Corey "wrote" his essay in the Operations Office. While there, he managed to get comfortable around Steve. Upon completion of his report, Steve suggested that he have Rear Admiral Robert Crusoe peruse it and get his thoughts.
Kyle taught some of the pilots about Astrogation. Corey Adams and Rear Admiral Crusoe not only sat in on the class, but also participated.
As they were approaching Earth, word came that Medici had passed away. Arrangements were being made to have the Sooloo and Darastix escort his body back to Darastix.
Robert, Tomo, Juro and Jinzo discussed the androids Robert wanted to build. Tomo and Juro felt more comfortable with giving him the schematics for Jinzo.
Admiral Crusoe walked onto the Bridge; he saw Will was at the helm, and Kyle was seated at Navigation of the Astrogation table. Will looked nervous and hadn't even seen Robert yet. He smiled when he saw Kochab sitting beside Will but was surprised when he saw another penguin beside Kochab. It was as if the two penguins were holding wings.
Robert started to approach the Astrogation table, but Kyle stood up and shook his head. He walked over, "Sir, I don't think it's a good time for you to talk with him, he's nervous enough as it is. If he knows you are here, it will only make him more nervous. I've got this; he's got this."
"Is this his first time at docking?" Kyle simply nodded. "I understand, and thank you," Robert smiled.
Kyle sat back down, and Will asked, "Where'd you go? Is my dad here?"
"I'll tell you later, but right now, you have this."
"I'd be lying if I said I wasn't nervous about this."
"You think I wasn't? Trust me; you have this. You've done it millions of times in the simulator."
"I wouldn't say millions, but that's different. If I crashed, nothing was damaged, no one was hurt. This is real."
"True, but what you did there and what you do here are exactly the same. You can do this, just trust your training and have faith in yourself."
Will took a glance over his shoulder and saw his dad smiling. Robert simply nodded. Kyle wished Will hadn't done that, and repeated, "You've got this."
Will chuckled, "Damn right I do. I had the best teacher train me to do it right; my dad has confidence in me and so do I." Kyle grinned; maybe looking at his dad wasn't a bad thing.
As the Sooloo moved into her space dock, Will called out, "Engaging docking clamps and attaching umbilicals. Shutting down now. We are home."
"Excellent job, Will," Kyle congratulated him.
Robert walked up, "I think that was the best docking I have ever experienced."
"Thanks, Dad, but Kyle and John are even better.
"So, who is the other penguin that was with Kochab?"
Will answered, "He's Kyle's penguin, Megrez."
"After the star Megrez?" Robert was surprised, "That's hilarious that two almost identical penguins, both named after a star in the dippers, end up on the same ship."
"Yeah, that almost got me in trouble. I'll have to tell you about that on the way home."
Hal sat at his seat on the Bridge, reviewing the last reports of actions taken after docking. He looked around at his crew and a feeling of pride overtook him. Dave approached and quietly said to him, "I can tell how proud you are of your crew. Know that I am just as proud, if not more so, of you."
Hal smiled up at his husband before pushing the button on his chair that activated the public address system. "Attention, this is the Captain. I want to congratulate all of you on this shakedown. With few exceptions, everything worked perfectly. Those few glitches will be handled within a couple of days."
He paused for a moment before continuing, "I want also to thank a few people. First off, Admiral Robert Crusoe, thank you for your insight. I hope you enjoyed your time with us, and we all wish you well in your new posting as head of Logistics for the Explorer Program. Ensign Corey Adams; you have surprised us all with your thirst for knowledge as well as your ability to see the big picture. There are many jobs to be done on a starship and I have no doubt that you will excel at whatever you put your mind to. Good luck at the Academy; Space Fleet is enhanced by your joining.
"To my Senior Staff, you have made my first command much easier than it could have been. Thank you for your competence as well as your friendship. Finally, I want to acknowledge one more individual, Ensign Will Crusoe. You may have pulled off one of the best docking procedures ever experienced in the Explorer Program. I will admit that I overheard the comment you made to your father, but I cannot agree. Kyle Robinson and John Luke are two of the best at the helm in the fleet, but neither could have done a better job than you did."
Hal looked over at Kyle and saw the smile on his face. Kyle nodded then walked over and gave Will a pat on the back. Hal then finished his remarks, "For the next 48-hours, those not critical to the final tweaks to the Sooloo will be given 48-hours leave. After that, we have a duty to depart Earth again to escort an ally home for the last time. Your department Chiefs will let you know which shuttle you have been assigned to for disembarkation. Thank you all, we'll see you in 48-hours. Dismissed."
As everyone was preparing to disembark, Will walked into his and John's quarters, carrying Kochab. Drake noticed the penguin right away. "Papa, who does the penguin belong to, and can I have him?" he asked.
Will looked thoughtful for a minute, "My dad gave him to my mom on the day I was born. They named him Kochab, after one of the stars in the Ursa Minor. Then when we thought Dad was killed, Mom gave him to me. Since my dad is alive, I suppose you can..."
"No," Drake interrupted. "Sorry for interrupting, but you need to keep Kochab. I feel as though he is why Grandpa didn't die."
"You might be right on that," Will grinned. "Dad said that he heard Kochab yell at him to bail out just as the shuttle lost power. The last thing he remembered before blacking out was seeing the shuttle explode before it even hit the ground."
"So, Grandpa talks to the stars like Kyle?"
Will shook his head, "No, they never seem to hear him, but when he needs Kochab the most, Kochab seems to talk to him. Dad's a little envious of Kyle for being able to talk with them, yet he also admires Kyle for that ability. He has a feeling that the reason Kyle is a better Astrogator than him is Kyle is more attuned to the stars."
"You should take him on the Bridge when you have watch, like Kyle does Megrez."
"Kyle and I had them there when we docked. That's why I am carrying him."
"If they hit it off and have baby stuffed penguins, I want one," Drake laughed.
"You really want a stuffed animal?" Will inquired.
Drake smiled, "Yeah, I would, like maybe a dolphin."
"Do you have a name for him?"
"Echo," Drake declared.
"Alright," Will walked over to the small replicator every quarter has, "Computer, I need a stuffed toy dolphin about a meter in length."
In seconds, Will's request was completed. He picked up the dolphin and handed it to Drake, "Say hello to Echo."
Drake grabbed Will by the waist and hugged him, "Thanks, Papa; I'm going to love Echo like I know you and Dad love me."
"I know you will."
"Can I take him to show Oliver?"
Will smiled, "I don't see why not, he's yours. Meet us at the Shuttle Bay when you are done."
Drake gave Will another hug, grabbed Echo and headed to find Oliver, hoping he hadn't left already.
John Luke and Will stopped at John's family's house first. They knew that Matt was home alone and thought he might enjoy a few days in Pennsylvania. John walked in, "Matt!!! How would you… what's wrong bro?"
"I did something and I'm afraid you might get mad at me," the boy whispered.
"What did you do?" John asked, "I promise I won't get mad."
"You know the dog tail you gave me for my birthday?" Matt asked, "well, I don't have it anymore."
"I thought you loved it," John seemed confused. "What happened to it?"
"I did… er, I mean, I do," Matt stammered, "but I thought Robbie looked really cute with it in his butt, so I gave it to him. Please don't be mad."
"Wait," Will started to chuckle, "my brother has your dog tail butt plug, and he uses it?"
Matt grinned slightly, "He loves it."
John put his arm around Matt, "I think it's cute that you gave it to your boyfriend. You know what would be even cuter?"
