Author: Brendan Chris
Gell Gallium practically flew out of bed, slapping the cut-off button on his alarm. Crap, that thing must have been beeping for over a minute! His roommate was going to be…wait. He didn’t have a roommate anymore! He could let his alarm ring as long as he wanted and nobody would give a damn! YES!
Gallium, along with the rest of the Antares Sector junior-classmen, had been assigned his very own room in Fort Pike this semester. They still had half a week before classes (and SNAP) were scheduled to start, and Gallium was enjoying the chance to relax, settle back in and get himself ready for another Academy semester.
Pulling on a snug-fitting spandex shirt and a pair of biker’s shorts, Gallium threw water on his blue-skinned face and stepped into the corridor, ready to grab his bike and head out for a nice morning workout. As he headed towards the storage room he passed Veksai. The older cadet was shuffling towards the bathroom, rubbing the sleep from his eyes. Seeing Gallium standing there, blue-skinned and spandex-clad he shook his head.
“My sister was right,” he muttered, resuming his trek towards the facilities, “The Smurfs really are gay. It’s cool. Consenting Smurfs and all that.”
“I have a girlfriend!” Gallium said to Veksai’s back. Veksai just gave a half-wave, belched, and disappeared into the washroom. Shrugging, Gallium went to get his bike.
Pedalling towards the Academy landing fields Gallium was struck again by just how great it was to be back. The Academy grounds were lush and green, reflecting gardener Boothby’s1 hard work. The trees, the grassy sports fields and the carefully landscaped gardens in front of many of the gleaming buildings…even the buildings themselves, combined to give the Academy an almost park-like setting. At the moment the campus felt nearly deserted, as only Gallium and a few others were up and about.
As he pedaled up the carefully manicured lanes, taking a hard turn in front of the Spock Library followed by a sprint towards the Athletics Center, Galliam couldn’t help but feel like he knew the place like the back of his hand. Over there was the brand-new Fort Hillier. Antares sector would have been living in that building this year, except that the planned renovations on Fort Pike had been pushed back again. As he passed the stone-and-glass building he turned onto a street that would lead him towards the waterfront.
This was HIS campus now, Gallium realized. He’d lived here for a year and while it didn’t feel like home, there was still a sense of ownership. And it really was good to be back.
When Gallium returned to Fort Pike he found Veksai lounging in the corridor with Igor, Fastocheni and mid-classman Junethec. Junethec was SNAP staff this semester, along with mid-classmen T’Henki, Larashentali and Meltan. Senior-classmen Graveti, a burly human of Irish descent, was the new Brute Squad Leader. The five of them had returned to the Academy a week early to prepare for the arrival of the new Brute Squad cadets.
“We found a new sound system for morning reveille,” Junethec was saying.
“Which explains why we’re all standing around a pair of very, very big speakers. Veksai said dryly. Speakers? Oh, yup! There they were! Gallium had seen sound systems like that before…usually in dance clubs.
“Check this out,” Junethec hit the activation button.
‘ooooooooooooom Do’! paaaaarHaaaaaaaa’ ech maaS! SoooooooooooooH choooooooH laaaaaaH!!
The junior-classmen winced, covering their ears as the traditional Academy wake-up song burst out, louder than ever before.
“Ohhh, that brings back memories,” Fast groaned.
“At least somebody else has to deal with this crap this year!” Veksai shouted.
“If it’s this loud, the whole campus is going to have to deal with it!” Igor yelled.
“Dude! These things are only at, like ten percent!” Junethec laughed. He reached for the dial.
“NOOOO!” Igor cried, reaching for Junethec’s hand.
The music reached even higher levels. Doors were opening, confused cadets were shouting into the halls, hands over their ears, antennae or other auditory organs. Bits of plaster started falling from the ceiling and a large crack formed above Junethec’s door. His tail swishing in agitation, the Squethian cadet quickly hit the cut-off button.
“Gonna have to watch the levels on this, huh?” he asked.
Up and down the hall there were angry grumbles and the closing of doors.
“It’s so good to be home,” Veksai grumbled, one greenish finger still plugged into one ear.
“Home? You’re kidding, right?” Igor said.
“Why would I be kidding?” Veksai asked, removing the finger and wiping his hands on his pants, “We live here, don’t we?”
“Man, my home isn’t even on this planet!” Junethec said.
“And yet,” Fast pointed out, “Your English sounds exactly like a human teenager’s,”
“Hey man, I’ve been practicing! Dude! “ the alien pointed out indignantly.
“Anyway, I’ve lived here for a year now,” Veksai continued, “I mean, I’ve lived in apartments for less time than that. It’s been years since I lived at my parents’ place. Wherever I live, it’s home.”
“That’s sort of depressing,” Gallium said.
“What?” Veksai looked surprised, “Why?”
“Well, if you think about it, it sort of says that you’re just not getting attached to the places you live anymore.” Gallium said.
“I think you should stop playing psycho-analyst.” Veksai said.
“I think you’re nuts,” Igor told him flatly.
“Maybe one day, when you’re older, you’ll understand,” Veksai said, patting Igor’s shoulder and trying to sound as condescending as humanly possible.
“I hate it when he does that,” Igor grumbled as Veksai walked away.
“He knows,” Fast smiled.
