“What Fleet ships are at this port?” Alex asked as Folly dropped out of warp and headed towards the Star Fleet shipyards orbiting Magella 5.
“Quite a few are either docked at the station or shipyards,” Tess replied. “Are you looking for one ship in particular?”
“Something in a destroyer-type class.”
As she rattled off the names of over two-dozen ships of that class, Tess thought she noticed Alex’s ears perk up at one of them. “So, who do you know on the Afterglo?” she asked.
“If they’re still there,” Alex corrected.
“I can go digging if I know who or what I’m digging for,” Tess hinted.
“Thanks, but I’d rather do it myself,” Alex replied with a grin.
“You know you can’t keep secrets from me!” Tess teased him.
“We’ll see about that!” Alex laughed.
“She’s docked to the station at this time,” Tess helpfully hinted.
Though he’d had rather walk the base on his own, the Captain’s standing order of ‘three’ meant Alex found himself in the company of Mike and Redtail. He’d avoided going out with any of the chakats – lest they sense that he was ‘up to something’.
The ‘something’ he was looking for came into view as they turned the next corner of the passage. “Mike? Red? Stay back and don’t interfere,” Alex warned them as he stepped in front of them and came to a stop with his fists on his hips – glaring at a group coming towards them in Star Fleet uniforms.
Not just any Fleet uniforms, but Star Fleet Marine uniforms, and several of them had already taken note of the aggressive stance the civilian cat morph had taken. A Voxxan vixen that seemed to be in charge of the group took a step forward – only to be stopped by a much larger Rakshan male placing his hand on her shoulder. Whatever it was he said to her caused her to stay behind as he marched forward toward Alex and his friends.
Neither spoke a word as a blow was suddenly swung – and countered – and blocked – and both combatants seemed to blur in a rain of blows and sometimes even merge.
Redtail had reached for her belt-purse and the phaser within, but Mike’s grip on her arm stopped her before the Marines on the other side had to interfere with her interfering.
Not that there wasn’t interference, as Cindy was past Mike before he even knew she was there – followed by Chakats Dusk and Nightsky. Mike though he heard Alex hiss out “Two!” just before Cindy reached the combatants – and he couldn’t tell if it was Alex or the more massive Marine that bodily threw Cindy back into the chakats.
“Enough!” the Voxxan proclaimed before Cindy could untangle herself from the chakats. “Why don’t you two finish this in the gym before we get caught fighting in the corridors.”
“Too late,” a voice snapped out from behind her group as Neal made his presence known. More damning to the Marines though was the station’s Caitian commander standing next to him. The command in his voice had been enough to cause the Marines as well as the combatants to snap to attention.
With a hissing snarl the station commander added, “I can’t wait to have this kerfuffle explained to me.”
Neal softly snorted. “As I think my crewmember was the one who started whatever this was, why don’t we start with him? That this is not what it seems is proven by those two being so well balanced that even after all those blows neither has bloodied the other. Alex?” he didn’t quite demand.
“Captain Foster,” Alex replied, still at attention and staring straight ahead, “may I present my brother Kennfor.”
“Having read the download on your parents, I don’t need to ask which of you was adopted,” Neal said. “I’m also assuming this is the ‘little’ brother Tom you’ve threatened the rest of the crew with?”
“Sir,” the larger of the two said. “When I was brought into the family I had a few ‘personality’ problems. Father assigned my new big brother Alex to watch over and knock some manners into me. The ‘Tom’ was a family codeword to indicate that what was said was not being forced.”
“So, Alex,” Neal wondered, “How did he differ from your training with Cindy?”
“Complete opposites, Sir. He I had to knock down a few pegs before he thought I was worthy of teaching him; while I had to carefully build her up to believing that she could be taught – and that she was worthy of the instruction.”
“Was she the one I almost –?” Kennfor half-asked.
“Yeah,” Alex said without turning as he added, “You okay over there, Sis?”
“Couple new bruises, but I’m assuming it would have been far worse if you hadn’t stopped him – and dealt with me yourself.”
Alex snorted. “You need to be up a few more levels before you can be more than a liability jumping into a fight like that. He would have assumed you knew what you were doing and reacted accordingly.”
