Taking the turbolift down to deck four, Gaudain led Stanton through the empty corridors towards the Waverider Bay. With such cramped facilities, Rhode Island-class ships couldn’t carry standard runabouts, but the designers had managed to cram a high-speed survey craft in between the computer core and the sensor dome. The doors opened, and the Waverider looked eerie in the dim emergency lights as if it were some sort of enormous bird just trying to sleep.
“This is the Eagle. She was brand new in 2399 and is probably the best small vessel for away team missions I’ve ever seen,” Gaudain explained. He saw Stanton giving him some side-eye. “They’re custom-built to match the exact hull dynamics of the ships they’re assigned to, so she’ll just be scrapped if she doesn’t come with us.”
Stanton cleared his throat. “I didn’t say anything, sir.”
“You’re always allowed to tell me when I’m full of shit, lieutenant. More or less,” Gaudain said, modifying that permission as he gave it. “You’re a senior officer now. Though, this is probably just a short stop on your meteoric rise to command,” the captain teased as they walked around the Eagle to the rear hatch.
“Respectfully, sir, I don’t know if I want to be a captain. I just like flying,” the lieutenant admitted as the rear hatch opened. Gaudain saw his eyes linger on the command seat, which was sitting in the corner, but the young man didn’t say anything, but he deposited the dedication plaque there gently before they walked forward through the Waverider. “I’m not even sure I deserve to be your helmsman.”
Gaudain stopped in his tracks as they were halfway up the steps from the cargo hold into the crew section. He turned around to look Stanton dead in the eye, now the same height for once, thanks to the steps.
“Cody, I’m only going to explain this once: Your father was a great man, and he made a huge impact on my life and my career. I respected him so much, and I miss him. A lot,” Gaudain started. “Your mother is an important Starfleet doctor with tons of clout. Both of them would murder me on the spot if they even suspected I was giving you any sort of advantage because of that. Starfleet gave me ten candidates, and I picked the best one.”
“I—,” Stanton tried to interrupt.
“I am, without a doubt, an amazing pilot. You’re already pretty good, but under my command, you’re also going to become amazing. Got it?” Gaudain asked.
Stanton looked unsure, but his smile started to creep back onto his face. Gaudain was glad he bought it, because he wasn’t sure if he did, himself. Stanton was pretty good, but so were the other candidates he looked at. Gaudain knew he could do the job, but he wouldn’t be able to swear that he hadn’t just wanted to keep his mentor’s son safe. The best way he could do that would be to keep him in plain sight.
“Understood, Captain,” the pilot said.
“Good man,” Gaudain replied. The transparent aluminum doors to the crew area opened, and the two of them walked past the crew lounge and into the cockpit. “Computer, begin start-up and pre-flight sequence.”
Gaudain sat down in the co-pilot’s station and gestured towards the helm. Stanton looked like he was about to protest again, but he closed his mouth and sat down. Once he was actually at the helm, though, Gaudain noticed that Stanton seemed to take on a wholly different persona, confident and efficient as he worked through his side of the pre-flight checklist. It was difficult to be an effective pilot if you were truly meek, after all.
“We’re ready to go,” Stanton announced.
“Releasing docking clamps. The auto-launch sequence will take us clear of the ship, and then it’s all you,” Gaudain replied.
With automatic thruster control, the Eagle moved down and out of its docking cradle, and then it zipped the short distance forward to fully clear the bow of the old Apollo. The viewport was filled by the interior of Avalon Fleet Yards’ headquarters station. Even in the subsidiary spacedock where Apollo was held, there were a dozen other starships and countless shuttles and workpods zipping around. They could also see the newer and much larger Apollo just ahead. The Duderstadt class had a sense of grace to her but also a sense of the exotic or even the alien in the way her secondary hull was drawn forward, almost like a battering ram or some sort of insectoid stinger.
“Apollo, this is Gaudain aboard the Eagle. Requesting clearance for bay two,” the captain announced over the comm.
“Aboard the… Captain, I wasn’t aware that we would be bringing the Eagle with us,” Commander Rhodes replied after a small delay. Recently promoted somewhat against his will, but since Starfleet insisted on a full commander in the first officer’s seat on the new, larger ship, Rhodes was much more cautious than Gaudain was. He had also learned when to let things go. “But that is a remarkable way of bringing us to our full complement of two runabouts, sir. Clearing you for bay two.”
“Much obliged. Gaudain out,” he replied. The captain glanced over at his new helmsman. “Let’s take the scenic route, Lieutenant,” he ordered.
Stanton nodded, smiling to himself as he took the Eagle in a slow pass around the perimeter of the new Apollo. Though a light cruiser by 25th century standards thanks among other things to having a crew of ‘just’ 300, it was still a large vessel. Long, tall, and narrow, she boasted some of the most advanced systems in Starfleet spread over thirty decks. Gaudain took in every moment of their survey, looking for but finding no blemishes.
“Factory new,” Gaudain muttered. “I don’t think I have to tell you twice not to scratch the paint, right?”
“No, sir,” Stanton agreed.
Passing over the saucer section, Stanton took their craft in a gentle arc around the starboard nacelle and up from under. The main shuttle bay in the curved portion of the hull connecting to the engineering hull was open, and Gaudain could see last-minute crew additions stepping out of a shuttle there, but the secondary bay up on the spine of the ship was a little larger. It would be the perfect place to stash their new runabout where it wouldn’t interfere with operations. As Stanton got them closer, the massive rectangular doors on the dorsal surface of the hull came into view, already open. Cargo trains were coming and going—mostly going at this stage of their departure preparations.
“I’d like us on the forward end of the bay, facing aft,” Gaudain said.
“Understood.” Stanton brought them down smoothly and precisely, rotating just above the doors to the bay and then settling down in a parking space very near to the forward bulkhead. In front of them was the large elevator that connected the secondary bay to interior cargo holds, machine shops, and through to the hanger that served both facilities. “Securing systems,” the lieutenant reported.
“Good work,” Gaudain said, clapping him on the shoulder as he stood up.
Stanton jumped slightly, and Gaudain resolved not to do that again. The young man was jumpy, but there was also an unexpected tension there—something that he hoped for many reasons was not chemistry. Taking a few extra seconds to lock everything down, Stanton followed Gaudain towards the aft hatch. Gaudain paused on the stairs again.
“Look… A lot of my senior officers came over from the old Apollo, so I just wanted to acknowledge that they already have some shared history together, but they’re a good group, and you’re going to fit in,” Gaudain said. “Rhodes will look after you. But my door’s always open if you need anything.”
“I appreciate that, Captain,” the lieutenant replied.
With their new runabout safely delivered, Gaudain stopped to grab the plaque from the cargo hold on the way out through the rear door with Stanton in tow. There was a pair of confused-looking yeomen standing there marveling at the unexpected arrival.
“You two, I want the Eagle painted with an updated registry number. There’s also a chair in the hold. Have it sent to my quarters,” Gaudain ordered. Once the yeomen saw that it was the captain himself who had graced them with his presence, they snapped quickly to some semblance of attention and then hurried to make themselves look busy carrying out his orders.