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Other titles in the Star Trek Next Generation series:
The sky's the limit (Star Trek Next Generation)by Marco Palmieri
Meet With Triumph and Disaster
by Michael Schuster and Steve Mollmann
The first time Captain Thomas Halloway saw the U.S.S. Enterprise, the starship was nothing more than a simulation displayed on a designer's terminal. Even back then, he had been impressed by her size, although he had no illusions that a computer model ever would be able to do the real thing justice.
The third time he saw the Enterprise, she had gone through every preliminary test imaginable, and the first struts of her spaceframe were about to be welded together on the Martian surface, to be lifted into orbit later on.
The seventh time he saw the Enterprise, construction had progressed far enough to enable people to work inside her without having to depend on space suits. That had been the day the life-support systems had been switched on, only weeks after Thomas had been chosen as the right man to supervise the construction efforts. It was also five years before the ship would leave the orbital dock under its own power, using only maneuvering thrusters.
And that had been eight years before the commissioning ceremony that was just minutes away.
It was quite a turnout; Thomas had the feeling that nobody would notice if he suddenly disappeared. This was an event that had drawn hundreds from all over the Federation to this place: the orbital docks of Utopia Planitia Fleet Yards, Mars. It was a celebration of Starfleet's desire to explore the unknown, an affirmation of one of the basic ideals of the Federation: the constant and never-ending quest for more knowledge.
What more fitting embodiment of this ideal was there than the Galaxy-class ship itself? So grand and impressive — swanlike and almost alive. It dwarfed everything else in orbit, with the exception of the spacedock cradling it. "Traveling cities" they had been called by some of their designers, and Thomas was tempted to agree with this assessment. Their purpose was to trawl the regions beyond known space, always on the lookout for interesting and curious new discoveries, be they alive or not.
On the other side of a crowd of dignitaries, Thomas caught sight of a familiar figure. "Orfil!" Thomas shouted and waved at his erstwhile colleague. "Try to come over here, will you?"
A throng of wildly gesticulating Guidons almost prevented Commander Orfil Quinteros from crossing the distance of only a few meters, but eventually he succeeded and shook Thomas's hand. Orfil had worked with Thomas for almost ten years, serving as his right-hand man on the construction team (not to mention best friend), but he had been gone for two months now, undergoing command training in preparation for his transfer to Starbase 74.
"When did you arrive?" Thomas asked.
"Late last night. HQ booked me a flight on a civilian shuttle bound for Pluto, and from there I took the ferry to Titan. I hardly got any sleep." Orfil had relatives in Christopher's Landing, and he was likely to pay them a visit whenever he had enough time. "Where's the boss?"
"Out and about, I suspect. I haven't actually seen him yet, but I don't think he'll pass on the opportunity to celebrate. Do you?"
"Nah." Having worked for many years under Admiral Theoderich Patterson, they both knew exactly what he liked, and playing host for such a celebration as today's was one of the things right at the top of that list. The admiral had started as a lowly engineer at Utopia Planitia and, having managed to stay there his entire career, now ran the place. "Most likely, he's already mingling."
"Most likely," Thomas agreed.
Without warning, Orfil slapped him on the shoulder hard enough that Thomas's knees almost buckled. "So, what news of Solveig and the kids?"
"They're doing fine. Rupa's enjoying elementary school only slightly less than she did kindergarten, but that was to be expected. Matti...well, let's just say he's in a difficult phase right now."
"Ah, puberty." The two men exchanged knowing grins. "Say, why isn't Solveig here? Or did I just fail to spot her? The kids wouldn't have had much fun here, but I'm sure that your wife at least would want to celebrate your triumph with you."
What was being celebrated today was not just his triumph, but also the culmination of two decades' work, if one included in the count the general design and planning efforts for the entire Galaxy class. Twenty years ago, the project had begun, and now the third ship of that class was about to be commissioned. It would not have been such a special occasion if this had been any other ship — certainly, nobody had made such a fuss about the commissioning of Yamato, for example — but since this was the first starship in two decades to bear the prestigious name Enterprise, things were different.
