It almost feels as if I were being called to the Principal's office. As I walk, I'm going over in my head what I could have done to deserve being ordered to report to someone as high ranking as a Fleet Admiral. Try as I might, I am unable to figure it out.
Upon my arrival, I approach the Admiral's secretary to let her know I've arrived, "Cadet David Bowman reporting as ordered."
"The admiral will be with you momentarily, Cadet. Take a seat, please."
The worst part of any summons is the interminable wait. What was only a few minutes felt like hours until a man came from the inner office and approached. Immediately, I stood and saluted and was about to give my name when he spoke, "As you were, Cadet Bowman. I am Fleet Admiral Mirah, please walk with me."
I followed him as he walked out a side door and into a lush forest. We were walking down a path with tall trees on either side. We walked for several minutes and the silence was starting to get to me when he finally started talking.
"I can see the question on your face. Where did the forest come from? Well, it's not really here. Everything you see is a hologram. We're actually in a room that's about 50' square."
"Wow, I didn't know we had this kind of tech, Sir." I replied.
"Simple answer? Officially, we don't." The Admiral replied. "Cadet, I'm sure you're wondering why you have been summoned. I will explain and hopefully everything will make sense."
At the moment he stopped talking, we came to a clearing, in the middle was a shelter. It was merely a roof structure held up by four corner supports and two additional supports on either long side, equally spaced. As we approached the shelter, I was able to see that it was set up as a lounge, a place officers go to relax. There were food and beverage stations, couches, chairs, tables, even a vid screen. The structure had no people in it.
Admiral Mirah led me to a table adjacent to the food and beverage dispensers and asked me to take a seat. He offered me a beverage and when I declined he said, "Good, we'll both have Scotch."
This was a surprise, not only because I was only 17, but because academy regulations prohibit the consumption of alcohol by any Cadet. I looked at the man, "Sir, with all due respect, I am not permitted alcohol by Academy regulations. One other thing, are the drinks holographic also?"
"The food and beverages are manufactured on request by our food replication devices. All new technology." What he said next actually upset me greatly. "Well Ensign, I guess it's good you're no longer enrolled in the academy." Hearing that, I think I needed that drink.
He sat the drink in front of me which I immediately drained, the liquid feeling warm as it went through my throat. He laughed before refilling my glass and sitting. Emboldened by the alcohol, I inquired, "But Sir, why have I been expelled? I was at the top of my class. I was just about to graduate." That's when I realized he called me 'Ensign' instead of 'Cadet'.
"You've already graduated from the Academy. We have a mission planned that we want you to participate in. Over the next year, you will be trained to command one of our new research and exploration vessels. Your rank will increase at intervals as you complete your training. Now, let me tell you about the mission."
I was processing what he had told me and was about to ask a question when he continued, "Our planet has been exploring space for over 100 years. We transport people and supplies to our colonies, we have units charged with the protection of our planet and its colonies, but what we lack is a deep space program. We intend to launch twenty deep space exploration vessels going in different directions away from Earth. You will be in command of one of those ships."
What he told me was a lot to take in. A year of training after five at the academy and I will be in command of a vessel? In a year when the mission is supposed to launch, I'll only be 18 years old. I would be the youngest Captain in the fleet.
We sat in silence for a moment before I spoke, "Sir, I'll only be 18 in a year. Aren't I too young to be in command of a vessel? I'm sure that most of the crew will be older than I and I learned that psychologically, people resent having to take orders from someone far younger than they are."
"Firstly, let's dispense with protocol. For the duration of this briefing, and at all times when we are in private, you may call me Bill. What do your friends call you?"
"Well… Bill, as you know, my name is David, some call me Dave but my closest friends call me Zip."
He chuckled and asked, "Where did that nickname come from?"
I blushed before saying, "When I first came to the academy, I was in such a hurry all the time that I used to rush in everything I did. In so doing, I used to forget to pull the zipper up on my uniform pants. My friends called me 'Zip' as a way to remind me without necessarily drawing attention to it and the nickname stuck."
He laughed and said, "I like that. So, Zip, in answer to your question, one of the tasks you will have is to select your crew. The ship's complement is 75 crew members. The ship only has 40 living spaces so most of the crew will be sharing their space. The mission is slated to run 30 years. The crew you will select will be comprised of individuals who are now 12 to 16 years of age so your correct recall of the psych aspect of choosing a commander is correct."
"But would people that young have the training to be able to run a ship of that size?"
"Most ship functions will be automated or handled by specialized robots. Our estimation is that most of the ships will take a minimum of a year to get to their first destinations. Any additional training required can be done aboard ship. A pool of candidates has been selected and will train intensively for a year. Realize, we have twenty ships to man so that pool is nearly 3,000 young men. Notice I said men, not men and women. All of the candidates for this mission are young men and most of them, like you, are homosexual, but not all. Now, before you start getting defensive, for this mission, being gay is a major advantage. You will be in deep space for an extended period of time. Even with our faster than light capability, there will be weeks or even months at a time when there will be virtually nothing to do given the level of automation the ships possess."
After a pause he stood to refill our drinks. I was thinking over what he said. Most everyone on the ship is gay? Will I be able to bring Hal? Just to get it out there, Henry Adam Louis Tietokone, Hal and I have been virtually married for over a year. We were initially roommates, but after a couple of months we'd told each other we were gay and we had mutual attraction to each other.
