make the rest of them look bad."
She gave me an odd look. "Yeah, Lenny, you're doing just fine, alright."
She changed the subject again. "We'll be there by zero hundred. It's okay with me if you want to come over. Joanna would love it, and it sounds like you could use some time with your Dad."
I thought of several possible replies, but in the end I just thanked her before the screen went blank.
As I pulled on the rest of my clothes, I toyed with the idea of going back to the hospital, but decided later would be better. A little voice in my head kept nagging that later might be too late. I shut it up; what did a voice know? I could do more good in the lab. So I picked up my keys and went back to work.
On the way past the table, I noticed that Jim had left his weaponry data chip behind. I didn't think that soon-to-be Fleet captains made those kind of oversights.
I will not use the knife, not even on sufferers from stone, but will withdraw in favor of such men as are engaged in this work.--From the Oath of Hippocrates
I got breakfast--or should that be brunch?--and stopped by the lab first anyway. Like I thought, none of the readings were mature enough to be reliable, but Klaen Oyla was there, so I ran over Landry's data card and the preliminary findings with him. Nothing new. Had I had a bit more insight at the time, I would have recognized my stall tactic for what it was.
If Klaen hadn't left first, I might have missed visitation hours entirely. But he did so I didn't. I left and made my way back to Emory, ignoring the childish part of my brain that was chanting for car trouble.
When I got there, the first thing I saw was again the round window and the cityscape. But I didn't have time to consider it today; LJ squealed and ran straight to me, throwing herself around my legs.
When I was eight, I had asked Mom for a dog. And again when I was nine and ten and eleven and every year right up until she died. I didn't know it at the time, but what I sought was that absolute unconditional love and trust that can only come from a pet or a young child. I never did get the dog; I don't know how I had lived this many years without the child. When I picked her up and she flung her arms around my neck and called me "Daddy," I thought my heart would burst.
But it didn't, so eventually I tried to put her down. She would have none of it. She clung to my neck, a fact that gave me no little satisfaction to have Joey see--as petty as that sounded--so I carried her back over to the Bed.
The status was yellow, still not activated. "How are you?" I tried as a son, having nothing to contribute as healer.
Now LJ squirmed to be put down. Dad pushed himself to a sit, then opened his arms to her. He'd never done that for me. At least not that I could remember. In fact, we hadn't touched since my arrival.
"Who knows? The damned doctors won't tell me anything."
He chose every one of those damned doctors himself. But that was dad for you. "I'm sure they would if they knew anything."
He cut me off. "You don't know; you just got here."
You just called me, you bastard. No, you made your wife call me. That's what I thought. But what I said was, "I spoke with the chief of pathology. If they knew anything they would tell you. But they don't."
"Pathology. Derived from 'pathos'--meaning suffering. A funny place to look for a cure. But probably the smartest."
His face was tight. I glanced over at the pain meter. It spiked every time LJ moved against him. His sensory nerves must be ultra-sensitized, but he didn't ask her to move away. In fact he gripped her tighter. The meter spiked again; every touch must hurt. I knew how that felt.
How many times had I longed and feared for him to touch me? How many times had I done anything I could think of to get his attention, and then froze when I did? I was too young and too needy to realize what I was doing--or care. I wanted to feel anything of him I could get, even pain. And now he was too old and too needy. He wanted to feel anything he could, even pain. Which of us was sicker?
I picked LJ up and sat down on the side of the bed, holding her in my arms, not quite touching him. Only then did I notice Joey in the corner chair. She could still make my heart skip. Not that that was any secret. At least not to me.
I made myself look away. I'd come here for my father--ostensibly.
I perched on the edge of the bed, watching him play with my daughter. There was so much that needed to be said between us all, but I couldn't find the starting word.
When my mother had been alive, I was in her bedroom watching her dress one day. She wasn't shy with me. She stripped and did what she had to do--in the bath, in her closet--and let me follow her there.
I said something about her being naked once. She tweaked my ears playfully. "Silly! I've seen you naked more times than I can count. You peed on me while I changed your diapers."
"I didn't, mama!" I laughed in protest. "I would never pee on you."
"Oh yes you did."
"Did." She picked me up and rolled with me over and over on the bed, laughing until I thought I would barf.
Then daddy came in. She stopped and covered herself. "Hollis, go play downstairs."
I still felt like I could barf. "Yes ma'am."
Later, I had asked her about it. She let Daddy see her naked; she let me see naked, so what was the big deal?
"You've both seen me naked, but not in the same way. It doesn't work together."
I didn't understand it then, but I knew it was profound. Every one in this room wanted to talk with my dad, but not in the same way, and I was the odd man out. I stood up.
"I'll come back later."
Jocelyn stood as well. "No. Lenny, if it's me, I can leave her with you--"
"No," I barked. LJ looked up.
"No," I said more gently, "I'm very glad you came. It's not that. I just need to go. I'll come back tomorrow, Dad."
Glancing at the meter pressed against the top of the column, I plucked LJ from the bed.
"Let her stay son; she's not hurting anything."
That was a direct and damned lie according to the meter, but I set her back on the foot of his bed with a new game to play.
"Bet you can't stay on the bed and keep from touching grampa."
"Can so," she giggled.
"You can't even touch him through the
blankets and that's hard 'cause you can't see what's under there."
"Can so; I can tell by the lumps."
She took a spot beside his legs, not touching him by inches, and gloated happily at me.
"I really have to go," I said as I headed for the door.
"I'll go with you." Shirley grabbed her pack of sticks and hurried after me into the hall.
"Is it as bad as they say?" she asked.
I didn't know what they had told her. It didn't matter. "Yes--at least that bad."
She rolled a caffeine stick between her fingers. "Do you think we're doing the right thing with the Biobed? New discoveries are being made all the time. I figure if it buys him even a few months--" She bit her lip and stopped mid-sentence.
