"I want her."
"Of course you do, Petros," High Commander Lucinda Natus admonished. "Everyone wants her. What makes your claim on her stronger than anyone else's?"
Chief Technology Officer Petros Vallois tilted his head forward and gazed over the frame of his Muse Spex across the room where ten of his fellow department heads gathered. They sat around an enormous conference table, plainly built from a single sheet of dark steel but spacious enough to accommodate all thirteen department heads. The view panels of the Arvad's executive conference room were taller and more prominent than average, affording attendees an intimate view of the universe.
"She's the best," Vallois stated as if the answer were obvious. "She has the highest APT scores ever recorded for Systems Architect, Embedded Engineer, and Systems Administrator. And she's small enough to fit into just about any nook or cranny that needs repair."
As a murmur started to ripple around the room, Chief Steward Harriet Auburn stared pointedly at their colleague. "And how is her tiny stature so much more relevant to you than to Maintenance or Engineering?" she asked, gesturing to Chief Engineer Stephenson. "I'm sure Vikram here would love to have a competent half-pint available for all sorts of tasks. I certainly could in Maintenance."
Vallois snorted loudly and rudely, but Chief Stewart Auburn remained calm and professional, as was her wont. The consensus among her fellow department heads was that while Lucinda Natus unequivocally ran the mission of the Arvad, the Chief Steward unequivocally ran the running of the Arvad. A common theme among several well-circulated rumors suggested that any time someone wronged Harriet Auburn, professionally or personally, they would lose water pressure and heat for a few days.
Despite Mason Quince's best efforts to discover how Auburn might pull off such a hilarious trick, the evidence was anecdotal, and no one could ever prove anything.
"Not to mention," Chief Logistics Officer Jean-Henri de Talcott interjected warmly, "that mademoiselle may not wish to work in tech at all." He took an ancient silver dollar from the former United States of America from a pouch on his suit. With a practiced motion, it disappeared from view and reappeared between the fingers on his other hand. While everyone in the room had seen this particular trick of de Talcott's many times before, the rarity of the coin and the spectacle of his physical grace never ceased to draw their focus.
Acknowledging the room's attention with a slow and sweeping nod, de Talcott continued. "Areanna Clovar has the best APT scores in recorded history in 20 of 39 categories," he said, referring to the Aptitude and Proficiency Tests that teenagers traditionally took after they turned sixteen. As they had with SWAY and STARNet, the Adalians devised a colloquial acronym for their test, and the exams were commonly pronounced: "apt." "She scored higher than any of us did for our respective departments. It seems clear to me that she would excel under any of us, n'est-ce pas?"
Around the room, most heads nodded in agreement. Petros Vallois puckered his lips sourly but did not otherwise object.
"Higher than you, perhaps, monsieur de Talcott," High Commander Natus corrected him. Petros Vallois snickered, but Natus raised a hand to cut him off gently. "That was neither judgment nor insult. Everyone here understands that the purpose of the APTs is not to get the highest score. Citizens aboard the Arvad take the APTs to determine which necessary societal function they are best suited for when they turn sixteen. Specialists are rare elites, elevated in status when their real-world actions are as impressive as their APT scores."
Petros Vallois met Commander Natus's gaze, then turned to Chief Steward Harriet Auburn and de Talcott to nod in apology. They acknowledged amiably, and the three department heads returned their attention to the High Commander.
"To be precise, Areanna's impressive APT scores suggest that she is naturally gifted and inclined towards any of our current positions. Her department-specific scores are higher than all acting heads' except for Ms. Cobden-Edwards, Ms. Oliveira, and Mr. Hureyra."
Chief Navigator Lea Cobden-Edwards smiled slyly, then started suddenly as if a loud noise had gone off. "Wait, though, why aren't Julia or Raihan here? There are only eleven of us."
