Juro revealed something about Shasho so Connor and Aiden explained to Juro that truly loving him was unconditional.
Steve and Brad had sex with only a partition separating them from Shasho. They thought Shasho was asleep, but he woke up a few times, and it made him feel accepted by them feeling comfortable enough to do what they were with him so close.
Kage went to meet Akage and was surprised by his instant love for the boy. He could see why Jaku wanted to adopt him, and why Jaku asked him to when Jaku's parents asked Jaku to watch his brother, making him unable to adopt. Akage liked Kage just as quickly.
Arrangements were made for the trip to Earth and the Draconians' return to Darastix (Draconia). This included leaving an Ambassador on Earth and arranging for Earth to have an Ambassador on Darastix.
Kyle and Danny took Koji to the zoo. No, they weren't looking for his relatives, they were having a fun family outing. Koji and the boys got to see lots of different animals. Only a few were mentioned.
Tomo acquired a kaldaka cub and gave it to Juro as a gift for killing the creature that killed Tomo's family.
Roger celebrated his birthday. Then, early on the 20 November 2121, the Sooloo, along with the Kaisokusen, headed for Earth. The Shouryou will join up with them en route.
Dave looked around the bridge. Kyle was at the Astrogation table, the rest of the stations were manned by the Senior Staff. Behind Dave stood the cadre of adopted boys that had brought so much life to the ship. Dave stood and asked Prince Zifaa to sit in his chair.
Dave called out, "I need a final go/no-go from each station."
After hearing each station report in-turn that all was ready, Dave asked Scott Trevor, who was manning the communications and tactical station, to open a channel to the Kaisokusen. Dave verified that all was in readiness there, then, leaving the channel open, turned to Prince Zifaa and said, "We're ready for your order to depart, Sir."
Zifaa's smile nearly split his face as he realized what Dave was doing. In his unbroken voice he called out loud and clear, "Commander Robinson, Meagear Endou, set course for Earth and engage."
As they watched the screen, the planet began slowly getting smaller. A few moments later, there was applause on the bridge. Dave turned to Zifaa and said, "Sir, I relieve you."
Zifaa stood and replied, "I stand relieved." He then wrapped his arms around Dave's waist and gave him a hug.
The Sooloo and the Kaisokusen were on their way... home.
Roger and Tai woke up still cuddled together. Roger didn't know why, but he felt compelled to kiss the boy in his arms. "I'm sorry, I shouldn't have done that."
"I didn't mind, in fact, though I've always thought I was straight, I liked it."
"Surprisingly, I did, too." The boys decided to shower together and then went for breakfast. As they ate, they talked. "Tai, I'm surprised you are so nice to me. You almost had my position, but I got it."
"I know you and I were the top two choices, and that I had you beat in computer knowledge..."
Roger interrupted Tai, "And I told them that..."
"Brad sat me down after choosing you and he explained that, even told me that you pushed for me to get the position. I think they made the right choice, but with your help, I have been working on being more what the position needs. If you ever get promoted to Chief of IS, I hope that I am ready for the Assistant position, but if someone is more qualified, I want you to choose them."
"Tai, the number one requirement is to put the ship's needs ahead of your wants. I think you just expressed that."
"Well, right now, my 'want' is taking priority, and my 'want' is to get to know you better. I've been watching you ever since we launched, I may not be as straight as I thought I was at launch. If you could have ANYTHING, what would you want?"
Roger turned red, "Ummm… you already gave me a present by cuddling with me all night. I'm a little embarrassed to say this, but I've never had a blow job or... Don't get me wrong, I've had a few offers aboard ship, but never by someone I'd like to know. Kyle, Brad and Steve had all offered, but…"
Tai smiled, "I was hoping that was what you would say. Can I give you your first blow job? Mind you, I've never given one since I thought I was straight, but I feel compelled to give you one. Then if you like it…"
Roger surprised Tai and himself, "I'd like that. I've been having doubts about my own sexuality, and more so since we've seemed to connect."
In just a short time, Shasho organized the Operation's Office just a little better than it was, and Jordan chuckled, "Good, now can you teach Jace how to be more organized? I keep having to pick up his socks."
"Hey, I remove my socks before bed, and would pick them up when I get up, but you beat me to it."
Jordan smiled at his pouting husband, "I know you would, I left them once just to see if you would. Aside from Steve, Shasho and myself, I don't know anyone more organized; I was just giving you a hard time."
"I know something hard you can give me tonight."
Steve put his hands over Shasho's ears, "Hey, not in front of the boy…" That made Shasho giggle. He could still hear what was being said, but the fact Steve tried protecting him felt good.
Dave was sitting in his Ready Room going over the crew roster; he knew that the Darastix would need a crew and wondered who might be considered. As Dave went over his crew, his first thought was, I don't really want to lose any of them, but if they have the ability to further their career, I should encourage them. Dave looked at his list again. He could see a few that may transfer, but for now, he will wait.
Dave was sitting with Hal on the couch in their quarters, looking out at the stars as they zipped past, just enjoying being together. The ship had left Darastix about six hours prior. Jordan was at the conn.
"Babe? I think it's time we arranged for the crew to be able to call their families. I think if we schedule it properly, it will not impact the operation of the ship. I know I'd like to talk to my mom."
Dave thought about what his husband had said and agreed. "I would need to discuss it with Zorn to make sure he doesn't have a problem facilitating the relay. If we limited the number of calls per day to no more than eight over a four-hour period that would be reasonable. I actually think that kind of relay could really be handled by Aurix and Zorn won't have to be bothered by having to be there every day to do the relays."
"Makes sense to me. Do we want to involve any of the other Senior Staff in planning this?"
Dave got a grin on his face. He grabbed his comm and announced, "Commander Boyer, contact the Captain immediately!"
Hal knew too well that Dave had a playful streak and he had an idea what he was going to do. A few moments later Dave's comm rang.
"Commander Boyer, calling as ordered, Sir."
"Commander..." Dave started in a very formal tone of voice, "you and your ward are to report to the Captain's quarters immediately. On the double, Commander!"
"Aye, aye, Sir." Steve replied crisply. He had no idea what Shasho could have done to piss off the Captain, but he wasn't going to question it.
A few minutes later, the chime rang indicating a visitor was at the Captain's quarters' door. Dave went to open the door and saw Steve Boyer and Shasho standing there. Shasho looked very nervous.
"Come on in and have a seat." Dave said flatly. He then turned and walked back into his quarters and sat on the couch next to Hal. Steve and Shasho entered and sat on two chairs opposite the couch.
"Sir," Steve began, "I can't understand what either Shasho or I could have done to have you call us here so urgently. I hope neither of us are in trouble."
Dave looked at them seriously, "I understand that you have been allowing civilians access to your files, Commander."
"That's not true, Sir. The only ones who have access to my files are myself, Commander Rivers and occasionally Commander Blackwell."
"So, now you're not telling me the whole truth? I'm disappointed, Commander."
"But that is the truth, Sir." Steve said defensively.
Dave couldn't keep up the charade and started laughing. Steve looked at Shasho and both looked back at Dave as if he were going crazy. Finally, Hal stepped in.
"Steve, Dave was referring to you allowing Shasho to help you reorganize your office. Jordan couldn't help but proclaim what a terrific job he had done. He has an odd sense of humor sometimes. Neither of you are in trouble."
Steve was a little nonplussed by this. Part of him wanted to read Dave the riot act for scaring his charge, Shasho. Fortunately, he thought better of it and softened his rebuke. "Sir, I really don't appreciate you playing a joke on Shasho so soon after he joined the ship as my charge. Normally, I like a joke as well as anyone, but in this instance, I think it was in poor taste."
