tagCelebrities & Fan FictionSurefoot 27: Oubliette

Surefoot 27: Oubliette

bySurefoot©

SUREFOOT: OUBLIETTE


"Counselor's Log, USS Surefoot-A, Stardate 55082.18, Commander Kami Hrelle, Recording: while the ship engages in its usual -- and unusual -- routine, the cadets are preparing to take their final exams today. The collective tension and anxiety among them at this time is, to say the least, palpable, and we are endeavouring to alleviate this through proven methods..."

*

The scent of exotic blossoms hung in the still, cool air of the Arboretum, remodelled since the incident with the Vlathi attack many weeks before. The real gardens merged almost seamlessly with the holographic images on the surrounding walls of forests leading up to craggy grey snow-capped mountains on an illusory horizon. A fountain, unseen, gurgled softly nearly, but otherwise, the environment was suffused with peace -- as the Counselor desired.

Thirty cadets knelt or sat on mats in a square of six by five, facing Kami, who knelt on her own. Everyone wore loose-fitting clothes, or underwear, or nothing at all, whichever made them feel most comfortable, as Kami talked them through the relaxation techniques. "Breathe in... Hold for one, two, three, four, five, six... Breathe out... the quieter your mind becomes, the more you will hear... there is no turmoil that you do not create yourself, and bring forth from within..." She opened her eyes, looked out and added with a smile. "Speaking of which: I recommend you not have anything gassy for breakfast, for the sake of those around you."

That elicited chuckles and signalled the end of the session, as people rose, dressed, stretched, rolled up their mats and chatted amongst themselves, the animation in the room seemingly immune to the effects of the relaxation techniques. She moved among them, smiling and offering words of encouragement, before finally approaching Alpha Squad. "And how are my favourite babysitters feeling?"

Jonas Ostrow offered a (mostly) confident grin beneath his silver hair. The Capellan Eydiir Daughter-of-Kaas was typically stoic, a harsher version of the more contemplative Qarari Kitirik, who was carrying Captain Fuzzybutt, Sasha's old Caitian Starfleet doll that had since been adopted as the Squad's lucky mascot. The white-furred Caitian Meow Rrori was growling under his breath. The Bolian Neraxis Nemm somehow managed to invent a move of pacing in place while still keeping her feet firmly fixed. And their leader, Sasha Hrelle, just let out a long, wistful sigh, as if she was still listening to the breathing mantras.

"Well," the Counselor grunted, folding her arms across her chest, "Nice to see my efforts to help you relax are bearing fruit. Rotted fruit with maggots, yes, but-"

"Sorry, Kam," Sasha offered. "You have helped, and we appreciate it, and I know we'll all be fine in there, but-"

"It's stupid," Rrori declared, grinding his fangs. "This is the Twenty-Fourth Century! We should have more advanced methods for education than this! Why can't we just have cybernetic implants in our brains and download the data directly? We could get through the Academy in a day, without taking tests and with all the knowledge we need!"

"But would you know what it all meant?" Kami countered, smiling at his consternation. "Many cultures have tried educating like that in the past; it doesn't teach you how to use the information you gain, how to be creative and resourceful, doesn't give you muscle memory. It just makes you organic databases, little better than the Borg." She approached him, teasingly scratching him behind his left ear. "Besides, do you really want someone cutting into this beautiful head of yours unnecessarily?"

Rrori growled, but also purred at the touch. "It is beautiful..."

"Holy Hraxor," Neraxis groaned. "I will die in there. I will just drop dead in there!"

"I know," Eydiir quipped, deadpan. "Reviving you will be part of my tests."

"Oh, you're high-larious! You don't have Advanced Tactical to look forward to!"

"True, all I will be doing is just be spending the next four years after this studying for my medical degree while serving full time as a Starfleet nurse."

The Bolian scowled, her blue skin darkening as she leaned in closer to Jonas and in a mock whisper offered, "Take my exam for me, Scrappy, and I'll wear that Orion slave girl outfit you keep asking about."

He flushed, as Kami laughed. "Don't all look like you're marching to your deaths! You did well in your Practice Exams!"

"Half of us failed those," Jonas reminded her glumly.

"Exactly! If you're gonna fail, that's when you do it, and get it out of your systems!"

"Hopefully," Rrori groused.

"And we do have our lucky mascot with us," Kit reminded them, indicating the doll. "While we of course do not genuinely ascribe to superstitions, there is a cultural and psychological validity to allowing a fetish to distract us from anxiety." He sighed. "'Hopefully', as Best Friend Rrori said."

