“Where the hell did you two go for ice cream? Vulcan?”
Tom stopped dead in his tracks. He’d been hoping to slip back aboard unnoticed, but of course AJ wasn’t going to let that happen. How the hell did he even know that Tom was beaming back up? “Don’t you have duties to attend to, Commander?” Tom asked, adopting his formal ‘captain’s voice’. Of course that didn’t work with AJ and he followed along when Tom started walking
“I’m just saying, you and Matt left us at around eleven to go get some ice cream. It’s now just after,” AJ held up his left arm as if looking at a watch that wasn’t actually there, “ten hundred hours and you’ve only just arrived back. You guys must’ve been searching all night.”
Resisting the urge to wipe the smirk off his friend’s face wasn’t easy, it never had been, but as always he managed to resist. “Matt knows of a great palace in London’s Soho.” He told AJ. “We went there and then took a walk.”
“Were you were walking all night?” The look on AJ’s face, the knowing glint in his eyes and the smirk on his lips suggested that he knew they didn’t. Tom shot his friend a dismissive look. That prompted AJ to point out, “You caught me in an awkward situation just a few days ago. You can’t expect me not to enjoy catching you doing the walk of shame.”
Tom’s brow furrowed in confusion. “The walk of shame?”
“Yeah, it’s when-” AJ didn’t get a chance to finish.
It wasn’t the phrase that confused Tom. “I know what the walk of shame is, AJ. I’ve done nothing to be ashamed of.”
“You really gonna tell me you didn’t sleep with him?” AJ asked.
Tom couldn’t help the smirk that appeared on his lips and he knew that his friend caught a glimpse of it before it was quickly schooled into something more neutral. “No, I just don’t think that’s anything to be ashamed of.” They’d reached the Captain’s quarters and Tom was glad that he could get out of this conversation. “Now, if you don’t mind, I’m gonna grab a shower, pull on a fresh uniform and start my day. I suggest you attend to your duties.”
“Actually, I do need a word with you.” AJ told him, his tone becoming serious and his demeanour taking on a more professional air.
Intrigued, Tom invited him in. “What’s up?”
“I’ve been putting Lieutenant da Costa through his paces on the holodeck.” AJ said. “Of the ten simulations I’ve put him through over the past two days, he’s failed eight of them.”
That statistic shocked Tom and it registered on his face. “Eight!? That’s not possible.” He told AJ. “His scores in simulations at the Academy were solid. His fit reps all indicate that he’s a capable pilot.”
“He is.” AJ agreed. “He’s a good pilot and has the potential to be a great one.”
Tom moved towards one of the armchairs while offering AJ a seat on the couch. “So what happened? Walk me through it.”
“He was fine to begin with.” Mitchell replied as he took the offered seat. “His scores after the first simulation were solid. Nothing spectacular but a good foundation for him to build on. Second simulation was the same; solid scores but he did make a mistake. Nothing major, the kinda mistake we could all make. It was all downhill after that.”
Tom remained silent, waiting for AJ to continue. “I think that mistake really got to him. When he reached a decision point during the third, he hesitated.” Mitchell rubbed a hand back and forth across his jaw. “His instincts are good, but after making that mistake he just seemed to stop trusting them. He got in his head and started second guessing himself. Most of the time he’d still make the right decision in the end, but by then it was too late and the ship suffered catastrophic damage and loss of life.”
“So, what’s next?” Tom asked.
AJ sat back on the couch. “I’ve told him to take today off and clear his head. We’ll start back fresh tomorrow morning.”
“Okay.” Tom nodded. “Keep me informed.” There wasn’t a chance for AJ to respond because the door chime sounded as Tom finished speaking. “Yeah. Come in.”
The door parted to admit Yeoman Ross. “Good morning, Captain.”
“Morning Yeoman.” He stood as he replied to the young woman’s greeting. “What can I do for you.”
“You just received this, sir.” She held out a PADD. “I thought you’d want to see it right away.”
Tom accepted the PADD and began reading through it. As he did, his features fell. “Shit.” He muttered under his breath. “Lieutenant da Costa’s requesting a transfer back to Starfleet Command.” Tom handed the PADD back to the Yeoman. “Computer, locate Lieutenant da Costa.”
“Lieutenant da Costa is not onboard.” Came the computer’s reply.
He turned to Yeoman Ross as Mitchel returned the PADD to her. “Get me an address for him.” The Yeoman nodded and left the Captain alone with his friend.
“Two bad days and he requests a transfer back to the job he wanted to get away from?” AJ asked. “That doesn’t make any sense.”
Tom let out a loud sigh through his nostrils. “Not to us.” He replied. “I’ll beam down and talk to him.”
“You still haven’t explained to me what it is about this guy that made you request his transfer.” AJ said, leaning forward.
Silence fell between them for a few seconds. “He kinda reminds me of me.” Tom replied. “He dreams of piloting starships, I dreamed of commanding them. My parents tried to hold me back from achieving my dream, his superiors were preventing him from achieving his.” He shrugged. “I wanted to help him.”