When the Admiral returned he had a plate of sandwiches along with two tall glasses of what appeared to be a fruit juice. He offered me a sandwich, I realized that the sandwich was vegetarian. I took one and a sip of the drink. The liquid was thick, sweet, and cold. I've never tasted anything like it, I was about to ask when he started talking again.
"So, Zip… I know this is a lot to absorb. Allow me to clear up one thing I am sure is on your mind. Yes, your lover, Henry, will be on the ship with you. His specialty of botany will be a major asset as all of the fresh food you will eat on this mission will come from your own hydroponic farm. Now, let's get down to the details."
We talked for several hours going over just about every aspect of the mission. In the end he looked at me and asked, "So, can we count on you, Zip?"
"Sir… I mean Bill. I am honored that you have selected me for this mission. Yes, you can count on me."
"Good. We need to get back because there is a shuttle waiting to take you to your training base. Henry should already be there waiting for you. I have every confidence in you Zip. So, shall we go, Lieutenant Bowman?"
I was surprised. I'd only been an ensign for a couple of hours and now he hands me lieutenant bars? At this rate I'll be Fleet Admiral in a week! I have a lot to think about; I need to talk to Hal. We're going to be out searching for alien races, making first contact. How cool is that?
Before we get into the story, let us introduce ourselves starting with the Captain…
Ever since David could remember, he's wanted to go into space. From a very young age, David would read everything he could, usually far above what would be normal level for his age. He excelled in Calculus, Trigonometry and Geometry, the sciences; he was an athletic child. It was a certainty to himself he'd get into the Academy.
Right about the time he was to turn 12, he read about a new prep-school being started at the Space Fleet Academy. David knew at that moment he had to go there. He told his mother about it and she was excited for him. That is, until she saw what the tuition was. She told him that there was no way she could afford to send him.
David was inconsolable. He'd given up on going until one day when one of his teachers called him to her desk. "David, you've been asked to go see the Principal." David had no idea why he'd been summoned. He was usually a good boy. Little did he know at that time that he would have much the same question five years into the future.
He went to the office and told the secretary who he was and that he'd been summoned. David waited patiently until he was escorted into Mr. Albers' office. Sitting with the Principal was a man David had never seen but was very intimidated by him. The man was wearing a uniform that when David noticed the Space Fleet insignia on the man's collar, he became very confused. 'Why would they want to talk to him?" His mother couldn't afford to send him, he hadn't even filled out the applications.
"David, my name is Commander Marco Ramius and I represent the Space Fleet Academy. I know this may seem scary to you, but, we've been told by a few of your teachers that you have a keen interest in space and space travel, is that correct?"
"Oh yes! It's one of the things I want to do most in my life," He said, excitedly. His demeanor shifted almost instantaneously as he continued, "but I'll never get to go; my mother can't afford to send me."
Ramius looked at the boy with a tender expression, "David, what would you say if I told you that you could?" Almost as if his fears had never manifested David looked up at the man, leapt into his arms and cried onto the man's shoulder.
Three years later, David was in the middle of his tenure at the academy found himself alone in his room; his previous roommate gone having washed out. He was about to go out to grab some dinner when his comm rang indicating an incoming message. The message read, "Report on the double to Lt. Commander Fries' office." Lt. Commander Fries was the Officer-in-Charge of housing for the academy. David hoped he wasn't going to be told to move again; it would be the third time in the past two years.
As ordered he quickly made his way to the Commander's office. When he knocked and was told to enter he opened the door and standing there was a boy of about his age. He had brown hair and his eyes seemed like two obsidian pools in the midst of a granite sea. His complexion was that of tanned leather but the skin itself reminded David of the unblemished perfection of undisturbed snow on a Winter's morning.
Totally oblivious to his surroundings it wasn't until he heard the absolute symphony that was his laugh that David realized he'd been talked to by his superior. "I'm sorry, Sir. I got a little distracted."
There it was again, that melodious sound. A sound that almost caused him to fail for a second time in fewer minutes, but this time he heard what was said, "Midshipman Bowman, let me introduce you to your new roommate, Midshipman Henry Adam Louis Tietokone. Midshipman Tietokone, Midshipman David Bowman."
In his heart he'd believed he was gay for a very long time; it wasn't until he met Hal that he knew it. The problem was that he'd had no idea if he was the only one.
Over the next year or so, the two became very good friends. There were times when one or the other got an idea that there was more than just friendship between them. It wasn't until after final grades had been released after their next to last year at the Academy that they found out for sure.
David and Hal walked over to the Student Union to review the final grades for the year. David was used to seeing himself at or near the top of the list, being at the top of his class two of the previous three years. The two roommates stepped up and looked up at the lists, what they saw there was a total surprise. What they saw was:
The rest of the list didn't matter. The two looked at each other and without even realizing it their lips came together. Both saw fireworks. It wasn't until the two heard the applause behind them that they realized what had happened.
They went back to their room and talked. Both admitted that there had been an attraction from the moment they met but neither was sure that the other had similar feelings. Needless to say, they spent that weekend making up for lost time.
David's mother had passed away a year earlier and he had no other family. Hal's parents took to David Bowman like he was their long lost son, and, in fact, maybe he was in a sense. The relationship grew and they professed their love for one another.
About a month prior to the end of the school year, Hal was summoned to the offices of Admiral Mirah. What he found out there was beyond belief. The worst part was, he was forbidden to tell David about it.
Two days later, Hal was sitting on pins and needles waiting for David to return from his meeting with the Admiral. Not since that first night together had they been so happy to be surprised.