For not the first time, and probably not the last time, Gerald Buitlier was regretting letting Commander T'adlea talk him into applying for Starfleet Academy.
In this case, the regret was because of running into Chief Petty Officer Juan "Johnny" Rico.
Johnny and Gerald had both just made Petty Officer Third Class when they were detached to Starfleet Technical Services Academy: Gerald to become a propulsion specialist, Johnny a damage control specialist. The two were assigned to share quarters and had instantly become best friends, raising all kinds of hell together when they were off duty. Gerald and Johnny were never billeted to the same ship after they left training, but had kept in touch.
Then, six years ago, Gerald had been assigned to the USS Hygeia as a senior propulsion specialist. For reasons that still eluded Gerald, the Hygeia's Vulcan chief engineer had taken an interest in the twenty-four year old junior non-commissioned officer. She had introduced him to advanced mathematics, kal-toh and a number of other subjects that Gerald soaked up like a sponge. She had even arranged for Gerald to assume the position of chief engineer and master-at-arms on the USS Rayman during his last six months prior to reporting to Starfleet Academy. Technically speaking, Gerald should have been at least a Chief Petty Officer, and preferably a Senior Chief, to assume that position. But the Rayman was scheduled to be decommissioned in six months. In addition, the Rayman's final mission was a "milk run" in the Sol System, serving as a platform for the study of the sun by a group of undergraduate university students. Commander T'Adlea considered it worthwhile experience for Gerald, and she had "the pull" to bring the assignment about.
When Gerald had reported to the Rayman, the first thing he did was contact Johnny, who had just been assigned to Utopia Planitia Fleet Yards. Gerald sent him the news, both of his position on the Rayman, and his appointment to the Academy. Gerald suggested the two go barhopping, either on Mars or Earth, and compare career notes.
Gerald never heard back from Johnny, despite repeated attempts to contact him.
Johnny wasn't the only colleague and friend who had put distance between themselves and Gerald once they heard about his acceptance to the Academy. But Gerald had considered Johnny one of his best friends in Starfleet. The abrupt end to their friendship had been a major disappointment to Gerald.
When Gerald had beamed aboard SB118 for his final cadet examination, he had been surprised and pleased to see Chief Petty Officer Juan Rico behind the controls of the transporter. For a moment, Gerald had hoped that he and Johnny could pick up their friendship where they had left off. It wasn't Gerald's first time on SB118, and there were a couple of pubs he wanted to revisit. Reconnecting with an old friend would be a great reason to do so.
Johnny's reaction put an immediate end to that hope. It was strict, formal and rigid, and Gerald had no choice but to respond with "Yes, Chief Rico, No, Chief Rico, Thank you very much, Chief Rico."
As Gerald left the transporter room, he finally realized why cadets always seemed so uncomfortable in the presence of Starfleet personnel who weren't instructors or their fellow cadets. Gerald's cadet rank was making him feel very uncomfortable at the moment. With a stifled sigh, Gerald carried his bags to his temporary quarters.