Shooting the Moon

by Domenika Marzione

After all of the fuss is over and Pike apparently wins the argument to let Jim stay, there is the bureaucracy. Jim must register, submit to medical, psychological, and academic examinations (the last to determine whether he really needs to go through the prep course), purchase items not covered by Starfleet uniform allowances (most of which could have been brought with him from Iowa if he'd had the foresight to, you know, pack a toothbrush and his sneakers), and get himself assigned an advisor and a room.

This being Starfleet, there are complications right off the bat.

“There is already a James Kirk in the system,” the clerk tells him with a frown. “Do you have a middle name? If you don't, make one up. The computer hates it when there's more than one of anyone and I can promise you that you'll be getting the other guy's stuff for your entire career.”

“Will his stuff be better than mine?” Jim asks. Getting a captain's pay instead of a cadet's stipend wouldn't be bad.

“Probably not,” the clerk assures, squinting at the screen. “This record was created more than twenty years ago. You'll end up on half-pay pension as an ensign.”

“Tiberius,” Jim offers. “Middle name is Tiberius.”

The clerk gives him a raised eyebrow, mistaking the perversity of his great-grandparents for his own creativity. “Okay, that'll definitely work to distinguish you.”

Except it doesn't, since the other James Kirk in the system is him. It's a duplicate of his Dependant Child record, created in error in the months after his birth and not flipped over into the inactive archive once he reached his majority (as the real one was). It takes more than an hour of dicking around for the clerk to realize that he doesn't have the authority to delete the record and that his supervisor doesn't know how and by the time everything is sorted out, a cascading set of missed appointments, gone-for-lunches, and left-earlies has brought Jim to the end of the business day with only a fraction of what he needed to get done today actually accomplished.

The last clerk shrugs at him. “Welcome to Starfleet.”

Because of Jim's late matriculation, there are no open berths in Fourth Year housing. Which means that by the time he gets assigned a place to live, which is after a week in temporary housing, it is to the quarters of an upperclassman, which is the equivalent of being indentured into servitude because of the way the hierarchy goes at the Academy.

Rajit is a Cadet Second Class on the Science track and looks resigned rather than eager to have a Fourthie as his minion. His previous roommate bilged out at the end of the previous semester and he'd clearly been hoping to be assigned someone from his own peer group.

“Okay, listen,” Rajit sighs once Jim has dumped all of his newly acquired belongings and paperwork on to the bed on the unoccupied side of the room. “I don't have either the energy or the interest required to spend time making your life miserable as you learn your proper place in the Academy food chain. Also, I am quite sure that you will have sufficient other sources of abject humiliation and despair to develop the necessary soul-crushing self-doubt. Therefore, these are the rules. Memorize them, obey them, and we shall get on quite fine. Flaunt them at any point and I will rent you out to someone who will enjoy making you whimper like a baby.”

Jim stops putting his uniform blouses on hangers and waits, not sure if he should be wary or amused. The stories of what upperclassmen do to Fourthies started before the shuttle even landed in San Francisco.

“The first rule is that you are responsible for all Environmental programming,” Rajit begins, gesturing toward the console. “You will make sure our quarters are cleaned regularly – when I am not present – and that the climate control is set to be constant and appropriate to the season.”

“Okay,” Jim agrees, since that's easy enough.

“Because you are a Fourthie, this is now a dry room,” Rajit goes on. “And I am barred from buying anything larger than a single-serve bottle at the Academy store. But since I've gone to the bother of buying a cooling unit, you are responsible for making sure that there are at least six cold beers in it at all times. And none of the super-cheap crap; I don't drink swill.”

Jim smiles. “Fair enough.”

“Third, noise pollution,” Rajit continues, ticking off the number on his fingers. “If you are going to be engaging in loud or personal communications, listening to music or lectures without headphones, crying, wanking, or anything else that would disturb me to overhear, you will turn on the sonic cancelers.”

Jim follows Rajit's pointed fingers to the small boxes that are carefully placed opposite to each other roughly halfway across the room. They are most definitely not standard issue in cadet quarters.

“You got sonics?” he asks, impressed.

“Your predecessor studied xenolinguistics,” Rajit explains with a shrug. “There were always audio files to listen to and repeat after. Also, toward the end, he cried a lot.”

Jim, not sure of what to say, smiles weakly.

