"The current time is 2118 hours." intoned the robotic voice, echoing through the shuttle.
"This shuttle will arrive at Starbase 118 at precisely 2120 hours, Stardate 239607.15."
Hathur gazed out the window. They were just entering orbit of the station, to prepare for docking: he could see the flashing red lights on the landing bay, inviting them down to finally land, inviting him to begin the adventure ahead.
He still couldn't believe that he had made it into Starfleet Academy, let alone graduated. Too many times, he questioned what he was even doing, whether his parents were right about the horrible things they had said about the Federation during his training. Even many of his teachers questioned his motivations. But, this was right. This had to be right.
Looking back at the window, he took in the Starbase itself. It was an almost otherworldly structure, seeming to rise out of the infinite, inky void that was space, like some kind of heavenly creation. "It's so beautiful." he muttered to himself, forgetting that he was even in a shuttlecraft.
"Hm." he heard somebody say, next to him. Right, he wasn't in space yet. "Oh, I'm sorry." he said, looking over to the person -- a Vulcan, Strol, he believed his name was, one of his classmates in Advanced Applications of Logic -- next to him.
"An apology was unnecessary. I was simply curious as to what, precisely, you find to be 'beautiful' in a standard Federation starbase." Strol spoke, one eyebrow perpetually raised.
"Well.. I suppose it's not so much the structure, but what it holds. From here begins the journey, for all of us in this shuttlecraft. I mean, who knows what's next for all of us?"
The Vulcan nodded. "Ah, I believe I understand. It is not the structure itself, but the emotional value and promise of it that you find beautiful. Highly peculiar, but, understandable for an emotional people such as yours."
But Hathur wasn't paying attention. Docking procedures were beginning, as the ship gently lowered itself into the port. One of the departing words with Professor Ledirs, his xeno-history teacher who was also assigned to Starbase 118 when he graduated, was to not look out the window of the shuttle during docking as it was known to perform some rather.. nauseating moves to align itself properly. Apparently, he had learned the hard way. But, despite the sage advice, Hathur found himself unable to look away. Besides, growing up terraforming, he was used to sharp changes in perspective.
It was all over far too soon. "Docking procedures have been successfully completed. Please wait for the shuttle to come to a complete stop." announced the computer, that same familiar, warm voice (based off of the legendary Starfleet doctor Admiral Chapel, as recognition of her achievements in biotechnology) that had accompanied him since the beginning. A far cry from the harsh, guttural voice of a Cardassian computer.
"The shuttle has come to a complete stop. Please proceed to Deck 14 for assignment of quarters. Welcome to Starbase 118." With this, the door at the side of the shuttle wooshed open. Standing up, he heard Strol begin to speak. "Well, Mr. Ev, may our.." There went that eyebrow, again. "journey.. be a fruitful one." Not allowing time for a response, he quickly disembarked, Hathur closely following him. He was eager to get on the ground as soon as possible in this new area, and he felt that following behind the rather socially uncaring Vulcan was the perfect opportunity to do so quickly.
Stepping out into the cavernous docking bay, he took in a busy scene. Officers of all kinds ran around, Operations people examining ships and punching PADDS, engineering staff looking into engines and carrying tools, and a host of other nervous cadets seemingly shuffling around. Hathur approached these, believing they could hold some kind of answer about where to go.
"Hey, do you guys know where the turbolift is? I need to find where they're assigning quarters."
"That's what we're all trying to figure out!" roared one of the cadets, a Klingon, at the front of the group.
"Please calm yourself, Cadet Jowlw'. We do not want to draw undue attention to ourselves." spoke Strol, walking up next to the group.
"I do not CARE about attention, I must find my quarters!"
Hathur stepped back, suspecting that this would go nowhere fast with how busy it was on the deck. Taking a look around the room, he saw a group of a few other cadets, entering what seemed to be a chamber of some sort. Ah, yes, a turbolift chamber! "Hey guys, it's over here!" he yelled, but it appeared that Strol and the Klingon were having a slight dispute. They didn't even take notice.
And so he went ahead and headed to the room, and, just as suspected, it was a turbolift, now empty. "Deck.." Suddenly, horror now creeping into his mind, he forgot what deck the computer had told him to go to. Four.. deck four, that was it! "Deck four." he spoke confidently. The computer, beeping obediently, ferried him up to Deck 4.
The turbolift opened to a grand promenade, stores dotting every corner of the area. Hathur took a moment, stepping out, to just observe everything. There was a flurry of activity occurring, and with it, a general hum of conversation, some in Federation Standard, some in Klingon, some in Vulcan, some in languages he could not even parse. There were stores all around, one run by fascinating aliens selling memorabilia from the Alpha Quadrant, one a Starfleet-sponsored store carrying tiny ship replicas, one a Ferengi bazaar -- you name it, it was there. Even at Starfleet Academy, there was not such incredible diversity. And, after he fended off a Klingon chef trying to convince him to come to his restaurant to hear his "beautiful" opera, he realized that it was all open to him to explore.
Although this was clearly not where quarters were assigned, Hathur yet again found himself unable to care.
This was it, this was the essence of the Federation. Infinite diversity in infinite combinations, as one of his old Vulcan teachers once said. And he was part of it now.