Failure Is Not An Option (3/?)

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, past Jocelynn/Bones, background Trip/T'Pol
Length: 18,661 (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, and Aquarian Aerospace is planning on landing on the moon in eight months, nearly 56 years after the last walked there. This is the story of Leonard McCoy and his new, often insane, life with them on their quest for the stars. 


"It's too bad, but the way American people are, now that they have all this capability, instead of using it, they'll probably just piss it all away."

Lyndon B Johnson - 36th President of the United States

Aquarian Aerospace is simultaneously the best and worst thing to ever happen to Leonard McCoy. To his complete lack of surprise, Colonel James T. Kirk, retired, was responsible for the vast majority of the worst parts. To his utter astonishment, the man is also the reason behind nearly all of the good.

The first he reminded Jim of regularly. The second he refused to acknowledge, even to himself. That didn't, however, stop both from being equally true.


Wednesday, 6 December, 2028 (L-223 days)

He didn't know what time it was, only that it was some ungodly hour of the morning and that, regardless of what popular news channels might claim, he did not deserve this. This, of all things, he did not need.

"Jim, turn the TV off and go to bed."

"But honey," he whined in false falsetto, "I thought you said you had a headache."

Leo was sure Jim couldn't see his glare in the flickering light of the television, but he glared anyway as he flung the covers back. It was too late to have to deal with this insanity, and far too cold. "Now I do, you idiot. Seriously, what fifty year old movie could be so interesting that its worth keeping both of us up?"

"Not a movie," Jim said, then, more repentantly, "and I wasn't trying to wake you up – I turned the TV and everything."

With a sigh, "I know Jim, I'm just tired." Scotty had spent most the day fitting him for a spacesuit (and Leo still couldn't get his mind around that) and yammering about the spaceship the boys in Bozeman were putting the final touches on. He couldn't say which was more exhausting: suffering through the alterations done to thirteen layers various layers of clothing (some of which, to make it worse, were made up of of Mylar, Teflon, Dacron, and other materials more usually seen in bullet-proof vests and non-stick cooking pans), or having to deal with the Scot's enthused description of the Enterprise spacecraft and her as-yet unnamed lunar lander. Either way, he was tired and wanted to know what it was Jim had deemed worthy of interrupting his REM patterns for the third time this week, if only so he could curse it properly. In the morning. "What you watching?"

"The Tonight Show."

Leo blinked at that. "Not your usual middle-of-the-night movie fare."

"What can I say? I like to shake things up from time to time. Keeps things fresh."


"You know, exciting. Boredom is death... or maybe death is boredom? I dunno. Someone said something along those lines once, I think. Either way, you've sometimes got to take extreme measures to stave it off."

"Thus The Tonight Show?"

"Yes," he nodded vigorously, as if pleased Leo was catching on, and patted a spot on the bed next to him. "Come on, make yourself comfortable; it should be interesting – they're supposed to be interviewing Gary Mitchell – but we should have about five minutes, give or take, before he comes on."

"Who's Gary Mitchell? Some eighty year old actor from one of your movies I should know?"

There was an actual laugh at this. "Nah. He was my pilot on Orion 10."

"Wasn't that like three years ago? Why would they be interviewing him now?"

It was hard to tell in the dark, but the look Jim flashed his way told Leo that the other man could name, down to the minute, how long ago he'd stepped off his last space shuttle. It was brief, though, the look, and quickly replaced by a mask of forced cheer. "Yeah, but this is about the mission going up in late January – he's commanding it, the ass. Oh, don't get me wrong, he's not that bad of a guy, for a Navy man, but..." Jim sighed and clicked the TV off. Only the shifting of bedsprings told him that Jim was burrowing further under the covers and not doing something psycho like going down to the hanger and running sims until morning, as he had learned Jim would sometimes do after Leo went to bed. "It's not like I can't find the clips online later. Night Bones."

