Steve and Brad discovered that Shasho has a mischievous side, but in a fun-loving way. He and another boy pulled a prank on the two of them that surprised both.
When discussing Kash's swim party, Koji wanted to invite all the boys under ten, but they compromised and let Koji host his own swim party on Friday.
In the Academy Dorms, Corey and Gordy were surprised when the Dorm "Big Brother, and the Resident Advisor pulled a prank on them.
A long lost relative of Drake's showed up. His original plan was to evaluate Drake's situation and see if he needed to take custody. Once he saw the love between Drake and his adopted fathers, he agreed that Drake was where he belonged. At first, Drake was apprehensive about the man, but once he knew he wasn't being taken away, he calmed down, as did John and Will.
Koji designed his holodeck program, and it met with the approval of Kyle and Danny, with one minor correction from Kyle. The two parents were so proud of the job he did. Then Duskin suggested inviting Marsh from Mars(h). Kyle and Danny thought that was a great idea and went about getting the approval and making the arrangements.
Oliver and Lars went to visit Oliver's friends from the streets at Savage's home. While there, Oliver and Matthew did stuff that Oliver felt bad about doing. Matthew was his old lover and now he's with Drake. He felt like he was cheating on Drake. Drake told him that he did nothing wrong, but was Oliver convinced?
William Robinson was in his quarters thinking about his life. His wife had moved on, and he didn't feel it was right to make her choose. Besides, he hadn't aged in several years, whereas she had, albeit she aged gracefully and was as beautiful as ever. Still, he was lonely and when he received a call from Admiral April Roberts, a girl of fifteen when he left, he was surprised. He found out that she had a crush on him when she was fifteen, and now that she was older, she was able to act on her feelings. The two of them connected and started dating.
Prior to Mason and Ethan going to the Sooloo, Ethan was checked out for the purpose of establishing Space Fleet's Medical Records. Once done, they discovered that he was no longer rapidly aging, and that his alien DNA had disappeared.
We wish to dedicate this chapter to our friend TrueFan. On Saturday, 26 November 2022, TrueFan's heart stopped around 8:00PM Pacific Time. After extensive attempts to revive him, he was gone.
TrueFan is the one who got the three of us together to begin Voyagers. He shared his idea of what the story would entail, and then the story took a mind of its own, guiding each of us.
After I lost my mom and TrueFan lost his grandson, Voyagers was the only thing that kept either of us writing. In that sense, I owe TrueFan a debt of gratitude that I am writing today. We will miss him greatly and have created a special character in this chapter in which to honor him. – Zarek
TrueFan was a true fan of storytelling, but more importantly, he was a TrueFriend. He was always supportive of my writing, in regard to Voyagers, as well as my stand alone writing. I will miss his friendly voice and always present sense of humor. He is a friend I will always cherish. – Douglas DD
Zarek A Dragon
On Sunday, Koji and his friends, along with Kyle, Danny, Steve and Brad met in Holodeck 1B and played basketball. While the ship had a gym with a small basketball court, Kyle had shown Koji and some of the other boys, like the twins, how to play the game on a court created on the holodeck. The court was roomier, and it was easy to adjust the height of the baskets. The holodeck court was where Kyle would shoot free throws when he felt he needed some alone time to relax. It was on the holodeck that Jonas and Koji had fun showing off their dunking skills. Marsh was playing in a half-court pee wee basketball league at his club's gym. Even though he had felt some of the effects of the heavier gravity during his time on the Sooloo, he hadn't felt it nearly as much as he did on the basketball court. Even on the lower baskets shooting the ball took more effort, but he still had fun. The lower gravity on Mars was the biggest thing he was looking forward to enjoying after he returned home.
Kash and Mason were preparing for their big day. They were dressed in their dress uniforms and greeting guests as they arrived. Mason was anxious for his family to arrive. Dave and Becka Soto disembarked from the shuttle, along with Ethan, Mason's older stepbrother, and Ava, his stepsister, older than him by only ten months. Dave and Becka had recently married. Ethan and Ava were Dave's children from a previous marriage while Mason and Bentley were Becka's from a previous marriage. Bentley had already arrived and was getting dressed for the ceremony.
They each gave Mason a hug and kiss. The ladies in the group gave Kash a hug while Dave and Ethan just shook his hand. When Mason introduced them, Kash was puzzled. "So, his son is Ethan Brooks, and you are Ethan Soto?"
"Crazy coincidence since we never even met until six months ago," Ethan Soto confirmed.
As a crewman told them he would escort them to where they could freshen up before the wedding, another person disembarked from the shuttle. Kash was surprised, "Kaleb? I heard you were in Juvie."
"I got out yesterday," Kaleb replied. "I was released early for good behavior and Aunt Juanita and Uncle Paul told me you were getting married."
"Juvie? What were you in for?" Mason nervously asked.
"I was downtown Vegas, and a man offered to suck my cock for fifty credits, a hundred if I reciprocated. I thought, 'why not?' I mean, I'm not gay, but for a sixteen-year-old, that's a lot of credits," Kaleb began. "So, when I agreed, he pulled out a badge and arrested me. First offense, yet the judge gave me six months, but no fine. I even explained to the judge, I wasn't there trying to sell anything, that the cop approached me as I was walking. It didn't matter, because I accepted, it was prostitution. I only served three months, but I was told I was being released early. Uncle Paul was waiting to pick me up. He told me that he spoke with a judicial board."
"Dad never told me," Kash responded. "I guess he didn't want to say anything just in case. I'm glad you're out. Do your parents know?"
"Nope, and Uncle Paul said I can stay at your house until I finish school. Mom and Dad always treated me like I was worthless, never as good as you or Jordan. At my hearing, Mom even shouted to the judge, 'give him the max.' so he did, juvie time, anyway."
"I never did see what Uncle Brandon saw in Aunt Josephine."
"So, is Jordan on board?" Kaleb inquired.
Kash nodded, "He's in his quarters with his husband and kids. Would you like a crewman to escort you?"
"We can," Mason suggested. "My family is already here and the next shuttle with your family won't be arriving for twenty minutes."
"That would be awesome," Kaleb agreed.
It didn't take long until Kash was pressing the chime. Jonas answered the door. "Unca Kaleb? How did you get here?"
"I flapped my arms and flew here," Kaleb teased.
"You can't fly by flapping your arms," Jonas argued.
Kaleb smiled, "I figured you were too smart to believe that, but would you believe that I flew in a shuttle?"
"That's how we get here, too," Jonas giggled.
"Mason and I need to get back to the Shuttle Bay, my parents, Uncle James and Aunt Jessica should be arriving soon."
The shuttle just landed when Kash and Mason arrived. Paul and Juanita Rivers, along with James, Jessica and, to Mason's surprise, his Uncle Brandon disembarked. "Mom, Dad, Uncle James, Aunt Jessica, always good to see you. Uncle Brandon, happy to see you, though surprised. Is Aunt Josephine coming?"
"No, she's mad that Kaleb was released early, and then, don't take this the wrong way, but she said she wasn't going to see another 'fag' nephew getting married to another boy. I told her that I'm happy my nephew found someone he loves and if she didn't like it, she could get out. We're filing for divorce tomorrow."
"I feel sorry for you, but at the same time, I never saw anything good about that woman."
"I loved her once, but after Kaleb was born, she became bitter. You never had a chance to see the good in her. I let it eat at me and even treated Kaleb wrongly."
Mason and Kash led them to quarters they could use for freshening up, then told Hal that everyone had arrived.
A thirteen-year-old boy came aboard the Sooloo along with guests for the wedding. No one thought anything of it, just assumed he was there for the wedding. In fact, he sat through the wedding waiting for his chance to do what he came for.
Holodeck One was set up like a chapel with silver pillars and royal blue ribbons. The seats appeared to be silver with blue cushions, and the carpet running up the aisle was blue with silver trim. Kash and Mason agreed that the theme colors for their wedding was going to be blue and silver. Jordan and Bentley were waiting at the alter for the rest of the wedding party to come.
Jay marched down the aisle like Kash taught him. He was wearing a silver outfit and carrying a blue pillow with their names in silver trim. The rings were placed carefully on the pillows. Jay was very careful, so the rings didn't fall off. What he didn't know was that the pillow was created to hold the rings in place unless someone picked them up. He could have turned the pillow upside down without dropping the rings.
Once Jay reached the alter, Ethan, dressed in a similar outfit as Jay's, only in blue, started walking down the aisle leaving blue carnation petals tipped with silver along the carpet. Mason told him to have fun with it, and he did. He threw the petals in the air and let them fall where they may. Just as he reached Jay, he ran out of petals.
