The great and wonderful charlie_d_blue
is responsible for all the awesome in this fic, and that is true.Mind BulletsFandom:
Star Trek XIRating:
Kirk, Bones, PikeWarnings:
Set directly before the Romulan attack, in the glory days of peace.Summary:
Kirk versus a machine versus his mind:
'One more,' Bones growls. 'One
more, Jim, and then you stop doing this to yourself because it's ridiculous and it's out of hand and you can't win
this, this isn't a game
'I don't believe,' Jim says sweetly, 'in no-win situations.' 6017 words and Kirk's turn at introspection! In a manner of speaking!
One day, Bones brings a dongly machine thing into Jim's room and sets it up on Jim's table and then looks Jim in the eye and says, 'Jim, quid pro quo.'
Jim looks back at Bones, features schooled into a careful imitation of wily blankness, but then McCoy glares at him like he won't sneak Jim into the sickbay ever again to fix those small little scrapes/bangs/bruises/nasty rashes in unusual places. Damn it. Jim casts a doubtful look at the box on his desk and sighs. He wonders what it is this time – old-school blood pressure measurement experiments? Or maybe more genetic marker hide-and-seek games that Bones will bug him about for weeks afterwards – the last time that happened, he stalked Jim all over the place insisting he not eat shellfish or something, just in case some dormant something somewhere became active somewhen. Go figure.
Since Bones is a merciless doctor type, he drives his point home before Jim can argue: 'You still owe me at least
three favours at the moment – there's Gaila, and then what's-her-name from where's-the-place, and then the second time you fa-'
'Okay!' Jim cuts in. 'Okay, I surrender. Hook me up to... whatever that thing is.'
Bones is busy unpacking. 'You want the medical terminology, or the translation?' The box opens up to reveal, yep, a dongly machine thing, but also a few bottles of some sort of gel and a couple of wires and a board and a bunch of... ball bearings. Kinky.
Jim leans back in his chair and gets comfortable. 'Hit me with whatever.'
'This,' Bones pats the dongly machine, 'is an electroencephalogram for smart people and that
,' he points to the board with the ball bearings, 'is the part that keeps the less smart people entertained while the smart people do their field research.'
'Cute,' Jim says. 'What does it do?'
'Measures brain waves and monitors neurological activity,' Bones shrugs, snapping out a bottle of gel. 'I'm supposed to be gathering a sample size of about a hundred Academy undergraduates. Good work for the medical officers – we get to find out exactly how brain dead the student population really is. Push back your fringe, please.'
Jim obliges, holding his hair up and out of the way. 'So, what do the balls have to do with it?' He tries very hard to put as much offensive stupidity into his grin as possible.
Bones sends him a withering look while he slathers the gel all over Jim's temples. A couple of electrodes get stuck there, and then a few more at the back of his head and at the crown of his forehead and all over the place, really. 'It's part of a game,' Bones says. 'Gives you something to focus on so that I'll have something to write about the effect of conscious thought on the brain's activity. We'll get you set up, then I'm going to put a ball bearing on the centre of the groove in that board. The levels of theta and alpha waves you produce will affect how the ball moves. Long story short: the calmer you are, the more the ball moves.'
Jim shoots Bones a look. 'I'm going to move the balls with my mind
Bones grunts. 'Sort of. The higher the theta/alpha readings, the more the ball gets pushed away from you.' He finishes messing around with Jim's scalp (okay, right, definitely going to have to get a shower after this) and goes over to his dongly machine, which he stares intently and lovingly at for a minute or two. And then he frowns. It begins! 'Jim?'
'Your brain's a mess.'
Jim throws him a look. 'Ha ha ha, Bones.' He's heard this one before, though usually not so politely phrased.
'No, seriously,' Bones says, his brow furrowing. Uh oh, trouble in paradise. 'Your beta levels are way off standard range. Are you...' He looks up at Jim. 'Uncomfortable? Stressed?'
'Yeah, I'm really
weirded out that my best friend is shoving one more of his draws-non-definitive-conclusions med experiments on me,' Jim says, contrite. 'Because you're totally scary, Bones. What if you touch me in bad plac—'
'Okay, so you're not stressed out, just psychotic
,' Bones says, giving up. He taps a few things into the dongly machine, probably to save Jim's records somewhere where he can frown at them more in private. 'Control part's over. Now I'm going to hook you up to the board – just try and relax as much as possible. Theta waves generate when you're drowsy or extremely relaxed; alpha waves when you're calm.' He swaps the connection over, and puts his hand on the activation button. 'Ready?'
