Author: Brendan Chris
“I thought we were doing what we were SUPPOSED to be doing,” Bahred said, a look of frustrated confusion on his face.
“Yeah, we haven’t done anything that wasn’t done during SNAP the last two years,” Veksai agreed, “And now this?”
The ‘this’ in question had been a rather sudden and very firm order to halt any physical training of the lower classmen that wasn’t directly ordered by the Academy Senior Instructor. And drill. And inspections.
“We’re supposed to get them introduced to life at the Academy,” Verone said, calmly but clearly upset, “Life at the Academy involves PT. It involves discipline and it involves many inspections. How are we to prepare these lowers to be successful cadets if we’re not allowed to do…anything?”
Lieutenant Wellington, the Antares Sector Commander, and his cadet counterpart, senior-classman T’Henki, exchanged a glance.
“This is not the result of anything that has happened in Antares Sector,” she said, the unspoken ‘for once’ hanging over the room, “In fact, we are quite pleased with the work you’ve done,”
“Then what the h…um, heck?” Veksai demanded.
“Some of the other Sectors haven’t been quite so careful,” Lafonge said, his arms crossed.
“That thing with Mutara Sector?” Bahred asked, leaning forward, “I heard one of their cadets fractured her neck. But she’s fine! The infirmary fixed her right up!”
“Rearranging furniture,” Verone agreed, “At least, that was the rumour,”
“I can’t comment on that,” Lt. Wellington cut in, “But I will say that because of certain incidents among the other Sectors, the DirKat is cracking down on everybody,”
“That’s not fair,” Verone said flatly.
“Or logical,” Veksai said, looking at T’Henki. The Vulcan cadet seemed to brighten.
“One could argue that preventing all such activities would logically remove the risk of injury,” she said.
“So does curling into a ball and hiding in your room all day,” Veksai said, “Speaking of which, I better make sure Dav isn’t still cowering in a corner somewhere,”
“I hate to interrupt this debate, but who’s side are you on, anyway?” Lafonge asked T’Henki.
“I do not agree with the DirKat,” she said.
“In this Sector, I do not often have the opportunity for intellectual, logical debate,” T’Henki said.
The next day of SNAP started off pretty much the same as most others had, despite the changes sent down by the DirKat and Senior Instructor. After all, the morning workouts and inspections were mandated by them, as were the after-class sports.
It wasn’t until the evening came around that the problems started.
“I don’t know what to make them do!” Bahred said to Verone as they supervised the silent Brute Squad corridor, “They missed four timings today and Terran Sector kicked their butts at Bolian soccer,”
“Two more weeks of SNAP left,” Verone shook her head, “Or what passes for SNAP anyway. Really, I’m starting to feel more like a babysitter!”
Lower-classman Simth, the senior for the day, marched over, reported himself and stood at attention.
“What is it,” Bahred asked.
“Permission to change into workout gear, Mr. Bahred,” Simth said loudly.
“It’s more…comfortable…” Simth trailed off.
Bahred and Verone exchanged a look.
“Denied. Maybe next time you’ll actually be ready for supper on time,”
“Yes, Mr. Bahred,” he returned to his room.
“You have GOT to be kidding,” Veksai groaned at breakfast the next morning, “This is supposed to be one of the premier universities in the Federation and THE place for training new officers and the best way we can motivate them is to tell them they can’t change into more comfortable cloths?” he sighed, “Somewhere, a 20th-Century drill sergeant is rolling in his grave,”
“Do you remember when they had the Federation Marines take us out for training?” Bahred asked, “Now those guys were tough,”
“I don’t suppose they’re doing that again this year?” Veksai looked hopefully at Lefonge.
“No,” the senior-classman almost spat, “there are concerns that taking the lowers out into the woods would be ‘unsafe’. After all, somebody might get a splinter.”
Three days later, M’kr’gr was back. He’d been hospitalized to have his appendix removed, a procedure that was apparently far more complicated for Parians than for humans. Partly because Parian appendices had a nasty habit of growing claws and teeth.
He came stomping through the Brute Squad hallway, a small covered box clutched with one meaty paw. Looking around, something seemed…off. It was too quiet. The lowers were sitting quietly in their rooms, studying. They were dressed in their day uniforms and looked…bored.
“EVERYBODY OUT IN THE HALL!” he declared loudly. There was a moment of confusion, then the lowers jumped out of their seats and scrambled to stand at attention by their doors.
“YES MR. M’KR’GR!” they shouted.
M’kr’gr moved towards his own team. He stopped in front of Palamo.
“Mr. Palamo, he said evenly, “how has your week been?”
“It’s been…um…pretty good, Mr. M’kr’gr,” Palamo said, the very alien cadet shifting his weight along his three legs.
“Really. Then I suppose the staff has been too easy on you while I was away,”
“What’s going on here?”
M’kr’gr turned to see Lieutenant Furden, the evening Duty Officer, walking down the hallway,”
Before he could reply, Bahred was stepping out of his room.
“Mr. M’kr’gr was just sending everybody on a break from studying,” he said quickly.
“I see,” Furden looked suspicious, “And what’s that?” he pointed at the box in M’kr’gr’s hand.
“He’s just getting back from the hospital,” Veksai said, joining the group.
“Ah yes, I remember that report,” the officer nodded, “OK, carry on,”
“You heard Mr. Bahred,” Veksai said loudly, “You’re on a fifteen minute break. Make sure your rooms and uniforms are ready for tomorrow,”
As the lowers started running around, the two staff members pulled M’kr’gr aside.
“Careful, big guy,” Bahred said, “You don’t want to lose your pips,”
They quickly and quietly explained the situation. M’kr’gr looked at them blankly.
“You must,” he said slowly, “be joking,”
The next day saw the beginning of practice for the upcoming Survival Challenge.
“HAVE YOU READ THIS???” Veksai was fuming as he held a padd in M’kr’gr’s face, “They’re f**king with the Survival Challenge now!”
