“Oh hey now what’s all this then there, bud?”
The secret is, of course, that Mike Callaway already knew exactly what was going on. As soon as the main doors opened up to Rec Room 12-B and he had a good look around, he pieced together the exact type of shenanigan that was unfolding before him. It wasn’t his first rodeo, and it certainly wasn’t his first time seeing the ol’ Tibetan Pinata. He made a simple show of crossing his arms with a soft smile plastered on his face, as he looked up at his son – who sheepishly waved back at him. It had been a few years since Mike had seen his son in the flesh; video and hard light simulacrum never did it justice, and Mike spent a little while in silence, just looking over his middle child.
He was eating, which is good… Beth always worried, but Mike knew his son had inherited his appetite – the small paunch he was developing a testament to that. There was still muscle underneath – Nate had to be strong to hold himself up on the rafters like that for so long, which means he didn’t fall into the trap a lot of interns did and stop their workout regimen. No wounds, scars, blood… nothing. He only half-believed the UTF reps when they swung by his door, and had kept his doubts about his son’s health under wraps for the entire duration of the trip… but now he breathed a sigh of relief. The little shit had him worried…
“Hi Dad.” Nate called out, rewarded with another “Oooooooooooo~” from the assembled peanut gallery. Mike looked down and nodded to himself, before looking up again.
“Uffda! I see you’ve worked on your high jump – that basketball scholarship is back on the table then?” Mike said, laughing as Nate shrugged. Mike turned his gaze down, tilting his head slightly to the side as he watched the Dorarizin compose himself.
“Ope! I didn’t mean to stop your fun there, bud. Name’s Mike.” Mike said, extending his hand but not walking forward. He kept looking up with a half-grin on his face, and as Drongo walked over and introduced himself the surrounding peanut gallery began to talk amongst themselves.
“So, Drongoeh, I see you’re trying to knock him down a peg or two?”
“[In a manner of speaking, yes.]” Drongo said, rolling his head from side to side. “[It’s good exercise, too.]”
Mike laughed. “Oh, well if you want to do that you don’t need to grab him, you just need to get him down!” He reached into his pocket and pulled out a well-worn phablet; with a simple thumb imprint he unlocked the device and opened up a peculiar app. “Now, have you ever seen his baby photos?”
“DAD NO-” Nate yelled, scrambling across the rafters over his father. “PLEASE-”
Drongo cooed as the first picture popped up, a picture of a just-born Nate blearily looking at the camera. “Oh yeah he was a bit of a pinhead when he came out – and that ain’t changed, it seems.” Mike looked up pointedly at his son, who was trying to swipe at his phone from a couple dozen feet in the air. In a few seconds, Mike’s vision was obscured as Drongo almost leaned on the man, almost pressing his nose to the glass of the device.
“[Awwwwww~]” Drongo sighed as the picture switched to a toddler Nate, the gif looping of him on all fours, lifting his head, wobbling, and then dropping it back on the floor with a thump. “[Ooooh…~]”
“Nnnnnnnn Daaaaaaaaaadddd~” Nate whined, as his baby photos were shared. Mike was kind enough to shoo away anyone else other than the Dorarizin, but did not pull the device away for a few more minutes.
Those minutes were spent staring at his son. Preparing.
Mike inhaled, slowly, before blowing it out in an explosive sigh. “Jeez, Nate, what’s the matter? You know your mother and I have been worried about you since you got all starry-eyed and decided to run off-”
“I didn’t run-off, Dad-”
“Son.” Mike said, in the tone that brooked no argument. Nate wisely shut up, and his father continued. “-you ran off, and Beth has always tried to keep you safe – though she couldn’t do it on the ice, and you remember how that trip to the emergency room spun her up in a tizzy! Over a broken wrist! And if you think that wasn’t bad enough – hearing from some suits who came in and told us that you could be missing, that you could be dead – remember your siblings? Keith demanded to be transfered to whatever group was lookin’ fer ya, and Michi almost stole a skipper! To look for you, son – and that’s not talkin’ about everyone else who was trying to keep your mother together. Not to mention Uncle Oscar’s ulcers sent him to the clinic once he learned what had happened!”
Nate slumped against one of the vertical supports, any semblance of joy of playfulness drained from his body and face.
