So_Clever

Discussion in 'Fan Fiction' started by Sgt_G, Jul 12, 2018.

  1. Sgt_G

    Sgt_G Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Jul 5, 2013
    Location:
    USA
    Frank laughed. “You know, all the Smith girls are like that. And wait until you meet their Dad.”

    Miller gave his friend an annoyed look. “I met Mister Smith. In fact, he took me to lunch.”

    William Jones climbed the stairs and regarded Miller. “Daniel, right? I can’t place it, but have we met before this trip?”

    “Yes, sir. In your office. You interviewed me for a job opening.” To say he was ‘interviewed’ was a bit of a stretch. Miller recalled sitting outside Jones’s office for nearly an hour past the appointment time. Once he was shown in, Jones kept him waiting for another five minutes while he was on his video call with a client. Finally, Jones spun around in his chair and said, “Right. Okay, I’ve read your résumé, and I’m sorry to tell you this, but we’re looking for someone with more training and a lot more experience for the position. Good luck. I’ll keep your application on file in case another job comes up.” Yeah, right. On file, as in File Thirteen. Right in the dumpster.

    “Ah, yes. I remember now,” Jones smiled, and then became more serious. “So, Chrissy, huh?”

    Miller closed his eyes and shook his head in exasperation. He looked at William, “The heart wants what it wants, sir.” He looked towards the camp. “I know she’s out of my league,” he sighed dejectedly. “Besides, she’ll never notice me as long as Lieutenant Kyle Price is here to save the day.”

    “You know he’s married, right?” Frank injected. “He has a wife and daughter, and a baby on the way.”

    Miller blinked twice. “He does? And she knows this?”

    Frank laughed. “Of course. Susan gave him a sendoff at port. Chris was there.”

    Miller took a deep breath and let it out. “Price isn’t the type to cheat on his wife. And Miss Smith doesn’t seem like someone who’d go after a married man.”

    “She’s not,” William declared. He placed a friendly hand on the younger man’s shoulder. “You won’t get anywhere if you stay silent. Tell her how you feel. If she’s not interested, she’ll let you know.” He turned to walk away, stopped, and looked back. “And if she is interested, you’re in more trouble than you can imagine.”

    Luke perked up, sitting straighter on the rail. Over on the other side of the creek, two of the younger males returned to their camp with what appeared to be two dead squirrels and a large rat-like animal. Luke hopped down and grabbed Miller’s tool bag, looked inside, and removed the remaining tools. He sat those down and stuck his head inside the bag as if to make sure it was empty. He looked at Miller and made some chittering noises. “Hey, don’t do that!” Miller exclaimed, but before he could retrieve the bag, Luke leaped down to the ground and took off around the back of the ship and up over the hill.

    “What the flip?” Frank exclaimed as the two men looked at each other dumbfounded. They reported the incident to Miss Smith. Just a few short minutes later, Luke returned to the camp, bag in tow. He stopped at the fireside and removed several pieces of fruit to give to his family. He then went to the fallen-tree bridge and crossed over. When he got to the end, he held up a large pear to show the group.

    Bruce allowed him to approach. Luke dumped the contents of the bag on the ground. It was an assortment of fruit, mainly apples and pears. One of the males tried to take the bag, and a short tug-of-war ensued until Angel grabbed her grandson’s tail and pinched. When he didn’t respond, she gave it a good yank. He yelped in pain and dropped the bag.

    Luke and Bruce exchanged chitterings and hand gestures for a long minute. Luke looked back at his campsite and then bowed low to the ground. He made more hand gestures and noises at the other males, as if giving them instructions. He grabbed the bag and galloped back across the bridge. He detoured long enough to toss the bag up to Miller and then went to the fire. He picked up a stick and wrapped some of Jack’s vines around the end until he had a good-sized ball. He dipped this into the fire until it caught flame.

    Holding the flaming stick like a torch, Luke crossed back over the bridge. Bruce’s sons had already built a teepee of wood and kindling. Bruce took the torch and lit his campfire. Satisfied with the result, he picked up the two squirrels, one in each hand as if to weigh them, and gave one to Luke. Sophie attempted to approach Luke, but two of her brothers intervened once again. Another sibling squabble erupted, and Luke sadly retreated to his family, food in hand.

    Felicia came out and asked if it was okay for the twins to come out and sit at the table to read. They both had book reports due soon. Price and Christina both said it seemed safe enough, but they should stay close to the ship. The kids came out and sat down. Carmella had a towel wrapped around her head; she said she was just getting ready to take a shower when the ship was attacked, so she was glad the water was turned back on.

    They watched as Luke took his little brother to the creek and showed him how to gut and clean the squirrel. He threw the entrails and the head into the water. “Ew, gross,” Carmella said as she turned away. “Cool,” her brother exclaimed as he watched Luke pull the hide off the body. The pelt just peeled right off and turned inside out, like taking a sock off a foot.

    “Homework, you two,” their mother ordered. She turned to Christina, “I knew this was a bad idea. Ma’am, if you make contact with anyone, is there any chance I can download their school assignments? It should take less than five minutes.”

    “Yes, of course,” she replied as she watched Luke skewer the carcass on a sharpened stick. “That shouldn’t be a problem.” Luke wedged another stick so that it stood vertically in the rocks surrounding the fire pit. He used the Y of the branches to support one end of his skewer so he could hold the meat over the fire. It didn’t take long for the aroma to rise up. “That actually smells good,” she commented, “it’s making me hungry.”

    “There’s still some breakfast hash left,” Mrs. Vasquez told her. “Would you like me to re-heat some for you?”

    “No, thanks, I’ll get it. I might not be able to cook, but I can nuke leftovers.” She stood up, and Price started to get up, too. “No, sit. Keep an eye on things here, please.” He complied, and she entered the ship.
     
    Last edited: Jul 15, 2018 at 7:57 PM
  2. Sgt_G

    Sgt_G Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Jul 5, 2013
    Location:
    USA
    When she walked into the dining room, she found Billy and Val sitting at the table, looking at display on the medical tricorder. The expression on their faces said everything. “Are congratulations in order?”

    “Yeah, I guess so,” Valerie confessed. Her younger sister looked confused; she thought they’d be happier. “We wanted more kids, but not just yet. Rachel is seven, Peter’s four, and Sam is a year old. Well, fifteen months. I wanted to wait another year so Sam would be three when this one is born. I blame him,” she poked her husband in the ribs.

    “Hey, we took precautions,” Billy complained.

    Christina stuck her fingers in her ears. “La-la-la-la. I didn’t need to hear that.” She smiled. “I’m happy for you. Really. Hey, I’m going to re-heat some breakfast hash. Want some?”

    “No, thanks. I want to go lie down for a while. We need some quiet time together.” They started walking out of the room.

    “Uh huh. Right. Lock the door,” she told them with an evil grin. Val looked back and stuck her tongue out.

    Christina made her way into the kitchen where she found Pedro Vasquez installing a new circuit board into the stove. “Where did you find that?” she asked.

    “I made it,” he answered with a smile. She hadn’t seen him smile in days. “This design is positively ancient; it even has semiconductors and soldered connectors. It was fun to build.” She couldn’t help but notice that he had the top of the stove hinged open. She commented on this as she put a bowl of hash in the small microwave oven, another relic from the past. “Yeah, I don’t know why James went through the oven to get to this. It’s like trying to change your car’s spark plugs by going in from the dash board.”

    He closed the lid and replaced the heating elements just as the microwave dinged. He tested each one. “It works,” he declared. He washed his hands and turned to his employer. “It’s nice to feel useful again.”

    She looked at him inquisitively. “What are you talking about? You are a valued member of my crew. I couldn’t fly this ship without you.”

    He sighed. “You hired me to be an electronics technician, but there’s hardly any work for me to do.”

    “Oh, I’m afraid there’s plenty for you to do,” she shook her head. “I don’t know if you heard how screwed up the warp drive is. They weren’t serviced right. Not at all. I seriously doubt the computers are in any better shape. I need you to check every system on the bridge and every system in the engine room. Fix what you can and make a list of what needs to be done once we get to port.”

    “Done and done.”

    “Good. How long do you think it will take you?”

    Pedro cocked his head to the side. “It’s done, Ma’am. I went through everything with a fine-tooth comb before we left homeport. I replaced anything that was the least bit sketchy. I even upgraded the computers to the current operating system and installed the latest security patches.” He paused. “Ma’am, if you don’t mind me saying so, this ship was a mess. She was rode hard and put away wet. The computers were six-months out-of-date when they put her in storage. Additionally, your other ship, Tina’s Joy, was in worse shape. I helped Taylor Baker re-wire the flight control station.”

    Miss Smith let this sink in. “Excellent. You’ve earned your pay for this trip, that’s for sure. I paid good money to have all that done when I bought the ships. Okay, two things. First, I need a list, as near as you can remember, of everything that was wrong with both ships and everything you had to do to fix them.” He said he made just such as list as he went along. “Great. Send me that, please. Second, have you inspected for any damage since the attack?”

    “Just a basic systems check,” he admitted, “but I can run a full diagnostics on everything.”

    “Yes, please do.” She looked at the stove. “That won’t short out again, will it?”

    Pedro feigned insult. “Of course not, Ma’am. I found the bad wire,” he held up the offending cable with the bare spot in the insulating cover. He left the room with a bit more spring in his step.

    Christina finished her snack and made rounds to check on her ship. She found Lisa Bell on the bridge working on course plots to various destinations. Lisa seemed nervous. “Chris, can you do us a favor? Frank said he royally screwed up. Can you talk Billy into giving us a second chance? We really need these jobs. We’re getting married soon.”

    Miss Smith smiled and quietly reassured her. “You have nothing to worry about. William doesn’t run this ship. I do.”

    “Yes, of course, but Billy is the regional manager. Doesn’t he have final say in personnel matters?”

    “Not on my ship, he doesn’t,” she snapped, a bit harsher than she meant. “This isn’t a company ship.”

    “Okay,” Lisa was still confused, “when Jason hired us, he said we’d be working for a subsidiary to Smith & Jones.”

    “Well, my brother was wrong. Star Blaze Transports is my company. I own it. All of it. I hired you. Jason had nothing to do with that.” Christina sighed. Family. She shifted topics. “I sent you to the service center on Mars. Can you please pull up the records?”

