Jordan's team went to search for the missing crew, following the arrow on the runic sign. When they failed to report in, Captain Garcia and Dave sent security officers down to join Kyle and Devin to search for Jordan's team, as well as the missing crew. Surprisingly, Devin French proved very helpful to Kyle. And when he discovered what was happening, he shot Walker with his laser, which was set on Heavy Stun.
Zorn took Jace and the twins out in The Golden Dragon to scan the planet. Their scans didn't help find the missing crewmembers, but they discovered something remarkable.
With assistance from Hal, Captain Bowman and Captain Garcia were able to establish a meeting with the Village Elders.
As the Golden Dragon was heading back to its rendezvous with the Sooloo, Zorn and Jace were deep into a conversation planning the trip to the southern continent of the planet. The twins, however, were busy going through some games/lessons on their tablets chatting away with 'Aurix' at the same time. Zorn had decided to take a slightly scenic route back to the Sooloo in order to get even more scans of the planet. 'Aurix' was also performing some long-range scans of several sectors of space around the planet. Just as the twins had completed one objective and were preparing to advance to the next level, blue lights started flashing and a loud strident chime sounded.
In a very authoritative tone, 'Aurix' announced 'Incoming Priority Communication from Sinocardian Fleet Headquarters.'
"Put it on the main viewscreen 'Aurix'", replied Zorn.
The scenes of space quickly disappeared from the viewscreen and were replaced by an elderly Sinocardian in what was obviously the uniform of a very high ranking Sinocardian Fleet Officer, by the number of medals and badges on his uniform. "ʞƦɷľɠ ϣľņņʑɰϰʌį ƛľįɰ ľǜ ɠʂʌ ʂľfɥʌ ľǜ ϰįʑԀľɰ, ľǜ ɠʂʌ ɥʌʞɠ ľǜ ϰįʑϣľɰƦϣľ, ľǜ ɠʂʌ ɰʌɥɠ ľǜ λįʑɥʂƦį, ľǜ ɠʂʌ λʑƃ ľǜ λʌɷϰʑņʌ. ƃľf ʑįʌ ʂʌįʌλƃ ľįϰʌįʌϰ ɠľ ʞįľϣʌʌϰ ɠľ ɠʂʌ ʞɷʑɰʌɠ ɠʌįįʑ ʑɠ ƃľfį λʌɥɠ ʞľɥɥƦλɷʌ ɥʞʌʌϰ. ľɰϣʌ ɠʂʌįʌ ƃľf ʑįʌ ɠľ ϣľɰϰfϣɠ ɠʂʌ ɠįʌʑɠƃ ɰʌťľɠƦʑɠƦľɰɥ ƌƦɠʂ ɠʂʌ fɠņľɥɠ fįťʌɰϣƃ. ƌʂʌɰ ƃľf ʂʑǝʌ ϣľņʞɷʌɠʌϰ ɠʂʑɠ ľλɷƦťʑɠƦľɰ, įʌɠfįɰ ɠľ ɥƦɰľϣʑįϰƦʑ ʑɠ ǜɷʑɰԀ ɥʞʌʌϰ ƌƦɠʂ ɰľ ϰʌɠľfįɥ. ƃľf ņfɥɠ λʌ λʑϣԀ ľɰ ɥƦɰľϣʑįϰƦʑ ʑɥ ɥľľɰ ʑɥ ʞʂƃɥƦϣʑɷɷƃ ʞľɥɥƦλɷʌ ƃľfį ťľǝʌįɰņʌɰɠ ɰʌʌϰɥ ƃľf. ʞɷʌʑɥʌ Ʀɰǜľįņ ϣʑʞɠʑƦɰ λľƌņʑɰ ɠʂʑɠ ƌʌ ʂʑǝʌ ϰƦɥʞʑɠϣʂʌϰ ʑɰľɠʂʌį ʞƦɷľɠ ϣʑʞɠʑƦɰ ʑɰϰ ɥʂƦʞ ɠľ ϣľɰɠƦɰfʌ ɠʂʌ ɠįʑɰɥǜʌį ľǜ ɠʌϣʂɰľɷľťƃ. ʂƦťʂ ǜɷʌʌɠ ņʑįɥʂʑɷ ϣʑįľɷƦɰƦʑ, ľfɠ." ( "Pilot Commander Zorn of the House of Drakon, of the Sept of Draconico, of the Nest of Brashir, of the Bay of Beldame. You are hereby ordered to proceed to the Planet Terra at your best possible speed. Once there you are to conduct the Treaty Negotiations with the utmost urgency. When you have completed that obligation, return to Sinocardia at flank speed with no detours. You must be back on Sinocardia as soon as physically possible your government needs you. Please inform Captain Bowman that we have dispatched another Pilot Captain and ship to continue the transfer of technology. High Fleet Marshal Carolinia, Out.")
"'Aurix' record reply, Message understood will comply with the utmost dispatch, end recording and send," Zorn responded and then turned to explain what had just happened and what needed to happen.
However, before he could speak Jonas spoke up,
"Unka Zorn, you have to go home very fast, 'Auri' splained that you don't have a choice, we just want to know if you are going to see us before you go home?"
Jason piped up,
"Unka Zorn, we gonna miss you, how can we talk to you when you be gone?"
Zorn walked over to the twin's workstations and stood between them placing a hand on each of their shoulders.
"Jason and Jonas, look at me please, yes I have to leave and yes, I have no choice, I have to obey my orders. Unfortunately, once I leave you and the rest of the Sooloo crew, I won't be able to see you again at least for the foreseeable future..." Zorn, had to stop speaking as Jason had jumped out of his seat, grabbed his leg and was sobbing uncontrollably. Jonas wasn't far behind.
"I gonna miss you Allie Gator©, I gonna miss you!"
Zorn reached down and scooped Jason up into his arms and began stroking his back to calm the distraught boy down.
"Jason, you can still get messages to me; it will just take time. Whenever you need to talk to me just ask your Uncle Kyle to talk to Megrez and I will get the message. When I get the message, I will talk to Megrez and then your Uncle Kyle will give you my message. Will that help little one?"
"Yeah, Allie Gator©," Jason then abruptly switched gears.
"'Auri' hurry up, we gotta get Unka Zorn back to the Soolooooo so he can go home."
'I am complying Crewman Jason, I have increased our speed to the maximum safe speed to rendezvous with your ship. Don't forget you can send me messages through Megrez as well.'
"Thank you 'Auri' I am going to miss you too." Jason then buried his head into Zorn's chest, and stayed that way until they docked with the Sooloo.
While Zorn was talking to the twins, Jace and 'Aurix' were in communication with the Sooloo, ensuring that Zorn and the Golden Dragon would be able to leave as soon as they had restocked the Golden Dragon and had loaded all of the messages from the crew to earth, as well as the specimens from the planet below that needed to be sent to earth. The goodbyes in the Shuttle Bay were short and subdued, and less than an hour after docking, Zorn and 'Aurix' were on their way to Terra.
After his adventures on the planet, Kyle knew he needed to relax. At the moment he had no duties until the next morning, but he knew how that could change with the way the happenings on the planet were in flux. While the things he had planned involved physical exercise, they also relaxed him.
He needed the holodeck for his first session of relaxation exercise. He was pleased to see an opening in the schedule before the senior officers' mess opened for dinner. It would give him time to shoot and shower before meeting Danny, Brad and Steve for dinner. After entering his reservation, he had to kill some time. Taking a nap sounded like a great idea, but a nap would probably turn into an all-night sleep-fest.
He did go to his quarters where he stripped naked. He found the act of being nude to be freeing. It felt good not to be constrained by any kind clothing. He considered masturbating but doing so could interfere with his second exercise, not that he couldn't do both. After all, he was twelve and through the stress of his mission his mind had squashed his inherent horniness. As he folded his uniform on his bed he wondered if that was how old people felt. While his mind didn't go totally blank on the subject, it was almost like sex and sexual thoughts had almost ceased to exist for him.
Kyle picked up Megrez, sat at the viewport and looked at stars shining in the dark sky. That side of the Sooloo was facing away from the planet and its sun, giving Kyle an unobstructed view of the stars. He set Megrez next to his digital telescope and booted up his prize possession. He wanted to take some sightings that he couldn't do on the main telescope at that time. Except when he was doing astrogation he didn't always have full control of the telescope. The advantage to using his own telescope was he had total control; the disadvantage was restricted viewing because he didn't have the use of multiple lenses that allowed him to look in any direction.
Using the telescope was the beginning of his relaxation, one that didn't require physical exertion. Looking at the stars had relaxed and pleased him from the time he was a little kid and learned that he and the stars were connected.
His viewing wasn't completely about relaxing, however. There was also a bit of work involved. He was making preliminary plans creating a course to their next destination. With the help of Brad, he could take pictures with his telescope and send them to a file he created on the ship's mainframe. While he could do the same from the ship's telescope, using his own telescope allowed him to check things in a slower and more relaxed manner.
He looked at the stars at his own pace, sent some notes to the mainframe, and had a one-way conversation with Megrez. Kyle took a glance at the clock on his viewscreen and was stunned by how quickly time had passed. His start time in the holodeck was only ten minutes away. Using his telescope to commune with his star friends and with Megrez focused his mind on one thing—the stars. When Kyle focused on one thing like that he could block out almost all the distractions around him. He relaxed because his mind was dealing with just the topic he wanted it to focus on. Kyle sighed, shut down his telescope and dressed.
"Well, Megrez, you may as well come along and watch me shoot free throws. You got to visit with your buddies the stars, now you can sit on the floor and watch your star basketball player shoot free throws," he said to his beloved stuffed penguin.
Although he planned on shooting his free throws free of clothes, Kyle knew he had to dress in something while he made his way to the holodeck. He was only using half of the deck, but the system was set up so he would have the same absolute privacy that he would have received if he were using the entire deck. He had no idea who had reserved the other half, but he would have the same privacy. They would be able to enter their own half via separate entrances. Reserving the full deck or half of the deck were the only available options.
Kyle put on socks and shoes, a pair of basketball shorts and a tank top. He picked up Megrez with his left hand and his basketball with his right and headed for the holodeck. He was not surprised to run across Jason and Jonas on the way. He was amazed as to how often he ran across the twins as he made his way through the ship. It was almost like they were lying in wait for him.
Both faces lit up when the twins saw Kyle. "Unca Kyle!" Jason shouted as he ran up to Kyle for a hug. Jonas was right behind his brother for a hug of his own.
"Hey guys, good to see you," Kyle grinned as both boys clung to him. Kyle was three years older than the twins and six inches taller, but with both of them hanging on to him, they outweighed him by forty pounds and he felt every ounce of the difference.
"You hardly got any clothes on and you've got a basketball. Where are ya goin'?" Jonas asked.
Jason let go of Kyle and saw what Kyle was carrying in his left hand. "Hi, Megrez," he cooed as he stroked the penguin's black head.
"I'm going to the holodeck to shoot free throws," Kyle answered.
"Why?" Jonas asked.
"It helps me to relax."
"How? You're moving all over the place. Me and Jason take naps when we want to relax."
"Shooting helps me because I have to focus on the ball and the basket and on my shooting. When I just think of one thing like that then my mind relaxes and I feel better."
"Can we watch?" Jason asked as he looked up at the boy who was like a hero to him and his twin.
"Sorry, guys. But like I said, for me to relax it has to be just me, the ball, and the basket. If you two chatterboxes were watching me, I wouldn't be able to focus." As soon as he said that, Kyle wished he paused before opening his mouth. The disappointment on the faces of the two brothers pulled on him with a heavier weight than the double hug.
"We promise to be quiet," Jonas said.
"And the ball makes noise, anyway," Jason pointed out.
As much as he hated to disappoint the two sweet "nephews" he loved so much, Kyle needed this second relaxation action to help him get himself feeling right. "Guys, I'm sorry, but my final decision is…"
At the same time, he saw the crushed looks and the disappearance of the huge smiles that had greeted him in the corridor and an idea struck him. Jason had mentioned the noise of the ball. It wasn't the noise of the ball that messed up his focus, it was having to retrieve the ball after each shot.
"…um…my decision is that you can join me if you close your chatterboxes and you help me with something."
The corridor lit up once again when the twins heard Kyle's decision. Jonas held out his empty hand. "I'm holding a chatter box…," he grinned, "Me and Jason will lock all our chatter in it."
"…and I got the key," Jason said, holding up his empty right hand. "And we'll help you to fock."
