Blackrose – The Academy Years
By Chakat Blackrose

The Time: 12 years or so after the Folly was attacked by pirates.

Blackrose sat quietly for a moment, on the pilot's pad, then turned and grinned at hir co-pilot.

“Are you two going to behave yourselves, now that I'm not there to keep an eye on you?”

Starblazer giggled from the Engineering station as Firestorm grinned back, “Of course not!”

“Good. Dad needs someone to keep him on his toes.”

Stormy giggled at hir big sister. “I'm going to have to work at it. You set a pretty high standard, you know.”

“Yeah, but with both you and Star working on it, you might, just might mind you, be able to maintain a reasonable level of harassment.”

“As if! Stormy and I have pulled some the best pranks the last couple of years,” Star interjected from her position at the engineering panel.

“Sure, after you asked me for ideas, then got me to show you how,” Blackrose smirked, before shi got smacked by hir sibling's tail. Just missing hir grab for the chastising tail, shi rose to hir feet and stretched.

Stormy and Star got up as well, and followed their big sister out of the cockpit. Pausing only briefly to don hir panniers, Blackrose continued out of the shuttle and onto the landing pad, where they both hugged hir strongly.

“Gonna miss you, big sis. We both are. Folly won't be the same without you.”

“I'm going to miss all of you, too, brats,” Blackrose teased lightly. “But this is something I need to do, and it's where I need to be. I'm going to be here for the next four years, maybe a bit longer, so if Folly makes it back here, you'll be able to see me. After that, I'm sure we'll run into each other from time to time.”

“I know,” Stormy replied, tightening hir hug, “but it's hard letting you go. I don't know if I'll be leaving Folly or not. Right now, I don't think so.”

“That's a decision that you and Star will have to make. By the time you're old enough, the two of you will be some excellent traders and starship pilots. You'll be able to give Dad a run for his money, for sure.”

“As if. We'll know enough to make a living at it, that's all. Competing with Folly is something we might think about in a century or so.”

Blackrose snorted in agreement. “Probably true. Now, I need to report in, and you two need to get this pod unloaded and get back to Folly. Dad murdered his schedule to bring me here, and you had best get to it or you're going to be chasing him all the way to Chakona.”

Star enveloped hir big sister in a hug, then grinned ruefully at hir, before waving goodbye as shi turned to the port inspector that was waiting nearby.

Blackrose turned and trotted off, headed for the nearest rail transport stop.

Entering the Reception Building, Blackrose paused momentarily to get hir bearings, then made hir way to check-in.

The human at the desk glanced up, then took a second look at the massive chakat standing before her. Larger by far than any other chakat she had seen at well over 6 feet tall, this one was heavily muscled, and so impressively black that shi actually appeared to be blue, with a spotted coat that resembled a jaguar's, the spots just discernible in hir black-on-black coloring.

“Chakat Blackrose, daughter of Weaver and Neal, reporting in,” shi said, handing over hir papers.

“You're two days early, I see.”

“Yes, ma'am” Blackrose answered, “but my transportation arrived today, and I thought I might as well get started.”

“I see. It's no problem, just a bit surprising. Most cadets arrive within just a few hours of their scheduled time.”

Processing hir papers quickly, the clerk soon had Blackrose on hir way.

Settling into hir room, Blackrose quickly stored the personal items shi brought and settled on a pad in the living area, then tapped hir Folly badge.

“Tess, would you please let everyone know that I'm settling in and everything is fine at this point? I'm heading over to the quartermaster's to get my kit, next.”

“How's the barracks?” Neal asked.

“It's more like a dormitory, Dad. I have what amounts to a small suite. It's set up for taurs, and I'll have a roommate soon enough. Probably in the next two or three days. We each have a bedroom, we share the facilities and there is a nice common area and a decent kitchen. I'll need to check out what kind of food has been provided, but I'll do that after I pick up my kit.”

“How big is it?” Stormy and Star asked, almost in unison.

“Smaller than my room on Folly, but spacious enough,” shi laughed in reply. “It is set up for taurs, you know. Dad, are you going to be able to cope with those two without me to help?”

“I think it'll actually be a little easier,” Neal replied wryly. “You won't be here to give them ideas, not that they really need any help.”

“Awww, does that mean you miss me already?” Blackrose teased.

“Actually, daughter, I do. And I will. We'll be leaving tomorrow, after we pick up a couple shipments in Melbourne. I don't expect to be back this way for about three years. But I'll make sure we have enough time to see you when we do.”

“I just hope you don't get here while I'm off on my training cruise.”

“We will try to avoid that. I'm sure Captain Midnight will keep us informed of your progress.”

“As if I wouldn't?” Blackrose asked, hir tone haughty. “I don't think you trust me, after that.”

“Oh, we trust you. We trust you to pull a prank as soon as we're not looking,” Weaver interjected “And don't think I have forgotten your first prank, either, you little brat,” she finished with a chuckle.

“Yes, Mother,” Blackrose replied, with thoroughly insincere contriteness. “Besides,” shi giggled, “how long did it take you to get me back?”

“Hush! And remember that 'Fleet doesn't appreciate pranks as much as we do. You don't need to spend any time in the brig, Blackrose. Remember that.”

“Yes, Mom. I know. It's going to be hard, and I know I'm going to wind up pulling extra duty when I can't help myself, but I will be toning it down. I do know that much.”

“Good,” Neal answered. “I'm sure you still have a lot to do before you can relax, and we're busy, too. We'll talk to you later, little one.”

“Thanks, Dad, Mom, Tess and everyone. I'll talk to you again this evening. Bye.”

After consulting the map shi was provided, Blackrose headed out to get hir cadet kit from supply.

Entering the building, shi found hirself at the end of a short line, and waited hir turn patiently.

When hir turn came up, shi was greeted by a human staff sergeant, whose wide smile is genuinely welcoming.

“My, you're a big one, aren't you?” she commented. “You can call me Myra – everyone does. I don't think I've ever seen a chakat as big as you. I hope the replicators can cope,” she finished with a sly look.

Blackrose laughed. “Yeah, I know I'm big, and it gets commented about, a lot. And just for your information, I've never overloaded a replicator, yet. And I can fix it if I do,” shi finished, with a wink.

Myra laughed delightedly. “I'm glad you can take a joke. That's important around here,” she said as shi motioned Blackrose onto a platform. “If you'll hand me your top, the computer will take your measurements.”

Complying, Blackrose waited until the computer beeped, then leapt lightly off the platform, and followed Myra over to a replicator.

As hir equipment was replicated, Blackrose kept a careful inventory, checking it against the list of equipment provided in hir information packet.

After donning a uniform top and pinning on an issue communicator, shi proceeded to pack up hir equipment with Myra's assistance.

“You're not as baffled as most cadets,” Myra commented, “you seem to know how to pack up all this gear.”

“I've studied just a little bit about the Academy, Myra, I have a very good idea what to expect here. I just like being prepared.”

“That's a good attitude, I think it'll carry you a long way. Good luck, and come back and see me when you need more gear.”

“Will do. And thank you, Myra. You made this easier and more pleasant than it might have been.”

Settling the panniers on hir lower torso, Blackrose picked up the remaining backpack and swung it lightly to hir shoulders before trotting off, on hir way back to hir quarters.

Sitting down as shi arrived for their first parade formation at the Academy, Blackrose glanced over to hir roommate, a large black wolftaur named Arigaunt, though he preferred “Ari”.

“What do you think, Ari?”

“It's going to be interesting. I'm really looking forward to it. I wonder how hard it's going to be, physically?”

“Not as tough for you as it will be for most of us,” Blackrose replied. “You were living with your pack, after all. It's still going to be hard, even for you and me. And I've been training specifically for this for the last few years, and I've been trained by 'Fleet Marines who knew what I'd be facing.”

“Whoops, they're coming out,” Ari replied, coming to his feet as Blackrose copied him.

The formation came to attention as the command was called, as Blackrose stifled a smirk at what some of the 'taurs around considered to be that position. Shi knew they would find out their errors soon enough.

Shi quickly tried to still her expression as shi noticed one of the instructors eying hir. “Not good,” shi scolded hirself. “Drawing attention to myself in the very first formation. Stupid, stupid, stupid.” When the instructor continued his way through the formation, shi let out a very subdued sigh of relief.

When one of the cadets in the biped formation got called out for talking, and dropped for push-ups, another grin appeared, and to hir dismay, it was seen.

“What do you think is so funny, cadet?” shi was asked, as the foxtaur Gunnery Sergeant, Azarrel, appeared in front of hir.

“Nothing, sir.”

“Then why was that smile on your face?”

“Permission to speak freely, sir?”

“Granted. And while you're at it, explain how you know enough to ask that.”

“Yes, sir. I know because my adoptive family included several 'Fleet Marines. I was grinning because I have some inkling of what my fellow cadets are going to have to learn the hard way.”

“Hmph. Well, for grinning in formation, what do you think is the punishment?”

“That is up to you, sir. I will not presume to guess.”

The foxtaur grinned up at hir. “You're no dummy. Let's see you do one full body mass pull-up.”

“Yes, sir,” Blackrose replied, breaking formation and trotting over to the pull-up bar, the sergeant close behind hir.

Eying the bar, shi asked the sergeant, “Is it adjustable? It's a bit low for me to hang free.”

