Author: Brendan Chris
“Cadet Barnet, D32-45-57885-B, Brute Squad, Antares Sector, reporting all Squad members present. Request permission to eat.”
“Denied,” mid-classmen and SNAP Deputy Squad Leader T’Henkie said flatly, fixing the tall Lemnorian girl with a cold glare, “You are missing a member of the Squad.”
At that moment lower-classman B’Kar scrambled out of the food service area, receiving several looks of annoyance from the identical food service holograms. He slammed his tray down on the table, spilling some sort of pasty goo onto lower-classman Labal’s tray. There was a perceptible but inaudible groan from the entire Squad.
“We are in the final week of SNAP and you have still failed to properly account for your teammates,” T’Henkie continued coldly, “Your meal time today will be ten minutes and you can expect further consequences this evening.”
With that, the Vulcan girl turned on her heel and walked stiffly over to the staff table. Seated nearby at one of the junior-classmen tables, Veksai, Fastocheni, Verone and Wind watched as the lower-classmen started frantically shovelling food into their mouths.
“Man, this isn’t even fun to watch anymore,” Verone said. Being from an Earth colony, her English was spoken, not translated. However, she had a noticeable accent that marked her as having grown up off-world.
“No, no it isn’t,” Fast agreed, “They’re getting pretty sick of it, aren’t they?”
“If they’re sick, why are they eating so much?” Wind asked, her Asian face the embodiment of innocent blankness.
“Stomach tapeworms,” Veksai said seriously.
“Really?” Wind frowned, “That’s sort of gross. Can’t the infirmary help them?”
“Nope,” Fast said, not entirely able to hide a grin, “They’re all going to die.”
“That is so sad,” Wind said, the sarcasm obviously lost on her.
As they left the dining hall they passed a lower-classman squad formed up on the walkway. They were clearly being punished for something, as they were all bent over touching their toes. What didn’t make sense was that they were chanting ‘Stella-ella-ola’ and wiggling their butts in the air.
“I’d ask somebody,” Fast said uneasily, “But I’m not sure I really want to know,”
Veksai and Verone nodded agreement. They quickly walked away.
Later in the day Veksai had taken the chance to escape off-campus, a luxury he’d rarely had in his lower year. He hadn’t realized then just what a beautiful time of year the start of the semester was. The sun was shining today, and the air was warm, though somewhat humid. It was a shame really, that all the lower-classmen at the Academy were prevented from enjoying it.
He’d been in a somewhat unique position with regards to the lower-classmen, at least recently. As the Antares Sector Technology Officer he’d taken it upon himself to create some kind of holo-recording or imaging collection of the new Brute Squad’s SNAP and Survival Challenge. The current Antares mid-classmen had done something similar for them, editing some of the automatic security recordings made by the holo-patios during the challenge, but Veksai was convinced he could do better. He’d also been tasked with ensuring all the lowers were properly setup with access accounts to the Academy computer systems. As a result, he’d been occasionally granted access to the lower-classmen hallway. And they were definitely ready for SNAP to be over.
For that matter, so was the rest of the Academy. It was strange, really. At the start of the month SNAP had been almost the sole focus on campus. It was what everybody talked about. All anybody wanted to know was how the new lowers were performing, was SNAP hard enough this year, had anybody quit yet and were the new lowers suffering as much as they themselves had suffered during their own SNAP periods. Now, the novelty was fading. The lowers had been around for weeks and there was a strong sense of anticipation, but also of impatience. It was time to end this, to integrate the new cadets into the Academy and get on with the more important tasks of teaching and developing the entire Academy cadet corps into capable officers.
The Survival Challenge finally came.
Gell Gallium was standing next to Aric Igor, just off the main avenue that led from the vicinity of Fort Pike to the central Parade Ring. According to the long-standing Academy tradition, classes for the afternoon had been cancelled and cadets from all Sectors had spent the past two weeks tweaking the Survival Challenge program into something that was challenging yet do-able. Despite the fact that it wasn’t his own Survival Challenge, Gallium was still feeling incredible excited. Nor was he the only one.
“You guys all set?” Veksai asked as he jogged up, holo-recorder in hand.
“Yeah!” Gallium said, “It’s gonna be great!”
“What are you doing?” Igor asked, pointing at the recorder.
“I’m taking images of you guys running with the lowers,” Veksai answered, “Oh, there they come!”
He dashed off, looking for a good vantage point.
Looking back towards Fort Pike, Igor could see a group of cadets wearing the distinctive red and white shirts of Antares Sector. In the center, the lower-classmen were wearing helmets and carrying equipment. Already they were surrounded by other members of the Sector as they lead them to the Parade Ring. Vexnar and Buhras were running along one side, the Andorian senior-classmen screaming that if they didn’t perform well, he’d give each of them a severe beating. (A very mild threat, almost a term of endearment coming from him.) Buhras was cheering loudly. Even Kethnor was there, running behind them and shouting in a loud, boisterously Klingon voice. As Igor and Gallium watched the group was joined by Fastocheni and M’Kr’gr, along with several senior-classmen. As the group passed another building, Bizkit and mid-classman Prithar joined the group. And the snowball continued, with white and red clad cadets joining every few moments until Gallium and Igor too were swallowed up into the crowd, cheering on the lower-classmen as they approached the last challenge facing them before the end of SNAP. Gallium found himself cheering with a ferocious energy, swept up in the mood of the Sector.
