A message originated from Crewman Head to Commander Devin French. And it appeared to be encrypted. Only Devin French would understand it without decryption. Brad and a team of IS members worked to decrypt the message, as did Jace. Jordan even asked Zorn to use Aurix to decrypt it. All three teams came up with the same solution at approximately the same time. It was a message to kill Kyle Robinson.
Meanwhile, exploration of the planet had begun. Jordan, as Second officer of the SS Sooloo, whose mission was to explore the planet, was head of the mission. Commander Walker went off the approved mission specs and now his crew is missing. Somehow, their shuttle was down a crevasse with the hatch detached.
Jordan's team approached where they saw the runes. From there, they headed in the direction of the arrow. Tomalok moved to beside Jordan, "Commander, I want to thank you for not leaving anything out in your report to your captain. I guess he came down hard on Captain Garcia, and for the first time since I've joined this crew, other than his dealings with French, I actually saw him as a captain worthy of respect. He told me to apologize to you, which you deserve, but I wanted to thank you, too."
"I accept your apology and appreciate your thanks. Just remember, part of your job is to assist the junior officers in growing as officers."
"Yes Sir, and I wish that I would have followed your example. Ensign French ended up saving my life yesterday."
Jordan chuckled, "He never told me; I guess that makes you glad that I put him with you."
"Yes Sir. And after Captain Garcia reamed us all, I reported to him about Denver French being a good officer. If it wasn't for him not getting along with Devin, I'd request transferring him to our ship."
"That would be for him and the Captains to discuss. Personally, I want to transfer Ensign Kuc to our ship."
"To be honest, Sir, I think he would be happier. Kuc is a good officer and I would hate to see him leave, but his Chief of Security gives him bad reports. I think Kuc intimidates him."
"Aren't you the Assistant Chief of Security?"
Tomalok nodded his head, "I am, and that's how I know Ensign Kuc is a good officer. I keep trying to talk Commander Zapphire into giving him a proper review, but Jules swears he is giving him a proper review for his job performance. After Captain Bowman talked with Captain Garcia, my captain asked for my opinion of Ensign Kuc. After I told him, he just nodded his head and said, 'I thought so.'"
"When we return to the shuttle, I'll talk to Commander Tietokone and see what he thinks. If he approves, then I will, or he can talk to Captain Bowman."
"Does everyone on your ship follow the chain of command like this?"
"Yes, Commander, we do. And we are more of a family than a crew. With very few exceptions, we all respect one another. I would be willing to give my life for any one of my crewmates."
"Hopefully, our ship will start functioning as it should. As slack as the ship had gotten, and I realize that I am part of the blame, I'm surprised that we haven't blown the ship up yet."
"Assist your captain, encourage him to be the captain that he is capable of. I know he will appreciate it, and you may be surprised. I believe that you will be a good officer for your ship and I know Captain Garcia needs more crewmembers like you."
The team continued down the path which led into a cave or tunnel. Jordan tried to report back to Hal, but his communicator wasn't working. He looked at Tomalok, "Head back toward the shuttle until your communicator can send out a signal. Let Commander Tietokone know where we are and that we are entering a cave of sorts. We may need repeaters to be able to stay in contact."
"Aye, Commander, and thank you for entrusting such an important job to me."
"Return after you've reported in." Tomalok took off running; he didn't want to let Jordan down.
Another hour and a half, Jordan hadn't heard from Tomalok and the lieutenant commander hadn't returned. His first thought was that maybe Hal had told him to wait and lead more crewmen to the tunnel, but without any means of contact, he didn't know what to think. "Alright, let's head back, find Tomalok and see what Commander Tietokone may have said about the report."
"No Commander, I believe you will come with me."
"Walker? Where is the rest of your team?"
"Drop your weapons, come with me and you will see. Oh, and to be sure no one tries to escape, remove your uniforms. I'm sure none of you want to be outside in that cold in your skivvies."
"Walker? Have you gone mad?"
"No, I found a place where I am the one in charge. The inhabitants here serve me as their ruler. Now remove your uniform or one of your crewmembers will die."
Jordan did as he was ordered. He didn't know how many of Walker's team were with him and they had the drop on him and his team. Walker made a point to push Jordan any chance that he got. Jordan looked at him and said, "When Tomalok reports to Commander Tietokone, a search party will be here in minutes."
Walker just laughed, "You mean him?" There stood Lt Commander Tomalok in his skivvies with his hands on his head. One of Walker's team members was pushing him along.
"I'm sorry, Commander. They got the jump on me before I could report in," Tomalok stated remorsefully.
"No apology necessary, as you see, they got us, too."
Dave exited the shuttle once it had landed on the hangar deck of the SS Endurance. What he saw was definitely not as he had expected. From all accounts, the crew of the Endurance were lackadaisical on their approach at discipline. He'd expected to see that when he arrived.
What he saw was what seemed to be a well-oiled machine. Protocol seemed to be being followed at every step. As he made his way to the Captain's dining room, he paid attention. Not just to those in his immediate presence, but to those on the periphery.
Once inside the dining room, Eric Garcia offered Dave a seat. His steward had poured soft drinks for each and, after stating that the meal would be served in about ten minutes, left the room.
"Eric, I'm impressed. Also, I believe I owe you an apology. On my way over here, I saw the workings of your crew and they seemed to be a fairly well-trained and effective unit. I came down hard on you because I had been told that my officers didn't see what I've seen today."
Eric shook his head and replied, "Dave, you gave me a kick in the ass, and I truly deserved it. I came back and proved the theory to my officers that shit does truly roll downhill. I gave it to them with both barrels. I made it clear to them that I had failed to maintain order on this ship and I was going to make a change in that. I will not go to the opposite extreme, but I wanted to thank you for opening my eyes."