"Thanks for not being mad, but what would be cuter?" Matt sighed as he wrapped his arms around John.
"If we got a second one so you both can wear them together," John replied."
"I'd like that."
Will announced, "Listen, the reason we stopped is because first, John insisted on seeing his brother, and second, we were wondering if you would like to go to Pennsylvania for a couple of days."
"SERIOUSLY!!!" Matt shouted. There was no question at how excited the thought made Matt.
"Seriously," Will responded, acting like Matt shattered his eardrum. "We can stop on the way to get the second tail, and you can spend time with Robbie."
"I love you guys so much," Matt declared.
When they arrived at the home Will knew for so long, Will walked in first. He was as quiet as he could be until he saw his underwear-clad brother sitting at his computer. Obviously, there was a hole in the back of the underwear as the dog tail was sticking out. Will got as close as he dared before acting surprised, "WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU WEARING?!?!"
Robbie turned around quickly and ran to his brother, wrapping his arms around him, ""Will!!! How long are you home for?"
"Just two days, but you didn't answer my question," Will replied.
"I'm wearing my purple briefs," Robbie replied.
"I can see that," Will retorted, "but you seem to have a tail coming out the back."
"Mom said I could put a hole in this pair, but only this pair, and Matt let me borrow his tail."
"That's not what Matt said; he said that he gave it to you," John stepped into Robbie's room. "We stopped and got him another one before bringing him to visit you."
As soon as Matt stepped in the room, Robbie seemed to forget that John and Will were even there. He ran over to Matt, wrapped his arms around him and planted a kiss. It wasn't until Will chuckled, "Ewww, you're gay…" that Robbie remembered they were there.
"Well, so are you," Robbie grinned.
"I know, but I owed you that."
"Yeah," Robbie conceded, "you did, but I am happy that I discovered it, and know I don't have to hide it."
"Dad tells me that you might be going on the next shakedown cruise," Will brought up.
"No might about it," Robbie's grin got as big as it could, "Dad already talked with his boss, and it's been approved. We will be going on the Endurance, and not only that, if Matt's parents give him permission, and if he wants to go, he will be going too."
"Seriously?" Matt was shocked, " I would love to go."
"There is one catch," Robbie forewarned. "Since we will be going to the Academy, Fleet Admiral Mirah said that we each need to write an essay on our experiences, and we cannot do them together, so that we have different papers. They need to be at least one thousand pages."
"Pages?" Will questioned. "Or did he say words?"
"Oops, that's what I meant," Robbie chuckled. "I, for one, don't want to write a thousand-page essay. It would take forever."
"You had me scared for a second," Matt admitted.
Bill Mirah and Greg Robinson were already seated at the table enjoying a cocktail when Dave and Hal arrived. Commenting on the extra seats, Dave offered, "Since we won't be returning to Earth any time soon, Oliver and Lars decided to give their grandmother some time instead of coming to listen to us adults talking." This elicited a light chuckle from the two older adults.
"I think that's a wonderful idea, as a matter of fact, Inga has been spending a lot of time at the Academy lately. Some of the 'first year' students... the older 10-year-olds and younger 11-year-olds, being away from home for the first time... she's sort of a surrogate grandma for them," Greg offered.
After another short period of small talk, and having placed their orders, Dave asked, "I assume this is a more informal planning session for the Darastix trip?"
Bill nodded and opened his comments, "I've asked Bob Adams to come on this trip. I'm actually trying to convince him to take the officer's exam. Not for the Explorer fleet, but for a regular ship. At first, I thought he'd want Corey along, but Corey himself said he should stick to his studies at home, so he doesn't fall behind on his studies... he really wants to be accepted at the Academy in the fall. I will be meeting with him later and then when we return to let him know that he is accepted."
Greg added, "Had you told me several months ago, that the boy had any chance of being accepted, I'd have laughed at the very idea, but that Chief Astrogator son of mine must have really lit a fire under his ass. Today, I'd wager his acceptance is almost a foregone conclusion. His observations on your shakedown were top rate."
Hal inquired, "What about Robert Crusoe?"
"He's taking his new responsibilities seriously as well. He turned down a seat on the trip because he felt he didn't want to delay the shakedown cruises of the explorer ships over the five weeks we'll be away from Earth. He will be taking his son Robby along. He's also asked permission to take Matthew Luke along. It seems that Matthew and Robbie have taken a bit of a liking to each other."
Dave and Hal chuckled at that one, Dave making a mental note to joke around with John Luke and his husband about the young brothers-in-law becoming more than that. Dave then proposed, "Jace has requested that his family ride to Darastix on the Sooloo. I don't have an issue with it but wanted to run it by you."
"It's your ship, Hal. If you say yes, it's a done deal," Admiral Mirah reminded him.
"Ok, I'm going to allow it, even though it will mean having a female on board. I am certain my First Officer and the twins will be happy with the decision. It will also give Jace and his parents a chance to spend a bit more time together."
They continued discussing the logistics of the trip to Darastix for another hour before the foursome split up, heading to their respective homes, happy that they'd accomplished everything they'd wanted to.
Admiral Mirah put his tablet down and looked over at Corey. This was making the pre-teen very nervous because the Fleet Admiral wasn't saying anything, he just seemed to be staring at him.
After nearly two minutes, Bill Mirah smiled and said, "I am duly impressed, Cadet. You gave probably the best overview of what happens on a starship that I've ever read. You should be exceptionally proud of yourself. We will meet again after I return from Darastix. Until then, be happy. Dismissed, Cadet Adams."
"But Sir, my temporary assignment is over, I'm not a Cadet anymore."
"Are you contradicting me, Cadet?"
Corey, swallowing the lump that was developing in his throat, replied, "No, Sir. Thank you, Sir." He then turned and walked out of the Admiral's office. Once the door was closed, he pumped his fist in the air and stifled a yell, "YES!!!"
When Greg Robinson saw he had a secure email from the law firm of Swenson, McKenzie, and Price in San Diego, California, he was certain he knew what the subject was. He entered the proper password, which unlocked the mail. He knew that unlocking the mail would send a confirmation that he had received the mail back to the law firm. He didn't need to go beyond the subject of the mail before calling Bill Mirah.
Admiral Mirah had opened his copy of the mail, and like Greg, he was not surprised. Greg had warned him about his mother's threat to sue for custody of her grandson, Kyle. When his phone buzzed, he didn't have to look at Caller ID to know it was Greg.
"Bill, have you checked your email lately?" Greg asked.
"Yes, and obviously you have, too," Bill responded.
"I swear my mother is crazy. There's no way she can get legal custody of Kyle."
"That won't stop her from trying. Let's meet in my office in an hour."
Greg entered Bill's office after fussing and stewing for an hour. He was pleased to see that Admiral Walter Jefferson was seated in the office. Jefferson was the Assistant Chief Judge Advocate General for Space Fleet. Greg had a great deal of respect for him and was pleased that Bill had turned to him right away. The big black man squeezed Greg's hand. Greg knew if he wanted to, he could have crushed it. He had played quarterback for the Academy almost thirty years ago and was a second-team All-American.
The three Admirals exchanged pleasantries briefly before getting down to business. "I apologize for my mother in advance," Greg said. "She has been off track since my father accepted a command heading for deep space and it only got worse after his death."
"No need to apologize, Greg," Jefferson. "Your mother certainly isn't your responsibility. What we're here for is to develop a strategy to fight her custody claim."
"She not only wants custody, but she wants to annul his marriage and reverse Koji's adoption," Greg pointed out.