M’kr’gr looked down at the padd.
From: Lieutenant Salen, Academy Senior Instruction Officer
To: All SNAP Staff
Subject: Lower Classman Survival Challenge
Please note that going forward lower-classmen will be permitted to practice one time only for the rope bridge and shuttle portions of the Survival Challenge, to be supplemented with supervised classes on starship and space station layouts. In the interest of lower-classman safety NO, say again, NO unauthorized practices for any other possible challenges will be permitted.
“So, since they don’t want anybody getting injured practicing for the Survival Challenge, they’re not letting anybody prepare for it?” Bahred shook his head, “But that’s just stupid! They’re going to hit the Challenge and have no idea what they’re doing!”
“I know!” Veksai said angrily, “You remember our Challenge? That bit with the transporter? We had three nights practicing with Buhras and Vexnar! We would have been screwed otherwise!”
As it was, the lowers had been escorted to a rope-bridge setup near one edge of the Academy ground. It was similar to the one they were likely to encounter in the holo-patios on Challenge day, if the last two years were any indication. Two heavy cords stretched across a river and the lowers were expected to get across. Just as Brute Squad had made the mistake of doing back when Verone, Veksai and Bahred had been lowers, the current Brute Squad tried getting everybody across the bridge at once, with the result being that the half of the Squad was dunked in the river. In their year that had been a challenge, but the generally higher fitness level had meant that they’d been able to cling to the bridge, pull themselves out of the water and continue.
This year was a bit different. No fewer than half the Squad was pulled off the bridge, necessitating their retrieval a hundred meters down the river.
“If they had been doing proper PT instead of the joke workouts you have been forced to use, this wouldn’t be happening,” M’kr’gr said, a hand over his eyes in an uncharacteristic show of worry.
Veksai pulled over Palamo, the Brute Squad Challenge Leader.
“Look, that didn’t work,” he said, “So you need to try something a little different. Send the Squad over in two waves instead of one.”
“But that’ll take too long!” Palamo objected.
“Right, and losing half your people is a better idea?” Veksai snapped, “That’s major penalty points!”
So they tried it again in two waves. This time, only two lowers fell into the river.
“There, see?” Veksai said, “Big improvement,”
As it had the last two years, SNAP seemed to speed up as it drew to a close. The lowers seemed increasingly drained, the staff seemed increasingly stressed and it wasn’t long before everybody was hoping the whole thing would be over soon. It didn’t help that every other day was a new directive forbidding some activity that the staff saw as being useful and important. And it didn’t help that after two brief, brief practice sessions the lowers were forbidden from doing ANYTHING that could be considered Survival Challenge practice.
“What do you MEAN I can’t even take them into the Teleportation Lab?” Veksai was almost snarling at mid-classmen Hopstrap, “They’ve never even TOUCHED a real transporter, and you KNOW there’s going to be a transporter puzzle in the Challenge!”
“I know man,” Hopstrap shook his head, “I tried yesterday. Red Squad has it booked solid for their own practice. Y’know, Solaris competition and all that.”
“Red Squad?” Veksai shouted, “That competition is MONTHS away! Red Squad hasn’t even been SELECTED yet!”
“But they still have priority,” Hopstrap shrugged, “I’m having my guys use the little simulator program on their terminals,”
Veksai seemed to deflate.
“Yeah, we’ve been doing that too,” he said, “But it’s really not the same.”
“I know. But what else can we do?”
Verone’s eyebrows rose up nearly to her hairline.
“I beg your pardon?” she asked.
“I quit,” said Suhvank, Brute Squads older Klingon member, “This…this Academy is not worth my time.”
“I am learning nothing,” he practically spat, “the other cadets are soft and weak. And I expected that. But we are doing little to harden them, to give them the heart they will need! We are being…being…CODDLED!”
Verone couldn’t exactly argue that.
“What was all that about?” Veksai asked, stepping in as Suhvank was leaving.
“He wants to quit,”
“Lots of people think that in lower year,” Veksai shrugged. He looked closer at Verone. Her eyes were sunken and just a bit red.
“Are YOU all right?”
“Forture and I are on a ‘break’,” she said unhappily, referring to her half-Klingon boyfriend of nearly two years.
“A break, huh,” Veksai said carefully.
“We’ve been together for years,” Verone said, “But the Academy…relationships here…how far can they go? We’re over halfway through the program now. What happens when we’re posted to different ships? We might only see each other once a year.”
“Well, there are options,”
“Right, we could get married and get posted together,” Verone sniffed, “I don’t know if I’m ready for that, HE doesn’t know if he’s ready for that. Hence, break,”
Veksai really didn’t know what to say.
“That sucks?” he offered.
“I have to go,” Verone grumbled, “I have an appointment with the counsellor. But do me a favour, go and talk to Suhvank when you get the chance. You’re an old guy, maybe he’ll listen to you,”
The next morning, Veksai pulled Suhvank aside. He may not have been a Klingon and he may not be able to rip somebody in half the same way Suhvank could, but he was one of the few cadets that had come to the Academy a bit later in life.
“I understand you’re planning on leaving,” he said carefully.
“I am,” Suhvank said stiffly, his voice starting to rise “This place isn’t what I expected. Neither are the other cadets. They have no…no discipline! No willpower! They’re sheep ready to be led to the slaughter!”
“What are you thinking of doing instead?”
“I may apply to the Federation Marines,” Suhvank said, “Or, perhaps, return to the Empire,”
“Look, Suhvank, it’s your life, and your decision,” Veksai said, “But I have a bit of an idea what you’re going through here. And I really think you should wait until after SNAP is over to give it up. Life as a lower here isn’t great, regardless. But at least you get more control over your personal training, and you don’t have your Squadmates surrounding you 24/7.”
“I considered sticking it out,” Suhvank said, “But I don’t fit with them.”