    Lisa hesitated. “We didn’t go to Mars,” she said slowly. “They said they couldn’t fit us into their schedule, so Jason sent had us to Port Bristle instead.” Miss Smith closed her eyes and let out an annoyed sigh. Lisa retrieved the records as requested. “Here’s the work order, and here’s the invoice.”

    Christina examined the documents. The work order called for the bare minimum service, and the billing records showed they were paid a quarter of the funds withdrawn from her account. It didn’t take a genius to figure out where the rest of her money went. “I’m going to kill him,” she muttered to herself. “He’s so dead.” She noticed another document displayed on another screen. “What’s this?” she asked.

    “Oh, just a letter home,” Lisa replied as she blanked the screen.

    “Bring it back up, please,” Christina requested. Lisa paused for a second and then complied. No sense arguing with someone who’s already in a bad mood. “Sorry, I don’t mean to pry.” She read the part that caught her eye. “No, you can’t send this.” She reached over and pressed a button on the control panel. “All hand, please hear this. If you’re preparing a message to send home, please do not mention our current situation, where we’re at, or anything about the creatures we’ve encountered. Just say that we had equipment problems, but everyone’s safe, and you’ll contact them again once we reach port. That is all. Thank you.”

    “Sorry. I wasn’t thinking,” Lisa said contritely as she erased her letter. “I was going to write to Mom and tell her Frank asked me to marry him. Would that be okay?”

    After a long few seconds, she answered with a question, “Shouldn’t that be a conversation to have in real-time with your mother? I know how mine would react if I gave her such news over video comms, let alone in a letter.” Lisa considered this and agreed. It was a bad idea.
     
    Last edited: Jul 15, 2018 at 7:59 PM
  3. Sgt_G

    Sgt_G Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Jul 5, 2013
    Location:
    USA
    Christina left the bridge and went to check on the progress with the HVAC system. She walked into the room and heard a string of cuss words that would have made Sergeant Major Bruce turn four shades of red. Ashley was sitting cross-legged on the floor holding a spotlight aimed inside the HVAC housing. Rosanne was half-in / half-out of the housing. Christina bent down and looked in to see James and Milt sitting on their haunches deep inside the system. They each had crowbars attempting to release the baffle plate that had twisted inside the opening it protected. A dozen smart-aleck comments popped into her head, but she bit her tongue.

    “It won’t budge,” James stated the obvious.

    “No kidding,” Milt responded.

    From her vantage point, Christina noticed something. She could see into the space between the ductwork and the supporting frame. “Aim that light up here.” There was a small block of rubber, well, not really rubber but rather some sort of a synthetic polymer, wedged in the space. “Is that supposed to be there?”

    Rosanne climbed to her feet and looked into the five-centimeter gap. Shining the light around, she could see other such blocks, apparently designed to dampen vibrations, but this one was out of its place. She connected a couple of tools together to fashion a long hook. With a couple sharp tugs, she dislodged the block, releasing the pressure on the duct.

    She told James to push up on the inside of the ducting. As he did so, her husband put the crowbar under the edge of the baffle plate. There was a loud PING as it released. “Ow!” Milt yelled and he cut loose with another string of colorful language. He crawled out the system on his hands and knees. He stood up and announced, “I’m taking a break.” His great-niece handed him the rubber block. She knew better than to ask him what to do with it.

    “I need some advice, Uncle Milt.” She told him about her suspicions that her brother, Jason, had embezzled a large sum of money from her. She showed him the documents and explained that she assigned him as her agent to have the ships serviced. He was the only other person with access to that account.

    Milton pondered this for a few minutes. “You’re not going to like my suggestion.” She motioned for him to go on. “Jason is under suspension, but he’s still a Smith & Jones employee, as well as a member of the family. That makes him the Chief Operations Officer’s responsibility. I know you don’t want to, but call your grandfather. Let him deal with it.”

    The young woman looked away, staring at a blank wall, for a long moment. “I was afraid you’d say that.” She looked at him. “I had the same thought as soon as I found out about it.” She shook her head. “All the same, I don’t want to talk with him. I’ll record a message. I suppose I should tell Father, too. I tried; I really tried, to give Jason a break. I don’t want it to be true. I hope it’s a mistake, just a big misunderstanding.” She closed her eyes to keep the tears from falling.

    James crawled out of the HVAC. “It’s working. The scrubbers are okay, too. We need to change all the filters.” He looked at the others. “Something wrong?” They told him it had to do with Jason. Again. “Oh. Well, ah, we should have this put back together before suppertime. The ductwork could use a good cleaning; it’s pretty dusty in there. Sounds like a job for the twins, no?”

    “Maybe,” Christina concurred. “Ask them, don’t tell them. By the way, Mister Vasquez fixed the stove. He built a whole new circuit board by hand.” She left and went to her quarters to record a painful message to her father and grandfather. She was careful not to make direct accusations against her brother, but rather to lay out the facts as she knew them and let them make their own conclusions.

    A short while later, she saved the message and encrypted the file, and then freshened up in the sink. She took a deep breath and let it out slowly. After regaining her calm, she went out to the picnic table. Milt and Rosanne were there. “Ah, good,” she said to her great-aunt, “here, take this, please.” She handed her a pair of data cards. “This one has instructions for Kami Mbuko, in case we can’t set up a relay from here. I’d rather talk to her directly. The red one has a message for Grandfather. Please send it on the Company’s secure channel.”

    Miss Smith turned to the Star Fleet officer. “Ready to go?” He indicated he was. “Okay. Lift off in twenty minutes. Anyone else who wants to send a message home, give it to Aunt Rosanne. Again, please don’t mention our situation. I don’t want the pirates to intercept your letters and catch us on the ground. As far as this planet and the creatures, consider that classified until we inform Star Fleet.”

    “Miss Smith, why would that be a secret?” Carmella asked. “I wanted to write a school report about Sarah and Luke.”

    Before the ship’s captain could answer, her twin brother told her, “Because bad people would come and kidnap them and turn them into zoo animals and pets.”

    Lieutenant Price nodded. “Yes, exactly. You wouldn’t want that to happen, would you?” Wide-eyed, she shook her head. “You know what, though? Go ahead and write your reports, and we’ll attach them to the record for Star Fleet.” The twins both smiled at that. Price and Rosanne left to go ready the shuttlecraft.
     
    Last edited: Jul 15, 2018 at 8:00 PM
  4. Sgt_G

    Sgt_G Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Jul 5, 2013
    Location:
    USA
    The girl removed the towel from her head. “Momma, can you do my hair, please?” Felicia combed it straight and then started to brush it; it was down to the small of her back. She started to braid her daughter’s hair, which intrigued the creatures. Jack came over to watch the process closely. Then he did something surprising: he took three of his vines and tried to braid them together. Carmella giggled and motioned for him to give the vines to her. She braided them slowly so he could see how it was done. He tried it again and got it right this time. It wasn’t very even, but it was braided.

    Jack handed the twisted vines to Luke who then gave it a pull on each end. It broke. Jack looked heartbroken. Carmella motioned for him to bring more vines. She had him braid them like before, but she had him make three sets. He seemed to understand before he finished as he immediately braided all three sets together. Luke tried and failed to break it, much to Jack’s delight.

    Then it was Luke’s turn to surprise the humans. He took the squirrel pelt and began scrapping the inside with the edge of a flat stone. All the fat and gunk peeled off. While he was doing this, Jack scampered off and returned with a bundle of green branches, still full of leaves. Luke laid the pelt out on the ground and, much to Carmella’s disgust, he urinated on it, as did Jack, and rubbed it in. “Ew!” She wrinkled her nose. Luke put the green branches in the fire, which quickly created a lot of smoke. Together, the brothers held the animal skin low over the smoke for several minutes.

    “What are they doing?” Pedro asked.

    “They’re tanning the hide so it doesn’t rot,” Milt explained. He looked at Christina. “Where do you think they learned that trick?” She had no answer for him.

    Luke took the pelt and held it up to Jack’s waist, and then laid it down on the ground. Using his sharp claw-like fingernails, he scored and cut the pelt to shape. He checked the size against his brother a couple times before he was satisfied with it. He cut strips from the excess skins to create a belt, but it wasn’t long enough. Jack used his newly braided vines instead. Overjoyed, he modeled his new loincloth for his mother. She approved. “Thank you,” Carmella said under her breath.

    They heard the whine of the shuttlecraft spooling up its engines. All of the creatures took note but did not seem at all frightened, save for the orphan Mia who hid under a large bush. The sound got louder and higher-pitched as the craft lifted off. Price followed Christina’s instructions, so they were unable to see the shuttle fly away. It moved away towards the north as expected. Suddenly, the pitch lowered, which concerned Christina. Something was wrong.

    “Miss Smith, this is Price,” she heard over her communicator. She answered and he continued, “Ma’am, there’s a dead animal just up-river, about a hundred and fifty meters or so from your position. I think it’s a deer. There’s a whole swarm of wasps around it. At least a couple dozen.” He paused. “Ma’am, it’s rather gruesome. It looks like they’re hatching and crawling out of the carcass. I think the kid was right.”

    “Acknowledged, Lieutenant. Recommendations?”

    “This shuttle doesn’t have a phaser, otherwise I’d say just vaporize it. I could land and use my hand phaser, but I really don’t want to get that close to them. There’s so many wasps I don’t think I could kill them all.”

    “We should get samples,” little Pedro interjected. His mother objected. “No, really, we can put e-suits on and use the carbon-dioxide fire extinguishers to knock them down. After we collect a few, we could pile a bunch of wood on the body and burn it.”

    Christina relayed the idea to Price; he agreed it was a better plan. She told Price to continue into orbit, and asked for volunteers to deal with the wasps. All of the Jensen brothers said they’d do it. Pedro raised his hand, too. Mrs. Vasquez informed her son he wasn’t going. Much to his displeasure, Miss Smith concurred. Milt sent the boy in to fetch some first-aid gel packs from the freezer.

    Christina called Miller and Carter and asked that they take a break from their work and report to the picnic table. They said they’d be at a good stopping in about two minutes, if that was okay. She said it was. Pedro and his father came out of the ship along with Billy. Christina explained what was going on.

    Pedro handed four frozen gel packs to Milt. “What did you want these for, sir?”