Kash and Mason, dressed in their dress uniforms, walked hand-in-hand, showing that neither was more important than the other. Kash was on the right and Mason was on the left, but for no other reason than someone had to be on the right. Once they reached the front, they released their hands.
"Over 100 years ago, they took the privilege away from Captains performing marriages," Hal stated. "I'm glad that Space Fleet reinstated it. With the ships not readily near Earth, they felt it a necessity. This will be my first wedding to officiate, so though slightly nervous, I also feel honored that these two requested that I conduct the service."
Hal then started his dialogue, "Dearly beloved, we are gathered here, in the face of this company, to join these two men in matrimony. It is not to be entered into unadvisedly or lightly, but reverently, advisedly, discreetly and solemnly. Marriage is the union of two people in heart, mind and body. It is intended for their mutual joy, and for the help and comfort given to one another in prosperity and adversity. Through this union, Kash Andrew Rivers and Mason Michael Brooks make a commitment to embrace their dreams, realize their hopes and to accept each other's failings.
"Since the days of the first ships, Captains have enjoyed the joining of two people together in the bonds of holy matrimony. While as I said, there was a time when that was taken away, it has been returned thanks to Space Fleet, and there is no greater joy for a Captain than to unite two members of his crew. We are here today to witness this occasion, the celebration of love and commitment with which these two men begin their life together. Not separately, but as two halves forming a whole.
"If any person can show just cause why they may not be joined together, then let them speak now, or forever hold their peace."
No one responded, so Hal continued, "You have chosen to write your own vows, Kash, would you like to take a ring, place it at the tip of Mason's finger and recite your vows?"
Kash picked one of the rings off the pillow and barely placed it on Mason's left ring finger. "I, Kash Andrew Rivers, love you with all my heart. I felt a connection ever since we met. I never really knew love at first site existed until that day when you passed your Ensign's Exam and crossed my path. I vow to love you more and more from this day forward as long as we both shall live."
"Do you, Kash Andrew Rivers," Hal asked, "promise to love, honor and cherish Mason Michael Brooks for as long as you both shall live?"
"You may slide the ring the rest of the way up his finger." Kash did and Hal turned to Mason, "Mason?"
Mason picked up the remaining ring and barely slid it onto Kash's finger. "When I met you, I was feeling down, but a spark ignited in me like never before. You not only lifted me up but sent my heart soaring. You accepted me as I am, and you accepted my son, which means a lot. I can't explain why, but I fell in love with you immediately. I knew that this was right, and I vow to love you with every part of my being more and more until death do us part. And I hope that is a very long time away."
Kash whispered, "Me, too."
"Do you, Mason Michael Brooks," Hal inquired, "promise to love, honor and cherish Kash Andrew Rivers for as long as you both shall live?"
"You may slide the ring the rest of the way up his finger." Mason did and Hal announced, "I now pronounce you as a married couple. I am pleased to introduce for the first time Kash and Mason Brooks-Rivers. You may kiss."
Unbeknownst to Mason, Kash had planned to dip him and was successful. That kiss was the longest they had shared, and neither wanted it to end.
As they walked toward the exit, they were showered with rice.
While, they could have easily transformed Holodeck One into a Reception Hall, Randy Jenkins requested that they use Holodeck Two so he could get everything prepared. Tables were organized with the head table set up for the wedding party. Captain Tietokone's table for him and his family was set nearby.
The meal would be four courses. The first course was Randy's variation of crab rangoons. He let Kash and Mason taste them prior to committing, and Kash thought they were more heavenly than any he had tasted. Mason loved them as well. But not to the same extent as Kash.
The second course was a simple salad using fresh spinach instead of lettuce. The guests had their choice of ranch, Italian or French dressings, and of course the option of no dressing.
The third course was the main meal. Kash and Mason asked Randy if he could make Bang-Bang Shrimp. Randy assured them it would be no problem. The hardest part would be getting enough shrimp from the Base Commissary. Randy managed to get what he needed but had to go through Admiral Crusoe to do so.
And the fourth meal would be the cake. The wedding cake, created by none other than Ben Maxey, sat on a cart in front of the wedding table. After everyone had eaten their meal, the wedding couple would cut the cake, then it would be wheeled over to a server to finish cutting. The cake itself was three layered, with half the cake in a blue metallic colored frosting and the other half was silver. The topper was two silver hearts intertwined.
The cake under the blue frosting was chocolate while the cake under the silver was white. Then, to drink, the guests were given frosted mugs of root beer. The frosted mugs had Kash and Mason's name as well as the wedding date, 31 May 2122.
The guests started arriving and were very pleased with all the work Randy had done preparing everything. Sure, the computer did most of the actual work, but Randy had to tell it exactly what he wanted.
As the last of the guests entered, Hal got on the stage. "On behalf of the happy couple, who are on their way after getting more comfortable, I want to thank everyone for coming and celebrating this joyous occasion. As you can see, there are frosted mugs at every seat. One of the Cook's Assistants will be coming by to fill it with root beer. At that time, if you would like root beer or vanilla ice cream to make a float, it can be added. There will also be vanilla and chocolate ice cream served with the cake."
At that time, Kash and Mason made their way into the Holodeck. They were dressed in outfits similar to Jay's and Ethan's. Kash was in blue while Mason was in silver.
While everyone was eating, several guests got up to mingle. Many came up to congratulate the happy couple. Kash noticed his Uncle Brandon talking with Kaleb, so he got up and walked over. Brandon left and Kaleb was wiping his eyes, so Kash approached him, "Is everything alright?"
"Depends on if you call my dad apologizing to me and saying that he loves me alright," Kaleb smiled. "He told me what Mom said and that he kicked her out of the house. He suggested that I stay with your parents at least until the divorce is finalized, but it was my choice. After the divorce, I may move back home."
"That sounds like good news," Kash declared while clasping a hand on his cousin's shoulder. "I am happy for you."
"And I am happy for you," Kaleb hugged Kash. "I barely know him, but I can see why you love Mason. Now if I can find someone… his sister Ava looks cute."
"And she'll be sixteen in three months," Kash chuckled, "but, uh… they live in Ohio."
"Damn, why are all the good ones either taken, lesbian or live so far away?"
"You'll find someone eventually," Kash chuckled. Of the three cousins, Kaleb was the only one not gay. He didn't even consider himself bi.
After the cake was cut and served, Jordan stood on the stage, "If everyone will clear the dance floor, it is time for the happy couple's first dance." At that time, the computer created an image of Elvis Presley singing Can't Help Falling in Love.
Kash grabbed Mason's hand and led him to the dance floor. They held each other tightly and slow danced. After a few minutes, Jay led Ethan to the dance floor, and then everyone started joining.
There was half an hour of dancing, and then the happy couple took to the stage. Kash asked, "Will everyone single take to the center of the floor?"
Several did and Mason slipped a garter off Kash's arm. With his back to the crowd, he flipped the garter high into the air and as it came down, Koji managed to grab it.
Kash, then took the garter off Mason's arm and repeated the action. This time, it was Kaleb who grabbed the garter. He felt a little embarrassed when they asked the two who caught the garters to dance. Koji whispered to Kyle, "I don't even know him."
"I think he's related to Kash, somehow. It's okay to dance with him."
Kaleb asked permission to pick Koji up, "You don't mind if I hold you while we dance, do you?"
Koji looked at Kyle, who gave a quick nod. "Okay, I guess," Koji responded.
Kaleb picked up Koji and commented, "You're heavy than you look."
"All muscle," Koji giggled. He wasn't kidding; Darastixians have less than 1% body fat. It didn't matter what or how much they ate; their bodies didn't allow for any more than that.
After the dance, Kaleb returned to Kyle with Koji and thanked them. Koji looked at Kaleb and laughed, "You were really light on your feet, thank you for the dance." Kaleb just smiled.
The thirteen-year-old boy waited until the reception was almost done, then he approached Jace Blackwell. "Would you come with me, please? I really need to speak with you."
"What's this about?" Jace inquired.
"I really need to speak with you and Kyle Robinson. Follow me, and I will explain to both of you."
Jace followed this boy to Kyle Robinson, and he began to speak, "I am Medici..."
"But Medici died," Kyle protested, "and he was old."
The boy nodded, "Yes, but I am him, or rather, I am his son, and he named me after him. He also gave me many of his memories before he died. Kyle, though I am only thirteen, your mom was my niece, and I remember how proud Medici was when she was born. I was seven when she died, but I can tell you stories about her that only Medici knew."
