Monday, May 19, 2014

"Entrance Exams"

By Christina Moore
_____


Walking out into the living room wearing pajamas featuring Bugs Bunny, a cartoon icon, made Kellie’s mother smile. Almost an adult, her daughter was, yet still so much a little girl.

“You have a message from Starfleet, Kel,” she told her.

Kellie Petersen paused mid-stretch, her yawning mouth quickly frozen into a large O.

“When did it come?” she asked, racing over to the communications terminal in the living room. “You should have woken me!”

“Honey, you’ve been up all night for weeks studying for those exams,” her mother replied. “I thought you could use the rest.”

She imagined Kellie rolling her eyes as she brought the message up. It was a very brief message from an Admiral Forrest, asking Kellie to report to Starfleet Headquarters at her earliest convenience.

Kellie jumped up faster than Li-Na Petersen had ever seen her child move. She left the living room and was back inside of ten minutes, dressed in a pair of slacks and a blouse, her hair tied back in a low ponytail.

“Do I look okay?” she asked anxiously.

Li-Na smiled. Her daughter was such an exquisite blending of her own Chinese origin and her father Klein’s Danish characteristics; she looked extraordinary in anything she wore. She would even look beautiful in a Starfleet uniform.

“You look great, sweetheart. Would you like me to go with you?”

Kellie took a deep breath to steady herself. “No, that’s okay. I know you have things to do today. But I would appreciate a lift to the transport station. Hopefully I can get an open seat on the next shuttle for San Francisco.

“Oh, Mom, I can hardly believe it—in just a couple of hours I’ll officially be a Starfleet cadet!”

*****

What?”
            
Kellie could hardly process what she’d just heard. She wouldn’t be entering the Academy in the fall as she’d hoped.
            
As she’d thought on her way here.
            
“I’m very sorry to disappoint you, Miss Petersen,” continued Admiral Maxwell Forrest. “But Starfleet is not, at this time, taking anyone under the age of eighteen into the Academy.”
           
Kellie shook her head. “But I’ll be eighteen in December! I’m a high school graduate, and I’ve already taken the entrance exam—and passed it, I should point out.”
           
“You’ve actually stated both reasons for why you won’t be admitted at this time,” Forrest told her. “Academy cadets must reach their eighteenth birthday on or before September 1st, and your birthday falls at the end of December. Not only that, but the officer who supervised your exam group should not have even allowed you to take the exam, for that very reason.”
            
Kellie felt like crying, but knew she didn’t dare. She was already being shafted for her age, and she didn’t want to make Forrest think she couldn’t act like the adult she was professing to be.
            
Still, she couldn’t help a resigned, “It’s not fair.”
            
Forrest, for his part, nodded in agreement. “I’m sorry to disappoint you, Miss Petersen. I wish things could be different, because you received one of the highest exam scores in your group.”
            
Smiling half-heartedly, she replied, “And I suppose there’s no ‘late entry’ program? I’d be willing to take extra classes, and work through the summer.”
            
Forrest contained a smile of amusement. This girl was determined to join Starfleet.
            
“As you have already stated, you did pass the entrance exam, so you’re already guaranteed a spot in next year’s class,” he said slowly. “Are you sure you don’t want to simply wait?”
            
Kellie shook her head. “No sir. I’ve been looking forward to joining Starfleet my whole life, and I never thought when my birthday fell would be a problem. I swear to you, if there’s any way for me to get in before then, I’ll do whatever it takes.”
            
He had to admire her tenacity. She wasn’t going to give up without a fight. “Tell you what: I’ll talk to the Academy commandant and my superiors at Command, see what they say.”
            
Her smile grew wide. “Thank you, Admiral Forrest!”
            
Forrest looked at her pointedly, holding the young woman’s gaze. “That’s not a guarantee the circumstances will change, Miss Petersen. If they choose to uphold the regulations, you’ll have to be content with entering the academy with next year’s class.”
            
It was another two days before Kellie heard from Forrest—two days in which she drove both of her parents and everyone who would listen to her to the brink of insanity. She could not talk or think of anything else.
            