As they approached the Parade Ring, Antares Sector was joined by Veltran Sector, Andorian Sector and Altair Sector. The Parade Ring itself was already crowded, shirts of all colours filling the space around Khitomer Building as the dozens of Sectors flooded in around the large, boxy holo-patios. Waves of energy swept the ring, each Sector convinced that their lower-classmen were the ones that would be putting on the best performance.
The Sector cadets fell back to the observation bleachers that had been setup while the lower-classmen Squads formed up in front of their respective holo-patios, bouncing with nervous energy. After a brief message from the Academy Commendant, the Challenge began.
It was, the junior-classmen noted, a very similar Challenge to their own. The lower-classmen found themselves in a forest clearning in the middle of a rainstorm, all simulated by the holographic systems in the holo-patios, of course. Cadet Pwall had been named Squad Captain for the Challenge and wasted no time in ordering B’Kar to start scanning with his tricorder. They quickly detected a shuttle and moved off in that direction.
As Brute Squad had the year before, the new Brute Squad encountered various obstacles along the way. A quicksand pit, a rope bridge, a steep escarpment. All of the junior-classmen found themselves yelling and cheering, even though the lowers could barely hear them over their own shouts.
In a way it was almost a inverse image of the Hell Night put on the juniors weeks before. Then, they’d unleashed a torrent of insults, harsh commands and scorn that they themselves couldn’t explain. Now, they found themselves caught up with the rest of the Sector as they encouraged and cheered the lowers. Before the lowers had almost been invaders; a group of aliens (pardon the pun) trying to push their way into the Antares Sector world. Now, with the Survival Challenge underway, the lowers were practically part of the Sector. They had been working for weeks to prove themselves, and were on the very cusp of success.
The lowers had reached the shuttle and were being ferried up via autopilot to a Regula-class space station. It was considerably smaller than the Waystation-class used the year before, but instead of a terrorist group the lowers found themselves dealing with a group of rampaging Mugatos1. Luckily, cadet MacDougal realized that they could be eliminated using the stations anti-intruder defence.
With a loud chime the holo-patio shut down, leaving a very confused-looking Brute Squad standing there. Team Leader Graveti was on them in an instant, thrusting the red Antares Sector orb into Pwell’s hands.
“Go!” he snapped, pointing at the massive stone Federation Emblem near the Parade Ring exit.
As one lower, junior, mid and senior cadets bolted, running for the emblem. Mutara Sector was already ahead of them, with Vulcan Sector quickly approaching from the opposite direction. The junior-cadets, after their course last year, now knew that it wasn’t simply a race to be first to the emblem; there were points and penalties that would determine the ultimate winner. But the lowers didn’t know that yet and were scrambling like mad to be the first ones there.
“THIS IS IT, BRUTE SQUAD!” Bahred found himself shouting, echoing Buhras’ words from a year before, “THIS IS THE END!”
They arrived right on the tail of Vulcan sector, their yellow orb already slid into its slot in the blue and white emblem. Terran Sector was fitting their dark blue orb into place, and the marbled blue and white orb of Andorian sector was already fitted. With a <SNICK>, Pwell slipped the red Antares orb into its slot, electing a deep chime from the monument. As the lower-classmen dissolved into a shouting, cheering pile-up, joined by many of the other Sector members, Vexnar tapped at his padd, then turned to Sector Leader Buhras.
“Third place,” he said, nodding with satisfaction, “Not bad at all.”
With the Survival Challenge finished the junior-classmen jogged back to Fort Pike. As tradition dictated they handled laundry and such for the lower-classmen, allowing the new Antares Sector members to get the hell off campus and, where applicable, spend time with the parents and family members that had come to witness the event. As with the year before, the campus quickly emptied out. Lower-classmen wanted to unwind after SNAP, the SNAP staff likewise were in desperate need of time off. And for the rest of the Academy it was time to relax one last time before the routine and drudgery of the semester set in.
The doors separating the Brute Squad hallway from the rest of the Sector living quarters were unsealed. The lower-classmen communications terminals were reactivated and they were granted access to the Fort Pike lounge and other Academy recreational facilities. For the lowers, it would be a time to settle into Academy life and, to a lesser extent, start to get a feel for what living in a paramilitary organization like Starfleet would be like.
For the rest of the Academy, it was now business as usual.
“What’s your class load like this semester?” Gallium was asking Veksai as the two walked from the dining hall to Khitomer building.
“Busy,” Veksai grunted, “The senior- and mid- classmen, y’know, the fourth and third years, in my program keep telling me the junior year is the worst year,”
“Oh yeah? Must be an engineering thing. My schedule isn’t bad at all,” Gallium said cheerfully, oblivious to the dark looks he was now receiving from Veksai and neighbouring cadets, “You’re in computer engineering, right?”
“Yeah,” Veksai grunted, “And can somebody explain to me why a computer expert would need to know about xeno-nutrition?” he gestured angrily at the course schedule displayed on his padd, “Computer don’t eat!”
“Dunno. You going isolinear or bio-neural circuitry streams?”
“At this point? I’m more worried about passing my junior year, thank you!”