"First, I want to say she doesn't have a case. In fact, if her attorneys hadn't taken her petition to a country judge whose knowledge of Space Fleet law wouldn't fill a thimble, we wouldn't be sitting here right now."
"How long will it take to get this thrown out?" Mirah asked.
"I have talked to Judge Sherman, who assured me he would place it at the top of his docket. Sherman knows the boys, knows the situation, and most importantly, knows the law. We should get a favorable ruling, but there may be an issue."
"Issue? What kind of issue?" Greg asked.
"Bill tells me the Sooloo is scheduled to launch her mission on the ninth or tenth."
"Most likely the ninth, Prince Zarek plans to leave that day," Bill responded.
"There is no way we can get all of the parties together by that date. I take it there is no way to delay the launch."
"None, it is to escort Prince Medici home to be buried."
"So, what's to stop Kyle, Danny and Koji from simply leaving on the Sooloo?" Bill asked.
"Rules, regulations, laws, not to mention a court order forbidding it," Jefferson replied.
"Can't Judge Sherman negate that order?"
"He can, but as a matter of integrity I doubt he will. Bill, I suggest you inform the Captain of the Sooloo he may want to start searching for replacements for the two boys."
"No, that can't happen," Greg protested. "I…I…I won't allow it." At the time Greg didn't catch the irony of how less than a year ago he had been the one battling to prevent Kyle from leaving and now he was on an opposite course. "Look, you said Judge Sherman is going to throw the whole pile of shit out of court, so why not just do it now and save everybody the hassle of coming here."
"Because his ruling will likely be appealed, which means it still would be past launch date before a ruling is made."
"Kyle signed a waiver saying he was making his own decision to be part of the Explorer Program without parental permission. Doesn't that have any effect on this?"
"It goes beyond that. Kyle and all of the Sooloo crew, including Danny Robinson, have been emancipated, but as I understand it, Miranda's lawyers are fighting that, too," Bill commented.
Greg nodded, "Yeah, they believe that if Kyle is no longer part of the Explorer Program, Space Fleet's emancipation no longer affects him."
"This may not be settled before the Shouryou takes Medici home. The Sooloo will be accompanying them back to Darastix, along with the SS Darastix. I know Kyle wants to go, and the Darastixian Royal Family would like for him to be there. We have two options, or three depending on how drastic we want to be. Option one is, the Assistants to Kyle and Danny run the department until Kyle and Danny are able to join them. Danny's fighter is capable of carrying three people, she's fast and she doesn't need refueling while in space."
"Come again?" Greg was surprised to hear the last part.
"The Darastixian fighters draw in space dust and convert them to fuel. We learned this when we asked about refueling the SS Darastix. She is capable of doing it, also."
"So… when the Darastixians were visiting Earth all those centuries ago, they never worried about fuel consumption."
"They did, but not to the same degree that we do. They didn't want to waste fuel, but they never worried about running out. Darastixians have mastered the art of efficiency."
Greg started chuckling, "I just had a thought; if Danny and Kyle are in the pilot and co-pilot seats, do they really want to put Koji in the gunner's seat?"
Bill started to laugh, "That could be hilarious, but fortunately, the pilot has control over whether the gunner's controls are live."
Getting back to seriousness, Greg inquired, "So, what is option two?"
"We transfer Devin French to the Sooloo temporarily," Bill suggested. "The Endurance will be launching for their Shakedown Cruise the day after Easter; hopefully everything will be settled by then and Kyle can take Devin's place. And then about a week later, the Endurance will launch to continue their mission, the first of which will be to meet with the Sooloo so the officers can return to their own ships."
"And you mentioned a more drastic option?"
"Yeah, and that is that we don't give a rat’s ass and simply let Kyle leave on the Sooloo. There will be repercussions for this action, but I will take the brunt of them."
"Bill, I've already said that you can't do that," Walter Jefferson pointed out.
"Walter, when that decision is made, you'll be out on a golf course somewhere. What you don't know won't hurt you. Once the Sooloo is gone, who is going to order her back?"
"I can see the news story already," the Advocate General said. "Aggrieved grandmother fears for the life and safety of her preteen grandson and sues for custody of the boy, only to have Space Fleet kidnap him and whisk him away to deep space. How high up the food chain do you think that story is going to go before action is taken?"
Before anyone could answer Bill Mirah's intercom buzzed. "This must be extremely important," Bill said. "I'd told Liz I wanted no interruptions. When she disobeys that request it is always something so damned important it has to be dealt with now." He touched an icon. "Yes, Liz?"
"Sir, I'm sorry to interrupt, but Commander Robinson is here and insists that he see you NOW. Since your meeting is in regard to Commander Robinson, I felt I should let you know."
"You did the right thing, Liz. Tell Commander Robinson he may join the conference." He broke the connection. "If I haven't told you before, that lady is amazing."
The door opened and Kyle stomped into the office, his face almost bursting with anger. "She can't take me away. That's kidnapping," he snapped unceremoniously.
"Who's taking you away to where?" Greg asked as if he didn't know.
"I know you know it's Grandma Miranda because you got the same email and I know you're all here talking about it, except who is he?" Kyle pointed to Walter Jefferson.
Greg stood up and walked over to his son. He placed his arm around the boy, who was literally shaking. "Calm down son, we're here for you." He felt Kyle take a deep breath. "Breathe deep again." Kyle took a second breath and leaned into his father, soaking in his comfort and love. At that moment he was not Commander Kyle Robinson, the Space Fleet Medal recipient; he was Kyle Robinson, an angry and frightened twelve-year-old boy. Greg kissed Kyle on his forehead and gave his shoulder an extra squeeze. He had never in his life felt so fatherly.
"Kyle, I honestly did not know you were a recipient of the email. The three of us wanted to work on some solutions to your grandmother's meddling before we talked to you." He then proceeded to introduce Walter Jefferson to Kyle.
Admiral Jefferson stood up and shook the boy's hand. "Commander Robinson, I've heard a great deal about you. It is an honor to meet you."
"Thank you, Sir." Kyle gave the Admiral the firm handshake of a Space Fleet Commander.
"Take a seat Kyle, and we'll fill you in on what we know, what will probably happen, and what we can do about it," Bill said. Kyle sat in one of the comfortable chairs and held his tongue, which was taking every bit of energy he had.
"Before you start, Admiral Mirah, I want to make a comment on what we've just learned," Walter said.
"You can cut with the formalities. Kyle is family," Bill grinned.
Walter nodded and went on. "The fact that Kyle received a copy of the document indicates that Mrs. Buckner's lawyers consider him to be more than a minor—in other words, an emancipated minor. That means they acknowledge Bill's move to emancipate the Sooloo crew to be legal. This could change things a great deal."
"But it's still going to be a time-consuming process to run that through Judge Sherman, correct?" Greg asked. Walter nodded. "And we don't have that kind of time."
"I plan on informing Judge Sherman that speed is of the essence in getting this affair worked out."
Kyle couldn't hold back any longer. "Does that mean I might not get to go back on the Sooloo?" Kyle's high-pitched boy's voice did not sound out of place among the three high ranking men. It sounded authoritative and confident.
"It is a possibility," Bill replied.
"And that Danny and I won't be married anymore, and they'll take Koji away from me?"
"Also a possibility."
"You said you had some solutions so I could go in space and keep my family together. I want to hear what they are."
Greg couldn't help but chuckle inside as he listened to his young son all but give an order to a trio of Admirals. No wonder the boy wears one of Space Fleet's highest medals on his dress blues, he thought.
