Disclaimer: Star Trek is the property of Paramount Viacom. This story is copyright © 1992 by Joanne Seward. Rated PG. Previously published in Lone Star Trek #5.
Welcome to the Real World
Joanne K. Seward
"My God, Bones!" Kirk's voice held a shocked note, as he surveyed the prospect before them.
"I told you, you wouldn't believe it. You should have taken my advice, and done it before you retired."
"Maybe, but I had no idea it would be anything like this."
Kirk looked at the crowded lobby confronting them. Lines seemed to head in every direction without rhyme or reason. There were signs up ahead, but it was impossible to read them at this distance. He certainly wasn't about to push through the waiting crowd to do so.
Kirk knew a dangerous situation when he saw one. "We'll be here for--"
"Hours," supplied one of the disgruntled beings standing in line. "And that's if everything is in order."
"Which line is this?" Kirk inquired of the young man who had spoken to them.
"This? This is the information line."
"I see. I don't think I need any information—"
"You got your forms, your expiring--"
"What forms?" Kirk's voice was wholly lacking in sarcasm as he asked the question.
McCoy frowned. Almost everyone he could see, in all of the various lines, grasped a handful of computer tapes as though their lives depended on them. He sighed. He'd had a bad feeling about this from the beginning. He knew Jim was ticked off with Starfleet, but this was ridiculous. "Come on, Jim. Maybe we should come back another day."
"What day? It's like this all the time." Again the young man inserted an acerbic comment.
"Don't worry, Bones," Kirk assured the physician. "It couldn't be as bad as it looks."
A half-hour later, he was ready to admit he'd been right, but in the wrong way. It wasn't as bad as it looked. It was worse. Far worse. He and McCoy had been in line all this time, and they were still three people from the front. And this was only the information line. While they were waiting, he'd had ample time to analyze the system. From this line, people went to a variety of other lines. He suspected he was going to be sent to that long one over in the far corner of the immense room.
Finally, they reached one of the harried clerks behind the high counter. Kirk explained his purpose, then flashed the thousand megawatt smile that had helped him charm his way out of tight corners from Terra to the farthest reaches of the galaxy. He might as well have smiled at a slime devil.
"Wait a minute. I don't understand. Is this your first application, or a renewal?"
"A renewal." Kirk leaned his elbows on the counter.
"Have you completed form 22367, parts A, S, and C?" The clerk noted his empty hands and shook her head. "Okay, here's what you have to do." She rummaged around, then tossed a computer tape on the counter. "Fill this out; use the terminals by the wall, then go to window number thirteen."
Kirk looked around. "Thirteen?" he inquired.
"Over there." She pointed without interest, then turned, beckoning to another passively waiting information seeker. "Next."
"Oh..." Now he could see it. His supposition had been correct. Window thirteen was the one in the corner. The designation had been obscured by the line of waiting people. Kirk headed for the terminals. "Maybe the line will be shorter by the time we get there," he urged the lagging doctor.
Dream on, Jim, McCoy thought. He shook his head. He couldn't believe Kirk was going through with this. "If you would just call 'fleet headquarters, I'm sure they'd take care of this for you. They owe you that much, at least."
"No way." Kirk was adamant. He'd had it with Starfleet. This last business with the Klingons had been the straw that broke the camel's back. He glanced at the terminal in front of him. It was outfitted with a keyboard; there was no sign of a voice access grid. "I guess I have to do this the old-fashioned way." He began inputting the required information, but by the time he got to line three, he was stymied.
"Earth Standard Date! I don't know the exact year of my last application, Earth Standard Date. I'm not even certain of the stardate." Refusing to be intimidated however, he tapped in a series of numbers.
Glowing green letters formed on the screen. No such file can be found for James T. Kirk with that Earth Standard Date. Please check your data, and re-enter.
"Damn!" Kirk swore, attempting somewhat futilely to convert stardates to ESD.
"Try twenty-one ninety-three." McCoy's face was expressionless as he offered the date.
"Twenty-one ninety-three?" Kirk repeated, looking bemused, but he punched the number in anyway.
"Working" flashed on the screen, then "file found; please go on to number four". Kirk did so, still waiting for McCoy to clue him in to how he'd known the correct date. Twenty minutes later, he'd finished entering the required information and strode toward window thirteen. "How did you know the ESD, Bones?" Kirk queried. Sure, McCoy knew his records inside and out, but this was ridiculous.