“Fourth, and this is most important, you will keep up appearances,” Rajit says and then pauses, waiting until he's sure he has Jim's serious attention. “Just because I am disinclined to waste my valuable and increasingly rare free time coming up with ways to humiliate you does not give you liberty to act as though you are not subject to my whims and pleasures. Certainly not for the first semester and preferably not for the entirety of your Fourthie year. There will be times when I will be required to demonstrate my control over you and you will comply without hesitation. Failure to do so will result in genuine and frequent acts of capricious cruelty. Do not mistake my rationality with compassion or friendship – this is a relationship of convenience and it can either be convenient for both of us or none of us. The choice will be up to you.”

Jim nods once. He's heard this part of the speech before, in circumstances that were both very different and very much the same to the present ones. Just because he is an adult doesn't change the power dynamic. Which means he does not doubt that Rajit can make his life hellish in ways that are beyond anyone's power or interest to interfere.


Rajit studies his face for a moment, then nods.

“Very well,” he says. “Now let me see what those lobotomized primates gave you for a schedule so that we can clear up the worst of it before it's too late.”

The first weeks at the Academy are ones of adjustment. To the expectations of Starfleet, to being back in school again, to being back under a many-layered system of continual observation and control. Jim spends a lot of time cursing himself for falling for Pike's (now) obvious baiting, for being both foolish and arrogant enough to sentence himself to years of petty one-upsmanship and power displays and submission when he spent so much of his youth dreaming of the day when he'd be free of that. He spends the rest of his time reminding himself that he failed at making anything of that freedom once he'd achieved it.

The first weeks at the Academy are also ones of making new connections after a long period of there being absolutely none that mattered, of having a chance to reinvent James Kirk in a place where nobody knows who he is and was and failed to be. (He doesn't imagine for a moment that he'll be able to get through his time here without anyone realizing he's George Kirk's son, but for the time being nobody's made the connection.) Jim knows he's capable of being charming and persuasive and really damned smart and if he can keep people from noticing that he's also got the nasty habit of self-sabotaging, then it'll go down as a win.

He integrates smoothly into his cadet class, making more friends than enemies and acquiring a long list of comm numbers of comely females of all types. (He refuses to admit how many of them are purely for homework reasons.) He isn't BMOC – the Academy is structured such that that is literally impossible for a Fourthie – but he's fast becoming the Fourthie the other Fourthies pay attention to, for good and for ill. Which brings its own problems from the upperclassmen, especially after the Thirds return for the new semester, eager to pass on last year's embarrassments to the only ones in a position to receive them, but Jim's really good at getting out of those sorts of jams.

Which is how he ends up passing straight out of Basic Hand-to-Hand and on to Advanced, something that is next to unheard-of for Fourthies. It's also how he finds McCoy again, whom he doesn't recognize at first because McCoy is a different man in the emergency clinic, dressed in scrubs and with regulation grooming and exuding a comfort and a confidence that were totally missing on the shuttle and are totally missing in the rest of the interns and students standing meekly around the wards. McCoy didn't come to Starfleet to learn how to become a doctor or an adult and it shows.

Closer to home, or at least where he sleeps at night, he find a comfort level with Rajit, whose interest in making his own life easier extends to making Jim's marginally less frustrated (“I do not want to hear your bleating over minor problems that you will only end up recalling wistfully by the time you are in my position.”) and whose interest in proving himself master of a Fourthie rarely extends past comm-ing Jim from the library or lab with the demand to bring something to him. There is one time when Jim has to play courier while wearing a female cadet uniform, but Jim undercuts it by refusing to look embarrassed and even saluting his Early Starfleet History professor while passing her and Rajit hasn't bothered since.

I am in my element, Jim realizes one afternoon. He's in the middle of AH2H, which is being held outside because the fog is finally gone for good, and he's kicking ass – literally, since he's partnered with Ivan, whose massive size compensates for many things but not the quickness required for the current methods. The morning was spent in Astrosciences lab, where he is always at an advantage because he learned everything as a kid from his mother and brother and the lectures are thus a refresher course instead of the crushing waterfall of data to memorize that everyone else treats them as.

The realization is sudden and distracting – Ivan flips him ass over teakettle and looks annoyingly smug doing so – and completely unfamiliar.

Jim knows that the best way to cure disappointment and despair and abject self-loathing is alcohol, that loneliness is cured by a warm and willing female, and that a long, fast drive will fix any sense of being trapped. But he's not sure what the hell to do with contentment.

It stands to reason that with two Starfleet officers for parents, Jim is going to run into someone at the Academy besides Pike or the Admiralty who knew one of them or at least knew of them. But he is still surprised when it happens the first time because it takes longer than expected and it's not someone asking if he's George Kirk's boy.