Greg went through the three options they had come up with. "We're going to do everything we can to keep you in space," Greg assured his son.
"What about option four?" Kyle asked.
"I go and change Grandma's mind." That netted him a stare from each member of the trio.
Walter broke the silence. "That is not an option."
"Why not?" Kyle shot back.
Greg was impressed with how quickly Kyle had recovered from the quivering little boy to the confident officer Greg knew he was.
"Because the parties cannot contact each other except in court or through their attorneys."
"This doesn't make much sense. Am I a minor or am I not a minor? You guys keep arguing it, but nobody knows what I am for sure."
"He makes a good point, Walt," Bill pointed out. "If Kyle's grandmother wants custody of him, shouldn't he be able to talk to her even though he's a minor?"
"Her attorneys apparently see him as an emancipated minor," Jefferson pointed out.
"Except when they don't. Look, we all agree that she hired a clan of idiots to represent her. They left a loophole big enough to fly a starship through so shouldn't Kyle be able to pay grandma a visit?"
"Going against the court order could ruin our case before…"
"Sir, if I may interrupt," Kyle said.
"When I'm finished, yes."
"I want to hear what the Commander has to say," Bill stated. Admiral Mirah liked Walter Jefferson and felt he was outstanding at his job. But he also tended to be a stuffed shirt at times, unwilling to take risks. Bill felt if there was a time to take risks this was it.
The attorney yielded, but he obviously wasn't pleased about it.
"Admiral Mirah said option three was me and my family leaving with the Sooloo and he would take responsibility." Commander Robinson knew it was okay for him to call Admiral Mirah, Bill, but Kyle, the twelve-year-old, couldn't bring himself to do it. "That would be breaking the rules worse than what I want to do."
"If I may now interject my opinion," Walt said. "We can't afford to give them any kind of argument to use against us. They're perfectly capable of sinking their own ship; we don't need to help them bail out."
"I want to be on the Sooloo when she leaves. I can't wait to see if their ship sinks, like you put it—I want to be on MY ship, and I want to do it right, so I don't have to come back."
"Walter, I think you may not want to here for the rest of this meeting."
"But, Bill…" Walter was obviously flustered.
"If you leave now, you won't have to lie about not being at the meeting, because you really weren't at the meeting."
"Thank you for your help and for your suggestions, Walter. I will let you know how this came out as soon as we know."
"Very well, but I don't like it. I am going on record as saying I will strongly disapprove of what I know you're going to decide." Walter stopped when he passed Kyle's chair. "Commander Robinson, I know you may think otherwise, but off the record I hope you kick some serious ass in this endeavor." The Assistant Chief Judge Advocate calmly exited the room.
As soon as the door closed, Bill Mirah wasted no time getting to business. "Kyle, your grandmother is in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. The first thing we need to do is get you there."
"You mean you're letting me do it?" Kyle asked excitedly.
"I think we would be remiss if we didn't."
"Are we sure Miranda is in Puerto Vallarta?" Greg asked.
"No, we're not. So, while we're laying out our strategy, I will get somebody right on that." He quickly placed a call. When no one answered, he left a message. "Greetings, John, Bill Mirah here. Please give me a call as soon as you possibly can."
"John? You mean John Hanson? How can he locate my mother?"
"John can do more than navigate the stars. He happens to be a master finder and has done locating work for me before. If he can't find what he's looking for, he knows who can."
"Wow, I never knew that about him," Kyle said.
"The things you can learn about people from the Fleet Admiral are amazing," Greg chuckled.
"While we wait for John to call back, here is my plan of attack. I will make the admiralty transport made available to carry Kyle to PV as soon as we know Miranda is there."
"Which one of us is going with Kyle?"
"Neither one of us. That would give Miranda's lawyers something to hang their hats on."
"Doesn't the admiralty have to transport an admiral?" Greg asked.
"I have the authority to make an exception if it is to be used for a mission I deem important. And it just so happens that Commander Hanson will be taking a recruiting trip to Mexico to interview a very intellectually gifted student at my behest, although he doesn't know that yet."
"Why would I be going?" Kyle asked.
"Why, to ask one of the most brilliant students in Mexico some tricky mathematics questions, of course," Bill grinned. "And since this mission just happened to take you to the Pan American University in Puerto Vallarta, you thought you'd pay your beloved Grandma Miranda a visit."
"But what about the custody suit? What do I say about that?"
"I think I see where Bill is going with this," Greg said. "Since the strategy of my mother's lawyers are challenging Kyle's emancipation, they should not have sent him an email regarding the suit, and so he comes to see grandma feigning ignorance. And now it will be up to her to broach the subject of the suit."
"That was my thinking exactly, Greg. Let her open the floodgates," Bill said.
"But Dad, you keep telling me that if in doubt I should tell the truth and that the truth will set me free. Now you're telling me to lie. I'm all confused."
"I understand, son, and I don't want you to lie. Not bringing up the subject is not a lie. If she asks if you knew about it, I expect you to say what you knew and how you found out and we will live with the results. But until she does, you act as if you know nothing about it."
There was a long silence as Kyle thought the proposal over. The plan going through his mind was to go to his grandmother's house with all guns blazing and tell her exactly what he thought. He decided to go along with what the Admirals proposed; they were admirals for a reason, after all.
"Okay, I'll go for it. Can I bring Danny and Koji with me?"
"I'll let you answer that one, Greg. This sounds more like a family issue," Bill said.
That led to another moment of silence as Greg went through his options. "I will say yes because I think having them with you will be good for your own outlook," Greg responded. "I think it would be a good idea if they didn't go to the door with you. This is going to have to be all about you."
"Okay thanks, Dad."
They were interrupted by Commander Hanson returning Bill's phone call. After a great deal of chat between the two, Bill announced what was decided.
"John will contact his source and have him verify the location of Miranda and will be happy to recruit the student. He said he would get Dick Iverson, the regular recruiter, to cover his classes. I told John that Admiral Crusoe had mentioned he would love to cover some classes. I said Robert is available and I would talk to him about covering John's classes for a couple of days."
Kyle wasn't sure how he felt about the result. He knew that even though this was his idea, the thought of confronting the grandmother he barely knew frightened him. By the time the scenario quit spinning around in his brain, he decided he would rather go head-to-head with Azazel, the rogue star, than face Grandma Miranda. He was happy Danny would be with him to support him and Koji to remind him of what was at stake.
An hour after the meeting broke up Kyle learned he, Danny and Koji were to meet Commander Hanson at the Space Fleet terminal at 0800 the next morning for the hour-long fight to Puerto Vallarta.
It was a solemn moment as Medici's body was proudly displayed wearing his regal kimono. Zarek and Zifaa stood near, greeting the guests who came to attend. These included the President of the United States of Earth, several admirals from Space Fleet, and dignitaries from each of the states. Darastixians on Earth also attended, as did the crew of the Sooloo.
Once all were assembled, Zarek walked to the dais, "First, I want to thank everyone for coming today to honor Prince Medici. He was a great man who honored our heritage in every way. He came to Earth over 500 years ago, a sacrifice he willingly made, as did his brother, and lived half his life here to preserve peace on our planet.
"Second, I know this is a solemn time for us, but Medici wouldn't want us to be sad. He lived a full life; he got to meet some of his descendants (Zarek pointed at Kyle Robinson, then Jonas and Jason Blackwell-Rivers) and made friends with others who are of the royal family. When he passed, he was happy and at peace. So, have your period of mourning the loss, but keep it short, and then celebrate a fulfilled life of that good friend. That is what he would want."
