Junkyard Dogs: Part II.I
Perera's Theory was far less easy to understand when he actually tried to read up on it himself. The boy's explanation had been simple, direct and summed it up smoothly, but the actual math and technical information on it was far harder to slough through.
Jay tried anyway. Sat down in the evening, in his bungalow, put on his reading glasses and tried to pick at the texts in order to be able to hold a conversation about it. It wasn't that he really cared about the information itself, or its applications. But thus far, having even a little bit of it absorbed into his mind was enough to be able to talk with the boy about it.
He never quite realized how fast children grew, until he was around one that he watched growing, unbidden and even unwillingly. And he never even contemplated how watching someone grow up could be both intensely painful and...
That was another hard part. Without ever meaning to, Jay found himself in those moments of pride that he felt he had no right to have. Watching this smart, motivated kid piece things together to test a theory put forth by someone far older and more schooled, it was a shock to Jay to realize that he was grinning, and that it was a proud grin.
It gave rise to lots of moments of guilt and self-doubt, and moments where he even thought of kicking the kid out of the yard, just to spare himself those bad times when he questioned things that couldn't be changed.
But he didn't. Didn't even want to, most of the time.
McKay had bargained out for seven of the navigation shield generators. Pricey business, too, but they had worked out a payment arrangement that could be spread out. Jay took the hit on the initial cost of transport, but had to make arrangements with the boy (whose pride was as touchy as his confidence was fragile) in order to pay off the debt. In as such, Montgomery became an official employee of McMillan & Winslow Salvage, and the time he spent in the yard was split between modifying the generators and doing on-the-books yard work.
Jay knew that Cait probably had no idea what her son was doing for a job, and definitely not where, but he figured that if she did want to know that badly, she could bring it up with him. It kept the kid off the streets, out of trouble and it gave him somewhere safe and monitored to work on his engineering goals.
It had been pricey, but it was worth the cost. Jay told himself that he got a good employee out of it, but the truth was, it made him feel both better and worse about things.
As the lad worked, he got more and more certain that there was something wrong with Perera's theory -- got more and more confident in that ascertation, too. When he talked about it, he lost his anxiety-stricken hesitations and could carry on a conversation very directly, even with all eyes on him. Still talked fast and gestured everywhere, but there was a certain level of calm there that was one more thing Jay felt that quiet, unwilling pride over.
It was really getting harder to just think of him as a boy. Even though he didn't look the part of an adult yet, he was growing into it fairly fast.
"He's gonna have some shoulders on him," Jay had commented, coming back in from where he'd been helping move some new parts over to the area of the yard where Montgomery had been working.
"Wonder who he got those off of," Winslow had replied, with a chuckle.
It was an ill-timed comment, meant lightly, taken hard. Jay had frozen, then had continued to the coffee pot, working his jaw. He stayed in the office the rest of the evening, and didn't leave until everyone else did -- especially the kid. Winslow was apologetic about it, but the apology made it even worse, so finally it was just dropped and not brought up again. And the sting faded, though the nerve it hit was still active.
There was some mild relief after that; the lad got himself that girl he'd been eyeing for some time, and spent a month being a perfectly average teenage boy who couldn't concentrate on anything but mooning over his fair lass. He still worked, but his focus was shot, and he actually took normal days off. He didn't have much spending money now that he was on the books properly and paying for the field generators, but Jay didn't mind him being less productive. It was kind of heartening to see him acting like a sixteen year old should act, right down to the hormonal obsessions of young love, and the lad being away more let Jay get himself better centered.
It only lasted a month, and in an equally normal manner, the kid moped considerably for awhile when it ended. But he eventually got over it, and went right back to the project he had let sit while he was trying his hand at romance, focused all over again.
"Any luck?" Jay asked, as he started cleaning up the office. It was raining hard outside, so the lad had come back in and was working the theory's math over for the umpteenth time, as though he didn't have it memorized from start to finish.
"No, sir. Whatever's not workin' in it for me, isna in the math. Too solid. But I suppose when I get t'test it, I'll know for sure, one way or the other."
Jay nodded, chewing it over. They'd had a few talks about it now, and he found that when the lad explained things, it was far easier to grasp. Jay still picked at the texts, but he got over any pride when it came to asking about things that confused him, mostly because when the explanations did come, they were patient and held no condescension, and had a real, genuine passion to boot.