Gallium returned to his room, peeled off his spandex and grabbed a towel, intent on a cool shower. He walked quickly down the second-story corridor of Fort Pike towards the washrooms, trying to ignore the horrible smell. The washrooms had to be the most run-down part of the building. No matter how hard they tried to clean them there were always water stains, cracked tiles and problems with the plumbing. Case in point, one of the showers was on the fritz, spraying water in all directions and leaving the floor nice and slick. As Gallium moved towards an empty stall he heard a voice. A wheezing, airy voice, like nothing he’d ever heard before.
Kumari lay on her bed, trying to decide whether she should get up and do something constructive or just enjoy the opportunity to take a nice, peaceful nap.
“What the…” Kumari jumped. Somebody was screaming! Bolting from her room, she ran towards the source of the sound. She rushed through a door, not bothering to read the sign.
Bahred was in his room, packing away some of his gear. Was that a scream?
Another scream, this one high-pitched, female.
“Kumari!” Bahred shouted, bolting from his room and into the corridor.
Bahred skidded into the male washroom.
A few seconds earlier…
“AHHHH!!” Gallium screamed. He spun towards the source of the sound, slipping on the slick flood and falling on his blue ass with a loud THUD. Filling the men’s bathtub was a monstrous pile of moist, mossy green fluff.
Before he could say anything, Kumari burst into the room. Confronted with the sight of the mould-pile to her left and Gallium’s naked body sprawled out to her right, she did the only sensible thing.
“AHHHHHH!!” she screamed.
“AHHHHHH!!” Gallium rushed to cover his genitals.
“STOP…SHOUTING!” the mould-pile wheezed.
Bahred skidded into the room.
“HOLY CRAP!” he said, “Didn’t anybody tell you this is the MALE’S room?” he said to Kumari.
“I heard shouting!” Kumari snapped.
“Um, could somebody help me up?” Gallium gasped, “And by the way…THERE’S A MONSTER IN THE BATHTUB!”
“That’s Roger,” Bahred said, “He lives in the bathtub now. Didn’t you get the memo?”
“Memo? How can you have a memo on a frickin’ MOULD MONSTER!!”
“I…am…Roger…” the mould pile breathed.
“Men,” Kumari muttered, turning back to the door, “Never mind me, I just raced to help you out! Feel free to just ignore me, or whatever.”
“They brought in a decontamination team over the summer,” Bahred said, “But the mould…um, Roger, had been growing for weeks after we left. They figure there was probably some kind of alien fungus in there…maybe Andorian athlete’s foot or something. Anyway, if he’s sentient we can’t exterminate him. So he’s living here now,”
“Um…right,” Gallium said slowly. Hmm. Now that he knew the story, he was much less creeped out than he would have expected. Apparently, a year at the Academy living with dozens of alien species was having an effect on him. Still…
“How am I supposed to take a shower if he’s just sitting there…watching me?” Gallium asked.
“Dude, he doesn’t have any eyes!”
As their second year kicked into gear the Antares Sector juniors quickly noticed…well, except for Baxter, who isn’t bright enough to notice a sunny day. Um, OK. We got distracted there. Anyway, the juniors quickly noticed compared to first year, the official start of second year was a breeze. Class schedules were posted, textbook padds were signed out, briefings were held and duties assigned.
It was during a briefing with the Director of Cadets (the DirKat) that things were summed up:
“It’s great to be a junior-classman,” the DirKat had said. Well, he said a LOT of stuff, but Gallium’s brain condensed things to a few simple points. “Junior-classmen have a great ride. You’re not lowers anymore, so you don’t have the entire Academy keeping you under a microscope. You’re also not mid or senior classmen, so you don’t really have any responsibilities either. Stay out of trouble, focus on your studies, and your junior year will be your easiest year here.”
As the entire junior class, the Class of 62000, shuffled out of the auditorium Gallium realized that what the DirKat had said explained a lot. They’d hardly seen Buhras, Junethec, Nowal or the other Sector pipmen2. The pipmen, by the way, were the Academy cadets who had earned leadership positions, either in their own Sectors or for the Academy as a whole. The Team Leaders, Sector Leaders, Sector Administrators and the Cadet Executive Officer were all pipmen. The name came from the small, round silver pips these cadets wore to identify them as such. Of course, these pips were worthless compared to the gold rank pips worn by commissioned officers, but as far as the cadets of the Academy were concerned, anybody wearing the silver pips was to be obeyed.
But Gallium had seen very few pipmen so far, aside from his own Team Leader, senior-classman Z’man. Everybody else, he now understood, was far too busy getting SNAP up and running for the new class of lower-classmen. It was so simple! Everybody was so fixated on SNAP and the lowers, they simply didn’t have time to worry about the juniors!
This year was going to be great!
Later that evening, Gallium found several Antares cadets crowded around the sealed doors leading to the Brute Squad hallway. Veksai and Fast were standing a few steps away while Quartermain and Bizkit had their ears pressed against the door panels. Igor and M’kr’gr stood nearby.
“Can you hear anything?” M’Kr’gr demanded.
“Graveti just called them to attention,” Bizkit said, “He’s saying something to them…but I can’t really make it out. Oh! He’s making them do push-ups now!”
The ‘them’ in question, was Brute Squad. The new Brute Squad. Brute Squad 59000, one might say, if the current junior-classmen were considered Brute Squad 58000. Twenty brand new cadets, so fresh off the streets that they had just today put on their uniforms for the first time.
“I remember being in their position,” Veksai said wistfully, “I hope it never happens again.”
“Yeah,” Quarterman drawled, “Their lives are going to royally suck for the next month,”
“Five weeks,” Gallium corrected, “They extended SNAP this year,”
Trust Gallium to be up on the latest Academy scuttlebutt.
