It hung there, like some long dead god's dream of a metal jellyfish.
Hawkins and three other cadets from his graduating class leaned forward in their seats to watch their approach in the shuttlecraft. Huge fleet vessels warped in, warped out, docked, and undocked.
Also known as the Great Equalizer, Kobayashi's Proving Grounds, and a half-dozen other names floating around the Academy. The excitement and awe in the small craft was big enough to fill a landing bay. Christine Baker, a redhead cadet, sat next to Hawkins. A small young woman with nearly Klingonian determination. They'd become fast friends in the Academy. Perhaps friends wasn't a strong enough word. They felt like shipmates.
The two across from them were Hakek and Lanir, a male and female vulcan. They too had become shipmates during the long 4 years of training. Stoic. Vulcan. Baker and Hawkins had beaten them in a few trials during their final year, but had been in turn losers in the finale. Baker was chiffed about it, but Hawkins took it in stride.
He was looking at the big picture. He had his eyes on going up the chain to Captain some day. Whether he would make it that far was another matter, but he was damn sure going to give everything he had in the line of duty to try. And while Baker had said some less than flattering things to the Vulcans, he'd taken the loss graciously, even trying to match their quiet dignity. It was one thing he admired about them.
He looked away from the screen and saw that Lanir had been staring at him. As soon as their eyes met, she broke her gaze back to the screen. Was she studying him? Sometimes when a Vulcan looked at you, it felt like you were being analyzed, or dissected.
"Are we still on for drinks?" he said, to break the silence that stuffed the shuttle from port to starboard.
"Absolutely. And I'm buying the first round," Baker said, slapping his knee.
Lanir and Hakek slowly turned their heads to look at each other, then at Hawkins.
"We'll join you for a refreshment before final processing," Hakek said.
"And I'm buying the second round," Lanir said. Was there the faintest trace of the smile at the corners of her thin lips? Hawkins couldn't tell.
Parting with them had left him unusually empty. Hawkins knew that he might run into Baker again on 118. But the chances of them getting assigned to the same ship were slim. And even if they were, they might not ever serve on a mission together. He was working towards Command, and she was going into Engineering. As for Hakek and Lanir, he wouldn't mind serving with Lanir truth be told. He wouldn't mind that at all.
He stood at the exit door of main processing and a tiny chirp piped up from his datapad--his confirmed orders to report for Cadet training. A young man, and Ensign, reached out with his hand towards Hawkins.
"You're cleared for your Cadet Cruise, Mister Hawkins," the young Ensign said to him.
"Thank you sir," Hawkins said, and they shook hands.
"Be sure to follow all regulations while aboard Starbase 118," the young man said to him, "you'd be surprised how many cadets are held back before they even step foot into a training holodeck."
"Oh, I believe it. I believe it one hundred percent," Hawkins said.
Heading for the orientation and first debriefing, he felt light-headed. Officers and enlisted darted around him, as if in slow motion. Every time he saw Captain's bars, he looked at how they walked. He tried to mirror how they carried themselves, and although part of him felt foolish for doing so, part of him didn't.
He knew his journey had only begun to earn those pips. And that first one might be the hardest.