Kyle concluded his conference in flying colors, despite efforts set forth to discredit him.
The boys were able to do their nekkid swimming and then have their camping trip.
"Sir," Ensign Doug Erikson called out, "we are approaching a nebula. The distress signal is coming from within."
"On screen," Hall requested.
After seeing the nebula, Hal asked, "Are you able to scan into it?"
"We can, Sir," Doug replied, "but until we get closer, some of the more distant scans will be distorted."
"What about with infrared again?" Kyle inquired.
Doug answered, "That will give us an idea of what is in the nebula, but no real information. We can make out a rogue planet with several ships around it, one of which is the Explorer Class sending out the distress signal. She still has power, as do some of the ships. Most have either lost power or been powered down."
Hal ordered "Keep scanning. As you get more detail, let me know. Helm, move us to the edge of the nebula."
"Aye, aye, Sir," Kyle responded as he guided the ship.
As the ship moved to the edge, Ensign Erikson declared, "Sir, the Explorer Class is definitely the SS Joseph Hooker. She is the one who is sending out the distress signal. And the other Earth vessel is the Explorer of the Stars."
Kyle muttered to himself, "Where have I heard that name? Explorer of the Stars… I know I've heard it before."
The two ships, the Sooloo and the Darastix had their Bridges linked. "Are you sure about that, Ensign?" came the voice of Greg Robinson over the comms.
"Yes, Sir," Doug replied. "She's a derelict now, no longer space worthy, but that is definitely the Explorer of the Stars."
"That was my father's ship," Greg said as it clicked in Kyle's mind where he had heard the name before. "Perhaps we can recover his body and take it to Earth for a proper burial."
Fleet Admiral William Mirah added, "If it's possible, we will do that."
"Commander Robinson," Hal ordered, "take us to those ships, but exercise extreme caution. Ensign Erikson, scan the ships for any life."
"All the ships are barren, Sir," Erikson averred. "The distress signal is the automated signal from having no crew on board."
"Any life signs on the planet?" Hal questioned.
"Scanning the planet now, Sir. It doesn't appear to be from this region."
"OH?!" Hal's interest was piqued. "Where do you believe this planet originated?"
"The planet's composite is almost similar to that rogue star we encountered," Erikson explained.
Kyle almost snapped his own neck from turning his head so fast. "You mean, this is possibly one of Azazel's missing children?"
"Yes Sir, it is very possibly," Erikson responded, "I would even say probably." He looked at Hal, "No life on the planet surface, Sir, but underneath the surface."
"I want all Senior officers in the Conference Room in ten minutes," Hal ordered.
Senior Officers from the Darastix and the Sooloo were in attendance, each in their own Conference Room, with the Darastix officers in attendance via video. Hal began the meeting, "All the ships in orbit are empty hulls. Hopefully, the crews are in the planet."
"In the planet?" Commander David Lucas questioned. Commander Lucas is the Chief Operations Officer for the SS Darastix.
"With no star, the exterior of the planet is uninhabitable," Randy Kohl explained. "The interior, however, is heated from the planet core, and we are detecting an atmosphere, probably artificial."
"With a few exceptions," Captain David began, "the Sooloo crew have more experience than the Darastix crew. They will take the lead and we will back them up."
Mirah nodded, "Thank you, Captain David, that was my thought as well. Admiral Robinson and I are here to assist wherever needed, but Hal, this is your show."
"I would like two shuttles, one from each ship, to go in and coordinate recon. We need to know exactly what we are up against," Hal stated. "Commander Rivers, you will be in charge."
"There is an entrance point here," Jordan explained, pointing to what appeared to be a cave on the planet. "I will take the Leonardo; Crewman Gillespie will pilot it. With me will be Commander Aiden Marlin-Douglass, Lieutenant Scott Trevor, Ensign Doug Erikson and Ensign Jinzo Kohl. Captain David, I would like for your shuttle to have Commander Lucas, Lt. Commander Haynes, both Ensign Shivis and Lt. Commander Blake MacDonald," Jordan declared.