“You remember what you told us, when we saw you off from that space needler, yeah? That you’d pick a safe career, that you’d stay in-system once it’s done, that you’d be home on the weekends eh there? And we were so proud that you were gonna start your own business and get a career going – how is this doing that then there? Ya puttin’ your friends in danger, breaking your promise to your family about puttin’ yourself in danger – but now what, bud? Anyone who ever hears they have a Calloway in their crew, what are they going to think? We’ve always been builders, always workin’ with our hands – what are people gonna think now, when the only Calloway that’s been this far out from home acts like such a townie?”
As Mike continued to publicly chastise his son – who was aging in real time before him, he was pleased to note – he took some time to glance around surreptitiously. The smiles on everyone’s faces were gone; instead, there were awkward grimaces, avoided gazes, pursed lips and furious attention paid to tablets and communicators that just a few moments ago were put on DND. A few of the peanut gallery attempted to leave through a side door – but again, this wasn’t Mike’s first rodeo – and his earlier odd request to this ship’s captain was fulfilled.
He stood in front of the only unlocked door to rec room 12-B. If anyone wanted to leave this thrashing early, they’d have to go through him.
“Awh Jeez son, what would you think gamgam would say, if she was still here – Lord rest her soul? Or auntie Bell? You know she wanted to go travel the stars but her heart wouldn’t let her, and I know she put that idea into your mind – I see her in you, son, and I don’t know what she’d say.”
A few of the xenos attempted to stealthily pry the doors open, but to no avail.
“Now I don’t know much – I got through my trade schoolin’, married your mother young, and been faithful to her and you and the whole family. I ain’t ever seen one of our neighbors outside of our skipper trips, but I know good folk when I see ‘em. Nate, you should count your blessings that you’re surrounded by such good people – and do try to remote into church more often, bud. The congregation misses you, and I know you’d be a great speaker to the youth group. Now go catch him, Drongo.”
“[Sorry wh-OH]” Drongo said, before darting forward as Nathaniel Callaway slumped over, his very will to live drained from his body. Dead fingers attached to a living body let go of his perch, and he fell the few dozen feet into his doctor’s waiting arms, activating Mike’s trap card.
“Speaking of, bud.” Mike said, scuffing his Newbalance tennis shoe against the floor as he lowered his gaze to Drongo, who now looked less like a menacing wolf-bear killbeast and more like a deer in headlights. “What about you? I thought you were supposed to be taking care of my son?”
Drongo crouched down in instinctual fear, memories of past dressing-downs from his own father starting to play in his mind.
“I thought the whole deal with this internship thing was that you were all trained? And don’t think we don’t know about pirates – I was told that my son would be in no danger – and yet you somehow managed to find the only ones in the entire galaxy?” Mike leaned forward, tilting his head slightly as he stared into Drongo’s eyes. “No? So if they’re not that rare then bud, this shouldn’t have been a big deal? Right? Were life rafts not a possiblity? Did you not have a way to call for help? And even then – why did you abandon my son? Are your lives worth so little that you’d throw them away so quickly? Why would there not be a plan of action if this very thing happened? Mmm?”
“[I-I didn’t, I-]”
“Isch!” Mike said, silencing any dissent. He looked around the room, and as he did dawning horror spread across the faces that his gaze touched; they knew. There was no escape, there was no more future, there was no more hope.
There was only Dad.
“And you all there, the ones runnin’ this ship.” Mike said, pointing in the direction opposite of where he stood. “You’re the ones with the long years here – of all of us, you all should know better. From what I was told when I was younger, you’re all beacons of hope and nobility in this chaotic universe – but what do I find, once I’m actually out and aboot? I see strangers who were alive when my grandparents were born, betting on my son’s shame! When I leave – when the humans here leave this room and this ship – what story will we tell our children, about our supposed friends among the stars? When the first man was stolen, and the galaxy rallied to save him, this is the story that will be told, defacing any honor you may have had in helping us. And you!”
Mike pointed to a random human, who suffered physical emotional damage, and curled in on herself.
“How could you let one of your kin get into this mess? I’m all for messing with the toeboots, but this? And…” Mike’s gaze wandered over to a Karnakian pressed against the wall, who looked both very confused but also very concerned – a residual guilt hung about him, even though he radiated a desire to help. Mike looked him up and down for a moment, before pointing a finger at the offending xenos.