"I don't know," I said honestly. "Biobeds aren't the miracles the public seems to think. There's brain tissue lost every day--every hour that someone is dependent on them. And he'll still have the pain."
She inhaled with a sharp whistle. "He didn't tell me that."
"He's knows all there is to know about Biobeds. If he requested it, that's his
She shuffled. "He didn't; I did. He agreed--for me. I just can't let him go without a fight. But if he's going to be in pain the whole time--" The stick cracked in two between her clenched fingers. One part dropped to the floor. She watched it fall. I watched her watch it.
"I don't know what's right anymore; I don't want him to suffer. I don't want him to go. What will I do with out him?"
I saw the her eyes well up and a jolt of fear went through me unbidden. I had seen people cry before--next of kin, family, lovers--probably thousands in my career, usually in hallways and stolen corners, just out of earshot, just like this really.
But those times I had always been in my jacket or scrubs--the costume that reminded me of my role and insulated me from the deepest feelings and pain. I had felt for them--I know I had--but I had never felt with them, from their side of the glass. It stunned me utterly how different it could be.
Suddenly she was crying hard tears. She threw her arms around my shoulders. Not knowing what else to do, I hugged her back. It didn't feel as awkward as I always had assumed it would.
She repeated between her sobs, "What will I do without him?"
...to give a share of precepts and oral instruction and all the other learning to my sons and to the sons of him who has instructed me;--From the Oath of Hippocrates
Fritz covered my patients for me the next three days while I traveled between Emory and the lab. I sat with my dad and Shirley, talking about nothing in particular and watching him get weaker and weaker.
I went over the experimental gels every morning. They showed the same neural decay pattern that had eluded medical treatment ever since medicine had become more science than luck. Assuming it ever had.
I ran it by my advisor. All he had to say was that he was sorry, and to take all the time off I needed.
"I'm not ready for this," I said.
"The family never is. Haven't you learned that by now?" he
asked. "Or did you think somehow
it would be different with you. That
your MD gives you some sort of special pull with death?"
I shook my head. "No, I just thought we'd have more time."
A while back I had attended a woman while she died of the cumulative effects of old age. Three of her surviving children were there keeping a 24 hour vigil. I'd gotten to know them all very well.
The eldest daughter, Kendra, was a concert violinist, or had been until arthritis took much of her ability but none of her joy away. She'd had her mother living with her for the past six years and seemed to know what my patient needed better than she did herself.
The son, Jackie, was the joker. No one could stay down around him for very long. At 6'4" and no less than 300 pounds, he dwarfed his mother when he took her hand. Still, when they were together, it was clear that he would always be her baby.
The other daughter, Mina, lived on the Martian colonies and still taught graduate level Class M xenoichthiology there. She'd been commuting every weekend for the past several months to be with her mother and the fatigue showed. She wouldn't take a leave; it was a specialized field and she couldn't be replaced easily. She said her students were counting on her for their degrees.
Nevertheless, the woman kept asking for Sarah, her other daughter. Things had never been easy between them, almost from the time that Sarah could talk. They fought through Sarah's teenage years and even after Sarah moved out. After a failed marriage Sarah had come back to stay at her mother's house. They had fought one last time--about something involving a boyfriend they thought--and Sarah had left in anger. That was over thirty years ago. The mother had sent stargrams; the first few were never answered, the rest had bounced.
Using my access to the citizen's medical history databanks--not entirely ethical, but it seemed like the right thing to do at the time--I was able to track Sarah down on Avior IV. She flew in immediately, but her mother was already comatose when she arrived. She died two days later.
My patient had been 106, frail and tired. It was time for her to go and the other children were relieved that she'd gone in peace. Sarah was the only one to take it hard. "I always thought I would have time to make things right between us," she kept saying.
The woman was 106, how much time did you think you had, I had wondered. Now I knew what she meant. I was out of time.
I will neither give a deadly drug to anybody who asked for it, nor will I make a suggestion to this effect --From The Oath of Hippocrates
It was late, but it was back to the hospital for me. This time standing at his door was the worst. When I passed through we would work this out one way or the other. I let myself in.
Since my last trip, things had changed for the worse. Shirley wore the same jumper as yesterday, now rumpled and sweat-stained at the collar. Her Italian shoes had been tossed in a corner, in favor of unisex hospital slippers; her expensive salon coiffure was crushed in back and awry everywhere else. She fretted with Dad's food tray, mashing everything compulsively with a spoon. I watched from the door as he swallowed one or two bites. Not a drop spilled. She looked like an expert with this already.
She glanced toward me briefly. Only a few smudges of makeup remained, and
those were all in the wrong places.
"Hollis, I'm glad you're here."
For the first time since I had known her, I felt sorry for her. And I believed her.
Dad wasn't so much sitting as he was positioned up on the Bed. The instrument panel showed that the heartbeat was his own, but that the respiratory muscles were already being supplemented.
"Look who's here. It's Hollis."
With apparent effort, he turned his head a
little toward the door.
I walked to the foot of the bed. "Hi Dad."
He twisted his face away from the spoon that Shirley was holding in front of his mouth. "Hollis, I need to talk to you."
Shirley placed the spoon back in the bowl and wiped an errant lock of hair back off of her face with the back of her free hand. "Good idea. Maybe Hollis can get you to eat."
She shoved the food at me. "Try to get him to finish this at least. It has the supplements in it." She went into the bathroom and closed the door. I heard water begin to run.
I stared down at the mashed food that I held, and a surge of minor panic ran through me. In eleven years of medicine I had performed or assisted in almost every surgical procedure known to the Federation, but I could not for the life of me figure out how to feed an invalid. Some doctor I was.
Think of it like a baby, I told myself, like feeding LJ. I was sure Freud would have something to say about that, but it worked; he took the last two bites before turning his head away.