“Ohh…that really sucks for them,” Fast said.
“You think that sucks?” Bizkit asked, ear still pressed to the door, “Now Junethec is giving them their room standards!”
“Did we get our new room standards3, by the way?” Veksai asked.
“We did,” Gallium nodded. He started counting on one hand. “There’s a chart for hanging the uniforms in your closet. Beds have to be made. Keep that little shelf next to the sink empty, and keep everything clear. Oh, and your boots and shoes have to be arranged in order on the bottom closet shelf.”
The other juniors stared at him expectantly.
“And?” Igor demanded.
“No, that’s it.” Gallium shrugged.
“What do you mean that is it?” M’kr’gr demanded, “Do we not have to arrange the drawers? Set out specific equipment items? Ensure that the window shade is exactly forty-five centimetres from the window ledge?”
“Nope. We’re juniors now, and we’re in the shittiest building on campus. They’re cutting us some slack.”
“Awesome,” Quarterman giggled.
“They’re sure not cutting the lowers any slack,” Bizkit said, “They’ve got the same standard we had last year! Oh, they’re showing them how to iron now! Fifty credits says somebody burns themself!”
“Sucks to be them,” Veksai shrugged.
“I wonder when we get to feed them?” Bizkit wondered, “I’m gonna take them so much food!”
“Second week,” Veksai said, “Graveti wants to give them some time to get miserable first. Says they’ll appreciate it more that way,”
“Ohh, I wonder when we’ll get to see them?” Quarterman wondered, “I bet there’re a few hotties!”
“Hands off the lowers,” Veksai winced, “that’s just so…low-class. No pun intended. “
“Hey, just because you’re like ten years older than most of them…”
“Not to mention that I have standards,” Veksai added dryly.
As it turned out, they saw the new lower-classmen the next morning.
Veksai, Malespere, Bahred, Kumari and M’kr’gr were seated in the lower/junior dining hall enjoying a leisurely breakfast. Malespere had just been talking about Red Squad, no big surprise.
“I’m not joining Red Squad again this year,” Malespere said. OK, that part was surprising.
“Really?” Kumari asked, “Why not?”
“Takes up too much time,” Malespere admitted, “I gotta focus on my studies, y’know? Plus, M’Kr’gr and I have this idea for a band…”
“And the fact that Red Squad lost the Solarious competition for the first time in five years last year has nothing to do with it?” Veksai pointed out, rather snidely.
“Hey, f**k you, man!” Malespere snapped, “If the Romulans hadn’t sent two teams in-“
Before Malespere’s rant could start, the front doors to the dining hall slammed open and a loud voice rang in.
“ARMS AT YOUR SIDES! EYES FRONT! DO NOT LOOK AROUND!”
“OMIGOD!” Kumari giggled, “Here they come!”
“Lower classmen!” Veksai grinned.
It wasn’t Brute Squad. Judging from the Andorian mid-classman doing the screaming it was Decker Squad, part of Rigel Sector.
“Oh my God,” Bahred gasped, turning in his seat to look.
They marched into the dining hall in a single file line. Twenty cadets of various races and genders. Humans made up the majority as usual, but there were Andorians, Rigellians, Tellarites, Vulcans, Bajorans and others. Their arms, tentacles or etc were held rigidly against their bodies, and their eyes were pointed straight ahead. Their jumpsuit-style Academy uniforms were fresh from the replicator and lacked the distinctive gold-and-silver comm-badge that would one day mark them as full members of the Academy.
What had startled Bahred however were the expressions on their faces. Grim faced with heads freshly shaven, they looked incredibly young, incredibly unhappy and in a few cases, incredibly scared. Even as Decker Squad finished filing into the dining hall and started filling their trays, M’Kr’gr spotted Terran Sector’s Archer Squad filing in after them.
“Look at them,” Bahred said softly, “They look so sad. It’s like their entire world has just been ripped apart,”
“It has been,” Kumari said, shuddering slightly as she remembered their first few days of SNAP.
“That was us a year ago,” Veksai mused, “Wow. I knew we were miserable…I just didn’t realize just how much it showed,”
They watched in silence as more lower-classmen filed in. Soon mid-classmen T’Henki marched stiffly into the dining hall.
“This way, Brute Squad,” she snapped. The emotionless Vulcan voice wasn’t well suited for yelling, however Vulcans were masters of condescension and T’Henki was taking full advantage of that fact. “Eyes forward. Do not speak.”
“There they are!” Kumari perked up.
The former Brute Squad cadets were riveted to the door as the current Brute Squad marched in. These were the cadets that in a matter of weeks would be the newest members of Antares Sector. They had the same youthful features, the same scared expressions as the rest of the lowerclassmen. Well, there was a Klingon cadet who didn’t look all that scared, and a Vulcan cadet who looked more annoyed with what he probably considered to be the foolish traditions of several overly emotional races, but they were by far the exceptions. There was an incredibly tall Lemnorian girl, a Bolian boy who looked taller and broader then Gallium and even a greenish boy with black hair who might have shared the same mixed ancestry as Veksai. None of the lower classmen wore nametags and if weren’t for T’Henki, now joined by Meltran, there would have been no way to distinguish this new Brute Squad from the rest of the lower-classmen. As they watched it was hard to explain, or even for some of the junior-classmen to fully realize, but there was already a sense of connection to the nameless cadets walking past them. These cadets, even now, were enduring the same trials and challenges that they themselves had undergone a year ago. Soon, sooner than the lowers even realized, they’d be watching them take on the Survival Challenge.