They talked for a few more minutes when the steward returned with their meals. After placing the plates in front of the Captains, the steward placed a pitcher of iced tea on the table, informed the diners that if needed, either should just ring for him, then he left the room.
As they ate, they discussed the current situation, "Eric, it's been hours since we heard from one of the search parties. I'm a bit concerned over that. Protocol mandates a check-in at least hourly on away missions. We have been receiving reports from the base camp site and other search parties, but neither ship nor the base camp have received anything from that party. What scares me is, my Second Officer is leading that party and it's not like him."
Eric Garcia looked contemplative, "Dave, do you think we should send a larger security contingent down to search for the search team? We know where they were supposed to be going, but..."
"Actually, I think that would be a good idea. I will send my Chief of Tactical/Security, Commander Douglass down. He will be stationed at the base camp and will be second in command to Hal who is already on the surface."
"This morning, surprisingly, Commander Devin French was completely cooperative, why don't we have him lead the actual search and rescue effort?"
"Honestly, I can see where you're coming from, but there's still the matter of the communication that he received. He hasn't acted on it, nor has he notified his chain of command about it. Wouldn't Commander Robinson be a better choice?"
"Giving my officers the benefit-of-the-doubt may have been one of my biggest failings so far, but I can't believe he'd actually cause harm to Commander Robinson."
"Be that as it may..." Dave started but was interrupted.
"Be that as it may, as I was saying, I can't fault you for making the decision you have. I will go along with naming Commander Robinson leader of the search effort."
Dave nodded. "Why don't we notify our respective Security Chiefs, then we can contact Commander Robinson."
The two captains made the contacts they needed to in order to have two fully armed teams of five security personnel sent down to the planet to search for the search parties. At that point the two captains contacted Kyle Robinson at the base camp.
"Commander Robinson," Eric Garcia began, "Captain Bowman and I have decided to send down an armed security detachment to search for our missing crew and the missing search party. We both have agreed to name you as the commander of that mission."
"Sirs, I truly appreciate the confidence you're showing by placing me in charge, but I have recently found that Commander French and I work well together as a team, might I request that you place both of us in charge of the mission jointly?"
Dave was actually surprised by this. Kyle was showing that he was growing in many ways as a true senior officer. After glancing at the smile on Captain Garcia's face, Dave replied, "Commander Robinson, I'm proud of you. I think that would be an excellent thing to make happen. Why don't you contact him and explain things, then the two of you reestablish contact with Captain Garcia and me."
"I will, Sir. Thank you, Sir. Both of you." Kyle closed the communication.
Zorn stood there for a few seconds completely bereft of speech with the thought at being left high and dry by Jace. 'He must either really trust me with his twins or he really had to take care of something. Oh well here goes, how do I explain hemoglobin boosters to a pair of eight-year-olds?' Zorn questioned himself.
"Jonas and Jason, do you two know what CO2, also known as Carbon Dioxide is?" Zorn had a hard time asking his question clearly, because Jason had climbed his way up to Zorn's chest with a little help from Jonas and was happily mussing up Zorn's hair.
To Zorn's complete shock, Jonas answered for both he and Jason, "Yeah, it's the stuff in the air that we don't have enough of for you, so you to have to use an inhala thingy."
"It's an inhaler, and ah uhh... Jonas, how do you know I have one?" Zorn stumbled out a reply and question.
"Easy, Jason saw you use it when you didn't think we was watching, and he asked 'Auri' about it and 'Auri also splained that we couldn't breathe your air, so we need to go see 'Doc Tom' to get a hemo sumting boostah injecta sumting..." Zorn didn't hear the rest of what Jonas was saying because Jason had started murmuring,
"'Auri' nice like Allie Gator©," over and over again and then out of the blue in a different voice, "Hemoglobin booster to increase the body's ability to absorb and excrete Carbon Dioxide, and then you can breathe our air." Before either Jonas or Zorn could respond, Jason was back murmuring "'Auri' nice like Allie Gator©."
"Ah Jason, how did you ask 'Auri', I mean Aurix about CO2?" A very interested Zorn asked Jason who was now snuggled into Zorn's chest.
"I just asked the air like you do and 'Auri' answered, and 'Auri' says I can call him 'Auri'" Jason's answer surprised Zorn.
Zorn thought to Aurix, 'Tell Jace and Jordan that Jason's IQ is much higher than suspected and even if he seems not to be 'there' he is still observing and processing things.'
Jace picked that time to come back in and asked, "Jonas and Jason, are we going to go into space with Uncle Zorn?"
To answer Jace's question, Jonas grabbed his hand and began pulling him to the hatch leading out of their quarters, Jason just nodded his head and kept snuggling into Zorn's chest. Zorn looked at Jace shaking his head in amazement and followed him to the Medical Bay.
The four adventurers entered Sick Bay and found 'Doc Tom' and 'Doogie' waiting for them, 'Doc Tom' had what looked like a Ray Gun out of a B Grade Sci-Fi Movie from Terra's past. Before Jace or Zorn could say anything, Jason popped up with, "'Doc Tom' what is that funny looking thing in your hand?"
"Funny you should ask that; however, it is how I am going to make it so that you, your brother and your Dad can breathe the air in your Uncle Zorn's spaceship. You do want to breathe over there, don't you?" 'Doc Tom' asked in reply.
"Yes, we do but how does that funny-looking thingy work?" a curious Jonas asked.
'Doc Tom' responded, "It is very simple Jonas, I press it against your arm, push the trigger and say bang! It goes whoosh and you can now breathe the air in The Golden Dragon." 'Doc Tom' of course being sneaky, was explaining while he was actually performing the injection.
Jason was watching the whole scene with wide open eyes from his secure spot on Zorn's chest. He then spoke up, grinning the whole time, "Jonas, got shotted, Jonas got shotted."
Of course, Jonas had to ask, " 'Doc Tom' did you fix me up, already?"