"You're right, Steve. Shasho, I'm sorry. He's right, you haven't been here long enough for me to joke around like that. The reason I called for you two is we are going to institute members of the crew to be able to use the instant communications capability to contact their families. We will arrange with Zorn to have Aurix forward calls from the Sooloo to family members of our crew. I need a plan to organize those calls home. I would like to make sure it splits between normal duty rotations so that everyone will have the opportunity to contact their families during their off-duty hours. I would like to limit it to no more than eight calls per day. Do you have any questions?"
Shasho spoke up at this point, "Captain, thank you for apologizing. I was a little scared when you called for us to report immediately. Do you have a time limit for the calls? If you do, it will make it easier to organize."
Dave smiled at Shasho. "I really am sorry if I frightened you, and in answer to your question, I think twenty minutes should be sufficient time for calls home. How long do you think it will take for you to come up with a plan?"
After conferring with Shasho for a moment, Steve replied, "I think we can have a workable proposal for you by dinner time tonight."
"Perfect. Why don't you invite Brad to join you and Shasho for dinner tonight in my dining room? You can present your plan at that time. Say 1900?"
Steve agreed and thanked Dave for the way he talked to Shasho. The two got up to leave and Dave heard Steve say to Shasho in a very quiet voice, "See, we weren't in trouble. I think this will be a good way to show the Captain how organized you are."
The two left and Hal looked at his husband, "That wasn't a nice thing to do, I'm just glad it worked out as well as it did."
Dave and Hal welcomed their guests for dinner. Shasho was very excited to have been invited to the Captain's private dining room, almost as excited as he was to present the plan that Steve had allowed him to develop with very little guidance.
With obvious pride in his voice, Brad explained, "Sir, Steve and I decided to allow Shasho free reign in developing this plan. Steve gave him the base parameters and Shasho did the rest. I was very impressed with it. Reading it you wouldn't think it was a boy as young as he is writing it."
Shasho beamed at the praise given him by his Unca Brad. Dave turned to him and said, "Let's eat first, then while we wait for dessert, you can present the plan to me."
Shasho really wanted to just jump in and explain the plan, but Steve had told him that they would likely eat first. Randy Jenkins brought in their dinner, which consisted of Shimmy steaks, baked potatoes and a Darastixian vegetable that Dave had eaten but couldn't remember the name. It was almost the same as asparagus, but it was blue instead of green.
Shasho commented, "Randy knows how to cook the asupara properly. This is really good."
Talk around the dinner table consisted of Hal and Dave asking Shasho how he was enjoying being aboard the Sooloo and how he was getting along with Brad and Steve. They also asked if he had a chance to spend any time with Sukotto.
When the dinner was finished, Dave told Randy to wait about thirty minutes before bringing in dessert. Dave had arranged for his favorite dessert, banana splits. He assumed that this would be the first time Shasho ever had one.
"Well, Shasho, let's hear about your plan," Dave said with a smile on his face.
Shasho handed out a printed and bound copy of his plan to each of them at the table, then stood and explained it.
"There will be around 80 people making calls. The parameters I was given were:
I thought about how to make it fair for everyone so instead of just assigning times to each person. I decided that a lottery would be held. I will prepare a slip of paper with a date and time for the call. If the person draws a slip that has a time that they are on-duty, they would draw another until they got one that is when they are off duty, unless someone who had previously drawn offers to switch with that person.
Once everyone had drawn for their first call, they could then sign up for a second call if they so desired one, but the second calls would be shorter in duration... about fifteen minutes, allowing us to have twelve people call per day on the second rotation.
We will need to contact Zorn, Unca Brad told me who he was, and make sure his ship's AI named Aurix could handle placing the calls, so Zorn wouldn't have to be inconvenienced. With your permission, Captain, I would like to be the one to call him, or at least be present when the call is made.
Dave was suitably impressed. "Shasho, you did a fantastic job, not only with developing the plan, but in how you presented it. I am very proud of you. I will allow you to call Zorn, but I will be in the room with you, so he knows you have my authority to make this request of him."
Again, Shasho beamed at the praise and it was obvious that Steve and Brad were equally pleased.
About that time, Randy came in with five banana splits. When Shasho tasted it, he was amazed how good it was. There were three scoops of ice cream; Chocolate, Vanilla and Strawberry. On either side of the ice cream was a banana that had been split in half, lengthwise. On top was chocolate syrup, strawberry preserves and butterscotch toppings. The whole thing had whipped cream and cherries on top.
The older boys were amazed how quickly Shasho ate his treat, all the while, between bites, telling everyone how much he enjoyed it.
As they were about to leave, Dave stated that he would be making an announcement in the morning regarding the plan for allowing the crew to call home. Dave asked if Shasho wanted to call Zorn before going back to his quarters.
Dave put in a call to Zorn and introduced Shasho to him. Shasho had never actually seen a Sinocardian, but he didn't act in any way differently than he would talking to anyone else.
Zorn agreed that it would be a simple task for Aurix to facilitate the calls. It was arranged that once the lottery was completed, Shasho would send Zorn a list of who would be calling and at what dates/times. Any changes to the order of calls would have to be cleared by Steve so Zorn could be notified of the change.
They ended the call and Dave again praised Shasho by saying to Brad and Steve, "You two should be very proud of Shasho. He will make a fine addition to the Operations Staff when the time is right."
Steve and Brad exchanged a look but neither said a word. Everyone thanked Dave and Hal, and then the trio left the dining room and returned to their quarters.
"Attention, this is the Captain. As you are all most likely aware, with the benefit of the upgrades made to our communications array by the Darastixians, the Sooloo now has the capability of instantaneous communications with Earth. It has been arranged for each member of the crew to be able to contact their families on Earth."
Dave paused momentarily for the crew to realize what he'd just said before continuing. "Today, beginning at 0930, crew members should make their way to the main dining room where Lieutenant Commander Boyer and his ward, Shasho, will be holding a lottery to assign time slots for each of you to be able to call home. The lottery will take place until 1600 today. Anyone not appearing for the lottery will have a time assigned to them at the conclusion of the lottery."
Shasho was nervous. It was time that his plan would be shown to either work or fail; failure was not an outcome he wanted to experience. He was afraid that if his plan failed it would make his Unca Steve or his Unca Brad not want him anymore. He had yet to accept that their feelings for him were unconditional.
The first group of people arrived for the lottery at 0930. Shasho had prepared slips of paper with all available time slots for the calls. He had also prepared an information sheet which would explain the rules for the communications including duration, the need to make the contact information for the individuals or family members available prior to their time slot, and a reminder that no 'classified' information is to be discussed with non-fleet personnel.
The first group drew their assignments and Logan Kristoff was pleased to find that he had drawn the first available slot, that evening at 1800. As the day progressed, every member of the crew stopped by the dining room and drew their slots. There were trades that were made so everyone was happy with the time allocation they received. Shasho was over-the-moon with how well his plan worked out. Steve and Brad told their charge how proud of him they were. The highlight for Shasho, was when Captain Bowman stopped by at the end of the lottery and expressed how impressed he was with the way Shasho conducted himself during the lottery. Shasho was not aware, however, that Dave had put Shasho in for an official commendation from Space Fleet.
After getting off the video call with his parents, Logan Kristoff approached Dave's Ready Room. Dave gave him permission to enter and Logan started, "Dave, I really have no desire to leave the Sooloo, but my parents need help opening another restaurant. I understand that there will be another six months before the Darastix is ready to launch, and for that reason, I would like to transfer as her Chief Executive Chef. I recommend Randy Jenkins to take over as the Chief Executive Chef aboard the Sooloo."
