These are the voyages of the starship Surefoot. We don’t explore strange new worlds. We don’t seek out new life and new civilisations. We don’t boldly go where no one has gone before. That's for the folks with the TV shows and movies. But what we do still matters.

These stories are set in the Next Generation Era. The universe of Star Trek belongs to CBS/Paramount; all of the original characters here belong to me. There is no explicit sexual content, but there may be instances of profanity, and discussions of adult subject matters.

I suggest starting with the first chapter of the first story, The Universe Had Other Plans

Sunday, 18 June 2017

Rising Star - Chapter 4 of 4: Double Jeopardy

It was sometime in the afternoon when Chief Grev had finally bypassed the malfunctioning safety features on Golov’s capsule, and they had started the reanimation sequence. Jonas, Hrelle, and a few of those people who clearly supported Golov’s revival were in the chamber, Nika standing beside him, squeezing his hand so tightly that he almost winced.

He wasn’t afraid. As he stood there, imagining the worst case scenarios, he realised… they weren’t that bad. If she stayed, he could quit and stay with her. If she left, they could leave together, go back to Earth, he could show her the Galaxy, start their own business, go back to his mother’s and help there. The Universe was wide with possibilities. He squeezed her hand reassuringly.

Then the ancient machinery finished running through its paces, and the technicians drew closer as the capsule shell slid open, revealing…

Nothing.

The assembled stared in shock, an Asian girl named Lijuan stepping forward and peering at the empty bed. “What’s- What’s going on?”

Jonas stepped forward, kneeling beside the capsule and examining the status board. “According to this… Maxim Golov is lying there, alive and well.”

The girl even touched the padded surface, as if the man might somehow be there, but invisible. “I don’t understand- where did he go?”

“He was never here,” Hrelle concluded, glancing around. “He never left with you.”

“I don’t understand.”

“It was a diversion.” He looked around sympathetically. “All of it, all of you, all part of a massive diversion. He had no intention of leaving Earth and starting over on another planet; it was a risky enough venture already. With all the attention focused on you and the ship escaping, he could sneak away, adopt a new identity, and spend the rest of his life and some sequestered wealth in some villa in Switzerland or the Pacific Archipelago.” He grunted. “He seemed a little too old and rich to want to start roughing it on another planet.”

“He- He said he would be with us,” another of the group murmured, sounding adrift. “He said he would guide us, help form a new civilisation-”

“He said a lot of things,” Nika cursed bitterly. “He lied. He lied to us. He lied to the world. He used us. Shot us into space not giving a damn if we lived or died. He lived and died in comfort and freedom two centuries ago and can’t even answer for his crimes now!” She glared at Lijuan. “That was your hero, your Saviour! What do you think of him now, eh? Fools!”

“Nika,” Hrelle started gently. “They’ve only just awakened here, they’ve had a lot to process before they can move on.” He looked to Lijuan and those who were supporting her, who now looked shocked and tearful. “But you will. You wanted to make a future on another world. You still can, here, working together. More of us are coming tomorrow, to offer technical aid, supplies... and help for you to cope with what you’ve gone through.”

The girl stared back in disbelief. “You would do that for us? Why?”

“Because we can,” Hrelle replied simply. “All we ask is that you let us help you.”

*

In the following hours, as Jonas assisted with helping move and repair more equipment required for establishing permanent structures outside of the ship, watching Nika as she directed the others, occasionally the pair of them catching each other’s attention every so often and smiling, he considered Captain Hrelle’s words, how often Starfleet had helped people like the Rising Star crew, all the good that’s been accomplished - and how much has been with his help.

And the future seemed… less clear than it did before.

*

USS Surefoot, Deck 1, Corridor, 1955 Hours:

Jonas resisted the urge to rush to the nearest toilet for the fifth time; he couldn’t possibly have anything left in him to add to the recyclers. They were going to expel him. He should have just resigned, before it came to this. He should have-

“Jonas? What are you doing out here?”

He turned, as all of Alpha Squad, minus Rrori, whom Jonas presumed was already waiting in the Briefing Room, approached as one. “Me? Just getting some air. What are you doing here?”

Sasha smiled. “The squads are required to attend. It’s going to be educational.”

Jonas nodded, paling. “Sure, you don’t get to see a cadet roasted before your very eyes, do you?”

“Do not be so pessimistic,” Eydiir advised. “You have your friends behind you.”

“Yes,” Sasha agreed, looking apologetic. “Friends who… who are deeply sorry for treating you badly all this time.”

“Yeah,” Neraxis groused, while still smiling. “I mean, I never do anything wrong, so I’m really just apologising on behalf of all these other tools here.”

He grunted. “Of course. And I’m sorry. And… if I don’t get the chance to say it later, well, it’s been an honour serving with all of you.”

Sasha frowned. “Jonas, is there something we should know?”

“You’ll find out.” He stepped inside before they could enquire further.

*

The room had been rearranged to accommodate the occupants and the purpose of the meeting: Captain Hrelle sat behind the desk, between Commander T’Varik and Counselor Kami. The four members of the Away Team stood at attention in front of a row of chairs facing them, and the assembled cadets sat in the rear.

