Hearts Across Space

Chapter Nine: A Shrub Gets Pruned ©Str8mayb

Everything seemed normal for a shipboard Formal Dinner aboard a flagship until several of 'The Companions' came through the hatch, armed. There was silence, while all of the seated crew members looked towards Captain Beauty for guidance. Captain Beauty was busy carrying on a conversation with L'ogen and C'obi, who were seated to his right and left, respectively. Seeing that their Captain wasn't ruffled by this break in protocol, the crew members relaxed, then began trying to figure out why the two youngsters were seated at one head of the table, instead of the visiting dignitaries. While the crew members were concentrating on this riddle, Steve, David, and Dion, along with several marines and a couple Death Squadron members, took their places along the perimeter of the room. Shortly thereafter, S'ean and A'lexii entered, with S'ean taking the other head of the table, with A'lexii to his left; the seat to his right was quickly filled by LCDR Shorty Phillips.

Once everyone was seated, the before dinner cocktails were served. A'lexii and the 'imps' had juice cocktails. Once the cocktails were served, the soups and salads were brought out, and everyone politely dug in. Everything was normal until it was time for the main course to be served. The stewards served everyone except for L'ogen and C'obi. The 'imps' started to ask Captain SB where their food was, when out of the galley came the Castellano chef, pushing a trolley with covered dishes upon it.

The trolley was heaped with the kinds of foods that any young Geminiian would love. It was a cornucopia of Geminiian junk food. C'obi and L'ogen were in gastronomical heaven. Their mouths were watering so much, they almost began to eat before everyone else, but a slight mental nudge from S'ean stopped them before they embarrassed themselves.

Captain Beauty raised his wine glass in a toast and the dinner was on.

The next day Captain Beauty kept the Castellano party busy, familiarizing them with the Tommy. A side effect of that familiarization was that Captain Beauty learned things about his ship that were completely new to him.

Although Captain Beauty knew that the CIC was designed to coordinate a squadron's offensive and defensive maneuvers; he had never really explored its capabilities. He was therefore absolutely stunned when Tommy explained to him that not only could the Tommy coordinate with the other ships in a squadron, it could take over complete control of the squadron's ships, not only their maneuvering capabilities, but their offensive and defensive firepower, as well. With a squadron's flagship in complete control of a squadron, for the first time in Confederacy history, a squadron could act and fire as a single entity!

As Tommy was explaining the CIC's capabilities to Captain Beauty and his crew, Capt. S's face began to show a grin and his eyes began to take on a devilish glint.

"Can a ship's commander decline giving control to a flagship like the Tommy?" Capt. S. inquired.

Tommy glanced at S'ean before responding;

"With the older, non-upgraded ships, yes, it is possible; but with all of the new classes of ships and the upgraded ones, no. However, there is a software package being sent out that will make all ships subservient to the new flagships."

As Tommy was giving his explanation, Captain Beauty's expression changed from one of satisfaction to a dissatisfied one.

S'ean caught the last expression on the captain's face and inquired, "What's wrong, Captain? You look as if Tommy's report upset you."

"I am not really upset. I was just hoping that we didn't have to go with Plan 'A'. But, in retrospect, Plan 'A' is the one plan that will accomplish all of my objectives."

Seeing the blank looks on the Castellano party's faces, Captain Beauty began speaking again;

"I think it is time we convened in the Flag Conference Room, so I can explain my plans in detail."

S. paused to catch his breath, and then began issuing orders to his XO;

"Marc, have Captain Richards and LCDR Philips report aboard immediately; as soon as their shuttles have docked; have them escorted to the Flag Conference Room."

"At once, O Mighty Master of All Space!" was Commander Cymaraeg's flippant reply. Before S. could respond, Marc flipped a quick salute, went over to the Com Officer and began barking out his own orders.

A'lexii decided it was time to tweak his Bond's nose a bit and spoke up;

"I can understand how you feel Captain; my S'ean acts just like a child at times, as well, but I still love him." A'lexii then quickly ducked behind Tommy.

"On that note, we should all head to the Flag Conference Room. Marc, join us as soon as you have requested some beverages and snacks for us. S'ean, what should we do with............."

Dion answered the question before S. could even get the words out of his mouth.

"I will take the 'imps' down to the Gym and help them practice their Gemanji, while you have your conference. If there are any of your young crewmen who need a Gemanji workout, send them down, and we will accommodate them." Dion then headed out of the CIC to pick up S'ean's and A'lexii's sons and take them to the gym.

Meanwhile, back on Planet Terra, things were beginning to get very interesting. Through some of his uncle's business contacts, Alexander began investing in foundering Aerospace and Metallurgical Companies. Alex also found several very promising companies that could be purchased for pennies on the dollar; and some for even less than that. The really strange thing was that several of those companies had lost their investors for beginning to develop some of the same technologies that Alex had planned to introduce.

