Title: Failure Is Not An Option
Rating: PG-13 (possibly R in later chapters)
Pairing/Character(s): Jim/Bones, Uhura/Spock, Pike, Chekov, Sulu, Scotty, Sulu
Length: 6,222 (WIP)
Warnings/Spoilers: AU Star Trek: 2009, with a dash of TOS and ENT; language, minor character death
Disclaimer: All characters, situations, quotes et al are properties of their respective owners and I am merely using them under Title 17 of the US Code, § 107, aka the Fair Use Doctrine, without intents to infringe upon or defame anyone's legal rights. It wouldn't be worth the cost to sue me anyway.
Summary: It's 2028, nearly 56 years since man last walked on the moon. There are those who think that's been far too long and are determined to return man to space, whatever means necessary. This is the story of seven of them and how McCoy got caught up in their unbelievable journey to the stars.
Failure Is Not An Option
A Star Trek: 2009 Modern Day AU
"It's not a miracle. We just decided to go. Apollo 8 - we were so close.
Just sixty nautical miles down and... Mmm. It was like just step out, and walk on the face of it."
Jim Lovell in Apollo 13
The night after Leonard McCoy signed his divorce papers, his raggedy old Chevy – the only thing he'd gotten in the divorce – broke down just outside of St. Louis. Lacking the funds or the inclination to track down someone to fix it, he left the thing where it was and, pausing only to grab his duffel, walked to the nearest bar.
He stayed there for five nights, slowly drinking his way through his meagre funds.
On the sixth, the owner offered him a job.
Twelve days after that he met Christopher Pike, the retired Air Force colonel who would change his life.
Saturday, 4 November, 2028
It was the typical early Saturday crowd and The White Rabbit was slow. Not enough for Leo to be bored, not really, but enough for him to not be paying attention to the patrons in the back booths, mostly hidden behind the blue haze of cigarette smoke that lingered in the place even when empty. He'd just finished pulling a handful of pints for some greying men at the far end of the bar when he saw a pair of whiskeys slam down next to him.
"What did he say was wrong with them, Charlene?" he asked without looking up, ducking under the bar for more limes. He liked Charlene, who was one of the youngest of the waitresses, though she'd been at The White Rabbit the longest. She was straight forward and to the point and, most importantly, had talked her boss into hiring him in the first place. He'd discovered that any question, great or small, would invariably lead to a listing of the indignities she'd been made to suffer at the hands of her customers (largely exaggerated, thank God), shortly followed by a critique of their alcohol preferences, hygiene, and ancestry. But she was a good girl.
He was somewhat startled when a man's voice answered him instead. "Nothing's wrong with them. Just felt like you could use a drink too, Dr. McCoy. Certainly looks like it."
Leo bristled. In the nearly three weeks he'd been at The White Rabbit, no one had realized – or, at least, mentioned in his hearing – that it was his face plastered on the news, claiming his culpability in the death of Senator Richardson's son and heir. It was that kind of place. There were times when Leo would've been surprised some of the patrons could even read.
Still, looking up from the lime's he's been slicing (trying not to think that he'd done his surgical residency at Johns Hopkins for this), he stared at his accuser.
The man had the self-assured posturing of old money, the kind Leo had become familiar with in dealing with his rich patients (back when he still had patients of any kinds), but with an air of ability and intellect that suggested he was a self-made man. He was tallish, with a mess of black hair starting to grey at the temples and a suit that easily cost five thousand dollars if it cost a dime. It belonged in The White Rabbit even less than Leo did.
It screamed lawyer.
Leo hated lawyers. Passionately.
"If you're another one of Senator Robertson's flunkie lawyers, I don't want it. Don't know what else you can sue me for either, unless you want the shirt off my back. And I'm sure it's not worth the effort or retainer of someone like you to track me down and take it yourself."
"I'm not a lawyer, Dr. McCoy. And you're not a bartender, not really."
