The SS Sooloo was heading for a watery planet when they responded to what sounded like a distress beacon. It ended up being a living planet sending out the call wanting to eat whoever came. Jordan was severely injured, while another crewmember was killed. Jordan was put into stasis.
The Robinson Family Reunion took place with Miranda and William Robinson having a chance to chat. William thought with his not aging, it was better to be friends than pursue a romance with Miranda. For all involved. It was the best thing.
A new permanent insignia was created for the Explorer Program. This one was metallic instead of a patch. Steve was already creating them for the crew.
With having Mason and Ethan join them, or so they thought, Kash went to check the food supply and see how much more they would need for the extra mouths. He discovered food was missing and confronted Kyle, while Danny was off seeing about the food being replaced. Once Kash knew that it was being taken care of, he calmed down.
The SS Sooloo arrived in orbit around Earth and Jordan was taken to Space Fleet Medical. Megrez assured the twins and Jordan that he would be alright. He gave Jordan a telepathic ability to link with Jace. Whether this is a permanent link or a temporary one, no one knows.
Crewman Alex Grainger showed up at the restaurant where Kash and Mason were dining, and he made an ass of himself. Kash spoke with the Officer in Charge of crewman assignments about Alex's first assignment.
With the Sooloo coming to Earth, Kash spoke with Kyle about taking the boys to Mars. He didn't think Jay needed to see Jordan in this condition.
On the eighteenth, Jace got to meet Dr. Black. He looked like an older version of Jace and turned out to be his first cousin once removed. Grainger was assigned to a different ship, a ship with a bad reputation, a very bad reputation.
"I just received a text from Captain Rawlings," Kash declared. "Alex won't be on the Sooloo. The good captain assigned him to the Chiri'kuta instead."
"Did you say the Chiri'kuta?" Mason asked. "That ship has a very scary reputation."
"I think I've heard it," Kash nodded. "If I remember correctly, all new crewmembers get fucked by the entire current crewmembers before they may start working."
"That's the rumor," Mason averred. "Don't get me wrong, but I wouldn't wish that on anyone, not even Alex."
"I totally understand," Kash began caressing Mason's shoulders. "I wouldn't wish it on anyone either, but someone needs to fill their vacancy, and if not Alex, who?"
Mason smiled, "If you put it that way, I guess Alex is the best choice."
As the group entered their dorm common room for the first time, they were greeted by an older boy dressed only in his Speedo and carrying a towel. As the boys stared at this Adonis, more than a few could be seen trying to make certain adjustments without being seen. He set the towel down.
"Hey cadets, I'm Hayden Barlow. I've been assigned to be your dorm 'older brother'. I am 15 and have been at the academy for 3 years now; this being my fourth and final year."
The group of boys stood silently, listening to Hayden. When none of the boys said anything, Hayden continued, "Room assignments are on the huge monitor on the wall. I understand that many of you had made roommate requests prior, and as many of those as possible have been accommodated. Any other requests can be made, and we will try to..." Hayden grinned and winked before finishing his sentence, "place you with your boyfriend. Ian is the Resident Advisor. He and I don't have any problem with switching rooms as long as there are no arguments. Just be sure to let one of us know who is staying in what rooms. I'm available to you guys at any time if you need to talk or have any problems, my room is at the end of the hall, or I may be in Ian's room. I'm sure that this is your first time away from home for at least some of you guys and I want you to know that I understand. If you want to talk with me about anything, and I do mean anything, there is nothing you should feel embarrassed about. Go ahead, find your quarters and get settled in. Ian arranged for dinner to be here in the common room today at 1700... Though most of you know the twenty-four-hour Clock, for any that might not, that's 5pm... I guarantee that by the end of the week, none of you will have any confusion about it. Oh, and Ian will be speaking with you as you eat."
Hayden waved, then turned and started for his room. Once he was gone, several of the boys said, "Whoa!" And a few had thought, "Damn, he's a hunk!"
After they looked at the room arrangement, they unpacked and returned to the common room for dinner. As they entered, Hayden was talking to another older teen, they correctly assumed was Ian. Ian covered some of the rules concerning Campus, including NOT being caught in the Joan of Arc or any of the other girls' Quarters.
Connor had been busy in Engineering and Ronnoc had been busy helping Dr. Tom with Jordan, so during the trip to Earth, they didn't get any time to spend together. Now, they are on Earth and finally have time to spend together. Aiden and the boys were staying with Colonel Savage as they agreed Connor needed this time alone with his newly found father. Though Kristof's is more for romantic couples, they never turn anyone away, and Logan Kristof made special arrangements for Connor.
"So, they say you are my biological father," Connor awkwardly stated.
"Weird," Ronnoc replied, "but I guess it's true. I never even knew I had a son."
"So, you never had sex with Mom? How was I conceived?"
"My best guess is, about fourteen, fifteen years ago, the Alvaeyosians were attacked. No one knows how they got through the forcefield, but they did. Nearly four hundred Alvaeyosians were killed at that time. But the invaders weren't there to conquer the planet or kill its inhabitants. All they took was what they called 'love juice' from us, Alvaeyosians, slaves, it didn't matter. Had the Alvaeyosians not fought back, they would have taken what they wanted, and no one would have been killed."
"But they couldn't have known that, unless this wasn't the first time," Connor averred.
"True," Ronnoc agreed, "and for as long as I was there, it was the first time I saw it. Anyway, we have no idea what they did with our 'love juice.' I guess, they impregnated your mom with mine."
"Sounds like the only logical explanation," Connor accepted the story. "Mom died giving birth, and since no one knew who my father was, I was placed in an orphanage."
"I'm sorry that that happened to you," Ronnoc responded. "I don't know what to say."
"Even though I am emancipated, Col. Savage and his wife adopted me. But now that I found you..."
"Don't get me wrong, Connor, though you were born of my seed, I am in no way your father otherwise, so I have no intention of trying to replace Javier and Darla. At the same time, I would like to be your friend and get to know you. Heck, physically, I am fifteen, and you are...?"
"I'll be fourteen at the end of next month. We call it June." Connor smiled, "And to be honest, I think I would rather have you as a friend than trying to be a father at this time. By the way, kinda funny how your name is Ronnoc and mine is Connor. Reverse either name and you have the other."
"Who named you?" Ronnoc questioned.
"All I know is a nurse told me that my name was written in the stars the night I was born."
"Interesting, I had a dream where Megrez wrote MY name in the stars around that same time, only the letters were backwards. Now, I understand he was telling me about your birth. I was just seeing it from the back."
"So Megrez named me?" Connor questioned.
"Too much of a coincidence, otherwise."
Commodore Dave Bowman called Kash Rivers to an office that will be his whenever he's on Earth. Kash didn't have a clue as to why he had been summoned, but he knew well enough to never leave a Commodore waiting. He was a bit surprised by Hal's appearance in the office; not so much that Hal was with his husband, but that he didn't know why Hal would be in the meeting Dave requested him to attend.
Dave looked up from the PADD he was reading, he sounded a bit agitated and demanding as he spoke. "Commander Kash Rivers, I had just finished reading a report from Captain Cody Zeller. Do you care to explain?"
"Sir, I don't know what to say," Kash seemed nervous. "All I did was work wherever I thought I was needed. The crew were in a bad way from the trauma they faced, and I just tried to help them."
"Exactly," Dave grinned. "According to Cody's report, you proved that you are capable of running any position on a ship, even the captain's."
Kash tried to remain modest, "I wouldn't go that far, but I have learned a lot about the Explorer Class and put that knowledge to use."
Hal spoke. "What you did was prove yourself as a top-rate Operations Officer. I believe you are every bit as good as your cousin, and once he rejoins us, I believe he will agree."
