Author: Brendan Chris
“So to wrap up, ladies, gentlemen and other genders, you are the senior leadership of this Academy,” Commandant August Amouren was saying, “All the other pipmen along with the incoming lower-classmen will be looking to you for guidance,”
“So don’t screw it up,” Captain Toupee, the new Director of Cadets added grimly.
M’kr’gr would have rolled his eyes, if he’d been human. As a Parian, aka a giant fanged reptile, he merely allowed his tongue to dart out and taste the air. He was not receiving good signals from this new DirKat. And considering that she was going to be in charge of every silly policy, rule and regulation that governed the lives of he and his fellow cadets that was not a good thing. On the other hand, the former DirKat had proven to be an absolute disaster, so how bad could this new one really be?
M’kr’gr was the new Cadet Sector Leader for Antares Sector. He, along with senior-classmen Guthar and Baxter, his deputy and Cadet Sector Training Officer respectively, formed the senior leadership for one of the dozens of cadet Sectors that made up the Academy. Granted, they had a Sector Commander, an actual commissioned officer, to help them out. But the day-to-day decisions and their consequences rested with them.
As the briefing room emptied, M’kr’gr quickly spotted senior-classmen Verone, his lower-classan Squad Leader along with Quarterman and Bizkit. The latter two were Squad Leaders for the remaining Antares cadets.
“Oh yeah, baby!” Baxter grinned as they converged into a group, “We’re it now! Large and in charge!”
“I just hope SNAP runs more smoothly this year,” Verone said dryly.
“Did you see the day count in the dining hall?” Guthar said in his thick accent, “235 days until graduation. That’s it!”
“A whole school year,” Verone nodded, “But it’s going to pass fast,”
“Definitely,” M’kr’gr agreed.
They left the briefing room and took a turbolift down to the ground floor of Khitomer Building, the Academy’s central structure. The spire of the building housed much of the administration complex of the Academy, along with some labs, lecture halls and classrooms. It also featured the security and operations departments, although the only visible sign on the building exterior that it might not be part of an ordinary university was the ring of defensive shield generators perched on the roof. Most of the individual disciplines had their own buildings surrounding Khitomer, such as the Montgomery Scott Theoretical Propulsion Laboratory or the Sonak Experimental Teleportation Complex.
“Have you heard anything about our new Sector Commander?” Guthar asked.
“Lt. Naugut is gone?” Baxter asked, “Sweet!”
“Not sweet, Dylan,” Verone corrected him, “Lt. Naugut was an excellent officer. He advised the pipmen, but didn’t overpower them. He handled Sector issues very well. We were lucky to get him,”
“Uh-huh,” Baxter waver her away, “All I know is, this is my last year at school and my last chance to PAR-TAY!”
“I wonder why he left so quickly,” M’kr’gr wondered.
“They probably just needed to give him something to do while he waited for his next ship to arrive,” Verone suggested.
“I suppose,” M’kr’gr shrugged
Over in Fort Hillier, Steven Veksai and Sergei Igor surveyed a neighbouring pair of single rooms on the third floor of Fort Hilliar.
“Advantages of being a senior-classman,” Veksai observed, noting the single bed, the single desk, the single closet and the complete lack of anything that would permit a second person to live in the room.
“No more waiting for each other to finish with the sink,” Igor said.
“No more dealing with the odour from your feet,” Veksai said.
“No more waiting for you to leave before I can bring Madeline over,” Igor smiled.
“No more walking in on you and Madeline in the reverse cowboy position,” Veksai agreed.
“Hey guys! No more roommates!” Gell Gallium, a blue-skinned Bolian said as he came down the corridor, “Isn’t that great?”
“If we’d been able to stay in Fort Pike we would have had our own rooms for every year except our lower year,” Igor pointed out.
“And if we’d been in almost any other Sector, we would have had our own rooms for our middle-year at the very least,” Veksai added.
“Not Canopus or Sirrius Sectors,” Gallium said, “They still have seniors doubled up,”
“Hey, guess what?” Gallium said excitedly.
They both stared at him.
“What?” Veksai asked.
“Well…you have to guess. That’s why I said ‘guess what’,”
“C’mon Gallium, just tell us,”
“Well, I’ve been crunching some numbers,” the Bolian said, “And with my course load, and the requirements for my program, if I take on an extra class this semester I can graduate and get my commission a semester early!
“Really,” Veksai’s eyebrows shot up, “What the hell? My program’s already been crunched from a five-year course schedule to four years. They couldn’t make it any shorter without killing me,”
“What’s your program again?”
“Bio-neural Computer Engineering,” Veksai replied, “And you’re…”
“Xeno-economics,” Gallium said, “Specializing in Vulcan commerce,”
“Don’t Vulcans use logic on everything?” Igor asked.