When finally the call came, Kellie was sitting in her room, trying to listen to some music, but unable to maintain an interest in anything for too long.
            
Her father peeked into her room just before dinner, saying, “Kellie, you have a call. It’s Admiral Forrest.”
            
Kellie leapt off the bed and past her father almost before he could move out of her way. She zipped past her mother and threw herself into the seat at the desk, where their communications equipment was set up.
           
“This class or next?” she said without saying hello.
            
Forrest’s countenance was stern. “You’ll have to learn a sense of decorum if you’re going to be a Starfleet officer, Cadet.”
            
Kellie blushed furiously. “Sorry, Sir. I’ll rephrase—wait. Did you just say…Cadet?”
            
Forrest nodded. Then he smiled. “It would seem that your impassioned plea has not fallen on deaf ears. You will be allowed to join the class of 2150 in January—providing, of course, that you uphold your end of the deal. You’ll take night classes and/or tutoring as well as your regular schedule; and you’ll likely have to make up some classes next summer. If you haven’t caught up by then, you’ll continue in the same manner until you do. That won’t leave you much time for a social life, Miss Petersen, and I still remember how much young people such as yourself crave one.”
            
Not that she would have much of one after she graduated, but who cared?! She was going to Starfleet Academy!
            
“Sir, you won’t regret this. I promise you that.”


Four years later…

“For someone who scored one of the highest marks in her test group on the entrance exam, I sure didn’t finish that great.”
            
Kellie was looking at her academy transcript. She had finished 97th out of a class of 555. Though neither her parents nor her friends were disappointed in her, she felt like she had missed something.
           
“Oh, I wouldn’t say that, Ensign. There may be ninety-six other young men and women who finished higher in your class than you, but think of it this way: You finished higher than four hundred fifty-eight.”
            
Kellie turned with a smile to find Admiral Forrest behind her. Quite by accident, he had become something of a mentor to her over the last three and a half years. Four, if she counted from when they’d first met.
            
She raised her hand in a crisp salute, which he returned, and then he reached down and embraced her warmly.
            
“Congratulations, Kellie. Though I suppose I should be calling you Ensign Petersen now,” the admiral said.
            
Kellie smiled. “Perhaps you should. You are the one who first instructed me on decorum.”
            
He remembered the conversation clearly, and smiled again.
            
“You remember my parents, Klein and Li-Na Petersen,” Kellie continued, stepping back and allowing the older adults to exchange greetings.
           
“You should be proud of your daughter. She knows how to fight for what she wants,” Forrest said. “And she certainly got it.”
            
The two proud parents exchanged glances and smiles. “We are proud of her indeed, Admiral. She has accomplished her dream,” replied Klein Petersen.
            
“Yes,” added Li-Na. “We could not be happier for Kellie.”
            
Forrest nodded. “I’m glad to hear it. And in fact, you may all be much happier once you hear the news I have for her.”
            
Kellie was quite curious now. “What news, Admiral?” she asked.
            
Forrest turned. “Have you heard about the Warp-5 Project?”
            
Kellie nodded vigorously. “Of course—I’ve been reading everything I can. And you know that instantaneous molecular transportation was my senior thesis.”
            
The admiral nodded. “That’s right… which is why I took the liberty of presenting a copy of your thesis to Jonathan Archer, who will be the captain of the first warp-5 vessel, Enterprise. She launches next year, you know, and will have a transporter on board.”
            
Kellie could barely move. She could barely breathe, let alone speak aloud the thoughts that had begun racing through her mind. She didn’t want to assume that what her mind and heart were telling her was what Admiral Forrest was telling her.
           
“S-Sir?” she stammered.
            
Forrest could contain himself no longer, and smiled. “I’ve known Jonathan a long time, Kellie. He’s a good man and a fine officer. Now, it’s not a guarantee he’ll take you on, but he was interested enough in your thesis to ask me to convey an invitation for an interview.”
            
Kellie’s eyes widened, and her smile stretched from ear to ear. She had just graduated from the academy, and already she might have an assignment—on the first warp-5 ship, no less! This was incredible!
            