Dave stood up, walked up to Kash and took a step to his right. Hal walked up and stood directly in front of Kash. "Lt. Commander Kash Rivers, due to your diligent work on the SS Joseph Hooker, I hereby promote you to a full Commander. In addition to you being the Chief Operations Officer, after talking with the other Senior Officers, you are hereby made Third Officer of the SS Sooloo. The order of command will be as follows; myself, Commander Jordan Rivers, Commander Jace Blackwell and then you." Hal handed Kash the Commander bars.
"And," Dave added, "should a First Officer position open up, Fleet Admiral Mirah believes you could fit into the position."
"I will keep that in mind, but for the time being, I have no desire to leave the Sooloo, Sir."
"You wanted to see me, Sirs?" Ronnoc asked.
"Actually, I did," Hal stated, "but I was already in my husband's office for another matter, and he gave me the go ahead."
Ronnoc inquired, "What can I do for you?"
"Dr. Tom talked to you about becoming a crewmember, helping in the Medical Bay?"
Ronnoc replied, "Yes, he suggested I may be a nurse, if possible."
"Space Fleet Medical would like to evaluate your skills as a nurse. Dr. Soto from the Explorer of the Stars had explained how much he has trained you, and how fast you picked it up. Once they have evaluated you, it will be determined if you need more training or can move into the position of a nurse. The Sooloo does have a position open, so if you like, and you pass, the position will be yours."
"When do they wish to evaluate me?"
"They are expecting you at 1300 today."
"Thank you, Sir."
"Why can't we go on the flier this time like we did last time?" Koji whined for what, to Kyle, seemed like the billionth time. He gave Danny a look that said, 'You deal with it this time."
"Because we're doing it differently. It's always good to do things differently," Danny replied patiently. "But I can think of something way different if you decide to complain again."
"What?" Koji asked with an eagerness that said he was anticipating a good choice.
"You get to stay in the hotel's day care center while the rest of us ride the train to Olympus Mons and go to the top of the Heinlein Observation Tower." Kyle nodded in approval.
"That's not fair. I wanted to look out of the glass floor and see the top of the mountain."
"We're not the complaint department, so you need to take it there," Kyle stated.
"Where is the complaint department at?"
"Down in the basement in the utility room. You can complain to the cleaning bots. They will be sure to listen to all of your complaints."
"But they can't do..."
"Eat your breakfast before it gets cold."
The little byplay between Koji and his daddies was taking place in the dining room of the Summit Resort. The group at the table, which consisted of Kyle, Danny, Koji, Duskin, Jay, Ethan, Gordy, and Corey, would soon be meeting with Eduardo who would guide them on the land-based tour of Olympus Mons. Koji, who was upset that this wouldn't be a repeat tour of the one they took their previous visit, was keeping breakfast in a state of disarray. The focus of everyone at the table was more on Koji than on the upcoming trip.
Duskin, who was used to his brother's ways, sat silently. Jay and Ethan didn't know what to make of Koji's whining. They knew they didn't like it and would probably get in big trouble if they complained the way Koji was. Gordy and Corey looked at each other, grinned, and went back to eating their breakfast. They were eagerly waiting for the ax to fall on Koji's neck. Both Cadets where happy to be on the sideline of the family spat.
Much to their consternation, their sideline role didn't last long. Kyle saw to that when he said their names. "I wonder what Gordy and Corey, our Cadets think of the tour coming up," Kyle thought aloud. He aimed his next sentence directly at the two. "Maybe if you explained what you learned about the tour to Koji, he might understand it better."
"Are you talking to us?" Gordy asked.
"Well, you're Gordy and Corey the fabulous and amazing Cadets, right?"
"I guess that's us then," Gordy grinned. "But Eduardo explained everything on Sunday."
"That means you get to show Koji how much you learned."
"Tell Koji and then he will know everything," Koji pleaded. He liked Gordy and Corey and was ready to listen to what they had to say.
"You tell him, Corey," Gordy said. "You're better at explaining than I am—unless it's about food and cooking."
"If you say so," Corey responded. "How about we finish breakfast first. I don't like to eat and talk at the same time."
The consensus was to wait until everybody had finished their breakfast. There would still be plenty of time for Corey to tell Koji what they were going to do.
But when everybody got to the hotel suite, Corey changed his mind about what he was going to say. He didn't know Koji very well, but from what he had seen of him he could tell that Koji was a very smart boy. The problem wasn't that Koji didn't understand what they were going to do, he didn't understand why they were doing something different than what he had done before. In other words, Corey needed to do what everyone else had failed to do and that was to tell Koji about why their trip was going to be super awesome and why he should go with an open mind. While that all sounded good in Corey's mind, he had no idea how he was going to get that point across.
Corey sat on the couch and indicated that Koji and Duskin should flank him. Jay squeezed in between Koji and the arm of the couch and Ethan squeezed in between Duskin and the other arm. They were eager to hear about the trip again since they hadn't understood everything Eduardo had been talking about.
"Okay, it goes like this," Corey began. "When Eduardo gets here, we'll follow him to the subway station that's under the hotel. We'll take a subway to the main station downtown where we'll change to a big train that will take us to Olympus Mons."
"Does it go really fast like Eduardo said?" Duskin asked.
Corey was beginning to wonder if any of the smaller boys had fully understood what Eduardo had told them. Koji partly answered Corey's thought by answering Duskin's question. "It goes ultra-super-duper totally fast and hang on tight," Koji said.
Corey saw he could take advantage of what Koji had just said. "And that sounds like it will be ultra-super-duper totally fun to do, right Koji?"
Koji thought for a moment and the answered. "Yeah, like maybe it's more funner than the flying."
Kyle was ready to jump in and compliment Koji on this statement and then decided to shut up and let Corey continue on his own. He was impressed by Corey's start.
"It does sound like it could be fun. And one way to find out is to see how it works," Corey said. Explaining how things worked was something Corey was good at. "The train is going to go over 300 kilometers an hour and you'll see everything zoom right by you."
"On the flier all you see is the sky and way down to the ground, but it's still fun. But this sounds fun too. Now I want to do it," Koji said enthusiastically.
"What's the deal? Corey made that look easy," Kyle whispered to Danny. The tween dads were sitting on the other side of the room.
"I think Koji just needed to hear it from somebody different."
Corey reviewed how the rest of the trip would go and asked questions as he went, to make sure everybody understood what would be happening. The four young boys on the couch listened to him eagerly and answered his questions enthusiastically. By the time Eduardo arrived, the young boys were ready to knock the door down to get to the subway station.
Seeing that everybody was ready to go, Eduardo led the group to the elevators and down to the subway station. They would be catching the #11 subway to the Dawes City West station. That part of the trip would take less than five minutes.
The trains leaving the city had their own dedicated track. As a result, the Robinson group had to head for a different platform to catch the "Olympian" train to Olympus Mons. The trains left every half hour. A five-car train set was in the station and the group boarded behind some tourists. Eduardo had blocked out a set of seats for the group, which they quickly filled. Eduardo pointed out the speedometers on each end of the car. The train pulled out of the station right on time, at 1030.
As it crept through the tunnel, Koji started to become restless. "Why is it going so slow, Corey?" he asked. "And why is it dark? I can't see anything."
"There are some lights on," Jay pointed out.
"But not much and it's still too dark to see. And the subway went faster than this not ultra-super-fast train."
Eduardo answered the question instead of Corey since Corey was trying to remember how long the tunnel was. "To answer Koji's question, it's dark because we're in a different tunnel than the regular subway tunnel." Eduardo answered. We're going slow because the portal out of the city is ahead. It's an airlock portal. Once we enter it the door behind us will close and as soon as it's locked in place the door in front of us will open and we'll move out of the city."
"How come Corey didn't answer?" Koji asked.