"I figured you'd never had to do this since you entered Startleet. A little simple arithmetic gave me the answer."
"Logical." Kirk grinned.
McCoy returned the grin. "Hang around with a damn pointy-eared Vulcan long enough, and it starts to rub off."
Halfway to the window, Kirk turned to face McCoy. "Bones, you don't have to hang around here. If you have things to do, go on. We can meet later for lunch."
"Aww, Jim. Forget it. We've stuck together through thick an' thin, not to mention Rura Penthe. I think I can manage standing in line with you."
Kirk smiled. "Thanks, Bones."
"Don't mention it."
It was another hour before they reached window thirteen.
"What the hell--" The clerk glanced up from her monitor screen, looking annoyed. "Is this a new application, or a renewal? If it's a new application, you have to fill out form 223678, not 22367."
Again Kirk went through his explanation.
"And it's been over thirty years?" Her tone of voice made it clear she thought Kirk was trying to pull a fast one. "Geez. Save me from spaced-out spacers. Every one of you guys that comes in here seems to think you don't have to follow any rules. Look, Mr. Kirk, you're going to have to take a simulator test."
"Uhh, Ma'am." McCoy turned on his southern gentleman act. "I don't think you realize just who this is--"
"I don't care who he is. If he were the Romulan praetor, he'd still have to take the test. Rules are--"
"--rules. We know. Look, this is Captain Ja--"
"Bones," Kirk shook his head reprovingly. "Forget it. Where do I take the test, Miss?"
"Over there. Wait a minute! First, you have to read the second line of print." She gestured over her shoulder, then waited, looking bored, while he read off the characters. "Sign the dataform here and here." She sounded bored too. Tapping her foot while he wrote, she touched a key on her terminal. "Fifty credits for the renewal, another thirty seven for the simulator test. Eighty-seven total."
She processed his account card, then directed him to yet another line. "At least this one is a bit shorter," Kirk commented as he took his place at the end.
"Jim, I can't believe you put up with that kind of treatment. You're an honest-to-god galactic hero. All you had to do--"
"Forget it, Bones." Kirk's voice held a note of warning.
McCoy glared at him, but he shut up all the same.
Finally Kirk entered the simulation booth and McCoy was free to vent his feelings to anyone who cared to listen.
"I can't believe he's bein' so stubborn. A simulator test! My God, he was doin' the real thing when these young pups were still in diapers!"
When Kirk exited the booth, he pointed to yet another line. This one sported a holographic-image camera, which did wonders for McCoy's mood. He stood smirking as Kirk took his place on the 'feet' outlined on the floor.
"Smile." The young man's voice had a toneless quality which no doubt came for saying the same thing over and over again. McCoy was beginning to sympathize.
Finally they were finished, though, and Kirk held a flat rectangle of plastic in his hand.
"That's your temporary." The dead voice again. "The permanent one will arrive in six to eight weeks."
"Thank you." Kirk forced a tight smile, his lower back aching. "Come on, Bones. Spock will be wondering what happened to us."
Exiting the building, Kirk was amazed to find that the lobby was even more crowded than it had been earlier, and the lines were almost twice as long. Apparently McCoy had been correct when he'd advised they 'get there early'.
Spock was easily spotted under a sign which read 'Department of Motor Vehicles' and they turned their steps in his direction.
"You wouldn't believe what it's like in there, Spock," Kirk exclaimed, as they came abreast of the Vulcan.
"You can't say I didn't warn you," McCoy interjected.
The other two ignored the interruption. "Indeed, Jim. I had heard that renewing one's flitter license on Earth was somewhat of an ordeal."
"That's putting it mildly," Kirk breathed. He glanced down at the document in his hand. "My God, this has to be renewed in two years!"
"That's right. What did you think?" McCoy asked gruffly. He shook his head. Jim Kirk was so accustomed to Starfleet handling this sort of stuff, he had no idea how the other half lived.
Kirk's hazel eyes were wide. "You mean I have to go through this again?" He shook his head, switching to his 'captain' voice. "Doctor McCoy, Mr. Spock ... perhaps we should see if it is too late to withdraw our applications for retirement..."
Spock's eyebrow inched higher than Kirk could recall it ever doing before, as McCoy replied for both of them.
"Oh boy." He licked his lips. "Here we go again!"