"The clock is running," Pike almost sighed, relief evident in his voice. This was their fifth sim of the day and the previous four had all ended in pre-launch aborts. Such practice was important, Leo was sure, or, rather, had been assured, but tedious. Still, according to Spock (an Middle Eastern man whose real name no one seemed able to pronounce and who had a stick so far up his ass it was surprising he didn't choke on it), the computer was set to run the simulations randomly, and, "...such series of seeming coincidence are natural and expected occurrences in a truly random scenario." After comments such as that one, Leo thought he might just hate Spock. Just a little bit.

That was when the simulator started shaking.

"Don't worry, Bones," Jim called back, looking smugly over his shoulder. "I turned the hydraulics on just for you."

He decided he hated James T. Kirk just a little bit more.

"We have lift off," came the voice of the CAPCOM in Bozeman – not Christine Chapel this time, but a girl by the name of Janice Rand who couldn't be out of high school yet.

"About damn time," Jim enthused from the other end of the front row of seats. There were four rows of seats in the shuttle simulator, which was called the CCT for reasons Leo couldn't be bothered to ask about: three in front, two behind, and then two set along each of the side walls, the rear-most of which could be folded into the floor, to better access the side hatches. Jim had the right-hand seat in the front row, as he was the flight engineer, whatever the hell that meant (not to mention Leo had been fairly certain that Jim had been pilot, not an engineer, but what the fuck did he know about flying, except for the fact he'd rather not), while Leo was tucked into one of those folding seats on the left-hand side, with very little to do besides monitor his companions' (inactivated) bio-sensors and watch Uhura plug away at the communications panel in front of him. "Bozeman, we've cleared the tower."

He could hear Sulu, the pilot, talking into his own headset, "Altitude... fifteen thousand feet and counting... Mach point eight... point nine," and elbowing Jim, who had the seat to his right, pointedly. Leo liked Sulu. He seemed like he might actually be the only sane one in the bunch. Even if he planned on flying to the Moon.

"And there's Mach one, going through twenty thousand."

"Thirty-five thousand and Mach one point five."

"The air-" Pike began, when suddenly a large, square button lit up on the dash in front of him and an obnoxious buzzing noise filled the simulator. "We've got a master alarm."

"Fuel pressure falling," Jim announced, far from laughing as he had been moments earlier, as the jostling grew worse.

As the CCT seemed to lurch to one side, "We're already at ten gees," Sulu managed before all movement suddenly stopped and a red light clicked on overhead. "And we're dead."

Holding up a finger, Jim corrected, "No, we're just unconscious..." He was looking rather studiously at his watch and, after about half-a-minute added, "Now we're dead... our simulated ashes spread throughout the Dakotas, if I guess right. But seriously, Spock," he glared at the man, who had the left-hand seat in the second row, allowing Leo a good view of his roommate's rather unwarranted anger as the sim slowly shifted into its normal position. "O-ring failure? It's a July launch. Even in Montana it won't get anywhere near cold enough to damage the seals." He didn't wait for an answer and slipped out of the sim.

Everyone was quiet for a long moment before Pike offered, "He has a point there, Spock," as he unstrapped himself from his harness.

"It remains a possibility, however remote. There are several simulations that end in early launch failure; I am curious as to how he arrived at his conclusion as to the source of the malfunction."

Janice, who was still plugged into their comms, broke in then. "It was LS-238... I've the key here, Mr. Spock, and it says it's the Challenger mock-up."

A look that might almost have been an emotion crossed Spock's face for an instant. But only for a moment. Whatever his deal, though, it wasn't enough for him to admit his fault. No, all he did was ask, "How he was able to ascertain such with so little data?" as if that mattered then.

Uhura sighed then, "Like you wouldn't know everything there was to know about every space disaster in history if you were in his position," stretching as she stood. "Anyone else up for lunch? Dying always makes me hungry."

The others had agreed and gone upstairs, presumably to piece together lunch from leftovers from half-a-dozen different take-out places in Iowa City, but Leo found death, even fake death, tended to diminish his appetite.