Jace was curious, "Okay, so why did you need me?"
"When Father died, I became an orphan. He willed his castle to Kyle, and he willed me to you." Kyle was obviously surprised that he now owned a castle in Japan.
"What do you mean 'he willed you to me'?" Jace questioned.
"If we were on Darastix, I would be considered an adult, but here on Earth, I am still a minor. Since I was willed to you, it is your choice. I can either be your son, or, according to Darastixian custom dating back to before King Kairu, I can become your servant."
"A slave?" Jace couldn’t believe that such a custom still existed on Darastix.
The boy shook his head, "Not exactly a slave. I would be more like an employee, and I would take care of your every need, but once I become an adult, my service would end."
"I don't need a servant, and you are only three years younger than me. What about a third option? What if I arranged for you to go to the Academy?"
"If that is what you want, I will go."
Kyle was curious, "What's something Medici knew about my mom that he didn’t share with me?"
"When she was six years old, she told my father that a penguin appeared to her and told her his name was Megrez. He told her when she was older, she would have a son and name him Kairu, or Kyle in your tongue."
"So, Megrez named me, or predicted the future?"
"Maybe a little of both. Your penguin, your Megrez, she told Father looked exactly like the penguin she met, which is why she got it for you."
While Kyle was talking to this younger Medici, Jace went to speak with Hal and Dave about getting Medici into the Academy.
As the reception was coming to an end, Jordan walked up to Kash and Mason. "Hal, Steve, Jace and I talked earlier. As of this moment, you two are off duty for the next three days. Steve can handle Operations, Jace and I will watch Jay and Ethan. For tonight, you have Holodeck 2 reserved. As for the next couple of days, you can either extend the reservation or spend them in your quarters, but we don't want to see either of you in uniform."
"Are you sure?" Mason inquired.
Jordan nodded his head, "Positive."
As soon as Jace, Jordan and the four boys returned to their quarters, Jace put in a call to Darastix. He wanted to speak with Zarek. When Zarek answered, Jace told him about Medici willing his son. Zarek explained, "That is a custom from before Kairu, but Father ended it. When he did is when we created the orphanages. Upon dying, a Darastixian may grant custody to a family member or close friend, but there are no more orphans going into servitude. Instead, if there is no one to care for them, they go into the orphanage."
"That's good to hear," Jace commented. "I suggested that the young Medici go to the Academy. I mean, I'm not much older than him, and I don't need a servant, so I thought it was best."
"Ask him if that is what he wants," Zarek requested. "If it is, fine, but if he's only doing it to please you, I will come get him and bring him home."
Fortunately, Medici was still on the ship, so Jace found him and asked, "Are you agreeing to go to the Academy because you think it's what I want?"
"It is, isn't it?" Medici responded.
"Not if it's not what you want," Jace explained.
A tear rolled down Medici's cheek as he answered, "If you want me to be honest, not really. I will do it if that's what you want, but what I would like is to go back to Darastix, but it is your call."
"No, it's not," Jace smiled. "If you want to go back to Darastix, Prince Zarek has agreed to come get you."
"REALLY!!!" Medici was extremely happy to hear this. "Yes, that IS what I really want. Don't get me wrong, I would have liked going to the Academy because I thought it would make you happy, but I really want to go home."
"Then, shall we call Prince Zarek and let him know?"
Medici simply nodded, smiled and hugged Jace, in that order.
Oliver went to Dave and Hal as they were relaxing on the couch. Dave looked at his son and asked, "Is there something you need to talk to us about?"
Oliver was a little nervous, not that he had reason to. His parents were very open to him talking to them about any subject without judgement. He finally got his nerve up and asked, "Can I invite Matthew up to the ship for an overnight so I can say goodbye?"
Dave looked at his husband and winked, "You want to have him stay overnight? Is that something you've discussed with Drake?"
Oliver swallowed his nervousness and replied, "I told him I wouldn't invite him if Drake had any problems. When I talked to Drake, he said I should invite him, but he wanted to be there for the whole time."
Hal added, "I'm not sure. Remember we're leaving the next day."
Oliver's expression showed that he was dreading that being mentioned, but he had thought it might, so he had an answer. "I know that; I was hoping we could drop him off before we leave Earth."
Dave and Hal gave each other a knowing look and after a moment Hal stated that he would review the departure plans and see if he could work it out.
Oliver was visibly relieved that he hadn't gotten an immediate 'no' to his request. "Thanks, Dads. I think him seeing the ship might make him work even harder at the Academy. That, and I think you will love meeting Stanley."
Dave decided to tease his son slightly, "So… Stanley is coming too? You conveniently omitted that from your initial explanation."
For a split second, Oliver was crestfallen. After a moment he replied, "I wanted to get an initial okay to the concept before getting into the details. I'm sorry if it looked like I was not being up-front."
Dave called his son over and pulled the boy into his lap. He wrapped his arms around Oliver and said, "I was just having some fun with you, Oli. It makes perfect sense that if Matthew is coming, then Stanley would be coming as well."
Oliver growled inwardly but laughed, "You thought you had me, huh?" Dave just smiled as Oliver added, "If you would have waited another second, I'd have started pleading. Good one, Dad."
Drake and Oliver were sitting in Oliver's room when Dave knocked and then entered. "We were wondering if you wanted to call the Savage house and make the invitation. I will be there to make sure they know it's been approved."
Oliver grinned, "Thanks, Dad. Drake, let's call him now."
>>>>>>>> Waiting for Comm to be answered >>>>>>>>
Darla answered the comm, "Hello, Sooloo."
"Hi, Mrs. Savage, this is Oliver."
"Hello, Oli, and I thought I told you to call me Darla."
"I thought it best to be respectful, besides, my dad is here, too."
Darla chuckled and said, "Good afternoon. Commodore."
"If you're Darla, I'm Dave. Agreed? I wanted to confirm that you know that Oliver has gotten permission to make the requests he's about to make."
"Darla, I wanted to invite both Matthew and Stanley to come up to the Sooloo before we leave Earth. We'd pick them up at your home and drop them off the following morning."
Darla called out for Matthew, who arrived a moment later. "Oliver would like to know if you wanted to take a trip up to the Sooloo with Stanley. You'd stay overnight and then be brought home the next morning."
Matthew's eyes got wide, "REALLY?!?!"
After a moment he excitedly said, "YES!!!"
After disconnecting the Comm Channel, Oliver spent some time planning what he wanted to show Matthew. He was certain that Stanley would think it was the 'bestest' thing ever. Drake had told him that he expected there would be some kind of boy fun while Matthew was there, and he wanted to be part of it. A request that Oliver was not only happy for, but one that excited him in many ways.
Meanwhile, Matthew was sitting with Stanley.
"What do you think of going up into space to visit Oliver before he leaves Earth?"
Stanley's eyes got extra-large, to the point where Matthew thought they may actually pop out of his head like they both watched on some cartoon vids.
Stanley only said, "REALLY?"
No matter how many times Matthew told him it was for real, Stanley would come back with, "You're kidding, right? We're really going to go up in a starship?"
"Just for a visit. Is that something you want to do?"
Stanley looked at Matthew like he'd grown a second nose, or third eye before saying, "Duh!"
Marsh's and Krista's time on the Sooloo was a major topic during their last dinner on the starship. "Thank you so much for the tour of the ship," Krista commented. "I now understand the fascination Marsh's father has for starships."
"Well dad did work on one for a while," Marsh pointed out. Sean Dawkins had served with Space Fleet as a crewmember on a couple of starships for three years until he returned to college to earn his degree in Public Administration.
"True. But he wasn't a boy like the crew of this ship. But everybody was so polite and efficient. I bet Sean would be impressed if he observed the crew of this ship at work."
"Other than your activities on the holodeck, what did you like the most about the trip?" Danny asked Marsh.
"I liked making new friends. But I liked the tour, too. It was the awesomest thing I did ('other than what I did with Koji, Duskin, and twins in bed and behind the bushes'). The bridge was the best place with all the readouts and lights and the big screen and the big astrogation table and all of that. And we weren't even going anywhere, but it was still awesome looking."
"I could tell. We practically had to drag you out of there," Kyle chuckled.
That was when Marsh brought up a question that eventually would change his life. "How old do you have to be to go to the Space Academy?" Marsh glanced over at his mother to see how she reacted to his question. Her face was passive, which didn't tell him much.
"Whoa, it sounds like this got you really interested. The minimum age is ten."
"What do I have to do to get there?"
"The key factors are being an outstanding student, in outstanding physical condition, and a good citizen. And then, if you qualify, you have to pass some entrance exams and you need recommendations from teachers and other adults you've dealt with."