During his own SNAP Veksai had never understood why the junior classmen would go to the bother of sneaking into the Brute Squad hallway late at night and offering food, advice and even reassurance to a pack of pathetic lower-classmen. Yet now, as he watched this new group come in, he felt a nagging sense of protectiveness.
“I’m SO glad I’m, like, not in their shoes right now,” Kumari said.
“Ohh yeah,” the rest agreed.
As SNAP kicked into gear, the change in atmosphere at the Academy didn’t come on gradually. It hit like a tidal wave.
Bahred and Gallium were biking around the campus early one morning, intent on getting in a decent workout before starting their day. No sooner had they left the vicinity of Fort Pike then they found themselves surrounded.
To their left on one of the sports fields, a group of SNAP cadets was doing circuit training. Alternating between push-ups, pull-ups, sit-ups and dips, the new lower-classmen were already sweating and wheezing while the SNAP staff working with them was just beginning to breathe hard. To their right, the Veltran Sector lowers were in the midst of a cool-down, their red and grey athletic gear drenched in sweat. As Gallium and Bahred watched, one of the Team Leaders started shouting:
“You’ve got twelve minutes to be showered, changed and ready for inspection!” she screamed. The cadets started moving towards their building, but it was a sluggish, listless movement. You can bet that if Gallium and Bahred noticed it, so did the staff, leading to a fresh round of yelling and a firm promise that if they didn’t shape up, there’d be hell to pay.
Gallium found himself wincing at the sounds of the orders, subtly-veiled threats and not-so-subtly veiled insults. The scene was identical to the one he’d experienced during his first few weeks at the Academy, yet here he was, looking on from the outside in.
“Man, this place has gone nuts!” Bahred said as he and Gallium stopped at an intersection to let a squad of lowers run by.
“I know! It’s awesome!”
The remainder of the week passed without major incident. T’Henki, Meltran and Junethec continued running the new Brute Squad through the ringer, though the majority of the SNAP-related activities took place in the Brute Squad hallway, out of sight of the rest of the Sector. The new SNAP staff couldn’t step foot in the rest of the building without somebody asking ‘How are the new lowers?’, ‘Are the lowers in decent shape?’ or ‘How many piles of s**t did they add to the Sector this year?’
Fastocheni commented on as much as he sat in the dining hall. Veksai, Igor and Gallium had arrived shortly after him, finding him seated with several cadets from the fencing team.
“You know,” somebody had said, “When they told us last year that the entire Academy was watching us, I thought they were just trying to scare us,”
“Oh, they were completely correct,” Fast said seriously, “I haven’t heard anybody talk about anything else all week. And we’re already halfway through the second week!”
“I don’t remember the time passing so quickly last year, do you?” Veksai asked, scratching his head, “I don’t know why. I’ve had such a relaxed week it’s not even funny,”
“What, your classes are that easy?” Igor asked, “Cuz mine aren’t!”
“Nooo,” Veksai said slowly, “It’s just that…there really isn’t much homework yet. Intramurals haven’t started. I’ve actually had time to head into town and relax after classes a couple times this week,”
“Oh hey, congrats on getting pips, by the way,” Gallium said.
“Thanks,” Veksai grinned. He was sporting a small pair of silver pips on his uniform collar, “They decided to make me Sector Technology Officer. Can’t imagine why.”
“I thought junior-classmen weren’t allowed to get pips,” one of the other cadets said.
“Just for STO, they are,” Veksai shrugged.
Veksai’s head was suddenly knocked forward, spilling his drink as something hit him from behind.
“Oops, sorry man,” Dylan Baxter said, trying to manoeuvre his stocky self around the chairs without causing further damage, “Hey, are you still up for feeding the lowers tonight?”
“For sure,” Veksai said, hunting for a napkin, “And I’m fine, thanks.”
“Cool. I’ve got a hover-car here this year, so we’ll get them something good. None of the crap from the replicator.”
Senior-classmen Graveti sat back in his room, enjoying the momentary peace and quiet. As the Squad Leader for SNAP he’d been back at the Academy a week before most of the cadets, working with his new SNAP team to get everything prepared for the new lower-classmen. And once they’d arrived his entire days had become blurs of workouts, inspections, classes, sports and coming up with creative ways to keep the lower classmen hard at work.
People thought SNAP was tough. Ha! They should try being SNAP staff!
At the sound of his door chime, Graveti straightened up behind his desk.
The panels swished open, revealing junior-classmen Malespere and M’kr’gr. Graveti barely glanced at Malespere. While he’d shown himself to be a skilled and driven cadet last year, it was M’kr’gr that always managed to draw the attention. With his green scales, blood-red eyes, sharp fangs and sheathed claws, M’kr’gr somehow managed to make everybody in the room turn and go ‘Oh shit!’. Except of course for the people that knew him. Those people were simply surprised that he’d left the gym for any period of time.
“Hey guys,” Graveti said casually, “I’ve got a job for you two.”
“A job?” Malespere perked up, “Something to do with the lower-classmen?”
“Yup. You remember Hell Night last year?”
“You refer,” M’kr’gr growled, “To the night where the junior classmen stormed into our hallway, did an inspection, yelled a great deal and then allowed us to watch a movie?”
“That’s it, yeah. I want you two to put together this year’s Hell Night. You’ve got just over two weeks,”
“We’re on it,” Malespere said immediately, “And dude, we can totally come up with something better than an inspection!”
