A klaxon had gone off, arousing everyone from his bed, or at least those that could be in them. The cause was discovered by Corey Adams when he followed Kyle's advice to look at the whole picture.
Class started for the children aboard, starting with an introduction of a new teacher.
Dr. Tom proposed to Christian. Corey had a chance to do a ride-along with Danny and shoot an asteroid. Engineering will be getting a new officer.
Robert talked to his son, Robbie, about going on the next Shakedown Cruise.
Steve Boyer sat at his desk constructing a spreadsheet for filing the new personnel data that had been accumulating during the Sooloo's shakedown. The fact that he was outrageously horny was not helping matters out at all. He wished he could place an opaque force field around his desk area to he could remove his clothes and masturbate.
That brought up thoughts of the time he DID remove his clothes at his desk while the ship was between destinations and things were dead in the Operations Office. He thought that would be beyond a nasty experience to jerk off naked and not get caught. Instead of the situation being erotic it ended up being frightening and he lost his hardon. He doubted that he would have gotten into trouble if he had been caught by someone; it was just the thought of being embarrassed that caused him to lose sexual energy. And I am not easily embarrassed, he thought as he went back to entering his formulas.
But I have whipped out little Steve here at my desk more than once when it's been like this. For someone to see it, he would have to sneak in quietly and go behind my desk without me seeing him, and that just wouldn't happen. He realized it was time for him to take a break, which set him to wondering if Crewman Jesse Gross was on duty in the shuttle bay. Jesse, who claimed to be so uber-straight, was always willing to go off to a docked shuttle and bare himself for a blowjob if he wasn't doing anything pressing. Steve smiled as he thought how he usually masturbated himself to a wild orgasm while taking care of Jesse's needs. But sometimes Jesse took over masturbation duties and those were the best sessions.
He checked the schedule and saw that Jesse was off duty. Well, shit, the fifteen-year-old thought as he opened his pants and pulled out his throbbing erection, this shouldn't take me long and then I can get back to work.
He no sooner had his cock comfortably out in the open air ready to be stroked when Corey Adams walked into the office. Steve thought Corey was second only to Kyle in the realm of hot tween boys currently on the Sooloo. "Hey, Corey, welcome to Ops," Steve grinned.
"Hi, Steve. Can I ask a favor?"
"Go for it."
"Can I use an empty computer in here so I can finish my project?"
"What's wrong with the computers in your quarters?"
"I got bored being alone in the room. I wanted to finish my work somewhere else. I figured here or Communications was somewhere else. You were closer and I saw you in here."
Steve thought. "Where's your guide?"
"He wants to take care of other duties while I do my typing, so I'm on my own for a couple of hours. That gives me time to do my work and gives him time to do some work he needs to do."
Steve pointed to the alcove to his right and behind his desk. "Those two computers are available—you just need to put in your access code and you're good to go."
"Thanks, I appreciate it." Steve had been slowly working his cock back into his underwear and managed to succeed undetected—or at least he hoped it was undetected. If Corey asked him why his pants were unbuttoned and unzipped, he'd tell him he liked being comfortable when he worked.
Corey made his way around Steve's desk and noticed that his pants were wide open. He debated saying nothing since he often opened his pants when he was reading or studying; it was simply more comfortable that way. It was the main reason he liked wearing sweats or lounge pants at home. Steve obviously felt the same way, so why not comment on it?
"You look comfortable" Corey commented.
"I hate being all tight in the middle when I'm working. I open up when I can and if I'm working here on my own time and don't have to be in uniform, I wear sweats. Feel free to make yourself comfy if you want." Steve was certain the folded over flaps on his pants hid his erection; in that regard he was right.
"Thank you, Sir." Corey sat at one of the computers, which was already on, typed in his access code, and inserted his memory key. Before getting to work, he made himself comfortable as well. Steve felt a stirring in his groin when he heard Corey's zipper slowly being pulled down.
"Hey, do you want something to drink or a snack? I can order something brought to us since I'm the only person here in the office right now and am not supposed to leave it unmanned."
"Not even to pee?"
"There's a restroom in the back of the office, so it's not a problem."
"Sure. How about one of those berry crunches, if they have any, and a glass of chocolate milk, please."
"Your wish is my command." Steve liked Corey's choice and texted the kitchen with an order of two of each.
Steve and Corey then worked in silence for about ten minutes when Randy Jenkins brought in Steve's order. "Holy shit, the head chef himself delivers our order," Steve chortled.
"Sometimes we get busy and it's hard to find somebody willing to lower himself to serve a lazy office worker," Randy responded with mock seriousness. He then noticed that the second person in the office wasn't one of the Operations personnel. "And you should be watching your language; we have a young impressionable guest here."
"I'm sure I didn't say anything he hasn't heard before or used himself. Right Corey?"