“Alright, you need to get out.” Tom stood as he spoke. “I’m gonna grab a shower and change before I go searching for da Costa.”
Tracking down Rafael da Costa was proving to be more difficult than Forrester had realised. A visit to his apartment in San Francisco had proven fruitless and he continued to ignore attempts to hail him. So Tom had gone to Starfleet Command and spoken to a few of da Costa’s friends there. He spoke to several other pilots, who hadn’t heard from him, and was about to give up and try something else when he finally got lucky and was provided with the answer he wanted.
That was how he found himself walking through the Texas heat, approaching a house in suburban Austin. The neighbourhood was charming but much too built up for Tom. Despite more than twenty years in Starfleet, Tom was still a farm boy at heart and when he finally retired, if he survived that long, he planned to return home to Coltar and settle down in a nice cabin far from anyone and anything.
Upon reaching the door, he reached out and rapped his knuckles firmly on it. A few minutes later an older woman who was roughly half a foot shorter than Tom with jet black hair and the occasional grey opened the door. “Good afternoon, ma’am.” He removed his sunglasses, his hazel eyes meeting her brown ones. “I’m Captain Thomas Forrester.
“You’re Rafael’s commander.” That was a statement and not a question.
Tom nodded. “Yes ma’am. I need to speak with your son and I understand he may be here.”
“He arrived last night.” Mrs da Costa told him. “He was so upset. Kept telling me that he’d failed, that he’d let you down.
An invisible hand reached into Tom’s chest and squeezed. “I can assure you that neither one of those is true, ma’am. He hasn’t failed and he certainly hasn’t let me down.”
“My Rafael struggles with believing in himself.” She told him. “He almost didn’t apply for the Academy. Kept telling us that he didn’t have what it takes to be a Starfleet Officer.”
Tom flashed a warm smile. “Well he’s proven himself wrong. Your son is a fine officer and a good pilot.” He watched her face light up when he added, “My chief flight controller believes he has the potential to be a great one.”
“He went for a walk.” She said, answering a question that Tom hadn’t gotten round to asking yet with unshed tears shining in her eyes. “About half an hour ago. He likes to go to a local park to think.” Mrs da Costa quickly provided directions to the park in question.
Tom placed his sunglasses back on. “Thank you for your time, ma’am. It’s been a pleasure meeting you.”
“Captain,” Mrs da Costa reached out and placed a hand on Tom’s forearm as he began to turn, “it’s me who should be thanking you.” He shot her a confused look. “For believing in my son, even if he doesn’t believe in himself right now.”
Swallowing hard, Tom simply nodded before turning and walking away. He didn’t trust himself to speak without giving away how touched he was by her words.
The walk to the park was short and Tom was able to spot da Costa sitting on a bench pretty easily; his muscular frame and dark curls giving him away. “I can see why you come here to think.” Tom said as he sat down next to the pilot. “It’s beautiful.”
The look of surprise on da Costa’s face was a picture. “Captain. What are you doing here? How did you find me?
“Your mom told me where I could find you.” Tom replied, answering the second question first. “And I think you know why I’m here.”
The young Lieutenant leaned forward, his elbows on his knees, and kept his gaze fixed on the ground. “I’m sorry, sir.” He said, his voice thick with emotion. “I’ve let you down.”
“No you haven’t, Lieutenant.” Tom told him softly. “But you do have me worried.” He glanced over at da Costa, whose gaze was still firmly fixed on the ground. “I get it. You’re so close to something that you’ve wanted for so long and after a few bad days you’re afraid that it’s all starting to slip away.”
The pilot took a shaky breath. “Flying a shuttle is so easy. There are only a few lives in my hands.” He said. “Flying the Challenger, there’s more than a thousand lives counting on me.” He took another breath. “The simulations prove that I’m not cut out to pilot a starship. I can’t trust my instincts. I’m not sure they’re good.”
“That’s not what Commander Mitchell told me.” That got da Costa’s attention. His head snapped up and his brown soulful eyes searched Tom’s face for any sign of deception but found none. “He said that you have good instincts, but that you need to learn to trust them.”
Tom watched as da Costa processed that, clearly not entirely believing it. “He really said that?”
“He did.” Tom replied with a nod. “Also said that you’re a good pilot, with the potential to be a hell of a lot more. But ’til you try, you’ll never know.”
The Lieutenant sat up and wiped his eyes, clearing unshed tears. “Sir, about my transfer request. I wonder if you could ignore it.”
“I’m afraid I can’t do that, Lieutenant.” Tom replied, causing da Costa’s face to fall. “I somehow managed to accidentally delete it.” A smirk pulled at the corner of his lips while da Costa’s features lit up and Tom could see the similarities between the young pilot and his mother.
When da Costa spoke again, his voice was thick once more. “Thank you, sir.”
“I’m gonna leave you to enjoy the rest of your day.” Tom announced. “Commander Mitchell is expecting you back onboard first thing in the morning.” He stood and turned back to da Costa. “You got this, Lieutenant.” With that, he walked away and left the younger man alone.