Using his Uncle's contacts and the knowledge he had taught Alex, in combination with Chris' and Jane's programming skills, Alex set up several shell companies and began to make money off the stock market and some very skillful acquisitions. As a lark one day, while picking up his white chocolate mocha with a splash of peppermint, Alex decided to purchase a Mega Millions lottery ticket, as the estimated value was approaching $800,000,000.00, and the State Lotto was a respectable $150,000,000.00. He purchased the so-called Kali Combo. Alex put the ticket into his pocket and headed for his last meeting with Dr. Lisa.

Dr. Lisa could not believe the change that had come over Alexander in just a few short days. The last time she had talked to him, she had seen some small changes, and she hoped that she had given him some things to think over that, hopefully, would break down his barriers. She definitely did not expect the Alexander who strolled into her office, completely at ease and on top of the world. His carriage was erect, but not stiff; his shoulders and neck were not slouched, and there was a bounce in his gait that she had never dreamed possible. As if that weren't enough, she could have sworn he was glowing, as if he were expecting.

"Okay, Alex, start spilling the beans! Why do you look like the cat that ate the canary?" Dr. Lisa inquired of one of her favorite patients.

"Well, Doc, it began when my girlfriend, Jane, and my best friend, Chris, had an intervention with me. They MADE me understand everything that you had been telling me. They also helped me to understand that their love for me hadn't changed and wouldn't change. Jane surprised me a lot with her statement . Then, last night, Chris physically proved that he meant what he said. He took me to bed, and then..."

Down in the gym things were going a little crazy, as some of the crew and the marines couldn't believe that Dion was going to instruct anyone who wanted it in advanced Gemanji. Commodore Skywriter had quietly passed the word to the members of his 'Death Squadron,' and there were several of them scattered throughout the gym with very amused looks on their faces. Unlike the crew of the Tommy, they knew what was going to happen, and knew better than to challenge Dion one on one. They might have a bout against L'ogen and C'obi, but they would certainly go in with their eyes open.

"Listen up, everyone; my name is Dion Castellano and I am here to conduct the Advanced Gemanji training class, today." Dion's matter of fact announcement was met with amusement and a few jeers and twitters.

Several of the 'Death Squadron's' members were thinking, 'It is going to be a very long day for those idiots; if they are lucky, they will only have to spar with the kids!'

Dion decided to take the bull by the horns and chose one the largest crew members as his guinea pig.

"Ensign Dewin, would you like to spar with L'ogen first?" Dion asked the ensign very casually.

When the Ensign looked as if he weren't going to answer, one of the 'Death Squadron', who just happened to be a LCDR, spoke up.

"Ensign Dewin, you aren't afraid of sparring with a 'kid', are you? Just think what will happen to you, when word gets out that you are afraid to get beaten by a 'kid'." While the LCDR was teasing the Ensign, he winked at L'ogen, so as not to upset him.

"Uhh.....Sir...." Ensign Dewin stuttered, as he was unsure how to address Dion, who was wearing a Gi and had no rank insignia at all. To confuse matters even more, Dion and the 'imps' were both wearing white Gi's. On top of that, Dewin had seen other officers saluting Dion, so he was understandably confused.

"Yes, Ensign, how can I help you?" Dion asked very sarcastically.

"Well, uh, Sir, I don't want to hurt one of them, as I am much bigger than they are," an embarrassed Ensign managed to stutter out.

Dion's next words completely and totally silenced the room and shocked almost everyone there. The 'Death Squadron's' members, however, had to try to hide their chuckles, as they knew what was about to happen.

"Well, Ensign, it is like this: if, and I say IF, you can take L'ogen two out of three falls, then I will gladly spar with you. Is that acceptable, Ensign and Brother?"

While all the bantering was going on, L'ogen and C'obi were getting mightily pissed off. Before they could respond, though, several things happened. First, several members of the 'Death Squadron' moved up behind them and gently placed hands on their shoulders and whispered, "Relax, we have got your backs."

At the same time, they received a message from their Dad, S'ean, and, surprisingly, from Dion, as well.

'Sons, just relax, and everything will be okay, Dion has been in your shoes before, and, trust me, he knows what he is doing. Lexi sends his love, too.'

'Bro's, relax. L'ogen is going to wipe the floor with the big lummox, and then we can start the training for real. Some people just can't understand that brute force isn't the answer to everything.'

L'ogen then responded to Dion as a student to his teacher, and almost gave the game away.

"Yes, Master, that is acceptable." L'ogen bowed to Dion, as he replied.

Luckily for the game, L'ogen was bowing, and very few heard the word "Master."

Meanwhile, Ensign Dewin was trying to think of an answer that would get him out of this increasingly unpalatable situation. Before he could come up with an acceptable solution, the matter was taken out of his hands.

The LCDR who had spoken up earlier was now standing behind the unfortunate Ensign, and in a commanding whisper, told him, "Either you say yes, or I will accept for you!"

The Ensign, who was not totally stupid, automatically responded to the unexpected order.

"Yes, uhh.... Dion, I accept."

'I am a Purple Belt, and he is only a 'kid', and a White Belt, to boot. This should be as easy as taking friandise from a baban', were the thoughts going through the Ensign's head.