"Hollis, I need to talk to you before
your mother comes out. I don't want the
"Sure. I'll call your doctor and let you tell them. They'll change the order."
"No. No, I can't do that to your mother."
She's not my mother.
"She's not strong enough to let go like that. I want her to think that everything that could be done has been--or else she'll always wonder. I want you to take care of it."
"Dad, I can't do that. I took the same oath that you did. If you don't want the Bed, fine. Say so but you can't ask me to play god just to spare you the tough decisions. I'm a healer; I can't take a life--or knowingly cause it to be lost."
"We can't always offer a cure, but we can always offer relief. You said you wanted to help. I told you how you can. I'm dying; why not spare me a little of the hard part? I love your mother very much. This will hurt her enough."
"And me?" What about me?
"We're familiar with death, you and I. You can do this."
I heard the bathroom door open. Shirley looked at the bowl with satisfaction. "I knew he'd eat for you." She started trying to feed him something off of the plate but he pursed his lips and refused.
"So what were you two boys talking about anyway?" Shirley asked.
"Happiness," he said, before I could get a chance. "I was telling Hollis that when it comes right down to the end, the only thing that matters is being happy and the happiness of the ones you love.
"Are you happy, Hollis?" Dad asked.
"No. Not yet, but I'm working on it." I twisted the ring on my left hand.
Shirley bumped his arm as she tried to maneuver the spoon into his mouth between words. The pain meter spiked again."
"Good. You make sure you get there. Everyone has to be happy."
I settled down in a chair to stay for the night. At first we talked about LJ; she was safe and happy ground for both of us. We talked about Mom, and about the good times we had had. It's funny how things get slanted. He remembered a lot more good times than I did. Some things we saw differently, but others I had just forgotten. Over his head I watched the readings indicate progressively more and more support of blood pressure and respiration. The Bed was doing most of the work already.
Around 2100, Shirley dozed off. Dad asked me to read him the data from above
the Bed. I did. We both knew what it meant. The facial muscles
were going now; soon he'd be unable to talk.
And not much later--
I almost didn't recognize my own name from him. He said it again. "Leonard. The pain. Stop the pain."
"I've done everything I can do. You've got to hang on."
"The pain--I can't stand the pain." I glanced up. The pain meter was maxed. I put my hand against his chest. It couldn't matter now.
His next words were so soft, I had to lean my ear almost to his lips. "Help me."
I turned my face away so he couldn't see, but the shaking in my hands betrayed me, I'm sure. What the hell had I learned in all that time in training if I couldn't do a damned thing now?
"Son, release me."
"I can't do that, Dad." My voice sounded strange to me as if it came from someone else very far away. I felt his heart beating under my palm--his heart, but now beating to the perfectly timed instructions of the Bed. I felt his shoulder, gave it a little squeeze while it was warm and real under my hand as if to imprint the physical fact of his existence into my brain.
"The pain--I can't bear the pain." He looked at me for the last time.
"I love you, Dad." My voice was not even a whisper. I doubted he could even hear it, but the assurance wasn't meant for him.
I took the control panel and deactivated the alarm. With one hand I pushed the control unit in, the other I laid back on his shoulder. I keyed the 'off' button.
The alarm warning light flashed in the dim room. In the strobe, I watched him wince with every breath. I pressed the confirmation button, and the flash of the strobe increased. I watched the lines ease away from his face.
I took his head between my palms and kissed him. Wherever my father was, he was no longer in the space beneath my hands.
Shirley still dozed in the chair by the window. I crossed to her and shook her gently by the shoulder.
"Shirley. Shirley, he's going. There was too much nervous system damage; the Bed couldn't take over control of his heart. I tried to help him, but it won't work."
She crawled up on the bed and hugged him to her, sobbing softly as I watched the electroencephalogram gradually taper to flat. I reset the Bed control and replaced it and then I called the nurse.
She climbed off the bed and came to me, crying softly in my arms. "Thank god. Thank you," she sobbed into my neck.
But in both [hospitals and private houses], let whoever is in charge keep this simple question in her head, (not how can I always do the right thing myself, but) how can I provide for the right thing to always be done? -- Florence Nightingale.
I came home to a dark apartment. "Jerry?" I called. There was no answer. I went to the comm and keyed the code Jim had left.
He answered from a vid screen, shirtless but wide-awake. "Doc, you look terrible."
"Can you come over?"
"It's really not a good time. I have a big test tomorrow."
"Oh." I paused. "Can you come over anyway?"
I curled up on my bed, not really thinking about anything. It couldn't have been more than five minutes before he appeared.
He lay down next to me and put his arms around me. "I'm sorry."
"So am I." I hugged him to me, and he stayed with me through the night.
If we really want to love, we must learn how to forgive. --Mother Teresa
The day of the funeral, Jim called me up. I took it on the vid screen.
"Do you want me to go with you?" he said.
"No, it's alright. I'll have people there."
"I see. You'll have people there." The words sounded different when he said them.
"It's not that." I bristled. "In fact, I've been thinking about the whole family thing. I'm not worried about appearances anymore; it really is okay. Things have settled down to a--kind of peace. Sad, but peace. I don't want to pull you away from school."
"Sure. I'm glad it's better. Let me know if I can help."
"You already have." I smiled. "Really. You don't know how much."
"Want to come by later and tell me?"
"See you then." He signed off and the screen went dark. It was only then that I realized what had been strange; he was in full dress uniform. I wondered if it was for an Academy ceremony, or for the invitation that hadn't come.
The funeral service wasn't too bad--all considering. LJ wanted to ride with Gramma to the interment; after being told she couldn't ride with Grampa this seemed like the next best thing. I caught Jocelyn on the way to the flitter lot.
"Can I talk to you?"