"You have done a fine job as our Chief Executive Chef; your parents will be proud. Space Fleet has contracted with your family's business to feed all the ships in the Exploration program, so I guess we have little choice here. I will hate losing you, but I believe Randy Jenkins will do as great of a job as you have."
"I know he will, Sir, and my parents already have a boy lined up to join the cooking staff. His name is Ian McFlynn and he is a great chef, better than me. He's already agreed to work under Randy. "
"As long as he does the job required, I will leave who is what up to your family. The only way I will intervene in the kitchen staff business is if you, until you leave, or Randy asks me to, unless a problem arises where I need to step in."
"Ian is preparing the meal for when we return to Earth. Now, I need to break the news to my team."
After the food was set out for the lunch buffet, Logan called a staff meeting. Everyone was curious as to what the meeting was about. Logan began, "I spoke with my family last night and…" Logan looked around the room at the faces. Randy Jenkins looked curious… Ernie Marquez appeared eager to hear the news… Ben Maxey, Ben Black, Che Sisitsky, Manuel Brauer and Aaron Maxwell were listening intently. About to break down crying, Logan wasn't sure he could tell them that he would be leaving the ship when they get back to Earth.
"And what?" Ben Black asked.
"Well, my family will be starting a new restaurant in Henderson, Nevada. They want me to take charge of it for the first six months."
"Then will you be rejoining the Sooloo?" Randy inquired. "I can take charge while you are gone."
"No, Randy, I will be the Executive Chef on the Darastix," tears started running down Logan's face. "I will miss you guys, but I am sure Randy will do a fine job. You already have the Executive Chef position, but after we reach Earth, that will be the top position. Ernie, you will be the Assistant Sous Chef."
"Assistant? Who will be the Sous Chef?" Ernie questioned.
Logan asked, "Do any of you know Ian McFlynn?"
"Yeah, he's an awesome cook, best I've ever seen," Randy looked at Logan, "no offense."
"None taken, in fact, I told Dave that he is better than me. And he has agreed to be your Sous Chef."
"He should be the Executive Chef."
"No Randy, he believes you can teach him more than you will learn from him. Don't sell yourself short, I believe you have surpassed me, and possibly Ian."
"That's a mighty big compliment," Randy grinned from ear to ear.
"No one can cook a better shimmy. Ben Maxey…" Logan started, "You may not be the greatest chef, but your baking skills are out of this world. After talking with my parents, we would like to promote you to Chief Baker."
"Seriously?" Ben Maxey couldn't believe it.
"Seriously, as for the rest of you, I know that you will do a fine job for Randy. My parents told me that they will be adding more cook's assistants, I'm not sure why, other than to give some time off. It's been eight of us covering an eighteen-hour day every day. Randy and I have been putting in nine hours each while asking the rest of you to put in six hours. I commend all of you, and I expressed that to my parents, so…"
"I don't mind; I love cooking," Randy chimed.
Che added, "I'll put in extra time to give someone else a break if they want."
"I appreciate that, but I am hoping my parents are giving us more people to be able to give breaks. By the way, they said that since you have been doing such a good job, they will have Christmas bonuses for you. It's almost 1100 and I bet some people are hungry, they should start coming in any time."
Will couldn't believe he was about to talk to his family. He just hoped his mom wouldn't be upset when she found out that he was gay. As soon as the screen had flickered to life, he heard, "Will Robinson Crusoe, you look too thin. Are you eating properly?"
"I eat plenty, Mom; I weigh more than I did when I left home. I can't wait to see you face-to-face. We are on our way to Earth right now."
"You look taller, so you are thinner. A mom always knows these things."
"I promise, Mom, I am fine."
"You find a girlfriend on that boat?"
"Mom, it's a starship, not a boat, and the entire crew are guys. Most of them are gay."
"So, no chance of you giving me any grandkids?"
"Not unless I… and John adopt."
"John? So, did you turn into one of those gay boys?"
"No Mom, I didn't turn gay, I am gay, and always have been."
"When you get back to Earth, I want you off that boat, so you can return to normal."
Will started to cry, "No Mom, I am gay, I didn't turn gay and I can't turn straight. I am in love with John Luke and I moved into his quarters."
Will heard his younger brother shout and laugh, "My older brother is a fag!"
"Robby, I am still your brother, yes I am gay, but I still love you."
"Ewww, you love me and want to suck my dick," Robby claimed.
"That's not how it works, Robby. I love you as my brother. I don't want to have sex with you."
"That's not what Mom says. She said that gay guys just want to suck everyone's dick."
"When I get home, you and I need to talk."
"No, stay away, fag!"
Will's mom came back into the video, "As long as you consider yourself gay, you are not welcome here. You are my son and I still love you and will pray for you, but you no longer live here."
Will closed his chat early and went to find John. As soon as he entered their quarters, he hugged John and just cried. John held him tight.
After a few minutes, John finally asked what was wrong. Will calmed down enough to tell him, and John suggested, "When Jace first came out to his father, his dad told him that he wasn't his son anymore. Maybe Jace could give you some advice, or have his dad talk to your mom. At least she said she still loves you."
"Thanks, John, I guess I need to talk with Jace."
Christian sat in the conference room waiting for Aurix to put through the call to his home. When the call went through, Christian spoke to his parents for fifteen of his twenty-five minutes. When he had finished talking to his parents, Aurix transferred the call to his brother, Ronald's home.
"Ronnie! I am so happy to see you, I'm so looking forward to seeing you for Christmas. We can celebrate our birthday like we usually do, twelve days before yours and twelve days after mine."
"I'm excited to see you too, Chris. I just wish there was a way to be assigned to the Sooloo when you guys leave again."
"That would be great, Ronnie. I will talk to Captain Bowman and ask if there is anything he can do."
The two brothers talked for a few more minutes until Christian's time ended. They said their goodbyes. Christian then left the conference room and went to his quarters where he contacted Jordan Rivers, Head of Operations to request a meeting with the Captain. Jordan told Christian that he'd set it up and let him know when it would be.
Christian arrived at the Captain's Ready Room and hit the chime. Instead of hearing Dave tell him to enter, the door opened, and Ali Bakabazi exited, informing Christian to go on in.
Once inside, Dave offered Christian a seat and something to drink. Christian took a seat but declined the drink.
"Sir, I wanted to thank you for arranging our calls home."
"Christian, let's drop the formality since it's just the two of us. Call me Dave."
Christian was a bit taken aback by this, but smiled, "Thanks, Dave, call me Chris."
"How can I help you today, Chris?"
"Sir... um... Dave. I spoke to my brother last night. As you know we're twins, but our birth dates are 24 days apart because of a problem when we were born. We were both candidates for the program and at the academy, but Ron's specialty is sciences where mine was medical. He wasn't selected only because of the fact that there were so many available for his specialty. I was hoping there could be a way to get him assigned to the Sooloo when we leave Earth again."
Christian was nervous wondering how Dave would respond, especially when Dave didn't reply immediately, but started checking something on his computer.
After a few moments, Dave smiled and replied, "Chris, we may have an opportunity. Ali Bakabazi has requested to step down from his position of Assistant Chief of Sciences to devote himself to teaching. Looking at Ronald's file, I think he may be a good fit to take the position Ali would be vacating. I see he's currently assigned as the Sciences liaison to Admiral Mirah's staff. I will discuss that with him, but I don't see it being a major issue. I'm not promising anything, but let's just say that there is a better than average chance we can make it happen."
Christian was elated, "Thank you, Sir... I mean, Dave. Please let me know when you know for sure."