What the oblivious Ensign didn't know, however, was that Dion, L'ogen and C'obi were wearing all white to symbolize purity and equality. They didn't want anyone to be in awe or fear of them. Of course, any well trained practitioner would only have to look at the way they stood and moved to be able to estimate their skill level.

With the formalities out of the way, the two fighters bowed to Dion, and at his nod began the first bout. The first bout was over almost before it started. Dewin decided to use his size and strength to his advantage, and charged directly at L'ogen, with his fists in a forward attacking position. L'ogen simply used a very simple technique executed perfectly, and with an unexpected quickness.

Diving slightly to his right, under the arms of Dewin, L'ogen used a leg sweep to topple the Ensign and then, in virtually the same motion, regained his feet and planted his right foot on Derwin's larynx. Point, L'ogen.

L'ogen then helped the poleaxed Dewin to his feet, then bowed and assumed the ready position. It took Dewin a few moments to regain his senses, shaking his head to clear the cobwebs from his rattled brain.

Dewin actually decided to use his brain for the second bout, and decided to use a feint to see how L'ogen would respond. It almost worked, except for the fact that L'ogen had been trained by the best of the best. L'ogen moved in, and, because of the disparate difference in size, his feinted attack towards Dewin's face was actually aimed toward the Ensign's solar plexus As Dewin moved to block the obvious attack, L'ogen, in the blink of an eye, shifted into the real attack. His right hand flashed downwards toward the Ensign's groin, and at the same time, he pivoted on his right foot and brought his left foot slashing towards the back of the Ensign's right knee. Before either could connect, Dion ended the bout.

"Point, L'ogen"

LCDR Akeentia decided to help Dion get his message across;

"Master Dion, if you would give me the honour of sparring with you?"

The unenlightened in the room were trying to figure out where 'honour' came into play, as Lt. Cmdr. Akeentia was a Brown Belt with eight Solarian Bursts. He was the highest ranked Gemanji practitioner most of the crew had ever seen.

"It would be my pleasure, LCDR Three out five falls?" Dion replied.

In a totally unexpected move, C'obi took command and ordered the two combatants to their places. The two combatants complied, and then bowed to C'obi. With a serious look belying his years, C'obi announced, "Begin!"

The four bouts that followed were a clinic in Gemanji that all present would remember for the rest of their lives. The two combatants moved with a speed and grace rarely witnessed. The first bout went to Dion, the second went to Akeentia, and the third and fourth went to Dion, but not easily. Dion came within a breath of losing the fourth bout; using a move that only he, S'ean, and Kevin knew, pulled his butt out of the fire in the last moment.

Both combatants bowed to each other and then to C'obi, and, while the gym broke out into cheers and hurrah's, embraced each other warmly. Once everyone's curiosity about Dion and the 'imps' was satisfied, training began with a vengeance. L'ogen and C'obi were swamped with requests for training. Ensign Dewin apologized profusely to the 'two imps', when it was his turn. He went away from the training with a much different attitude than before.

Meanwhile, in the Flag Conference Room, things were getting very interesting, as Captain Beauty began discussing, in more detail, his "Plan A".

"The basic plan, as I explained it last night before dinner, still stands. However, it is time to flesh out the details. Most of the plan is the same, although the Commanding Officer has changed; that will now be Tommy....."

"ME? Why Me?" A startled Tommy asked with similar questioning looks from almost everyone else in the room.

"If everyone will calm down and let me explain; I chose Tommy, as he is the one whom Captain Shrub has insulted the worst. I thought it would be highly ironic for Tommy to be the one demanding his surrender. Commodore Skywriter, you and your squadron will still launch, as well. After the surrender has been accomplished, you will board the Lonestar through the Shuttle Bay and take a personal message to Captain Shrub from me. Do all of you understand my reasoning and your responsibilities?" Captain Beauty inquired.

"I am not sure what my part in this is, and why you asked me to this meeting," was Shorty's response to Captain Beauty.

"Sorry about that LCDR. I forgot to explain your part of the plan. I need you to rearrange the watch schedule, so that you will be on the bridge with Captain Shrub, during the exercise. I also need you to keep a communication link open to Commander Castellano's chair during the exercise, so we can hear everything on your bridge. If you could also ensure that all of the bridge's recording equipment is online, that will be a big help." The Captain paused to catch his breath and took a quick look around the table. Satisfied, he resumed speaking.

"Basically, WE are going to give Captain Shrub more than enough rope to hang himself. Any questions?" He inquired of the group.

'I will give Captain Shrub a message all right, though it might not be exactly the one Captain Beauty sends,' a thoroughly pissed off Commodore Skywriter thought to himself.

"I think it is time that S'ean and A'lexii got used to the Command Bridge in preparation for tomorrow. Tommy, would you like to check out your Strike Fighter, as there have been a few modifications since the last time you flew one. And don't try to tell me that you aren't qualified, since I know you still have your Instructor's rating." As Captain Beauty was winding down, Tommy was blushing and trying to hide behind S'ean and A'lexii. Seeing that wasn't going to work, as S'ean and A'lexii adroitly stepped to the side, Tommy decided to return fire.