“We’ll keep this relatively short,” Hrelle assured them, as the four cadets sat down. “If anyone wishes to make any formal appeal against the decisions raised in this debriefing, you will have 72 hours following the end of this meeting to do so.” He nodded to his First Officer.

T’Varik held a PADD in her hand, without reading from it. “We have taken into account a number of factors in our assessment of your performance during this incident, not least of which was the unexpected direction in which your original assignment took, as well as your lack of experience and qualification in a number of fields that might have otherwise facilitated a successful conclusion. However, we need to address matters which have arisen in our analysis of your performance, both individually and as a group. Cadet Zaacool Soolamea.”

The Rigelian girl stood, as T’Varik continued. “Cadet Soolamea, you are to be commended for volunteering to beam onboard the Rising Star, given the potential threat you may have faced, and for your engineering assistance. Your crewmates have nothing but praise for your ability and willingness to follow orders.”

She offered a shy smile. “Thank you, Commander.”

“There is one matter I will address: in your submitted report, you stated that you privately disagreed with the decision to secretly send you over to the Rising Star, correctly pointing out that it was disobeying your Mission Commander’s orders, and pointing out the danger that you might have faced if you were caught - as was indeed the case.”

“Yes, Commander.”

“But you did not make your concerns known at the time, did you?”

“No, Commander. Rrori and Nancy were, well, they seemed quite sure of their being right.”

The Vulcan set down her PADD. “Cadet… in future do not be intimidated by the apparent expertise or personality of others. Being loud and arrogant does not automatically make one right - as you will learn. Take your seat again.”

She nodded. “Yes, Commander.”

T’Varik looked to Rrori, who rose to his feet now. “Cadet Meow Rrori, you performed exceptionally well in piloting the Rising Star safely to the surface of Sigma Lambda II. It was a remarkable feat-”

The Caitian beamed. “Thank you, Commander. I must admit I impressed myself with-”

“I’m not done speaking, Cadet. As I was saying, it was a remarkable feat… and it was also entirely avoidable.”

He blinked. “Excuse me, Ma’am?”

Now Hrelle spoke up. “At 1948 Hours, when the Rising Star detected your presence and locked weapons on you, Cadet Ostrow ordered you to withdraw the ship from the area immediately. Instead of obeying those orders, you sat there and argued with him.”

“Sir, the Rising Star’s weapons couldn’t do us any damage-”

“That is beside the point, Cadet,” T’Varik informed him. “You were given a direct order. Further, your continued presence in the area antagonised the Rising Star crew, to the point where they overloaded a weapons station, three members of their crew were critically injured, and the ship itself was sent on a course towards the planet which endangered everyone onboard - none of which would have happened if you had performed your duty.”

“At 1952 Hours,” Hrelle continued sharply, “When Cadet Ostrow decided to beam onboard, you argued with him again, in fact publicly questioned his authority and offered to take over yourself. Ms T’Varik, does Cadet Rrori have any qualifications that would make him better suited for command than Cadet Ostrow?”

“No, Sir, he most certainly does not.”

Rrori’s eyes were widening, and his tail was perfectly still as he looked to them in confusion. “Captain, Commander, no offence was intended by my offer, I can assure you-”

“At 1953 Hours,” T’Varik proceeded. “Mr Ostrow gave you a direct order to take no action against the Rising Star, even if his life was threatened. You then proceeded to secretly beam over Cadet Soolamea to disable the thoron generator without his knowledge - an act that was understandably perceived by those onboard as being hostile when she was discovered, and which put the lives of your crewmates at risk.”

“What part of his orders did you not understand?” Hrelle growled. “What part of any of his orders?”

Rrori was growing quickly dismayed by the questions, and the hostility he faced. “Sir, I was… I was genuinely concerned at the potential threat-”

“What threat, Mr Rrori?” Kami spoke up now. “We listened to the same audio logs as yourself, and I have provided a psychological assessment of the incident. Mr Ostrow was managing quite well. He made no indication to you that he was in any danger, offered no codes or verbal clues as to any threat. You made no attempt to contact him to confirm his status. And you made no attempt to contact us for advice. Did you?”

He tensed, before finally offering, “No, Counselor.”

“If you had so little faith in your friend’s abilities, why did you ask us to make him Mission Commander in the first place?”

“That was different! It was supposed to be just a simple survey mission! A bit of fun, where we could relax and enjoy ourselves! When it blew it up into this emergency, I thought we needed someone compet-” He stopped himself, acutely aware of the murmurs in the crowd of cadets behind him, and of Jonas sitting close, facing ahead, stiffening.

Hrelle leaned forward, the anger in his eyes clear and his voice rising. “Was the word you didn’t have the balls to finish just now meant to be ‘competent’? Because let’s review the facts again: Cadet Ostrow’s decision to withdraw was the correct one. His decision to go over unarmed and alone was the correct one. His decision for you not to take any action against the Rising Star was the correct one.