“Just do your best, cadet.”

“Yes, sir,” Blackrose replied. Rearing up and grasping the bar, shi raised hir hindquarters off the ground and hung briefly at full extension until hir body was motionless. Lifting hir tail as well, shi smoothly pulled hirself up and lifted hir chin cleanly over the bar, then lowered hirself back down with the same ease before dropping back to the ground on all fours.

“Well done,” the sergeant said, before whispering to hir, “What's your record?”

“Thirteen, sir,” shi whispered back.

“Don't make me take you to fifteen,” was the reply, as they started back to the formation.

“Never, sir,” Blackrose replied, swallowing a gulp as shi re-entered the formation.

Ari stared across the table at Blackrose. “Are we all going to have to do that?” he asked as he set his lunch tray down.

“Yep. It's a standard punishment, just like push-ups for the bipeds. They'll start everyone at one pull-up.”

“And if we can't?”

“You will before long. You'd better include that in your physical training, along with other strength work. And they'll be pushing endurance as well. You're trying for the 'Corps, so you'll only be here two years or so, unless you decide to specialize. They'll probably expect you to be able to do three pull-ups by then. I'm 'Fleet, and going for the Marines, they expect us to do five. I can already do more than ten, so they'll find other ways to work me.”

“How did you know?” Ari asked.

Blackrose grinned at him. “As I told the sergeant, my family includes 'Fleet Marines. They're Rakshani, they've been training me for years, and they haven't been gentle. Physically, I'm pretty much ready for anything they'll throw at us. I also have an edge on some of the classroom stuff, but I'm still going to have to work, and work hard, to get through the Academy. Especially if I expect to get the assignment I want.”

“Got any hints for me?”

“Right now, I'd say work on your strength, especially your upper body. And expect to have your endurance tested, and tested hard. Classroom stuff won't be impossible, but you'll be putting a lot of study time in. If you have the mindset and talent for your chosen specialty, it won't be too bad. After the first term, let's take a look at your scores and see if you need to change anything.”

“I think I'm glad I got to be your roommate. It's going to help me a lot,” Ari said with a grin.

“It's mutual, roomie. I like you and I think we'll get along, and that counts for a lot, too.”

Blackrose waited at the start line for the obstacle course while the instructors went over the things they were expected to do. One point that was made right off was that, regardless of their abilities, they were expected to use the aids that were provided at the obstacles, even if they weren't needed.

One of the other chakats, Madfur by name, asked exactly what that meant. (Madfur's coat was a wild mix of colors, thus hir name.)

The staff sergeant scowled at hir, then replied sharply, “There is at least one obstacle where a rope is provided as an assist to crossing. You are expected to use the rope, even if you're capable of jumping across without it. Understand?”

“Yes, sir!” Madfur replied, realizing that the question hadn't been a good idea.

“Any other questions?”

“No, sir!” the assembled cadets shouted.

“First squad, GO!”

Blackrose quickly took the lead, not slowing at all at the first obstacle, jumping lightly to the top of the log and running its length at full speed. The next few obstacles gave hir no trouble, then shi spotted the one the staff sergeant had mentioned, a mud pit with ropes hanging over it.

Shi grinned as shi sped up, very thankful to Dessa and Bonita for showing hir the trick to this one. The ropes were hanging motionless over the center of the pit as shi charged toward one of the center ropes. Leaping and grabbing the rope, shi was careful to keep hir momentum going, allowing hir to swing cleanly over the mud and continue toward the relatively low wall that was the next obstacle. Leaping over the wall, shi was startled by the water pit on the other side and hit with a massive splash, though shi did manage to stay on hir feet. Behind hir, shi heard a “splat” as someone fell into the mud.

Splashing hir way to the far side of the water, shi grumbled to hirself, “One for the course designers. That was a surprise. Good way to get the mud off, though,” shi finished, with a sour grin.

Shi had no further trouble with the course, but shi was winded when shi finished. Sinking to hir belly, shi lowered hir upper torso to the ground as well and tried to slow hir breathing and heartbeat.

“You made good time, cadet,” the foxtaur instructor said as he walked up.

“Thank you, sir,” Blackrose replied. “I have experienced more difficult ones, but this one is a long way from easy.”

“Oh? Where was that?”

“In a holodeck, sir. The course was set up by Rakshani, and they did it just for me.”

“Could we do something similar here?”

“Not outside of a holodeck, sir. They mixed terrain types, and had me go from desert sand dunes to a tropical swamp, then climb a 30 meter rock face onto a glacier. And those were just the first obstacles.”

The sergeant looked startled for a moment, then he chuckled. “Yeah, that would be hard to do anyplace else.”

“Go ahead and rest here while you wait for the rest of your squad. Then assemble them and take them back to the rally point.”

Hiding a gulp, Blackrose replied, “Yes, sir!” while thinking to hirself, “Damn, now I'm a squad leader? That's what I get for showing off. Dumb. And he didn't tell me how to get there, either.”

“Sergeant?” shi asked, rising to hir feet.

“Yes, cadet?”

“Where is the rally point, sir?” shi asked, seeing the next fur to finish the course arrive, not surprised that it was Ari.

“Do you have any experience in wild country navigation, cadet?”

“Some, sir. I'll not claim to be an expert, by any means.”

“Do you remember where you dropped the rest of your gear?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Can you find your way back?”

“Yes, sir, though it would be easier with a map.”

“Do it without. It'll do you good.” The sergeant then headed over to the first arrival from the second squad.

“Yes, sir,” Blackrose replied, settling back down. “Oh, well. It was worth a try. Need to wait on three more, then give them about five minutes to rest before we take off.”

Once the sergeant was occupied, Ari moved over and settled down next to hir. “What was that about?” he asked quietly.

“I just got appointed squad leader,” Blackrose grumped. “And before you get too excited about that, I've decided that you're my assistant squad leader.”

Ari growled at that, obviously unhappy.

“Don't be like that. If I hadn't, there's a good chance the sergeant would have made the same decision. I got squad because I finished first. That's what I get for showing off.”

Ari's scowl faded, “Maybe it's a good thing I didn't catch you, after all.”

“Maybe so. Anyway, when we take off, I want you to bring up the rear and make sure nobody falls behind or gets separated from the rest of us.”

Ari grinned at hir. “Gonna make me the dust eater, huh?”

Blackrose grinned back. “I always heard it called Tail End Charlie.”

“Here comes Madfur. That's the last of our squad, Ari. We'll give them about five minutes to catch their breath, then we're leaving. Let them know.”

Ari grumbled as he stood up. “First squad, listen up!” he called. “Five minutes rest, then form up.”

“Who made you boss?” Madfur called.

“Shi did,” he replied, pointing at Blackrose. “The sergeant just appointed hir squad leader.”

Madfur settled down to rest, not willing to argue with that.

“First squad, form up!” Ari called out a few minutes later, seeing Blackrose rising.

Blackrose walked down the line, then back up.

“We're heading out to the rally point,” shi said. “I'm not going to push the pace too hard, but I do expect every one of you to keep up. Follow me.”

Moving out at an easy trot, shi heard the squad following behind.

Blackrose moved gingerly into the office, before reporting in.

“Cadet Blackrose reporting as ordered, Shir.”

Commander Fastpaw, a leopard patterned chakat, gestured for hir to settle down on the provided pad.

“I see you have received training from the Redpaw Institute, cadet. There’s a note here that it is on-going. Care to explain that?”

Pausing a moment to gather hir thoughts, Blackrose replies, “I was tested there several years ago, shir, and they classified me as a T4. I have a sister with sufficient range that I am able to contact them for my additional training from wherever I happen to be.”

“Impressive. How much longer do they anticipate your training will require?”

“That’s indefinite, shir. While I have recently completed my current training, they believe I still have unrealized capabilities and they’re waiting for those to appear before they make a decision.”

“Have they given you any idea what those capabilities may be?”

“No, shir.”

“I see. We’ll just let that go for the moment, then.

“I understand, shir. I’ve been working on keeping myself contained. When I have completed my training with the Redpaw Institute and this additional training, I may have some questions for you, if that’s acceptable.”

“Of course, cadet. Might I ask what those questions are?”

“For the moment, shir, I would prefer to keep those to myself. I may find the answers before I finish my training. If not, then I’ll ask for an appointment, shir.”

Settling down with hir tray, Blackrose had just started eating hir lunch when shi heard hir name called. Looking up, shi saw Meadowrunner, a dark red cougar-patterned chakat, approaching.

“Mind if I join you?”

“Not at all, ‘Runner, pull up a pad,” Blackrose responded.

“Thanks. I wasn’t sure I’d catch you here today, and I wanted to ask you for a favor.”

“The answer is yes, if I believe what my nose is telling me.”

Meadowrunner nodded. “Your nose is right. I lost track of the time, and I’m in heat. I need to deal with that before I cause any more problems.”

“What? You got upwind of the wrong fur?”

“Uh-huh. There’s a wolf morph in my squad that thinks he’s something special. I don’t want or need his attention, so I was hoping you’d help me.”

“Can do. I’ll be free after supper. Your room or mine?”

“Yours, please. My roommate, as I’m sure you’ll recall, is a trifle picky about visitors.”