“They’re barely 18!” Veksai exclaimed, “Or whatever their species version of ‘barely an adult’ is. You should have seen M’kr’gr and Bahred when we got here; they weren’t any different. You have an opportunity here to watch these kids start to mature. Everybody in our class has changed a lot since we first arrived here. Especially during the summer training courses. Those especially have a way of forcing you to grow up.” Veksai mentally thought of the very-realistically-simulated attack several of them had gone through aboard the USS Gagetown.
“Your class had a very different SNAP,” Suhvank said, “We may be lowers, but we still hear things. We know perfectly well that things have changed.”
“SNAP isn’t the be-all and end-all of the Academy,” Veksai shook his head, “It’s supposed to be an introduction, a way to get the lowers set into habits that they need to do well here,”
“Habits like lack of practice or preparation for an important event?”
“The junior-classmen took us out last night for an extra practice session,” Suhvank admitted, “After lights-out.” He paused for a moment. “It still wasn’t enough,”
“Glad to hear some traditions aren’t changing,” Veksai muttered. Lafonge and Adeth had taken their Brute Squad out more than once when they had been in their junior year.
“Look, we, the staff, we’ll respect your decision,” Veksai said, “But I really think you should try real Academy life before you throw the whole thing away,”
“I will consider what you’ve said, “Suhvank said.
Veksai and Verone watched from the far end of the corridor as Bahred and M’kr’gr brought Brute Squad back from morning PT. One thing that had been working out really well for them during SNAP had been Verone’s managing of the schedule. By switching staff between PT and the morning inspection, Verone made sure that not only did the PT staff get plenty of time to clean up, but that the inspection staff could sleep in a little; something badly needed.
“Game face on,” Verone said, nudging Veksai. They began the standard pace, moving up and down the corridor as the lowers rushed around to get ready. Veksai, bored with waiting, had started using the time to think up amusing (and possibly inappropriate) nicknames for each of the lowers. Dav, who still cringed in terror when Veksai approached was ‘Fraidy-Brute’. His roommate Vosskal was ‘Dozy-Brute’, after he’d fallen asleep repeatedly at his desk during study time. Palamo was ‘Keener-Brute’, Lempt was ‘Flaming-Brute’ due to her fiery hair, not any mannerisms. Pantar, due to his resemblance to Gallium, had been nicknamed ‘Princess-Brute’.
He’d kept the nicknames to himself at that point, but it hadn’t stopped the lowers from giving him one of his own.
He’d been teaching them to iron, a skill rarely used in the 24th Century. Unfortunately, the only replicator pattern for an ironing board had included a flower-print cover. Veksai had found himself in the corridor, surrounded by first years and trying to explain the importance of using steam when he made his major slip of the tounge:
“Just use plenty of steam and a bit of starch, and these pant creases will stay in forever,” he said, “It’s a good thing,”
He knew as soon as the words had slipped out of his mouth that they were a mistake. But it was too late.
“Hey!” Lucy piped up from the quietly watching lower-classman crowd, “Like that cleaning lady…Martha Steward!”1
“Awww…crap,” Veksai muttered.
At least, he now mused as he began inspecting Zett and Mitchel’s room, he could comfort himself that their uniforms looked a lot better after the little lesson/incident.
As SNAP charged into the final week it wasn’t quite so hard to keep the lowers busy in the evenings. Most of their limited free time was spent planning for their Survival Challenge. Suhvank was gone, having left barely two days after his conversation with Veksai. The staff wasn’t sure what was more upsetting; that he’d decided to leave, or that the rest of the squad didn’t seem to grasp that they’d lost a very strong Squadmate. In fact, half of them seemed happy he was gone.
“Maybe I’m taking this a bit personally,” Veksai said to Verone, “But they lost the older, more experienced and definitely the most driven member of the Squad…and they don’t seem to realize what they’ve lost!”
“Look at it from their point of view,” Verone said, “The crazy Klingon that kept bossing them around is gone. And come now, they don’t all feel that way,”
“I never bossed you guys around during SNAP,” Veksai muttered.
“Nooo, you just kept to yourself,”
“Better than turning myself into a target,”
“But not all that helpful to the rest of us,”
“Right, because yelling at everybody and trying to convince you all I was so much smarter than you would have been so much more helpful,”
In any event, time stopped for no cadet and the Survival Challenge was quickly approaching. Despite the limitations in practice, the lowers were still being given plenty of time to plan out their strategies for what was coming up. That, however, led to another decision on the part of the staff:
“It’s their Challenge,” Verone had said, “Let them plan it out and make their own strategy. Keep your noses out as much as possible.”
“Agreed,” M’kr’gr said as Veksai nodded..
“Yeah,” Bahred said, “We’ve had our turn in the spotlight. This years Challenge is all about them, right?”
They were standing at the far end of the corridor, watching as Brute Squad made their plans. Ves-23 was still in her wheelchair, the replacement synthetic leg that she’d ordered still hadn’t arrived for some reason. (The original had been mistaken for a piece of Borg technology and disintegrated.) Lekitte was grooming herself absently while Zett picked at one of the plugs left over from his prior life as an assimilated Borg drone. Somebody had cracked some kind of joke, and the entire Squad broke out into giggles. The next thing the staff knew, they were breaking out in a song by an older group, Rigillian Queen.
“They’re not a bad group,” Verone said.
“Nobody said they were, Veksai commented.
“They are a LOT better than they were a month ago,” M’kr’gr added.
“Yeah,” Bahred nodded, “they’re pretty good. It’s not their fault that…that…”
“That they’ve been screwed?” M’kr’gr suggested with a growl.
“That’s not fair, XL,” Verone said, invoked the reptiles nickname, “They’ve worked hard.”
“We know,” Veksai said, “But…there were opportunities we had that they didn’t. And it’s not fair to them.”
“Life isn’t fair,” Bahred observed.