Jim tucks his hands behind his head and slouches deeper into his chair. 'Zap me up.'
Bones hits the button.
Bones hits the button again.
The ball quivers a little. After a while it rocks back and forth like a crying child before goes still. It maybe inches forward maybe half a centimetre.
Bones consults his EEG thinger, then looks at Jim.
'What?' Jim asks. 'It isn't me!'
'Are you trying to relax at all?' Bones demands.
'Will you listen to yourself?' Jim shoots back. 'Trying
to relax? That's like making an effort to chill out – Bones, I'm not kidding. I'm not doing
'Lie back,' Bones sighs, pushing Jim further down in his chair and fussing at the electrodes. 'Try closing your eyes and taking deep, cyclic breaths. Or whatever it is you do to calm down.'
'Usually I go run a few rounds around the quad,' Jim murmurs, obeying.
'Yes, doctor.' Jim can hear Bones doing something with the machine; a quiet tapping of fingers on the console, the almost-silent beeps of the system recognising new inputs, then the expectant silence that characterises someone waiting for something to happen. Bones breathing. Every once in a while there's an almost indistinct scrape of metal over plastic – the ball bearing moving, probably. The rush of air from the central ventilation system.
'Jim?' Bones says a trillion years (or maybe twenty minutes) later. 'Stop paying so much attention
to every damn thing. It's not helping.'
'I'm calm,' Jims mutters, discontent, scrunching up his face for Bones to see. 'I'm also bored
. Am I winning yet?'
'No,' Bones tells him. 'You're losing spectacularly against yourself. Given this much time everyone else usually manages to push the ball 80% of the way out, if not the whole length of the board. You've gone maybe two inches.'
'What?' Jim snaps his eyes open. The ball bearing winks back at him, a cheery silver thing sitting a scant way away from the indicated starting point. A slow breeze could have pushed it farther. Jim glares at it. The ball bearing is unafraid, and undeterred, so Jim glares at Bones instead. 'Maybe your enceladusamacallit is broken.'
'Enceladus is the sixth moon of Saturn,' Bones says, huffily.
'Yeah, and it's really shiny and bright, too; highest albedo of anything in this system.' Jim waves it away. 'Your encephalogram, yeah, that. Broken?'
'Not broken,' Bones says firmly. 'I've done sixteen tests so far this week, every one of them within range of the standard deviation.' He yanks an electrode off of Jim's temple with no warning. ("OW!") 'Your head's just a huge junkyard. Too much stuff firing off.' He yanks the others off with slightly more ceremony, though Jim has an uncanny feeling that it's more because Bones cares for the state of his equipment than for the sake of Jim's follicles. 'Maybe you should cut back on the porn, it might help. Thanks for your help – looks like I've got my first outlier.' The look on Bone's face could almost
be smug. Almost.
Jim says, 'Can I borrow that thing?'
Bones looks down at the EEG. 'No,' he says, carefully. 'It belongs to the department, and they cost a bomb to manufacture.'
'Oh,' Jim says, thoughtfully.
'Jim,' Bones says, but before he can dole out the doom/gloom/death-to-thieves-and-dumbasse
s speech, Jim slaps him on the back and slings an arm across the shoulders, saying, 'Well, that was fun, but you still need more guinea pigs, am I right or am I right? Well, Bones. It's you and me and the girls dorms, right now.'
Bones warns him that doing medical experiments is more difficult than just walking into a dorm lobby and asking for volunteers. 'Look, Jim,' he says as they invade the student lounge nearest to the quad. 'It's not like I've got money to bribe people into participating the way clinics usually do. People don't want gunk put on their face and electrodes stuck all over their head – it's creepy, even I think so.'
'Yeah, yeah, yeah,' Jim nods, snagging a table from a bunch of students heading off to class. He sets the EEG down with a clunk and hunts around for a power point to plug it in to. 'Teach me how this goes. Does the dongly thing connect directly to the bally thing, or what?'
'Hey!' Bones slaps Jim's hand away from the machine. 'These things are hardier now than they were a few decades ago, but you don't go throwing them around like a tricorder! They're delicate!'
'I'm a command track student, not a doctor,' Jim beams at him.
