Colonel John Haverson stopped to let two female technicians pass him in the corridor. The pair nodded their thanks which John returned. The Colonel also couldn't help but notice the appraising looks the two young women gave him. It was something he was long used to. Tall, tanned and flint jawed, John was effortlessly handsome. At forty six he was in better shape than most men half his age.His dark hair had greyed at the temples and laughter lines furrowed his brow and tugged at the corner of each eye but neither feature could be considered a blemish, rather they added to the Colonel's distinguished good looks. Today, he was dressed in his preferred attire of Pathfinder Initiative fatigues. The short-sleeved midnight blue shirt was worn tight to his muscular frame, clinging to a broad chest and bulging biceps. His camo pants framed a strong and toned pair of legs while the black combat boots were polished to perfection. A large, gold chronograph watch clasped onto John's left wrist completed the look of one of the Initiative’s most experienced officer's. From behind he heard the approach of hurried footsteps slowing as their owner fell into step beside him. "How we doing, L.T?" John asked without looking to his side. "The Relentless is green across the board," Lieutenant Zara Porter replied cheerily. Porter had transferred to the Pathfinders from the Marines almost five years previous and had been operating as the Relentless's XO for the last three. She was a near constant at John's side and had saved his ass on more than one occasion, something which she always took time to remind him off. Standing five feet eleven with golden blonde hair and dark blue eyes, Porter was able to turn the head of almost every man on Fulcrum station. If her good looks didn't catch their attention, the long scar that snaked its way down from her brow, across the bridge of her nose, under her right eye and around her cheek before ending above the corner of her mouth certainly did. Her cheery nature belied the fact she was a positively deadly force with almost any weapon or explosive. John was glad to have her on his crew. "Glad to hear," said John. "Want it looking good for the rook." "You heading to get him?" she asked, deftly dodging a fully loaded mech cart heading in the opposite direction. John nodded. "Commander's already briefed him."
"What's his story?" Porter asked. The Colonel shrugged his broad shoulders. "I don't know a damn thing other than what's on his file and that's not much. Some sort of medical prodigy back in the day and gave it all up to sign up to the Initiative. He's a board certified Xeno-Biologist too, whatever that's worth."
Porter gave a non-committal grunt. Certifications and degrees were nice but they didn't mean a damn thing out in the void. The rook might be the most gifted surgeon in the Cluster but could fall apart the minute his foot hit groundside on a new world. John had seen it happen before, more times than he cared to remember. Pathfinders existed outside the usual comfort zone for most people. It took a certain sort to cope with what was expected. Ideally, John would have wanted to get a newbie bedded in with the way he worked and how he ran his ship. He glanced down at his watch. Instead, he had less than an hour before they were due for departure with someone he knew nothing about. “So they put him through basic and dump on us.” John smirked. “That’s right. Luckily I have my hardass, ex-Marine XO to keep any civilian sensibilities in line." Zara scoffed before stopping."Is that him?" She pointed to a young man idling at the end of the admin corridor. "Looks like. Let's go introduce ourselves." The man noticed their approach and pulled himself straighter, offering a smart, if somewhat uncertain, salute. John waved away the gesture with a friendly smile. "No need for that, Doctor Wexler," he said he extended a hand The Colonel's grip was firm and the skin rough and callused, courtesy of a life of real work rather than a career spent behind a desk. "Colonel John Haverson." He nodded to his companion, "This is my XO, Lieutenant Zara Porter. It's going to be her responsibility to bring you up to scratch. Twisted humour aside, she's a hell of a solider and the first person you'd want watching your back."
Porter seemed to turn suddenly bashful after receiving the compliment."You can call me Zara," she replied, glancing between Wexler and her commanding officer. "The Initiative is still military but things are a good deal less formal around here."
Wexler smiled. "Colonel. Zara. I look forward to working with you both. John took a moment to look the young man over and was impressed with what he saw. The Doctor was a handsome man, with perhaps two days worth of stubble and a mop of dark brown hair. John placed him somewhere in his late twenties. It wasn't the mans looks that impressed the Colonel however, rather the way he carried himself. He was not close to the Colonel's large, muscular frame but he clearly kept himself in good shape. Being a Civilian contractor, Wexler didn’t wear a standard uniform; instead, he wore a black jumpsuit, with steel grey trim decorated with the Pathfinder insignia. His combat boots were clean, and his utility belt was tight around a slim waist. Rounding out the ensemble was a medical sensory gauntlet worn on his left arm, and a standard issue sidearm, secured in its holster
John tapped the face of his watch with a sigh. "I'm all in favour of breaking the ice, doctor but we have a schedule to keep. We're due to be shipping out in forty five minutes."
"How was the trip up?" Zara asked as John led them along the maze of corridors toward the elevator that would take them down to the docks. Fulcrum was a busy station with a heavy traffic flow. Civilian ships were allowed to dock there despite it being a Navy controlled installation. It was also the place most Pathfinders called home when they weren't on assignment.
“It was mostly smooth, some atmosphere turbulence, before we reached orbit,” Wexler replied. “Interesting enough trip for my first time in space.
Zara whistled. "You don't do things by halves, do you? First time in space and it's to ship out with the Initiative. Most people call a short system jump an adventure."
Wexler laughed politely. "Guess I've always been an ambitious sort."
"I'll give you the quick rundown," John said as they reached an elevator. Apart from myself and Zara, we have Myn Othic. He came from the Rangers but don't hold that against him. Didn't think a ground and pounder would fit in with a Marine but him and Zara make a good team."
Zara gave a wry smile. "Not to say we don't butt heads now and again," she added quietly.
"It's a small crew," John continued, stepping onto a waiting elevator. "Garrett Lafferty keeps the engine and the explorer rover running and Sunny Collard keeps us in the air."
Wexler nodded. "Looking forward to getting started. His dark eyes met John’s. "Especially with you, Colonel. "It’s not everyday you get to work with a Star of Terra recipient.”
John couldn’t hide his surprise. “You’ve read my file?”
“Some light reading when I found out who my commanding officer was going to be. There's a few articles up on the cortex about it."
John cleared his throat. “Ancient history,” he said not wanting to dwell on the subject.
Beside him, Zara scoffed. “He’s just trying to be modest. Believe me, you don’t need to stroke his ego.”
"If I wanted to do that, I'd tell him the pictures really don't do him justice to how hands...." Wexler trailed off as he suddenly caught himself. "Apologies, Colonel, he said, looking to the floor.
John looked from the young man to his XO, who was furiously biting on her lip. "Don't worry about it," John said, laughing the near compliment away. "The thought is appreciated, if nothing else." The Colonel considered it a small mercy when the elevator doors opened with a chime a few seconds later.
The docks were a hive of activity; crew men making last minute preparations, techs and engineers darting and dodging around the machinery as mech carts ferried cargo and parts to an array of waiting ships. The Colonel led Wexler over to the berth where the Relentless waited. Even in a rush, John slowed his pace to take in the view. She wasn't a large craft. Sleek and optimised for speed, she only had a crew of six. Thin and long in body, a pair of forked wings either side of the fuselage each held a primary and secondary thruster. Beneath each wing, missiles sat primed and ready should any pirate or slaver try their luck. A Corstein FTL drive, used to propel the ship across the vast distances between the gates and the Relentless's eventual destination nestled at the rear of the hull.
"She's a beauty," Wexler said with clear appreciation.
"That she is," John agreed. "Welcome aboard, Doctor."