“Yeah,” Gallium replied warily.
“So… they don’t, like, bicker, or haggle, or cheat, or fix prices, or do other greedy stuff?” Igor asked.
“So aren’t their economics boring as hell?” Veksai cut in, seeing where this was going.
“Yeah, how else can I learn them a semester early?” Gallium said.
“But do you really want to find yourself stuck on Vulcan five years down the road, after you get out of the Fleet, stuck in a desert listening to old people debate the logic of selling a jug of milk?” Veksai askd.
“I don’t plan on leaving the Fleet when my term is up,” Gallium shrugged, “So I don’t really care. Besides, Vulcans are all vegan,”
“A jug of orange juice then, whatever!”
“But what about Graduation?” Igor asked, “The Commissioning Ceremony? We’ve been working for that for three years!”
“I don’t care anymore,” Gallium shook his head, “I just want out of here, the sooner the better. I’m sick of this place,”
“Gallium! HQ meeting!” M’kr’gr called from down the hall.
“Gotta run!” Gallium said, “I agreed to be the new Sector Administrator. I need my pip positions to graduate, after all,”
He ran down the hall.
“When the hell did he get so bitter?” Veksai asked, confused.
“Dude, this place sucks. Especially since the new Commandant came in last year,” Igor replied.
“Well, yeah. But Gallium was always so…positive,”
“Based on statistics from previous years, I can safely say that your Final Projects will be the biggest obstacles to graduating that you will face this year,” Professor Jey Kint said, speaking to the combined Computer and Power System Engineering classes, including the Bio-neural Computer, Isolinear Computer, Fusion Generation and Matter-Antimatter Generation Engineering sub-groups, “This isn’t because the projects we assign are impossible,”
One of the other professors in the room cleared her throat.
“Well, OK, some of them are theoretical impossibilities unless you take into account certain unlikely theories regarding quantum reversals, time travel or unless you can manage to make use of at least seven dimensions in your implementation. But the point is, students don’t fail their Final Projects because they’re impossible. They fail them because they keep putting things off, until all of a sudden you have your presentations a month away, no prototype, and the next thing you know you’re not sleeping for the next month because you’re pulling all nighters in the lab, only to show up for your presentation as a zombie of your former self, barely coherent enough to explain an internal combustion engine, never-mind a theoretical plasma compression system designed to improve warp plasma energy levels.” He paused. “By the way, Cadet Kingsly recovered from his plasma burns, was kept at the Academy for the summer to complete his project and managed to finally earn his degree. Two months after his classmates departed.”
Veksai looked over at Plachet and Layat, his two project partners. They’d been teamed up the previous semester and were apparently supposed to be working on some kind of navigation program for robotic exploration probes. He wasn’t really sure if he was happy about that or not. Robotics really wasn’t his area of interest, and he didn’t know either Plachet or Layaha all that well. That, and most groups only had two people. Working in a three person group might mean their project would have higher expectations than everybody elses.
“First things first,” Professor Kint went on, “Unfortunately, Cadet Gorg has to retake Stellar Analysis and will have to repeat a year. Therefore, we’re changing the groups. Mr. Veksai, you’re being moved onto the Intrusion Detector team with Mr. Guthar. I will be your supervising professor. Mr. Plachet and Ms. Layat, you will continue to work on the Cooperative Probing Initiative with Professor Baloo.”
There was a series of snickers from the group. Plachet turned red, while Layat directed a pissed-of glare around the room.
“At least you won’t be getting probed, dude,” somebody whispered to Veksai as he moved to an empty seat next to Guthar.
“How’s your programming?” Guthar asked.
“Isolinear, it’s fine. But I’m not learning bio-neural programming until this semester,”
“Me neither, but I know we’ll need it for this project,”
“Which starts today,” Veksai shoot his head, “Who the hell planned our course schedule anyway!?”
Veksai and senior-classman Matew were sitting on the patio at Scotty’s, trying to work their way through the lab report for their Isolinear Circuits class. Matew, a short, round, furred alien, had been Veksai’s lab partner for most of the classes that didn’t give him the option of working on his own. He’d proven to be an able lab partner, though picking fur out of the delicate circuitry was getting a bit annoying.
“WHOOO!!!!” somebody shouted, “Yeah man! Junior year rocks!”
Veksai was knocked forward in his chair as two more junior-classmen, excited by the fact that their school year was NOT starting with SNAP, ran past to help their companion with his beer pitcher.
“Who are all these kids anyway?” Veksai grumbled, “I hardly recognize anybody in here anymore. Spyder, Dyrob…all graduated.”