"Whatever works for you," Kami concluded, smiling. "Now, go shower, have breakfast and get ready for the briefing, while I have a quick word with Sourpuss here."

Sasha looked up, scowling, as her friends chuckled and moved away. "Why am I a Sourpusss?"

"I don't know, why do you have a mouth that looks exactly like a Horta's nethers?"

Sasha stared. "Do I even want to ask how you would know what one of those looks like?"

"No, you don't; it was the 2350s, it was a weird time." Kami put an arm around the younger woman's waist and guided her to a quieter part of the Holodeck. "Now, what's wrong? Worried that you'll fail?"

"No. I mean, I won't do great, but I won't fail."

"The others? Do you think they will?"

"What? Seven Hells, no! I made sure they studied nearly every waking moment! I even got Rrori to take his suppressants to get his Season under control and not be distracted!"

Kami smiled. "Then why are you worried?"

"Because they're my Squad! My friends!" Her expression turned anxious. "Something can still go wrong. I'm their leader-"

"Yes," Kami agreed. "So start acting like one. You've seen your father during a crisis situation: cool, confident, jocular. Be more like him."

"I can't be! He's- he's-"

Kami leaned in and murmured, "He's terrified, just like you. He wants to protect all of us, but like you he knows that something can still go wrong. But every good commander knows that their crew looks to them, not just for orders, but for confidence. So many times, it's the one thing that keeps the crew together. Fear breeds fear. Confidence breeds confidence."

Sasha's stomach rumbled. Loudly.

Kami chuckled. "And hunger needs attention." She hugged the girl. "Good luck. Misha and I will be thinking of you." Then she smiled. "Well, I'll be thinking of you. I'm afraid your little brother's too distracted at the moment with his new girlfriend."

*

Deck 3 Mid -- Sickbay Suite -- Crèche:

The Klingon leaned forward, leering with jagged teeth at his opponent as he declared, "I will eat you whole, and save your companion for later! Do you think you can stop me, you furry little petaQ?"

Misha Hrelle kept himself upright by grasping the thin bars of his playpen, staring up at Doctor Kline and responding with a tiny defiant roar and a baring of his own teeth.

Kline pretended to stagger back and melodramatically cower in fear of the roar. "Arrgh! Curses! The little petaQ is too much for me!"

Beside him in the playpen, a small wrinkled lime-green figure in colourful clothes, with beady black eyes on stalks, swept-back fins on the sides of her head, and a stubby, curved-down nose, clapped her hands and laughed with delight at the epic struggle between her new boyfriend and the ridge-headed monster with the bad breath.

Doc Masterson, preparing the particular food for the two infants, frowned at his colleague. "Y'all mind watching the cussing in front of the Critters, dude? You don't want Naida taking anything like that back to her Daddy."

Kline looked over at Masterson and sneered. "Don't be an old woman! She is far too young to understand-"

"PetaQ!" Naida declared happily.

The CMO chuckled. "Roylans grow faster than weeds. And they have memories sharper than my ex-wife's wit. Captain Weynik won't be too pleased when the Starsong comes back to pick his daughter up. For that matter, neither will the Counselor."

Kline laughed, folding his arms across his chest. "I like the Counselor. She has fire in her belly, like a Klingon woman. I would love to make her mine, and tame her."

Masterson grunted. "Tame her? Take away the thing you admire most? That's like wanting a bat'leth in order to dull the blade. What's the point in that?"

"No point at all, boys." Kami informed them as she strode into the Crèche, walking up to the playpen and bending down to rub her muzzle against Misha's, before reaching in and picking up Naida, cradling her and stroking the ridges running down along her throat. "Hello again, my beautiful little girl! And what have you and my son been up to in my absence?"

"PetaQ!" Naida replied. "PetaQ! PetaQ! PetaQ!"

Misha giggled.

Kami blinked, looking to the two doctors. "Seriously? It was tough enough convincing Weynik to let her stay onboard for the day! Now you boys manage to make her first word a Klingon curse?"

Kline shrugged. "It was my first word."

Kami rolled her eyes, looking down at Misha. "Well, young man? Care to impress me as well?"

Misha tightened his hold on the playpen bars, grimaced with concentration... and farted in his diapers, his stubby tail shaking from the effort.

Naida giggled and clapped her hands.

Kami looked to the Roylan infant and confided, "That's how his father won me over."

*

Deck 2 Mid -- Cadets Mess Hall/Conference Room:

The breakfast trays were fed back into the replicators for recycling, the chairs and tables were stacked and moved to the far wall, and the cadets were in uniform, at attention, facing Captain Hrelle and Commander T'Varik.

