A message originated from Crewman Head to Commander Devin French. And it appeared to be encrypted. Only Devin French would understand it without decryption. Brad and a team of IS members worked to decrypt the message, as did Jace. Jordan even asked Zorn to use Aurix to decrypt it. All three teams came up with the same solution at approximately the same time. It was a message to kill Kyle Robinson.
Meanwhile, exploration of the planet had begun. Jordan, as Second officer of the SS Sooloo, whose mission was to explore the planet, was head of the mission. Commander Walker went off the approved mission specs and now his crew is missing. Somehow, their shuttle was down a crevasse with the hatch detached.
Dave Bowman was sitting in his ready room, working on the tedious reports he was required to maintain when the door chime rang.
Hal entered, followed by Jace. Dave, looking at the expression on their faces knew there was trouble.
After taking the seats Dave had offered, Jace began, "Sir, I just received a report from Commander Rivers on the planet. It seems that the officer from Endurance who was leading one of the shuttles decided that he wasn't going to take orders from the mission commander and went off on his own."
Dave wasn't sure he heard correctly, "What do you mean he wasn't going to take orders?"
Hal spoke up, "From what we've heard, Jordan was planning on focusing the search initially on the southern continent. Commander Walker decided he was going to go off-book and start exploration of the Northern Continent. Before landing at where Walker had set down, Jordan called up stating the shuttle has been found damaged in a crevasse. Jordan is leading a team to go into the crevasse to see what's what on the shuttle."
Jace, smartly, decided to keep his mouth shut. He'd seen the expression on Dave's face only once before and it was not a pretty sight for the person who'd caused it. Shaking his head from side to side, Dave responded in a seemingly calm voice, "I believe, Gentlemen, I need to have a 'heart-to-heart' chat with Captain Garcia regarding chain of command. In the meantime, keep me informed on the progress of the search for the missing crew. Dismissed."
Hal had heard that tone before as well… He actually felt sorry for Captain Eric Garcia.
Jordan climbed into the shuttle and sat in the pilot's seat. Turning on the power, he didn't see any issues, aside from the missing hatch. Jordan removed the rope attached to his waist and started the shuttle's engines. It took some skill, but Jordan managed to fly the shuttle up to land beside his shuttle. Once he felt safe, he started watching the logs.
'This is Commander Walker, I don't know who Commander Rivers thinks he is, trying to order me around, but I will speak with my captain when I return to the ship. I am taking my team to explore the northern continent.'
Jordan was seething upon hearing this, but he watched the logs to see if they revealed anything as to what might have happened to the crew. Crewman Gillespie approached, "Anything, Sir?"
"Last entry said that they were disembarking to explore, then nothing. Any idea of how it may have ended up going down the crevasse?"
"As weird as this may seem, Sir, tracks in the snow indicate that the crew pushed it."
"Pushed it? Why in the FUCK would they have done that?"
"No idea, Sir, unless they were forced."
"This IS an uninhabited planet, so who would have forced them?"
"Is it uninhabited, Sir? I mean, we haven't detected any life forms, but that doesn't mean that there aren't any."
"I suppose it is possible to have life forms here that we just haven't detected."
"Is there any way we can reattach the hatch to take the shuttle back to the ship?"
Jordan shook his head, "The metal is all twisted, so without tools, I don't see how. You're a pilot, do you know how long the emergency forcefield would hold if a pilot used it to seal the hatch?"
"The emergency force field will last as long as the shuttle has power, Sir."
"That's what I thought, but I wanted confirmation. Take this shuttle to the Sooloo and see if Captain Bowman would like to send down a search crew."
As Gillespie flew away in the damaged shuttle, Jordan's team started investigating. Ensign Łukasz Kuc from the Endurance approached him. "Sir, I understand you being upset with Walker; if you ask me, I hope you kick his ass once we find him."
"Kuc, is it? I just hope we find him and the rest of the crew. I will submit a report to my captain, but it'll be up to your captain if any disciplinary action happens."
"I know, Sir, I was just letting you know that even though he is my shipmate, I don't support his actions. He was being a total dick and endangered members from your ship."
"Thank you, Ensign. What department do you work in?"
"I am a tactical/security officer, Sir. Commander."
"OK, there are nine of us here, until the Captains send more help, we are it. I want three teams of three. Ensign Kuc and Ensign Erikson, you are with me. Ensign French, are you by any chance related to Devin French?"
Ensign Denver French looked down, ashamed to admit, "He's my cousin, Sir, but I am nothing like him. Growing up, he belittled me any chance that he got, often calling me a loser. I was glad when I was assigned to a different ship."
"That's more information than I asked for, but I'm glad you shared it. I want you, Ensign Carmichael and Commander Tomalok as a team, the rest of you will be the third team."
"Are you making the ensign the team leader?"
"No, Commander, as the senior officer of your team, you will be the one in charge. I was just telling him that he will be with you and Carmichael."
"I was hoping that was the case, but it almost sounded like you were putting him in charge."
Jordan thought to himself, 'How did this ship get so full of egotistical personnel?' "Commander, I would never do something like that without talking with the senior officer first."
"Why would you even have a lowly ensign lead a group?"
"There are reasons, like Ensign Kuc, you will lead my group to help you improve your leadership skills. I will assist as needed, but you are in charge."
"Seriously, Sir?" Kuc had a smile on his face. Tomalok just shook his head. The three groups went in three different directions. Kuc noticed some tracks on the ground and thought they should follow them. He commented, "Someone in the group was barefooted. See, there are toe imprints."
"Why would any of the crew be barefoot in the snow?"
Erikson called out, "Sir, I don't think this planet is uninhabited. Look." He was pointing at some runes carved into a rock. "Any idea what it says?"
"These runes look like something from ancient earth, and while it may be naïve to believe they are the same, we might be able to get a general idea. Have either of you studied runes, any?"
Kuc spoke up, "Before moving from Poland, my dad was an archeologist, Sir. I believe we should call the other groups here, and I will see if I can decipher them."
"Excellent command decision. If you would like to start working on the runes, I will call the other groups."
"Thank you, Sir."
"Sir, the temperature is dropping, and I believe I will be better at deciphering the runes IF I am aboard ship."
"Yes, Ensign Kuc, I tend to agree with you. Everyone aboard the shuttle and we will call it a night."