Scraping the limes off the cutting board and into one of the plastic bins, "This job's as good as any other," he shrugged, trying not to think about how much he really hated this job, this new life of his, forced upon him by an unfortunate post-op complication and a senator who did not seem to understand that his (grown) son had understood the risks of the experimental surgery before undertaking it. But Bryan Richardson's death had been the final nail in the coffin, following too closely on his father's death and his wife's miscarriage for him – or the media – to take. Jocelynn had quickly divorced him, adding to the scandal, and things had just grown worse from there, until he'd wound up here, serving drinks to people who probably couldn't spell neurosurgery even they'd been sober.
He meandered down to the other end of the bar, filling a few orders and generally hoping the not-a-lawyer at the bar would go away and leave him to wallow in his misery like a decent person.
The man in the expensive suit obviously was used to getting his way because, when Leo returned to that corner of the bar a quarter hour later, he was still there, nursing one of the whiskies. When Leo glared at him, the man only lifted the other glass and offered it to him once again. "But it's not medicine," he continued as if their conversation hadn't been interrupted.
Bitterly, "Hard to practice medicine without a license."
"And if I said I had a way for you to practice where you didn't need a license?"
Offering the man a look he'd reserved for recalcitrant interns (back when he'd still had interns), "Look, I don't know you or what the hell you want, but, generally, as a rule, I don't take offers to play doctor from strange men in expensive suits."
"The name's Pike, Christopher Pike."
"Well then," he thoroughly rolled his eyes here, though the full force of the gesture was lost to the dim lighting, "Mr. Pike, I'm in enough trouble of my own that I don't need to go courting yours too."
Almost amused, "And what kind of trouble do you think that might be?"
Leo pulled a couple more beers, handing them over to Charlene, who was looking at him from behind Pike's back with a curious, studying look, as if trying to put together a puzzle with pieces that don't quite fit. He didn't answer until she'd disappeared back into the smoky depths of the bar. After all, a man who'd wear a suit that expensive had to have money coming in from somewhere, and, if it wasn't from a practice, it couldn't be from anything legal. No sense getting Charlene mixed up in that. "Drugs," Leo suggested causally. "Maybe the Mafia, if it still exists in this day and age. Maybe human trafficking."
"No," Pike snorted, "nothing like that. I just need a doctor to run some routine tests on my team – physicals and vaccinations and the like. If it works out, I'd like you to come on full time. It mightn't be neurosurgery, but it'd be medicine at least and take you interesting places."
"And that sounds perfectly legal."
"As one of my boys would say, none of the fun things in life are."
Finding himself starting to smile in spite of himself, he finally took the whiskey offered him and downed half of it in one go. "So, what's the catch then, Mr. Pike?"
"No catch. Like I said, I'm just a businessman looking for the best doctor available for my team. And you're the best doctor out there, period. And I'm in the habit of seeing my boys get the best."
"How many people are we talking about here?" Leo found himself asking, though he'd be damned if he took Pike up on his offer. Yes, it was an opportunity to practice medicine again, a chance the like of which he'd never get again (if he ever got a chance of any sort again), but, despite everything Pike was saying, the whole venture sounded shady as hell. And he really didn't need that shit on top of everything else right now.
"Eight, including yourself, if you choose to join. Room, board, and all the equipment you need provided. You'll even be able to carry on your research, within reason, so long as you're available to patch us all back together."
"How much trouble can eight people get into that you'd need your own concierge doctor?"
"You'd be surprised," was all Pike offered, handing over a business card as Leo downed the last of the whiskey. It read:
Col. Christopher Pike (ret.)
Vice-President of Operations
and had only a fax number. Before he could ask Pike why a group of (what he only assumed to be) physicists and mathematicians would need a private doctor, he was gone.
Leo tucked the business card in his back pocket and tried to put the whole thing out of his mind. But, as the night pressed on, he couldn't stop thinking about how much he truly hated this place, this city, the back room in which he slept beside bags of salted peanuts, the haze of smoke that constantly hung in the air, and the fact that things would never, ever, get any better, because no one would give him a license ever again and it would be his unfortunate fate to pour the same drinks for the same nameless people at this bar for the rest of his natural life. Which wouldn't be so long, if these thoughts stuck around.
He tossed for a long time on his cot, unable to sleep for the thoughts that haunted his waking mind.