"It's focus not fock," Kyle told him as he tried hard not to burst out laughing. "And, yeah, you can help me focus by locking your chatter in the box and by chasing down the basketball and tossing it back to me."
"Oh, that sounds like fun help," Jason said.
Kyle led the twins to door B to the holodeck where he entered his personal code. Since he had the B side reserved, the door opened for him. He had entered his program when he made his reservation. The twins oohed when they saw the half basketball court in the well-lit room.
"I forgot one thing. You might want to leave after I tell you."
"We want to chase your basketball," Jason insisted.
"Jason is right. We don't want to leave no matter what you tell us."
"Except for my socks and shoes, I like to be naked when I shoot. It makes me concentrate better when I don't have clothes on."
Jason and Jonas looked at each other and then nodded simultaneously. "Me and Jason have seen you nakey when we do the lake program, so we don't care."
"We don't care," Jason repeated. "We want to chase the basketball and throw it to you."
Kyle had programmed a bench along the sideline to the left of the basket. He sat on it and removed his tank top and his shorts. If the twins hadn't seen him naked previously he would not have stripped. He had learned in the romp at the lake that the twins weren't body shy.
"My first ten shots or so will be practice shots. You can ask me questions and whatever until I shoot seriously." Jason and Jonas nodded, and Kyle walked to the free throw line and bounced his basketball. He always bounced the ball three times before shooting a free throw.
The twins quickly set up their own retrieval system. Jason grabbed the shots that went through the hoop or were close enough to rebound. Jonas ran down the misses that took long bounces. Kyle told them to hit his waiting hands with a pass and gave a quick lesson on making an accurate pass.
"Okay, guys, I'm ready to shoot for real. Time to hush up and do your jobs."
The twins gave each other another nod and came up with a new surprise. While Kyle stood with his mouth agape, the brothers stripped naked, except for their shoes and socks. "Now we're just like Unka Kyle," Jason grinned as if the three of them being naked was no big deal.
"Are you ready to use the chatterbox?" Kyle asked the twins.
Jonas opened his mouth and pantomimed pulling something out of it. He dropped the invisible item into his hand which held the imaginary chatterbox. Jason then placed his chatter into the box. They finished up their little act by locking the imaginary box with the imaginary key.
Kyle stood on the foul line and took a deep breath. He bounced the ball three times, eyed the back of the rim, and shot the ball. Everything felt perfect and the result showed as the ball swished crisply through the net. He loved that sound, it always seemed so right, even more so on the holodeck basketball court than in a large gym. He wondered if the holodeck enhanced the sound of the ball swishing through the net a little. It didn't matter if there was some enhancement, Kyle still loved the sound.
Jason hit Kyle right in his waiting hands with his pass, which caused the little nine-year-old to break out in a huge grin of satisfaction. Kyle and the twins had managed to establish a rhythm during Kyle's warmups. Now that he was into focused shooting mode, the three of them worked silently and efficiently. Kyle counted his makes and misses in his mind.
"Eight for eleven," he said out loud as his shot bounced on the rim a couple of times before dropping through. "Point seven two seven," he heard Jason whisper as he sent a two-handed chest pass to Kyle. Kyle looked straight at Jonas who turned red with embarrassment at being caught chattering.
Kyle wondered if Jonas had said what he thought he'd said and was sure he'd heard the boy wrong. Deciding Jason had meant no harm, Kyle stood at the free-throw line ready to shoot again. Since he first discovered basketball, shooting free throws had become a way of relaxing his mind. It wasn't as powerful as looking at the stars, but he recently began wondering if the repetitive act put him in one of those Zen states he'd been reading about. He missed his next free throw which careened to the right and then caught a pass from Jonas, who had run down the ball.
When Kyle had used the holodeck for free throw shooting before, he wished that there was a way to have an automatic retriever run the ball down for him instead of him chasing it. He could have just filled a ball cart next to him and shot six or seven in a row before running them down, but he liked using his own basketball. Having Jason and Jonas as ball boys was a bigger help than he had even begun to imagine. He was ready to offer them a permanent job at the end of his session. And he had to admit the little imps were very cute in their roles as naked ball boys.
Kyle needed to relax right then. He was feeling the stress that had been leaving him build back up. He bounced the ball three times, looked at the basket, and saw an image of Devin French shooting Commander Walker with his laser gun. He needed to get his focus back or his time would have been wasted. Then the thought that he needed to meet with Dave in the morning ran through his head, which made him mad because he thought he had driven that out of his head when he was looking at the stars.
His wandering thoughts were not helping his concentration, and if he couldn't concentrate like he wanted, then shooting free throws wasn't doing him any good. He took another shot and it was a brick, bouncing off the back of the rim. "Fuck a shitting brick. Eight for twelve."
He looked over at the twins, hoping they hadn't heard him cuss. Neither one gave any indication that they had. "Point six six seven," Jason said as Jonas returned the ball to Kyle. This time he forgot to whisper, and Kyle heard him plainly. That meant he was right about the earlier whisper—Jason had properly given his percentage of shots made.
Kyle took another deep breath and set himself at the foul line. He focused long and hard on the rim. His goal was to make fifteen of twenty free throws—seventy-five percent. That was better than the sixty-four percent he'd shot during his last season at the Prep school. It was the second-best percentage on the varsity, which he thought was pretty good as he was the smallest player on the team and this had been his first season shooting free throws from fifteen feet rather than twelve feet from the basket.
"BEEF," he said to himself. Balance. Eye. Elbow. Follow through. Put all four parts together on any shot and it always felt good and either went into the hoop or just missed by a smidge. Get one thing out of synch and the result felt bad and looked ugly, like his last free throw where his elbow had been out of line.
He tried clearing his mind and shot—in and out. "Eight for thirteen," he said aloud and waited for Jason to give him a percentage. Jason said nothing as he returned the miss he'd rebounded back to Kyle. I need to make the rest of my free throws to hit fifteen, Kyle thought. "Focus, focus, focus," he said aloud.
Before he could bounce the ball, he heard Jason say, "Fock, um, focus, Kyle." He wanted to yell at Jason to shut up, but his percentages and now his encouragement were helping him not hindering him. He dribbled the ball for fifteen seconds or so as he thought long and hard about what to do before setting up for another shot.
BEEF went through his mind again. Balance-legs shoulder width apart. Eye-looking at the back of the rim. Elbow-perpendicular to the floor. Shoot and follow through-hand flopping toward the basket. Swish. "Nine for fourteen".
"Point six four three," Jason said with a touch of bravado. Since Kyle had said nothing about him saying the numbers, he decided to continue doing it.
Kyle realized he had misjudged his time—his holodeck session was about to time out. This would have to be his last shot. The pressure was on because he didn't like leaving a shooting session after a miss. He needed to hit this last shot or try to get in another shot before the court was shut down.
"Last shot," Kyle called out. Once again, his mind was on BEEF. He dribbled three times. All the pieces were in place and all the pieces worked perfectly again. He finished with a resounding SWISH. "Ten for fifteen."
"Point six six seven," Jason yelled proudly.
"Where did you learn to do that?" Kyle asked.
"I dunno. I just get the number in my head."
"You were giving the percentage of my made shots and you figured it in your head." While Kyle could do some of the percentages in his head, the 8-for-13 and 9-for-14 escaped him. He thought Jason couldn't figure the 8-for-13 because he hadn't said anything, What Kyle didn't know was that Jason had stopped himself because he was afraid he was being a chatterbox.
"You didn't tell me what 8-for-13 was," Kyle pointed out.
"I didn't want to be a chatterbox," Jason replied. He scrunched up his face for about two seconds. "Point six one five," he announced proudly. When he had a chance, Kyle knew he needed to tell the twins' dads about Jason's calculations.
As the three walked over to the bench, Kyle thanked them for being so helpful.
"Did we do good?" Jason asked.
"You did great. Perfect in fact."
"Jason was being a chatter box. He kept saying numbers," Jonas pointed out.
"Not really. His numbers helped me to keep track of how good I was doing."
"Really? I was a big help?" Jason asked, his smile lighting up his face.
Kyle lifted Megrez off the bench and stroked his red beak. "I swear on the beak of my sacred penguin," he grinned. That was good enough for the twins.
"Can we do this again?" Jonas asked.
"I was going to tell you that you two are hired as my ball boys. And as a reward, I'll even give you some shooting lessons."
This time he received hugs from two naked twins. Their warm, smooth bodies felt good against his sweaty body. He wished he'd programmed in a shower, but he hadn't anticipated having two helpers.
"Okay, guys, let's get dressed. I've gotta shower and meet some guys for dinner."
"You're going to meet Danny and Brad and Steve," Jonas said as if he had the names in front of him.
"Yep, because I know who your best friends are."
Jordan returned to his quarters as soon as he finished all his reports. As soon as the door slid closed, he started to cry. "Are you alright?" Jace was worried.
"Can we talk? Where are the twins?"
Jace did a quick check, "I guess they are out somewhere, probably with Kyle or one of the officers."
"Good, I really don't want them to hear what Walker tried to do."
Jace nodded, "I agree. I heard a little bit, and from what I heard, you acted to save a subordinate's life. I'm proud of you."
Jordan exasperated, "He never touched me, but I still feel so violated."
"I understand, Babe, and you were, mentally and emotionally. Just know that I love you and this changes nothing of how I feel towards you."
"Dave wants me to chat with the Howser before I return to duty."
Jace started rubbing Jordan's back, "That's a good idea, and it is protocol after an away mission where you were a prisoner. If you want me with you, I'm sure someone can watch the twins. We have several officers wanting to have them for a few hours. Or if you want to go alone, I understand."
"I would like for you to be with me. As I was about to lower my boxers, all I could think of was how this might hurt you. I couldn't let Walker hurt French, but at the same time, I didn't want to hurt you."
"Babe, your actions didn't hurt me. I heard that you were reluctant, and even your hands were trembling. I love you and know that you love me. You only cooperated to save a life. If anything, I respect you even more."
Jordan rasped, "I do love you, more than anything." Jace pulled Jordan in and just held him as he cried. Jordan was trembling; Jace could sense all the fear, pain, anger and frustration that Jordan was feeling at the same time.
The two Captains, along with Hal and the two security officers, entered the cave and headed to meet with the elders. Dave stopped the group about half the distance from the cave opening and where the group of natives had their encampment.
Turning to the group, Dave made sure everyone understood what he expected of them. He took his weapon and asked Hal and Eric for theirs. He handed them to one of the Security Officers. "Hold on to these, we will not go into their home armed. I can understand that you two," directing his comments to the security, "need to stay armed, but your weapons should remain in their holsters. You are not to make any move that could possibly be considered hostile. Also, when we are meeting with the Elders, you two are to stand back. Not so far that you can't intercede if necessary, but far enough that the Elders do not feel threatened at all. Do you both understand me?"
Together, the two replied, "Yes, Sir." Satisfied, Dave led the way toward the encampment.
When they arrived at the camp, Dave held both his hands and arms out, palm up. "Thank you for allowing us the opportunity to speak with you. Can someone direct me to your Elders?"
Hal translated and the surprise on the face of a native boy, hearing someone he'd never seen speak their language, was apparent. The small boy, maybe 7 or 8 years old came up to them. In his unbroken voice, and addressing his comments to Dave, since he seemed to be the one in charge asked, "Du ser ikke ut som de andre. Du vil ikke skade våre eldste, gjør du?" Hal translated, "He said, you are not like the others, you don't want to hurt our Elders, do you?"
Dave kneeled down before the boy, "Of course not. We wanted to tell them how sorry we were that one of our people caused your people so much trouble. I want all of us to be friends."
Hal translated Dave's words, not only to the boy, but to others that had gathered nearby. The little boy smiled and said, "Jeg er glad. Jeg heter Lars, min bestefar er en av våre eldste. Jeg tar deg med ham."
Hal again, translated saying, "The boy's name is Lars. His grandfather is one of the Elders and he will take you to him. Dave smiled back at the boy and spoke directly to the boy, "Takk, Lars." Eric Garcia looked at Dave curiously. Dave just chuckled and said, "I said 'Thank You' to the boy. Hal taught me a couple words and phrases in their dialect."
Lars took Dave's hand and led him to a hut in the middle of the camp. He motioned for the group to enter. Eric, after looking at Dave and receiving a nod turned to their security, "Wait out here. We'll be fine inside."
"Yes, Sir," was the response from the two of them, simultaneously. Eric led the way for the three, plus Lars to enter the hut.
