Alex peeked around the corner and looked down the corridor. At the sight of enemy soldiers near a grav-lift he quickly pulled his head back. After a moments thought he turned back the way he had come to find a passageway that would take him around the soldiers unseen.
With a disgusted sigh Alex stopped and looked down at the small com pinned to the collar of his tunic. He hit it open handed to activate it and spoke “Aww..Ari. I was in the middle of an important mission. You just gave me away to the enemy soldiers”
In a slightly amused but serious voice Talos replied. “your mission was already into overtime and if you don’t hurry you’re going to be late for dinner. Stephen and I are going to the Grotto (cafeteria #1). I want you to meet us there in five minutes, with your hands and face washed” with a smile in her voice she finished “If you beat us there you can choose desert”
In an exubriant voice Alex exclaimed “Alright! I want a Zantalian Fire Ice”. He raced into the corridor he had just peeked down and dived head first into the grav-lift, giving himself an extra 20 km/hr of velocity with a push off of the shaft entrance. As he flashed past various crew members in the shaft of the grav-lift Alex quickly planned the fastest route to the Grotto. More than 3/4 the length of the ship away, it was impossible to take one grav shaft all the way there from his present position. He would have to take this shaft to the main dorsal grav shaft which would take him the length of the ship. With a high undulating cry, copied from the Altairian battle cry, he slammed into the buffer zone at the end of the vertical grav shaft. He hit the buffer field moving so fast that instead of feeling a gentle pressure grab him and slow him down from the 25 km/hr he was traveling, it felt like hitting a huge wall and being impressed in it. He stepped out of the entrance of the grav lift where the buffer field had deposited him and with two steps threw himself into the main dorsal grav-lift. With another high battle cry he flew across the width of the grav-shaft and entered the express lane which accelerated him to almost 50 km/hr. In his head he kept a second by second count down. It was now 2 min 15 sec since Ari had called. He had 2 min 45 sec left to reach the Grotto.
With an intent expression on his face he whipped by now familiar crew men, smiling and waving back when they hailed him. In the two standard months that the Vengeance had been in subspace he had learned every nook and cranny of the ship, and met most of the crew. His favorite ones to hang out with were the space fighter pilots and the rough but friendly engineering crew. With the engineering crew he got to go with them when they were repairing or doing maintenance on the ships environmental, power, and weapons systems. They even let him help sometimes. The fighter pilots told him all about past battles and fights. Most of the time though he was with the men and women in ta’Kall’s battalion. It was like having hundreds of big brothers and sisters. With them he learned the meanings of many words he had heard but never understood, much to Talos’s dismay and irritation. More fun though was the stories of battles, stories about Colonel ta’Kall, stories about strange worlds and alien beings. Then there was the fun he had exercising with the battalion, he especially liked it when they included him in the sessions devoted to an ancient style of hand to hand combat called Karate.
He tensed as he entered the buffer field at the end of the main dorsal grav-lift, 95 sec…94 sec… the countdown went on in his head. “Huff..” the air was forced out of his lungs as he was grabbed by the buffer field and then deposited in the lift entrance. With no wasted motion he ran down the corridor to the first intersection and turned left. Doing this once more he then entered a long cross corridor that would take him right to the Grotto’s entrance. 15 sec…14 sec…13 sec…the count down continued. Just ahead he could see the entrance of the Grotto with Ari Talos and Stephen ta’Kall standing in front.
With a breathless cry of victory he slammed to a halt in front of them “I made it.”
Talos trying to keep a straight face looked at her chronometer “Yes, you made it with about 5 sec to spare, but did you wash your face and hands.
Alex’s face fell “Oh drat, I forgot”
ta’Kall burst out laughing “Don’t worry Alex. I think we can manage a Fire Ice anyway. Run wash your face and hands. We’ll wait to order until you get back” ta’Kall said.
After they had eaten ta’Kall leaned back with a sigh of satisfaction. “I have to admit that the food in the Grotto always seems to taste better than in the other cafeterias”
“Mmmp..Hum..” came in agreement from Alex as he tried to talk around a mouthful of Zantalian Fire Ice.
ta’Kall and Talos smiled in amusement at Alex’s effort to speak.
“Alex, wait till you’ve finished swallowing before trying to speak.” Talos said still smiling.
Not trying to speak Alex just nodded his head.
A more serious expression crossed his face as ta’Kall turned to Ari “I’ll be giving a briefing to all officers and senior NCO’s in the battalion tomorrow morning. Make sure that everyone is notified”
“I’ll set it up for 0900 hrs. tomorrow. If that’s all right with you.” she answered.