“Thanks for the save. Good to know there’s still more to learn.”
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen that particular technique …” the station commander commented. While most of the anger had left her voice there was still noticeable annoyance. “What are we to do with them?”
“What would you do with two with far too much energy?” Neal asked.
“I was thinking there’s got to be a broom closet somewhere on this base in need of a guard,” the Caitian muttered. “And you?”
Neal’s smile was unpleasant as he said, “Cub-sitting half a dozen overly-hyper little taur brats is not one of Alex’s favorite duties, but one that he knows how to handle – as well, I’ll bet, as his brother knows standing guard.”
“You’re suggesting we aren’t being hard enough on them?”
“Seeing the two of them standing there side by side, I was picturing Alex spending some quality time standing guard somewhere – in Rakshan un-powered armor; and that big tough Rakshani being climbed all over by cubs – cubs which he will not be allowed to yell or growl at.”
There were several almost contained chuffs and snorts of amusement from the Marines, but the commander’s reaction was limited to a slight widening of her eyes – though she did seem to be fighting back choking on something. “A rather perverted punishment, Captain,” she allowed once she could control her voice.
“That’s me,” Neal agreed, “perverted.” Smiling, he added, “Kennfor, why don’t you double-time your ass back to your ship and bring back your armor? You might also want to advise your captain that for the next twenty-four hours your tail is mine.”
“A full day?” the commander asked in surprise; as the large Rakshan hurried off.
“Part of his punishment will be trying to get any sleep with his charges,” Neal informed her with an evil grin.
“Oh, my … well, the broom closet will only need a guard for a full shift,” she allowed.
“Just as well,” Neal agreed, “That one’ll find still more chores waiting once you’re done with him.”
Dressed in a light duty uniform, Kennfor found his first hour of punishment to be not what he was expecting. At no time had he considered that he might find himself in a heavily wooded area being shot at by his charges. It didn’t help that more than just his charges were shooting at him – nor that the ‘stinger’ shots were quite annoying.
Feeding them once they’d worn down a bit was a messy event as well, but he was thankful that most of them were ready for a nap at that point – though that didn’t mean he was getting a break. Instead he’d been directed to a workout room – and the fox vixen he’d almost slammed was waiting for him.
Giving him a slight bow, Cindy said, “Captain Foster requests that you give me an evaluation. It’s not that he or I think Alex isn’t doing the best he can with my training, but that you might bring a fresh outlook.”
Kennfor bowed in return. “Let us start with what Alex has you doing for a warm up,” he suggested.
As she went through her warm-up routine, the larger Rakshani matched her move for move. When she reached the end of her warm up, he continued, saying, “Do not try these until you’ve been properly trained – as a couple of them can cause self-harm if done incorrectly.”
His warm-up took three times the time hers had, and Cindy had seen at least five moves she hadn’t thought possible without putting something out of joint. Kennfor then had her demonstrating her strikes, first in form and then at speed before moving on to her blocks.
“Your offense is far weaker than your defense,” he told her at one point as he took several swings at her.
“The captain told Alex to train me to get out of trouble – not to start it,” Cindy grunted out as she worked to block each of his strikes.
“And it looks like my brother has done a pretty good job of it,” Kennfor admitted as they came to a stopping point and exchanged bows. “But sometimes the best defense is a strong offense – never letting them get you in a defensive position in the first place. How much longer do we have for your training?”
“Until the cubs wake up – you are theirs for the day – I just borrowed you for a bit.”
“And they’re starting to wake up,” Tess’s voice warned them. “I think we’ve enough time to get him run through the cleaners and a snack in him before they pounce.”
“Strip,” Cindy commanded as she started to do the same. Waving him over to a pad by the door she said, “Keep your mouth shut and spread your fingers and toes.”
The ‘wet sonic shower’ wasn’t the strangest thing Kennfor had ever had done to him, but the ‘stained and sweaty uniform cleaned and pressed while you have your back turned’ was pushing things a bit.
Tess had almost been right; Kennfor was on the last bite of his ‘snack’ when his tail was indeed pounced upon by the freshly recharged cubs.