"Please, Lenny, not here. Call my lawyer if you have anything new to say."
"No, it's not that. In fact I've decided to give up custody. I told my lawyer this morning. He'll have the final papers drawn up by tomorrow, if you'll agree to unlimited visitation."
She stared openmouthed. "Of course I will. LJ loves you; I want you to stay close. But what brought this on?"
I shrugged. "I realized that I wasn't cut out to be a father. Medicine'll always come first, and that's not fair to LJ. I'd rather see her sometimes and have it be good than see her half the time and have it be--" I looked toward the hearse and didn't finish. I didn't have to. Joey followed my gaze.
"You don't have to be like him, you
know. Genetics are building blocks, not
"That's just it," I said. "It's not so terrible to be like him. I've demonized him for so long, I never stopped to realize that he was just an average man. A great scientist, but an average man. And I am a lot like him. I'm just as obsessed with my career--but I do want my family to be happy."
I shook my head. "I love her so much; I just want her to be happy. And I can't be a good father with my career."
When she looked up at me, her eyes held more compassion than I had earned from her in a long time. "I think you've just proved that you can be--in your own way."
She rose up on tiptoes and kissed my forehead. "Thank you," she whispered. As she flipped her hair and ducked into her hovercar, the same sweet smell I remembered billowed in the air. It wrapped around me and followed me to my car waxing and waning in strength with each breath. I thought vaguely to myself that that smell would likely be my last memory of her to go.
Hoopdy fired right up. Something glinted in the sunlight as I eased back the throttle. It was the fourth finger of my left hand. With one last twist, I pulled off the ring; a pale indentation remained where it had been. I tried it on my right hand, but it felt funny there--sort of clunky and in the way. The joint of my middle finger was too big for me to work it past. I couldn't reach my pocket seated like I was, so I replaced the ring on the same finger--just for now.
I think it must be a terrible thing, but my keenest feeling on that trip was freedom. It was a dreadful, disorienting kind of sudden lightness, like a rat that has gnawed off its own leg to escape from a trap. I had severed all the ties to my past and handed my daughter over to a woman who would be happy to never see me again. There's probably a special circle of hell for parents--for children--like me, but it felt so damned good to not have to think about anyone else.
As I launched into the funeral procession with the sun in my eyes, I was suddenly reminded of Daedalus finally breaking out of the labyrinth, stretching his new wings and flying free into the sun. Or was that Icarus? And which was the father and which was the son? I always got that part confused.
No physician is really good before he has killed one or two patients. --Hindu Proverb
I didn't stop after the cemetery; I flew straight to San Francisco. It was still morning there, but already parked up, so I left the hovercar in Sausalito and took the Golden Gate Bridge National Monument pedway across the Bay. I watched the water roll along underneath me as the pedway moved, and I twisted my ring out of habit. On an impulse I pulled it off and said a mental good-bye as I prepared to drop it into the depths of the Bay. At the last moment, I stopped my hand; after all, it was perfectly good platinum. Such symbolic gestures are for children. I tucked the ring into my travel medipouch and closed the flap.
With the high morning sun in my eyes, I wandered through the park and over to the Haight-Ashbury historic district for a while. It still drew the searching and disenfranchised youth--or would be youth--from around the continent, and I felt right at home. I ordered myself an organic falafel and just sat--for the first time in since I can't remember when--with absolutely nothing at all to do.
I walked most of the way to the Starfleet dorms, taking in the sights and the sounds of the city. The sky was packed with traffic, much of it taking off across the ocean or through the exosphere and into space. I played the game of imagining where each one was going, as generations of boys before me have done with wagons, ships, trains and planes. As a kid it was only a game; as a free man I could buy a ticket to anywhere right now. I had only to decide where.
My neck began to cramp from craning, so I looked back down where I was going. Good thing too; I'd almost missed my turn. I set my sights on the pedway ahead and rechecked the location of the next turnoff; I didn't have to look up. Just knowing the flights were there gave me an easy feeling. I could get on one any time I wanted to--but right now I had a date.
A date. I could call this a date! Reflexively, I reached to twist my ring, but my fingers touched bare skin. There was nothing there.
Jim was horsing around with some cadets in the common room. It looked like he was losing, but to someone blonde and busty and he didn't seem terribly upset. She took him down and sat on her conquest. Funny you'd think the two-time winner of the Academy Iron Man contest could put up a better fight.
"Uncle, uncle!" He laughed as she bounced on his bare chest.
"Hey Jim, someone's here for you."
He stood up, picked up his shirt and came for me with a smile. "Len! I was worried when you didn't call. You alright?"
"Yeah, I'm fine." He was sweaty and smiling and looked so damned good that on impulse, I kissed him right on the mouth.
The crowd went wild.
He pulled back, but not right away. Not for a good long while as a matter of fact. "Well, that's a nice surprise, but I thought you, uh--" He gestured around the room.
"Things change," I said.
He put his arm around my waist and steered me
across the room to the door. "One of the nicer aspects of life."
"But what about you? Mister Navy and all." My conscience began to prickle and I sidled out from under his arm. While First Contact had brought enormous philosophical and social changes, the Christian churches and the military had been the last two major agencies let go of their prohibitions on same-sex marriages. I'd often thought it odd how frequently those two strange bedfellows--one purporting peace on earth and the other deadly force--were caught rolling around together in the dark.
"Maybe I shouldn't've--you know." Now I gestured in the air.
Jim shrugged and put his arm back around me as someone whistled in our direction. "They're used to it."
Blondie tossed a sweaty, black T-shirt at him. "Hey Jim, you forgot this."
I rolled my eyes. I'll bet they are.
"Hey, I wasn't always like this. You should have seen me as a freshman. The nerd to end all nerds. Three years and the only dates I had were Stardates," said Jim as he escorted me through the door.