“I served with your mother,” Commander Suhei tells him. Suhei teaches plant exobiology, which Jim is grateful that he does not have to take as a course on its own since the three-week section on it in the regular xenobiology course is kicking his ass six ways to Sunday. “It was such a shame that she passed so young.”

Jim grimaces and agrees, since it's the truth even as far as he's willing to talk about with complete strangers. Winona Kirk – she never took Frank's name, something Jim is both pleased by and curious about – died when he was thirteen, victim of some virus that raced through the crew of the (ironically-named) Lively and killed more than half of them. Jim will joke that he's possibly the only person in history whose parents separately brought about major Starfleet protocol shifts by getting themselves killed, but he's not laughing on the inside when he does so.

After Suhei, whom Jim never sees again after the test on the plant exo section, it's like whatever mystical spell of silence regarding his parents that was in place is broken. A week later, Rajit admits that he's known all along that Jim was the baby born on the Kelvin. (“I wasn't. Medical Shuttle 37, which was most definitely not attached to the Kelvin at the time.”) And then it's only a couple of weeks after that that Jim finds out that Pike is coming to the Academy to run a Leadership mini-course.

“You should sign up,” Rajit tells him one evening as they are sitting in their room, padds out and beers open. Jim is now a Cadet Third Class and Rajit has given up all pretense that they are not, in fact, friends. Which doesn't actually stop Jim from showing up at the lab wearing a female cadet's skirt when Rajit calls him and asks if he could please run over the gigantic AWD sim module. “If minis are bad for everyone, they're worst for Command. In Science or Engineering, there's always some expert in something obscure to dig up and drag back and force to teach us. In Command, all you end up with are captains rehashing great battles of yore as if the entire Corps of Cadets didn't have to sit through three semesters of Starfleet history anyway. If there's something that's at all interesting or useful, by gods, man, take it!”

Jim sighs. “What do you think Pike is going to go on about, Raj? I know that story already. I was there.”

Rajit, who is a Cadet First Class now and very much enjoying his last months of being in a position to know anything about anything, let alone everything about everything, takes a long swig of beer and sighs right back at him. “Pike's a Starfleet golden boy – they gave him the Enterprise when that's supposed to be an admiralty slot! That is a patron anyone in the Fleet would kill to have and he's chosen you. Which in turn means that providing you don't fuck it up spectacularly after you leave my care, he will undoubtedly be willing to do for you in the Fleet what he did for you here – namely, get you someplace you otherwise wouldn't have had a chance to be. Say, a nice posting on a cruiser doing something useful instead of winding up as one of a dozen ensigns looking to pop their cherry on some slow-moving research barge in some backwater sector of the Alpha Quadrant.

“All you have to do in return is make it clear that you are willing to be a grateful protégé and if that means spending six lectures listening to him go on about how your father was a hero and there is a difference between privateers and pirates and irregular militias, then you should do it.”

Jim signs up for the course, which is oversubscribed because pretty much everyone on the Command track who still needs mini credits (and several who don't) has drawn the same conclusion as Rajit. He gets in, which he's inclined to think is Pike's doing until Pike himself looks completely shocked to see him.

To Jim's not-quite-surprise, the course is actually interesting. (Not-quite because Pike did con him into going to the Academy in the first place.) Pike has no intention of rehashing either his own past glories or the saga of the Kelvin, although he does mention the latter in a relevant context. Instead, Pike spends his lectures painting a picture of space that is much less tidy or easily categorized than it usually gets presented as being, full of ambiguous situations and duplicitous interactions and far from the advice of the Admiralty. In the course of teaching them about all of the different ways various entities have tried and are trying and will try to goad the Federation into starting a war, Pike makes command sound dynamic, which Jim is grateful for because it seems like every other professor is determined to reduce the successful running of a starship to a flowchart full of binary decisions that lead invariably to the correct conclusion. Pike, meanwhile, assures them that they will make mistakes and that the true measure of leadership is how they react to them.

After the mini is over – Jim gets an excellent grade on his final paper, which he puts more time into than anything else he's got going on right now – he digs up Pike's dissertation. He knows there's a book that came later, but it's the dissertation he wants to read.

Contrary to what he told Rajit, Jim doesn't actually know the full story of the Kelvin, not beyond the part where his father died and he and his mother didn't. He has never had any interest in reading anything about his father's career or, for that matter, his mother's. What he knows about his father has been filtered through a son's and a wife's grief and a couple of photo albums, nothing objective or official or from outside the family. As a result, Jim's never known how he should feel about his father, someone he used to cry himself to sleep missing as a child and then grew up hating for leaving his family in the position where someone like Frank could worm his way in.