As always, the Survival Challenge was a big day at the Academy. Cadets from all years and all Sectors converged on the Parade Ring to show their support to the new lower-classmen. The Challenge itself was largely unchanged from previous years, except it had been reversed. Each Squad now started from a simulated starship, taken over by hostile intruders, in orbit of a simulated planet. After fighting (or sneaking) their way to the transporter rooms or shuttlebays for an escape, the Squads had to struggle across several ground obstacles to a simulated friendly outpost.
Brute Squad started off pretty good, with Zett leading them through the Jefferies tubes towards the transporter room. The one time they’d been caught, Octavia had let out a hyper-sonic screeched that had stunned the enemy long enough for the rest of the squad to stun them with training phasers. The transporter had proven to be a bit of a problem, with Lekitte being accidently sliced in half by a mis-calibration in the beam. Simulated, of course. The SNAP staff and the rest of Antares Sector were cheering on the lowers as they approached the rope bridge.
“Wait, what are they…” Veksai’s eyes widened in surprise, “Ohhh, no, no, nonononoooo…”
M’kr’gr’s jaw had dropped.
Instead of splitting into two waves, the entire squad was making it way over the bridge. As it had in practice, the bridge dipped into the river. As in the practice, the current pulled at the lowers.
And, as in the practice, almost half of the squad was pulled into the river and out of sight.
The cheering from the Sector faltered briefly, then resumed at a somewhat reduced level. The lowers left, Mitchel, Palamo, Lucy, Kansel, Lathe and Zett and Tik, struggled their way past the last two obstacles and into the safety of the simulated compound.
The holopatio abruptly shut down and Lafonge thrust the glowing red sphere of Antares Sector in Palamo’s hands and pushed him towards the Federation Emblem.
“Finish this!” he shouted, “RUN!”
Surrounded by the higher years, Brute Squad sprinted towards the emblem and pressed the Antares Sector sphere into place.
As the lower-classmen fell over each other in celebration, the staff looked on.
“Hard to believe it’s over, huh?” Veksai said.
“No, it’s not over,” Lafonge said, “SNAP may be over, but you are still their staff for the rest of the semester. And let me tell you something,” he pointed at each of them, “the officers here may have made things hard for you this month, but you gave it your best, and those cadets are never, never going to forget who you are or the work you put in,”
That was, they reflected, something of a comfort.
The Entry Ceremony went off without incident, the staff watching from the sidelines until it was time for them to come out and present the lowers with their new Academy comm-badges. And then the Academy emptied. For the lowers and the staff, it was their first free weekend all month. Predictably, the lowers rushed off campus to spend time away from the Academy, venturing into San Francisco with parents, friends or just on their own. For the staff, it was time to get back to life as usual.
“You know,” Veksai was saying, “I kept hearing staff from past years saying they had a tonne of schoolwork waiting for them when SNAP ended. But I’m pretty much caught up,”
“That is because you’re a workaholic,” M’kr’gr said. He, on the other hand, had a pile of schoolwork on his desk, along with that same covered box he’d been carrying when he’d returned from the hospital.
“Well that, and I had my really tough courses in junior year,” Veksai shrugged.
“I need to get back into the gym,” M’kr’gr said, absently rubbing his abdomen, “This injury has set me back in my program.”
“Right, because being able to fit through doors is a pain,” Veksai said dryly, “Seriously, you get much bigger and you won’t fit!”
“Did you know,” he said, “that there were a record number of injuries this year among the lowers during the Challenge? Perhaps, if they had been more fit and had been given the chance to practice that may not have happened.”
“Preaching to the choir, big guy,” Veksai said, patting his shoulder.
Life at the Academy settled back into its never-changing routine. Classes were attended, sports were played, Terran Sector was mocked by the rest of the Academy and the Cochrane Memorial was mysteriously moved to the roof of the Brinn Planetarium. The top floor of Fort Hillier, formerly off-limits to all but SNAP staff and lower-classmen, was now just another dormitory floor. Strangely, few higher years came to visit the lower-classmen. Some came up to see the staff, but life on the upper floor was starting to feel just a bit isolated.
On the other hand, it didn’t take long to realize that it wasn’t just the upper floor.
Veksai was wandering around the Antares Sector floor, trying to put his finger on just what felt…wrong…about the new building. He walked up and down the hallway, but wasn’t quite sure. Something was missing.
He stepped into the men’s room, walked around the partition to the showers. Sure enough, in one of the tubs off to the side, a pile of green mould was wheezing slightly.
“Hi, Roger,” Veksai said.
“Hello…mid-classman…” Roger wheezed in its airy voice. Roger had been with Antares Sector since Veksai had been in lower year. He’d…congealed, for lack of a better term, from the various moulds and spores that had been present in Fort Pike, their old condemned dorm. Somehow, he’d gained self-awareness. Aside from scaring the hell out of anybody who took a shower, Roger had proven to be a very fast learner.
“So,” Veksai sat uncomfortably on the edge of the tub, “How are things?”
“Quiet,” Roger breathed. It didn’t have vocal cords, per se, but it still managed to speak, “I think everybody has gotten used to me. I haven’t made anybody scream in weeks,”
“That’s good,” Veksai said.
“Is it? I’m a…mould monster. I should…make…people scream,”
“Who told you that?”
“B’kar,” Roger replied, referring to a monkey-like alien boy now in junior year.
“Don’t listen to him, his mind works in weird ways,” Veksai assured Roger. But speaking of B’kar, maybe it was time to pay the junior a visit.
Veksai barely made it four paces into the corridor before running into Akavari Kumari, an Indian girl in his year.
“Kumari!” he said warmly, “Haven’t seen you in ages!”
“Well, you know middle year,” she said, “I’ve been running around like crazy!”
“Is that where everybody is?” Veksai asked, gesturing at the empty hallway.
“Naw, they’re probably just in their rooms,” she replied.
“But…something feels really weird here,” he said.
Kumari gave a sort of sad little smile.
