The crew of the Joseph Hooker and Explorer of the Stars had been rescued. Three attack ships came from the planet and targeted the Sooloo. Why they targeted only the Sooloo is unclear; maybe they thought the Darastix was already a ship in orbit, but their reasoning wasn't made known. There is a derelict in orbit that resembles, so it's possible.
The leader from the planet came aboard the Sooloo to negotiate. His people were dwindling which is why they were capturing alien species. He was hoping to find a race that was compatible with their own to reproduce.
Kyle and Danny requested permission to go on the Darastix and escort William Robinson to Earth. It was granted by both their Captain, Hal, and the Captain of the Darastix, Frank David. Kash Rivers will be going with them.
"Are you sure we'll be okay in there?" Kyle asked Danny as they snuggled on their couch.
"Trust me, I know the working of the shuttle bay," Danny assured his husband. "It's my job. I checked who's in there, you looked at the duty roster, and I know that no shuttles are due on or out in the next two hour. All the shuttles in the shuttle bay are in complete readiness. Koji and Duskin are staying with friends. And that bed is begging for a test."
Kyle and Danny had been talking about testing the temporary bed Jesse Grosse had built with a quick round of sexual acrobatics. "If we're going to be living there for three to four weeks, we really need to know how that bed will stand up," Kyle had said to Danny. "What better way to test it than subject it to some hard fucking?"
"Wouldn't wrestling match between Koji, Duskin, and Jay do an even better job?" Danny had asked.
"Do I really have to answer that question?" Danny laughed and shook his head.
Now they were ready to head to the Mars and put Jesse's handiwork to the test. "I'll ask one more time, are we going to be okay in there?" Kyle asked as they rose from the couch.
"What can go wrong?" Danny asked.
"Let me reintroduce you to Mr. Murphy."
"You worry too much, sweetie. It turns you into a sourpuss. Now, let's go while we still have plenty of time and FUCK!"
Kyle and Danny boarded the shuttle though the starboard hatch. Kyle reached for the keypad to set the alert chime on the door, but Danny stopped him. "If we're naked on the bed and the alert goes off, are we really going to have time to jump into our uniforms?" he asked.
"I guess not," Kyle answered. "We know I can get out of my uniform that quick since I've done it to jump your bones in our quarters, but getting in? If somebody boards the shuttle, we're doomed no matter what."
"Right, so let's be quick about it."
Danny unlatched the bed from the rear bulkhead and lowered it to the deck. "It's not very heavy and is easy to handle," Danny observed. "I don't think any of the three urchins could handle it, but for you, me, or Kash it's a piece of cake."
"Could two of them handle it?" Kyle asked.
"Probably, but we'd need to give them some instruction first," Danny replied. "But now, the question is, can we handle taking our uniforms off."
"I think it works like this," Kyle said as he kicked off his slippers and trousers almost at the same time. In what seemed like an instant the two were naked and kissing madly on the bed.
Meanwhile, Tommy, who was assigned to Operations for the first watch, was sitting in the Operations office entering the personnel information Steve had handed him into the computer system. One thing his time working in Operations had convinced him of was that he didn't want to ever be assigned to Operations when he became a regular officer. He stopped his work when the communicator on the desk chirped. He saw that it was Executive Chef Randy Jenkins.
"Operations, Acting Ensign Harper," Tommy answered.
"Hey, Tommy, it's Randy. I could hear your stomach rumbling from the ship's pantry. If you can help me with a task, I have half a dozen blueberry muffins that I could be talked out of. They are just begging to be eaten." Did Randy say blueberry muffins, especially ones baked by Chief Baker Ben Maxey? Tommy hadn't noticed until Randy mentioned the muffins, but his stomach did begin to rumble.
"I've been put to work, but I'll check with Steve and see if he'll let me go," Tommy said without even asking what the task was. "I'll get right back to you."
Tommy found Steve Boyer busy checking out some diagrams of the crew quarters. "Steve, can I ask a request?"
"Of course, you can, but I'll feel free to say no if it warrants it." Steve replied.
"Seriously," Tommy didn't sound like a Space Fleet Officer at that time, but more like a boy who was annoyed. "Randy called and said he needed some help with a task, and I said I'd do it if you said it was okay for me to help him."
"And just what is this important task Mr. Executive Chef Jenkins needs help with?" Steve had an idea but didn't say anything.
"I…um…forgot to ask." Tommy blushed with shame over his blunder.
"Well, you're still ten and learning, so I'll forgive you. I'll call him and see what it is he wants you to do, and if it sounds more interesting than data entry, I'll let you go."
Steve got on the communicator and contacted Randy. "Hey, Randy old boy, Steve here. I hear you want to steal my apprentice." Pause. "Yeah, I showed him how to operate one." Pause. "And what's in it for me?" Pause. "Did you say BLUEBERRY muffins?" Pause. "Consider it done. He'll be at the pantry with a utility vehicle in less than ten minutes."