The people present at this celebration of the past and the future were mostly important figures connected with the Fleet, while others, though few in number, represented the UFP government. It was too much Starfleet top brass, too much pomp and circumstance for Solveig to enjoy herself, and they had talked about it extensively weeks ago, eventually coming to the agreement that they would celebrate on their own, with their relatives and closest friends. It was something Thomas was looking forward to, even as he stood here waiting for the actual start of festivities.
"Solveig...well, you know how she feels about the Fleet, don't you?"
"Oh, yes," said Orfil emphatically. A few times he had been a guest of the Halloways, eating dinner with them and spending an eventful evening at their house in Central Burroughs. Orfil had experienced Solveig in action often enough to know what she thought of Starfleet, Federation politics, and just about everything else that crossed her mind.
Movement at the other end of the observation center that doubled as the locale for tonight's event caught Thomas's attention — somebody was mounting the stage. It was Admiral Patterson, about to make the first speech of many that would be delivered tonight. Beyond the transparent wall behind the admiral, the rusty orb of Mars shimmered in the sun...as did the star of today's ceremony.
She hung scarcely a hundred meters away, keeping close company with the station ostensibly in order to give the attendees the best possible view of her, though all they saw was the underside of the saucer section, the neck, and the front part of the secondary hull with its ringed navigational deflector.
Still, thought Thomas, she's a sight to behold.
The audience quieted as Patterson took the podium. "Good evening, dear guests. It is a great honor and an even greater pleasure for me to be able to welcome you all here today. Many of you have had to travel long distances to be present on this very special occasion, and for that I thank you. It is not every day that we celebrate the commissioning of a new starship, much less that of a ship with such a prestigious and famous name as that of the U.S.S. Enterprise, a name that goes back centuries, used long before there was a Starfleet on Earth, long before even there were any spacegoing craft on that planet at all. Now has come the time to make that name part of the Federation's fleet once again, to lead the way in expanding our knowledge and understanding of the universe and — most important — ourselves.
"We celebrate this event not only because we can, but also because we feel that we have an obligation to do so. The previous starship called Enterprise was destroyed with all hands nineteen years ago, and I ask you all to join me now in a minute's silent remembrance of those who lost their lives that day."
Thomas still remembered where he had been when he had heard the news. It was such an extraordinary occurrence, the destruction of the Enterprise-C, that one could not help but memorize every little detail about it. Such a thing did not happen, especially not with people aboard. Many had died in that Romulan attack over Narendra III, but if any good could come from such a tragedy, it was that the ship's loss had gone a long way to strengthen deteriorating relations between the Federation and the Klingon Empire.
"Thank you," Patterson said and gripped the sides of the podium, leaning slightly forward. "Let us never forget the brave souls who gave their lives for our safety throughout Federation history. It is only because of their sacrifice that we have come so far: from belonging to separate, disparate planets to being part of a vast interstellar whole that is so much more than the sum of its parts. Rather than being satisfied with the status quo, we want to know more, about ourselves, about others, about the place we live in. Who better to talk about this ship's mission" — he made a sweeping gesture toward the majestic form beyond the windows — "than our next speaker. My dear friends and supporters of Starfleet's cause, I am proud to introduce the Respectable Lady Svaath Magodin, Secretary of Science and Space Exploration of the United Federation of Planets!"
Applause followed, and a reptilian Xindi ascended the stage. Magodin was slightly smaller than average for her species, and if you didn't know her, you'd think that she was not very remarkable at all. Months previous, Thomas had made the mistake of assuming her to be just that, and he'd quickly discovered his error: she was distinguished by virtue of the way she interacted with others. She did not beat about the bush; if there was something she wanted, she said so. She reminded him of nothing so much as a Vulcan matriarch.