"I will try not to embarrass your old pilots too much, Captain." After Tommy's reply, he quickly had to duck out of the way and protect his rear, as A'lexii had delivered one of his patented swats.

"I wouldn't worry too much about that, young Castellano; most of my pilots aren't too much older than you. All right, everyone, let's get to work, A'lexii would you please check on Dion and make sure that he and your sons haven't disabled a lot of my crew." Captain Beauty headed toward the hatch.

Tommy had a blast checking out the new modifications to the Strike Fighters; before the modifications, the Strike Fighters were the leanest and meanest fighting machines in Confederacy Space. Now they were the best in known space. His fighter was faster and quicker than anything Tommy had ever flown. One thing Tommy had forgotten to tell Captain Beauty was that the Companions, minus S'ean and A'lexii, were going to form their own squadron, and, in cahoots with Death Squadron, they were going to put the fighter crews of The Tommy through a very intense dogfight drill. Of course, there was wagering going on, but Tommy and LCDR. Akeentia just grinned and took in the money.

Between Tommy and LCDR. Akeentia, they had both of their birds tweaked so well that the factory wouldn't recognize them. They had both chosen to fly the E Models, in order to sow as many monkey wrenches and as much confusion as possible among the enemy. Ahh, among the trainees{typical mistake when planning training missions}; one of the simplest things they had decided to do was to have all of the planes in each squadron fly packed together as tightly as they possibly could, in order to reduce their radar and lidar footprint. Tommy and the LCDR. would then use their ships' advanced ECM capabilities to make their five ships look like two. Then, at the appropriate time, Tommy and LCDR. Akeentia would switch their ECM from Decoy Mode to Active Jamming Mode, and all of the fighters would then peel off. Suddenly, instead of dealing with only four ships, the trainees would be dealing with ten!

The training went almost as expected. Well, okay, it went far better for Tommy and 'The Companion's' and The Death Squadron than it did for the Trainees. In fact, if it hadn't been for a fluke momentary engine malfunction, the score would have been Trainees Zero and Trainers Ten. The final score, though, was Trainees One and the Trainers Nine. The debriefing that Tommy and LCDR. Akeentia gave was absolutely brutal in its scope and tone. By the time the two of them were done, there were some very embarrassed and pissed off Strike Fighter pilots. Finally, Tommy had enough of the whining and bickering and he decided to end it.

"Silence, and I do mean now!" Tommy's subvocal mic in his Mark VII Skinsuit picked up his voice and amplified it just enough.

"The biggest mistake most of you, if not all of you, made is that you were fighting your ship, instead of working with it."

"That's easy for you to say, SIR! You helped create the Strike Fighters, and we can't compete with your knowledge," someone with more cojones than brains spoke out.

Tommy started to respond with a very sharp put down, but LCDR. Akeentia put a hand on Tommy's shoulder and whispered (sorta), "Don't worry, I will put this puppy in his place, and preserve your honour." The LCDR. knew perfectly well that Tommy's subvocal would pick up and amplify his response.

"Ensign Dewin is it? Well, if you want to stay an ensign and remain a Strike Fighter Pilot, you had better get all of your facts straight, before you open your mouth. Otherwise, some superior officer may just close it for you, permanently. What Commander Castellano was trying to say, too nicely for a bunch of wet behind the ears, snot-nosed brats, is – WORK WITH YOUR SHIP!– and not against it..........."


LCDR. Akeentia was on a roll now, and wasn't about to be derailed.

"Use your brains, if you have any, idiot, and quit interrupting your Senior Officers, especially when they both blew your sorry ass out of space twice, with their eyes closed! Ahhh, some of you actually made the connection. My Death Squadron and Tommy's 'Companions' beat the bejeezus out you, because we make the ships an extension of our minds and bodies, while you idiots try to make your smarter ship do the wrong thing. And, before you start getting cocky or get back on your high horse, let me tell you something. As good as Tommy and I are, Archon Castellano and Commodore Skywriter alone could have wiped out both your squadrons without blinking! How, you may ask? It is very simple; they become one with their ship, and they act as a single entity. If you don't believe me, just check out their 'Top Gun' Records. Now, let's get back to learning how to work together with your ship and your squadron mates." Akeentia then switched into his instructor persona.

Needless to say, the simulators got a lot of use that evening and way into the wee hours of the morning. Even pilots who hadn't flown the training mission were logging simulator time, as they did not want to look like tenderfeet in front of 'The Companions' and The Death Squadron.

Dinner that night was a private affair for the Castellano Party, as it was held in the Captain's private dining room, with the Captain and his XO the only 'outsiders' present. The discussion was quite lively, as the two 'imps' had lots of stories to tell about the Gemanji training session, but most of the discussion revolved around what Tommy and LCDR. Akeentia had done to the Tommy's fledgling pilots.

"Tommy, could you please stand up, so Marc can measure you? I don't believe that you are ten feet tall, and I am still looking for your horns." Tommy, of course, turned bright red at the Captain's comments.