After the Shakedown Cruise, the Sooloo had a few days for adjustments before heading out to continue their mission. During this time, a session was called to decide the fate of Captain Robert Chapman, and his First Officer Andy McGowan, from the Victorious. Captain Chapman had been relieved of command by his Senior Officers. Admiral Theodore Darrow presided over the session with Fleet Admiral William Mirah, Admiral Gregory Robinson, Rear Admiral Robert Crusoe and Commodore David Bowman on the panel. In attendance was the entire crew of the SS Victorious.
"I have reviewed all of the reports from the SS Victorious, both during the Captaincy of Captain Chapman and after," Darrow averred. "Several Senior Officers approached Commander Bowmont, asking him to relieve Captain Chapman of his duties and take command. They all report that Commander Bowmont only agreed if they did so following Space Fleet Regulation 29. Not only were there three or more, but it was the unanimous decision of the Senior Officers, minus the Captain and First Officer; therefore, I am of the opinion that no crimes have been committed."
"There is a fine line between too disciplinary and too lax in discipline," Mirah took over. "The SS Endurance was too lax, but under the advice of Commodore Bowman, Captain Garcia saw the error of his ways and fixed it before it was too late. From what I can tell, Cadet Chapman…"
"Ummm, Sir, I am of the rank of Captain," Chapman interrupted.
"As I said, CADET Chapman," Mirah heavily emphasized the title Cadet, "your issue was that you were too strict. I therefore am returning you to the rank of Cadet and ordering you to complete another term at the Academy. Upon completion of that, we will decide where you will best fit in the Explorer Program."
Chapman stood up straight, "I understand, Sir, and appreciate being given this chance. I will do my best to not let you down."
"While there, you should also learn not to split infinitives," Mirah suggested.
Darrow then looked at Commander McGowan, "Commander, from what I can tell, your only reason for being relieved is, you followed your Captain's orders to the letter. While I don't believe disciplinary action against you is warranted, I also can't see leaving you on the Victorious."
"Sir, if I may," McGowan spoke up, "I understand that we have a Draconian ship added to the Fleet. I would be willing to serve aboard her in whatever capacity her Captain wishes."
"An excellent idea," Darrow smiled. "Having looked at your records, I noticed that you excelled in Tactical. Captain David has already agreed to accept you as his Chief Tactical and Security Officer, if you were willing. You would retain your rank as Commander and have a chance to learn from someone we believe will be a great Captain. The ship will be departing Monday on an escort mission."
"Thank you, Sir. I accept the position."
"Now, Captain Dylan Bowmont," Darrow smiled. "From what I have read, you officially relieved Captain Chapman per Regulations. I have also noticed a complete turnaround of the crew, and you raised the SS Victorious from being the worst ship in the Fleet to one of the top four."
"It wasn't just me, Sir," Bowmont replied. "The Victorious has a good crew and we worked together to bring the ship's status around."
"True, a ship is only as good as her crew, but still, this is the same crew that had been under Captain Chapman. Your leadership skills helped them. This panel has discussed this at great lengths, and it is our unanimous decision that you remain as the Captain of the Victorious, along with an official promotion to the rank of Captain."
"Thank you, Sir. With my crew's backing, I know we will serve Space Fleet with honor."
Kyle stepped out of the car that Commander Hanson had rented using his Space Fleet AMEX card and took a deep breath. He looked at the beachside condo and almost hoped that his grandmother wasn't home. While deep down he knew that the upcoming meeting (or will it be a confrontation? he thought) was necessary, his conscious mind was spinning other thoughts through his brain, most of them telling him, "Don't do it, don't do it!" He was dressed in his duty uniform. There had been a great deal of discussion about it. Kyle's argument won out. He said that since he was ostensibly in Mexico on official business, then he should be in uniform.
He looked back into the car. "Remember, Koji, do not go into the water. That will be for this afternoon." Commander Hanson and Danny planned on sitting out on the beach behind the condo.
"But Opsola, Koji likes the water."
"I know. But remember what we told you, if you even think about getting wet and dirty, Daddy Danny will put you on a leash." Koji knew that his Daddy Kyle wasn't bluffing since Danny actually had a leash with him. Commander Hanson shook his head, amazed that the two twelve-year-old dads had what it took to keep their rambunctious young son in line. Then again, maybe they were able to deal with him BECAUSE they were just twelve years old.
"Good, luck Kysola," Kyle heard Danny say as he closed the door. Kysola and Dansola were nicknames for them that Koji had conjured up during the shakedown. He told them it meant they were both his daddies because they were husbands. Neither Kyle nor Danny could completely figure out the logic, but they could tell it made Koji happy when they called each other by the nicknames on occasion, so they tried to work it in a couple of times a day when Koji was around.
Kyle walked up to Unit 12 and rang the doorbell. His heart was thumping hard as he heard footsteps approaching the door from the other side. He hadn't seen his grandmother since he was seven and wondered if she would even recognize him.
"Hello, who's there?" came a woman's voice. "Step back so I can look at all of you. I can only see the top of your head."
Kyle stepped back and saw the door open and Miranda Buckner standing at the entryway staring at him with a confused look on her face. "You're not one of the kids selling chocolate for their school, are you?" she asked, momentarily mistaking Kyle's Space Fleet uniform for a school uniform.
"My name is Kyle Robinson and I came here to see you," Kyle responded somewhat awkwardly. He was surprised his grandmother didn't recognize him.
The surprise went two ways. Miranda's jaw dropped and she placed her right hand up to her mouth. Kyle stood in place as Miranda dropped her hand and started shaking her head. "But you can't be Kyle. You're too big to be Kyle."
"I am Kyle and I am twelve years old, not the little kid I was the last time you saw me."
Miranda took a step out of the doorway and looked both ways as if she expected a posse of lawyers to appear. "How can you be here? Why are you in Mexico? Come closer so I can see you better."
Kyle took two steps closer to the doorway. "Can I come in?"
"You didn't answer my questions," Miranda said sternly.
"I promise I will if I can come in and we can, like, sit down and talk."
"I don't know if I like your attitude, young man."
"Can I come in? Please. I just came to see you because I haven't seen you in a long time."
Miranda's glare was hot enough to light a fire and Kyle was certain his visit was over before it started. But his grandmother surprised him by stepping back and pointing to the living room. Kyle quickly stepped past her before she changed her mind. He stood in front of the couch and waited while she closed the door and took a seat on a dark blue overstuffed chair.
"Sit down, but I want you gone in five minutes," she ordered.
Kyle sat on the couch and waited for Miranda to fire her questions at him again. Instead of saying anything, she continued to stare at him, her look somewhat softened since she had sat down. She finally broke the silence saying, "You are without a doubt Greg's son—more stubborn than a team of mules. Now, why are you in Mexico and why are you in uniform?"
"I came with my former teacher, Commander Hanson, to help him talk to a student who is supposed to be ultra-smart, about going to the Space Academy. I am in uniform because that is official business. Since I was here, I came to visit you since I haven't seen you in a long time. I thought I'd see you at Dad's wedding."
"And you're here even though you and your teacher friend know you aren't supposed to contact me because of the custody issue."
"Custody issue? What's this about a custody issue? I guess I know a little bit, but I had a chance to come here to help talk to the student and so I came to see you too." Kyle knew what he had just said was bullshit and was mad at himself for doing things his dad's way, which he had known from the start wasn't going to work.