The Vulcan First Officer was addressing them. "Holodecks 1 and 2 are now configured to edify the regulation Academy Exam Rooms. When you select a Testing Station, sit down and key in your identification, and the appropriate exams will be provided. There will be holographic invigilators on call in both Exam Rooms should assistance be required, as will drinking fountains and hygiene chambers. I should not have to remind you of the regulations against cheating in any way, or in assisting others in their exams.

But I will remind you that this is not a race to see who finishes first; be absolutely certain that you are satisfied with your answers before you log out of your station and depart the Room, as you will not be permitted to return." She looked to Hrelle. "Do you wish to add anything at this time, Sir?"

Hrelle looked thoughtful at the offer. "Yes, actually." He looked out at the cadets. "I am one lucky fat bastard."

As the cadets laughed at that, T'Varik clarified dryly, "I was expecting something more pertinent, Sir."

"This is!" He grinned at the young people. "I mean it, I am one lucky fat bastard. I've got to know and work with all of you. You're all smart, strong, talented, resourceful, brave, selfless, hard-working people. Any commander would be honoured to have just one or two of you under him, but I've been privileged to have all of you! You're all going to make your mark in Starfleet!

And years from now, when I'm a grey-furred old retired cat moaning about the weather and my noisy grandcubs -- and there's no rush in making that happen by the way, Sasha -- I can look back with pride, knowing that I played a small part in getting you out there.

You can do this. Trust in your own abilities. Trust in our confidence in you."

"Well said, Sir," T'Varik complimented, sounding almost pleased at the mature approach he had adopted.

"And when it's all done and out of the way," Hrelle added, "You'll have a party of epic proportions, and I'll order all of you to get absolutely shitfaced!"

That broke the room up.

Hrelle looked to T'Varik, grinned and gave her the Thumbs Up. The Vulcan calmly waited for the crowd to settle before concluding with, "Cadets 1-15 proceed to Holodeck 1, Cadets 16-30 to Holodeck 2. The Exams will begin in 20 minutes. Dismissed."

As the cadets filed out, jabbering excitedly among themselves, Hrelle leaned closer to T'Varik. "How was that?"

"That was... undeniably you, Sir."

"Thanks!" He rocked nervously in place. "Look at me, I'm a bundle of nerves for them! I feel like I'm gonna give birth!"

The Vulcan raised an eyebrow. "You do appear to have the hips for it, Sir."

Hrelle stopped and stared in astonishment -- and delight. "Mother's Cubs! Was that an actual burn, Commander?"

She looked away. "I have no idea what you are referring to, Sir. No tissue damage appears to have been inflicted."

*

Deck 3 Fore -- Holodeck Suite Corridor:

Gamma Squad Leader Falok stood formally before Eydiir, the young Vulcan male's hands folded behind his back. "Wishing someone luck is, of course, illogical."

The young Capellan female mirrored his pose. "Of course. We have superior intellect, and have prepared sufficiently for obtaining commensurate grades."

"Indeed." He paused, his stoic expression shifting. "However... there is nothing inherently disadvantageous to expending the minimum amount of energy in the verbal desire of good fortune."

"Indeed not." Eydiir straightened up. "Good luck to us both." Then something like mischief brightened her eyes. "There would be nothing inherently disadvantageous to a good luck kiss, either."

"I would agree." They drew together.

Nearby, Rrori and Delta Squad Leader Isabelle Zhou were more effusive with their affection, his hands moving through the Englishwoman's hair. "We will conquer them, Izzy. We will conquer them all and gnaw on their bones and-"

She reached up and pressed her forefinger against his snout. "We will do our best. No one needs to be conquered, or gnawed on." She smiled. "At least, not until the party."

Nearby, Kit faced Izzy's Medical Specialist, Hafsa al-Samra, clasping her hands tightly, their voices murmuring to each other; Sasha could have leaned in to listen, but chose to give the budding young lovers a moment of privacy.

She all but avoided looking at Neraxis and Jonas as they lip-locked passionately, shamelessly, nearby, oblivious to everyone around them.

She was certain her own discomfort didn't come from being the only member of her squad not currently involved with anyone else. She was happy with that. Content-

"Hey, Sash."

She turned at the familiar voice. "Giles!"

Giles Arrington strode up, eyes wide and handsome features a welcome distraction. "I, ah, just wanted to wish you good luck."

Sasha brightened at the presence of her former lover. "Yeah! You too, you know? Good luck, and all that."