It fell quiet, and then the lad asked, "What was it like?"
Jay froze again, hoping to God that wasn't a question he didn't want to answer, then tried for casual as he went back to cleaning, "What was what like?"
"The Merchant Marine." The kid gestured to the certificates on the wall, Jay's certificates.
It was hard not to sigh in relief, but he managed. Felt like he just faced a firing squad and all the weapons broke before they had a chance to take him out. "Not too bad. Hopped as a tech onboard a cargo carrier to Deneva... got there, an' spent a few years workin' on dyna-carriers. Managed t'get up to engineer's mate."
"On Deneva, aye. Liked it, while I was doin' it."
The lad nodded, looking at the certificates. And after Jay finished his cleanup, and had a moment to think, he realized why.
"Dinna waste yerself on that," Jay said, shaking his head. At the confused, slightly uneasy look he got in reply, he elaborated, "I'm an old junkyard dog. It's no big thing for me to go crawlin' through the ranks, spendin' years doin' grunt work. But ye're too smart to go that route; ye'd just end up bein' wasted in some dead end job."
The kid frowned, looking entirely displeased, going back to gazing at the book he had on his knees.
Jay sighed, mostly to himself. Tried to think of how to word things, to get through what he was trying to say. "Perera's Theory. The Merchant Marine's good, honest work... but ye'd end up workin' on old ships, on steady runs, where they dinna need people who see these theories an' wanna test 'em out, ye see? If ye're interested in goin' into space, go into Starfleet. Newest tech, best resources for research and development, and ye'll get to do this kind o' testin' for a livin'. And if ye want, ye can still be a mechanic, too."
That seemed to do the trick a little better. The lad nodded, obviously working the notion over, testing it out. Then he said, almost suddenly, "Mum wants me to go to university. Business school. She doesna mind me takin' engineering classes, but..."
Jay started organizing his desk, just to have something to focus his hands and eyes on. Worked his jaw, trying not to let his shoulders get too tense. He wanted to say something, but what the Hell could he possibly say to that?
He took a breath, letting it out, then finally said, "Just think about it, lad. Starfleet, Merchant Marine or university, let it work over in yer head for awhile, and dinna let anyone else tell ye which it should end up bein'."
It took until the late fall before everything was modified and finished. The field generators, all seven, were linked up to create a shielding system that was comparable to the Klingon design, right down to the resonant harmonics created by them. It required a lot of piecemeal work to get everything -- the original navigation shield generators, then all of the parts needed to modify them, some of them manufactured in the yard's machine shop.
Finally, the last part was the power source, and that was the hardest thing to obtain of all.
The University of Aberdeen's Engineering School had taken an interest in the project. Not enough to spend credits on it, but enough that they were willing to call in people who would be interested in the theory, including Starfleet engineers who were willing to provide the scaled explosive equivalent of a photon torpedo and a transporter, just to witness the test happen. That had left Jay and the lad scrambling to get ahold of the right type of power source, and finally they were able to locate an old engine from half a century before that had been loosely based off a Klingon design. It could also be modified to handle a hydrogen-based fuel, making it safe to test the theory on the Earth's surface.
As much work as the mechanics took, though, every day was getting just a little bit harder to face for Jay.
He still didn't spend a whole lot of time with the lad, but he spent enough that it threw his life into a state of chaos. Jay wasn't used to that; had lived with a pretty certain path in mind, and despite long years of the occasional regret, Cait and him had only derailed it for awhile. It was a balm to realize that it had all been a mutual decision, and that he didn't have any obligations because everyone wanted it to be swept under the rug. He could pretend that it didn't matter.
That balm was gone. There was no way to watch this boy, and see him growing into a young man, and see yet more traits that didn't belong to Cait but to the other side of the equation that led to his existence, without it becoming a nearly constant source of mental turmoil.
Jay didn't let it really effect his interactions with the kid. And it wasn't so constant, that turmoil, that he didn't get to enjoy some days, especially days where all the pieces fell into place and the kid was excited and borderline friendly, and rambling a mile a second about it all. They still didn't talk much about anything but machines and theories, partly because the lad still avoided those kinds of topics, and partly because Jay just really couldn't bear them.