"Yes Jonas, I gave you your injection while I was demonstrating how I was going to do it. Didn't you feel it?"
"I only felt a slight push on my arm, did you really shoot me?"
"Yes, you are all done… Jason are you ready for your booster?" 'Doc Tom' replied to Jonas and then asked Jason.
Instead of answering the Doctor, Jason looked at Zorn and asked him, "Unka Zorn, will you hold me while I get shotted? I don't want to get shotted, but I wanna go with you."
"Of course, you can stay right here and snuggle into my chest, Jason. I don't think you will even know when you get 'shotted,'" Zorn replied while looking into Jason's eyes and rubbing his back to relax him.
True to Zorn's prediction, Jason never knew when he got his injection, as 'Doc Tom' took advantage of Zorn's distraction. Jason didn't figure it out until he heard 'Doc Tom' state, "Commander Blackwell, I believe you are next and last." The good Doctor quickly performed Jace's inoculation, and then announced, "All of you are free to depart for The Golden Dragon immediately."
To everyone's surprise, Jason waved goodbye to the Doctor as the four headed out the hatch.
Kyle sat in Bubba's pilot chair. Life was moving faster than he ever imagined. When he was chosen as the Chief Astrogator of the Sooloo, his expectations at the time had been exceeded. Never did the twelve-year-old dream when he started the training for the project that he would be a senior officer on a starship. He thought of himself as an assistant something-or-other, hopefully an astrogator.
From Earth to this planet, other than some training exercises initiated by Dave, his role as a senior officer was what he expected it to be—that of Chief Astrogator.
And then came the missing away team, which left senior officers missing, senior officers loaded with different and strange duties, and the need to place him in charge of the logistics team. The mission was a success as was his developing a relationship with Devin French.
Kyle discovered there was more to French than the arrogant bully he had been during training at the Academy or the almost incompetent jerk he'd had to deal with on the Endurance. French had not only been cooperative, but he had taken the initiative to make improvements where needed. Kyle had learned in leadership class that in the midst of a tense situation or a perilous mission, people you wouldn't accept suddenly rise to the occasion. Devin French had been one of those. What Kyle didn't realize was that Captain Bowman saw him in the same way Kyle saw French—someone who showed his mettle by rising to the occasion.
Now he had just talked with the Captain of the Endurance, Eric Garcia. Garcia had just put him in charge of an armed security mission with orders to find the missing away team and the missing search crew. The key word in his mind was "armed".
He had trained to deal with numbers, to navigate the Sooloo out of a tight spot. The other senior officers dealt with armed missions, but not him. Sure, Dave had put him into some combat during drills on the Sooloo, but that was not the same as being where he was now; on a planet, the senior officer of an armed security mission. His pocket computer wasn't going to take him out of this situation.
On top of all of that, he'd told Garcia and Bowman that he wanted to make Devin his co-commander. He was wondering if he'd jumped the gun. After all, the Devin French he'd known until today had been an egotistical prick. Could somebody really change that much in one year? 'Well, I guess I'll find out', Kyle thought to himself.
Kyle heard the sound of somebody coming up behind him. He turned and saw it was Brad Kanye, who had been his second in command until he turned that position over to Devin.
"What did Dave want?" Brad asked.
"Actually, I talked to Captain Garcia," Kyle replied.
"Okay, what did Captain Garcia want?"
Kyle told him and told him what he'd decided to do with Devin French.
"Just like I told you," Brad grinned, "keep your friends close and keep your enemies closer." It was Brad who had advised Kyle to make Devin second in command of the logistics mission.
"That's not what I was thinking this time. You saw the kind of job Devin did. Hell, the kind of job he's doing right now. It's like he underwent a personality transplant."
"Yep. And I don't think he was faking anything. It was like actually being put in charge of something flipped a switch in his brain."
"Well, I'm going to have to hope that the switch stays flipped, because he's sharing command with me."
What Kyle didn't tell Brad was that when he told Garcia about making Devin co-commander he did it thinking that Garcia and Dave would not approve the idea. He was surprised when they gave him permission to do it. He'd been told in leadership class that the commander is the commander, and while his number two might almost be a co-commander, in the end in a hazardous situation, the buck had to stop with somebody. Well, they had approved and now he would have to live with that decision.
"I'm going to find Devin and tell him the news. Is he still at lunch?"
"Kind of. He was eating, but when I left to find you, he was helping Randy by cleaning things up while Randy served lunch to the rest of our little crew."
"Have you eaten?"
"Yeah, I ate with Devin."
"I haven't, and I'm starved, so I'm going into the shelter and demand I be served."
"Yeah, right. I can't imagine you demanding anything," Brad grinned. "Hey, before you go, did you know that he and Denver French are cousins?"
"No, but I suspected it. I mean they look a little bit alike. The thing is, back in training they never hung out with each other, so I wasn't sure."
"Hmm, I guess that means they weren't kissing cousins."
"Now, Brad, just because you kissed your cousins doesn't mean everybody did."
With a broad grin, Brad gave Kyle the kind of one-fingered salute one doesn't generally give his commander and sent Kyle off to get lunch and talk to Devin.
As he walked through the connecting passage between Bubba and the big environmental hut, he passed Danny who asked if he'd seen Brad. "Yeah, he was taking a seat in your chair as I left, but I don't think he planned to fly anywhere."
"He better not," Danny said, "or I'll have to take my shuttle keys back."
"I was joking. Oh, Devin has become a busboy; the dude is doing everything."
When Kyle walked into the small space in the hut that made up the galley, he found Devin and Randy sharing a joke about something. Devin saw him come in and asked him if was ready to lunch
"I'll take two of whatever you've got," Kyle grinned. Then he gave Devin a serious look and told him they needed to talk. Kyle left the galley and sat at a table in the eating area.