“I remember her, arctic vixentaur, right?”

“Snowbird. And she’s in heat, too.”

“I see,” Blackrose grinned mischievously, “you don’t want to share.”

Meadowrunner swatted hir with hir tail. “As if!”

“Ari might want to join in, ‘Runner,” Blackrose warned. “You’re pretty fragrant.”

Blackrose grunted as shi completed yet another round on hir guard patrol. Guard duty has to be Gunny’s favorite punishment drill, shi thought. This is the sixth time he’s used it on me. Not that I don’t deserve it, after all, I got caught. It was a funny prank, though, shi finished with a very quiet giggle. Shi had been caught giggling about that once before, while shi was on guard duty, and got to pull another night’s duty for it. So shi was very careful to be extremely quiet when shi did.

Yesterday’s prank had been a good one. Shi’d found a trick pen and had purchased three. They had a special ink that disappeared about a half hour after it was used. Gunny hadn’t been so amused when the training report he’d written vanished while he took a coffee break. Shi wasn’t sure how, but he’d managed to discover that shi had been responsible, and so here shi was. Shi wasn’t sure what shi was going to do with the other two pens, after this. Shi was going to keep them, though.

Blackrose grinned as shi trotted across the parade ground to hir final checkpoint. The six day field exercise had ended with a 20 kilometer cross country orienteering course. With nine checkpoints and full kit, it had been an arduous trek. As usual, shi was the first one in, and shi was pleased with hir performance. This was the final exercise of hir second year at the Academy, and many of the other cadets, those destined for the ’Corps, would be graduating in a few days. As a ’Fleet cadet, shi still had two years to go before graduation.

After clearing the checkpoint, shi was free for the evening and the following day, and shi planned a long soak in the tub before anything else. Shi expected to have enough time before Ari got in, shi had pushed hirself to get that time.

Ari had decided to go for additional training as a scout-explorer, since he hoped to be assigned to Survey, exploring newly discovered planets, when he graduated. So he was expecting to graduate with Blackrose, and they would be roommates for another two years, which pleased them both. They had become good friends since entering the Academy, and hoped to maintain that friendship after graduation. They wouldn’t be in the same classes any more, since they were both entering the specialized training for their future careers, but they hoped to have some of the physical training together.

While Ari was planning on spending his break time with his pack, Blackrose had decided to remain at the Academy and get some special research done.

Arriving at the training field early, Blackrose settled hir gear in an appropriate location and then moved onto the training field to warm up. Progressing smoothly through hir stretching routine, shi kept an eye on the other cadets as they arrived, and noted the instructor hanging back and watching the group.

Several of the other cadets had joined hir on the field, beginning their own warm-up exercises. Finishing hir stretching routine, Blackrose moved on to an unarmed kata, concentrating on hir form, striving for perfection of execution rather than speed. While shi was capable of completing the kata far faster, shi wanted to work on some of the finer details of position and paw placement this time. Seeing the instructor approaching, shi finished hir form at an intermediate point and moved off the field to the assembly area.

The instructor, a large wolf morph wearing a workout top and pants, approached the group as Blackrose called “Attention!”

“At ease,” he called as he reached the front of the group. “I am Instructor Greymane, and I will be instructing you in paw-to-paw combat from now on. I see several of you have had training, as you were warming up before class started. Do any of you who were on the sidelines have any training?”

When one of those furs said “Yes, sir”, the instructor asked, “Why weren’t you warming up?”

“I didn’t think …” he began, only to be interrupted by the instructor.

“THAT’S RIGHT! YOU DIDN’T THINK!” that worthy yelled at the hapless cadet. “Drop and give me fifty,” he continued, disciplining the biped fox morph.

Turning back to his other students, he addressed Blackrose. “Your name, cadet?”

“Blackrose, sir,” shi replied.

“All right, Cadet Blackrose. You will be my assistant instructor. We will address your personal training needs after this class. For now, you have the skills to assist me.”

“Yes, sir!” Blackrose replied. “I should be used to this by now,” shi groused to hirself. “I know better than to show off, but I was just warming up, like I know I needed to do. Could be worse. It could always be worse.”

“Blackrose,” Greymane continued, “you take the ‘taurs with you to the other side of the field and teach them how to stretch. Teach them the full routine you did here. You have ninety minutes. We’ll work up a couple more routines for them later.”

“Yes, sir. ‘Taurs, form up and follow me.”

From across the field, Blackrose saw the instructor working the bipeds through a stretching routine that was comparable to what shi was teaching the ‘taurs on hir side of the field. As the class neared its end, shi saw him signal hir to bring hir students back to his side of the field.

When all the cadets were back in formation, Greymane addressed them. “I expect every single one of you to complete the full stretching routine you were taught this morning at least once this afternoon. Exactly when is up to you. I also expect you to do it at least twice tomorrow, morning and evening. We will be back here Wednesday morning and I expect every one of you to be able to complete the entire routine flawlessly. If you need additional instruction, I will be here every afternoon from 1500 to 1700 hours. I will be arranging hours for Cadet Blackrose later today, and they will be announced at the next class. Dismissed!”

“Blackrose, I need to talk to you,” he said as the formation broke up.

“Yes, sir,” shi replied, falling in beside him as he strode back to his office.

“You looked very good out there today. I can see you have taught before. Are you dissatisfied teaching?”

“No, sir, but I was hoping to advance my skills. Teaching is a way for me to refine my current skills, but it doesn’t teach me anything new.”

“Understood. Does your schedule leave you time for personal instruction?” Greymane asked.

“Within limits, sir, as I know you realize. I can probably arrange an hour or two twice a week for the other ‘taurs, and another two or three hours for my own instruction, if that’s acceptable.”

“I was thinking one hour three days a week, in the afternoon after our class here for your ‘office hours’. I was thinking an hour or two on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday for your personal instruction, and perhaps a little more on Sundays.”

“It would have to be evenings, sir, and not always then. I also have to pass my other classes,” Blackrose replied.

“What are you planning for your specialty, cadet?”

“Marines, sir, possibly covert ops. Although I am a bit distinctive for that.”

“You’re right about that. Covert ops would not be the best choice for you. Combat ops, though, or field ops, or even security would be good choices.”

“Those had crossed my mind, sir. I need to get into the Marines first.”

“I doubt you’ll have any problems there, cadet. You already have a reputation among the instructors, and it's a good one. I’ll get with your advisor and the other instructors and see what we can arrange. Can you be here tomorrow so I can evaluate you?”

“1630, sir, is the earliest I can be here. Since it’s the first week of classes, I should be able to be here in the evening if that’s better.”

“Let’s make it 1900, then. Expect to be here about two hours, and we’ll discuss what’s going to happen the next couple of terms.”

“Yes, sir. May I leave now, sir? I don’t want to be late to my next class.”

“Dismissed, cadet.” Greymane watched as the black chakat trotted away. “You’ll do very well in the Marines, Blackrose,” he mused to himself, “very well indeed. Your sponsor is going to be pleased.”

Settling hirself into the pilot's position in the shuttle simulator, Blackie spent a few minutes examining and testing the controls, and adjusting the position of the various displays and controls to best suit hirself.

Hmmph! Good thing I checked, they've got the thrusters jacked up but good. A guaranteed crash if I hadn't checked. Well, let's see what I can do to compensate …

A few minutes later, the comm comes up. “Cadet Blackrose, report.”

“Cadet Blackrose reporting, sir. Preliminary checks complete. Ready for testing.”

“Very well. Your course is being relayed to you now. Launch in seven minutes.”

“Seven minutes. Aye, aye, sir.”

Spending a few minutes examining the course plot, Blackie mutters to hirself, “If I hadn't checked, this would be an impossible course. As is, I can compensate for the degraded performance, but it's going to be close. Do-able, but I'm gonna be pushing the limits a couple of times.

“Cadet Blackrose,” comes from the speaker, “launch in 30, three zero, seconds. Acknowledge.”

“Launch in three zero seconds. Aye.”

“Launch in five … four … three … two … one … launch!”

Some forty minutes later, Blackie exits the simulator, then pauses for a stretch. That was a tough test. I don't think many could pass it. Then again, they have my flight records, they could have set this up just for me. Probably did, in fact.

Continuing down the ramp, shi is met by one of the instructors. “Well flown, cadet.”

“Thank you, sir. That was a tough flight. Especially with degraded thrusters.”

“Made you work, did we?”

“Yes, sir. How did I do?”

“You passed, if that's what you want to know. We thought you would, with your background, but we wanted to be sure. We are, now. That was actually a senior instructor test flight, so you won't need to worry about flight classes, at least.”

“Does that mean I get a senior instructor's ticket, sir?”

“It just might, if you can pass the written and oral exams. I'll ask. Not that you'll have time to be an instructor.”

“No, sir. I don't particularly want to be an instructor. It would be nice to have the ticket, though.”

“We'll see, cadet. Better get to your next class.”

Blackrose moved cautiously across the surface of the small asteroid, trying to get into position for hir sniping assignment in the exercise, the last exercise for the fourth years before their cadet cruise. Shi was carrying a heavy blast rifle, set to medium stun for the exercise. Hir third year class was going against the fourth year class in this exercise, and was planning several surprises for their opponents. The cadet officer in charge of the fourth years was well known for his by-the-book attitude, and by not going by that same book, the third year class was going all out to win.