“You mean the fact that all the doors are shut, hardly anybody is wandering around the hallway and nobody is yelling a conversation from one room to another?”
Veksai’s eyes widened in realization.
“Exactly!” he said.
“It’s because we’re not in Fort Pike anymore,” Kumari said glumly, “The doors in this new building close automatically. And the maintenance people yell at us if we prop them open.”
“But this place is so…so…dead!”
They stood in silence for a moment.
“I gotta go, Ross is waiting for me,” Kumari said.
“Yeah, I’m going back upstairs,” Veksai took another look around the empty hallway, “This just…sucks!”
666 Days to Blast-Off. A tradition running back countless years, a chance for the senior-classmen to enjoy a bit of fun as their final year at the Academy kicks into overdrive. Mid-term exams were done, giving everybody a chance to blow off some steam. Senior and lower classmen would trade pip positions, senior classmen would adopt what they believed to be the mannerisms of a lower-classmen, while the lowers would try to take on the day-to-day running of the Academy, despite the fact that nobody was listening to them or wanted to take them seriously. And, being the Academy, the event was documented, memos were written and officers vowed to avoid the Parade Ring for that morning’s muster.
Somebody, apparently, missed the memo.
“Come on everybody, I said quick march!” lower-classman Octavia called. She’d traded places with Dril, the Sector Cadet Trainer and was trying to march Antares Sector to the Parade Ring while wearing a tunic that fit her like a tent. (Her tunic was wrapped around Drill’s left arm.)
“Quick what?” senior-classsman Adeth asked, his tunic askew and his marching decidedly non-regulation, “Hey, Labal, what’s a quick march? I don’t know, I’m just a lower!”
Senior-classman Junethec slipped accidentally-on-purpose on Kodene’s slime trail as the squid-like Velvattian twisted its way along the route.
“WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON HERE????”
Everybody turned to see the source of the scream, Academy Chief of Cadets Buznar running from his office towards the path, eyes wide and moustache vibrating.
“SOMEBODY BETTER EXPLAIN THIS RIGHT NOW!” he demanded, slowing as he approached Antares, “This is COMPLETELY unacceptable behaviour!” One finger speared towards Octavia, “What is SHE DOING in a tunic EIGHT SIZES TOO BIG???”
Octavia flinched back and whimpered.
Malespere, the Deputy Academy Training Officer, quickly moved out of ranks and pulled the Chief aside. A few moments later, Malespere was returning to the Sector and the Chief was stalking angrily back towards his office.
“Well?” junior-classman B’kar asked.
“Don’t worry about it,” Malespere said, “We aren’t doing anything that wasn’t already approved. Guess he missed the memo,”
“Bet you fifty credits they left him off the list on purpose,” Veksai grumbled, “Just so they could watch him blow up at us,”2
Archie Bahred was sitting in his room, studying for a test in Astrophysics. With 666 Days over, it was time to knuckle under and focus hard for the month of November before final exams cropped up. As with most of the mid-classmen, Bahred was finding himself nearly overwhelmed with the amount of school-work that had been dumped on his plate. For a few programs the heavy academic year was the junior year, but the majority hit the big crunch in middle year.
“I think my head is going to explode,” Bahred groaned. His roommate Malespere was buried in a pile of n-Dimensional Physics papers.
A splitting siren suddenly rang out the room, accompanied by a flashing red light.
“This isn’t helping!” Bahred fumed.
“Dude, it’s an evacuation alert!” Malespere said, jumping to his feet, “We gotta get out!”
They stepped out of their room and into the hallway. All around them, Antares cadets were coming out of their rooms with confused looks on their faces. Down towards the end of the hall, a pair of uniformed security officers were directing people away from the east exit. Behind them, Bahred barely caught a glimpse of junior-classman B’kar as two more uniformed security officers slapped cuffs on him and hauled him away.
“This is pretty messed up,” junior-classman Labal commented, looking at Fort Hillier from the grassy field where Antares and Veltran Sectors had gathered after the evacuation. A Starfleet runabout was parked next to the east stairwell and a group of officers was navigating a small robotic drone into the door.
“What exactly happened?” Veksai demanded.
“Well, we don’t know for sure yet,” his roommate Igor said, “But I heard somebody telling T’Henki that they found a bomb in B’kar’ room,”
“Not exactly,” senior-classman Dril joined in, the seven foot tall Lemnorian looking like he was having a decidedly unpleasant day.
THIRTY MINUTES PRIOR
Chief Buznar and Chief Angel were doing one of their many walkthrough inspections of the cadet rooms in Fort Hillier. Granted, they’d toned things down somewhat after the leg-shaving incident, but the cadets still had to be kept in line!
“Junior-classmen B’kar and Scuuter,”, Buzner read off the door plate. They rang the chime and, hearing no answer, used their overrides to open to the door.
“Laundry on the floor,” Angel commented as Buznar began writing on one of the mirrors, “Dust on the shelves.” He opened a cabinet.
“Buznar, come here,” Angel said, his voice suddenly very quiet.
Buznar came over, to find himself staring at an odd, jury-rigged looking contraption.
“Is that a tetryon particle generator wired to a remote activator?” Buznar asked calmly.
“Yes. Yes it is.”
The two men stepped back slowly, exited the room, then frantically called up Academy Security, Starfleet Security and the Emergency Response Unit.
Antares and Veltran had been waiting for nearly two hours before they finally had the OK to go back into the building. Even then, Scuuter wasn’t happy.
“I can’t go back in my room!” he objected loudly, hauling a cot into Wronski and Labal’s room, “They’ve got it closed off as ‘evidence’!”
“That’s what happens when your roommate is a mad bomber!” Labal said with a wide grin.
“It wasn’t a bomb!” Scuuti snapped, “He grabbed a tetryon generator from the fireworks display at 666 to Blast-Off and wanted to be able to set it off remotely!”
“Fireworks?” Baxter asked, his expression oddly flat.