“…you’re ok though, bud. Don’t know why, but you’re alright.” Mike said, as P“pacheep beamed at the sole compliment in the middle of the emotional genocide. Wiping his hands on his shirt, Mike walked over to the intercom panel for the ship – with the knowledge that no one had the energy to leave the room – and pressed a sequence of buttons (with the help of his own phablet) to hail the bridge.
Captain Fierce-gale answered the call, flicking his ears forward in professional eagerness. “[Well hello there, tin-]”
“You’re a puddle-jumper who can’t keep his junker clean or his crew loyal.” Mike stated, matter-of-factly. He turned away from the screen and pointed at the far wall, where both xenos and human crews dove for cover to get out of the camera angle. “Unless you want to tell me why your crew was betting on which one of them would rip my son off of the rafters of this gym, eh?”
Captain Fierce-gale said nothing with his mouth, but his eyes. His eyes spoke volumes. Without waiting for a formal response, Mike checked his phablet and keyed in a second set of commands, somehow conferencing in Admiral Hawkings, who answered the call with a professional smile. “Well hello there, Mike! How’d the family reu-”
“Uffda, I’da liked a reunion, but I came in on your crew betting on which onna the aliens was going to rip him off of the rafters!” Mike said, turning away again as the gap of people on the side opposite the wall camera grew, the crew pushing against each other to get out of the incensed brass’ vision. “Now I could expect that from the Senate, what with it being a different culture an’ all, but from us? Although my son may have died in space, after seein’ how the people who are supposed to protect us treated ‘em, it would have been better he did than to experience such shame!”
Mike did not know the tells of the alien species – he spent most of his time near the lakes, and he preferred it that way. However, he did know the tells of his fellow man, and he was internally pleased to see the Admiral’s jaw clench so hard his hat shifted on his head. Without skipping a beat he added in another caller – Admiral Hawkings turning his head slightly on camera – but not moving his eyes, not for one fucking second from the screen – as Captain Kirk (no relation) picked up the call.
“Uh, hey there- Mike? What’s-”
“Oh nothing much there bud, I just wanted to congratulate you! I really appreciate that nice, slightly greasy film that’s been on everything I’ve touched since was transferred to your ship, and I didn’t realize it was there until I got onto this ship and didn’t notice it! Yours feels very lived in, and I like that.”
Captain Kirk pursed his lips, any expression of kindness and camaraderie lost immediately. Mike made one last dial, and the unblinking Captian Fierce-gale turned his head slightly as Admiral Star-Eater of the Senate fleet, picked up the line.
“[Sir, I can assure you-]”
“Your homemade chili is weak, your tastebuds are dull from years of breathing recirculated air and eating government chow, and I don’t know how you can call this junk a boat, let alone a ship – I’ve checked multiple so-called rec rooms on my way here, and not a single one of them had a hardwood or charcoal briquette grill anywhere on the premises. I was under the assumption that, as an advanced species you would have all the amenities necessary for civilized life, but I was wrong.”
Admiral Star-Eater, for her part, kept her response muted, which rightfully terrified everyone else in the room.
“All I’m saying, boyos, is that… well. I’m … I’m so tired. I’ve been warpping myself around the axle, hoping my son – and everyone here – was going to be safe and sound, and I come in to see this?”
Mike inhaled deeply, letting his breath out in an explosive sigh. It was time.
“I’m not mad… you’re all adults, you make your own decisions. I just wish they were better decisions.”
He looked around, slowly.
“I just wish I wasn’t so disappointed, is all.”
= = =
Mike stared at the two lumps of flesh that lay against the rec room floor. One was his son’s on-call doctor, a Dorarizin by the name of Drongo, who was curled up in the fetal position around the other lump of flesh, his son. Neither one of them were moving, both were staring into the middle-distance, and if Mike didn’t check it would’ve been difficult to tell if they were breathing or not. After his PTA conference call there was a flurry of activity – to put it mildly – and the peanut gallery was calmly, but firmly ushered out to parts unknown by what appeared to be almost every officer of every ship that was part of the task force to save his son.
“Son? Come on now.” Mike said, nudging his boy with his foot. Slack-jawed, Nate’s head rolled against the larger xenos, staring in the direction of his father but not focusing on any one thing.