"Thank you, Admiral. I am glad to be here today," she said. Her voice was at odds with what you would expect from her appearance, as it always reminded Thomas of a little elf. Somehow it did not seem to belong to a woman from New Xindus. "Admiral Patterson has already mentioned the reason for this gathering," she continued, addressing the throng of guests, "but I feel it bears repeating. It is about the pursuit of knowledge, both in the reaches of deep space as well as within ourselves. This ship is a symbol of our desire and a tool with which to fulfill it. It acknowledges the immensity of the universe and how little of our own galaxy we truly know...and also how much yet remains to be explored. There have been setbacks — caused by war, by politics, by bureaucracy — but now it is high time to concentrate once more on Starfleet's foremost purpose.
"This vessel is one with a mission, a mission that has the potential to last longer than that of any previous ship. The Galaxy class is built to be almost completely self-sustaining, with an operational life of, at minimum, a hundred years. We intend to build more of them and send them out there, to find wonders we cannot imagine.
"The Enterprise is a special ship, as Admiral Patterson has already stated. We expect a great many things of her and her crew. She could be away from us for a long time, twenty years or even more. Let us wish her all the best, and with her all those brave men and women who take her into the unknown."
For Thomas, it was painful to listen to the science secretary. The speech itself was not the problem; what it meant for him was. Hearing first Patterson and now Magodin talk about the ship's mission was enough justification for him to continue on his intended course. After all, there was no point in having second thoughts this late in the game, and if he chose not to act now, he would forever regret it. He knew that much, at least.
Magodin continued with her passionate plea for further exploration of the universe, and while he could not find anything wrong with it, he also felt that it was meant for somebody else. Thomas Bhupender Halloway was not the ideal recipient.
Presently he felt Orfil staring at him, and when he looked to his left, his friend was peering back at him full of worry. "What is it?" Thomas whispered. Standing in the middle of a crowd of a thousand people was not conducive to private conversations, so he had to keep it short and quiet.
"Is something wrong?" asked Orfil.
"No. Should it be?"
"You tell me."
"Nothing's wrong. Now be quiet and listen!"
"We'll talk later," Orfil said, and it sounded not unlike a threat. It was just as well that they would have to have that talk much later, since there was to be a tour of the Enterprise's most important interior features that Thomas himself would lead right after the speeches had concluded.
That tour would be the last official item on tonight's agenda, but it would be final in other ways as well. It didn't bother Thomas in the least; in fact, the only thing that did was the difficulty of describing adequately how he felt.
After the conclusion of Magodin's lengthy speech and another by the Bolian representative to the Federation Council, it was time for the attendees to enjoy food and drink while sitting at the tables in the back of the observation hall — a time for a quiet conversation and a bite of something tasty, though not for Thomas, sadly.
Instead, he was touring the Enterprise with a group of dignitaries in tow, trying without much success to give himself the air of a man satisfied with himself and with life in general. He was presently standing in the center of the bridge, accompanied only by Secretary Magodin and three Starfleet admirals: Patterson, Gregory Quinn, and Norah Satie. Satie's participation here was almost mandatory, considering her position as chief of Starfleet Operations, and even if he had wanted to do so, Thomas would not have been able to deny her this experience.
If people were in a generous mood, they might consider Gregory Quinn to be the uniformed equivalent of Svaath Magodin. He was in charge of Starfleet's Exploratory Division, supervising the various nonmilitary endeavors, and so would be the one to whom the captains of the Galaxy-class explorers would be reporting. Quinn was an elderly man, easily over a hundred years old, though Thomas didn't know his exact age. He had decades of experience, and he exuded a special kind of confidence that, unfortunately, did nothing to help Thomas at this time.
