The thin plastic covering over the center seat on the incomplete bridge of the Constitution made a soft crinkling noise as he sat down in what was to be his chair for the next five years. Visiting the ship was something he did every day, and yet today the bridge seemed a little different to him. Everything about the starship appeared to be a little better than it had in the past, when he would be found wandering the completed decks, admiring the handiwork and the sheer size of her. Always knowing then that it was a strong possibility he would never have the chance to stand on her bridge as master and commander. A return to deep space had been exactly what his heart desired, and now Starfleet would afford him the opportunity to do just that.
A familiar laugh erupted from within the turbolift, as the doors slid aside to admit the officer. "Couldn't wait?" His British accent was unmistakable, as was the light brown mop of hair atop his head with the silver lining the edges of his sideburns. He did not look like an imposing man, though the flecks of green in his large hazel eyes were very noticeable. The officer was a captain, wearing the dual gold bars along the cuffs of his gold uniform tunic. Upon his chest was the starship insignia of the USS Betelgeuse, another product of the Antares-class.
Winslow smiled widely at the officer, genuinely happy to see him again, "Bob! What the hell are you doing here? I didn't know your ship was in the neighborhood." He very nearly hugged the man, and instead opted for a very enthusiastic handshake. "How are you? How is Sarah doing?"
Captain Robert April chuckled at Winslow, "We're both doing fine. Sarah's down at Bethesda Medical Center, visiting a colleague of hers." Doctor Sarah April, his wife, also served as the chief medical officer of the Betelgeuse. He leaned in with a conspiratorial tone, he asked, "Do you have a few minutes to chat, or would you rather I leave you two alone?" He gestured at the bridge.
"No, no, please stay. I haven't had a chance to sit and talk with you in..." The admiral paused as he contemplated the number of years, "Has it really been three years?"
"More like four, but who cares?" April took a seat at the engineering monitoring station and sighed. "I spoke with Admiral Komack an hour ago. I know I'm not supposed to know, but I understand that you've been awarded the command we were all chasing after."
"Jesus, Bob. I'm sorry about that," Cliff tried to say.
"Oh, that's bull and you know it. You fought tooth and nail to get her, and I for one am damn glad of it."
April scratched at the top of his head, "How do I put this without sounding as though I only speak in clichés? To hell with it. Alex Ybarra and I think it's about time you got back on the horse. I don't know about Matt Decker, but I think a lot of the older captains feel the same way."
Winslow smiled, "That's a hell of a thing to say to me, Bob."
"Would you rather I socked you in the face?"
"I was expecting you to be a little miffed, is all," the rear admiral mocked the captain, putting on a horrible accent.
Captain April shook his head while chuckling once more, "It wasn't deep space without you, Cliff."
There was a pause in the exchange; long enough for them to acknowledge it was time for a new topic to discuss. Winslow asked plainly, "So, are you going to remain on the Betelgeuse for now?"
"For now," nodded April. "Until the third ship is finished. They've decided to give Matt Decker the one-oh-seventeen ship. I'm to command seventeen-oh-one; I think it's a blessing. I don't like this idea of using the abandoned hull numbers, I think it's bad luck."
Winslow blinked, his tone incredulous, "They've decided all of this already?"
"If the project holds, they have already determined the captain of the next six ships of the line." Bob smiled, "They told me that Decker's pushing to have his ship be commissioned as the Constellation."
Admiral Winslow looked toward the captain's chair for a moment, just before sitting himself down to rest while conversing. "That's a nice name. I don't think it would have been the one I would have chosen."
"Nor I. I've always been fond of the name Indefatigable."
"For me, it's got to be Excalibur," Cliff's tone was one of awe.
Bob laughed, slapping his knee. "I'm sorry, Cliff. Not that I don't like your choice, but you say it with such reverence." He cleared his throat at the admiral's admonishing glare, "Seriously, it's a good name for a ship, Rear Admiral, sir."
Cliff could not help but laugh at the captain's sudden attention to protocol, even if it was in jest. "Is that the name you really intend to use for seventeen-oh-one?"
