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Part of Avalon Fleet Yards: Inside the Frontier

The Last Chance

Avalon Fleet Yards Decommissioning Bay 24
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“You’re not a failure.” Harold Carlson was on the communications screen; his son Bernard was in the communications room seat.  The transport was making its way to the Avalon Fleet Yards, and Bernard Carlson III was its last passenger at the final stop.

“You read my letters,” Bernard replied flatly.  “You know how it’s been going.”  This was his last chance, in his mind.  The last eight years had been rocky, and rough.  Friendships hadn’t been made, and conflicts had put him up against the wall so much he wasn’t sure how it felt to be a part of a functioning team.  The application to Avalon had been a last-ditch attempt to find something that would redeem his Starfleet career.

“I do read them, son.”  Harold had been a cook his entire life and had climbed his way to the top, and now worked as the chef of a local London Hotspot, Carlson’s Cavern.  It hadn’t been easy, and he understood the struggles of his offspring.  “We might be living in 2401, but life and destiny are not any easier.” He stood in his kitchen as the breakfast service was starting.  “You’ve been searching for a place to call home for so long.”

Bernard looked away from his father, staring at the wall.  He wasn’t sure where he belonged.  He wasn’t sure of the truth despite his father’s kind words.  Perhaps he should find a ship and…wander the universe.

“You know who you were named after, don’t you.”  Harold didn’t phrase it as a question. His son knew. Bernard Carlson II had been an ocean explorer turned engineer. He’d invented numerous ways to ensure ships could stay out longer on the ocean and had worked with trading companies to expand the reach of ships, trade routes, and transport. He had lived a life of journeying into the unknown to test the systems he built time after time.  Photos showed him smiling wide in each one, hair waving in the wind, and a twinkle in his eyes.

“It is hard to live up to his name, father.”

Harold scoffed, “You don’t have to live up to him! I’ve never said that. I told you to take from his life…and plot your course of adventure and innovation.”  He smiled, “And you are headed to a place of innovation.  You may not think so, but I have heard stories about that place. It is a place of wonder.”

Bernard saw the signal on the console. They were arriving soon. “I must go. We’re nearly there.”

His father waved, “Good luck, son. Much love from London.”  The signal closed.

The son touched the screen, “Much love from space.”

Avalon was expansive and overwhelming to Bernard. He asked for directions a few times and wandered a little more than he should. Eventually, he found his way to the Decommissioning Team area. He walked through the large doors and looked around.

From deep within the hive of shadowy corridors, the sporadic panels casting shadows against the bulkheads, he heard the billowing call of Gail Tolsa as a tower of messy hair poked out from behind a distant doorway. 

“Don’t just stand there making the place look messy, Come on down!” Bernard suspiciously eyed the piles of tools and materials stacked against the wall, the precariously tottering towers more of a threat to the barely ordered corridors than he was. “Oh and bring that arm rest, the blue one with Vienna written on the side of it.” The voice instructed, now coupled with a bodyless arm reaching out from behind the wedged open doors, pointing to the pile of debris at his left hand side. 

From her workbench at the far end of the corridor Gail watched the young man fumble with the spare armrest, attempting to extricate it from the pile without damaging it’s structural integrity. ‘Put the bag down boy.’ she whispered beneath her breath as he balanced it in the crook of his arm, ‘it’s not going to grow legs and walk away.’ She twiddled the dial on her hypospanner absent-mindedly with her thumb as the young man slowly slid the metal from the pile. ‘Please let them have sent someone with some sense.’ 

Carlson extricated the arm rest, annoyed with himself that it took him so long. Too late, he’d realized the bag on his shoulder had done him no favours. Strike one, he muttered in his head and walked somewhat confidently to the woman he was to report to. He handed her the arm rest, “Lieutenant Bernard Carlson.”  He absentmindedly added on, “the III.  Reporting for duty, Commander.”

“I’m about as much a commander as my grandmother was.” She smiled wildly, reaching out to take the armrest from him as she offered the chair next to her with a foot. “She never even left her village, let alone Earth.” The young man sat on the proffered chair whilst she balanced the armrest against her broad chest, pinning the top with her chin and with a forceful tug pulled the arm from her own chair. “These old Excelsior chairs had the best filling.” She attached the replacement armrest with an expert motion and a satisfying click. “Plus, they were made of the most gorgeous blue fabric.” She span in her tall wingback seat to place the removed armrest in a box next to the workbench, the words ‘FOR SORTING’ scrawled across its side. As she struggled to slide the awkwardly shaped object into the box the nervous Lieutenant got a chance to take in the back of her chair in all its glory. A patchwork of metal plates, in rainbow greys from across the centuries, each delicately welded and lovingly joined together. Each bearing a signature in thick black pen. 

Bernard wasn’t sure what to make of his commanding officer. He amended that statement in his head. He understood her on his level. Eccentric, odd, and given to living out her oddities in full view of her department. Tolsa seemed to be a perfect match for this place, and she seemed to relish the chaos. He took the seat and took in the expansive room for the first time. It was like everything was everywhere all at once in a way that made some sense. He turned back to her, “Um…then what should I call you, ma’am?”

“The name’s Gail, though the boys down on the floor call me Crinkles.” She paused as she wiggled her hips in the padded chair, eliciting a muted rustling sound from the sweet wrappers in her pocket as an example. “They think I don’t know but I consider it a sign of affection, they only take the mickey out of people they like.” She reached into one of her trouser pockets, causing the rolled up bottoms to rise slightly revealing a mismatch pair of red and blue tartan socks. “Quick question before we head down to the shop floor, Scon or Scone?” She levelled an accusatory eye as she held her closed fists close to her chest, the minor change in intonation accentuated her Yorkshire accent, rarely noticed in a galaxy of a thousand tongues. 

Carlson felt his eyebrows rise and considered the question.  He replied, “There has been a fair bit of nuance around the word, to be fair. Four hundred years ago, it was considered ‘posh’ to say ‘scon’.  My family had a terrible habit of calling them biscuits…which was a bit untoward of Grandpa Carlson to instill that in his family tree.  Bit of a trauma it was.” He considered her question and the need to answer it plainly, “I think in the here and now of 2401, I would return the question to you and ask what you feel is the right pronunciation to use so that I won’t be facing your…and there is no offense meant here…but a very raised eyebrow bordering on impending disagreement depending on the answer I give.”  He added, “I had the nickname Bernie early in my life…until some mates discovered the old Earth film ‘Weekend at Bernie’s.’  That was a whole thing.”

Gail stared as she processed his response, the cogs clicking away behind her brown eyes. “That was a very… comprehensive answer Lieutenant.” She leant back in the chair, “ ‘Spose you’re right though, each man to their own.”

She stood, gathered a tool belt slung over a hook near the door and began making her way towards the corridor back towards the main dockyard. “I read your jacket, I know you had problems aboard Missouri River.” Her tone was soft, caring, motherly. “As long as you’re honest and direct here, you won’t face those same problems; the breakers respect the truth.” She turned in the doorway, tilting her head in the direction of the short corridor as a summons. “You don’t need to tell me what you think I want to hear.” She smiled. “Come on then Bernie, let’s go meet the breakers.”

Carlson felt a ray of hope break through the overcast sky. Honest and direct had been the issue before, but the acceptance had been a bigger part of the problem. Here, it seemed, there was far more willingness to bring him into the fold than to try and test his mettle.  He shifted the bag on his shoulders, “I would like that very much, Comm…Gail.”  He followed her to the corridor. This last chance, he thought, might be his best chance.