November Challenge, themed "...with a Grateful Heart"
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"Thus Far I Am Got On My Journey; Reader or Traveller: Canst Thou Inform Me What Follows Next?"
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“Come in, Cadet.”
The knock had been timid, but then, that wasn’t unusual. Despite the small brass plaque with precise black letters that read ‘PLEASE KNOCK’, people seemed hesitant to do so, or to do so with any significant force. Perhaps it was the nature of the door itself, lacquered Japanese cherry wood – the real thing, not replicated – with bright brass hinges and a well-worn but equally bright round brass doorknob. Such a door was rather unusual in any location, doubly so in the Rachel Garrett Faculty Office Annex on the campus of Starfleet Academy. Perhaps it was the larger brass plaque above the ‘PLEASE KNOCK’ that read, in equally precise black letters, ‘PROFESSOR SATO TATSUYA, XENOLINGUISTICS’, and the reputation for unyielding strictness that the name carried around campus. After all, nearly everyone who came to Prof. Sato’s door was a cadet, always young and often ‘wet-behind-the-ears’, as the saying went, and intimidated to one degree or another by the Professor.
The door opened slowly, revealing an attractive though somewhat mousey humanoid female, wearing a uniform so crisp the creases could cut solid neutronium. A single silver bar graced the collar that the woman tugged at nervously.
“Actually, um, it’s Ensign, sir, Ensign Rio Duran.”
“Ah, that’s right, graduation was last week. Please forgive me; the days seem to blend one into the other. So you are the first Celvani to attend and graduate from the Academy! Chose the long way in, as opposed to those few of your fellow countrymen that opted for the officer exchange program. Well then, Ensign Riovantra Durand’hal,” Prof. Sato began, using her full name; Rio bristled slightly at the familiarity, but remained silent. He was one of the Academy’s most respected and longest-serving professors, after all. “Come have a seat.”
Rio picked her way through the outer office; it was overflowing with books, stacks of actual paper, some papyrus, and various other media. Texts and literature from all across known space, in every known language and several extinct ones, caught her eye. Miraculously, she managed to find a path to the proffered chair, sitting quickly before she destabilized any of the stacks.
“Do you know, Ensign” he continued, “your home province of Crystelliar Trye and my home country of Japan share the convention of family name first, then given name? Well, the Bajorans do too, and a dozen other races that I can think of. Although, in your case – where you’re from, that is – it’s only the female names that follow the convention. Most unusual. So, what can I do for you?”
“Sorry to, sorry to bother you, Captain, but…”
“Ensign Duran,” he said, his voice cooling abruptly and his eyes taking on a hard flint, “I can count on one hand the number of people who have earned the right to call me ‘Captain’, or whom I tolerate doing so, and you are not one of them.”
“I, ah, I apologize, I mean, I didn’t mean to offend, I just… I’m, I’m very sorry, sir.”
Inwardly, Tatsuya sighed, and his demeanor softened. “You weren’t the first, Ensign, and you certainly won’t be the last. I can’t count how many newly-minted young ensigns come to see me after graduating, having done a little research, finding out that I commanded a starship some time ago and imagining that the replicator-fresh uniform they’re wearing creates some sort of camaraderie between us. If the uniform stood for what it used to, I might not have a problem. Well, not so much of a problem, anyway.”
“Used to?” asked Rio.
“Used to, you say? Ah, but you wouldn’t remember what Starfleet was like back then, before Adm. Durham and his little flock of cronies rose to power. Not too long ago, really, but it seems like lifetimes. Before, we didn’t need a Starforce or a Starguard; Starfleet defended the Federation and explored, often at the same time. But then came the Dominion, and the Borg, and the Decade Wars, and for our ‘security’ we suddenly needed a standing force-in-arms. Suddenly, battleships and dreadnoughts plied the starlanes where explorer cruisers once flew, and Starfleet just didn’t seem to mean much anymore.” Prof. Sato went silent for a long moment, lost in memory.
“But you didn’t come here for a lecture, Ensign,” he said, snapping back to the here-and-now. “I’m quite sure you got enough of my pontificating as a cadet. Back to the matter at hand, then. What can I do for you?”
“I’m on my way to my first, first posting,” Rio said, “but I had to stop by before I left. I needed to come by to thank, to thank you.”
“Thank me, Ensign?”
“Yes, sir. For, well, to thank you for that
“If the that
you’re referring to is what I think it is, Ensign Rio, I can’t imagine why you’d possibly want to thank me. As I recall, I very nearly got you drummed out of the Academy.”
“Yes, yes you did. But it, it was, what’s the expression, a ‘wake-up call’?”
“I suspect it was, Ensign. I suspect also, however, that you knew ‘it’ was wrong before, during, and after.” Rio studied the floor in embarrassment for a moment.
“To my, my shame,” Rio admitted. “None of us thought it would go so far… or so wrong.” She shivered. “At least no one was killed.”
“True, very true,” mused Tatsuya. “What became of the others who were involved?”
“Cadet Miller-Jones is serving a five, a five year sentence at the New Zealand penal facility. Cadet Hxu got a one hundred year sentence; I don’t know where he is.”
“Probably for the best. He’s a Kyourne, a very long-lived race. And one hundred years is a long time to nurse a grudge.”
