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Although the spacious classroom was filled to near capacity with students, you could hear the proverbial pin drop. The only sounds came from the sixty-one styluses scratching at the exams confronting each student.
Vincent Albert DeSalle sat in the heavily-padded and well-worn instructor's chair, surveying the scene before him. Of the sixty-one academy students now present, less than fifty would be returning next semester.
That was the nature of all the first year courses at Starfleet Academy. Weed out all those who could not 'cut the mustard.' Already the class had lost seventeen, which was about normal. DeSalle did not take pride in those facts. He'd just as soon everyone graduated, but there was a real necessity to separate the wheat from the chaff, as the saying goes. There was no room in Starfleet for those who were almost good enough. Each cadet had to be able to handle any situation, including the academics and, especially, final exams.
Two of the students, the Vulcan, Setor, and an Andorian named G'Nath, rose from their seats and brought their exams to the duty desk. They were the first to finish. DeSalle looked at the large room chrono on the back wall. They had completed the exam almost a full hour ahead of the deadline. Very well done, especially if all the answers were correct and knowing these two as he did, all of the answers were correct.
The two cadets filed quietly out of the room and into the corridor. Just before the door snapped closed again, DeSalle heard a heavy sigh of relief, probably -- no, make that definitely -- G'Nath.
Vincent suppressed a smile and continued to study the old book in front of him, an ancient volume on surface ships of Earth's first two world wars. It was a gift from his wife and DeSalle couldn't resist looking at it. He thumbed through the pages slowly looking up from time to time to check the chrono and the progress of the cadets.
Three more cadets finished and turned in their tests without speaking. They didn't have to really. Their faces showed a genuine look of concern and strain.
In the next few minutes several more cadets finished and made their way out of the room. DeSalle completed his look at the gift and put it back into his desk. Then he began thumbing through next semester's courses outline. The titles were 'Military Science -- A Complete Study, Part Two,' 'Basic Tactics,' 'Advanced Tactics,' and finally his personal favorite, 'Starfleet History -- From Conception to Present Day.'
DeSalle reflected on the past academic year. The senior class was one of the best he'd seen in a long time. He would be sad to see them go, as he had become friends with a good many of them.
Essentially, he was classified as a first-year instructor, so he got to meet all of the new cadets. He liked it that way and stayed at the Academy just for that reason. Over the years, DeSalle had remained in touch with a number of his former students and a few even had their own commands now.
It was really ironic. After many years in deep space duty, he accepted the teaching position at the Academy with more than just a little hesitation. But after the first semester, he was hooked for good! It struck him as odd since while a student there he was glad to get away as soon as he could, ironic indeed. Now in his sixteenth year, he was the chairman of his department and on the Academy Board of Review. In a few years, he could see himself as the Commandant of the Academy. It was a real possibility, given his outstanding record and dedication.
His wife of nearly twenty-five years was very happy, too. No more deep space duty, no more danger and she could see her husband every day, even when he worked late!
He looked over the classroom again, less than half an hour to go and only twelve students left.
DeSalle smiled to himself. A son and a daughter were already married and soon his last would be married as well. At least she had agreed to wait until after the graduation ceremony at the academy. Now it would be easier for him to take part in the wedding. Anyway, two down and one to go!
Four more students filed out of the classroom, one was missing a complete set of fingernails. That was Carson, great grand descendant of the American explorer. A good, if not somewhat nervous, student, he would pass, but DeSalle wondered about his command possibilities.
Looking again at the course outlines for next year, he smiled once more. Maybe it was just a quirk, but he always revised his courses from year to year, so no two classes were exactly alike. He felt that this kept the courses fresh for both the students and himself. The past semester's courses had gone well, but next year's history of Starfleet would include an expanded section of one of his favorite subjects, James T. Kirk.
It had been a long time since he had served with the captain, but DeSalle would never forget a thing Kirk had taught him. The lessons and examples that the late captain had set forth had become a permanent part of both tactics classes. And this new unit of study, although beginning as part of a larger course offering, would eventually become a detailed course in itself. Course approval had already been confirmed by the Review Board.
He looked up from the outline and noticed that only five minutes and ten students remained. Putting the outline down on the desk, he rose from his chair and walked to a position in front of the first row of student desks. This was his way of letting the remaining cadets know there were only a few minutes left.
With his arms folded across his chest, he watched the chrono tick off the last few minutes until finally, it was time to call for the remaining exams, finished or not.
Only three students remained at the closure of the class. The three got up and slowly made their way to the front of the room. Each handed their exam paper to DeSalle personally. The last one, Murphy, even managed to smile. Nice kid, but he probably would not make it.
All the students were now gone. DeSalle gathered all the test booklets together and returned to his desk. He placed his course outlines and antique book into his briefcase and put all the exams into a standard Academy Exam packet.
DeSalle then stood and picked up the briefcase with one hand and the exam packet with the other, then made his way to the exit. "Computer, lights off."
Obediently the lights all winked out except the three left on as 'night lights.' 'Just another day at the Academy,' he thought. He smiled at the prospect of the graduation ceremonies in a few days. Then he entered the large, empty corridor and walked toward the exit doors of the James T. Kirk building.