Lucinda Natus waved her hand dismissively. "Chief Cook Oliveira and Chief Botanist Hureyra have already been briefed on the situation. Areanna Clovar's worst scores were in Food Production and Preparation, and she has openly expressed disinterest in those topics, so they were given leave from this meeting."
"Lucky them," Head of Security Ron Sadleman muttered facetiously.
The High Commander groaned half-heartedly and fixed Sadleman with the closest thing to a withering stare she could muster.
"Not now, Ron. We're arriving in Adalia in less than two months, and despite every goddamn logistical and technical nightmare facing us right now, we have to figure out what the hell to do with a 10-year-old prodigy.
"And you," she said, turning to Lea Cobden-Edwards, still grinning and blushing with pride. "Don't get too smug. You consider yourself a talented musician, yes?"
Lea's smile disappeared faster than she could calculate changes to the Arvad's delta-vee. "Yes, ma'am. Improvisational jazz is my passion, and Music is my second-highest APT."
"Areanna outscored you, despite the fact she doesn't play an instrument." There was another gasp from the gathered department heads; everyone who scored well in Music played at least one instrument. "And her Management score outright embarrasses mine. This concludes the complaining and delicate ego portion of the meeting; let's get down to business.
"We last administered the APTs eighteen months ago to identify the final generation of potential Specialists among our fourteen to sixteen demographic. Provost Prokhorov decided to give it to a ten-year-old girl last week without my permission…" she smiled at the older man, who chuckled warmly in response before she continued, "… and he was absolutely correct in doing so. We must train her as much as possible before arriving in Adalia."
"This all seems cut and dry to me. Have we asked Areanna what she wants to do?" Chief Medical Officer Dr. Susan Blackwell asked. "Areanna's potential is not up for debate here. Jean-Henri's earlier point was that if she can do anything, we should let her follow her passion. Right, Jean-Henri?"
"Merci, that was exactly my point."
"Agreed," Chief Archivist Audrey Newberry said. "Let her pick."
"That's easy for you to say, Audrey. I proctored that little girl's examination myself," said Provost Dr. Yuri Prokhorov. "She finished every section in record time and never broke a sweat. And do you know what she said to me when she was done?"
"Yes, I do," Archivist Newberry said, her teeth beginning to show between her grinning lips.
"That was rhetorical, and for the rest of the room. I told you this already. Anyone?"
"With these scores and the fact that she finished early, I can certainly guess," Entertainment Director Mason Quince said, smirking in Newberry's direction.
"Your instincts are likely correct, Mason. First, she told me, 'That was fun.' Then she said her favorite questions were in the Knowledge Department section."
Several department heads groaned. Archivist Newberry did her best to stifle a small giggle, but when she failed, she drew the bemused ire of some of her colleagues.
Lucinda Natus sighed. "Not only that, but her Knowledge APT score is 97."
Every head in the room snapped in her direction at once. Lucinda tapped a few keys and shared Areanna's comprehensive results with the gathered leaders.
Mason Quince let out a low whistle. "Goddamn. I knew her scores were high, but a 97? Aren't scores above 95 purely theoretical?"
"Until Areanna, yes, you are correct. How do you think I feel?" asked Provost Prokhorov. "No one has ever even come close. I wrote a considerable percentage of every section of the APTs, and a 10-year-old just ran circles around the entire damn exam."
"And she got 88 in Music. Holy crap, Luci, you weren't kidding about this kid."
"Don't call me Luci, Mason."
The room was silent as the department heads considered Areanna Clovar and her future. The most promising intellect of any generation aboard the Arvad, and she had the unfortunate timing of completing her Aptitude and Proficiency Tests with mere weeks to spare. The youngest generation of Specialists, the most skilled and highly trained crew mates aboard the Arvad, had been working for at least a year to prepare for their arrival.
"Can she handle what's before her?" Ron Sadleman asked, his deep voice echoing throughout the quiet room.
"Not to worry, Mr. Sadleman," Audrey Newberry said, opening her arms wide. "The Knowledge Department and I will take good care of her."