    Milton read the labels to confirm what he thought. “The gel is alcohol-based. Mister Jensen can cut these open and use it to start the fire.” He turned to Christina. “It will all burn, so there’s no risk of contamination.”

    “You can almost see the deer on the camera. I’ll bet if you go up on the roof, you’d have a great view of it,” Pedro told them excitedly.

    “No,” his mother told him, “you’re not going up there.” He looked to his father for an appeal, but he was rejected.

    When he arrived, Christina asked Miller to have the first-aid kit ready. Levi and Gabriel came out wearing their e-suits, and handed another pair of suits to their brothers. Soon, all four of them were ready, helmet in one hand and fire extinguisher in the other. Christina told the other men to stand guard at the picnic table as she and Uncle Milt were going up on the roof to watch. Felicia looked at her husband. He gave her a little nod. “Okay, you may go, too, if Miss Smith will allow you,” she told her son.

    Her son’s mood lightened immensely. The ship’s captain relented, too. “Yes, only if your father comes up, too, and keeps you on a short leash. I don’t need you falling off the edge.”

    “Cool!” he exclaimed. “I mean, thank you, Ma’am. Sis, you want to come up, too?” She declined, saying she really did not want to see a dead animal.
     
    Last edited: Jul 12, 2018
  5. Sgt_G

    Sgt_G Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Jul 5, 2013
    Location:
    USA
    The four of them relocated to the top of the ship. Milt brought binoculars for each of them. From up there, they could see the dead deer, a young spike buck from the looks of it. There were young wasps crawling all over it, still trying to unfold their wings. Several were already flying around but hadn’t left the area. On the other side of the river, there was a small herd of about twenty deer in the meadow. Christina silently hoped her people could kill the wasps before they found these new hosts.

    Lieutenant Price called on the communicator to say they were in orbit a little ahead of schedule and would attempt to establish the sub-space relay once he was sure the signal couldn’t be picked up by the pirates.

    The Jensen brothers came into view; Luke was tagging along behind them. Once they got within about thirty meters and could see the body, Luke became agitated and tried to block their path. Levi squatted down as if to talk with the creature, not that he could understand what was being said. Levi put his helmet on and tapped the faceplate. Luke reached his hand out and tapped it, too. The four men continued their march forward, motioning for Luke to stay put.

    As they got closer, they began to use the extinguishers in short bursts. One of the brothers collected wasps that had been knocked to the ground. After he had enough samples, they simply stepped on the insects and crushed them. Two men approached the body and sprayed it down with carbon dioxide. Gabriel took out a utility knife and cut the body open to collect some larvae. He then cut the gel packs open and spread the contents on the body.

    They cleared the immediate area of brush and covered the body with dry branches. One of them ignited the fire, which quickly grew and consumed the body. The stood watch long enough to make sure the flame didn’t escape and start another forest fire. Occasionally, they would shoot down stray wasps with the extinguishers. They took turns holding up their arms to be inspected for any hitchhikers. Once they were satisfied the job was done, they removed their helmets and returned to the ship with Luke leading the way. Christina called her Uncle and told him to have the Jensen brothers take shovels and go back to bury the remains.

    Lieutenant Price called again and said he had connected to the relay station. Rosanne put a call in to Tina’s Joy, waiting for a reply, and was presently uploading personal messages. Miss Smith said she’d be in her cabin if Miss Mbuko called back. Before they parted company, she ordered, “Make sure those bugs are dead.” Mr. Vasquez hushed his son when he pointed out that wasps aren’t bugs, as bugs are a different type of insect. Christina bit back her first retort and instead replied, “No, he’s right. We can’t call them ‘bugs’ in the report to Star Fleet.”

    The ship’s master walked into her cabin, paced around the room twice, and sat down on edge of the bed. She laid back and closed her eyes, taking several calming breaths. That was a distasteful thing to watch, even for an adult. She’d have to talk with Felicia later to see how her son was coping with it. He put a brave face on, of course, but Christina could tell it disturbed him. Her comms unit chimed. She moved to her desk and activated it. “Miss Mbuko sent a recorded message,” Rosanne informed her.

    Miss Smith played the video. Her pilot’s smiling face appeared on the screen. “Hey, Chris, it’s Kami. So, we’re a few days behind you. See you soon. I picked up Nancy and Troy on the way. They send their regards. Oh, I ran into a friend of yours, Thelin. Hope you don’t mind, but he wants to tag along. He said he’ll call you in a while, and you should sit tight for now. Glad everyone’s okay. Alright, love you, bye!” The screen went blank, and then her great-aunt appeared.

    “What the flip?” she exclaimed. “Call her back! Tell her I want to speak to her now!”

    “Whoa, hold your horses, child,” Rosanne ordered. “Listen to that again. Why would she say ‘love you’? Or call you by your first name?” Christina opened her mouth and stopped. The phrase ‘love you’ was kind of a family code word to say there’s a hidden meaning to a message. Her great-great-grandfather used it when he was kidnapped to tell his sons to send a rescue team instead of ransom money. “Isn’t Thelin the name of that Andorian security forces officer who gave us so much grief last port of call? He’s hardly a friend, no? I have no idea who Nancy or Troy are; who’s running your other ships?”

    “Peter Hanson on Dream, Nancy Sinclair on Hope, and Jeremy Troy on Faith.” She paused to consider this. “So, you think she’s set up a convoy? And picked up a police escort? You think she could have heard our mayday call?”

    “Yep.”

    “Okay, then. Send a reply. Tell her I’ll have the coffee pot on. Have a safe flight back.” She closed the connection and sat back in the chair, a bit dazed and confused.

    Was this the same woman who Christina saw take a whole minute, literately a full sixty seconds, to decide whether to have corn or peas with her lunch? Kami Mbuko was a good pilot, but her lack of self-confidence meant she couldn’t make rank in Star Fleet. They released her from her service obligations early. She landed a temporary job as a flight instructor at the school where Christina finished her certification training. Kami was one of the first people she hired for her new company. Yes, they were on friendly terms, but Kami’s Star Fleet indoctrination prevented her from calling her boss, Christina, by her first name.
     
    Last edited: Jul 12, 2018
  6. Sgt_G

    Sgt_G Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Jul 5, 2013
    Location:
    USA
    She exited her room just as her sister came out of her cabin. “Good nap?” she smiled.

    “Yes,” Valerie answered. “Just a nap, smart aleck.” The entered the dining area together just as Billy Jones came in. Val gave him a quick kiss and asked, “By the way, did you talk to him?”

    “I told him what he needed to hear,” her husband replied. She looked at him for a long second, and then her eyes narrowed. She started to say something, but Jim Baker and Pedro Vasquez came in at that moment.

    “Talk to whom?” the younger sister asked. Val just shook her head. Since it was obvious no answer was forthcoming, Christina turned to James. “All done already? I see the air conditioner is back on.”

    “Nah, it ain’t done, not by a long shot.” He downed a glass of ice tea. “It was getting hot in there, so I figured I’d better run the cooler for a while. The panels are just held in place with C-clamps. We need to fabricate new gaskets before we can screw everything back together. And by ‘we’, I mean it’s a two-person job. I’ll get started once Uncle Milt is done taking his break.”

    “No rush. It can wait until after lunch,” she told him. “How are the systems checks coming along, Mister Vasquez?”

    “Good. So far, just a couple loose connections,” Pedro answered. “There’s no power to the control panel for starboard cargo door, and the overhead lights are out in that area.”

    “Can you fix it?”

    “Probably, but I would suggest waiting until we get to our destination.” She looked at him quizzically. “I’d hate to put power to the door lock, have it pop open and not be able to close it again.” She agreed whole-heartedly. His children came in, each carrying several clear-plastic containers with wasps and larvae inside. They carefully sat them down on the table.

    “Are those dead?” the ship’s master demanded.

    “Yes, Ma’am,” the boy stated, “I think they are. They haven’t moved. Sarah wanted to throw them in the fire.”

    “Well, I don’t think I blame her. You will not open those containers. Understood? In fact, find a box to put those in, one that can be sealed and then pump carbo dioxide into it. I want to make sure they’re dead and not just knocked out.”

    “Yes, Ma’am,” the twins both replied. James said he could build a box if needed. Pedro activated his tablet and opened the document about the Rigelian wasps. “We need DNA tests to confirm it, but these look the same.” Everyone at the table agreed. The mystery of where they came from would have to wait until Star Fleet could investigate.

    Lisa Bell called over the intercoms. “Chris, you have an encrypted message from Smith & Jones headquarters.”

    Christina responded over the speaker, “How did that come in?”

    “The shuttle is still in orbit. Rosanne said it took a while to download everyone’s mail. She did one last check before heading down. Kyle wants to know if they should stay in orbit for you to reply back.”

    It took her half a second to equate Kyle with Lieutenant Price. She really should talk to Miss Bell about protocol. “No, that’s fine. Tell him to come on down. I’ll take the message in my quarters, please.” She headed for the door and realized her sister was one step behind her. “Can I help you?”

    “I need to talk with you, Chrissy. In private.” After a moment, Christina gave her a ‘follow me’ motion with her head.

    Once inside her cabin, she asked, “What’s this about?” as if she couldn’t guess.

    “Your crew,” Valerie said obviously struggling to pick her words carefully. “How well do you know them?”

    “How well does anyone know anyone?” she replied evasively. “Well, aside from Uncle Milt and Aunt Rosanne, and James and Ashely, I’d say I know Frank and Lisa the best. Frank was one of Jason’s running buddies back in high school. Given recent events, that could count against him.” She didn’t need to elaborate on that point.

    “Mom knew Felicia Vasquez from way back,” she continued. “I don’t remember it, but she said she used to babysit Jason and me when we were little. Mister Vasquez worked for Jim’s father until Smith & Jones bought out Baker & Sons Fleet Services. Father kept him on as long as he could, but he was redundant to the Company. He’s a good man, and she’s a great cook. Lord knows, I need one.”

    “You and me both,” Val quipped.

    “The Jensen brothers are on a short-term contract. They’re good, hardworking men. I met them when I moved their community from Earth out to the Phoenix colony.”

    “I’ve been to Phoenix. Talk about roughing it.”