"I didn't answer because Eduardo knows how the train leaves the city better than I do. It's my first time riding a train out of a city on Mars. Everything I know is what Eduardo told us on Sunday and from the pamphlet he gave us. So, it's better if he answers some of your questions," Corey explained.
"Eduardo gave us a pamphlet?" Koji asked.
"I gave Kyle the pamphlets to pass out," Eduardo replied.
"And I did pass them out," Kyle said. "So, what happened to yours, Koji?"
"I made a paper airplane out of it and flew it off the balcony to the floor down below. I didn't know I was supposed to read it," Koji answered. "I'm sorry Opsola."
Kyle wanted to give Koji a lecture on listening to instructions and being responsible, but he stopped himself. This wasn't the right time for a tough love lecture; that time would come later. "We'll talk about it later," was all Kyle told him.
Before anything else could be said, daylight started to flood the tunnel as the outer door opened. The train eased out of the tunnel, negotiated a slight curve, and started to accelerate at a rapid pace. As the landscape raced by, all the boys, but especially Koji, became entranced by the scenery moving by at an ever-increasing speed. Kyle, Danny, and Corey looked up at speedometer which read 360 kph (225 mph) as the train hit its cruising speed.
"Now this really is ultra-super-duper and faster than super-duper fast," Koji screeched with delight. "Look at everything moving right by the window. This is so, so, so, so much fun." The rest of the boys, including Kyle and Danny, were enthralled by the smooth ride of the speeding train.
"We will be able to see the mountain in about a half an hour," Eduardo informed them.
All of a sudden, the train shook, and a loud roar passed them by as they met an inbound train. "That was totally scary," Duskin squeaked as everyone's heart rates worked their way back to normal.
"I thought the window was going to blow up," Jay quaked.
"Then there would be glass everywhere," Koji said.
Eduardo turned in his chair and said, "The windows on this train are all made of alumitanium, so they can't..."
"...so, they can't break," Koji grinned as he started banging his hands as hard as he could against the window.
"You'll break the window," Duskin told his big brother.
"Nope. They won't break. Just ask Eduardo and Opsola Kyle and Opsola Danny."
"Plus, they won't get pitted by sand in a sandstorm," Eduardo said.
The coach settled down as the passengers looked out the windows hoping to catch the first glimpse of Olympus Mons. They didn't wait long as Ethan pointed out the window. "Is that it?" he yelled out.
"That's it," Eduardo grinned.
"Figures the youngest person riding in the car sees the mountain first," Kyle told Danny.
"It's not that easy to see," Danny said. "It's really high, but it's far away so the peak kind of looks like just another mountain at first."
The mountain was quickly filling the landscape. "Eduardo, when do I get to talk to everybody about the mountain?" Koji asked.
"Are you ready?" Eduardo asked.
"I was ready in the hotel. But what about all those other people?" He was referring to the passengers in the rear section.
"They're customers of my company. If you look all the way in the back, you can see Roger who is their guide. Are you willing to talk to them as well?"
Koji's grin spread across his face. "Koji will tell anybody who wants to learn." He realized as soon as he talked that he had to be more careful about what he said and use what Opsola Kyle called "first person" so he could show everybody how smart he was.
"Fantastic," Eduardo said. "I told Roger we'd start talking about the mountain as soon as we saw it, so I guess it's time to start. I will introduce you first, and then you tell them what we talked about." Eduardo stood up and faced the back of the coach. He pulled his portable mic out of a pocket, turned it on, and started talking. "Greetings, everyone. I hope you are all enjoying your ride on the amazing Olympian. For those of you not in my tour group, my name is Eduardo, and I am the guide for the group seated up here in the front of the car. These fine young men are in the Explorer Program and attached to the starship Sooloo in some way. One of them, who is a student at the school on the Sooloo has visited Olympus Mons before and asked if he could tell our group what he learned about the great mountain. I asked him if he had a problem talking to a group of strangers and he said he would talk to anybody who wanted to learn." Eduardo wasn't aware that Koji, Duskin, Jay, and Ethan were not actually Explorers, but Koji was more than happy to be called one.
Koji turned and looked at Roger's group. It was a group consisting entirely of adults and he wondered if he had made the right decision. The thought occurred to him that speaking to all these adults he didn't know was like Opsola Danny fighting against bad guys in his fighter, which meant his opsola had to be full of courage, just like he, Koji, had to be full of courage, too.
Eduardo signaled Koji to stand and join him at the front end of the car. Koji faced his audience and grinned. He did not feel nervous at all. Instead, he felt like he was full of his Opsola Danny's courage and was ready to face oncoming fighters.
"And so, everyone, I am pleased to introduce Koji Robinson, a star student at the school on the Explorer ship Sooloo." He handed the microphone to Koji.
"Hello, my name is Koji Robinson, and I am going to tell you what I know about Olympus Mons. I come from the planet Darastix where we have big mountains but nothing as big as Olympus Mons." He pointed to a pair of seats. "In those seats there are my Opsol... I mean my daddies, Kyle and Danny who adopted me." He pointed to the lone boy sitting behind them. "And that is my brother Duskin. They adopted him, too." He was surprised to hear a titter of laughter from the audience and wondered what he said that was funny.
He shook it off and continued. "Did you know that if you walked all the way around the base of Olympus Mons you would end up walking over 643.74 kilometers (400 miles), so you better bring a tent and lots of food and water. And it is 21945.6 meters (72,000 feet) or 21.9 kilometers (13.6 miles) high."
Koji had been practicing his presentation in his mind and with Duskin and Ethan and was on a roll. He told them facts like it was a shield volcano which meant it didn't have steep sides, and other facts and figures. He told them the best way to see it was from a flyer or to ride the railroad train that went up the side almost two miles high to the Einstein Tower. He meant the Heinlein Tower and that was one of his few mistakes. He finished off by telling people to look at the other mountains they were passing which were all volcanos and were big too.
Kyle and Danny had never felt so proud of their son. They knew there was more to him than the mischievous imp he so often acted like. His presentation was one of his finest moments and was something the two young fathers planned to build upon.
When he finished, his family, friends and the large tour group behind them applauded long and hard. Eduardo applauded as hard as anyone. He had turned the program over to the young boy expecting to take over in a couple of minutes. Instead, he listened to polished presentation from a boy who had obviously done his homework.
Roger and a few of the tourists walked up to Kyle and Danny. "You are really the fathers of Koji?" one of the men asked. "You look so young."
"Yes, we are," Kyle answered succinctly.
"They must be on that Explorer ship that was in the news," a lady, who was the man's wife, said.
"Yes, we are," Danny responded with equal brevity. "And to answer the next question that you haven't asked yet, the boys were both orphans."
"It's obvious you adopted them. It seems strange that an alien society has to deal with orphans just as we do on Earth. No matter. I have to say that what you two have done with that little boy is amazing. You could teach some much older parents how to handle their young children."
"Koji is very smart and does great work when he's motivated," Kyle told her. He elected not to tell her about the mischievous imp hiding under Koji's skin.
After a few more sincere compliments, everyone was reseated. Because of the construction of the train cars and the condition of the track, even at 360 kph (225 mph) the motion of the train could hardly be felt, making the tourists feel comfortable and safe as they stood in the aisle. The ride was smooth as glass and whisper quiet.
Roger walked to the front of the car and, using his own mic, reminded the passengers of the disembarking procedure. "As we come to a stop at the station, you will see covered walkways on wheels, much like the jetways at airports. Once we've stopped, one will be wheeled to each door of the train. The other coach will disembark first, and we will follow about ten minutes later, so you might as well stay seated until we're ready to unload. Our car has two doors, so please exit out of the nearest door. When we enter the building, we will be in a lounge. Please take your seats there for further instruction."