“He is not worthy of his blood,” Rio said forcefully, her eyes flashing before her timid demeanor returned. “He never, never could take me hand-to-hand anyway.”
“Those weren’t the only ones involved in your little mess.”
Rio studied the floor again. “Cadet V’ren got augmetic replacements for his leg… and his shoulder… and his left eye. I heard he got assigned to the USS Diligent
as a helmsman. Um, Cadet Encros will never hear again without a subaudio isoplexor. And Cadet Wu…” Rio laughed despite herself. “Cadet Wu will never get that color out of her hair.”
“You know, I almost didn’t submit my report to the Commandant. I almost let it slide. I saw such promise in you, such potential, I didn’t want to derail that. But I realized I’d be cheating you, and myself as well, by not honoring the ideals I held true.” Tatsuya chuckled quietly. “I presented a very vigorous argument on why you should have been dismissed, but you know, I was actually glad to learn that I was unsuccessful.
“Not to mention, I was pleased to learn that when called to task for your actions, you took responsibility, you didn’t try to excuse yourself or lay the blame on others. In fact, I understand you took it upon yourself to present yourself to the disciplinary board for judgment, and before I’d even filed my report.” Rio blushed slightly, but said nothing. “If those others who’d been involved had done likewise, or at least had been honest about what had happened, they’d be where you are now, graduates from the Academy and posted as Starfleet officers.”
“I’m sure, sure you know the terms of my punishment,” said Rio. Tatsuya shook his head.
“I was surprised that you weren’t expelled, but other than your having to repeat the year, the details were quite honestly none of my business. Though I suspect the price of your penance was rather high.”
Rio blushed again, nodding slightly in agreement. “The whole experience taught me, taught me a valuable lesson.” Rio studied the floor for a minute. “It taught me a lot about, a lot about myself as well. Things I didn’t want to learn, but, but needed to. There is a saying on my world: between the hammer and the anvil, the sword is forged.”
“A very appropriate saying, Ensign. I suspect in your case, the next few years will serve to temper that sword. Just make sure you don’t lose your edge. You know, I’d love to learn the origin of the saying. But as you’ve been glancing at your chronometer repeatedly over the last couple of minutes, I suspect this is not the time to ask. I will have to remember it, though. Definitely appropriate.”
“I’m sorry,” Rio said, suddenly self-conscious. “And I’d love to, to tell you; it’s quite a story. It’s just, just that I don’t want to be late for the shuttle. I received my first posting, to a, to a starship. I want to make a good, good impression.”
“Why not beam up?”
“The ship’s duty assignment is deep space, very deep space, and I don’t know when I’ll be, when I’ll be back this way, so I wanted to see this world from the, the air one last time.” Rio stood up and extended her hand to Prof. Sato. “Thank you, sir, for everything.”
“Honor that uniform, Ensign, and that will be thanks enough.” He paused, cocking his head to the side as if the Ensign’s standing revealed a previously unseen aspect. “You know, Ensign, I think command red would suit you more than operations yellow.”
“I’ll take, I’ll take that under advisement,” Rio smiled. Prof. Sato waved her towards the door.
“Well, run along then. Can’t have you late for that shuttle.” Rio snapped off a crisp salute and closed the door quickly behind her. Tatsuya sat in silence for a few minutes before curiosity got the better of him.
“Computer, display Starfleet personnel file for Ensign Rio Duran. Authorization delta-bravo-three-stroke-seven. Holographic presentation, please.” The terminal on his desk chirped to life, calling up Rio’s file before projecting it a comfortable reading distance from the Professor’s face. Tatsuya perused the data leisurely.
“What is Ensign Rio’s current duty billet?”
Ensign Rio Duran is assigned to USS Challenger NCC 86128; department: operations.
“Display USS Challenger
, three-view and specs.” The hologram changed instantly, and Tatsuya found himself whistling in appreciation.
Pellucidar-class, eh? Named for Edgar Rice Burrough’s mythical kingdom at the center of the earth. Nice lines, very nice. And being posted to a ship of the line for her first assignment? Ensign Rio is certainly lucky
“Computer. What is Challenger
's command roster?”
Command roster for USS Challenger NCC 86128 as follows: Commanding officer, Captain Gabriel Frost; executive officer: currently unassigned; Operations officer: LCDR K’kon; chief engineer: Commander R’riel; tactical officer…
Tatsuya waved a hand dismissively, and the computer stopped its recitation. “USS Challenger
patrol assignment, please.”
USS Challenger NCC 86128 is scheduled for final fittings at Starbase 136, after which she is ordered to proceed to Gateway Station, Gateway Sector, to join the Expeditionary Fleet there. Gateway Sector Expeditionary Fleet commander is Rear Admiral MacAllister.
, Tatsuya thought. Gabriel Frost made first contact – singlehandedly, if the stories are to be believed – with the Celvani. And, he’s apparently some sort of figure of prophecy to them
. Tatsuya frowned slightly. They made him a captain? And assigned Challenger to the Gateway Sector; that’s
Celvani space. Their home space, even. Very interesting, very interesting indeed...
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The title is an epitaph (slightly modified by me), supposedly for a Mr. Godfrey Hill. Ensign Rio Duran is portrayed by the singer Norah Jones, while Prof. Sato Tatsuya (a distant descendant of Enterprise's Sato Hoshi) is played by Ken Watanabe.