October and mid-terms passed without serious incident and life at the Academy continued. Kumari’s new red-headed boyfriend, Cadet Ross, was a frequent visitor to the Antares Sector lines much to Veksai’s annoyance. Somehow, having Kumari as a next-door neighbour was bringing out the big-brother behaviour in him. Having Malespere across the hall was bringing…nothing, really. Well, aside from mild disgust after the French cadet seduced one of the new lower-classmen. Fastocheni continued his work with the fencing team, Wind continued her Tae Kwon Do and Bahred continued to push himself on the swim team. But as the year progressed, one small topic of discussion was starting to raise its head.
“So,” Bahred asked Gallium, “what sort of pip position are you applying for next year?”
“SNAP staff,” Gallium said immediately, “you?”
“SNAP staff,” Bahred said.
“Any idea who else is applying for it?” Gallium asked.
“Uhhh…Malespere. M’kr’gr. Kumari. Veksai…probably Quarterman,” Bahred said, frowning as he considered.
“Wow. Lt. Wellington is gonna have a hard time with that one,” Gallium said.
Bahred suddenly paused.
“Y’know, I really haven’t seen him around much lately. Have you?”
“He was in his office the other day for a bit,” Gallium said. “He didn’t look that good, come to think of it.”
The two cadets looked at each other uncomfortably. Lt. Wellington was the Antares Sector Commanding Officer. Technically, he was in full command of the cadet Sector. In actuality, the Academy preferred to let the Cadet Sector Leaders manage their squadrons, with the officers acting as advisors and handing serious issues like formal disciplinary charges or career-altering paperwork. Still, if something was wrong with the Lt then Antares Sector was potentially in trouble.
“Have you talked to him lately?” Bahred asked.
“No,” Gallium shook his head, “I’ve started with the Academy Debate Team, and I’ve been spending a lot of time with Michelle,”
“Michelle?” Bahred asked.
“I thought you were dating somebody named Kimberly?”
“We broke up. Now I’m dating Michelle,”
“Right,” Bahred smirked. Nobody in Antares Sector really believed that Gallium had a girlfriend. A boyfriend, maybe. But not a girlfriend.
“Have you heard anything about what might be wrong with the Lieutenant?” Gallium asked him.
“Well, didn’t he have a baby last month?”
“I thought human females gave birth to your young,” the Bolian asked innocently. He was suddenly distracted as an attractive, petite girl walked by.
“Michelle! There you are!” he said, giving the girl a quick peck on the cheek, “Sorry Bahred, I gotta run. We’re going into town for dinner,”
“Have fun,” Bahred forced out, his eyes bugging out in surprise.
“Nobody’s going to believe me,” Bahred said to himself, turning towards his room. Realizing that he was finished for the day, he promptly started stripping out of his grey and yellow uniform jumpsuit. Talk around the Academy was that the powers-that-be were planning on bringing back the old Class-E uniforms, the all-red uniforms worn at the Academy in the 23rd Century. Something about how they felt that the Academy should maintain its own image and traditions, separate from the constantly changing look the rest of the fleet seemed to have adapted. But for the moment, Bahred was more concerned with a shower than he was with the dress code.
Throwing on a robe he padded down the hall to the men’s washroom, right next door to the ladies washroom and across the hall from the hermaphroditic alien washroom. The steam from the showers told him not only that somebody was already there, but they were using water showers instead of the sonic variety. Of course, the sonic showers in the aged building had a nasty habit of dissolving flesh. Sure enough, M’Kr’gr and Fast were standing under the nozzles. M’Kr’gr was simply glowering as he washed, while Fast was deep in conversation with Roger.
“If you want to see the world outside, why don’t you just go?” Fast was asking the sentient mold-pile, “I mean, you don’t want to spend the rest of your life in the bathtub, do you?”
“I require…this enviroment…to survive…but no…” Roger wheezed, “In fact…I have…begun evolving…legs. For short…excursions. Perhaps next…I will work on…fingers.”
“That’s cool!” Bahred said, hopping under a shower, “You can, like, evolve whatever body part you want?”
“Yes,” Roger said. Its voice was emerging through a vaguely mouth-like orifice near the top of the pile, “By the way…why do you all have…an eleventh finger…that is not on your hands?”
“Roger, did you evolve eyes?” M’Kr’gr asked suddenly.
Bahred and Fast suddenly moved to cover themselves.
“Oookay, and it just got creepy,” Fast said, keeping his ass to the wall and his other parts well covered.
“Humans,” M’Kr’gr muttered. He stepped over to Roger’s bathtub and pulled the frosted glass shower panel closed.
“Apologies, Roger,” he said, “But some of us,” he eyes flicked to the other two, “are complete babies.”
“Pay it…no mind,” Roger replied, its voice slightly muffled.
There was a jolt as the entire building seemed to tilt to the side, sending Fast and Bahred sliding to the floor.
“EARTHQUAKE!” Bahred cried, scrambling to his feet.
“This whole building’s gonna collapse!” Fast whimpered, gaining his feet only to slide to the floor again.
Digging his foot-claws into the floor, M’Kr’gr simply picked the smaller humans up, slinging one of them under each arm like footballs.
“I will be back for you, Roger,” he said.