Devin brought in a serving of macaroni and cheese, set it in front of Kyle and then took a seat next to him. Randy brought out a glass of juice, set it on the table and returned to his little cubbyhole.
Kyle reported what the Captains had told him about taking charge of an armed security team to find the lost team and the missing search team.
"Congratulations," Devin told Kyle. "One minute you're setting up this big hut and the next minute you're in charge of an armed security team."
"I told Dave and Garcia I wanted to make you my co-commander, that you and I would be a team."
"You mean I've gone from being your enemy to being your second in command, then to being your co-commander just like that? I heard that people can get promoted in a hurry when battle-like situations happen, but damn, this is crazy."
"I thought you and I worked pretty good together setting the basecamp up."
"Yeah, we did. I think that surprised both of us." Devin took a deep breath and quietly said, "But…," and then paused.
"But what?" Kyle asked realizing that Devin had paused expecting him to ask just that.
"But, I respectfully decline being your co-commander."
"What? Why?" Kyle was certain that the old Devin French had returned and was declining the command offer because he didn't want to work with him anymore.
"Because, it won't work." Kyle opened his mouth to say something, but Devin held up his hand to stop him. "This has nothing to do with what's happened between you and me, good or bad. This is about what we learned in leadership class. Kyle, we're going into an armed situation where decisions have to be made, like NOW! If there's two of us sharing the command we'd be like a two-headed dog that sees two cats and tries to go in two different directions to catch them." Kyle was impressed by Devin's simile.
"But, I was the one who asked the captains to make you my co-commander."
"And I'd like to know why they said yes. Look, I think I could be a good commander, but they asked you and then you confused everything with your co-commander idea. But, I think you were the right choice. You haven't fucked your job up like I have…." Once again, Devin had to stop Kyle from interrupting. "Trust me, it makes a difference. I'll do just like I've been doing. I'll do what you tell me to do and I'll give you my ideas if I think we could do things differently. I won't back down, and I'll be a good number two man for you. But, you'll make the decisions, because somebody has to."
"But what do I tell the Captains?"
"Right now, don't tell them nothing."
Kyle's comm beeped. He looked and saw it was Dave.
"We have three shuttles on their way down with an armed crew," Dave told him. "They'll be landing next to Bubba and the hut. Commander Douglass is in charge of the crew until you and Devin take over the mission." Kyle looked over at Devin, who nodded. "Commander French declined the offer to be co-commander. He said the commander needs to make decisions NOW. Those were his exact words."
"Understood," Dave said without comment. "Commander Douglass has some information you'll need to decide where to start your search."
Fifteen minutes later, Kyle was meeting with the crewmen he picked to be his command staff: Lt. Enzan Kage, Ensign Brandon J. Cox, Devin, and Brad in the dining area of the hut. Kyle started the meeting and then turned it over to Commander Douglass who had Enzan Kage show the likely location of the search team based on when they had last been heard from.
"Some of us think they could be underground if they went into that crevasse," Commander Douglass said. "We'd better be prepared for that."
It was suggested they shuttle the search squad to that location and look for any clues about where they might have gone.
"There has been little wind, which will help since footprints in the snow should be easier to see," Brad said.
Since they would be flying a short hop and not going into space, Kyle asked if packing everyone on one shuttle would make it too heavy to maneuver. Nobody was sure, so they called in the shuttle pilots, including Danny.
"Well, if it was Bubba, I'd say no problem," Danny said, "but it's too much for one shuttle, even for a short hop in the atmosphere. I mean we do have to get off the ground. I think we could do it with two shuttles, though." The other pilots agreed, so Kyle and Commander Douglass divided up the personnel between the two shuttles and assigned the pilots. Each shuttle would use two pilots, which meant Danny would be participating in this part of the mission.
Within a half-hour, Kyle and his officers had the rescue operation organized, both in the air and on the ground. Kyle concluded by ordering his officers to have their lasers on heavy stun and to tell their men to do the same. "In their snow suits, or in close, dark quarters underground, it could be hard to tell who is who."
Devin did not agree with the decision. "What if we need to kill somebody?" he asked.
"Even on stun those lasers pack a punch," Kyle answered. "We don't want to kill one of our own by friendly fire. We'll be fine. Also, it helps make this order easier, and it is an order."
"If in doubt, pull the trigger."
Devin let out a deep breath. For a moment, he wished he'd taken the position of co-commander since Kyle appeared to have lost contact with his balls. But now, he was glad he hadn't, because they might have had it out before a decision could be made. And with that order, Kyle seemed to have grown a pair. "So, shoot first and ask questions later, right?" Devin asked.
"Not quite. We don't want to shoot just to be shooting, since we don't know what's going on." Kyle thought for a moment. "I'm going to change that a little. I think the best thing to do is for you guys to have the okay to pull the trigger, but the rest of your security crew will wait for orders to fire, or fire if somebody shoots at us."
"Good decision," Commander Douglass said. "I'll inform the men."
Randy brought out some sliders he'd heated in the microwaves. He'd already fed any of the crew who were hungry (which was all of them).
"Great job, Randy," Kyle grinned as he bit into his slider.
"I learned from Logan that an army can't travel on an empty stomach," Randy said. "Now, you guys go kick some ass, because I want a huge crowd to feed after you accomplish your mission."
Per Dave's orders, Commander Douglass stayed at the hut to coordinate the armed search. Lt. Enzan would go with Kyle's team.
Zorn thought that he and Jace would have a hard time getting both boys into their flight suits, however, just the opposite occurred; the chance to, as the boys' said, "dress just like their Unka Zorn" was all it took. Trying to explain how to open the pouch and put on the emergency helmet was a different story entirely. In the end though, they accomplished that as well. The hardest part of getting the boys into their flight suits was the simple fact they wouldn't stand still. They wanted to talk with 'Auri' and explore every nook and cranny of Unka Zorn's ship. Jace and Zorn had to try hard not to laugh as Jonas and Jason were strutting around The Golden Dragon's Shuttle Bay, all the while telling 'Auri' and anyone else who would listen that they were real spacemen now.