Miranda sat quietly again and gave Kyle her sternest look. What she saw was a boy with dark blond hair, a handsome, expressive face, and who looked a little small for twelve. But she knew that what she was looking at was more than a just a boy—what she was looking at was her only grandson, the grandson she had turned her back on almost five years ago. What she wanted to do was get out of her chair, sit next to him on the couch, and give him a hug that would not make up for all the hugs she'd missed giving over the years, but would be a start.
"Now, tell my why you're really here!" she snapped. "I know you know about the custody suit, so don't sit in my house and lie to my face and tell me you hardly know anything. I won't stand for it!"
Kyle had told his dad and Admiral Mirah that he was not going to lie to his grandmother. He knew that at that moment his words and actions were teetering between the truth and a complete lie. When he had first come up with this idea, his strategy had been to go into attack mode and confront his grandmother. After all, like his mother, his grandmother had turned her back on him and he owed her nothing. Rather than tell his grandmother half-truths and hope she would change her mind it was time for him to go on the offensive and tell her what was on his mind.
"Grandma, why do you hate me?" he asked forcefully.
Kyle's response was not what she had expected. That was not the little boy sitting on her couch talking to her. Rather it was the young officer sitting on her couch, wearing the uniform her late husband had worn and her son was currently wearing—the uniform of a Space Fleet officer. On top of that, she understood why her grandson had asked that question, but she was not yet ready to give in to his aggressiveness.
"I don't hate you, Kyle," she replied softly. "You are my only grandchild and I love you."
Miranda's response was not what Kyle had expected. He had steeled himself for a sharp response as his grandmother tried to put him in his place. Just as Miranda had done, Kyle softened his tone. "Grandma, if you loved me, you would let me be me."
"That is what I am doing. I am going to let you be the little boy you are meant to be."
"How do you know what I am meant to be? You haven't talked to me since I was little. All you've done is send me birthday cards (at least she remembered when my birthday was, he thought) and Christmas cards. You never called me and didn't go to Dad's wedding because you were mad at me." Kyle could feel his temper rising. He paused and took a deep breath as he had been trained to do, almost from the time he entered the Space Academy Prep School.
"If you loved me you would have called or seen me or something," Kyle said calmly. "You acted like you didn't care, just like you're acting now."
"I do care, and my actions right now say that. I'm sure your father did everything he could to warp your point of view when he told you about my custody suit."
Kyle saw his opening and took it. "He didn't tell me, Grandma."
"What do you mean he didn't tell you? How did you find out? Or did you really not know about what I am doing?"
"I found out because I opened the email your lawyers sent me."
Once again, silence filled the room. "That can't be right," Miranda said, more to herself than to Kyle. "That is something your parents are supposed to deal with. You're only twelve. You're a minor. The lawyers and I discussed all of that."
"Admiral Mirah emancipated the crew of the Sooloo for what we did to help the people of Darastix and the people of Earth," Kyle told his grandmother. "With a couple of exceptions, we have all the rights of adults. I think that is why your lawyers sent me the email."
Miranda sensed that the error by her lawyers could have grave consequences when it came to winning her custody suit. What those consequences might be, she didn't know, but she planned to contact her attorneys as soon as Kyle left. But first she felt she needed to learn more about her grandson in order to give her lawyers hell. She thought she should probably learn more about him in order to start finding out what she needed to know to be a competent guardian for her grandson.
"Why are you so eager to go into the unknown when there is a good life waiting for you right here?" Miranda asked.
"I have a good life," Kyle replied. "I am doing what I want. I love every day I'm in space, even the hard and scary days." Whoops, I shouldn't have said the word scary—that's going to get grandma going for sure.
Miranda was so focused on her questions that she missed the implications of Kyle's answer. "I don't understand how all of you can do what you do. You're just children. From the kitchen help to the captain of the ship, you're all just children."
"Hal, our captain, is eighteen. That makes him an adult no matter where he is."
"There are adults and there are adults. An eighteen-year-old is not equipped to make the necessary decisions needed to operate a mission like yours. And you, at twelve, aren't even close."
"Grandma, we're all specially picked. We took tests and we still go to school on the ship to learn more. Sure, we're going to make mistakes, but you can be old and still make mistakes. But we do a lot of awesome things, like defeat evil stars and create planets and make friends with other civilizations. How many kids get to do that, Grandma? How many kids my age love what they do every single day? My dad was in space, my grandfather was a hero in space, now I'm in space, loving it all. Why do you want to take that away from me?"
"Nobody knows what happened to your grandfather."
"I know he died a hero," Kyle stated emphatically.
"You know nothing of the sort. Space took your grandfather away from me, it took your father away from me, and I will NOT let space take you away from me."
Kyle stared at his grandmother as if she was the alien being. "Space can't take me away from you," he said in a quiet, steady voice.
"And why not?"
"Because you never had me, so how can something take me away from you? Dad says that love is more about giving than it is about taking."
And again, Miranda had to stop to think. Even when he said things that were contrary to what she thought, she had to admit that her young grandson was being gently and confidently persuasive.
As much as she didn't want to, she had to admit her grandson was right. Once again Kyle Robinson reminded her of her son Greg and, amazingly, of her late husband William, a man he had never met.
Miranda Buckner surprised Kyle by rising from her perch and sitting next to him on the couch. "You're right."
"I am?" Kyle almost blurted out his thought in surprise.
"What I wanted to do was take you from the life you love, away from the people you love, and… and…," Miranda sniffed back some tears, "…and away from the family you love," she said, her voice breaking at the end. She placed her arm around the shoulders of her grandson and hugged him for the first time since he was a preschooler. "I love you, Kyle, and I apologize for putting you through this. It's time for me to start giving the way a grandmother should."
"Does that mean…," Kyle started. He looked into his grandmother's tear- filled eyes, "…does it mean you're not going to try to take me away?"
"Yes, it means you are free to roam among the stars. You are free to do what you love. I want you to answer a question and then I am going to ask you for two favors in return."
Here it comes. I thought this sounded too good to be true. "What are they?" he asked, trying hard not to sound annoyed.
"First, the question. How did you end up having this wild and crazy love affair and a marriage I do not understand, with a boy you had just met?"
"Danny and I have known each other since preschool, so it's not like we had just met."
"Really? Interesting. I will leave things at that. My first favor is I would love for you to introduce your family to me before you leave for space. In other words, if you love your grandma, you need to give me something."
Kyle broke into a wide grin. "That will be really easy. What's the other one."
"I would love for you to bring me a souvenir from space. What it is, I will leave up to you. I hope that it will be something that speaks to you and tells you that it is something your old grandmother would like."
Kyle gave his grandmother a peck on her cheek for the first time in his life. "I love you grandma. Which door opens to the beach?"
Miranda pointed to the kitchen. "Go through the kitchen and the door will lead you to what Robert and I call the sand room. Step out of the next door and you are practically on the beach." Miranda wondered what this was about as she watched Kyle leave the living room.
"Thanks." Kyle followed Miranda's directions and soon found himself standing in a yard with a pool and a small lawn. A concrete wall separated the property from the beach. Kyle called Commander Hanson and told him that his grandmother wanted to meet Danny and Koji. "And even though you are just our driver, I'm sure Grandma wouldn't mind meeting you, too," Kyle teased his former teacher.
"I suppose I can lower myself to coming in. But, before I do, does this mean your grandmother is going…"
"Yes, she is going to drop the custody suit." Kyle could see Hanson, Danny and Koji coming up the beach.
Hanson could hear the smile in Kyle's voice. "I don't know how you managed to pull that one off, but you should bottle and sell your magic elixir. And we can see where you're standing."
"Well, hurry up then before she changes her mind."