Sunday, 5 November, 2028
Leo dreamed of stars and the lonely sky that night. The burnished gold and bruised purples of twilight gave way to the firefly-lights of stars and dusk's black velvet a thousand times over before giving way, in turn, to the rose and blush and coral of dawn a thousand times more. And, in the 'tween times, there was a fading, shifting fog and the vague, half-remembered sense of being asked questions and made to answer them, thought what was asked and who was asking lay beyond his reach.
Consciousness came back to him in a series of false starts before surrendering its bounty. He dimly remembers someone fetching water and pressing it to his lips, but there's a hazy, half-awake quality to these memories that he can't be sure they aren't figments of his imagination.
His head hurt like he's been drinking, though he can't remember having more than that one glass of whiskey, and there's a sweaty, grungy feeling to his thoughts that makes him think he slept in his clothes. His eyes, too, felt like someone had tried to paint them shut and, when he managed to open them, he found himself in a room too dark to be The White Rabbit's storeroom, with a flickering light somewhere in the vicinity of his right foot that could only mean someone had left the TV on. Not that there was a TV in the storeroom. It took him longer than it should to put two and two together and realize that he couldn't be in The White Rabbit, especially since it felt like there was a real bed, not a cheap cot, under him and there was a scent of day-old pizza and mould, not stale smoke, in the air.
He groaned, sore and stiff, but a voice quickly hushed him, citing, "This is the best part," before he caught a flash of movement out the corner of his eye. The TV, which has been murmuring quietly to itself, suddenly grew louder.
"I've been doing a lot of thinking. And the thing is, I love you."
"I love you."
"How do you expect me to respond to this?"
Leo squeezed his eyes shut and, opening them again, discovered this wasn't a dream. He tried to move, but all he got for his trouble was a wave of pain that momentarily blinded him and resulted in another groan and an almost audible glare from the voice. The voice, which seemed masculine enough for Leo to guess with some confidence belonged to a man, gave a resigned huff, which was followed by the squeaking of bedsprings and the running of a tap.
The movie continued on.
"How about you love me too?"
"How about I'm leaving?"
"Doesn't what I said mean anything to you?"
"I'm sorry Harry, I know it's New Year's Eve, I know you're feeling lonely, but you can't just show up here, tell me you love me, and expect that to make everything alright. It doesn't work that way."
The man came back, this time holding a glass of water, and held it as carefully to Leo's lips as he could without tearing his eyes from the TV. It was hard to make any details out from this angle in the dim light, but it was clear he was upset at being distracted from the movie, even if, if Leo guessed right, it was forty years old. As Leo's mouth felt so cottony he'd have been surprised if he could have made himself understood even if he could think of the appropriate words, he didn't feel much sympathy for the man.
"Well, how does it work?"
"I don't know, but not this way."
"Well, how about this way? I love that you get cold when it's seventy-one degrees out; I love that it takes you an hour-and-a-half to order a sandwich; I love that you get a little crinkle above your nose when you're looking at me like I'm nuts; I love that after I spend a day with you I can still smell your perfume on my clothes, and I love that you are the last person I want to talk to before I go to sleep at night. And it's not because I'm lonely, and it's not because it's New Year's Eve. I came here tonight because, when you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible."
The man continues to hold the cup to his lips, though he's not managed to tilt it for any of the water inside to make it to Leo's lips, and Leo's muscles seem to be protesting whatever the hell he ended up doing the with last night. Being in a half-star hotel room with a random stranger after a night he can't remember would suggest he'd picked someone up, or someone had picked him up, but, one, he was too dressed for that and, two, he wasn't the kind of person that sort of thing happened to. He's sure there are other, perfectly reasonable reasons for him to have retrograde amnesia in a flea-bag motel, but his head hurts to much to think of them, especially given the man's choice of entertainment.
"You see, that's just like you Harry. You say things like that and you make it impossible for me to hate you. And I hate you, Harry... I really hate you."
Whatever came next, Leo didn't hear as, cutting the volume, the man seemed to remember he was trying to play nursemaid (or something) and, apologizing, "Sorry about that. I've just not seen this movie in ages and I stumbled across it waiting for you to wake up. But," he continued, his tone making it clear he thought Leo had done it intentionally, though he did kindly tip the cup enough that he could actually drink from it, "you did wake up right at the end, though."