Once the shuttle had landed in the bay, Jordan went to talk with Captain Bowman. When Dave told him to enter, Dave started asking him to fill in the blanks as best as he could about what had happened. Jordan gave Dave a full report, then ended with, "If you don't have a problem with it, I would like to warm up with my husband, then start the search again at 0600."
"Who do you have in mind to go down with you?"
"I'd like to take my crew I had today, minus the science officers and Erikson. I especially want Ensign Kuc from the Endurance. Surprisingly he has been very helpful, one of the very few from that ship that has. He is working to decipher the runes that we discovered."
"Sounds good, Jordan, have a good night. I am expecting Captain Garcia any moment, so we may chat. I'm glad to have your report prior."
Jordan headed for his quarters.
Captain David Bowman sat behind his desk, staring at his counterpart from the Endurance. After a few uncomfortable moments of silence, he finally spoke up. "Eric, it's becoming clear to me that many of those on your crew have problems following orders."
Eric Garcia sat there a bit nonplussed, he wasn't expecting this kind of meeting. "What do you mean, Dave?"
"Well, from the observations I've made personally, and the reports I've received from several of my officers who've had to deal with members of your crew, they, for the most part, act as if they're not required to follow a defined chain of command. First we have the whole situation with Devin French, then we have the issue that happened down on the planet. Commander Walker recorded a log entry in which he stated, and I quote, 'I don't know who Commander Rivers thinks he is, trying to order me around...' Then there was a situation where Commander Rivers was breaking the team into groups to begin a search when Commander Tomalok questioned him in front of others. Was it not made clear to everyone that the Sooloo was to take lead on this operation? I'm not saying that ALL of your crew were acting improperly. Ensign Kuc made a very good impression."
Eric was starting to get angry, but when he thought about it, Dave was right. "I will make certain everyone knows what's what. I am surprised though about Kuc. He's been receiving less than glowing reviews so far."
Dave didn't reply to that last comment, even though he had an idea of what was happening. He made a mental note to have a little chat with Ensign Kuc.
"So, Eric, tomorrow we're going to send down our big 'Bubba' shuttle with the field enclosure. I am going to assign Commander Robinson to be in charge of this mission. I do not want to hear of any issues; if I do, I will guarantee things will not bode well for you and your crew." Bubba was the name given to shuttle F-5, their big cargo carrier. It wasn't kept in the shuttle bays; instead it was in a hold that extended below the hull of the Sooloo.
Eric Garcia sat there seething, but he knew better than to argue. Dave was right, after all. He checked his emotions and stood. The two captains shook hands and Captain Garcia left to return to the Endurance. Dave watched him go, and when the door closed, Hal stepped out from the back room where he'd been listening... at Dave's request.
"You were pretty rough on him, Babe."
"I was? I actually thought I held back." Dave giggled.
"I guess we will see how things work out tomorrow."
Kyle awoke with a start when his communicator started buzzing. He looked at the digital clock on his desk and muttered a quiet "Shit," as he took the communicator off the stand next to his bed without looking to see who the intruding caller was. "Commander Robinson," he mumbled sleepily, his automatic response when he didn't know who was calling him.
"Bowman, here," Dave Bowman said with a great deal more formality than he usually displayed. Kyle knew that when the Captain went into his formal mode the situation was serious. "Meet me in my Ready Room at oh-five-thirty."
"Aye, Sir," Kyle replied, sounding much more awake than when he answered the comm. Kyle disconnected and worked to untangle himself from the naked body of Danny Harper, who was his cabin mate, his best friend, his boyfriend, his lover, his everything.
"Was that Dave?" Danny asked.
"Good morning, cutie. And yes, it was."
"Sorry. Good morning, Kyle. Since when did you start calling Dave 'Sir'?"
"Since he became 'Mister Serious' about one minute ago. He wants me to be at his ready room at oh-five-thirty."
"Dang, dude, this is serious. I bet it has to do with the away team's problems."
"I dunno. I just know I'm going to shower, grab an energy bar, an orange juice from the fridge, and go meet my fate. Enjoy sleeping in."
Danny gave Kyle a quick peck on the lips. "Fuck sleeping in; in the interest of saving precious ship's resources I think I should shower with you."
Kyle grinned, and the two twelve-year-old boys made their way into the tiny shower stall which was just spacious enough for the two of them to shower together.
"Last night was good," Danny said as he washed Kyle's back.
"Yeah, it was one of our best, even if it kept us up late on a morning Dave yanks my ass out of bed before the crack of dawn."
"Um, Kyle, we're in space. There is no crack of dawn."
"Tell Dave that. Anyway, I'm glad we did it—it may have been our last time for a while."
"What do you mean?" Danny asked with concern as he turned to get his back washed.
"If my meeting with Dave goes the way I think it's going to, I might be really busy for who knows how long, doing more than plotting interstellar flight paths."
The Captain's door was open as Kyle approached the ready room. Dave Bowman was sitting at his desk when Kyle's head appeared followed by a knock on the door.
"Come in, Kyle." Kyle was relieved that Dave sounded less formal than he had on the communicator. That meant he wasn't in any kind of trouble, a thought that had passed through his head a few times since Dave's call had awakened him. "Have a seat."
"Good morning, Cap…er, Dave." Kyle sat in the leather chair next to Dave's desk.
"Thanks for being prompt." Kyle knew how much Dave valued promptness and being even a couple of minutes early was even better. "Sorry for the rude awakening. I'll cut right to the chase. As you know, we had an away team problem yesterday, with no resolution. Jordan's team had to stop its search due to darkness. They will be ready to resume it at the area's first light and we plan to use the shuttles and crew of the Endurance to help us expand the search area."
Kyle nodded and sat patiently waiting to find out what this had to do with him. Another thing he'd learned about meeting with Dave was not to interrupt him unless they were engaged in a discussion.
"We're going to need to provide the away teams with a lot more logistical help than we did yesterday. They're going to need beds for a triage once they find the missing team, food service for everyone, and an area for rest. In other words, we need to form a logistics team. I want you to take charge of that team, Kyle."
Since Dave had addressed him directly, Kyle felt free to talk. Once he opened his mouth, he wished he had kept it closed. "Me?" he asked like a stupid little kid.
"The last I looked, you are the only Kyle in the ship's complement," Dave said with a bemused smile.
"What I meant was, I don't know much about logistics other than what we were told in leadership class."