"Are you serious about being interested?" Krista asked.
"I'm totally interested."
While Krista wasn't enamored with having her son move to Earth for schooling when he was old enough, she also knew it would be wrong for her to stand in his way if he was truly interested—which was obviously the case. "Then let's discuss it with your father when we get home," she told Marsh. "He knows the procedures since he helped Robbie Cutler and Armond Royce get accepted by the Academy last year."
"Thanks, Mom. I thought you might get mad at my question."
"I'm not sure why you thought that, other than I would prefer you stayed on Mars until you grew up. But I would never stand in the way of a serious dream. And if that is what this is, then I'm behind you all the way. Now it's up to you to work at showing your father and me that attending the Space Academy is a serious dream that you truly want to achieve."
"I think Marsh is really smart," Koji said. "I know he's going to go. I'm happy that he's my friend forever and ever."
That night it was once again just Marsh, Koji, and Duskin in bed together. Marsh showed his new best friends what he had learned over the last three days about naked boys feeling good. Koji and Duskin told their Opsolas later that Marsh was liked by everybody at the big nakey party and had become a special friend of theirs.
"Thank you for letting him come to be with us," Koji finished.
Kyle and Danny nodded. "And thank you to both you boys for being good hosts and good friends," Kyle said.
"I was leery about getting Marsh involved in Koji's party," Kyle said to Danny that night. "But I'm glad we did. Everyone came together to make it a very special time."
Oliver was getting very anxious, waiting for his parents to tell him when they planned to go pick up Matthew and Stanley. He waited as long as he could, (all of 10 minutes), then went to find his dads. He found them in their usual spot, cuddled on the couch in front of the big window, looking at Earth.
Hal replied, "What can we do for you, Oli?"
"I was wondering when we were going to leave to pick up Stanley and Matthew."
Dave, being the person who liked pranking his sons more than Hal, replied, "Matthew and Stanley? We're not going to pick them up."
Oliver couldn't believe what he'd just heard. "But… they are expecting to come up to the ship this evening. It's not fair, Dad. You said I could have him visit, but now we're not going to go pick him up. He'll be pretty upset."
Dave was grinning, and was about to reply when the chime sounded, indicating someone at the door. Oliver was pretty angry with his parents and went to answer the door before he said something he'd have regretted. However, when he opened the door, he was shocked to see Stanley standing there alone. Oliver looked down the hall but couldn't see anyone. "Where did you come from Stanley?"
"I came from Earth on a shuttle. It was neat going up in space."
Oliver was about to ask where Matthew was when he felt someone behind him, wrapping their arms around him and covering his eyes.
This startled Oliver, and he asked, "Who's there?"
"Were you expecting someone else?"
Oliver heard the voice and spun around to see Matthew's face with a grin a mile wide. "How did you get here?"
"Well, I tried flapping my arms to fly, but it didn't work, so I got in a shuttle with my new Dad and Stanley."
"Colonel Savage is here, too?"
"Yeah, he figured he'd spend the time while we're visiting to visit some of the boys on the Sooloo who he recruited. I think he's with Jace right now."
Oliver realized he was breaking a promise he had made to Drake. "Excuse me, I need to call my boyfriend. I promised he could join us."
Matthew was a little surprised. In his mind, he was going to have the opportunity to spend some time with Oliver in his bed. He watched as Oliver called Drake on the comm. He couldn't hear what was being said, but Oliver ended the call after only a few moments. He then walked back over to Matthew and wrapped his arms around him and planted his lips on Matthew's. When they broke their lip lock, he turned to see Dave and Hal looking at them with smiles.
Before Oliver could think of what to say, the door chime sounded once again. When Dave opened the door, Drake ran into the room and gave Oliver a kiss that rivaled the one Matthew had given him.
"Drake, this is Matthew. The little guy over on the couch is Stanley. Matthew, this is my boyfriend, Drake."
Surprisingly, Drake walked over and instead off offering his hand to shake, he wrapped his arms around Matthew and gave him a kiss too. Matthew was more surprised than he had been in a very long time. He didn't know what to say, but Drake knew what he wanted to say, "I wondered what Oliver is passing up to be with me. I'm honored to meet you."
The group sat for a time before Dave told them to get ready to go to dinner. Oliver brought them into his room. Lars was there, standing only in his boxer briefs as he looked for some nice clothes to wear for dinner. Matthew walked over and gave Lars a hug, and being the mischievous person he was, he reached around and grabbed Lars' butt, giving it a little squeeze.
To his credit, Lars gave back as good, or better than he'd received, reaching down and groping Matthew between the legs. Watching this exchange, Dave and Hal simply smiled and shook their heads.
Oliver took Matthew to his room so he could change for dinner. Matthew sat on the side of Oli's bed and watched.
Once everyone was dressed, the family, plus two, walked to the Officer's dining room.
When they entered, they saw Colonel Savage, Ethan, Jay, Jace, Jordan and the boys sitting at a large table. Dave led them over and took seats at the same tables.
Ethan watched as the group approached, seeing the little boy who looked about the same age as him. He offered the boy to take the seat next to him.
Conversation during dinner was light, mostly consisting of everyone introducing themselves to the visitors.
Jace whispered to Jordan, "I think Ethan is wondering about Stanley. I might even say it looks like Ethan might be attracted to the boy."
Jordan laughed, causing everyone to wonder what was said.
It was agreed that Oliver, Drake and Lars would take Matthew and Stanley on a tour of the ship while Dave, Hal, Javier, Jace and Jordan had a brief meeting. Ethan asked Jordan if he could go with them. Jordan turned to Jace who said, "We don't have a problem with it, but don't you think you should ask them if they'd mind you joining them?"
Ethan blushed, but turned and asked Stanley, "Is it ok if I go too?" That elicited laughter from Jordan and Jace. Before anything more could be said, Jonas came to the rescue. "We'd love to have you join us, Stanley."
Stanley was embarrassed slightly but said nothing.
The group left on their tour while the rest went on with their evening. The tour group consisted of Oliver, Matthew and Drake, while the twins took Jay, Stanley and Ethan to the Student's Lounge
The tour commenced. They were shown all of the major areas of importance. Matthew was very impressed with what he saw on the ship. In his mind, he got even more motivated to do well at the Academy so he might be able to go into space on one of the ships.
In the Lounge, Ethan stuck to Stanley like glue. The two hit it off, becoming fast friends.
When the tour was completed, The group went their separate ways with one exception. Ethan asked Jordan if he could invite Stanley to a sleepover. All eyes turned to Dave and Hal, who looked over at Matthew. who said he could go with Ethan if he got permission from Commodore Bowman and Captain Tietokone. What he was thinking though was, That works great. I was hoping it would be just the three of us.
Ethan literally jumped up and down in excitement when Dave said he could join the group that evening.
Drake, Oliver and Matthew retired to Oliver's room. Lars was going to stay with the twins to help Jace and Jordan watch the younger brood.
Once the door was closed, the three boys just stood for a moment, each wondering who would make the first move. Surprisingly, Drake took both of the other boy's hand and led them to the bed. What happened next rivaled Koji in the speed by which they stripped off their clothes. Oliver got onto the bed and watched as the other two joined him, one on either side.
Dave and Hal were in their living room, allowing the groups of boys to their own devices. Colonel Savage came by, and they discussed the boys Savage had recruited for the Sooloo as well as the street boys. Javier was pleased to report that Oliver's rescued family would end up being assets if they continued with the level of enthusiasm they'd shown so far.
The three shared a level of intimacy that left all of them quite sated before they fell asleep. Meanwhile, Ethan and Stanley were laying with the other boys on the floor with a nest they'd made of pillows and blankets. All were only wearing were their undies.
As Jordan, Jace and the five boys headed for their quarters, Jordan became alarmed, "Why is the door to our quarters wide open?"
Jace examined the door before replying, "It appears to have malfunctioned."
As he entered the quarters, Jonas started crying. Since Jace was busy with the door, Jordan asked, "What's wrong?"
"Shadow is missing. He must have escaped while the door was open."
"He has to be on the ship; he will turn up," Jordan replied. "Until he does, we can look for him. Do you think that maybe he went to the holodeck?"
Jonas perked up a little, "I bet he did. Can we go look?"
As Jordan was about to answer, the quarter's comm went off. "Sure, right after I answer this call," Jordan agreed.
"Hey Jordan, this is Connor. Did you know that Shadow is loose?"
Jordan informed Connor, "We just discovered it and were about to go look for him."