“My face is way too close to your naked butt!’ Fast whined.
“You prefer to stay here and die?”
The building had stopped shaking but was still swaying side to side. As M’Kr’gr ran down the corridor, other cadets were rushing into the hallway. He reached the entrance foyer and was about to run out the front door when he skidded to a stop.
The ground was about thirty feet below him and drifting further away.
Carefully backing up, he tried to puzzle out what was happening.
“What the f-“ Malespere asked, peering out the door. It took a moment to convince the crowd of cadets behind them that pushing them through the door was a bad idea.
“Would you three like a moment alone?” Veksai asked from behind them. M’Kr’gr suddenly realized that he was buck naked, dripping wet and carrying two other naked males. He dropped them like they were on fire.
“I thought our lives where in danger,” he said uncomfortably.
“So you decided to have a threesome?” Quarterman asked, taking a quick peek over the edge of the doorway then moving deep back into the room. (And a quick peek in a few other directions.)
M’Kr’gr growled. Loudly. Bahred and Fast ran back to get their robes, the sounds of laughs and guffaws following them down the corridor.
“Why is our building flying?” lower-classman Barnet cried, the abnormally tall Lemnorian girl bracing her hands on the ceiling, “Is our building supposed to fly? Why didn’t anybody tell us it could fly?”
“It can’t,” Cadet Sector Leader Buhras said, hands on her hips and an annoyed look on her face. She looked down at the ground, pointing out a group of cadets as they laughed and pointed up at the decrepit, floating building. “OK,” she demanded, “who pissed off Andorian Sector?”
Nobody said anything.
“Hey,” senior-classman Solaris said, “Isn’t today the day the Intrepid is supposed to be landing on the Academy grounds.”
“Isn’t today the day you’re supposed to take me to your room and show me everything that sexy British accent is good for?” Quarterman sighed.
“Slut!” Baxter giggled.
“It is,” senior-classman Nowel, the Sector Administrator, said, “The landing, I mean.”
“Why is that important?” lower-classman Pwell asked.
Suddenly, the whole building shook as sixteen decks worth of starship suddenly flashed by the front door, narrowly missing the levitating building as it soared towards the landing field.
“AIIIEEEE!” Kumari screamed, stumbling out the open door as the ship thundered by. Kodene, moving faster than anybody but Bahred would have expected, twined two tentacles around the door supports and snagged Kumari’s ankle with a third.
“Shall I bring her in,” it asked, oblivious to Kumari’s frantic screams, “or let her drop, tuck and roll?”
Within an hour a series of workbees2 had caught up to Fort Pike as it floated serenely over San Francisco. Civilians pointed from ground level and from the windows of various high-rise buildings as the crumbling stone building was manoeuvred back onto its foundation on the Starfleet Academy grounds.
Sector Leader Buhras had gathered Antares Sector together just outside the building.
“I want to know if anybody did anything to piss off Andorian Sector before I go up to the DirKat and start raising hell,” she demanded, no sign of her usual giggles showing on her face.
Slowly, one hand shyly rose.
“Lower-classman Scooter?” Buhras crossed her arms, “Please, explain.”
“Um, well,” Scooter, half-human and half-Selelvian3, was a small male with an aura that bounced between innocence and mischief faster than kittens on a trampoline, “Y’know how they were all happy about the dead skunks and stuff left by their building?”
“What did you do,” Vexnar, an Andorian and the sector’s expert on Andorians demanded.
“We sort of…put a lot of cute, fluffy bunnies in one of their windows,” Scooter confessed.
“These bunnies,” Vexnar demanded, breaking ranks and moving to confront the now cowering lower, “were they alive or gutted, perhaps with their internal organs artistically displayed?”
“Well no wonder the Andorians were pissed off!” Buhras snapped, “Didn’t any of you pay attention in your Culteral Studies class? Class-D’s for all lower-classmen for the next week, and you’re confined to campus for the rest of tonight! Dismissed!”
As the lowers groaned, the rest of the Sector started shuffling back into the building.
“Man,” Fastocheni said, “Labal is going to be pissed. He was supposed to come hang out with the fencing team tonight,”
“Which on is Labal?” Veksai asked, “I can’t keep their names straight yet,”
“The big Bolian guy,” Fast said, “The one that’s about twice Gallium’s size,”
Hearing his name, Labal drifted over.
“I can’t help it if it takes a while to memorize twenty new faces,” Veksai said saying, not noticing the Bolian boy.
“Sounds like you need a hand, Mr. Veksai,” Labal said, darting in and seizing Veksai in a giant bear hug. The older cadet, arms trapped by his sides, gave an expression of absolute horror.
“It…it’s HUGGING ME!” Veksai squeaked, turning panic-stricken eyes towards Fast, “GET IT OFF! GET IT OFF!”
“Aned Labal,” Labal said, releasing Veksai, much to his relief, “And I guarantee, now you’ll never forget me!”4
With a wide grin, he moved off. Fast was doubled over laughing as Veksai stood there, arms still tight by his sides and the look of horror still on his face.
“That was NOT funny!” Veksai fumed.
“Yes it was! It was f**king hilarous!”
