tagSci-Fi & FantasySurefoot 14: Shakedown

Surefoot 14: Shakedown

bySurefoot©

"USS Surefoot-A, Captain's Log, Stardate 42474.19, Captain Esek Hrelle, Commanding: I LOVE THIS SHIP! Sleek, clean, new, with up-to-date equipment and a fresh new mission ahead of us! I love this New Ship Smell! And, my wife is having my cub! MY SPERM ARE MAGNIFICENT!

I shouldn't be so happy. It smacks of tempting Fate.

But I can't help myself.

To get back into a more official tone for this log: the Surefoot is currently undergoing a shakedown cruise before beginning its mission mission as fleet tender and strategic operations assistance to our ships on the Cardassian front line. And I intend to take advantage of the relatively quiet time to get to know my ship better..."

Deck 1 Fore, Captain's/Counselor's Quarters, 0745 Hours:

Hrelle stepped out from his quarters, straightened the delta-shaped combadge on his jacket, subconsciously tugged the folds of his jacket around his belly for the thousandth time, and held out his arm for his wife. "Shall we, Milady?"

Counselor Kami Hrelle stepped out into the corridor beside him, her uniform a bright Medical Blue contrast to his Command Red, and her demeanour a curt grump to his morning cheer. "Shut up."

Undeterred, Hrelle slipped his arm around hers and guided her along. "Yesterday you thought a tour of the ship every morning, for a bit of exercise and to get to know the new layout was a great idea."

"That was before I was up half the night to pee twice my body weight." She touched her distended belly. "The Bump loves waking me up in the wee small hours."

"He takes after his father," Hrelle noted with a sly, proud grin.

"His father is usually after something else."

"Which would you rather do, have a pee or have a-"

"I'd rather sleep, Horncat." She groaned, barely acknowledging the crewmembers as they walked past and greeted the couple.

"We'll stop in the Lounge and get you a soothing herbal tea," he suggested. He knew, albeit only from indirect experience, that Caitian pregnancies, while slightly shorter than usual compared with most humanoids, could be intense. He also recognised that the pheromones she was producing now was augmenting his caregiving tendencies, to the point where she was cursing him for smothering her with kindness, and he had to curb himself.

She grunted. "Make it a double strength Raktajino and you've got a deal."

A horrible wail emerged as the Lounge doors slid open, and for a second Hrelle thought there was some sort of emergency ongoing, until he saw the Klingon woman in black robes on the dais in the corner of the room, singing out to an audience of one, sitting at a table closest to the dais, watching and listening in appreciation.

Hrelle could at least appreciate the increased space in this Surefoot's Lounge, as well as the Holostage, a dais where simulacra of singers, musicians, comedians, lecturers and other entertainment and educational programs could play for the benefit of personnel assembled.

Hrelle let Kami drift off of the replicators in the back of the room while he approached the lone occupant at the front, shouting over the wailing woman, "Doctor Klein! Enjoying the facilities, I see?"

The ship's new Chief Surgeon rose to his full two-metre height, his wiry dark hair ponytailed back to accentuate the row of bony ridges up along his bronzed skull. His jagged teeth glistened. "This is very acceptable! I might kill you all, steal this technology and get it installed back on my old ship!"

Hrelle laughed. "Or, you know, we'll just give it to you. We wouldn't want the Galactic Exchange Program to have to deal with the paperwork involved in mass slaughter."

Klein bellowed with laughter and slapped Hrelle on the shoulder with a huge hand before returning to his bloodwine and wailing. Hrelle turned and walked away, wincing to himself - and kicking himself again with the memory of first hearing the name Klein and expecting someone other than the huge Klingon who had arrived.

Returning to his wife, he saw that she wasn't alone; there were a half-dozen cadets sitting around a table devouring a selection of foods from different worlds, while their Chief Operations Officer Lt. Neheru stood, PADD in hand, asking questions and taking notes of everyone - except in the case of Kami, who hissed at him and set off his threat tendrils. "Good morning, Lieutenant. What's going on here?"

"Good morning, Captain. These fine young people agreed to participate in testing out various offerings from our replicators. I obtained some software upgrades ahead of schedule that were said to improve taste and texture by up to 20%, and I was curious as to the results."

Hrelle nodded. "And how are the results?"

"Overwhelmingly positive." He glanced at a scowling Kami. "With one exception."

Hrelle chuckled. "I didn't think that customer satisfaction surveys fell within the purview of your job, Neheru."