Your decisions, on the other hand, almost led to the destruction of that ship and everyone onboard. So, Cadet Rrori, tell us now, for the record: between the two of you… who was the competent one here?”

Rrori swallowed, visibly shaking, his eyes downcast and his voice breaking as he replied, “C-Cadet Ostrow, Sir.” He swallowed again and added, more clearly, “Sir, I wish to publicly apologise for my behaviour and attitude to my Mission Commander. And my friend.”

“Duly noted,” T’Varik replied. “Cadet Rrori, normally your repeated acts of insubordination would result in expulsion. However, your past record, and your work in saving the Rising Star has been taken into account. As a result, your academic credits for the past month will be revoked, and a note will be placed on your record for the duration of your time in the Academy.”

“You strut about my ship boasting of your many redeeming qualities,” Hrelle concluded, still sounding sharp. “Perhaps you could use this time to develop some humility? It will serve you better than your charm and shiny coat. Sit down.”

“Yes, Sir.”

There was a pause, before T’Varik continued with, “Cadet Nancy Yeager, stand up.” As the girl complied, staring in their direction, the Vulcan continued. “Cadet, I endeavour to seek the positive aspects of a crewmate’s performance during a particular mission or exercise. I have yet to accomplish this in your case. Your performance, your words and your actions, are frankly appalling.”

Yeager stiffened. “Well, if you say so, Commander, I guess I’ll have to accept that. Youre supposed to be smart, after all.”

Hrelle looked up at her in disbelief. “Excuse me, Cadet?”

Now Kami intervened, her tone sympathetic but firm. “Nancy… for your own sake, you need to curb that attitude. Right now.”

T’Varik resumed talking. “We will not detail what you said to Mr Ostrow, but we would be interested in knowing if you would speak to Captain Hrelle or myself in the same way?”

“Of course not, Commander.”

“Oh?” Hrelle spoke up again. “And what have we done to earn your inestimable respect that Mr Ostrow didn’t?”

“You said it yourself, Sir: you earned your authority. You have the training and the experience. Cadet Ostrow had neither of these.”

“We were all novices once, Yeager. Expertise comes with experience. And just in case it wasn’t obvious before: you don’t get to pick and choose who your commanders are. Some shavetail straight out of the Academy deserves the same respect as a 30-year veteran.”

“Excuse me, Sir,” Jonas spoke up suddenly, rising to his feet. “May I please address Cadet Yeager directly on this matter?”

The Captain looked to Kami and T’Varik, before relenting. “Proceed.”

Jonas turned to face her, while she continued to face forward. “Nancy…”

When she refused to move, Hrelle growled, “Look at that man when he’s speaking with you! Show him some respect, for once!”

She obeyed, reluctantly, as Jonas continued. “You’re absolutely right. I should never have been put in a position of command. I had no formal training, no formal experience, and I know it was done to boost my confidence, or as a joke, or some other idiotic reason.

But the fact remains, I was in command, and I took responsibility for what happened. And if you’d just accepted that, you could have helped me tremendously: your engineering expertise, and especially your historical knowledge, would have been invaluable in convincing the Rising Star crew that we meant them no harm. And failing that, I could have at least used some insight towards finding an alternative solution to what I was doing, if there was any. I could have used anything but your insults and your attitude.” He sat down again.

“Well said, Cadet,” T’Varik noted, “Cadet Yeager, you are aware that your treatment of your Mission Commander was completely unacceptable. I was certain I had made myself quite clear when I addressed all of you on the subject of respecting each other. I was prepared to order your summary expulsion from Starfleet Academy.

However, I have been made aware of mitigating circumstances. Why did you really refuse to assist the Rising Star?”

Yeager pursed her lips. “Because it was a terrorist ship, crewed with members of an organisation responsible for the deaths of thousands of human beings, and well as Vulcans, Rigelians, Centaurians and Denoublians. They chose to operate outside the laws of civilised society. Therefore, they did not deserve treatment under those same laws.”

“These terrorist acts you speak of were committed more than two centuries ago.”

“I consider that immaterial, Commander. To help them now would be to insult the memories of their victims.”

“Their memories?” Kami spoke up. “Or your memories of Brian?”

Yeager bristled. “I don’t know who you mean-”

“Liar. For the purposes of this meeting I’ll elaborate: I mean Brian Yeager, your older brother, First Mate with the Merchant Fleet freighter SS Victoria. On Stardate 29157.45, they had been delivering goods to the planet Rutia IV, where a terrorist group was operating. He and several other crewmembers had been killed by a bomb planted by the group in a restaurant frequented by offworlders, as part of their plan to drive away extraplanetary business and harm the local government’s economy.” She looked up again. “You were twelve when he was killed.”

“Murdered,” Yeager corrected, her expression darkening. “He was murdered. And you have no right to reveal that information here-”

“The information is on public record, Cadet,” T’Varik reminded her.

“And given this, your attitude towards terrorists is perfectly understandable,” Kami added, not unsympathetically. “And something that should have been addressed more fully before now.”