In a less traveled area of the base, Alex found himself standing guard over a maintenance access hatch. Less traveled didn’t mean not traveled as there were plenty of Fleet uniformed types walking by, many with a comment about the tyke playing dress-up in his father’s gear. The hazing though was light; more often someone would stop and quiz him. Some of the questions were about his Rakshan brother, while others centered on the ship that had brought him to the base – and the crew.
Three times he was allowed to leave his post, two breaks and a meal with the Marines that had been with Kennfor …
“Color me a dumb jar-head, but how is someone older and larger than you your little brother?” the Voxxan vixen that had been the head of the detachment wondered as they all sat down with their meals. Her nametag said ‘Duratic’ and she had been there to make sure Alex got his breaks and wasn’t harassed too badly.
Rather than answer her question, Alex asked, “What has he told you about our family?”
It was one of the other Marines, a female ferret morph with a nametag of ‘Kayjin’, that snorted and said, “Wild crap, like your father not being upset having to take you guys in to the hospital for broken bones and shattered knees.”
Deciding that Kennfor had told on himself enough that he wouldn’t mind his friends hearing it from another source, Alex said, “Yeah, that happened. Good thing Dad was running a Dojo, so there weren’t too many questions asked about how we’d managed to bang ourselves up so badly.”
“Not buying it,” Kayjin replied. “No one comes out of an abusive family as levelheaded as Kennfor is.”
Alex looked at her with a raised eyebrow. “We didn’t consider our family abusive – very supportive in fact.”
“Breaking bones in family disputes is a bit over the top for most families,” Duratic pointed out.
Alex frowned at his meal as he slowly said, “As my brother admitted to Captain Foster, he had some ‘personality problems’ when he first joined our family. In truth, he was a bully and was used to getting his way. I’d already received a couple shoves – and a couple of punches when no one else was around, but I hadn’t mentioned it to our parents yet when he oh-so-smoothly knocked one of our little sisters into a wall because she was in his way. After checking to make sure she wasn’t actually hurt, I slammed him from behind and gave him everything I had. Fortunately for both of us, I was fighting mad and not smart, or I might have killed him.” Looking Kayjin in the eye he added, “I was so intent on beating him to death that I didn’t even realize he was going down and his body’s dead weight snapped my arm.”
“And your dad was able to cover it up?” Kayjin wondered.
Alex snorted softly. “I’m still not sure what Dad did or how; next thing I can recall clearly was me and Kennfor sharing a hospital room.” Alex smiled slightly as he said, “Kennfor looked like hell; cuts and gashes all over him, his leg in a special harness to hold it motionless while the healing systems worked on mending his knee. I had more freedom of movement because a smaller portable harness was holding my arm while the bones were fused back together.”
“He moves pretty good for someone who’s had a knee shattered,” Duratic pointed out.
“That’s Dad’s fault again,” Alex told them. “He allowed only the base level healing so as to reduce the problems of bones and joint issues as we grew older. It took us longer to heal, but we were better off in the long run and if nothing else, our father takes the long view on things.”
“Such as?” Kayjin asked.
“Such as making Kennfor my responsibility. Our father told Kennfor when he woke in the hospital that he was fortunate that his family looks after its own. He then came over to my bed and berated me for allowing my anger to cloud my judgment. He then told us both that I was now responsible for Kennfor – from his recovery to seeing that he ate properly to his training and discipline.”
“Yeah, and I’d then be judged on how I disciplined him as well as how well it did or did not work …”
“Yeah,” Alex said again, “and I was to start Kennfor’s punishment right then and there.”
“Wait a minute – you’re both suffering from broken bones and your father expected you to discipline him that night?”
“Like I said, Dad thinks long-term and expects the rest of us to as well. So the next morning the punishment began.” Looking around at the Marines, Alex asked, “What’s the worst thing you can do to a bully?”
“Humiliate him in front of those he’s bullied,” came from an orange and white chakat.
Alex nodded in agreement. “And so the next day our sisters spent the morning decorating him in ribbons and bows.”