How did she ever get so lucky?
           
“Oh my God! Thank you, Admiral Forrest!”
            
She threw her arms around him again, squeezed tightly, and drew back. Clearing her throat, she drew herself up to attention and saluted once more. “Thank you, sir.”
            
Forrest returned the salute with a smile.

*****

Kellie was led by another ensign, one with a few years in service she was sure, to the captain’s office on the Enterprise. She kept taking deep, slow breaths, trying her best to remain calm. Of course she was nervous—who wouldn’t be on a job interview?
            
Then again, this was no ordinary interview. This interview could very well determine the direction of her entire career.
            
“Come in.”
            
The ensign had rung the chime, and after hearing his captain’s voice, he left. Kellie keyed the door open and walked in.
            
Jonathan Archer was busy with what once had been called ‘paperwork.’ He was reading one report, signing off on it, and then reading another. He’d been going at it for hours, wondering if he would be done before the launch next year. The interview he had scheduled was a welcome break from the monotony.
            
Looking up, the captain smiled. “Welcome aboard, Ensign. How do you like her so far?”
            
Kellie smiled. “This ship already looks fantastic, Captain. You’re very lucky.”
            
Archer smiled as he stood, already by habit avoiding the beams of the low ceiling. He held his hand out, saying, “Let me introduce myself properly. Captain Jonathan Archer.”
            
“Ensign Kellie Petersen. It’s a pleasure to meet you, sir,” she replied, shaking the proffered hand.
            
Archer indicated she sit across from him, then returned to the chair behind his desk. “I have to say, I was impressed with the thesis Admiral Forrest showed me. You’re very bright, Ensign.”
           
“Thank you, Captain,” Kellie said, trying not to blush. “I’ve been studying machines, taking them apart and putting them back together, ever since I can remember. When I heard about the Vulcans’ transporters, I got my hands on everything I could find in print.”
            
She pretended not to notice the subtle shift in his features when she mentioned the Vulcans, and suspected he wasn’t exactly fond of them.
            
“Anyway, sir, I’ve been fascinated by the technology since I first heard of it, and once I found out we’d finally developed our own, I knew I had my thesis subject, for when I entered the Academy.”
            
Archer had already relaxed from his brief lapse in expression. He smiled. “From reading your thesis, I gather you know almost as much as my chief engineer does—if not more.”
            
“You have an engineer already, sir?” she asked.
            
Archer chuckled. “Not to diminish your respect for authority figures, Ensign, but Trip is actually the only officer I have on my senior staff right now.”
            
Kellie started to laugh, then frowned. “Trip, sir?”
            
Archer laughed fully. “That’s just what his friends call him. Commander Tucker’s been one of mine for years.”
            
At that moment, the door chime sounded again, and Archer stood. Kellie followed suit as he said, “In fact that should be him. I wanted the two of you to meet; with him being the engineer, he’d be asking all the pertinent engineering questions.”
            
The captain himself walked over to the door and keyed it open, inviting in another man close to his age. They smiled at one another, and then both men looked at her.
            
Kellie felt the air leave her lungs. Charles Tucker wasn’t the handsomest man she had ever met, nor even the tallest. Truth be told, his features were rather plain, though not unpleasant. And, as was blatantly obvious, he was a lot older than she. But in the instant their eyes met, when he smiled, she could think only one thought:
            
He’s beautiful.
            
“So,” began Tucker, “is this the one you told me about?”
            
“She is. Commander Charles Tucker, may I introduce you to Ensign Kellie Petersen.”
            
Kellie shook herself mentally, and took the engineer’s outstretched hand. It was so much larger than her own, and she could feel calluses on his palm.
           
Of course, a man who works with his hands would have them, she thought, then scolded herself. She had to stop this, and stop it now. Commander Tucker was older, and an officer, and if she were very lucky, he would soon be her department head. She should not, could not, let herself become attracted to him. For goodness' sake, she had just met him!
           
“Why don’t we all sit down,” said Archer.
            