"Yes, Sir, I would never think of using the word 'shit,'" Corey responded with faked formality.
"And cut with the 'sir,' shit," Steve laughed.
Randy shook his head and took a raspberry crunch and glass of milk out of his basket and placed it on Steve's desk, noting not only the wide-open pants but the impressive bulge pushing up against Steve's blue boxer briefs. He then took Corey's order to his desk. He saw that Corey was as comfortable as Steve. He couldn't detect a discernable bulge in Corey's black briefs, which either meant he didn't have an erection or had a tiny little dick. He voted for the first choice, which meant Corey had somehow managed to put all his mental energy into his work. Randy was impressed by anyone who could do that. He also thought Corey was one hot specimen.
"I'm pleased to formally meet you, Corey," Randy said. "It's nice to see that Steve let you get nice and comfy."
Corey blushed when he realized Randy could see his underwear full on. "It's good to meet you, too," Corey said. He was happy to be able to get back to work when Randy turned away.
"You owe me for the special delivery," Randy said to Steve.
"Put it on my tab," Steve told him.
"You're already two in the hole."
"Now it's three. You know I'm good for it—it will be that much better for both of us when I start paying my debt, because I could do a couple in a row."
"I'll be looking forward to it," Randy said over his shoulder as he left the office.
Steve and Corey were able to get over twenty minutes of uninterrupted minutes of work in after they finished their snacks. Corey was pleased with his progress; he had only needed to check his notes once for information. He was certain he was fulfilling the terms of the assignment, but he wanted that confirmed by somebody in authority.
Steve knew his time alone with Corey would be over soon; Crewman Whit Olson was slated to go on duty in fifteen minutes. He rose from his desk, closed the button on his trousers to keep his pants from falling. He left the zipper open, however. He walked up behind Corey to check on how he was progressing, as well as to admire the view. He looked down at the young cadet's crotch and all but drooled on Corey's black underwear. His cock was harder than it had been at any time since Corey came into the office asking for a favor. He knew Corey would almost have to be blind not to notice his condition. Steve knew there was nothing he could do about his horniness right then but wanted to give Corey some material for his next jackoff fantasy.
"You have maybe ten minutes left," Steve told Corey. "If you have a lot left to do, we're going to need to talk about changing computers since this is where Whit likes to park his butt."
"I'm good," Corey said. "I finished right when you buttoned your pants so they wouldn't fall down. Oh, but you left your zipper open and… um… you seem to have a problem."
"I like the cool breeze blowing through."
Corey nodded as he felt his cock finally responding to the stimulus Steve had been providing for the last half hour. "I need somebody to read it through and see if it fits the assignment. I'm pretty sure it does, but I want somebody like Hal or Dave to take a look at it."
"Why not Kyle?"
"He's been helping me so much I need somebody to give it… like, a fresh look."
I'd like to get a fresh look at what's beneath your underwear, Steve thought. But he also knew that wasn't possible. As much of a horn dog that he was, Steve was also a professional. On top of that, he knew that if got out of line with Corey, Kyle would rip him a new one. The last thing he wanted to do was piss off his best friend. But even Kyle wouldn't begrudge him a long look at Corey's crotch, where his black underwear was now sporting a noticeable bulge.
"I have an even better idea who you could take it to."
"I didn't think of him. Everybody thinks it's weird to have an adult on the ship."
"It is," Steve conceded. "He's supposed to be here to learn stuff. But the way I see it, he should be helping us little kids, too."
"I'm kind of afraid to talk to an Admiral about this," Corey confessed, "even if Admiral Robinson is kind of like..." he paused for a moment searching for the word he wanted, "… like my mentor."
"Well, the way I see it, if his only reason to be here is to learn shit, then he doesn't belong on the Sooloo. I think you should make him earn those stars of his. I'll check on where he is, and you can go ask him to read over your report."
Corey thought about it for a moment and then told Steve to go for it. He saved his work and logged out of the computer. He moved his office chair back and stood up quickly, not bothering to grab his pants as they dropped down his legs to the floor. "Oops," he uttered without conviction.
"You might want to see the Admiral with your pants pulled up and that giant bulge in your underwear hidden away," Steve chuckled. There was no doubt in his mind that Corey losing his pants was intentional, and he loved it.
"Oh, wow, I guess it would be a good idea." He pulled up his pants and closed them. Pulling his memory key out of the computer, he walked over to Steve's desk and waited.
"He's in the senior officer's lounge. Since you can't go in without an officer escorting you, I'll let him know you're on your way so he can meet you at the door."
"Thanks for everything, Steve. You're awesome."