David replied, "With one exception, we will have those you requested."
Surprised, Jordan questioned, "And what exception would that be?"
"Shivi Tiichir was promoted to Lieutenant and made the Assistant Chief of Security. Instead of him AND his brother going, I would like to send Ensign Simon Buck."
Jordan grinned, "I totally understand and accept the change."
"With that settled," Hal decided, "shuttles will be leaving in thirty minutes. Good luck to both teams."
After the meeting, Kyle went up to Jordan, "Sir, I really believe Danny and I should be going down. I sense Megrez wants me to go."
"I promise you, after our initial surveillance is complete, you will be leading a team during the rescue. I mean, I'm not one to buck Megrez' wishes."
Kyle nodded, "He can agree to that, but he definitely wants me down there."
As the meeting broke up, Hal took Kash Rivers to his Ready Room. "While Jordan is down on the planet, I would like for you to take some security officers over to the Hooker. See if you can gain access and check her out."
"Scanners indicate that the ship is fully functional and life support is still active," Kash assured Hal. "I can use the emergency access code Space Fleet has on file for the Hooker, so it should be no problem. No one is on board, so instead of a security team, I would like to take an engineering team to check out the ship's functionality."
"No one is on board that we detected," Hal corrected. "You may take an Engineering team, but I also want you taking Security just in case."
"Understood," Kash agreed. "I'll take Connor, Juro, Kage and Sukotto in the Michelangelo."
"Sounds good. Juro is both Engineering and Tactical slash Security, so he's a good choice."
As the shuttles approached the opening to the rogue planet interior, the crew noticed a forcefield blocking the way. An automated voice boomed all around them, like the sound of a superior being, "Terrans detected, speaking English. To enter, you must answer a riddle. You will have three chances to guess. Should you fail, you will be removed from your ships and made prisoners. Your ships will be destroyed."
"And if we choose not to answer, but leave?" Jordan inquired.
"That is not as option," the automated voice resounded.
"Sir," Crewman Gillespie announced, "a forcefield formed behind us."
"Fine," Jordan's voice made it obvious, he wasn't happy. "What is the riddle?"
"At night they come without being fetched. By day they are lost without being stolen. What are they?"
"That doesn't make sense," Aiden stated. "What comes out at night but is lost during the day? This is a trick question."
"I kinda wish Kyle were here to ask Megrez," Jordan chuckled.
"What is your first guess?" the voice demanded.
Over the comm linking the two shuttles, Ensign Buck questioned, "The star? How…"
He couldn't finish his question, "That is correct. You may proceed."
"Thank you, Megrez," Aiden chuckled. "You found a way to help us even if Kyle wasn't here. That WAS a trick question, though. In space, the stars don't disappear."
"I don't understand," Buck queried, "how did a star help us?"
Aiden replied, "When we have more time, one of us will explain it to you."
As they proceeded, they saw debris from various ships and shuttles that must have failed the riddle test. "I wonder if we will need to answer a riddle to get out," Scott wondered aloud.
"Makes me wish we brought an Engineering officer or two," Jordan commented. "If possible, we will need to deactivate that before we bring a rescue party in. Jordan to the Sooloo."
Hal responded, "Go ahead, Jordan. We can barely hear you."
"Sir, it might be a good idea for an Engineering team or IS team to come in. The access point is protected by a forcefield. To enter, you must answer a riddle. If they can disable it, I think it would be most prudent."
"Understood, I will have Danny pilot the Rafael with Tom Kohl, Ensign Lukane and Brad Kanye." Kyle cleared his throat. "Oh, and Commander Robinson wishes to go down."
"As long as he realizes what their mission is, I have no problem with that."
Kyle sat Koji and Duskin down on the couch. "While Opsola Danny and I are away, Tommy is in charge. You will treat him with the same respect as you treat Opsola Danny and me. Do you understand?"