“Yes,” Matew agreed, “I don’t know why I even bother coming here anymore,”
The junior-classmen had been joined by a few middle-classmen and were trying to get the pool table uncovered.
“That’s it. I can finish formatting the data in my room tonight,” Veksai said, shaking his head, “If you’re OK with writing up the procedure?”
“Yeah, OK,” Matew said, not really paying attention.
Veksai noticed the tone.
“Is something wrong?” he asked.
“I…yeah,” Matew said, “I sort of have to tell you something. And I don’t want any of the other guys to know…”
Veksai kept his expression calm, but inside his mind was whirling with possibilities. Did Matew screw something up with their lab? Did he accidently turn the dial on the phase distributer the wrong way and expose them both to a lethal dose of radiation? Was Veksai about to learn that either he or his lab partner had less than a week to live?
Or worse, was Matew about to confess his undying love?
Repressing a shudder, Veksai set down the padd with the report data.
“What’s up?” he asked.
“I…sort of…” Matew gulped, “My girlfriend is pregnant,”
“Oh thank God,” Veksai gave a sigh of relief.
“No, sorry Matew, I meant…” Veksai stuttered, “It’s just…wow. Pregnant. As in a baby.”
“Four,” Matew corrected, “Usually, with our species, it’s four,”
“FOUR!?” Veksai calmed himself again, “That’s…um. Geez. What are you going to do?”
The question seemed straightforward, but was laced with implications, some of them unpleasant.
“We’re having the babies,” Matew said quietly, “I’m getting permission from the DirKat to move into family quarters, Holi is moving from Fraco IV to Earth, and I’m going to try to finish off as much of my work as I can before the babies come.”
“Glad to hear you’ve got it planned out,” Veksai said.
“Just don’t tell Cuirass or Hogpog,” Matew said, “They…they’ll make things harder,”
“Lips are sealed,” Veksai vowed.
“STOP FLAPPING THOSE LIPS, LOWER!” a voice screamed out from outside the nearest window, “Keep those arms up! You’re marching! You want the rest of the Academy to think you’re nothing but a bag of spanners?”
Veksai and Matew looked around, quickly spotting the flight of lower-classmen and their associated SNAP staff.
“I almost forgot,” Veksai shook his head, “SNAP started a couple days ago,”
“How could you forget? The lowers have been everywhere,”
“I guess I’d mostly tuned them out,” Veksai shrugged, “Weird. SNAP used to be so important…now, compared to graduation and project work, it just doesn’t seem to matter that much,”
The weeks passed, and SNAP continued as it had for the last two hundred years (and as it likely would for the next two hundred.) But to the senior-classmen it just wasn’t the same. As lower-classmen they’d been subjected to SNAP. As junior-classmen it had been their job to protect the new lowers, sneaking them food and organizing the various fun Academy traditions that went with the program. And they’d practically climbed over each other to be the middle-classmen that would actually run SNAP, acting as mentors to the new lowers for the first semester (and carrying on unofficially for the second.) Now, as senior-classmen, SNAP just seemed a routine part of Academy life. Only the Squad Leaders actually played a part in the program. The rest of the senior-classmen were too busy with final design projects, studies, wrapping up graduation requirements or, in the case of the senior pipmen, administering their Sectors. Even M’kr’gr, who at least played a small role in SNAP by periodically inspecting the lower-classmen, was far too concerned with the junior, middle and senior-classmen in the Sector to really worry much about the lower-classmen. That was Verone’s job, after all. Her and her middle-classman Team Leaders.
Still, that didn’t mean that life as a senior-classman wasn’t fun.
“Listen up, people,” M’kr’gr said, addressing the gathered senior-classmen of Antares Sector, “Tomorrow will be the Survival Challenge Test Run. The design team has finished programming in this year’s Challenge, and so it is our job to test it out and make sure everything works properly before the lowers run their challenge at the end of the week. Mr. Baxter will fill you in on the details,”
Silence. They looked around, but couldn’t see Dylan anywhere.
M’kr’gr gave a quiet hiss.
“I will send you the details tonight,” he corrected himself, “Suffice to say, it will be fun,”
“What do you want to bet it’ll be mandatory,” Igor grumbled.
“And it will be mandatory,” M’kr’gr added.
“You called it,” Veksai said quietly to Igor.
Despite the fun being mandatory, it was with more enthusiasm than annoyance that the senior-classmen gathered next to the Antares holo-patio the next day. Bizkit and Malespere had rarely been seen by the Sector, having become involved in Red Squad and Quadrant HQ respectively. Igor, Veksai, Gallium, Kumari, Quarterman, M’kr’gr, Kodene, Fastocheni, Bahred, Guthar and the rest were all itching to start, wearing the same Sector-coloured outfits they’d worn during their own Survival Challenge. The colours were faded, of course, given the beating they’d taken in the Challenge, and the passing of years had left most of the cadets a bit broader around the shoulders. (Or, in a couple cases, around the middle.) As he’d been the team captain back in the day, Malespere was running the group.