Snatching the cup away, the were some muffled, shuffling sounds, and the lights flicked on – too brightly for Leo's eyes, making him close them tightly. "What the fuck?" he manages in his surprise.
"I know, it's awful, but, I promise you, the drugs will wear off soon, and when they do you'll be asking why we don't spring for better bulbs. Turn on all the lights and it's still near impossible to read in here without going half-blind. And we can't even open the windows – Pike had Scotty nail them over ages ago.
"But, speaking of Pike, he told me to apologize and all that shit for drugging you. And kidnapping you. Kinda. But we really do need a flight surgeon and Pike's really big on hiring only the best – and, if it's any consolation, I do think he's going to agonize about it for weeks yet and be overly-polite and what have you for a while, so if you've ever wanted a pony or a small third-world country, now's the time to ask 'cause, when he gets like this, he'll probably do just that. Why, the Easter right after we picked up Chekov, the kid mentioned something about missing pashka and, next day, what should arrive but two fucking dozen pashkas, straight from some bakery run by a little blue-haired biddy in backwater Russia. You have any idea how hard it is to ship that stuff? It's the kinda thing where you look at it the fucking wrong way and it falls apart.
"So, yeah, sorry. But it's not like you're getting a piss-poor deal here either."
Opening one baleful eye, he looked at the man – kid really, with floppy blonde hair and eyes that were far too blue to be real – and said the only thing that came directly to mind, which was, "Do you ever shut up?"
The kid – 'cause hell he can't think of him as a man when he's acting like this – laughs so heartily that it hurts Leo's tender ears. It's the grandmother of all hangovers he's got here, and-
And that's when he remembers he said something about drugs and kidnapping, and he manages to overcome the brain-body disconnect long enough to pull himself up and start shouting, "What the hell do you mean, drugs?" That's just about as far as it gets, though, 'cause a moment later it's all he can do to keep himself upright, and the kid, seeing this, helps him so he was at least leaning against the poky headboard as he struggled to catch his breath. It's also probably the wrong thing to focus on – kidnapping's probably a bit worse, whatever the moral code – but Leo's a doctor and knows the fucked-up shit drugs can do and, plus, is still more than a little out of it.
"I said we were sorry. And it's nothing illegal, just some amobarbital and maybe a bit of trapanal. It's something they do to all of us, when we're recruited, to make sure we're not spies or thieves or government agents or whatnot. Could've used you around when they dosed me – turns out I'm sensitive or something in whatever exactly is in their truth serum, and I was asleep for nearly a week before I snapped out of it. Or so they tell me. Most that month isn't so clear – spent it finding the bottom of every bottle I could find," he explained calmly and, after making sure Leo wasn't going to topple over, took up residence on his own bed and began flipping channels at a rate Leo couldn't quite process. "Since then, they generally try to make sure that people are sober before dosing them...
"But, yeah, unless you were as drunk as I was, it should be out of your system soon. A hot shower and change of clothes should do the trick, if you want to feel semi-human sooner. No worries, though; Sulu grabbed your duffel – it's on the floor in the bathroom – and, even though the lights are shit, the water's almost always hot. Once you're up to it, I'll take you to meet the gang and get set up and all that."
"Why?" There's a lot more he wants to say to this, but the words seem to get lost on their way to his mouth. Luckily, however, the kid seems to catch onto what he's trying to get at.
"I told you, Pike has a thing about getting only the best. It probably has something to do with his parents or some shit like that," the kid said with an airy wave of his hand. "You're a doctor and we are kind of getting desperate for a flight surgeon. Doesn't justify kidnapping, I know, but Pike seemed to think it was worth it, and Pike's the big boss man. Besides, I think you'll want to stay when you realize what we're doing."
Leo's getting a little better at choking out words. "Which is?"
"Now," said the kid, grinning like a kid in a candy shop and, jumping off his bed with a loud squeak, "that would be telling." And, with that, he was tugged out of bed, pushed into the bathroom, and told to make himself presentable.
The shower, at the very least, gives Leo time to think. And sober up.