    “Not really. Sure, it’s low-tech. Not Amish low-tech, but it’s simple. I kind of liked it. But yeah, that was the first job for my company. We moved over a hundred people, pets and livestock, and all their belongings. Even with four ships working at the time, it took three trips to move it all. I gave them a good price, trying to under bid the competition, but it still cost them most of their savings. Elijah was looking for work to earn money, and I needed a crew. It was a win-win in my book.”

    “Chrissy! You didn’t! That’s indentured servitude. It’s illegal.”

    “No, it’s not. They paid their bill up front and in full. I placed an open ad for crew on Earth, Luna, Mars, and Alpha. He and his brothers applied just as fifty other people did. There is nothing in the contract binding their service to that bill. They are free to leave any time they want. Although, if it makes you feel better, I wondered about it, too, so I checked with Father’s lawyers first.”

    “Okay, good,” Valerie was relieved. Her sister started to turn away, towards her desktop display. “What about Daniel Miller? We haven’t talked about him.” Finally, she was getting to her point.
     
    Last edited: Jul 12, 2018
  7. Sgt_G

    Sgt_G Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Jul 5, 2013
    Location:
    USA
    Christina turned back around. Normally, Valerie could read her siblings like a book, but right now Christina displayed about as much emotion as a Vulcan in a poker game. “Mister Miller? What’s to talk about? I barely know the man. I think we met, once, briefly at Company headquarters a few weeks ago. Uncle Milt hired him just before we left port. I don’t know why. I haven’t had much of a chance to talk with him, to get to know him better. Thus far, though, I think he was a good hire, he’s a good crewman.”

    Val lowered her voice, even though there was nobody around to hear them. “Chrissy, you have to let him go. Or at least, put him on one of your other ships.”

    “Why?”

    Her sister stammered. “Do I have to spell it out for you? He has a crush on you!”

    “A crush? What, are we in middle school now?” The more her sister got flustered, the calmer she became. On the outside. On the inside, her mind was racing a mile a minute; her heart was beating so fast she feared it would jump out of her chest. “He has done nothing nor said anything inappropriate. He has given no indication that he will. He’s a good man, a good worker. Smart, resourceful, reliable.” She left out kind-hearted and even-tempered, not to mention good looking with witty sense of humor. “I see no reason to get rid of him.”

    “Trust me on this, Chrissy, he’s going to be a problem.”

    Christina glanced away for just a second. Her eyes met Valerie’s. “My ship, my crew. If there’s an issue, I shall handle it as I see fit.” The matter was closed. She turned to her display. “Let’s see what Father has to say.” She entered the code to decrypt the message.

    To her surprise, it wasn’t her father but rather her grandfather who appeared on the screen, sitting at his office deck. After a moment, as if waiting for a cue from off-camera, he picked up a tablet and began to read aloud. “Memorandum from Edwin R. Smith, Chief Operations Officer, Smith & Jones Shipping & Freight, to Christina M. Smith, Chief Executive Officer, Star Blaze Transports. Dear Miss Smith, in reply to your recent inquiry to the alleged actions by one of our employees, Mister Jason D. Smith, I assure you that we take such matters seriously. Mister Smith is indeed an employee of Smith & Jones incorporate. However, he has been on paid leave of absence for the past several weeks. He currently has no authority to act in behalf of the Company.

    “I am personally aware of his recent activities; I receive daily updates on his actions, both directly from Mister Smith himself and from other sources that I am not at liberty to discuss. We knew of and approved of his temporary employment with your company. It served our purposes well. The facts that you presented are accurate but incomplete. There is more to the story than you can know, more than I am allowed to share at this time. It is unfortunate that your company was placed in a financial bind through no fault of your own.

    “The funds you claim may have been misappropriated are being held in escrow by a third party whom I may not disclose. I have been informed that they plan to reimburse you with interest at some date in the future. However, as they refuse to provide any timetable, we at Smith & Jones find the situation untenable. We have graciously agreed to act as an intermediary, and we have deposited the full amount, plus an additional five percent, into your account. The third party shall reimburse us in due time.

    “I must emphasis that Smith & Jones incorporate is not admitting any liability in this matter. Actions were taken in our name, without prior notification and without our approval, by persons not under employment of our company. We have informed all parties involved that we shall not tolerate such events in the future. Additionally, we will not tolerate their involvement in any way with Star Blaze Transports without your expressed, personal, informed consent. In conclusion, I hope we have resolved the matter to your satisfaction. We do ask that you maintain discretion and not speak of this with anyone until you are fully briefed on what actually transpired. Sincerely, signed, Edwin D. Smith, etc., etc. A hard-copy of this letter may be sent to your office upon request.”

    The two sisters sat with their mouths agape, completely bewilder. “What the flip?” they both said at the same time.

    On the screen, their grandfather sat the tablet aside. He relaxed in his chair slightly and smiled. “On a personal note, Chrissy, I am sorry this happened. I said you should have been brought in the loop at the start. Alas, I am but an outside observer myself and had no say into the plan. I fear those in charge underestimated you. I know I did once and regretted it. You could have been a great asset for them. Chrissy, I am so very proud of you. When my father and his brothers built this company, he told us to go live our own lives. We didn’t, and neither did our kids. You and Jason are the first to actually do that. I can’t tell you what he’s up to, but you will be so proud of him once you find out. You may even be a little jealous. I do hope you’ll stop in for a visit next time you’re home. There’s always room at the dining table, especially at Thanksgiving. Safe journeys. What is it the Vulcans say? Live long and prosper.” The screen faded to the Company logo as the message ended.

    “Okay, now I’m really confused,” Christina told her sister. “When he read that letter, I though Jason got wrapped up with the Mob or something equally stupid. Do you know what he’s doing?”

    “I have no idea.”

    The intercom sounded, “Chris, I think you better get out here. Something’s going on,” Milton’s voice said. “Luke just climbed up the ladder to the top of the ship. Something’s got him agitated.”
     
    Last edited: Jul 15, 2018 at 8:04 PM
  8. Sgt_G

    Sgt_G Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Jul 5, 2013
    Location:
    USA
    Before she could reply, Lisa Bell’s voice came on. “There’s something on the sensors. Something big. I think it’s a bear. Yeah, confirmed. It’s a bear. A big one. He’s about two hundred meters south of us. He’s on the move.”

    Miss Smith did an about-face and returned to her cabin where she opened a safe and retrieved a pair of phaser pistols. As they entered the dining room, Billy saw the weapons and asked, “Why do you have those?”

    “Because I couldn’t get my hands on a phaser rifle,” Christina deadpanned. “Kids, stay here. I’d rather you not watch. Valerie, you stay, too. If anything happens to me, you’re in command. Take care of the ship. Keep everyone safe. Protect the creatures if you can.” She used the intercom, “Lisa, contact Price. Have him do a sweep of the area. Where there’s one bear, there’s probably more.”

    Val and Billy looked at each other and back at Christina. “Why put me in charge?”

    The ship’s captain had a serious look. “Because it’s in my will. If I’m gone, you inherit the ship.” The older sister started to protest. “Not the whole company. Star Blaze Transports dissolves. You get a ship, Jason gets one, and the others go to ... it’s all spelled out in my will.” She turned on a heel and headed outside. She heard Valerie yell out, “Be careful!”

    She exited the ship just as Luke slid down the ladder’s handrail. “I thought I retracted that.” He ran like never before across the bridge to the other clan. Sarah was at the edge of the creek, calling out to Bruce and his family.

    “Luke figured out how to extend it,” Milton told her. “It’s easy to forget how smart they are.”

    Christina shrugged it off. “Get back inside, Ashley. You too, Uncle Milt.” She turned to the eldest Jensen brother. “Elijah, you men don’t have to stay.” Without a word, each one picked up a length of pipe, ready to defend the ship. Frank Carter had a crowbar in one hand and a hand phaser in the other.

    Miller saw the phaser pistols Christina carried. “Those look like military grade.”

    “They are,” she confirmed. “I presume you qualified in Basic Training.” She hand him one. He took it, and put his smaller hand phaser back on his belt.

    The bear came crashing through the thicket. It was enormous. The reddish-brown beast probably stood a good three meters in height on its hind legs. Even on all fours, it could look a human in the eye. Its paws were as big as a human head, its claws longer than human fingers. It came charging out of the brush at Bruce’s family. Mia let out a high-pitched shriek and scurried up the nearest tall tree. Miss Smith took careful aim and fired a stun-setting beam, hitting the bear in the head. It stopped in its tracks with a fearful roar.

    Luke took burning sticks out of the fire and passed them to the other males. Together, the five giant marmosets faced off against the deadly predator. Sophie and Angel started to move towards the bridge. Alas, the matriarch’s advanced years meant she was not as agile as she once was. Luke threw his torch at the bear and ran to her aid. He had Angel climb on his back, and he carried her to the relative safety of the bridge. Sophie helped the pregnant one cross it.

    Once they were across, the males retreated as well, with Bruce being the last one over. Christina fired on the bear a second time, and yet again, it had little effect. The beast came to the creek and started to wade in. Miller increased the setting of his phaser and fired into the water. A cloud of steam rose up. The bear paused, somewhat confused by this, and then continued to advance. The two humans fired into the water twice more. The bear ignored it.

    Bruce came bounding between them and leaped onto the bear’s head with a savage war-cry. He was nimble enough to avoid its huge mouth; it could have bitten him in half. He raked at its eyes and tore at its throat. Twisting and turning, the beast screamed in pain and threw Bruce off. He landed heavily in the water. The bear stood on its hind legs. Miller switched to his hand-phaser and fired a long stun-setting into the bear’s exposed belly. This seemed to enrage the beast even more. Reluctantly, Miss Smith increased her weapon to kill setting.
     
    Last edited: Jul 15, 2018 at 8:06 PM
  9. Sgt_G

    Sgt_G Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Jul 5, 2013
    Location:
    USA
    Above them, they heard the shuttlecraft diving down at a high rate. They dropped to the ground as Lieutenant Price expertly piloted the vessel in front of the bear. As large as it was, Miss Smith was afraid the bear could pull the shuttle out of the air and crash it. Price seemed to be thinking the same thing as he kept just out of its reach. Rosanne stood in the open doorway with a safety harness. “Get, bear! Get!” she yelled as she fired her phaser all around the beast.