“OK, here’s the scenario,” Malespare said, reading from a padd, “Our runabout crashed, we’ve got to work our way to a hostile outpost and send the beam-up signal so we can be rescued. Not much different from the last few years. Ready? Let’s go!”
The holo-patio activated, putting them in temperate woodlands. They grabbed their phaser rifles, armed only with training-level power packs of course, and started running.
They ran into the standard obstacles. Crossing a river via rope bridge, climbing a cliff wall, slogging through a swamp. A weird monkey-bar-like ravine crossing. And, of course, a simulated phaser battle against the unidentified aliens holding the target outpost. And they worked their way through well enough.
“Oh God, I’m getting old,” Igor groaned as he hauled himself up the relatively small cliff wall, fingers wrapped around vines that just happened to be the same size and texture as ropes.
“You realize,” Veksai panted, “that you’re still three years younger than I was when we ran this thing as lowers, right?”
“Shouldn’t you be dead by now, then?”
Kodene, having slithered right up the cliff, reached down with two tentacles and hauled the bickering pair up.
“Let’s go, people,” Malespere called out, looking a little winded despite having kept up his fitness training, “Over halfway there!”
“I think we’re all getting old,” Quarterman groaned, “First it’s panting and sweating, then the next thing you know, you’re playing Bingo and drinking tea all day,”
“Oh, just wait until you hit 25,” Veksai called back, “Then you can have a quarter-century crisis and do something stupid like quitting your job, selling your possessions and joining Starfleet,”
“Not that you’re bitter or anything,” Gallium said.
“I’m not,” Veksai said, “All through SNAP I kept telling myself, ‘This is better than working for Dillon Enterprises’.”
“Does that still work for you?” Gallium asked.
“Um…not as well as it used to. But yes, it still works,”
“Enough chatter people, we have a Survival Challenge to test,” Malespere broke in.
There were key differences between the test run in senior year and the actual Survival Challenge. The Challenge had been about proving themselves to the Academy and to the rest of the Sector. They’d been working hard to make it through, and to do well. Now, three years later, they’d made it through the bulk of their Academy time. They (mostly) knew they could pass their classes with the right amount of effort, and many of the checkboxes on the road to graduation had already been ticked off. The test run was more about nostalgia, a fun way to start saying goodbye.
Finally, they reached the end of the course, staggered out of the holo-patio and collapsed on the nearby grass.
“Well, that was fun,” Kumari said.
“That was fun,” M’kr’gr agreed. He sighed, “But unfortunately, I have a meeting with the Lieutenant in half an hour. Just enough time for a shower and a protein shake,”
He pulled himself to his feet and started walked back towards Fort Hillier.
“Hey, wait up,” Kumari called, jumping to her feet.
“Hmph,” Veksai muttered, watching them go.
“What?” Gallium asked.
“Oh, I just thought Kumari had a thing for that Ross guy in Veltran Sector,” Veksai said, “Didn’t think big green guys did it for her,”
“She doesn’t.” Gallium said, “What, didn’t you know?”
“Like, the latest gossip and stuff,”
“Gallium, I don’t have any patience for gossip. Or rumours. Or small-talk,” Veksai rolled his eyes. Hint, hint.
“She’s applying to be Sector Leader next semester,” Gallium said, “She wants to take over his job when he’s done,”
“Really? Good for her,”
“What about you?” Gallium asked, “You applying for anything?”
“Hell no,” Veksai said, “I’ve done four pip positions already. I’m ready to sit back and let somebody else worry about that crap. I have enough on my plate with this final project,”
“Oh yeah. You’re doing the…um…the sensor-masked communication thingy, right?”
“I think so,” Veksai shrugged.
“Professor Kint tried to explain it to me,” Guthar piped up, “But I have no idea what he was talking about,”
“Sounds like you guys have some work ahead of you,” Gallium commented.
The Survival Challenge came and went without incident for the senior-classmen. Oh, there was drinking and debauchery at the End of SNAP party, the lower-classmen were integrated into their Sectors and became actual sentient beings as opposed to ‘the lowers’ and the Academy grounds no longer rang with the sound of the lower-classmen squads hailing whatever senior cadet happened to walk by. The new DirKat briefly experimented with a ban on weapons including ceremonial blades, thus forcing all the Andorian cadets to switch to rubber blades. A week long jihad by the Andorian Chess Club against the various flora and fauna of the Academy convinced her that messing with Andorian weapons wasn’t a very good idea, and the policy was quickly reversed. The Andorians went back to ensuring that the only things stabbed with their blades were other Andorians and everybody was happy again.