"I'm aware of that. I'm not asking you to take charge of the logistics, I'm asking you to take charge of the mission and the members of the team. We both know who the logistical expert on this crew is."
"Steve Boyer," Kyle said without hesitation. "Nobody better."
"Yep. He will make your job easier. You're trained to lead people, he's trained to set up a base camp in a hostile environment."
"Sounds good to me, sir." Even though Dave was his more informal self, Kyle thought that calling him 'Sir' fit the seriousness of the meeting. "I take it we're going to carry the environmental hut."
"We're going to meet at oh-nine-hundred to discuss what needs to be carried down to the planet on Bubba." Bubba had a large capacity for cargo and could even carry half the entire crew of the starship if need be, although not in any kind of comfort. "But, before we can meet, you and I need to pick a crew to assist in setting up our basecamp."
Dave and Kyle then put their heads together to come up with the right people for the job. Kyle felt a flood of pride when the Captain showed he trusted him to do more than work with star charts and plot courses. Kyle was in an entirely new leadership role and was being called on to truly be a senior officer.
When they finished, they'd picked Danny to be Bubba's pilot, Brad Kanye, the Chief Information Systems (IS) Officer, to be Kyle's second in command, and Conner Marlin, the Chief Engineer, to take charge of connecting the generator to Bubba's electrical and environmental systems. Also, on the crew would be Antonio Vargas, the Assistant Chief Medical Officer, as well as Cook Randy Jenkins, Noah Marquis, Gordy Mason, and Doug Erikson. That made for a crew of ten.
After Dave dismissed him, Kyle went to the senior officer's mess for breakfast. He was pleased when Randy Jenkins served up his breakfast for him, since he would need to speak with him about his inclusion on the logistics team.
"I don't know shit about logistics," Randy said after Kyle informed him. "I'm an assistant cook."
"And a damn fine assistant cook, too. You saw in training how those environmental huts work. One of the logistical assignments we'll have is to serve up food to the away teams and to the rescued crew. You will be in charge of that job."
"But that isn't cooking. I mean all the food is nuked. You nuke it and serve it."
"There's more to this than just pulling food out of the microwaves, Randy. Crewmen may come into the hut one or two at a time or they may come in groups. That calls for somebody who can organize the preparation and serving in a hurry. That somebody is you—you're the best at it."
Randy grinned with pride at being singled out for what looked to be an important job.
The Bubba's ten crew members met in the officers' ready room at the prescribed time. Hal Tietokone, the XO, was on the planet's surface coordinating the rescuers, but joined Dave and the crew for the meeting via a shuttle's comm.
After going over the purpose of the meeting and the mission, Dave got down to specifics. In a meeting of this size, he went into the formal mode expected of a commanding officer. They went over what hardware needed to be carried. Dave then turned the meeting over to Kyle, who went over what the specific duties of the crew members would be.
Kyle started with Lieutenant Boyer. "Steve, Captain Bowman would like you to have the environmental hut and its accessories loaded onto Bubba by eleven hundred." Kyle already knew that wasn't possible, but Dave had requested that Kyle set that deadline to emphasize the urgent need of them to move fast.
"Kyle, except for the generator and the food supplies, Bubba is already loaded and ready to go." Steve consulted the screen on his communicator and said, "Those should be loaded in fifteen minutes."
Dave gave Steve a look of profound respect. "Lieutenant, we gave you this assignment less than an hour ago and I know we didn't give you any instructions."
"Well, Captain, I was already aware of what was happening down on the surface. I knew everyone was surprised that the missing away team couldn't be found. As a result, I knew you would need to scramble to set up a support mission for the searchers. Since I am the only regular crew member to take the logistics seminars, it seemed logical I would have something to do with that support mission. While I didn't except to be placed in charge of logistics, I thought I could get a work team started to help whoever was placed in charge. And that person just happened to be me."
Dave looked over to Hal who shook his head. While they both had discussed the amazing efficiency of the nerdy looking Lieutenant, neither of them had seen this coming. Lieutenant Boyer had, without question, gone above and beyond the call of duty.
Dave and Hal's expectation was to get the support mission launched for the SooLoo by 1200. It now looked like it would be leaving two hours earlier than that.
Kyle had a couple more questions that needed asking before dismissing his crew from the meeting. One of those was to Danny. "Danny, did you fly a big cargo shuttle in training?"
"Yeah, we all got a chance to fly one from a spaceship and land it during our Mars training. Comparing Bubba to one of the standard shuttles is like comparing a big truck to a sports car. It is slow and lumbering and lands with the softness of a boulder. It would be easier with another experienced pilot with me, but I know they are all dealing with shuttles for the rescue crews." When he'd gone to bed the night before, he had expected to be called early to fly one of the rescue shuttles. He had been surprised that Kyle had received a wake-up call before he did. Gordy Mason, who was going to sit next to Danny in the cockpit as a co-pilot, had minimal shuttle training and flying experience, but at least he had some.
"Any questions before we end the meeting?" Kyle asked.
"I have one for Captain Bowman," Steve said.
"Go for it," Dave told him.
"Captain, in the logistics seminar we were given the assignment of setting up an environmental hut on the surface of Mars. We had a speed competition, seeing who could get their hut set up the fastest with few or no mistakes. I was pretty good at it—I finished third twice and fourth once. But, the one guy who finished first all four times was Ron Mossi, who just happens to be an officer on the Endurance. With time being so important, do you think he could be assigned to help with the setup."
"That request will be fulfilled, Lieutenant."
Danny raised his hand. "Well, as long as the Endurance has somebody coming down to help us, then I have another request… to make my life easier."
"Go for it," Dave said again.
"On Mars, we had a shuttle scout a landing spot for us and mark it with paint. Shuttles are much more man…um…manually…um..," Danny's nerves were getting the better of him. Speaking to the Captain was much more difficult for the young boy than flying a shuttle in space.
"I think the word you're looking for is maneuverable," Dave said gently.
"Yeah, I knew that," Danny said, his face red with embarrassment over not being able to come up with a word he knew. "Well, anyway, we know the area where we're going to land to set up the camp, so maybe the shuttle that brings down crewman Mossi could scout for us because it is more MANEUVERABLE and mark off a specific landing spot. Those big Bubbas are much easier to land if you know exactly where to put them."