The Kelpien rose up to a height that dwarfed even the Klingon at the front of the room. "A contented crew is less likely to become bored and take unnecessary risks. I also plan numerous activities and get-togethers, especially to help the cadets from the established and new squads acclimate - with your permission, of course."

"Of course, carry on, Lieutenant. I'll remove Grumpy Gertie there before she skews your findings with her negativity."

Kami growled as they returned to the corridor. "Ugh, that music went through me like a laxative." She cradled her coffee mug in one hand and patted her belly. "Sorry, Little Bump."

"Klingon opera is an acquired taste."

"If you ever acquire it, I'll divorce you."

He smiled. "Don't worry, when I'm in there Saturday night I'll be in my leathers rocking it onstage with Jimi."

"What's a Jimi?"

"Jimi Hendrix? Earth's greatest guitarist."

"Never heard of her."

"Him. The man was a living god." He suddenly stopped and played air guitar, singing loudly, "Scuse me, while I kiss the sky!"

"Kiss my furry ass," she growled, continuing on her way.

On the deck below, as they approached the open doorway into the gym, they caught the less-than-pleasant collective scent of the sweat of a half-dozen races, and heard a sharp falsetto voice snap, "Come on, Deltas! Epsilon Squad has you lagging behind! It's pathetic!"

The Caitians stopped outside the doorway and peered in to see ten cadets on the floor, all clad in Academy grey exercise vests, shorts and trainers, performing push ups with varying degrees of difficulty.

With the exception of one purple-haired, pale-skinned cadet near the front, hir lithe, muscular body rising and falling with ease, while the voice continued to chastise them. "Come on, Deltas and Epsilons! Let's show those lazy bastards on the other squads how it's done!"

Hrelle frowned. "Rude boy."

"Not a boy," Kami reminded him between coffee sips. "S/He's Hermat."

"I know. Still, my squads aren't lazy."

"It's just banter to get them motivated; the new squads have a lot to prove to the established ones. And they're all your squads now, Papa Bear. No favourites."

Suddenly the presence of the senior officers was picked up, as the purple-haired cadet shot to hir feet. "Captain on the Deck! Squads, Ten Hut!"

With less speed and grace, the other cadets returned to their feet and formed a single line, most of them caked in sweat, lungs heaving, some visibly grateful for the break, others visibly grateful to still be conscious. As Hrelle approached hir, the Hermat somehow shot even further to attention. "Sir! Delta Squad Leader Ledit 137 reporting as ordered, Sir! Delta and Epsilon Squads stand ready for your approval, Sir!"

Hrelle blinked; it was the third encounter he'd had with Ledit, and he still felt exhausted just being in the cadet's presence, such was the intensity on hir face, stance and overall attitude. Hrelle had never met a Hermat before - like the Kelpiens, the hermaphroditic Hermats were rare in Starfleet, although in the latter's case their isolationist natures and intense, shorter lifespans made ordinary interactions difficult at times. Hrelle could at least appreciate their canine teeth and increased olfactory capabilities, qualities Hermats shared with Caitians. "At ease, Squad Leader. Go get some water, all of you look like you need it."

Some of them had started to break ranks, but stopped with one shot from Ledit, as s/he announced, "We don't need water, thank you, Sir! We stand ready for your orders!"

Hrelle glanced at Kami before folding his hands behind him and nodding, "Is that right? Good, good, Squad Leader. Then I order you and the other cadets to do the following: go get some water. Then, stop this additional physical training, and go enjoy yourselves doing whatever you want before your next academic or work shifts."

Ledit stiffened at that, clearly not liking how quickly the squads broke up to follow Hrelle's orders, but nodded formally, "Yes, Sir."

At the Hermat joined the rest, Squad Leader Naavos Bal, a Bajoran male with ginger-auburn hair and a scar running along the top of his node ridges, drew up to Hrelle and smiled. "Thank you, Sir. Especially from my aching limbs."

Hrelle smiled back. "You know you're of equal rank, don't you? You don't have to do what s/he says all the time."

Naavos nodded, a little embarrassed, admitting, "It's tough to refuse hir. Impossible, really."

Hrelle made a sound - and then noticed that the Bajoran was missing the earring his people wore in their right ears, as a symbol of their faith; he had worn it every time Hrelle had met the young man, once it was clear about Hrelle's dress code onboard. "Where's your d'ja pagh?"

Naavos flushed, clearly appreciative of Hrelle's knowledge of the name for his earring, but also embarrassed by the response he had to give. "Um, Ledit thought that it'd be more appropriate for us to maintain a uniform appearance-"

Hrelle never let him finish, glancing at some of the others, knowing who wore crosses or sashes or gages, and seeing none of them on the appropriate cadets. "LEDIT! FRONT AND CENTRE, NOW!"