It was halfway through the semester when Veksai and Igor came back from classes to hear commotion in the hall.
“Nothing hung to standard,” a voice was shouting, “Room’s filthy and equipment hasn’t been properly kept. When’s the last time you were inspected?”
The shouting was coming from Kodene’s room.
“Been awhile,” the squid-alien said in its deep voice.
“Too long a while!” The instigator, one of the Quadrant Chief’s, stormed out of Kodene’s room and past Igor, “I’ll be having words with your Sector Training Officer over this!”
Veksai and Igor just watched as the chief marched down the corridor towards Baxter’s room. He banged on the door a few times, but there was no answer. Even more livid, he left.
“I am not worried,” Kodene said to them, turning back to its room, “Dylan isn’t going to do anything about it,”
With that, it closed its door.
“It has been a while since Baxter went through our rooms,” Igor admitted.
“Well don’t say anything,” Quarterman said as she poker her head out of her room, “I’ve got my room just the way I like it, and I don’t want any pipmen poking around in there!”
“Where is Dylan anyway?” Veksai wondered.
“In town, dragging some junior girl behind the bushes, passed out behind Scotty’s, who knows?” Quaterman shrugged, “I haven’t seen him much in class lately either.”
“I guess that’s why it’s been pretty chill so far,” Igor shrugged, “I mean, he’s supposed to be in charge of discipline, so…”
“I guess,” Veksai said, “But…y’know…we’ve got the DirKat inspection coming up in a couple weeks. We’re going to be caught with our pants down,”
“I don’t care,” Quarterman said, going back into her room, “More scenery that way anyway,”
Christmas was rapidly approaching, and with it the year’s first round of final exams. But before they could even begin to worry about that, Guthar and Veksai had to submit a prototype design of their final project. It was ridiculous to expect a functional prototype after only a couple of months, and Professor Kint knew that, but he wanted to see at least a feasible (and properly documented) design finished before everybody started focusing on exams.
Anyway, the current result was Veksai and Guthar staring at a screen flatly informing them that what they were trying to do wasn’t going to work.
“OK, so I guess we can’t pass the analysis workload between bio-neural and isolinear circuitry the way we wanted to,” Veksai sighed.
“Not without conversions each way,” Guthar agreed, chewing his lip, “And that slows us down far more than sticking with one or the other,”
There was a beep, and Guthar pulled out his pocket communicator. Another message from his girlfriend.
“What part of ‘I have to finish this tonight’ isn’t getting through,” he grumbled, sending back a reply.
“We may as well call it quits for today,” Veksai stretched, “I have some ideas on how we can tweak this to work with pure bioneural. And if we do that, then we can see if we can get independent processing on both systems, maybe divide up the workload,”
“Pure bio-neural? You mean getting rid of the old database-style repository?” Guthar finished his reply message and put his phone away, “I thought you didn’t want to figure out the bio-neural memory system,”
“I don’t. But I don’t think we can make this work otherwise. Not to the speed specs the prof wants, anyway.”
“I’ve been thinking,” he said, “We can’t both be programming this at the same time,”
“And if we’re going to make this work, we need something we can test it against,”
“So why don’t I start working on the testing side of things while you keep going with the core software?” Guthar suggested.
“Excellent idea,” he agreed. They looked at each other for a moment.
“Now I just have to figure out how to make the main system work,” Veksai said glumly.
“And I just have to figure out how to build a testing protocol,” Guthar’s shoulders slumped.
“So much for getting out of here before sundown,” Veksai turned back to the computer.
“And so much for my date,” Guthar said, pulling out his communicator. /
Two weeks later, Gallium was practically skipping down the halls of Fort Hillier. He waved a hand in front of his face…Roger was shedding spores again. Somebody was going to have to clean the air filters. But that couldn’t damper his spirits.
Ahead of him, Guthar and Veksai stepped out of the stairwell, Guthar gripping a single padd like his life depended on it.
“What’s that?” Gallium asked cheerfully.
“Our project design prototype,” Veksai said tiredly, “Finally. Which means now we just have to survive a round of exams, then we can take a well-deserved holiday,”
“I’m handing this in first thing tomorrow,” Guthar said, waving the padd.
“Y’know, now that you’ve said that, something terrible is going to happen to the padd, like it’ll get stolen, or wet, or something,” Gallium bubbled, “And you’ll have to panic to get it in on time! Y’know, like in the movies. Or stories.”
“This isn’t a stupid movie, Gallium,” Veksai said irritably, “We already transmitted the designs to our prof. He just wants a hard copy as well.”