Koji inquired, "How long will you be away?"
"I don't know the answer to that," Kyle admitted. "What I do know is, this mission is important. We are hoping to rescue the boys from another ship, and possibly find Grandpa William." Kyle didn't want to tell them that they believed Grandpa William was dead, that is… until they knew for sure.
"Is Grandpa William nice?" Duskin asked.
"I've never met him," Kyle explained. "He disappeared before I was born."
Danny looked at Tommy and noticed his nervousness, "Are you alright, Tommy?"
"No, I'm half left," Tommy grinned. "Seriously, just nervous about overseeing these two since I'm not much older than they are."
"We have faith in you," Danny declared. "Imagine, those two boys mean everything to Kyle, and he's entrusting them to you. If you ask me, that speaks volumes about what Kyle thinks of you."
"Yeah," Tommy conceded, "I guess."
"You guess?" Danny frowned. "Kyle loves you like a brother. He always has and has never had a problem with you. Your problem with him has always stemmed from what our father told you, all of which were lies."
"I know," Tommy admitted, "but those feelings don't just disappear."
Danny hugged Tommy, "I know, but at least you are letting them go, even if it is slowly. Maybe this will help."
Kash was able to use the access code to open the Shuttle Bay hangar doors. Once the Michelangelo was inside, the doors automatically closed. At first, this startled Kash, but then he remembered, they were designed that way when the emergency code was used so the shuttle occupants could disembark safely.
Connor wanted to go to Engineering first while Kash wanted to go to the Bridge. Since there were two security officers, Kash saw no problem with doing both. Kage went with Connor and Juro while Sukotto went with Kash.
It was a few minutes before Connor called Kash on the ship's communication, "Sir, everything is intact. In fact, scans indicate that the ship is fully functional. Aside from the fact that every shuttle is missing from this ship, nothing else seems wrong."
"Same with the Bridge," Kash agreed. "Ship's logs show that they sent two shuttles down to the planet, but they went missing once they entered. Nothing indicates what happened. They sent two more shuttles and the same thing happened. The log ends there."
Connor explained, "Looking at the Shuttle Bay log from here. It was four hours after the last two shuttles launched that Captain Zeller sent the Bubbas and the Type-B shuttles down with the remaining crew. I can't imagine why they basically abandoned the ship, but I'm sure Cody had his reasons."
"Hopefully, we'll be able to ask him.
While Jordan was exploring the planet, Jace took the twins to lunch. As they ate, Randy Jenkins came to see how everything was. "Best b'sketti yet," Jonas claimed.
Jason asked, "Can we have dessert?"
"What would you like?" Randy inquired.
"What was that dish you set on fire over there?"
"That was what I call Galactic Core," Randy answered. "I have raspberries soaking in rum, then I burn the alcohol off with the fire. It's called flambéing. After the fire goes out, I pour it over thin cakes and add two scoops of raspberry ice cream to each."
Jason's eyes got big, "I want that."
Randy looked at Jace for a comment. "Make it three," Jace responded.
Kyle was waiting for Danny and the others at the Rafael in the Shuttle Bay. As much as he had wanted to be down on the rogue planet and be a part of the discovery of the surviving crew members of the Hooker, he had served a double watch on the bridge navigating to the rogue planet. Now, he was going down with an Engineering team. He hoped to be able to stay in the planet and begin searching, but that order had to come from Hal or Jordan. While the Engineering team were working, he hoped to get some rest in the shuttle… with Danny.
The two shuttles touched down in a remote area of the planet. "Jinzo, run a scan. I want you to mainly look for humans, but we also need to know where any inhabitants are. Wherever the humans are is where we want to start."
While Jinzo was running the scan, Jordan met with Commander Lucas to strategize. "Ensign Kohl is running a scan, mainly looking for humans, but getting the location of everyone on this planet."
"How good is this ensign?" Lucas inquired.
Jordan smiled, "He is an android programmed with everything any ship's officer would need to know. I would say he's damn good."