"They much teach a lot more than flying at Starfleet."
"You better believe it, mister." The door closed behind me, and he kissed me as if to prove the point.
There was a mesh divider down the middle of his dormroom, with a small bunk and desk on either side. I took it one side was his, but there was no one else in the room.
His side looked a lot like him, neat and to the point. There were posters of ships and men in uniforms. I guessed that the one on his desk was his dad.
Books, real paper books were stacked everywhere. I leafed though the top one of the nearest pile--Amundsen's record of his trip to the South Pole. Underneath that was something by Nabokov, and then a text on World War III. On top of the next pile was "The Collected Works of Neruda." Never heard of him. I flipped through it. Poetry. It looked like love poetry--go figure."
He sat in the single chair behind the desk. "You don't have to sound so surprised."
"I didn't mean it like that--" I stopped. I suppose I did. I knew the soldier and the hero; I didn't know the man at all.
"I mean, you're right. It was a surprise."
"I don't have a lot of time to read, but when I do I want it to be good."
He stood up and walked to the replicator. "Get you anything?"
"Any chance of a beer?"
"I thought you didn't drink?"
"That was my dad. I don't have the problem."
"Rationed to one a night for cadets," he said as the glass materialized.
"One's all I want." I took a decent gulp. It tasted like wet, rotting bread and I barely stopped from spitting it across the room. The glass thumped as I set it back down on the table.
He laughed at the face I made. "You do this a lot?" He took a big swallow behind me.
"No. Only when I bury a relative."
He stopped and came to stand quite close to me. "You okay?"
A warm flush traveled through my body, seeming to start in my stomach where the alcohol sat, and work its way out along my arms and legs--and especially to my head. I rubbed my cheeks; they felt hot to me. "Yeah, I'm alright. But I don't want to talk about it, okay?"
"Okay." He put his arm around my back and up and under my shirt and it was spontaneous combustion. With my last conscious thought, I reached for the tube and sealant in my medipouch. Something tinkled to the floor. Within a minute we were naked on the bed with me sliding myself against his body.
I was rough, but he matched me move for move. I pressed him hard where I wanted him; he didn't fight, but worked his hands against my body just as fiercely as I used him. We tumbled over and over. It ended with him on hands and knees, me rocking my hips and sliding along his crack.
I used all of my strength against him, pushing him up the bed with my thrusts. He grabbed a pillow and held it under his face and chest, but soon his head was up against the wall. He gripped the mattress, and curled up tighter. By now we were locked in the corner.
I pulled back to let him reposition. Instead of lying down, he knelt, legs splayed, flat against the wall. I pressed myself into his cleft and wrapped one arm around his waist, pulling him tight against me. I was so hard I could barely breathe; I needed him too much. I bit his shoulder and squeezed his waist, feeling the heat of his cock leak against my wrist. His skin flared red where my mouth and fingers dug in, but he made no attempt to stop me. We both needed it too much.
I humped him from behind and jacked him from the front. The pressure had built within me to where I felt more pain than pleasure; I had to get off. I came with sweet relief and fell limp against his back.
When it was over, he slid down the wall. I hooked my arms under his shoulders and followed him down. With some difficulty, we made a place for the two of us to spoon on the bunk; it wasn't exactly comfortable, but it was just where I wanted to be. From behind, I slid one hand down the silken ripples of his body. His cock was soft, but I couldn't tell if he had come.
"You okay?" I sounded drugged, even to myself.
"I'm great," he said in a voice that left no room for doubt.
I kissed his shoulder in the dents where my teeth had been. It would bruise, I thought. I could see it starting already. He grabbed my wrist, pulled it tighter against his middle, and pressed his ass back against my groin. The only sound I could hear was the pounding of our hearts. The air was thick and heady with the scent of us. My skin itched where my semen grew sticky, but I didn't care to move. The speed of my easy fall back into this kind of intimacy both comforted and alarmed me at the same time.
Jim's hair rubbed against my cheek as he strained to check the chronometer. 0348.
"My roommate will back soon."
I rolled away. "Right. I should take a shower anyway."
"Turn left, end of the hall."
"This isn't the Fairmont. Group shower."
I weighed the two options, but it was no contest. "I'll wait 'til I get home."
I rolled up to sit on the side of the bunk and pulled my shorts off the floor and on. When I reached back for my pants, I bumped his leg. Suddenly, he was standing there before me.
"Let me go home with you."
He bent down and nibbled the secret spot behind my ear. He repeated it in a whisper, each word blown softly against the skin of my ear. "Let. Me. Go. Home. With you."
He pulled back and cocked his eye with a pointed glance towards my crotch.
I blushed. "I mean, why now? It's a three-hour trip. You'll just have to turn around and come back."
"Not if we transport."
Oh no. "I don't transport."
He put his hand on my thigh, and pushed it up and under my shorts. "I'll make it worth your while."
I chuckled. "My car's here. I'll be off work and home by 0100. Why don't you just come over then?"
Jim stood up and paced the short span in front of the bunk. "I still have four months until graduation. I told you about one medal. Did I tell you I've received two? The only cadet to be twice decorated."
He gestured to the posters on the walls. "I do have a reputation, as you put it, but not like you mean. Here I'm expected to be a leader, to be a hero all the time. Do you know what's that's like? Don't you just ever want to let some one else be strong?"
Son, release me.
"Yes." I stood up and hugged him fully against my body.
"So, what do I do?" I said when he let me go.
"Just stand there; I'll have some of the plebes bring your car back for you"
"Oh. Okay. You'll need my code key. Got a memory chip?"
"They won't need it." Jim stepped into his pants as he spoke.
"But you might want to put some clothes on. We have to go through the transporter bay."
"I've never liked transporters," I mumbled as I sealed my slacks. Looking down, I saw my wedding band had fallen to the floor. I picked it up and stuck it on a finger--just for now.