Zorn gave everyone the nickel tour of his ship, keeping the Bridge for last. Once they were on the Bridge, Zorn quickly got everyone seated, and then showed them how to use their seat restraint harnesses. Zorn carefully explained that they would have to remain harnessed in their seats while they left the Sooloo until they were orbiting the planet. Jace had mentioned to Zorn that they might have a problem getting Jason to use the restraints, however, Zorn had a plan to resolve that issue. First, he had Jason bring Kyle the Bear and second, he had 'Aurix' make a pair of earbud communicators just for Jason and Jonas. So, while Zorn was explaining that the restraint harness was to keep Kyle the Bear safe in Jason's arms, 'Auri' was whispering similar things into Jason's ears. Once Zorn had adjusted the harness properly, he turned and looked to Jonas' seat and saw that Jace had been watching and had just finished adjusting Jonas' harness. Before Zorn could say anything, he felt a tug on his sleeve; he turned and saw that Jason, with an ear to ear smile, was tugging on his sleeve.
Jason then said, "Unka Zorn, Kyle the Bear says thank you, he feels nice and safe."
Zorn, reached over and rubbed Kyle the Bear's head and then patted Jason on the head as well. "You're very welcome Kyle, okay Jace you're next."
"Yeah, hurry, Daddy, we wanna go space flying," came out of the twins' mouths simultaneously.
Jace quickly had his harness adjusted and took a quick glance at his sons and saw they had a look of utter joy on their faces.
Zorn took his seat and unlike everyone else's, his seat automatically adjusted to his body and his restraints were automatic as well. Zorn then asked Jason a question in a carefree tone of voice, "Crewman Jason, would you please ask Aurix to launch the scanning probe as soon as we are clear of the Sooloo?"
At Zorn's question, Jace raised an eyebrow and looked at Zorn, however, before he could question him, Jason responded, "Unka Zorn, why me?"
Without hesitation, Zorn replied, "Because Aurix likes you better than me!"
Zorn's answer caused the twins to break out in giggles. Seconds later, Jason got the strangest look on his face and his eyes got huge, he then got an ear to ear grin and began speaking, "Cause 'Auri' says I'm nicer than you!" Before anyone could respond Jason spoke again, "'Auri' please launch the Scanner Probe as soon as we have cleared the Sooloo's gravitation well."
Everyone then heard Jason trying to whisper a question to Aurix, "Did I do it right 'Auri'?"
'Crewman Jason, I will launch the Scanning Probe at the correct time and place per your request. Would you like the data sent to all of the Bridges Workstations as well?'
Jason was tongue tied at Aurix addressing him as a crewman and requesting his opinion. Luckily for him, Jonas wasn't asleep at the switch, "'Auri,' please do that. I wanna see the everything too!"
Jace was amazed with what he was seeing and hearing… here were his usually shy and semi-withdrawn twins carrying on a conversation with an alien spaceship as if they were just talking to him and/or Jordan. 'Hmm just as if they were in our quarters, Zorn must be some kind of 'Pied Piper',' were the thoughts going through Jace's mind.
'I will comply with your request, Crewman Jonas...'
Whatever else Aurix was about to say was interrupted by Zorn, "Aurix please contact the Sooloo and request permission to depart, please secure all hatches and prepare for departure as well?"
'Complying Pilot Zorn, all hatches secured, all scanners operational, Captain Bowman says, 'Safe flight and happy hunting', Sooloo Shuttle Bay states that we are free to depart.'
"Thank you Aurix, I have the helm, tell Captain Bowman thank you, inform Shuttle Bay that we will depart in 30 seconds." Zorn replied to Aurix, and then prepared to depart the Sooloo, raising the Golden Dragon off the Shuttle Bay Deck and rotating it to face the opening.
"Jonas, Jason and Jace, are you ready to head into space?" Their answer nearly caused Zorn to fall out of his seat, he laughed so hard, lucky for him his restraining harness held.
"Yay 'Sketti!" Quickly followed by, "Let's go, Unka Zorn, we wanna see the stars, are we gonna see Megrez?"
Zorn looked over at Jace who was trying to look innocent, looking directly into Jace's grinning eyes, "Sorry 'kids' it would take too long to go see Megrez, plus Uncle Kyle would be sad."
While Zorn was replying he was piloting the Golden Dragon into space, he sub-vocally instructed Aurix to turn on the main viewscreen so the stars were visible, he knew when Jonas and Jason realized they were in space because he heard a sigh and then utter silence. Shortly after they had left the Sooloo a flash of light crossed the viewscreen and quickly disappeared.
Zorn heard some mumbling coming Jason's seat and then, "Unka Zorn, 'Auri' says to tell you that the probe has been launched." There were more whispers, this time between Jonas and Jason, "'Auri' says that was the probe, it's your turn Jonas."
"No, you do it, he likes you, he lets you call him an alligator."
"It's Allie Gator©, dummy."
"Okay 'Auri,' I will do it… Pilot Zorn, 'Auri' says that the probe has launched and is on course... uhhh Crewman Jonas reporting Sir..." Jonas of course, had to ruin his adult like announcement by giggling as he finished.
As the Golden Dragon headed towards its orbit around the planet the long-range data from the probe and the Golden Dragon's scanners came pouring in. There was a quiet chime from everyone's workstations. The sound caused the twins to yank their eyes away from the view of space on the main viewscreen. They began peering intently at the data flashing across the screens in front of them. It was anyone's guess what they hoped to see. The flashing numbers flowing across the screens morphed into a view of the planet, that slowly focused in on the area of search that Zorn had 'Aurix' program into the probe and shipboard scanners. Zorn and Aurix had both forgotten that the workstations that Zorn and Jace were watching were displaying topographical information as well as bio-signs. The twins' workstations, on the other hand, were concentrating on energy sources, with a secondary objective of non-natural features. Suddenly the data on Jace and Zorn's screens changed and caught their attention. Zorn glanced over at Jace, "Commander, do you see what I see?"