"I will. But since I have you here, there is something else I wanted to discuss with you. Antonio Vargas has requested to leave the ship when we return to Earth, so he can complete his training as a Doctor. I see from your file that you have all the training you need to be a Registered Nurse, but there weren't any available positions for that. Would you be willing to accept the position, replacing Antonio when we leave Earth?"
"Of course, Sir. Whatever is best for the ship."
Dave ignored the formality but added, "That's fantastic, but there is the matter of your not being of proper rank for a Registered Nurse. But that is easily remedied. The position is yours, Lieutenant Abernathy."
Christian was beside himself and leapt out of his seat and hugged his Captain. When he realized what he'd done, he blushed, apologized and resumed his seat. "Thank you, Sir... Um… Dave... Um… Captain."
Dave smiled, holding back his laughter, "I will take that as a yes... congratulations, Lieutenant."
Christian stood and thanked Dave again, "I have to go tell Dr. Tom!"
Dave chuckled, "Dismissed, Lieutenant."
Christian rushed into Medical where Dr. Tom and the Howser were discussing some obscure medical topic. When they noticed him, Dr. Tom smiled and said, "Someone looks excited."
Christian grinned and blurted out in a rambling run on sentence, "Captain Bowman just told me that Antonio is going to stay on Earth and learn to be a Doctor and I was going to be his replacement and he gave me a promotion to Lieutenant and he is going to try to get my twin brother assigned to the Sooloo I am so happy right now I... I..." Christian then ran to Dr. Tom, wrapped his arms around Tom's neck and kissed him.
Tom smiled, "Yep... definitely excited."
The HMH then made a joking comment, "Get a room you two."
Christian then realized what he'd done. He blushed severely and stepped back. "Well, how about Exam Room 3?"
Dr. Tom looked down and noticed something about Christian's uniform trousers. "Yup... definitely excited."
Christian noticed where Tom had glanced and saw the rather prominent bulge in his pants. "Um... I'm sorry, Doctor. I..."
Tom interrupted him, "I was wondering how I could tell you that I was attracted to you, but it seems you are attracted to me as well. Why don't we go to my quarters and we can discuss if we should explore this attraction... maybe we can take care of your excitement at the same time as we take care of mine, along with any other issues that pop up as well.
The two left Medical and heard the HMH quip, "No matter how much I know about human sexuality, it still amazes me how fast these issues can pop-up."
During the times Tomo would have had watches, Tom and Randy made him sit in his room and think about why he wasn't on watch. Each day, after his "watch" ended, they questioned him about his thoughts. On the sixth day, Tomo begged, "I understand why I should have asked permission first, do I really need to sit in my room for four hours today?"
Tom smiled, "You would have had five watches this week, so what do you say, you and I go to the holodeck. Would you like for me to talk to the Captain about getting you back on duty a day early?"
"No sir, I think I should fulfill my discipline, if for no other reason than to prove to myself that I am Space Fleet material."
"Tomo, I am proud of that answer, and to me, you have already proven it."
"Thank you, Opsola, but I still want to finish what I was given."
"Understood, I still want to let the Captain know, including you wanting to finish. I know Dave thinks highly of you, even if your actions did tarnish it a little. This will help restore you in his eyes."
"If you want, but I'm hoping my actions from here on out will do that."
After Tom talked to Dave, he considered letting Tomo return to duty, but true to his word, Tomo said he wanted to finish the disciplinary action for his own sake. Dave didn't argue but did let Tomo know how much that meant.
Today was Tomo's first day back in Engineering. Connor welcomed him back and told him how much he was missed. Juro gave him a kiss and Connor cleared his throat. "Sorry, Opsola, but other than school, I've hardly seen Tomo this week."
Connor gave Juro a wink and a smile.
"So… have you named the cub yet?" Tomo asked.
Juro grinned, "I decided to name her Kallie."
"Her?" Connor asked. "How old is she?"
"The guy I got her from said she was two months old."
"I know pups can breed at five months, how old for kaldakas?"
"Um… I am thinking five months as well."
"Okay, so we have time, but I am telling you boys," Connor looked as serious as he could, "if this cub gets pregnant, you two WILL tell the Captain and be responsible for taking care of the cubs, pups, whatever they are. I advise you to keep her away from Shadow."
"I guess I should have made sure I got Juro a male."
The cooking staff went to work early. Randy and Logan were busy preparing seven twenty-pound turkeys. With the entire crew, all the children, the cooking staff and the barber, there wouldn't be much left over, but for what would be, Logan had plans. Che was preparing the potatoes to be mashed, while Ben Black was fixing the breakfast foods. They wanted the Thanksgiving Feast to be ready for Lunch, but it should last until the Supper meal. At the same time, they couldn't forget breakfast.
Today was also Łuke Trevor's birthday, so Ben Maxey was preparing cakes for dessert, and nine pies; three were pumpkin, three were mincemeat and three were cherry. The cakes were pumpkin cakes with buttercream icing. One cake was decorated as the birthday cake.
All the tables were joined together as one long table. Captain Dave Bowman had asked that all personnel not on watch attend the Thanksgiving Feast. As everyone was taking their seats, Dave looked at Scott and Łuke Trevor, "Since today is Łuke's birthday, I think you two should sit at the head of the table." Dave took the seat immediately to the right of the table head. Hal sat beside Dave.
Dave stood and requested, "Before we eat, I would like for everyone to say what they are thankful for. Since today is Łuke's birthday, I would like for him to start."
Łuke stood up, "I have so much to be thankful for. For starters, I was able to transfer to the Sooloo. Then I met Scott and we were married, not only married, but on a new planet that we all were a part of creating. Then, we met Sukotto. The boy was so excited this morning after Scott told him it was my birthday, he came in and jumped on me in bed. He wanted to be the first to wish me a happy birthday."
As Łuke sat down, Scott stood up. His speech was similar to Łuke's. One by one, each person listed what they were thankful for. When it was his turn, Steve stood, "This year I have much to be thankful for. First off, I found someone who is the perfect partner for me. Then I got an early Christmas present when Shasho came into our lives. We were planning on being his guardian for four months, but then found out it would be six... sort of like a test drive. At the time, I didn't think I was ready to be a dad, but in the short time since we made the guardianship official, I can't imagine my life without him. Brad has already agreed, and providing Shasho still wants it, I will be contacting Draconia tomorrow to convert his guardianship to an adoption. Does that sound good to you, Son?" Shasho's smile lit up the dining hall.
While Shasho was sitting between Brad and Steve, Kyle was right beside Steve. As he listened to his fellow crewmen give thanks, he knew his turn to stand up and say something was right after Steve. While Kyle reveled in being in the center of action on the bridge, on a shuttle, or anywhere things were happening, he did not like speaking to groups. He knew what he wanted to say, he just prayed he could get it to come out of his mouth in a half-way intelligent fashion.
No matter how much he didn't want it to, the inevitable moment happened when Steve sat down after giving his thanks. Kyle stood up, looked down at his gorgeous husband and beautiful son, took a deep breath, and proceeded to give his thanks.
"When I came onto the Sooloo, I was a spoiled brat little kid who was running away from his father, and a life that I thought gave me nothing to be grateful for. Today, I'm still a little kid, but I have so much to be grateful for that it fills my whole body with… well… with gratitude."
Kyle knew that sounded dumb as soon as he said it, but he kept calm and went on. "I am grateful for being on the best starship in the Explorer Fleet with an awesome Captain who helped me start to grow up. I am grateful that instead of running away from my father, I am looking forward to going home to see him. I am grateful that my best friend from home is next to me and is the husband I love every second." Kyle glanced at Koji as he continued, "I am grateful for the bundle of energy and love who fills me with love every day. And I am grateful to have all of you in my life as my fellow explorers, and my family of friends."