They all stood on the bridge, in front of the main viewer, listening to whatever informative morsels Thomas could dredge from his memory. He left out the technical details, since he knew nobody except himself and Patterson would be interested to find out about the interlaced microfoam duranium filament shell that, mounted on a tritanium truss frame network, formed the exterior layer of the bridge module. After all, he was a reasonable man, and so he knew better than to bore his listeners.
He answered a couple of perfunctory questions and realized that his audience had probably heard enough. "Now, Madam Secretary, Admirals, I suggest we continue our tour of the Enterprise and take a look at the main shuttlebay."
"Ah, yes," Patterson said, nodding knowingly, "we really need to go there next. It's impressive, even for people like me who've seen their fair share of shuttlebays in their life. Madam Secretary, you'll like it!"
"I have no doubt," Magodin said with a smile.
Eager to leave the bridge and filled with a feeling of unease that was not likely to leave him soon, Thomas led the way to the aft turboshaft entrance. Although the five of them would just fit into one elevator cab, it wouldn't be a comfortable journey, so Admiral Patterson took the lead, guiding Magodin and Quinn into the waiting cab. At that, Thomas winced inwardly, since it meant that he would have to travel with Satie. She was a person who had earned his respect and admiration, and that made what he had to do even more difficult.
Perhaps it would be a good idea to postpone it. Tomorrow was no worse a day for it than today, after all.
What followed was — thankfully — a very short trip, interrupted only by Satie's remark about the almost ostentatious use of interior space that bordered, in her opinion at least, on wastefulness. Thomas had no choice but to counter her claim and assure her that it only appeared that way. In reality, the Enterprise's corridors, quarters, and laboratories were not significantly wider, longer, or generally bigger than on any other ship in the fleet, not even on those built in the previous century. Perhaps, he suggested, the Enterprise's size was misleading? People might be tempted to assume that simply because the ship itself was bigger than others, its rooms might be bigger than those of other ships as well.
Eventually, the doors opened onto the largest single inhabitable space on a Galaxy-class vessel, the main shuttlebay on Deck 4, where the other three members of their little group were already waiting.
Ahead of them, the Enterprise's entire fleet of shuttles had been positioned meticulously on either side of the shuttle maintenance bay, at an angle that had their bow pointing toward the large doors at the far end. There were more small craft present than would be necessary once the ship's first mission had begun, but Thomas knew that they had been put there to make an impression on the guests. It had been Patterson's idea from the beginning to make this visit a part of their tour.
Thomas addressed the group. "Admirals, Madam Secretary, let us have a view of Mars so rare that you will be sure to treasure it forever. If you would follow me..."
They did so, and moments later they had arrived at the bay door, ready for the experience that awaited them. Thomas pressed a button on a console near the left wall. Immediately the door began to open, and he experienced a short pang of irrational fear as the entire shuttlebay was seemingly exposed to raw space, with only an invisible force field between them and the cold darkness that waited out there.
The view certainly was awe-inspiring, since the ship had been angled away from Mars — a maneuver that now gave them the opportunity of a lifetime to look down on the dusty-brown planet from the aft-facing shuttlebay without any noticeable barrier obstructing their view. They were able to see not only the work pods of various types flitting about between the ships and spaceborne installations that belonged to Utopia Planitia Orbital but also the sloping drive section of the Enterprise herself. Fortunately, the neck of the ship prevented them from having a good view of the —
"Captain Halloway, wasn't there a dreadful accident earlier this year? Something to do with a torpedo launcher, I believe," said Satie, her face and voice seeming innocent but her intent betrayed by the fact that Satie was the chief of Starfleet Operations and had to know these things. As it was, however, he knew that she was perfectly aware of what had happened, and she was asking about it only to hear him explain — once again — how everything went down, and how it was not really his fault but was still his fault because he had been the man in charge.
There was no point in avoiding the topic, as it would certainly have come up — no doubt ably assisted by the good admiral — in a later discussion, and so Thomas had no choice but to go over all this again, after going over it so many times before.