“That’s boring,” Gallium said.
“That’s life,” Veksai grumbled, “What, you want some giant alien to attack and the rest of the fleet to be conveniently unable to stop it, so that us cadets have to rise up and show how great we are, even though we’re a pack of barely trained infants? Or perhaps you’d like a serial killer to start striking down random people, forcing one of us to show his skills as an investigator, because of course Planetary Security will be unable or unwilling to take care of things themselves. Yeah. Very realistic.”
Guthar and Gallium just sort of stared at him.
“Sounds like somebody has a bug up his ass,” Fastocheni said, passing by the small group.
“Hey, Fast, guess what!” Gallium started bubbling again, “I got my approvals! I’m graduating as soon as fall exams are done!”
Something flickered over Fast’s face.
“That’s great, Gallium,” he said, smiling.
“You guys wanna come to Scotty’s for a beer?” Gallium asked, “I feel like celebrating!”
“Yeah, I can go for that,” Veksai decided, “We did just hit a big project milestone, after all,”
“We did,” Guthar agreed, “We deserve a break.”
“A few exams, another semester and we’re all out of here!” Veksai added.
“I, uh…I’ve got a lot of work to do,” Fast said. He turned before they could ask anything and went back to his room.
“You know,” he heard Gallium saying, “Hardly anybody has applied for the Training Officer position next semester. If your project is going well, you should do it. You’re one of those tight-assed, disciplined types.”
“Over my dead body,” Veksai replied, “I have other work to do,”
As the door closed, Fast took a deep breath and let it out. His fencing epee was hanging off one bedpost, and the bag containing all his gear was open in the middle of the floor. He’d become a veritable stranger in the Sector barracks over the past two years as his involvement with the Academy fencing team had deepened. Being a calmer, more thoughtful individual than Malespere or Bizkit, he didn’t tend to stand out as much. On top of that, the fencing team pretty much went their own way and did their own thing, competing against other schools or teams on Earth or in nearby star systems. Unlike Red Squad, they didn’t feel the need to force their members to live together in a separate barracks, pull ridiculous stunts across the Academy or generally behave like the rest of the Academy was beneath them. So rather than being resented, the more involved members of the fencing team just tended to fade from notice.
Which was why none of Fast’s friends in the Sector knew that he might not be graduating with them.
He’d known he was in trouble for over a year, when he’d flunked his Subspace Theory course. It was his own fault, and he knew it. He, like so many athletes before him, let his sport take over too much of his attention. As he’d been more and more concerned with getting his form just right, his academics had started to slip. And unfortunately, one had slipped just a bit too low. Having to re-take that class was bad enough, but it had turned out to have repercussions he hadn’t expected. He’d found that out when he’d been handed his timetable for his first semester of his middle year.
“Ma’am?” he’d said, speaking to the clerk, “I think there’s a mistake. I need to take Communications 302 and Warp Navigation 365 this year. They’re not on my schedule,”
“Let me see,” she’d said, snatching the padd out of his hands without a moment’s thought. She looked at it, over to her computer, then back again. This went on for several minutes.
“You’re taking Subspace Theory this semester,” she’d said, “Again.”
“Well…yeah,” Fast had admitted quietly.
“You can’t take Comms or Nav without having Subspace Theory,” she’d said, “You’ll have to take them next year,”
“But…can I finish my degree?”
“Probably not,” she’d shrugged, “You’re now on a five year…oh. Oops. Your Sector Commander hasn’t noted that you’ve had your little meeting with him on this yet. Sorry kid, didn’t mean to be the one to spill the news,”
“Oh,” was all Fast could say.
Sure enough, the Sector Commander had pulled him aside the next day and explained that he’d be graduating a year late, if at all.
Fast had not been satisfied with that.
He’d managed to pass Subspace Theory and squeeze his way onto a second semester Comms 302 course. But now he was spending his first semester of senior-year trying to juggle Warp Navigation on top of his other classes and his thesis write-up. And he was struggling.
So naturally he didn’t want to hear about Gallium and his early graduation.
His alarm chimed, reminding him that practice started in half an hour. He glanced over at the display board near his desk.
‘Vulcan Sociology Assignment Due,’ the screen read, ‘Two days remaining,’
Two days. Two days was plenty. He turned towards the bag.
But if he had Sociology done, he could spend some extra time on his Nav assignment and maybe pull his average out of the red zone.
He turned back to his desk.
But Nav wasn’t as hard as he’d thought it would be. He could figure out the assignment fairly quickly.
Back to his fencing gear.
But tonight was just a practice, and there would be another one Saturday anyway, when he had more time.
With a sign and a mental apology to his coach, Fast sat as his desk and pulled out his work padd.