"In that case," Lucas chuckled, "I can't wait to hear what he has to say. I thought Space Fleet was having trouble building androids."
"Space Fleet didn't build him. The adopted boys from Darastix did most of the work, especially Tomo."
Lucas nodded, "I've noticed that the Darastixians on the Darastix seem more intelligent than most of the other boys on the ship."
"Just remember," Jordan advised, "they are no different than you. Yes, they may seem more intelligent… heck, for the most part, they ARE more intelligent on average, but they have their problems, too."
"Aren't you married to a Darastixian?" Lucas asked.
Jordan smiled, "He's half Darastixian, very intelligent, but has his flaws. I love him despite his flaws."
"What kind of flaws," Lucas inquired, "that is… if you don't mind me asking."
"Only thing I will share is, if you don't know him," Jordan grinned, "he can seem arrogant. He's not really so much arrogant but that he knows what he's discussing and has trouble relating to people of lesser intelligence. As for any other flaws, I won't say what they are without him being present, but that's one we've discussed, and he doesn't mind me sharing."
As the Rafael was approaching the forcefield, the voice called out, "Terrans detected, speaking English. To enter, you must answer a riddle. You will have three chances to guess. Should you fail, you will be removed from your ship and made prisoners. Your ship will be destroyed."
"What is the riddle?" Kyle questioned.
"When one does not know what it is, then it is something. When one knows what it is, then it is nothing. What is it?"
"The answer?" Tom Kohl guessed.
"That is your first wrong answer," the voice boomed.
"This is nothing," Kyle chuckled.
"That is your second wrong answer. You have one more guess left."
"No, it isn't," Kyle argued. "The answer is a riddle, and I know what it is, therefore, it is nothing. I would even say that the first answer was kinda correct."
"You are correct, you may proceed."
As they passed through, Danny averred, "You would think the controls would need to be close. Scan for some kind of control room."
Kyle was watching the monitor scanning and got Danny's attention, "Set us down by those purple rocks. I think they mark the entrance to the control room."
Once they set down, Brad, Tom and Hardin went inside. Kyle stayed in the shuttle so he could rest with Danny. "So, why did you want to come down?" Danny asked.
"I felt that Megrez wanted you and me down here," Kyle explained. "I'm not sure why, but think I'll have my answer when we start rescuing the Hooker crew. I feel that it has something to do with my Grandpa William."
Meanwhile, inside the control room, Brad commented, "We need to figure out how to disable the riddles without letting the atmosphere escape. We don't want to kill anyone."
"Can you even read the programming?" Hardin inquired. "It IS alien."
"All programming can be broken down into ones and zeroes," Brad exclaimed. "I just need to find where the program tells if the answer is correct or not."
"Except, as Hardin stated, this is an alien program, and they don't use ones and zeroes," Tom Kohl declared.
"Sure they do, see, there are only two characters. We just need to figure out which is zero and which is one." Brad pulled out his PADD and scanned for access into the system. Once he gained access, he had his PADD translate.
After attempting to guess which was which, and being wrong the first time, it took Brad nearly an hour to hack into the system, but once he was done, he called up to the Sooloo, "I was unable to disable the guardian, so to speak, without destroying the forcefield. That would eventually kill everyone in the planet. Instead, it now has only one riddle, 'What have mouths and beds, but never eat or sleep?'"
Hal chuckled, "Jordan and Kash should like that one."
"Sir, I have finished scanning the planet," Jinzo declared. "There are two groups of humans. One group has seventy-nine males aging between thirteen and eighteen years of age."
"That's probably the Hooker crew," Jordan surmised. "Sounds like they lost a few crewmembers."
"The other group has fifty in it. They are also all males aging in their late twenties to early thirties."
Jordan looked puzzled, "Are you sure about their age? I mean, if they are the crew of the Explorer of the Stars, like we thought, they should be in their fifties, possibly even their sixties. And the ages you quoted are too old to be descendants."