"Yeah, no problem. And when you sit in on Kyle's idea of excitement, make sure you're nice to my kid." Corey had no idea what Steve was talking about and felt too rushed to ask. He turned and started to leave the office when Steve called out to him. "Oh, and thanks for the great view just now, dude," Steve called out as Corey exited the office with a smirk on his face.
Admiral Robert Crusoe checked the time. He had fifty-five minutes before he needed to be on the Bridge to watch Kyle give an advanced Astrogation lesson. He was looking forward to it. From what he had observed of the twelve-year-old Chief Astrogator, the boy had command written all over him.
The story of his "command" of the Rafael during the Rogue Star incident was a prime example of this. He remembered talking to Kyle about that after Kyle had made his peace with him. "I didn't do anything special," he had said modestly. "It was either do what we did, or we would probably all die." Robert remembered how Kyle bowed his head slightly when he told the young Commander that what he had just said was the "very definition of command."
Once he matured, Kyle would be a logical choice to fill a vacant First Office position on his way to a Captaincy. The bad news was that would not be likely in the Explorer program since vacancies were not likely to open often.
His thoughts were interrupted by his communicator going off. He saw that the caller was Steve Boyer. "Greetings, Steve, what can I do for you?"
"Hello, Admiral. I was contacting you to let you know that Corey Adams is on his way to ask you about something. He should be at the door to the lounge real soon."
"Thank you for the heads up. I will be at the door to meet him."
"My pleasure, Sir," Steve said as he disconnected. Robert shook his head as he walked to the door of the lounge, which actually served as a lounge and a mess for the senior officers. From what he had learned about Steve Boyer, the lad was an enigma. He was extremely bright and talented. He was incredibly organized and was doing a job he seemed to have been born to do. Yet, when offered the position of Chief of Operations, he had turned it down, saying he didn't think he was ready. In a manner of speaking, that may have been true, since he was obviously beyond ready. But he was a teenager, and even the ones on a well-run ship like the Sooloo with the motivated and extremely able boys manning it, they were still teenagers with all their quirks and angst waiting to be exposed.
Robert opened the lounge door just as Corey stepped up to it. "Hello, Corey. It's nice to see you up and about on your own."
"Just for a little while. I have to be on the Bridge for Kyle's lesson."
"You're ready for an Astrogation lesson, are you?"
"Not really. I hardly know anything about it, but it will be fun to see how the table works with all the star charts moving around. And Kyle is always good about explaining stuff. But I came here to ask you to help me with something." Corey was eager to get down to business.
Robert gestured toward the lounge. "Well come in, take a seat in the lounge area, and tell me what's on your mind."
"Are you sure it's okay if I come in here?" Corey asked. He was feeling a little intimidated by the situation.
"I believe so, and if it isn't, who's going to argue with an Admiral," Robert grinned.
Corey surprised Robert by passing the comfortable lounge chairs and taking a seat at the computer in the back corner of the room. Robert could see that this visit by Corey was all business.
Another office chair was next to the small desk that the computer rested on. Robert grabbed it and sat next to Corey, who was booting up the computer. "It appears you have something important on your mind."
Corey nodded as he entered his access code. As soon as the home screen came up, he inserted his memory key. "You know why I'm here, right?" Robert could sense the young boy's discomfort.
"Yes, I do. You're here because you've impressed a number of important people with your attitude and hard work." Corey blushed for the second time in the last hour, only for an entirely different reason than the first. "Those people would love to see you succeed and feel that this experience will help keep you on that road to success. Do I have it right?"
"I guess. All I know is Kyle helped me learn what I need to do to make it to the Academy and get into the Explorer program, which I guess is totally hard to get into now. I want to go into space like my dad, but I want to be an officer and go to new planets."
"It sounds like I have it right. That being said, what kind of help do you need?"
Corey pointed to the computer screen. "I have to write a report on what I did and what I saw and what I learned—that kind of stuff. I am supposed to send it to Admiral Mirah, Admiral Greg… er, I mean Admiral Robinson (Robert fought off a grin after hearing Corey's understandable slip), Kyle, and Captain Tietokone," Corey sounded out the name slowly and carefully, getting it perfect. "And I have to send one to Commander Hanson, too, and then have a meeting with him to talk about what I wrote and what I did, and everything.
"Anyway, I thought since you're not a part of all this, you might be able to read it and tell me how I did and what I might need to do different. Oh, and you can correct my grammar and stuff too, if you see any mistakes."
"I think that is doable, but I want to give it more time than what we have. What I would like is for you to email it to me, I will read it after Kyle's lesson, and we can meet in my quarters after dinner. How does that work for you?"
Corey was hoping that he could get everything done right then and felt his impatience rising again. One thing he had learned in his short time on the Sooloo however, was that things on a starship aren't always done when you want them done. Unless you were the Captain, more often than not, other people and their schedules had to be worked around.