After reading Pike's dissertation, Jim's still not sure what to think about his father, although he is starting to possibly see why Pike thinks he's his father's son in more ways than looks.

The first time he takes the Kobayashi Maru test, he has Rajit and McCoy as his 'bridge officers' because nobody else will do it. There has never been a Cadet Third Class who has taken the test, which has been twisted into 'no Cadet Third Class should take the test' and a lot of people beg off because they don't want to be seen as conspirators. Jim has been at the Academy long enough to appreciate that the fear of correction is the dominant driving force of every cadet's actions; it's part of the conditioning. Which is why he accepts everyone's demurrals, whether it's out of fear of looking like they support his actions or because they don't want to be unofficially graded for what they do or don't do in the simulation despite only Jim getting an actual mark.

Rajit's not wild about sitting in on the Kobayashi Maru so close to his graduation and commissioning, either, but he's agreeing even before Jim gets to the point of bribing him with microbrew. Bones, who has proven his gameness to play unindicted co-conspirator in the past when Jim's needed help with practical jokes, has objections based entirely on the fact that he's a doctor and he doesn't know what to do on the bridge of a starship besides look out the viewscreen and hover awkwardly. Jim promises that it'll be the same thing, except now he gets to sit down and push buttons.

Jim fails, spectacularly so, he thinks, but now he knows the terrain. This is reconnaissance, almost, getting a lay of the land – not so much for the scenario but for his own mental landscape. He knows what his father did when he sat down for the first time in the command chair during a crisis; now he knows what he would do – or, at least, what he wouldn't do, which is panic or freeze.

But he has still failed badly – there's no way but badly when you end up sacrificing hundreds of people in a doomed attempt to save that many more – and it hurts more than Jim thought that it would. He's poor company when McCoy and Rajit drag him out for drinks that evening, feeling the weight of those imaginary deaths still. It takes him maybe a week before he's back to his old self; even Uhura notices during the Xenolinguistics Club meeting, although that's probably because it's the first time all year that he hasn't began their financial summary with “Well, what I didn't spend on beer...”

The funk passes. Jim convinces Bones to spirit some supplies out of the hospital so he can prank Rajit one last time before finals.

At the end of the semester, Rajit becomes Ensign Ghosh, most junior science officer on the Livingston and Jim is left without a roommate and a friend so close at hand. He is spending his summer on a training cruise aboard the Exeter and he wonders if he'll end up with a Fourthie as a roommate once he's back – he's pretty sure he isn't mature enough to be as generous as Rajit was on that score – but he doesn't. Apparently quite a few cadets punch out after two years and so there's a general shuffling of the rising Cadets Second Class and Jim ends up with Laurie Galvin, who is also on the Command track but has neither the desire nor the temperament to sit in the chair of a ship of the line. He's a perfectly acceptable roommate, though, content to do the bulk of the chores, never listening to anything without headphones or keeping his desk light on too late, and is always careful to warn Jim if he's planning on bringing anyone back (anyone being Fred, since Laurie's one of those types who finds True Love at the Academy; Jim gives them crap because he has to, but they're sort of adorable together).

The second attempt at the Kobayashi Maru comes at the end of his first semester as a Cadet Second Class; he's already top of his peer group in the tactical analysis curriculum and, with a decent sense of what is coming and what he wants to achieve, he thinks he's got a reasonable shot at it.

Bones, who is again going to serve as a bridge officer – Fred helpfully agrees to serve in the other spot – is no more sanguine than last time.

Jim fails again, just as disastrously, and despite the practice at it, takes it even harder than the last time. He's supposed to be at least mostly trained for this – he's three semesters away from being a countable number of heartbeats from having to sit in the command chair of a Federation starship and make these choices for real – and he's clearly not up to it.

It's the first time he's actually felt the shadow of his father's legacy and he feels very small beside it, positive that he'll never live up to it and afraid of that failure more than he is of the damned Kobayashi Maru test.

Bones – and Galvin and Fred and a half-dozen others – take him out and get him piss drunk.

“You're not supposed to pass it,” Galvin tells him while he's still coherent enough to listen. “That's the point. You're supposed to fuck it up so they can see what you do when there's nothing you can do. It's just another Academy headscrew, one that's slicker than most.”

Jim wakes up in his own bed the next morning, completely unaware of how he got there. He's not capable of really intelligent thought until after lunch, but by dinner he's got the start of a plan.