It was the first free moment he'd had in, well, almost since he'd been kidnapped. He'd scarcely been left alone without tests to run or results to examine since the moment he'd been kidnapped by these people. Leo supposed this was to keep him from letting anyone know what they were up to, though they'd given him a computer and a cheap disposable phone after his late night, Boston-induced run-in with Jim, should he want to call or email someone. He was far from certain that they were bugged, but, even if they weren't, there was no one he wanted to talk to. Jocelynn had left him, both his parents were dead, and what friends he'd left back in Athens had become rather less friendly after the noise that had Senator Richardson had created after his son's death...

Anyone who'd done even the most cursory of research knew that glioblastoma was a particularly malignant form of brain cancer. Though Leo's research was still largely experimental, the aggressive combination of surgery, radiotherapy, and medication he'd developed seemed to improve chances of a patient survival to the point where three out of every four patients he'd operated on had lived or were expected to live at least twelve months after surgery, with half of those living another two years.

If they survived the operation, that was, and if their tumour grade III or below.

Bryan Richardson's had been a grade IV. It didn't matter that he was an otherwise healthy thirty-three-year-old man, that he was one of the most respected defence attorneys in the state, or that his father had been one of Georgia's senators for longer than anyone could honestly remember, tumours were indiscriminate. So what if his family had been Athens' answer to the Kennedys for the last thirty years? Bryan had known the risks going into surgery. He had chosen to take them. His father should have understood that.

Anyway, how the hell was Leo supposed to have known that Bryan would get through surgery just fine, only to die of a post-op infection three days later? He was a doctor, dammit, and sometimes there was nothing he could do regardless of how hard he tried. Besides, there'd been dozens of doctors, interns, nurses, and the like attached to the case. How an infection made Bryan's death his fault and his fault alone was beyond Leo's grasp... Especially when there had been others far more responsible for his post-op care.

Almost without thinking about it, Leo reached over to the computer and booted it up. Within seconds – thoughtless seconds, in which the only thing that remained was the anger and the betrayal and the sadness he had been able to set aside since being brought to this strange place – he had pulled up his old work email account.

There were over a hundred messages. Most of them were from Geoffrey M'Benga, a cardiothoracic surgeon he'd often had lunch with. Most of these were links to articles about Richardson's death, though those had gotten fewer as time wore on. A number of them, however, verged on the frantic, asking where he was, what he thought he was doing leaving in the middle of the night like that, and if he was still alive. Before he could think better of it, he sent back a quick reply to the latest of these – I'm fine. Up north. Found a new job. Don't worry about me, Leo – and deleted the rest. He didn't need to know what they were saying about him in the news. Leo knew the truth. That was all that mattered.

Sill, it pissed him off to no end. Almost enough to make him forget that someone here at Aquarian was likely to read his message, combing it for hidden meaning, before it ever got to M'Benga. Almost.

Leo glared at the computer for a moment, wishing he knew where they kept the alcohol in this place. He'd have to ask Jim...

Jim. What the fuck was up with him, first with his sudden consideration for other people's sleep patterns last night and now with this rather odd burst of anger over a seemingly innocent computer program? He'd not known the man for long, but it was enough to know that this behaviour was rather off. The only thing he could think of, though, that was out of the ordinary was that his astronaut friend had been on TV last night... Now that he thought about it, Jim had once said something about the ugly side of the media...

In seconds, he'd found the episode of The Tonight Show with Adam Garrison in question and, before he could think better of it, Leo pulled up the video of the interview and pressed play.

"-for Captain Gary Mitchell," the announcer said over the applause, and the video shows a not unattractive man walking onto a stage and shaking hands with the host before settling onto a couch set up in front of a fake skyline. Given that one of them was in full naval uniform and the other wearing a suit in a shade of yellow Leo was fairly certain has been outlawed since the seventies, the scene couldn't look more bizarre if it tried.

"Alright!" said the host, gesturing toward the crowd, "Settle down people. We've got a real live military man with us today, so that means best behaviour..." there was some inane banter for a while, and then, "So, you're going to be commanding the Orion 15 mission?"