"It sounds fine, Sir." Corey opened his email and typed in the address as it was told to him. He attached his report, attached a copy of the assignment and sent them off.
"Now, how about the two of us showing up to the Bridge a few minutes early," Robert said.
"That's how it's supposed to be done here, Sir." While Robert didn't want to get hung up on formalities, he also felt that it wouldn't hurt the young cadet to get used to those formalities by using them.
Kyle was seated on the starboard side of the Astrogation table with Devin French when Robert and Corey came on the Bridge twenty minutes before the class was slated to start. Devin was there as an observer but had also done the assignment Kyle had given him.
The table had been turned on and a star chart covered the entire screen. Corey noticed Megrez sitting on the solid edge on the aft side of the table. He also saw that Hal had the con and John Luke the helm. Kyle greeted them and told them to pick a place to stand where they could get an overall view of the start chart.
Within the next five minutes, Will, Danny, Juju Danvers, Shasho Boyer and Red Lynch had all arrived. Corey had learned that Shasho was Steve and Brad's adopted son. When he saw Shasho, he understood what Steve meant about him being nice to his kid.
Kyle planned to have a class for the other three pilots as soon as possible. Since much of the training was hands on, Kyle felt that having everyone in the class who wanted or needed the training at one time would keep them from getting everything they could out of the class. Kyle told Will he would be assisting him and knew that Jordan Rivers had been assigned by Hal to take the class as a review and he had to take it as a requirement for his new position as First Officer.
Until Kyle started the class, the group spent the time chatting and relaxing. Kyle pointed to the equations posted on the main screen on the wall. "That is the solution each of you should have come up with on the first part of your assignment. You will each have a different solution for the second part, and we will go over those one at a time."
Kyle had given them the assignments from the Astrogation text used at the Space Academy. He remembered how he had received his first take-home assignment from Commander Hanson. "You all have had some bare bones basics. I want to see how you apply those to the assignment on page two-twenty-two and I will give each of you a separate worksheet, each of them having a different but similar problem. The idea here is not perfection; it is seeing how you can apply the basics on the fly, so to speak. The assignments will be due tomorrow." Kyle remembered the loud groans shared by the class. He remembered that he hadn't groaned because he liked the challenge. He made a vow to solve his Astrogation problem perfectly—after all, they had already completed some basic routings in class. Whatever the problem was, he knew it would be solvable. Kyle was correct in his analysis—he solved both problems perfectly.
"Check your solution against the one on the view screen," Kyle instructed. His five trainees plus Devin did so and all five grinned when they saw they had come up with the same solution. "Now, I want each of you to enter your solution into the Astrogation table. We'll do them one at a time and I'll clear the table after each of you is finished.
"Why do we each have to enter them in if we all got it right?" Juju asked.
"Good question, Juju. Anybody care to tell us why entering your solution into the table is important?"
Kyle waited patiently for an answer. Finally, Will spoke up. "Well, between the five of us, six if we include Devin, three of us have never entered coordinates into a full-size Astrogation table." Will was referring to Juju, Red, and Shasho. "The one in school is only about half this big, and I don't think Shasho has ever used a table." The reason Shasho was in the group was the requirement that anyone assigned to Operations be familiar with all the positions on the ship. He was excused from school to allow him to take Kyle's class as part of his training.
"I have not used a table and did not see one even until our first meeting with Kyle," Shasho said in his usual precise way.
"Anything anybody would like to add to what Will said?" Kyle asked.
"Yeah, I have something," Will responded. "I wasn't quite finished yet."
"I am sorry to interrupt," Shasho told him.
"Not a problem Shasho. I did kind of ask you a question. Anyway, the other reason we all have to enter in our coordinates is so you can check on all us, because it's easy to get careless and mistype something into the table, which would not be good." Robert was proud of his son's participation and Kyle was pleased that the person he was putting a lot of extra work into was right on top of things. Hal was proud of Kyle, not only by how well prepared he was, but how he kept each of his trainees engaged and interested in the lesson. He could see that among his other skills, Kyle was a natural born teacher.
Everyone entered his coordinates in properly, and it was now time for them to enter the solution to their individual Astrogation problems. Each trainee's starting point for his exercise was Earth. When they had their next session, Kyle was going to up the difficulty by giving them each a different origin as well as a different destination. Kyle referred to his tablet where he had opened the random number program. He tapped "find number" and the randomizer picked four, which was Juju.
The first thing Juju had to do was tell what his destination star was while he showed his work on the view screen. He then entered his coordinates into the table. The table did some quick calculating and showed the route on the screen. Juju was right on the money.
Kyle had told them in their first meeting that they were fortunate that they would be using the enhanced system installed by the Draconians. They wouldn't have to account for drift and other anomalies. The Astrogation computer would keep the ship exactly on course—there was no more need to stop along the way and figure course adjustments. That being said, it was important to make sure the blinking on the table that represented the Sooloo was clinging to the course line.