Settling into position, Blackrose grinned to hirself, before contacting hir team lead telepathically. “In position, ready,” shi reported. Squirming slightly to get comfortable in hir hide, for shi was expecting a two to three hour wait for hir target, that same by-the-book fourth year cadet, Blackrose relaxed physically, though shi kept alert.

Suddenly, hir head snapped sideways. Stunned, it took hir a moment to realize that the faceplate of hir suit had been shattered and the air was rushing out of hir suit. In fact, it was gone! Reaching hir hand up, shi realized that hir faceplate was gone, disintegrated by the blow, and the opening was far too large to patch. And shi was alone, hir nearest teammate nearly a hundred meters distant!

Gasping from the explosive decompression, shi wondered frantically how shi was going to survive this! An image appeared in hir mind, the suit-up area in the cruiser that had dropped hir and hir teammates here for this exercise. As shi began passing out from anoxia, a vagrant wish crossed hir mind, that shi was back in that safe place.

A gust of air pushed against hir face, and shi breathed deeply. It felt good to breathe. What was going on? Shi could hear alarms, and voices, raised in … surprise?

Opening hir eyes, Blackrose suddenly realized that shi was back in the suit-up area of the cruiser, and alarms were sounding. Shi could see ‘Fleet Security rushing into the room, drawing up in surprise when they saw hir.

“What are you doing here, cadet?” the Lieutenant asked. “Why aren’t you with your …” His voice trailed off as he saw the missing faceplate of hir suit, the ragged fragments along the seal all that remained, along with a few fragments embedded in hir bloody muzzle. “Medical to Suit-up Room C, emergency!” he called into his comm badge, as he gently pushed hir back down to the floor, carefully removing the blast rifle from hir grasp.

“Easy, cadet, easy. What happened out there and how did you get back here?”

Blackrose shuddered for a moment, hir mind blank. “I’m not exactly sure, sir. I was in my hide, my assignment was as a sniper, and then I was hit by something that shattered my faceplate. It was shattered, sir, and it’s not supposed to do that!” shi said frantically. “The hole was too large to patch, and I was passing out. Then I’m here. I don’t know how I got here, or even where this ship is. I just know that it isn’t anywhere near the asteroid I was on.”

A Caitian medical officer rushed into the room, a nurse following close behind. “What’s going on?” she asked.

The Security officer looked at her. “The cadet here is a member of the field exercise going on. I happen to recognize hir, although I don’t know hir name. Shi says she was on the asteroid when something shattered hir faceplate. The next thing shi knew, shi was here. Shi doesn’t know what happened or how shi got here.”

“Oh. Well, the first thing we need to do is get hir out of that suit and into Medical. Once we’ve treated hir injuries, we’ll look at the rest of it.”

Lieutenant Commander Blackberry, of House Redpaw, captain of the Star Fleet light cruiser Canberra, lowered the report to his desk and gazed at his Chief Medical Officer.

“You know there’s only one possible explanation, don’t you?” hy asked.

“Yes, sir. Shi’s a Teleport. That’s the only possible way shi could have gotten back here.”

“Do you realize what a headache this is going to be?”

“It won’t be that bad, sir. You are a T4 yourself, you can read hir and verify what happened.”

The captain grimaced. “It’s not that easy. Shi’s a T4. If shi doesn’t want to let me in, there’s nothing I can do.”

The Caitian grinned back at him. “Shi’s sedated right now. You can read hir without any problems before we wake hir up. Shi was in shock, and it was best to sedate hir for now. We’ve patched up hir muzzle and gotten all the pieces of faceplate out, and we’ve started treatment for the decompression.”

“Whatever hit hir,” she continued, “was moving at least 1000 meters per second relative to hir, and possibly a lot faster. Engineering says that would be their estimate of the minimum speed to cause that type of damage. Our guess is a small meteorite, a centimeter or two in size if it was nickel-iron. It was one chance in a good many million that it hit hir that way. We have hir teammates searching for hir hide right now, we should have an answer in the next hour or two.”

“That will help, although I doubt there’s anything left besides an impact crater. They might find a few fragments of hir faceplate, at best.”

“Relax, sir. It’s no reflection on you or anyone. And ’Fleet has some specialists, including a counselor, on the way out here at flank speed. All you need to do is verify hir story, and that’s easy enough. They’ll take it from there.”

“Easy enough for you to say. I’ve got to write up a report on this, and that’s going to be a huge headache.”

“A hint, sir. Just give them the facts. Only the facts. Let them do all the speculating. Don’t bother to try to explain anything, it’s not your job. You are not a specialist, you’re a ship’s captain. Leave it at that.”

Blackberry grinned at her, bleakly. “I’ll give it try. That will be relatively easy, anyway.”

A week later, Blackrose glared at the skunktaur ‘counselor’ sitting across from hir. “I am not going to work in research. I am going back to the Academy and completing my training, then I’m going into the Marines.”

“Cadet Blackrose,” hy replied, “you will be ordered …”

“I will damned well resign before I go into research!” shi snarled. “I am not going to sit around while a bunch of eggheads try to figure out how I do what I do. And that’s only if I can do it again. So far I sure as hell haven’t been able to. They already have more than enough Teleports there for them to study. They’re just not willing to tell you they can’t do it, and lose their cushy positions and fat paychecks. No more than they can tell you how telepathy or empathy works. Or any of the psi talents, for that matter. Take that back to your superiors!”

“You’re certain about this?” hy asked.

“You’re from House Redpaw, read me,” shi growled in response, rising to hir feet and holding hir temper in check with difficulty. “I am far beyond certain about this. I am absolutely, utterly positive. I can go back to my family and run a freighter, and have a lot better income than ’Fleet will give me. It would be a good life. I just like to think that I can make a difference in the Marines. Take it or leave it,” shi finished, turning and storming out of the room, ignoring the skunktaur’s attempts to stop hir.

That evening, Blackrose was studying in hir suite’s common area when shi was interrupted by a telepathic call.

“Hey Blackie!”

“Hey Shady, what’s up?”

“Your friends have told Dad’s friends a little about how much trouble you’re in … He’d like to talk to you, if you’re willing …”

“Might as well get it over with,” Blackrose muttered.

“He’s not going to push if you’re not ready!” Shadowcrest pointed out.

“I’ll contact him.”

“He kinda suggested ‘I’ be the link.”

“He’s up to something …”

“Possibly,” Shadowcrest admitted.

“Do it.”

“Hello kitten,” Neal quietly said.

“What are you up to, Father?”

“I heard you almost died on us, kitten.”

“Well, yeah …”

“ … and that you rescued yourself.”

“yeah … “

“And now they’re hounding you about it …”

Blackrose was quiet a moment before replying. “What am I gonna do?”

“I have a ‘friend of a friend’ that had a couple suggestions …”

“Which are?”

“Testing yourself and telling ‘Fleet to shove their tests up their ass. Interested?”

“You know it! The Redpaw Institute told me they really can’t help me with this.”

“Testing first then. Range, control, and trigger are the first things to work on.”

“My first jump was an act of life and death, range was over an AU to the ship.”

“Then anywhere on the planet is well within your known range,” Neal pointed out.

“I hadn’t thought of it that way,” Blackrose admitted.

“So? Where are you?”

“In my common area.”

“Is Ari there?”

“No, why?”

“Think about ‘jumping’ to your room.”

“I’ve tried, it doesn’t work that way.”

“That’s the ‘trigger’ my friend was talking about. Just think that you’d really feel ‘safer’ in your room.”

“OK – ” Blackrose started to say – just as an overpowering blast of fear and hate washed over hir. Shi ducked, trying to hide from it – only to find it gone, and shi was in hir room. “Damn you,” shi muttered over the link with Shady.

“I take it you just ‘jumped’,” Neal said dryly.

“Yes, it’s something they couldn’t force me to do,” shi admitted.

“Because you ‘knew’ they wouldn’t really do you harm. That is why I had Shadowcrest do this link, shi could help hide what was coming and give me a boost.”

“Sorry, Sis,” Shadowcrest added.

“Not your fault our father’s sneaky,” Blackrose told hir. “What’s next, Dad?”

“Shadowcrest was doing hir best to ‘watch’ your reaction when you ‘jumped’. Think about wanting to be in your common room.”

“Shit,” Blackrose muttered as shi shifted. “It was that easy?”

“The key was you feeling your trigger,” Neal told hir. “Now that you know, what do you plan to do with it?”

“First I need to think, but I think you two have given me the leverage I needed. Thanks.”

“Anytime, kitten.”

“Bye, Sis,” Shady added before shi dropped the link.

“That was educational,” Blackrose thought. “Gives me a few other ideas, too. Wonder what the limit of my range is? Not sure where Folly is, that would be a good test. Should I warn them? … Nah. A surprise like that is a decent prank, and I haven’t pulled any recently,” shi stopped and grinned mischievously for a moment.

‘Porting back to hir room, shi donned hir Folly comm badge, set hir books down, and ‘ported.

Arriving in hir old room on Folly, shi immediately tapped hir comm badge. “Tess, please don’t tell anyone I’m here. I want to surprise them.”

“Blackrose? I guess the rumor is true, then.”