Steve logged off and faced Tommy. "Hey, I won't do this for just anybody. But you're a nice, hard-working kid, your brother is good in bed (Tommy blushed again) and I'm getting a half-dozen blueberry muffins for lending you out. If you ask nicely, Randy might give you a leftover muffin."
"He's already promised me some," Tommy grinned as he took a key card off the wall and headed out the door.
"I should get half of those, too," Steve called out, but Tommy pretended like he hadn't heard him.
The utility vehicles were used for hauling materials around the ship. The Sooloo had two parked in Berth twelve of the Main Shuttle Bay. Two more were parked in the Cargo Hold when not in use. Operations' Office was just outside the Main Shuttle Bay. The vehicles could seat the driver, a passenger and had a bed for hauling the materials. They were built to fit two comfortably in the corridors. Their electric motor ran almost silently, so it generally sounded a single beep every thirty seconds when the vehicle was moving forward, and every second when in reverse. Although Tommy was not a very experienced operator, he had an interesting combination of caution and confidence. When combined with his natural skill, it made him an adept operator.
When Tommy reached the entry to the kitchen pantry, Randy was waiting for him at the open doors. "Hey Tommy, nice wheels," Randy grinned as Tommy braked the utility vehicle to a smooth stop. "Do you think you can back that contraption into the pantry?"
The entry to the panty was two doors wide, giving him plenty of clearance. "Steve made me do a lot of practicing with backing through narrow spaces. He said it would be easier to load, and then pull out instead of backing out with a load," Tommy replied. Even though the bulkheads had that rubber strip, Tommy noted that extra padding was hanging across from the entryway as well as on the door frames. This was standard procedure because of the tight space, so he didn't feel slighted about it.
"Then bring that puppy in here," Randy called out.
Randy watched the ten-year-old move the vehicle ahead a few feet, stop, and then go into reverse. The passageway was only slightly wider than the vehicle's turning ratio, making Tommy able to manage edging it through the door, bringing it to a stop as soon as the front had cleared the entry. He breathed a sigh relief—all that practice had paid off.
He turned off the motor and set to work helping Randy load boxes of food into the bed. "This stuff is all so your brother and brother-in-law won't starve on their trip home," Randy said.
"I call Kyle my uncle," Tommy averred.
"Well, excuuuuse me. Although I guess it's probably easier to call him Uncle Kyle than Binlaw Kyle would be," Randy chuckled. "Not even Kyle would know what you were talking about."
Randy and his cook's assistants had pre-stacked the boxes of food, making it easy for Tommy and him to load the utility vehicle. Ernesto and Manuel brought out a cooler filled with refrigerated food on a powered dolly. With the help of a portable lift, they raised it into the vehicle's bed where Tommy secured is with a strap. They went back to the kitchen's walk-in freezer to pick up a portable, battery powered freezer filled with frozen foods. After it was loaded, the bed was full. They put the dolly in neutral and strapped it to the hitch of the vehicle.
"Thanks guys," Randy said.
"I checked everything off against your inventory," Ernesto, who was the assistant sous chef, said. The fourteen-year-old was a big, strong, kid, who worked out in the gym daily.
"Thanks again. You're the best." Randy turned to Tommy and said, "Start it up partner, we're off with your brother's dinner."
"Danny doesn't eat THAT much," Tommy grinned.
Randy teased, "Dude, you haven't watched him eat, have you?"
Tommy edged the utility vehicle though the corridors in the direction of the shuttle bay. The vehicle had a much different feel when it was fully loaded. It wasn't the first time Tommy had driven a loaded utility vehicle, however. Steve had seen to that during training plus he'd transported construction materials a couple of times.
"You and your brother must get along pretty good seeing since you ran away from home to be with him," Randy said as Tommy worked to concentrate on his driving.
"He's a great brother," Tommy responded.
"So, have you two, you know, ever messed around?"
"That's none of your business, but I'll say nothing serious."
"Meaning I'll let you figure out while I work to get us to the shuttle bay in one piece with all our groceries."
"Good answer and here's the lift."
This lift served Bays nineteen through twenty-two, thirty and thirty-one. It was built to handle carrying supplies and materials. Tommy had no problem driving in and parking.
Down in the Mars, Kyle was begging Danny to enter his ass.
"Got a bit of an itch, do you?" Danny smirked. He gave his husband a long and loving kiss.
"We gotta hurry just in case, you know, somebody comes," Kyle answered.
"Since nobody is going to come, other than us, I take that to be a yes to the itch. And foreplay is important, you know. I read that in a how to have good sex book."
"Shut up and fuck."