“Just remember,” Graveti warned, “They’ve got to work for their movie, and they’ve still got to follow the SNAP rules. No leaving campus, no civilian cloths, all that sort of thing.
“No problem,” Malespere nodded. He grabbed M’kr’gr by the arm, “C’mon, big guy,”
Later that night, close to midnight, Veksai and Gallium found themselves in Baxter’s hover-car, clinging to the seat harnesses for dear life.
“Hey, I’m driving here!” Baxter shouted, slamming one hand down on the horn while swerving around a completely stationary street-light/airlane marker, “Get out of my way!”
“It can’t-“ Gallium started, but Veksai slapped a hand over his mouth.
“Don’t distract him,” Veksai said between clenched teeth.
“WHOOO-HOOOO!!!” Baxter cried out, pulling the car into a barrel-roll as he pulled off the main traffic route. Straightening out of the roll, the slammed the car to a halt and brought it down for a rough landing in the parking lot of a McBaughb’s restaurant.
Veksai and Gallium both spilled out the side door, Veksai turning an emerald shade of green while Gallium stumbled to the ground.
“Remind me why we came with Baxter?” Veksai groaned.
“I thought you knew,” Gallium gasped.
“Hurry up and get the food, guys!” Baxter called from the pilot seat, “And make sure they leave the chunks in the water this time!”
“I thought we were supposed to be making the lower-classmen feel a bit better, not poisoning them with Andorian food,” Gallium said.
“Apparently lots of kids nowadays like Andorian,” Veksai shrugged.
They quickly ordered twenty McSpleen Burgers to go, then climbed nervously into Baxter’s hover-car.
“Here we go!’ Baxter giggled, hitting the throttle and sending the car spiralling into the air.
Fifteen minutes and six traffic violations later they were back at the Academy. Returning to Fort Pike, Veksai, Baxter and Gallium snuck carefully into the Brute Squad hallway. The lights were out, except for the blinking warning lights around the hole in the floor. (The hole was halfway repaired, at least.) They passed the staff quarters then found themselves facing a row of doors with two information sheets on them. Their old quarters, actually. Each had a photo of the cadet in residence, the cadet’s name, class schedule and species.
“Do either of you guys smell…pizza?” he whispered.
Just then, one of the doors opened, revealing Bizkit and Quarterman, each holding a nearly empty pizza box.
“Oh good. We’re running out of pizza,” Bizkit whispered, “Get those last two rooms over there, would you/”
Frowning, Veksai moved off to comply. As he did, he bumped into something wet and slimy.
“I…brought…chocolate,” Kodene said softly. The towing Velvattian was gripping thick slabs of chocolate in several of its tentacles.
“You big old softy, you,” Veksai said, looking down to see how much slime was on his shirt. Of course, the corridor being pitch black, he couldn’t see anything.
He snuck into the room and gently shook the two lower-classmen sleeping there. Neither of them really said anything, just grunting in confusion, then eating the offered burgers. No sooner had they swallowed the last bite than they passed out again.
“Well,” Veksai muttered, “That was…anticlimatic,”
“Am I too late?” another whispered voice, Derok’s from the sounds of it, “I brought donuts,”
Ten minutes later, they were gathered in the Fort Pike lounge.
“Well, that worked out great!” Quarterman was saying loudly, her voice dripping with sarcasm.
“Tell me about it,” Veksai said, “A year in the Fleet, and we can’t even co-ordinate a lower-classmen feeding?”
“What are we going to do with all this food?” Quarterman went on.
By the time the last of the junior-classmen had shown up, the lower-classmen had already been woken at least twice, and weren’t able to eat anything else. They just wanted to sleep. And so the juniors found themselves left with over a dozen spleen burgers, a box of donuts, half a pizza, two mammoth chocolate bars, two dozen cookies and a Steak on a Stick(tm).
“Time to chow down!” Baxter said, grabbing a spleen burger in each hand.
“You pig,” Quarterman said, curling her lip.
“You love me anyway, babe,” Baxter said through a mouthful of food.
“That’s just gross,” Bizkit said.
Despite serious cases of indigestion, everybody involved in the great lower-classmen feeding fiasco was formed up with the rest of the Antares Sector cadets the next morning, minus the lowers. As the cadets stood, shivering a bit in the chilly morning air, Sector Leader Buhras waited calmly, a broad grin on her face as her Team Leaders took attendance.
“Igor…here. Drain, here. Adeth, here. Nuhville…absent.”
“Big surprise,” Igor muttered to Veksai.
“He’s probably sleeping somewhere,” Veksai replied, holding his stomach and belching, “When he was my roommate, it didn’t matter what time I walked into the room…he was always asleep.”
“Didn’t he have classes?”
“All right everybody,” Buhras was saying, “Some points for today. Make sure you sign up for your intramural teams…a couple of you still have to finalize your course schedules. Um, the USS Intrepid is going to be landing on the Academy grounds for some kind of open house thing later this month. Oh, and whoever keeps leaving dead rats and skunks in front of Fort Xixix, the Andorians living there want to thank you, but everybody else in the building would like you to stop.”
“That wasn’t any of us,” mid-classman Adeth said, his green scales and bright red hair standing out in the early morning gloom.
“Which were we?” Vexnar, newly appointed Antares Sector Training Officer, demanded.
“We painted the Starfleet logo on the Federation University baseball diamond,” Adeth said.
“Right before their homecoming came was broadcast on quadrant-wide holovision,” mid-classmen O’Denth added, “But we honestly didn’t know that was going to happen.