"Don't be embarrassed or upset, Tommy; what you and LCDR. Akeentia did was very commendable. You not only showed them that you could talk the talk, but you could walk the walk, as well. Most of the pilots were stunned that they got their heads handed to them on a platter by someone so much younger than themselves. The funniest thing was to see the looks on the faces of the pilots who had just graduated and had been awarded "Top Gun". They are considering what to do about their instructors. I can't wait to see the results of your training during the exercises tomorrow." S. paused to take a sip of the glorious Castellano Shiraz that Barbara had sent along with her sons.

"I pity any of the Lonestar's pilots who are able to launch, if Captain Shrub has any on alert; which I highly doubt. S'ean and A'lexii, I have set aside some time for you in the Bridge Simulators, just so you can get a little bit of extra familiarization with the controls before you take over the bridge tomorrow during the exercises." At those words, S'ean and A'lexii sat up a little bit straighter.

Outside the dining room, things were a little bit crazy. Okay, a lot crazy! All of the approaches to the Captain's Quarters were guarded, not only by the Tommy's Marines, but by the Death Squadron, and Castellano, as well as Archon, Security. In fact, security was so tight that several crewmen were delayed in the performance of their duties, because of all the questioning they had to undergo.

In S'ean and A'lexii's quarters that night things were a little tense, as both of them were not quite sure how they were going to handle the exercise tomorrow. For S'ean, it should have been old hat, but for A'lexii it was outright terrifying, as he had absolutely no military training at all. If anyone had been able to read their minds, they would have been rolling on the floor in laughter at the two of them trying to calm each other down.

'You two will be fine, A'lexii. S'ean knows what to do; you just have to follow his lead, and sound as if you do, as well. Just DEAL with it! We need to sleep, as well.' Stunned silence followed this message from 'The Companions'.

Before either A'lexii or S'ean could formulate a response, they received another message, followed by dead silence on the mental pathways: 'Kiss each other, then get some sleep!'

As soon as they had stopped laughing, S'ean and A'lexii followed their instructions and drifted off to sleep. They didn't go into a deep sleep until a ghostly body appeared, snuggling up to A'lexii, with one arm draped over S'ean.

As the Castellano party was on their way to their working breakfast in the Flag Conference Room, they couldn't understand the looks of awe and respect they were receiving from the majority of the crew. They also couldn't fathom all the salutes that were directed at the party, especially the ones directed at Tommy. They were in for an ever bigger shock when they entered the Flag Conference Room. Everything seemed normal, until Tommy stepped through the hatch, and all of the seated officers stood and saluted him. Everyone had just reseated themselves, and the Castellano party was about to ask for explanations, when Commodore Skywriter appeared, followed by LCDR. Akeentia and the Tommy's officers stood again and saluted the LCDR.

Once everyone had been seated again, S'ean spoke up. "Captain, why is everyone on the ship saluting Tommy and the LCDR.?"

The XO Commander, Marc Cymraeg stood up and began to speak. "I believe I can answer that, Archon Castellano, as it is very simple." Marc paused to see S'ean's response. He continued after S'ean's nod and questioning look.

"The crew is saluting Tommy and LCDR. Akeentia, as they have shown that they have what it takes to be outstanding officers in the GFS, and that they have earned their ranks the hard way, with sweat and tears. What neither Tommy nor the LCDR. mentioned is the fact that both of them spent several hours of their rest time in the simulator center, helping my pilots improve their skills. They also took their turns in the simulators to prove to everyone's satisfaction that they really are that good. They proved, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that it wasn't their specially prepared fighters but their piloting that blew everyone out of space yesterday. That is why they are saluting them, and, if that isn't enough, they have drastically improved the morale of this ship. Now they are hoping that Lt. Commander S'ean can put Captain Shrub in his place for the insults he has offered their ship......"

Marc stopped speaking, before he burst out laughing at the stunned look on S'ean's face. "Sorry, S'ean, but your reputation has preceded you, no doubt thanks to Tommy and the LCDR. telling the pilots to look up your records. The unclassified ones were enough to open a few eyes, and, when LCDR. Akeentia said that he and all of Death Squadron would fly with you anywhere, well........."

Captain Beauty decided that it was time to eat, before his Chef and the Castellano Chef decided to serve him for breakfast.

"Thanks for clearing that up for us, Marc. Now we need to sit down, so we can be served breakfast before we go over the day's activities."

As soon as breakfast was served, under the baleful eyes of the two Chefs, those assembled got down to the brass tacks of the exercise.

S'ean and A'lexii were both pleasantly surprised, not only at the types and number of questions, but the sincerity of those who were asking them. It seemed that the only person who didn't question S'ean's right to command was Captain Shrub. Before they realized it, it was time for the exercise to begin. Before S'ean and A'lexii could leave the conference room, they were stopped by Captain Beauty's valet and had their uniforms tweaked to meticulous perfection.

As the Captain, S'ean, and A'lexii headed towards the Flag CIC, Dion was headed to the simulators to try to teach C'obi and L'ogen how to fly a Strike Fighter.