After a little more foreplay, the two super horny tweens finally got down to business when Danny pushed his cock into Kyle's smooth ass. The bed was proving to be very sturdy.
Down on the Bay 31 deck, Tommy parked the utility vehicle so the back end was facing the place where the back hatch would drop down. The point where the hatch would meet the deck was marked by a bright red stripe. The Shuttle created this mark whenever a utility was close so that no matter how or where it was parked, the mark would be perfectly placed. Randy opened the control box on the hull, punched in the entry code, and pressed the button to lower the hatch.
Up in the shuttle Danny was plowing Kyle hard and deep when a hatch alert chime sounded. "Fuuuuuuuuuck, I thought you didn't set the alarm," Danny cried.
"I didn't!" Kyle yelled back.
"Holy shit, that means the stern hatch is about to open." As a safety measure, the alarm on the stern hatch could not be shut off to warn anyone in the shuttle who was standing by the hatch, or leaning on it, that it was about to open.
"Quick, get off me and jump off the bed," Kyle screeched.
Before Danny could do anything, the hatch started to lower, causing the back of the bed to angle toward the ground. Both boys could see the utility vehicle parked behind them and knew they had to hang on to the front of the bed frame to avoid sliding into it. While the pitch wasn't steep and the distance wasn't far, they knew they could still get injured sliding into the vehicle. In their near panic, they could make out two figures standing next the utility vehicle but had no idea who they were.
As the hatch opened and started to drop down, Randy saw the two naked figures on the bed and let out a whoop of glee. "Hot damn, Tommy, would you look at who's coming down to help us load their food," he yelled.
Tommy looked at his brother and Kyle in horror. While he knew the two of them did it, he didn't know from personal experience that they actually DID IT. And there they were, doing it on a shuttle craft, although at the moment they were hanging on to avoid sliding off the end of the bed. Tommy couldn't remember ever feeling more embarrassed in his entire life.
The end of the ramp settled on the red stripe at a twelve-degree angle. Randy was bent over with laughter while Tommy turned his back on the entire affair, his body burning with shame.
"Oh, you guys are sick, totally sick, and I LOVE IT!" Randy laughed. "What do you think, Tommy?"
Kyle and Danny had maneuvered off the bed and were standing naked, and now limp dicked on the other side of the utility vehicle from Tommy. "Well, this is a bit of a surprise," Kyle commented shakily as he slowly recovered from his scare.
Tommy turned and glared at the two, fighting back tears. "You're my brother and you… I can't believe you two guys were doing that," he raised his voice a little on the last part. "I mean, I know you guys must do it, but not in a shuttle like you were doing."
"They're not only your brother and uncle, they are also conscientious officers who came to make sure that bed was safe… as well as being the horny…"
"Right," Danny and Kyle answered together. Danny moved around the bed of the vehicle and walked up to his brother, giving him a hug before he could react. Tommy wanted to fight him off but gave in and accepted the hug from his naked brother who was showing himself to be loving despite being not so perfect.
"Sorry, Tommy, we thought we had calculated where everybody would be and that it was safe. We forgot to account for a possible food delivery."
"But we were having fun until the chime sounded," Danny grinned, causing Tommy to finally smile.
"What I'd like to know is which of my cooks put the Viagra into your evening snacks," Randy inquired.
"Hey, we're twelve. Who needs Viagra?" Kyle responded.
"Well, your little secret is safe with me," Randy smirked, "but one of you has to reward me for zipping my mouth by giving me a sample of what was happening on that bed."
That was when Tommy made a full recovery from the experience and added, "And the other guy has to show me how to do it."
Three heads snapped at Tommy, with the three older boys grinning. "Is my little brother growing up?" Danny choked out.
"Maybe, but with you embarrassing me like that, I think you should make it up to me somehow."
Danny and Kyle agreed to take care of the two. Since it was obvious to everybody who was going to pair with whom nobody had to mention it. Instead, everyone turned to the bed of the utility vehicle. Two naked officers then set to work helping the Executive Chef and an acting ensign move the shipment of food from the vehicle to the shuttle, unpacking it, and placing it in the shuttle's storage area and freezer-refrigerator. The refrigerator was then put into stasis mode so the food would keep.
What had almost become a disaster, ended up being an experience the four of them would laugh about in the future.
After the supplies were unloaded into their places, Kyle and Danny dressed and returned to their quarters. Tommy and Randy climbed onto the utility vehicle and Tommy drove it the short distance to where the vehicles were stored. He backed carefully into the bay into its parking slot and shut it down.
"Nice job of driving, Tommy," Randy said. "You'll make a fine pilot someday."
"Thanks, but… backing up made me really nervous. I haven't done that very much," Tommy admitted. "Now, about those muffins…"
"Folks, just an hour before the special voting polls open, Captain William Robinson, who was presumed lost over twenty years ago along with his ship, wishes to give a press conference. I haven't a clue as to what he plans to say."