"I ran the scan three times to verify their ages because logic dictates what you just stated. The only explanation I can come up with is, without having radiation from any stars, these men have not aged since they entered this planet, or they aged very slowly."
"And what of the inhabitants of this planet?"
Jinzo replied, "I detect less than one hundred inhabitants roaming. Currently, they are nowhere near either group of humans. I do detect a few different species mixed in with the humans, probably also prisoners."
"Commander Lucas, take your team here and start preparing teams to rescue the Hooker crew. Commander Kanye reports that entry has been made possible by answering 'rivers.' Does the Darastix have Bubbas?"
"Negative," Lucas responded. "We don't have Shuttle Bay space for them. We do have three Darastixian shuttles capable of carrying ten personnel besides the pilot, though."
"With the two Bubbas and those three shuttles, we will still need enough shuttles for nineteen personnel. If we utilize every shuttle, other than the worker bees, that the Sooloo has, we will have enough. If the Darastix can also send down two or three, that would help."
"I will make a request with Captain David," Commander Lucas confirmed. Jordan called up to the Sooloo and told Hal what he was planning.
After Brad was finished in the control room, he had Danny fly the shuttle to where Commander Rivers and Commander Lucas had set down. Jordan entered the shuttle, looked at Kyle and announced, "There are fifty crewmembers alive from the Explorer of the Stars. We don't know if any of them are your grandfather, but here's the thing… in the twenty-five years they have been on this planet, they have not aged, or at least not noticeably."
"So, my grandfather may be alive AND be younger than my dad?" Kyle seemed perplexed. "How?"
"We don't know the answers for sure, but Jinzo speculates that it has to do with a lack of radiation from any stars," Jordan declared.
"Any chance I can be on the team that rescues them?" Kyle pressed.
"I thought you might like to be," Jordan replied. "Aiden will be heading that team, but you will be his second in command. Remember, they probably have not seen another human since they arrived, so you may come as a shock to them."
With the Bubbas and other shuttles landed, Commander Jordan Rivers started delegating responsibility. "Commander Lucas, there is enough room for all of the Hooker crew on the two Bubbas. Since the Bubbas can't enter the Darastix' Shuttle Bays, take them to the Sooloo. Once Dr. Tom has checked them out, we can transfer them back to the Hooker."
"Sir, forgive me if I am overstepping my bounds, but wouldn't it be wiser for the Sooloo crew to rescue the Hooker crew since they are going to the Sooloo?"
"Not overstepping your bounds, you are actually correct, but…" Jordan explained, "the Explorer of the Stars was Commander Robinson's grandfather's ship."
"Understood, and thank you," Commander Lucas accepted.
"Aiden, Kyle, you two will take the other shuttles and rescue the Explorer of the Stars' crew. Once you have them, take them to the Darastix. Dr. Tom will be busy checking out the Hooker crew, so Dr. Vargas and his team on the Darastix can check out the Explorer's crew." Antonio Vargas, former Head Nurse of the Sooloo was the Chief Medical Officer of the SS Darastix.
"It'll be cool visiting with Antonio," Danny nodded.
"Jinzo said that none of the prisoners are clothed," Aiden warned. "It's not like we haven't seen naked men before, but they may feel weird about us seeing them."
"After all these years," Jordan stated, "I doubt they will be fazed by it. The fact that we are teens will probably be more of a shock."
"And tweens," Kyle added with a grin.
Commander Lucas and the Bubbas landed outside a large cave. It was where the crew of the SS Joseph Hooker were being held. There were no doors, so Lucas wasn't sure why the prisoners never escaped. He walked in and saw all the boys from the Hooker. They were in groups, but all were dressed as the day they were born.
Lucas saw Captain Zeller and walked over to him. "Captain, I am Commander David Lucas of the SS Darastix. Your ship sent out a distress beacon and we are here to rescue you."
"How do we know you are real?" Zeller questioned. "These aliens have been messing with our heads. In the four months that we have been captive, I've seen myself get killed many, many times."