“Yeah, I can teleport. So far it’s been mostly a pain in my tail.”

“I can believe that. Neal’s in his ready room, Weaver’s asleep, and Stew is in the kitchen. Anyone else you want to know about?”

Blackrose grinned, a plan forming in hir head. “Where are Stormy and Star?”

“On watch, primary bridge. Quickdash and Holly are in engineering.”

“Thanks, Tess,” Blackrose said, before teleporting again.

Sneaking up behind Stew, shi reached out and tweaked the rabbit’s tail, causing her to leap prodigiously. Spinning around, ready to let the prankster have the sharp side of her tongue, she stopped abruptly in surprise when she saw who it was.

“Blackie!” she squealed, leaping into hir arms and kissing madly. “What are you doing here? And how’d you get here? Nobody warned …”

Blackrose placed a hand over her mouth. “First, nobody else, except Tess, knows I’m here. Yet. This is a surprise for Dad, and a couple of the other brats. Want to help?”

Suzan nodded eagerly. “Of course I’ll help. What’s the plan?”

“Salt in the sugar bowl? I wasn’t planning to being too mean …”

Suzan grinned widely, “Oh, it’s been years since you did that! Nobody has forgotten, though.”

“What time is it, ship time?”

“Lunch in about 20 minutes,” she replied.

“Perfect. Let me change the bowls and the salt shakers, then I’ll hide in here, if that’s okay.”

“Do it, you sneaky beast. Better hurry, my boys like to be early.”

Sitting down to eat, Neal grinned as Stew brought the meal out. “Meatloaf? That looks, and smells, good, we haven’t had it in a while.”

“Enjoy, then,” she replied, smiling at the complement.

Taking an experimental bite of the meatloaf, he decided it needed some pepper and a bit of salt. After shaking some salt and pepper over the plate, Neal then spooned some sugar into his tea, he had opted for one that needed that, today.

Sipping the tea, he pulled it away from his mouth and frowned at it. He carefully set the cup down, then tried a bite of meatloaf. The expression on his face was about half way between surprised and disgusted.

“BLACKROSE!” he bellowed. “Shi’s the only one that would do this,” he muttered in a much lower tone.

Everyone else at the table stared at him in shock, before the outbreak of laughter coming from the kitchen reached their ears. Neal heard a giggle in his earpiece, although he couldn’t tell if it was Tess, Tina or one of the deities.

Several of the younger crew, lead by Stormy and Star, charged for the kitchen, dragging out their laughing older sister.

“Decided to test yourself, I see,” Neal told hir, scowling. “Just had to prank us, too, didn’t you?”

“It’s been years since I did, Dad,” shi replied. “Did you really expect anything different?”

“I can see I shouldn’t, brat.”

“Now I’m home, I’ve been called a brat!” Blackrose crowed, joining hir family at the table.

A few minutes later, Neal looked up and asked, “Are you AWOL, kitten?”

Blackrose stopped eating for a moment, the look on hir face almost comical with surprise. “Technically, I suppose the answer would be yes. I didn’t think about that. But I’m going back as soon as I finish eating and share a few hugs. Since it’s evening there and I’m supposed to be studying in my room, I doubt they’ll miss me.”

“You hope,” was the reply.

“I’ll sign out next time, OK?”

“That’s better,” Neal answered.

It took another hour, but after talking with everyone on board, and sharing a lot of hugs, Blackrose ‘ported back to hir room at the Academy, hir mood vastly improved for the visit home.

Ari looked up when Blackrose emerged from hir bedroom. “Where have you been?” he asked.

Blackrose looked a little startled, “What do you mean?”

“I’ve checked your room several times over the last hour and a half, you weren’t here. You had a call come in from the Commandant’s office, they want you over there at 0800.”

“Damn,” shi growled.

“Don’t worry, I covered for you and told them I’d pass the message. I think I’d suggest a dress uniform, they sounded pretty serious.”

Another growl, inarticulate, answered him.

“I don’t know what you did, but the rumor mill’s really been active. You disappeared right in the middle of that exercise, and showed up aboard ship with a shattered faceplate, right?”

“Yeah,” Blackrose answered reluctantly, not willing to lie to hir roommate and friend.

“The only answer I, or anyone else, can come up with is that you’re a Teleport.”

Blackrose could only nod.

“Could I talk you into a ride home sometime?”

“I doubt it. From what I’ve been told, I can safely teleport only to places I know at least moderately well. And that is only if I can manage to do it again. You’ve said that your pack is in western Canada. That’s all I know, and there’s no way I would even think about attempting to ‘port blind.”

“Oh,” was all that Ari said. “I’ll pass the word, no free trips anywhere. That should reduce the number of requests you’ll get.”

“Thanks, Ari, I really appreciate that. I imagine that’s what the Commandant wants to talk about. At least I hope so. I really told off that so-called counselor this afternoon. I said I’d resign before I would accept any assignment before I graduate, and that the only assignment I’d accept after that would be the Marines. And I told hym in pretty plain language, too.”

“Not profane, I hope.”

“No, but pretty damned close. Then I stormed out, even when hy tried to call me back.”

“Sounds like you’re serious about that.”

“You’d better believe it. There is no way in the galaxy that I’ll work in research. I’ll resign first and go run a freighter for Dad. I’d make a better living doing that, anyway. I just like to think I can make a difference in the Marines. Make it a better place for everyone.”

“Okay, Blackie. Calm down a bit, huh? You don’t need to bite my head off. I’m on your side.”

Blackrose looked a little remorseful as shi answered. “Sorry, but it’s a bit of a touchy subject for me right now. That stinking counselor was pushing awfully damned hard. I actually considered resigning right then and there. I have found out that I’m not the only one who’s told them to take their research and shove it where the sun don’t shine. Don’t think I’ll be the last, either.”

“Well, I really hope you get what you want. Now, I could use some help on this shuttle piloting class I’ve got. I know you tested out of the basic course.”

Settling down with hir roommate, Blackrose said, “Let’s see where you’re having trouble, then.”

Settling hir tunic in place, Blackrose mentally girded hirself, then entered the Commandant’s office.

“Cadet Blackrose reporting as ordered, sir.”

The Commandant, an imposing wolftaur, looked up at hir from his desk. “At ease, cadet. Please relax, you are not in trouble. Use that pad as it’s meant to be used.”

“Yes, sir,” Blackrose replied, settling down on the taur pad in front of the desk.

“That’s better,” the Commandant said with a grin, “now we’re eye to eye.”

“Now,” he continued, “I see you told the research recruiter that you’re not only not interested in research, but that you would resign before you’d accept such an assignment. That’s pretty positive, isn’t it?”

“Yes, sir. And I meant every word. Did hy tell you what else I said?”

“Oh, yes, and I’m sure you’re right there, as well. They have yet to figure out telepathy, so I don’t see a chance in a billion that they could figure out teleporting. Do you know why they’re so adamant about that?”

“Not for certain, sir. Although the fact that there is no known way to prevent a teleporter from entering an area is probably a major part of that.”

“That’s actually about 99% of it. They believe that if you’re in the Marines, or preferably, Security, you will be willing to stay out of secured areas. Especially as they intend to make that part of your enlistment contract.”

“If they single me out in any way, shape or form, sir, I will resign. If they won’t believe that my own ethics are sufficient, then they can go to hell.”

The Commandant chuckled at the response, the sound echoing deeply from his chest. “Very good, cadet. And a very good point. If they can’t accept that, they aren’t going to accept much of anything else, are they?”

“No, sir. As I told them, I can rejoin my family and ship freight, either on Folly or a ship of my own, and I’ll make a good living. Probably a very good living. I would rather stay in the Marines, I think I can do a lot of good there, but if they get stuffy I’ll just leave.”

“And there really isn’t anything we can do to stop you, is there?”

“No, sir, there isn’t.”

“Tell me, Blackrose, have you managed to teleport again? I know the research team was unable to get you to.”

“Yes, sir, I have. I received some help from my family, and that unlocked the key for me. I must also tell you that I was AWOL for a little less than two hours yesterday evening. I went to visit my family on Folly. It helped me quite a bit, in several ways.”

“That’s why we couldn’t contact you, isn’t it.”

“Yes, sir. I didn’t think about the AWOL aspect until my father said something, about half way through my visit. I will ask for permission before I do so again.”

“Is that the only reason you did that?”

“No, sir, it was also a way to test my range. I’m not sure exactly where Folly is at the moment, but I do know she was out of warp while I was aboard. She wasn’t orbiting a planet, as far as I know. Maybe a mining station.”

“We can find out. ‘Fleet would like to know your maximum range. We will forget the AWOL, it was inadvertent, and you have stated you will avoid that in the future.”

“I have no idea what my maximum range is, sir. And since I can only go where I’ve been before, someplace I know fairly well, I don’t see any practical means of testing it, nor, at this time, can I see any real need to find out. As to the AWOL, sir, I appreciate your leniency. I would like permission to visit my family during off duty hours; I am willing to sign out and provide an expected time of return.”

“I will consider giving you that permission, as long as you don’t abuse it. You are aware that you are only the seventh known P5, and one of five alive today? Only one of the others can exceed about 3 or 4 lightyears, and most have only planetary range at best.”

“No, sir,” Blackrose said, hir surprise very apparent on hir face, “I didn’t know that. Would you happen to know the psi ratings of the other teleporters?”