"Well, looking for him should be easy," Connor laughed. "He's in our quarters, with Kallie."
"And how old is Kallie?" Jordan became concerned.
"According to Tomo, she was two months old in November, so eight months."
"And Shadow just turned a year old on the twenty-fifth of May," Jordan stated. "How long were they together?"
"We just got in, so I have no idea," Connor confessed, "but are you thinking what I am thinking?"
"Probably," Jordan declared.
The following morning the group got together for breakfast before Colonel Savage, Matthew, and Stanley would take a shuttle back to Earth. There were hugs all around and a few tears when the visitors boarded their shuttle.
Hal told the boys to get ready to depart Earth.
Danny and Kyle were enjoying breakfast with Marsh's mother, Krista. Marsh, Koji, and Duskin were eating in the private dining room with Tei, Jonas, Jason, Jordan, Jay, Ethan, Oliver, Lakinae, and Marasu. It was a farewell breakfast gathering for Marsh, who would be returning home that afternoon. The Martian boy had made many friends during his brief stay on the Sooloo.
Krista couldn't thank Danny and Kyle enough for what they had done for her son.
"All we did was fly a shuttle for him," Kyle responded.
"Oh, you boys… no, make that you young men, both know that you did more than that. You and your two wonderful sons brought Marsh out of the shell. He even has found something to work for, which not only makes him happy, but will make his father happy."
"I take it he's still serious about qualifying for the Space Fleet Academy when he turns ten," Danny said.
"Oh, even more than that. He's found a space camp he wants to attend—well, he tells me he did it with the help of Koji. His father and I will be saving our nickels and dimes so he can attend this summer." She looked over the two young officers and said, "I assume the two of you will be landing us back to Mars this afternoon."
"Actually, Danny will be doing the piloting. I have duties on the bridge that I need to perform while we're in Mars orbit," Kyle said. "Ensign Gross will be his copilot." Kyle knew the ensign part was a white lie, but he figured ensign would sound much better than crewman to Krista when it came to describing the individual performing the landing of the Mars. 'Besides, once Jesse completes the landing and the launching successfully, he will be seeing his Ensign bar that evening,' Kyle thought.
Having finished eating, Kyle stood up to leave. He was surprised to see Krista stand up with him. "Thank you one more time for your wonderful work," Krista said. "Having a husband in government service, I have no doubt you and Danny had to jump through a few administrative hoops to bring Marsh here. Each jump is thoroughly appreciated by me and my son." She gave Kyle a hug and a motherly kiss on his cheek. "We may never see each other again, but I want you to know that I will never forget you. I hope that your mother appreciates you as much as I do." Krista Dawkins turned and left the dining hall.
"She's a wonderful lady with a wonderful son," Kyle said to Danny.
"She obviously doesn't know your mother died in an accident," Danny said.
"True, or she wouldn't have said what she said. But, on the flip side, my stepmom Alicia is as much of a mother to me as my birth mother was, so I figure her comment is still good."
"Well, I'd better go talk with Jesse. All he knows is that he will have a special assignment today. I suppose it's time he finds out what it is." Danny got up from the table.
"Wish him happy birthday but reveal nothing."
"As it says in that Tommy Sawyer book, 'Mum's the word.'"
"If I don't see you again today, safe travels, my love dove."
"Thanks." Danny gave his husband a smile and a wave, and walked out of the dining hall.
Danny used his communicator to learn that crewman Jesse Gross and crewman Curtis Nichols were where he expected them to be—at Shuttle Berth 31, prepping the Mars for its roundtrip to Mars to drop off Marsh and his mother. When Danny saw the Mars though the viewscreen, he noted that the red H Kash had added to the end of the shuttle's name was still there per Hal's orders. Koji and Marsh both loved the change and were going to be happy when they saw the red H was still there. He boarded the shuttle and found the two crewmen in the cockpit calibrating the instruments.
"Hey, guys, haven't I already done that?" Danny asked.
"Hey, Danny," Jesse answered. "That would be a big yes. But with three little kids entrusting their lives to the two Commander Robinsons, well, we can't be too careful you know."
"Speaking of careful, be careful of how you address an officer, or you could end up being assigned to cleaning up after the kitchen crew."
"That can't be any worse than cleaning up after the shuttle crews."
Every time he listened to their byplay, Curtis couldn't get over how a crewman like Jesse could trade jabs with the officer in charge of the shuttle bay and get away with it. "Hi, Commander Robinson," Curtis said in his quiet, unassuming manner.
"Hi, Curtis. Be thankful you work with a crewman who understands the need for safety, even for a short hop like the Mars will be taking. Or do I now call it the Marsh?" Danny chuckled.
"Mars will do," Jesse responded. "It's still the shuttle's official name after all."
"Where is Juju?"
"He's in the control room with Dennis showing him how to set the guide path for our departure from Bay 31." Danny knew that Juju was the watch officer in the shuttle bay. Dennis McDonough was a new crewman who had been assigned to the open third position. He was thirteen and had just completed his Explorer course of study program and the Space Academy.
"So, will Commander Kyle be your co-pilot on your little hop to Mars?" Jesse asked Danny.
"Before I answer that, I want to wish you a happy birthday, Jesse."
"Thank you, sir."
"You're now fifteen, correct?"
"Yes, that is correct. You did an excellent job of reading my records. And now you can answer my question."
Danny was ready to have a little bit of fun with the crewman. "The answer is no, and so you won't have to ask the question of who will be my co-pilot, I am not going to have a co-pilot."
"Yes, crewman Gross, I am aware of what Space Fleet policy is, but that applies only to interplanetary flights."
"But the Space Fleet Officers' Manual strongly recommends two qualified pilots on a shuttle carrying civilian passengers, even if it's not an interplanetary flight."
"And I am pleased you have read and understand the Space Fleet manual. With that kind of diligence, I'm sure you did quite well on your Ensign's exam. And yes. I know that strongly recommends in the Manual means you better have a damn good reason for not doing something. So, to set your mind at ease, I am going to inform you that I am going to be the co-pilot."
"So, Commander Kyle is going to be the pilot?"
"Commander Robinson will not be on the shuttle flight to Mars—his duties demand that he remains on board the Sooloo."
"I assume Juju will be the pilot then since he is your ace pilot," Jesse surmised.
"Nice guess, but no."
"Well, I'm not going to go through the list of pilots until I guess the right one, so I guess you can tell me."
"I'll tell you this much," Danny said. "When the Marsh leaves the shuttle bay, you will be preparing for the last segment on your Ensign's test."
Jesse thought for a moment and then said, "But that would be my live shuttle takeoff and landing."
"You mean, I'm going to be the pilot? Me?"
"That is what I mean."
"Holy shit. And I'll be doing it with passengers on board. I thought…no, wait, the test manual and the Space Fleet manual don't say…no, the Space Fleet manual does say. It says that the qualifying student can land shuttle with passenger if the chief examiner considers the candidate able to handle all aspects of shuttle flight and the co-pilot doing the examination is a fully qualified Space Fleet pilot trainer."
"The chief examiner is Commander Kyle, and I am one of only two Explorer fleet trainers who is a fully qualified Space Fleet trainer." Being fully qualified meant that Danny was qualified to train any level of pilot, including full-fledged Space Fleet pilots. "You were right on top of things again, crewman. Now, I have other duties, so how about you and Curtis finish your pre-flight and then report to Juju for assignment, unless, of course you've already been assigned something."
"I would like to review Mars flight approach procedures as soon as we finish."
"I was really sure you'd be saying that. When you get to the section on approach permissions, you have my okay to follow the procedure in the manual."
"I think I know what you're referring to. Do you think I'm qualified to do that without you being with me?"
"I do, or I wouldn't ask you to do it. The only thing I do ask is that you video it so you and I can review it as soon as I return. We will meet here on the Mars or Marsh or whatever at 1300. Don't forget to eat lunch before then."
Danny rose from his seat and disembarked the Mars(h). Curtis looked at Jesse and grinned. "Wow, it looks like I might have to be saluting you pretty soon."
"One more reason for me to have a good landing and launch. Now, let's get the check list done and report to Juju."
As the Sooloo was about to leave Space Dock, they received a call from Space Fleet. There was a shuttle with a new crewmember on its way. "Why isn't he already on board?" Hal questioned, not happy about the delay.
"Sir, I am sorry for the delay, but the ensign just received his orders at 1100, this morning."
"What? We were scheduled to leave at 1300," Hal barked. "Who is responsible for this last-minute crew assignment?"