"Yeah," Mitchell said. He was slouching a bit on the couch, looking relaxed in a way that somehow jarred terribly with the uniform he was wearing, at least in Leo's mind. He'd volunteered a lot of time to the VA hospital after Dad got sick and had met a lot of servicemen who'd done tours in Chechnya and Azerbaijan there. All of them seemed to exude a hardness, no, an awareness of their surroundings that came off as a hardness. They'd all been neat, clean, orderly in a way that implied that to be anything other was dangerous, subversive. Mitchell looked more like a man sitting down for a causal conversation, which he was, but he was also a sailor talking about the ship he was to command, and that required a level of competence that somehow failed to come across in the video.

"Now, if I've got this right, you were the pilot on Orion 7 and Orion 10 – how does it feel to be in command of your first mission? Anxious? Proud? A little sad maybe?"

"Proud, mostly. I've worked and trained side by side with some excellent men and women for this mission – for all my missions – and I can't think of anything more I'd rather be doing than going into space and doing what I've been trained to do. Of course, there's always butterflies before you go on any mission, be it for NASA or the Navy, but, once you get in your ship? You just get in this zone and there's no place left for fear... but sad? No."

"Well, I just ask that because, well, this mission is just a routine docking with the International Space Station, correct?"

"Routine? Hardly. We'll be docking with the ISS to continue decommissioning the station-"

"Yes, but let's see here... my notes have it as the Orion 8, 9, 11, and 13 mission objectives were exactly the same: decommission the space station after the terrible Triple Six disaster that cost American astronauts Clark Terrell, Robert Tomlinson, and J. M. Colt and Russian cosmonaut Matryona Entin their lives and damaged the ISS beyond repair. What makes this mission any different than those four, or those that will be needed afterwards to complete the deconstruction?"

There was a tightening to Mitchell's lips, but otherwise the man remained unchanged. "A number of things – for instance, the Rassvet and Nauka modules had to be deactivated after Orion 13 do to damage, so our shuttle will have to remain in synchronous orbit with the station at very close range to allow my crew-"

"Yes, your crew. Isn't it true that these ISS missions have become so routine that two of your crewmembers have already done taken part in the decommissioning on previous missions – Dr. Elizabeth Dehner during Orion 9 and Lieutenant Commander Edith Keeler on Orion 11?"

"Elizabeth and Edith are veterans of the space program, yes, but-"

"Still, Captain Mitchell, I think it's kinda sad. You're a good man – you were on the show after Orion 10, the first manned mission to the moon in almost fifty-three years; you served on Orion 7 with Colonel Edward Leslie, who went on to captain the Orion 12 mission to the moon. I reminds me of something your friend Jim Kirk said on his last visit to the show – Johnny? You have the clip?"

The video clip in question quickly appeared. The set's the same, though it's been given a false black-and-white treatment, and instead of Mitchell on the couch, there's Jim. His hair's a little longer than it is now and he's wearing a suit, but it's still clearly Jim. There date in the bottom corner reads 1 December, 2026.

"So, why did you really retire, Jim?"

With a laugh that didn't reach his eyes, "Irreconcilable differences."

"You make it sound like a divorce, and an amicable one at that. From what I've seen in the papers, especially the tabloids, it was anything but."

"Well, it kinda goes like this, Adam: after the accident on the ISS, the administration wanted to play it safe. Now, I'm not saying that's a bad thing – hell, mission control erring on the side of caution has probably saved more lives than you or I will ever know – but there's a difference between playing it safe and giving up.

"The Moon missions were only ever a PR stunt to paper over the blow the so-called 'Triple Six' disaster gave to the Administration – the Deputy said as much when he approached me for Orion 10. The paper pushers wanted the station dismantled and NASA's research to go back to unmanned probes until they could make it 'safe' for man to go back to space. They talked about sending men to orbit the moon like it was a chore, not one of humanity's greatest achievements.