The three Space Fleet Officers entered and bowed to the Elders who were seated. Lars started talking to one of the Elders, presumably his grandfather, before moving in front of Dave and saying, "På vegne av våre eldste ønsker jeg velkommen deg. Vennligst sitte, forfriskninger vil bli brakt til deg snart." Hal translated to the other two, "He said, 'On behalf of our elders, I wish to welcome you. Please sit, refreshment will be brought to you soon'."
The three officers sat as Lars left the hut. Dave, looking at the center of the three, the same man Lars had spoken to and began, "My name is David Bowman, I am the Captain of one of the ships in space orbiting this planet. To my left is Captain Eric Garcia, Captain of the other ship in orbit. To my right is my husband and Executive Officer, Hal Tietokone. On behalf of the Space Fleet, I wish to humbly apologize for the actions of Mr. Walker. Our mission was one of peace and I am afraid his actions will make it more difficult for us to become friends."
Hal translated to the Elders. The man in the middle stood briefly and bowed to the three boys. The elder took his seat once again and started speaking, "Velkommen. Jeg er eldste Arvid, dette er eldste Alf, og dette er eldste Egil. Det er uheldig at vi må møte som dette, men vi er glade for at du kom til oss. Hva gutten din gjorde var en dårlig ting, men du, som er villig til å komme her, ubevæpnet, viser at du er lei meg for det som skjedde. Hva skal skje med gutten som drepte vår sjef?"
Hal translated what had been said, "Welcome. I am Elder Arvid, this is Elder Alf, and this is Elder Egil. It is unfortunate that we have to meet as this, but we are pleased you came to us. What your boy did was a bad thing, but you, being so willing to come here, unarmed shows that you are sorry for what happened. What is to happen to the boy who killed our Chief?"
Eric answered the Elder's question, "Elder Arvid. The boy who committed this act is under my command. I will promise you he will be tried and punished." Hal translated.
The other two Elders started speaking to Arvid at the same time, and they did not seem happy… after a moment or two, Arvid held up his hand, effectively cutting off the conversation. He turned to Hal, since it was obvious that Hal was the only one to speak their language and said, "Vi vil at han kommer hit, så vi kan straffe ham for det vi alle så at han gjør. Han ville bli drept umiddelbart!"
Hal's face drained of color as he told the Captains what had been said, "Sirs, he said, 'We want him brought here so we can punish him for what we all saw him do. He would be put to death immediately.'"
The three Space Fleet members conferred and finally Dave said with Hal translating, "Our laws do not permit us to send someone to a certain death as a penalty for a crime. However, you are welcome to come and see our tribunal. You will see that he does not get away without a harsh penalty."
After conferring with each other, the Elders agreed that they would attend the Tribunal.
Moments later, Lars returned with 5 other boys, each carrying a tray of food or drink. They served the guests first, then the Elders, at which point, one of the boys sat with each of the officers and basically fed them. It was a strange custom, but, none of the Space Fleet boys wanted to risk insulting their hosts by making a big deal about it.
In the end, the three Elders, along with Lars, left with Dave, Eric and Hal, followed by the two security officers and returned to the shuttle. Lars was excited that he was going to go 'into the sky' just like any 8-year-old would be. Watching him, Dave thought that the twins would have a great time with him.
Kyle enjoyed dinner with his friends. It was a form of relaxation he hadn't placed on his list. Somehow, he'd forgotten the importance of good friends in helping focus the mind. Brad, Steve and Danny had been with him on the planet when they set up base camp. They hadn't been in the cavern with him, but they understood the planet and its dangers.
Danny, who had been on call from the moment he set foot on the Sooloo earlier in the day, learned just before they sat down to eat, that he was being assigned to a four-hour watch on the new inter-ship shuttle service.
"At least they gave you time to eat first," Kyle said.
"Hey, there are only a few of us with the talent and skills to fly a shuttle," Danny grinned, "and right now it seems we are needed everywhere. The shuttle service, flights down to the planet, somebody on call for any special movements. It was just a few days ago I could go all day without seeing a shuttle, let alone fly one. Anyway, I have to report at 1800, so forgive me if I wolf my food."
The talk shifted to their experiences on the planet. "Devin French became a big surprise," Steve noted.
Brad agreed. "He was supposed to be a first-class asshole and he was nothing like that. He did as much as anybody to help get the basecamp set up quickly."
"And from what you said, he was a rock in the cavern."
"And he sure seemed to like his cousin," Danny said.
"I understand liking cousins," Brad grinned.
Kyle's communicator signaled him. He looked at it and saw he had received a text from Captain Bowman to report to him immediately. He looked down at his unfinished meatloaf and mashed potatoes. "Dave wants me," he told his friends. "This better be quick—I don't want to finish up with cold meat loaf."
"Um, the microwave has been around for over a hundred years, just in case you weren't aware," Brad grinned. "Buzz me when you're on the way back, and you'll be returning to a steaming hot meal."
Kyle was back in less than ten minutes, his dinner reheated and ready to eat.
"Well?" Steve asked.
"I'm not sure. Dave's working on something and just wanted to let me know I might have a quick away mission soon."
"Back to the planet?"
"No, to the Endurance. And before you ask more, that's all I know."
"Hey guys, I gotta go," Danny said. "And before you start feeling sorry for me, I'm grabbing a dessert to go." As if on cue, the orderly placed a closed to-go box on the table. "Cherry pie, if you gotta know." He picked up his box and left.
The talk about Devin planted the seed of an idea in Kyle's brain. It had to do with rewarding his former rival with more than pats on the back, but he couldn't grasp the thought. He let it drop and was about to turn his attention to dessert when he received another summons from Dave.
"A box of cherry pie will be waiting for you." Steve was thinking ahead as always.
Kyle was back at 1805 and grabbed his box on the move. "Danny's got a tardy passenger. See you guys later."
Kyle hustled to the shuttle bay, happy that he'd have time with Danny, and hoping that his mission on the Endurance would be complete in time for him to complete his relaxation plan with Danny that night.
Captain Garcia and Captain Bowman returned to the SS Sooloo and headed for a conference room. On the way, Dave called Aiden and asked for the first prisoner to be brought to the room. Shortly after they entered, Aiden brought Ensign Abernathy. "Please be seated," Dave requested, firmly.
"Yes, Sir" Niles responded.
Eric looked at the ensign and noticed the sorrow in his eyes, "You know you fucked up, would you like to explain exactly what happened?"
"I know we fucked up big time, Sir. I have no excuse for what we did, but so you have a report for the records…" Ensign Niles Abernathy let out a sigh.
"When we discovered the runes, Walker had us follow the arrow. We didn't expect to find anyone, but when we did, Walker had a smirk on his face. He asked who would join him in taking control of this community. The Sooloo crew immediately refused. Giles and I were about to refuse as well, but then Walker forced them to strip. I thought he was going to kill them.
"Makeweather was quick to join him, then they asked us if we were stripping or joining. I wished that we would have stripped. Imbabwe was a little reluctant, but he joined faster than Giles or myself."
"But you did join him," Dave asked more for the record than wanting to hear the answer.
"I did, but then he challenged the Chieftain of that tribe. When he killed the Chieftain, Giles and I started stripping, saying that we wanted no part of this. Makeweather told us that if we stripped, he would take us out of the cave," Abernathy started sobbing. "Honest, Sir, I know we fucked up, we should have stripped in the first place, but we were afraid. That's no excuse, but it is the truth."
"What happened after Walker killed the Chieftain?" Garcia inquired.
"Walker took the Chieftain's home as his. The rest of us just found a place to sleep. Makeweather had us take turns watching the Sooloo crew and said that if any disappeared, he would hold whoever was guarding responsible.
"The next day, Walker had us hiding in the tunnel going down. We watched as Commander Rivers' crew was heading down. Commander Rivers requested that Commander Tomalok go back to report in. Walker sent Makeweather after him and the rest of us were following Commander Rivers, that is, until he started to turn back, and Walker stopped him. Like those from the Sooloo crew, Walker made all of them strip, even those from the Endurance.
"Then Walker sent us to check the tunnels again. He was alone with the prisoners. We saw lights coming toward us. And it was only Makeweather, Imbabwe, Giles and myself, so when the lights went out, I called to them. I heard Makeweather growl a little. He wasn't happy, but as I said, I knew we fucked up, and I wanted to start correcting that mistake right away."
"Thank you, Ensign, you may return to your cell," Garcia ordered, then looked at Aiden, "When you return him, bring the next prisoner."
One by one, Eric and Dave interviewed the prisoners, hearing what they had to say. The stories told by Giles and Imbabwe were slightly different, but close enough that they corroborated Abernathy's account of what happened. Imbabwe admitted that he was quicker to join than Abernathy or Giles, but he was a little reluctant himself. Makeweather tried to make it sound like the villagers forced Walker to fight or they would kill them all.
Walker was the last one to be interviewed. When he entered the room, he just sat down, not showing ANY respect to the Captains. "Excuse me, Mr. Walker, but you were NOT given permission to sit!" Dave bellowed.
Walker smirked, "Yeah, so, you're probably going to kick me out of Space Fleet, anyway, so what do I care? Besides, I resign."
"It doesn't work that way," Garcia explained. "You have some serious charges against you, and the elders would like for us to turn you over to them… so they can try you. They let us know, once they find you guilty, they will execute you. We promised that you would never set foot on that planet again, and that appeased them."
"I suppose you expect me to thank you for keeping me alive. Well, it's not happening."
Dave asked, "Why did you deviate from the mission?"
"I am the same rank as Commander Rivers, he had no right ordering me what to do. The weather wasn't as cold as HE reported, so I felt we should check out the northern continent."
"Then you killed a Chieftain?"
"Whoa, whoa, whoa… he came at me with that knife. I was defending myself and my crew. Ask Michael."
"He already gave his version of what happened."
Dave was curious… no one had explained how the shuttle ended up in the crevasse. While he was sure Walker would create a story, he had to ask, "What happened to the shuttle?"
"What do you mean? I'm sure you found it where we left it. Isn't that how Rivers found us?"
"He found the shuttle, but someone pushed it until it went down the crevasse. Who pushed it?"
"I have no idea, but I do know that Makeweather and a group of villagers DID go get some supplies from it. Maybe they pushed it."
"You had members of my crew stripped to their skivvies, planned to make Commander Rivers your slave or you would have killed another member of my crew, explain that," Dave ordered.
"I was just putting Rivers in his place. I wasn't serious…" Walker started.
"Bullshit, your laser was set to kill. When you were hit, your finger was on the trigger, almost depressing it. If you weren't serious, why did you have your laser set to kill?"
"So Rivers would think I was serious. After he was naked and we all got a laugh, I would have let him put his boxers back on and join his crew."
It was Captain Garcia who was fed up first, "Commander Douglass, take him back to his cell. I don't want to hear any more of his lies." Dave nodded his head to Aiden.
Since Zorn wasn't with them, Jace thought the twins might have wanted to stay with Jordan, but the twins begged to be able to go. Jordan was glad to have time to himself, not that he didn't want to be with the twins, but he was hurting and didn't want the twins to see him like this.
Jace gathered a small crew consisting only of Sooloo personnel. Dave gave him permission to go explore the ruins, and he hoped that with only the Sooloo crew, they wouldn't have another incident like on the Northern Continent.
Jack Gillespie was the pilot. Jace had Jonas and Jason share the co-pilot seat. Then, he, Lt. Commander Thompson and Lt. Enzan sat in three of the four remaining seats. Jonas looked at Jace, "Dad, if you want, Jason can sit in that empty seat."
"Yes, or you can, but I figured you both would want to sit up there, and you both fit in one seat, although barely, so I just had you both sit there."
"I don't mind sitting there if Jonas wants this seat to himself."
"No, I like you sitting with me. I just thought you'd be more comfortable." That caused Jace to give the twins a big smile. He believed Jonas was seriously looking out for his brother and not just wanting the seat to himself.
As they flew down, Gillespie reported that the energy sources were starting to mess with the shuttle's controls and he needed to land as quickly as he could.
With so many things happening that involved crewmembers of both the Endurance and the Sooloo, Captains Bowman and Garcia decided to initiate 24-hour shuttle service between the two ships. Service would be on the half-hour between 0530 and 2300 and hourly between those times. Each ship would provide a shuttle and shuttle pilots. Crewmembers wishing to use the service had to have a pass signed by a senior officer. Senior officers needed their pass signed by their captain. Captains could request extra shuttle movements at any time, either to transport themselves or for any other group of officers at their discretion. In a matter of hours, Steve Boyer had cobbled together an efficient operations system for the shuttle.
