“Do you enjoy flying shuttles at Starfleet Command?”
No. That was the answer that Rafael Da Costa wanted to give to Captain Forrester’s question. Instead he gave his well rehearsed answer. “Yes, sir. It’s an honor to serve at Starfleet Command.”
“Not exactly the adventure you were signed up for, though.” Forrester commented. Rafael found himself wishing the Captain was like all his other passengers; sitting in the aft section reading some report or other on a PADD. Instead Forrester had taken the co-pilot’s chair and was apparently feeling chatty. “How long have you served at Starfleet Command?”
“Four years, sir.” Rafael replied. “Since I graduated from the Academy.”
In the beginning he’d thought this would be a temporary assignment, just until they could find a billet on a starship for him. Two months turned into three, three turned into six, six turned into a year. Then he began telling himself that once his two years as an Ensign were up and he made Lieutenant JG, that’s when he’d be transferred. When that hadn’t happened, he took matters into his own hands. He requested a transfer, which was quickly turned down. Since then, he would submit a new request for transfer every six months like clockwork. Each time his request was denied.
Out of the corner of his eye, Rafael could see the Captain turn his head and could see him preparing to ask a follow up. Whatever the question was, it went unasked as the Captain caught sight of something through the forward viewport. McKinley Station with a Galaxy-class starship nestled safely inside.
“There she is.” Captain Forrester announced, the reverential tone not surprising the junior Lieutenant. He’d flown Captains to their new assignments several times and it was always the same. “God, she’s beautiful.”
Rafael nodded in agreement, taking a few seconds to study the starship ahead of them. “She certainly is.”
“Take us under the saucer and between the main impulse engine and starboard nacelle.” Forrester ordered, causing Rafael’s fingers to move nimbly from one button to another as he plotted the requested course.
As the shuttle passed under the leading edge of the saucer, the registry number and name of the Galaxy-class starship in question loomed large above them.
“Yesterday I was a Captain without a starship.” Forrester muttered as he admired the view. “Now I’m about to take command of the Challenger.” He fell silent for a moment and Rafael glanced over, watching the Captain study his new ship. The silence was broken again when Forrester spoke. “I was ten when she was launched. I had the specs of all the Galaxy-class starships, knew who all the senior officers were, read everything I could lay my hands on about these ships.” He gave a self deprecating chuckle. “I was obsessed.”
Rafael could relate. As a boy he’d been fascinated by the armada put together by Admiral Picard to evacuate as many Romulan worlds in the projected path of the supernova as possible. He had the specs for the ships, knew the career highlights of all the key players, read and watched every news story he could find. That had been part of the reason Rafael had wanted to join Starfleet; to follow in the footsteps of Picard and do whatever he could to help those in need. ‘The reality turned out to be very different.’ He thought bitterly.
“Getting to command the Challenger must be a dream come true.” Rafael commented. Though he tried hard to keep his own feelings out of his tone, he was pretty sure that he hadn’t succeeded. He could only hope the Captain was too preoccupied with his new ship to notice.
Rafael could feel the Captain’s gaze shift briefly from the view outside the window to the young pilot and back.
“And so much more.” The Captain eventually replied. “No matter what I do after this, command of the Challenger will be the pinnacle of my career.”
The shuttle moved slowly between the Challenger’s neck and the starboard nacelle and Rafael was soon bringing the Hume around to make their final approach to shuttlebay 2. He deftly lined the shuttle up and confirmed with the Challenger that the shuttle was ready to be tractored into the shuttlebay..
“Let’s go, Lieutenant.” The Captain instruced, out of his seat before the shuttle had even touched down on the deck.
Rafael shot the Captain a confused look. “Sir?” He’d delivered Forrester to his new command, his job was done. “I should get back to-”
“Lieutenant,” Captain Forrester cut in, “don’t make me repeat myself.”
Rafael wasn’t about to argue with a Captain. “Aye, sir.” The shuttle touched down on the deck. Rafael secured the shuttle and powered down the engines as the hatch opened. A bosun’s whistle sounded as Forrester stepped off the shuttle with Rafael close behind.
The Captain approached two officers who were standing near the door that led to the rest of the Challenger. A male Lieutenant Commander in a uniform with gold shoulders and a younger woman in command red with the insignia of a Petty Officer Second Class. “Lieutenant Commander Calloway,” Forrester began as he approached the senior most officer, “I’m sure neither of us expected our paths to cross again so soon.”
The Commander extended a hand and offered the Captain a tight lipped smile that came nowhere close to reaching his eyes. Rafael didn’t know what the history between the two men was, but it didn’t seem like they were on friendly terms.
“Welcome aboard the Challenger, Captain.” Calloway said, shaking the Captain’s hand. “It’s good to see you again.” Rafael doubted the sincerity of the Commander’s words. If the Captain had similar thoughts, he gave nothing away. When Calloway spoke again, he motioned to the young woman beside him. “I’d like to introduce Yeoman Second Class Aubrey Ross.”