"I believe the order came from Admiral Roberts. She was looking over your crew roster and realized that you needed another Astrogation Officer, Sir." Came the shaky voice of the Lieutenant over the comm.
"Very well," Hal calmed down. He wasn't happy about it, but she was a superior officer. Hal then called the Shuttle Bay and ordered Crewman Gross to have the ensign report directly to the Bridge immediately.
When the ensign walked onto the Bridge, he looked nervous, "Sir, I am so sorry, but I just received my orders…"
"I've already been told," Hal interrupted. "May I see those orders?"
"Yes, Sir." The ensign handed Hal his PADD.
"Mïtuti Tudupe, in what language?" Hal asked.
"Japanese, Sir," Tudupe replied. "I'm actually Darastixian, but I was born in Saitama, Japan. In English, Mïtuti means 'dragon,' and Tudupe means 'star.'"
"So, Tudupe is your given name?" Hal understood how the Japanese names work thanks to Enzan Kage, but he wanted to verify.
"Your orders claim you were top of your Astrogation Class." Hal looked at Kyle, "Mr. Robinson, would you be so kind as to let Mr. Mïtuti take the ship out of Space Dock?"
"As you wish, Sir," Kyle smiled. He wanted to see what his new subordinate was capable of, himself.
"Mr. Robinson, as in THE Commander Kyle Robinson, Sir?" Tudupe gushed. "Sir, it will be an honor serving under you. You are the best."
Kyle grinned, "Let's just see what you can do, Ensign. And did I hear correctly, your given name means 'Star'?"
As Tudupe sat at the Helm, he looked down and saw Megrez sitting in his usual spot. He smiled at the penguin. "Ummm, you might think I'm crazy, but I swear the stars talk to me sometimes, and I think this penguin winked at me."
"That's Megrez," Kyle informed him, "and the stars, especially the star Megrez, talk to me, too. You're not crazy."
"Seriously?" Tudupe questioned. "You named your penguin Megrez? I have a yellow stuffed dragon that I named Rastaban, after one of the Draco's eyes. Rastaban and Megrez talk to me through him."
Hal was about to give the order to leave Space Dock when Aiden declared, "Sir, we have an urgent call from Fleet Admiral Mirah."
Hal sighed out of exasperation at yet another delay, but told Aiden, "Main screen."
"Captain Tietokone, I hate delaying your departure any longer, but this is a must," Mirah averred. "Is Dave handy?"
"He is in his Ready Room, but I can patch you through."
After Dave was patched in, Mirah explained, "Last night Admiral Truefan's heart stopped, Space Fleet Medical did everything they could to revive him, to no avail. Commodore, you are hereby promoted to Rear Admiral, but I regret that means you will need to stay on Earth. Captain, you will be promoted to Commodore. It will be your choice whether you remain on the Sooloo or remain on Earth. I suspect that I know your answer, but wanted to give you the choice."
"You know my answer," Hal grinned.
"Commander Jordan Rivers, you are promoted to the rank of Captain of the Sooloo. I would like for you to delay your departure until after Truefan's funeral."
"Truefan was a true hero," Jordan announced, "I'd be honored to attend, but we have guests that we need to return to Mars."
"Have Danny or one of the other pilots fly them back in a shuttle. After the funeral, your Commodore will discuss other promotions that are necessary. Gentlemen, I hope to see all three of you tomorrow morning at 0700." With that, Mirah disconnected the connection.
Jesse was seated in the pilot's seat of the Mars(h) at 1240. He was eager to go. As soon as Danny arrived, they would start the final preflight checklist, which was different than the detailed preflight he and Curtis had completed. This one was simply to ensure that everything was still functioning at full efficiency and the basics were ready for flight.
Danny contacted Jesse at 1247. "We have a slight problem to deal with, so I will be a few minutes late," he reported.
Jesse felt his heart rate rise as he feared the problem was something of his own creation. He went through everything in his head that he was supposed to have accomplished that morning and he couldn't think of anything he might have missed.
"Hello, Jesse? Are you with me?"
"Oh, yeah, sorry. I was trying to think of what it is I fucked up this morning."
"Jesse, you didn't fuck up a damned thing. If you'd fucked something up, I would have been the first to tell you."
"Thanks, but it is my job, after all. I mean you did schedule me to be the pilot," Jesse commented.
"Well, then start remembering what you and I talked about more than once. The first job of a pilot is to be cool, calm, and collected with his mind focused on his duties."
"You're right," Jesse sighed. "Sorry. It's like I'm a combination of a student who's a nervous wreck and a pilot who's ready to fly."
"Take the nervous student and shove him out an airlock. That's not you. You're a pilot now, or you wouldn't be piloting this flight. This is about you the pilot, not you the student taking your final exam. End of story."
"Yes, sir, Commander Danny. I assure you that Crewman Jesse is back and at the wheel."
Danny slipped onto the shuttle at 1305 and sat in the copilot's seat. "I see you've started your preflight. Good work. Your flight is going to be a little different than what he planned and it's good to see you're ready."
"What happened to change things?" Jesse asked.
Danny told him about the sudden death of Admiral Truefan and that Jesse would be piloting the Mars(h) from Earth to Mars and back.
"Whoa, that does change things. The first thing I need to do is get us a navigation route and a new landing window."
"See what I mean about you being Crewman Jesse the pilot? You're right on top of things without even having to think about it. As soon as you've got us all scheduled with Mars City, we'll do our final checklist."
Jesse got on the radio and contacted Mars City Traffic Control. He was given a 1400 landing window and was assigned to the E-M4 navigation route.
Jesse looked toward the hatch but didn't see anyone else board with Danny. "Where are the little monsters?"
"Probably somewhere plotting ways to make a rookie pilot's life miserable," Danny chuckled.
"They won't need to try very hard. But go easy on the rookie part, I have done some piloting out in space with you and Juju instructing me. The rookie part will be the landing and launching."
"Good point. But no worries about the urchins. They're with Kyle, who is making sure they don't move up the ladder from urchins to little monsters," Danny chuckled.
"Wouldn't that be more like moving down the ladder?"
"Whatever. Between me and Marsh's mother, who knows how to get the attention of the boys' when needed, the three of them are going to behave themselves to avoid being shoved out of the airlock."
"Damn, that lady IS strict."
"That is not exactly what she threatened, but the idea was the same. Between Kyle and Krista, they will be three little angels."
"Dreamer," Jesse guffawed. "They're boys. I sure wasn't no angel when I was their age. But then again, I was never out in space on a shuttle to Mars. I had nothing better to do than get in trouble."
At 1318 Kyle boarded the shuttle. "How are you guys doing?" Kyle asked Danny.
"We're right on top of things," Danny said. "Final preflight is almost finished."
"When are you due to launch, Jesse?"
"We're scheduled to leave the Sooloo at 1330. We have a 1400 landing window and a navigation guideline," Jesse replied.
At 1321 Krista boarded with the three urchins. "Sorry, we're late. Koji just informed me that nine minutes early is one minute late." Koji grinned at Danny, proud of himself.
"Good job, Koji," Danny said, "although that rule applies to crew and not to guests."
"That means Dask (mother) Krysta and Marsh are early and Duskin and me are late?" Koji asked.
"You've got that down perfectly." Koji and Duskin headed for their seats.
Kyle watched as they took their seats. "Are you guys ready to strap in?"
"Yes, we are, Opsola Kyle," Koji responded.
Duskin and Koji strapped themselves in and waited for Kyle to do the inevitable double check of their work. "You two remember what we talked about at lunch," Kyle told his sons as he gave Duskin's loose strap a final cinch.
"We're supposed to be on our best behavior ever," Koji responded. Duskin nodded and Kyle told them he had total confidence in them. He mussed their hair and gave them a quick hug.
He turned to the pilots' seats and grinned at Danny the teacher and Jesse the pupil. He knew that while Jesse was better prepared to fly a shuttle before he had his formal flying lessons than some students were after their lessons, this would still be his first actual landing and vertical launch. From what he had learned about Jesse during his ensign training, Kyle was certain the crewman would pass the test with flying colors. And after he passed, he would have passed his Ensign examination and would receive a special surprise with his birthday cake later in the afternoon.
"Safe flights to the two of you," Kyle said. He exchanged a kiss with Danny, his husband, and a hand clasp with Jesse.
"No kiss from the senior officer for the poor crewman?" Jesse said with a hang dog look on his face.
"Return the Marsh back in one piece and I will give it some consideration," Kyle grinned.
"That won't be a problem," Jesse said with an air of confidence he felt deep inside of himself. As Jesse saw it, he knew the shuttles better than anybody on the Sooloo outside of Danny and his trained pilots, and the jury might be out on the two shuttle pilots.