Kyle told Dave he was finished. Dave thanked everyone for a good, productive meeting. "I'd like to apologize for the last-minute feel of this mission, but that's probably because this is a last-minute mission. We had no doubt we'd find the missing crew yesterday and were surprised when the searchers came up empty-handed. We realized last night we were going to need to set up a base camp and a triage for the missing crew. Considering the harsh conditions on the planet's surface, I truly hope it isn't needed. The rescue teams are down there searching with help from the Endurance. It's time for you gentleman to go down and join them."
As the crew of Bubba, the cargo shuttle, left the meeting room, Dave stopped Kyle and placed a hand on his shoulder. "Great job, Kyle. Very well handled." Dave was more than pleased with what he'd observed. He knew he was taking a gamble putting the preteen officer in charge. He could have given the command to his XO, but he felt he needed Hal's experienced, steady hand on the planet to coordinate the mission.
"It looks like I am going to have an outstanding crew," Kyle said.
"I have to agree. You picked well." Dave wasn't bullshitting Kyle. He had done some deft maneuvering of his own as Kyle ended up picking all of his crew except Antonio Vargas and Gordy Mason. Dave knew much more about the medical staff than Kyle did, and he also knew that Gordy had some shuttle flying experience. Dave wished now he'd kept one of his experienced pilots on board and let Gordy go in his place, but things had unfolded quickly once the shuttles started their return to the Sooloo. Dave pushed his regret out of his mind, knowing that second thoughts were not productive to good leadership.
The twins looked sad seeing Jordan getting ready to leave again. Jason begged, "Do you have to leave again, already, Daddy?"
Jordan got down on one knee, looked Jason in the eye and said, "We have missing crew members down on the planet. If we don't find them soon, they may die. I miss being with you, but I need to help these young men return as safely as possible. Perhaps Dad can make arrangements with Zorn to spend time with you and once I am done, I promise, we will do something together as a family."
"Okay, Daddy. You go find them and bring them home safely."
Jordan met his team in the shuttle bay. As they climbed into the shuttle, Hal approached Jordan. "I hope you don't mind if I join you. I will stay with the shuttle to coordinate the search, but you will lead this team."
"That sounds logical, Sir."
"Sir, I figured out what the runes say. They are identical to Old Norse runes."
"Old Norse, as in from Earth's history?"
"Yes, Sir. The runes read out, 'Beware, ice at night. Shelter.' And then there was an arrow pointing in the direction."
"Then we will head in the direction of that arrow. Hopefully, that is where the missing crew is."
As the ship landed, the crew disembarked, and Hal stayed with the shuttle. More teams landed, and Hal suggested where they looked. He hoped that the team would be in that shelter that was mentioned but didn't want to take a chance in case they weren't.
"Captain, sir, do you really want me to do that? There is no way I'm going to do that!" Devin French was boiling mad and was more than willing to let his commanding officer know exactly how he felt.
"Commander French, I suggest you calm down and listen," Captain Garcia said firmly. "I will repeat what I just said. You will take that shuttle to the surface or you can be suspended from your duties and sit in the brig until we leave orbit, whenever that may be."
"But, I'm a senior officer. I should be assigned to one of the search teams. Why should I be happy commanding a taxi service to take three men to meet a shuttle full of supplies commanded by Kyle Robinson of all people."
"Fine, you don't have to go. I'll call security to have you placed in confinement."
If Captain Garcia had a flaw it was that he sometimes gave his officers too much leeway. This was particularly true when dealing with his often rebellious Chief Astrogator. The Captain was now paying the price for keeping the leash a bit loose on Devin French.
As Garcia picked up his communicator, Devin held up his hand. "Sorry, sir, I'll do it. I guess I let my feelings for Robinson get the better of me. I suppose I can command a taxi to the three crew members down without having to deal with him."
"Very well, Commander, but one more squawk and you're done." Garcia knew he should have followed through on his threat, but there was so much going on he didn't want to have to assign another much-needed senior officer to the assignment. "There will now be six crew members, including your three."
Devin knew that Ron Mossi was being transported to help with setting up an environmental hut and that "Ears", as he was known, was one of the best at erecting an environmental hut, which is why the Sooloo requested him. He also knew Kris Shelby and Terry Lindgren would be going as well to assist him. "Who are the three new ones?" Devin asked.
"Eddie Fletcher, Mike Gray, and Everett Sanders. Eddie will be going to assist triage and as for Gray and Sanders," Garcia looked directly at French, "well, it wouldn't hurt to have a presence from security." Eddie was one of the crew doctor/nurses working under their holographic doctor.
Devin felt his temper rise again. "With all due respect sir, we both know I don't like Kyle Robinson, but it's not like I plan on attacking the ass…him." Of course, Devin didn't know that Garcia knew about the encrypted message and what it said. And even if he knew Garcia knew, as much as Devin resented what Kyle had done to his friend Rich Head, he had no intention to follow through on the plan to kill him. Beating the shit out of him, that might be an idea if the opportunity presented itself, but no way was he going to kill somebody, even an asshole like Kyle Robinson.
The "taxi" that Devin commanded turned out to be Shuttle 4 and the pilot was Tommy Walsten, which pleased Devin since Walsten was reputed to be the best on the Endurance. The flight to the planet was routine until they approached the landing area where they found rough weather awaiting them.
The loading crew that Steve Boyer had created finished loading the food just as the crew started arriving in the large bay at the bottom of the ship. Loading the food, the generator, and other accessories, was nothing compared to what loading the environmental hut had been. That required some machinery that only the crew assigned to the shuttle bays knew how to operate.
With all of the shuttles but Bubba and one backup away from the Sooloo, Steve had little problem convincing the bored shuttle bay crewmembers to load the big hut into Bubba without orders from upstairs.
"Those orders will be coming down soon, so we might as well get a head start on them," Steve told them. His fellow crewmembers didn't mind. They all knew and liked Steve and admired his efficiency. The way they saw it was… the worst that could happen in the unlikely event Steve had made a mistake was they'd have to unload the hut from the cargo shuttle.
Bubba had only five seats, two for the pilots and three seats behind them. Any other passengers would have to strap onto a bench along the bulkhead of the shuttle since the hut took up most of the cargo area. If the shuttle had no cargo up to 40 seats could be installed.
Danny started up the shuttle's engines. While he was still nervous, he understood this case of nerves. They were much different from being needlessly nervous talking to the captain and not being able to remember a simple word. This was about doing something he knew how to do while doing it in a much different manner; something like being promoted from the junior varsity team to the varsity team in sports.