"Yes, in the north, where the missing crew are, there seems to be nothing... Well, our rescue hut and the crew at it, but not the missing crew, not Jordan's team, and not the crew Hal sent to look for Jordan's team. There is no sign of any of them.
Aurix decided to shift the twins' workstations to the Southern Hemisphere, and shortly something on their screens caused the twins to stare at their screens very intently.
"Unka Zorn, Daddy Jace, what are these flashing orange thingies?" Jason asked without looking away from his screen.
"Come quick, Daddy Jace and Unka Zorn, I see them too," Jonas chimed in shortly after.
While the adults were heading to see what the twins were talking about Aurix sent the probe to the location that was on the twins' screens. Aurix also activated the probes high definition cameras, and when Aurix's processors detected signs of possible non-natural objects, they directed the probe even lower for a better view. When Zorn arrived at Jason's station, Jace had also arrived at Jonas' station and they were both amazed at what they were seeing.
"See Unka Zorn, what are these orange flashing thingies?" As Jason was asking his question, he pointed at the flashing lights and then moved his hand in a circle around them.
"Those look like power sources..." was all Zorn got out when, suddenly the screen changed and instead of just the flashing orange lights there was now a bunch of solid and dotted lines on the screen as well. Jason nearly jumped out of his seat; however, he still had his restraints fastened. Zorn then carefully patted Jason's head and said, "Jason, it's okay, you didn't do anything wrong, it's all Aurix's fault, he forgot to disable the gesture sensors. All you did is change the display to show things beneath the surface." Zorn then leaned down and gave Jason a one-armed hug. "Aurix are you transmitting all of this to the Sooloo?"
'Yes, Pilot Zorn and I am also transmitting the raw data simultaneously as well. The Sooloo is intrigued by what they are seeing as well.'
"Jason, you did awesome, you discovered an unexpected subterranean civilization..." Zorn was cut-off by Jason speaking up.
"Unka Zorn, 'Auri' says bad Pilot using big words! 'Auri' says they be tunnels underground and it is a very large city or cities." Jason's voice took on a different timbre and manner, "In addition to the surface power sources there are many more power sources in the tunnels approximately 804 meters (1/2 mile) below the surface, there seems to be a whole civilization. It appears that there is some mineral in the tunnel walls that is blocking my bio-scans." Jason then concluded with 'Auri' out.
Needless to say, both Jace and Zorn were stunned by Jason's display; however, they were quickly brought back to the present by Jason's attempt at whispering to Aurix. "Did I do good, 'Auri', did I sound like you?"
An incensed and concerned father Jace began to question Aurix, "Aurix what did you do to..."
"Daddy Jace and Unka Zorn, don't be mad at 'Auri', he didn't do anything to me, he just whispered the words and how to say them into my ear thingie and I just said them back. 'Auri' didn't do anything wrong." Jason replied to his dad passionately.
"Unka Zorn, and Daddy Jace, 'Auri' said the same thing into my ear thingie, too." Jonas came to Aurix's defense as well.
Zorn gave Jason's head a pat and then said, "Boys and Aurix, no harm done and thanks to Jason we have made an amazing discovery..."
'One moment Pilot Zorn, Captain Bowman sends his compliments to Crewman Jason, he says,' and Dave's voice replaced Aurix's, "Congratulations 'Crewman Jason' you are the youngest person in the Fleet to have a city named after you, we are calling your find 'Jasonville', Bowman out."
While Aurix was making the announcement, the first of the high definitions arrived on the twins' screens and they were definitely signs of building and civilization. The strange thing was… the buildings looked more like ruins.
"Aurix please inform the Sooloo that we're are returning, also inform them that once the missing crewman have been found, that Commander Blackwell and I would like to assemble and take an away team to explore 'Jasonville' and its environs. I want to find out why we are showing active power sources in what seem to be ruins."
As The Golden Dragon headed back to The Sooloo, Zorn thought, 'Oh well they can use their new computers on the Sooloo as well.'
A half-hour after they ate, the two shuttles flew from the basecamp and landed next to the runes. "It's weird they didn't have their location signal operating," Kyle noted.
"I'm sure there was a good reason," Lt. Enzan said. "I mean, Jordan is the absolute best and would have had that signal going."
"Well, we did see footprints in the snow," Devin said. "And it looks like they were heading in that direction."
"I'm not taking everybody. I don't have a good feeling about leaving the shuttles unguarded." His senior officers agreed. Kyle put Ensign Brandon Cox and Steve Boyer in charge of the shuttles and had Lt. Enzan pick the security officers to leave behind. While Kage talked to his men, Kyle had a discussion with Devin. "You and I will take the lead with Mike [referring to Endurance security officer Mike Gray]. Lt. Kage and Everett Sanders will take the flanks, or at least the middle if we get into tight quarters." Everett Sanders was also from the Endurance. "Brad and Doug will bring up and guard the rear," Kyle finished. Doug Erikson was a Sooloo security officer.
Devin acknowledged Kyle's decision and then said, "Commander Douglass told me my cousin Denver is on the rescue team. Nobody better touch his ass, or they'll be sorry."
"I thought you didn't like your cousin," Kyle said.
"I didn't, but I do now. I thought he was a bigger pussy than you, and I was wrong about both of you. I need to find Denver, so I can apologize to him and make up for what an asshole I've been."
"Who do you think is going to hurt him?" Kyle asked. "As far as we know this miserable planet is uninhabited."