"Never put all your faith in your computer, no matter how reliable it is supposed to be," Kyle had told them. "It is part of your job to constantly monitor your progress. That is why we still keep an Astrogation notebook where we handwrite our original course, our coordinates when we do a check of our location and all changes entered into the table. If something goes wrong, we have a hard copy of all our information ready to be used if we need it. Before the retrofit, it wasn't uncommon to drift off course a bit and we had to be on top of our progress all the time. And even with all our enhancements, that rule hasn't changed." Devin was reminded of his calculating error that was never corrected until his ship reached the wrong destination because he did not follow those rules.
Danny was next and was spot on with his course. Will did the same. Red was next and as soon as his course was laid out everyone could see that course line on the table was nowhere near the star that was his destination. Kyle could see from the equation on the view screen what Red's error was. He had worked out every student's problem before assigning it, so he knew what to look for. He asked Red to see if he could spot what went wrong, but Red was too flustered to think clearly. Kyle made a mental note to discuss Red's reaction with him privately later. But right now, the class needed to find Red's error.
"I think I see it," Juju said. He used his laser pointer to place a red dot on a greater than sign. "That should be an equal sign, not a greater than sign."
Red took a deep breath and regained some control. "The sign is right," he insisted.
"I never saw one being used in an equation," Juju said.
"Check page one-fifteen," Red said with added confidence.
To keep the session from dragging on, Kyle concurred that using a greater than sign was legitimate but that they were on the right track.
Instead of concentrating on what the computer displayed in the view screen, Shasho consulted Red's notebook. "I see it," Shasho said. "Red has the greater than sign in his notebook, but not in the same place as on the screen. He put it between the wrong two numbers on the screen."
"That would be between the wrong two numerals, Shasho, but you are correct. He made an entry error and what he typed in looked so close to what was in his notebook, he missed the error."
Everyone wished he had thought of checking the notebook first, but congratulated Shasho, and encouraged Red.
"Remember, none of you had the Astrogation table to help you out. Red, I am willing to bet your course looked right on your computer when you tried it out."
"Not exactly right, but it looked right, and I didn't get a blinking red light, but… but I used the notebook to type it into the computer. But that doesn't carry over to the Astrogation computer and when I typed it in there, I made my mistake." The Astrogation computer was in training mode for trainee use.
"Everybody should understand that Red's mistake couldn't happen if he was creating a real course. He would be using the Astrogation computer from the start. One thing John Luke noticed is that when the Astrogation computer is in training mode it can't show your course on the computer you're using. It can only show your course on the Astrogation table, which is true when it is live, too.
"That's why you have to make double entries. The old system was like that, but we were told we could connect our computer to the Astrogation computer when we're training and see our course the way the Astrogation table would see it, just not as detailed. It hasn't worked that way and is operating just like the old program did. Having that fixed is on our punch list when we get back to Earth. So other than not double-checking what you typed in the second time, Red did everything right.
"And remember, when you are live very little will change. You will only be able to see your course laid out on the Astrogation table, the main computer in Engineering, information systems, and the computer in the captain's ready room."
Kyle liked the smile on Red's face but knew he still would have a discussion with Red about keeping his cool when things weren't going right. As a fighter pilot, that was particularly important and something he had excelled at. Kyle wondered if the newness of what he was doing was a factor in his stressing out. Well, no matter, he thought, I'll deal with it later.
Devin's entry was quick and accurate, as expected of a Chief Navigator. His course was the hardest in the group and took some fancy math work. The other students found the explanation of how he developed his equation intriguing and were happy Kyle had given Devin the assignment. Devin was happy about being part of the training class because he had learned a great deal about how to conduct onboard training.
Shasho was the last to enter his coordinates and was stunned when his course went off in the opposite direction he had planned. He knew that looking at the view screen would be a waste of time and quickly consulted his notebook. He was tempted to emulate his Opsolas and say, "Fuck," when he saw what he had done, but he kept his mouth closed, opened the data entry window on the table and moved his decimal point two places to the right.
"Nice catch," Kyle said.
"Dumb mistake," Shasho told him.
"They happen—it's catching them when they happen that counts."
Kyle then addressed his training group. "Good job guys. Things will get more difficult next time, but I hope we'll have the training bug fixed by then. Remember, Astrogation is nothing but geometry and trigonometry, with a few hundred permutations thrown in."
"What is a permutation?" Shasho asked.
Kyle looked at his trainees for an answer. "It's variables," Will finally said. "It means there's lots of combinations that have to be figured in."
"Thank you, that gives me a new word for my vocabulary."
"I don't know about you guys, but I'm hungry. I think it's close to dinner time," John Luke announced as Kyle dismissed his group.