"But, Dion, we wanna stay with our Dads," was the stereophonic response that besieged poor Dion

"Don't worry, guys, the simulators are just like big game machines. You both know that your two Dads are going to be very busy learning how to command a squadron. Plus, they are going to teach that annoying Captain who insulted your Uncle Tommy a lesson."

Buuuuuuut, we wanna teach him a lesson too. He insulted Dad S'ean; he called him a pesti....... sumpting and it maded us mad!"

"I understand how you feel, boys, but the best way we can help your Dads is for you two to become even better pilots than your Dad S'ean and Uncle Tommy," Dion told his two charges, as he hugged them to death. 'Of course, if your Grandmother and your Dad A'lexii get their way, you will never see the inside of a real cockpit.'

On the Flag bridge things were going extremely well, until the bridge crew acknowledged S'ean's taking control of the ship.

"Captain Castellano has the bridge."

It seems that S'ean had forgotten the time-honoured naval tradition that the Commanding Officer of a ship is always addressed as 'Captain'.

After a momentary bout of speechlessness, S'ean acknowledged control.

"I have the bridge."

A slight round of applause broke out at that announcement, and then everyone swiftly resumed their assigned places and duties.

"A'lexii, please take over the comms station."

Since that wasn't in the plan, A'lexii stumbled a bit before responding vocally and mentally.

"At once, CAPTAIN!"

'You will pay for that, husband dear', sent a slightly perturbed Bond.

As A'lexii took his seat at the comms station, the Lieutenant whose station it was quickly handed A'lexii an ear comm, and whispered, "It is a two channel; I will coach you through everything. Don't worry, I won't let you screw up, and we can get back at him later."

A'lexii whispered a thank you, then turned and sent an evil grin to his Bond.

"Comm station, open the squadron-wide commlink," ordered Captain S'ean. While S'ean was assuming command, Commander Cymraeg quietly left the flag bridge and headed towards the Tommy's main bridge, from where he would monitor the exercises.

"Squadron-wide link established, sir," a no-nonsense A'lexii reported. "All ships report ready for orders."

"Comms, have all ships assume escort positions and proceed at half speed," S'ean ordered.

"All ships assume escort positions and proceed at half speed. Aye, aye, Captain," A'lexii responded, while listening to the instructions in his ear. Opening the correct channels, he relayed the Squadron Commander's orders.

"Tactical, bring up the positioning plot." Before S'ean had finished, the holographic battle plot appeared.

As S'ean studied the hologram, he noticed that all three ships were proceeding according to plan. While he was studying the hologram, Kevin walked up next to him, patted him on the shoulder, and at the same time slipped an ear comm onto his right ear. Suddenly S'ean was hearing the GFS Lonestar's bridge chatter. The comments he was hearing from Captain Shrub were raising his blood pressure and infuriating him.

"What does that kid think he is going to do with that toy ship of his? We can out-fly it and blow the pants off of him, whenever we want. Helm, from now on, I want you to respond to all orders a half mic or more later; also reduce speed by a quarter. We will see what the brat does then." Shrub was chortling inside, as he gave his orders.

Without thinking, S'ean hit the switch on his ear comm that fed the signal into the flag bridge's wallcomms. No one there could believe what they were hearing. As soon as A'lexii realized what S'ean had done, he immediately switched the feed to the ship-wide comm, and sent a tight beamed graser to the GSF Haven, attention Captain Richards.

"Okay, so that is how it is going to be, is it?" S'ean thought out loud, which caused a few slight snickers and Captain S. to grin evilly, very evilly.

"Comms, battle stations, but do not raise the shields or activate the lidar. Spook Team, launch a decoy drone, have it activate at five parsecs away, and have it imitate an unknown battle cruiser!"

Within seconds the Spook Team had launched a stealthed decoy drone ahead of the squadron on a course that would look like an intercept course when its ECM went live.

"Captain Richards, as soon as our decoy goes live, I want you to cross the "T," so it looks as if you are putting the unknown ship under your broadside and protecting us. We will immediately launch four of the Tommy's wings and The Death Squadron's two. The four wings and the junior Death Squadron Wing will at first head toward the 'unknown ship,' but once I give the command for the Lonestar to tighten up, and WG refuses; those wings will immediately englobe the Lonestar. Commodore Skywriter, your wing will fly the CAP; once the Lonestar has surrendered, you may deliver your message and one from myself, as well. I can't wait to see what "Captain Shrub" has to say, when he is totally surrounded by twenty-five fighters, and the Haven and the Tommy bracketing him fore and aft with massive growler fire." S'ean paused for a moment to wait for Captain Richards' answer.

"Aye, aye, Captain, I understand your orders, and the Haven will comply completely." Captain Richards' response was crisp and no-nonsense.

"Helm, as soon as the fighters break to englobe, I want you to turn this ship on as tight an arc as you can, and cross the "T" to the Lonestar's stern. Any questions?" As expected, there were none, and the crewmembers quickly went about their assigned tasks.