“Didn’t anybody think to tell him that wiring up something that looks a lot like a weapon would be a Bad Idea?” Veksai asked, on his way back to the stairwell.
“Of course I told him! But he wouldn’t listen to me!” Scuuti said, “His brain is like ‘Oh, cool idea! I’m going to do it!’ He doesn’t stop to think about the shit he can get into!”
“Well, maybe a few days in the brig will cure that,” Baxter mused.
They stepped through the doors into the Fort Hillier lobby and stopped. The large display on the rear wall showed, as always, the attendance board for Veltran and Antares Sectors. On one side, it also showed the ranking of all the dozens of Sectors at the Academy. Everything they did, from the Survival Challenge to their academic and fitness scores to their inspection results were tabulated and analyzed, with the Sectors being ranked accordingly. Antares Sector had been considered something of the black sheep of the Academy when Bahred, Veksai and Baxter had arrived, but had managed to stay ranked just under the halfway mark for their first two years. Now…
“Is that thing right?” Baxter asked.
“I dunno,” Scuuter said, not really paying attention, “Probably just a computer glitch.”
According to the board, after the mid-term exams marks had been factored in, Antares was pretty close to the top of the list, ranked #10, something none of them had seen before.
“They’ll fix it by tomorrow,” Baxter shrugged, “Anybody wanna go to Scotty’s? I need a beer.”
“OK, Brute Squad,” Verone was saying, “Some info on the Starfleet Academy Non-Denominational, Non-Discriminatory Festive Meal and Socialization Event.”
“You mean the Christmas Ball?” Lucy asked.
“No, don’t call it that,” Verone said, “Right, so the dress is as follows…”
SNAP may have been over, but as always the SNAP staff remained with the lowers for the rest of the semester, until the pip panel changed. Their role had changed from PT & discipline and more into a guiding role, making sure the lower-classmen learned what they needed to learn and did what they needed to do during their first semester at the Academy. Of course, results may vary. Veksai was especially frustrated with Lekitte, who spent so much time playing Bolian soccer that she never seemed to do anything else. On the other hand, mandatory extra PT and the desire to actually improve (as opposed to slacking off when the PT instructors weren’t looking) had led Vosskal to drop in weight considerably. The walrus-like cadet was looking considerably less walrus-like and more like…some other, leaner animal with tusks.
“Veksai, come here,” M’kr’gr called from his room as Verone went over proper wearing of the formal maroon tunics used by the Academy.
“What’s up?” Veksai asked. He noticed the covered box M’kr’gr had brought back from the hospital was still sitting on his desk, next to some very well-gnawed chicken bone.
“The DirKat has struck again,” M’kr’gr said with a look of disgust.
From: Captain Smitty, Academy Director of Cadets
To: All Pipmen
Subject: Academy Shielf
Please note that going forward, no tampering of any kind with the Academy environmental systems including defensive shields or weather modification systems will be permitted. In addition, snowball fights are officially banned on Academy Grounds
“Great,” Veksai shook his head, “So much for the annual snowball attack on Terran Sector.”
“Another Acadmy tradition is shot down,” M’kr’gr shook his head.
“I guess they don’t see it as a tradition,” Vekisa sighed.
“It wasn’t about them,” M’kr’gr said, “It was a chance to build moral between cadets and Sectors.”
“That’s what they said about SNAP,” Veksai muttered, “And 666 to Blast-Off. And the Survival Challenge.”
“Yeah, and we can see how well those went this year,”
Final exams came and went. No fewer than eight cadets suffered seizures during n-Dimensional Hyper-Calculus (to the absolute delight of the prof), three simulated warp-cores suffered catastrophic breaches and twenty-three simulated starships performed graceful swan-dives into stellar cores due to faulty navigational programming. Still, considering the number of cadets at the Academy, this was only a small percentage.
“I passed Hull Stress Analysis!” Kumari announced happily upon her return.
“And I passed Xeno-Sexuality!” Gallium exclaimed back, earning strange looks from the people around him.
“What?” he asked, “Everybody needs some loving!”
“Including your ‘girlfriend’?” Igor asked, making little air-quotes. His own girlfriend had come by the campus just enough for everybody to know she was in fact a real person, but not so much that his roommate was irritated with ‘sock on doorknob’ syndrome.
“Beth is real!” Gallium objected, his blue skin blushing a darker shade.
“Are we arguing about Gallium’s imaginary girlfriend again?” Veksai asked, walking by with a suitcase. Everybody was taking off for the holiday, including the very excited lower-classmen.
“She’s real!” Gallium objected, “You’ll see!” The padd he was carrying started beeping. “In fact, she’s waiting for me to hop the cross-continental shuttle to Berlin!”
“Berlin? The leather-fetish capitol of Europe?”
“Shut up!” Gallium snapped, grabbing his bag off the floor and stomping out the front doors.
Holidays came, holidays went. Pips changed, with senior-classman Litnis now the Antares Cadet Sector Leader. Additionally the Sector Commander, Lt. Wellington, had been replaced with a new officer, Lt. Naugut. Day to day the cadets didn’t see much of a change, as the Sector Commander was meant to advise the Sector Leader as opposed to actually running the show. But some did notice that paperwork that had previously been slowly meandering through the system was suddenly zipped right though.
Not all changes were so pleasant, unfortunately.
“THIS IS COMPLETELY NUTS!” shouted mid-classman Cuirass, one of Veksai’s classmates in Introduction to Bio-neural Circuits. He waved his padd under Veksai’s nose “Have you SEEN this???”
“The new dress code?” Veksai grumbled, “Yes. Yes I have. Don’t talk to me about it,”
“All mid-classmen will now wear business-casual wear appropriate to their species when off duty,” Cuirass read loudly, ignoring the ‘THUNK’ as Veksai’s forehead met his desk, “All junior-classmen will now wear appropriate formal or semi-formal dress, and all senior-classmen will select from the following allowable options. This is to ensure that Academy cadets meet the high standards of professionalism expected from Starfleet officers. Have you ever heard such a complete load of s**t!”