While Danny was on the comm talking to the shuttle dispatcher, who was in the main shuttle bay, Kyle received a communication from Dave to meet him at the passenger hatch.
Kyle opened the hatch and saw that the ramp had been moved back against the shuttle. He saw Dave down below and walked down the ramp to meet him, wondering what was so important that Dave couldn't have told him using their communicators. As he touched the floor of the bay, he knew he was also stepping onto the bay doors on the bottom of the hull. He hoped Dave had remembered to tell dispatch not to open the bay doors beneath him.
"Don't worry, Kyle, I told dispatch to hold the launch and not empty out the air," Dave told Kyle as if he could read the young boy's mind. "I need to give you a heads-up about something that just came to my attention, and I felt I needed to tell you face-to-face." Once again, Dave read the concern on his young officer's face. "Relax, Kyle, based on your recent past performance, I think you will handle this just fine, and knowing about it well in advance can only help you."
Kyle wished Dave would quit babbling and get on with whatever he had to say. "What is it?" he asked in the hope of speeding things up.
"I just talked to Captain Garcia. For reasons I understand, but don't agree with, he placed Commander French in charge of the shuttle that will be meeting you at our landing place."
Kyle was ready to yell out, "No Way!", but then remembered the lessons he'd received from his mentors about pausing before reacting. Thoughts of his meeting with Devin French on the Endurance went through his mind. There was no doubt in his mind that he had come out ahead in that exchange and had left on a positive note. Yes, there was the encrypted message he'd received from Richard Head, but Devin hadn't done anything with it, either negative (putting the plan in action) or positive (reporting the contents of the message), making Kyle wonder if he'd even read the message.
"I understand, Sir," Kyle said formally, showing how serious he thought the news was. "I've got time on the way down to the planet to figure things out. If you don't mind, I'll discuss it with Brad to see if he has any ideas."
"I have no problem with that at all. In fact, I am proud of you for wanting to get your second involved. Let me know immediately if something comes up down there that you feel puts you or the mission in danger. Don't take any bullshit, but don't try to be a hero. Remember to pause, take a deep breath and think before you act."
"Thanks, Dave," Kyle said, loosening up a little. "And thank you for having confidence in me," Kyle said somewhat shyly.
Dave saw the little boy come to the surface just moments after seeing the future young man. He overcame the urge to ruffle the little boy's hair; instead he spoke to the young man he'd just seen. "You earned this command, and I have every bit of confidence you will show your crew why I put you in charge."
Kyle nodded, went up the ramp and into the shuttle. He returned to his seat and buckled in. Brad asked him what Dave had wanted. As he had promised Dave, Kyle told his second in command.
"Wow, that complicates things," Brad responded. He thought for a moment and then said, "But I have an idea that might help make things simpler." Brad told him his idea.
Kyle looked at Brad like he'd lost his mind. He didn't like Brad's idea at all, but as Dave had advised, he took a deep breath, paused, and decided that no matter how much he disliked Brad's idea, he would give it some thought before he turned it down. Kyle was learning quickly, being in command of the astrogation team, what worked for one purpose, getting the Sooloo from point A to point B, was entirely different from being in command of a mission where he had multiple people and tasks to juggle. Despite Dave's encouraging words, Kyle was having doubts as to whether he was up to the task. Not for the first time, he wished his communicator had never gone off in the morning and that he'd simply been allowed to sleep in until his usual wake up time.
As they waited for the bay doors to open, Kyle looked to Megrez, who was perched on the instrument panel to the right of Danny. As he'd stopped by his quarters before going to the cargo bay to board the F-5, he saw Megrez sitting on the pillow of the bed and picked him up. At first, he thought that taking Megrez with him would be a sign of weakness, but everyone knew that Megrez was a part of him, so he took the little stuffed penguin with him.
Now, as he looked at the little smile on the red beak of his precious little penguin, he asked for the strength to be who he needed to be to lead the mission. He closed his eyes for a moment and heard a familiar voice in his head. "You are in the right place, Kyle Robinson." Kyle opened his eyes and focused on Megrez again. He could swear the little smile had just gotten a little bigger.
Danny received clearance from the dispatcher to steer Bubba through the open doors and out of the ship. Kyle Robinson's first command was underway and now he knew he was truly where he belonged.
Tommy Walsten battled the wind as Ron, Terry and Kris looked out of their windows, concentrating on finding a landing spot for their shuttle and the larger shuttle from the Sooloo. Devin was sitting next to Tommy in the cockpit using the shuttle's instruments to take readings of the surface and of what was below the surface.
"Tommy, I think I see a good landing spot," Ron said over his communicator. "It's a large white patch at ten o'clock."
Tommy turned the shuttle to starboard, fighting what was now a cross wind and saw what Ron was talking about. Devin took readings of the large flat area and clicked his communicator. "Good job, Ron. It looks perfect." He turned to Tommy and said, "Let's fly over it and drop a line of paint."
Devin looked back at his screen and as Tommy circled around to align properly with the wind. "The paint might not stick." Tommy said. "The wind might blow the snow on the surface away and the paint along with it."
"I'm going to record where the paint is and the F-5 shuttle can line up with the picture if that happens." While Devin French had his issues as a person and as an astrogator, he wasn't an incompetent officer. If he were, he'd still be sitting on earth in some high school classroom somewhere.
Tommy brought the shuttle into position. It was almost touching the ground and he struggled to keep the wind from pushing them down to the icy surface. "It looks like mostly ice and very little snow there," Ron observed. "I think this is going to work." Ron opened a valve and sprayed the ice when Devin instructed him.
After painting the strips on the ice, Tommy landed the shuttle and breathed a heavy sigh of relief. "Great job, Tommy. That was some outstanding piloting," Devin gushed.
Tommy looked over at Devin to make sure some alien being hadn't taken over his body. Devin had never been known for dishing out praise. For his part, Devin was beginning to realize that between his screw up with the astrogation figures and his blowing up at Captain Garcia earlier in the day, he was close to losing his senior officer position if he didn't do something to get his act together. He wondered if actually being positive with his underlings might be a good start and decided to find out.
Even though the shuttle was safely on the ground, it shuddered as gusts of wind struck it. Kris Shelby placed some protein bars in the microwave and heated up some snacks for the now exhausted crew. From what they'd gleaned from listening to the shuttle's radio, the Sooloo shuttle should be arriving soon.