"I'd offer to hold your hand," said Jim with a smile, "except it's not a good idea. Sometimes the molecules get accidentally scrambled between two people.
"Energize." He flipped his comm and spoke into it.
Scrambled? "Now just a damn minute--" His impish grin was the last thing I saw before my eyes exploded into golden sparkles. My words faded as my middle shivered into nothing, to be followed shortly by the rest of me.
For a second or two I was in a large room. A blonde with big hair stood behind a console. My stomach reeled and pitched and disappeared again, and then I was in my own living room.
I made a dash for the bath.
When I came out he was at my desk looking at a press holo of my dad from when he'd received the Clarnynium Award. "What was he like?" Jim asked.
"I don't really know."
"So am I."
We made love again and Jim fell asleep in my bed. I got up at 1230 for rounds and decided not to wake him. I found my car parked two spaces away from my usual spot, batteries charged and ready to go.
When I came home that night, Jim was gone and my single bed felt strangely large.
The next few weeks were like a whirlwind. I barely slept, moving on some kind of strange adrenaline high. My father's estate was easy enough to settle. He'd left me a sizable account. I took his medical collection and left all the rest for Shirley. She tried to argue, but I told her I didn’t want anything else. I told her that he gave me a love of medicine and that was enough. I told her I'd come visit--maybe change my mind if I wanted anything else. I said it as a formality, but after I had left her alone with her grief in the remnants of the home she had made for them, I realized I had meant those words, every one.
My patient rounds flew by. My research seemed to flow on its own with me content to watch and record. I saw Jim almost every night that I wasn't on call and many that I was. I even got used to the damned transporter, but I never told him that, so he mostly came to stay with me.
There was one night I told him he couldn't come--the night we signed the papers. Joey called me and said everything was ready.
"I was thinking tomorrow after you get off, but if that's too soon--"
"No, it's fine," I said. "0100?"
"Okay." She gave me a curious look through the vidscreen. "You'll be there?"
"Yeah, of course. I said I would."
"I just thought--"
"That I'd be childish? Joey, if you want out, I can't stop you."
"No. No, you can't anymore. But you don't know how much I wish that you still could." The look she gave me reminded me so much of my old Joey that it hurt. In a second it was gone and she was again my daughter's mother. "See you at 0100 tomorrow."
It went off without a hitch. We were both very cool and adult. On the way home I passed a jeweler--the kind that mostly sold to kids and wannabe retros, but what the heck. On impulse, I stopped short and turned in. I think I almost caused a wreck.
The ring was still in my medipouch, and I presented it for his decision. After all, the memories weren't all bad; some of them were downright good. I could almost believe that in time I would find some of them wonderful again.
"Should work," he said. "Where do you want it?"
"Pinkie, I guess."
"Hold out your finger. You want it loose or tight?"
"Just a little loose. I'm planning on bulking up a little."
It only took a second under the Autocrafter, and I was done. I twirled it on my pinkie as I left. Resizing had made it thicker and wider as well. It didn't feel like the band I'd worn for years. Well, fair's fair. I didn't feel like the man I had been either.
Jim called; I lied and told him I was busy with the hospital. I settled in with a stack of back journals and read almost all the way through the night.
The next night Jim asked me to come over. He was running a hyperwarp simulation and had to take hourly readings. His simulation seemed to have something to do with fondling Blondie's fingertips; he dropped her hand as I materialized.
"I missed you," he said, and kissed me thoroughly in front of Blondie.
Blondie coughed. "I'll just be going then," she said, gathering her books.
"See you tomorrow, Helen." Jim tossed the comment over his shoulder.
"You said something about your
reputation?" I managed around the pressure of his mouth and tongue.
"You're helping me keep it, Blue Eyes," he said, and slid his hand under my shirt.
I tried to take it slow, but there was too much built up inside of me. I couldn't separate the emotional and the physical and it all came out in one violent spurt. I was caught too much by surprise to even cry out at the climax. Beneath me, Jim clamped his cheeks and came into the mattress. I had wanted to touch him, but it all happened so fast.
When I could breathe, I rolled over onto my back. "Oh man." My chest still heaved. "You alright?"
Jim unclenched his arms, pulled his head out of the pillow and rolled over beside me. He chuckled, "Never better. You?"
"Oh yeah. Right as rain." I rearranged myself. "Oh no!"
"What?" Jim bolted up on his elbow.
"I forgot the bioshield." How could I be so careless? I should know better than that.
"You don’t have to worry," I said to him. "You're safe. You're the only one I've been with since Joey."
Jim dropped back to the mattress with an easy sigh. "Oh, that. I told you, I've had all my shots. Those regular boosters the fleet gives us for everything. Says we never know what we might run into."
I snorted. "Right. You get the double strength ones?" I rummaged in my medikit for a general viricide.
"You know," I tried my falsetto, "'Hey Jim, you forgot your T-shirt'."
Jim laughed. "You're jealous of Helen? Don't bother. She's engaged to one of the infirmary nurses."
"A woman?" I asked, kicking myself a minute too late. Old southern thinking dies hard, as the hospital nurses were always reminding me--especially the men.
"I don't know actually. Her fiancé is Kiclidian. You know how hard it is to tell with their clothes on. I've never asked. But Helen's taken, either way."
"Too bad for you," I mumbled, pressing the hypo into my arm.
Suddenly Jim's hands were on my shoulders, digging into me with feral vigor. I dropped the hypo. My eyes flew open and looked into his only centimeters away at the very limit of my ability to focus. His pupils were dilated wide leaving an eerie, almost inhuman visage fading in and out of the edge of my vision.
He held my gaze. "Would it surprise you to know that you're the only one I've been with since we met?"