Devin French approached the Captain's ready room and knocked on the door.
"Enter!" Captain Eric Garcia called out; Devin opened the door and walked in. "Commander French. This is a nice surprise. What can I do for you?" Eric motioned for Devin to take a seat.
Devin sat in the chair in front of Eric's desk. "I wish to request space on the 1930 shuttle to the Sooloo, sir."
"To visit your cousin, I take it," Garcia said.
"Am I that easy to read?"
"You are in this case. I heard how you reacted when the cousin you claimed to hate was threatened by Angelo Walker. It appeared you took that threat personally."
"Those feelings had started to change before I saw my cousin being threatened by Walker. And it was no threat. I'm positive that Walker's laser gun was set to kill and that he would have pulled that trigger."
"Are you staying on board the Sooloo or are you returning tonight?"
"My plan is to come back tonight. But, Denver doesn't know I'm coming, so I don't know how this will work out." Garcia opened his mouth, but Devin held up his hand to stop him. "Don't worry sir, I checked on his duty schedule and informed his superior of my visit and my intent."
"I should have known my new Chief Astrogator would be prepared," Captain Garcia grinned. "I will leave your return pass open-ended. Just understand that unless you get an Endurance senior officer to assign you a slot, you will be traveling space available."
"Thank you, sir."
Garcia quickly filled out the efficient little shuttle pass on his computer. It had been designed by Boyer of the Sooloo to be informative, easy to fill out, and easy to read. Garcia had to admit that the boy showed a lot of promise. He could tell that Boyer had a great deal to do with the smooth operations he'd noted on the Sooloo. Not every major contributor to the smooth operation of a ship was a senior officer.
Garcia brought up the "Shuttle Pass" file on his computer, filled in the appropriate information on the blank pass on the screen, saved two copies, handed a copy to Devin on a memory key, and saved the other copy in the "pass box" on his computer. "Good luck with your cousin, Devin. I know you two have a lot of fences to mend."
"With me being the mender-in-chief. The bad thing isn't that I was a fuck up, everybody fucks up. The bad thing was that I thought it was cool to be a fuck up, which made Angelo Walker the coolest dude on the Endurance. Us being roommates made him even cooler. And before you say it, I did not fuck up those astrogation calcs on purpose. That happened because I was happy with being second rate."
"I'd rank that more as tenth rate," Garcia chuckled.
"Point taken, Sir."
"I am reminded of that incident every time I look out the viewport and see that my ship is where it doesn't belong. But, I can also look at the person sitting in front of me who is starting to become the fine officer I thought he would be when I chose him for my crew. I have a feeling that before our voyage is complete you are more than going to make amends for being a tenth-rate Chief Astrogator."
Devin rose from his chair, but the Captain motioned him to sit back down. "I doubt it will ever come to this, but should the two of you consider the idea, transferring Denver to the Endurance is something that can be arranged. The opposite is not an option. Like it or not, you're stuck here, Commander French."
"A few days ago, I would have hated staying here, Captain. I can't figure out how, but the way I see things has changed. Being a fuck up isn't cool. Being a buddy of Walker's is far from cool. I've got more fences to mend than just the ones with my cousin, and that starts with you, Sir. I'm sorry for being the cool fuck up and I swear I will be the best officer and astrogator I can be for the rest of our voyage.
"I'm so grateful now for the same thing that pissed me off at the time when you named who would be on the landing party." Eric nodded, remembering Devin's drawn-out rant, just one more he had let his often-insubordinate young officer get away with. "If you hadn't ordered me to stay and stand my watches, I would have gone to the planet with Angelo and…well…um…shit, sir. Pardon my curse, but I don't know what I would have done when he flipped."
"I think if we both agree you would have done the right thing when you needed to, which is what you actually did, then we've answered all of the unanswered questions satisfactorily."
"Maybe, but I wouldn't have had Kyle Robinson figuring out how to set me straight."
"Devin, dwelling on might-have-beens won't help anybody, especially you. Whenever you have doubts, visualize yourself doing the right thing, and it will become real." Which is what is happening for me, Garcia thought, although it hasn't been an easy process.
"Thank you, sir. All I want to do now is what I said before, and that is to work at being worthy of being picked as your Chief Astrogator. Now, I need to get some things finished and put together before I go on duty, so I'll be ready to travel over to the Sooloo."
Devin French completed his watch at 1800. Because of the chaos surrounding both the Endurance and the Sooloo, the watches were not on their usual precise scheduling. The watch Devin had just finished had been a watch and a half. He did not have another watch scheduled for the next forty-eight hours.
He went to his cabin and grabbed his overnight bag. He looked at Walker's unmade bed and wondered if his roommate would ever sleep in it again. He hoped the answer was a resounding no.
A feeling of sadness suddenly washed over Devin. He placed his bag on his bed and sat next to it. Angelo enjoyed being a bad boy, but Devin had to face up to the truth. While he received some pleasure from watching some of his roommate's subtle antics, especially where Captain Garcia and the other senior officers were concerned, he didn't relish it the way Angelo did. He played the bad boy role to cover up the fact that he had no confidence in his abilities. He played it because he didn't think he had what it took to be somebody's friend, so he did things to be noticed. He played the role because he didn't know what else to do.
He thought about Kyle Robinson, the person he'd loved to hate at the academy. Kyle had smarts, looks, he was an athlete, a fleet admiral for a father, and he had the respect of his peers. He could be a total pain in the ass at times and got more than one person pissed off at him, like Dick Head, but nobody was perfect.
What Devin knew was that when the chips were down, and Kyle could have tossed him under a landing space shuttle, Kyle had stood in his corner. Kyle had seen him when he was at his bottom, insulted and pissed off at being put in charge of taxi trip. But Kyle had placed him second in command of building an important encampment. In other words, as much as Kyle Robinson had had no reason to do so, he had placed his trust in Devin French, the loser.
He looked around the cabin, hoping to see something that would give him comfort. He found nothing because he'd long ago hidden away or dumped anything that gave him comfort. It was at that moment that Devin understood Kyle's penguin and understood why, that even kids like them in the position they'd been placed in, having a little something to give them quick comfort and a shot of love and confidence was important. He wondered what he could come up with on the replicator when he returned to the Endurance.
Devin rose from the bed, picked up his bag, and left his quarters. The lights were set to turn themselves out. If he hustled to the shuttle bay he'd be able to watch his shuttle end its trip from the Sooloo in the bay. There were two important things he needed to do on this trip: make amends to his cousin, Denver, and to show Kyle that he wanted to be more than a fellow Chief Astrogator; he wanted to be his friend.
When Devin reached the shuttle bay he found the duty officer watching the 1900 shuttle as it left the shuttle bay. Ensign Nelson Graham, a fifteen-year-old black kid from South Africa, greeted him. Graham was the Assistant Transportation Officer, which was a branch of Ship's Operations, for the Endurance. Devin handed over his memory key. Since Nelson had already received an electronic copy of the order he wasn't surprised by the arrival of the senior officer. Graham scanned the code on the pass and handed it back to Devin.
"Don't know why we have to look on the key for your pass when it's loaded into the system anyway, but I'm told that's the Space Fleet way," Nelson groused.
"Yeah, it's like nobody trusts the computer system not to come crashing down any moment," Devin concurred. "Which shuttle is on this run?"
"It's the Leonardo from Sooloo. Daniel Harper is the pilot." Devin grinned. He'd learned from his mission to the planet that Danny was not only one of the best pilots, he was also a great person to know. "He's just a smidge late and is about five minutes out. I'm going to pump the air out of the shuttle bay and open the doors for his entry?"
"He's not going to use one of the outside airlocks?"
"I've been told there's a big piece of equipment being delivered, and we needed the loading capabilities of the shuttle bay. Plus, with two shuttles coming in and out within minutes of each other, it's easier to direct operations from here and use a dock in the bay. We're using an outside lock to dock one of our shuttles since one of their shuttles is being used to operate the service. The Sooloo transportation officer is having the same issues over at the Sooloo."
Nelson then turned and flipped a switch on an instrument panel that started a warning alarm blaring, red lights flashing and an electronic voice coming over the shuttle bay PA, all informing anybody in or around the shuttle bay that the air was about to be dumped. When the air pressure reached zero, Nelson pushed a button that opened the shuttle bay doors.
"Those doors won't open unless that air pressure is zero," Nelson informed Devin. He had quickly learned that senior officers often did know some of the basics ship's operation, which had been part of the general sloppiness of the Endurance. He was ready for the Chief Astrogator to chew his ass for passing on information any idiot should know, even if they didn't actually know it themselves. From what he'd heard, Commander French was as big an idiot as any of the bunch. He kind of enjoyed making a senior officer look stupid, even it if meant getting momentarily chewed out.
The old Chief Astrogator would have chewed Nelson out for insulting his intelligence by passing on information any idiot should know, but the new Chief Astrogator simply said. "I appreciate the information, Ensign. It's the first time I've been able to just stand here at the viewport and watch the entire operation from scratch. How long is the gap from the time of the warning to the air being dumped?"
Nelson Graham was not only surprised by Devin's polite response, but also by his question. Maybe the new outlook Captain Garcia had started was the real thing, especially if that attitude included an officer with the reputation of Commander French.
"Forty seconds," Nelson replied.
Then Devin saw the flashing lights of the shuttle move past the open door. He knew that Danny had bypassed the door to get the best angle into the shuttle bay. Within a minute the nose of the shuttle appeared, and Danny skillfully piloted the craft into the bay and to the docking area. Nelson radioed instructions to Danny to guide him into the unfamiliar bay. While all the ships were built to the same plan, the layouts as far as where shuttles were parked differed and procedures differed as the Operations and Transportation officers made their shuttle bays fit the operations of his ship. Two of Graham's well-trained crewmembers moved the docking machinery into place.
Even though Devin knew little of shuttle bay operations, he was impressed by the efficiency of the crew. All of Nelson Graham's energy was being put into guiding Danny to his dock while the dockworkers worked to have everything perfectly in place as the Sooloo shuttle the Leonardo gently kissed the dock at 1914. The shuttle bay doors began to close once the shuttle was through. Even though the shuttle was nine minutes late the docking procedure had been a thing of beauty; the Leonardo had already been late when it reached the Endurance.
As Devin hustled over to Dock C, he was surprised to see Kyle Robinson zip by him up the Dock C passageway. The two had time to give each other the briefest of nods. Devin didn't see anyone but the two crew dockworkers until he got to the hatchway of the Leonardo where he found Danny Harper standing on the dock.
"Hello, Commander French," Danny said as Devin approached.
"Good to see you again, Danny," Devin replied, and he meant it.
"I saw you on the manifest, so welcome aboard. Since you've already been scanned you can head on in and nap if you want."
"What was Kyle doing whizzing by me?"
"He came to help pick up an important shipment," Danny replied. "It was all last minute and is the reason we were late."
"Our Transport Officer said you would be dropping off a shipment, which is what made you late."
"Yeah, we're dropping off a shipment of Kyle Robinson, who can get pretty full of himself sometimes," Danny chuckled. He saw the look of disapproval on Devin's face and said, "But not this time. It's just there was so much going on at once that everybody was confused. And then, in the way he is getting good at, Kyle turned chaos into organized confusion."
They heard a noise coming down the passageway and turned to find the source. It was a TransVee, a cargo transport vehicle that could ride on air. It was big enough to carry large items, but small enough to fit inside the narrowest passageway of a ship.
Devin recognized the driver—it was Randy Jenkins, the Assistant Chef who had been so instrumental in setting up the food service. Kyle was sitting in the passenger seat. Devin wasn't surprised to see a food service crewman driving a TransVee. It was standard operating procedure on the Endurance since food service used the vehicles more than any department. Randy deftly brought the TransVee to a stop so that the two containers it was toting could easily be moved from the carrier to the shuttle. The carrier was transporting two brown containers sitting side by side on its cargo bed.
"Devin, what are you doing here?" Kyle shouted as he hopped off the TransVee. Devin gave Danny a look that said, 'Didn't you tell him?'
"I'll talk to you soon. Randy and I need to get these containers ready to be placed into the shuttle hold." Devin elected to stay and watch, while Danny entered the shuttle to prepare it for launch.