The Hermat was by the water dispenser, but immediately returned. "Sir, Delta Squad Leader-"

"Have you been dictating dress code on my ship?" Hrelle demanded loudly.

Ledit was startled by the response, but maintained composure to reply, "Sir, no disrespect intended, I was merely-"

"You were merely exceeding your authority! And you may not have intended disrespect, but you've certainly exhibited it! To me and to your crewmates! The dress code on my ship allows for reasonable displays of religious and spiritual beliefs, and it's not for you to tell people otherwise! Is that clear, Cadet Ledit?"

The cadet was almost shaking from the exchange, but recovered. "Yes, Sir."

"Glad to hear it. Dismissed." As he turned to go, he stopped at Naavos, his voice low and controlled but no less filled with rebuke. "Did you feel comfortable removing your d'ja pagh when you didn't have to? Do you think your squad, the ones who count on you to defend their rights, felt comfortable?"

The Bajoran looked thoroughly ashamed of himself. "No, Sir."

The Captain nodded. "Good. Next time someone wants you to compromise yourself, remember that feeling, and don't be so eager to bend over and take it like a dog. You Bajorans have had more than enough oppression from the Cardassians without you agreeing to more. Is that clear?"

"Yes, Sir."

As Hrelle departed, walking briskly down the corridor, he slowed down enough to let Kami catch up and ask, "You don't think you were too harsh back there?"

"On which one?"

"Both."

"Ledit has to get that pole lodged up in hir toches removed. S/he's too intense."

"Ledit's people only live to around forty years of age! Their whole lives are intense!"

He shrugged. "And Naavos should know better! His people fought and won a war for the freedom to express their beliefs-"

"It wasn't that long ago. Before that so many of them spent generations as refugees, trying to fit in, not cause a fuss-"

"Then he needs to grow up, or grow a pair."

"Now who's the Grumpty Gertie? I told you the new squads will feel insecure compared to the established ones, we can't show favourites."

He growled in reply.

"You're not getting enough," she diagnosed, teasing.

He was about to retort, when his combadge chirped. "Commander T'Varik here, Captain. The shuttle from the Vigilant has arrived ahead of schedule."

Hrelle smiled, shaking off his foul mood like rain off his fur. "Thank you, Commander, we'll meet you in the shuttlebay. Hrelle out." He looked to his wife. "Come on, let's go witness a C'Rash Landing."

She rolled her eyes. "Bet you've been waiting to do that joke since you heard she was coming. You go on, I have to pee - again - and warn Sasha about C'Rash's arrival."

"What? You haven't told her yet?"

"We've all been working our tails off getting this ship ready for service, Captain Bossy Boots. Tell my niece I'll see her later in her Initial Counseling." She started off, calling behind her. "And don't forget to thank your First Officer for selecting C'Rash."

Hrelle watched her depart, admiring the swish of her tail, before he started alone towards the forward shuttlebay, not sure if he should thank T'Varik, or rebuke her. He first met Lt. C'Rash Shall on Cait during the wedding of Kami's firstborn son, and found the young female to be rude, capricious and disrespectful, as well as seemingly on a permanent heat - and looking to add Sasha to her list of conquests.

Kami had assured him that it was just the nature of the Caitian clan gathering lowering all barriers of rank, the presence of arousal pheromones in the air - and his own protective nature towards Sasha colouring his perception of the young Caitian. He took his wife's word on it.

So when T'Varik announced that C'Rash was on her way to take the new position onboard the new Surefoot, Hrelle remained optimistic; it could be good to have another Caitian onboard, and he'd loved being in the midst of them after so long away from his homeworld.

The shuttlebay here was larger than on the old ship, and better organised, and he arrived in time to see the outer doors parted, and the Vigilant's shuttle pass through the atmospheric shield. T'Varik stood nearby, turning to him. "Captain, we need to speak about Lt. Shall."

"Agreed. I just wanted to say-"

"Sir, I realise that unlike matters involving the cadets, you have final say over crew appointments. And I also realise that Lt. Shall is a relative of yours. But I have certain reservations, now that I have been given access to her record."

He blinked. "Excuse me, Commander? What about her record?"

"Although she has scored very highly in her qualifications, and has earned commendations for valour during the Cardassian conflict, she has also earned a series of reprimands and warnings from various supervisors and commanding officers, who have found fault with her attitude towards them."

He grunted. "I'd like to say that surprises me, except I've met her."