Heads turned at the roar of laughter that burst from their table, and it was Kayjin who managed to stop chuckling first to ask, “And he stood – or I guess laid still for it?”
“I didn’t give him any choice in the matter,” Alex told her. “You see – I’d let them tie me up in ribbons and bows first. And if I didn’t complain, then neither could he without looking ‘weak’ in front of the rest of us …”
Duratic let out a small snort before saying, “So Kennfor getting overrun by a bunch of cubs isn’t quite the punishment the base commander thinks it is?”
“Na, he’ll be fine,” Alex agreed. “What I’m wondering is if the base commander wasn’t in on it.”
“What do you mean?”
Alex smirked. “You didn’t find anything odd about the punishment that was handed out? I mean, how often do you see a Marine serve time on a civilian ship as punishment? I’d figured at worst, Kennfor and I would be spending some quality time in the brig.”
“Then why the fight?” Duratic half demanded.
Alex’s grin grew as he said, “I couldn’t see Kennfor being able to get any leave time – and I knew he and the rest of the family were a little concerned for me after I ended up on the wrong ship with an unknown captain. Our little fight let him know I wasn’t being mistreated – much the opposite as it seems I’ve passed him in our training again, but if we got brigged, we’d have a little time in which my captain couldn’t get his hands on me.”
“You’re out of his hands now,” Duratic pointed out. “Did you need a rescue?”
“Hell, no!” Alex laughed. “Doing just fine. And I’ll bet Kennfor is seeing just how fine.”
“He was worried about you – at least at first,” Kayjin admitted.
“I was a little worried about me at first,” Alex admitted. “Our first sight of Captain Foster was of this bearded bum with a shotgun.” Shaking his head he continued, “Turned out to be his idea of a show of minor force. He always had the upper hand but never really threatened us with it.”
“Considering what would have happened if he tried –” Kayjin started, only to stop at the look Alex was giving her.
“You don’t get it,” Alex quietly told her. “We were on the wrong ship. No one knew what had happened to us – and there had been a bit of an H1 type stir-up just before we got in the carrier. Unless he’d shown up with our pelts for sale or something equally stupid, no one would have ever linked our disappearances to the Folly. As it was, the first thing he did was get everyone’s info and dump it in a FTL relay we were passing. My folks knew where I was in hours rather than days or even weeks later.”
“I happen to know Kennfor was tracking the Folly’s whereabouts quite closely for a while,” Duratic told him. “And I know he had a bug-out bag prepped in case the word he got wasn’t good.”
Alex grinned. “That shouldn’t have lasted over a week. My first comm call home Dad had hinted that my ‘little brother’ was ready to drop everything and come rescue me. I told him if Kennfor did anything that stupid, I’d put a kink in every joint in his tail – and in Dad’s for letting him do it!”
“I saw that ‘letter from home’,” Kayjin told them. “Kennfor looked like he’d bitten into something sour and I’d asked him if he’d thought you’d been forced to say that. Actually got a laugh out of him. He said no, that was you speaking freely; though he did break a couple of the weight stations working out that evening.”
Looking down at his food, and deciding it was time to change the subject, Alex said, “While this is pretty good for chow hall grub; Kennfor is probably enjoying something a little fancier about now.”
“Oh? You guys have yourselves a real chef over there?” Duratic asked.
“Actually we do, and you probably wouldn’t believe how we acquired her,” Alex said with a grin.
Kayjin laughed. “Our current cook didn’t know he’d gotten this assignment – not until we ‘kidnapped’ him and presented him to our captain in chains! It was six weeks before he forgave us enough to stop putting random traps in the food.”
“Ours came willingly – begging for a chance in fact,” Alex said. “And if it wasn’t for the perversion of our crew and how insistent our captain is in keeping his word – we wouldn’t have gotten her.”
“Do you count yourself in that ‘crew of perversion’?” Duratic asked.
“Oh, definitely,” Alex agreed. “But in this case our good captain found his own rules used against him – for the betterment of us all.”
“Sorta like us bending the letter of our orders to better recover the spirit of them,” Kayjin chimed in.