“Every time you open your mouth,” Veksai grumbled.
“F**k you!” Cuirass snapped. He paused. “Well OK, yeah. But I mean with this dress code,”
“I’m furious,” Veksai said, “Aside from the fact that the Academy is messing around even more with our personal lives, have you actually read the dress code for off-duty Starfleet officers?”
“Well…yeah!” Cuirass said, “I was with you on the USS Gagetown last summer. We never had to do anything like this when we went off-ship for a little break,”
“Exactly. Starfleet officers are expected to dress neatly, in clothing that is in good repair and has no offensive logos, symbols, slogans or phrases,” Veksai sounded like he was reciting something from memory, “This bulls**t isn’t a Starfleet dress code, it’s an ACADEMY dress code.”
“Are you two complaining about the new dress code?” another cadet in the class sat next to them. Mid-classman Matew was a short, round being with fuzzy brown hair. Nobody was really sure what species he was, and they weren’t really interested enough to ask.
“I suppose you like it?” Cuirass said sharply.
“No, I think whoever came up with that stupid thing should burn in the depths of Hell,” Matew said.
They looked at each other.
“Three years, and I think that’s the first time we’ve all agreed on something,” Matew said, surprised.
Veksai had barely gotten back to Fort Hillier that evening when he passed M’kr’gr moving quickly up and down the corridors, a look of worry on his face.
“What’s up?” he asked, “Hey, did you see that Antares is up to seventh place in the Academy ranking? What’s with that?”
M’kr’gr looked indecisive for moment, then spoke quietly.
“I lost it,” he said.
“Um, OK,” Veksai said, confused, “Lost what?”
“Uhh…they took that out months ago,” Veksai said, wondering if maybe XL was studying a little too hard.
“No! I mean, it escaped!”
M’kr’gr held up the small covered box he’d brought back from the hospital, the same box which had sat on his desk for the past semester and a bit. With the cover pulled half off, Veksai could see it was a small cage.
“You can’t be serious,” Veksai said flatly.
“They were going to kill it!” M’kr’gr objected, “After it grew claws and tried to rip it’s way out of my body, the hospital staff were going to put it in the matter reclamation unit! So I snuck it out! And I might have…sort of…bumped over the cage when I was…er…checking my work-out progress.”
“You mean flexing in front of the mirror,” Veksai said.
“Shut up and help me find it!”
“Mr. Veksai,” it was lower-classman Octavia, coming quickly up the corridor “you should come, quick!”
“I’m sort of in the middle of something,” Veksai tried to say. Octavia called to someone, then lower-classman Kansel was pulled along the corridor by lower-classman Ves-23, her cybernetic leg finally having been replaced over Christmas. Veksai started when he saw the pasty, sickly look on the lower-classman’s face.
“I’m fine,” Kansel was objecting, “You’re all getting too worked-up over nothing!”
“Lift your shirt,” Ves-23 ordered him.
Grunting, he complied.
“HOLY S**T!” Veksa exclaimed, M’kr’gr’s problem suddenly forgotten. Kansel’s body had broken out in a spectacular, multicoloured rash, the likes of which they’d never before seen. “Have you been to the infirmary?” he demanded.
“It’s nothing,” Kansel insisted, “Look, something bit me when I was sleeping. This is just a little rash, that’s it. It’ll go away by tomorrow.”
“You need to see a doctor,” Ves-23 insisted.
“Yeah, she’s right,” Veksai said. He moved to grab the lower by the arm, then thought the better of it. “Come with me. NOW!”
Still objecting, Kansel followed Veksai towards the exit. Goal achieved, Ves-23 and Octavia returned to their rooms.
“At least now I know where my appendix went,” M’kr’gr muttered to himself, grabbing the cage and moving towards Kansel’s room.
Weeks continued to pass, the irresistible Academy routine drawing in cadets of all years. No amount of grumbling or memos would deter the Academy officers from implementing the hated dress code, and admittedly the senior-classmen who could have put up the biggest fight cared the least, as they were now less than two months from their commissioning and graduation. Kumari, Bahred, M’kr’gr, Quarterman, Fastocheni and Bizkit found themselves sucked into their studies, many long hours spent struggling with assignments. By contrast, Veksai and Gunthar found themselves with more free time than they’d had since arriving, as the Isolinear & Bio-neural Engineering program had already had its heavy academic year during their junior year.
One cold, rainy Thursday night found Veksai and Igor sitting in Scotty’s, (informally known by the Klingon and Andorian cadets as the ‘Human Hide-Away) sharing a pitcher of synthale. Scotty’s was always an interesting place to go, and Sector divisions meant so much less there. It was unusual to go into the comfortable lounge/bar/coffee house and NOT run into a classmate, a Sector-mate, or a cadet you’d met during summer training on the USS Richelieu, USS Gagetown, Waystation, or one of the other training ships/centers. As it was, the two Antares cadets had been joined by mid-classman Som’ki, whom they’d met aboard the Gagetown, and senior-classman Saks, who’d been aboard Waystation with Veksai the year before.
“…can’t wait to get the f**k out of here,” Saks was saying, “I did my internship on the USS Endeavor this past summer? SOOO not like the Academy. You can actually have a life there.” He took a long swing of his drink, “The officers don’t treat you like s**t, you actually go places and the food doesn’t come from a batch of sadistic holograms that were designed to do surgery!”
“My chicken breast had an implant yesterday,” he said, “And they do their tricks with holograms!”
“So if you complain, whatever they put in your food just vanishes,” Veksai agreed.
“Disgusting,” Saks said, “But that’s what I mean! You guys were on ship last summer, did you ever have people treat you like that?”
Their reply was cut off when somebody cranked the volume on the holo-vision hanging on one wall.
