Michael was still near the window when the Admiral came through the door.
“Captain.” He said, his low voice booming across the small room.
“Admiral, it's good to see you.” he said, closing distance with the man while extending an open hand. The Admiral's grip was firm, a good handshake meant a lot to him and Michael, though already having earned his respect, felt it necessary to oblige the nuances of his personality. He squeezed harder.
“It's good to see you too Michael. Last time we saw each other I was trying desperately not to stab you in the neck with your new rank.”
“I'm glad it was you Jameson, someone who knew what this meant for me.”
Gloom crept through the door, its cold chill slipping past their feet and climbing into each one of their chests.
“Richards was a good man, Michael.”
“You don't have to tell me that Jameson.”
“I know that, I'm not -” The Admiral paused and sighed. “Jesus Michael you don't have to make this any more difficult than it already is.”
Michael looked to the ground. “I'm sorry, I'm not trying to be difficult.”
“I understand, it's a tough time. Listen, I'm not sending you straight back out there. Your first assignment is going to be at the border worlds. There's still the smoldering remnants of rebellion out there threatening to ignite into something we truly don't want to have on our hands.”
“You think a carrier will quell this resistance?”
“No, I'm not that naïve Michael. Nevertheless, it will give pause to those people with doubts about our commitments and hopefully stem the tide of dissension.”
“Are these my warning orders, or do you have them drafted officially already?” asked Michael.
“They're official and waiting for you on the network once you sign in, which you haven't done yet as the Captain of the Scipio. There will be some administrative documents to get through before you can reach the TacNet, but it shouldn't take you more than an hour.”
“The estimated time of completion on the repairs isn't for another week Admiral. What am I to do in the meantime?”
“Train Michael. I'm giving you this border worlds assignment because the Vanduul would be too much for your young crew to handle. You've got babies on board and I'd rather they draw first blood with untrained farmers in rickety old craft than the ruthless talons of the Vanduul, lest their blood be the first to spill.”
Michael nodded, he understood this and agreed. “I'll inform my wing commanders to start training right here in Terra orbit if you give your consent.”
The Admiral smiled. “It's what's best. I'll be sure to pass it on to council so that they are aware of the situation once I get planetside.” Jameson put a hand on Michael's shoulder and squeezed with that same fierce grip.
Michael stared him straight in the eyes. “I will be perfectly honest with you, I'm terrified of this assignment.”
Admiral Jameson smiled. “You are Captain Michael James Anderson of the UEES Scipio. Your fear will serve you well. Fearless men are already dead, and a dead man doesn't think of consequences. I know you are the man for the job. You were the first Officer of this ship, you took command when Richards was wounded and you saw him committed to the stars with pride. The Empire couldn't have asked for a better successor to the Scipio.”
“When we were children Jameson, did you ever think we would be standing here like this?”
Jameson's eyes glittered with nostalgia. He saw himself laying in the dark grass, the heavy breathing of Michael next to him as they stared up at the stars, exhausted from the sprint up the hill. The cold breeze washed over their faces as it made the green shoots sway and hush to them in the twilight. His mind rushed back across billions of kilometers and over a quarter of a century. “Never.”