"Not for me," Danny said. "I have to relieve you soon."
"Go get dinner first. I can hang around for an extra hour and eat, which beats you sitting here starving for four hours."
Hal grinned as the Bridge emptied out. What he saw from John Luke was what he expected of his crew—everyone looking out for their crewmates.
Corey ate dinner in the Officers' Mess with Kyle, Danny, Juju, Brad, Steve and Shasho. It was an enjoyable dinner with the conversation going from Astrogation to what life as a cadet was like at the Space Academy to the thrill of heading back into deep space soon.
"Where is Koji?" Shasho asked as he dug into his plate of pork chops and garlic mashed potatoes. Shasho's taste for Earth food had moved from barely tolerable to incredibly delicious since he become a part of the Sooloo family.
Randy Jenkins could take a lot of the credit for the change as he learned how to season the meals specially being served to the Draconians. He soon discovered that the regular crew preferred the preparation of the food the Draconians were served, and quit cooking up two separately seasoned batches. Sometimes the recipe called for Draconian seasoning, sometimes for Earthling seasoning, and he was busily working recipes using a combination of the two.
"Koji is going to be eating with the twins, Lars, Oliver, Drake, Jay and Tei," Kyle said. "Danny and I are praying that the dining room survives the onslaught."
After dinner, Corey used his communicator to contact Robert, who told him to come to his quarters in an hour. Robert was eating with his son, Will, and wanted to spend as much time with him as possible.
Corey asked Steve for directions to Robert's quarters. He then went to his quarters and lay on Koji's bed. He was surprised that the bed was meticulously made and looked better than he had left it. He was certain that Koji and Tei would have left it a mess and was impressed that wasn't the case. He did some studying until it was time to leave for his meeting and arrived at the Admiral's quarters on time. Robert invited him in and had him sit at the room's computer. Because the quarters were a temporary billet, the décor was Space Fleet gray.
"That was an excellent job, Cadet," Robert said, letting Corey know that this meeting would be run on a formal and professional basis. Again, Robert felt it would be good practice for the young cadet.
"Thank you, Sir," Corey responded.
"You followed the directions of the assignment and had very few errors. I highlighted those errors in red for you to correct. Now, let's pretend that I am Commander Hanson and you're giving me your verbal report."
Corey had learned enough about how officers, especially senior officers, behaved that he had anticipated that request and was prepared. He gave his report without using his notes. His presentation was as complete as his written account. Robert could sense the potential oozing from Corey's pores. He thought it was fortuitous that Kyle had seen it and wondered if he would have seen that same potential in the rambunctious bully who Kyle first met.
"Cadet Adams, you did a remarkable job. Your writing was outstanding, and you came here well prepared for your oral presentation. You should feel proud of what you accomplished."
"Thank you, Sir, I tried my best."
Robert smiled and said, "Corey, you may stand down. I want to talk to you now as a father and a friend rather than an officer."
Corey nodded, not quite sure what to say.
"I've looked at your records and I've talked to Kyle, Dave, Hal and Jinzo about you. Everything they have told me says that if stay on track, you are going to be a topnotch member of the Explorer's Program. That's saying a lot since getting into it is extremely hard because the turnover is low. There was talk of outfitting another ship or two, but because the increased speed and range the Draconians gave our ships, that plan has been put on hold.
"I want to go into deep space as an Explorer really bad, Admiral."
"Unless I say otherwise, you can call me Robert."
"Yes, Sir." Robert smiled internally as Corey continued to cling to the edge of formality. "I owe a lot to Kyle. He's the best friend I've ever had in my life." Not to mention the sexiest one, Corey thought.
"I am going to tell you something I'm sure you've heard already and from more than one person, but it won't hurt you to hear it again. The only person who can keep you from reaching your dream is you. I see you as a very bright, hardworking, driven boy. Don't get happy with yourself. You have an excellent teacher in Commander Hanson, and you couldn't ask for a better mentor than Greg Robinson. On top of that, I have a feeling Kyle will be available to give you a shoulder if you need it. With the almost instant communication we now have, that very best friend will be there for you."
"Kyle said the same thing. Plus, I have my roommate picked when I start at the Academy in the fall." Robert noticed right away that Corey had said "when I start" rather than "if I start", which was a big step forward. "His name is Gordy Jenkins," Corey went on. "He's the brother of Randy, the head chef. He's going to be a first-year student like me. We've already become good friends." And I hope we can become boyfriends.
"One last thing before you go. I will continue to follow your progress. When the time comes and you need a recommendation, I will be more than happy to supply one. Just keep your sights on your goals and you'll be doing great."