Maybe it's the drugs or maybe he's just fallen that far, but he can't really bring himself to care he's showing in the bathroom of a cheap motel with a complete stranger who just admitting to drugging him right outside the door. His life had gone to hell in a hand basket in a remarkably short time, and if someone actually cares enough to kidnap him, well, that's more than he can bring himself to care about his life at the moment.
So he cleans up, feeling more human and smelling of chamomile bergamot after. The fact that his duffel had clearly been riffled through (and the clothes inside washed and folded, for fuck's sake), again, doesn't bother him as much as it should. And it really, really should. After all, he has no idea where he is, what these people want with him, or if he's going to make it out of this alive, but, somehow, it doesn't bother him. He's angry as hell that they drugged him (and why fuck would the vice-president of an aerospace company want to kidnap someone and feed them truth serum in the first place?). But the fact that they spirited him away from The White Rabbit and his non-existence there? He just can't bring himself to be too upset about that. Even if it turns out the whole aerospace thing is a lie, and Pike and the kid in in the next room really are mixed up in something illegal. The kid said they were desperate for a doctor, and, licence or not, he's not the kind of person who'd turn away anyone in need of doctoring.
When he steps out of the closet of a bathroom, he can actually process the sights his eyes are taking in.
The lamp on the table between the beds has been flicked on, it's light honey yellow and pooling mostly on the dark, chipped wood, but it's enough for Leo to see the room looks exactly like every other cheap motel in the world, with pink-and-green comforters, peeling floral wall borders, and dime store prints of farm houses in brass frames, and so gives Leo no idea where he is or what Pike might want with him. (The words flight surgeon rattle around, but the only images they bring to mind are out of old World War Two movies and, as such, are quickly dismissed.) There's a pair of old pizza boxes by the door, a couple of crumpled balls of paper that have missed the trash can tucked between the dresser and the wall, and the sheets are crumpled on the bed that Leo had been passed out on, but otherwise the room is unnaturally neat, clean in a manner that spoke of haphazard habit than true desire for organization.
But that's not the interesting part (if any part of this can be said to be more interesting than his kidnapping).
No, the interesting part is the kid, who's lounging on one of the cheap motel beds, flicking through the TV channels again. Despite his earlier antics, he's at least twenty-something, and there's none of the earlier amusement glittering in his eyes when he pauses on a station (it's a news channel, turned too low for Leo to make out, but the picture next to the anchor looks to be of one of the Orion space shuttles) for a moment before almost furiously moving on to the next. He's in jeans and a t-shirt Leo was fairly certain contained a sci-fi joke, and there's a black bomber jacket on the bed beside him.
When he sees Leo, he whistles and snaps the TV off, stuffing his (bare) feet into a pair of (dirty) white sneakers (with orange laces) and his arms into the jacket in the same movement. "Ready? Cool. I'm Jim Kirk, the lead flight engineer, by the way."
"McCoy," Leo says automatically, "Leonard McCoy." At the kid's strange look, he realizes, "But you already knew that."
The kid – Jim, he tells his haggard brain – laughs a little at that. "Yeah, kinda did. You've been on the news a lot and, well," he gestures at the TV as he moves to the door, "I watch a lot of TV." Though he's busy unlocking the various bolts and locks on the door (there are at least three that Leo can see, in addition to the chain, and, behind the paisley curtains, the windows are boarded rather thoroughly over), Jim must catch his grimace out the corner of his eye. "Don't worry. Everyone knows Richardson is close friends with Ayel, and everyone with half a brain knows he's in bed with the Romulans. And no one who knows what Romulus and Sons' really gets up to would believe a word of what any of their flunkies say."
Leo, despite having been hounded by Senator Richardson's lawyers for almost four months now, hadn't known any of this. Oh, he'd heard of Boian Ayel, the ultra-conservative senator from Utah who'd been in the news over the last four years doing everything from denouncing his opponents' ungodly and immoral ways to spearheading the latest attempt to bring back the Defence of Marriage Act. He'd even heard of Romulus and Sons', an Italian corporation that had its fingers in every major energy company in the western world. But he'd no idea that Ayel or, by extension, Richardson had anything to do with them, or that this might be a bad thing.