Kellie returned to the seat she’d just vacated, thankful for the chance to collect her thoughts.
            
“So, Ensign,” said Tucker. “You have a pretty good understanding of the new transporter system. Do you really think it will become the standard mode of transport in the future?”
            
Here was something she could work with, something that would distract her mind from…distracting thoughts.
            
Kellie cleared her throat. “Well, sir, I do. I mean, of course we’ll still use ships like Enterprise, and shuttlecraft. But once we work out the kinks in the system, figure out how to fine-tune the annular confinement beam and set the pattern buffers for humanoid life, I really do believe that going from ship to ship, or ship to shore, will be done mostly with the transporter system. It’s going to become one of the most popular modern conveniences.”
            
Both Tucker and Archer laughed, and the captain looked at his friend, saying, “Can you imagine it, Trip? The transporter becoming a modern convenience?”
            
“Yeah. Right alongside my pan-fried catfish.”
            
They laughed again, and then Tucker returned his attention to Kellie. “We know you know a lot about transporters. And the captain here has told me you just graduated ninety-seventh in your class yesterday. That’s pretty good. Hell, it’s better than I did.”
           
Kellie found herself smiling. “Can I ask where you finished, sir?”
            
Tucker shook his head. Archer grinned, and told her, “He was 210th out of 537.”
            
“Well just think of it this way, Commander: You finished higher than 327 others,” Kellie said.
            
At this Tucker grinned. “What do you know about warp propulsion systems? You trained in engineering, I presume.”
            
“Of course, sir. There’s the matter/anti-matter reaction chamber, which is a part of the matter/anti-matter reaction assembly. This includes the warp core, plasma manifolds, induction coils, coolant system. The nacelles—which have their own plasma flow to be maintained—are also a part of the warp drive system…”
            
Tucker held up a hand. “You’re good. You know all the parts. But do you know how they work?”
           
“Trip, Ensign Petersen did just graduate from Starfleet Academy. I think she knows,” Captain Archer interrupted, his tone amused.
            
“But this is your dad’s dream, Jonathan,” Tucker retorted. “You want just anyone working on this engine?”
            
Archer gave him a knowing look. “I’m letting you work on it, aren’t I?”
            
Tucker looked at Kellie, mock hurt on his face. “Now that’s low. He’s just insulted the guy he hired to be his chief engineer.”
           
Kellie had to laugh. “You guys are funny,” she couldn’t help saying. “This will be a fun place to work.”
            
The friends shared a smile. “It won’t be all fun and games, Ensign,” said Archer. “Our missions will take us out into regions of space humanity has never been to. Possibly places no one’s ever been to. There’s an element of danger inherent in that.”
            
She nodded. “I understand, Captain. And I think I’m prepared for it, or at least as prepared as I can be. But pushing to attend Starfleet Academy when I did, and all the hard work I’ve put myself through the last four years, won’t amount to much if I don’t get on a starship. This one or another, I’m going to do it.
            
“Besides, you know what they say—boldly go where no one has gone before.”
            
Again the captain and his engineer looked at one another. They appeared to communicate with their eyes in the way only longtime friends could, conveying much and saying nothing. Finally Archer stood. Tucker followed suit, and so did Kellie.
            
“Well,” Archer said. “We could certainly use that kind of enthusiasm on this crew.”
           
“Goodness knows, we’re gonna need it,” added Tucker.
            
Kellie smiled. “So…does this mean…?”
            
Archer nodded, holding out his hand again. “Welcome aboard, Ensign Petersen. I’m always on the lookout for the best and the brightest, and why let another ship get you when we can use someone with your skills and determination on Enterprise?”
            
Her smile grew, and while she thanked Captain Archer, shook hands with both him and Commander Tucker again, inside she was trembling.
            
She was going to be working with him: on the same ship, in the same room, and possibly, at times, side by side.
            
At least she would never be bored.
           

1 comment:

  1. A fine introduction to your protagonist, very relatable, and the dialogue between Archer and Tucker sounded authentic; I could hear the actors saying it in my head :-)

    ReplyDelete