Buhras rolled her eyes.
“Whatever. Don’t do it again. Ok, more points…um, if you’re going to take the lowers out skylarking4, make sure nothing is damaged…”
As she went on, Baxter turned to Kodene.
“I wish I’d thought of that!”
“Hey,” Quarterman whispered, leaning forward slightly in the ranks, “Are we still taking the lowers out tonight,”
“Yeah,” Baxter whispered back, “Where do you wanna take them?”
“I dunno. O’Ryan’s?”
“You kidding? The place is crawling with higher-years!”
Sneaking the lower-classmen out to pull pranks on other Sectors was a long-standing Academy tradition. They’d sneak into the other Sector buildings, snag a mascot, seal doors shut or program the replicators to start spewing shaving cream. Or, they’d hang broad banners across the streets running through the Academy. (There was also a statue of James Kirk in one of the gardens that found itself dressed as a pirate, a Klingon or a woman at least three times a week.)
But Veksai suddenly realized they weren’t just taking about taking some of the lowers out for a bit of on-campus pranking. They were taking them into the city. The SNAP staff didn’t care if the juniors were feeding the lowers, or taking them out on skylarks, or even filling them in on all the staff’s dirty laundry. It was expected. But taking lowers off campus was strictly forbidden.
“Are you guys sure that’s such a good idea?” Veksai muttered.
“Don’t be a downer!” Baxter dismissed him with a wave, “It’ll all be good!”
Two days later, Malespere and M’Kr’gr were meeting to plan out the lower-classmen Hell Night. Despite the name, Hell Night was more about introducing the junior-classmen and the lower-classmen than actually causing hell for anybody. It was a system that had endured for hundreds of years: The lower-classmen were at the bottom of the food chain. The senior-classmen were getting ready to graduate, and really could care less about the lowers. The mid-classmen, which included the SNAP staff, were just starting to shoulder the responsibilities of running the Academy Sectors and were more concerned with whipping the lower-classmen into shape than in talking to them socially. With the junior-classmen relatively unoccupied and with their own lower year fresh in their memories, they naturally held the most empathy towards the lowers. Hence the feeding, the skylarking and Hell Night. It was a chance to bond a bit, to show the lowers that even though it might feel like everybody was against them, the juniors would still be there in the end to help them out. It was also a group exercise, a chance for the junior-classmen to reconnect and work together after their summer apart.
“OK,” Malespere was saying, “You’re game for something other than a lame-ass inspection, right?”
“I am,” M’Kr’gr nodded, “I agree that a hard workout would be a better way to stress them up. We can take them for a run along this route,” he pointed one clawed finger at a map of the Academy campus and its many jogging and cycling routes, “Out past the Simulation Center and the Merryweather Crash Memorial. We can them loop back towards Fort Pike, and use this area here,” he pointed at an empty patch of field that Antares often used for morning workouts.
“Good. Then you and I can lead them back to the lounge. We can get some of the other juniors to get pizza or something,” Malespere sat back, looking pleased with himself.
“You mean the juniors that are not leading the PT session with us,” M’Kr’gr stated.
“No man, I don’t want them involved in that,” Malespere shook his head, “You and I are the most fit, we’ll handle it. I don’t want anybody slowing us down,”
M’Kr’gr frowned. Yes, he and Malespere were among the most athletic members of the Antares Sector juniors. He himself had almost doubled in width since his arrival. But Bahred was on the swimming team and had started running as well. Gallium was always biking somewhere, and Verone was on the Academy Rigillian Soccer team. Even Veksai, nearly a decade older than many of them, wasn’t far from matching M’Kr’gr’s scores in the Academy fitness test. (Of course, he couldn’t bench press his own weight the way M’Kr’gr could, but that wasn’t part of the testing process.)
He told Malespere as much.
“Ok, yeah, some of the guys are in good shape.” Malespere admitted, “But what about Quarterman? Her ankle is still acting up. And if we take Kodene along the kids are just going to be staring at him the whole time. No, this is something we should do on our own,”
“Dude,” M’Kr’gr said, the Earth vernacular just popping out, “We are planning a group activity. We need the rest of the group!”
“They can hook up with us after the workout,” Malespere insisted, “Get the lowers some pizza, put on a movie…it’ll be just like last year, only without the inspection crap. You saw how last year’s juniors were all running in different directions!”
“That was part of the plan,” M’Kr’gr said, his voice starting to rise, “To confuse us, to keep us off guard, and to have a junior-classmen ready to ‘motivate’ any of us that needed it,”
“You and I can motivate the lowers just fine,” Malespere shook his head, “We don’t need the other juniors, they’re just going to get in the way,”
“This is a morale-building exercise,” M’Kr’gr was getting angry now. Just who did this human think he was? “We cannot build the morale of the group if we EXCLUDE most of the group!”
“Look, Graveti put me in charge,” Malespere said, “If I don’t make this work well, it’s gonna make me look bad. I can’t have Baxter or Derok doing something stupid to screw things up!”
“Then you need to deal with them! You can’t cut everybody out because you are afraid of what some of them might or might not do!”
“It’s MY call!” Malespere said loudly.
“It’s a BAD call!” M’Kr’gr snapped back.
Out in the hallway, Bizkit was standing by the doors to the Brute Squad hallway, getting a headache.
“What’s up?” Gallium asked, sauntering up.
“Everybody’s yelling,” she complained, “T’Henki and Junethec are screaming at the lowers, and now Malespere and M’Kr’gr are fighting about something.