"Why haven't you escaped?" Lucas inquired. "Better yet, why did your entire crew leave your ship?"
"After we lost the last shuttle, their leader contacted us," Cody Zeller began to explain. "He had twenty-four of my crew and threatened to kill them if we didn't come down. Had I known he was going to destroy our shuttles, I don't know if I would have made the same choice, but I had to try rescuing those men." Cody looked down.
"And with no shuttles," Lucas surmised, "no sense in trying to escape."
"They threatened to kill everyone if even one person tried to escape," Zellers cried. "They killed the youngest members as an example. They were just boys, not even gone through puberty yet."
"Why the youngest ones?" Lucas questioned.
"I suppose because they hadn't gone through puberty. See, they have had sex with every one of us. Their leader told me that they are looking for a race compatible with theirs as they are slowly dwindling in numbers. Both male and female are capable of bearing young, but only the males are capable of fertilization. We've been forced to have sex with males and females. And with the males, we have both given and received."
"This is so weird," Kyle told Danny as he stood outside the compound where the survivors of the Explorer of the Stars were housed.
"How is it weird?" Danny asked. "Because they've survived for so long, because they look like they haven't aged, because your grandfather was the captain of the ship, or because it's a ship crewed by adults instead of kids?"
"All of the above."
Kyle and Danny were awaiting Aiden's permission to enter the compound. Kyle wondered of the crew that survived, if his grandfather was one of them.
"My grandfather would be in his late fifties if he was still alive."
"And look like he was still in his thirties or forties or whatever he was when they got captured from what everybody is saying," Danny said.
The door to the compound opened and Aiden stepped out. "It's okay to go in," he told Danny and Kyle. "Nobody seems to want to talk to us. All of them that are in that big room just stare at us. They treat us as if we're some kind of phantoms or something. But Brad looked up the pictures of the crew when the Explorer left Earth, and there is no doubt it's them, looking just like they did the day they left."
"Did you find my grandfather?" Kyle asked him.
"I don't know. I need Brad to send us the pictures he has with names on them. I asked if we could talk to Captain Robinson and we were ignored. I heard one of them tell the guy next to him we must be another one of their endless riddles. I'll take you to where most of them are. I don't know if you'd recognize him, though."
"I've seen enough of his pictures back in my old house to have a good idea of what he looked like. Grandma told me I looked a lot like him, which might help in finding him. Maybe when he sees me, he'll know we're real."
"I keep telling everybody we are real, and I get snarky remarks about us being kids and there's no way we came all the way out here in our own spaceship. 'They're even crazier than they have been if they think we're going to believe this latest piece of bullshit,' is what one of them said. And the guy to whom he said it remarked we had to be fake because we acted as if we didn't know what bullshit meant and every teenager in existence had that word down. Like that asshole has seen a teenager in the last few decades."
"I think we've all heard and said bullshit a few times," Danny observed.
The compound consisted of a living area, bedrooms, bathrooms, kitchen space and a large open area. The crew of the Explorer watched as the second group of Sooloo crew members entered the biggest room of the compound.
Space Fleet Captain William K. Robinson sat at a table in a far corner with his first officer, Fred Baker, and his science officer, Nigel Miller, who had been his senior officers and were now his best friends on the crew. They started discussing the sudden appearance of the "rescue" boys. "We know they're a projection. It's not like the Alvaeyōsian haven't toyed with us before with their holographic projections, but these are a whole level above what they've done before," William said. "At least their previous rescuers looked like they were from a Space Fleet ship, not the Space Fleet Academy. Either way, it is unlikely that our perpetual broadcast has ever been or ever will be heard by a Space Fleet ship."
"It looks like they've created a new group," Fred said when he noticed the second group of boys.
Kyle stopped after entering the big room and looked around. As he had happened on his way through the compound, he was pointedly ignored by the crewmen. That was when his sharp eyes caught the three men in the corner. They had the look of authority about them that seemed to follow senior officers no matter where they were.