Corey was almost walking on air when he left Robert's quarters. He still had problems processing how quickly his life had turned around and how far he had come, and it looked like it would only get better. But he also heard the voice of Greg Robinson saying, "Remember you are only as good as you were today. Tomorrow, you not only have to work to stay there, but also to take the next step up. Don't think you can coast, because the only direction you can coast in is downhill." That was followed by Robert Crusoe saying, "The only person who can keep you from reaching your dream is you."
As Corey Adams returned to his quarters, he reminded himself sternly that he was like the Sooloo and its next mission: the voyage was just beginning.
Jordan had started his watch at the conn only two hours ago. Hal left to grab a bite to eat and spend time with his family. There were watching as they were approaching Mars on the way back to Earth.
Kash and Danny were at the Astrogation table with Kash operating the helm while Danny was covering Astrogation.
After meeting with Robert, Corey barely made it to the Bridge ten minutes before his watch was to start. He and Jinzo were at the Tactical Station when Corey called out, "Sir, we have an incoming message from Fleet Admiral Mirah."
"Put it on screen," Jordan ordered. Bill's sullen face appeared on screen. "Admiral, is something wrong?"
"I am afraid so. Where are Kyle and your husband?"
"Kyle and Jace are currently off duty, so they could be anywhere. I know Koji and the twins are in the children's lounge. Would you like for me to call them to the Bridge?"
"Please do, and Dave and Hal, as well. They may want to hear this, too."
It was just a few minutes before Dave, Hal, Kyle and Jace walked onto the Bridge. Dave spoke first, "Admiral, what's the situation?"
"Prince Zarek is here with me. He has some sad news to share, mainly with Kyle and Jace, but he thought all you would like to hear it, too.
Prince Zarek replaced Bill on the screen, he had obviously been crying. "Medici would probably be upset with me being sad, for he lived a long and prosperous life. He joined our ancestors early this morning."
"What? How?" Jace was stunned. "He seemed so healthy when we saw him just over a week ago."
"Zifaa and I were with him last night, celebrating his one thousandth birthday. He told us last night that he was tired and ready to go home. Zifaa thought that seemed odd since we were in his home, but I knew what he meant. He retired to his bedchamber and that was the last time we saw him alive.
"When I found him this morning, there was a smile on his face, and he had written a note. It read: Do not mourn my passing, for I had lived a full and happy life. I am pleased to hear that our people are prospering and making new friends. Megrez assured me that I have a place with our ancestors, where I will never die. I leave this body to join them. Please tell Kyle and Jace that I am happy to have known them, and they should not cry over my passing. It is my time."
"So, he just died by his own choosing? Did he take something?" Kyle was confused.
"No, he didn't take anything. He told me that Megrez spoke to him and told him that his time was almost upon him; that his service to Darastix was greatly appreciated, but it was almost time for his eternal rest. He was ready and passed away at peace."
Bill came back on the screen, "I am sorry to hear about the loss of a friend. Prince Zarek told me that they will hold a funeral service for him here on Thursday, the fifth. Then on Monday, the ninth, they would be heading back to Darastix for a proper Darastixian service. He would like to have the Sooloo escort them, and I am planning to send the SS Darastix, too. I will be going, along with a few select Admirals and dignitaries representing Earth."
"Will any be on the Sooloo? Do we need to reserve any VIP quarters?" Hal inquired.
"No, the Darastix barely has a skeleton crew, so we are borrowing a few people from the Shouryou. Then, the admirals may need to assist Captain David to get us back to Earth. I'm just not telling any of the other Admirals until we are on Darastix, the planet not the ship."
"That could be interesting. When was the last time you served on a ship, Sir?" Jinzo asked.
Bill laughed, "It's been a few years, but I believe I can recall what I need to do."
Admiral Robert Crusoe ate an early dinner so he could fit everything into his schedule, which meant he would probably want a snack during the time of his meeting with Tomo, Juro and Jinzo. He chuckled when he realized all their names end with o. As the three boys sat down, Robert asked, "Have you tried this pie? At first, I thought it was going to be lemon meringue, but the color was off, and it tastes orangish."
Jinzo grinned, "That is actually a mazdak pie. Mazdak is a Darastixian citrus fruit closely related to the Terran orange, more like what you call a blood orange."
"That explains the color and taste," Robert chuckled. "This meeting will be informal, so please treat me as one of your colleagues, not an admiral. I want to state first, I would like to create one android like Jinzo to see if we are capable of doing so. If we succeed, I would like to create a race of androids. They will be treated just like any other citizen in Space Fleet."
"That makes sense," Tomo agreed, "with my schematics, if you follow them properly, you should succeed. My only concern is that you might treat them like property. I didn't think you would, but the thought was there."
"When I spoke with Fleet Admiral Mirah about creating a robotic division of Logistics, I told him that the only way I would do this was if each android produce was treated like any other race. They were not to be slaves. He said that he wouldn't have it any other way. In fact, he said it will be their choice if they join Space Fleet or do something else."