When the trio came up the steps into the yard Kyle gave Koji a quick going over. He was pleased to see that Koji had managed to keep himself dry, clean and presentable. Danny gave his husband a loving hug with an accompanying kiss and then they all entered the sand room. Hanson removed his somewhat sandy shoes. Danny and Koji followed suit and they all entered the living room.
Miranda placed her hand over her mouth and gasped when she saw them come in. She had hoped to meet Kyle's family, but had no idea it would happen almost instantaneously.
"Grandma, I would like for you to meet my teacher and counselor, Commander John Hanson." John gave her a casual salute. "My husband and almost lifelong friend, Danny Robinson." Danny stepped over to Miranda and shook her hand. "And finally, our wonderful son, Koji Robinson."
Koji then surprised everyone by leaping onto the couch and wrapping Miranda in a big hug while planting a sloppy kiss on her cheek. Kyle could see Miranda cringe and was about to demand that Koji back off. But before Kyle could say anything, Koji made a comment that only Koji could make; a comment that brought the room to silence.
"You are my jennu-nafldask and I am your jennu-autgabin and I love you very much," Koji said with heartfelt love.
Kyle waited warily for Miranda to revert to the coldhearted lady who had met him at the door in what seemed like hours ago. Danny and Commander Hanson did not know what to think and waited to see whether Kyle or Miranda yelled at Koji first.
Instead, Miranda pulled Koji tightly against her bosom. "And I love you my little great grandson who I just met. You may be from a background I don't understand, but I have been around long enough to know what the genuine love of a young child sounds like. I can see that the language of love is alike everywhere and is easy to understand even if I don't understand some of the words you just spoke." She released Koji so he could speak.
"Jennu-nafldask is great-grandmother and jennu-autgabin is great-grandson."
"I have been a selfish old woman, but I can now say that I am proud to be your jennu-nafldask and proud that you are my jennu-autgabin."
Koji broke out into a winning smile. "I told my Opsola, my Daddy Danny, I would love you and you would love me, and I was right."
Miranda looked over to Danny. "Come over to me," she told him. As Danny stepped over to the couch, Miranda stood up and hugged him. "Danny, I am also proud to call you my grandson-in-law. I wish you, my grandson and my great-grandson years, no, decades of happiness."
Although Miranda had all but decided to drop her custody suit, the thoughts that clinched her decision had to do with her son, Greg. She thought of how he had declared himself an emancipated minor at age 16 so he could stay in that awful Space Academy and pursue a career in space like his late father. She thought of how she cut him out of her life, starting with her disinheriting him. She had put her ego ahead of her love for her son by not answering his birthday letters, his Christmas letters, his Mothers' Day letters, and what other letters he decided to send. To make it worse, she had made her grandson, Kyle, a big part of her resentment. And yet, her son continued to write.
Now, in what seemed like mere minutes, her young grandson and his family had reminded her of the importance of family. She knew she was going to have to make some deep amends to her son. But before doing that she would have to take care of the business at hand so she would never have to make similar amends to her grandson.
"Now, it's time for this foolish old woman to call her idiot lawyers and tell them I won my case, even if it isn't the way I expected to win it. I believe that everybody will be happy with the outcome, including my lawyers, who will still get their fat fee."
"Thank you, Grandma," Kyle said sincerely. "I will do everything I can to make you proud of me."
"You have done that already. Thank you for coming here to talk to me. You saved us all a lot of pain. And thank you, Commander, for being the driver, for taking an interest in my grandson's life. I don't know how much you all like Mexican food, but there is a restaurant just up the beach with lunches to die for." She put her arm around Koji's shoulder and gave him a quick kiss on his forehead. "Even little alien boys with brilliant smiles who help make me feel happier than I have for a very long time will love it. I will be right back—I have a couple of phone calls to make."
While waiting for his grandmother, Kyle thought about the surprising way the day had unfolded. He hoped he could find a way to bring his grandmother and his dad back together. He also thought about the fact that he hadn't told her about the alien blood coursing through his veins. He decided that this wasn't the appropriate time to tell her. Sometime in the future, maybe when he brought his grandmother the souvenir she had asked for, he would have to tell her. But from the way she had opened her heart to Koji, he didn't think that would be an issue. Right now, however, he wanted the happiness and love that was flowing through everyone to last without interruption.
After calling her lawyers to tell them she wished to drop the custody suit and calling her husband, who was golfing with friends, to tell him where they were going for lunch, Miranda Robinson led the family she didn't know she had and had almost thrown away up the beach walk to her favorite restaurant.
Corey sat nervously through his Saturday math seminar. He was the only student in the class who was not a regular student at either the Space Academy or the Prep School. The other eight students were in the seminar because they were struggling in their math classes; Corey was there because he was doing so well in his middle school class. On top of getting to experience a bit of life at the Academy, he had the opportunity to enhance his math skills.
The reason Corey was nervous was his upcoming meeting with Commander Hanson, scheduled for a half hour after the seminar ended. As soon as Mr. Vincent dismissed class, Corey gathered his materials and started out the door. He was stopped by Quincy Baker, a thirteen-year-old eighth grader.
"Hey, Corey, what's your hurry?" Quincy asked. Corey had helped Quincy with a math assignment the Saturday before taking his ride on the Sooloo's shakedown trip.
"Hey, Quince. I have to meet with Commander Hanson about something."
"Dude, you're not in trouble, are you?"
"No, this has to do with an assignment I had to do for him. He's going to tell me how I did."
"Does this have to do with your little trip?"
Corey nodded his head. He was trying his best not to talk about his trip on the Sooloo knowing it had created resentment among some of the cadets.
"Lots of guys are pissed off by it." Quincy was simply confirming what Corey already knew. "I mean think about it, you're not even a regular cadet, or even a regular student, and suddenly you get to go on a three-day trip on an Explorer ship."
"Are you pissed off about it?"
"Hell no. You've always been straight with me and when you showed me how to do that math page, you fucking saved my life. I wouldn't have passed that test without you showing me what to do. Plus, you told me how even you don't know why you got picked to go but you sure as fuck weren't going to turn it down."
Corey couldn't help but chuckle about how much Quincy sounded like he had not long ago; in fact, he probably ran off a longer string of 'F' bombs than Quincy did. "I never thought it would piss people off. All I thought was how it would help me become a regular student and get me in the Academy in the fall."
"You don't have to convince me. I know your story and if your grades and shit were what you said they were before you started coming to the classes and seminars and shit on Saturdays you probably would be lucky to get into a private preschool in the fall.
"I will tell you that you a couple of guys have been talking about jumping you and beating the shit out of you, but I'm not going to tell you their initials are TW and MB."
"You're a good friend Quince, but damn, I gotta get going."
"Yeah you do. You sure as hell don't want to be late for a meeting with Hanson. But hey, do you think you'll have time for us to have lunch together next Saturday?"
"I'll make time for it, so plan on it."
"Sweet. Good luck with your meeting."
"Yeah, see ya later." Corey gave Quincy a little wave as he walked in the direction of Commander Hanson's office. He was pleased when, despite the delay, he entered the foyer twelve minutes early. That was good enough for on-time on the Sooloo.
The Commander's door was closed, so Corey sat in one of the two available seats to await his adviser. While he waited, he thought about what Quincy had told him. He had heard the rumblings from three of the students in the seminar regarding his journey on the Sooloo's shakedown cruise. So, what if they don't like me for it, he thought. I didn't ask to go but I sure wasn't going to turn it down when I got all but ordered to go. It was the greatest adventure of my life. If they're so small minded they hate me for it, it's their fucking loss. Quincy is a cool dude to come up and talk to me in front of the others in the class. Keith Dawson is pretty good too—he at least talks to me.