A week later, just as the lower-classmen could enjoy wearing their regular uniforms again, Veksai was seated at his desk in his small, Fort Pike room. He’d started leaving his door partway open while he did his homework, partly to avoid giving the impression that he was trying to avoid people. But mostly because he liked having the sounds of his neighbors and Sector-mates drifting in, along with the occasional visitor.
Even though those visitors sometimes meant he got less work done.
“Hey, have you heard the news?” Gallium asked excitedly, bursting into Veksai’s room.
“About the Warrior’s Lounge getting trashed again by the Andorians? Yes.” Veksai replied, not looking up from his n-Dimensional Calculus.
“The fencing team beating FU? Yeah, heard that one too,”
“No!” Gallium sat on Veksai’s carefully bed, finally causing the other cadet to turn around in annoyance, “It’s about Lt. Wellington!”
“Oh yeah?” Gallium suddenly had Veksai’s attention, “He’s barely been in all week. What’s up?”
“Well, I heard from Stamp over in Veltran Sector, who heard from Wooling in Terran Sector, who heard from Bilbringi over in Rigel Sector-“
“Gallium, I have a lot of work to do here,” Veksai said sharply, gesturing at the padds spread out all over his desk.
“Well, it seems he’s done something that has the senior officers at the Academy all upset,” Gallium said, “Bilbringi never heard what, but they’re talking that he’s going to have to leave for a while, and they’re not sure whether he’s ever going to come back,”
“Oh,” Veksai was quiet for a moment, then frowned, “Well, that’s too bad. He’s been a good CO, at least from what I know about what a CO is supposed to do,”
“I’m telling you, there’s something beefy about this!” Gallium insisted.
“Beefy? I think you want to say ‘fishy’,” Veksai said, “Big difference,”
“Whatever! I like, really think something’s queer!”
“You mean ‘weird’.” Now Veksai was trying hard not to giggle, “Look, I have a lot of work to do, Gallium. If you here something a bit more concrete, I’m sure you’ll be able to get somebody to listen to you.”
Shrugging, Gallium left.
“I’m telling you, Baxter, you can’t keep doing stupid shit like this!” Bizkit said, trying to wipe up spilled bear in the Logicians Lounge, the campus hangout that catered to Vulcans, Zakdorn and other more cerebral races, “You don’t stumble into somebody else’s place and dump beer all over the floor!”
“Unless it is Crott’s room,” Kodene rasped, referring to a very boisterous Brikar cadet.
“This is not Crott’s room,” a tall Vulcan student said, raising an eyebrow in disapproval.
“Look, just give me a minute and we’ll have him out of here,” Bizkit promised.
“This sort of behaviour is neither logical nor becoming a future officer,” a second Vulcan added, looking at the Antares cadets with a look of disdain.
“Neither’s your mother!” Baxter slurred, lurching towards the aliens, “Huh? Yeah!”
“In what way does your inebriation involve our parents?” the first Vulcan asked curiously.
“Cuz I’m gonna f-“
“BAXTER!” Bizkit snapped, punching him on the arm.
More Vulcans were being attracted by the noise. Of course, considering that the Logicians Lounge was usually so quiet one could hear a pin drop, the noise was hard to miss. One started moving towards the panel that would no doubt summon campus security.
“Is there a problem?” Another Vulcan had joined the fray, but Bizkit recognized this one.
“T’Henki!” Bizkit exclaimed, “It’s just Baxter, he’s being an idiot!”
“Hardly a change from normal occurrences,” T’Henki observed, “Come, my companion will handle the mess. Let us get Mr. Baxter back to Fort Pike, immediately.”
The other Vulcans looked from T’Henki to Bizkit.
“You are in Antares Sector?” he queried.
“Well, yeah,” Bizkit said. Baxter was sticking his tongue out at a Vulcan woman seated at a nearby table.
“Say no more,” the Vulcan nodded, “Simply take your ill-tempered companion and depart, with our sympathies,”
As they pulled Baxter back to Fort Pike, Bizkit turned to T’Henki.
“Well, they were nice at the end,” she said.
T’Henki’s mouth tightened, the closest the Vulcan girl got to expressing anger or frustration.
“They…do not hold Antares Sector to the same standard they would hold most cadets,” she finally said.
“Yeah, well, people warned us about that last year,” Bizkit shrugged.
“It has become worse,” T’Henki said, “Especially this semester.”
“But we’ve hardly DONE anything this semester!” Bizkit objected.
“Precisely,” T’Henki said, “However, as the last impressions Antares left were negative, nothing has changed to reverse that low opinion. And with the current leadership challenge, little is being done to help Sector morale. It is a regrettable, but perhaps unavoidable situation.”
Bizkit was about to ask her what she meant by that when Baxter interrupted the conversation by vomiting all over the street, and Bizkit’s brand new shoes.
“Where is everybody?” Vekai asked Kumari. It was later in the week and Fort Pike felt deserted. He’d popped next door to her room to take a break from Introduction to Material Dynamics. He just couldn’t figured out why he, a computer engineer, needed to know about the tensile strength of duranium compared to transparent aluminum.
“Malespere and M’Kr’gr are at the gym,” Kumari replied, looking up from her computer, “Bahred’s at swimming practice, I think Bizkit is in Prithar’s room…”
“Are they dating or something?”