"Comms, at my 'Mark', raise shields to maximum, Tactical, paint the Lonestar with every Lidar and Targeting Radar we have. I want that ship to know we mean business! CAG, have Tommy follow suit with all his Strike Fighters. If they aren't on the ball, they will be electronically blind over there." S'ean returned his gaze from A'lexii to the battle plot and began counting down.

As soon as the stealthed decoy drone hit its assigned location, it blazed into life as an unknown Battle Cruiser of unusual size and configuration.

As the unknown ship became visible in both the Tommy's and the Haven's sensors, alarm klaxons began sounding. The Haven began making a very quick turn to port, ostensibly to bring its starboard batteries to bear on the unknown ship and to protect the flagship.

"What wimps! The namby pamby schoolboys have to hide behind another ship!" Captain Shrub was chortling with glee, completely unaware that the Tommy had launched five wings of Strike Fighters. The wings had been launched in less than the time it took for the Haven to make a quarter turn. He was also unaware that his voice was being piped to all of the other ships in the squadron, including the Strike Fighters. His rant was dutifully being recorded by the Tommy, the Haven, and Commodore Skywriter's Fighter.

"A'lexii, tell the Lonestar to increase speed to Flank and turn ninety degrees to port to cut off the intruder," S'ean ordered A'lexii, who immediately responded.

"AYE, AYE, CAPTAIN, at once." A'lexii then relayed S'ean's orders in as commanding a voice as he was capable of. As A'lexii was relaying S'ean's orders, his voice was coming through the Lonestar's comm systems and, subsequently, the Tommy's.

Almost immediately Captain Beauty's prediction came to pass, LOUD and CLEAR!

"Balderdash! Belay that order! No pestiferous, snot-nosed........."

The rest of his words were drowned out by a very commanding "MARK!" from S'ean that seemed to ring throughout the ship and space.

Instantly, the Tommy began a seemingly impossibly tight and speedy port turn of its own. Simultaneously, all twenty-five Strike Fighters pivoted and began their englobement of the Lonestar. The poor crew of the Lonestar could not believe what was happening, and, before they could figure it out, two massive growler blasts rocked their bow and stern.

Before the glare of the growler blasts had completely dissipated, Tommy's commanding voice was booming through the Lonestar's comm system.

"GSF Lonestar, this is Commander Tommy Castellano of the GSF Tommy Castellano, and I am ordering you to heave to and prepare to be boarded. Captain Shrub, you are further ordered to surren......."

Whatever else Tommy was going to say was obscured by Captain Shrub's attempt at a tirade.

"I will not heave to..."

Captain Shrub's tirade was abruptly cut off by LCDR. Shorty Philips.

"Captain Shrub, you are relieved of command, effective immediately, for gross insubordination and dereliction of duty. Major Jorden, remove the captain from the bridge. He is confined to quarters, pending a Court Martial."

Captain Shrub had attempted to answer LCDR. Philips, but the Captain of the Marines, Major R. Lee Jorden had quelled that, by using a Hypo Spray to incapacitate the captain.

As the Major was assisting two of his marines to remove the now unconscious captain, Shorty addressed the Comms Officer.

"Open the ship-wide comm channel, as well as the squadron-wide channel."

Before Shorty could continue, the comms officer announced, "Ship- and squadron-wide channels open, SIR!"

Meanwhile back on Gemini:

Now that Jared had semi-adjusted to his new position, he had decided to take advantage of all the assistance he had been offered. Instead of wandering aimlessly through the Estate, lost in his thoughts, he now walked throughout the Estate with a purpose, usually accompanied by Travis.

Poor Travis! As it seems, once Jared broke out of his shell, all of his Bond training took over. Jared was asking so many questions that Travis was unable to answer that he had nearly worn out the keypad of his wristcomm. Travis had finally come up with a better solution; he now carried the PADD that would be Jared's, and both he and Jared were now wearing earpieces. Now, whenever Travis would call someone who had the answer to a question that Jared had asked, both of them could hear the answer, and Travis didn't have to repeat things anymore.

The lunch hour was approaching, and, just as Jared was going to ask another question, the PADD chimed, and a hologram of the overseer, Mr. Rex, appeared.

"Master Jared, we will be unable to have our afternoon training session, as a family emergency has arisen, and I need to leave the Estate to be with my family. However, I also need to go into the village and make arrangements with some of our vendors. As these arrangements are for the displaced Bond children that are on their way here, I want you to take Travis and go into the village and take care of the arrangements for me. I will send one of our assistants with you to handle the credit side of everything. Barbara asked me to also tell you to spend whatever you think is necessary, and don't scrimp. The Estate has more than enough reserves to handle anything, and The Archonate is splitting the bill. "

All Jared could do was nod his head before the overseer signed off.

Back on-board the GSF Lonestar:

Slightly taken aback, Shorty paused for a moment before speaking.

"Attention all decks, attention all ships. This is LCDR. Shorty Philips. As of this moment, I am taking command of the GSF Lonestar..."

Shorty's announcement was interrupted by another announcement that appeared on a rarely used Emergency Command Channel that required Flag Rank or above to activate.