Kyle sat down, grateful that his talk was over and hoping he hadn't embarrassed himself too much. When Danny looked over and gave him his signature smile and little Koji whispered, "I love you", and grabbed his hand and squeezed it, Kyle was most grateful for having the best little family he could ever wish for.
When it came to Jordan and Jace, they stood up together. Jace started, "We are thankful that we were able to be assigned to the same ship. We had made plans for if that didn't happen, but thankfully, despite me almost blowing my interview with Dave, it did happen. Then, before the Sooloo launched, we were able to get married."
"As if that wasn't enough, we had two wonderful boys join our lives," Jordan continued as he and Jace each placed a hand on Jonas' and Jason's shoulders. "And to finish up what we are thankful for, we can't leave out this family. We consider each and every crewmember as brothers, and the other boys as our nephews."
Jason whispered to Jace, "Pappy, does that mean I want to date one of my cousins?"
Akage was tugging on his dad's sleeve. Kage just nodded, so Akage stood up. "Some of you may know that Jaku planned to adopt me, but then that fell through and he talked to my new opsola. Opsola fell in love with me almost from the start; I could tell and that made it easier for me to love him. When he even teased me about hoping I got along with Jaku, I knew he was my opsola. Then at the adoption, he hinted to the idea of him and Jaku marrying. I am so thankful for both of them."
Kage whispered, "I have a feeling, you would like for Jaku and me to get married." Akage chuckled.
Zifaa stood up, "We don't have anything like this on Darastix. I'm going to suggest it to my dad. I am thankful for the crew of the Sooloo helping us when the Lizons attacked. I am thankful that I get to spend more time with my best friends, Juro and Tomo. I will miss them when they leave Earth again. I am thankful that my brother called me three days ago to let me know the Shouryou has left our home. Even four days out, the Shouryou is able to track us. Zarek said they are going slightly faster than us and their computer predicts they will join us before we enter Earth's star system. I believe you call it a solar system. And finally, I am thankful to go visit Earth."
Hal was next and then Dave wrapped up speaking. Having heard all the others, Dave stood. "I used to think how corny it was every year people going around the table telling what they were thankful for, but listening to each of you, I have to say I am changing my opinion of it. I am privileged to be surrounded by each of you and I have so much to be thankful for. The past year has been amazing. I married Hal and we had the honor of leading this group of awesome people. I am thankful for each and every one of you making the best crew a Captain could ever hope for. Hal and I now have a special and wonderful son."
"We are now on our way back to Earth and I am thankful that we are being afforded this visit home for Christmas before continuing our mission. Kyle said it perfectly... I am thankful for my Sooloo family... each of you have enriched my life."
Dave sat down and wiped a tear from his eye letting everyone know he had spoken from his heart.
Logan was thinking that they should have gathered an hour sooner with how long everyone saying what they were thankful for took, still, once they were done, the food was on display and they lined up in the order of how they were seated. Randy was slicing the turkey, asking each person if they wanted white meat or dark. When Koji got to the bird, he asked, "Is that a dachou?"
"No, this is a turkey from Earth, or I should say a turshimmy. We cooked this one with shimmy inside."
After everyone had eaten, Łuke's birthday cake was brought out. Sixteen candles were on top and lit. With the size of the cake, Łuke almost didn't get all of them out with one breath. Then he looked at the cake, "I want to eat the pilgrim."
Scott teased, "I'll be your pilgrim."
That prompted Aiden to speak up, "Funny, I thought you were the turkey."
Scott chuckled, "They say you are what you eat, so I guess, today all of us are turkeys."
Jace had shared with Dave about what Will told him, and what Jace was hoping to accomplish, so Dave insisted on Jace going first. When the screen came on, everyone yelled, "HAPPY THANKSGIVING!!!"
Jason Blackwell was the first to speak, "So, who are those two cuties sitting on your laps?"
"Dad, this is Jason and on…" Jace was interrupted by his dad.
"Jason? That's my name and my son's name."
"Pappy told me that his name was Jason, but you call him Jace."
"Three generations of Jason, and Jordan, who are you holding?"
"Papa Jason, this is Jonas."
"So, you are my grandpa and I'm guessing that's Grandma holding the little boy."
"Yes, she is holding Christmas. He will be a year old in a few weeks. He is your uncle."
"Really? We are older than our uncle? Who are those other people waiting to talk?"
Jordan replied, "They are my parents, Grandpa James and Grandma Jessica."
"Hi boys," Jordan's parents said in unison.
Most of their time was spent with the grandparents asking the boys what they wanted for Christmas, but as the time was coming to an end, Jace spoke up, "Dad, I have a request for you. If you don't feel like it's right, I will understand, but…"
"Ask what you need, Son. If I am able, I will do it."
Jace went on to tell his dad about what happened with Will. His dad looked at him thoughtfully. Jace thought he was going to say that he couldn't do it but then his dad began to speak, "Son, all I can do is tell her what your mother told me. I think your mother talking to her would do more good, but in the end, she has to come to terms on her own. We will do our best and I hope she comes to accept Will like I finally did you boys, but we can't force her."
"I know, Dad, and I appreciate your help. I'm sure Will will also. We'll see you at Christmas."
"I love you, Jace, and we will see you at Christmas. The Rivers have invited us to stay with them until after the New Year."
Aiden, Connor and Juro were seated at the table. Juro was holding his kaldaka cub. He had hoped that his parents would allow Tomo to join him for this call, but they wanted it to be 'family' only. Besides, Tomo and Zifaa were busy in Zifaa's quarters.
When the screen came to life, Aiden and Connor smiled at their recruiters... their mentors. Colonel Savage and Commander Collins sat there, unsurprised because they had received regular reports on the progress of their boys.
When the usual pleasantries and Thanksgiving wishes were done between Aiden, Connor, Commander Collins and Colonel Savage, Tom Collins asked, "So, who's that with you and what does he have on his lap?"
Aiden spoke up, "This is our son, Juro. He's holding a kaldaka cub. It's a native animal from Draconia."
Juro was nervous but he smiled and said, "Hi! It's great to finally meet you. Dad and Opsola talk about you guys all the time."
Colonel Savage smiled at the boy and replied, "It's nice to meet you too, Juro. That is a cute cub, does he have a name?"
"He's a she, Sir. Her name is Kallie."
Colonel Collins laughed, "Kallie Kaldaka, it seems to suit her. I have to tell you, Juro, we've heard a lot about you in the reports. You seem to be quite the Engineer. You even passed the bridge qualification and are serving watches on the bridge."
Juro was surprised that they knew about him. "I didn't pass it the first time, but after a couple of tries I passed. I serve watches on the bridge at Tactical and do watches in Engineering as well. Captain Bowman made us 'Acting Ensigns' so we can serve our watches.
"You must be talking about Tomo, Tom and Randy Kohl's adopted son."
"Yes, he's also my boyfriend."
This announcement wasn't surprising to Aiden or Connor, they'd expected it at some point, but it seemed oddly appropriate for him to mention it during the call for the first time, officially.
The family got to know their mentors over the next twenty minutes and when the time came they ended the call after making arrangements for when the Sooloo returned to Earth.
Aiden turned to Juro and said, "Your Opsola and I are happy you finally told us about the relationship you and Tomo are building."
"The week that he spent in trouble for bringing me Kallie showed me how much I really loved him. Not being able to see him except for school was one of the hardest things I have ever had to endure."