“Uh, only for the last month!” Kumari gave him a ‘d’uh’ look, “Speaking of which, you got a date for the Holiday Ball next weekend?”
“That’s next weekend?” Veksai’s eyes widened, “Oops!”
“I guess that means you’re not taking a date,” Kumari giggled.
“Unless Ross has a mysterious accident, my beauty,” Veksai jokingly got down on one knee and took Kumari’s hand.
“Fat chance,” she laughed, snatching her hand back playfully.
“You can’t marry her, she’s dating Ross,” cadet Wind called as she passed by the open door to the room.
Veksai jumped to his feet.
“OK, ball next week. Maybe that’ll take Gallium’s mind of this thing with Lt. Wellington,”
“What thing? You mean like, how he hasn’t been around much at all this year?” Kumari asked.
“That thing. Gallium’s a bit obsessed.”
“Did you guys ever consider just asking the Lieutenant what was going on?” Kumari crossed her delicate arms.
“Nope,” Veksai shrugged, “I kinda figure, if we need to know, he’ll tell us,”
“I don’t want to tell anybody in my Sector about this,”
Gallium really didn’t mean to eavesdrop on Lt. Wellington. Well, that’s what he told himself, anyway. It wasn’t his fault that there just happened to be a fairly comfortable couch in a hallway junction right next to Wellingston’s office in Fort Pike. And so what if he wanted to sit back, relax and watch his squadron-mates as they came and went about their business. And if the voices from Wellingston’s office just happened to carry well enough that they could be heard by somebody seated at the couch and listening carefully, well, was that in any way his fault?
“Most people would say that keeping secrets only leads to trouble,” the voice was male and calm. Gallium wasn’t sure, be he didn’t think the speaker worked at the Academy.
“Most people don’t find themselves in situations like this,” Wellingston said tiredly, “What do you want me to tell them? That things have already gone horribly wrong, and that if they get worse, my kid’s gonna die?”
“Well, it couldn’t-“
“They already told me that I should keep this quiet,” Wellingston cut the mysterious speaker off, “Look, there’s just no reason for me to drag Antares into any of this. It’s my own personal problems, and they don’t need to get involved,”
“So when are you going to do it?”
Wellington paused before answering, presumably deep in thought.
“Next weekend,” he said finally, “It’s the Holiday Ball. Everybody’s going to be too busy buying gowns, or getting hair done, or hoping that their girlfriends are going to put out to worry about one missing officer,”
“If only they knew how much misery females could cause, huh?”
“Hey,” Wellingston sounded angry now. Strange. Gallium couldn’t ever recall actually hearing heat in his voice, even last year when Baxter had been caught with a micro-brewery in his room.
“This is my kid we’re talking about here,” Wellington went on, “And it doesn’t matter what happens, I love her,”
There was another pause.
“Even if I…if I have to bury her,”
Veksai, M’Kr’gr and Fast were gathered in M’Kr’gr’s room while the latter two competed in a game of Hal 263. (No video game had ever spawned so many sequals.) Veksai was frowning at the Intro to Optical Data Networking assignment when Gallium burst into the room.
“Somebody’s kidnapped Wellingston’s kid! Or is poisoning them, or is going to cut off body parts, or something!”
“What?” Fast spun in his seat to face Gallium. As he did, M’Kr’gr took advantage of the distraction to blast Fast’s avatar to pieces.
“I now have the lead,” the reptile said, grinning.
“Hey, NO FAIR!”
“Aren’t you guys listening?” Gallium was getting frantic now.
“Yes, just the way you’ve been listening to too many rumours,” Veksai said, “Hey, does anybody remember the name of the addressing scheme they use on the LCARS networks?”
“Look, I was just sitting next to his office when-“
“Eavesdropping, huh?” Fast asked, turning his attention back to the game and still managing to die horribly.
“No, I was just listening to Wellington and this other guy talk,” Gallium insisted.
“That would be eavesdropping, kiddo,” Veksai said calmly.
“Look, whatever,” Gallium leaned on the edge of M’Kr’gr’s bed, “The point is, he kept saying that his kid might die, and that he had to go do something next weekend, and that he didn’t want us to get involved because whoever has his kid told him not to tell anybody about it!”
“Um, why would he get us involved anyway?” Veksai asked, “That’s what Starfleet Security is for,”
“Yeah,” Fast agreed, swearing under his breath as M’Kr’gr killed his avatar with a perfectly placed head shot, “We’re cadets. If they need our help, then they’re already boned.”
“He is correct,” M’Kr’gr agreed, “A warrior-in-training is a last resort on the battlefield,”
“Do you guys really want to risk a baby girl’s life?” Gallium asked.
That got everybody’s attention.
“What do you mean?” Fast asked, pausing the game this time before setting down his controller.
“He means,” Veksai cut in, suddenly understanding, “That if things do go wrong, and we could have made a difference, how would we feel afterwards?”
Fast and M’Kr’gr exchanged looks.
“I just know I’m going to regret this,” Veksai muttered.
“I already regret this,” Fast agreed.
The four cadets had been keeping as close an eye on Wellington as possible, given their classes, mandatory sports, clubs, and in Veksai’s case the stream of computer-illiterate cadets that his position as IT officer required him to deal with. But as the weekend and the Holiday Ball edged closer, they came to realize that keeping an eye on Wellington just wouldn’t be good enough.