“As for the occupants of the Rising Star,” Hrelle continued. “They consist of young people your own age, orphans of Maxim Golov’s own terrorist actions, taken in by his deception. They are as much victims as those who died.”

Yeager’s whole body went taut. “I… I was not aware of that at the time, Captain.”

“Does it matter, Cadet?” Hrelle rose to his feet and walked around the table to stand before her. “Whatever twisted motivations made people like Golov, Bin Laden, Colonel Green and others renounce civilised beliefs like law and justice and mercy, doesn’t mean we have to do the same. We’re meant to be better.

Think about what you did. You refused to provide aid to someone because of their political beliefs. Do you know how serious that is? How dangerous? Starfleet possesses an unbelievable amount of freedom and influence in the Alpha Quadrant, more than the Klingons, the Romulans, the Cardassians or Tholians or anyone else. Not because of our numbers, or our weapons, or our wealth, but because we consistently uphold the principles we espouse.

And among those principles is the equanimity we maintain, when we explore, we defend, we mediate, we cooperate… and when we offer aid to those in need, regardless of species, religion… and politics. We do not make moral judgements on who deserves or does not deserve that aid. We are not judges, juries and executioners.

The moment you sat there in that shuttle and smugly declared that those people, whom you could have helped save, should just die… you became Golov. You became bin Laden. You became Green. You became every terrorist who saw other people’s lives as having less value than your beliefs. You became no better.”

As he returned to his seat, T’Varik continued. “Your academic credits for the past three months are revoked, and there will be a written warning on your record for the duration of your time as a cadet. You will also attend additional sessions with the Counselor. And at some point in the near future, you will also publicly apologise to Mr Ostrow - and you will make that apology very convincing. Sit.”

Now T’Varik turned to Jonas, who rose again. “Mr Ostrow, I am usually the one required to quote Starfleet Regulations when instructing cadets on where they have gone wrong. Your report, however, has more than done the work for me. During the incident with the Rising Star, you violated Away Team Regulations 150.1, 155, 161, 166.2 and 168. You have also detailed numerous violations from the Starfleet Handbook on Personal Relationships, namely involving the sexual activity you engaged in with Colonel Dominika Bunina - so many violations, in fact, that I almost suspect you are boasting.”

There were titters from the cadets behind Jonas, as he reddened, still unable to believe he had been brave or crazy enough to include it in his report, and finally replied, “No, Commander, I wasn’t boasting.”

“Going to a strange vessel alone, unarmed, ordering others to accompany you? And having sex with a girl during a crisis?” Kami added, clearly amused, “I know you cadets admire the likes of James Kirk, but you have to know that half the stories they tell of him are just made up.”

“Yes, Counselor. But I want it on record that it was all true, that I take full responsibility for my actions, and am prepared to accept the consequences.” This was it, he told himself...

“That is very laudable,” Hrelle noted, looking up. “Almost too laudable. One might almost be tempted to think you were trying to get yourself expelled from Starfleet for some reason. On the other hand, we cannot ignore this, can we, Commander?” 

“No, Sir, we cannot. TVarik looked at Jonas again. “This report has detailed many deficiencies that we cannot overlook, Cadet Ostrow. You therefore leave us with no choice… but to put you on the Command track.”

Jonas blinked. “Maam?”

Hrelle smiled. “You detailed a number of Regulations, but you neglected to mention one more, Starfleet Directive 001: ‘Members of Starfleet will take any and all reasonable measures to preserve life, in whatever form it might take’. Thats one you upheld admirably. And we are very proud of you for that.”

“We’ve listened to your audio logs,” Kami offered, smiling. “And we’ve heard you this evening. You have the instincts of a natural leader. You just need the training to bring that out.”

“We have no intention of you changing your Primary Speciality,” T’Varik assured him. “But your Secondary. Your Medical scores are adequate, but they affect your superlative Engineering scores. You will perform much more significantly when you switch your Secondary Speciality to Command, effective immediately.”

His mouth opened, but then closed again when no words emerged.

“We know it’s late in your education,” Hrelle admitted, looking amused by his reaction, “But we’re certain you’ll catch up. Squad Leader Hrelle, Mr Ostrow is your new second-in-command; sorry, Neraxis.”

Behind Jonas, the Bolian grinned. “That’s okay, Sir, I found the classes boring anyway.”

“Good. Mr Ostrow, starting from tomorrow you’ll be taking Command courses instead of Medical, and you will attend the required briefings with the Squad Leaders, all of whom I’m sure will be more than happy to offer support - or, in the case of Mr Falok, who will find it immensely logical to do so.”

Beside Sasha, Giles Arrington grinned, while the Vulcan Falok merely nodded, accepting the amusement graciously without joining in.

“Now,” Hrelle concluded, “Before my wife reminds me not to overeat at the party: Dismissed.”