“Is that important, you think?”

“It may be, sir. If the teleport is a ?3, then his telepathy is basically planetary in range. If that’s also the limit on his teleport ability, then that would be a reasonable correlation. If all teleports are ?5’s, then it isn’t. Or if a ?3 has interstellar range.”

“That’s a pretty interesting insight, Blackrose. I’ll forward it to Research. I have no idea if that has been investigated, but I will find out and let you know.”

“Thank you, sir. I appreciate that.”

“We’re finished here, then. I will inform you about the permission you requested within the week. Dismissed.”

“Sir,” Blackrose responded, rising to hir feet. Saluting, shi turned and left the office with a sense of relief.

“Cadet Blackrose reporting, shir.”

Commander Fastpaw looked up. “Good morning, cadet. You requested this appointment, and said you have some questions to ask.”

“Yes, shir. When we had the interview during my first year, I mentioned that I had some questions. Well, I have completed my training with the Redpaw Institute and the ‘Fleet empathic training, and those questions are still unanswered.”

“I remember. Ask your questions.”

“Yes, shir. Has ‘Fleet considered the possibility of using psi talents tactically? To attack the opponent during an op?”

“Not to my knowledge, cadet. And that is a very interesting question. Since you have obviously considered it, what have you come up with?”

“My ideas are theoretical only, shir. I have no way to test them, ethically. Although I have made some empirical observations.”

“Understood. Continue.”

“Well, shir, an empath of E4 or higher can project emotions. If an empath is trained, projecting fear or helplessness against an opponent could conceivably win a battle without firing a shot. Projecting rage or hate could cause mutiny or rioting in the enemy ranks. A T4 or higher can project a number of things against an enemy, including emotions. A telepath/empath pair could wreak havoc with almost any group. There are a lot of tactical and strategic possibilities.”

“Indeed there are. I will pass this up the chain, cadet, and I will ensure that you are given full credit for the concept. Are you interested in participating in the development of this?”

“Provisionally, shir. I am willing to be part of the first class trained. I have no particular interest in being an instructor or researcher. I want to be in ’Fleet, shir, not staff.”

“Command will be disappointed, cadet. A mind like yours is valuable, especially in research.”

“Actually, I’m surprised that it hasn’t been investigated, shir. A small group of chakats in heat can project lust for thousands of kilometers, and it can affect even E0’s strongly at a fair distance. It’s only a small step from there to tactical considerations.”

The Commander chuckled reminiscently. “Yes, it can, cadet. I know what you mean. I suppose it’s a blind spot of sorts. Something we’re so used to that we don’t see beyond the obvious.”

Smiling at Blackie, shi continued, “I’ll write up a report and get it started through channels. Expect to be questioned about this, cadet. You have opened up a very interesting concept, and the results are going to make some waves.”

“Yes, shir. And I expect more than a few egos are going to be swamped by those waves. I’ll just have to be sure I’m not one of them.”

“You do that, cadet. Dismissed.”

Blackrose saluted and left the office, hir grin both satisfied and mischievous.

Blackrose trotted down the boarding tube to the ship shi was taking for hir fourth year cruise, the FitzPatrick. A light cruiser, she was a relatively new ship and Blackie was looking forward to the cruise.

“Cadet Blackrose reporting for duty,” shi said as shi entered the airlock, pausing to salute the ship in the ancient naval tradition.

“Welcome aboard, cadet,” the security fur replied. Checking his PADD, he continued, “You're early, you weren't scheduled until tomorrow.”

“I prefer to arrive early, sir, as it gives me some extra time to settle in and, hopefully, get an advance look at my assignment.”

“Very well,” the security fur, a coyote, responded. “Let me see if they're ready for you.”

After a moment, he looked up. “Apparently you've done this before. They have a room for you and your supervisor will contact you in a couple of hours to arrange a meeting. You're on 'C' deck, ring 'B', room 147.”

“CB147,” Blackie echoed. “Aye, sir. I'll be on my way.”

A bit later, as Blackie relaxed after getting hir gear stowed, hir comm badge chirped and “Cadet Blackrose, report to room BA017 in thirty minutes.”

Tapping hir badge, Blackie responded, “Thirty minutes, room BA017, aye, aye.”

“Cadet Blackrose, reporting, sir.”

The middle-aged male Caitian looks up and frowned. “I am Lieutenant R'Karris, and I will be your supervisor for this cruise, cadet. I've been reviewing your records and I see that you have a tendency to improvise and use unapproved tactics. On this cruise, I expect you to perform by the book, and only by the book. Is that understood?”

“Aye, aye, sir.” Damn. A bloody by-the-book clown. Not what I was expecting and this cruise is going to be a serious kink in my tail. Oh, well, if it can't be cured, it must be endured. At least this is a fairly short cruise.

“Also, unless it is a direct order from a superior officer, or a life-and-death emergency, you will not teleport.”

Keeping hir face expressionless with significant effort, Blackie said, “Aye, aye, sir.”

“I expect you to look and act like a Marine at all times. Report to this office at 0700 tomorrow for assignment. Dismissed.”

Blackie salutes and leaves the office. What a jerk! Thank the deities I'm not going into heat anytime soon.

Standing guard, formal, ceremonial guard not less, is a total waste of time on a ship at warp. This wimp of a martinet has no idea what he's doing, and damnably few clues about even being an officer. I wonder how he got a commission, anyway. He's about as useful as a muzzle-brake on a phaser.

Blackie continued grumbling to hirself, although shi allowed no sign of hir attitude to be apparent externally, other than a slightly twitchy tail-tip.

Shi perked up slightly as shi sensed another chakat coming down the passageway.

“Good morning, Blackie,” Chakat Swifttail, the ship's counselor, said in greeting. “How are you doi … Nevermind, I can tell. What's got you so wound up this morning?”

“Nothing, shir,” was the reply as a tail-tip starts twitching much more noticeably.

“Don't give me that, cadet,” Swifttail replied, taking on a listening attitude.

“Ah,” shi said a moment later, “you're just starting your heat. And I bet the 'martinet' doesn't care in the least. And yes, he is a martinet.”

Startled, Blackie broke the strict attention posture shi'd been holding, turning hir head to stare at Swifttail.

“Your opinion of him is widely shared,” shi was told in a quiet confidential voice. Somewhat louder, shi continued, “I'm placing you off-duty for the next two days, effective right now. I will inform your superior of this immediately. So get back to your quarters, and I'll see you at 1500 for counseling.”

Blackie gave hir a very grateful look, and wasted no time in disappearing.

Once Blackie was gone, Commander Swifttail, Ship's Counselor, got a serious and disapproving expression as shi went to find a particular Security lieutenant.

Entering the ready room, Commander Swifttail paused to place the room in secure mode.

“What can I do for you, Counselor?” Captain Olaf Jensen asked warily.

“We have a problem,” shi replied. “A certain lieutenant in Security. Again.”

The captain sighs. “And what, exactly, has Lieutenant R'Karris done this time?”

“His usual behavior and prejudice. He received our top cadet on this cruise and was instructed to train hir for security and operations. To this point, all he has had hir do is stand ceremonial guard. In full dress uniform, no less. Which is, among other things, ridiculous on a starship at warp.”

“And the cadet in question is complaining?”

“No, sir. Shi has more discipline than that. And Lieutenant R'Karris has ignored Fleet standing orders as well. The cadet went into heat this morning, and shi was 'standing guard' anyway. I relieved hir of duty for two days, which I realize isn't actually necessary, but I felt it was appropriate under the circumstances, since the cadet has been on duty every day since shi came aboard. I then had a 'discussion' with Lieutenant R'Karris.”

“He explained that Cadet Blackrose has a discipline problem, because shi has a history of innovation and improvisation. He feels that both of those traits are a detriment for a Marine, and that a slavish devotion to regulations and precedent is the only allowable behavior. His treatment is justified, in his opinion, because of Blackrose' supposed lack of discipline and the need to instill it.”

“On the other hand, both the Academy and 'Fleet have commended hir for those same exact traits on several occasions. In addition, hir current class standing is number six, which quite thoroughly disproves the lieutenant's theory. No one attains such standing at the Academy without possessing quite a bit of discipline, nor has shi displayed any lack of discipline while on board. Which even Lieutenant R'Karris has confirmed.”

“I am formally recommending, in the strongest possible terms, that Cadet Blackrose be re-assigned to an officer that will properly train hir, and that shi be re-assigned in such a way that Lieutenant R'Karris has no influence or authority over hir in any way. I am also requesting that Lieutenant R'Karris' behavior be reviewed by a board of inquiry for 'conduct unbecoming', prejudice and incompetence.”

“That seems a bit … excessive, Counselor.”

Swifttail takes a deep breath, obviously stopping a hasty retort. “No, sir, it isn't. I am well aware of Lieutenant R'Karris' use of political influence to maintain his position. In this case, he has finally and clearly overstepped his bounds, and I am quite willing to risk any repercussions for taking this action. I would not be able to face myself if I didn't. I believe that the lieutenant's behavior is a detriment to the Marines and to 'Fleet. I do not believe he belongs in any position of authority or responsibility. I also recommend that a 'Fleet telepath be utilized to determine the lieutenant's true reason for this behavior.”