Fast, being the most charismatic of the group, had managed to talk one of his professors into loaning him a few fairly innocent pieces of technology for a few days. Veksai, being the more technically inclined, had programmed the tiny transceiver and computer chip into a homing beacon that would let them track Wellingston without setting off every sensor on or above the Western Hemisphere. And for some reason, the two of them had been talked into hiding the tiny device on Wellingston’s person. The two of them had snuck into his office while the Lieutenant was having lunch. Barely a day remained before the Ball.
“What the hell can we put this on that we know he’s going to take with him, even if he’s going off to meet kidnappers?” Veksai wondered, staring at the various items on Wellingston’s desk.
“We totally shouldn’t be in here,” Fast said nervously, head darting from side to side.
“Yeah, tell me about it,” Veksai groaned.
“Oh, how about this?” Fast asked pointing at Wellingston’s briefcase.
“If he didn’t take it to lunch, do you think he’ll take it to do whatever he’s doing this weekend?”
“Something that’s going to stay with him for at least another day.” Veksai mused. His attention was sudden focused on Fast, who had unwrapped a chocolate bar.
“What?” Fast asked through a mouthful of chocolate, “When I get nervous, I get hungry,”
“You’re a genius,” Veksai said, patting him on the shoulder and rushing out towards the replicator.
Twenty-four hours later, Gallium and Michelle were nicely getting seated at the Academy Holiday Ball. Last year the Ball had started off normally enough with dinner and a dance or two, but within a few hours had degenerated into a drunk-fest that in the end had embarrassed most of the cadets and staff of the Academy. Luckily, the fiasco had ensured that somebody a little more responsible was put in charge this year. Gallium didn’t know mid-classman Micdanels, but she’d apparently planned well. The security team was scanning everybody who came in for alcohol bottles, and the tables themselves had been scanned three times already.
Veksai was seated at a nearby table with Veksai, Ross, Verone and Verone’s boyfriend, a half-Klingon cadet by the name of Forture. Veksai was making some kind of lame joke about how Forture rhymed with Torture when Gallium noticed Fast and his date settling in at another table. Gallium raised his eyebrows in Fast’s direction. Fast shrugged, then gestured towards Veksai. Gallium tried to get Veksai’s attention by clearing his throat, but he must have been too far away, as Veksai was now listening intently to the history of the House of Payne, to which Forture apparently belonged. Gallium shrugged at Fast, who shrugged back. Annoyed, Gallium started making hand gestures that he felt told Fast that he should go get Veksai’s attention. Fast however, thought that Gallium was implying that he wanted to have very rough sex with Fast’s date. Annoyed, Fast flipped him the finger.
And so on, and so forth, until their tables were finally called up to get their meals.
Dinner passed without a hitch and no sooner had the food line closed than a holographic swing band materialised on the stage. As a few of the older couples (staff and their spouses, mostly) moved onto the dance floor, Fast and Gallium converged on Veksai.
“Anything yet?” Gallium demanded.
“Cool your jets, blue boy,” Veksai said. He dug his tricorder out of his pocket, “According to this, Wellington’s pacing in his office.”
“Good move, putting the tracker in a doughnut,” Gallium said.
“Yeah, you already told us that back in the food line, the second time you pestered him to find out what Wellington was doing,” Fast said.
“Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go dance,” Veksai said, cracking his fingers.
“With who, you didn’t bring a date!” Gallium said.
“Oh, Gel,” Veksai smiled, throwing an arm around the younger cadet, “You see, guys your age never dance to music like this, no matter how much their girlfriends want to.”
He left and approached Verone. In a matter of seconds, he was leading her onto the dance floor while Forture and Ross debated the parentage of their Andorian language teacher.
“I guess being old counts for something after all,” Gallium said, surprised.
Unlike the previous year, the Academy Holiday Ball was turning out really well. The fieldhouse of the Sulu Athletic Center was well-decorated and as the swing band was switched off in favour of a demonstration by the Andorian Tango Club, nobody had been kicked out or even gotten sick. Veksai was just thinking that the night was turning into a pretty good one when his tricorder vibrated in his pocket.
Wellington was on the move.
“He’s going to have a half-hour lead on us!” Gallium whined.
“You’re going to have a lead on me, at this rate,” Veksai puffed. He and the three others had had to break into jogging to keep up with M’Kr’gr. They’d watched as Wellington’s signal moved closer and closer to the Academy Transporter Terminal, vanished, and reappeared across the continent up in the Canadian Region.
Of course, Wellington had used the staff transporter, which was off-limits to cadets. By the time Veksai had found Gallium, Fast and M
Krgr at the ball and by the time the four of them had ridden the tram to a public transporter terminal in San Francisco, Wellington had boarded a hover-taxi and was racing away from the transporter terminal at a rapid rate.
“Take the next left,” Veksai informed their cab, eyes fixed to his tricorder.
“Confirmed,” the computerized navigation system replied, “Please note that a set destination is more efficient than giving directions to an auto-cab,”
“We’d give you directions if we knew where we were going!” Gallium said, voice high-pitched, “Just go faster!”
“Command unclear, please repeat…”
“Piece of crap!” M’Kr’gr snarled.