"Thanks, I guess," he mutters as they leave the room. As far as he can tell, there's nothing but cornfields in any direction he can see; cornfields and a road that you could probably drive an hour on before meeting anyone else. Nowhere to run (if he felt like running), though there is a nondescript work van in parked in the lot he could probably borrow (again, if he felt like trying to escape). Which he really doesn't. Which should really bother him more than it does.
"You're welcome. Anyone who's ever said any press is good press obviously never had the ugly side of the media turned against them.
"But this," Jim continues without further explanation, though his grin takes on a forced quality as his voice shakes off its momentary bitterness, "is the corporate headquarters of Aquarian Aerospace."
Before he can consider his words, Leo raises an eyebrow and asks, "This dump?" It's probably a side effect of the amobarbital, just like his lack of immediate desire to escape, but when all he has to escape to is The White Rabbit, even a roach coach motel is a step up.
Jim laughs, in a way that suggests he's thought the same thing more than once. "More or less. We've a fancy building about half-hour away in Iowa City with corner offices for the lot of us – I'm the Chief Procurement Officer," he says with another, self-mocking laugh. "But this is the real HQ. We all live here, take turns cooking."
"And you kidnapped me why again?"
"I told you," by this point Jim's palming a surprisingly modern panel by the door labelled Palmetto Inn Front Office in peeling gold letters, "we needed a flight surgeon. You were the best I could find and Pike only takes the best. Now me," the door clicks open, revealing a room that looked more like a kitchen/dining room than a corporate headquarters, and Jim ushered him inside, "I thought the kidnapping was unnecessary, that you'd come to us on your own – hell, I basically did the exact same thing three years ago." Jim locks the door behind them and goes to what appears to be a perfectly normal closet, with the exception of the retinal scanner poorly concealed under a print of a wheelbarrow with a broken frame.
When the closet door popped open, revealing an ultra-white elevator that wouldn't have looked out of place in a spy movie, Leo felt pretty certain that something illegal was definitely afoot.
"But," Jim continued, merrily pushing Leo into the elevator, "Pike said we needed you now, not three weeks from now, or however long it would have taken you to get fed up enough bartending to come to us on your own. Need the time for training and all that." There were no buttons in the elevator, but it proceeded downward at an alarmingly steady pace for longer than Leo would have otherwise believed possible.
"Training for what? And why the hell do you keep saying flight surgeon? I'm a doctor, not some military sawbones good for only handing out pills and hacking off limbs-"
"Don't underestimate yourself," Jim cut in as the elevator opened onto an equally sterile hallway. "I'm sure we'll get you up to the hacking off limbs level in no time."
Leading them down the hallway, which curved away from the elevator in two directions, "No problem. You know how to swim?"
Leo sputtered at the non sequitur. "I'm from Georgia."
Jim actually paused at that, contemplative. "I'm going to take that as a yes," he said slowly, as if tasting the words. "And I'd suppose it would be too much to hope for you know how to parachute?" (It was and only earned the kid another sputter.) "I thought so. Well, I guess that's why training usually takes eighteen months. And we only have eight-and-a-half. I guess we can skip out on the flight training, for the most part, but we'll have to block some time for scuba diving too." He'd started walking after the parachuting question and was now near the lip of it, on the verge of disappearing out of Leo's sight as he shouted, "Hey? Spock? Where's somewhere warm I can take our shiny new sawbones for scuba-diving lessons?"
"Why do I need to know how to scuba dive? Or parachute?" Leo called out, hurrying after the kid.
But it wasn't the kid who answered him. Instead, waiting at the mouth of the hall was Pike, dressed in a pale yellow flight suit and wearing a smirk almost as wide as Jim's. "We," he said casually, his words belayed by the simulators and bays of computer banks behind him, "are going to the moon."
When Leo stopped laughing – which took longer than one would have thought given that there were what appeared to be working models of spaceships and related paraphernalia peppered throughout the large, semi-circular bunker in which he, Pike, and at least three others stood, – he discovered that he'd, at some point, slid down the wall behind him and was now sitting against it. His knees were pressing uncomfortably into his chest, and the rest of him wasn't feeling quite so hot either. Tears, much to his surprise, were streaming down his cheeks.
