Three months later
Second Lieutenant Alexei Petrov boarded his new ship the P112 Diell trying to keep an open mind, holding his reservations firmly under control. First Lieutenant Shehu was in the docking bay to greet him with a professional smile, an older man slightly shorter than himself, with crisp dark hair and a thin moustache, very unusual in these days where men often chose to have facial and even body hair, permanently removed.
"Welcome aboard, Petrov," he said, his voice a pleasant baritone. "I'll show you to your quarters first, then introduce you to the rest of the crew. The Captain will see you at 14:00 after you've settled in." He led the way down a corridor. "You've served on a P112 type ship before?" he asked conversationally.
"Yes sir. I was on the P112 Conor for a year before the Samal, my last ship."
"Good. So you'll know the layout then."
"I think I met Captain Cartwright a couple of times. Red hair, going grey at the temples?"
"That sounds like him sir. He's a good Captain, I enjoyed working with him. He has a great sense of humour."
Shehu gave him an odd look, as if he'd told him Cartwright had two heads. "Well, I suspect you'll find Captain Farrell a bit different. He's a good Captain," Shehu hastened to add, "Don't get me wrong, just a bit old fashioned, likes everything by the book. I don't think I've ever heard him tell a joke," he mused.
And he doesn't like oms, Petrov added silently to himself, his heart sinking again from where it had been buoyed up by Shehu's friendly welcome. That piece of gossip was well known. In fact he was still feeling rather surprised that he'd got the position on the Diell at all. He hadn't wanted to leave the Samal but he wanted the promotion to Second Lieutenant more, so he'd had to move.
An hour later he found himself outside the Captain's quarters. He took a slow breath and flashed his ID at the panel outside. "Come in, Lieutenant." The voice was deep and impersonal.
Petrov went in. Captain Farrell stood at his entrance and gestured to a chair in front of his desk. "Have a seat Petrov." He sat down again.
The Captain was younger than he had expected. The words old-fashioned had conjured up an image of a man in his fifties but Farrell looked at least ten years younger than that. He was taller than Petrov and broader, his black hair with no hint of grey cut short against his head, thick black brows above dark brown, almost black eyes that were narrowed in his direction, as if he were a foreign specimen he was examining.
"Welcome to the Diell. Lieutenant Shehu will keep an eye on you for the first few days, until he's certain you're up to speed with the way we do things here. Judging by Captain Cartwright's report, you shouldn't have too much trouble. He thinks highly of you." Farrell's thin lips and unsmiling expression made him look as if he didn't quite believe it.
"Thank you, sir." Petrov felt a burst of gratitude to his former Captain, at least someone had faith in him.
"There's one more thing we need to get straight from the beginning. I know that you're homosexual. I have a hard and fast rule on my ship of zero tolerance towards any fraternisation of a sexual nature between any members of the crew. Any infringement and I'll invoke Rule 158 immediately. Am I clear?" Farrell's piercing eyes pinned him to his seat.
"I know you think I'm being hard but Rule 158 is there for a good reason Lieutenant. Aside from the possible abuse of power, broken relationships are bad for teamwork."
"Yes sir." Rather reluctantly, Petrov conceded the Captain had a point, but on the other hand surely a warm, loving relationship could be a positive thing?
He settled in easily enough over the next few days. True the ship didn't have the friendly atmosphere of the Samal but it was efficient and well run. He told himself he didn't need Farrell to like him, as long as he respected him as an officer.
A few days later, the Diell was assigned to escort a large civilian ship to the Almaaz sector. The ship was carrying fifty colonists and their families to a new outpost on Fayruz, a small planet only recently opened up to settlement. Although there was a wonderful diversity of plant life, extensive investigation had revealed only primitive animal life, creatures categorised as insects, reptiles and avians because they bore sufficient resemblance to those old Earth varieties. Humans liked to give things familiar names, even though the scientists would methodically reclassify everything using the most ancient human language, Latino.