Above the planet Kyle let his mind wander as Bubba approached the atmosphere. Even though the stars had told him through Megrez that he was in the right place, he was still nervous. He knew that being nervous or even a little frightened was normal for a commander; the key was controlling those nerves.
He thought of his meeting the young twins on his way to his quarters after the big meeting that morning. "Unka Kyle," Jonas grinned. "I can't wait until everybody is done on the planet, so we can do it again."
"Do what again?" Kyle asked. Seeing the twins had lifted his mood. He truly loved the two little urchins. But, he was too distracted to follow where Jonas was going.
"Going to the holodeck and playing hidey-seek and swimming naked and playing with Shadow."
"We're going to do it again, right Unka Kyle?" Jason asked with a bit of concern.
"You bet," Kyle grinned. "You two and me and Danny will do it all."
"And Shadow. Don't forget Shadow."
"Never. Shadow's running and barking is part of it."
The twins grinned. They gave Kyle a double hug and took off for wherever they had been going.
"We've entered the atmosphere," Danny announced, jolting Kyle awake. Kyle shook his head to clear out the cobweb, upset with himself over losing his concentration. He needed to have his mind fully on what he was doing. He wondered if he'd heard the stars incorrectly, that maybe he really wasn't ready to lead a mission.
"Very good, Danny," he said to indicate he'd heard the announcement. He saw the back of Danny's head in front of him as well as his beloved penguin. He took a deep breath and heard a voice in his head that wasn't that of a star, it was one of his own thoughts and it simply said, "You are where you belong Kyle Robinson." It was then that the nerves settled down and he knew without a doubt that he was the mission commander.
While Danny didn't have the struggle to land that Tommy had, he still had to deal with the wind. But, the wind had eased off some, plus his shuttle was heavier if less maneuverable. He also knew exactly where to go as he picked up the remnants of the red paint on the surface. He brought his shuttle into position and set it straight down just three feet from the center point mapped out for him by the Endurance shuttle.
"Wow, that was one awesome job of landing, Danny," Kyle gushed.
"I had a lot of help from that shuttle parked to our starboard," Danny said modestly.
"I didn't see any of them at our controls," Kyle reminded him.
It was now time to get to work on their mission. Tommy taxied his shuttle across the ice, folding in his wings as he approached the left side of Bubba. He brought it to within a couple of feet of the larger shuttle. The interior of the F shuttle could be closed off by section. Connor Martin closed off section five before opening the small hatch. While the air of the planet was breathable, it was incredibly cold. Kyle and Brad saw no need to let the cold air circulate throughout the shuttle, hence they closed off section five.
Connor, who was wearing cold weather insulation gear, maneuvered a ramp that was under the hatch, opening away from Bubba until it touched the S shuttle. From the opening above the hatch he moved a folded plastic cover which he opened and used to cover the ramp. Within minutes he had a sealed walkway between the two shuttles. He opened the hatch and Ron opened the hatch on his shuttle. Connor was pleased with how smoothly the operation went off; he never needed his cold weather gear.
He took off his gear and greeted Ron as he entered Bubba. The two of them knew each other from the engineering class and others they had taken together at the academy. Ron complimented Connor on how smoothly setting up the ramp had gone.
Devin French was the next to come across. Kyle felt his good mood start to leave him when he saw the boy he considered to be a nemesis. Not for the first time, he wondered what the Endurance Captain had been thinking when he placed French in charge of the shuttle flight.
"Requesting permission to come on board," Devin said lightly. Kyle was totally unprepared for anything resembling a friendly greeting from Devin and was surprised by his light-hearted entry.
"Granted," Kyle replied rather gruffly. It was all he could think to say. The two shook hands and then Kyle got right down to business. "We need to meet real quick." He pointed to section six, which was the stern section. While it had boxes of furniture and supplies, there was space for the two of them to meet privately.
He had decided it was important for Devin to understand exactly who was in charge and to lay down those expectations right away. Devin shrugged and went into the stern section. Kyle was about to follow when he saw Brad holding Megrez. "You know what to do," Brad said, referring to the suggestion he'd made just before Bubba had left the Sooloo. He handed the penguin to Kyle. Kyle thought there were times when Brad understood him better than anybody, including Danny. Brad had become a big brother figure to him.
Kyle walked into section six and pushed a button to close the door separating the sections. Devin's mood had turned sour. He could tell from Kyle's demeanor that Kyle was going to give him a raft of shit. With the two security thugs still on the shuttle, Devin decided he could kick the shit out of Kyle without anybody being able to stop him. The satisfaction he would get from beating the arrogant asshole to a bloody pulp would be worth any punishment meted out to him.
And the stupid stuffed penguin Kyle was holding in his hand would make the beating he administered even better. What kind of a commander comes in to talk holding a fucking stuffed animal? he thought.
Kyle had watched Devin's body language change from relaxed to aggressive in a near instant. He gave Megrez a gentle squeeze. "You're where you belong, Kyle Robinson," came the voice of the stars. "You know what to do," came the voice of Brad Kanye.
"I need your help," Kyle told Devin. Kyle should have been surprised that this talk was starting out so differently from how he'd planned it from the moment he knew he'd be confronting Devin French.
"You need my help?" Devin asked. "What the fuck do you mean you need MY help? I thought you were the boss here."
"I am," Kyle said with absolute confidence. "But I need the right number two man, and that would be you."
"You mean you don't have one?"
"I do, but we both agree that the best way to get us all working together is for him to step down for as long as we're all one team. I need you to take charge of getting the hut erected while Steve Boyer takes care of the interior furniture and everything else."
"What are you going to do?" Devin asked with a smirk.
"Make sure the two teams stay coordinated and everything goes as quickly as possible. Steve and I laid out a plan before we left the Sooloo. I have a copy to give you if you accept my offer."
"Why me? Why not just work with Ears? I mean, Ron." Kyle had to stifle a grin. Ron Mossi was not the best-looking guy in the program, and his large, protruding ears were a big reason. But Ron had long ago accepted his looks. As he put it, if one's position in the program was determined by drop dead, knockout looks, then Devin French would be an admiral. But when he dared anyone to erect an environmental hut faster during training, nobody could. Besides, he and his cabinmate enjoyed a friendly and physical relationship which led Ron to conclude that just because he was ugly didn't mean he was dead.