"That's a good one," he choked out, still struggling for breath. "Pull the other one."
"I fail to see the humour in this situation."
Gathering himself, he answered the latest voice, "People don't go to the moon anymore. Hell, they barely even go into space anymore."
"So?" Pike asked, still looking down on him with a bemused expression Leo decided he hated immensely.
"So? So governments send people into space, not people hidden in bunkers beneath mouldy hotels in the middle of nowhere. Though," he admitted, pulling himself back to his feet, "you do seem to have all the toys for it."
"Governments may have sent men into space initially, Dr. McCoy, but only when it benefited them. If Soviet Russia hadn't sent up Sputnik, the United States would never have worked so hard or so fast to get a man into space, onto the moon. It took less than twelve years after Sputnik for Armstrong to walk on the moon. Less than twelve years after that, the space shuttle Columbia was being launched for the first time.
"But NASA only launched the Constitution six years ago, over forty years later, and already they're talking about scrubbing the last five Orion missions. They're decommissioning the space station and nobody's making any plans to go back. Not us. Not the Russians. And certainly not the Chinese or the Europeans.
"That's the problem with governments – they only do what benefits them, to keep them in power. The age of the Cold War is long over; greed won out out. The idea of bettering humanity for its own sake got put on the back burner, if not lost entirely. People are more concerned these days with radical interpretations of the Koran than The Communist Manifesto, and the mujahideen aren't interested in space, so neither are the governments fighting them."
As Pike said this, he led Leo down another curving hallway, away from the flight simulators and control panels. There were two doors set into the convex wall and it was into the second one Pike took him. Leo was vaguely aware of his surroundings – the framed pictures of fighter jets and stealth aircraft on the wall behind the desk, some with a younger version of Pike in military dress in them; the side wall, which was floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, with everything from college texts on geology and meteorology to well-loved paperback Hugo Award winners to brightly coloured binders with labels like NorthropT-42 Falcon Flight Manual and STS-107: CAIB Final Report; the solid wooden desk and the comfortable leather chair he sinks into – in the same way he was only vaguely aware Jim had followed them into the office. He saw these things, took them in, but didn't really understand what they had to do with him. He was a doctor, damn it, not an astronaut, and could barely stand flying as it was without thinking about things that went farther up.
But Pike continued, not noticing or not caring that Leo just didn't seem to get it. "But governments aren't the only organizations out there with the knowledge needed to send people to the moon. Companies built the Saturn rockets. People designed the space shuttles. Astronauts," the retired colonel said with a nod towards Jim, "flew the Orion spacecraft. Not governments. Anyone with the money and initiative to do go into space can.
"Which is why we're here. A handful of people with money got together about ten years ago and realized that mankind can do anything it sets out to do; that we should not be willing to stand with our feet on the ground when we can – and should – be exploring the stars. There are numerous shell corporations, other people building the rocket and the shuttle we'll be using, but Aquarian Aerospace is the mask for our astronaut training. We've been at it for months, some of us for years, and we have pilots and engineers and scientists and people who are a mix of all three, but the one thing we don't have is a flight surgeon.
"And that brings us back to you, Dr. McCoy. Because we're not planning on a simple land-on-the-moon operation, to be ended as soon as we get back to Earth and the government decides that it doesn't like free enterprise doing what it will not. We're intending to set up a base for further exploration and expeditions, and I'm not sending a crew into space for a long-term lunar mission without someone who knows how to put them back together after they manage to, inevitably, hurt themselves.
"So, I know we went about this the wrong way. We shouldn't have kidnapped you and maybe we shouldn't have drugged you either, but we did and I apologize. Maybe our ends justify the means. Maybe you'll forgive us in time for it. But, medical licence or not, you're the best damn doctor in the country. You could go back to slinging beers for minimum wage, never to practice what you love again, or you could come with us, to the moon, and make history."
"You say that," he snorted, feeling vaguely as if this were all a dream from which he'd wake, alone in The White Rabbit and with nothing in his life to look forward to, "like I have a choice."
"There's always a choice. Sometimes, though, the other options are so unbearable it seems that way."
And that was how Leo became an astronaut.