Kyle tapped Danny and pointed to the corner "The guy in the corner, he looks familiar," Kyle told him.
"Yeah, he looks like the guy in those pictures that used to be around your house back when you lived there," Danny said.
"And some are in the house Dad lives in now with Alicia."
William looked at the two boys. "The boy on the right looks really familiar," he told his two friends.
"He could almost be the spitting image of you," Nigel chuckled. "Instead, he's a hologram of a boy playing in a Star Fleet Commander's uniform."
Nigel's words caused William to give the boy a hard stare. "No, he looks like my son Greg who was close to that age when we left on our last voyage. Damn those Alvaeyōsian; they've suddenly become plain cruel. They had to have used one of my pictures of Greg to create that image. I'm really hating this."
Kyle started toward the Captain's table. One of the crewmen a couple of tables away automatically held out an arm to stop Kyle, forgetting for a moment he was dealing with a hologram. Or so he thought until he touched real flesh and blood. The Alvaeyōsian's holograms had never been this solid. Kyle dodged the crewman and walked toward the table. He and William locked eyes as Kyle approached, neither of them completely believing what he was seeing. Kyle stopped when he reached the table. Danny kept his distance as he wanted to see how the scene played out.
"Captain Robinson? Captain William Robinson?" Kyle asked quietly.
"I've had it! Stop with the fucking games and turn off those damn holograms!" William screamed at no one in particular. Years of dealing with their captors' hijinks had a way of wearing on everybody, including the captain.
Kyle dropped back a step, stunned by the sudden outburst. "I'm not a hologram. I'm not anything but Commander Kyle Robinson of the SS Sooloo," he said with authority.
"Did you say your last name was Robinson?" William asked with a shade of doubt.
"I did, and I asked if your last name was Robinson, as in Captain William Robinson."
"My name is William Robinson, once the Captain of the SS Explorer of the Sea."
The stare down between William and Kyle Robinson resumed, with neither one giving in. "There is one big difference between us," William finally said.
"What is that?"
"I really am William Robinson, while you are a creation of the Alvaeyōsian."
"I am as real as you since I am the creation of Greg and Miriam, or Mia, Robinson," Kyle countered.
"Greg Robinson is your father?" No wonder he looks so much like my son.
"Just like he is your son, and I am your grandson."
"But you're not…"
William was cut off by Kyle stepping behind him and wrapping his arms around him. "Does this feel real to you?"
"But you're just a boy. All of you are boys and…"
"And you're an old man," Kyle interrupted. He swept his arm in the direction of the center of the big room. "All of you are old men. But we're both real. Trust me, there is a reason our ship and twenty others are manned by boys, just like there's a reason this room is full of old men who look like they did around twenty-five years ago and we can talk about it and figure it out later because... because…" Kyle let go of his grandfather, came around the chair so he stood in front of him and gave William a look full of so much love and emotion that William no longer had any doubt that the boy in front of him was exactly who he said he was. He stood up, pulled Kyle against his body, and gave him a hug that had been decades in the making.
Both the man and the boy let the tears flow before finally pulling themselves together. "Fred. Nigel. Meet my grandson, Kyle Robinson. Kyle, meet my best friends and trusted senior officers."
"Gramps, meet my husband, Danny Robinson," Kyle said. "Danny meet my Grandfather William."
"Did you say husband?" William asked.
"Yes, I did."
"And you're, what, thirteen? fourteen?"
"How about twelve, I'll be thirteen in just over three months," Kyle grinned.
"Twelve years old. Wearing a Space Fleet uniform with the pips of a full Commander. Married. And don't tell me you have three kids while you're at it."
"Nope, just two—Koji and Duskin."
"Great grandsons? How can that be? It appears we have A LOT to talk about," William said.
"With time to do it later. Right now, I need to tell Aiden he just changed from a hologram to a real officer."
"Fair enough. I understand how duty calls. Since I'm willing to bet his mother kept him out of Space Fleet, what did my son end up becoming?"