"I would rather let Lieutenant Mossi do his job without my interrupting him. It would be better for him to go through you since you know Mossi and how he works."
"Did your captain put you up to this?" Devin asked suspiciously.
"Nobody put me up to this. In fact, I didn't make up my mind to ask you until the door closed."
"What made you decide?"
"Because I really do need your help."
"That and I meant what I said on the Endurance about forgiving you. I do forgive you and realized my actions needed to match my words. In other words, not only do I need you, but you and I need to work totally together to make this all work."
There was a long moment of silence, finally Devin let out a long breath and said, "I'm your man. And sometime before we leave this dreadful planet you and I need to find a way to talk. I have things of my own to tell you, things you need to know."
Kyle was certain he knew what Devin was referring to and understood that now wasn't the time to discuss it.
"You can even bring that stupid penguin with you if you want," Devin grinned.
Kyle smiled back and handed Devin his copy of the plan. Both boys knew that the teamwork between the two crews was now guaranteed.
For someone who had never seen one of the environmental huts erected, the process would have completely fascinated them. For someone who had seen one erected, the process still fascinated them. The interconnecting parts were stacked in over three of the six sections of the shuttle.
The large side hatch was opened and Ron, now clad in cold-weather gear, busily making sure all the wires, screws, motors, wheels and belts were in place and properly connected. In section two, Connor was preparing the generator, so it could be moved outdoors. Since the hut would be connected to Bubba, power and heat would normally come entirely from the shuttle. Because of the severe temperatures, however the shuttle couldn't supply enough energy for both the shuttle and the hut, hence the generator was needed.
As Ron, with the help of the crewmen who were on the mission to supply the needed bodies, moved the pieces of the hut to the door, he also continued to make sure the motors were all connected. At the same time, Steve was getting his gear in place so everything could be quickly moved into the hut and put into the proper rooms.
When all the parts of the hut were where they needed to be, Ron fastened the entryway to the outside of the shuttle so that it was connected to the proper hatch. The hut and the shuttle had been designed together. They were, in essence, all part of the overall structure.
After less than an hour of work, Connor left the generator to help Ron insert the electrical cables into the right receptacles. Steve had his boxes laid out inside and outside the shuttle, ready to move at a moment's notice. Every one of the crew members had a job to do, and each had done it well. Kyle and Devin moved about, making sure that the timings followed the plan.
The moment arrived when they were all waiting for Ron told Devin he was ready to throw the breaker. "I'll check with Commander Robinson to make sure everyone is cleared," Devin told him. It was important that nobody was within fifteen feet of the multiple pieces on the ground when the breaker was thrown. Devin went to find Kyle, feeling for the first time in his life that he really was in charge of something.
Devin called Kyle on his communicator and then went to his location. Everyone was wearing cold-weather gear, so Devin picked out Kyle by his size and then by the Lt. Commander insignia on his chest. "Ron says he's ready to pull the breaker," Devin told him.
"Wow, I bet he got things set up in record time. Good work, Devin."
"Hey, he was the one telling me what to do," Devin chuckled.
Remembering what Dave had told him, Kyle said, "The fact that you let him do his job without interfering meant that you were doing your job."
"Oh," Devin said, although at that moment he wasn't sure what Kyle meant. Later the meaning of Kyle's words would come to him which increased his respect for his one-time nemesis, penguin and all.
Kyle put his communicator on "all-call." "Places, everybody, we're about to pull the breaker." While Kyle made the announcement, Devin walked back to the hatch. The only thing that was needed before the breaker was pulled was for him to push the red button next to the breaker. That set off a long loud bell, followed by the howl of sirens and the flash of red lights. Since the same person pushing the red button could not pull the breaker, Ron pulled the breaker.
At that point motors started, wheels moved, gears turned, belts rotated and the flat pieces on the ground rose like a prehistoric monster. Within minutes the large hut was standing, leading to cheers from the crew. Half of the crew members, including Kyle and Devin, had never seen one of the large huts erected except on videos. Seeing the 2.5 meters tall (8.2 feet high), 20x20 meters (65.62x65.62 feet), hut rise from the ground was a sight none of them would ever forget.
All that was left was to hook up the environmental system to the shuttle and the generator and move the waiting furniture and accessories into the hut. Steve and Connor and their helpers finished those tasks in under an hour.
Kyle contacted the two Captains and informed them that the basecamp was ready for triage, feeding the searchers and for any other necessary purpose. He announced that the first official task would be to feed the logistics crew, something Randy Johnson had doing the minute the hut was ready for use.
Dave Bowman looked out of the ready room window. The news that the basecamp was ready amazed him. It was not the fact that it was up and running, it was that it was up and running almost three hours before he expected. That was a tribute to young Kyle Robinson, who obviously had exceeded the expectations Dave had set up for his Astrogator's first command.
He wondered how Kyle had fit Devin French into the equation. Obviously, whatever he did worked. Dave couldn't wait to learn what Kyle had done and what had influenced his decision. Of course, he could have contacted Kyle and asked him during the process, but he felt it best to let Kyle do his work without thinking that Big Brother Captain was looking over his shoulder. For all Dave knew, Kyle might have used the security muscle provided by Garcia and tied Devin to one of the benches. Dave was confident that Kyle had found a better solution, however.
So, the good news was that the environmental hut was erect and functioning. The basecamp was ready to handle the lost away team. And that was the bad news—the away team still had not been found.
Zorn had just finished his morning meditation and was heading to the Officers Mess for some much-needed nutritional replenishment. Thinking to himself as he headed that way, I am glad that Dave didn't ask me to go on any of the away missions, that weather is a bit too cold for my blood. Zorn was also contemplating going to see if Jonas and Jason would like to go visit the Holodeck and play hide and seek with Shadow. In all probabilities what would happen was that Jonas and Jason would decide to play Jungle Gym with me as the Gym, was his final thoughts on that matter as he had arrived at the serving window. Hmm what shall I eat today...? Zorn's culinary musing was interrupted by a voice,
"One moment Commander Zorn, one rare tri-tip salad with Braunschweiger & Swiss cheese on dark bread coming right up. We are also preparing some pre-packaged mixed meat patés for you as snacks that you can take with you," One of the crew manning the line told Zorn.
As Zorn was about to reply that he wasn't a Commander, Aurix spoke to him, 'Zorn, Captain Bowman and I decided that it would be far simpler and respectful for the crew to call you Commander.'