*

Alpha Squad had returned to their quarters to change for the planetside party, but Jonas had contrived an engagement elsewhere, eventually going to his quarters when he was sure they had already left and beamed down. He changed into his civilian clothes as he looked around the messy place, knowing who owned which discarded sock or underwear, staring at the place where he usually sat when they played cards or watched Fat Cat and Lil’ Kitten, remembered the times when they were drunk or full of snacks, making each other laugh until they were ready to pee themselves, or him falling asleep against Neraxis, her higher Bolian temperature a somnolent comfort.

He had held back from the others this final time to give himself an opportunity. An opportunity to pack his bags, hand in his resignation and make the break as quick and clean as possible. He could still do it, despite the incredible promise offered him tonight of training him in Command, a possibility he never imagined for himself. Until now.

He almost dismissed it as nothing more than a bribe to keep him around. 

And maybe it worked.

*

It was brighter on the surface than he expected; floodlights were set up around the wide clearing, music played in the background, and the colonists and Surefoot crew mingled with varying degrees of confidence, something Jonas was grateful to see.

“Ah, there you are.”

He turned, his nose already enticed by the smell of cooking foods, to see a long row of grills, covered in burgers, hot dogs, chicken, sausages, Caitian shuris kebabs, ribs, vegetable skewers and other things he couldn’t recognise. And behind it, expertly monitoring it all, was Captain Hrelle, dressed in baggy shorts and a T-shirt that sported the instructions IF FOUND RETURN TO KAMI. The Caitian wielded tongs and continued to work as he said, “Grab a plate or a napkin and a bun and get something. You must be starving.”

“Uh, yes, Sir.” As he complied, and others moved up with plates, being served by his commanding officer, Jonas asked, “Um, how did they get you to do this, Sir?”

“I volunteered. It’s relaxing work, I can sneak bites without the wife catching me, and the food is too tempting for the Rising Star crew to let their fear of my alien nature keep them away from me.”

Jonas smiled; Captain Hrelle was always more teddy bear than alien to him, but then he wasn’t one of the people here. As he held out a hot dog bun on a napkin, he said, “Thank you for the opportunity to try my hand at Command, Sir.”

“You are very welcome.”

“To be honest though, Sir, it feels like a bit of a bribe.”

Hrelle shrugged. “Of course it’s a bribe, a shameless one! That doesn’t mean you haven’t earned it. I have to admire the balls of someone who will admit to losing their virginity in an official report. The only other person I know to have done it is... me.”

“You, Sir?”

The Captain selected a hot dog and dropped it into the bun with the tongs. “I was not much older than you, an ensign on the USS Charleston, just six weeks out of the Academy. I had been the victim of a crime while on shore leave on Marcus II. It was a classic scam: a beautiful woman buys you a drink that shes drugged, takes you to a motel room, and when you wake up, you’ve been robbed of everything, and I do mean everything.

In my case, it was with a rather attractive Deltan female named Sundal. Well, she said that her name, it could have been anything. And she said that she was Deltan, but having since caught the scent of Deltans I know she was just a bald human. But she must have misjudged the level of sedative required to knock me out, because we were together for quite some time before I finally fell asleep, waking up later robbed of my credits, my communicator, and my clothes. I ended up naked and at the local law enforcement office, waiting for my supervisor from the Charleston to come collect me.”

Jonas had been tucking into his hot dog, but now stopped, swallowed and said, “God, no.” 

“God, yes. And when we returned to the ship she told me to complete an incident report, and ‘leave nothing out’. And in my naivete… I didn’t.

And so I ended up standing in front of my Captain, First Officer, and Chief of Security in the debriefing, each of them taking turns to read aloud parts of my very graphic account of Sundal’s body, her expertise with oral sex, the positions we engaged in, and the moments just before the sedative finally kicked in, which involved sticky dessert toppings in my fur.” He frowned with the memory. “Somehow the entire ship got wind of most of the details before I even left the debriefing.”

Jonas’ jaw had dropped. “That- That didn’t really happen, did it, Sir?”

“It did. On the plus side, however, I got a half-dozen requests for dates from some of the other ensigns onboard - and one rather fetching Lieutenant.” He smiled, stopping to turn over some chicken breasts.

A hand slapped Jonas’ back and led him away from the Captain and the food table. “There he is! Good work, Scrappy! I know we’d make something out of you eventually!”

He smiled politely at Neraxis - and at Sasha, who had accompanied the Bolian girl, adding, “Whatever he is, I think he made himself. And I thought we agreed to drop the nicknames.”

“What? He won’t mind.” She nudged Jonas. “You don’t mind, do you, Scrappy?”

“Of course not… Blue Balls.”

Neraxis looked at Sasha, then guffawed - stopping as Yeager strode up to them, ignoring the girls. “I’ve been ordered to publicly apologise to you, Ostrow. Consider this it. Can I go now?”

Sasha leaned forward. “Didn’t you learn a damn thing tonight, Nancy? About stowing the attitude?”

“Stay out of this, Hrelle.” 

“Excuse me? Do you know what happens if a Squad Leader puts you on report now-”

But then she stopped as Jonas held up a hand, never taking his eyes off Yeager, who asked, “Well? Is that it? Can I go now?”

He regarded her, before asking, “What was he like?”