He was going to graduate this year, or implode his brains trying.
“BAXTER!?” M’kr’gr shouted, poking his head into the men’s shower, “Are you in here? You are LATE for a meeting with the Quadrant Chief! And he is PISSED!”
“It’s…just…me…” Roger wheezed, the mould alien in the bathtub.
“ARRRGGGHHHHH!!!!” M’kr’gr growled loudly, barely restraining himself from putting a fist through a wall, “I have looked EVERYWHERE for that ass!”
“Have you…tried looking…for the rest…of him?” Roger asked.
M’kr’gr couldn’t help but laugh.
“Yes, Roger,” he said, stepping into the shower room and sitting on the edge of the tub, “I’ve looked all over campus. He hasn’t been handing in his Training Officer reports, the Sector and Team leaders are running their own inspections and getting their people ready for the DirKat inspection, which is his job, and Sector discipline is…well, it’s not as bad as it could be. But it could be better,”
“It sounds…like he…is not doing…his job…” Roger remarked.
“Why has…he not…been punished?”
“I…none of the officers have really noticed yet,” M’kr’gr admitted, “The rest of us have covered for him,”
“So he is…causing you problems…and yet you…do him…a favour?”
“It’s called ‘loyalty’, Roger,” M’kr’gr said quietly.
“And when…your leader primates…realize?”
“The Sector Commander knows we’re having a few problems,” M’kr’gr admitted, “But she does not know their full extent.”
“If there is…one thing…I have learned…from watching you all shower…these past few years…” Roger wheezed, “It is that…very little…stays secret…”
M’kr’gr couldn’t argue.
Kumari was in the middle of an argument with Derok when M’kr’gr found her.
“I know, Derok,” she was saying, “But if you go with a summer wedding, nobody from the Academy can come. We’ll be shipping out two days after graduation!”
“Excuse us,” M’kr’gr said, pulling Kumari away.
“Did you hear?” Derock said, “I’m engaged!”
“Excellent. I am truly happy for you,” M’kr’gr said, stopping long enough to attempt to shake Derok’s hand in the human custom. Derok, perhaps remembering some of M’kr’gr’s earlier, disastrous attempts at handshaking, was careful to check that his claws were retracted first.
“I guess we gotta talk about…something!” Kumari chuckled, giving M’kr’gr a worried glance before allowing herself to be hauled off.
“What was THAT all about?” she demanded the second the door closed.
“We need a backup plan,” he said bluntly. He explained his conversation with Roger.
“I’m not willing to toss Dylan under the tram just yet,” M’kr’gr said, “But at the very least, I don’t think the Lieutenant will give him a passing mark on his pip position. At the very worst…well…does anybody know what he’s actually been doing this semester?”
“I’ve heard he’s been in San Francisco a lot, partying it up with the Federation University guys,” Kumari said.
“FU,” M’kr’gr shoot his head in disgust, “Undisciplined, lazy and soft,”
Kumari was quiet for a moment.
“OK, so he fails his pips,” she finally said, “But so what. The semester is almost over, he hasn’t done any of the work he’s supposed to do, but he’s got a replacement coming in next semester anyway. So big deal,”
“I don’t think you realize how much harder my job has been without him,” M’kr’gr said, taking a seat, “especially with all my schoolwork. The Sector Leader sets the tone for the Sector, passes orders and co-ordinates the Sector Headquarters and the Squads. The Training Officer is supposed to handle the details of discipline, dress, and deportment…everything that puts the ‘military ‘in ‘paramilitary’! Without Dylan doing his job the Squad Leaders and I have been working to handle those issues. It has not worked well.”
Kumari figured it out.
“I can’t afford another Dylan,” she said, “But nobody’s applied for the position!”
“Which means we can select somebody,” M’Kr’gr pointed out, “And assign them to the position,”
“But if they don’t want the position, what going to stop them from doing a shitty job?” Kumari groaned. Not very fitting talk for a princess, but the poor girl had been at the Academy for a while, after all.
“That’s why we have to pick somebody who won’t do a shitty job,” M’kr’gr said.
“Yeah, I could do it,” Quarterman said, “Y’know, if it keeps the rest of you from going through my room every week,”
M’Kr’gr started grinding his teeth.
“Thank you,” he managed to say politely, “we’ll call you,”
“Naw, sorry,” Malespere shook his head, “I’m totally applying for Brute Squad Leader. Somebody’s gotta show those lowers how it’s done,”
“Red Squad,” Bizkit said before M’Kr’gr could open his mouth.
“Second semester is egg-sack season,” Kodene said, lifting one tentacle and revealing what looked like a bunch of grapes underneath.
“Not gonna be here!” Gallium danced.