Kyle disembarked the Mars(h) out of the side airlock. Dennis McDonough, who was standing on the docking platform, shut the door and secured it. Danny, as copilot, also locked it from the inside. The Mars(h) was ready to leave the Sooloo.
"I can't believe we're ready to go," Krista said. "I never felt the ship leave orbit."
"That's because it didn't leave orbit. You're doing the entire Earth-Mars trip in the shuttle, just like you did coming to the Sooloo," Danny told her.
"That must be because of the hullabaloo over that admiral dying."
"Sadly, that is correct."
Marsh could tell his mother was a little nervous and wondered if it was because Jesse was an inexperienced pilot. That fact didn't make him nervous, because from what he had learned during his short time on the Sooloo he knew that Danny was a great teacher and Jesse had a lot of experience moving a shuttle around the shuttle bay. Marsh figured that if Jesse could pilot a shuttle in that small space, he should be able to land one on a big planet.
At 1329, Jesse radioed shuttle bay control for permission to leave the ship. Curtis, who was manning the control room under the watch of "Ace" Cardiff, opened the bay's airlock and sent the Marsh the electronic guideline for Jesse to follow out of the bay.
"Permission to depart is granted," Curtis replied. While Curtis had assisted in arrivals and departures, this was the first one he was essentially in charge of.
Jesse disconnected from the dock and at precisely 1330 and the Mars(h) exited the Sooloo's shuttle bay for the flight to Mars. Danny was at full alert as Jesse flew centered his viewscreen on the line for route E-M4. Danny could see that his pilot was in full control of himself and his shuttle, but he also knew that shit happened in space, and it was his job to step in if needed. While Danny was Jesse's co-pilot, he also had the power to take command of the shuttle if needed. As he expected, that never proved to be necessary.
Jesse engaged the star drive, gave instructions for the ship to follow navigation route E-M4 and placed the Marsh on what was essentially autopilot once it had accelerated to full speed.
At 1400, Jesse was at his landing point and was given permission to land. At 1357 he was approaching the Mars City Space Port. He switched from the navigation guideline to the landing guideline. He centered that guideline perfectly on his monitor as he came down closer and closer to the dry desert of Mars. As required, he told his co-pilot to lower the landing gear at the requisite point on the flight patch. Danny announced the landing gear was locked, which Jesse quickly verified. The shuttle flew over the end of the runway and within a few seconds the Marsh hit the ground so smoothly the contact could barely be felt. It was a nearly perfect landing.
As the shuttle taxied to the Space Fleet Terminal, Danny placed Jesse's landing into his communicator. Since the landing fell within the guidelines required for a score of 100 out of 100, that was how Danny scored him. A perfect landing without the hint of a bump was a rarity even for a seasoned veteran and was not required to earn a perfect score. The entire process from the check in with control to the touchdown went into the scoring, and Jesse had followed the protocols perfectly. He still needed to talk with the flight controller before sending it in as a final score.
"That was the first time you ever did a landing?" Koji asked Jesse.
"Other than on a simulator, yes it was."
"That was as good as Opsola Danny's last one. You must have practiced."
"Like I said, only on a simulator," Jesse said as he turned onto the tarmac in front of the terminal and shut down and secured the shuttle.
It didn't take long for everyone to unbuckle and unstrap. Marsh gave Danny a hug and thanked him for the great time he had. Krista surprised Jesse with a hug and a kiss on his cheek, thanking him for the great flight and the smooth landing. Krista, Marsh, Koji, and Duskin were soon walking on the skybridge to the terminal followed by Danny and Jesse.
Sean Hawkins, Marsh's father was waiting for them in the terminal. It had been agreed ahead of time that he would drive Krista and the boys to the main terminal for snacks and drinks while Danny did his final evaluation of the landing with Jesse.
"Great landing job, Jesse," Danny stated as they sat at a table in the crew lounge in the Space Fleet terminal. "Your procedure was flawless, and your touchdown was near prefect. I can't help but wonder if maybe Koji was right about you practicing," he smirked.
"I know how the shuttle behaves as well as anybody and you saw how many hours I put into practicing on the simulator. If I can't bring this puppy down in a good landing, I don't deserve to get my pilot's credentials let alone an Ensign bar," Jesse responded.
"Well, once you've done your liftoff you will have completed your Ensign test. I don't know all of your scores although I suspect they were all pretty high, I do know your landing gets a 100. If you haven't passed the test, then there's something wrong with the whole process."
"Thanks," Jesse offered with uncharacteristic modesty.
"No need to thank me. You're the one who did it." While Danny was certain that Jesse was going to pass the test with flying colors, he was equally certain that he wouldn't get a perfect score. Perfect scores on the Ensign exam (or any promotion exam) were rare, especially in the Explorer Program since the crewmen or cadets taking the test didn't have the experience that the cadets in Space fleet had. He knew that in the brief history of the explorer program, there had been a total of five perfect scores, and two of those belonged to two officers on Sooloo: Dave Bowman and some whacked out dude named Kyle Robinson.
While Kyle had somehow managed to slip to a 97 on the Lieutenant exam, he went back to being perfect on the Commanders' exam. He had no idea how Dave did on his subsequent exams, because everyone tended to become more secretive about their scores once the newness of the process had worn off. Since Kyle as Danny's husband, he was more than willing to share his scores.
For his part, Danny had a score an 88 on the Ensign exam (80 was passing), 91 on the Lieutenant exam, and a whopping 97 on the Commander exam. He felt deep in his bones that Jesse would end up scoring in the mid-90's.
As Danny and Jesse ate their snacks and had their drinks, they discussed the procedure for a vertical liftoff. Danny was not surprised that Jesse had the procedure down. He was pleased that the reticent crewman he had grown to respect and like had let his personality and his intelligence come out as he worked toward his promotion to an officer.
"You know Kyle could have come with us," Jesse told Danny. "But this class of shuttle has a fucked-up design. Those beds should be convertibles so they can be made into seats and then back to beds. I mean overnight trains have done that forever. I wonder what the designers were smoking when they came up with that. These long-range puppies should be able to carry ten to twelve instead of just six with some modifications.
"But what do I know, I'm still just crewman. I'm sure the designers and engineers knew what they were doing."
"You never know who was thinking what," Danny said. "If I were you, I'd put together some diagrams showing what could be changed and show it to Hal and Dave before they leave the ship."
"Drawing ain't my thing. But it is something little old "Red" Lynch is good at. Maybe, if and when I become an officer, we could work out a plan. We'd make a good team, I bet."
"There is no 'if' about you become an officer. In my book it's all but official, but what do I know? I'm just a little old Commander."
In the main terminal, Koji, Duskin, and Marsh munched on some cookies and chatted away on everything from Koji first meeting Marsh at the Olympus Mons observation tower to their fun on Mars, their trip to Earth, Koji's party, the just completed landing. Marsh quietly mentioned the fun he had with the twins and a couple of other boys in the holodeck and the romps in bed with Koji and Duskin as well as the things he learned about star ships and space and the Space Fleet Academy.
"I hope you get to go to the academy and learn to be a space boy," Duskin said. "Me, too," Marsh nodded.
"And I want to do it, too."
"I don't know yet," Koji said, although he saw it as a primary choice when he was old enough to go.
Soon there were good-bye hugs, kisses, and tears as the time came for Koji and Duskin to be dropped off at the Space Fleet Terminal. Marsh and his parents walked with Koji and Duskin to the skyway and more hugs were exchanged. Danny and Jesse were in their seats doing their preflight check when the boys entered the cabin and strapped themselves into their seats.
Danny checked to make sure they were properly secured and buckled himself into the copilot's seat as Jesse completed the prelaunch chatter with Mars City traffic control. The Mars(h) received clearance to taxi to the end of the runway as well as instructions to connect to the guideline for route M-E3. In what seemed like mere seconds the Mars(h) was racing down the runway and soaring above the desert until he reached the liftoff point.
He then called out, "Liftoff commencing!" to alert his copilot and passengers and almost instantly the nose of the Mars(h) was pointing straight up. The shuttle shot up, reaching escape speed and was soon out of the Mars atmosphere and into the vacuum of space. Jesse ended his communication with Mars control and radioed the Sooloo that he had launched.