Corey's thoughts were interrupted by Commander Hanson's door opening. Corey watched a man and a cadet exit the office; neither one looked happy.
Corey stood up when he saw Commander Hanson at the door and saluted. Hanson smiled and returned the salute. "Good Afternoon, Cadet Adams. Take a seat in my office. I need to heed a call of nature and will be right back." Hanson was pleased that his visit would be a pleasant one after what he had just gone through. Corey's heart rate went up a few notches when he saw his report lying open on the Commander's computer.
When Hanson returned, Corey started to rise, but Hanson stopped him. "At ease, Cadet. Our meeting will be on the informal side, although I expect you to address me as Commander or Commander Hanson—we're not going to be quite as informal as a ship in space can be."
"Yes, Sir," Corey said and he sat back down.
"Informal does mean you can skip the 'sir', however. As you no doubt saw, I have your report in front of me. I want to go over a couple of items, but overall, it was very well done. This is the kind of quality I would expect from a commissioned officer, not from a preteen student who hasn't even started at the Academy yet."
"Thank you, Sir… I mean thanks… anyway, I tried my best and got some good help while I did it."
"Corey, sit back and relax. You have nothing to be nervous about—you did a great job and should be proud of yourself. I know your parents will be proud of you after I chat with them. Now, that said, it's great, but not perfect. I do have a couple of questions and comments which I hope will help you in the future."
Hanson opened the report to where he had placed an indicator, did some reading and made some suggestions. He went to a second and third indicator and did the same. The changes were minor and two of the three were in Engineering and one had to do with his experience on Danny's fighter.
"Engineering can be very complex, but you did a good job of seeing the big picture, which was the idea of the exercise. I tried not to nitpick, but I just wanted to remind you that a supporting detail in Engineering would help illustrate what you were trying to explain. You do have one major item that is missing, however."
"I do?" Corey asked in surprise. "I was sure I included everything. I showed it to Admiral Crusoe, to Hal and to Kyle and they never mentioned my missing anything big."
"That might be because you partially mentioned it."
"Sir, I am very confused. How can I partially mention something?"
"Simple. You do it by leaving something out, like the name of the person who came up with a quick solution to a perplexing problem." Hanson was not surprised to see that Corey still had a perplexed look. "Something about the alarms going off in the middle of the night."
"I wrote about that and I wrote about it the way I was instructed—by writing about the big picture. I didn't think I did anything wrong."
"Truth be told, Corey, you did nothing wrong. You may have done the right thing in not mentioning that the person coming up with the quick solution was one Cadet Corey Adams."
Corey's face turned bright red with embarrassment. "All I did was think the way Kyle told me to think when we talked earlier. He told me that sometimes we look at little things so much we miss the big things."
"Very true. As the saying goes, 'You can't see the forest for the trees.'"
"Yeah. I just tried thinking about it the way Kyle told me—looking at the big things while everybody was hunting for what little thing was going wrong everywhere."
"Excellent work Cadet Adams. Admirals Robinson, Crusoe and Mirah were all impressed along with Hal and Dave. And your work will be going into your personal file along with a commendation."
"Thank you," Corey murmured humbly.
"I scored you with a 97 and Admiral Mirah concurs. Admiral Robinson feels that since he is your mentor, he shouldn't be grading you, but I know he would have graded you in that neighborhood."
"I thought I was just a temporary cadet, but you keep calling me Cadet Adams. And when I was meeting with Fleet Admiral Mirah, he called me Cadet Adams. Does that mean I am in the Academy?"
"Your appointment was temporary, but regulations state that unless there are certain factors at play, none of which figure in here, all temporary appointments are for a minimum of thirty days. As for the Academy, provided you keep doing the work, you will be in, but you must complete your part of the contract."
Sounding a little disappointed, Corey responded, "Okay, thanks. I get it now. And I just want to say I had a lot of fun watching and learning and doing the work. That was one of the greatest things to ever happen to me in my life."
"Thank Kyle for that. He had to convince us this would work, and you did an outstanding job of making us all look good. That said, I've heard rumors that some of the summer students resent your temporary appointment and your assignment to the Sooloo shakedown."
"There's a couple of guys who think I'm, like, privileged or something because my dad is with Space Fleet. Yeah, right, my dad is a load master in freight service—it's a big job in space but not one that gets you special treatment. I mean, I was a loser in school and everywhere until Kyle got hold of me."
"All true, but as you know, sometimes we let our prejudices get the better of us. I also understand you have been physically threatened. Grumbling is one thing, but threats, physical or otherwise will not be tolerated."
Corey shook his head. "Nobody ever threatened me, at least not to my face."
"You're saying somebody might have overheard them talking about it."
"If you do feel threatened at all, I have some Cadets who are off for the summer who would love something to do and covering your back would be something right up their alley."
"I appreciate that, Commander, but I don't feel threatened and figure I can take care of myself okay if somebody wanted to get me."
"Even if they double up on you?"
That was when Corey Adams endeared himself to Commander John Hanson forever. "Commander, I don't know who the two are, but if they happen to be Tubby Watson and Mel Barker, they're kidding themselves if they think they can beat me in a fight, even if it's two against one. They'd be in for a big surprise."
Corey then realized what he hadn't done—he hadn't paused like Kyle preached and said some things he shouldn't have, like the two names. Even though they hadn't threatened him to his face, Quincy had told him all he needed to know.
"Corey, I like you," Commander Hanson smiled. "I like you a lot. I like your attitude—you simply won't take anybody's bullshit without your being an arrogant twit about it. Oh, and I assure you, I never heard you mention any names—they will have to make themselves known to me.
"You are ready to make yourself a great student here at the Academy. Only you can stand in the way of your success."
Corey had heard Hanson's closing advice said to him more than once. "I still have to be accepted as a student."
"The only way you won't be accepted is if you get happy with yourself and go coasting downhill." Hanson stood up and Corey did the same. The Commander placed his hand on Corey's shoulder. "You don't strike me as someone who gets happy with himself. This concludes our meeting for today. Remember, when my door is open, you're welcome to come in and talk any time."
Corey left Hanson's office feeling like he was on top of the world, while at the same time knowing it wasn't true. The top of the world was a long, hard climb away.
Dr. Tom was supervising his staff in making final preparations to leave Earth. Wesley Scott, the Lab Tech, and Asa Hicidhe, the nurse who took over when Christian started his training to become a full-fledged doctor, and of course Christian were all busy with individual tasks.
This left Dr. Tom somewhat free to entertain some thoughts of his own. When it appeared that everyone was just about finished, Dr. Tom asked for their attention.
"I like to think of the group in this department as being my extended family. That being said, I've given this a lot of thought." Tom then stepped over to Christian and dropped to one knee.
"Christian. It's difficult to believe that we've only known each other for a few months. But, in that time, I've come to realize that I have no desire to live the rest of my life without you to share it with." Tom then reached into his lab coat pocket and pulled out a small box. He opened it with its contents displayed to Christian. "Christian Abernathy, would you make me the happiest person in the universe by agreeing to be my husband? Will you marry me?"
Emotions were flowing through Christian at speeds far in excess of Hyperflight level 20, but he was able to reign his emotions in... not well enough to speak, but well enough to vigorously nod his head and wrap his arms around Tom. Looking at the other two who were present, Tom said, "I'll take that as a yes... don't you guys agree?"
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