    Together, the humans harassed the bear until it took the hint it wasn’t welcome. It turned and started to saunter back down steam. “Yah, bear! Go now! Get!” Rosanne yelled as she fired again and again. It started moving faster. She hit it in the rump, and it began to run. Price chased the animal for three kilometers or more to guarantee it would not return. He then circled off to the east where he had spotted two smaller predators and ensured they would not be a threat either. He made one more loop around to inspect the perimeter.

    “And once again, Star Fleet Lieutenant Kyle Price saves the day,” Miller said with a blend of sarcasm and envy.

    “Jealousy doesn’t become you,” Christina retorted. “Besides, I can’t think of anyone else I would have wanted by my side just now. Thank you.” She looked at him with smiling eyes, unsure what to say next. He seemed unsure as well.

    “You are flipping crazy!” Valerie came running out the door. Everyone else, save for Lisa, followed her out. “You could have been killed. Both of you. Are you insane?”

    Bruce crawled out of the water, no worse for wear, and shook himself off. He approached Christina with the open-hands gesture and bowed toward her. She returned the gesture and the bow, and motioned for him towards the campfire. Sarah was stroking Angel’s head and back and making soft cooing noises. Sophie was very close standing next to Luke, much too close for her brother’s liking. He started a ruckus with them. Sophie made some angry noises in return, and then she made a hand gesture the humans hadn’t yet seen. She extended a closed fist with her thumb pointing straight up. Her brother took a step back at that. Sarah barked loudly and slapped her hand. Luke looked away embarrassingly.

    James and Milton both laughed out loud. “Well, I guess that doesn’t mean the same thing to them as it does to us,” Jim stated the obvious. Ashely just shook her head. Even the twins got it.

    What happened next surprised everyone, humans and marmosets alike. Bruce walked over to his daughter and stood erect. He took her hand and placed in Luke’s, and then he bowed. However, instead of the open-hands gesture, he interlaced his fingers. Sarah stood up and took Luke’s other hand and placed it in Sophie’s, and then she too bowed with interlaced fingers. Angel walked to the couple. Unable to stand erect, she supported herself by placing her hands on theirs and made some soft cooing noises. The other adults also bowed with interlaced fingers. The one brother hesitated at first, but even he relented and gave his blessing.

    The shuttlecraft returned and landed atop the ship. Aunt Rosanne will be so disappointed she missed this, Christina thought, she so loved weddings. Felicia whispered to Ashley, “So, what do we get the newlyweds?”

    Rosanne came skipping out of the ship and threw her arms around her husband of nearly forty years. “That was so much fun!” she exclaimed with a kiss. He told her what just happened. “Really? I wish I had seen that!”

    Carmella told her, “I recorded the whole thing on my tablet. Here, I’ll play it for you.” They stepped away from the group to watch it.

    Rosanne looked over at the creatures around the fire. Bruce, Sarah, and Angel sat together quietly chittering back and forth. Luke and Sophie sat next to each other on the other side of the fire, softly cooing away. One of the brothers seemed to take interest in Emily and her baby, but she appeared to want nothing to do with him. The other male sat with his pregnant mate near Emily. The last brother was over on the other side of the creek attempting to coax Mia down out of the tree. “We haven’t named the rest, have we?”

    Even Kyle Price conceded they should have names. James suggested that the pregnant one, being shorter than the rest, reminded him of Queen Victoria. “Well, if she’s Vicky, that makes him Albert, doesn’t it?” his wife pointed out. The one stretched out on the ground vying for Emily’s attention somehow became Grant, and his brother was dubbed Chester.

    Luke stood up and made some noises at the rest of the group. Grant and Albert rose and followed him to the riverbank. They called out for their brother, and he soon joined them. Luke waded into the water and within a minute tossed a good-sized fish onto the land. After watching how it’s done, the brothers also waded in, and soon they had caught eight more fish. Luke had the most success, catching four of the nine. Albert brought in the largest one.

    The humans also decided it was lunchtime and filtered back inside the ship. Felicia, Ashley, and Carmella made a nice bean soup and sandwiches for lunch. As they sat around the table making small talk, Mister Miller and Miss Smith made eye contact a few times, only to quickly look away. It did feel like middle school all over again, and yet so much more. If Valerie noticed, she gave no indication.
     
    Last edited: Jul 15, 2018 at 8:09 PM
  10. Sgt_G

    Sgt_G Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Jul 5, 2013
    Location:
    USA
    The conversation revolved around the events earlier that day, specifically the handfasting they witnessed. Lisa Bell and Ashley Baker suggested that it proved the creatures had a sophisticated social structure and therefore they were intelligent beings. Lieutenant Price argued that it didn’t prove anything of the sort, and he named five examples of other animals that also had similar courtship rituals that involved family approval, including some monkeys on Earth. Daniel Miller agreed and said that, per the Star Fleet training course he had recently taken on the subject, he couldn’t see how the Prime Directive would apply here, should anyone be worried about that. Price supported that opinion.

    “Oh, that’s right, Mister Miller, you did say you’re in the Reserves, didn’t you?” Christina noted. “Uncle Milt, why did you hire him knowing I’d have to give him up for a weekend every month? Do you have any idea what that does to a duty schedule?” She glanced at Val who gave her a little shrug back. Christina suspected her sister thought she was taking her advice to get rid of Miller, and this was a convenient excuse to do so.

    “Ah, because I because your father told me to,” Milt answered glibly. “Besides, we have a few Reservists on Company ships, and it’s never been a problem.”

    “Oh? I did not know that,” she admitted. “Any idea why Father is selecting my crew for me?”

    “I didn’t know he did that,” Miller responded. “I did some work for him, or maybe I was working for your grandfather. I’m not sure who paid me, but all my orders came from your father’s personal assistant. They had me running errands, mainly acting as a courier taking packages between your grandfather and your brother Jason. I only ever met your father once, on the day he hired me. He just walked up, introduced himself, and offered to take me to lunch. It turned into kind of a three-hour long interview.” He looked at William Jones. “That was the day you turned me down for the job in the company.”

    “I meant to ask you,” Billy replied, “how did you find out about that job? The position was never advertised.”

    Miller stopped to think for a moment. “I met a girl at a party at a college dorm. Emma or Emily or something like that. She tried to flirt with me,” he blushed, “and when I told her she was too young for me, she tried to set me up on a blind date. I told her I couldn’t afford a girlfriend until I found steady work. That’s when she told me about the opening.”

    Christina and Valerie had no idea who she might be, as neither knew anyone named Emma. The only Emily they knew was the furry creature sitting out by the fire. “You’re only nineteen,” Val said, “so how is a college girl too young for you?”

    “Because she was only fifteen. Too young to be at that party.” He pointed to the sisters, “I figured she’s your cousin or something. She looks just like you two, only more blonde.”

    “Fifteen? We don’t have any cousins or other relatives who are fifteen. No girls, at least,” Val stated. “How do you know she was fifteen years old?”

    Miller chuckled. “She told a joke, one that I know is going around in high schools. I have a younger brother, so I heard it already. So I asked her how old she was. The way she answered was kind of funny; she said, ‘I’m going on sixteen. Why? Is that a problem for you?’ Of course, I told her it was.”

    Enlightenment grew on Christina’s face. “Em Kay?” When Miller said, “Yeah,” Christina shook her head and said, “Mom’s going to kill her. M.K. Mary Kate. Our little sister. She. Just. Turned. Thirteen.” Valerie looked at her questioningly. “She’s boy-crazy. Mom likes to say ‘she’s twelve going on sixteen.’ I’m sure that’s where she got it.”

    Miller threw his hands up defensively. “Hey, now! I never touched her. We talked for maybe a half an hour, and she said she knew the perfect girl for me. I mean, seriously, how could a fifteen-year-old ... excuse me, a twelve-year-old, know someone that I’d be interested in dating?” Valerie gave him a dirty look; Christina put her poker face on. “You know what? I’m going to stop now before I dig a deeper hole. Frank, if you’re done eating, let’s go work on the warp drive some more.” He got up from the table. “By the way, Ma’am, I don’t have Reserve duty a weekend per month. There are several options available for us to get our time in. In my case, I have to give them two weeks every four months, and stay current with computer-based training courses. I can even log my time working on a ship towards my duty requirements. I will have to check in at the nearest Star Fleet facility regularly, just so they know where I am in case of a recall. If you think my Star Fleet commitment will be a problem for you, I’d like to discuss my alternatives.”

    “As I said, I wasn’t aware of all that, but now that I am, I don’t think it will be a problem, no. But I would love to sit down and talk with you some time,” she told him with a twinkle in her eye. He nodded once and headed for the door. Frank followed him out.

    The two men gathered up their tools and the spare parts they might need and went outside. The creatures barely acknowledged their presence. Frank saw Mia hiding the clump of rocks where the humans first saw Sarah the day before. At least she was on this side of the creek. He remarked that they hadn’t been on the planet for even thirty-six hours yet, and so very much had happened. Miller didn’t respond. “I wonder what’s next,” Frank commented, trying to strike up a conversation.

    Miller stopped and turned to face him. “Do you really want to tempt fate?”

    “My, aren’t you the grumpy one?” Frank muttered under his breath as they climbed the stairs to the work platform. Miller started to open the access panels exposing the internal workings of the warp drive. “Did you talk to her yet?” Miller opened the next panel with a little more force than was necessary.

    “When have I had time?” He hung his head and shook it, letting out a deep breath. “I can’t figure her out. One minute, she’s smiling at me, the next she acts like a drill sergeant with a new recruit.” He opened the last panel. “Let’s just get this done.” He heard a noise and looked back to see Luke and Sophie leaping up to perch on the railing. At least someone found love, Miller thought.
     
    Last edited: Jul 15, 2018 at 8:12 PM
  11. Sgt_G

    Sgt_G Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Jul 5, 2013
    Location:
    USA
    Frank began setting up the test equipment. After a long moment of silence, he had to say something. “Billy and Val probably talked to her. Maybe she’s a little scared and confused. Plus she has a lot on her plate right now, what with standing up a new business, and running a ship is stressful enough, but add in all this,” he waved his hand around to indicate their current predicament, “she might feel that she doesn’t need any more distractions.”

    “Oh, is that what I am, just a distraction?” He removed one of the injection modules from its port. Fully assembled, the unit was just under a meter long and weight about thirty-two kilos. He set it down and turned to Frank. “Why would she be scared? Did someone hurt her in the past?”

