By Christina Moore
Kirk sidled over until their mounts were side by side.
“Captain of the Enterprise, did you say?”
“Oh, yes,” Picard replied, his pride evident.
“Close to retirement?”
“I'm not planning on it!”
Kirk nodded. “Good. Don’t. Don’t let them promote you. Don’t let them transfer you—don’t let them do anything that takes you off the bridge of that ship, because while you’re there…
“…you can make a difference.”
Jean-Luc Picard stared at the communiqué, reading it again for perhaps the thirteenth time. Or was it the twentieth? Truthfully, he had lost count.
“We’d like you to give serious consideration to taking her place.”
That was the line that had left him thunderstruck. It wasn't that he was surprised Starfleet Command was seeking a replacement for Nadia Heunan before her official last day…
…it was that he found himself considering accepting the offer.
That’s when the horseback conversation with James Kirk flashed across his consciousness. The exchange had then reaffirmed his own ideas about what he was doing and why, had reminded him of how he had never felt more at home, had never felt more at peace, than when he was on the bridge of his ship. He had known ever since he first set foot on the Enterprise-D almost sixteen years ago that it was where he was meant to be—
—where he belonged.
So how could he walk away from a vessel and crew he had given so many years of his life to?
On the opposite note, how could he not take seriously the generous opportunity that had been presented to him? He would receive a promotion to Vice Admiral—surpassing two ranks, which was enormously generous of the Commander in Chief—to go along with the assignment as Commandant of Starfleet Academy. He had even been asked once before to take the job, but had turned down the offer.
So many years had passed since then. So much had changed—he had changed. Taking the Academy post meant he wouldn’t be in command of a starship anymore, but then secretly he had begun question his physical fitness for it. He had, after all, been a captain for nearly forty years now. Even he had to admit that time and age were taking their toll. He wasn’t the young man that he once had been, yet he had no clear plan for the future. At least this way he wouldn’t have to retire, something he was loath to do.
Picard closed the letter from Admiral Necheyev and engaged the communications system. He would talk to someone he knew and trusted implicitly, getting his impression on the matter.
A moment later, the bearded face of Will Riker appeared.
“Captain Picard, this is a surprise,” he said with a smile.
Picard smiled in return. “Hello, Will. How are things on the Titan?”
“Good. Busy—we'll be launching tomorrow. I don’t think I ever realized just how hectic it is when you’re the one in charge,” he replied. “How’s Enterprise? Have you all forgotten me yet?”
Laughing, Picard replied, “My friend, that would be impossible.”
Riker chuckled. “I should hope so. To what do I owe the honor? Surely you’ve more important things to do than checking up on me.”
“Indeed, Captain.” Picard took a breath, wondering how to break the news. “Have you heard about Admiral Heunan’s retirement?”
“Yes, we got that on our morning dispatch. I’m surprised, really. She hasn’t held the post for very long,” Riker said. “Why do you ask?”
“Because Admiral Necheyev has personally asked me to consider taking over the running of the Academy.”
Riker’s eyes grew round. “Really? She has?” He blew out a breath. “That’s… well, that’s a surprise.”
“Indeed,” Picard returned. “Imagine my own when I read the communiqué.”
Riker shook his head. “I know you've been asked before—I remember encouraging you to take the job back then. Still, I almost can’t believe it. I mean, I thought you’d be on the Enterprise forever. I certainly never imagined you anywhere else.”
“Nor did I, Will. However, one must admit when one has reached his limit, or very near to it. Nadia Heunan is a year younger than I am, and she’s getting ready to retire. It’s served a most unwelcome reminder that I’m not as young as I used to be, and even I must recognize that I won’t be able to serve as captain of a starship forever. Despite what you and I may have imagined,” Picard told him.
Riker seemed to think on that for a moment, then said, “Permission to speak freely, sir?”
Picard nodded. “Of course. I called to ask not the opinion of Will the captain, but of Will my friend.”
“Very well,” said Riker. “If I were to live long enough to walk off the bridge of my ship, but not able to go back, I would still want to be able to make a difference—somehow, somewhere. Starfleet Academy is probably the best place from which to do that. The students would be learning from someone who has lived the life they’ve only dreamed of, a tool far better to teach them with than any textbook.”
The seasoned captain absorbed his former first officer’s words. He had voiced much the same thoughts he himself had been having.
“Jean-Luc, why do I get the feeling you’ve already made up your mind?”
Picard had to smile. Nearly two decades they had served together—and Riker had learned to read him so well.
“I don’t know as I’ve made up my mind just yet,” he said. “But I have already considered that there comes a time when we must all make room…
“…for the next generation.”