"Then, Sir, with all due respect, why did you arrange for her appointment?"

He started. "Me? I thought you had."

Before they could talk further, the Vigilant's shuttle door flipped open, and a Caitian female in a uniform with Security Gold colours emerged. Her fur was coal-black, except for lighter patches around her eyes and elsewhere, and she sported a short tuft of fur on top of her head instead of a traditional feminine mane. Her tail was low as she drew up to the senior officers, shoulder bag slung under her arm as she stopped and straightened up. "Lt. C'Rash Shall, reporting as ordered. I believe I'm expected?"

T'Varik nodded. "Indeed. I am Commander T'Varik, First Officer, and I understand you are already familiar with the Captain. Welcome onboard the Surefoot-A."

The Caitian glanced around. "Well, I'm glad you called me to be on this one instead of its predecessor. I heard that one was a piece of crap."

"Lieutenant," Hrelle spoke up, shelving the talk with T'Varik for a later time and seeking to gain some footing right away. He held out his hand. "Welcome aboard. It's good to see you again."

She smiled and accepted his hand. "It's good to see you again too, Captain." She let go of his hand and dropped it to pat his belly. "All of you."

He frowned. "We're not in a Caitian clan gathering now, Lieutenant. As far as you're concerned, rank matters here."

She nodded. "Sure, sure, whatever you say. So where's the Lounge? I could do with a drink or three."

T'Varik raised an eyebrow. "You are scheduled for your mandatory Medical Exam at 1100 Hours with Dr Ling, and an Initial Counseling Session at 1300 Hours with Counselor Hrelle. Before this-"

"I don't need Counseling, thanks," C'Rash interrupted. "Aunt Kami knows me well enough already."

"The session is mandatory, Lieutenant, and not open for negotiation, regardless of your familiar associations with Counselor Hrelle. As I was saying, before this and your medical exam, you will receive a guided tour of the ship at 0900 Hours."

C'Rash grinned, her gaze narrowing and focusing on T'Varik with a distinct level of flirtatiousness. "Oh? And will you be the one taking me places I've never been before, Commander?"

"The tour will be conducted by our Second Officer and Chief of Operations, Lieutenant Neheru. I will, however, escort you to your quarters now."

The Caitian female chuckled. "And if you're lucky, I might let you get out again-"

"Lieutenant Shall," Hrelle cut in sharply, "In the interests of amity I am prepared to forget the past friction between us, and the present attitude you are displaying... for the moment. But take note: Commander T'Varik and I have an established agreement that Sasha is to be treated like every other member of this crew regardless of her kinship to me - and I'm officially informing her that this agreement now extends to you."

"Duly noted, Sir," the Vulcan replied.

"So," Hrelle continued, still staring down C'Rash, "When you leave this shuttlebay I expect you to conform to the standards of professionalism expected of one of your rank and position. Is that understood?"

She straightened up formally. "Yes, Sir. I will comply - as soon as I leave this shuttlebay, just as you stated." Then she leaned in and added, "But since we're still here, I guess that means I get to tell you: lighten up, Esek, your heart can't handle all that weight and being a tightass." Then she looked to T'Varik. "Shall we go, Cute Stuff?"

Hrelle looked to his First Officer, too dumbfounded to react in any other than with a silent nod, staring ahead to see the Vigilant's shuttle begin to rise and turn for its departure, almost considering signalling it to stop and collect the hellion it had just deposited on his proverbial doorstep.

*

Kami ran into the people she was looking for as they emerged from one of the ship's guest quarters - still straightening up their uniforms. "Sasha! Giles! Good morning!"

The young couple stopped, blushing a little in that adorable human way, though Sasha always managed to turn a deeper shade of scarlet than her lover, though it was probably more of a contrast with her strawberry-blond hair compared to his darker colour. "Morning, Counselor! We were, ah-"

"You were having sex in the unoccupied guest quarters, because it's private and has a double bed?" Kami prompted.

Giles shifted in place, suddenly reminding Kami of those times when her own cub Mirow would be caught sneaking food from the kitchen, and couldn't grasp how easily adults could work things like that out. "Well, it's never been used, so we had to test it out, for health and safety reasons-"

"How conscientious of you both, to sacrifice your time and effort to do that; in future, however, see if Commander T'Varik might be amenable to the idea of requesting time in the guest quarters. I'll even support the notion. But I didn't come looking for you because of that." She looked to each of the squad leaders in turn. "I wanted to give you some warning, that our new Chief Security Officer has arrived. And it's someone Sasha has met before: Lieutenant C'Rash Shall."

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