"Look, I think it's important that you know this. You've already learned that we've had our problems on the Endurance. But I wasn't the biggest problem. Commander Angelo Walker, who was in charge of the missing team, had some big-time problems following the chain of command. He told me some shit that made me think he was losing it, but I figured so what, he wasn't that much different from me.
"I'm gonna tell you that I don't trust him. At least I finally figured out I was wrong and full of bullshit, and you had a lot to do with that. I don't think Walker knows what being wrong is. He's a narcoist or whatever it's called."
"Narcissist," Kyle told him. It was a word he learned from his father, of all people.
"Look, let's go. I just wanted you to know that we might not be able to trust Walker or maybe even some of his crew, which was why I was glad you told us to be ready to come out shooting."
"Thanks for the heads up, Devin. That couldn't have been easy. I mean they're your crewmen and maybe even your friends."
"Crewmen, yes. I didn't have any friends and neither did Walker."
"Well, you've got a friend now Devin."
"Thanks, Kyle." Lt. Enzan came into their shuttle and told Kyle he and his men were ready.
By following the footprints in the snow, the team followed the same trail as Jordan and his team. They found the entrance to the cave or tunnel or whatever came after the entrance. Kyle brought them to a stop before leading them in.
"I have an idea," Devin told Kyle. He told Kyle what he was thinking.
"Great thinking. I knew there was a reason I kept you at the front with me," Kyle grinned. He called on the group to gather around him at the entrance. He assigned two men to the entrance with flashlights and weapons pointing inside. "Devin and I were talking, and he has a good idea for how we should lineup going inside that passageway." He nodded to Devin who took over.
"Unless we come across some side passages," Devin told the crew, "our flanks and our rear should be in good shape. It's what's ahead of us we should be worried about. I told Kyle we should have Brad stay at the rear, move Doug to the middle of the pack to be with Everett and have Lt. Enzan move to the front with us. The rest of you will be alert and ready to cover us if needed."
"Unless there are any questions, we're going with Devin's formation. Remember, the mission staff officers will have their weapons drawn and freedom to shoot without orders. The rest of you hold fire unless you receive orders to shoot or we are fired upon.
"I know it's going to be hard for a bunch of guys like us to walk silently, but unless something new comes up I want no talking and no verbal comm chatter—text only."
The mission then entered the cavern and moved with surprising quietness. They were soon deep enough that the only light came from their flashlights. Up ahead, they saw three lights coming toward them. Kyle quietly ordered his team to douse their lights, so they weren't seen right away. From the lights coming toward them, a voice called out, "Anyone out there? Please, you must help us. Walker has gone crazy. Look, you can have our weapons if you don't trust us."
Kyle accepted their weapons and put them between the middle and rear of his team. The "captured" officers gave as much intel as they could.
As they came to a slight bend in the passageway, Kyle put up his hand and stopped them. In the ensuing silence they all heard voices. They moved up a little more and saw light ahead.
Jordan noticed that they had been walking a downhill slope for hours, the exact time, he wasn't sure. He also noticed the air was getting warmer. "Commander, you know protocol. I hadn't checked in for several hours, my XO knows where we were heading. I recommend you give yourself up."
"I'm not a commander, anymore. You may address me as 'Lord' or "Your Highness.' Better yet, you can call me 'Master.'"
As they continued to walk, Jordan saw the members from his ship that were part of Walker's team. All of them were stripped to their skivvies. He didn't see any of the Endurance crew among them. He also saw the inhabitants, clad in furs. One was lain upon an altar of sorts with what looked like a ritual dagger protruding through his chest. "Did you do that?" Jordan asked.
"He was the chieftain. I had no choice if I wanted to be their ruler."
"Commander Walker, what the hell happened to you? You are an officer in Space Fleet. I know you weren't always like this."
Walker slapped Jordan so hard that Jordan reeled from the hit. "I told you, I am no longer a commander. You will call me Master!"
The inhabitants started bringing food to the new visitors while Walker gave instructions to those with him from the Endurance. Surprisingly, Walker allowed for his new "guests" to eat. They took their time.
Once they were done eating, Walker ordered them to join the rest of the crew from the Sooloo. That is, all except Jordan and Denver French. Walker looked at French and thought he looked familiar. He asked him his name. "I am Ensign Denver French, Sir."
"Are you any relation to Devin?"
"He's my cousin."
"Then, if you would like to join me, you may get dressed."
"Sir, I would rather stay in my briefs than join you."
"Devin would be so disappointed in you, piss ant." Walker walked up to Jordan and looked him in the eye. "I plan to have fun with you. I think I am going to make you my slave."
"Angelo Walker, I will never serve you," Jordan snarled.
Walker stepped up to Denver French and looked at Jordan. "Either you will be my personal slave, or I will kill this boy!"
Tears welled up in Jordan's eyes as he dropped to his knees. He didn't want to even consider being a slave to Walker, let alone a personal slave, but he couldn't let him kill Denver. Walker barked at him, "I want you completely naked. Take off your skivvies to show that you are my slave."
With trembling hands, Jordan stuck his thumbs in the waistband of his boxers. As he started to lower them, a laser blast hit Walker in the chest and Devin French shouted, "Get away from my cousin."
The team moved up more and could now make out shouting which echoed through the chamber. The front could also make out several boys ahead. They all seemed to be in their underwear or less... except one.
"That's Walker," Devin told Kyle quietly.
He and Devin could make out what Walker was saying to Jordan. "Either you will be my personal slave, or I will kill this boy." Kyle saw Jordan in his underwear get down on his knees. "I want you completely naked. Take off your skivvies to show that you are my slave."
Knowing that Kyle's orders gave him the freedom to shoot first, Devin stepped in front of Kyle, aimed his laser at Walker's right arm, and fired. A laser blast hit Walker in the chest and Devin French shouted, "Get away from my cousin."