“What? Who?”

“Your brother, Brian. What was he like?”

She glowered. “What the hell do you want to know that for?”

His expression remained open, sympathetic. “I grew up an only child; I always wanted an older brother. Someone to share a room with, play tricks on our Mom, get his hand-me-downs, go off on adventures.” He smiled now. “What was the favourite thing you used to do together? Come on, just one thing. Make me envious of what you had.”

Yeager stared at him, looking unsure if she would hit him, walk away, or both, before finally relenting, her voice and face softening, “Snow forts. Snow forts on the Titan polar caps. We’d bring extra oxygen tanks so we could stay longer outside, and pretend we were making raids on the Klingons at Rura Penthe, or fighting the snowbeasts on Rigel X.”

Her gaze momentarily locked onto something that wasn’t physically present. “Once… Once Brian made an explosive charge out of some discarded thalmerite at the Museum, and we set off an avalanche on the slopes that was detected in orbit. We were in so much trouble.” She smiled a little at that.  

Jonas nodded, grinning now. “That must have been awesome! And he must have been an amazing brother! You are so lucky!”

Grudgingly, she responded with, “Yeah. Yeah, I know. Thanks.”

“Listen… you don’t mind if we talk about him again sometime? Like I said, I’ve always been envious of anyone with a big brother. I’ve always felt like I’ve missed out on something special.”

“Yeah. Well, we’ll see.” Yeager looked more than a little confused as she moved away from the trio.

Neraxis looked to Jonas. “What was that?”

“That,” said Kami, stepping up behind them, smiling as she put a hand on Jonas’ shoulder. “Was a simply masterful bit of psychological de-escalation: making an emotional connection with a potential opponent, distracting them from their anger with positive memories while offering your own vulnerability to them as a sign of trust, and possibly bridging a new relationship between the two parties. How in the Seven Hells did you get so psychologically savvy?”

“I’ve spent enough time in your office, on the receiving end,” he quipped, noting she wore identical clothes to the Captain’s, only more form-fitting, and with the words I’M KAMI over her chest; only then did he understand the reasons behind what was written on Hrelle’s T-shirt.

“Mr Ostrow?”

He turned at the unfamiliar voice to see the Andorian Thykrill striding up, keeping an eye in the direction of the departing Yeager. “Was she bothering you?”

“What? You mean Nancy? No, Atiaro, she wasn’t. Why?”

The girl continued to glance at Yeager, as if not quite believing Jonas. “You let me know if she causes you any trouble, and I’ll deal with her.”

“Um… yeah, sure. Thanks.” He wasn’t sure what else he could say.

“Enjoy yourself, Mr Ostrow.” She offered Neraxis a dirty look as she departed as well.

“What the hell was that all about?” Sasha asked.

“She’s sucking up to Jonas,” Neraxis groused. “Now that he’s Alpha’s second in command.”

“No,” Eydiir corrected, having helped herself to a hamburger. “It is because Jonas publicly praised her father when we first arrived. That is a very great honour among Andorians, especially given her initial comments about him weeks ago. I believe he won her over.”

Just then the rest of Alpha Squad drew up, Kitirik immediately and shamelessly hugging Jonas. “Good Friend Jonas, I am so pleased with you! We all are!”

“Indeed,” Eydiir added, offering a rare smile. “And I will sleep better knowing we have a second in command who does not consider farting the Federation Anthem to be an acceptable skill.”

“Bite my ass,” Neraxis snarled.

“Thank you, no, I have seen your ass - and heard it. This burger is far more appetising.”

“Jonas…” Rrori stood uncharacteristically in the rear of the group, his tail drooping and his head bowed. “I am truly sorry for doubting your abilities on this mission. You were superb. I could not have done better myself.”

“That’s very true,” Jonas admitted, stifling a smile at his reaction. “Forget it, it’s done. So long as you don’t try matchmaking again. Whatever made you think I’d be interested in Nancy?”

The Caitian male furred brow creased. “Your reaction when you saw her… you were attracted to her-”

“So what? I’m attracted to a lot of women! I’m attracted to the Counselor, that doesn’t mean I’m gonna ask her out!” He stopped and glanced at Kami, who was still standing behind him, but now eating a hot dog. “No offence.”

“None taken.” She grinned, teasing him with, “Are you really attracted to me?”

He rolled his eyes. “Don’t pretend you didn’t know.”

“We have a problem,” Kit announced suddenly, drawing everyone’s attention as he elaborated. “We have no drinks. Forgive my bad language but I find this very unacceptable.”

“Hell, yeah!” Neraxis agreed. “This is my round. Jonas?”

He was looking around the crowd, but glanced back at her and replied distractedly, “Oh, uh, nothing for me just now, thanks.”

“Fine, what about the rest of you?”

Jonas tuned out of the conversation, checking out the crowd, not seeing Nika-

And then starting as Kami leaned in close. “She’s over that hill. They found out we had a database of movies released after they left Earth. I think they argued more about what to watch first than about what to do with Golov.”