Captain William Robinson took to the screen. He adjusted his uniform, which felt weird after so long without wearing anything. "Ladies and Gentlemen, my ship was considered lost approximately twenty-five years ago. I couldn't tell you exactly how long it's been; my crew and I were inside a planet where aging is nearly non-existent. They have no star causing radiation to age them. I understand that one of the senators is against the Explorer Program, but I am here to tell you I have been rescued by that very same Space Fleet Explorer Program."
The transmission ended and the reporter came back on, "There you have it, folks, as I said, just an hour before the polls open, and we discover that Will Robinson is not only no longer lost in space, but also backing the Explorer Program. I'm sure Cooper will have something to say, hoping to win back some of your votes, but I am with Senator Candidate Evan Zellers right now. Candidate Zellers, do you have anything to add?"
"Those children in the Explorer Program are amazing," Zellers chuckled. "Not only did they rescue the SS Joseph Hooker, which I was happy to hear her crewmembers that survived are in perfect health, but they rescued a ship thought lost twenty-five years ago. I guess having adopted children, even if one IS a baby, isn't keeping them from their duties. The medical staff of the Sooloo and Darastix checked out everybody rescued and allowed them to call home. I freely admit, when I spoke to my brother, I cried. I mean, everyone thought the ship was lost and they were gone, so seeing Cody's face and hearing his voice, it was so emotional. Cody did lose eight crewmembers, the youngest of his crew, and he is broken up over it.
"I am proud of my nephew and his ship mates on the SS Sooloo. John Luke, your Uncle Evan loves you."
"That couldn't possibly be William Robinson, he's not old enough. Those in charge of Space Fleet's Explorer Program or perhaps Candidate Zeller, knowing I'm about to beat him, probably hired someone close to the age Robinson was when he became lost. A planet where you don't age, indeed. Just how gullible does Zeller think we are?" Cooper was royally pissed.
"And the fact that William Robinson's grandson just happens to be on the ship that supposedly rescued the long-lost crew stinks of a set-up by Space Fleet. Really? How naive to they think we are. We're really supposed believe that story. I'm sure we'll hear how his grandson, the 12-year-old deck swabbing astrologer played a major role in the so-called rescue. My opponent is really grasping at straws if he thinks we're going to believe all this nonsense. I can assure you that after my re-election, Space Fleet is going to pay for this blatant attempt to influence an election."
Cooper was talking just to hear his own voice as he was alone in his office.
Moments later, a news crew walked into Cooper's Office. "Sir, what do you have to say about the SS Sooloo rescuing the crew of both the SS Joseph Hooker and the Explorer of the Stars?"
"As many of you will probably find out with the missing ship, the SS Joseph Hooker, having been found, my grandson is a crewmember of that ship. I wasn't trying to deceive anyone by not mentioning him, and my campaign is not personal. I wanted to focus on the cold hard facts. I had the opportunity of talking to Timmy… er, Timothy, only I can call him Timmy, just last night. The mindless boasting of Kyle Robinson and the disgusting attempt to make Commander Robinson look like something he isn't, did not change my mind. Finding my grandson does not change my point of view. In fact, knowing that eight boys were lost… no young boy should have to go through what my grandson had to deal with, and I aim to see that they won't have to. I feel sorrowful for the lost boys' families and reiterate my stance, these boys should be at home acting their age, and not playing Starship like adults. While some loss may have been something to expect, eight boys lost is eight too many."
Several members of the press corps were having their monthly get-together at the Omelet House in Vegas. Of course, the topic of Space Fleet and more specifically, Senator Cooper was a major topic.
Andrew Finch, reporter from the Vegas Reporter started, "I can't believe Cooper. He made a huge deal about Zeller having a relative on the Hooker but conveniently omits that his grandson is on that same ship. He tried to tell us that he didn't want it to appear his issues were personal, but it doesn't wash in my mind."
"I know what you mean, however, Zeller's relative is the captain and Timothy Cooper is only a crewman."
Alex Murphy of the National Press replied, "Give me a break, it doesn't matter what positions they hold, he should have let everyone know before tearing into Zeller for having family on the ship."
"I know what you mean," Finch replied, "Just curious, what is your position on the whole issue?"
"Andy, I think you know my position, but for the others, if Cooper's allegations turn out to have basis, I'd have to side with him. Don't get me wrong, I feel he is too old to continue to serve as Senator. He needs to be replaced, but I think that the public will need there to be some pretty compelling evidence to show that Zeller's claim of something illegal being done."
Little did the reporters know that there were 'interested parties' listening in on their chat.