“Don’t fight with the computer,” Fast said calmly.
“He stopped! Eight blocks ahead!” Veksai called, “He’s out of the cab!”
“Let’s go!” Gallium urged.
They waited until they’d reached Wellington’s debarking point, then bolted in the direction indicated by the tricorder.
None of them bothered to read the sign on the building.
“C’mon! Gallium urged, “Wellington might be watching his little girl get cut to pieces already!”
“Why would they do that if he was bringing them ransom stuff?” Fast asked.
“We don’t eve know that’s what this is,” Veksai gasped, “Um, did anybody think to bring a weapon?”
“I am a weapon,” M’Kr’gr said, flexing his claws.
Gallium turned pale.
“Not much good against a phaser, buddy,” Fast said.
“Right around the next corner, then twenty meters ahead!” Veksai said.
“Excuse us,” Gallium said, pushing a white-clad woman aside.
“Waitaminute,” Veksai suddenly said, coming to a halt.
“Why are there people here?” Fast asked, “And why are they wearing…uniforms?”
Sure enough, the woman Gallium had pushed aside was wearing a nurse’s uniform. So was the man seated behind a nearby reception desk and giving them a nasty look.
“This is a hospital…” Fast said, trailing off.
“We’re too late!” Gallium gasped, “They already-“
“SHHH!” M’Kr’gr pushed them all back around the corner as Wellington turned around. He may have only been a second-year cadet, but he could still recognize that their red formal tunics would make them stand out, especially on Veksai who had opened the diamond-shaped white ventilation flap on his. Luckily, before Wellington could wonder about the commotion, he was approached by an elderly, greying doctor in dark red operating scrubs.
The four cadets could barely catch the conversation.
“-operation was a complete success,” the doctor was saying, “Highly unusual, a situation like this slipping past the pre-natal examinations, but not impossible. Anyway, we’ve corrected the-“
But Wellington wasn’t paying attention anymore. He’d sunk into a nearby chair, his whole body radiating relief.
“She’s going to be fine?” he asked the doctor.
“Absolutely,” the doctor assured him, “We’ll keep her here for a couple more days, of course, but she’ll be back home before you know it,”
As Wellington rose back to his feet, presumably to visit his daughter, Veksai nudged Gallium and Fast.
“I think we should go,” he said softly, “This really isn’t any of our business,”
“So,” Veksai said as the four of them rode another auto-cab back to the transporter terminal, “What did we learn?”
“Never listen to Gallium,” Fast said immediately.
“Yes, but aside from that,”
“Don’t jump to conclusions,” Gallium said, blushing a deep purple.
“And that if Wellington had needed help, he would have found a way to request it,” M’kr’gr added.
“Well, maybe not if he was trapped on a planet during a mission with some kind of fanged alien about to cut his heart out,” Gallium said. M’Kr’gr smacked him.
“That’s the nice things about being cadets,” Veksai mused, “As long as we’re at the Academy, we don’t really have to worry about getting involved in anything that’s too ‘life-or-death’. In theory, anyway.”
“Other than my n-Dimensional Calculus exam,” Fast grunted, “Which I haven’t studied for all week thanks to this stuff,’
“Other than that.”
Gallium perked up.
“Hey, if we get back to the Ball right away I can still introduce you to my girlfriend!”
The other three exchanged a look, then smirked at him.
It might be well and good to talk about how they were safe from life-and-death situation, but that didn’t stop final exams from FEELING like a life or death situation. Still, after enduring two Academy exam periods already there were no serious surprises. Studying was done. Veksai and his classmates worked themselves into a state of panic with their n-Dimensional Calculus exam, Gallium and his fellow artsmen hyper-ventilated over the Advanced Federation History exam. There was even a case of a cadet trying to use a tachyon beam to accelerate her higher brain functions the night before a Federation Technology exam. Unfortunately, instead of making her smarter the beam opened a transient rift to an alternate universe. The cadet herself was fine after one of the professors closed the rift, but the cadets of the alternate universe Academy were traumatized by the size of a disembodied brain floating around in the air for the duration.
Before everybody knew it, Fort Pike was emptying out for the holidays. The lower-classmen, having survived (mostly) their first round of exams, practically dashed out the door and towards the local transit system. Good-byes were said, hands or other grasping appendaces were shaken and hugs were exchanged. But everybody knew that in a matter of weeks, they’d all be back. Another semester of classes, another round of exams, then they would all be so much closer to that light at the end of the tunnel: Graduation.
Next: Up until this point, the Antares junior-classmen haven’t had to worry much about responsibilities or pip positions. But when Lt. Wellington announces that selections for the next years positions are open, everybody hits the ground running with one goal in mind…next on Star Traks: Crash Course!
Big white ape-aliens with a poisonous bite. ↩
Tiny shuttles used for orbital construction and hauling cargo within planetary orbit. I imagine they have other uses, as mentioned here. ↩
Selelvians were an elf-like race that popped up in Peter David’s New Frontier, and I don’t have the books in this province to check. Not to be confused with the Selvan, a nasty energy being that did many naughty things in Star Traks: Waystation. ↩
Yes, this incident actually happened. And yes, I now remember the first-year cadet’s name perfectly. (2020 edit. Yup. Still remember it.) ↩