By now, the big mountain totally dominated the landscape and the sky. The five percent slope seemed to stretch into the sky forever. Just as the boys, as well as the adults, started to get bored by the seemingly unchanging scene whizzing by outside the window, the train started to slow and was soon stopping at the Olympus station.
As the train stopped, the wheeled walkways were run out on a platform and were connected with the train. The walkways were sealed airtight with the train, making them essentially airlocks. The second coach disembarked first.
The next phase of the trip was to ride a cog wheel railroad which would tackle the five percent grade up the 12,000-foot level where it would enter the station for the five-hundred-foot-tall Heinlein Tower.
The route had a lot of twists and turns, many giving views of the crater of the volcano. Eduardo and Roger provided information loaded lectures and pointed out features of the summit when it was visible. Halfway to their destination, the single-track split into two tracks where they met their sister train coming down the mountain. Soon the tower came into view. It didn't take long for the train to enter the station in the base of the tower.
They entered a lobby where they would board an elevator which would take them to the top of the tower. There were six elevators operating and it didn't take long to reach the top. Once again, they entered a large lobby which gave the passengers a 360-degree view.
Passengers for the previous group were still in the tower. They would be heading down to the ground floor in around twenty minutes. Koji saw a boy, who looked a little older than him, standing in front of one of the large floor-to-ceiling windows.
Koji decided to get the stranger's attention. He ran straight for the window and shoved his shoulder into it causing the boy to screech. The alumitanium window held up, as Koji knew it would, and he bounced off, staggering backwards.
"Are you okay?" the boy asked.
"I'm okay. That was fun."
"You could have gone through the window and been killed."
"It is made of alumitanium and can't break, plus, I saw in a book how the windows are put in so they can't be knocked out, so Koji knew he was safe."
"Is that your name? Koji?"
"Yes, what is your name?"
Before the boy could answer, Kyle stepped up to Koji and placed a hand on his shoulder. "What was that about?" he asked.
"I was showing my new friend that the windows can't break," Koji replied confidently.
"New friend? You certainly made him a friend quickly; you haven't even talked to him yet."
"He looked like a friend. Right?" he asked to boy.
"Right," the boy said not knowing what else to say.
"Whatever you say," Kyle said to keep the conversation going. It was often too easy to fall into one of Koji's traps. "But I want you to promise me you'll pull no more stunts like that for the rest of the trip. While you might not think so, what you did was still foolish and dangerous."
"I'm sorry, Opsola, I promise I won't do it again," Koji said contritely.
"And don't forget what you promised." Kyle turned and walked back to where Danny was standing.
"Is he your big brother?" the boy inquired.
"No, he's my opsola." Koji saw the confusion on the boy's face. "That's my daddy," he said, which seemed to confuse the boy even more. "He and Danny Daddy adopted me on the Sooloo," he explained as if that might make sense. Since the boy was still confused, Koji decided to change the subject. "You still need to tell me your name."
"Oh, yeah. My name is Marsh."
"Yes, really. I was named Marsh because I was born on Mars and my parents said that made me a Martian, so they named me Marsh and made my middle name Ian to make sure I was a Martian." Koji looked at the boy like he was... well... like he was born on Mars.
"I thought I made all that up," Koji giggled.
"Made what up?"
"Marsh. I call Mars 'Marsh' because it's where Martians come from, and now, I meet a friend who is from Mars and his name is Marsh because he really is a Martian."
"Are you serious?"
Koji nodded. He turned and called Kyle and Danny over. Danny was engaged in a conversation with one of the passengers from the other tour, so Kyle answered Koji's call.
"Opsola Kyle, this is my friend Marsh."
"Your name is really Marsh, or is Koji kidding about it? Koji likes to kid around a lot."
"My name is really Marsh." He explained how he got the name and then started to giggle. "That's funny how my name is Marsh and Koji calls Mars Marsh, so everything is Martian."
"I think it's funny, too," Kyle chuckled. "It's certainly a small world."
"Opsola, you learned that Marsh is smaller than Earth and Darastix from my talk today, right?" Koji asked.
"Well, you didn't mention Darastix, but I figured it out."
"What are you talking about? "Marsh asked. "You are making me confused." He looked up at Kyle. "Are you really Koji's daddy?"
"Yes I am."
"And you are too?" he asked Danny, who finally came over. Danny nodded. "I thought you were his big brothers."
"It's a long story. I'm sure Koji can tell it. Danny and I are going to finish our talk with Mr. Hosmer."
Kyle turned and led Danny back to the crowd at a far window that had an incredible view of the Olympus Mons summit. "Sometimes Koji has to be allowed to dig himself out of the holes he dug," Kyle told Danny.
"I totally agree," Danny nodded.
"Am I really your friend?" Marsh asked Koji.
"I said you were my friend, Marsh and that makes you my friend. Now wait here." Koji went a couple of windows over and brought Duskin, Jay and Ethan back with him. "This is my friend Marsh," he told them. "And this is my friend Jay, and my friend Ethan, and my brother Duskin." He told Marsh. "That makes us all friends."
"Wow, you even have a brother. I want to hear your story."
"When do you have to go back to the train?"
"Soon because here comes my mommy. When do you have to go back to Earth?"
"In two days," Koji answered. "Maybe you can come to our hotel tomorrow and swim in the pool with us, and I will tell you my story."
"Yes, I want to! But I have to ask Mommy."
"And I have to ask my opsola."
Both boys went through the parental permission process. Marsh's mother, Krista Dawkins, was ready to say yes, but when she found out that Danny and Kyle claimed to be Koji's parents, she went into parental mind changing mode. At Kyle's insistence, she called her husband, Sean, over. Sean was the chief administrator at Earth Colonial Federation Headquarters on Mars and understood how Space Fleet worked. That meant he knew what the Explorer Program was about which gave him no doubt about Kyle and Danny's veracity. When all the dust settled it was decided that Marsh would arrive at the Resort at eleven the next morning and stay for swimming, lunch, and whatever else he would be able to do with his new friends.
The fact that Koji and Duskin were Darastixian did not surprise Sean. He told his wife that he felt it would be great for Marsh to make friends with boys who were outworlders. And by that, he wasn't referring to Earth. He saw the play date at the resort as a wonderful opportunity for their son.
The Dawkins family then left to catch their cog wheel train. Marsh waved at the four boys, and they waved back in unison. Their tour party would be taking the next trains.
Koji found Eduardo at a window lecturing on the summit of Olympus Mons, which was visible out the window. He wanted to learn everything about Marsh as he could and listened with interest. The time flew by and the time to load their train soon arrived.
Koji sat with Ethan on the trip down the mountainside. He answered Ethan's questions about the mountain knowledgably. If anything, he probably added too many difficult facts for Ethan to follow. Koji hadn't yet picked up Ali's method of teaching by asking questions, but Ali would still have been proud of Koji's ability to teach and get his ideas across.
When they reached the base station and boarded the highspeed train, Koji sat next to Kyle. They were scheduled to have dinner in the food car in a half hour and Koji thought this would be a good time to ask his Opsola a question that had been on his mind since the play date had been set up.
"Opsola Kyle, can I ask you something?" Koji asked as the train reached its top cruising speed.
"Any time, Son." As long as Koji had been his son, Kyle still found it awkward to address him as son.
"Do you think we can go nakey in the pool tomorrow?"
"That would not be possible. It's a public pool and a lot of people would be offended," Kyle responded.
Koji was certain that would be the answer, but he still hoped that wouldn't be the case. He made no attempt to hide his disappointment. "They need to have a holler deck in the hotel so we can do it."
"I know that you know that it's a holodeck, not a holler deck."
"No, it's holler deck because when we get nakey in it on the ship, we all holler really loud because we're happy to swim nakey and have lots of fun being nakey. So that means as soon as me and everybody in school gets nakey it becomes the holler deck."