"Hey, what am I chopped liver?" Randy asked. "You should always greet the cook first."
"Sorry, dude, and good to see you Randy, and I'm just fucking confused," Devin said.
"Good to meet you, fucking con," Randy grinned. "We seem to be having a little basecamp reunion. This is so cool."
Randy had unloaded a pallet jack from the rear of the carrier as he babbled. Like the carrier, the jack could also be floated on a cushion of air. Devin could see that Kyle had let Randy take complete charge of the operation. While they were shown how the operation worked in leadership training for them to have an idea of all phases of ships' operations, Randy was obviously fully trained in the loading/unloading operation. There was much more to being a chef on a starship than just being able to cook.
Devin wondered if he would have let one of the ship's cooks take charge in this situation two weeks ago or if would have tried to make his way through the situation by pretending he knew what the fuck he was doing. What he watched was the Assistant Chef being patient with the rookie Senior Officer and guiding him through the procedure of getting the two containers unloaded from the TransVee.
The TransVees and containers were designed so that two containers could fit snugly into the bed of one of the vehicles. The holds on a Class A shuttle were constructed so two pallets would fit side by side; containerized freight at its finest. The containers were the same size whether they carried spare parts for a retro rocket or food, allowing various cargos to be moved around a starship quickly and efficiently. The two crewmen working the dock loaded both pallets onto the shuttle since they were far more familiar with the procedure.
Danny came out and made sure the shuttle's cargo hold was secure, which he was required to do as the pilot. "Doesn't Randy need to return the TransVee?" Devin asked as he, Danny, Kyle and Randy boarded the shuttle.
"I got the okay from the Transport Officer to leave it and he'll send somebody to pick it up later," Randy replied.
"Let's get out of here," Kyle said. "I got a hot date tonight, and I heard he's running late."
"Only because somebody decided that two big brown mystery boxes had to go to the Sooloo on this shuttle instead of the next one," Danny grinned.
"That was not decided by me," Kyle insisted. "I'm a victim."
"Sure, you are, just like I'm the Captain of the Sooloo taking a second job as a shuttle pilot. You don't do being a victim very well."
"Hey, while you guys are arguing, I want to point out that as important and kick ass as the contents of those two boxes must be, the important stuff is here," Randy pulled a notebook out of his grip, "and in here," he pointed to his head.
At 1951, Danny, with the guidance of Nelson Graham, eased the Leonardo out of the Endurance shuttle bay. Waiting a thousand yards out was Endurance shuttle Goddard. Nelson decided the best way to work around the tardy Leonardo was to have the Goddard wait for the Sooloo shuttle to open the dock for the waiting Endurance shuttle rather than move a shuttle to open up a second dock.
As Danny opened up his charge for the 35-minute run to the Sooloo, the talk went into the contents of the boxes that had led to the tardiness of shuttle Leonardo. Of course, everybody had to get their story in and the talk was informative and full of laughter. If all their stories were put together, the actual story would come out like this:
Randy had been moved from the basecamp after the rescue mission left. Ernesto "Ernie" Marquez, the Sooloo's number three cook, was sent down to the planet to replace him. While he was competent at his job, Ernie was not the equal of Randy Jenkins either as a cook or an administrator. Ernie, who was from Guadalajara, Mexico, could come into a smoothly running basecamp kitchen and keep it running smoothly, but there was no way he could have set that kitchen up or added the extras with the professionalism Randy had shown.
After Randy arrived on the Sooloo he took his grip to his quarters and was called to meet with Logan Kristoff, the Sooloo's head chef.
"Randy, you agree that I'm a damned good cook, right?" Logan asked as he and Randy met in his little office off the kitchen.
"The best in the fleet, sir," Randy said. He wasn't trying to kiss his boss's ass because he truly meant it. "You've taught me so much."
Logan ignored Randy's praise as if it was something he expected to hear. "You've done amazing work," the head chef said. "Your job down on the planet was a model for others to follow. But, that's not what I called you here for. Yes, I am damned good, but I know from our time at the Academy that Gene Deveraux, the Endurance chef, might just be the best in the fleet. I hate to think how things would have gone on the poor Endurance without his work in the kitchen. As we all learned in school, a ship operates on its stomach, which makes us maybe the most important morale boosters on board."
"What does this have to do with my coming back to the Sooloo early?"
"Gene has agreed to share his favorite recipe. It is the recipe that beat me in the finals of the school cookoffs. It is his beef stroganoff and is beyond heavenly. The deal is, I would have to go to his kitchen for hands on teaching. Well, Dave said you and I can't be away from the ship at the same time, and then suggested that you go over to learn the recipe and it could be the first dinner you prepare for the Sooloo. Like me, Gene loves to teach his craft, and he surprised me by agreeing.
"We've started a regular shuttle service between the Sooloo and the Endurance. I want you on the 1430 shuttle with your gear packed for a couple of hours aboard the Endurance to learn how to cook the best beef stroganoff in the galaxy."
That was how Randy spent five hours on the Endurance, learning more about the art of cooking. Chef Devereaux, who was sixteen and from Montreal, Canada, had only shown him how to cook up his stroganoff for a crew, he also had him cook up a second batch. The second batch was placed into packaging that fit into sections of the containers.
And then, to make Randy's trip even more worthwhile, Chef Deveraux handed Randy his recipe book and asked him to pick a large-scale meal. "Those recipes are all my originals," Chef Deveraux told him.
Randy picked five cheese lasagna with spicy sausage. He cooked it up from the recipe with no instruction from Gene. While he received a couple of small suggestions along the way, Randy cooked the meal on his own, from the food preparation to dividing it up into proper packaging for not one, but two crews. Randy felt like a master chef and then some by the time he'd finished.
"And the stroganoff and lasagna are what we have in the containers, one dish in each, all properly packaged for individual meals and for buffet meals," Randy said with pride.
"But how did Kyle get involved?" Danny asked impatiently.
The answer could be found in one word: bureaucracy. While the Endurance had made great strides in moving away from the numbing bureaucracy, some of the minor officers still hadn't gotten the message. The head of Transportation was one of them.
When Randy was ready to drive the containers to the shuttle bay the Transportation head, Keegan Mills, pulled out an obscure regulation in the rules manual written for the project. It read that a crewman from another ship could not operate vehicles in the passageways of its home ship without a senior officer accompanying him.
"I know how to operate one of these," Randy pointed out. "It's the same on every ship."
"The rules say a senior officer. And I just checked—they all seem to be busy tonight."
"Okay," Randy shrugged. He turned his back on Mills and reentered the kitchen. He told Gene what had happened as he opened a communication line to the Sooloo. Because the Sooloo was directly on the other side of the planet, his signal went to the communication satellite that was orbiting the planet in a position that gave it a line of sight to each ship and bounced the signal to the Sooloo.
"Fool," Gene grumped. "That Mills has always been an asshole and a fool. The new protocols from Captain Garcia didn't seem to find their way into his dense head."
"Yes, Specialist Jenkins? What seems to be the issue, and it had better be urgent to make a direct call to my communicator."
Dave's statement had Randy's heart thumping harder than it had been when he opened his communicator, but he managed to quickly tell his story. "Thank you, Specialist. This will be dealt with immediately. I will get back to you ASAP."
Dave read through the Fleet Regulations and did not see the regulation Mills had quoted. He then went to the Exploratory Fleet Rulebook which had other rules and regulations for the project ships. Dave tended to ignore that book, feeling that the rules were nothing more than bullshit concocted by bureaucrats, whose expertise was commanding a desk, to show they knew more about operating a starship than a crew of hormonal teenagers. Many of Dave's teachers during training showed their disdain for the officers when they talked about the new regs during leadership training.
He found the rule that Mills quoted, read it carefully, and saw the out he needed. He quickly contacted Kyle Robinson. As a result, Kyle found himself on the 1830 shuttle to the Endurance with Danny.
Nelson Graham greeted Kyle as the Senior Officer he was after the Leonardo arrived. "I'd accompany you, sir, but I need to remain here to help prep the Leonardo for her return. Lieutenant Mills will be at the galley to…um…help you."
"Do you have any scooters?"
"I was ordered not to give you one by the Lieutenant, sir," Graham said with a shrug of the shoulders. "As a result, I know nothing about the scooter parked at the top of the passageway and appreciate it if the Lieutenant knows as little about it when you get to the galley. I wish I could do more."
"You have been beyond helpful, Ensign," Kyle said, giving the tall black boy a squeeze on his shoulder.
Kyle could see that even with all the improvements he'd heard about, Captain Garcia still had some brushfires to put out. He was willing to bet that the efficient shuttle bay that Dave observed had been the work of Ensign Graham.
Kyle passed Devin coming down the passageway and he jogged past him. The scooter was right where the Ensign said it would be. The scooters were very handy but could only be used by Senior officers, department heads and their assistants when circumstances called for quick passage. Kyle got off the scooter a passage away from the galley. Randy had walked up the passage to wait on Kyle. He saw the scooter coming into a stop and breathed a sigh of relief when he saw the driver was Kyle.
"This Lieutenant is trouble, sir," Randy said.
Kyle looked at Randy and grinned. "So am I, Specialist, so am I." He told Randy what his plan was, bringing a grin to the chef's face.
Lieutenant Mills was standing next to the loaded TransVee. "Who are you?" he asked Kyle, even though he knew the answer.
"Commander Kyle Robinson, Chief Astrogator of the Sooloo, reporting to give assistance to one of my crew members," Kyle replied, going along with the farce. He climbed into the passenger side of the TransVee without bothering to ask permission. He already knew what the answer would be. As planned, Randy sat in the driver's seat.
"I don't care if you're the Admiral of the Fleet. Exploratory Fleet Manual, Regulation 5, Section A, subsection 3 reads…"
"I know exactly what it says, Lieutenant, and I just happen to be a senior officer. Regulation fulfilled."
"You must be a senior officer on THIS ship," Keegan snarled.
"Reread the regulation, and if it says what you say, inform your captain of my act of piracy. My captain plans to talk to your captain later, and his report will be based on my report, which will be based in part on how big of a bureaucratic asshole you plan to be from this point on." He looked at Randy. "Specialist, let's get this show on the road. A very impatient shuttle pilot is awaiting our arrival."
"Wow, ask a simple question, and you get the story of an exciting interstellar rescue," Danny mused as the narrative came to an end.
"And for that I am most grateful," Randy said.
"I was rescuing the food," Kyle said. "You just happened be able to tag along."
"If you weren't a senior officer, sir," Randy said with great formality," I'd have to ban you from eating the stroganoff you rescued."
"Why did the Endurance, fuck, why does the Endurance have more problems with rules than the Sooloo?" Devin asked.
"I remember my first senior officers' meeting after we left Earth," Kyle told him. "Dave held up this small, gray hardcover book, the Space Fleet Book of Regulations, and said, 'This book is what we live by. It goes back to the beginnings of Space Fleet. Most of the rules in this book are written in blood.' We looked at him thinking our captain had lost his mind. Here's how he explained it. 'Those regulations ended up in the book because somebody was hurt or killed doing something that nobody ever thought of. Well, to keep it from happening again, Admiralty created a regulation and put it in the book. In a sense, it was put there in blood. There is nothing that needs to be taken out, but sometimes things happen that must go in.
"Then he held up a big, gray paperback, the Exploratory Fleet Rulebook. He says, 'This book is bullshit. It's written by a bunch of dudes who have commanded a lot of desks who think because they know how to push paper for the Academy, they know how to write rules for an adolescent crew. This is the result. Once again, it's bullshit—a lot of little bureaucratic rules designed to piss off kids rather than teach them. While there's some good things in here, and I will be telling you what they are, most of it I'm gonna ignore. Even little adult minds like theirs aren't going to follow us into deep space to see if we're following their bullshit rules.' Dave hardly ever says bullshit," Kyle pointed out for Devin's benefit.
Kyle completed his reply by saying that the biggest difference between the two ships is that Dave Bowman dumped most of the Exploratory book while Garcia worked to enforce those same "bullshit' rules.
Devin, Randy, and even Danny, who thought he knew Kyle better than anybody, were surprised by Kyle's tirade. Kyle was just as surprised.
Just a few days ago, Kyle Robinson had been an often nervous twelve-year-old boy who, while a senior officer, mostly commanded numbers. Since he led what was supposed to be a basic logistics mission to the planet, circumstances had quickly brought his repressed leadership skills to the surface and created a leader of men.
"Look!" Danny called out as the blinking lights of the Sooloo showed up in the distance. "Home!"