Bones snatches away a bunch of electrodes. 'For normal cases you start with a survey,' he says, digging out his datapad to transfer over a spreadsheet to Jim's. 'How much did the subject sleep last night, are they on any sort of meds, have they been taking alcohol or mind-altering substances - though everyone just lies about that part - and whether or not they've had caffeine in the last 8 hours.'
'Caffeine? Here? At the academy?' Jim asks. 'Never.'
'Shut up,' Bones grumbles. 'This is how you apply the gel.'
Jim snags a tube. 'Squirty,' he says, pinching some gel out onto his fingers, and after that Bones just gives in and doesn't try to bother him with pessimistic theories about how hard it is to smile at people and not act like you're going to fry their brains to a crisp with a few electrodes.
The first few subjects are easy to come by. Jim knows a lot of people on campus, and a lot of people on campus know Jim, so all he has to do is sidle up to people sitting around with 90% empty food trays and say, 'You owe me for that thing in the place last term with the whosit professor,' and they come along quiet and guilty looking. Being a genius is sometimes pretty useful. Jim hooks them up and makes a small spectacle out of it, so that their friends start to gather around and the next thing Bones knows, there's a small queue of about a dozen people waiting to see if they can beat the other guy's timing when it comes to shoving the ball bearing clear across the board.
'Jim,' Bones hisses, 'this is meant to be a trial, not a competition!'
'Whatever works, right?' Jims hisses back. 'It's not like I'm bribing them or anything the way it's usually done in clinical trials!'
'I hate you so much, do you know that?'
'Yeah, love you too, man,' Jim beams. 'Do me a favour? Go steal that signboard out front where they put up the daily specials.'
'What for?' Bones frowns.
'Just do it,' Jim says. When Bones drags the thing over Jim hotwires the thing so that the neat rows of CHICKEN TURNOVER – VERY TASTY!!! and NEW: MYSTERY MEATLOAF! get wiped out and replaced with TOP TIMINGS and a list of the cadets who've managed the fastest times.
'I'd like to point out,' Bones huffs as he watches the queue double and Jim's grin evolve into a smirk, 'that even the slowest, most unsuccessful ball bearing pushers have still
'I believe in the law of averages,' Jim says with great serenity. 'There's always someone worse than you, and someone better than you.'
'In this case,' Bones says, because Bones is evil and bitter and unwilling to admit that Jim's way better at this trial thing than he is, 'that would be 28 cadets better than you, and none worse than you. Good average.'
'You may go away now; you're no longer needed,' Jim tells him.
'Yes, captain,' Bones lips, before he legs it off to class, where Jim hopes he'll be forced to do something nasty, like listen to a professor talk about how healthy everyone in this system is.
After the lunchtime crowd dissipates, Jim takes a break to let the machine burble and to grab something to drink. He grabs a coffee and safe-ish looking salad from the store vendor whose sign he's commandeered, and huddles down with the spreadsheet results. He taps through a bunch of blank replies, a bunch of ludicrous replies (who sleeps 12 hours a day on campus?) and a bunch of replies that read like an attempt at Klingon poetry ("DRUGS I NEED NO DRUGS I WANT NO DRUGS DRUGS ARE FOR THE WEAK MINDED!!"). Not unexpected, but Jim needs a little more than this to run with. Well, Bones probably does too, but Jim's got other things on his mind; too many things, apparently.
'Okay,' Jim says to himself, tapping his fingers on the table. 'Time to improvise.'
'Hi,' Jim says to the first new victim of his now more personalised EEG-test process.
'Hi?' Gaila says in cautious return. 'Jim, is this going to take a long time, I have class in twenty minutes and I can't afford to skive again –'
'Relax,' Jim says, tapping open the spreadsheet. 'Just lie back and answer these few questions for me.'
'Okay,' Gaila says, sceptically.
'How long did you sleep last night?'
'Around... 6 hours?'
Check. 'Have you been on any meds lately?'
Check. 'Alcohol in the last 12 hours?'
Check. 'How about mind-altering substances, ever used those?'
Jim leans his elbows on his knees and moves in a little bit closer. 'I could end up using the wrong gel if you don’t tell me the truth, you know. Depending on what you took, the standard application'll fry nice little bra—'
'There was that one time I took Cardassian S at some party,' Gaila squeaks.
'You did eighty seven
trials?' Bones sort of yells at him when he comes to pick the machine up from Jim's room later that day. Jim sighs. Jealousy can be so petty. 'Eighty seven
'Sorry I couldn't hit a hundred,' Jim – legs propped up on his desk and crossed at the ankles - says with true, earnest regret.