Forrester took a step to the side so he was standing in front of his new Yeoman and gave her a warm smile as he extended a hand. “A pleasure to meet you, Yeoman.”
The young woman accepted the offered hand and returned the Captain’s smile. Unlike Calloway’s, Yeoman Ross’ smile was genuine and did reach her eyes. “Thank you, sir.”
“Actually, I already have a job for you.” Forrester announced as he motioned toward Rafael. “This is Lieutenant Junior Grade Rafael Da Costa. He’s never been aboard a Galaxy-class starship before.” While that was true, Rafael didn’t remember telling the Captain that. “I’d like you to give him the grand tour. Start in main engineering and work your way up to the bridge. I’ll meet you guys there in an hour.”
That drew an immediate response from Calloway. “Sir, we’re really busy in engineering. I can’t have a couple of tourists getting in our way.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Forrester waved the Commander’s concern off, “they’ll stay out of your way.” If the clench of Calloway’s jaw was anything to go by, he was not impressed by that answer but he didn’t argue the point any further.
Yeoman Ross motioned for Rafael to follow her as she started toward the door. “This way, Lieutenant.”
A little under an hour later the pair emerged from the turbolift at the aft of the bridge. Their visit to engineering had been brief due in no small part to Lieutenant Commander Calloway hovering over them and making it clear that they weren’t welcome. After that they’d visited the battle bridge, sickbay, ten forward and the arboretum before finally making their way to the bridge.
It looked a lot like images Rafael had seen of the Enterprise-D’s bridge in 2371, shortly before her destruction. CONN and Ops were standalone consoles at the fore of the room, the three chairs in the command area were in the middle of the room surrounded by a wooden horseshoe rail, there were banks of consoles at the aft, port and starboard of the room.
“You’re early.” Forrester announced as he emerged from his ready room. “How did you find your tour, Lieutenant?”
Torture. That was his first thought. The Captain was rubbing his new command in Rafael’s face. “It’s a fine ship, sir.” He replied with a tight smile.
“She certainly is.” Forrester beamed proudly as he moved towards the CONN station. With one hand resting on the back of the chair, he turned to Rafael. “Have a seat. Try it out.” Captain Forrester stiffened and added a more formal instruction. “Take the helm, Lieutenant.”
The Captain was screwing with him. He was certain of it. That was the only explanation. Why else would he make Rafael sit at the Challenger’s helm? All the same, it would be nice to sit there and know what it was like to have the controls of a starship at his fingertips, even if it was just for a few minutes.
Rafael slid into the chair and swung the console back toward him. He ran his hand across the top of the console, pressed a few controls to bring up a navigational scan. What would it be like to sit here with the steady thrum of the warp core vibrating through the deck?
He was drawn from his thoughts by a shrill computer tone emanating from the tactical console. “Sir, incoming transmission from Commodore Vega.” The Ensign at tactical announced.
“I’ll take it in my ready room.” He replied to the Ensign before addressing Rafael. “Be right back.”
Rafael didn’t mind. It gave him a few more moments with his dream but the Captain was back sooner than he’d expected and this time with a PADD in hand. “How does it feel?” Forrester asked.
“Feels good, sir.” Rafael replied, fighting hard to keep tears at bay.
Forrester nodded and smiled. “I’m glad to hear it,” he paused for a moment, “because you’re going to be spending a lot of time in that seat.”
“Sir?” Rafael’s head shot up, his eyes meeting the Captain’s. Those tears he’d been fighting to control began to pool, clouding his view. This couldn’t be happening, could it?
Forrester held out the PADD for Rafael to accept, which he did slowly as the Captain explained, “I pulled in a few favours to have you transferred to my command as a flight control officer. Report to Lieutenant Commander Mitchell at zero nine hundred tomorrow.”
“I…I don’t know what to say.” Rafael’s voice was thick with emotion and wavered as he spoke.
The Captain’s smile waned. “There’s nothing to say. I’m only giving you a shot. It’s up to yourself to prove yourself capable.” He paused and his smile disappeared completely. “Don’t let me down.”
“I won’t, sir.” Rafael replied firmly as he pushed the console away and stood up. “You won’t regret this.” He held out a hand, which the Captain grasped firmly.
“I’m glad to hear it.” The smile returned to the Captain’s lips. “Yeoman,” Rafael had gotten so caught up he’d forgotten about the young woman standing a few feet away, “why don’t you escort the Lieutenant back to his shuttle. He needs to return that and then start packing.”
Rafael took a few steps to follow her but stopped and turned to face the Captain again. “Thank you, sir.” With that he followed the Yeoman into the turbolift. He wiped the still unshed tears with his free hand but what he couldn’t wipe away was the smile that would remain on his lips for hours to come