"That is what I was hoping," Juro commented. "Jinzo does have one request."
"Which is?" Robert questioned.
Jinzo spoke up, "I would like for no two androids to look exactly alike. I would like for each to be unique."
"I understand that you didn't look like you at first, that Tomo added your 'skin' after. What I am considering is, we let each android choose what their 'skin' looks like. We have several different characteristics that they can choose from, shape of their ears, nose or even their physique. They will even be able to choose, if they want, to be male or female."
"That works for me," Jinzo smiled.
Tomo held out a memory stick and a memory key, "Here are the schematics. You only need one, but I didn't know which you preferred."
Robert laughed, "Since the memory key has an image of the Sooloo on it, I'd like it. It'll make it easier for me to know where the schematics are. If I have any questions, would you be available to answer them?"
"Provided you don't call while I am in class or on watch," Tomo requested.
"Well, we should be arriving at Earth soon; I need to head to the Bridge."
"Thank you, Robert, for sharing your thoughts. I feel better about this," Tomo sighed.
Hal and Dave had been discussing the previous three days of the shakedown, preparing for a videoconference with Admiral Mirah, as well as planning for the voyage from Earth to Darastix as honor guard, escorting Medici's body back home.
The alert sounded of an incoming transmission; the pair sat at the conference table while Dave connected the call.
"Good Evening, Admiral."
"Good Evening, Dave... Hal. I was expecting Admiral Crusoe to be joining us."
"Admiral Crusoe is currently meeting with the team that developed Jinzo. I believe he wants to make an agreement to obtain the specifications for Jinzo so he can try to repeat what our kids accomplished."
Bill nodded, "I am encouraged that he's taking this approach of enlisting their help voluntarily instead of falling back on making it an order."
The group discussed the previous days' shakedown, informing the Admiral of the small number of items that needed to be addressed when they docked in orbit above Earth in approximately two hours.
Hal then led into the next topic, "Sir, I have seen the preliminary report compiled by our Acting Ensign, Corey Adams. I will admit that I wasn't sure having him aboard was the right decision initially but am very happy that he has proven what reservation I had to be incorrect."
"I look forward to seeing his full report. As far as the Sooloo is concerned, it seems that your retrofit repairs shouldn't take more than a day or two. That fits into the plan for us to depart Earth for Darastix in three days."
"Sir, I was planning on allowing those not directly involved in the retrofit a 48-hour pass once we arrive."
"That works fine, Hal. I wanted to discuss one idea I've had since you left. I have had several conversations with Bob Adams. He was impressed with what his son had been telling him about his time on the Sooloo. Don't worry, Corey didn't divulge anything to Bob that could have been classified over Bob's clearance level. It's my intent to invite Bob to join us on our trip to Darastix. If things work out, I will be offering him the opportunity to go to the Academy and become an officer."
Dave was surprised but pleased. "I think that is an excellent decision, Sir."
After a moment of discussion, Dave moved on to the final point of the conversation. "Sir, have you decided who will be going to Darastix, and who will be returning?"
"I have. Joining me on the Darastix will be Admiral Robinson and his wife, Bob Adams and his family, Jason Blackwell -- Earth's Ambassador to Darastix and his family plus a few that will be his Embassy staff, and I've invited Commander Hanson, but he has yet to inform me of his decision. This group will travel on the Darastix."
"Do you know how long we'll be on Darastix?" Hal inquired.
"From what Prince Zarek told me, once we arrive there will be a period of mourning prior to the funeral. I would assume that we would likely be on Darastix for about a week. Ambassador Blackwell and his family will remain on Darastix, along with the Embassy staff."
"Everything seems in order; I guess we'll see you on Earth in a couple of hours, Sir."
"Have a safe journey the rest of the way home, gentlemen."
Admiral Mirah terminated the session. Before Hal could say anything, the door chime rang. "Enter."
Corey Adams entered, "Sirs. I'm sorry to bother you two. I waited until the signal that a video call was in progress to go out before signaling you."
"No problem, Ensign." Hal stated formally, only to make sure Corey knew he was still 'on-duty.' "What can we do for you?"
Corey blushed slightly before replying. "Sirs, I just wanted to express once again my thanks for the opportunity to join you on this cruise. I learned a lot and as Kyle expected, it's really made me want to go to the Academy and join the Explorer Program when I'm ready."
Dave smiled. "Corey, everyone who has expressed an opinion of how you handled yourself on this cruise had nothing but high praise for you. I wish you luck at the Academy. I will be adding my recommendation for your acceptance."
Corey's smile nearly split his face, "Thank you, Sir! Thank you both!"
"If there is nothing more, Ensign, we should all get ready for the final approach to Earth."
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 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."
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