Kyle shook his head. It was hard for him to believe that the boy who had made a brilliant presentation about Olympus Mons on the trip to the mountain was the same boy who came up giving Mars the name of Marsh and invented the holler deck. Kyle had to admit, however, his new friend Marsh vindicated Koji's thinking about Martians.
"Look, I know you're disappointed, and if we were the only ones using the pool, I'd be okay with it. But the resort is a busy place and that just isn't going to happen."
"What about those spa places with the tubs? They are private." Koji was referring to the four hot tubs which were in separately enclosed locations.
"I would have to reserve one of them."
"Can you do it? Petranas (please) opsola?"
"I'll have to discuss it with Danny, but I wouldn't count on it."
"Okay but thank you for thinking about it. And tell the hotel people they need to make a holler deck."
One of the train attendants opened a coach door and announced it was time to eat, which ended the conversation.
After returning to the coach, Koji sat with Duskin. He said nothing to his brother about his conversation. Instead, he turned on the video viewer on the seat ahead of him and started watching a movie about monsters from a faraway planet who came to invade Earth. He was fascinated by it, but it scared Duskin, who often had to look away. Koji saw that his little brother was afraid and held out his hand which Duskin grabbed ahold of.
"I will protect you little isthasy," he told Duskin calmly. Duskin grinned, held Koji's hand tight, enjoyed the video and the feel of safety his big isthasy gave him.
The room was packed with Space Fleet Personnel, onlookers, and a large contingent of members of the press for the Military Tribunal of Alan Cooper.
Fleet Admiral William Mirah started the proceedings, "This Tribunal is hereby convened to settle the charges against Former Senator Alan Cooper. I am Fleet Admiral William Mirah. With me on the panel are Admiral Theodore Darrow from the Judge Advocate General's office and Admiral April Roberts of Space Fleet Deep Space Exploration. Mr. Cooper stands accused of Espionage, Sabotage, Conspiracy, and 369 counts of attempted murder of the crews of three ships, the SS Sooloo, the SS Darastix and the RDS Shouryou."
Mirah instructed the prosecutor to call his first witness and the trial commenced.
Over the next several hours witness after witness were called and questioned with Cooper's Attorney being given ample opportunity to cross-examine them. At the end of the proceedings, there was little doubt that Cooper would be found guilty.
Admiral Roberts addressed the court. "Mr. Cooper. You have been found guilty of Espionage, Sabotage of the SS Sooloo, Conspiracy to sabotage, and 369 counts Attempted Murder of the crews of 3 ships. Personally, I am appalled that we can't give you the death penalty, if it were up to me..." she paused before continuing. "By sentencing guidelines, each count Carries a minimum of fifty years and a maximum of one hundred years per count. This would add up with the minimum to 18,450 years, in addition to the conspiracy and sabotage charges." Cooper's face took on an ashen look as he listened to the Judge. "However..." Cooper's eyes brightened, slightly.
"However, in light of your many years of service to your own interests... er, I mean the United States of Earth Government..." chuckling was heard in the courtroom, "I am going to suspend the penalties for espionage, conspiracy and sabotage. I hereby remand you to Space Fleet Corrections to serve your sentence at the Space Fleet Station in orbit around Neptune. You must serve one third of your sentence before any consideration for parole."
As Cooper was being led away, he turned toward Timothy, "This is all your fault, and to think I took you in when your parents were killed."
Timothy was stunned, not sure what to say. Lucky for him, Jimmy didn’t have that problem. "No, Grandpa, this is YOUR fault. If you hadn't been a bad boy, none of this would have happened. Now, go to your room and think about what you did."
After they walked Cooper out of the room, Timothy looked down at his brother, "I am so very proud of you, Jimmy. I think that from now on, our lives are going to be way better."
"I think so, too. Am I really going to go with you into space?"
Timothy nodded, "I still have to get the official approval from my Captain, but I don’t expect any problem with that. I am really looking forward to sharing that experience with you."
"One more thing," Jimmy spoke quietly as he looked down.
Timothy looked at him, "You can ask me anything, no matter what, I love you."
Jimmy started to cry, "Grandpa always called me Jimmy, so I don't want to be called that."
Timothy put his arms around Jimmy, "I understand. Grandpa and you are the only ones I allowed to call me Timmy. I like when you do it, but... I never really liked the name, and now even less. You can still call me Timmy, if you want."
Jimmy wiped his eyes and looked up at his older brother, "Tim, will you start calling me Jim?"
"I would like that, Jim," Timothy hugged his brother more lovingly than ever.
Koji, Duskin, Jay, and Ethan spent the first hour after breakfast checking out the resort's large swimming pool. "Look, they have a hoop and a backboard for basketball," Koji pointed out as soon as the boys set foot in the atrium where the pool was located. "I can't wait to dunk the ball."
"I'd rather dunk you," Kyle said.
"I didn't know you were behind me. Where did you come from?"
"Well, many years ago, your Grandpa Greg and your Grandma..."
"You're Koji's craziest Opsola."
"Does this mean you have another Opsola?"
Koji placed his hands on his skinny hips, "Yes, Opsola Danny... and, where is he?"
"He's waiting in the lobby for your new friend Marsh. You know what the plan is."
"I know, but I thought you and Opsola Danny were going to both wait."
"The sign says children must be supervised by an adult."
"You're not an adult."
"Legally, I qualify."
Koji heard splashing behind him and saw Duskin and Ethan trying to dunk Jay. He dropped the conversation with Kyle and jumped into the pool to join them. Jay didn't stand a chance with the three boys ganging up him and quickly went under. The teams were changed to Koji and Duskin versus Jay and Ethan, but the affair quickly turned into a free for all. Koji wished they could remove their swim trunks and go naked.
The roughhousing stopped when Danny stepped onto the patio with Marsh and his mother, Krista. Krista noted there was no lifeguard. Kyle told her that as a senior officer on a starship he was certified to handle emergencies and Danny had had the same qualifications. "One of us will always be out here and I'm sure there will be many more out here soon." He had been surprised that only three other resort guests were in the pool area. But there was a lot for tourists there to explore on Mars.
Koji gave Marsh a big hug. The three boys followed his lead and hugged their guest in turn. Marsh enjoyed the hugs but at the same time felt embarrassed by all the attention. Feeling that her son would be well looked after, Krista gave Marsh another hug, telling him to behave, to be safe, and to be ready to leave at 1600. Marsh thought his mother's hug was the most embarrassing of all.
Marsh would be staying for lunch and for most of the afternoon. Koji took him to the pool's changing room. Koji's eyes lit up when Marsh pulled his swimsuit out of the small leather bag that he had brought with him. This meant he might get to see his new friend naked for at least a minute or two.
Marsh stripped down to his underpants and stopped. "I'm going to be naked in case you don't want to see me that way," he informed Koji.
"Koji likes being nakey. We have nakey swims on the Sooloo in the holler deck when we have our lunch time out," Koji responded.
"For really real."
"Can I see you naked...or nakey like you call it? We have naked swimming at my swim club three times a week."
"Let's get nakey together on the count of three." Koji grabbed the waistband of his swim shorts and Marsh did the same with his briefs. "One, two, three, pull down."
The two new friends were naked in an instant. They stood looking each other over, not in a sexual way but as two friends admiring each other's bodies.
"Yours looks nice, Koji."
"Yours looks nice too, Marsh. Let's go to the pool and swim nakey."
"I don't want to get in trouble."
"If we go really fast nobody will know we did it," Koji said.
"It's a long way to run."
Before the discussion could go any farther, Duskin, Ethan and Jay entered the room. "You're nakey," Duskin said in his usual way of stating the obvious.