After their meeting adjourned the reporters left the diner as someone appearing to be a busboy turned and left through another door. He sat in a chair in the lobby and sent the following message, "Press corps seems to be leaning against the Senator because he didn't let the people know about his familial ties to the Hooker. The most vocal of them was…" he finished his message, hit send and left the hotel. He was fairly certain he earned his pay from the Senator that day."
Hal entered the conference room nearly 10 minutes after the leader, Drekzul had.
"Sorry about the delay, Mr. Drekzul," Hal apologized, "but one of my officers needed me. I hope you slept well."
"I was surprisingly comfortable," Drekzul replied. "All things considered, I wasn't expecting any hospitality, let alone to that degree. About the delay, are you that way with all those under you, or just certain ones?"
"All of them are important to me," Hal answered. "Even though the crew of the SS Joseph Hooker are not under me, they are still Space Fleet personnel, so they are as important to me, as well."
To Hal's amazement, Drekzul did a quick nod of his head. "I understand. You are right that we are no match for your ship, but I cannot leave empty handed. I must show my people that I am a good leader who will fight for them. We needn't be enemies. You've proven that."
"My thoughts, exactly, which is why you were given VIP quarters for the night," Hal sighed in relief. "There are a few members who would like to stay and help you with your situation, but they request that they give their aid freely and not as slaves. You are free to claim we compromised to allow these boys to stay. It was your decision to make them citizens or whatever you feel will serve your purpose."
Drekzul looked down, "Anoli, or rather Anonymous in your tongue, was my son's slave. My son, Zoeberdolph, has agreed to give him up IF one of the boys we had captured would stay here as his mate. If that cannot happen, I believe I can still convince him to let Anoli go."
Hearing this, Hal was glad he had discussed this possibility with Dave and the Admirals and received approval for the concept, providing it was totally voluntary and there was assurance that the boys would remain free and not be treated as slaves. "Does he have anyone in mind?" Hal queried.
"He says that he is in love with one they call Crewman Alex Jackson."
Hal couldn't help but laugh, "Jackson said he would love to stay as long as he's not a slave. He practically begged us, claiming he'd be willing be a slave if he was Zoeb's, his name for your son. It seems that he is in love with your son, too."
"You have my word, he needn't be a slave, and if he wants to marry my son, it will happen. If they wish to just be friends, he will not be made a slave. Just five of these boys would be a big boost to helping our race not become extinct, but more would be better."
"As it happens," Hal smiled, "I have nine boys who would like to stay and help you." Hal emphasized, "… as long as they are as free as your people."
Drekzul began to weep, "I can accept those terms. This will be great for my people, and I can't thank these boys… no, I can't thank these young men enough. Letting them be equals with my people doesn't even begin to reward them."
Hal and Drekzul discussed the agreement further until the chime on the door rang. After Hal called to permit entry, Crewman Jackson entered.
"Crewman Jackson, this is Mr. Drekzul, leader of the people on… or rather 'in' the planet. He has asked if you could verify your intent if you were to stay here."
Alex turned to Drekzul, "It is very nice to meet you, Sir. Your son has told me much about you."
"It is nice to meet you as well, and if I may say, my son has excellent taste in choosing a potential mate, you are a very handsome young man." Drekzul allowed Alex a moment to recover from his slight embarrassment before continuing, "My son has told me that he would like for you two to marry."
"Drekzul, I cannot become pregnant by your son or anyone. That doesn't mean I don't enjoy him trying. Your doctors have confirmed it is possible that he can become pregnant by me."
"Yes, I am aware, and Zoeberdolph has already admitted, he would like to carry your baby. He claims that you are a perfect match to marry, and I have no problem if that is what you desire."
"I would love to marry him," Alex crowed.
Alex requested to return to his quarters to pack, not that he would have much need for clothing since all he had was Space Fleet uniforms, but there were a few personal items he would like to take with him. The remainder of the meeting consisted of Hal summoning the other boys who had expressed a willingness to remain and Drekzul considering who might like whom. At the end of the meeting an agreement had been reached.
Drekzul opened some sort of communication device and in his native tongue told his ships to return to their planet, he explained that he would return on a shuttle from the Sooloo, along with nine new citizens. He also asked that his son be notified that he should plan on meeting him upon arrival.
Hal asked Drekzul if he would like a tour of the ship and possibly to sample some food from their chef.
"Timmy, Grandpa is out giving one last push to get reelected. He told me not to talk to you because you are being bad."
Timothy just shook his head, "Jimmy, have I ever lied to you?"
"No," the nine-year old replied, "so what did you do bad?"
"I didn't do anything," Timmy declared. "But Grandpa wants to tear apart the Explorer Program, and while he's doing so, Space Fleet regulations will not permit me to visit him."
Jimmy, who loved imitating his grandfather, seemed confused, "He said that you were part of the loss of those eight boys. Why did you do that?"