Alex grinned. “In this case one of his standing orders are ‘three or more together’ when going off ship. What he hadn’t counted on was our youngest three of ten, seven and seven would consider themselves worldly enough to go off-ship by themselves.”
“Oh shit,” Kayjin muttered.
“Oh shit indeed,” Alex agreed. “Luckily it wasn’t a dangerous station; but not something to make the captain happy – or their mother when she found out. Then to really mix things up, they told this cook that she could catch a ride with us. He kept their word for her, and we ended up with not only a new crewmember – but she’s now one of the captain’s mates.”
“That captain of yours wise up and ground them for life?”
“You might think so, but no; those three make a pretty good team, they’re not what anyone expects. They’ve all passed the Old Man’s training to be permitted to carry phasers, and for some reason the captain trusts them not to get in over their heads without calling for help.”
“Too bad he can’t count on the older kids to not pick fights with Marines,” Kayjin chuckled.
“My brother and I don’t fight, we merely practiced some of our training. A true fight would last seconds with someone ending up seriously hurt – if not killed ...”
“If what you two were showing us was training, I’d pay to see a real knock down drag out – if it could be done without either of you getting too badly banged up,” Duratic told him, several of the others nodding in agreement.
“Holodeck!” Kayjin laughed. “Just set the safeties high enough and let them go at it!”
Alex looked thoughtful. “That could work, though it goes against the mindset – we don’t do it because of how dangerous it is.” Reaching under the badly fitting body armor he pulled out and tapped his Folly comm badge. “Tess, I’d like to reserve two of the smaller holosuites for after I’m done with my punishment here.”
“Two small and the main holosuites you mean,” Tess corrected. “With all the comments floating around about your little scuffle, I’d expect quite a crowd if word gets out you guys are going to let loose … Captain’s given his approval – I’m warning your little brother.”
“You sure about this, Alex?” Kennfor’s voice asked.
“Trust me, Brother, it’ll be just like I was there – you can use your full force and you’ll feel the strike, but I’ll get just a fraction of the blow.”
“How much of a fraction?”
“We can do some training forms first and dial in the feedback – I use it with Cindy to keep from risking my family jewels when I’m working out with her.”
“A few bruises beats cub-sitting any day – when?”
Tess’ voice interrupted them. “The Captain has suggested to the base commander that in exchange for an early release of his crew member, she might get another look at you two going at it – and not while in her corridors.”
Kayjin arched an eyebrow at Duratic. “Best let our captain in on this – no need to annoy hir by hir hearing of it second or third hand.”
Tess added, “The base commander likes the idea. You’ve been dismissed, Alex. Neal suggested two hours to both let your meal settle and give people time to plan around your little skirmish.”
Duratic smiled. “Guess we could escort you back to your ship.”
“And get front row seats?” Alex asked with a laugh.
“Interesting second family you’ve got here, Brother,” Kennfor admitted as Alex walked in – and was mobbed by the cubs.
“It’s never dull around here,” Alex agreed. “So how’d my big tough Marine handle his cub-sitting?”
Kennfor scowled at him. “They’re not as bad as our nieces – and I think you knew that.”
“Yeah, I did,” Alex laughed. “Though I never thought I’d see some of the things I’ve seen while on this trip.”
“Nothing that hasn’t been a lesson or learning experience.”
“You need to get on the offensive with Cindy.”
“Was in the plans, but had to get her up to it first.”
“Was she really a zero?”
“More a negative to be honest – though it was the captain who was first to move her up a notch.”
“Pugil sticks, she was afraid to even touch him with one – he forced her to strike and showed her he wouldn’t get mad at her for knocking him down.”
“Good father figure then?”
“Much better than the one she was born with,” Alex agreed. “If I’d known what her home life on Bright Hope was like I might have interfered …”
Alex’s grin held more than a bit of malice as he said, “By the time we get her home she’ll be of age – and he won’t have a chance against her in any kind of fight.”
“Father taught us better than that, Brother.”