Devin walked up to his cousin, tears flowing, "Are you alright?"
"Are you crying?"
"Yes, I was so worried about you. I treated you like shit as we grew up, and I am so sorry. I don't deserve your forgiveness, but you are my cousin, and I do love you."
"No one ever deserves forgiveness, but giving it is as good for the giver as the one being forgiven. I accept your apology and hope we get a chance to chat."
Enzan Kage quickly moved over and put restraints on Walker. He looked at the other four when Ensign Niles Abernathy stated, "You should restrain us, too. I know we screwed up and I'm not going to resist, and I don't think any of these guys will, but it is protocol."
"Two of you can carry Walker, but I believe you were acting more out of fear of him than actual malice, so I don't believe restraints are necessary. My report will reflect that and the fact you seem remorseful."
"Thank you, Lieutenant. We don't deserve your kindness, but it is appreciated."
"Excuse me, Lt. Enzan, can I see you for a minute?" Tomalok requested.
Kage walked over, "What can I do for you, Lieutenant?"
"Sir, I appreciate what you are trying to do, but protocol does dictate that they should be restrained. I can understand the two assisting in taking Commander Walker not being restrained, but you really should restrain the other two."
Abernathy could barely hear what was being discussed. Kage and Tomalok thought they were quiet enough, but Niles could hear. He yelled out, "He's right, Lieutenant, and if it helps, I volunteer to be one of the two restrained."
Crewman Travis Giles nodded his head, "I agree, protocol does state that we should be restrained, and I'm willing to accept that as well."
"No, not you two," Tomalok declared. "I think you two should carry Walker. I believe that if he wakes up, you'll be less likely to let him go. Makeweather and Imbabwe should be restrained, especially Makeweather. If he were so reluctant, he would have allowed me to report in before taking me to Walker."
"So… why Imbabwe?"
"Simply because he didn't volunteer. Abernathy and Giles work under me, so I know them, and I believe they were reluctant. Makeweather works under me as well and I don't fully trust him. Imbabwe works in a different department and he didn't readily volunteer, so I don't know."
Kage and the security officers with him took the men to one of the shuttles and flew back to the Sooloo. He placed them in a brig and figured Garcia would want them eventually transferred to the Endurance. Once he knew they were secure, he reported to Dave.
David Bowman and Eric Garcia sat in Dave's ready room having just received reports from Jordan, Kyle, Aiden Douglass, and surprisingly, one from Devin French and one from Commander Tomalok.
"I'm both surprised and shocked." Eric Garcia started. "I need to have a talk with my 2nd in command. He should have reported the way Angelo Walker had been acting. Even as lax as I had been, I'd have known what to do with him. In part, I have to take responsibility for what transpired."
"Don't beat yourself up, Eric. We have to rely on our subordinates. There's no way a captain can know everything that goes on aboard his ship." Dave tried to console his counterpart.
"That's bullshit, Dave, and you know it. We have the ultimate responsibility for what happens on our ships. It's my own fault if my own command staff didn't feel they could bring this to me sooner. I promise you, that will change from now on."
"Well, then it's worthwhile that it happened, and I'm happy it happened so soon into the mission. We need to discuss what we're going to do. We have five of your crew in my brig, and we need to deal with the natives on this planet. One of ours tried to take over their society, we need to do something to fix that."
"I agree, Dave. Why don't we make a stop at your brig, then head down to the planet? I am sure we can come to some sort of accommodation with the natives. We both trained for 'first contact' situations."
Dave agreed and the two left the ready room on the way to the brig.
Since it was his crewmembers in the brig, Eric Garcia turned to the five cells, "We have received reports on what transpired on the planet. Before any of you say a word, know that there will be a formal hearing on the matter where we will decide what punishment is required for each of you. Until then, you are not, under any circumstances, to talk to each other about what you're going to say. We will know if you all 'cook up' a story to save your own sorry asses."
The only one of the five to speak was Ensign Niles Abernathy from the Endurance's Tactical/Security department. "Sir, as the senior member of the party still conscious, I can say that, aside from Commander Walker, we have already agreed that we will accept any punishment you deem appropriate. We know that we screwed up big time."
"That's nice to hear, Ensign, but nothing more until the formal hearing. Each of you will be interviewed by Captain Bowman and myself prior to the hearing. But for now, we have to go to the planet and try to fix the situation you and MISTER Walker created."
The choice Captain Garcia made to ignore the rank of Angelo Walker did not go unnoticed by the four men who were still conscious.
Hal met the shuttle carrying the two captains when it landed. Together the three went into the enclosure to discuss the current situation.
"Sirs," Hal began, "something you may be interested in hearing is that when I met one of the tribal elders earlier, the language he was speaking was very close to a dialect of the people my family is descended from. I was able to understand his words and was able to speak to him in his own language. I feel that it would be beneficial to the negotiations if I were to accompany you when you meet with them."
Dave smiled at his husband but let Captain Garcia take the lead; after all, it was his crewmembers who caused the incident.
They enlisted a pilot to shuttle them over to the opening of the cave. The three men entered, unarmed, but were accompanied by two armed-security officers who were given specific instructions to keep their weapons holstered unless they were met with hostility. Additionally, four more armed-security were stationed at the entrance of the cave. Communications repeaters were placed at intervals in the tunnel allowing for communications all the way into the area where the natives lived.
When the party arrived, Hal approached one of the natives who appeared to be the leader, "Stor leder, disse to mennene er kaptein Bowman og kaptein Garcia. De fører de to skipene vi har i bane. De har bedt meg om unnskyldning for handlinger begått av et av våre folk." (" Norwegian: Great leader, these two men are Captain Bowman and Captain Garcia. They lead the two ships we have in orbit. They have asked me to apologize for the acts committed by one of our people. ")