"You're right, Admiral Satie," he said, wishing for the force field holding in the atmosphere to fail right then. "There was an accident that involved the aft photon torpedo launcher, which we are unable to see from our vantage point up here. It exploded, killing twelve unfortunate engineers who were performing tests on it. It took us a long time to find out what caused that explosion. Early on we suspected it had something to do with that thermal expansion problem we thought we'd solved years earlier, but then we discovered the real reason. It was a fault in the system that ignited the torpedo before it left the launcher housing. We had done many tests on it in the years since we spotted that other error, but that one escaped our attention entirely. The general assumption is that it wasn't a constant glitch; more likely, it occurred only occasionally. Sadly, it took the lives of twelve people during a firing exercise whose only goal was to test the systems and clear up some space debris at the same time."
Thomas became silent, breathed in, and waited for the reactions of the others. Satie was a rock, as usual, with no indication of her feelings showing on her face. Patterson's expression was pained, but then he already knew about this, had been at least as shocked as Thomas, and had contacted four victims' families himself. Magodin's face was unavoidably expressionless, her scaly skin being far less malleable than that of, say, a human.
Admiral Quinn's reaction consisted of a quiet cough to clear his throat before he said, "I remember hearing about that. Tragic incident, really tragic. But wasn't there another one after that?"
Stemming the tide of rising desperation was impossible, but Thomas attempted it nonetheless. Many a night he had lain awake in his family's house in Central Burroughs, thinking about the children who had lost a parent, the people who had lost a loved one, all because of a stupid, unnecessary accident that should not have occurred at all. The entire launcher should have been swapped with another one back when they had had those troubles with it.
Yet even that would not have prevented the other tragedy in the starboard nacelle control room. Three engineers had died there in a plasma explosion. At first, it had seemed that they had only disappeared without a trace, but it was later discovered that their disappearance had coincided with a plasma surge, and while there were still a lot of unanswered questions, the final report's conclusion was that they had died in the surge.
"Yes, Admiral, there was. It was equally tragic, and it shouldn't have occurred, either." Thomas outlined what they knew about it, which was not much.
It had happened less than a month after that other incident, and the weeks following those disasters had been the worst in Thomas's life. They had been full of self-doubt, of insecurity, of general depression and despair at the thought of getting back to work. He had taken two months off to give himself time to come to terms with everything, and without Solveig, he would never have succeeded. In fact, he'd probably have given up early on, having been brought down by the shame of not being able to deal with this situation the way other commanding officers had done in the past.
He had finally come to the limits of his own capabilities, and he had no desire to go any farther. When he had at last been able to return to duty, it had been only because of the decision he had made...the one he had yet to tell anyone about.
"Are you enjoying the view?" he asked, deliberately changing the subject of their conversation to something infinitely more pleasant.
"Very much," said Magodin, and Thomas had the feeling that she was being absolutely honest.
"I'm glad to hear that." Thomas mustered a small smile. "Now, Admiral Patterson and I want to show you all a few more interesting locales on the Enterprise, so I suggest we move on. Our next stop is main engineering."
They followed him back to the turbolift, and this time he made sure not to travel with Satie. The bad feeling he'd experienced had returned, and while he knew that there would need to be a confrontation of sorts eventually, he didn't want to have it right now. Moving past Patterson, he maneuvered himself into position to enter the first cabin together with Quinn. Magodin came in after them, and then Thomas ordered the lift to take them into the heart of the drive section.
It was ridiculous, if you actually thought about it, to assume that such a quick tour of a handful of spots on the ship would suffice to provide an adequate impression of the entire construct. There simply was too much to see in a short time; thus Patterson had picked, naturally in coordination with Thomas ("the brain behind it all," as people were fond of saying), a handful of presumably interesting locations that would satisfy the curiosity of those Very Important Persons chosen to be part of the tour.