Alex’s grin turned a bit more friendly as he nodded. “So he did, Brother. The good captain has been training all of us on ship duties including dealing with laws, customs, and trading. By the time we get back to Bright Hope, Cindy will be as independent as you or I. Her father will have a very hard time getting anything more out of her – and if he tries to get physical …”
“She’ll break his tail off and feed it to him,” Kennfor agreed. “I just wanted to be sure that this wasn’t training for revenge.”
“No way – our captain and second father would have put his foot down if it’d looked like that.”
“Would you have let him?”
“Yeah, I think I would. He’s not Dad, but he’s got a long view that’s scary sometimes, he’s seen and done things you and I wouldn’t be able to comprehend.”
“Oh, I don’t know, being a Marine broadens your mind a bit.”
Alex shook his head at Kennfor. “I don’t know, Brother. If a quarter of the records I have access to are true, then to him we are just small cubs. While we were on Raksha I did some record checks. If not him, then his twin brother stopped a war between Raksha and Earth back in the beginning.”
“But that was centuries ago! No one could have lived that long,” Kennfor protested.
“I’d agree with you if I hadn’t seen him turn fourteen aged and dying Rakshani females into healthy young adults. I’ve also rode a full-sized station as he shifted it at warp speed to a new location. Like the fighting style Dad taught us, impossible is a word you have to be very careful with.”
“And you want to continue this voyage?”
“Oh yes. I think this is as much a game changer for me as you getting adopted by mere cat morphs was to you.”
Kennfor chuckled. “I want to be there when you call Dad ‘merely’ anything.”
Alex smirked. “He’d take it as a compliment. I remember you bringing over a few friends that thought him ‘merely’ … did they ever figure out what hit them?”
“No,” Kennfor admitted. “Though I did learn why some call Marines ‘jar-heads’ – damn but they were dumb – and even dumber to not surrender when he knocked them down again, all the while without seeming to work up a sweat.”
“He was sore that night, Mom gave him a good rubdown.”
“Huh, he never mentioned it to me.”
“What – and have you start going easy on him? Never.”
“So how do we do this ‘fight’?”
“I thought we start it as we would most new to the sport, with a warning not to try doing what we will be showing them.”
“The sickbays’ll be full of idiots tomorrow,” Kennfor predicted.
“Not our problem or fault,” Alex reminded him. “If you don’t mind I’ll have Cindy join us as we warm up.”
“Good thought, and we’ll be able to see how she handles a crowd.”
“Then she and I will do a bit of ‘soft’ practice. You and I’ll do ‘hard’ and get the system calibrated. Then I’ll kick your sorry jar-head ass.”
“Or maybe I’ll kick your ass, Big Brother,” Kennfor cheerfully taunted. “It will be nice not having to worry that I might do you serious harm.”
Alex snorted, “You’re not the only one that’s had to hold back, Little Brother.”
“Okay then, I need to get cleaned up again,” Kennfor said as he glared at the cubs, which rushed at him giggling.
“Tess, warn Cindy we’ve volunteered her,” Alex said as he helped pull giggling cubs off Kennfor.
“Done. Too bad the boss wouldn’t let me sell tickets, I’d be rich! Ah! And I’m happy to say she sounds more excited than nervous about doing this publicly.”
“Good, please have the dojo set up for us.”
“Dad’s?” Kennfor wondered.
“Including the soft spot and the cup of tea,” Alex said with a grin.
“Oh, this will get fun then,” Kennfor said as he tossed the last cub at their ‘climbing wall’ – close netting across various levels of padding with still more padding below in case someone happened to lose their grip and take an unexpected tumble.
Free of the cubs, both brothers cleaned up and dressed in fresh workout suits. They were joined by Cindy, already dressed to match them.
“You two going to be treating me like a practice dummy?” she asked with a raised eyebrow.
“No,” Alex told her. “For you this is a regular training session – but with a guest instructor. He calls a halt, we both stop – if he points out a correction, we’ll step through it once for form before doing it again at speed. Kennfor may step in so you can try the move against a larger opponent.”
Cindy nodded. “You boys wearing your cups?” she asked with an evil grin.
Alex grinned back. “We’ll each be in a different holosuites, so no direct contact – and Tess will be protecting us from each other.”
“Sounds like fun – and I do want to see just how far you guys can take it.”