    Frank shook his head. “No, nothing like that. Well, as I recall, she did have a mad crush on a boy back when she was, um, fourteen, I guess. The kid turned out to be a real jerk. They never went out on any dates, but he asked her out and stood her up a half-dozen times. Then he started spreading rumors about her. Like I said, a real jerk. He paid for his actions,” he added sinisterly. He took the module and began disassembling it the way Miller taught him. “Part of it is family history. Her parents married young. Billy and Val eloped when she was Chris’s age. Their cousin Dianne married at nineteen, as did Kelly. Laura waited until she was twenty. After the last wedding, Chris informed everyone she won’t get married until she’s twenty-five.”

    “Ah, so that’s why Valerie took my head off.”

    “Yes and no. For years, Val and her mother have been trying to push Chris and Billy’s cousin Brandon together. Never going to happen, trust me. Jason and Brandon and me, we hung out together all through high school. Thick as thieves, and in as much trouble, truth be told. At any rate, Brandon’s had an on-again / off-again thing with Susan Baker ever since middle school. Last I heard, it’s on again and serious this time. Val and her mom don’t want to believe it.”

    They worked quietly for the next twenty minutes or so, speaking only when required for the job. Miller’s brain was on autopilot; his mind was wandering off thinking about something other than a warp field generator. They would remove an injection module, disassemble it, inspect each component and put it on the test equipment, slather goop on the connectors, and reassemble the unit.

    After reinserting the unit into the port, Miller would throw the power switch on and run the self-diagnostics with inert gas in place of the deuterium fuel supply. If the unit passed all the tests, he threw the power switch back to off and repeat the process with the next unit, all under the watchful eyes of the lovebirds. It was almost comical the way Luke would quietly chitter away to Sophie as if he was explaining applied quantum mechanics to her.

    Miller leaned in to replace the unit farthest inside the nacelle. It was an awkward reach, so he assembled the unit in place rather than try to manhandle the entire thirty-plus kilos at once. He ended up sitting halfway inside the opening. He reached up and threw the power switch on, and immediately yacked it back off. “Ow! Oh flip!” he yelled rubbing his backside. Frank was staring at him. “There’s a short in the wiring! I just got zapped.”

    Frank started to giggle, which turned into a full-bellied laugh. “You got a short in your shorts!” Even Luke and Sophie were amused.

    “Oh, ha-ha, you’re so funny.” Miller wasn’t laughing. He used his flashlight to examine the power lines. “Here, help me take these modules out. I need to get to that distribution box.” They removed four modules including the one Miller had just installed. He reminded Frank to keep them in order so they could put them back to the same ports. Miller crawled into the nacelle to remove the cover on the box. Everything appeared to be okay. The grounding cable was a little iffy, so he replaced it. He closed the box and extricated himself from the opening.

    He threw the power switch on and lightly touched the support frame with the back of his hand. Nope, still hot. He shut the switch off and used the flashlight to trace the lead back down the line. One of the grommets where the cable passed thru a vertical support had come out of its opening and slid up the cable, meaning the cable was now rubbing against the bare frame. Even if the insulation wasn’t worn through, it must be thin enough to allow the current to arc to the frame. Miller snapped the light off with a sigh. He activated his communicator, “Anyone have ten minutes to spare? We can use a hand back here.”
     
    Last edited: Jul 15, 2018 at 8:14 PM
  12. Sgt_G

    Sgt_G Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Jul 5, 2013
    Location:
    USA
    Billy’s voice replied, “I’m free. What do you need?” Miller asked him to bring a new power cable out from the parts closet. He arrived a couple minutes later with the twenty-five kilogram coil over his shoulder. “This the one?” Miller said it was and asked him to stay out here with Carter while he ran the cable. He asked Frank to reinstall the modules back into their ports. He went inside and shut off the main power switch, and then disconnected that end of the cable. He half-crawled / half-walked down the maintenance aisle inside the nacelle until he reached the opening.

    He disconnected the cable from the switch box and had Billy pass him the end of the new cable. He joined the ends of the cable with an extension adaptor. “Okay, Pedro,” he called out to the other person whose help he had enlisted, “Go ahead and pull. Not too fast.” He guided the cable along the path while Billy fed in the slack. “Okay, stop.” He disconnected the adaptor, pulled the old cable out of the hole, and installed a new grommet. He fed the new cable through the hole and joined the ends. “Okay, pull.” He guided the cable the rest of the way, inspected each grommet as he went along. He moved back the aisle and connected the new cable to the switch box.

    As he connected the cable to the main power switch, he noticed the socket wobbled, so he took the time to tighten it down properly. Outside, Frank had installed the last of the injection units and flipped the power switch on to run the self-diagnostics. Technically, that was Miller’s job, but Frank watched how it was done and felt confident he could do it. However, when he pressed the button, nothing happened. He examined the unit and decided the sequence initiator wasn’t seated to the frequency modulator quite right, so he removed the unit and disassembled it. Each part tested okay, so he gooped it up and put it back together. He took out his canteen to get a drink and started talking with Billy Jones.

    Miller flipped the main power switch on and returned to the scaffolding. William said, “Hey, man, I didn’t mean to put you on the spot in there. I had no idea Mary was involved in that. Chrissy and Val are fit to be tied, and sorry, but it was ‘kill the messenger’ time. You just happened to be the messenger.”

    “Yeah, well, it’s probably for the best. Like I said, I know she’s out of my league. And your wife probably thinks I’m just some low-life trying to scam your sister out of money.”

    William tilted his head quizzically. “Who would think that? I mean, I don’t know why you even have this job.”

    “Because I’m broke. Uncle Oscar talked me into some stupid ‘investment opportunity’. I have no idea what it was, but I would have been better off taking my money to a casino. Blew my college fund and my enlistment bonus.”

    Jones rubbed his forehead. “Daniel. Look, I had my doubts, so I ran a background check on you when we sent messages home. You and your uncle, you invented something, right?”

    “Yeah, a better version of this,” he pointed to the injection module sitting on the test stand. “We spent four months perfected it. A lot of good that did us. Star Fleet can’t use it; their engines are a different design. The new ships, with the Warp Seven drive, I’d have to redesign it to work right. That’s a blank-slate job.”

    “I take it you haven’t talked with your uncle lately.” Miller indicated he hadn’t, but he did receive a message he hadn’t read as of yet. “Okay, so let me be the one to fill you in. Patents cost money. That’s what he needed your college fund for, to pay the lawyers to push the patent and to negotiate a contract. As I understand it, he licensed production rights. They paid, my sources reported, double your investment plus a royalty of a hundred per unit. I presume that’s split fifty-fifty between you and your uncle.”

    “Really? Who bought it?”

    “Law enforcement and customs patrol. They’re using your design in their new boats. Twin engine, five nodes per engine, and twelve injectors per node. That’s a hundred and twenty units at a buck apiece, makes your cut six thousand per ship. From what I hear, they plan to build ten or twelve per year. It isn’t a ton of money, but sixty to seventy-two thousand a year ain’t nothing to sneeze at.” He smiled. The look on Miller’s face was priceless. “So, tell me again, why do you even have this job?” Billy patted him on the shoulder and headed down the stairs.

    Miller was stunned at this news. Frank lifted his canteen and cheerfully toasted, “Congratulations, mate.” Miller absentmindedly picked up the injector. He heard Luke bark behind him. He started to align the unit to its port. He realized, too late, that bark was the same bark Luke and Sarah used on Jack the day before, when Jack tried to take his knife. Luke barked again louder, and leaped off the rail, tackling Miller to the deck. They hit hard, and the injector landed on Miller’s thigh. He pushed Luke off, and they rolled in opposite directions.

    Frank dropped his canteen and grabbed a tool to use as a weapon; Sophie leaped down to Luke’s side, ready to defend her mate. William came running back to the platform. “What the flip is going on?” he yelled. The commotion drew the attention of the other marmosets and the Jensen brothers; they all arrived in short order. Miller rolled to his knees and then up on his feet in a crouch, ready for who-knows-what. Luke flattened himself to the deck and made some whimpering noises. He pointed upwards, towards the engine bay. Miller turned his attention to where Luke indicated.

    The power switch was in the ‘on’ position.

     
    Last edited: Jul 15, 2018 at 8:17 PM
  13. Sgt_G

    Sgt_G Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Jul 5, 2013
    Location:
    USA
    Miller stared at the switch in disbelief. Miss Smith arrived with Lieutenant Price at her side. Miller called out, “It’s okay. Everything’s fine.” He reached up and shut the switch off. He made the open-hands gesture and quietly said, “It’s okay, buddy. Thank you.” He motioned for the creature to get up. Luke got up on all fours, backed away a couple meters, and then sat back on his haunches and returned the open-hands gesture. “Pedro, if you’re still in there, kill the main power switch,” Miller said into his communicator. “I thought I turned that off,” he nodded towards the power switch.

    “I turned is back on, Frank admitted. “I was trying to run the diagnostics.”

    “This is why,” Miller declared, “you have one person, and one person only, controlling the power when you’re working on equipment. You know what? We haven’t found one bad module yet. Just pull them, goop them, and put them back in. We’ll test them all when we’re done. It’s not what the book says to do, but it will go faster and will be safer.” He hobbled down the stairs.

    “Are you okay?” Price asked with genuine concern.

    “Yeah. I’ll live.”

    “What happened?” William asked. “Why did he attack you?”

    Miller looked back. “Luke just saved my life.” They looked at him as if he was exaggerating. “No, seriously, if I had tried to insert the unit with power to the port, it would have electrocuted me. It could have even blown the end of the injector off right into my face. At the very least, I would have probably lost a hand.” He took a breath and let it out slowly. “I’d like to go inside now, if you don’t mind.”

    William supported him as he gimped back inside. They went to the small three-by-four meter entertainment room on the lower deck; it had a couch, a couple overstuffed chairs, and a large-screen display. Too many people crowded in the room. Miller lay down on the couch and asked for an ice pack if there were any left. Young Pedro said there were six left in the freezer and went to fetch a couple.

    “What I don’t understand is how Luke knew about the danger,” William said.

    “He got zapped, too, yesterday,” Price remembered.

    “Yes he did,” Christina confirmed. “That’s when he learned the meaning of ‘no’ the hard way.”