"Marsh likes being nakey, and Koji likes being nakey, and Duskin likes being nakey," Koji said. "Do Jay and Ethan like being nakey, too?"
Ethan just grinned and nodded his head. "It depends where it is. And if you do it in pool, you will all get in trouble," Jay replied.
As Jay talked, Duskin pulled off his swimsuit. "But I'm not swimming nakey and getting in trouble."
"You're not doing it with me, my brother?" Koji asked.
"I don't like being in trouble."
Marsh pulled his swimsuit on.
Koji shrugged and put his swimsuit back on. Getting in trouble with his friends and brother was one thing but getting in trouble all by himself was an entirely different matter.
Naked or not, the five boys had an afternoon of fun. They swam and roughhoused some before lunch. After lunch Koji and Jay set up the floating basketball backboard in the shallow end of the pool. Koji found a basketball in the pool's equipment locker and the five were enjoying shooting and dunking the ball.
Koji shot the best of the bunch, but Marsh showed some talent for a little kid. Kyle, who had been an excellent basketball player in school, was impressed by Koji's skills, even though they were rough. He seemed to have a feel for shooting. Kyle was determined to work with Koji in the holodeck. He knew the twins loved to shoot and thought about working with all three of them. He could even throw Duskin into the mix. He would have to set the basket lower to start with, but once they started mastering the skills in could be moved up.
He envisioned getting other boys involved and eventually getting games going. They could be anything from simple one on one, to two on two, three on three, right up to a full five on five. He could have basketball classes for crewmembers too and put together tournaments. His own basketball time in the holodeck was mostly free throw shooting, because doing so helped release built up tension in him. He loved it when one or both of the twins stood under the basket and returned the ball to him, after sometimes taking a shot of his own.
Koji found himself really liking Marsh, and it was not because if his cool name. It was because of a lot of reasons. He was a really nice person, he liked being nakey, he liked swimming and wrestling in the pool, he was pretty good at basketball, he had a pretty smile, and he was a Martian on Marsh. He was going to miss his new friend when he left Marsh and hoped that someday he would come back to see him.
Kyle and Danny spent time observing Koji interacting with Marsh. Kyle could tell that his outgoing son had made a good friend in a short time. It was something that was typical Koji; he liked people and those people, in turn, liked him. Kyle was certain that should Koji ever return to Mars, or Marsh, or whatever it was, Koji would be returning to a friend.
When dinnertime approached, Marsh's mother entered the pool area to reclaim her son. "I hope Marsh behaved," she said to Kyle and Danny.
Marsh beamed when he heard Danny say, "He was great."
Koji walked over to where Marsh was standing. "Marsh and me are friends," he said. "Real good friends, right Marsh?"
"Yep, we are," Marsh nodded. "I had a really good time and made a really good friend." He turned and hugged his friend. Koji loved the hug and loved the feel of Marsh's bare chest against his own. He'd never had anybody feel so good when they touched, except maybe Tei. "I gotta go get dressed."
Koji followed Marsh into the changing room. He wanted to see his friend get nakey one more time to give him something to remember. Marsh obliged him by pulling off his swimsuit. Koji pulled his off so Marsh could see him nakey too. They hugged again, both experiencing feelings that were totally new to them. They didn't want to break their hug but knew they had to. Koji gave Marsh a quick kiss on the lips and the boys broke their clinch.
"Bye, Marsh, I love you," Koji averred.
"Bye, Koji, I love you, too," Marsh responded. "I can't wait until you come back to Mars, so I can see you again."
"I meant Marsh," Marsh grinned.
Marsh dressed quickly and hustled out of the changing room to meet his mom. He was trying hard not to cry. Koji wasn't as successful. Kyle grabbed his towel and wiped away his son's tears, remembering how he felt about Danny when he was not much older than Koji.
Kyle couldn't help but wonder about Koji and Tei. He talked about his feelings with Danny in their bedroom as everyone prepared for dinner. Danny suggested, "Feel him out and see what he thinks." Kyle nodded, saying it was a good idea.
Later, when the group sat down to eat in the hotel restaurant, Kyle made sure to sit next to Koji. "It looks like you had a really nice day," Kyle inquired of Koji after the orders had been placed.
"Yes, Marsh was really nice, and he is my special Martian," Koji answered.
"You seem to like Marsh a lot."
"Yes, and maybe I will see him again but maybe not. But I like him a lot."
"More than you like Tei?"
Koji gave Kyle a flabbergasted look that said, 'how can you even THINK of saying something like that'. "Tei is my special boyfriend, and I am his special boyfriend, and Marsh is my special Martian which is different. Martians give really good hugs but boyfriends, that is different kind of hug."
"Are you going to tell Tei about Marsh?"
"Yes, I have to, because when we come to Marsh, Marsh can be his special Martian too. But can we do one thing?"
"Can we teach Tei how to play basketball?"
It took all of Kyle's self-control to not break out into laughter. There was nobody in the galaxy like Koji Robinson and Kyle wondered if he would ever learn what makes his son tick.
This was the start of Ronnoc's second day of evaluation. The first day, he was assigned menial tasks which he had no clue how they could be used to assess his abilities, but he did them without complaining. After he checked in, he spoke with his evaluator, "Sir, I don't understand the purpose of the tasks you had me do yesterday. I..."
The doctor interrupted him, "I wanted to see if you thought they were beneath you and would complain."
"No Sir, I am not complaining, I was merely going to say, I will continue doing them if you ask, but I didn't understand the purpose. I mean, I could be a doctor and not consider them beneath me. Someone has to do them; I was just curious how they affected my evaluation."
"Understood, and good response," the doctor assured. "The patient in Room 619 would like a sponge bath and some clean clothes. Also, it's time to take his vitals."
"To verify they match up with the readout?" Ronnoc inquired.
"That is correct."
Ronnoc grabbed what he needed and headed to Room 619. As he walked in the room, his face lit up. "Good afternoon, Mr. Rivers, I understand you would like a sponge bath."
"Yes, I would," Jordan replied. "Aren't you Ronnoc, who we rescued from that rogue planet?"
"Yes Sir, I am," Ronnoc answered. "I had the pleasure of watching you while you were in stasis."
When Koji awoke the next morning, he had his emotions under control. Although he was leaving Marsh (the planet and the boy) he would also be going to where Tei was, and that was a good thing. He untangled himself from Duskin, wondering what it would feel like to be tangled up with Marsh. Then his mental image of Marsh turned into Tei's image and the thought struck him that being tangled in bed with Marsh wouldn't be near as good as being tangled up with Tei. Being tangled with Duskin felt good because Duskin was his brother, and that was much different than being a favorite boyfriend or a favorite Martian.
Koji used the bathroom and saw Kyle when he stepped back out into the corridor. "Good morning, Opsola Kyle," Koji said. Koji was naked while Kyle was dressed in his duty uniform.
"And a fine good morning to the early-rising Koji," Kyle grinned. "You and Duskin get showered and dressed, and I'll wake Jay and Ethan up. Then they can shower and get dressed, and we can head off for breakfast.
Except for the dirty clothes and toiletries that would be packed in their satchels, the group had packed everything last night. The only thing they had to do once they were all dressed was go the resort restaurant and eat a good breakfast.
Ethan, Jay, and the Robinsons were ready to check out an hour later. Kyle called for the Space Fleet transport vehicle he had arranged for to pick them up and take them to the spaceport. Danny and the boys arranged the group's luggage by the door and Danny called to have the luggage picked up.
By the time the transport vehicle arrived in the pick-up area, the luggage was on the parking strip and ready to load. The arrangements couldn't have been more efficient, which was a tribute to the skills and training of two starship officers, one of them a senior officer.