Connor hugged his son, smacked him on the butt and said, "Go. Have some fun with Tomo and Zifaa. Zifaa asked if you and Tomo could spend the night with him. We've spoken to the Kohl's and Captain Bowman and it has been agreed. We'll see you all at breakfast tomorrow."
Juro hugged his parents, kissing them on the cheeks. As he left the room, Aiden chuckled, "If you noticed the tent in his pants, you can guess what's going to happen."
Connor smiled, replying, "Noticing the tent in yours, I have a feeling something similar will be happening in our quarters since we'll be alone."
The two left, hand-in-hand, heading to their quarters.
Inga "Mama" Tietokone was nervous. She missed her son and son-in-law terribly and was surprised when she heard that they were going to be calling. When the call started, she saw them sitting happily in a conference room, obviously still on the ship. Stars streaked by through the window behind them. It was then she noticed the small boy sitting between them.
"Where are you boys? I can see you're not at Earth since the stars are moving quickly behind you, and who is that handsome devil sitting between you."
Hal looked at his 'Mama', "Mama, this is your grandson, Lars. I can't tell you how we're talking as it is still classified, we are just happy we can talk. Happy Thanksgiving."
Dave then took over, "Happy Thanksgiving, Mama."
Lars then spoke for the first time, "Are you really my Grandma?"
Inga was immediately taken by the boy. "Yes, it seems I am if you are Dave and Hal's son. You can call me Grandma Inga, or just Grandma." For the next fifteen minutes, Dave and Hal sat quietly while Inga and Lars got to know one another. It was during that conversation that Lars surprised his grandmother.
"I am looking forward to meeting you at Christmas when we get back to Earth."
Inga was surprised, she hadn't been told they were returning so soon. "You're coming back to Earth? Is there a problem? Is everything okay?"
Dave answered the question. He knew what he could and couldn't tell his mother-in-law. "Everything is fine. There have been some developments on a diplomatic front that required that we return to Earth. We met a race of people and have become very friendly with them, so we are bringing a diplomatic envoy of theirs back to Earth. We'll arrive a few days before Christmas."
Inga was excited, "Well, then I have much to do! I am glad you told me with enough notice so I can plan for a 'proper' Christmas!"
Hal interrupted, "Mama, don't go hog wild. Our return to Earth isn't public knowledge... yet."
"Yes, yes... I know. But I have a ton of things to do. Plan a 'proper' Christmas Dinner, get the house ready for visitors... Oh! I have to buy gifts! By the way, boys, you didn't have to arrange for half of your pay to be sent to me, but it allowed me to quit working and enjoy life."
Dave and Hal told Inga that they had no use for the credits in space and it made them feel good to be able to help her. They ended the call with Inga crying happy tears.
Lars turned to his parents and said, "I love my new grandma!"
"Since when did you become Mr. Sentimental?" Brad asked Steve. They had just finished a spirited session of sex and were engaging in pillow talk.
"I was wondering when you were going to ask me about what I said," Steve responded.
"Well, it's not like it was a big surprise; we have been talking about it after all. After the way you handled Shasho and his grand plan for scheduling the phone calls, your decision was inevitable. But, your timing and your little speech about making Shasho our son… yeah, talk about sentimental. It sure wasn't something pulled out of one of your ultra-organized file drawers."
"Fuck, the organization of those drawers and cabinets is more Shasho's than mine. But his work on that schedule was amazing. I had to say I was ready to adopt him to keep Dave from grabbing him first," Steve chuckled.
"I assume you know what you got yourself into."
Steve leaned in and gave his lover a gentle kiss on his lips. "I have no fucking clue what I got myself into, all I know is that we got ourselves into something pretty damned special."
"So, tell me, was Shasho's phone plan the best possible plan?" Brad asked. "I've been meaning to ask, but we've been so busy with this and busy with that, and especially being busy putting the finishing touches on our son's permanent room, I haven't gotten around to asking."
"I would have done it differently, but that doesn't mean my way would have been a better way. I was about to suggest a couple of changes when I remembered something about this nerdy twelve-year-old at the Prep School who wore glasses and, well… looked the part. That was the year the differences in the size of the classes was all catawampus; and first lunch was so crowded some of the seventh graders had to eat at foldout tables. I mean, we almost had to sit in each other's laps to eat. It was bad. But, I had an idea on how to fix it.
"So, I used my considerable charms to get some enrollment information from Commander Worth and used the info to come up with an alternate plan that would shift some of the seventh grade schedule around so none of the lunches would be overcrowded."
"Commander Worth was your homeroom teacher, right?" Brad queried.
"Yeah, and my history and math teacher, which was a weird combo, but he was good at both."
"I remember him. He was a dude that was liked and TOTALLY respected."
"I guess him being in Space Fleet instead of a civilian teacher gave him some credibility right from the start. Wearing that uniform in front of the class sure impressed me. Most of the teachers who were in Space Fleet taught at the academy."
"Did anyone ever tell you that you are often quite verbose?"
"Ooh, Brad uses a new word. I like it."
"So, tell me about this nerdy twelve-year-old who has since morphed into a sexy fourteen-year-old who now likes to talk his partner to death and still wears glasses instead of maybe getting his eyes zapped by a laser."
"I like the nerdy look, it fits my lifestyle," Steve said defensively. "Okay, so this nerdy, not too talkative preteen knocks on the door of Worth's office and gets told to enter. So, there he is, quaking in his nerdy shoes with his little computer in his hand, asking if he could show the big man something. I was ready to show him my new schedule setup, even though he wasn't the dude who made the schedules. But he was the dude I knew the best even if he scared the piss out of me."
"And to make a short story even longer…," Brad grinned.
"Right. To make a long story short, he looked at what I worked out and said, 'Son, I hope you realize that you've not only split two of the seventh-grade classes so their time with their teachers is class, lunch, class, but you'll probably have some friends eating separate lunches.'"
"I knew right then that Worth didn't like my plan and it was doomed. But I called on my inner verbose being and explained to him how my plan worked better for everybody overall than what was going on then."
"Which would be the status quo," Brad confirmed.
"You should be teaching vocabulary lessons to the urchins at the school. So anyway, he got up from his desk, placed his hand on my shoulder and looked down at me with a big smile on his face. 'Son, this is one hell of a piece of work. Your plan seems to have eluded the so-called educational experts at this fine institution. It is a good one, no, it is a great one.'"
"Brad, the whole time, the guy I feared and worshipped had his hand on my shoulder—I swear, I almost fainted. Anyway, two weeks later my plan was implemented, and I received a commendation from Worth and from the school's Comandante; and was on my way to being a big cheese administrator on the star ship."
"What about being a big cheese teenager in bed?" remarked Brad.
"That was my next goal as a twelve-year-old nerd and I do believe I succeeded there."
"Okay, I think there was a point to this story, somewhere."
"Yep. The point is, when Worth started right out telling me what the flaws were in my plan, my entire body felt like the air had been let out of it. I didn't see those issues as flaws because they were necessary to end the overcrowded lunch, but he made me think I fucked up.
"Well, the first thing I saw in Shasho's plan was a couple of places I would have done differently, but before I opened my mouth to say something, I remembered the meeting with Worth. While it ended great and my idea was accepted, it started like shit. I wasn't going to do that to the kid. His idea took hard work to organize and there was no way I was going to kick the air out of his body when we were probably going to accept the idea anyway."
"That kid just got happier and happier and prouder and prouder as you and Dave heaped the praise on him, and justifiably so."
"Wow, another big word," blurted Steve.
"Here's are a couple of big words for you—fuck you."