But every day that passed, it just got harder. The regret got deeper. The guilt did, too. Winslow didn't fail to notice it; Jay knew perfectly well that the old man would encourage Jay to speak up, to change everything, maybe even destroy everything for the sake of the truth coming to light after being buried. Mercifully, though, Winslow kept quiet. And Jay kept struggling.
And there were so many moments those days when Jay wanted to do exactly that -- speak up. Where he wanted to go to Cait and demand that it all be said outloud. Where he wanted to look that kid in the eyes and tell him exactly where he came from; tell him where he got the sure, easy use of his hands, and where he was likely going to get a solid, strong build from.
He wished, despite his own thoughts, that he had that driven optimism that the lad did -- that nothing could be pronounced unsalvageable until you tried to save it. That wasn't Cait's. And he didn't have it himself. It was something that belonged purely to Montgomery Scott.
Jay knew that there was no way to change things -- no way to go back in time and redo it all, and no way to unravel it all now, not without destroying a family. It might not be a perfect family, but he knew he didn't have the right to go and drop a bomb on it. Nevermind what it would do to the very kid that was the cause of all of this soul-searching -- how could he possibly handle it, when he was only just getting comfortable in his own skin?
It was tearing Jay up.
The moment where he knew he had to change something, to do something to end this all, came out of nowhere. He'd been thinking it more and more, but there came a moment where he knew beyond any doubts.
It was only a few days before the test was scheduled to take place; the past several weeks had been spent transporting massive equipment (most often the old-fashioned way via vehicle) to the University's grounds, and reassembling it. Jay, even Winslow and the rest of the yard's employees, all of them pitched in on it. Junkyard dogs, the lot of 'em, working so this kid could test a theory and maybe answer some question that he didn't even know he was asking.
Late at night, the final ignition power cells were rigged into the machine shop's chargers. The lad was half-asleep on the couch, books still in hand, rubbing his eyes every so often even as he was going over things for what had to be a millionth time. Winslow was hanging around, keeping on the seemingly ever-present pile of forms, inventory sheets, invoicing and everything else that kept the yard running smooth and profitably.
Jay was hanging around too, staring off into the November rain, mostly just following the dark trails on the dark window, and the sorrowful thoughts that went with 'em.
"Ye might as well go home," he said, after a few moments. "We'll know if those power cells took the charge tomorrow mornin'."
"I'll wait," the lad replied, despite a yawn. "If they dinna take it, I can maybe try somethin' else, aye?"
Jay half-smiled, though he didn't really feel it. "Aye, I suppose."
Silence fell again, but it was a strangely comfortable silence. Despite Jay's internal chaos, there was no anxiety-driven fidgeting from the lad, and no hard questions from Winslow. It was easy to imagine that they could be here, comfortable in each others' presence, five years down the road. He held onto that feeling for awhile, not wanting to let it go.
Finally, though, Jay looked over, regarding the now sleeping kid on the couch. Just over halfway through his sixteenth year, and Jay could see both something of the child he'd been, and the man he was destined to be. Smart, good with his hands, mechanically inclined, focused; all the things that would make for a damn good engineer not too far down the road.
And still the innocent who got half lost in a mess he didn't create, who still believed that anything could be fixed, who learned hard lessons early but never let those break his heart.
He got his coat off the peg and rolled it up, put it at the end of the couch, then prodded the kid in the shoulder. "Wake up, lad. Least long enough to stretch out."
The kid startled a little when he was woken up, but it was obvious that even his seemingly ceaseless energy had hit a limit and abandoned him. He just stared sleepily at Jay for a moment, then did as he was told without any protests, or wariness, or uneasiness.
And that was when Jay knew he had to go. He got an old blanket out of the closet... clean, though stained from using it to crawl under skimmers, and covered the kid over.
Then he looked back at Winslow, jaw tight. "I need ye to buy me out."
Winslow was looking back at him, a certain misery in his eyes. "Won't change the fact that he's your son. Nothing will, and never did, no matter what agreements you and Cait made."
"No." Jay looked out the window for a moment, wanting to snarl back at the tight grief in his chest. "But this is killin' me, and we made our choices too long ago to change 'em. Bad choices. An' we gotta live with 'em... I dinna think I can, if I stay."