"Mankind used to look up at the stars in wonder but, now that we can get there, no one wants to go. And that's why I was forced out-"

The clip showing Jim's interview ended then, returning to the video of Gary Mitchell from last night, but Leo found himself closing the browser before the captain could form a response, face burning. If Jim had seen the video already, that would definitely explain his mood. Probably. He wasn't familiar with the details of Jim's leaving NASA (though he suspected he could find all the details he ever wanted with one quick online search, if the video clip was any indication) or his coming to Aquarian, but he'd heard enough to know they hadn't been pretty. Somewhere in the episode Mitchell must have said something... Or it could have just been the reminder of all that he'd lost. Hell knew Leo felt the same way after seeing the links M'Benga had sent him...

Still, it was troubling, and he was trying to figure out what the hell to do about it when the man of the hour himself poked his head in. No longer in his absurdly retro flight suit, he was wearing a pair of jeans and a worn t-shirt with the number 42 emblazoned across the front. Tossing his bomber jacket and a set of keys into a nearby chair, Jim walked straight up to his desk and rapping it twice, announced, "Bones, my man, how do you feel about a road trip?"

"Forgive me if I don't jump for joy, but my last road trip ended with me being blindfolded, drugged, and carted here against my will."

"No blindfolds, I promise," he held up his hand in a decent imitation of a scout salute, made less so by the accompanying waggle of his eyebrows, "unless you're into that sort of thing. But definitely no drugs. 'Sides, Pike apologized for that already. Profusely. Look at all the shiny medical equipment he bought for you; that's like, I dunno, half-a-mil in I'm sorrys right there. Still say you should have asked for a pony. Or maybe Tobago. Good surf there. And rum... gives you less of a headache than the tequila, or, at least, that's what I've noticed. I could be wrong. You're the doctor, you tell me.

"But later. Chicago calls." He tapped the desk again perfunctorily.

Leo blinked at him. "Chicago? Isn't that like... four hours away?" He wasn't exactly sure where in Iowa they were, only that it was a town named Riverside, which had a population of about nil plus them, and that it was somewhere close to Iowa City.

"If we drive the speed limit."

"Oh yes, silly me, whyever would anyone want to do that?"

Jim seemed to miss the sarcasm. "Now you're getting it Bones. Come on."

Friday, 8 December, 2028 (L-222 days)

The universe, Leo decided hated him. That could, honestly, be the only explanation.

Oh, don't get him wrong, the bar wasn't so bad. It was dark and moodily lit and the music wasn't all that terrible, even if it was a little more main-stream than anything he'd have frequented of his own accord, it was just the situation that had brought him here.

Because, of course, Jim wanted to carouse in Chicago after the unpleasantness that had been Wednesday morning. And, since the universe hated him as it did, it had naturally seen fit to have him drag Leo along with him. Which wouldn't have been so bad except this was James T. Kirk they were talking about, and his idea of carousing was far from what most, normal, people would have considered carrying on.

Wednesday had involved a four-hour drive made in just over half that time, a tailor's shop where all the price tags were in excess of four digits but the alcohol was free, and an apartment on the eighty-seventh floor of the Trump Tower. Apparently it belonged to the two main stockholders in the whole send-people-to-the-Moon business, the Colonels Tucker, both of whom were now retired and spent most the year in France. Leo had tried to ask about why they were here (in Chicago in general and the stockholders' apartment specifically), how long they might be staying, or, really, anything about the situation at all, but Jim had refused to answer any of his questions. Well, he'd told him that one of the Colonels Tucker was a southern man, explaining the presence of decent whiskey this far north of the Mason-Dixon in the rather well-stocked wet bar, but nothing pertinent to their situation. Instead he'd pulled out a stack of movies and, holding up a few, had asked solemnly, "Blue aliens, green ones, or sort of squishy grey ones?"

Leo had pinched the bridge of his nose and stalked back to the wet bar.

And, as if Wednesday hadn't been bad enough, Thursday had involved Jim dragging him to this place on Lake Michigan. "Come on, Bones. It'll be fun. And I promise to make it worth your while," he'd said, delivering him into the hands the hands of a very blonde, very Australian scuba diving instructor who looked like she couldn't have been a day over twenty.