“I really can’t,” Fast shook his head, “I’m sorry, Kr’gr. I really have a lot of work to do,”
“Nope,” Veksai said the second M’Kr’gr’s head appeared in his doorway.
“I have a lot of work to do,”
“You could handle it just fine,”
Veksai moved away from his desk.
“Maybe,” he said, “But I don’t want to. It’s going to be my last semester at the Academy. I don’t want to spend it racing around in a panic because I’ve taken on too much,”
“Well, that was sort of a flop,” Kumari mused.
“You weren’t even there,” M’Kr’gr flicked out his tongue.
“Nobody knows I’ve been chosen as the next Sector Leader,” she reminded him, “They just think I’ve applied. Otherwise I would have gone with you.”
“It will be announced soon,” he said, “Along with the rest of the pipmen for next semester.”
“We don’t KNOW all the pipmen for next semester yet!”
“But I think I know who you want in STO role,” he crossed his arms.
“Yes,” Kumari admitted, “But the thing is convincing him to do it,”
“I know just how,”
Veksai found himself seated across from Kumari and M’Kr’gr at breakfast the next morning. After about ten minutes of random small-talk, Kumari go to the point.
“I think you’d be a good Training Officer,” she said, “Look at what happened this year. The Chiefs are pissed, people aren’t getting the timings and parade information they’re supposed to be getting on time, room standards are terrible and B’Kar bred turtles for six weeks without so much as a slap on the wrist!”
“We’ve got nearly twenty senior-classmen,” Veksai pointed out, “I’m sure somebody will be happy to take care of things,”
“Like who?” M’Kr’gr asked, “Me? I can’t afford another pip position. My studies are a mess already. This semester’s Squad Leaders? Same story. Nobody wants the Training Officer job,”
“That’s because being the Training Officer means that a lot of people are going to hate you,” Veksai said, “Slapping their wrists is basically your whole job,”
“Do you really care how much people like you?” Kumari asked.
“Nobody likes being the bad guy,” Veksai said, “
“But you could do it,” Kumari said. It was time for the killer point. “And if you don’t, then the Sector will have to shaft some random person with the job. And you know how well people usually work when they’re forced into a job,”
Veksai didn’t say anything.
“Anyway, I have class,” Kumari rose with her tray, “And if I don’t figure out how to create an inverse tachyon pulse by lunch time my weekend is history,”
“Just don’t create three of them,1” M’Kr’gr said, also rising, “I’ve heard its bad luck.”
“I’ll do it if you can’t find anybody else,” Veksai finally said as they turned to leave.
“Very glad to hear that,” Kumari smiled.
“I am so screwed,” Veksai muttered to himself.
The pip positions were announced, the Academy kicked into final preparations for exams and Veksai found himself abruptly summoned to the Sector Commander’s officer.
“Mr. Veksai,” the new SC, Lieutenant Carter, greeted him warmly, “We haven’t had a chance to talk this semester,”
“Lots of project work, ma’am,” he said pleasantly.
“Yes, I’ve heard. But I’ve been making sure that everybody in senior year has all their qualifications in place for commissioning next spring,” she smiled, “Five months away. Excited?”
“I’m sure everybody is,” he said.
Carter nodded. She glanced at a checklist, “But your qualifications are in order. Training at Jupiter Station after the Academy?”
“Along with everybody else in my program, ma’am,” he nodded, “But I think we’re the only ones. Every other program has their own training programs before they assign us to a ship,”
“Hmmm.” Carter became grim, “Yes, your degree and commission here are very important. But you still have a lot to learn.” She paused again. “Those of you that graduate anyway,”
“Cadet Baxter has been removed from his pip position,” she said bluntly, “There have been irregularities in his…behaviour…this semester. We will get to the bottom of them, then decide whether or not he will graduate. Until then, you will be filling in for him as Sector Training Officer…you’re taking over after the holidays anyway.”
She had the grace to look apologetic as she handed him a padd.
“I’m afraid there are a few issues we need to clear up before the end of the semester.”
Veksai felt his eyes bugging out as he read the list of reports and incidents that had remained unaddressed.
“Let’s set up a meeting later this week to get started,” she said gently, “Dismissed,”
Outside, Veksai found Kumari waiting.
“You know about Dylan,” he said to her. It wasn’t a question.
“Bit of a mess,” he said.
“It’s OK,” she shrugged, “We’ve got all next semester to figure things out.
Next: It’s the homestretch to graduation, with only one last round of exams standing between them and graduation. Like playing Hangman on the last day of school, the final story of Star Traks: Crash Course offers one last run of fun before class is finally dismissed.
TNG “All Good Things” reference. Anybody? Anybody? <sigh>…I am a geek. ↩