Bones looks like he wants to throw his stack of medical datapads at Jim. 'How did you – do I want to know how –'
'Sorry I couldn't hit a hundred, but
,' Jim says.
Bones covers his face with a hand, and it's really kind of adorable that, after all this time, Bones still hasn't learned how to deal. Jim hopes he never changes. 'I knew it. There had to be a but.'
I have appointments booked way up all over tomorrow. There'll be a hundred.' Jim swings his legs off the table and comes over to pat Bones on the back. 'Don't worry, your baby EEG will be safe with me. I'll tuck it into its protective casing and sing it lullabies. Promise.'
'It's not the EEG I'm worried about,' Bones growls, but he doesn't swat Jim's hand away. 'Jim, I'm glad that you're helping me out, but you could just give the thing back to me.'
'Lighten up,' Jim says, pulling Bones over to the door of his dorm and gently nudging him over the threshold. 'The big bad machine isn't going to crawl into my bed and have its wicked way with me while you're not here.'
'It's not your bed
I'm worried about, it's your obsessive, unknowable head
, you stupid-'
'Night, McCoy,' Jim chirps, and shuts the door in his face.
With Bones out of the picture, Jim can think. It's too dangerous to do that around McCoy, whose tendency to act like a damn hypochondriac sometimes does grant him a sensitivity that picks up on other things. So, thinking around McCoy, not so much; too high a dosage of that and Jim's pretty sure the both of them will lose it, so it's a good thing as any that the medical faculty's building is halfway across campus from Jim's own.
Puttering over to his desk, Jim hooks his data pad up to the student intranet and gets the day's work downloaded. There's nothing else to do until his roommate – a really decent, quiet, kind of boring guy named Rez – gets back, so he starts on the day's astronav problems and tries to ration them out. Third year stuff is harder than what they've done in the first two years combined, but the thing about textbook problems is that they're always going to be
textbook problems. Textbooks have routine, routines have standard parameters, and after that it all goes down to plugging in variables and letting the equations churn themselves out. Jim's not bored, but the maths isn't exciting, either ---
Jim shoots a look at the EEG resting in its corner. He spins his stylus about his thumb thoughtfully, then momentarily abandons the EM wave problem he's working on to drag the board onto his desk. He sets the ball bearing in place, applies enough of the electrodes to be sure of getting a reading, and leaves the monitor humming quietly to the side. Jim turns so that the thing is just out of range of his peripheral vision, and goes back to the maths.
It takes Jim forty minutes to go over his homework, after which he flips through his datapad and does the one other thing that brings him a kind of joy that borders on great serenity: deleting messages from his student inbox. There are two from Prof. E, who's so used to Jim skipping out of class that one of the messages is just advanced copies of next week's work and the other is a note that Jim mentally translates into one giant "D:". Captain A, who's probably spent more time following orders than Prof. E has, sends his regards and instructions to turn up the next day for the test on Xenotopography or risk either failure or death by paperwork inquiry. Jim loves these messages. He loves the little crinkled paper noise they make when they get deleted. ":D!"
None of it makes the feeling of being watched go away, so when Jim turns to confront the ball bearing, he isn't really surprised that it's moved maybe three inches this time. Jim concedes to tactical retreat; he yanks the electrodes out and goes to take a shower. There's enough gunk in his hair now that Jim's pretty sure he could flatten it out into a decent imitation of Commander-Better-Than-Thou Spock. Live long and suffer! He laughs, and twists his hair up into a mohawk instead.
When Rez comes back to their room, Jim's chilling out on his bed. 'Augh,' Rez mumbles as he fits himself through the door, lugging his viola in after him. He's involved in the student string quartet, which practices every other night. Jim feels for his fingers. 'How did rehearsal go?' he asks.
'Terrible,' Rez mutters, toeing off his shoes and putting his viola case down on the bed. 'Snapped a string near the end, so now I've got to tune things back.' He gets the instrument out and looks at it balefully before tossing a look at Jim. 'Mind if I...?'
Jim waves a hand in the air. 'Go on ahead.'
Rez flashes him a smile, and sets on getting his viola back in tune. It takes a while, which Jim doesn't really care about, except that Rez doesn't have perfect pitch while Jim does
, and it makes hearing off-notes feel like having Pythagorean theory wrenched right out of synch. It just feels
wrong, as though there are neat, perfect partitions between the keys that Rez just can't see and keeps missing. 'How was class?' Jim asks above the noise and scrape.