“Well jeez, I guess I hit too hard. What do you think, bud?” Mike said, turning towards the three Karnakians against the wall. P“pacheep began to bounce in place as he was being noticed again, and picked at his hands as he turned to his left and right for some form of support. Unfortunately, on either side of him were the half-molted living corpses of Tiki and Toko – who, although being trained against physical pain, had absolutely no defense and no preparation for the guilt that slammed them against the ground not fifteen minutes earlier.
P“pacheep looked at the human, and fluffed himself – and his confidence – up. “[What’s a charcoal briquette?]”
“Oh you poor child.” Mike sighed, shaking his head. “We gotta get you some Vernors and a good dog.”
P“pacheep bounced in agreement, stepping forward. “[I would like to help! Um, how can I-awk!]”
P“pacheep let out an awkward squawk as, quick as a flash, Toko’s hand reached up and gripped the boy’s ankle. “[No. No interaction, period.]”
“Oh, why not there then?” Mike asked, thumbs hooked into his jeans’ front pockets. “He seems like a nice FIP.”
“[He’s-]” Toko grunted, as he wobbled to his knees, and then upright once more. “[-not trained, at all.]”
“Ah.” Mike said, giving his son another nudge with his foot. “Come on, I got the winnebago out back.”
“[Sorry, the what?]” Tiki mumbled, lifting herself up from the ground with extreme effort.
“Oh yeah, so. I’m here to basically pick up the kids – Nate and you all and the entire crew – and take ya back to Sol. You don’t have a ship no more, but we can pank a replacement for ya local. In the meantime, if you want, you get to putz around and be a fudgie.”
“[…why did only half those words translate?]” Tiki asked, as with another grunt she wobbled to her feet.
“Oh I don’t know but-” Mike started, before the door behind him opened. He turned to look, expecting his escort – and it was, partially. His guards stood at the entrance to 12-B, but they were joined by an additional group of guards, some of which were human, who were corralling a Jornissian that … well.
Mike figured he was trying, and that’s all that mattered. The Jornissian was dressed in head to toe in an orange cotton garb, and – though he didn’t wear any shackles or cuffs, held his hands demurely in front of him. The two looked at each other, studying one another, before the Jornissian looked around, with confusion.
“[I um. H-hello?]” He mumbled, shrinking down just a bit. “[I uhm, I’m-]”
Mike pointed at the Jornissian.
“You’re good Nate.” Mike said, with such a certainty of fact that it brooked no argument. It did finally rouse his son from his stupor, and with half-confused protests Nate finally woke up.
“D-dad, what do you me- Oh, hey Bleppy-”
“Nope. Not Bleppy. That’s Good Nate.” Mike corrected, reaching down to pick up his son from the still-slightly-catatonic Drongo. Nate wiggled free, stumbling forward towards his friend.
“Hey there, buddy.” Nate said, smiling. Blepp- sorry, Good Nate rumbled softly and wiggled in place.
“[Oh! Oh you’re alive, wiggle-nap-]”
“Yeah I am, buddy. You doing alright?” Nate asked, looking between the guard and his friend with concern.
“[Yes! I’m – I’m fine. Lifetime parole, but, they haven’t told me where – I’m glad to see you again, though.]” Good Nate said, bobbing his head in gratitude. “[I’m glad we get to see each other before I go-]”
Mike wetly coughed, scratching his chest. “Oh yeah you’ll be with the union – I’ll put in a good word for you, Good Nate. Didn’t have no chance to tell ya that yet, bud.”
“[I’m sorry, what?]” The two asked, turning towards Mike, who was smiling softly.
“Ah, yeah. Took a look at whatcha do at your old docks – we always need dockworkers, especially around Titan, sos that’s where you’ll be doing your parole.” Mike stated, matter-of-factly. “The paperwork’s already done, bud.”
“[I-in Sol. I’m, I’m spending m-my life, I-in Sol-]” Good Nate said, dumbfounded.
Mike smiled. “Eyup. And since you’re the good one, I figure we can getcha a single treat from Dairy Queen on the way home.”
“Dad, are you serious?!” Nate said, spinning on his heel to look at his father, who was grinning from ear to ear.
“Eyup! That one over there can get a treat too.” Mike said, pointing over his shoulder to P“pacheep with his thumb. “But only one.”