"You did just that about fifteen minutes ago," Steve grinned. "Anyway, it was then that I knew how much that kid and I had bonded, how much he and you had bonded, and how important he was in my life and in yours. Giving my sentimental speech was pretty much decided at that meeting with Dave. All that was left was the timing."
Dave sat back at the conn and watched the goings on at the Astrogation table with hidden amusement. Kyle was obviously in his element as he hacked out a series of coordinates. Dave loved watching Kyle when he was in full astrogation mode.
"Okay, I've got us ready for the course change, Sir," Kyle told Dave. The ship's astrogation program was operated under the assumption that the Sooloo had a certain top speed. But the improvements to the ship's propulsion system gave the ship a top speed that caused the autopilot system to lose accuracy and for the ship to slip slightly off course. Granted, it was a miniscule amount, but over the long distances of interstellar space even a one-tenth of one percent variation could cause them to miss their destination.
Brad, Roger and the entire Information Systems team worked hard trying to reprogram the ship's computer, but the results were nil. As soon he saw that his team couldn't fix the bug, the Space Fleet IT gurus in Las Vegas were contacted. They quickly realized that in order for the ship's computer to be reprogrammed to maintain an accurate course, some hardware changes would be needed. In other words, the Sooloo would have to maintain the status quo until it reached Earth.
At first, Kyle and John Luke made time-consuming daily corrections, but Kyle figured that if he kept track of the daily variations, he could make a course change every five days with accurate results.
"So, what if we're off course for a couple of days?" Kyle had told Dave. "It's where we end up the counts."
John Luke entered the bridge a few minutes before Kyle had finished his calculations. He would be starting his watch in twenty minutes and arrived early for the course change. He knew Kyle would time the course change to occur just before the watch change.
Kyle double-checked the hen scratches he wrote on the pages of his binder and then entered his numbers into the computer. A buzzer sounded instantly, a red light flashed, and a flashing readout in red letters appeared on the screen saying: "Coordinates not accepted. Enter proper coordinates."
Kyle then entered the temporary override code that Brad had given him, ending the alert. He then re-entered his coordinates and noted that the ship made the small change in course he had programmed.
His code was good once and for his next course change he would have to ask for a new code. Only six officers: the Captain, First Officer, Operations Officer, Chief of Ships Internal Operations (the position created for Jace), the Information Chief and Chief of Engineering had the master code as per regulations. Those were regulations of the Exploration program, some of the Admiralty opted for additional restrictions due to the ages of the crew and it was thought to concede this point... Mirah chose to pick battles he thought were more important. Kyle felt that the Chief Astrogator should have the code as well and made a mental note to ask his father to ask Admiral Mirah to expand the number to seven and include the Chief Astrogator. Or maybe I can ask Admiral Mirah, myself, he thought confidently.
"It's all good, Sir," Kyle informed Dave. "The new coordinates will keep us close for the next five days. One more adjustment and we'll be on course to enter the Solar System right where we want to."
"I take it you have already made those calculations, Commander," Dave grinned.
"They're close to ninety percent complete. Just don't go chasing any stray cats and the last adjustment will be a piece of Ben Maxey cake." Kyle turned the Astrogation table over to John Luke. "I'll send you what my binder says in an hour or so." John Luke knew that Kyle would be entering his last set of coordinates into the computer data base and sending Dave, Meagear Endou and him a copy.
Hal arrived to relieve Dave who started to leave the bridge, but stopped at the Astrogation table. "Hard to believe he works most of that stuff out in his head," Dave said to John Luke.
"I don't know if I could have figured out all those permutations using the computer," John Luke replied. "He has an amazing brain, and already has most of the next set of changes figured out. Believe me, calculating one adjustment every five days is less work overall than doing it daily, but the math is way more complicated. Kyle is by far the best astrogator in the Explorer Fleet if not all of Space Fleet and he's not even a teenager yet."
"Believe me, Commander Luke, I totally appreciate what I have in Kyle Robinson."
"The thing about him is, he not only knows his stuff upside down and backwards, he knows how to explain almost any type of math and make it understandable and interesting. I've watched him with the kids in school a couple of times and he keeps them active; he has them eating out of his hand." John Luke chuckled and said, "Ask him anything about math and he has the answer or knows how to find it in a hurry. But ask him when the Treaty of Las Vegas was signed, and he's probably going to get a blank look on his face and say, 'The Treaty of what?'" The Treaty of Las Vegas was the document that created the United States of Earth.
"I think you might be exaggerating some," Dave laughed.
"Maybe, but not by much. I tell you, Sir, it would be a kick to watch him try to teach a history class."
"Thankfully, that won't happen."
Dave turned again to leave the bridge. As he started out through the doors, John Luke shouted out a reminder. "Remember, Sir, don't go chasing any stray cats."
Dave laughed. Only Kyle would come up with the off-the-wall thought of the Sooloo running off chasing strays and messing up his precious calculations.
Randy was quaking with excitement as he waited for his call to his parents and brother to connect. He knew exactly what to expect from his parents. His mother, Carla, would be her emotional self, her mouth going nonstop while her face radiated with excitement and his father, Fred, would be a smartass until his mother nagged him into being civilized. His twelve-year-old brother, Gordy, would be the cool little bro he had always been. Randy had been anxious to tell his family about his promotion and couldn't believe he had to wait this long. He wished that he could have done it right away.
Suddenly the screen lit up and there sat his mom and dad facing him with big grins splitting their faces. "Oh, my God," his mom nearly shrieked. "I can't believe this is real. I thought we weren't going to see anything of you for years, and here you are right in front of us. When that nice Admiral told us to be ready to receive a video call from you today at this hour, I told your father I don't believe any of it. But here you are."
"Hello, Son," his father said in his usual curt, but friendly style. "How is it you suddenly have instant communications?"
"Hi, Mom and Dad. It's great to see both of you. Where's Gordy?"
"He had basketball practice and should be coming through the door any minute. He's was so excited to be able to see you he was almost hyperventilating," Carla said.
"Anyway, Dad, the instant communication stuff is classified, except that you know we have it."
"Hmm, which is your way of saying that since it wasn't conjured up in the kitchen, you don't know squat about it," Fred said.
"No, it means that if I say anything more, I'll end up washing cooking pots instead of cooking in them."
"We miss you so much," Randy's mother said.
"You know she misses you since she has to do all the cooking," Fred said. "Although, I must say it's nice to be able to eat without pumping down the antacids."
"Fred, be nice," Carla implored. "We haven't seen our son in months. I mean look how he's grown. And he's the one cooking the food, so it must be good and nutritious, just like it was at home."
"I'd give credit to the Head Chef for that," Fred smirked.
"Fred, he wrote us and said he was promoted to the number two chef, so give him credit."
Fred was about to open his mouth when Randy said, "Mom, Dad, I've got a new promotion."
"To ship's captain, I assume," Fred said.
Carla looked straight at her husband. "Fred, really." She then looked back at Randy. "What new job do you have?"
"I am replacing Logan as the Head Chef. He's going to help his family open a new restaurant and then transfer to another ship."
"My son is the Head Chef of a starship? Oh, Randy, we're so proud of you," Carla gushed. "Aren't we Fred?"
Fred Jenkins had long ago learned when to be a cynical smartass and when to be a proud father. This was a proud father moment. "Congratulations, Son. I assume it was your lasagna that won the day. Yours is still the best I've ever eaten."
"I think it was my shimmy that did the trick," Randy boasted.
"Shimmy? What on Earth is shimmy?"
"Well, let's just say it's not on Earth and never has been."
"You mean it's food from another planet?" Fred asked incredulously.
"That's exactly what it is, Dad."