'Pretty cool,' Rez says, frowning at his strings. He looks up. 'Didn't see you there at lectures, though. Again. '
Jim just grins. Rez throws a rag from his case at him, but Jim just catches it and says, 'Hey, I've got a proposition for you.'
'Not interested,' Rez sings. 'You've got your hands full chasing skirts, Kirk – you can leave me out of those equations.'
'Not that kind of proposition,' Jim flings the rag back into Rez's face. 'How about this: lemme stick a few electrodes onto your head for tonight, and I'll do your homework.'
Rez pauses somewhere between a C and a D. 'Are you twelve
?' he asks Jim, kind of incredulous, maybe because he knows exactly how lucky he is that Jim's offering, or maybe because he thinks Jim is out of it, or probably just both. 'Am I going to wake up with my brain in a vat if I say yes?'
'Nope,' Jim says, blinking expansively. 'It's harmless. You can ask –' he takes out his datapad '- Ailes, Montgomery; Ang'l, Krawley; A'rid, Grotherr; Azir, Mahmoud; Brown, Roland; Burns, Mister; blah blah; MacAlister, Elaine; McKay, Rodney; M'tak; M—'
'Sign me up,' Rez says, hitting the note at last. The viola disappears into the case, and he stands up with a yawn. 'I'm going to go take a shower first, though. My datapad's on my desk – just do me another favour and screw up on a couple of the questions, okay? It'll be really, really, really
Jim rolls his eyes. 'Who gets called out for having too many correct answers, anyway?'
Rez pretends to think. 'Uh, people like me who get called up for failing
, as opposed to people like you, who get called up for still scoring in the 90th percentile even when you skip class all the time?'
'I'm not that good,' Jim says.
Rez grabs his towel out of his closet. 'Yeah, right,' he laughs, en route to the door. 'Whatever you say, genius face. You're too smart to be normal, and too weird not to be good. That's why you're here, right? Old Man Pike and his theory of initiative? Well, the rest of us mere mortals, we fuck up more often. I'll be back for your electrodes!'
'Well, in medical terms I've fucked up 87 times,' Jim says to the empty room, then amends, thoughtfully: 'And technically, plus 2.'
Rez sleeps very differently from Jim, and Jim doesn't think that just because Rez now looks like something out of one of Bones' Great Medical Phenomena of the Last Century vids. Hooking him up hadn't taken much time – just a few dabs of gel here and a few electrodes there and Jim talking about time's arrow travelling in a straight line until it approaches the event horizon of a black hole in which case Rez shall no longer give a damn and therefore fall asleep almost instantaneously. No tossing, no turning, no silence, just a three minute progression from alertness to inertness. Jim doesn't know how Rez does it, so he waits for half an hour just in case before he turns the EEG on, and then the ball practically beams over to the far side of the board. Squiggly delta waves scribble themselves all over the monitor.
Jim kills time by reading stuff about the thing off the old internet via the backlight of his datapad in the darkened room, articles about how you could rig EEG mindforms. Sleep less, the article cheerfully advises. And wash your hair, in case your shampoo messes up electrode sensitivity. Pot will also help, either beating your head in with one (physical) or beating your head in with some (hallucinogenic). The hours tick past. Every time Jim resets the ball bearing, it just drifts back across the board, obeying an inevitable law of causation that Jim's own head doesn't seem to follow.
In the darkness, Jim purses his lips and wonders if things would've turned out different if he hadn't ever left Iowa, where the whole damned world was just a blur of dust and cornflower blue shaded atmospheric sky, and where he lived by a code of the mundane and got excited by bar fights. Three years ago he laughed at cadets because he was afraid he would turn out like them: studying for half of forever before being catapulted out into some meaningless region of space where only the gravity of earth-bound politics would keep them spinning. Earth-bound politics, and disciplinary notes from teaching faculty, and that stupid, niggling, returning sense of failure that comes with a mind that was born out in orbit, moving beyond the escape velocity of old earth before being set back down in Iowa, screaming. Back down, away from those hundreds of lives, those thousand lost pluralities.
Jim snaps back awake, and turns the EEG off quietly, a loud sound as he waits for earthrise.
'Jim, what the hell happened to you?' Bones rounds on him the next morning when Jim staggers (in a dignified kind of way – he's walking in a straight line!) down to the quad for a combined school thingamajig. Someone is mumbling something on stage ajslfjlbnmmmm.
