Starfleet Academy – 46 days earlier
The morning sun had broken loose across the Academy grounds, and Carolyn sat on a bench outside the commandant’s office, simply enjoying its warmth as it cast on her face. She’d graduated early with an Engineering focus and combat certification. It had become something of great meaning to her over the last four years and it brought her pride that she was the second Crawford to serve in Starfleet…ever! Her grandparents had long eschewed technology and she’d embraced it with her father, Peter. She had been told to meet an officer from a ship at this spot and at this time. She watched and waited.
A man approached with at least a week’s worth of stubble on his chin. He wore a black canvas duster, grey Stetson cowboy hat, that had seen far too many summers, a decent pair of Wranglers, and well worn but cared for cowboy boots. Without invitation the man sat down beside her and the duster opened to reveal an old fashioned pistol holstered low in the gun fighter position on his left hip and a standard issue Starfleet phaser on his right.
“Mornin’,” he greeted in an odd accent not quite found on Earth. “It’s a bit of a chilly this mornin’, though this is San Francisco. It does tend to do that.” The man pushed his hat back with a thumb and forefinger and took a deep breath of the fresh air. ”Not quite right. Never could get used to this salt air, but it’s better than the perfect and sterile air on a ship. At least this feels natural.”
Carolyn gave him a once-over and nodded as she leaned back, “Ensign Carolyn Crawford. Guessing you’re my meetup. The pistol is not bad, but I’m a twin Peacemaker kinda girl.” She gave a nod to his boots, “Those shitkickers aren’t half bad either. You clearly know your business.” She leaned forward, “I understand I’m to talk to you about a job. Something…different than most assignments.”
Ethan didn’t give her a single glance. He just sat there staring into the morning sky. “Yup, it’s a beautiful morning.” They sat in silence for a moment. After a while Ethan sighed, “You are quick. I’ll give you that Carolyn. I don’t normally go full cowboy unless I’m on the ranch or in the field, but I find that it confuses folk. I don’t much look like a Starfleet officer. Which is more or less the point. So you really don’t remember me or are you just screwing with me? I know it’s been ten years or so, but still.”
Crawford blushed, “Ethan Michael Talon, I had my suspicions when you walked up…but I wanted to make sure. Ten years is a long time. Ten year old me remembers that pistol”, she gestured with her chin to his legacy piece, “…mostly because you taught me to shoot with it that whole month you came to visit. If I remember, Dad was amused when I messaged him. The rest of the family at the farm…not so much.” She leaned forward, “You left an impression.” She looked him in the eyes, “Dad was cagey about what you did for Starfleet…never really felt like he could tell me. 10-year-old me didn’t connect the dots.” She felt her quiet smile return, “But 20-year-old me…that one’s a bit smarter than that little girl. I’m a combat engineer and I’m good at my job. You’re the guy they call to knock some teeth in and send a message.” She broke eye contact and looked heavenward, “I’m willing and able. You just gotta give me the word.”
“It’s funny I should influence you. It was your father that showed me that I could be a Starfleet officer and be a cowboy. I wouldn’t have my ranch if it weren’t for him. For the record we do more than ‘knock some teeth in’.. Units like ours were formed after several spectacular failures. Most notably when Captain Picard was captured by the Cardassians. Starfleet Intelligence decided they needed people who worked off the books and were highly trained and equipped for those missions. Officially we’re attached to the Fourth Fleet as a survey crew, but in reality we do very little under the auspices of Bravo Fleet command. If we have a successful mission no one knows about it. If we fail Starfleet washes their hands of us calling us rogue actors. Rescue will not be forthcoming, and there will be no awards or even a grave given to our families for our sacrifices. Hopefully it doesn’t come to that, but it’s a big galaxy and there are some bad people in it.”
Carolyn thoughtfully considered his words. Her father had spoken of his career with warmth, but there were always pieces missing. She sat back on the bench, “Adventure comes in many forms, they say.” She chuckled, “Fighting for the greater good in the grey and in the dark sounds like a worthwhile venture, Ethan. I’m open to the possibilities you have to offer.”
Ethan grunted at her eagerness, “I don’t ordinarily pull officers directly out of the Academy. I generally see the Pike as giving officers who don’t fit into the traditional structure of the fleet a second chance, but we are about to set out without a Chief Engineer and your name came up on the list. If you’re half as tough as you were as a kid on the Denver I think you’ll do just fine.”
Crawford’s smile grew a little wider, “I’ll do my very best to do more than just fine.” She stood, feeling some relief. She’d been worried she was going to be meeting some stuffy captain on a stuffy ship doing stuffy duty. Ethan Talon was far from stuffy. She suspected his ship was much the same. “I accept the position…and the risk.” She cocked her head, “What do I call you anyway? Ethan? Boss? Commander?”
“When in uniform we best stick to regs. When out of it, I’ll leave that up to you, but most just call me Ethan. Oh, you’re probably already acquainted with two more members of the crew. My little sister Aimee and Commander Cheon’s daughter Jolie.”
She chuckled, “Aimee’s visits to the ranch always brought something new to drink. And Jolie…girl was a badass back then. You’ve got some great names in the mix.” Both women had left an impression on Carolyn. It was not surprising that Talon had recruited them. She was getting the impression she was going to be one of the younger members of the crew. She kicked at the ground a little, “Any other surprises awaiting me onboard?”
“Always,” Ethan chuckled. “But, I’ll leave that up to you to discover on your own. Report no later than 0800 tomorrow morning. I intend to get this damned storm thing wrapped up as soon as possible.” He tapped his combadge hidden under his duster, “Audren one to beam up ” There was a hum of a transporter beam a couple of seconds later and he was gone.
Carolyn watched Talon vanish in the glow of the transporter. She was tempted to reach out to her father but given the matter of Talon’s conversation with her she instead tapped out a message letting him know that she had been assigned as a chief engineer and would give him details as soon as she was on board and able. She let out the breath she had been holding. She needed to pack up her quarters and say goodbye. The stars were calling.
And she was going to answer.