He nodded. She was waiting for him. Now he looked at Kami. “Can I get your advice on something, Counselor?”

She smiled, finishing her hot dog and guiding him away from the others. “What is it?”

He breathed in. “How… How can I let a girl down about something without hurting her?”

Kami regarded him with a mix of emotions. “You probably can’t. Those emotions that take us to such dizzying peaks can plummet us to awful depths. Don’t look for magic words that will make her feel good about you not staying with her. There aren’t any. And… I suspect a part of her is expecting it already, and she’s already prepared herself.”

“Really?”

She nodded. “I have no doubt that if you went to her and told her you were quitting Starfleet to stay here, she would be over the moon with joy - if this planet had a moon - but somewhere in the back of her mind, she would have doubts if a decision made so relatively quickly is the right one. She’ll cry when you’re not around - and you’ll do the same - but it’s easier when you’re honest, gentle, understanding. That won’t be a problem for you.”

He nodded, smiling. “Thank you for that, Counselor. I’d best go see her.”

He started to move away, but she put a hand on his shoulder, drew him back, whispering, “Oh, and if you get tired of all these young cubs and are looking for an older woman, you know where to find me.” She winked mischievously at him.

He felt himself redden at her joke, and her touch, but quickly responded with, “My current girlfriend is 268 years old. You’re pretty much a cub, too.”

As he grinned and started away, she called after him, “Ooh, I definitely like the way you think!”

*

He saw the huge screen before he reached the top of the hill: it was set at the bottom of the slope, with speakers on either side, and people were sitting or reclining on blankets on the slope itself, looking up at a scene of a man in a battered leather jacket and fedora and carrying a bullwhip, leaping from hovercar to hovercar fighting robots as they raced across a brick-red desert, while exciting music played in the background.

“Jonas!”

He saw Nika on a blanket nearby, plates of food and bottles of drink nearby, and beckoned him closer. “Have you seen this one?”

He sat down beside her. “I don’t recognise it. What is it?”

Indiana Jones and the Pyramids of Mars. According to the database from your ship, it was released in 2115 after we left, and is the first movie filmed entirely on Mars. We all thought that we’d never see another one of these, that Earth will have been conquered or destroyed. They have a new actor playing Indiana, and he’s good, but he’s no Bruce Baxter. Do you watch movies?”

“Once or twice. As an art form it’s ebbed and waned over the centuries.”

“I loved them, especially adventures and thrillers. In them, there was always a couple who would meet during a crisis, work together, save each other’s lives, and at the end when the crisis was over, they would fall in love and live happily ever after. I always thought it was so romantic.” She looked wistful. “But I was a child then. Later I realised that we never see what happens to the couple afterwards, when the crisis has long since passed. Maybe they realised that the crisis was the only thing holding them together, and that was not enough for them.”

He reached out and took her hand. “Nika, I’m sorry, but I can’t stay with you. As much as I’m tempted, by it, and by you... it’s not the life I dreamed of for myself.”

She pulled out of his touch.

But then almost immediately returned it, squeezing desperately. “I know. And I’m glad.”

“You are?”

“After you left, after I made the offer, I feared you’d accept it.”

He was confused now. “Why?”

She looked up at Indiana punching a robot in the face. “Because, if you did accept it for the wrong reasons, and changed your mind later when it was too late, you would grow to resent me, hate me.” She looked at him. “When you think of me, I want it to be good thoughts.” A sly smiled appeared. “Maybe some dirty thoughts, too.”

“That’s pretty much guaranteed.”

She sighed. “So, for now we’ll forget that you’ll be leaving. I have never been on a date, Jonas Ostrow. This is our date: we will watch movies, eat and drink, make out on the blanket, and later we will spend the night together, making love until we are thoroughly exhausted, and not remind ourselves that your ship leaves tomorrow.”

He smiled. “I have never been on a date either, Dominika Bunina. Let’s make it one to remember.”

And they did.

*

Deck 1, Mess Hall, Stardate 36521.31:

“Hi, Jonas.”

He looked up from his PADD, only catching sight of the untouched sandwich on his plate, only then remembering that he had ordered it in the first place. The work he had taken on since accepting second in command of Alpha Squad had been distracting, but at least it helped keep him from snacking too much. “Hi, Soo.”

She stood on the other side of his table, carrying a tray. “Is this seat taken?”

He smiled, offering a welcoming hand, and watching as she sat down opposite. “How are the upgrades on the ventral sensors going?”

“Taking longer than expected. I think Chief Grev is inventing insults to throw at T’Varik for keeping you busy with Command training.” She grinned as she picked up her fork, twirling it into her spaghetti. “How is it?”

He pursed his lips. “A lot of paperwork. No paper, of course, but a lot of work. And the thing is, you can't even just automate it, because they put in safeguards to ensure you’ve read and understood it all. And the regulations are so intricate. Did you know that there are additional Health and Safety regulations for the care and maintenance of toilets in accommodations that serve Bolians? Because of their corrosive biochemistry?”