"Speak for yourself," Devin grinned.
"Okay, for some it is the best hotel in this solar system," Randy said.
Danny was on the radio with the shuttle bay duty officer as he approached the Sooloo from the rear. "Buckle in, we're commencing docking," Danny told his passengers.
At 2020, Danny kissed Dock A. "Whoa, you made up six minutes. Way to put the pedal to the metal, dude," Kyle gushed.
"I want to get us back on schedule. I have an important date at 2230," Danny said as if it was a routine ship's matter.
"Why isn't the trip scheduled that fast all the time?" Devin asked.
"The list of reasons goes on forever and none of those reasons are bullshit. Now, you dudes get off my shuttle or I'll kick your asses, otherwise risking our necks to make up time won't have done me a bit of good," Danny said with a great deal of exaggeration.
Kyle, Devin and Randy hustled out of the shuttle, giggling like the young adolescents they were. The dock crew was already busy unloading Randy's two pallets. Devin and Kyle started up the Dock A passageway. As Devin stifled his last giggle, he tried to remember the last time he'd had a group giggle with peers. None came to mind, making him wonder if he had ever been a little kid.
Kyle thought about how his second plan for relaxing, namely dinner, had turned into another stressful time as an officer. And yet, he wouldn't have passed up this adventure for anything. And the business still wasn't complete.
"I'd love to have a brief chat with you," Kyle told Devin.
"Do you have time now?" Devin asked. "Denver is on duty until 2200 according to your duty officer. I would have picked a different time to come, but there's so much going on with the court-martial and other crap that this was all that worked. I guess the next three shuttles are booked solid."
"I have nothing going on until relaxation plan number three commences."
"When what commences?" Then Devin's brain clicked over a notch and he patted Kyle on the back. "Ahhhh, you mean the Danny plan."
"Something like that," Kyle grinned. "I'll take you to your overnight quarters where you can dump your grip, and then we can talk in my quarters."
"You don't need to take me, Kyle. We all have the same layout."
"Get over yourself. You're a guest on the Sooloo, I am your host, and I will escort you to your quarters in order to be a first-rate host and to make sure everything is in order." Devin went with Kyle to the guest quarters which were near the officers' lounge.
There wasn't much to guest cabins. There were three of them and they were nice enough should dignitaries from the planets they visit want to spend time aboard the ship, but not as nice as the Senior officers' "homes." The quarters were often used for storage during the flight to the first planet, one reason Kyle wanted to check that Devin's cubicle was ready for occupancy. It was fortunate for Devin that the three Elders shared a quarter instead of each taking one.
The boys entered Kyle's quarters. Devin looked around the neatly kept room. He wasn't checking on the cleanliness. Since it was an officer's quarters, it had to be neat. He was looking at Kyle's visible possessions. There were pictures on the wall, from Kyle as a preschooler to his graduation from the Space Fleet project.
Devin noted the picture at the top of a rocky hill. Kyle looked to be around six. He was sporting a gigantic grin and was holding up Megrez. But Devin also noted that Kyle was not smiling in most of the pictures. The last picture he saw was Kyle in his Space Fleet uniform posing on the bridge with an Admiral. Devin figured correctly that he was Kyle's father. Both Kyle and his father were smiling in that picture
For a moment, Devin's old personality exploded to the surface. Of course, you became a senior officer as a twelve-year-old, you phony. Your father is a bigshot. He took a deep breath and fought the thought down. 'You're better than that,' Devin, he said to himself, 'you're way better than that old you.'
He gave the picture a second look and saw that Kyle was holding Megrez while the Admiral was holding a stuffed Teddy Bear. Devin elected not to say anything about it but felt a quick jolt of envy run through him.
Then he saw Kyle's digital telescope pointing out the cabin's viewport. He walked up to it, touching it with awe. He almost drooled over it. He noted that Megrez was sitting on top of the scope's CPU. "This is most awesome thing I've seen anybody have. Did you get it for graduation or what?"
"My dad gave it to me a few years ago. It's very special." Kyle said no more, and Devin didn't push the matter. He sat on the couch which faced the viewport. Kyle turned the chair he sat in when he used the telescope to face Devin and seated himself in it.
After a couple of moments of awkward silence, Devin asked Kyle what it was he wanted to talk about.
"I don't know, I guess I just wanted to tell you thank you for the things you did on our two missions." Kyle was feeling very awkward. He'd never had to initiate a conversation like this. He'd often been on the receiving end, mostly from Dave since they'd left Earth. This was entirely different, and it was scary.
Kyle took a deep breath, hoping he'd learned something about the process from Dave Bowman, his Captain, and more importantly, his mentor. "Without you stepping up above and beyond the call of duty, my job would have been a lot rougher." Kyle liked the sound of the whole "above and beyond thing". Hearing it had always given him a good feeling. In a moment of self-doubt, he wondered if the phrase was used too much and Devin would think it sounded dumb.
"Thanks," Devin said, trying to fight off embarrassment. Nobody had ever sat down to praise him like that. "I just tried to do my best." The two boys in silence, looking like the twelve and fourteen-year-old boys they were rather than two senior ranking starship officers.
Kyle quickly got himself back together. He remembered that in this kind of situation, Dave would jump on anything he said and comment to make what he said sound better. "Your best was more than enough," Kyle said sincerely. "The way you became my second and not only did everything I asked, you weren't afraid to give me your ideas. Then there is the extra work you did in the hut, your being willing to do anything you were asked, and there was even something you didn't do."
"What didn't I do?"
"You didn't become my co-commander. That was a totally unselfish decision and you were totally right making that decision. It was one more way you made my first command easier."
"Dude, the two of us would have been in a fight before we left the basecamp if we'd become co-commanders." He paused as Kyle nodded in agreement. "I don't think I knew that setting up the camp was your first command. From the way you took care of the whole business with my navigation screwup, I thought you did that shit all the time."
"Nah. I was almost as scared as you in that meeting. The big thing I had going was that I knew I was right." Devin's respect for Kyle, which had been growing by the minute since he had been asked to be Kyle's number two all but doubled at that moment.
There was more that Kyle wished he could tell Devin right then, but it wasn't the right time, yet. All he could do at the moment was hope that Devin would be as happy receiving it as he would be presenting it.
"About that screwup. I knew I needed to make an electronic log. I mean you can't do the job without one. But, I never knew we were supposed to keep a written log. I mean, yeah, it was talked about in class, but nobody said I had to keep a second log.""
"It was 'strongly suggested'" Kyle reminded Devin. "The Regulations Book says we have to keep a log, but not what kind of log. Our Rules Book says we have to keep an electronic log, but that's it. The first chance he gets, Dave is going to send off a message to Earth proposing that the Regulations require that we keep both logs. Of course, who knows how long it will be before we ever get a chance to communicate. And whatever we do, making the change is going to be slow, but Dave says it's a start."
"Is that what is called a long answer?" Devin chuckled. "When you retire as a ship's officer, you'll make a hell of a professor."
Devin sat quietly on the couch, staring out the viewport, the steady light of the stars moving slowly right to left as the ship moved along its orbital path. He couldn't explain why he felt like he did about the boy in the chair near the window. Kyle was twelve, still a little boy, and he, Devin, was almost fifteen. 'After our ships leave orbit I probably will never see him again,' he thought. 'And yet, when we go our own ways, I want it to happen with us being friends.'
Devin took another look at the telescope, but his focus was on the little black-and-white stuffed penguin sitting on top of it. He decided it was time for him to once again swallow his pride. "Can I ask you something really personal?" he asked Kyle.
"As long as you understand that I reserve the right to not answer."
"Understood." Devin paused to gather some more courage. "Does having that penguin really help you in tough spots?" he asked quietly, almost hoping Kyle couldn't hear what he'd said. "I mean why do you need that kind of help? Your father is an admiral, one of the ranking officers in space fleet." He looked at the telescope. "You and your roomie have been friends since you were little kids." He noted that there was only one bed in the quarters and understood that Danny and Kyle were more than merely best friends. "You grew up with everything you wanted."
"Not as much as you think," Kyle said in a near whisper. Now came the crucial moment for Kyle. He was about to place more trust in Devin French, than he had in any person in his life except for Danny. 'I've gotta be crazy,' Kyle thought. 'We were enemies until just a couple of days ago.'
"I hated my dad the admiral and I was sure he hated me. A big house ain't shit if nobody loves you and… " Kyle felt tears well up. He knew he'd gone too far and it was too late to pull back. He didn't take his advice—he didn't pause. As Kyle fought to gain control Devin patted the empty space on the couch. Kyle staggered over to it and sat next to the older boy. He felt small and vulnerable. Tears were flowing and there was nothing he could do about it.
"When we were ten my dad kicked Danny out of my life and we couldn't see each other. He sent me off to the academy. He tried to take Megrez away from me, but I got lucky and didn't lose him. If I had to choose between the telescope and Megrez, I'd pick Megrez because you see he helps me talk to the stars and my dad hated me for saying the stars talk to me…" Kyle knew he was babbling. He stopped, shaken with sobs.
Devin put his arm around Kyle's shoulder and let Kyle cry into his uniform tunic. He was now crying quietly as well. "Your dad and my dad went to the same school for dads. My dad was and still is an asshole."
"Me and my dad have made up," Kyle said as he gained back some control. "Leaving with us hating each other, I don't want to think about it. We left knowing we loved each other."
"Not me, which is a problem I have to solve with Denver. Yeah, I can see how the penguin must help. But, what's this about the stars?"
"They talk to me, and I'm not joking. Just trust me."
"Is that how you figure out those…"
"No, they don't tell me shit about math. They just help me through my life in lots of weird ways. Somehow, Megrez is part of that. But I heard them long before Megrez became a part of it. Usually, Megrez is just what he looks like, a friendly little stuffed penguin who always listens to me. He's been a part of me since I was little, and he'll stay with me as long as I live."
"What do you think people would think of me if I replicate a stuffed animal for myself?"
Kyle suppressed a giggle. He remembered asking Dave that question during a discussion in Dave's ready room. He couldn't remember what the discussion had been about, but he did remember Dave's answer and how often he referred to it. "My Captain told me this when I asked him that same question. 'Kyle,' he told me, 'what other people think of you is none of your damned business.' I remember that a lot, that I just have to be me and that if somebody doesn't like it, he can go fuck himself."
Devin nodded. Kyle's statement made up his mind for him. "I'll try it. I sat in my quarters today wishing I simply had something I could hold and trust and talk to about anything and never get judged. If it doesn't work, well, I've got a stuffed animal decorating my room." He didn't tell Kyle who his roommate was. He wondered if he would actually follow through if Walker remained his roommate, then realized there was no way Walker wasn't going to end up in the brig. "I have enough on my replicator ration for an animal about the size of your penguin."
"If you create a totem, as I've heard it called, I bet you'll be saying you have someone to talk to instead of something. What do you think you're going to make?"
"I'm not sure why I think so, but I like the idea of a donkey." Kyle nodded. "I suppose I can't expect it to talk to the stars."
Kyle wrapped himself in an embrace around the big teen. "Who knows what can happen?" he asked. "I mean we've been traveling with the stars for awhile now. Who knows what they can do?"
"Thanks for being my friend, Kyle. I know I don't deserve it, but you…you've helped me so much I can't begin to…well, I see you as my friend."
"It's weird how after our meeting when you were in trouble for, well, you know, that we end up being fellow officers in charge of a mission and now, well, we're friends."
Devin looked down at the beautiful smooth tear-stained face of the boy wrapped up with him. He placed his lips on Kyle's and the boys exchanged a long, slow, kiss. It was not a kiss of passion or sex or anything of that nature. It was a simple, heart-felt kiss between two boys who had gone into battle together, who had learned to trust each other, and were now sharing a love and friendship and bonding that few boys could ever experience. Devin thought of French kissing Kyle, but he understood that that kind of kiss would move beyond a kiss between friends. The boys broke their kiss, knowing they had gone as far as they could ever go together.
Kyle let go of Devin. The emotions they felt were conflicting and overwhelming. "Kyle, remember how you said, 'I forgive you whether you apologize or not.'?"
"I apologize. Late, I know. I didn't know it then, but that act of forgiveness started me on a whole different path. Who knows, maybe the stars were talking to me through you. I hope we are friends forever, no matter where we end up."
"We will be. I love you Devin." Kyle said simply.
"And I love you, Kyle."
