Stardate 605.2 (April 20, 2254)
Ignoring the gulls that wheeled across the office’s panoramic view of the San Francisco Bay, Leonard McCoy sat spellbound by the image the desktop viewer displayed. Presenting itself as a narrow, sun-dappled crescent, the blue planet rotated serenely before him, silently beckoning.
McCoy tried to put the planet’s tranquil beauty out of his mind, at least for the moment, forcing himself to concentrate on the immediate business at hand. Shifting in his seat, he focused on the silver-haired, blue-uniformed officer who faced him from behind the black oblong desk that dominated the small but tidy office. McCoy had long admired Doctor Rigby Wieland, whose groundbreaking research in the field of xenoimmunology had been required reading during his med-school years. Though his student days were now more than five years in the past, McCoy could scarcely believe that the Great Man was actually considering him for a slot as one of the physicians on his Alpha Aurigae field medical team.
Squinting at the data flimsy he was studying, Wieland leaned forward across the desktop and met McCoy’s gaze squarely. “May I be candid with you, Doctor?” he said.
“Of course, sir,” McCoy said, suppressing an urge to tug at his uniform’s black collar. This assignment was far too important to allow his own nervousness to trip him up.
Wieland studied the younger man. “For starters, your Starfleet service record is a pretty quick read.”
While considering his response, McCoy resumed staring at the planet on the screen. Most of the alien world’s dayside was turned away, toward the two giant yellow stars it circled. The stygian darkness of the planet’s nightward limb emphasized two distant, ruddy pinpoints—according to the text call-outs on the screen, they constituted Alpha Aurigae’s secondary binary pair, twin red dwarf stars that circled the system’s two far more luminous primaries at a distance of about six light-weeks.
But it was the azure planet in the screen’s center that held McCoy transfixed.
“Permission to speak freely, sir?” McCoy said.
“I’ve been in Starfleet a little over a year, sir,” McCoy said, gambling on Wieland’s reputation for good-natured quarrels. “I’ll bet your record didn’t look very different from mine when you were still a junior-grade lieutenant.”
Wieland chuckled gently as he continued to examine the flimsy. “Truth is, Doctor, your record beats mine. I didn’t earn my first Gold Caduceus until I was nearly three years older than you are now. Well done.”
“Thank you, sir.” McCoy experienced an almost palpable sense of relief. He felt a broad smile spread across his face, defeating his best efforts to maintain a neutral demeanor.
“Don’t pop any champagne corks just yet. I still have a few questions for you,” Wieland said.
His smile abruptly collapsing, McCoy nodded. “Of course.”
“You’ve been a practicing physician for five years longer than you’ve been in Starfleet,” Wieland said. “I joined the service right out of med school. Why the wait?”
Though he’d hoped the question wouldn’t come up, McCoy had an answer prepared. “Until about a year ago, I was preoccupied with my family situation.”
Wieland looked down at McCoy’s hands, and the younger man suddenly realized he’d been fidgeting with his wedding ring unconsciously. A veteran poker player would call it a “tell.” He wondered how long he’d been doing it.
“Seems to me you’re still preoccupied,” Wieland said, nodding at McCoy’s left hand before turning his attention back to the flimsy. “What’s her name?”
“The two of you married six years ago.”
“Yes, sir. We separated last year, right before I joined Starfleet,” McCoy said. “Our daughter, Joanna, just turned five.”
She’s with her mother. Light-years away. The thought was tinged with ache and longing.
Though his relationship with Nancy Bierce, an attractive young med-tech, had started after his separation from Jocelyn, the burgeoning romance still felt like a betrayal on his part. McCoy knew he had to cut his ties with Nancy soon, while he still had the strength to do it.
Leaving Earth behind entirely seemed like the best way to make a clean break.
“So you haven’t entirely given up hope for a reconciliation?” Wieland said, gesturing at McCoy’s ring-hand.
“Yes, sir,” McCoy said. “After Jocelyn’s done taking the time she needs to work a few things out. But in the meantime . . .” He trailed off and nodded toward the planet on the screen.
“My Alpha Aurigae team isn’t the French Foreign Legion, Doctor,” Wieland remarked.
McCoy blinked in confusion. “I don’t understand.”
“I’m not taking on anybody whose main reason for going is to forget.”
McCoy allowed Doctor Wieland’s implication to sink in. The older man’s words ignited an anger deep within him.
“Doctor Wieland,” he replied, pointing at the planet on the screen. “Most people in the Federation live in a kind of paradise, medically speaking. Now you’ve shown me people who’ve never had access to modern medicine. My only reason for going is to help them. Because that’s what doctors do.”
“And your family situation has nothing to do with it? Not even a little bit?”
McCoy mulled the question over. He couldn’t deny that his regular Starfleet duties were rapidly becoming devoid of meaning. He couldn’t deny that his separation from his family had helped motivate him to seek a position on Doctor Wieland’s team. He couldn’t deny that he was in pain.
“The last thing I want to do is forget about Joanna or Jocelyn,” McCoy said at last. “I can’t do anything about their absence. But I can do what I was trained to do, wherever my skills are needed the most.”
“Fine. The conditions there will be primitive,” Wieland said. He set aside the flimsy as he got to his feet. “And we could be there for quite a while. Starfleet is stretched pretty thin out where we’re headed. There’s no guarantee that the Yegorov won’t be called away to deal with some emergency or other.”
“That doesn’t bother me,” McCoy said, rising from his chair.
Wieland extended his right hand; however, his tone remained tentative. “You realize our crew rotations could be several months apart.”
McCoy grasped the older man’s hand tightly. “So when do we leave?”
“Day after tomorrow,” Wieland said with a broad smile. “We beam up to the Yegorov at oh-six-hundred. Welcome to the team, Doctor.”
“Thank you,” McCoy said, hoping he didn’t look as relieved as he felt. He honestly wasn’t sure what he would have done had Wieland rejected him.
Because, he thought, I’ve got no place else to go right now.
Star Trek: The Original Series: Seasons of Light and Darkness
- Pocket Star |
- 100 pages |
- ISBN 9781476738192 |
- April 2014