Then Jim had gone and done it again this morning. He'd promised that today's class would be the last he had to go to, and that tomorrow they'd go out and do something fun, but, as previously noted, Jim's ideas of fun were a little off-kilter.

He'd also promised food and booze, and so far the brat hadn't returned with either. Leo was about to start looking for the man when he slid into the seat across from him. He handed over a glass of bourbon, keeping something neon yellow and fruit-garnished for himself.

Jim, catching his disgusted glance, grinned madly at him. "If I'm going to have a drink, I'm damn well going to enjoy it," he said, taking a sip and making a strange face. "No idea what this is. Told the bartender to make me whatever that chick in the corner," he jerked his head in the proper direction. Leo didn't look, "was having." He took another sip. "It's not bad, it's just different. Reminds me of yellow Gatorade, only sort of orange-lime. Weird." He took a larger drink. "I also ordered us the sashimi platter. No idea what it is, but the bartender said it has a bit of everything, so I figure it should have something that we like. Usually," he said more confidentially, "whenever we come here, we end up down the hall, at the restaurant. Then again, usually when we come here, it's to hob-nob with the stockholders.

"Now, don't get me wrong, the Tuckers, who own the apartment, are wonderful people. He's this mechanical genius and owns one of the largest manufacturing businesses in like the universe, but you'd never know it talking to Trip – that's Charles Tucker. Friendliest guy you ever met. And she's – well, I don't know the right word for what she is, but she's kinda like Spock. Think it comes from being a Kalimi in Iran during that mess over there. Real interesting character, though; was in the Israeli military for a while, then came over to ours, and after she retired she founded Durandal – the private security company. You should see the way they argue sometimes too...

"But, yeah, they're more of old-school sit-down dinners with wine and dessert courses. And I hate coming to hotel bars alone. Sitting alone in a hotel bar is like... I dunno, asking for the person who will inevitably try and join you to be a hooker or a serial killer or something."

Jim took another sip of his drink and made another face. "And it's not that I don't like this, it's just... strange. Like someone tried to make a margarita and used sugar. And orange." It was at this point he realized Leo was staring rather mulishly at him from across the table, drink untouched. "Something wrong with your drink? I thought you were a bourbon man Bones, but they've all kinds of stuff back there. Or, if you want something stronger, we can get them to box up the sushi and can see what else the Tuckers have in their liquor cabinet. No," he said suddenly, "wait. It's the sushi isn't it? At least, I think sashimi is some kind of sushi. We can-"

"Do you always talk this much or is it just around me? 'Cause, I swear, if you go on like this all the time, it's got to be a small wonder no one's killed you yet."

"Who's to say that no one's tried?"

Leo snorted, hiding a smirk behind his glass. It really was pretty excellent bourbon, and he was, to his surprise, actually having a decent time, even if Jim was acting stranger than usual. "They must have been saints, the guys forced to go up into space with you."

"Nah," Jim said with a laugh that seemed almost too wide, too jovial – but only almost. "They were a practical lot. Most of them were fighter pilots before being drafted into the astronaut service, and it takes a cool head to do that type of thing. Which isn't of course to say that most of them wouldn't have hog-tied me and pushed me out an air lock if they'd had to fly with me twice. I'm pretty sure Gary... Well, suffice to say none of them ever had to go up with me twice."

He went noticeably silent after that, barely even glancing at the waitress who brought them their food, despite the fact she was rather noticeably attempting to attract Jim's attention (if the number of buttons undone on her blouse or the way she kept leaning in his direction was any indication). Despite the fact that Jim was, on the whole, a rather annoying person and that anyone who spent more than five minutes with him would surely be glad if he went quiet for the rest of the evening, a silent Jim just seemed wrong to Leo.

It was an extension of the whole business of The Tonight Show interview, and it was really starting to worry Leo.

Before he could say anything though, Jim had picked up his chopsticks and was poking at their food. "I think it's fish. Raw fish. Hmmmm... wasn't expecting that. Well, I kinda was, but I was expecting it to all wrapped up in rice and green stuff. Weird. Wonder what kind of fish it is. Though that," he poked at one particular piece with some vigour, "looks like octopus. At least, I think it's octopus. That's not the one that kills you if it's prepared wrong, is it?" He popped the slice of probably-octopus into his moth looked at Leo expectantly as he chewed.