"Okay, Aurix. I will thank Dave the next time I speak to him," Zorn replied to his ship's AI.
'Before you go, Zorn, when can I go outside again? I need to see some real stars and planets, not just the fake stuff I see through the Sooloo's limited sensors?' a whiny almost childlike voice asked.
"As soon as I have some free time and probably not until we are finished with this planetary mission and definitely not before we find the missing crewmen."
Before Zorn could end the conversation, Aurix replied very sarcastically, 'Fine!' and then Zorn heard a definite CLICK.
Aurix was pissed; however, at that moment Zorn didn't care as his stomach was beginning to growl as his as sensory organs were being overwhelmed by the wonderful aromas they were sensing. Zorn couldn't believe the size of the salad being place in front of him. It was mounded high with some of the rarest most wonderfully smoked tri-tip that he had experienced yet on board the Sooloo. That wasn't all though as the crewman placed what looked like a foot-high sandwich on the tray as well.
"Thanks, ummm, I'm sorry, I don't believe I got your name, but this looks and smells wonderful, however, I am not sure I can eat it all." Zorn politely answered with a slight snigger in his voice.
"Now Commander, you as well as the rest of the galley crew know that isn't true, you usually have to make three or four trips through the line before you have had enough to eat. We are just trying to make it so you don't have to make so many trips. All of the crew know how helpful you have been to the ship and we are just trying to pay you back a little bit. Plus, you being an Uncle to the twins is really awesome as well. So, thank you, Commander. And we've not spoken before, so you wouldn't have known my name, but I've seen you every day. I am Logan Kristoff, the Chief Executive Chef." Logan then returned to his work.
As Zorn headed to a table, he made a slight detour to the hot chai dispenser. He had discovered chai while reading a story, and knew it was an author's discussion and found out that two of the Terran authors that he was following loved chai. So, one morning he asked a galley crewman if they had any chai and shortly he had a large steaming mug placed at his table. When he went back to lunch later that day, he found a large hot chai dispenser along with the other beverage dispensers. When he inquired of Crewman Jenkins, he was informed that several of the officers also loved hot chai so now they had a hot chai dispenser as well. As Zorn headed back toward his chosen table, a bright flashing star suddenly appeared above his head, figuratively not literally. 'Hmm, a bored Aurix, bored and restless and probably anxious twins, and a frantic Jace. I think taking the twins on what I will tell them is a sightseeing jaunt while I, along with Aurix, use our advanced scanners to scan the planet's surface, I think that is what the Terran's call 'killing two avians with a single igneous object.' Now all I have to do is get permission from Dave and Jace, and probably permission from Dave for Jace to come along. For some reason, I can't see Jace letting the twins out of his sight while Jordan is off ship. As soon as I finish this wonderful repast I will contact Dave and then Jace.'
Zorn had been thinking so loudly, that Aurix had easily picked up on his thoughts and had taken complete control of the matter. Zorn had just delivered a piece of the mouth-watering salad to his mouth when his personal communicator went off.
"Captain Bowman to Commander Zorn."
Zorn finished chewing, swallowed quickly and responded, "Dave, Zorn here, how may I be of assistance?"
"I understand that you would like to take the twins on a sightseeing ride on the Golden Dragon and while you're in space, use your ship's advanced sensors to assist the ground crew in their search. You have my permission to take the twins as well as Jace, if you can get his permission. Something tells me that as a fairly new parent Jace won't feel comfortable letting his kids off of the ship without him. I can't say as I blame him for that. When would you like to leave?" Dave inquired.
Zorn was sitting there stunned out of his mind, he was still working on the plans, and wasn't quite ready to approach Dave with his request, let alone ask Jace. Suddenly he came back to his senses as he heard, "Zorn, Zorn, come in Zorn."
"Sorry Captain, I will have Aurix contact you with our departure time as soon as he informs me of it. I need to talk with Jace first and see what he thinks, and I believe that I need to do that face to face. Zorn out!" Zorn unceremoniously cut the connection while at the same time in his mind shouting 'Aurix!!!!' Unsurprisingly there was no response and Zorn knew there wouldn't be until Aurix had everything planned and ready to execute. So, bowing to the inevitable, Zorn finished his salad and chai, deciding to finish his sandwich on the way to Jace and the twins' quarters. He did take his used silverware and tray to the appropriate Recycling Stations. As he was leaving the Mess he gave a polite nod to the crewmen manning the line.
Meanwhile, Dave was sitting there trying to figure out why Zorn sounded so perplexed and why Zorn had said that Aurix would contact him with the ETD in such a strange tone of voice.
Zorn arrived outside Jace and Jordan's quarters and he started getting this strange feeling as he thought he was hearing words from inside. Zorn pressed the chime and instead of hearing Jace ask who wanted entry, the hatch to the quarters slid open and Jace said, "Come in Zorn, we've been expecting you."
Zorn raised an eyebrow questioningly; however, before he could actually ask the question or get an answer, he was attacked by twin two legged tornadoes, one screaming Uncle Zorn, Uncle Zorn; and the other one screaming Allie, Allie Gator© (" Copyright ACFan and CSU Productions and used with permission."). In stereo though was heard, "Do we getta go flying in outa space with you? Auri said we could if you and Daddy Jace said so. Uncle Dave already said so, Auri said he did."
Zorn started to send a snarky response to Aurix, but what he got was a 'click' and a carrier wave and then complete silence came across the link. While Zorn was trying to get his thoughts in order, Shadow was busy running circles around Zorn and the twins. Jonas was attached to Zorn's left side while the usually shy Jason was climbing up Zorn's right side trying to reach Zorn's chest to hug him to death. Daddy Jace, meanwhile was standing there or trying to stand while his whole body was shaking with laughter. Zorn, turned to Jace and mouthed, "Save me."
Jace, just shook his head and exited stage left, leaving poor Zorn to be attacked by the twin tornadoes.
Hal called Dave on the ship. "Commander Rivers, or Jordan, took his team out over six hours ago. He hasn't checked in since. That's not like Jordan, so I'm worried."
Addendum: Click Here ("Smoked Tri-Tip, sliced and served on a bed of Romaine Lettuce, with Cheddar Cheese, Sautéed Green Peppers, and Sautéed Onions. Topped with Homemade Croutons and drizzled with Homemade BBQ Sauce. ")