“…Joan Reddings, coming to you with this exclusive AWN Breaking News Bulletin! A representative from Starfleet Command has confirmed reports than an unidentified ship attacked the USS Explorer while she was engaged in aiding a Tellarite frigate. Unconfirmed reports suggest that the attacking ship was none other than the USS Idlewild, commanded by fugitive Captain Alvin Ficker, however Starfleet refuses to comment of the current whereabouts of Captain Ficker or on his involvement in the matter…”
“Creepy,” Som’ki said, “See those coordinates?” he gestured at the screen, which was showing where the attack had taken place, “That’s only a couple of days from here,”
“What does that have to do with us?” Igor asked.
“I’ve heard that a guy named Ficker has some senior-classmen cadets with him,” Saks said, “They disappeared while they were doing an internship, then turned up with him.”
“How could you POSSIBLY know that?”
“You remember Sparkes?” Saks asked.
“Small girl. Nice, but kinda quiet. She’s in my Sector, but she got an extended internship on the Explorer.”
“Yeah. Apparently this Ficker thing is pretty big,”
Veksai drank more of his ale.
“I doubt we have to worry about it,” he said, “The odds of something dangerous and important happening to us are pretty slim,”
Several days later…
“RED ALERT! SAY AGAIN, THE ACADEMY IS ON RED ALERT!”
“Nothing interesting ever happens to us!” Igor snapped at Veksai as the two of them ran from Fort Hilliar to their assigned emergency shelter, “That’s what you said!”
“OK, I’m an idiot!” Veksai admitted, “How was I going to know the Explorer and the Idlewild were going to show up in orbit and start shooting at each other??”3
“Why don’t they have the Academy shield up?” Bizkit demanded, looking very worried as he ran next to them.
There was a loud roar overhead as a small Federation-style starship soared through the air, almost like it was making a bombing run on the Academy. At the last minute, the ship nose-dived, tried to pull up, then performed a belly-flop crash right in the middle of a large grassy field a few hundred meters from Fort Hillier. The Antares cadets skidded to a stop, staring in shock.
“Epic fail!” Derok cried out loudly.
It took a few days for the story to come out. Most of it had been classified, but since several senior cadets had been involved, enough rumours circulated down for everybody to piece together what had happened.
“…Captain Baxter had been chasing this Ficker guy for years,” Veksai was telling the lower-classmen, “And I guess Ficker got his hands on this mind-control ray, and had the bright idea of taking over Starfleet by using it on the Academy. But the Explorer crew stopped him time.”
“So, we were the targets of an evil mind-control plot and nobody remembered to tell us?” Vosskal asked.
“Yeah,” Veksai shrugged, “Scary, huh?”
“I think if we’d been brainwashed, we would have liked it,” Octavia said, “Isn’t that the way brainwashing works?”
Everybody looked at her oddly for a moment, then went back to their rooms.
Despite the brief excitement, life at the Academy again fell into routine. Finals came and went, and with a speed that took everybody off-guard it was time for the commissioning and graduation parade.
Another event that had taken Antares Sector off-guard was the release of the final Academy rankings. Antares, former black sheep, was now one of the highest ranked squadrons in the college, tied for third place with Mutara sector.
“I can’t believe how things change,” Quarterman was saying after they’d read the announcement, “I mean, we’ve gone from being Secondprize material to being…being…respectable?”
“It’s not that we’ve gotten any better,” senior-classman, soon to be Ensign Adeth told her, “It’s just that everybody else is so depressed about all the s**t that’s happened this year, they’ve sunk down to our level.”
Whatever the cause, next year’s lower-classmen wouldn’t be wincing when they were assigned to Antares Sector.
Speaking of the lower-classmen, another event had gone done very different from the previous year.
“Yeah, I’m SNAP staff next year,” junior-classman Labal told Veksai and Bahred, “Me, Wronski, P’wall. And Verone is Squad Leader. But man, only two of us actually applied for it! There was nowhere near the craze we had last year,”
“SNAP changed,” Veksai shrugged sadly, “It’s not as exciting anymore. I just hope next year works out better, for your guys’ sake,”
“We didn’t have many applications for pip positions next year, either,” Bahred said, “M’kr’gr is going to be Sector Leader, but only two other people applied for it.”
“Yeah, I’m a Team Leader again,” Veksai said, “I would have liked Squad Leader, but really, I don’t want to get involved in the upper pip positions…not if it means dealing with the sort of things that happened this year.”
“You’re not the only one,” Bahred mused, “Hey, I gotta get to the graduation practice.”
Unlike their lower year, only a few of the Antares Sector mid-classmen were actually part of the parade. Most were involved with other duties, performing tasks that would ensure that the festivities went on smoothly. But there was a different sense in the air this year. In their lower year, they had all taken part in the graduation ceremony and vowed that one day it would be them on the Parade Ring, marching off the Academy grounds for the last time to begin their new careers in the fleet. Junior year had been more of the same. ‘Yes, one day that’s going to be us, another year closer, blah, blah blah.’
Now, however, there was light at the end of the tunnel. Three long years had already passed. Three years of classes, exams, physical training, language training, summer fleet training and all the assorted extra crap that went with being part of a para-military organization. Now, only one year remained. One single year, then it would be their turn.
They could only hope the next year would pass as quickly as this one had.
In Star Traks: The Vexed Generation, the frozen body of Martha Stewart was found by an alien race known as the Leera. Enthralled with her ideas, they made her their leader, changed their name to the Leeramar and set out on a galactic war against dirt and grime before being stopped by the crew of the USS Explorer. ↩
I wish this was completely fictional. I really do. ↩
This is a tie-in to the series finale of Star Traks: The Vexed Generation in which Captain Ficker attempts to take control of Starfleet by using a brainwashing ray on the cadets of the Academy. It may seema bit out of place, but it seemed silly to ignore it when there so so clearly an opportunity to tie in. ↩