"Splendid day today," Quinn said, and Thomas had no idea whether his sentiment was genuine or not. Perhaps he was just being a bit too cynical, and Quinn really meant what he said.
"I'm glad you think so," Thomas said. "What is your impression of the ship in general?"
"Well, I'm not entirely new to the class, so I knew a little bit about it before. Still, the Enterprise is impressive, and there's a good chance she'll live up to her name. In fact, I might even have something for her to do already. We should soon have the opportunity to explore a great unknown galactic mass, and what better ship than the Enterprise to do that?"
"I have to agree. With a thousand people on board, most of them specialists in their field, this is a veritable warp-capable think tank."
"Absolutely! And you seem to me the perfect man to lead them out into the unknown, as clichÉd as that phrase may be."
"Ah, well...I wouldn't know about that," Thomas said, even though he did.
"Nonsense! You've seen this ship through every stage of its construction — no one knows it as well as you do. Every advantage it offers is one you know how to make use of."
"Gentlemen," Magodin interrupted, "how many stops are there left on our tour?"
Maybe he was mistaken, but Thomas thought he heard something in the secretary's voice — not exactly boredom but something very similar. A wish to end this and return home, maybe, or a need to get back to work, do something else. Luckily for her, they wouldn't take much longer.
After their visit to engineering, there would be only one more stop, the stellar cartography lab. Thomas had wanted to take the tour group to the cetacean exchange, the spot where humanoid crew members were able to interact with the ship's aquatic-dwelling guidance and navigation experts. It was a place dear to him because he had had a hand in designing the entire facility. Patterson, however, had favored stellar cartography, since it offered people an impressive view of their interstellar surroundings and at the same time drove home the point of how insignificant everything was, despite their assumptions to the contrary — the perfect summary of the ship's mission of exploration.
He gave Magodin the answer she wanted, and mere moments after that, they arrived at their penultimate destination. Main engineering had been a hub of activity ever since there had been people on board, and today was no different. Noncommissioned crew members were mingling with officers of various ranks, and Thomas spotted one of the two chief engineers, Sarah MacDougal, who oversaw the operation and maintenance of the ship's systems.
Determined to let others experience a share of his joy, he guided Quinn and Magodin over to the master systems display table in the center of the room, where Sarah was ostensibly busy checking figures and values.
Thomas called her name. "May I introduce you to Admiral Gregory Quinn and Science Secretary Svaath Magodin?"
Though clearly not pleased by the interruption — and Thomas had not assumed anything other to be the case, for he knew Sarah all too well — she put down her padd and shook the hands of the two dignitaries. "Welcome aboard the Enterprise, Madam Secretary, Admiral," she said, and it was clear that she preferred to be anywhere but here in this very moment. Thomas was not a cruel man, so he knew better than to torture her longer than necessary.
It was just as well, because Patterson and Satie had just arrived. They were apparently involved in a discussion that interested them both greatly, but as soon as Satie spotted Thomas, she stopped talking and instead waved him over to her.
"Captain, may I have a minute with you?"
"Certainly, Admiral," Thomas said, knowing now with certainty what was to come. "Let's step over to the chief engineer's office. Sarah, you don't mind, do you?"
The blond officer just shook her head, pretending to be busy with that padd in her hand. Involuntarily, Thomas smiled. Sarah was a very strange person, sometimes. One thing she didn't like at all was being forced to interrupt her work for seemingly insignificant tasks. Kowtowing to VIPs was apparently just such a task.
"Now, if you would step in here, Admiral," he said, gently guiding Satie into the alcove to the left. It wasn't the best place to have a private conversation, but it would suffice. Besides, everybody on the ship — and, indeed, in the entire Fleet, quite probably — would know about it in the morning, so privacy was not his foremost concern.
Having moved into the CE's office as far as was possible, Satie crossed her arms over her chest and looked sternly at Thomas, who was reminded of the headmistress from his boyhood school in Pune. And just as with that headmistress, he decided to get it all out now, as quickly as possible before she could cut into him. The chance was that it would be less painful that way. "Admiral, there's something you need to know."
