It was an unseasonably chilly day in Paris, the warmth of his Jamaican style coffee long forgotten. Miles Edward O'Brien, with a list of accolades too long to commit to print, flapped the collar of his long trench coat up again. It was partially a feeble attempt to shield himself from the breeze that was response for the temperature's dropping by a degree or two and to hopefully hide his identity for the various passersby that went about their business on this, albeit, fairly quiet street.
Normally he'd be cursing under his breath that the global weather control net couldn't maintain the entire planet at a pleasant 21 Celsius, but today as he weaved in and out of the human traffic he had no time for such peripheral thoughts.
Stopping at a corner gave him cause to look up at the street names imprinted there. With his head raised already he snuck a look both over his shoulder and across the street to his right. It was early evening and the sun hadn't quite set. A dozen or so people milled about, most of them en-route to somewhere else. This wasn't a typical Parisian street with rows of eateries or galleries, more a aside street amongst other similar streets that wove the tapestry of the Federation capitol's underbelly.
Seeing no immediate threat and now sure of the righteousness of his route Miles continued just one block more before taking a left.
The streets he'd being winding down were of typical 18th, 19th and 20th Century French design, cream structure with shutters mostly in a sort of dull green; but the odd one in a more bright tone. Most of the buildings were residential, having left the stereotypical cafes and patisseries a few Rue's behind him; passed down from one generation to another. There might be no money in the Federation but finding a home on this particularly over-crowded small blue planet was a very difficult task indeed. It's why most of the "late comers" to the Earth party tended to dwell in the Luna Colonies or one of the dozen or more residential space stations in orbit; much like the O'Brien's.
He took another pre-cautionary look around before doing so, and satisfied with the casual demeanour of his immediate neighbours; reached into his coat pocket and retrieved what had brought him here. All his hopes were now pinned on handing it over, and simply walking away.
He held the data crystal outstretched, peering at it as if this act alone with decrypt its contents. Miles was about to spare a moment to think about the events of the last few days that had brought him to this point, but that was abruptly put on hold when his war-born senses made him look further down the street he'd just turned onto.
On his side of this fresh much narrower, almost totally deserted street he'd turned onto, approached three men. All were of usual height, forgettably brown hair and non-descript in appearance. Their attire was the grey and black of Starfleet's current design and the insignia was Yellow, indicating security. (Or Operations he would've reminded himself had his internal panic alarm not begun sounding).
They stood out to O'Brien for several reasons. Firstly they were the only Starfleet Officers he'd seen for the last twenty minutes or so. Paris as you'd imagine as the seat of the UFP was awash with Starfleet Officers, but most were of high rank; whom spent most of their time in or around the capitol buildings, or Security types who would typically hung around the people who hung around the capitol buildings. Secondly he could swear that the guy on the right was the same one who'd grabbed Doyle when this all began. And lastly they were now running toward him.
"Oh hell," O'Brien managed to say before his fight or flight kicked in. Never afraid of a fight, but equally adaptable, on this occasion O'Brien ran. He turned back onto the street from whence he'd came, hoping to spot the man he'd come here to see, or at least a neutral who'd potentially come to his assistance. The once semi-busy street, was now almost totally devoid of people and the couple who still walked by were elderly. (Would most likely not have helped anyway, O'Brien reminded himself, remembering he was dressed like a villain from a Dick Tracy comic and those right at the cusp of giving him chase were dressed as the always trusted Starfleet.)
He took just a beat to assess his options before spying a low hung exterior fire escape ladder on the opposite side. He made a break for it.
Unfortunately he was a lot older (Aren't we all) than he used to be, and that beat, had cost him what little advantage his old legs had had of maintaining his distance to his now sprinting chasers.
The three men were on him just as O'Brien made the opposite curb. As they tackled him down O'Brien finally had that time to stop and reflect on the chain of events that had brought him here.
::THREE DAYS EARLIER::
There were two parts to O'Brien's teaching at the Academy. Part One, which he enjoyed very much, was the hands on practical element where he would share the class numbers with a colleague and they would take something apart; or put it back together, or even sometimes a little of both. And Part Two, which he enjoyed but nowhere near as much, was class room based where the theoretical part of it all was discussed. This particular day was a Part Two.
They, his class I mean, were a good bunch overall. Like most classes there was a small minority at the top who were, usually, naturally gifted and who would excel without too much external input, then a small minority at the bottom who would struggle regardless of how much time and support they were offered. And finally a large majority who occupied the middle ground; those who could either excel or fail based on a variety of factors; from levels of personal commitment, to certain subject matters, to whether the wind was blowing (At least it seemed that way to O'Brien).
It was from this "middle majority" that Zachery Doyle came. He'd have his good days, and he'd have his bad. O'Brien had noticed the lad seemed to cope better in smaller groups, and worked at his best when practically problem solving rather than follow instruction. Once O'Brien had been leading a practical class on the sub-particle cross-membramisation of xeno-processors and Doyle had built a tool that fixed the quantum parameters of their artificial environment! Talk about tangents!
The class had come to an end and, being a Friday afternoon, most of the students were making their way as quickly as possible from the classroom; most politely thanking O'Brien as they tore past. Doyle would've usually been right there with them but today he hung back. He remained in his seat staring vacantly forward, a PADD hanging absently in his hand.