    “Well, that puts him one-up on most men I know,” Rosanne said with a laugh. Valerie and Ashley joined in.

    Miller ignored the snarky bit and said, “As cute and cuddly as they are, we forget how smart they are. He was watching Frank and me all afternoon. We’d throw that switch every time we pulled and replaced a module. A little kid or even dog would have known something was wrong.” He placed the ice pack on his thigh. Price asked what happened to his leg, and he replied, “We forget how strong they are, too. Luke’s maybe all of forty kilos soaking wet, but he hit me like a ton of bricks. It didn’t help that the module landed on my leg. I don’t think it’s broken but it hurts like Holy Ned.”

    Valerie ran the medical tricorder over him and pronounced, “Bone’s not broken. Hips are still in place. Knees are okay. Just a bad muscle bruise. Keep ice on it and check it again every ten minutes for an hour for internal bleeding or unusual clotting. After that, you may have pain pills if you need them.” Miller reminded her he was the medic. “You’re just the patient now,” she informed him.

    Always the smart-aleck, James remarked, “You got lucky. A few centimeters over, and your future wife would have been disappointed.” Miller blushed and shook his head with astonishment. Christina turned beet-red and looked away.

    Valerie saw this. “Really?” She grabbed her sister by the arm and frog-marched her out of the room to an unused cabin down the hall. Once the door was shut, she faced her. “Seriously? Please don’t tell me you have a crush on him!”

    “Okay, I won’t tell you I have a crush on him,” Christina deadpanned. Val gave her an ‘I don’t believe you’ look. “I don’t have a crush on him because I’m not in middle school anymore.”

    “So, what? You think you’re in love with him?”

    “No. Maybe. I don’t know, honestly, I’m not sure how I feel,” she admitted. “I like him. A lot. And I’d like to get to know him better, to see where things might lead.”

    Val threw her hands up and walked in a circle. “What about Brandon?”

    “What about him? Brandon Jones and I are not, never have been, and never will be, a couple. I wish you and Mom would get that through your thick skulls. Besides, he’s back with Susan Baker.”

    “As if that’s going to last,” Val said sarcastically.

    “They’re getting married.” Val shook her head ‘no’ dismissively. “Shotgun. Yeah, stick that in your pipe. Three weeks from tomorrow. If we get home in time, I’m to be her maid of honor.” Christina let that sink in for a moment. She debated on her next words and decided, oh what the heck, go for it. “No offense to you and Billy, but if the Smiths and Joneses keep cross-pollinating, pretty soon we’ll be inbreeding.” Valerie was at a loss for words.

    There was a knock at the door. Christina opened it and found Carmella standing there. “Pardon me, Ma’am, but you’re wanted in the other room,” she said apologetically. They returned to the entertainment room, and Carmella handed Miss Smith her communicator. She must have dropped it when Valerie ushered her from the room.

    Tina’s Pride. Tina’s Pride. Come in, please,” a disembodied voice said. It sounded vaguely familiar. “Miss Smith, if you’re there, please respond. This is Agent Thelin of the Federation Security Forces.”
     
    Last edited: Jul 15, 2018 at 8:18 PM
  14. Sgt_G

    Sgt_G Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Jul 5, 2013
    Location:
    USA
    “Agent Thelin, Tina’s Pride. Christina Smith here. Stand by a moment while I put you on visual.” She had Milt activate the large display. She sat down in the overstuff chair most centered in front of the screen. Lieutenant Price stood behind her and to one side, William and Valerie to the other. Miller sat up on the couch; Jim, Ashley, and Rosanne joined him. Milton Smith took the other chair. Christina sent the others from the room. “Can you see me?”

    Agent Thelin appeared on the screen. He was a thirty-something male with pale-blue skin and blond, almost white, hair. His most distinctive attribute was the pair of antennae growing out of his head. They were the largest she had ever seen on an Andorian. “Nice bridge. I am aware of the civilian fondness for luxury, but isn’t that a bit extreme?” The video was running at about half the normal frame rate and would freeze momentarily, and the audio was just slightly out of sync with the video. It reminded Christina of a movie dubbed over from one language to another.

    “I’m not on my bridge right now. How are you getting a signal through? Our sub-space radio is still down.”

    “We’re using the warning beacon as a relay,” he explained.

    “I wasn’t aware that was possible,” she replied.

    “It’s not, for you. You don’t have the access codes to activate it.” She thought about it for a moment. Actually, she might have those passwords, but she wasn’t going to tell him that. “We’re in-route to you. At present speed, we should be there in five hours.”

    “No need to rush. That will put you here after local sunset. I presume you’re on a patrol skiff, yes?” He indicated he was. The security boat was a quarter the size of Tina’s Pride. “There’s no place for you to land in the immediate vicinity. We can clear a landing spot for a shuttle. Are my ships with you?”

    “I left four skiffs with them. They can be here in approximately fifteen hours. There was an incident. We were prepared; the opposition was not. How is it you say? We caught them flat-footed. You’re skippers handled themselves admirably. Two of your ships were fired upon; only minor shield damage. One of my skiffs lost life support. I hope you don’t mind, but my crew has taken refuge on one of your ships.”

    “Oh, not at all,” she was relieved at the news. “I am always glad to be of assistance. And the bandits? Are they no longer a threat?”

    Thelin smiled in the Andorian way, “They are not a threat. I have someone here who would like to give you those details, so I shall not, as you say, steal his thunder.” He stepped back from the camera, and a young human male adult entered the frame.

    “Hey, little sis! Glad you’re okay!”

    The smile evaporated from Christina’s face. “Don’t you ‘little sis’ me, Jason Douglas Smith! You’re so lucky you’re not standing in front of me right now. Oh, speaking of little sisters, call Mom and tell her to put a leash on Mary Kate!”

    “No, call Dad and tell him to ground her until she’s twenty-five,” Valerie injected. “She’s been seen at frat parties down at the college. I’ll bet a friend of yours invited her.”

    Jason blinked twice. This was news to him. “Okay, I’ll do that. Listen, Chrissy, I didn’t steal your money. I only borrowed it without letting you know.”

    “Taking something without permission is theft. I want you arrested. Agent Thelin, please take my brother into custody.”

    “I cannot do that,” Thelin replied from off-camera, “and I know better than to get in the middle of a family dispute.”

    “I had permission,” Jason claimed.

    “Who’s permission? Father’s? Grandfather’s? It’s my money, not theirs. Star Blaze Transports is my company. They have nothing to do with it. Tell them to butt out!” She was more than ticked off at this point. Jason was so very lucky he wasn’t in the same room as her.

    “I had a judge’s permission. Let me explain. I’ve been working undercover. It was a sting operation. We needed clean, traceable money that wouldn’t lead back to law enforcement. The original plan was for Grampa to be swindled, quote unquote. The problem is Smith & Jones is too big and Grampa is too well known and too smart to play the victim of the scam. Nobody would believe it. When you bought your ship, my bosses thought you’d be perfect for the role. Grampa and I both wanted to brief you in on the plan, but the person in charge of the operation demanded you be kept in the dark. Personally, I think he’s a total idiot.”

    Christina closed her eyes and clinched her teeth. After a couple deep breaths, “Who is he? I’d like a word with him.”

    “I’m not allowed to tell you that. Hey, Chrissy, when did you buy the other three ships?” Jason tried to distract her.

    William stepped forward. “Jason, if you were forced into this, if you were arrested and a cop told you that you had to go undercover to stay out of jail, that’s illegal. You should let our lawyers handle it.”

    Jason laughed. “I am a cop. I have a badge and everything. I fast-tracked through police academy. Ask Jim, he knows.”

    They all looked at James Baker. He raised his hands defensively, “It’s true. They told me not to tell anyone.”

    “Look, Chrissy, I’m sorry I had to borrow your money,” Jason emphasized the word ‘borrow’ much to her annoyance, “but I can make it up to you. How would you like another ship? Brand new, straight from the factory, all the bells and whistles, plus a few after-market upgrades including Warp Nine engines, only a hundred hours on the clock, not a scratch on her. We captured one, abandoned on the ground. There were two, but the other one was punched in the face pretty hard. I don’t think it’s flyable. But, hey, if you don’t want it, maybe I’ll keep it. I could call it Jason’s Toy. That has a certain ring to it, don’t you think?” he laughed at his own joke.

    “Sure,” his sister responded slowly, “what the heck, I’ll take a free ship. Is it legal?”

    “Actually, it’s already yours. Kami Mbuko put a crew on it before we could drop a capture team on it. She filed the salvage rights in your name. My boss wasn’t happy, but it’s a done-deal.” He paused to see if she would smile. She did, kind of sort of. “Listen, Chris, I need to ask you about something. For your ears only. Your Star Fleet officer can stay, and so can Dan Miller. Hey, man, how’s it going? I wondered where you got to. I was going to set you up on a blind date with Chrissy, and you disappeared on me. And there you are! You two getting along okay?”

    “We’ve been a little busy here, not much time for a social life,” Christina told her brother. She waved the rest out of the room. Valerie whispered, “I give up” as she passed by. “Okay, what’s so important?”

    Jason scratched his ear. “Chris, do you have a safe in your cargo bay?” She didn’t answer him. “Look, it’s important. Cargo assignments were switched around at Star Base Ten. I had a safe with me on Joy. It’s not here now. It’s not on the other ships. It must be on Pride.”

    His sister sat for a long moment with her hand across her mouth in thought. “Is this part of your alleged sting operation? Or are you up to more of your shenanigans, Jason? You claim to be a cop now, but even if that’s true, you’ve gone rogue. Shall I list the grounds I had to fire you? Filing improper flight plans, shipping undocumented cargo, evading a custom patrol boat, and, oh yeah, the kicker -- smuggling five Orion women off New Havana. Don’t tell me, let me guess; you were helping them escape slavery. That doesn’t sound like proper actions for a cop, especially a rookie cop. I love you, dear brother, but I don’t know that I can trust you. Why should I believe you?”

    Now it was Jason’s turn to get a little flustered. “Yes, I did all that. We did; the team I’m on. It was all done under orders and supervised. It’s like I said, I work for an imbecile. Just trust me, okay. I do have a safe here, a model GS12A, that belongs to a Commodore Vincent Nagy. I’m looking for a model GS15B. Do you have it or not?”