An hour later, they had the luggage loaded on the Mars and took their seats on the shuttle. Everything was ready for the quick flight to Earth. As with the flight from Earth to Mars on the shuttle Mars, the smaller boys had to share a seat, but the trip wouldn't be much longer than a half hour, and everybody had learned what was comfortable on their first flight.
Danny launched the shuttle with his usual expertise. Launching in the lower gravity of Mars was different than launching from Earth, but Danny knew from experience how to adjust the shuttle's settings to make the liftoff as comfortable as possible.
Koji was able to see Mars out of one of the windows. He waved to the Red Planet and said in Darastixian, "Veyet'toon Marsh kagh veyet'toon Marsh, sia edrokilti martian, kagh si geou ocuir wux shio tenamalo," which roughly translates, "Goodbye Marsh and goodbye Marsh, my favorite martian, and I'll see you all again." He then turned and looked ahead as his Opsola Danny piloted them back to Earth.
"Captain William Robinson, this is just an inquiry, not a tribunal. You are not being accused of anything. You have the right NOT to answer any questions you so choose, but your answers will help us determine what the next step will be," Admiral William Mirah stated at the opening.
William Robinson replied, "I will answer all questions I am able to with the utmost honesty."
The panel included seven admirals from across various sections of Space Fleet. Each asked a few questions, and William was able to answer each and every one with the most detail possible. The Admiralty Panel seemed very pleased with William's responses. After two hours, Fleet Admiral Mirah looked directly at William, "Captain, we are pleased to state no legal action will be taken against you or your crew. Based on your answers, we believe that you and your crew honored Space Fleet with every action that you've taken during your ordeal. You are to be commended, Sir." It's not normal for an Admiral, let alone the Fleet Admiral to call a Captain 'Sir,' but Mirah felt that Captain Robinson deserved it.
"Thank you, Sir," William replied. "Does that mean we get to stay in Space Fleet?"
"I knew you were going to ask that," Mirah laughed. "It just so happens that we are forming a Transitional Fleet for those in the Explorer Program who wish to transfer to regular Space Fleet. This will help them transition more smoothly and be more easily accepted, or so we believe."
"That does sound like a good idea, Sir," William commented, "but what does that have to do with us?"
Fleet Admiral William Mirah looked at Captain Robinson, "Captain, you are long overdue for a promotion. Before we convened this Inquiry, we were almost 100% sure of the outcome. This was just a formality, and your answers pushed that surety the rest of the way. By a unanimous decision, we have agreed to promote you to Vice Admiral in charge of the Transitional Fleet and make four of your surviving Senior Officers Captains of their own ships. Your other surviving crewmembers may serve however you see fit. Between your crew and those in the Regular Fleet wishing to help the Explorers transition, we should be able to man three or four ships with those aging out of the Explorer Fleet. What do you say, Admiral William Robinson, do you accept the assignment?"
"One question," William responded, "can I command my own ship?"
"Commodore Bowman is currently serving onboard the SS Sooloo while commanding the Explorer Fleet, however he is not commanding it, and he is doing so on a trial basis."
"That doesn't answer my question, Sir," William explained, "I would like to command a ship, even if that means remaining a Captain."
Mirah smiled at William. The man knew what he wanted and wasn't afraid to make that clear. "I like you, Admiral Robinson. Here is what I propose... you may command a ship on a probationary basis for six months. IF you prove that you can run the Transitional Fleet from that ship, then it will be permanent. However, if you cannot command the ship AND run the Transitional Fleet, you will either step down and be Captain of the ship, or run the Transitional Fleet, but not both. To assist you, your First Officer will be a Captain, and you will have a Commander as a dedicated Second Officer, but you will be in Command. I believe you have what it takes to pull this off."
William smiled at Kyle, who was sitting with him for moral support, then turned back to Bill Mirah, "Then I accept, but I would like Fred Baker as my First Officer."
"We can do that and promote another Senior Officer to Captain," Mirah agreed. "Consider it done." Then Mirah looked at Fred Baker sitting with the rest of Robinson's crew, "Captain Baker, I believe Admiral Robinson has what it takes to pull this off. I know you want him to succeed as well, do whatever it takes to make it happen."
"Aye, aye, Sir," Baker replied.
With everything settling in Vegas, Cooper's trial over and Jordan healing nicely, Dave and Hal felt a need to visit with Mama. While the adults were talking, Oliver told Lars he wanted to visit the place where he met Dave and Hal. Lars, to his credit, made the decision to accompany his brother, knowing the circumstances of the initial meeting Oliver had with their parents.
Oliver led his brother down a little traveled, and even at mid-day darkened alley. As they went further in, Lars was able to make out several people congregated within. Oliver called out more the language of the streets than correct English, "Yo, who there?"
From the shadows, the voice of a boy called back, "Who wanna know?"
Oliver grinned, "Oh, come on, Matthew... you know who it is, don't forget you owe me..."
"Oli?" Came the reply.
"Yup. It's good to see you're still okay."
"It wasn't till a while after that I heard that the guys you picked dropped the charges on you. But what really blew my mind is that they adopted you... and you got to go into space!"
Oliver chuckled, "Yeah, so you splitting on me actually worked out good for me, so I guess maybe I owe you."
The two friends talked for some time while Lars had been sitting there thinking. When the two old friends parted company, Lars turned to his brother, "Matthew is cute. I wish there was some way to help him and the others."
Oliver smiled, "Don't worry, brother, I have an idea."
That evening at dinner, Oliver said, "You know Lars and I went back to where we met. I got to see some of my old friends."
Dave and Hal shared a knowing look and Dave replied, "I'm not sure how much friends they were."
"Dads, when you live on the streets, sometimes you gotta do stuff," Oliver explained. "I got lucky when I picked you. I wish there was something we could do to help the others."
With another knowing look, Hal replied this time, "There may be, Son. Let's discuss it some more after supper, and we'll see what we can come up with."
"Ensign Brooks, we have Ethan's medical records from Upper Valley Hospital in Ohio, but we would like to examine Ethan to upload our own data to the SS Sooloo before you leave."
"When would you like to do this?" Mason asked.
"Now, if you can spare thirty minutes."
"Getting stuff for a wedding soon, but I suppose we can take a thirty-minute break."
"Thank you for your time," the doctor greeted Mason. "Ethan was a real trooper, and the scans went faster than normal."
"Ethan has always been good about stuff like that."
"There is one major difference between our scan and the one taken in Ohio. What caused Ethan to age rapidly these last three years is gone. From here on out, he should age normally. He also scans to be 100% human. The alien DNA has disappeared."
"Is that anything we have to be worried about?" Kash, who was holding Mason's hand, inquired.
"No," the doctor assured, "just have his regular checks done and treat him like a five-year-old. That is where he is, both physically and mentally."
"Can we get some ice cream?" Ethan asked. "I was really good for the doctor."
"So, he told me," Mason grinned. "What flavor ice cream would you like? Baskin-Robbins has 131 flavors."
"Can I have Bacardi Rum flavor?"
"You know it doesn't have any rum in it, right?"
Ethan nodded his head, "I know, but I like the taste of it."
"Sounds like a typical five-year-old to me," the doctor chuckled as Mason and Ethan left.
Dave and Hal had come to an agreement. After discussing Oliver's former 'crew', they formulated a plan. Dave opened his comms unit and called Admiral Robert Crusoe, Admiral in charge of Logistics. He arranged a meeting for the following morning.
"Oliver, can you come here, please?" Dave called to his adopted son. When Oliver, with Lars in tow, arrived, Dave sat him down and explained what was going to happen. At the end of his description, he turned to Oliver and said, "Tomorrow, when we meet with Admiral Crusoe, I will start off the conversation, but then, it will be up to you to explain what you want him to do."