“Why are they screaming at the lowers?” Gallium asked.
“Remember how Quarterman, Baxter and I were planning to take them to town the other day?”
“Ohhh no, you guys got caught, didn’t you?” Gallium moaned.
“Nope. But Quarterman was still drunk when we got back, and she posted holo-images of us on her FederNet5 page.”
“And the staff saw it,” Gallium bit his lip.
“Yup. And they’re not happy. I think the lowers might be stuck in Class D’s all week.”
The Class D uniforms, drab uniforms from the 23rd Century, were used as punishment wear as well as semi-formal. It was an easy way to indicate to the entire Academy that the cadet wearing them was in deep shit.
“What’re Malespere and M’Kr’gr bickering about?”
“Dunno. Probably nothing that concerns us,”
Malespere and M’Kr’gr had circled the track twice now, and their argument kept reaching the same point. Malespere didn’t want the other junior-classemen involved, and M’Kr’gr did.
“I do not understand this,” M’Kr’gr was saying, “My species comes from three distinct cultures. Two of them have similar bonding rituals. As do many races, including humans. Why are you so opposed to this?”
“I already told you!” Malespere said, exasperated, “We’re the best two people to handle this! I don’t want any screw ups…everybody else can just meet us later!”
“Which make the entire activity about y…us and the lowers!” M’Kr’gr said. He’d almost said ‘you and the lowers’, catching himself at the last minute. That’s what it was starting to sound like, anyway. M’Kr’gr was starting to wonder if Malespere would have included him if Graveti hadn’t assigned the task to the two of them.
“It’s not just about us!” Malespere insisted, “The rest of the juniors can join us for the movie! We’re still including them!”
“Have you even asked any of the other juniors what they would prefer?” M’Kr’gr demanded.
“They’re not running this show. I am.” Malespere said flatly.
“And if this is the way you plan to run it, you will be running it alone,” M’Kr’gr said, standing to leave.
They stared at each other for a moment. M’Kr’gr turned and started towards the door.
“OK, fine,” Malespere said, “We’ll talk to the other guys, and figure this out tomorrow.
M’Kr’gr nodded, then left.
The response was unanimous. Not only were the juniors adamant that they be included in the full event, there was a lot of surprise, even shock that Malespere would consider cutting them out.
Two weeks later, with the lower-classmen hitting their third weekend, the event took place. The Antares juniors were standing concealed in the bushes around the empty field. It had been agreed that Malespere and M’Kr’gr would rouse the lowers from their quarters, take them on a high-speed run around the campus, then bring them to the field.
As they waited, they could hear loud shouting, then a crash from Fort Pike. The side door flew open and Brute Squad came pouring out, moving with the frantic urgency that was drilled into every SNAP cadet. Come to think of it, they were moving REALLY fast. Gallium was about to comment on this when M’Kr’gr jumped out of the building, fangs bared.
There was another crash, and a window flew open.
“THESE ROOMS ARE DISGUSTIONG!” Malespere screamed, throwing an entire mattress out the window.
“He’s really getting into this,” Bizkit commented.
“Yup,” Veksai agreed.
“I’m totally gonna puke,” Derok said, the furry Tellarite, throwing back a can of Sluggo Cola.
“Then don’t drink that stuff,” Quarterman said, a note of ‘well duh’ in hier voice.
“But I wanna puke,” Derok insisted, “I ate like five chocolate bars already. If I throw up halfway through the workout, it’ll show the lowers just how hard they’re going to have to push themselves,”
“That’s the weirdest logic I’ve ever heard,” Veksai said flatly.
“I wanna look hard-core,” Derok said proudly.
Veksai just blinked, then turned away. He was beginning to learn that sometime you just had to shut up and let people do what is was they were planning to do, even if it was hair-brained.
They waited quietly for several minutes. Soon, they could hear the pattering of running shoes on the paved road.
“Ok, remember the plan,” Bahred said, “Malespere and M’Kr’gr run the show. We just need to yell, shout, and do what we can to stress them out. Lots of shouting, but don’t go too far.”
Gallium rubbed his hands together. This would be fun! A bit of yelling, a bit of a workout…it would almost be as though they were part of the SNAP staff for a little bit.
Before they knew it, Malespere was bringing a sweating, panting squad of first years onto the field.
“Here we go,” Veksai muttered.
What came next was pure pandemonium.
With a collective battle cry, the junior classmen leapt out of the bushes, surrounding the lowers as they stood in rank.
“DOWN! PUSHUPS!” Malespere shouted.
The lowers dropped to their hand, followed by half of the juniors.
“GET GOING, LOWER!” Bizkit screamed, “ALL THE WAY DOWN!”
“IS THAT THE BEST YOU CAN DO?” Gallium shouted, “PUSH IT HARDER!”
“SQUAT POSITION!” Malespere shouted.
“DOWN!” Veksai roared, “YOU CAN SQUAT LOWER THAN THAT!”
“WHAT THE HELL DO YOU THINK YOU”RE DOING, LOWER?” Kumari screamed, “ARMS UP!”
With an energy that surprised even them, the juniors pounced on the lowers. Yelling, screaming and snarling. Kodene practically charged two scared looking lowers, one of which nearly wet himself as the squid-alien flared it’s tentacles in all directions, nearly tripling it’s apparent size.
“ARE YOU GIVING UP?” Wind, the small Asian girl demanded with a shocking ferocity, leaning over a cadet that had dropped to his knees halfway through a push-up, “A BIT OF HARD WORK AND YOU GIVE UP?”