Feeling somewhat drawn into a play he neither understood nor could escape, he was only able to say, "I'm pretty sure that's puffer fish," before Jim swallowed and carried on his with his commentary.

"Good. 'Cause that'd be an embarrassing way to go. I fully intend to be the first man to die of old age in space – set another world record and all."

"I'm pretty sure Pike'll get that one, kid."

"Yeah. Oh well... And, just in case you were wondering, orange-lime-Gatorade-margarita things and octopus just don't work together. What do you say we get out of here? We can go upstairs, order a pizza, drink the Tuckers' alcohol, and watch crappy movies – 'cause, I don't know about you Bones, but I've decided I'm definitely not a sushi person. Or raw fish person. Whatever the hell you call it. Lesson learned."

"Depends – you going to tell me what the fuck is going on with you? Or am I just going to be dropped off for more scuba lessons or whatnot while you try to get your head screwed back on and we can get back to-" Leo paused for a moment, unsure of what to call Aquarian Aerospace and their mad space venture in public.

"It's no big deal. I promise we'll head back to Riverside tomorrow. I'll catch you up on what you missed, no problem. 'Sides, you needed to learn how to dive anyway. And I promise I won't drag you along next time I need to take off-"

"Dammit Jim," he said as ardently as he could without drawing looks from nearby diners, "I'm not saying that, I'm just saying you're my friend, though God knows why, and friends generally tell each other things. Like what's bothering them enough to make them drop everything and drive a couple hundred miles to crash in someone else's apartment."

Jim frowned, but pulled his wallet out of his pants' pocket (he's wearing an honest-to-God suit today; it's asparagus green and the shirt underneath eggplant purple. It looks absolutely ridiculous, but it's one hundred percent genuine Jim, and not like the pod-Jim that's been walking around for the last couple of days, so Leo didn't do anything more than raise and eyebrow when he'd seen the getup) and dropped a hundred dollar bill on the table, reverting back to that strangely quiet version of Jim he was beginning to hate. Only once back the Tuckers' apartment, pizza ordered and a fruity drink of his own making in hand, did he say anything else.

"It was Gary's interview."

"I kind of figured that," Leo snorted, sinking onto one of the couches in the family room with his own glass (of bourbon, thank you very much).

He was taken aback by the hard look Jim gave him after that. His eyes, always so impossibly blue, seemed like ice and hurt to look at. This whole anxious, sullen Jim hurt to look at."You see it?"

"I turned it off after the clip they showed of your interview."

Jim exhaled loudly. "Yeah. You missed the good bit then. He kinda tried to insinuate that my ideas on NASA and it's future are skewed, 'cause of Dad and all. And maybe they are, but the way he said it... it was like he was trying to suggest I was crazy or something... I know I shouldn't take it personally, but Gary was a friend and probably only saying what the PAOs told him to say, but still...

"And then to have the Challenger simulation right after hearing that? Just couldn't take it, I guess. Usually I just run up to Iowa City and hit the bars there when shit like that happens, but I figured you needed to learn to dive anyway and we could use the time to get to know each other better. Get you out of the inn, at least, and give you an chance to leave if you wanted to...

"I dunno. I'm just fucked up I guess," he sighed, sinking onto the couch next to Leo, his whole body seeming to collapse in on itself. "Sorry you've had to deal with it."

"Like you haven't had to deal with my shit?"

He gave a tired laugh, closing his eyes and leaning a head on Leo's shoulder tiredly. "I guess that's right. We're a pair, aren't we?"

"I guess so... Just one question."

"Yeah?" Jim opened one bleary blue eye.

"What's your Dad got to do with any of it?"


"He was an astronaut. He died in the Columbia disaster."

Next: "In ancient days, men looked to the stars and saw their heroes in the constellations. In modern days, we do much the same, but our heroes are epic men of flesh and blood."


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