The boys rose from the couch, furtively adjusting their obvious bulges. It was time to move on. They exchanged a very chaste kiss and left Kyle's quarters. It was time for Devin to meet with Denver and for Kyle to commence his third plan for relaxation. This one would be the best yet, Kyle thought, because not only will it not be interrupted, it will be with Danny.
Devin was grateful that Kyle hung with him outside of Denver's quarters. Even though members of the two crews were moving back and forth between ships for various reasons thanks to the shuttle system, it would still be awkward to just stand alone on the corridor of a ship that wasn't his.
After his emotional meeting with Kyle, talking to his cousin had a feeling of being anticlimactic. No matter what the feeling was, Devin had to make sure things were right between him and his cousin before they parted ways. Other than Denver's tear-filled thanks on the planet, they hadn't exchanged any words since Devin stunned Angelo Walker in the cavern.
"Any second thoughts about what happened in your quarters?" Devin asked Kyle.
"Nope. It was a perfect way to for us to become friends. And Danny will agree," Kyle replied.
"Danny? You're going to tell Danny?"
"We have no secrets, and we keep all secrets. What happens in our quarters stays there. That kiss is ours forever, and it makes Danny your friend, too."
"Good thing we didn't go further." Devin thought of his urge to French kiss Kyle and how he held back from committing an act that would have been wrong.
"Like I said. What we did was perfect. And here comes Denver."
Denver paused in the corridor when he saw Kyle and somebody else standing outside his quarters. When he saw who that somebody else was, he ran up to him and wrapped his arms around him. "Devin, Devin, Devin, Devin," he cried. "You saved my life, Devin. Devin, why are you here? Devin, I love you Devin."
"You guys have fun," Kyle said and started for the shuttle bay.
"Hey, Kyle!" Devin shouted out. "Thanks for everything, Kyle. I love you.'
"I love you, too, Devin." Kyle turned into a side passage and was gone.
"What was that about?" Denver asked.
"Just about us being friends." Denver gave his cousin a questioning look but decided not to pursue the matter. He had too many other things to say. "Let's go to my guest quarters. We'll have room and privacy and even some snacks."
After entering Devin's quarters, Denver sat on the small couch. He had expected Devin to sit on the chair or on the bed and was surprised when his cousin sat next to him.
"I'm surprised they gave you a watch after what you went through in the cavern," Devin said.
"I was given some time off because of what happened, but I volunteered to do a watch because we're so shorthanded," Denver said. He took a deep breath and looked at his older cousin. Devin would turn fifteen in just over a month, while Denver had just turned fourteen the month before. "Devin, were you really that mad at that Walker guy because it was me he was talking about killing or were just mad at him for what he was doing?"
"I'd have been pissed if it was anybody, but threaten my cuz, and I guarantee I'll be extra-pissed. Well, I was extra-extra-extra pissed when I saw him threatening you. If Kyle hadn't ordered us to lock our guns on stun I would have probably done to him what he wanted to do to you. That order saved Walker's life and saved my sorry ass from court martial. "
"You saved my life. You always hated me, but you saved my life."
"I didn't always hate you, Denver. I never hated you. The problem was I was an asshole just like my dad." Denver started to interrupt but Devin held up his hand. "I know, I called you a loser, and pushed you around, and even beat you up once. I'm so sorry for all that shit Denver. I'm so, so sorry."
Devin couldn't remember his emotions bouncing around like they had been doing that night. This was a continuation of his time with Kyle and once again he was fighting off tears. He couldn't remember ever crying like he'd been crying that night. His dad beat the tears out of him a long time ago.
"I never understood why you hated me, or I guess why it looked like you hated me. I don't remember doing anything to you to make you feel that way."
"Denver, trust me, you never did anything. But I thought you did everything. You were the nice kid with all the friends. You had a family that loved you and your sister, and did stuff with you, like trips and shit. I was the bad boy who liked being around other bad boys because I didn't like myself enough to make friends with the kind of guys you made friends with—the good boys. Dude, I was jealous of you."
"You kept saying I was a loser because my dad was a loser and yours was a captain in Space Fleet."
Devin scooted closer to Denver and put his arm around him. His brief time in Kyle's quarters had shown him the importance of touching somebody (or something, like a penguin, or maybe a donkey). "See, I saw Uncle Jeff as a loser because he worked for Solar Transport while my dad was in Space Fleet." Solar Transport was responsible for moving cargo and people around the Solar System. "That made my dad cool and your dad, his brother, a loser. If my dad was cool, then so was I. And my dad had to be cool or the beatings weren't worth shit. And if your dad was a loser that made me even cooler because it meant you were a loser, too."
"You saved my life," Denver whispered yet again as he lay his head against Devin's shoulder.
Devin wondered if Denver was even listening to him, but he went on, as much for his own sake as Denver's. "But over last few days, I've been learning so much about me and what a piece of shit I was. And Kyle Robinson is a big part of that. When I stopped to think, I figured out who the loser was.
"My dad thought he'd make a man of me by beating my ass. Your mom and dad knew he'd make a good man of you by giving you love and teaching you shit I never learned. Sure, my dad was a captain in Space Fleet, but the only thing he ever commanded and flew was a desk. Your dad was a captain in Solar Transport. His assignment when we left Earth was Captain of the Silver Comet on the Earth to Europa run. He was responsible for over 500 crew and passengers. You tell me whose dad was the winner."
Denver said nothing. Devin held his cousin a little bit tighter. It was a different kind of touch than what he and Kyle had enjoyed. It was a friend's touch as well as the touch of someone who was trying to be the big brother he could have been since he and his younger cousin were little kids. But there was also a hint of more to that touch.
"Denver, I had to save your life."
"Because it was your job?"
He badly wanted to tell Denver to quit being a dweeb and listen. "Fuck no. I had to save it because there was no way I could let you die without being able to tell you how sorry I was for the way I treated you and for being the asshole cousin I was. I'm sorry. I want to do everything I can in the short time our ships are both in orbit to be the best cousin I can be, to maybe even be like your big brother."
The cousins were both crying. It wasn't the huge emotional sobs Devin had shared with Kyle, just tears flowing. They were tears of sadness over what had been mixed with tears of happiness over what they had right then.
"I forgive you forever," Denver said. "I love you, cuz." Devin shivered with emotion. It was the second time that night someone told him they loved him, which pretty much equaled the total since his mother died ten years before.
"I had one more thing I was jealous of," Devin said with a slight smile.
"Your sister, my cousin Jenny," Devin laughed. "I had a big crush on her, but you were the guy who got to live with her and see her naked." Jenny was sixteen.
"Serious? You had crush on my sister?"
"I still do, I guess."
"She looked pretty good naked, for a big sister anyway," Denver grinned. "Not that we saw each other naked very much."
"I love you, Denver. I know we'll be separated soon, but that was one more reason I couldn't let that asshole kill you. I wanted to tell you that I loved you, and I wanted to tell you more than once. So, once more, I love you." Devin found that saying the "L" word was becoming increasingly easy.
"I want to transfer to the Endurance to be with you. I wanted that ever since you rescued me, but now I want it worse than ever."
Devin didn't know what to say about that. Transfers weren't part of anybody's plans. The only reason he and Denver were even sitting together on a couch was because of his gross navigating mistake, which told him a transfer had to be just a smidge way from impossible.
Denver planted a quick kiss on his cousin's cheek. "I had a crush on you back when were like eleven and twelve. You were the big tough dude while I was this little guy who hadn't started to really grow yet and I wanted you, well, I don't know what I wanted, except I wanted you to like me."
"I do like you, and even more, I love you," Devin said as he started a kiss on his cousin's lips. Wow, now it's two kisses in the same night. So much better than the casual kisses he remembered from girls he hardly even knew.
Unlike his kiss with Kyle, this kiss started to become deeper, and for the second time that night, Devin was fully aroused. But this was different than it had been with Kyle. He felt in his heart that this kiss was meant to be more than a deep kiss of friendship. Devin could tell that this wasn't Denver's first kiss as he felt his cousin's tongue enter his mouth.
He broke off the kiss and started removing Denver's tunic. Denver raised his arms, so his cousin could finish. "You have a beautiful body," Devin whispered. He never believed he could say that about any male, let alone his younger cousin. Devin removed his own tunic, revealing the torso of a young teen who worked out religiously.
"You're beautiful, too," Denver said. He'd been to bed with more than one boy in his life, including a couple of his current roommates. The cousins hugged and kissed. They removed each other's trousers and underpants and ended up on the bed, naked, kissing, and humping each other.
"I can stay here all night, right?" Denver asked.
"Yes, oh yes, oh yes. I love you," Devin said hoarsely. "You've heard of kissing cousins, right?"
"Somehow I have the feeling we're going to become much more tonight."
"Good," Denver whispered as his waterworks turned on again. "Get away from my cousin!" he smiled, thinking of Devin's words as he fired his laser at Angelo Walker. He wrapped his naked body around Devin, the cousin he'd been in love with even when he hated him and purred contentedly.
Part three of Kyle's relaxation plan unfolded after dinner. It consisted of undressing his lover, a boy who had been his best friend since before their days at the Academy and their training for space.
As the Sooloo raced through space their relationship had changed quickly. It moved in a direction that the boys agreed was inevitable. Looking back, they saw that they were meant to go in that direction since they first met, even if they were clueless about it then. They moved from best friends, to cabinmates, to sexual partners, to passionate lovers. They had taken each other's virginity on nights they would never forget. It was a rare night that they didn't sleep together.
As they undressed each other, Kyle told Danny about shooting free throws naked with his naked ball boys.
"I think the imps hate wearing clothes as much as you do," Danny laughed.
"I don't hate wearing them, I just feel freer without them on."
Danny finished undressing Kyle, then played with his hard cock. "This thing really likes being free," Danny giggled. "It wasn't like this with the twins, was it?"
"As cute as those imps are, being naked with them doesn't feel sexy, it just feels right. Maybe when they're older, but right now I guess it's about us being free together."
The conversation soon ended as their touches became sensuous, their kisses deep and loving, and Danny topping his superior officer and loving boyfriend was an exciting, mind blowing, sexual adventure.
"Are you relaxed?" Danny whispered in their dark bed after they calmed down and cleaned up.
"I'm ready to talk to Dave without worrying about what he thinks, if that's what you mean." Kyle had a question for Dave that had been bothering him since he'd been placed in charge of the rescue mission. "And, I'm getting an idea about Devin."
"Oh, and what would that be?"
"I'm not totally sure, yet. I just know he needs more than a pat on the back. I need to find a way to turn around the negative shit that has to be in his file. He's not the same person."
"I think it's called growing up," Danny mused. "I guess nothing makes you grow up faster than having your ass in danger, and that includes you and me."
"And nothing makes you grow up faster than having your lover in your ass," Kyle said after planting a kiss on Danny's cheek. That was how, before falling asleep, Danny was topped by his superior officer and loving boyfriend.
Dave Bowman couldn't remember ever feeling overwhelmed, but this morning had to be as close as it ever got. With all the things that had to be accomplished regarding the court martial, he'd had no time to meet with Kyle Robinson.
Nevertheless, he was watching his Chief Astrogator taking a seat in the chair in front of his desk. One of seemingly billions of little things he had learned in training, as well as on the job, is that a ship's Captain needed to master the art of creating time where no time was available.
"What can I help you with, Commander?" Dave asked. His use of Kyle's rank rather than Kyle's name said everything Kyle needed to know about the meeting, mainly that Kyle's purpose for asking for a meeting that morning had better be important and quick.
"I understand that you're busy and I appreciate getting a few minutes of your time to meet with you." Kyle had the feeling he was addressing his father instead of Captain Bowman. '
David flipped over yet another form. "Just get on with it." Dave's attempts to hide his impatience were meeting with little success.
"Sir, I know the timing is poor, but I have something I need to say before it eats me up." There was something in the tenor of Kyle's voice that made him stop what he was doing and give his full attention to the enigma that was Kyle Robinson. Not long ago, Kyle would have let whatever was bothering him eat him up until he went into a deep pubescent snit.
What Dave now saw in front of him was not a little twelve-year old calling out for guidance, but a twelve-year-old officer—make that SENIOR officer—who felt he had something important to say.
"Sir, when you placed me in charge of the rescue mission, I asked that I make Devin French to be my co-commander. Regulations say…"
Dave held up his hand to stop Kyle. Kyle knew right then that he had done the wrong thing and that he was doomed. He really was talking to his father, the senior officer who would stop him before he could express a contrary opinion. He felt the anger boil up in him.