“Actually it’ll be a first for us as well as we normally have to hold back – least we hurt ourselves or each other,” Kennfor told her.
“So everyone will be learning something today,” Cindy agreed.
“And the guests are starting to arrive,” Tess told them. “Time to get in position.”
Kennfor’s detachment found things not to be what they were expecting in a holosuite. Bleacher seating like you’d find at any event for watching a game or match was understandable, as was each seat conforming to each of them. What wasn’t expected was a small joystick at each seat – one that would swing the seat and its occupant about the room like some kind of kid’s ride. A little testing though showed them that the joystick would allow them to watch the event from wherever they’d like – every seat was the best seat in the house.
Another trick of the holosuite was who you were sitting next to could be anyone you chose, the person you were speaking to could be on the other side of the room – or in a different holosuite and watching from a different perspective. Privacy could also be requested, to watch the event and not be seen or noticed by others; though several ship captains used it to have a quick if inopportune meeting as they waited for things to start. In a bubble of their own, the captains of the Afterglo and Folly were also having a private little meeting.
The plain deck before them slowly changed into a wooden floor, wooden walls flowing up to a raftered ceiling enclosing them in a spacious dojo. The floor was clean and bare – other than a tea set setting along one wall; a single cup and saucer set a meter or so away from the rest of the tea set.
A door in the far side opened to admit Alex, followed by his brother and Cindy. They stepped up to face the audience, though that dojo wall was normally the one of mirrors reflecting their movements back at them.
With Cindy to his left and Kennfor to his right, Alex led their bow to their audience. “Welcome all,” he stated. “Some of you may be under the impression that we have a rather strange way of fighting. We will allow you to judge that for yourselves in time. First we will do our warm-ups and basics before my brother and I get into full contact. Do not under any circumstances try any of the moves you see here – a misstep could leave you or your partner crippled if not worse.”
After a few stretches, the three went into lockstep as they started their warm-up routines, Kennfor’s varying slightly as a maneuver made use of the heavy tail the other two did not possess. Already knowing the other two would be going at it much longer than she would, Cindy merely changed the direction she was facing and repeated her much shorter routine.
Kennfor finished his routine just as Cindy finished her third set. They both turned and watched as Alex took still more time to finish his.
Kennfor stepped to the rear as Alex and Cindy faced off. As these two had used the holosuites before, Tess knew the force levels to allow through and what to protect on each of them. Kennfor stepped in only twice, once to change the position of one of Cindy’s blows, and once to allow her to practice her technique on a larger opponent.
It was then Cindy’s turn to step back as the mismatched brothers faced off. They started with what they’d done in the star base’s corridor, but quickly progressed beyond that as they told Tess to increase or decrease the force reductions she was applying to each of their attacks.
Ten minutes or so into their demonstration they halted as one and bowed to each other.
“Shall we?” Alex asked his brother.
“I think so,” Kennfor replied. “I think we have your Tess dialed in well enough if one of us overdoes it.”
They bowed again and Kennfor lunged at Alex – who barely danced clear of the claws and hard whipping tail – Kennfor almost losing an ear to his brother’s counterattack.
This went on for over a minute with most of the audience hoping there’d be a recording with slow-mo and freeze-frame options because they couldn’t possibly keep up with the action – and then over the pounding there was an ugly cracking sound that seemed to reverberate through the dojo.
Alex had managed to get inside the larger Kennfor’s guard and deliver a double fisted chest impact to either side of the Rakshani’s thick neck, felling him in a single blow.
Tess realized the danger too late to prevent it, but she quickly disengaged the holosuites so Alex wouldn’t add to the damage by falling on his brother even as she cushioned and braced Kennfor’s fall, Kennfor suddenly finding himself flat on his back with his head, neck, back and upper arms immobilized.
“Don’t you dare try moving,” Cindy ordered – surprising Kennfor with the amount of command in her voice. “Tess?” she didn’t quite demand.
“Med-bot on route,” Tess told her and everyone else. “They fooled me – I wasn’t expecting the blow or the way it was administered, so I couldn’t change the force reduction quickly enough. Both of his collarbones are quite broken.”