'Slept late last night,' Jim mumbles. 'Slept.... yesterday, actually.' He squints at the person at the podium. 'Or was that the day before yesterday?'
'You're your own damn kryptonite,' Bones complains. 'What were you doing this time? Can you even tell me – is it safe for public consumption?'
'Ohhhh yeah,' Jim mutters, leaning half on Bones to stop from swaying. 'Really hot dream. It was like –' he makes a few violent gesticulations with his hands that could either represent a) a voluptuous figure, b) explosions in the sky or c) a very large patch of seaweed. 'Mhmm. Mmmmmmmmhm.'
'You should go back to your room,' Bones mutters, propping Jim up into a more comfortable position where Jim's less likely to drool all over his shoulder.
'And miss important school functions, doctor?' Jim tsks, his syllables coming out all lazy. 'But that would be against the rules
'Shut up and nap,' Bones sighs.
'Gotta do more experiririments later,' Jim sing-songs, taking a list out of his pocket. 'Volunteers are ready and waiting. Sleep dep, by the way? Helps a little
bit. I wrote that down in your spreadsheet so that you would know. That's right. Yes. Uh huh.' He beams once at Bones, then settles. 'You've got nicely padded shoulders,' he says intelligibly. 'Wake me up when the dude up there stops talking about.... stuff.'
'Why do I put up with you?' Bones asks, but Jim is already asleep. "Knocked out" is probably a better description – Jim usually wakes up when someone does something like dumping him unceremoniously on a chair. There are circles underneath his eyes that, in his professional opinion, take more than one night of staring at a machine to produce. It's only obvious when Jim stays still, but how often does Jim stay still? Bones looks around him and spots a hint of green. He decides it's about time someone gives Jim treatment as opposed to diagnosis. 'Gaila,' he calls out in a whisper. She turns around from her place two seats in front of him. 'Look after this guy for me!' Bones whisper-shouts, pointing down at Jim.
Gaila comes over, crouching down to avoid drawing attention. 'What did he do this time?'
'Damned if I know,' Bones says, getting up. 'Here, take my seat, I'll be right back.'
'Where are you going?' Gaila mutters, swapping places with him.
'If anyone asks, my stomach's killing me,' Bones replies, before slipping out of the quad and heading straight for Jim's dorm room.
The two of them aren't just good friends because Bones is a sucker for lost causes and Jim is a sucker for suckers. Sometimes they rub off a little on each other, which means to say that sometimes Bones has learned that being a sneaky little bastard has its advantages. "First, do no harm" can be a very powerful directive when coupled with Jim's complete lack of any conscience whatsoever. The door to Jim's room doesn't open with a knock, but it does open with the codes that Bones got off of Rez the last time the two of them got drunk together.
'Where'd you put it,' Bones mutters to the room at large, rifling around Jim's bedside. He finds the EEG case inside the bottom cabinet of Jim's desk under a pile of old vids and a few spare shirts and a stack of old datapads. He opens it up. The EEG's not there, but there is a note:
'Son of a bitch,' Bones mutters, after which he tries very hard to put everything back exactly the way it was before under the watchful, censuring eye of Jim's father staring out at him from the holograph on Jim's desk, after which Bones slinks back to the quad in defeat.
Bones doesn't say anything to Jim about the EEG after that, though he does drop by after Jim goes through his final list of volunteers.
'How're you doing?' Bones says pointedly when he comes down to watch Jim pack up the things in his room. He'll be damned if the man'll actually talk about anything that's bothering him, but he'll be equally damned if he doesn't rub it into Jim's face nonetheless in hopes that something gets through.
'102 in the bag,' Jim announces, producing his datapad with the spreadsheet on it. Bones gives it the bland look he reserves for all of Jim's attempts at diversion. Jim leans in and taps on a highlighted column. 'It'll be 103 if you count me, but statistically speaking I'll sway your average way to the left.'
'Yeah, 'cause Jim Kirk and "average" have so much in common,' Bones says stonily, switching the datapad off. He reaches his hand out to grab the handle of the EEG's case, but Jim's there before him pulling it out of the way. 'For god's sake, man, will you just let this go
? An EEG isn't some indication of your normalcy –'
'Maybe it's an indication of sub-normality,' Jim shoots at him, dancing around the subject like it's some huge game when Bones knows it's damn well not, that Jim has things he needs to sort out in his head that transcend more than just alpha-delta-theta-beta wave levels.
