He jumped at the knock on the door of the small quarters. Then, realizing the knock hadn't actually been on his door, he settled slowly back down on the narrow bunk that served as his sleep station on the Millenium Falcon. He heard a muffled query as one of his neighbors answered his door, and the clipped, dreaded response from the corridor. "The Admiral wants to see you. Bring your Star Chart."
The exercises were over. The MF was cutting down to the final crew to partake in the upcoming campaign, and this time the cuts were deep. Joplo Bartu wasn't one of the Academy draftees; merely a pickup by one of the scouts the MF often sent out into the void, seeking talent from remote locations like the small planet in the Texian system from which Joplo hailed. Very few such pickups made the final crew, and Joplo knew that. "He can play in space," the scout had declared, so the MF gave him a chance. A long shot, but a chance, nonetheless. Joplo had given it his best shot, working diligently on improving his defensive strategies in the middle of the battle starfield. He wanted to make the final crew, but the competition had been very, very tough. So now he was sitting on his bunk, bag packed and Star Chart in his lap, waiting for the knock on the door from the Turk.
Admiral Smith stood when General Dimitroff entered. The General noticed the dark circles under his eyes, the new worry lines. He sat in the chair before the Admiral's desk. "You doing okay, Smitty?"
Smith sighed and sank back into his chair. "Yeah, but this is the tough part. You know the drill."
General Dimitroff eyed him carefully. "You want me to handle a few?"
"Absolutely not!" The Admiral sat up straighter. "You know my policy. Every one of these guys deserves to hear it from me, the good news and the bad."
"I know it must have been hard with Banks. Great guy," said the General.
"The best," said the Admiral. "He took it very well, as you'd expect. We still have a few to go."
"You know, some guys just break the bad news. Saves some time."
"I think everyone deserves an interview at this point. And mixing the good news with the bad makes the process a little easier on me," the Admiral said wearily.
"I didn't expect any less," said the General. "But you should save the rest for tomorrow. Get some sleep."
"Can't," the Admiral said gruffly. "You know we go to Etoufee next week."
"Yes," said the General carefully. "Do you think we're ready for that?"
"I think so. We didn't fare so well during the exercises, but you know that's meaningless."
"I do, but there are some members of Starfleet that are concerned."
"Novices," snorted the Admiral. "Anyone that knows my style knows I don't care about winning the exercises. And in the last one with the Panthera Onca, we only used a couple regulars. We had no experience on the bridge at all. Strictly for evaluating the kids."
"The next one counts. Do you have the gameplan set for our foray into the Creole system?" asked the General with a raised brow.
Smitty almost smiled at the nearly comical expression the raised eyebrow gave this unconventional General with the spiky hair. But he had a lot of respect for General Dimitroff, who had brought him to the Millenium Falcon. "Vice Admirals Nolan and Koetter are finalizing their plans. We're going to meet and set the schedule for this week as soon as this process is over."
"Well then, I better let you get to it. Good luck, Smitty. Try to get some rest." The General stood and strode out the door.
"I'll try, General," Smitty said softly to his retreating back. "I'll try." The door clicked shut.
There was a knock on Joplo's door. It was definitely his door this time. Carrying his Star Chart, he walked to the door and opened it, and faced Captain Pires. Pires was the leader of the mid-space defensive forces, and Joplo's superior. He was not from Joplo's Texian system, nor was he from the home planet where the Millenium Falcon was built. From a crowded area in the northeastern sector of the galaxy, Pires had spent some seventeen years or so in Starfleet, the last five with the Big MF. Joplo could not read any expression in Pires' slightly alien (to Joplo, at least) face. While Pires was inscrutable, Joplo did see that Pires noticed the Star Chart in his hands, and took in Joplo's packed bag next to the bunk.
"The Admiral wants to see you," said Pires, looking down at the Star Chart.
Joplo's heart sank. "I'm coming," he mumbled.
He followed Pires to Admiral Smith's quarters. Glad that he did not have to fight back tears, he was nevertheless painfully aware of the lump in his throat, and the knot in his stomach. Pires opened the door to the Admiral's quarters for him, and closed it behind him. Joplo heard his footsteps receding in the corridor.
Admiral Smith looked up from some papers on his desk. He looked grim, and tired, but smiled gamely. "Joplo. Sit down."
Joplo took the seat in front of the Admiral's desk. Afraid his emotions would overwhelm him, he spoke in an uncharacteristic rush. "Admiral, I thank God for the opportunity I've been given, but I also want to thank you, General Dimitroff, Vice Admiral Nolan, and Captain Pires. I appreciate the faith you showed in me, and I promise, with God's help, I will keep trying. I hope that I get an opportunity to work with all of you again." With tears welling in his eyes, he gently pushed his Star Chart across the Admiral's desk.
The Admiral looked down at the Star Chart thoughtfully. "You know, the competition at your position was intense, much more so than we expected. We had some surprises, like Worrilow." He looked up at Joplo. "And you." The Admiral pushed the Star Chart back across the desk. "Why don't you hold on to this."
Joplo looked at him incredulously.
Admiral Smith smiled. "Welcome to the Millenium Falcon."