Robert April gave a slight shrug, "I'm not entirely sure of that, yet. Even if they're accepting our suggestions seriously, I'm not sure which name to choose. Every ship I've commanded so far already had a name, so it's a little daunting to select one for my next command. Look at it this way; I won't be the last captain of that ship and it has to be a name that each subsequent captain would be proud of."
"I see what you mean, there," replied Cliff, having not really given it as much thought as Bob had.
"When you name a ship, you're putting a name to a legacy. The name has to mean something more than the ship, I think that it has to set the expectations properly for the crew to live up to," April went on. "Like Excalibur. There's a name you could set your expectations by."
"There certainly is a lot of prestige, I won't disagree there."
A small smile hung upon April's lips. "I put a lot on your plate, didn't I? Having second thoughts about the name of your ship, are we?"
"No..." he replied quickly, his voice barely above a whisper. "No," he repeated, a little louder. "Though, when you consider history, the name Constitution is certainly one that falls into that category, doesn't it?"
"Indeed," said April, with folded arms and a slight nod.
"But I think that it's time there was a Constitution serving in the fleet. There hasn't been one since the late eighteenth century," Winslow voiced his thoughts. "It's still a floating museum on the east coast."
"Yes, it is," Bob said, rising up from his seat to look around the bridge. He ran his hands over the helm and navigator positions, admiring the advanced controls and the swing arm communications devices. "I must say that I am looking forward to having one of these of my own. You did a pretty fair job of telling them way they should lay these quarterdecks out."
A lot of the new bridge layout was largely due to the suggestions that Winslow made to the design team. It was a departure from the standard designs, with the command station in the center and all of the support stations facing outward in a circle. On the older bridges, the layout was less centralized and required the captain or the officer of the deck to divide his time between the conning station and the information center. There was something to be said for being able to have direct contact with the officers you entrust with the running of your ship, and it was a belief that both officers shared.
"So, Bob, where are you off to once your ship comes off leave?" Winslow asked. "Back out into deep space for another two years?"
"I'm afraid not." Bob sat down at the helm station, "Jim Komack has asked me to visit Admiral Leighton to discuss the possibility of accepting a position at Headquarters." Off of Winslow's shocked expression, he chuckled, "Don't worry, I know what I'm getting in to. I spend a year here on Earth, Sarah gets to see her family for a while and then we ship out on the new ship."
"Really? Which position did he have in mind?"
"Why yours, of course. Since you're leaving, there will be an opening. The Agency has made it clear that they want experienced deep space officers in the liaison position. If it gets me a ship in the long run, I'm willing to take over."
Cliff smiled at Bob as he offered his advice about dealing with James Komack by explaining what had happened to him when he had a discussion with the very charismatic admiral. "He gave me the speech about doing what's best for the fleet, and serving as best as I could for the future of the explorer fleet. He told me that as a liaison, I would have the ability to directly affect Starfleet in the best way possible." The admiral had asked him to consider that before turning down what was going to be a move that would further his career.
"Sounds vaguely familiar," admitted April, resting his head against his palm. "Do you think I'm making a mistake, then?"
"I didn't say that, Bob. I just think that you need keep your head on straight before Jim Komack performs his cheerleading act and talks about taking one for the team," Winslow warned. "The first six months were very nice, I'll admit. Having all of the comforts of home right at your fingertips is something a man could get used to, but then after having spent a great deal of time living in a sardine can with almost two hundred people, you get used to the close sense of community. I lived in my apartment complex for almost two years and I think I know my next-door neighbors' first name."
April did not say anything, listening to his friend speak. He tried to think about that, having considered returning to Earth a blessing. Sarah had told him that she could try for a year of residency at Bethesda or even Stanford Medical, as they would live in the San Francisco Bay Area. Would they adjust to living in an apartment? Maybe, he thought. He hoped they would fare better than Cliff. The fact that Sarah would be with him did not paint too dark of a picture. Perhaps that was Cliff's problem; he was alone.
"All I'm saying is," Cliff said, "I think my time at the Agency is done, and it's time for me to go back to where I really belong."
Robert April smiled at him, "Where we all belong, old friend."