“That will do fine”
“There’s been rumors that we will have to set down on Banners world in a hot LZ. Did the briefing you went to earlier or the one tomorrow have anything to do with them.” Talos asked with a poker face.
“I should have known the enlisted grapevine would know about it before the officers did” ta’Kall said after nearly choking on his drink.
“What’s a grapevine Stephen” Alex’s voice came from the other side of the table where he had finished his Ice.
After a seconds consideration of the question ta’Kall answered “I’m not sure where the word comes from but it now means an unofficial source of information. Like if you found out about something before it was announced to everyone. You could say you had heard it on the grapevine.”
With an expression of dawning understanding Alex exclaimed “I get it. It’s like how we’re going to have to fight the bad guys on Banners World only the Generals and the Admirals haven’t said it yet. So it’s grapevine information. Right?” He finished with a big grin.
Talos tried her best to muffle the giggles that shook her body, but the look on ta’Kall’s face totally destroyed her self control. “It’s grapevine information. Right?” She gasped between spasms of laughter at ta’Kall.
With a wry grin on his face ta’Kall finally answered Alex. “Yes you could indeed say that Alex” After a seconds pause he continued “Just for curiosity’s sake where did you hear about that”.
Oh the guys in engineering heard it from the stewards who heard it from the fighter pilots.” Alex meekly said.
with a laugh ta’Kall said “It’s amazing that we won the war as hard as it is to keep a secret around here.”
Talos sat and looked at Ales in suspicion for a few moments. When he started to squirm she quietly asked him “Alex where did the pilots hear about the rumor.”
Alex after a quick look around as if to find and escape, turned to her and in a small voice said”….I did Ari” and them hung his head so that he didn’t have to look at her.
where did you hear about it.” ta’Kall asked in an interested voice.
“I heard the admiral telling you and the captain about it in the conference room this morning.” Alex shyly said.
After a moments look of shock ta’Kall asked in a puzzled voice “I thought we had sealed the room. Was the door open?”
“No sir, it wasn’t open. I could hear you through the wall.”
At this ta’Kall and Talos looked around to see if anyone could hear them. Then after a quick but speaking glance at each other that said “drop the subject for now, we don’t want anyone to over hear this” they turned back to Alex.
“All right Alex. I’m not going to say anything more to you about this, except that it is not good to repeat information that you have overheard. If you have been given permission to repeat it, it’s alright, but not otherwise. If you have a doubt about whether you should repeat talk that you have heard, come to me or Ari before you repeat it to anyone else. Okay?”
“Yes sir. I’m sorry that I caused trouble. I didn’t mean to.” Alex said in a subdued voice, a look of widthdrawel flowing over his face.
Well I’m not going to say you didn’t cause any trouble, but I can fix the little bit that you did cause.” ta’Kall stated in a calm voice. With a tender look in his eyes he reached over and pulled Alex onto his lap. He hugged him with both arms and leaned down to whisper in his ear “Hey killer it’s okay. We still love you.”
Alex’s stiff body gradually relaxed and his arms crept around ta’Kall’s neck in a relieved hug.
Talos reached over and ruffled Alex’s hair as she winked at him. “So you know more than I do. Hmm, I don’t know if that’s allowed.”
At this bit of humor from Talos, Alex gave a relieved giggle.
“Stephen are we going to kill all the bad guys on Banners world.” Alex asked next with the lively curiosity that was his trade mark.
“No, I hope not.” ta’Kall said in a serious voice. “They aren’t really bad guys. during the war the government surrendered the planet to the Commonwealth. I would have done the same thing. There was no military forces to protect the planet. It they had fought, 70 to 80 percent of the population would have been slaughtered. Unfortunately the emperor disenfranchised the government on the grounds of treason when Banners world was recovered at the end of the war. Everybody that actively agreed to, or participated in the so called “surrendered government” was imprisoned and their property taken away by imperial order..”
Looking over at Ari, Stephen continued “If we had only known about the local situation before accepting the planet. Who would want to invade a hostile world, where the inhabitants are the ones in the right.” With a weary sight he rubbed his face. “At least the planet has only been colonized for a couple of generations. The total population is only about three million. Most of the planet has not even been explored much less settled. With any luck there will be little to no violence. If there is we will have to suppress it no matter how we feel about it. If we look like we can’t control the planet then that will give the emperor a excuse to assume direct control of the planet and us. That is something that we can’t allow to happen.