I blinked. Well, yes, actually it did. "Why's that?"
He let me go and propped up on one elbow still holding onto my eyes. "Haven't wanted to."
His eyes took on a distant haze and he looked
up over my shoulder, somewhere beyond the ceiling. "In the recruiting ads, they tell you that possibilities in
space are endless. Then you sign, and
they tell you there's one catch.
Spacemen can have everything except love; their ship takes all that they
have. Sometimes I think that's too
"I dunno. It's probably for the best. Ties are the last thing I need right now," I said.
"Right. I'm sure you're right." His smile seemed to lack conviction.
I could still taste myself on his lips, as he kissed me goodnight. "Can I stay?" I asked.
"Sure, I'd like that. If you don't mind Reveille in the morning."
"Close enough," he chuckled. "Just stick with medicine, Doc. It's what you're good at."
If I fulfill this oath and do not violate it, may it be granted to me to enjoy life and art, being honored with fame among all men for all time to come; if I transgress it and swear falsely, may the opposite of all this be my lot. -- Final passage of the Oath of Hippocrates
It happened about seven weeks after that. I was at home, halfway through my breakfast biscuit and gravy, eating with one hand and scanning journals with the other, when I read the news. Not even big news; the article was written to focus on the plants: "Arcturian Stealth Creeper Trees Yield Secret." They'd been considered a nuisance plant, but now they were in wide demand, much to the delight of the Arcturians.
Some enzyme had been extracted from them that could repair and even replace myelin in mammalian nervous systems. Phase I trials were being set up now.
I read it three times before I really got it. They'd found a goddamned cure.
My chair barked as I pushed back from the table. Jerry called to my back, "Hey, dishes in the bin. I'm a doctor, not your mother." I was already out the door and in the street with no earthly idea what to do.
There was a bar around the corner. That seemed like a fitting salute. Besides, they tell me that's what men in pain do. I swiped my arm with the identichip past the reader, and the security beam let me pass. Through the dingy haze I could see only a couple single men scattered around the room, most likely leftovers from last night--it was barely past sun-up. The air was sour with the smell of cheap whiskey and maybe some quiet desperation as well. The land of the utterly lost. I felt right at home.
"Whadd'll ya have?"
I searched the row of bottles.
"No loitering. One drink minimum."
Nothing looked familiar.
"Jack Daniels, neat."
It smelled as foul as I'd remembered it, so I drained it in one gulp. The next one wasn't so bad. Or the next.
He found me on the floor in the bathroom. I was just about to get up, I swear. "Whaddaryou doin here?"
Jim pulled me up by one arm. I wasn't so much standing as balancing on his strength. "I think that's obvious. The question is, what are you?"
"Getting' drunk." I almost fell, but he realigned his grip and kept me upright.
"Good; in that case, you're done. Let's go."
"I don't need your fucking advice or your fucking help." I yanked my arm back and fell against the wall. "Fuck." I squeezed my eyes shut to keep from having to watch the room spin. It didn't work.
He was so quiet, I thought he had gone. When I opened my eyes, he was still there, crouched down in front of me. There were two of him. Two right hands reached for my arm again, but only one came to rest on my skin. "Okay, you don't need me, but I can't stand to see you like this--so do me a favor; come home for me?"
I don't remember saying anything, but I let him pull me up. He tossed my arm over his neck and clamped his right arm around my waist.
"Who won?" I mumbled.
"You did, Doc." He flipped open his communicator. "Energize."
"Oh, dammit! No--" My
stomach flew up to my throat and down was yellow and quiet and there was no up
or sideways at all.
Then we were on a transporter pad. A little redhead in a minidress looked at me for a split second. Her hand moved behind the console and my legs dissolved under me and I was again infinite space and speed and then we were in my apartment.
I jerked away from Jim and barely made it to the bathroom in time.
He found me on the floor in the bathroom. This could get to be a pattern.
"I never said anything about a goddamned transporter." I spoke into the bowl--unwilling or unable to raise my head.
"Want to talk about it?"
"No." I worked on pulling myself up. I could stand--if I didn't get too far from the wall.
"Whaddr you doin?"
Jim was rummaging through the medicine cabinet. "Looking for your Anti-ol."
"I don't keep any. I told you, I don't drink." I staggered toward my bedroom and made it to the bed.
"Jerry called you?"
He sat down beside me. "They were worried when you didn't show up at the hospital."
"I'm not going back. I can't do it."
"You have to. That's the only way you can make it right."
"You don't even know what 'it' is."
"Doesn't matter. Healing is your service to the world. That's how you balance the scales--whatever it is that happened. For every hurt, you have to make a healing."
I sat up and grabbed his shoulders, trying to focus on his face, but everything still wove and swam. "Jim, have you ever done anything so bad--so terrible that you couldn't tell anyone? That you had to keep it locked inside of you, even if it tore you apart?" My stomach heaved and I had to lie down. I closed my eyes to steady myself. I closed them just for a minute. I'd asked him some kind of question...
Jim leaned down and kissed me. "Remind me to tell you about Tarsus sometime." I think that's what he said. I barely heard him as I fell into sleep.
When the sun came streaming in, I awoke with the first and last hangover of my life. I had a medipouch full of stuff, but I didn't take a thing. The Puritans used to flagellate themselves for their sins. They might have had a point.
I had twenty-two messages from various and sundry hospital personnel. I didn't answer any; I wrote my department head instead. "Doctor Gretez, this is Leonard H. McCoy. I regret to inform you that...."
I closed the channel and called it done.
Where does a man go to run away from himself? What space is big enough? It would be nighttime in San Francisco, but I called Jim anyway.
He answered right away. "You okay?"
"I don't know."
"Does your mouth feel like sand, your head like a punching bag, your brain like a wasp's nest and your stomach like a hurricane?"