"Yes. That much is obvious. There's an air of unease about you, of unhappiness and discomfort, that is difficult to overlook." Satie was smaller than Thomas, yet her presence was such that he almost felt he had to look up to her. "I spotted it weeks, perhaps even months, ago, and it troubled me then. It's worrying me now. What is on your mind, Captain?"
"Many things, I'm afraid. But the most important one, the one that you need to know about, is my realization that this is not for me."
Satie didn't follow him fully, and he could not blame her. "Please be more specific. If there is a problem, we need to address this in detail."
"I agree. I realized that whatever my title is, I'm still an engineer at heart. Even if I am placed in the center seat on a starship's bridge, I don't have the abilities to take that ship out to explore. This isn't what I want to do." Immediately after he had said it, he knew that he had phrased it wrong.
"My dear captain, this is not a weekend golf club for centenarians! Starfleet's an organization that depends on its members doing what they are expected to do even if — and that is the important part included in the oath you once swore — it means going against your own petty desires. People depend on you, and you depend on them."
"I know, Admiral. Believe me, I know. My word choice was unfortunate. What I wanted to say is that I know where my talents lie. Space exploration isn't what I do best; in fact, it's far from my area of expertise. There are many who can make the transition from one track to another, even one so huge as this, easily and without negative repercussions, but I fear I'm not one of them. The simple truth, Admiral, is that I'm an engineer, and I want to do engineering things. I know that I can serve the Fleet best that way. Not by exploring, not by commanding."
Satie seemed to need time to ponder, and so Thomas fell silent. He had absolutely no idea how this night would end as there was no way to predict Satie's reaction. Thomas didn't know her that well, after all. They had talked occasionally, usually about the ship's construction pace, sometimes about potential crew choices, but they didn't know much about each other. At least Thomas didn't know much about the admiral. In all likelihood, the reverse was not true.
Finally, she replied. "It is always good to know what you are capable of, what you like and what you would rather not do. Yet as I have said, sometimes the saying is true about life handing you lemons. We can't always get what we want."
"There's another reason why I can't be the captain you need," Thomas said, deliberately neglecting to address Satie's remark directly. She would have to understand his point eventually.
"Yes. It's my family. Everybody I talk to keeps saying the same thing: the Enterprise could be out there for at least a decade, perhaps even two! I don't want to be separated from them for so long."
Satie just stared at him. "But you can take them with you, can't you? The ship's supposed to be big enough. And you should know, you practically built it."
"I do know, and passenger capacity is not an issue. Rather, it is my wife who doesn't want to leave the Sol system behind. She wants to raise our children here, on Mars or maybe somewhere else. We've talked about moving to Luna, maybe."
"Can you not persuade her? If she loves you, she'll be open to your point of view," said Satie, still trying to keep him from making an apparent mistake in her eyes. It was likely that the good admiral had a wrong image of him, that she thought him capable of accomplishing greater things than he himself knew to be the case.
"But that's just it," said Thomas. "I'm not sure my point of view is any different from hers. Sure, our personal reasons might be different — she's neither in Starfleet nor a scientist who could find work on the ship, and so she would essentially be a passenger on a twenty-year cruise with no chance of doing what she is trained to do — but the end result is the same. Neither of us thinks that we should be aboard the Enterprise when she begins her mission."
"I see." Satie scratched the side of her nose. "Isn't there anything I can do to make you stay on?"
"No, Admiral, I'm afraid there isn't."
"You're not going to threaten resignation, are you?"
Thomas shook his head. "I've no intention of going that far...at least not yet. I love Starfleet, and I love my work. I will do the job I'm assigned to do. But I feel as though it would be a mistake to assign me the job of commanding the Enterprise on a long-term mission of exploration. For myself and for Starfleet."