They shifted in place for a second or two, before moving into an awkward hug.

Still tightly wrapped around Jonas, Neraxis pulled back to warn, "Hey! Behave yourselves, you dirty Bumpers! Holy Hraxor, some people have no discipline!"

*

Deck 2 Fore -- Bridge:

"On course to Shangris IX, Captain," Neheru reported from Ops. "ETA 5.7 hours."

"Um... okay." Hrelle tapped his claws on the arm of his chair. "No problems, no crises, nothing to take note of?"

"Ah, no, Sir."

"Good. That's, um, good. So there's, uh, nothing for me to do, then?"

"No, Sir."

"Nervous about the cubs, Uncle Esek?" C'Rash suggested from her Tactical station, amused.

He shot a look at her. "Of course not, Brat. They'll be fine. They'll all be... fine." He bolted out of his chair and moved to the Ops station, gently shifting Neheru slightly to the side while calling up the mission specifications. "There's quite a few navigational hazards in this system, isn't there?"

"Sir?" Neheru asked, bemused.

Hrelle called up a system map, indicating several places. "See? There's subspace rifts, null space, general instabilities -- look at all these warning buoys."

"What?" C'Rash exclaimed sarcastically. "Putting warning buoys around navigational hazards? Whatever next?"

Neheru gave her a look, but then focused on their Captain again. "There do appear to be a larger than usual number of them in this system. Do you see a problem with this, Sir?"

"Nothing... except that many of these subspace anomalies only seem to have appeared in the last couple of years." He called up comparison charts from the Archives to illustrate. "See? What's making them all form? What are they studying here?"

Neheru called up the data. "Weather patterns on Shangris IX. There are five personnel, all listed as Exo-Meteorologists."

Hrelle frowned, as he studied the details: one Vulcan, a Dr Vassak, and four humans: Professors Shryalis, Kessis, Barredo and Cartier. "Very strange. No technicians, no physicists or support staff-"

"Maybe you should go visit Aunt Kami and burn off some of that nervous energy?" C'Rash suggested, smirking. "I'm sure she'll appreciate it."

Hrelle straightened up. "Contact the station, I want to have a quick word with them."

"Aye, Sir."

"Oh, and put Lieutenant C'Rash down for double duty tomorrow for being a smartass."

"Aye, Sir." The Kelpien failed to suppress an 'I Told You So' look at C'Rash as the Caitian female hissed. Then he announced, "I have them, Sir. Audio only."

Hrelle nodded and took his seat again. "Shangris Station, this is Captain Esek Hrelle of the USS Surefoot, en route to you."

There was an almost uncomfortable pause, but before Hrelle could speak again, a gruff male voice responded. "What do you want?"

Hrelle blinked. "May I ask with whom I'm speaking, please?"

There was another pause, and then the voice returned. "I am... Professor Barredo. Again, I ask what do you want?"

Hrelle leaned forward, feeling his hackles rise. "Don't you recognise me, Professor? Your old friend, Crazy Esek, from Nimbus Three? We kept that Mexican restaurant open all night serving us Ensalada de Culo, and then went home with those waitresses! Remember?"

"Mmmm... yes, I remember, Captain. Those were good times. Forgive me, but we are very busy here."

Hrelle rose to his feet now, his tail swishing in unrest. "Of course, Professor. I just wanted to call and apologise."

"Apologise? For what?"

"Well, we're having warp drive problems, and we're gonna be late bringing your supplies to you."

"I... see. When will you arrive?"

"At present speed, 13.5 hours. But when we do get there, you can come onboard, and we'll treat you to some fine non-replicated food. Have your bib ready, because I promise you, it's gonna get messy! Surefoot out." As the channel closed, he turned to Neheru, his expression taut. "Go to Yellow Alert."

"Sir?"

"You heard me."

C'Rash turned back to him. "Uncle Esek, the cadets- the Final Exams-"

"Can't be helped." As the Yellow Alert sounded, he continued. "Helm, increase speed to Warp 9.5. Ops, update Starfleet Command that something's wrong at Shangris and request further information on their actual mission. Tactical, run an analysis on that transmission, and find out who I was really speaking to."

Everyone obeyed, C'Rash turning and facing him again, sensing his change of mood and mirroring it. "You think there's something wrong with your friend?"

"He's not my friend, I've never been to Nimbus III, I've never kept a Mexican restaurant open, believe it or not, I've never gone home with any waitresses -- and if there is such a dish as Ensalada de Culo, even I won't eat it. Helm, what's our new ETA?"

"At Warp 9.5, 1.05 hours, Sir."

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