Miles always waited for the last of his students to exit before packing away his own things. He'd of course never attended the Academy but he'd taken enough advice from enough different well wishers to know that often it was those "out of class" one on one conversations that had the most impact on a young student's education and eventual career-choices. So he always made himself available for those.
Once the throng of moving bodies had quietened down O'Brien took a couple of steps up the auditorium style class room toward his solitary remaining student.
"Zach, are you okay?" it was the most natural thing O'Brien could've said, he'd seen that vacant look on young men before; but usually in the quiet times between battles. He'd seen it on plenty of faces on AR-554.
"Huh?" Zach said, blinking and bringing himself to. "Mister O'Bri – Miles," he corrected himself remembering O'Brien had, on multiple occasions, asked to be referred to by his first name by all and sundry.
"I. . . " Zach played for time hoping an inspirational excuses would come to mind and he'd escape. Failing at this he decided enough was enough. Miles was a cool teach' and he'd get where he was coming from.
"I just don't think the Academy… Starfleet… is for me."
O'Brien had experienced many things in life. In warzones he'd counselled colleagues through crises of faith, he'd served twenty years in an Argathi prison (Sort of), and he thought he'd heard most things from his cadets in the months he'd been at the Academy. This was a new one. Sure he'd dealt with his share of students not enjoying his class, that's fine; maybe engineering wasn't for them. But one that seemed to be harbouring complete disillusionment for the cause was brand new.
Taking O'Brien's indecision as to what to say as a pause to let him continue speaking Doyle continued: "Like I love the Federation and everything, but… why am I joining Starfleet? Because my Dad served? Because my Granddad served? Is that a good enough reason?"
"What else would you do?" Okay, O'Brien was on a little firmer ground now, he'd seen Captain Sisko go through a similar thing with Jake.
"Why would I need to do anything?" Doyle retorted.
"What?" O'Brien gasped.
"Why do I really need to do anything?" Doyle said again. "The Federation provides me everything I need. There is no hunger, no homelessness, there is nothing I can't get from a replicator…" Doyle paused a beat, maybe he wasn't getting his point across. "I mean…" he collected himself, "I mean I asked my Dad why he joined Starfleet and you know what he said?"
"He said he didn't really know why he joined," Doyle answered his own question without pausing to give O'Brien a chance to reply.
"But surely you want to achieve something with your life? Serve the greater good?" O'Brien couldn't quite believe what he was hearing. Sure he can understand that the service wasn't for everyone, heck he'd hadn't even attended the Academy, but to actually hear from someone who seemed quite happy to accept a life of leisure and unachievement seemed alien.
Doyle grimaced as if squeamish at the idea. "I don't think it's so wrong to just sleep, eat and be merry."
O'Brien was about to try a different tack, (Was this a crisis of faith test?), when he and Doyle at the same time sensed a third presence.
"Sorry, I…" Prisha, a talented young cadet who's actual interests lied more in the sciences but for whom engineering was a fascination, awkwardly interrupted. "I didn't mean to – "
"Tell me Cadet Patel," Doyle saw an option to test his theory. "Why did YOU join Starfleet?"
"Me?" Prisha was as meek as she was humble and it could never be said comfortable talking about herself. O'Brien couldn't help but think that her inability to self-promote would hinder her career eventually.
"Sure," Doyle said, he and O'Brien hadn't intentionally raised their voices; there's was not a heated argument, but both had apparently gotten loud with enthusiasm and Doyle took the opportunity to quiet.
"I'm not sure how much you heard of our conversation but I believe Miles thinks I'm having a crisis of faith."
O'Brien looked to Doyle, noted how astutely the man had deciphered O'Brien's intentions, before turning back to Prisha; hoping for reinforcements on his side. (Maybe Intelligence rather than engineering or sciences?)
"I joined Starfleet to help the Federation, and to help me be the best I can be." It was a generic stance, but truthful in many cases. Starfleet had lost a lot of good people, officers and noncomms, during the war and only a few months removed there were legions of young men, women, and everything in between feeling it their patriotic duty to fill the void.
Doyle didn't quite roll his eyes, but his face said he wanted to. "You've been ready to many recruit posters. What does that really mean? How does Starfleet help you be the best you can be?"
"I…" Prisha was uncomfortable with being asked the original question and now her usual prepared answer was being questioned her cheeks began to flush red and she stuttered on an "I…" again before O'Brien stepped in with the save.
"Prisha, I'll catch up with you tomorrow if it's nothing too urgent." It was a good enough out and Prisha took it. Before leaving she flipped between two smiles; a genuine one for Miles that served as a thank you and a good bye, and a faker one for Doyle that said 'What exactly are you getting at?'
As she was leaving Doyle had turned around and gathered his possessions from around where he'd been sitting and took a few steps toward the exit.
O'Brien was now lost for words and was prepared to let him go. He'd have to have a think about Doyle and how we was going to tackle the young man's moral quandary if he got another chance.
"You see my point?" Doyle asked, pausing and turning. "She doesn't even know why she's joined."
"She's a gifted girl," O'Brien countered.
"That much maybe true," Doyle said, he was a sceptic; but by no means blind to those in the 'will excel regardless' category. "But she could easily pursue a civilian science or engineering career."
The young man turned toward the exit and didn't stop a second time. As the automatic doors hissed shut O'Brien was alone.