“Besides,” shi added conspiratorially, “I have heard that certain officers are starting to regret using their influence.”

“Very well,” the captain said. “I will take the recommendation and request under advisement. See me first thing in the morning, day after tomorrow and we will review both matters with cooler heads. You indicated that the cadet will still be off duty that day, did you not?”

“Yes, sir. I did, and shi will be.”

“Personally, Commander, I agree with you. As the ship's captain, however, I know that actions like these should be approached with due caution. Dismissed.”

“Cadet Blackrose reporting, sir.”

The Rakshani lieutenant at the desk looked up and returned the salute. “At ease, Cadet. I was informed that you would be joining us today. I'd like you to tell me about your training and what you expect to learn with us. I am Lieutenant Archer na Strongjaw ap Blueclaw, and I will be your superior officer while you are with us. Please use the 'taur pad as it's meant to be used.”

Settling down on the pad, Blackrose gathered hir thoughts.

“I have been specializing as a Marine at the Academy, sir, and I would like to explore the options available to me. While, in many ways, I would prefer covert operations, I realize that my physical stature and appearance is less than ideal for that role. Black ops, combat ops, shipboard ops and security have all been mentioned to me. I have also been recommended for research and as an instructor, and I have declined both. My wish is to be 'Fleet, not staff or research.”

“I am a highly accurate marksman, and I have been successfully deployed as a sniper in a number of exercises. I really enjoy that particular assignment. I can also qualify as an armorer, although I do not actually have that certification yet. I am a P5 teleport, T4 and high E3. I have been an assistant instructor in unarmed combat for the last two years, and have continued my development of those skills as well, partially in my off time. I have a senior flight instructor's license issued by the Academy, I have civilian engineering, pilot, and navigator certificates for all ship sizes, including warp. I am well versed in the engineering and maintenance of shuttles and ships, although that experience is civilian rather than 'Fleet and pre-dates my entry into the Academy.”

“Impressive, cadet. Where did you receive your engineering training and flight training?”

“From my foster father, Neal Foster.”

“The Foster school of engineering?”

“I've heard it called that, sir,” shi replied with a grin.

“I would ask that you not demonstrate those skills while you're here. I don't need to confuse any of my people. Interestingly enough, I don't have a sniper specialist at the moment. Other than marksmanship, do you have any other qualifications in that specialty?”

“Mostly from self-study, sir. Although I believe I could do some effective training with your better sharpshooters. If you want them trained in the recon and intelligence gathering aspects, I can begin some of that as well. In the time I have here, I could give them something of a foundation that they can build on. For a full specialist grade, though, they would have to attend the school.”

“You've given me some things to think on, cadet. Do you have a preferred call-sign?”

“Blackie, sir.”

“Welcome aboard, Blackie. For the time being you will be assigned to my office, as my aide. That's on paper. Actually, you will be an instructor or assistant instructor in unarmed combat, and I will investigate your doing some sniper training. Your position as an instructor will be based on your evaluation by my instructors. The rest of your time will be spent learning operations and the various specialties involved.”

“Aye, aye, sir.” Blackie said with a pleased grin and an overwhelming sense of relief. Yes! No more Lieutenant R'Karris! shi thought joyfully.

“So let's get all that red tape dealt with, and then I'll introduce you around.”

“Thank you for a very educational cruise, Lieutenant,” Blackie said.

“And thank you for all your assistance. The 'taur members of my force have gained significantly in their unarmed combat skills, and Sergeant York and Corporal Halfcock will be going to sniper school fairly soon. I expect them to excel due to your excellent instruction. The unit's overall marksmanship score has also improved noticeably.”

“All I did was coach them a bit, sir. The improvement is all theirs,” Blackie demurred.

“If you insist, cadet. I don't agree, but I will let your statement stand. I won't say good luck, because you don't need it. I know you'll do well at the Academy. When you graduate, I would very much enjoy having you return to us, and I believe the entire unit agrees with me.”

“I would enjoy that, sir, but I don't have any influence over 'Fleet's decisions as to where I will go. Best wishes to you and the unit.”

Blackie saluted, gathered up hir gear, and departed down the boarding tube.

Admiral Benson, Commandant of Star Fleet Academy, Terra, sat at his desk, reflecting on the evaluation he had just received on one of his fourth year cadets. In particular, one phrase was foremost in his mind: “It would be an egregious error if this cadet is not commissioned as a Junior Lieutenant upon graduation, and I recommend that shi be awarded Senior Lieutenant, unusual as that would be. Hir performance under my command was outstanding in every regard, surpassing every cadet I have knowledge of.” That evaluation had been written by hir supervising officer and endorsed by the ship's captain.

The admiral was already well aware of this particular cadet. There were a number of recommendations and commendations already in the cadet's folder, and they were universal in their approbation. All of them strongly urged commissioning the cadet and most recommended a higher rank than ensign.

There was a meeting scheduled soon to review the cadet's record. Discussion was expected to be heated regarding hir assignment upon graduation. The admiral smiled slowly. He didn't expect to need it, but he was planning on bringing a stunner to the meeting, just in case.

Blackie entered the conference room with some trepidation. Shi had been ordered to report, but no explanation had been given.

“Cadet Blackrose reporting, sir,” shi said as she saluted.

The skunktaur at the center of the table, a Marine Captain, returned the salute. “At ease, cadet. In fact, relax and use the taur pad. We are likely to be here a while.”

“Yes, sir,” Blackie replied, settling on the pad. “If I may ask, why am I here?”

“You weren't informed?” one of the chakats asked. “Relax, you aren't in trouble. We are here to discuss your suggestion that psi talents could be used tactically, and possibly strategically.”

“We wanted to do this a couple months ago,” the human officer added. “Unfortunately, you were on your cruise so we had to wait.”

The skunktaur held up a hand. “First, let's introduce ourselves. I would also like us to proceed on a more informal basis, using personal names. I am Captain Rosewood of House Redpaw. In this meeting I would prefer to be addressed as Rosie.”

“I am Chakat Lieutenant Commander Whitefoot, child of Snowstorm and Summersong. I can be addressed as White or Whitefoot,” the chakat beside the Captain said.

“I am Chakat Lieutenant Commander Woodsrunner, child of Treeclimber and Tracker. I can be addressed as Runner,” the other chakat said.

“I am Commander William Oakwood,” the human responded. “I prefer to be addressed as Bill.”

“I am Lieutenant M'Tass'kt'chai,” the Caitian said. “You should address me as Tass, as you can pronounce that.”

Blackie added, “I prefer to be addressed as Blackie, although Blackrose is also acceptable.”

“Very well,” Rosie said. “Now that the formalities are out of the way, let us get started. I believe this should be conducted as a round-table exercise, with Blackie starting us out. Was there any particular incident that started this idea for you, Blackie?”

“Actually, Rosie, there was. It was a story I was told not too long after I was adopted into Captain Foster's family.”

“He had a chakat getting a ride from him to hir first 'Fleet assignment. Shi had recently graduated from the Academy and it had been suggested that shi should use the Folly to get her to the station. It would arrive sooner than 'Fleet transport, and certain people were concerned about hir and felt that it would be better for hir. Captain Foster has a way of dealing with telepaths that is, as far as I know, unique. When they read him, he has the ability to imagine vividly that their tail tip is on fire, and that it must hurt badly. He does this at an almost subliminal level. Any telepath, and many empaths, find that 'reading' him results their feeling the pain of that burn. He does this because he doesn't like being read without cause, and he does it as a means of educating those whom he feels need, or can use, the education.”

“How powerful is Captain Foster?”

“He doesn't want to be rated, but my impression is a quite low E2 and a weak T1.”

“Interesting. Why is he so effective?”

“I believe it is because he has a vivid imagination and accurate memories of pain he has experienced.”

“I see. Please continue.”

“Captain Foster used this technique on Chakat Windsong when they met, and shi was extremely surprised by him. At some point fairly soon after that, someone made the suggestion to hir that he could project much worse things. A few days later, shi asked him about that and he demonstrated that he could. He was in a recliner in one of the lounges aboard the Folly, and shi was on a taur pad several meters away. He proceeded to caress hir lightly, through his imagination, and shi became increasingly aroused as he went on. Until Shady, Chakat Shadowcrest, who is now hir lifemate, broke in on them and suggested that they either 'get a room' or at least put up some shields so the rest of the crew would be shielded.”

“At that time, the Folly was in orbit around Terra, at about 10,000 kilometers. When Captain Foster stopped, they were soon contacted by several ships in orbit asking what happened. One contact stated that they were enjoying the broadcast and hoped that nothing was wrong. Windsong became rather embarrassed by this. Several days later, when they were back on the surface, Windsong's mother asked hir about it, stating that shi was certain it was Windsong – shi knew her daughter's touch. Windsong was extremely embarrassed by this.”

“So Windsong was able to broadcast hir feelings over 10,000 kilometers, to the surface of Terra,” Rosie noted. “That's impressive.”

“Yes it is,” Runner commented.

“It was even worse not too long after that, while Folly was in warp. Shady, who is a T5, asked 'Song to be hir first. Their broadcast overwhelmed the crew, and it took five courses of screen to blunt their output. It also took a couple of days for the rest of the crew to recover. Those two are both very strong broadcasters.”

