He knows he'll always remember, with vivid clarity, the first time he sets foot on a starship.

Fine, it could be argued that he had been on one before, he supposed. His mother was fond of reminding him that he had taken his very first shuttle trip as a baby, up to the old Cardassian station to visit a Federation doctor, but really, that had been a simple transport ship, a round-trip ferry ride. And since then, of course, he'd been back to the station – once even for a school trip, where an eager young Starfleet ensign named Nog had given his class a tour through the auxiliary command centre.

In his (humble) opinion, none of these past experiences really counted.

Today, though, today he was finally getting his chance. His mother, insistent though she had been on persuading him out of his decision to join Starfleet (and boy, she could be persuasive), had pulled some strings and arranged for the USS Everest to transport him to Earth. Thomas has been beyond thrilled when his mother had informed him of this, an olive branch gesture on her part to make up for her unflinching resistance to his lifelong career plans. Not that she suddenly wholeheartedly approved of his seemingly undying devotion to Starfleet, of course, it was just now that she accepted the inevitability of it.

"Be safe out there," she'd admonished, standing in front of him at the starport.

He had his back to the shuttle, taking one last look at the planet he'd always called home. "I will, Mom, I promise," he'd said, taking one of her hands into his.

"I can't believe I'm leaving Bajor," he stated, surprised at the sudden wave of sadness that struck him as he realized it might be years before he came back again. "It's everything I've ever known."

Something in his mother's eyes had shifted then, a subtle change that might have gone unnoticed in other company. She opened her mouth as if to say something, reconsidered, and fell silent once more.

"Mom?" Thomas asked, concerned. "What is it?"

"Nothing. It's nothing," she breathed, waving her hand dismissively.

But Thomas wasn't so keen to let it drop just like that. "Mom..."

"Your father is Terran," she blurted out, letting her hand fall from his as she angled herself away from his direct gaze. "I thought – I mean – I think it's your right to know that."

Thomas looked at her confusedly. It was no secret to him that he was half human; though his mother had never told him anything about his father, he had overheard enough conversations between his mother and his doctors, as well as had noticed enough differences between himself and the other Bajoran children that he'd long ago assumed he was part human.

"Mom, it's not like you really kept it a secret from me," he said to her, reaching out a hand and turning her shoulders back towards him. "I know I'm part human."

She shook her head as she turned back to him. "No, that's not it. I just wanted you to know that Earth is partially your home too," she said, meeting his gaze once more as she continued, softer now than before, "I wanted you to feel that you weren't leaving home, you were just going to another part of it. That way, you're never alone..."

She averted her eyes then, trying hard to avoid looking at her son, but Thomas had lived with her for far too long to ignore that manoeuvre. He caught her hand, took one look at the unshed tears in her eyes, and then drew her in for an embrace.

"I love you, Mom," he whispered, clasping his hands behind her back and breathing the scent of her clothes in one last time, one last effort to immortalize his mother within his mind's eye.

"I love you too, Thomas," she replied, even more softly. "Never forget that."

They stood there for several moments, mother and son frozen in time, holding each other close as they silently transitioned from one part of their lives to another. Over the com system a reminder to board the shuttle was announced, and Thomas gently backed out from within his mother's arms.

As he pulled away, he noticed that already the tears had disappeared, replaced by his mother's customary stoic gaze, unflinching and uncompromising. He couldn't help but smile at that.

"Bye," he said, raising a hand in farewell as he lifted with the other hand his single bag, backing up and turning towards the shuttle.

"Take care out there," she replied, waving back.

And with that, Thomas turned his attention fully to the attendant, handed in his ID badge, and prepared himself for the shuttle ride that would take him to the first starship that he had ever seen in his life.

Ro Thomas was ready.

In fact, he'd been ready for the past nine hours. He'd cleaned out his apartment, put his things in storage, arranged for a friend to take care of his plants, and packed up the two bags of belongings that would accompany him on the first real adventure of his life. He was more than happy to leave Earth behind, shrugging off the pain and the sadness that had been his constant companions since he'd been notified of his mother's death. He hadn't even attended the funeral – the traditional Bajoran death rituals were very strict about the time between death and burial, and so he'd been forced to grieve from afar, alone.

But all that was behind him none. He was about to embark on a brand new part of his life, plunging into the vast expanses of space, finally achieving a dream that he'd had since the age of five, when he'd decided climbing trees wasn't good enough; that'd if he'd really wanted to see the stars, he'd have to fly to them. And here he was, mere moments away from beaming aboard the Titan, yet all he could think about was his mother.

He wished he had gotten to actually say goodbye.

A sudden beep caused him to jump, jolting himself out of his reverie and back into reality. "Ensign Ro?" called out a disembodied voice, reaching out to him through his combadge.

"Go ahead," he answered.

"Prepare for transport."

He gathered his bags into his hands, and then replied: "Acknowledged."

A shimmering beam of light enveloped him then, and his skin began to tingle ever so slightly. As quickly as it had arrived the beam faded, and his eyes readjusted to find themselves in unfamiliar terrain. He blinked as he stepped off of the transporter pad, his vision adapting to the artificial light.

A young Ensign, barely older than he, was standing at the transporter controls. "Good morning, Ensign Ro, and welcome aboard the Titan," she said, grinning as she extended her hand to him. "I guess you're our newest addition on board."

He returned the smile as he took her hand and shook it. "I guess I am," he confirmed, taking a look around the transporter room. The sleek lines and hyper-efficient layout were miles more advanced than those of the older starship models that he'd trained on as a cadet. "Nice ship you've got here, Ensign..."

"Martin," she answered, "Isa Martin. Now, I guess I'll point you in the direction of your quarters, you'll want to set your bags down and take a look around before we get under way. Turn right out of this door, down the passageway to the turbolift and go down two decks. Your quarters are next to the botanical gardens."

"Thank you, Ensign Martin," he said with gratitude, hoisting his bags onto his shoulders and heading for the door.

"No problem, Ensign Ro," she replied, grinning. "Welcome aboard."

With that, Thomas strode forwards, out of the doors of the transporter room, and into his new life.