The point of hacking the Kobayashi Maru exam is simple – Jim wants to prove that there is always a way to solve the problem. And that starts with properly identifying the problem. Galvin is right, even if he doesn't realize it – the problem of the test isn't the Kobayashi Maru itself, marooned in no man's land and destined to perish with all hands aboard. It's that everyone thinks that there is a test with no right answer, with no satisfactory conclusion, and everyone is conditioned to either accept the failure or not even to try because it was programmed by a damned Vulcan who is smarter than all of them.

Screw that.

Using Gaila's a pretty shitty thing to do on the face of it, but he thinks it's sort of fair considering she's using him, too, since there's no way she passes Astronav (and thus gets her commission, since she's a Firstie) without him coaching her through the midterm. Also, and this is in hindsight, he doesn't even consider the fact that she might take their relationship more seriously than she's taken any other. Gaila's very free with her body by Earth standards, but in a way that's not the least bit demeaning or shameful or embarrassed and she earns a kind of respect for that. A respect that Jim re-evaluates and appreciates even more once he realizes that Uhura's her roommate.

Uhura still winds up on his 'bridge' for the third iteration, entirely to watch him fail, she assures. Bones ends up agreeing again because, he tells Jim, it's the best way to know where to find him once it's over and he has to go take him out to get shitfaced again.

Except he doesn't, since the only reason Jim didn't rank at the top of the programming curriculum list is because Shulman is one of those freaky savants who can memorize entire terrabytes of code.

The hearing is... not unexpected. Which doesn't mean that Jim's not surprised when it happens. The Academy doesn't like mavericks because the Admiralty doesn't like mavericks and if you're a handful before they make you an ensign, you're going to be a full-blown renegade once you hit the Fleet. There's a reason why Pike's second essay set, the one on why the parochialism of astronautical theory runs the risk of dooming the Federation by stifling innovation, is the one not in the Academy library as a separate text.

He is a little surprised that Spock is so insistent on his being punished severely and so willing to throw his father's legacy in his face as if he is perfectly aware of how much more George Kirk matters this time around. Jim's not sure if Spock is being a sore loser or if Jim's methods just insult Vulcan logic so deeply that there's nothing else to do but lash out or if there's some other reason for the urgency. It stops mattering beyond the fact that Spock has no regard for him once the distress call comes, once everything that they know stops and changes and ends and begins all at once.

When it's all over, when they are back at the shell-shocked Academy to pack up their things (and those of their friends and roommates who perished with Vulcan; Jim boxes Galvin's and Fred's effects together), Jim visits Pike, who is clearly as mixed about his promotion as Jim is about his own pending one.

“Thank you,” Jim tells him as they sit in the garden across from the hospital. Pike's supposed to be on bed rest only, but Bones assures them that an hour or two in the chair, especially outside and in fresh air, will do more good than harm.

Pike looks at him wryly. “Isn't that supposed to be my line?”

“I was only following orders,” Jim tells him with a shrug, since he's uncomfortable accepting congratulations – or gratitude – for doing what anyone should have done in the same situation. “You were pretending that they didn't exist.”

“Which time?” Pike asks with a faint smile and Jim smiles back because he's not uncomfortable about admitting that the two of them have a connection that goes beyond coincidence and because he knows Pike understands that Jim means to include everything starting from the bar in Riverside, not just the failure to throw him in the Enterprise's brig. “You're your father's son. Eventually, someone was going to to knock that thick skull of yours hard enough for you to realize that that's a blessing and not a curse.”

The list of people who've had a whack at that pinata over the past few days (few years) is too long to count. But Pike is the reason Jim was in any position at all to do anything, be it getting him to the Academy or leaving him as First Officer of the Enterprise and Jim doesn't think that Pike is unaware of that.

“I think the cranial abuse is just about to start, actually,” Jim says instead.

Pike laughs. “Oh, that'll just be you banging your head on the nearest convenient hard surface once you realize how the Admiralty acts when it's not a crisis.”

The Admiralty will be in crisis mode for some time yet; short-term, it's the loss of a half-dozen ships of the line that matters most, but down the road, the loss of almost an entire commissioning class will force actions and changes that otherwise would probably never come about.

“You should know by now that you are at your best when you think you're in over your head,” Pike goes on. “Take this challenge – and the beautiful ship it comes with – and do amazing things with it.”

Jim is still not used to this, to someone's unequivocal faith in his abilities. He wants to equivocate, to enter into the record some distinction between attempt and achievement so that he can at least get credit for the former. But he stops himself; he is about to be named captain of a starship, of the fleet's flagship heavy cruiser, and there is no such thing as partial credit as far as that tally of success goes.

“I will.”

feed me on LJ?

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15 August, 2009