She held up her fork, now spooled with pasta sauce-painted spaghetti. “No, and for the sake of my appetite, don’t go into any more detail.” She pointed the fork at his plate. “You should eat, Mission Commander.”

He smiled, reluctantly putting down his PADD and lifting up one half of his sandwich. For a few moments they ate in silence, before he said, “I heard you and Rrori broke up.”

“Rrori is devoting his free time to catching up with the credits he lost. He felt it was best if I wasn’t kept pining for his attentions at this time.”

“And how do you feel?”

She shrugged. “I think it’s for the best. He has a lot of charm, but I have a feeling I would always be fighting for some time in front of the mirror.” She smiled now. “Have you heard from Nika lately?”

He took a bite of his sandwich to avoid answering right away. It had been two weeks since the Surefoot had left Sigma Lambda II, and he’d messaged her and she messaged back… and somehow they had come to a mutual agreement that, however special and rewarding their short time had been together, it wasn’t something that was strong enough to be kept alive via subspace messages. “We decided it was best not to keep up any expectations, especially with all the work each of us has ahead of us.”

“Oh. I’m sorry to hear that.”

Now it was his turn to shrug. “I’m not. If we were still together, I’d feel guilty about asking you out.

The Rigelian blinked. “Pardon?”

“This Saturday is First Contact Day, there’s gonna be a party, and in the spirit of interspecies cooperation spawned by that historic event, I thought I’d ask if you’d accompany me. I dance like a drunken Rectyne Monopod, but I’ll try not to step on your toes.” He smiled. “Well? What do you say?”

“Would it crush you if I said No?”

His smile wavered. “A little. But I’d get over it.”

“Then it’s a good thing I’m saying Yes.”

His smile blossomed.



THE ADVENTURES OF THE SUREFOOT WILL CONTINUE IN… 



THE FAST AND THE FURRIEST

5 comments:

  1. This was a fantastic read! I stayed up till 2 in the morning just to finish it.

    I have to say I'm happy to see Jonas becoming more confident in himself. It's been nice to see his character grow into the man he is now.

    I'll admit, while all true, I did feel a bit bad for Rrori during the hearing. While in hindsight he deserved it, the poor guy was just trying to help lol.

    Also, I'm glad to see Essek finally heal those scars and his claws and tail. I always kind of felt he was purposely holding off on doing so in prevention from letting himself be happy, like he felt he needed to be reminded of his painful past. Now if he could just find a way to get Kami and Ling off his back concerning his diet he'd be set lol.

    Once again, excellent work! I can't wait to see what happens next!

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    1. Thanks! I'm glad to see Jonas evolve as well. Funny how he started off in my eyes as a minor character, even a bit of a joke, but then grew and caught my writer's attention to the point where I started focusing on him.

      Rrori was always meant to be more well-meaning but condescending than nasty like Nancy had been, so I looked back and wondered if I had been too harsh at the debriefing, but in retrospect the grown-ups did it to make an example of how Jonas was meant to be treated, as well as a bit of an ego-deflating session for Rrori.

      And it never occurred to me that Esek might not want to be happy, as a reason for his not getting healed before now - thanks!

      And thanks again for reading and commenting! My brain might even rest of a day or so before starting up again LOL

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  2. An excellent conclusion to an awesome story! It is definitely great to see Jonas becoming more of a man, for lack of a better phrase. He not only grew more confident in himself and his abilities, he grew out of the shell he'd surrounded himself with. It's always rewarding to see characters grow as people.

    The Rising Star having people on in instead of being a wreck was an incredible twist. It gave a couple of our favorite cadets a unique challenge to overcome. It was, in a way, a First Contact situation, and Jonas handled it remarkably. Figures, though, that Gorlev wasn't actually on the ship - cowards like him prefer to use pawns than actually get their own hands dirty. It was his absence, probably, that allowed the kids that followed him to finally see him for who he really was. They needed that if they were ever going to move their minds out of that terrorist propaganda.

    Nancy is still a bitch, and I still don't like her, but good on Jonas for finding a way to make peace. Again, excellent story.

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    1. Thanks for reading and commenting so quickly and eloquently!

      This was a difficult story to write, paartly because I wasn't sure what Jonas wanted to do with himself. At times I felt like he was a relative and I was trying to talk him into staying in Starfleet. Really! I had made the prospect of staying on the planet with Nika so tempting I was almost convinced he should stay LOL

      Golov's fate went through many, many changes; it was this as much as Real Life Events which delayed me getting it finished. I had Golov dead in transit. I had him dead at Nika's hand. I had him dead at Hrelle's hand to save the kids. This final fate seemed the most realistic, like you pointed out, but was still enough of a jolt for the kids to realise his true nature.

      Yes, Nancy is still a bitch, I didn't think I could realistically redeem her by the end of the story, but I'm glad Jonas made an effort to reach her (or at least trick her into reaching back). And yes, he did come up with that himself, I was planning on having him verbally insult her at the party.

      Once again, thanks for reading and commenting - now to return the favour and give my brain a rest :-)

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    2. I look forward to your opinions on more of my stories!

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