"Then you're okay." He tossed a little smile at me. "What's up?"
"You still got one of those Starfleet applications around?"
I stared at him through the comm.
"I left it on your dresser."
I turned around. Sure enough, there was a chip with the Starfleet logo. I picked it up. "Medical Corp Application" was imprinted on one side.
"How much did I tell you?" Except for a series of very unfunny Deltan jokes and a bottle blond with three breasts, I couldn't remember anything after the fourth drink.
"Nothing, except that you weren't going back to the hospital. I didn't ask why."
"Then how'd you know?" I waved the chip in front of the screen.
Jim gave a rueful snort. "How do you think I got here?
"Have you told your family?" he asked.
My stomach flipped ominously. I shook my head; that proved to be a very bad idea. I pressed my forehead into my palms and waited for the room to slow down.
"I'll miss her something awful, but she has her mother, and she's a damned good woman. She'll be all right; I just can't stay.
"Any hints on filling out the application?"
"You don't need any. They're desperate for well-trained doctors. In fact, I'll be needing a good ship's surgeon myself in a couple years." He wasn't laughing. "Welcome aboard."
"Thanks. I could use a friend right now. I guess I'll see you there next month."
"Not unless you want to go the full command route. Medical Corps is just six months of Officer's Basic Training. That's on Bolius X."
That's a ways."
"And you'll be in San Fran?"
"Until graduation. Unless I'm on training assignment."
I tried to process all this from my fog. "I don't suppose they send cadets to Bolius X very often."
He shook his head.
I licked my lips. My mouth was impossibly dry and it didn't help. "I was thinking-- I was hoping that this would bring us closer."
"It will. We'll both be in space--and it's not that big a galaxy. My Sickbay will be waiting for you."
The sick feeling in my stomach surprised me utterly. How had I gotten so close without even trying? The same way I had gotten so far from Joey? It made absolutely no sense at all.
I tried again to wet my lips. "So--this is goodbye, for a while?" The words actually hurt.
Jim nodded. "Could be quite awhile; I'll be commissioned and posted by the time you finish."
"I wasn't planning on another good-bye."
"It's not. It's more of an 'I'll meet you up there.' Anyway, I'd rather say it in person. I'm going to miss you too. More than I'd realized. Can you come over?"
My head was roaring and my stomach lurched even higher in my throat at the thought of the transporter beam. "I'm not sure I'm up to it."
He smiled pure sunshine at me. "Try."
The next minute I was in his arms.
No one seemed too surprised to see me go. Not the nurses, not Jerry, not my advisor, not Jocelyn when I told her.
"You were always meant for bigger things," she said.
I heard my daughter squealing in the background, and it was all I could do to hold my composure. Bigger things than that? "I suppose. Can I come say good-bye?"
"I'd-- We'd never forgive you if you didn't."
Packing wasn't hard; there wasn't that much to go. Most of what I wanted to take fit on computer chips--plus one finger-painting of a dragon. At least I think it's a dragon. I'll ask her when I talk to her next.
I boarded the shuttle to Bolius X with my pathetically small duffel.
"OBT?" the driver asked, sizing me up. She had brown hair cropped unfashionably short, but she wore it with pizzazz.
"Yeah, does it show already?"
"No, just guessing from the lack of luggage and the one-way fare. I know all the regulars. Frankly, you look more like a bookworm than a space cowboy."
"Well, now I'm a cowboy." I snapped the words and I tried to wedge my duffel in a bin.
"Whatever you say, pardner; they just pay me to drive the bus."
I looked across at her. "Sorry, I didn't mean it like that. I'm just having a rough time--sort of starting over."
"Aren't we all?"
The shuttle lurched clearing the clamps taking my stomach with it. "Ohh."
"Space sick? Not a promising start on a glorious new career." Her eyes twinkled as we cleared the bay doors and sailed into open space.
"I'll be all right."
She patted the empty copilot's seat. "Come sit by me. It's a six hour trip, but not so bad when you can follow the viewscreen."
Gratefully, I took her up on her offer. "Thank you, ma'am."
"Eastern Alabama?" she guessed.
"Western Georgia," I corrected.
She smiled. "I love the south. I left Columbus eight years ago, thinking it was too small for me, but now-- Tell me, do the whippoorwills still sing through the summer nights?"
"I guess. I never had much time to listen."
"You should've made time," she said. "You miss it when it's gone. That and the smell of honeysuckle right after it rains. And the accents." She smiled again, this time right at me. "I especially miss the accent."
Unsure of what else to say, I changed the subject. "Why six hours? With warp drive--"
"Can't warp inside the asteroid belt."
She chuckled through her nose and shook her head. "Peach Fuzz, you got a lot to learn if you're going to make it in Starfleet."
No kidding. I'd better put starting a stalled spacecraft on the top of that list.
I rubbed my chin. "Peach fuzz?"
"Georgia, you said?"
"Yeah, but it was plums they grew around our town," I said.
"Have it your way. Plum it is. You might as well sit back and enjoy the ride, Plum. You're in good hands."
I glanced over at her. Her eyes were on me, not the control panel.
"You'll get every other weekend off. Think you might be free for one of them?" she asked.
"As far as I know, I have nothing else to do."
"Good. Neither do I. Neither did I."
She smiled and patted my knee, as she set course around Mars and into the great galaxy beyond.
1. From the Hippocratic Oath. The usual English translation, "and keep them from harm and injustice," is based on the Latin version that was more commonly used by scholars, or "and abstain from whatever is deleterious or mischievous," a more faithful translation of the Greek. The familiar phrase, "First do no harm," is not found anywhere in the oath; the passage that could translate that way, "primum non nocere" in Latin, can be found in Hippocrates' work, Ορκοζ (Epidemics).
143. Write a story in which Kirk is already at McCoy’s site as McCoy’s father dies!