"I didn't, Jimmy. Yes, we lost eight of our crewmembers, but it was none of our faults. We were held captive, and the ones holding us had those boys killed as a deterrent."
"Detergent?" Jimmy questioned, "they turned them into soap?"
"Not detergent, Jimmy, deterrent," Timothy explained. "They used their deaths as a means to convince us not to escape."
"Oh…" Jimmy's voice faded. "Grandpa said those boys wouldn't have died had they not been in the Explorer Program. He wants you out of it, so quit being bad and come home."
"Jimmy, I am not the one who is being bad. Do you remember Grandpa's bug program?"
"You mean the one that starts out as bugs running across the screen, but then they hide?" Jimmy asked.
"That's the one," Timothy grinned. "Do you remember what it does when the bugs hide?"
"Yeah, it finds emails and sends them to Grandpa, but he only used it with us."
Timothy shook his head. "I found a copy on the Sooloo, and it's a bad crime."
"Grandpa wouldn't do that!" Jimmy glared at his older brother.
Timothy showed the program to Jimmy. "I didn't think he would either, but he did."
"I'm going to ask him about it," Jimmy swore. "I know he didn't do it."
"You do that, and I know he will deny it, but show him this video when you do."
"Did you have a wonderful tour?" Mirah asked as he joined Hal and Drekzul at the end of it, in the Sooloo's Officers' Dining Mess.
"Fleet Admiral, is it?" Drekzul responded as Mirah shook his hand. "I was surprised by the age of those we had enslaved from the Hooker, but upon seeing this crew in action, I can understand."
"And you don't look old enough for a son around fifteen," Mirah smiled.
"Actually, Zoeberdolph is 7557 cycles old, I believe you would call them years. Our cycle is 375 days, although I am not certain how you define days. To us, a day is 23.75 klewk, or what you call hours. I am over fifteen thousand cycles old, not even sure of my own age anymore."
"Amazing, you don't look nearly that old. It explains partially why Captain Robinson's crew hadn't aged after over twenty-five years."
"Yes, with the lack of stellar radiation, it takes 500 cycles for us to appear to age but one," Drekzul smiled. "I imagine those that leave, such as Anol… er, I mean Liber, I believe that is the name your doctor gave him, anyone, once they leave this planet, I imagine they will age accordingly."
"Yes, that is our belief, as well," Hal concurred.
"Admiral," Drekzul switched to diplomatic mode, "I would like to open relations with Earth. You would be free to come as often as you like and see that we are honoring our agreement, but I would love for your people to just come visit. Those that wish to stay are welcome to do so, but all will be free to leave at their choosing. I already have our engineers changing the coding on the force field. Any ship carrying Terrans will be free to pass through without answering a riddle, just as our ships do now. We have reestablished multiple riddles for any other ships."
Bill smiled, "Sir, I have no doubt you will honor the agreement you made. I honestly believe your actions were more along the lines of trying to save your people. I welcome you to a relationship with Earth and will speak on your behalf to the powers that be. And I understand Alex Jackson had requested to leave Space Fleet to stay with you."
"I see where you are going," Drekzul grinned, "Alex would make a great ambassador for your people. Both Phrintesh and his younger brother Physotesh had expressed an interest in perhaps being ambassadors for us on Earth."
"Two brothers sharing the Ambassador duties?" Bill was surprised by the request. "I can see that as a possibility. I will do whatever I can to make it happen."
"Sorry for the delay, gentlemen," Randy apologized, "but your talks seemed serious, and I didn't want to interrupt. What can I get you to drink?"
"I would like to try a drink the one called Captain Robinson had requested when we first captured him, I believe he called it tea, Earl Grey, hot," Drekzul replied. "If we are going to begin relations with Earth, I suppose we should try some of your cuisine."
"Seriously?" Randy was surprised. "I was making a dish that Captain Zeller said you served them often. I believe he called it Odorlit delta-bacon."
"Ahhhh," Drekzul licked his lips. "We called it nyrd goh. It is very delicious, and I appreciate the effort, but I would like to try a hamburger."
"Just a hamburger," Randy questioned, "or would you like a cheeseburger?"
"If it still has the meat, I think I would like a cheeseburger and perhaps something called French fries."
"I would love to try the… nerd go?" Bill tried pronouncing it like Drekzul had.
"I also will have the …" Hal gestured toward Drekzul as if to ask him to repeat what he had said.
"Nyrd goh." Drekzul laughed. "You were close enough, Admiral, had you ordered like that here, you would have gotten it."
Randy finished taking their drink orders and disappeared. Bill looked at Hal, "After lunch, I need to speak with Cody. He is considering resigning."
"I suppose I am at fault for that," Drekzul commented. "May I speak with him?"