"He became Admiral Gregory Robinson," Kyle answered proudly.
"Admiral Robinson. Son of a bitch, there is so much to talk about."
"He is second in command of the Space Fleet Explorer's Program, which is what all of us on the Sooloo are assigned to."
Once again, William wiped away tears. "Amazing. Fucking amazing. Now, you'd better do what you're supposed to do. But see me as soon as you're free."
"I promise. I hope we see a lot of each other, because I want to tell you everything. But, really quick, what does your middle initial stand for?"
"Kyle," William grinned as his grandson turned to help Aiden secure the compound. For the first time in countless years, life became worth living for William Kyle Robinson.
"Sir, the inhabitants are heading towards where the crew of the Hooker are being held," Jinzo warned.
Jordan inquired, "How long until they reach them?"
"At their current speed," Jinzo answered, "thirty minutes."
"Commander Rivers to Commander Lucas," Jordan called on his comm, "You will have company in about thirty minutes. How long until you depart?"
"We just finished loading the last of the crew and will be leaving within the next five minutes," Lucas replied.
"Excellent." Jordan then called Aiden, "You may be getting company as soon as they realize they lost the Hooker crew, and they detect you."
"We should be ready to go in about twenty minutes. We had a little difficulty convincing these men that we are real, but thankfully, they understand now. Approximately how long do we have?"
Jordan looked over at Jinzo, who mouthed the answer. "Jinzo thinks you have about twenty-five minutes after they detect the…"
"Scratch that," Jinzo interrupted. "They detected the Bubbas taking off and turned toward Aiden's group. They have about twenty minutes."
"It's going to be close," Aiden declared upon hearing Jinzo.
Aiden told Kyle to hurry the loading and as each shuttle was filled, it took off for the Darastix. They would have to dress in the uniforms provided once they were safely on the shuttles. Kyle, Danny and Captain Robinson, along with his senior officers, went on the Rafael. As the last shuttle, the Donatello, was filled, Aiden closed the hatch. They had just taken off when an alien vehicle approached.
The inhabitants exited the vehicle and began to fire upon the shuttle. Fortunately, they were out of range to take any damage, and the shots that did hit were absorbed by the shuttle's shields.
"Sir," Crewman Gordy Mason asked as he piloted the shuttle, "are they able to use the force field to keep us from exiting the planet?"
"I have no idea on that," Aiden replied. "If they are, they would probably need to do so from the control room. According to the scanners, they are heading away from it."
"What's in that direction, Sir?" Gordy probed.
Aiden ran a quick scan, "Their space port, I think they are planning to give pursuit."
"How fast are their ships?" Gordy questioned.
Aiden shook his head, "I have no idea. I just know this shuttle is capable of full impulse while the long-rang shuttles are capable of FTL 5."
"Commander Rivers is coming up behind us. He waited until everyone else was off the surface before taking off himself."
With all the shuttles safely aboard the Sooloo and the Darastix, Fleet Admiral William Mirah made an announcement to both ships.
"I think recent events have proven that the Explorer Program is a vital and necessary addition to Space Fleet.
"Today marks a very auspicious day. Not only has an Explorer found and rescued the crew of a ship that had been missing, but they also solved another disappearance. One that occurred before any of them had been born.
"Twenty-plus years ago, a mission left Earth to explore space very distant from Earth. Errors of Space flight caused that mission to go awry. That mission was led by a man named Robinson. That man happens to be the father of Admiral Gregory Robinson and the grandfather of Commander Kyle Robinson.
"Not only has the crew of the Sooloo found and rescued the missing ship, the lost Captain Robinson and most of his crew, but they happened to do that on the fifth anniversary of the inception of the Explorer Program.
"The many accomplishments of the Sooloo and all of the other ships crewed by 'children' have far exceeded the hopes and dreams of those who developed and supported the program. I want to congratulate those crews. Space Fleet is enriched by your participation."