    Price leaned down and whispered in her ear; that was the same model as the one in the cargo hold. “Why do you need to know?” she asked. “What’s supposed to be in it?”

    Jason turned his head and hid his mouth behind his hand, whispering to someone off camera. Finally, he told her. “Chrissy, I really need that safe. It has evidence in it. Photos, video, recordings, computer documents, everything we collected on these scam-artists. The prosecution is ready to put a lot of bad people away for a long time. I was supposed to make a detour to Star Base Two and drop it off. Please tell me you have it.”

    Crud. Now she wished she hadn’t asked him that. “Jason. We shouldn’t be taking about this on an open channel.”

    “It’s encrypted.”

    “Yes, from you to the beacon, but it’s in the clear from the beacon to me.” She let out a sigh. “I need more proof. Even if I could trust you, I don’t know Agent Thelin all that well. Can you vouch for him and his crew? If this gang you were after is so well organized, what’s to say they don’t have a mole on the inside?”

    Jason opened his mouth, thought twice about what he was going to say, and closed his mouth. “Okay, ask Miller. He was the courier who put everything into the safe. We couldn’t keep it in our office. You’re right, there was a mole. Go ahead an open it. I trust you, even if you don’t trust me. If that Star Fleet officer is who I think he is, he knows how to open the safe.”

    There was a shriek from somewhere up the stairs, followed by the sound of the twins running in from outside, yelling for their parents. “Mom! Dad! Come quick! Miss Smith! Come quick!”
     
    Last edited: Jul 15, 2018 at 8:20 PM
  15. Sgt_G

    Sgt_G Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Jul 5, 2013
    Location:
    USA
    “I have to go, Jason,” she closed the connection before he could object. They went out in the hallway, and the twins ran to her. “What happened?” she asked.

    “It’s Jack, Luke’s little brother,” Carmella reported, “He took a bad fall.” She grabbed Miss Smith hand and led her outside. Ignoring the pain in his leg, Miller grabbed the first aid kit and followed. Lisa Bell came running down the stairs; apparently, it was her shout they heard first. The rest of the humans followed her out. Elijah Jensen and his brothers were already there, of course.

    “He’s in a bad way, Ma’am,” he pointed to the other side of the creek. Grant, Luke, and Sophie were tending to Jack, who was in obvious pain. His left arm was hanging limp; even from this distance, they could see it was broken above the elbow, at the humerus bone. “Should we go help?” Christina shook her head.

    “He caught that rabbit, the one Luke was after,” Pedro junior recounted, “up there on that little hill. It was almost as big as he is. He caught it, stood up on that pile of rocks, and held it up by the scruff of its neck. That’s when it kicked him. Jack fell down on that big rock there and then rolled to the bottom there. He crawled down to where he is now.”

    Grant gently picked the young one up and carried him to the fallen tree. Luke and Sophie helped steady him as they crossed, and then he brought Jack to the campfire and laid him on the picnic table. Sarah stroked his head and cooed softly, trying to comfort her youngest child. Bruce stood by her side, completely distraught. The others gathered around helplessly.

    “Daniel, can you do something for him?” Christina asked.

    Miller hesitated. “No. I can’t.”

    She looked at him. “You have to try. You know an injury like that can be fatal. Even if he survives, he’ll be crippled for life. Please, do something for him.” She could feel the tears coming on.

    “He cannot, Ma’am,” Lieutenant Price almost choked on his own words.

    “Why not? Daniel, you said it yourself: the Prime Directive doesn’t apply here. You have to try. Do something.” Tears streamed down her face. The twins were crying, too, holding on to Felicia. Frank held Lisa tight as she buried her face in his chest, sobbing uncontrollably.

    “Right, it doesn’t. That’s not the problem, Chris,” Daniel responded, tears welling up in his eyes, too. “They’re cute. They’re cuddly. They’re smart. It makes us forget, at the end of the day, they’re still wild animals. They won’t understand what’s going on. If I try to set his arm, he’s going to scream, and his mamma will rip my face off!” He looked at the wounded child. “I want to do something, Chris, I really do, but ....” his voice trailed off.

    Sarah turned and looked up at him with her sad brown eyes, and with a tiny voice, she spoke. “Please help.”

    [​IMG]


    All the humans turned their heads, mouths agape, to stare at Sarah in astonishment. “Did ... did she just speak to me?” Miller asked, completely flabbergasted.

    Price twisted his neck to tilt his head in disbelief. “Yes, but probably with no more intellect than a mocking bird. I doubt she understands what the noises she made meant.”

    Now it was Luke’s turn to amaze his human friends. He removed all doubt, “Jack hurt. You help. Yes. Fix hurt. Please.”

    “Okay. I’ll help,” Miller told the creatures. He slipped a pair of gloves on and powered up the tricorder. He moved slowly and cautiously, as he didn’t want to startle them. Carefully, he began to examine Jack. “Oh, not good. The humerus bone is broken, obviously, and it’s pressing against the artery cutting off blood supply to his hand. If I don’t set it soon, he’ll lose the arm.”

    “Not good,” Luke parroted and then made some chittering noises. The others seemed to understand.

    “Alright, people, let’s give him room to work. Back up some,” Miss Smith commanded. She glanced around. “There’s nobody on the ship. Lisa, go wash up and pull yourself together. You and Frank go man the bridge. If we still have a connection via the beacon, send a message to Agent Thelin. Tell him I need to speak to him on a secure channel, his eyes only.” She turned to her ship’s cook, “Felicia, you might want to take the twins inside.” They didn’t want to go. She turned to Miller. “Can you fix it?”

    He sighed. “I think so, yes. It broke in a perfect snap. It should heal well enough.” He looked at Sarah. “The problem is, how do I explain it to her?” He gave it a moment’s thought. “Hand me a stick.” James gave him on about as thick as his thumb. Miller held it up against Jack’s right arm. “This is okay.” He took the stick and broke it over his knee. He held the two pieces up to Jack’s left arm. “This one is broken.”

    “Broken. Not good,” Sarah bobbed her head, apparently signifying that she understood.

    “Yes. Broken. Not good. I need to fix it,” he demonstrated pulling the two halves of the stick apart and placing the ends together. “It will hurt, and then it will be good.” He had no idea if they understood. He called Emmanuel Jensen over to help hold Jack. He handed the tricorder to Valerie. She would tell him when the bone was set. “Okay, on three. One two three,” he demonstrated again with the sticks. Sarah bobbed her head.

    Miller took Jack’s arm by the elbow while Jensen held his shoulder. “Ready? On three. One two three.” He pulled the child’s arm until he felt the bone set. Poor little Jack screamed in agony and passed out from the pain. Valerie nodded. It was done. Miller checked for a pulse in the wrist and found good blood flow. The tricorder confirmed there was no internal bleeding, something else Miller worried about.

    Sarah was distressed, understandably, and laid her ear on her son’s chest to listen to his heart. Satisfied, she lifted her head. “Good now.” She stroked Jack’s head and cooed softly to him.

    Miller considered his next step. He lifted the corner of Jack’s loincloth. “I need one,” he told Luke. It took a couple tries to get him to understand. After some chitterings among the group, the pregnant one, Vicky, gave Miller a pelt she had left by the fire pit. Luke took it and scrapped the fat layer off it, and gave it back to the human. Miller wrapped Jack’s upper arm in the pelt. “Hand me four sticks, as straight as you can find, and some of those vines.” In a few short minutes, he created a makeshift splint to immobilize the bone. Jack woke up, obviously still in pain but seemingly aware of what was going on. As gently as he could, Miller wrapped more vines around Jack’s torso to hold his arm in place. He put the child’s left hand on his right chest near the shoulder and wrapped it down, too. “There. All done.” He slipped his gloves off.

    Christina walked over, stood up on her tiptoes, and kissed Daniel on the cheek. “Nice job, Daniel.”

    “Well, there’s not more I can do for him. I can’t give him anything for the pain. Maybe he can chew on some of those leaves.” He discovered her hand in his. She leaned on his arm. “Still, I hate to leave him like this,” Miller said sadly.

    “Oh, we’re not going anywhere. We can’t leave, not yet.” Miss Smith informed her crew. “We have to wait for a First Contact team to get here from Star Fleet.”

    === === === END === === ===

    EDIT: I extended the ending because a couple readers, people I highly regard, told me it just fell flat. I hope this is better now.

    I have yet to start writing the next story in the sequence, which will be set about three weeks after these events.
     
    Last edited: Jul 15, 2018 at 8:22 PM
  16. jespah

    jespah Rear Admiral Moderator

    Joined:
    Jun 21, 2011
    Location:
    Boston, the Gateway to the Galaxy
    Very interesting story!

    One observation - I know you want to keep the action going, and I appreciate that, but phrases like he told her that .... etc. were distracting. Instead, I think it would help for the characters to have these conversations. So instead of Carmella told her she had recorded the whole thing on her tablet, it would be Carmella said, "I recorded the whole thing on my tablet."

    That would also help to distinguish the characters, as I confess I was having some trouble following who was who (I originally thought Christina was the married woman, etc.). This can be an issue with a lot of characters, FYI.

    It's a compelling storyline. Kudos!
     
  17. Sgt_G

    Sgt_G Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Jul 5, 2013
    Location:
    USA
    Thanks, @jespah . I'll take that under advisement.

    I let a friend of mine read it. He's a publisher, but I didn't think it would fit his needs. He actually liked it enough (except for the end) and even offered to consider publishing it. Should that happen, he will no doubt ask me to remove it from this site. We shall see. :cool:
     
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  18. jespah

    jespah Rear Admiral Moderator

    Joined:
    Jun 21, 2011
    Location:
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    Hey, best of luck with that! :D
     
  19. Sgt_G

    Sgt_G Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Jul 5, 2013
    Location:
    USA
    Okay, so two people have said the ending is a little jarring and left them flat, so I will be writing a few more paragraphs to round it out a bit. Give me a couple-few days......

    EDIT: See second Spoiler tag in post above for the extended ending.
     
    Last edited: Jul 14, 2018 at 1:15 PM
  20. jespah

    jespah Rear Admiral Moderator

    Joined:
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    Ah, yeah, I like the ending a lot better now. Seeing the reaction is a good thing, and it becomes clear that Sarah isn't just repeating words (something I always felt ET was doing in the ET film).
     
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