“YOU THINK THAT KIND OF ATTITUDE IS GOING TO GET YOU ONTO A STARSHIP?” Bahred snarled.
“NO, JUNIOR!” the cadet shouted back.
“DO YOU THINK WE GAVE UP WHEN WE WERE IN YOUR POSITION?” Igor shouted at another cadet.
“BURPEES!” Malespere commanded.
“NO, JUNIOR!” another cadet blurted out.
“DO YOU THINK WE WERE SCARED TO WORK HARD?” M’Kr’gr growled.
“YOU THINK WE JUST SNIVELED, AND WHINED, AND DID A HALF-ASS JOB?”
“BECAUSE THAT’S WHAT IT LOOKS LIKE YOU PEOPLE ARE DOING!” Gallium screamed.
“YOU PEOPLE,” Veksai snarled, “THINK YOU CAN JUST WALK ONTO OUR CAMPUS AND TAKE IT EASY? YOU THINK YOU CAN GET THROUGH WITHOUT A LOT OF HARD WORK?”
And so on, and so forth. A psychologist probably would have had a field day with the event. It almost seemed like the juniors had pent up the frustration, the anger and the stress from their own SNAP and were now releasing it on the new lowers in one great rush of emotional rage. They yelled, they screamed, and they pushed the lowers to the limit of their endurance. Finally, the torrent subsided and Malespere had the lowers form back into their ranks. The rest of the juniors disappeared back into the bushes, rushing towards the Fort Pike lounge and the pizza delivery hovercar.
By the time the lower-classmen reached the lounge, the juniors had setup a veritable buffet of pizza, pop and potential viewing selections.
“Help yourselves, guys,” Quarterman said, pointing at the food.
“Hold up,” Malespere said, “First, everybody run upstairs and get showered and into civies!”
The lowers cheered, then vanished, only to appear minutes later in street cloths.
“Man, that was cool,” one of them, a short, boyish Rigillian was saying.
“I knew what was going on the whole time,” another boasted, “I knew you guys were just messing with us,”
“Yeah, well, there was a reason for that,” Malespere said loudly, drawing everybody’s attention.
Of course, we don’t need to rehash all that. You, the lucky reader, already had to read all that crap.
Once Malespere finished, the junior-classmen introduced themselves, followed by the lowers. There was B’kar, an energetic boy from an unknown, simian species. Labal, a big, grinning Bolian boy. MacDougal, a Scottish girl with bright red hair. Wronski, a muscular human. Pwal, a narrow-mouthed Raian. Nearly two dozen new faces for the rest of Antares Sector to try to memorize.
The talking faded, the eating began and on the wall screen an old movie started playing. Many of the junior-classmen took off, having other things to do with their Saturday nights. Still, there were enough there to see how the night would end.
The movie was just wrapping up when the SNAP staff returned. They knew what the juniors were doing, of course, since it was the SNAP Team Leader that had assigned Malespere to the task. But that meant they also knew that rules had been broken.
“WHAT ARE YOU ALL DOING IN STREET CLOTHS?” Junethec shouted angrily, turning red in the face, “BACK TO YOUR ROOMS AND GET TO BED, NOW!”
“Move it!” T’Henki commanded.
“Juniors, get out!” Graveti snapped, “OUT! NOW!”
As the lowers were herded away, the juniors discreetly made their exit. Except for Malespere, who was now dealing with a very angry-looking senior-classmen Graveti.
“What’s that all about?” Gallium asked.
“I don’t know,” Veksai said thoughtfully, “But the SNAP staff sure didn’t handle it well,”
“Yeah. Yelling at us too? Breaking up an approved event like that?” Veksai cocked his head, “They sure didn’t look very professional. Whatever. I’m over it.”
“Marc wasn’t supposed to let them wear civie cloths,” Fastocheni said quietly, having joined them, “I overheard M’Kr’gr talking about it the other day. Marc wanted to do it anyway.”
“And he got caught. Nice,” Quarterman shook hier head.
“So did you!”
“Well, as endings go, that sucked,” Veksai said.
“Yeah,” Gallium agreed.
“Couple more weeks until the Survival Challenge,” Fast shrugged, “Then they don’t have to worry about it,”
“Hmm. Well, I’m going to bed.” Veksai took off.
“Wanna help me feed the lowers tomorrow night?” Quarterman asked Fast.
“And maybe we can draw pictures on their faces too!’ s/he giggled.
“Why not. And we can tie their shoelaces together too, while we’re at it,” Fast replied.
“But not really,” Gallium called after them, “Right?”
“We’ll see,” Fast said, giving an easy grin over one shoulder.
Next: The new Brute Squad cadets are eager to finish their SNAP and join the Sector, but when something strange starts affecting Lt. Wellington, the junior-classmen are suddenly dealing with bigger problems.
Boothby is a sort of recurring Academy gag in Trek lore. He’s this old, old gardener who’s been at the Academy for as long as anybody can remember and always has exactly the right advice for each cadet. Convenient, huh? ↩
Pipmen: I should have introduced this earlier. It’s easier to refer to the various leadership positions as a group. At my school, they’re called ‘barmen’ due to the small gold bars they wear on their collars. ↩
Room Standards: A specific description of what items are allowed in your dorm room, where each must be placed, and in many cases, the exact size of the clothing item when folded. i.e. underwear folded into a 3 by 6 inch rectangle. ↩
Skylarking - Prank-pulling ↩
FederNet - Internet, messaging, IM, social networking/Facebook, all in one. ↩