Dave saw Kyle's face turn beet red and knew the boy was on the verge of erupting. "I know where you're going, Kyle," Dave said gently. His use of Kyle's name rather than his rank changed the entire mood of the conversation. "I should have called you in to talk about this as soon as you returned from the planet, but I let reports and procedures and meetings get in the way from my primary duty, which is to serve my crewmembers."
Kyle nodded. He wasn't sure of what to say, so he said nothing. He felt his anger subside as he waited to see where Dave was going.
"What I approved you doing was wrong. It was a gross mistake on my part. I know what regulations say, and I knew then, even if I let my enthusiasm for what you and Devin were accomplishing, blur my judgement and decision-making. I am grateful that you and Devin showed more common sense in the situation than I did. You kept the mission from becoming a potential disaster."
"Devin made that decision, Sir, not me. I think I was kind of confused, but he wasn't."
"I apologize for placing you in that position. You and Devin both handled things with a great deal of maturity. I was wrong, I sincerely apologize, and I will do everything in my power to make sure something like that never happens again."
He sat back and waited to see how Kyle would react to his admitting he had been wrong. One of the problems he had seen in Eric Garcia was a fear that admitting to being wrong showed weakness in a leader. Dave knew better; he felt that being honest and forthright with a crew member showed strength. Yes, there were times when that confession could not be made, but when at all possible admit to being wrong and suggest that everybody move on. In this instance, Dave knew that if he didn't look Kyle square in his eyes and admit his error, he could easily lose the young officer for good.
For Kyle, this was different than facing his father. Until their last week together, his father could never admit to being wrong. His father wouldn't even listen to him. And here was Dave Bowman, listening to him, admitting to being wrong, and doing it in a way that told Kyle that he was still completely in charge.
Kyle broke into a sly smile. "So, Dave, did you pause before you made that approval?"
Dave felt his body relax as he realized he and Kyle were back on the same page. "Nope, I jumped right into the fire feet first and suffered the consequences."
"I know you're busy and I'll go now. Thanks for talking to me. I was kinda scared to, you know, say what I needed to say."
"Kyle, never be afraid to talk to me. If one of my officers is afraid to talk to me, then I haven't done my job as Captain. I apologize for not giving you every bit of my attention from the moment you entered my ready room. You did the right thing. I'm proud of the officer you've become." Dave's smile lit up his eyes as he said, "Now move your ass out of here so I can get some work done."
Kyle left with a smile on his face. As he walked into the corridor it was with the knowledge deep in his soul that he truly was a SENIOR officer.
Garcia and Bowman didn't waste time, they wanted the court-martial done as quickly as possible. Since the incident occurred during an away mission headed by the Sooloo, Garcia insisted that Captain Bowman be in charge. Dave asked Hal to be the third person, but Hal recused himself on the grounds "he is Dave's husband."
Dave approached Commander Frank Worsley next… "I'm sorry, Captain, but Captain Garcia already asked me to be the defender for these men."
Next on Dave's list would have been Jordan, but he would have had to recuse himself as a victim of Walker. After him WOULD HAVE BEEN Walker. Dave chuckled thinking about that one, 'Well, Mr. Walker, do you find yourself, innocent or guilty?'
Jace was next on Dave's list, but he was married to a victim. Dave asked Eric who was fourth in command of the Endurance, and Eric answered, "It should have been Logan Roth, but instead, I asked Devin French to be fourth in command."
Dave shook his head… Devin was related to a victim also. Following Jace would be Connor Marlin, so Dave approached him. Dave had to explain what would be expected of him, but Connor agreed to do it.
Dave convened the court-martial at 0900. He asked Aiden to bring in Abernathy, Giles and Imbabwe first. Once they were standing before the tribunal, Dave read the charges, "Gentlemen, notice that we've only brought you three in. We could charge you with conspiracy to commit mutiny, but Captain Garcia asked me to withdraw that charge. You ARE hereby charged with conduct unbecoming Space Fleet. We've withheld any further charges."
Worsley looked at the defendants, "That still holds a harsh penalty, possible brig time and a dishonorable discharge once released."
Niles Abernathy looked at his first officer, "We have agreed, we are willing to accept whatever penalty may be given. We want to plead guilty."
"For what it's worth, I am proud of this action. You boys are growing up." Commander Worsley turned towards the tribunal, "My clients would like to plead guilty."
"Very well, after speaking with Captain Garcia, we have agreed to the following sentence should you plead guilty. You are hereby sentenced to one year of probation. While on probation, you cannot receive any promotions, and there will be a formal reprimand in your file."
"Thank you, Sirs. You are being merciful, and we appreciate it"
Garcia looked at Abernathy, "Just be the officer that I believe you can be; you've shown character and that is why we are being lenient. Now, return to the Endurance. I will discuss this with you more aboard our ship."
After they left, Dave looked at Eric, "What do you plan?"
"Nothing I just wanted to put a little scare into them."
Aiden brought in Walker and Makeweather. "Gentlemen, you are hereby charged with mutiny, conspiracy to commit mutiny, failure to follow orders, conduct unbecoming Space Fleet, disruption of the natural evolution of a planet's society, assault on an officer, falsifying reports, obstruction of justice and perjury. How do you plead?"
Worsley started to explain what they were facing when Walker spoke up, "Not guilty."
Since Hal wasn't part of the tribunal, Dave asked him to act as the prosecuting attorney, should anyone plead not guilty. He started off asking Jordan to take the stand. After hearing the testimony of everyone, including one of the Elders, Hal looked at Frank and said, "I rest my case."
Worsley called Walker to the stand, "Would you explain in your own words why you should not be found guilty?"
Walker cleared his throat, "Well, Rivers and I am the same rank. He had no right ordering me. His report was wrong on the temperature of the planet, therefore I felt it necessary to explore the Northern Continent…" Walker continued giving his testimony and then Makeweather gave his. Hal questioned both while they were on the stand, then Dave ordered the Tribunal to deliberate.
It didn't take long; Connor, Eric and Dave agreed that they were guilty. Dave gave the verdict to Walker and Makeweather. Makeweather stood up and claimed, "I'm sorry for my part. Yes, I am guilty, but I was following the orders of Commander Walker."
"You had a chance to claim that prior, now that you've been found guilty, your words are falling on deaf ears. While I was willing to let Captain Bowman head this, he insisted that I handle the sentencing for you. Mr. Makeweather, for the remainder of our voyage, you will be restricted to quarters when not on duty. You will be restricted from away missions, and you will be under strict supervision indefinitely. One infraction and you will spend the remainder of our voyage in the brig."
"I understand, Sir. You have my word that I will be a model crewman."
Garcia grunted a little, feeling that Makeweather was just saying that, hoping to get a lesser sentence. He looked at Walker, "Angelo Walker, you are stripped of rank. You are dishonorably discharged from Space Fleet. You will remain in the brig until we return to earth. At that time, you will be turned over to Security of Space Fleet on Earth. Upon review of this transcript, the Admiralty will determine whether you've served your time or if you should spend the rest of your days in maximum security. Commander Douglass, would you please escort these men to the Endurance and turn them over to Commander Tomalok?"
Aiden escorted the prisoners out of the room as Eric, Dave and Hal escorted the Elder back to the planet.
Randy and Logan were preparing the last meal before the base camp would be removed. Captains Bowman and Garcia invited the Elders and the villagers to join the crews for a meal and ceremony.
After everyone had eaten, Jordan stood at the front of the group on a small platform. "First, I want to thank the Landsbyboereans (" Norwegian: Landsbyboere means Villagers "). Though we didn't have their permission, and one of our crewmembers did them wrong, they have been gracious toward us." Hal translated to the Elders.
The elder sitting beside Hal spoke up, "Vi er takknemlige for at du tok vare på situasjonen. Alt er tilgitt. Jeg er glad for at personen ikke gjorde deg vondt mer enn han gjorde."
Hal translated, "Commander, he is thankful that we took care of the situation, and he says that all is forgiven. He is also glad that you weren't harmed any more than what was done."
"Thank you," Jordan acknowledged. "Now, there are some people who have stood out during this mission. The Senior Officer overseeing them, thought they went above and beyond their duty. When I call your name, please come up to get your commendation. Commander Tomalok."
Tomalok was a bit surprised, but he walked up to Jordan. "Commander, I believe that you've come a long way from when we first met, and I have faith that you will be an asset to Captain Garcia, so I put you in for a commendation." Tomalok accepted his commendation and saluted Jordan.
"Ensign Denver French," Jordan announced. Denver walked up, and Jordan declared, "Commander Tomalok put you in for a commendation. He said that you saved his life and proved to be a good officer and perfect for security. I second Tomalok's nomination because when given a choice to join Walker or stay with us, you made the right choice. Congratulations, Ensign."
"Thank you, Sir. I was just doing what I thought was right."
As Ensign French returned to his table with his cousin, Devin smiled and said, "Congratulations. I've yet to get one, but then, I've never deserved one."
"But you've become a new person. I have faith that someday, you will. I am proud to call you my cousin now."
"Thanks, you have no idea how that makes me feel," Devin felt good.
"Specialist Randy Jenkins," Jordan called out.
Randy walked up, with Logan following behind him. "Specialist Jenkins, as you know, we have seven assistant cooks aboard the SS Sooloo. You have proven time and time again that you deserve the position of Executive Chef. You've acted as my second in command of the galley, your work in setting up the food service during our mission here, and your willing to take the time to learn from Chief Executive Chef Deveraux. Commander Rivers suggested that he put you in for a commendation and that I present it. With this commendation, you are no longer an Assistant Cook, but my Executive Chef."
"Thank you, Chief Executive Chef Kristoff. I am just glad that I made you proud." Logan put his arm around Randy as they returned to their seats.
"Lieutenant Commander Steve Boyer." Steve was startled hearing his name and surprised that Jordan mistakenly called him a lieutenant commander when he's only a lieutenant. He respectfully pointed out the mistake.
"It wasn't a mistake," Jordan declared. "Steve, since the first day we were all aboard the ship, you have done outstanding work. You have made my job much easier. With your commendation comes a promotion. Congratulations, Lieutenant Commander."
"Thank you, Sir. I wasn't expecting this."
Jordan called out Ensign Kuc's name and then a few others, then he asked Dave up to give out the next commendation. Dave came up and called out, "Commander Kyle Robinson, will you please come forward."
Kyle walked up front. He saluted Dave and stood at attention. "Commander, you went above and beyond your duty with setting up this base camp. I understand that you had help, but you chose the people, with a few exceptions. You organized the search party and rescued Commander River's missing party. Commander, I am proud to present you with this commendation."
"Thank you, Sir. Coming from you, it means a lot."
"Now Commander, would you do the honor of giving out our last commendation? It was your idea."
This ends Zorn's interaction with the crew of the SS Sooloo at least for the foreseeable future. My site, editing, and writing workload is now such that I have to start reducing the number of projects that I am working on. The experience of writing in the Voyagers Universe has been a lot of fun. I will keep on reading the tales of the SS Sooloo and its crew and I wish DouglassDD, True Fan, and Zarek Dragon all the best.
'Til we fly again,
We, the authors of Voyagers, would like to thank The Story Lover for his contribution into our universe. Zorn has continued his mission, and while he will be missed, he will NOT be forgotten.
I have known TSL for more than a decade, and we have become close friends. Knowing TSL as well as I do, I wouldn't be a bit surprised if we hear from Zorn either in future chapters of Voyager or in his own adventures as he continues his mission separately. Just my opinion, and of course, I will follow up on that by making suggestions to TSL.
TSL has explained his reasons for wanting to step back from ongoing chapters of Voyagers, and I fully understand his decision. Knowing his work ethic, and his commitment to always finish what he starts, I am still pretty darn sure we will hear more from our friend Zorn, in one or more venues. I don't tend to make predictions lightly.
I'm just saying, when someone appears in a TSL Chapter or story, and becomes a well-loved member of that writing effort, there is simply no way he or she will vanish from our sight.
Thank You very much TSL for all your work, not only in writing part of this story, and editing and posting all the stories you are featuring on your site as well as others you are curating, we also know you have your hands full.
Readers, please let TSL know how much we all enjoy his continuing work.
Your friend Darryl
I haven’t worked with TSL as long as the rest of the gang, but certainly long enough to appreciate his talents. His days are 36 hours long… they must be, how else can he produce so much quality prose?
The Other Darrell