"This is Grand Marshal D'avid Castellano. Captain Philips is taking command of the GSF Lonestar at my express command, and with my personal backing. As of this moment, he is now under the command of my office, pending the completion of this cruise."

The only persons who weren't stunned by the second announcement were S'ean and his Companions. They were all sending the same message across their link:


Meanwhile, the GSF Lonestars's shuttle bay was very busy, as they were receiving a hot landing of a very pissed off Commodore Skywriter's Strike Fighter. Commodore Skywriter knew he was probably breaking three or four hundred regulations, but he really couldn't give a …...... Captain Shrub had insulted unofficial members of his squadron, people that he would fly with anywhere and at any timepeople that he would fly with anywhere and at any time ("To say that someone would fly with you, is about the highest accolade any pilot could ever receive from another pilot."). Commodore Skywriter didn't even acknowledge the crewmen that assisted him out of his fighter. He was so incensed that he never even noticed they were there. Commodore Skywriter's trip to Captain Shrub's Quarters was an absolute blur. He never noticed or acknowledged any of the salutes he received. Once he reached the disgraced Captain's quarters, he opened and closed the hatch before the Marine Guard could even think of responding.

Captain Shrub started to get up from behind his desk, where he had been composing a scathing report on LCDR. Shorty Philips' behaviour.

"Sit down and shut up! I don't want to hear a word out of your worthless mouth!"

Captain Shrub collapsed back into his chair, stunned at the words that came out of Commodore Skywriter's mouth. Since they were also phrased as an order, his militarily trained brain responded automatically.

"I used to think you were only stupid, and not completely dumb! I actually thought that you had some brain cells and knew how to use them. But, no, you had to go and prove me wrong in the most asinine and stupid way imaginable. Do you have any idea what you have just done to your career? Do you? You will be lucky to be a co-pilot on a garbage scow when this is all over, that is, if you even have your wings left!!! Did you even bother to check the roster of the GSF Tommy Castellano? Did you even bother to research the provenance of the ship you called a toy? Didn't the name Castellano ring a bell?" Commodore Skywriter paused a moment to catch his breath, before he could continue berating Shrub.

Captain Shrub stupidly tried to open his mouth and respond, but the steely-eyed glare from the Commodore and the fact that the Commodore's hand was on his growler, and that growler was halfway out of the holster, stopped him dead in his tracks.

"Those 'kids', as you called them, aren't kids at all! They are the sons of Grand Marshal D'avid Castellano and their bodyguards. Every one of those so-called 'kids', with the exceptions of A'lexii and his sons, are fully qualified Drop Force Commandos. In addition, they are all unofficial members of my squadron. If that wasn't enough, that so-called 'TOY' could blast your ship out of space with babies in command of it, without even slowing down at all. That so-called 'TOY' is worth five of your ex- ship alone! I wash my hands of you, for good and all, and I wish I had never met you!"

Commodore Skywriter then turned and exited the room, and, as the hatch was closing, there was the sound of a growler firing.


Author's Notes:

Well, it looks like the stupid Shrub got pruned, and the 'Toy' isn't a toy. The 'imps' and Jared seem to be doing nicely, at least for now. We haven't heard from the scourge for awhile; that will happen in the next chapter. As for Captain Shrub, it looks as if the proverbial "bovine excrement has hit the oscillating air movement device"©

The Story Lover

© by The Radio Rancher

Editor's Notes:

We certainly learned a lot about the GSF ships and their crews in this chapter. I'm a little concerned about Ensign Dewin. He acts and sounds a lot like a disciple of our Captain Shrub. Let's hope he doesn't turn out to be another one; one was quite enough!

The crew of the Tommy really proved what they could do in a battle situation. It looks as if we've got a well-functioning team here.

And Captain Shrub? He got what he deserved—or did he? I really hate it when an author leaves a big cliffhanger at the end of a chapter! The sound of growler fire in a room where only one person, the disgraced Captain Shrub, is by himself. Come on, Mr. TSL, don't leave us hanging! What happened?

Arli J

Other Editor's Notes:

Once again TSL has given us a lot to think about. Captain Shrub was not exactly acting correctly. He did a number on himself, and most likely hasn't a chance of redeeming himself. I wonder what was happening with that Growler fire. I hope we will find out the details next time. I can hardly wait.

Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher

Yet Another Editor's Notes:

Well, that was a fun chapter. As the naval adviser, I must say S'ean's is just cute as a button. As Naval adviser, this has been a fun chapter to review. There does seem to be a heck of a lot of LCDR.s running around. One note usually when addressing a LCDR. one usually says Commander, but since we were using the abbreviation, I let that go (besides it would have been a bit confusing like calling a Marine Captain, Major. Another correction I made is to change sailors to crewmen. On a ship they are sailors but in the air (and by extension, space) they are crewmen. Also, that is a classification and there isn't a crewperson or crewwoman, there are female crewmen.

I hope you enjoyed this chapter as much as I did.


Comments Appreciated at The Story Lover