“That was what started me thinking about what else could be done along those lines.”

“How long ago was that?” Bill asked.

“About sixteen years, Bill.”

“While it's interesting, it isn't really relevant,” Tass commented. “What else have you considered, Blackie?”

“I know of several cases where a chakat and a skunktaur have … blended, is probably the best term, their talents to aid in a tactical situation. By combining their talents, they were able to pinpoint opponents who were out of line of sight. In one case, I know as a fact, it was during a boarding action against pirates. It contributed significantly to the success of the boarding action and minimized losses. While it's not the same as my suggestion, it demonstrates the use of talent in a tactical situation.”

A bit later, Blackie asked, “Is it possible to screen this room? I would prefer three courses.”

“Let me ask,” Rosie said, contacting Security.

After the screens were set, Blackie continued, “I can attempt to perform such a broadcast, if you'd like.”

“Go ahead,” is the consensus.

Blackie concentrated for a moment, then released a blast of fear at the panel. Shi based this on what shi remembered of Neal's blast at hir when shi first successfully teleported at the Academy.

The entire panel is shaken. “That was very effective, Blackie,” Rosie said. “I think we'll need a few minutes to recover.” The rest of the panel agreed and they took a short break.

During the break, Blackie checked with security and discovered that there had been some minor leakage through the screens. Shi requested a fourth layer of screens, which were added.

When they re-convened, Blackie continued, “Rosie, if you would join me, we can attempt a combined blast. I will provide the emotion, at the same level I used earlier, and you will provide the broadcast. Please keep the power level down, try to keep it confined to this room, as I did.”

Rosie joined hir, and Blackie explained the technique. “We both need to reach out to each other, and we must maintain physical contact skin-to-skin. Twining our tails is probably the best technique in a tactical situation, especially with only two team members. Clasping hands might be more effective, but it's also more limiting of movement. The other members of the panel will compare the two blasts.”

“Are you ready?” shi asked the panel.

While none of them looked comfortable at the idea, they all nodded their heads. Blackie and Rosie then released the blast of psi power.

The entire panel was shaken, and they took another break, although no one left the room. Blackie checked with Security again and found that the screens were sufficient this time.

After the panel recovered, Rosie rejoined them and asked their opinions.

“The effect was worse,” White said. “The fear was sharper and more focused. It wasn't quite as powerful but it was actually more effective.”

The other panel members agreed and added their own impressions.

“Blackie, your thoughts?” Rosie asked.

“It seems that the team approach is certainly better. I believe that is because each member of the team has only one thing to focus on. When I did it by myself, I had to split my attention, which diluted the effect. It seems likely to me that a larger team, combined into a single unit, would be more powerful, possibly much more. Although the psi ratings of the team members will also be important.”

The conference continued, and over the course of the day a training plan was tentatively formed. Blackie was confirmed as a member of the first class to be trained.

“Hey Blackie!”

“Hey Shady, what’s up?”

“We're in orbit now and will be sending Alpha down in the morning.”

“Perfect timing. I took my last final exam today and I'm mostly free for the next 8 days, until graduation. There are a few things I need to do, but no specific schedule for any of them. I can get all but two done tomorrow by mid-afternoon.”

“How have you been?” Neal asked.

“I've been fine, Dad. How about you?”

“We're all doing well here. We'll see you around 1800 tomorrow. We'll be coming down in Gwen.”

“Sounds wonderful. I'm looking forward to seeing everyone.”

“See you tomorrow.”

Blackie yawned prodigiously, stretched briefly, then settled back down and went back to sleep.

“Cadet Blackrose,” called the skunktaur standing at the door to one of the rooms lining the walls of the waiting area.

“Come in,” hy continued as Blackie walked up. “I am Counselor Softtouch of House Redpaw.”

Blackie grinned and offered a hug, which was accepted. “Good to meet you, Counselor.”

“Likewise. Now settle down and we'll talk. We have some ground to cover.”

“Indeed we do,” Blackie replied, lowering hirself to the taur pad. “I know I've been accepted into the Marines. I believe you have additional information for me?”

Settling down behind hys desk, Softtouch nodded. “I do. I have your initial assignment orders. You will be joining the First Special Rapid Response Team on Starbase 2, then departing almost immediately for training.”

“I've never heard of that unit before. Is it new?”

“Yes, it is. You had a large paw in its creation.”

“Ah,” Blackie noted. “So something concrete did come of that suggestion. I knew is was possible as I was interviewed a few months ago. I didn't expect the action to be this quick.”

“Something very concrete, indeed. Now, do you need to be informed as to what school you'll be attending?”

With a wry smile, Blackie said, “The tactical psi training program.”

“Right the first time, cadet. You're in the first class being trained, although my notes suggest that you need very little training. Don't be surprised if you wind up as an assistant instructor.”

“I won't be. I seem to wind up in that position with some regularity.”

“Once you complete the training and return to your unit, you will be heavily involved in developing both doctrine and tactics for the unit. I believe your first posting will be as a platoon leader.”

Blackie grunted. “I'm not really surprised by that. I had no idea where I was going, but I did know I was going to be in that training class.”

“The First is the first unit to be trained in tactical psi response, it should be no surprise to you to be assigned there. In fact, the First was created to be that unit. It is thought that such a unit would be the most practical means of getting the doctrine and tactics formulated and developed into an S.O.P.”

“Actually, that makes sense. It is preferable to designating a unit already in existence.”

“The unit is already being assembled. At this point it will be entirely composed of chakats and redpaw skunktaurs. As the concept is expanded, other species will be added as talented individuals are located and recruited.”

“Command is enthusiastic to get this concept out in the field. If it works out as they anticipate, this will become a standard part of TO&E for most, if not all, units, in particular any and all units that respond to crowd control.”

Blackie paused for a moment in consideration. “Ah, I didn't consider that. I anticipated the primary use would be for tactical response, such as a boarding action on a pirate vessel. Crowd and riot control never occurred to me.”

“That's actually where the majority of responses are expected. H1 and its sister organizations on both sides of the fence are the primary objects of this unit, at this time.”

Blackie smiled. “I will have more to learn than I anticipated, and I looking forward to that. This is far more than I ever expected.”

Then, a thoughtful expression on hir face, shi added, “How much of this is classified, and how highly? I would like to be able to talk with my family about my assignment.”

“I'm afraid that until your training is completed and an initial S.O.P. generated, you will be unable to talk about it. Once units are being assigned in the field and go into action, then the secrecy will be dropped somewhat. Total exposure, at least as far as capabilities will take a few years. Right now we don't want anyone peeking over our shoulders, especially the ones that we'll be going up against. Also, I would try to keep my name and face out of the public eye, if I were you.”

Blackie chuckled, rather grimly. “No, we don't want to give them any advance warning. I'll take that hint, too.”

The discussion continued, delving into the details of hir assignment. At the end, Blackrose stood and thanked Softtouch for hys time and consideration.

As shi waited for the graduation ceremonies to begin, Blackrose thought back over the previous week. The Folly, and hir family, had arrived and shi had been able to spend quite a bit of time with them, all of them catching up on the events in their lives. Stormy and Star were nearly ready to attend advanced schools in whatever they planned to become, although neither was quite sure what that would be. Quickdash and Holly were already known as engineers and pilots, the question was where and how they would apply those skills. Neither was quite ready to leave the Folly.

Hir musings cut short when the cadet command staff came to the front of the formation, and Blackrose stood up. Shi wasn't on the command staff, by hir own choice. Shi had no liking for the politics involved, even though shi understood and could effectively use those same politics hirself.

The Cadet Commander, a foxtaur named Rustback, led the cadets out into the arena for the graduation ceremonies. Once there, the cadets were placed 'at ease' and the ceremonies began. As with all such, there were seemingly endless speeches by politicians, old alumni and religious leaders. Finally, though, they started calling the graduates up to receive their diplomas, formal orders and insignia of rank. Many of the graduates were Star Corps, like Ari, specialists in their various fields. Of the 'Fleet graduates, perhaps as many as one-third would also be specialists, research, support and staff officers. The remainder, including Blackrose, would be going to 'Fleet.

“Cadet Blackrose, front and center!” came the call, causing Blackrose to snap to attention, then detach hirself from the formation and proceed to the podium.

The Academy Commandant was there to greet hir, diploma in hand. “Congratulations, cadet,” he said. Removing hir cadet rank insignia, he replaced them with the pips of hir new rank. “First Lieutenant Blackrose, here are your orders. Carry them out.”

“Aye, aye, sir,” Blackie responded, slightly dazed. 1st Lieutenant? I was expecting 2nd Lieutenant, like everyone else. Although the regular 'Fleet types are ensigns, even the valedictorian. I mean, I know I'm graduating sixth in my class, and first as a Marine, but a full grade bump? And I'm the only one in our entire class getting bumped!

Even though dazed, hir training kept hir reactions under control, and shi saluted sharply and returned to the formation, where shi considered what just happened, and pondered where shi was going from here.


There will be more tales of Blackie to come...

Blackrose and story copyright © 2014 Chuck Percy
Folly and her crew © Allen Fesler and used with permission.
Myra and Azarrel © Cassandra Foxx.
The Chakat Universe is the creation of Bernard Doove and is used with his permission.


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