Oliver was nervous, and a little scared, about having to tell the Admiral why he wanted to help Matthew and the others. He was afraid that if anyone found out that Matthew and he were lovers, in addition to being partners in crime, they wouldn't want to help. He was unaware that his parents had already explained all of it to Robert. They wanted Oliver to 'sell' the idea for a few reasons, chief among them was helping Oliver bolster his own confidence, especially when he was trying to help others.
Oliver and Lars slept together that night, Lars holding his brother while Oliver worked out what he wanted to say. Lars didn't speak, he merely held Oliver, making him feel more secure.
The next morning, Oliver asked Dave if Lars could go too. Before Dave could respond, Lars told Oliver that he needed to do it on his own, but Dad was going to be there.
Oliver wasn't happy with this but knew better than to push the issue. Dave was actually surprised when Oliver acquiesced, and father and son left to go to their meeting.
Admiral Crusoe listened intently as Oliver outlined what he wanted to do. He asked that if Space Fleet could take the group off the streets, and train them, he was certain that they would become ideal candidates for the Explorer Program.
For the next half-hour, The Admiral listened as Oliver explained what he wanted, specifically.
"Oliver," the Admiral began, "I think it is commendable that you would want to help others, but I'd like to know why these specific boys?"
Oliver blushed before explaining, "Before I met my dads, I lived on the streets. This group of boys were basically my family." He sighed before continuing, "While living on the streets, we had to do some stuff to survive that I'm not proud of. Thanks to my Dads, I will never have to do those things again. I'll be honest," Oliver paused before stating, "One of the boys, Matthew, and I were very close... sorta like my dads are... um, we were kinda lovers. I hate to think he has to stay in that life without my at least trying to help him."
Robert Crusoe sat silently for a few moments before typing something on his computer. "Oliver, you are to be commended for wanting to help, as well as admitting something that might have been embarrassing."
At that moment, there was a knock on the door. Admiral Crusoe called out for the person to enter.
Moments later, a man in a military uniform sat next to Oliver. Admiral Crusoe introduced Oliver to him. "Oliver, this is Colonel Javier Savage. He works closely with me. I want you to explain to him what you'd like to see happen"
Thirty minutes later, Javier Savage had his 'marching orders'. "Oliver" Savage began, "I will do everything I can to make this happen, but I know that trust doesn't come easily for street kids. With your parent's permission, I would like you to accompany me when I make contact with Matthew and the others. If they join us, it will be their decision. We can only offer help; we can't force it on them."
Oliver was surprised, but happy, that his desire was at least going to be attempted. He turned to Dave, "Can I, Dad?"
Dave was proud of his son, more than he had ever been, "I wouldn't even think to say no. Promise me though that you will follow Colonel Savage's orders totally."
Dave left the office, leaving Oliver with Javier. He was certain he'd find out that evening what happened.
Savage and Oliver had flown in a shuttle to a shuttle port as close to Hollywood as they could. Then Colonel Savage acquired a car and drove to where Oliver suggested. Oliver got out of the vehicle and called out to Matthew. "Damn, Dude," Matthew chuckled, "you must have really missed me."
"Matthew, I would like for you to meet someone," Oliver grabbed his hand. "He may change your life, if you let him."
"I'm open," Matthew agreed.
Colonel Savage then approached and sat on a crate as he explained what he does and why he was there. Oliver noticed a small boy sitting as close to Matthew as he could.
"Before I make any decisions," Matthew began, "Oliver, I have someone I'd like you to meet. This is Stanley. When you left us and I knew you weren't coming back, I took him in. I took him under my wing, and he's like a son to me. I thought of him as our son. What happens to him?"
Savage replied, "He's too young for the Program, but I'd be willing to take him to Vegas, perhaps adopt him AND you, if you would like."
"You would really consider adopting us?" Matthew was almost in tears.
"When we get back to Vegas, you can meet my other adopted son, and his father, who was recently discovered on a strange planet. My son's name is Connor, and his dad's name is Ronnoc. And my wife, Darla, will love Stanley."
That evening, Colonel Savage and Oliver returned to Dave and Hal's home on base. Oliver was very excited when he explained what had happened. Matthew and three others were, at that moment, at Colonel Savage's home with his wife. They had probably the most food to eat they'd had in a long time. Oliver smiled when he explained how Matthew had given him a very passionate 'thank you' kiss, vowing not to squander the opportunity, and to make sure none of the others did either. "You saved my life, Oli. I love you." He waited until later to tell Dave about Stanley.
As Kyle, Danny, Kash, Mason and the four boys were heading to the SS Mars to fly up to the Sooloo, Kyle and Danny stopped dead in their tracks. They couldn't believe the site that they saw. "KOJI!!!" Kyle yelled, "this has your name all over it."
"Honest, Opsola," Koji protested, "I didn't do this."
"Maybe not," Kyle agreed even this was too much for Koji, at least alone, "but I bet you know who did."
Koji looked at Kash who was holding his index finger to his mouth. "I can't say who did it, Opsola," Koji cried.
Kyle didn't miss Koji's eyes averting to Kash but couldn't see what Kash was doing. Kyle demanded, "You can tell me who did this, or I will let Kash determine your punishment."
"I can't," Koji insisted. "You can have Kash punish me, but I cannot tell you who did this."
"Very well, Koji," Kash began, "You will spend the day with me cleaning the 'h' off once we get back on the Sooloo. Is it on both sides?"
"You know..." Koji placed both hands over his mouth.
Kyle was stunned for a second, then looked at Kash, "You did this with Koji?"
Kash laughed, "Yeah, but relax, it's just a magnetic decal. Koji, Duskin, Jay and I were just having fun. You did a good job, Koji, and if your opsolas let you, we can spend tomorrow in the holodeck instead, just you four boys, Mason and myself."
Danny shook his head while laughing, "Nope, not happening unless Kyle and I can join you."
"Can they?" Koji pleaded with Kash.
"If you want them to."
Koji looked at Kyle, "Did you find this funny, Opsola?"
Kyle gave Koji a hug, "Now that I know you didn't do anything bad, I find it very funny."
"Can we get nuded and go swimming?" Ethan asked.
"Nuded?" Koji pondered. "I wanna get nekid and go swimming. It when you swim without any clothes."
"That's nuded," Ethan claimed.
Koji shook his head, "No, it's nekid."
Kyle couldn't believe the discussion going on in front of him, "BOYS!!! Nuded and nekid mean the same thing. You are both right."
"Oh!" both boys said in unison. "Then can we get nekid and go swimming?" Ethan asked.
"I wanna get nuded," Koji smiled at Ethan.
Steve, Brad and Shasho decided to take a walk through Wayne Bunker Family Park. At one end was a skate park, so they went to watch. Shasho pointed at a blond boy wearing glasses, "He looks pretty good."
Brad joked, "Yeah, and he's not bad on the hoverboard, either." Steve elbowed him.
The boy walked over and asked Shasho, "Do you want to try?"
Before Shasho could answer, Steve commented, "You looked really good. At one point, I thought you were about to lose it, but you recovered in air."
"Instinct, I was born with," the boy replied. "Mom said I get it from my dad. I can anticipate almost anything minutes before it's needed"
"What's your name, if you don't mind my asking," Brad inquired.
The boy replied, "I don't mind; it's Steve Boyer."
Brad and Shasho gasped in surprise, but Steve said, just barely audible, "No fucking way."
"Why fucking not?" the boy giggled.
"That's my name," Steve answered. "Who are your mom and dad?"
The boy shed a tear, "Mom's name was Brenda Boyer. We had her funeral last week. Dad took off when he found out Mom was pregnant."
"So, who are you staying with?" Brad questioned.
"Family friends took me in until my Grandma Kanye gets here."
Steve and Brad looked at each other and mouthed, "Kanye?"
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