"Good Lord, I'm gonna need to reach for my antacids right now."
Carla gave her husband a disapproving look and then said, "How do you fit into your clothes with how much you've grown?"
"When I outgrow something, it's tossed into recycling and ends up being used to replicate something bigger. I could wear the exact same clothes design, only bigger if I wanted to, but what kind of fun is that?"
The chat was interrupted by the sound of the front door closing, followed by a blond, athletic looking twelve-year-old boy all but leaping into the living room. "Randy, Randy, Randy, when are you coming home?" Gordy Jenkins screamed in delight.
"In a few weeks," Randy replied.
"Really?" Gordy squeaked. "I thought you were going to be gone forever. Are you staying for good?"
"No, but I'll have a couple of weeks at home."
Gordy looked at his parents, saw that they were both focused on the video screen, and wiggled his ears. Normally, Randy would have returned the gesture by wiggling his, but with his parents' attention focused on him, he didn't want them to ask what that was about, since he didn't want to answer the question. The ear wiggling was the signal the brothers gave each other saying that they were horny, and Gordy should sneak into Randy's bedroom as soon as possible.
"How's hoops going?" Randy asked his brother.
"Great. We've got our first game in a week. I'm practicing with the first team."
"That no surprise because you're a good player." Unlike Randy, Gordy was a good athlete and enjoyed playing basketball, lacrosse and baseball. Gordy beamed on hearing his brother's praise.
"Just like you're a good cook," Gordy told his brother.
"He's a great cook," Carla added.
"Once he learned how to fry an egg over easy instead of turning it into a volcanic rock," Fred remarked.
"Dad, I was friggin' eight years old when I messed up those eggs and I was eight years old when I finally cooked them right."
"And you were your brother's age when you made your first gourmet lasagna meal. Hell, he's still trying to learn the fine art of boiling water."
"Maybe so, but he sure knows how to put a basketball into a basket."
"A combo of great coaching and excellent genes, making for a talented player. Just like you got great teaching and different genes that make you a talented cook. That dude at the community center cooking class sure knew his stuff and knew how to teach it and you sure latched onto it. I'm proud of both of my sons." Randy thought that may have been the longest line of praise for him and his brother he had ever heard.
"Yeah, old Vern taught me a lot about the kitchen. I'd skip breakfast on the days I went to the center for private lessons, just so he'd cook me breakfast. I bet he thought Mom neglected me because I always showed up hungry," Randy laughed.
"He did ask me once why I never fed you breakfast," Carla chuckled.
"I remember, because you gave me a thorough mom chewing-out for embarrassing you. Hey, Dad, it will be lasagna for you my first day home."
"Oh no it won't," Carla protested. "You're primary cooking teacher is making dinner for your first supper."
"You were my best cooking teacher, Mom, but when Vern showed me about cooking for groups, he sent my life in a whole new direction. The next thing I knew I was helping cook at community center banquets and stuff. Damn, why am I telling you this, you know the story."
"I do indeed," Carla said wistfully. "The next thing I know you're applying for this outer space thing and the next thing I know you're barely a teenager and leaving home." She stopped to dab her eyes.
"Hey, Mom, you know it was something I couldn't pass up. I mean me, a boy who likes cooking going out to explore the universe. How can I not try out for that?"
"It would be like me trying out for the NBA," Gordy chimed in.
"If your mom is taking the first night spotlight, when will I be getting my lasagna?" Fred asked.
"Night three," Carla answered. "You're treating us all out to dinner at a fancy restaurant on night three."
"I am?" Fred asked with a look of feigned innocence. After getting a long stare from his wife, Fred grinned and said, "I guess I am. It will be a great warmup for the main course. Lasagna ala Randy."
"Maybe I should use shimmy as my meat."
"If you do, it's bread and water for you the rest of the visit. Now where did I put those damn antacids?"
"Oh, before I go, I should let you know I've got a boyfriend on the ship."
"This is news?" Fred asked. "You've had a boyfriend ever since you discovered the primary use of that thing between your legs. What's his name?"
"His name is Whit. He's probably not gay, but when it's all guys on the ship…"
"I got it, Son. No need to corrupt your little brother with the details."
"Dad, I know what he's talking about. I mean I am twelve years old and in middle school, you know."
"This is what I was afraid of," Carla sighed.
"What's that?" Fred asked.
"Mom, I could make you a grandkid tomorrow if you want," Gordy said.
"Fred, have you had 'The Talk' with that son of yours?"
"Mom, I don't have much time here. You can teach Gordy all about sex later, although I think he knows all the basics," Randy said.
"And then some," Gordy grinned.
"I can see that when you get here it's going to be a wild and crazy visit," Fred said. "The family will be just like normal."
"And you know we'll all love every minute of it," Carla said, her mood perking back up. "We love you, Son, and can't wait to see you and even more important, hug you."
Randy could make out Gordy's ears wiggling after their mom's last statement.
"I love you all," Randy said. "I totally cannot wait to get home and hug all of you too." Nobody but Gordy noticed the little wiggle of Randy's ears.
"Give our best to your boyfriend," Carla said. "Tell him we said he'd better take extra good care of you."
"I love you, Son," Fred called out.
"I love you, Bro," came Gordy's squeaky voice.
"I love you all." Randy blew them a kiss and then disconnected.
Brad and Steve walked into Shasho's room. The boy had just gone to bed and was on his back, his blankets covering only half of his bare torso.
"You came," he grinned when he saw his "Unkas" enter his room.
"As promised," Brad said. "It's your first official tuck-in from both of us, in your completely finished room."
"I love my room and I love both of you. Am I really going to be your son?"
"As far as we're concerned, you are our son right now," Brad told him. "All we need to do is cross the T's and dot the I's."
"What does that mean?"
"It means that all of the proper paperwork has been completed," Steve answered.
"Oh, just like what you and me do," Shasho told Steve.
"I think I know what to call both of you. Unka Brad will be Opsola and Unka Steve will be Unka Opsola."
"That is an interesting combo. Why put those two together?" Steve asked.
"Because I want to."
"That sounds like a good reason to me."
"But I can change it if I want, but I don't think I will want to."
"Whatever you decide, remember that, well, Unka Steve and I love you with all of our hearts," Brad said as he pulled the covers up to Shasho's nipples and then kissed him on the forehead.
"We're happy you are going to stay in our lives. My love for you erupts all through me."
"You mean it's not organized like you are?"
"Love is never organized, because that would mean we know what it is. I sure don't know what it is. I just know I'm full of love for you," he turned to Brad, "and for your opsola." Steve pulled the covers up to Shasho's chin and kissed him on the forehead as well.
The two new fathers stopped at the door and turned to look at their son before turning out the light. "We love you, Son," Steve and Brad said in unison, an act that had not been planned or rehearsed.
"I love you Opsolas. I am the happiest boy on the Sooloo."
The lights went out, the teen fathers left, and the young boy wiped away tears of happiness before drifting off into a contented sleep.
The watch had only started an hour earlier. Dave had the conn and Juro was manning the tactical station. Will Crusoe was trying his hand at Astrogation with John Luke beside him, just in case.
"Captain," Juro called out, "We are receiving a distress call from a barren planet."
"A barren planet? Who is sending out the call?"
"The beacon belongs to the SS Stephen William Hawking, Sir."
Dave inquired, "Are there any ships closer than we are?"
"There is one closer, but at their speed, it will take them six days to reach them. We can do it in three, or four."
Dave declared, "Not knowing what the distress is, we better go. The sooner they have the help they need, the better. Inform the Kaisokusen and Shouryou. John Luke, assist Will in plotting the course. It looks like we have a stray cat to chase."