"Well...that leaves me with no other choice, then." Satie looked down at her hand, which held a padd Thomas hadn't noticed before. "I was hoping I wouldn't need this, but at least my preparations weren't in vain. On this padd here I have the personnel file of someone Admiral Quinn has persuaded me is the ideal man to follow in your footsteps as the captain of the Enterprise. He is a true explorer, a man born to bring light into the darkness, as it were. Your ship will be in good hands."
That was a surprise, to say the least. Thomas took a while to form a response, as he hadn't expected to win so easily — although "win" was perhaps not the best word for what had just happened. "You aren't angry?"
"No. I am disappointed, which is an entirely different thing. I understand your reasons, I assure you. They're perfectly valid, and nobody will hold your decision against you. I thought you were the perfect man to command this ship, but there are others who can do almost as good a job. Here, take this," she said, holding out the padd, "and have a look at the man's file. I think you'll agree with me that he's a good choice. A single man, he has no commitments, is extensively experienced with long-term deep-space missions, and what's more, he's ready to get back out there. At ease, Captain Halloway, you're off the hook!" With that last comment, her expression had changed considerably, and now she was almost smiling. It certainly made for a very reassuring sight, and Thomas allowed his abdominal muscles, which had involuntarily contracted earlier on during their conversation, to relax.
Taking the padd, he quickly grabbed her outstretched hand and shook it, to seal the deal as well as to thank Satie for being so understanding. She really was a marvelous person, that was certain, and Thomas was grateful to know her. Somebody else in her position might not have let him follow his true path so easily — or, possibly, at all.
A week later, Thomas had packed up all his possessions strewn about in his quarters on UP Orbital, put them in a standard shuttlepod, and was about to leave many things behind for a very long time — some things forever.
"Shuttlepod Ankh, you are go for launch."
"Thank you, Orbital. Good-bye!"
With that, he guided the pod through the force field and was immediately in space, a speck among giants, with the station hovering behind him, the Enterprise ahead, and two other large starships a bit farther off, partially built and enclosed in assembly frames. He would remain connected to Utopia Planitia. The work there was where his heart lay, and it would take something earth-shattering to change that.
However, Thomas could not help but feel slightly wistful at the sight of the Enterprise, so full of opportunity and unrealized potential. He hadn't said no to Satie as easily as it perhaps had seemed to her. There was a part of him that wondered what could have been, what unique wonders he would be seeing if only he had stayed on, what adventures he and his crew might have lived through.
Now he had to say good-bye to the ship and to her crew. It was a pity that he would not get to know the people whose reports and files he had browsed through on occasion, at a time when he had still thought that he'd remain their captain even despite Solveig's decision to stay behind. They were Starfleet's finest — the best and brightest representatives of at least a dozen species — but more than that, they'd seemed like people he could work well with, even become good friends with, and Thomas was unexpectedly struck now by the same sense of loss that he'd felt at the prospect of being separated from Solveig and the children. The difference, he reminded himself, was that he could feel assured that the thousand potential friends he left behind would be well cared for by their next captain...but leaving his family without a husband and father was simply too painful a thought to endure.
Thomas increased the speed of his shuttlepod and guided it away from the immediate vicinity of UP Orbital, away from the region of heavy traffic at the center of which sat the space station that had been his second home for years, and toward his first home, the house in Central Burroughs. Of course, he'd easily have been able to use the transporter, seeing as there was a special network of satellites linking the dockyards with ground-based transporters spread all over the surface of the planet. Nevertheless, he had opted for the slow approach, since that gave him the opportunity to look back at what could have been, and what would still be, but without him.
With the crater-covered surface of Mars coming ever closer, he turned his attention away from the Enterprise and toward the rest of his life, all the while hoping fervently that Jean-Luc Picard would be worthy of her.
Copyright © 2007 by CBS Studios Inc.
Copyright © 2007 Paramount Pictures Corporation.
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