'Flip that argument around and you've got yourself your special position in medical history if you like,' Bones snaps. 'How about this, Jim: maybe you're better than everyone else at being stubborn
'I've got one more person on my list,' Jim says, completely sidelining everything that's just come out of Bones' mouth. Bones would punch him, if he thought it'd be of any use at all. Truth be told Jim'd probably enjoy it if he did. God.
'One more,' Bones growls. 'One
more, Jim, and then you stop doing this to yourself because it's ridiculous and it's out of hand and you can't win
this, this isn't a game
'I don't believe,' Jim says sweetly, 'in no-win situations.'
The one last person on Jim's list is a lot harder to get to than everyone else. It takes a bit of creative thinking about how to get around the usual protocol issues that are involved in arranging a meeting with the guy, but the problem turns out to be easily solved by a visit to the open lawn and a convincing smile or two.
'You guys done with your game?' Jim asks a couple of fellow cadets who are lazing around, sweating through their PE attire. 'Could I borrow your equipment for a sec?'
Thusly armed with a titanium-enforced baseball bat, Jim consults the campus floor plans and narrows down on the window in question that he's been looking for. Then Jim finds a big rock.
'Cadet Kirk,' a member of campus security intones at him about five minutes later. 'Please accompany us to Captain Pike's office immediately regarding a breach in security and protocol.'
'Yeah,' Jim says, pulling a face that screams
regret. 'Sorry about his window, that was my fault completely. I've got terrible aim. I'm going, I'm going,' he says, and then he legs it up to the lifts in double-time, the EEG tucked inside his satchel.
The door to Pike's office is already open when Jim gets there, so he's spared the inconvenience of knocking. Pike's at his table, seated behind his desk and tossing Jim's chosen rock up and down with one hand. He doesn't look angry at all; there's nothing on his face but the usual tolerant expression that Pike seems to use for everyone from academy darlings to deep space invaders. It's one hell of a lucky chance, Jim reflects, that he's managed to catch Pike in his office at all – Pike isn't usually on the teaching rotation, and spends more time off-world than most of the Starfleet officers assigned to Earth.
'Cadet Kirk,' Pike says when Jim hovers in the doorway. 'I understand that a rock through my window is already a notch down from starting a four-against-one pub brawl, but the next time you want to get my attention, just call and save us both the trouble. I assume you wanted to talk to me? Come in.'
Kirk shuts the door behind him when he slides into the office, glass from the broken window crunching underfoot. He seats himself in one of the chairs in front of Pike's desk, and reaches into his satchel for the EEG. Pike raises his eyebrow when he sees the machine, but doesn't comment. Jim discovers that he doesn't know the words that are meant to come in here to fill the space, so instead he just sets up the machine. He plugs in the monitor. Attaches the electrodes to the system. Connects the board. Places the ball bearing with definite precision on the centre marking. Afterwards, Jim exhales. His breath goes out of him for a moment, leaving a gaping, aching cavity in his chest full of pressure and hope and frustration. He opens his mouth to explain.
Pike cuts him off with a hand held up in the air, two fingers extended in a request for silence. The Captain's eyes are sharp and focused and dark, and he looks at Jim and does not relinquish Jim's gaze. Jim feels the years drop off, three years of study and waiting and cabin fever suddenly evaporating into this moment; everything he doesn't understand balanced on a fulcrum with the past countervailed against the future. Pike leans forward across the desk to the board, touches the tip of his finger to the ball bearing, then pushes it all the way down along the groove of the board.
Jim's jaw snaps shut. The corners of Pike's lips curved upwards. 'I heard this was a test you were conducting. Well, I hoped I passed.' The Captain leans back into his chair. 'Cadet Kirk?' he says.
'Yes, sir?' Jim replies, his mouth oddly dry.
'Good luck with your third attempt at the Kobayashi Maru,' Pike says.
Jim stands up sharply to attention and salutes.
Very quietly, and with a smile, Pike says, 'You're dismissed.'
Jim meets Bones on the front steps the next day. Bones looks angry, but hey, Bones always looks angry, so, here we go, angry rant: 'Jim, the med faculty just tore me apart because my
EEG got found floating in a dorm toilet – why the hell are you so happy?'
They patter down towards the lawn together, past their fellow cadets and Officers and all. Jim grins, his mind moving and moving and moving. 'I'm taking the test again,' he says to Bones, clapping his friend on the back. 'I want you there.'