When the Sooloo came into sight at 1500 Jesse was in familiar territory. He had flown shuttles in and out of the shuttle bay often during the course of routine shuttle bay business as well as training. Curtis broadcast a guideline to the Mars(h) and Jesse followed it into the shuttle bay where he berthed in Bay 31, the home berth for the Mars(h). Normally an incoming shuttle would berth at Bays 1, 2, or 3. As a crewman assigned to the shuttle bay, Jesse worked as a hostler, moving shuttles from their docking bays to their regular berths. As a result, shuttle control gave the Mars(h) permission to bypass berthing at the incoming bay and move directly to its home bay.
After the Mars(h) berthed, Koji and Duskin were sent off to the Robinson quarters and Danny critiqued Jesse's liftoff and flight to the Sooloo. He didn't have much to say since the flight had gone as precisely as any veteran pilot could have done.
After Jesse electronically acknowledged receiving his review from Danny he started to rise from his seat. Danny stopped him, however, saying there was one more thing he wanted to do with Jesse before they disembarked from the shuttle.
"You mean we haven't covered everything?" Jesse asked.
"Well, yes, we have covered everything. In this case we're going to do some uncovering," Danny responded as he pulled off his uniform tunic.
"Yep, you got it."
"Yeah, but all we did before was pull our dicks out and you sucked mine and jerked off. Well, sometimes I jerked you off, but you took off your shirt and now you're…you're…taking off your pants."
"When are you going to take the hint and shed that crewman's uniform and join me." Danny was now completely naked, his cock rock hard. His folded his uniform and set it on one of the seats, placing his shoes and socks on the floor in front of it. He then went to one of the beds and lay on his back, grinning at Jesse, who looked confused as he busily removed his uniform. Soon, he was naked as well, and he squeezed in next to Danny on the narrow cot. His cock was so hard, it hurt.
"Now, will you please explain?" he asked.
"This is your fifteenth birthday, and I thought I'd give you a special present by showing you how horny boys on star ships take care of their urges when they don't have the daughters of admirals to fuck."
"I proved I never got her pregnant with a test," Jesse said. "And besides, we never went all the way. We just got naked and made out and…"
"Calm down, Jesse. I know the story. I apologize if my try at humor hit a wrong note."
"Apology accepted, but I still want to know what we're going to do. I mean, I know it's about sex, since we're naked on a bed together and have hardons, but there's sex and there's sex."
"Let's just say that when you eat your birthday cake at your party you won't be a virgin anymore when it comes to sex with guys. And before you think otherwise, this won't affect your test score since I sent my score to Operations, which gives you the right to turn me down. I'll still suck you off if you want, or you can go to the head and jerk off. You have to want this—and from our BJ and JO sessions I got the strong feeling you do want it."
"Are you going to fuck me, or am I going to fuck you?"
"Both, if you think you can handle it."
"If I can't handle a 12-year-old, even if he is a fucking commander, in bed then I might as well get castrated."
"Well, you're plenty turned on and since we have dinner and a party to go to, we'll skip the making out stuff and get right down to action—which is why I have some lubrication stashed under the bed."
"You officer types are always thinking ahead," Jesse chuckled.
"You know it. And you should soon be joining us in mastering that necessary skill."
Jesse was ready to follow Danny's instructions from start to finish—this time. They completed the sexual gymnastics in time to take showers at their quarters, put on their dress uniforms, and make it dinner early. Jesse could still feel the tingling in his gut from the "command lesson" he received from Danny. He could also feel the pleasant strain from having three orgasms during the lesson. Danny had been right; he was no longer a virgin as he walked into the dining hall. He had performed as a top and as a bottom and enjoyed both.
"Being 15 is great,' he thought. 'I know it's too early to learn if I got my Ensign bar, but if I did get it, even after all I just did with Danny, I bet I'd end up creaming my pants when I attached it to my uniform"
Jesse was surprised when Kyle and Danny had asked him to join them for dinner in the Officers' Dining Hall. He didn't know if it was really the case or his imagination, but he thought the food tasted better than what the crewmen were served. After several bits and some time, he decided that it tasted the same, but seemed better because it was brought to their table.
After everyone had eaten, Hal stood on the stage to make an announcement. "As some of you all know, Commodore Bowman was promoted to Vice Admiral to fill a void left by the death of Admiral Truefan. And I was promoted to Commodore in his stead. I had the option of staying on the ship as he did or joining him on Earth. As much as I love you guys, I love my husband more."
Several officers made comments about love Hal back and wishing him luck. One or two threw out a "Oh man… I thought you loved us more." Hal just shook his head and smiled.
"I want to thank Captain Jordan Rivers for allowing me to do this last part, even though I am no longer the Captain. Today is Jesse Gross' birthday. I believe he turned fifteen today. As usual, Ben Maxie created a beautiful cake."
Ben wheeled out the cake cart and revealed the cake. The cake was a white cake with an image of the Shuttle Jesse flew for his test. It also had the collar of an Operations' uniform without any rank. Ben did that for a reason.
Ben cut that corner off for Jesse and placed a surprise on the collar. Jesse chuckled, "That's kind of a big piece, don't you think?"
"It's the piece and size I was ordered to give you." Jesse didn't even notice the surprise on his cake at that time.
He sat down and was ready to put a fork into his cake, when he finally noticed it. At first glance, Jesse thought it was icing, but his fork refused to go through the bar. Jesse picked it up and looked at Hal.
"Yes, Jesse," Hal smiled, "You passed you Ensign Exam and are officially an officer. Congratulations."
Jesse still couldn't believe it until Danny walked over and took the bar from him and placed it on Jesse's collar. Danny whispered, "I heard Hal tell Jordan that your overall score was a 96. Well done."
Dave, Hal and Jordon marched into Bill's office. "It saddens me to meet under these circumstances," Bill sighed. "Truefan was a good man."
"A hero," Jordon declared. "I learned in the Academy that he had a big part in making Space Fleet what it is today."
"That is true, he was kinda like the father of Space Fleet," Bill averred. "Admiral Truefan also helped me create the Explorer Program. When the Explorer Program started, he told me that when he wanted his pall bearers to be from the Explorer Program. Dave, Hal, I would like you two to be a part of it. Jordon, I know Jace is half Darastixian, so you think you and he could be two more?"
"We'd be honored, Sir."
"We need two more," Dave stated.
"One more," Bill corrected, "I plan to be one. I thought about Kyle, but while I'm sure he has the strength, his height would throw things off."
"When is the funeral, Bill?" Hal inquired.
"Wednesday," Bill replied, "er… rather tomorrow, which is Wednesday."
Everyone sensed that Bill was grieving the loss of Truefan more than he was letting on. "What about Admiral Robinson?" Dave questioned.
"Yes, he was a friend of Lenny's, too," Bill gave a slight smile, "He can walk opposite of me." With the pall bearers determined, the group went on to discuss other arrangements for Truefan's memorial service.
The funeral was a beautiful ceremony to honor Admiral Lenny Truefan. After the event, Hal and Jordan went to Hal's new office. Jace was asked to join them as everyone knew he would be the new First Officer. "Captain Rivers, it has been an honor working with you, and seeing you take my place as Captain of the Sooloo is such a pleasure. I know the crew respect you and I have a few suggestions."
"I do as well, and I am hoping we can discuss them," Jordan replied.
"First, I believe we are on the same page with Jace being my First Officer."
Hal smiled, "That is why his presence was requested. As for the Chief of Internal Operations, I believe we should discontinue it. The position was created for Jace, and now you really have no need for it. IS and Engineering can return to under Operations."
"Agreed, and with Kash being the Chief of Operations, he will move into the Second Officer slot."
Hal nodded. "Sounds logical, but I have a suggestion as to who to make the Third Officer, though we normally don't give them a title as such."
"I was thinking, Kyle Robinson," Jordan declared. "He has stated many times that he wants to be a captain some…"
Hal started laughing, which caused Jordan to stop mid-word. "That is who I was going to suggest, and for the same reason." Jordan just smiled, and they continued discussing others. At the conclusion, Hal suggested they take some time to reflect on the loss of a great man, and then get back out exploring the galaxy and visiting new planets.
Again, we wish to dedicate this story to True Fan. He will be sorely missed but lives on in our hearts. This story was entirely his idea, and Douglas DD and I are happy that he asked us to join on this adventure. We plan to continue the story as a way to honor him.
This concludes Book II, and after a time we will begin Book III. We hope you continue with us.
It is with a heavy heart that I edit this chapter, because TrueFan was such a great person!
I know I am not alone in thanking him for all his wonderful work, and he will indeed be missed.
I am honored to have worked with him and will miss him dearly.
If you are reading from a different site than The Story Lover, please change the "TSL" in the email subject to the site you are reading on.
And if there is something you are interested in, but do not see, request it. If it is possible, we will add it.