Fleet Admiral William Mirah and Drekzul rang the chime. The quarters held fifteen personnel from the SS Joseph Hooker. Captain Cody Zellers was one of the occupants. Hal had offered him private quarters using one of the VIP quarters, but Cody wanted to be treated like the rest of his crew. He answered the door, "Admiral, Drekzul…" His eyes showed a kind of hatred toward the man who once held him captive, and as he spoke his name, contempt was evident in his voice.
"Captain Zeller," Drekzul began, "I understand why you hate me. If I were you, I would hate me, too."
"You killed innocent boys," Cody cried.
"Yes, I did," Drekzul began to cry. "I felt it was necessary to show you we meant business, and those boys were too young to be of use otherwise. They would have been a strain on my people, offering nothing in return for hundreds of years. I do regret my actions, and my reasoning probably does not matter in your eyes. I am truly sorry."
"Admiral, I am falling apart," Cody cried. "I am not certain that I can command anymore."
Cody felt a virtual warm embrace from Mirah as he spoke, "Captain, we cannot build you back up until you freely fall apart. You have good reason, but I ask you, captain your ship until we get back to Earth. You will have about twenty-four to thirty months before she is completed with her refit. You will seek counselling during that time. If, when your ship is ready, you still feel like resigning, we can discuss it then."
"Evan doesn't think I should resign but agreed that I do need counselling. Okay," Cody agreed, "I will follow your advice."
"Captain, even as we were taking you as slaves, I could tell how much you cared for your crew. I think you displayed excellent qualities as a leader. Again, I am truly sorry for my actions."
"I know I should forgive you, and you were just trying to look out for your people, but at this moment, I cannot forgive you."
"I understand, but you need to forgive yourself; you did nothing wrong. Hate me all that you want, but you did nothing to hate yourself."
"I want to hate you, but you are making it hard. I cannot forgive you, but I do understand your thought. As for me, I did do something wrong. I allowed you to capture twenty-four of my crew. Then, I arrogantly thought we could rescue them. You killed eight boys who hadn't even started to live. I wasn't man enough to stop you."
"None of that was your fault; you were just being a caring commander. Slug me if it will make you feel better but forgive yourself and move on. I will even give you a weapon to kill me if it will help. I promise you; your Admiral Mirah will not change his feelings about you and will not hold you responsible if you do."
"You… you would really allow me to kill you?" Cody was surprised by this offer. "No, I can't kill you. Hell, letting you live and think about what you did may be probably the best punishment I can give you." Cody fell to his knees and started crying harder than he ever had.
Drekzul patted his back, "Forgive yourself and the healing can begin."
"Now, we can start building you back up, Captain." Bill knew that if he continued calling Cody Captain that the boy would accept that he IS the Captain of the SS Joseph Hooker.
"Sir, I do need that counselling, but I wish to withdraw my resignation," Cody averred as he wiped his nose. Part of him wanted to wipe it on Drekzul's pants.
"Captain Cody Zeller, I am happy to dismiss your resignation and will set you up with the finest counsellor Space Fleet has to offer. I believe Evan would be proud of you."
"He already told me so. He tried telling me that there was nothing I could have done to save the eight boys I had lost without losing the twenty-four that were saved."
"And you only lost those eight boys," Bill smiled. "Under the circumstances, I think you did an excellent job. In total, you've kept seventy-eight crewmembers alive, plus yourself. Those boys will have a special ceremony when we get back to Earth, and as their commanding officer, I hope you would honor them."
Through his sobs, Cody confirmed, "You can count on that, Sir."
Bill looked at Drekzul, "Is there any way we can retrieve the bodies and take them back to Earth?"
"The boys were killed three months ago and buried, but we can dig them back up. I have no problem with you taking them home."
Kyle looked around the Robinson quarters. "Wow, it's hard to believe we won't be seeing our little home for four to six weeks," he told Danny in a contemplative voice.
"It's home now, it will be home while we're away, and it will be home when we get back," Danny replied.
Kyle giggled, "My, aren't you Mr. Philosopher this morning."
"Until a few days ago, I never thought about us leaving the Sooloo while it was on active duty," Danny swallowed. "This will be just a vacation, but still."
"And now we're leaving it for family. I mean, I can remember when I went to the academy," Kyle began, "that I didn't think my family was important. Hell, I didn't think I even HAD a family anymore. And now here we are going to Earth for a reunion of four generations of family."
Danny grinned, "And I never would have thought that the Robinson family would end up being my family."
Kyle planted a quick kiss on Danny's lips. "And we're happy you're in our family. When I was ten family was nothing and now… I'm twelve and family is everything. Does that sound mature or what?"
Danny grabbed Kyle's right hand with his left. "Eat your heart out Senator Cooper," he said. "We learned all this stuff about family by being in the Explorer Program. You and me would be who-knows-what if we were just kids on Earth, even if we were attending the Space Academy."