“Bro?” Alex asked, looking more than a little worried.
Letting out a shaky breath, Kennfor said, “I’ll believe you the next time you say you’re holding back.”
Alex let out an angry hiss. “I’d pound your sorry ass into the deck if you weren’t already broken – you damn dumb-ass! We set the safeties. The one thing Tess can’t protect us from is our own overconfidence and stupidity. Shit!”
“Sorry, Big Brother,” Kennfor admitted weakly. “Back to day one …”
“Oh no, Little Brother. Tess has some very good methods for mending things, and you will leave under your own power – and on day two.”
“You wouldn’t,” Kennfor half pleaded.
“Oh, but I would,” Alex promised as a medical gurney rolled up next to Kennfor.
“Please state the nature of the medical…” the little machine on the gurney pleasantly started before its voice changed to that of someone who couldn’t be bothered with being polite: “The hell? Another broken hellcat? I thought these things were supposed to be sturdier than this. Note to self; make yet another request to the captain to have any and all Rakshani carefully wrapped in at least a quarter-meter of bubble wrap before being allowed onboard. Double collarbones – now that takes skill. Okay, big boy, I’m going to rotate your shoulders to line up the bone ends; bite Alex’s tail if you need a chew toy.”
“Use the pain-blockers or I’ll help the cubs take you apart again,” Alex threatened. “We still have a few parts left over from last time.”
“Damn pushy carbon-based life forms,” the unit muttered, but Kennfor’s face relaxed as the pain was lessened. “I can have him up and walking in thirty minutes, but I’d prefer ninety to do a proper job of it,” the med-bot reported as it applied two of its arms over the breaks.
“Ninety is soon enough,” Alex agreed. Looking down at his brother he added, “Then the cubs get him until tomorrow morning.” Straightening to look at the mirrors which hid their watchers, Alex said, “While unplanned, I hope this will encourage others to not try what you’ve seen here this evening. He and I have years of experience at this, and we still managed to get ourselves hurt doing it.”
Morning found Alex and Kennfor standing before Captain Foster in his ready room, Alex in a fresh ship-suit and his brother wearing his un-powered armor.
“Stage magic,” Neal muttered at the two of them as he leaned back in his chair. “I wasn’t sure until I had Tess run your routines and the fight at low speed and from a couple different angles, but over half your moves are just basic stage magic sleight of hand and misdirection.”
“I told you he’d figure it out,” Alex half muttered at his brother.
“He’s the first in a while,” Kennfor allowed.
Neal grinned. “I had to have Tess do some digging to discover some of the jobs your great-grandfather had taken,” he admitted. “So, Kennfor; what do you think of your brother and his traveling arrangements?”
Kennfor bowed low. “It’s been an honor and a privilege to meet you and yours. I’ll be happy to assure our family that he is in good hands.”
“Thank you, Kennfor. I’d wish you luck – but …” Neal said as he shrugged.
“Yeah,” Kennfor agreed as he glared down at his now grinning big brother.
No one said a word to him as he walked the corridors of the starbase to return to his ship. His coming into view brought with it a dead silence, for most had seen – and the rest had heard – of his fight the evening before, and none seemed to want to try their luck with the glare his eyes projected though he looked neither left nor right.
The silence lasted until he’d almost made it back to the Afterglo. As the rumor mill always ran faster than the speed of light, it wasn’t really a surprise for him to discover that his younger than average captain just happened to be waiting for him at the ship hatch.
“You’re out of uniform, mister,” shi commented as shi sternly admired the many colorful ribbons and bows adorning hir current problem child.
“Yes, Shir,” he replied. “Request permission to correct the issue, Shir.”
“Denied – at least for today. We’ll see if tomorrow I’m more forgiving of your actions.”
Dropping hir stern act, Captain Shirley, daughter of Passion and Wildflower smiled up at hir overly well decorated Marine as shi said, “So … how was your visit with your ‘big’ brother?”
Copyright © 2015 Allen Fesler Redbear1158 (at) either gmail or hotmail dot com
Chakat universe is copyright of Bernard Doove and used with his permission.
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