The two tweens who were so much more than mere boys were silently holding hands and thinking of the important lessons they had been learning about life while serving on the Sooloo when the entry door to their quarters burst open and two bundles of boy energy bounced through it. "Opsolas! Opsolas!" they screeched in unison as they all but tackled Kyle and Danny with their hugs.
"When are we going?" Koji asked. "We're all packed and ready, are you packed, too?" "Where's Tommy?" "What are we waiting for?" "We said goodbye to all our friends, and we have our school stuff packed," Koji and Duskin shouted in succession without ever talking over each other. They had just come home from class.
"Hey, hey, hey, slow down droti so we can follow what you're saying," Kyle commanded, sounding stern while at the same time displaying more than a hint of amusement. He had used the Darastixian word for boys.
"We have no doubt that you're ready to go, and so are we," Danny added. "And to answer one of your questions, Tommy is bringing a utility vehicle to carry all of the stuff we have packed."
They really didn't need much for the trip to Earth since they would have full use of the ship's laundry on the Darastix, but they needed to pack enough clothing to get them through four to six weeks on the return trip on the Mars. Once Kash agreed that nudity would be a proper dress code, he, Kyle, and Danny agreed that two weeks' worth of packing would be more than enough. They also agreed to delay revealing the decision to Koji, Duskin, and Jay until the start of the Mars flight.
Tommy stopped the utility vehicle in front of the quarters about fifteen minutes after Koji and Duskin had arrived. Even though Kash and Jay would be taking the Michelangelo to the Darastix the next day, their luggage was in the bed of the vehicle. They felt that not having to worry about their luggage would make their trip to the Darastix simpler. Tommy would be introduced to Grandpa William and get to know more about Danny's new family. He would return to the Sooloo on the Michelangelo after it shuttled over Kash and Jay.
Once the baggage was loaded, Danny and Duskin rode in the utility vehicle with Tommy while Kyle and Koji walked together behind them. Jesse Gross met them at shuttle bay 2, where the Mars sat ready to be loaded and boarded. Jesse had moved the shuttle from bay 31, which was her regular berth. He went over the final pre-interplanetary space flight inspection with Danny while the others loaded the baggage onto the shuttle. Danny signed off on the inspection and Jesse made sure everything was properly stowed.
Once the shuttle was loaded, Tommy, with Koji riding shotgun, returned the utility vehicle to shuttle bay 12, where two of the ship's four utility vehicles were stored. Once he returned and everybody was aboard, they buckled into their seats. Jesse wished them a safe voyage and left for the shuttle bay control room.
Danny started the shuttle's engines and then checked in with the bridge for permission to leave the Sooloo. Permission was immediately granted, and he was transferred to the shuttle bay control room where Jesse would guide Danny out of the shuttle bay. As soon as the shuttle was clear of the hatch, Danny set the Mars on course for the Darastix and accelerated to cruising speed. The Robinson family adventure had begun.
"With just two hours before the polls close, I am pleased to announce that I am leading the election, if only by a mere 200 votes, but I am winning.. It's too soon to call a victory, but as the projected winner, I want to congratulate Candidate Zellers on a fine attempt," Cooper announced. "Here is one of my grandsons, Jimmy. Jimmy wave and thank the good people of British Columbia for voting for your grandpa."
"Thank you, people," Jimmy responded. Then he looked at his grandfather, "Grandpa, I was given a video of your bug program being used on the Sooloo. How did it get there?"
"Bug program? What exactly does this program do, young man?" one reporter inquired. Others jumped in asking questions. Jimmy answered every question asked, though Allen Cooper tried to move him away from the cameras.
"Jimmy, I think you are mistaken. I have never been on the Sooloo, so unless Timmy planted it, I have no idea how it made it there."
"Andrew Finch with the Vegas Reporter. Are you saying that your very own grandson planted it there and is framing you?"
"I didn't say that; I said unless he did plant it, I don't know how it was placed."
"Commander Daniel French with Space Fleet Security," a red-headed man wearing a Space Fleet uniform stated. "Senator Cooper, the IS Department of the Sooloo had discovered the program a few weeks ago. Your grandson hadn't been found yet, so he couldn't have placed it. Do you know a Benjamin Hole, formerly of Space Fleet Security?"
"No, I can't say that I do," Cooper lied.
"He claimed that you paid him to switch a part on the Sooloo, and that you hired Lucy Ferdevil to have men plant the program. Would you come with us, Sir?"
"Ladies and gentlemen, this certainly is a shocking development. It appears that the quite possibly re-elected Senator Alan Cooper has either been arrested or detained for questioning for what this reporter can surmise is sabotage. You can count on this reporter and this network following up on this turn of events, and we will inform you all on any developments. Could this be what Zellers needs to pull off a victory?"